Saturday, 1 January 2011

Magnesia Part 2 and a post mortem

Picking up from where we left off:
The fight as the river bends.  Hastati take on (from the left as you look at it): the Agema, Cataphracts, more Cataphracts and some Galatian foot.  Dahae horse archers are still skulking, as the Velites encourage their friends.  Unfortunately for Antiochus, not even one of his three cavalry units performs at their peak.  No breakthrough here, then.
The infantry fight, taken from the same point as photo number one, and at the same time.  In the foreground the Argyraspides are actually doing quite well.  Further into the distance, the elephants are getting ready to charge while the Velites try to do some hits on them first.
Suddenly, it starts to go wrong for Antiochus.  The cataphracts are routed, leaving a large gap on the Seleucid right.
On the other side of the field: above is a view from behind the left rear of the Seleucid centre, looking along the lines to their right.  The Hastati have been wiped out, but the battered central units are now facing the fresh Principes.
The Cataphracts on the Seleucid left are beginning to make inroads.  They have already destroyed one unit of Achaeans, and the others are about to follow suit.  But will this developing threat to the right flank of the Roman centre come too late?
And on the other flank the Agema finally finish off the opposing Hastati.  At this point Antiochus tries to rein them in, realising that they are far too badly damaged to take on the waiting Principes.  He fails, and in they go gaily to their doom.
And then, suddenly, it is game over.  Up to this point the Seleucids are doing okay, having lost half of their army breakpoint and destroying the Hastati.  The Seleucid left wing horse is mostly at a stalemate against Eumenes, but some of the Cataphracts are getting into position to attack the legions.  However, there is a spectacular morale collapse starting on the Seleucid right wing.  In one turn, the Agema and the Galatian foot are destroyed; the Argyraspides fail morale and rout, taking another phalanx with them.  More centrally, one of the elephants routs, taking a phalanx out as well.  Something like seven units disintegrate in the most spectacular fashion.  Game over; Roman victory.  Even though there are fewer photos for the second half of the game, it took as long to play as the first half: more combat dice to roll!

Post mortem
Simon the Big Red Bat left an interesting comment on one of the earlier posts.  He noticed that in our game the armies are lined up evenly, when most other refights show Eumenes well outflanked.  I catered for this in my original deployment by having gaps between the Roman units and deploying Eumenes' horse in two ranks to match the enemy.  This meant that the tough Roman legions were still tough, but were up against a real mass in the centre.  It also left plenty of channels for the Velites to operate, and indeed they did manage to score a couple of hits on the elephants before they joined in.  At a couple of points in the line the Romans did lose Principes and were almost down to the Triarii, but then it was all over.  This "feels" right to me.

As to historical comparisons, Mark made an observation post-battle that he thinks Antiochus was attempting a double envelopment.  This would explain the massed cataphract charge on the right, which had some initial success.  It also explains what happened on the Seleucid left.  Here, the scythed chariots would have been intended to do as much damage as possible, which could then be exploited by the cavalry.  On one or both wings the horse would then be able to come into the flanks of the legions.  In the meantime, the phalanx effectively stayed put to try to absorb as much punishment as it could.  Of course, we know the plan failed.  Antiochus seems to have been rather carried away by his success on the right and failed to exploit it correctly.  On the other wing Eumenes prepared his counter to the chariots and swept the disordered enemy cavalry from the field.  And in the centre the velites targeted the elephants, which were finished off as effective units by the legions.  This spread panic amongst the phalanx, and it's game over here.

There are two issues for a game that attempts to recreate such a battle.  The first is how to reconstruct the armies and their deployment.  Our chosen ruleset, Tactica II (playtest version), is like most rules in that it contains a points system.  I was loathe to make the points values unbalanced in my scenario, because that might "break" the rules.  So I countered the Seleucid superiority by reducing their overall numbers somewhat, and increasing the quality of the Pergamenes, which I think is in fact warranted by their superlative performance anyway.  The second issue is whether to replay or refight.  I personally prefer the second option: start with the historical deployments as much as you can, but then play it the way you want.  This is what happened, especially on the Seleucid left, which I ran to start with until more of the players arrived.  Here, I kept the cavalry stationary, so that when the chariots routed they dispersed before causing any grief.  The pay off was that it allowed Eumenes to keep the cataphracts in particular out of the game long enough for a resolution to occur elsewhere.  I'm happy with this; again, it (subjectively) "feels" right.

Any changes?  Perhaps some.  No points system is perfect, as we all know.  But them Romans are damned tough.  I might add an extra rank to the Seleucid rightmost cataphract columns to give them a better chance of getting through the Hastati.  I also might increase the Galatian foot by a rank as well - they are very vulnerable as is.  But these are minor tweaks based on a single poor performance.  It has to be said that the Seleucid dice were dire.  Not one of their right wing cavalry managed a proper impetus effect, and there's a 50% chance per unit that they will.  Plus, their morale and disorder dice failed completely when it came to the point of decision.  You can't legislate for luck like that!

Having said all of this, twelve players had a good go at a very large game.  From start to finish, it only took three and a half hours.  Quite a few folks said it would make a great display game for the shows in 2011, which is a good idea.  We need a decent tabletop to complement the figures, though.


  1. It's a big game; would make a fine display!


  2. Hi Simon - are you still thinking of Magnesia for Salute at one point, perchance?

  3. That was doing it like it's supposed to be done! Great job, and it seems like you got a fairly realistic result out of it too. A triumph all round ;-)

    And a happy New Year to you as well, Paul. I hope it will be a good one for you!


  4. Cheers, Aaron, thanks for looking. Happy New Year for 2011 - hope it's a good one all round.