Friday 21 September 2012

Heraclea AAR

Our club meets every Tuesday evening, although my attendance has been a bit erratic for a while now.  I did agree to put on a large multiplayer game a couple of weeks ago.  The first Tuesday of the month has become something of a club tradition, with one especially large game.  The idea is that folks can try out things they might normally never play, without having to invest themselves.  This way we can take advantage of the various collections that exist.  When I was asked to do one, it seemed sensible to use my large successors force and my Republican Romans, since those are the armies that are in decent enough shape as well as being large enough to fit the bill.  Heraclea has been doing the rounds of the discussion groups, so I thought I'd put together a scenario for Tactica and see what happened:
This is the deployment map from the scenario I've already posted on my Ancients Scenarios page.  Pyrrhus is at the top in blue, and the Romans are at the bottom of the map in traditional red.  The sources seem to agree that the battle began in somewhat confused fashion, with the Roman Velites forcing the river crossing against the Peltasts, and both sides' cavalry mixing it up.  Pyrrhus seems to have been almost killed at one point, and the Roman cavalry gave a very good account of themselves.  Pyrrhus pulled back his forces to regroup rather than continue the battle in piecemeal fashion, and this permitted the main body of the legions to cross the river unmolested.

My scenario begins at this point, after Pyrrhus has made his famous comment about the impressive order of the Roman army in the field.  I have set up Pyrrhus at the head of a reasonably traditional Macedonian right hook comprising excellent cavalry.  The remnants of the Peltasts in the second line on his flank, accompanying his elephants.  The centre comprises the phalanx, with the elite Epirote Guards and native Macedonians in the position of honour on the right of the line.  A large body of Tarentine Hoplites acts as a sort of flank guard to each end of the phalanx.  On the left of the army is a contingent of Italian or Greek colonist horse - a mixture of light and medium cavalry.

The Roman army is a double consular force of four legions with matching Latin legions, a formidable legionary array.  They also have some Italian allied medium infantry at either end of the line, with Latin Equites on the left, along with some Italian light horse.  The Roman Equites are on the right, as usual.  The Roman army seems to have deployed the four Latin legions on the left of the main infantry set-up, and the Romans to the right.

Historically, this was a desperate struggle, with neither side gaining an advantage.  The Roman and Latin horse held out well, and the Legions stubbornly contested every inch of ground against the phalanx.  Eventually Pyrrhus committed his right wing reserve and the elephants put the Latin Equites to flight; they then rolled up the opposition from that flank.  Even so, the Romans seem to have retired in some order to their camp across the river, with little pursuit.   It would seem that Pyrrhus' troops were too exhausted to follow up properly.  This is the battle that gave rise to the term 'Pyrrhic Victory'.  It did not play like this in our game...
The first photograph, above, shows Pyrrhus' cavalry wing from the Roman perspective.  The great man (Raymond)  is leading the centre of the cavalry in person, and the Peltasts and elephants are in reserve. The Tarentines link this wing to the centre.
Photo number two moves along a bit towards the centre.  You can see four units of elite phalangites, with skirmishers in front.  Willy and Simon supplied the Epirote Guards.
Above is the mass of the phalanx, six units deployed deep with the usual skirmishers in front.
Completing the full deployment are more Tarentine foot, then Italian light and medium cavalry.
The Roman army is as usual pretty much symmetrical, so rather than show them by commands I took an angled shot of the whole lot, pretty much from off to the right of Pyrrhus' own position.  Most of the rest of the shots are taken from the same point.
Above is a long table shot of the advancing forces.  As you can see, the Latin horse on this flank is holding back, trying to delay the moment of contact with Pyrrhus in person.
Staying on this wing, you can see that the Latin cavalry commander has sent his light horse out to get in some javelin fire, with some success (casualty marker behind the unit at the bottom left of the photo).
A shot of the central infantry lines closing.
I shifted over to the other side of the table to see the cavalry clash there.  This shot is taken from behind the Greek colonists as they engage the Roman Equites.  The latter are trying desperately to stop any potential envelopment of the Roman legions.  To the right of the photo above, you can just make out the Italian infantry coming to help them.
Back on the other wing, the Italian light horse retire away from the might of Pyrrhus' heavy cavalry.
Above is a photo of the action in the centre at the same point in time.  This is where the game began to diverge from what I thought might happen, with the Greeks holding back their phalanx on the right and going in only on the left.  This gave the Romans an unexpected boost - a partial overlap on a phalanx unit is not something to be turned down...
Above is the same situation, from behind the phalanx.  I thought they would send in the whole lot.
Back to my original position as Pyrrhus' vaunted cavalry charges in...and is then held in place by the valiant Italians.The Greek unit in the immediate left foreground is in trouble.  The earlier javelin fire has hurt them and they are being swarmed by larger numbers of light cavalry.  If Pyrrhus had pressed his advantage, he could have chased them off, but instead he passed the initiative to the Romans and they managed to get their light cavalry back into position after their earlier retreat.  This could be costly for the Greeks...
Above is a full table shot of the action as a whole.  The elephants are waiting for the Romans to show a nice juicy flank.  It turns out that this was why the right half of the phalanx held back, to tempt the Latin legions (the half of the force that is in white) to come forward.  But discipline held firm and the legions stayed in place.  In other words, the consul of the day (David) didn't fall for it.
Engagement all along the line.  At the top left of this photo you can see the Greek colonists coming in at an angle towards the Roman legions.  The Roman Equites and their erstwhile Italian infantry support have been dealt with, and now the legions are in danger of being enveloped on the far side.  Simon, Gus and Ewen lead the attack, chortling with glee.  Maybe Tarentum is about to get some bloody revenge.
I sped over to the far side to get a shot of the impending masterstroke.
Back to my standard position, and it looks as though Pyrrhus is about to break through the Italian horse on this flank and envelop from here too.  The mangled remnants of the Italian light horse have disposed of the damaged Greek heavies, and throw themselves desperately at the flank of Pyrrhus' lancers.  Dying to a man, they take him with them!

Alan played really well on this flank; his last unit of light cavalry got five kills on eight dice, needing a 5-6 to hit, and took out the great man.  Wails of despair could be heard from the other end of the table as Simon, Gus and Ewen destroyed a legion and were about to do for another with their envelopment, but it was not to be.

It was perhaps rather ambitious to try to squeeze a game of this size into a Tuesday evening, even with an earlier start than usual.  In the end, though, it worked out, and folks seemed to enjoy it.  The leftmost attack worked well for the Tarentines, but the day was saved for Rome by the Latin and Italian cavalry on the other wing.  I can't remember exactly who played which commands, except for the important decision points, so apologies to all concerned.  I think we had around a dozen players.

One thing I did try was to manage the game better than I usually do.  I knew that most of the players would not be ancients fans, so I knocked up some command cards to explain the units as clearly as possible - you can see some of these lying around the table in some of the photos.  The difficulty with a battle like this is that the deployments are relatively static, especially in the centre of the two armies, so players with a taste for more modern combat games may feel hard done by.  It can feel a bit like "line them up and roll dice".  However, there were still plenty of interesting decision points, and I had no idea what to expect when we played it.  The command cards really helped, and I was asked to make some for the grand Borodino game on Willy's sand table.  More on that anon...


  1. Fantastic table, photos and minis! Great work!

  2. Loved the report. Great to see Heraclea with lots and lots of figures.

  3. A very nice scenario and impressive array of figures. I broadly agree with your deployments but think you might have exaggerated the size of the Tarentine presence on the battlefield. Whether they were comprised of hoplites or phalangites is a cause of debate but personally I think you were right to have them as hoplites for this battle, whilst at Asculum they were more likely to be trained as phalangites. I would probably have had all the Tarentines massed on the Greek left, given their unreliability compared to the rest of the Greek line infantry and left the hypaspists to protect the right of the phalanxes, particularly if this was the wing which you were intending to make your most offensive arm in the Alexandrian tradition. However, my main objection to your scenario concerns the fact that it is based on the belief that the Roman army was a double consular army of four legions and their allied Italian contingents. I am personally of the opinion that the Roman army at Heraclea was a single consular army of two legions and allied Italian contingents based on the fact that there was only one Consul present, although I think it was probably much stronger than a normal strength consular army given the gravity of the danger to which Pyrrhus posed.

    1. Thanks for looking! I take your points, and you are probably more correct about the relative strengths. I should admit that part of the reason for making it a double consular army was to get the toys on the table for a club refight!