Friday 27 November 2009

Empire Turn 2: 340-330 BCE. A Summary

We have now played the entire second turn of Empire to a conclusion. The sequence of events has been as follows:

1: Alexander of Macedon succeeds to his father's throne and attacks Illyria. He loses, being badly wounded for the second time. We rule that he loses one of his Great Captain moves while recovering, and another power gets to go.
2: The Tyrant of Syracuse destroys a Carthaginian expeditionary force. Anybody got any ideas for an appropriate name for the victor?
3: Persia attacks Egypt for the second time, and is again repulsed in a bloody draw.
4: Rome unites all of central Italy under its control.
5: The Macedonians turn eastwards after the disappointments under Philip in Greece and Illyria under Alexander. They occupy Thrace after some initial resistance.
6: Alexander crosses the Hellespont. After a very close run battle, the Persians are forced to cede control.
7: Alexander tries to extend his sway over Syria and the Levant, but is defeated and badly wounded, yet again. We rule that Alexander will still count as a Great Captain for the purposes of the boardgame, but loses his battlefield ability due to ongoing physical incapacity.

We then rolled for possible rebellion at the beginning of Turn 3, and Syria has revolted from Persian control after beating the Macedonians. The first power to go this turn is Persia, and they have attacked Syria themselves in an attempt to win it back. We will play this game in a couple of weeks' time.

We have rationalised the most recent events as follows: Alexander has been thrown back in disarray by the Persian commander tasked with halting his advance after the loss of Asia Minor, a distant cousin of the Great King. After his battlefield success, this cousin has had enough of being forced to do the Great King's dirty work while he just sits safe in Persepolis, so he has revolted and declared himself to be the true King of Kings. Maybe defeating and wounding Alexander has gone to his head. In any case, we need a name for this guy too: Cyrus the Youngest, maybe? All of which means that the next game will be a Persian civil war. We will tweak the lists somewhat so that there are fewer colonist cavalry in the two armies. The Great King's general should be able to buy more in the way of the better troop types, and the pretender will have access to more Greek mercenaries because of his geographical position.

Alexander at the Cilician Gates

After securing Asia Minor, Alexander had two possible routes to further conquest. He could either skirt the southern coastline of the Black Sea, or head south-east into the Levant. He chose the second option, since a victory here would block any further Persian attempts to wrest control of the rich pickings of Egypt, and lay those open to his own forces.

His army (in red, above) came across the Persians in as strong a position as they could find, in a last-ditch attempt to stop him breaking out from Asia Minor. They had found a reasonably large central low rise with a steep hill to either flank. Alexander's army deployed with a right wing of most of the light infantry (Ian). Next came the Hypaspists, the central phalanxes and a small number of skirmish archers (Simon). The column of Companions, led by Alexander in person, was located in position behind the Hypaspists so as to look for the moment of breakthrough. Their left flank comprised the light horse and the Thessalians, with some light infantry support (Mark).

The Persians set up in a shallow crescent formation, both flanks anchored on the steep hills. The left flank (William) had some skirmish archers on the steep hill, with two large columns of light infantry in hiding behind the hill. The link with the centre was provided by two large units of Persian cavalry of average quality. The right flank (me) more or less mirrored the left, but with the elite and heavy cavalry. The centre deployed in two lines. Skythian horse archers and Persian light horse were to the front, and the rest of the army was behind (a mixture of hoplites, colonist militia cavalry, and more light horse). The mainstay was a unit of hoplites holding the central rise. William and I shared command of the centre.

The Persian plan was simple: skirmish with the front line in the centre as long as possible, delaying and disrupting the inevitable advance of the phalanxes, while at the same time keeping the second line out of the action for as long as possible. One or both wings were to try to stretch the Macedonian flanks and sandpaper them away. The idea was a molasses strategy: chuck loads of of inferior troops and firepower across the front and degrade as much of the enemy as possible, hoping that by the time the crisis came in the centre our superior numbers and firepower would give us the edge.

And it worked. The Macedonians were slowly ground down by good missile fire and individual opportunity attacks on the wings, and the phalanxes were incrementally damaged by shooting from the skirmishing light horse in the centre. On they came, taking more and more grief until the phalanxes finally came into contact with the Persian second line, and with the units protecting the flanks of the phalanx falling one by one to a combination of firepower and melee. Persian dice were quite good across the field for the entire Macedonian advance, and the Macedonians just did not perform quite so well as they should have in the various combats. This meant that each time a unit of, say, Thessalians, defeated some enemy, it took them longer than it should have, thus giving the Persians more time to inflict more damage. The sheer number of units the Persians had available enabled them to make wave attacks, each one grinding down the opposition that bit more.

Eventually, the Companions were the only troops left on the Macedonian right, surrounded by huge numbers of missile troops. In the centre, the Persian second line cracked but held its morale. And on the left, the Macedonian light cavalry were destroyed and the Thessalians badly battered. The Persians lost large numbers of troops, but then they could afford to do so.

And suddenly the Macedonians collapsed under the pressure. Alexander and the Companions fell to a hail of javelins and arrows before they could intervene in the centre. The Hypaspists were held up in a grinding fight against some mercenary hoplites (the same happened to the leftmost phalanx on the other side of the field). One of the central phalanxes was routed by a combination of shooting degradation, darting light cavalry attacks and the hoplites on the hill, disordering another on morale. And the entire Macedonian left flank disintegrated under the pressure there.

All of which left us with a problem. Alexander has now "died" three times on the battlefield, and yet at the same time the boardgame needs his Great Captain status. We came up with a compromise: Alexander miraculously survived a near-death experience (again!), but has lost his physical energy. So he will count for campaign purposes as being able to plan as a Great Captain, but he loses its battlefield effects. In other words, his personal magnetism keeps the Macedonians going, but he will be relying on his field generals to make the conquests for him. We felt the need to make some sort of compromise between the strategic boardgame and events on the battlefield.

This brings us to the end of Turn 2; I'll make a separate shorter post summarising the Turn and setting out where we go from here. Which has turned out to be quite interesting...

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Alexander in Asia Minor

Yesterday we played Alexander's incursion into Persian-controlled Asia Minor. He wanted to gain a foothold for his planned conquest of the entire Persian Empire and encountered his first serious opposition in a mostly flat plain with some minor rolling hills.

I put together the opposing Persian list and worked out a deployment for them. I reckoned that the Macedonians would lead from their right, with phalanxes en echelon and some left flank guard troops, so I composed a very risky strategy to try to cut them off at the head. All of my best troops were deployed to my left: Armoured and Guard Cavalry; some Guard Infantry; Hoplites; and a screen of skirmish archers. Hidden behind the central hill were some Persian horse and to their right were vast numbers of crud cavalry: colonists and light horse with javelins. On our extreme right was a column of Skythian horse archers ready to skirt the only steep hill on the field, behind which were hidden two units of light infantry. The plan was for the Guard Infantry to move forward and wheel into position to the immediate left of the hoplites, while the left wing cavalry advanced on the extreme left. If it worked, and if the Macedonians deployed as I expected, my best troops would be in position to give Alexander a bad time. The centre was to hold as long as possible, and the right was to start skirmishing with the left of the Macedonian battle line.

The invaders did as I expected, but with an even heavier right wing and almost no left flank guard troops (just a couple of light infantry units). The outcome would rest on events on the Persian left.

This is a close-up of the decision point. I'll describe this in detail, since it's the part of the battle I was most involved in, and because this is where my gamble would be decided. Billy was my opposite number. The Macedonians were deployed as follows:

Pro: 12 Prodromoi in 2 ranks
HC1 and 2: 12 Elite Thessalian Heavy Cavalry in 2 ranks
Com: 18 Companions in 3 ranks, led by Alexander in person.
LC: 12 Thracian Light Cavalry in 3 ranks
P1: 32 Phalangites in 4 ranks
LI1: 18 Light Infantry in 3 ranks
LI3 and 4: 12 Light Infantry in 2 ranks.
The Persians had:
AC1 and 2: 12 Armoured Heavy Cavalry in 2 ranks
GC: 12 Elite Heavy Cavalry in 2 ranks
GI: 24 Elite Heavy Infantry in 3 ranks
H1 and 2: 36 Hoplite Heavy Infantry in 3 ranks
SI1 and 2: 9 Skirmish Archers in a single rank.
The Great Captain rule was in force for Alexander, meaning that any unit within 8" of him would be automatically raised one morale level, so the Companions and the Thessalians were all Legendary troops so long as he lived. Also, since they were being led in person by him, the Companions had a special column attack in which they would fight with all of the figures in their front two ranks, plus two for the general - normally, the number of dice rolled in combat is equal to the number of figures in the front rank. This made the Companions especially deadly, with fourteen dice on a six-figure frontage. It also risked Alexander, because there is always a chance that a general involved in combat could be taken out of action, even with his unit winning.
The first turn saw the expected general advance by the invaders. You can just see the first of their phalanx units hanging back a little en echelon (P1). The Persians moved their mercenary hoplites to defend the edge of the low rise, while swinging the Persian Guard Infantry from their concealed position behind the hill towards the left of the hoplites. The intention here was to place a unit of decent heavy infantry outwith the central deployment zone, effectively reinforcing the heavy cavalry contingent on the Persian extreme left. As it turned out, this placed the Guard Infantry directly in the path of the oncoming Companions.
The inevitable clash arrived, with the Persian skirmishers being dispersed after inflicting a few hits. The Persians took the opportunity to attack the Thracian light horse with the second unit of hoplites, but the left hoplites failed to charge the units in front of them (non-pike infantry facing heavy cavalry have to be within 2" and pass a morale test to attack; if they fail, they can go in automatically the next trun).
The Macedonians had a local advantage against the innermost heavy cavalry unit, AC2, which was fighting against both the Companions and the first unit of Thessalians. This is important, because a unit facing two splits its dice evenly between them. Local superiority of force is therefore rewarded. Similarly, the Persians had a local advantage against the Prodromoi and the Companions, although the latter didn't seem to be too bothered. The fighting was fierce and the initial Persian assault destroyed both the Prodromoi and the Thracians.
After the success against the Prodromoi, the leftmost Persian cavalry continued into the large unit of light infantry securing the Macedonian right flank. The Persian Guard Heavy Cavalry surged forwards into the Thessalians in front of them. Similarly, the second unit of hoplites came off the hill after destroying the Thracians and attacked the phalanx to their front. The other hoplites were now able to engage the second unit of Thessalians and their attendant Light Infantry. Fighting in the crucial sector was now almost universal, the only uncommitted unit being Macedonian LI4, positioned so as to replace LI3 should it be destroyed.
Elsewhere, to the right of this sector, the Macedonian phalanxes advanced ponderously towards the Persian centre, while the Persians started shooting up the leftmost Macedonian Light Infantry. Ian was running this part of the field for the Persians with some rules help from Simon, facing William. Billy was feeling the pressure, and Simon had a quick look at our flank, hoping that we could take out Alexander. My initial thoughts were correct; this was going to be close, either way.
The inner unit of Persian Heavy Cavalry finally broke, but this was where the positioning of the units with elite morale came into its own. When a heavy unit breaks, it causes anyone within 4" to take a morale test or become disordered, which is bad news, especially when engaged. The only exception is when a unit within 4" is well forward of the destroyed troops. In this case, both units of Persian Guards, infantry and cavalry, had to test. Both were rated as Elite morale, so pass on a roll of 6 or higher on 2D6. Both held.
In the meantime, Persian unit H2 was inflicting grief on the phalangites (P1). Persian H1, the other hoplites, were not doing too well against their opponents. Having said that, HC1 Thessalians were in real trouble, even though the closeness of Alexander meant that they would fight to the last man.
The other unit of Persian heavies now broke, the weight of the large Light Infantry block being too much for them after the combat with the Prodromoi. The Persian Guard Cavalry passed morale again and attacked the Light Infantry. The latter were directly to the front of the Persians, and if a unit is within 8" to one's front, one cannot maoeuvre - it's all or nothing, so in they went.
At the same time, Thessalians HC1 were destroyed, but this had no effect on the imperturbable Companions and the two units of Light Infantry LI1 and LI3, which were effectively operating as Elite morale because of Alexander.
The great man himself was now sweating as his Companions ground down the Persian Guard Infantry, but took copious amounts of damage themselves. Fortunately for the invaders, he kept making his saves in melee.
The Persian Guard cavalry finally broke through the Light Infantry facing them, but failed their control test (even though they were elites) and hared off in pursuit, effectively removing them from the game.
The Persian Guard Infantry also broke, and the Hoplites to their right failed their morale test, becoming disordered in combat. One Companion survived out of the eighteen figures that had started the battle. Alexander elected to stay put, so as to help out with the morale of his battered units.
There ensued a tense couple of turns as the left mercenary hoplites tried to hold out while disordered, and the Macedonian phalanx in this part of the field continued to take a pounding from the other hoplites.
Eventually, however, the left hoplites collapsed and the Thessalians broke through onto the hill. They turned around, which automatically disordered them. They were hoping to re-order in time to take the other hoplites in the back before the phalanx broke. Their battered Light Infantry turned around to get in the way of the Persian Guard Cavalry in case it managed to come back into the battle zone.
Elsewhere, the central phalanxes were catching up to the Persian cavalry in the middle, but the Macedonian Light Infantry were wiped out by superior numbers of Persians on the extreme far flank. The battle could still go either way; the Macedonians could not afford to commit what was left of the Companions, even against the flank of a unit, in case a single hit finished them off. The game was really hanging in the balance.
The phalanx just held with two hits left and the Thessalians hit the hoplites in the rear. At the same time, the central phalanxes started to crunch their way through the Persians in the centre, and it was all over.
Another very close campaign fight that could have gone either way. I found it a strangely stress-free game, despite the closeness, probably because I knew all along that what I was doing was risky from the outset. It was always going to be a fifty-fifty chance of success, and it came incredibly close, with only the one Companion left alive.
This is the first time I've done a more or less turn-by-turn description using Battle Chronicler. It's a shame that I couldn't use photos, but the lighting is so poor at the club that there isn't any point. I hope the diagrams help to illustrate the events, though.
Next week is the club's AGM, so no games then.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Principes of Legio II

The good thing about these shots as opposed to the more "posed" ones with terrain is that here I've done a better job of showing the basing. In fact, you can probably still see some rogue bits of flocking on the figures here and there. I really like these shield designs; when this legion is done, it'll be interesting to see how the two sets of Romans look deployed side by side.

Hastati of Legio II

I've ended up taking these photos indoors, mainly because the outside light is so poor here now that it's not worth bothering. I've re-balanced the colours to compensate.

Sunday 1 November 2009

On the painting tray for November

In October, I painted 24 Hastati and 24 Principes for Zama; photos to follow later this week. I also revamped 8 Tarantine light horse; 12 Seleucid Agema types; and 15 Greek casualty figures. In November, I'm committing to 24 Principes; 24 Triarii; and four legionary command figures. That will complete the second Roman legion for Zama.