Wednesday 24 March 2010

The Macedonians grind onward

Yesterday evening the Macedonians advanced inexorably into Armenia. Simon picked the Persian opposition (in blue above). Due to shortage of figures, he came up with a list that was a good approximation of a core Persian force with substantial Armenian auxiliaries. Mark set them up as follows, from left to right as you look at it:
  • The right wing had a skirmish screen of two units of 8 Skythian horse archers. Further back, flung out wide on the flank, were three units of 8 javelin Light Horse (Medes). Linking with the centre was a large unit of 4 Scythed Chariots, with a reserve of 18 tough Armenian hillmen behind them.
  • The centre was composed of four large blocks of Kardakes on a low ridge: two units of 36 on either end and two of 48 figures in the centre. Well in front of those was a substantial skirmish screen of two units of 12 archers.
  • The Persian left wing rested on a steep hill, which was occupied by two units of Armenian hillmen, one of 18 figures and the other of 12. Between them and the central Kardakes was a force of good quality horse: the 16 men of the Satrap's Guard; 20 Armoured Armenian heavies; and a unit of 16 Persian Medium Cavalry. In front was a pair of 8-figure Skythian light horse in skirmish formation.

I chose the Macedonian army and deployed it. I was expecting the Persians to pick Scythed Chariots as a way of trying to compensate for their inability to field any Hoplites. The chariots are extremely difficult to use effectively, but if they are fortunate enough to pick the right target, they can severely damage heavy infantry or destroy heavy cavalry. I went for a very flexible deployment:

  • The left wing had a good skirmish screen of two units of 10 Cretan Archers. Behind them was a large unit of 18 Peltasts deployed wide so as to watch the steep hill off to our front left; a unit of 12 mercenary Greek Medium Cavalry; and a large unit of 36 Hypaspists. This lot was meant to be the flank guard. I controlled this flank.
  • The centre had five phalanxes of 24 figures each, with a unit of 12 Thracians at the forward extremities of the line. They were tasked with going forward or off on the oblique to counter any Scythed Chariots. If none were present in the centre, they could also link with the flank commands. The whole lot was preceded by 10 Psiloi javelinmen. Billy and I shared the centre
  • The right was incredibly powerful: two units of 12 Companions; a unit of 12 Elite Thessalians; 12 Prodromoi; and two units of 8 Thracian light horse. This lot was interspersed with another two units of 12 Light Infantry who would be able to deal with any chariots and/or screen the steep hill on which the Persian left flank was anchored. There was a unit of 8 Agrianes in the forefront. Billy was in charge here.

I won't do maps for every turn because the battle was very mobile, intense and hotly contested. I kind of lost track of the turn by turn details. On my wing, the Macedonian left, I was able to counter the advance of the Persian light horse by concentrating fire from my skirmishers on them one at a time. I was able gradually to force them back to their own lines by a combination of moves from the large unit of Peltasts and the Greek mercenary cavalry. This was essentially a long running skirmish, masking the extra unit of Light Infantry from the Macedonian centre as they advanced towards the chariots; both of those units vanished in a puff of dust. In the meantime, the Hypaspists ground their way forward into contact with the end Persian block of Kardakes.

Life in the centre was very hard for our advancing pike blocks. The Persian skirmishers had amazingly good luck, hurting the phalanxes right across the line. Eventually the damage became so great that we halted the advance out of charge reach of the Kardakes on the hill, in the hopes that a cavalry breakthrough would come through from our right.

Billy swept aside everything in his path, wiping out all of the Persian heavy cavalry and forcing the inner unit of Companions through, eventually wheeling them to threaten the flank of the Kardakes. The other Macedonians on this flank traded hits with the Armenians on the hill.

With their cavalry destroyed and the phalanxes weakening, the Kardakes launched an all-out assault on the phalanxes, and again the Persian dice were brilliant. One phalanx was destroyed; another routed on morale, and a third was disordered on morale. Then the Companions came through and destroyed everything in their path.

Another extremely close game: one more hit on a phalanx and it would have been all over for the invaders, but it was not to be. The cavalry arrived just in time and so Armenia has fallen. Now the Macedonians are poised to aim for the centre of the Persian Empire.

We are experiencing a little bit of battle fatigue with games between Persians and Macedonians. Even though the latter have another move to take this turn, we decided to give it a rest for now and play a different game before we return to the titanic struggle in the east. Carthage and Persia still have to take their campaign move, so we rolled to see who would go next: Persia. Everyone there reckoned that they would shy away from taking on the conquering Macedonians, so the Great King is going to try to consolidate what is left of his domains by taking back Bactria from the insolent Sakae. That is next week's game, and it should be very different from the battles we have played up to now.

Saturday 20 March 2010

2nd Socii Legion: Command

The combination of the diffused light and the new camera seems to work well. I like a camera that thinks for itself.

2nd Socii Legion: Principes

I also used the new mini studio setup I received for my birthday. I didn't bother with the lights or tripod to take these particular photos, but the white sides of the "box" help to diffuse the light very nicely.

2nd Socii Legion: Hastati

Finally, some photos of the 2nd Socii legion from February. These shots are taken with our new 10 MP digital camera. I think the quality shows; they certainly take a lot longer to load than they used to!

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Macedonia's Revenge

Above is the deployment map for the latest battle in our Empire campaign, played on Tuesday evening. Simon built the Persian army and Mark deployed them (in red above); they were played by something like five different folks, including people new to the club and/or ancients. These games are continuing to be very good for club multi-player evenings, but I kind of lost track of who was whom on the Persian side. Terrain consisted of a long low ridge on the Persian side, and a single smaller low hill on the Macedonian centre left. Interestingly, the Persians had no foot skirmishers, instead relying on their prolific light horse. Looking at the map from the top left, they set up as follows:
  • Right wing command consisting of two units of 8 Light Cavalry with javelins in two ranks; one unit of 12 Light Infantry with javelins in two ranks; two large units of 36 Hoplites in three ranks; and behind those, the Satrap's Guard, a unit of 24 Elite Heavy Infantry in three ranks.
  • A relatively hollow centre composed of three units of 8 Skythian Horse Archers spread across the front in skirmish formation, and well behind them the rest of the command: two large units of 20 Colonist Militia Cavalry set up wide in two ranks, interspersed with three units of 12 Light Infantry with javelins in two ranks.
  • A powerful left wing cavalry punch in three waves. The first line is a sacrificial batch of four units of 8 Light Cavalry with javelins. They are followed by all of the best cavalry in the army: two units of 16 Persian Medium Cavalry, a unit of 16 Armenian Heavy Cavalry, and the Satrap's Guard of 12 Elite Heavy Cavalry. Finally, hanging back as far as possible, the rest of the Colonists, two more units of 20 Militia. All of these units are deployed in two ranks.

I chose the Macedonian army and set it up. The pre-battle confab was mostly about how best to divide up the Phalanx units and the Light Infantry. We had enough phalangites for four large units of 36, six units of 24, or a mixture. William suggested that given the open terrain we should make the phalanx as flexible as possible, hoping that the relative manoeuvrability of the smaller units would enable them to gang up on the expected large units of Hoplites. Our units set up from left to right as follows:

  • Left wing (me): 12 Thessalian Heavy Cavalry in two ranks on the far side of the hill, with a large unit of 18 Thracian Peltasts in two ranks and a unit of 24 Hypaspists in three ranks on the hill itself. To their right and slightly further ahead is the first Phalanx unit of 24 figures in three ranks. In front is a skirmish screen of 10 Cretan Archers.
  • Centre (William): five phalanx units, each of 24 figures in three ranks and on their right another unit of 24 Hypaspists in three ranks. In front of the Hypaspists is a unit of 8 elite Agrianian javelin skirmishers.
  • Right wing (Billy): 12 Peltasts in two ranks; 12 Companions in two ranks; 18 Thracian Peltasts in three ranks; another 12 Companions in two ranks; and 8 Thracian Light Cavalry in two ranks. Behind them at the extreme right is a unit of 8 Prodromoi in 2 ranks.
The relative deployments mean that the Persians are hoping to postpone meeting any central phalanxes for as long as possible while shooting at them with the Skythians. They have weighted both ends of their line, with the hoplites offset to their centre right and the mass of cavalry on their left. The Macedonian plan is a holding action on the left near the hill, a flexible phalanx deployment ready for use in the centre, and a straightforward right hook.

The second map shows the situation after the first turn's movement: The Persians have advanced the hoplites and other troops on their right, and have thrown forward the first two waves of their main cavalry strike. The Macedonians have begun to echelon their phalanx, waiting for the right moment to choose where to strike in the centre, and advanced their own cavalry force. It is already clear that a major combat will take place between the cream of the Macedonian horse and the huge mass of Persian cavalry. Here is Turn Two: The Persians have begun to shift the infantry of the Satrap's Guard into the centre from behind the advancing hoplites. Their rightmost light horse have been taking substantial damage from the Cretans. The Persian centre has remained put, and the sacrificial light horse have cantered right over the Agrianes to destruction on their left flank, doing some hits across the front of the Macedonians before disappearing. The only unit left of four is held in combat by the Macedonian light cavalry, including the Prodromoi, who have wheeled out to extend the army's frontage. Turn three:
In response to the withering fire of the Cretans, the right wing Persian cavalry disperses into skirmish formation to return fire more effectively with their javelins. The unit of Light Infantry drops back somewhat to stay out of reach of the Thessalians, while covering the flank of the hoplites. They continue their advance en echelon, supported by the Satrap's Guard. I manage to keep them occupied to their front while William takes advantage of the flexible phalanx to begin to threaten the inside of the enemy advance. The Skythians' fire is beginning to hurt, but there are no other Persian massed units in range to stop the phalanx from manoeuvring. Meanwhile, on the other wing, the majority of the Persian second wave contacts the Macedonians right across the front. The outside left unit of Persian cavalry waits for the lights in front to resolve their differences as the final unit of Persian Light Cavalry dissolves in melee. Turn Four:The Cretan archers destroy the rightmost unit of Persian light cavalry. The hoplites continue to advance towards the hill. The outside unit is unable to manoeuvre because of the Thracians on the hill, and the Macedonians take advantage of this by squeezing the leftmost unit of Hypaspists and the first phalanx block past them to threaten a joint attack on the second hoplite unit. The idea here is to sacrifice the Thracians in order to destroy one hoplite unit. At the same time the Satrap's Guard is caught at a disadvantage by a phalanx unit that has wheeled inwards as the rest of the phalanx advances. The rest of the phalanx grinds forward. On the other wing the Hypaspists join in against the Persian cavalry. The small unit of Macedonian Light Infantry is destroyed as the fighting rages all across the front. The outside unit of Persian cavalry charges the two end units of Macedonian light horse. The Thracians are destroyed, but the Prodromoi hold. Turn Five:

The Thessalians charge the flank guard of Light Infantry as the first block of hoplites goes up the hill and into the Thracians. The Hypaspists and phalanx gang up on the other hoplites. The Satrap's Guard begins to take serious damage. In the centre, the rest of the phalanxes continue to advance as the Skythians manoeuvre around them, continually shooting all the while. On the other flank, the cavalry melee begins to resolve itself as the inner Persian cavalry are wiped out by the Hypaspists and the Armenians are destroyed by a combination of Companions and Thracian Light Infantry. On the outside, however, the Persians finally break the Prodromoi flank guard. Turn Six:
There's quite a lot of rather desperate fighting as the Thessalians get bogged down against the Persian Light Infantry and the hoplites start to wade their way through the Thracians. The Satrap's Guard Infantry is wiped out by the phalanx, other elements of which continue to press forward in the centre amidst a hail of missile fire. On the Macedonian right flank, one unit of Companions finally struggles through against the Satrap's Guard Cavalry with serious damage to themselves; the outermost Persian cavalry manages to flank the rest of the Companions. Turn Seven:
It's all happening this turn. The Cretans finally wipe out the second light horse unit facing them and the Thessalians burst through the Persian Light Infantry. The Thracians on the hill flee from the hoplites. The inner hoplite unit collapses in the face of superior numbers. Both units of Companions are finally destroyed, but it is all too much for the Persians.
This is the first time I've used Battle Chronicler for a full account of a large game, but I think it deserves it, and I hope you can follow what happened. Besides, I wanted to post a full description because it was such a good multi-player game. It's a very good example of how Tactica II works (without going into details too much). I have missed out a few minor points and I probably haven't quite got the sequence correct for the action on the Macedonian right, because I was at the other end of the table, but I have tried to make the narrative flow as best I can.
The Macedonians have now finally broken through Pontus beyond into Armenia, which will be the next game in a couple of weeks' time. We have ruled that since they are now well into Persian territory, there are no more hoplites to face. So it could be an even larger army that meets them next time: more polyglot cavalry and light infantry, Kardakes and possibly some levy and scythed chariots. Another classic match.

Monday 1 March 2010

On the Painting Tray: March 2010

February saw 24 Hastati, 24 Principes and 4 Command figures completed for Zama. No pictures yet; they'll have to wait a couple of weeks until we purchase a new digital camera, and I receive my little studio setup for my birthday. The plan for March is to finish the Zama legions: 24 Principes, 24 Triarii and two mounted army command figures for Scipio plus friend.