Saturday 11 February 2012

A Close Run Thing

Somewhat belatedly, here is a report of the latest campaign battle. Somehow, the Persian Empire has hung on, albeit reduced to a couple of provinces.  Their success is at least in part due to adopting some of the tactics and troop types of the west.  However, now that the hated Macedonian oppressors have taken to vast bouts of infighting, the Persians (now using Bactrian Greek as their army) see an opportunity to pick off the enemy field army in Mesopotamia, and launch an attack:
Gordon chose and deployed the attackers (in blue, at the top).  From left to right as you look at it:

  • Persian right wing command (Billy from Ayrshire), comprising 18 Greek Medium Cavalry; 2 Elephants; two units of 12 Peltasts and two units of 8 Arachosian Horse Archers.
  • Persian centre (commanded by Alan), comprising four phalanxes of 24 figures, two on the hill deployed deep and two others shallow; two units of 12 Peltasts; and a screen of two units of 10 skirmish javelins.
  • Persian reserves and left wing (commanded by Gordon): two deep phalanxes of 24 figures; two units of 8 Arachosians; a unit of 18 Greek medium Cavalry; 2 Elephants; and two units of 12 Elite Heavy Lancers (Companion-types).
I constructed and deployed the defence (Seleucids).  There wasn't much terrain, just a steep hill to my left and a low rise in the centre:
  • The Greek left wing comprised two units of 8 Skythian Horse Archers; two units of 12 Peltasts; and 2 Elephants.  T'other Paul in command.
  • The Greek centre was made up of the phalanx, three units of 36 in three ranks with a unit of 24 Argyraspides in three ranks at either end of the line; 2 Elephants; and a screen of three units of 8 javelins.  David in command here.
  • The Greek right comprised two units of 12 Peltasts; two units of 12 Companions; two units of 12 'Tarentine' light cavalry with javelins; and a screen of archers and slingers.  Colin from Ayr was in command here.
The good thing about these games is that when other folks turn up, like the Ayrshire contingent, we can easily accommodate the extra players.  There were six players for this game, which meant that I was able to sit out for a change, although I did give Colin some pointers to the rules.  Gordon was able to do the same for the attackers.

Back to an exciting exposition of the battle in the present tense.  It is clear from the relative deployments that the Seleucids have a massive central advantage.  The attackers are going to play for time on their right and centre, with a huge attack on their left designed to turn the flank of the Seleucid infantry after crushing all before them.  So, on with the battle:
The first photo (above) shows the entire field taken from my position, sitting comfortably at the right flank of the Seleucid army.  In the immediate foreground the attacking enemy rumbles forward, straight away coming under withering fire from the Seleucid skirmishers.  In the centre right you can just make out the Bactrian reserves angling in this direction, to try to gain a speedy resolution on this flank and turn into the centre.  In the distance, the two lines advance.
Photo number two is a gratuitous shot of the Seleucid phalanx from the front, all lined up nice and neat.  Was OCD a recognised asset to generals in this period?

Above, the situation develops on the Seleucid right as the enemy attack goes in.  Aided by some excellent shooting from his skirmishers, Colin is able to make the enemy come to him piecemeal as he commits his units very carefully one by one.  I don't know if this is going to be much of a game for him as he tries to keep the weight off David's phalanx in the centre.  At the top left of the photograph you can see that the second unit of Seleucid Companions has retired.  At the right of the picture, the unengaged Bactrian phalanx on this wing starts to angle inwards.  
Above is a shot of the centre of the field from my angle.  At the bottom left you can see that David has committed his Argyraspides to his right as the mass of the central phalanx advances upon their hapless opponents. Will the Seleucid centre crush the opposition before a hammer blow strikes from their right? In the distance, Paul and Billy knock lumps out of each other.  Paul is using the steep hill to advantage, his Skythians firing merrily away at the Greek horse approaching them as they struggle up the hill.  Paul's swift advance with other elements of his command catches the Bactrian lighter troops and elephants in a bit of a traffic jam.  As a result, the far wing looks as though it will be a bloody stalemate.
The main Bactrian attack has forced Colin back even further.  They are now threatening to come into the right rear of the Seleucid phalanx, which you can just to see to the right of the photo above.
Above, David's Argyraspides are about to collapse before the combined onslaught of elephants and lancers. This will leave the vulnerable phalanx open to direct assault...
...and here it is, engaged all along the line.
And the Bactrian centre collapses spectacularly, just before their left hits the Seleucids from behind (bottom left, above).

This was an exceptionally close game, and could have gone either way right down to the final turn. Gordon guessed correctly that my deployment would be kind of symmetrical.  He weighted one flank accordingly and thinned his centre.  However, his plan just didn't come off, probably due to a combination of many minor factors.  On the Seleucid far left, Paul's horse archers made skilful use of the steep hill to keep the Greek horse occupied there, and the speed of his attack with his other troops meant that the Bactrians could only commit piecemeal to the left of the advancing Seleucid phalanx.  On the Seleucid right, Colin did a sterling job, making a series of calculated attacks with unit after unit to slow down the enemy advance.  If any one of these had failed, the game could have been won very quickly by the attackers.  He was even able to round it all off with a grand light cavalry charge, destroying the Greek cavalry with his Tarentines in the very last turn of the game.  In the centre, David timed his flank guard move with his Argyraspides perfectly, and although they actually performed abominably in combat, they kept enough of the enemy away from the main body of the phalanx, letting it do its job in grand style.  A central Bactrian morale collapse sealed the fate of their phalanx, and it was game over.

I hope our visitors had fun, and that they come back for more.  Next up is a Roman attack on Cisalpine Gaul, now that the First Punic War is over.


  1. That's a couple of impressive phalanxes!

    What do the little bits of yellow pipecleaner indicate?

  2. One of our players uses the pipecleaners to count casualties; I prefer number markers. Ultimately, I'd like to buy some dial counters with casualties on top, but those will be mostly for display games. It's more stuff to carry into the club!

  3. Great stuff as ever! :) Love the pikes

  4. Hi Paul

    Great pics and a superb account of what was a really enjoyable game. Hope to get up from sunny Ayr and join in again soon.

    Luving your work!

  5. Cheers, Colin, glad you liked it!