Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Bridge of Boats: Battlegames Tabletop Teaser #1 Refought

Note: for those who are starting with this post, what follows is a refight of the Pontoon Tabletop Teaser from Battlegames Issue #1 using prototypes of Mede and Lydian armies using the basic Warhammer Ancient Battle Persian and Greek lists.
Skythian border guards, startled to see King Alouettes' Thracian mercenaries on their side of the river,  leap onto their horses and ride madly off in all directions to get help.
  The game opened with the Lydian commander dicing to see how many troops had managed cross during the night. This turned out to be two units of mercenary Thracian peltasts and one of javelinmen. The javelinmen moved off to occupy a village to the left while the peltasts hunkered down on a hill overlooking the bridge. Two units of light cavalry and one of foot archers were left on the near shore. There were six Skythian mercenary horse archers on border patrol based on a farm overlooking the river. Two of these stayed to keep watch while two rode off north and two to the south to call for help from the main army. The scenario is designed for a 24 turn game so I halved the time to build the bridge and the arrival times thus making a 12 turn game with the bridge being completed on turn 7 and Mede reinforcements arriving on the turn number equal to or greater than 1/2 the sum of three dice, arriving at 1 of three points decided randomly.
Lydian pioneers pole a boat out into the stream as the bridge gets well under way.
Two of the Mede units rolled 3 ones and arrived on the 2nd turn, a unit of Persian infantry, with spear and bow, and a unit of Skythian horse archers.  The Persians deployed and advanced down the center. The Skythians rode forward to shoot at the peltasts. To my surprise, the peltasts were able to advance into javelin range and hold their own in the exchange of missiles. By the time I decided that the horse archers would be better off falling back to long range, the peltasts had advanced 1/2 way across the table and the Skythians had lost nearly 1/2 their strength. Luckily, help was at hand as a regiment of subject archers supported by Ethiopean mercenaries arrived right behind them. 
Turn 7 and the air is thick with arrows and javelins, but the bridge is complete.
In the center, the Immortals had arrived to support the Medes and behind them came heavy cavalry, massed Skythian archers, Cappadocian light cavalry and some Kurdish javelinmen.  The 2nd regiment of Thracian mercenaries advanced to expand the bridgehead, only to be driven back by a storm of arrows. On the far flank, more Skythian foot archers, a regiment of Medes and some slingers arrived and were supported by the 1/2 regiment of Skythians that had been on border patrol and had now regrouped. The Medes moved to the center while the rest moved against the village, expecting to shoot the javelinmen out of it.

Back on the river, the bridge was finally completed as the Lydian cavalry rode up. On the Lydian right, the mercenaries, faced with a  regiment of foot archers, raised their shields and charged. The archers fired a quick volley but  their nerve failed them and after a show of resistance they fled taking the Ethiopeans and the remnants of the Skythian horse archers with them.  The Thracians deployed into skirmish order and waited for the promised relief.   
The first climax of the battle, the Mede heavy infantry converges on the bridgehead but the Thracians have cleared the Mede left from the table as the Lydian cavalry rides forward into the gap. A second regiment of Persian cavalry lurks just off the bottom of the picture.
Reacting quickly, the Persian cavalry and Skythian foot archers wheeled left and moved to plug the gap. The Thracians, unable to fall back safely, took the desperate measure of charging into a column of Persian cavlary, catching them by surprise. (in other words when I moved the cavalry forward, I expected the battered remnants of the Thracians to fallback but once I took over as the other side, it no longer seemed feasible and I suddenly remembered that the cavalry get no rank bonus.) The first round was closely fought and the Skythians were forced to drew their hand axes and charge in to rescue the cavalry. This time the issue was not in doubt but a handful of Thracians outdistanced the pursuit and rallied in some rocks on top of the hill.

In the center,  the Immortals pressed forward under a shower of javelins from Thracian cavalry and the fire of the supporting archers from  across the river. The broken Thracian infantry rallied on the bridge, blocking the progress of the mercenary hoplites. Things looked bleak as a regiment of Ionian Greek cavalry braced themselves to charge in but suddenly the Immortals broke under the shower of javelins and ran back towards the shelter of their friends. (25% casualties and boxcars on morale, what can one do?) The Thracians swarmed back over the bridge followed by a regiment of hoplites. The heavily armoured Lydian  lancers lowered their points and charged into the Whitecaps, a regiment of lightly armoured Mede cavalry. On the left, the javelinmen were more than holding their own against four times their numbers. Victory seemed at hand for the Lydian army. 

Ahh but fate is fickle. The Lydians crashed into the Medes with advantage of weapon and superior fighting skill and....whiffed! The Persians did not. With dismay the Lydian general watched the Persian and Mede infantry stand firm as the Immortals rushed past them. (Even the morale 5 Armenians stood firm!) Raising their bows, the sky was darkened by the stream of arrows and the Thracian cavalry was crushed and routed, carrying away their countrymen with them. On the hill, the Medes again forced back the Lydian cavalry and routed them. In their flight, they swept away their supporting heavy cavalry. At the sight of the cavalry thundering down on them as they stepped over the bodies of the Thracians, the hoplites that had crossed over the bridge panicked and rushed to the rear. Evening drew a veil over the sad spectacle as men were trampled under foot or threw off their armour and tried to swim the broad stream.

   Panic overcomes the Lydian army.
So ends the first battle between the not quite historical Mede and Lydian empires as I refurbish my OS 25mm ancient armies. (See Gathering of the Hosts blog ). What better cause could the King of the Medes desire to excuse a counter invasion in May?  ( A mini-campaign)

So also ends the first month of the Battle of the Month blog. Two solo refights of the Battle of Marathon and the Pontoon Tabletop Teaser  from Issue one. Next month, the ancients will take a rest. We may see the Centurion tanks of the Hants Heavy Horse take the field or else the armies of the Red Queen.     
We shall almost certainly see a BKC2 battle, possibly the debut of my nascent Russian Civil War forces.

Stay tuned!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Contrary Winds

When planning a sea borne invasion or a January wargame in rural Nova Scotia, one must be prepared for Mother Nature to intervene. A snow storm and blowing winds has cancelled the live play game of Marathon.
I didn't feel like a 3rd solo run through, nor did I feel like doing chores for the entire day, so flipping through BG Issue 1 I came across the pontoon bridge scenario, Since the Persians were still out and are known to have bulit bridges of boats ( a pontoon bridge by any other name) I decided to reset the table. Now, I'm not planning to pursue the Greek & Persian wars so even though i haven't finished planning and preparing my Lydian army or done personalities and all the various esentials prior to undertaking a campaign, I decided that it was time for a provocative invasion of Cappadocia by a largely mercenary and subject Lydian force.    

The initial Lydian force (drawn up using the WHAB Greek list) consists of :
1 x 12 javelinmen and 2x24 Thracian peltasts as an advance guard across the river.
1 x 12 archers and 2 light cavalry units, 1 of Thracian mercenaries, 1 of subjects, Ionians perhaps?
and a group of pioneers building the bridge.

The main force comprised:
3 x 12 Heavy cavalry unjts, 1 of Lydian lancers (Thessalians under the list), 2 of subjects
4 x 24 mercenary hoplites
2 x 24 Anantolian spearmen
1  x 12 slingers
1 x 12 light cavalry

The Persian border guard was 6 mercenary Skyhian horse archers,
The relief force, arriving in random fashion inckluded:
2 x 12 heavy cavalry
2 x 12 light cavalry (1 scythian, 1 cappadocian)
1 x 24 Immortals with bow & spear
2 x 24 Persian s with bow & spear
2 x 24 Saka with bow
1 x 24 tribal levies with bow and spear
2 x 12 skirmishers with sling or javelin.

A short report with pictures will appear in a few days.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


That's the sound of me suddenly realizing that I had forgotten the Immortals are "stubborn" and automatically pass their 1st break test of the game. That is one of the strengths and the weaknesses of WAB. The myriad of special rules allow granularity and flavour to be added in a simple yet effective manner but there are alot of them, only some of which apply to any given army so you have to REALLY know your own guys (or have a sharp memory). Luckily the rules provide for forgetting a special rule, it basically goes: "Too bad, if you're silly enough to forget, suck it up, no going back". Any way they could easily have broken on the Greek turn and the effect would have been much the same , maybe, .... ARRGGHHHH!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

2nd Battle of Marathon

Deja Vue all over again, as they say. The table has been reset, some more movement trays have been improvised and the Greeks have adapted their formation to their new OB. Two units of 24 in the center, deployed 2 deep, a unit of 16 on each flank deployed 3 deep and outside of them on each flank a 24 man unit deployed 4 deep. The 2 armies are arrayed 18" back from the centerline. Both battleplans are the same as last game. Time to sound the Paean and advance.

On turn 2 the Persians open up.
Aftre one turn of advancing by both sides, the Persians are in range and halt. From this point, the Greeks who have been given special permission to run forward even if harassed by skirmishers, can expect to have to suffer four volleys of arrows. Each stationary massed Persian unit can let fly 18 dice of arrows, the smaller units, 12. By the time hits are reduced to wounds and then armour saves are made, the final result was very similar to Harry's rules but the sheer number of dice is intimidating, especially in light of the knowledge that a lucky set of die rolls could spell disaster. The phrase "We shall darken the skies with our arrows" comes to mind.

   "Then we shall fight in the shade!" A trail of bodies marks the Greek advance.
At first the trickle of casualties wasn't worrisome but then I noticed a problem for the Greeks. In the center the Immortals with their enhanced shooting ability were causing slightly higher casualties, worse, because of the wide Greek formation and the spaces between units, the Persians were able to  focus 2 units against one. Even if I had doubled the Persian unit sizes and reduced the number of units as I did with the Greeks, this would have happened because the rules count noses not units. Morale-wise, the casualties were not enough to cause panic tests but the hoplites depend on their phalanx for their effectiveness and the rules stipulate that a phalanx must have 2 ranks in good order (my term not the rules). A minimum of 4 men are required for an effective rear rank. Since all casualties come off the rear ranks, my central phalanx was in serious danger of being reduced to a single rank. The only option was to halt and reorder the ranks. This meant that the wings were now advancing ahead of the center and left the middle Immortal unit unengaged.

The skirmish fight on the Persian right.
On the Greek left, their skirmishers put up a creditable fight but they were not the heroes that they were in the last game and were driven back by Persian slingers and javelinmen (more 35 year veterans).  The Anatolian levies backing the skirmishers, advanced into the gap to make room for a regiment of heavy cavalry that had appeared and then began a ponderous wheel to flank the Greeks. Deciding to ignore these goings on, the Greeks pushed on, pulling in the javelinmen to form a purely defensive screen across  their flank and rear.  Charging full tilt into the Persian battleline, they demolished it. Some units broke on contact, others panicked when their friends routed. The end result was a huge hole in the Persian line. If the Greeks could just wheel into the center while holding off the threatening light troops and cavalry then the battle was won.


On the Greek right, the skirmishing Persian archers were also able to drive away the Greek javelins though these did eventually rally and come back. The archers were unable to halt the hoplites but when these charged, the archers evaded 2d6", rolling just enough to get out of the way, leaving the hoplites to move 1/2 and then stop. Rolling 2 dice for morale neding 5 or less, they then managed to rally and do the whole thing again. It was the 3rd turn before the frustrated Greeks could crash into the main battle line. (No wonder later Greek hoplites began stripping down their armour so that they could move faster, lightly armoured Greeks would have caught the skirmishers or hit the main battleline on the 1st charge.) When the hoplites finally charged home the Skythians were driven back in disorder. (I can hear the WAB players going "Wah?" so let me explain that the Skythians failed their break test, fled,  were not caught by the pursuit and rallied on the next turn. To my mind that means that they were not really fleeing in panic but were merely driven back in disorder. What's in a name?)   Quickly rallying, the Skythians faced the Greeks and readied their bows. Farther to the left, the Bythnians, supremely unmoved by the fate of their "betters" had moved one regiment past the end of the phalanx, wheeling to take it in the flank while another pinned it from the front.

The Persian left draws the hoplites forward while enveloping them.
The focus now shifted to the center where there was an unengaged regiment of Immortals and one of Persians faced a badly battered Greek phalanx. The flanks were crumbling, decisive action was called for. The Immortals charged forward to scatter the Greeks while the Persians wheeled to face the right flank. Or at least that was the plan. The Persian general who shall remain nameless was counting on the depth of the Immortals and their high combat skills and had failed to allow for the rule that says that non-phalanx spearmen only fght with 1 rank when they charge or for the penalty for attacking a phalanx frontally and underestimated the Greek armour. To make a long story shorter, the Immortals lost the combat, just, failed morale, routed, and were caught and dispersed by the Greeks who carried on to crash into the flank of the manouevering Persians. Beside these, the Carians, seeing the Immortals flee, broke and ran. Oh dear, it is very risky trying to manuever a battle line when in close proximity to the enemy.

The center caves in.
The  battle looked to be just about over despite the belated appearance of more Persian cavalry, but there were still those Bythnian light infantry on the far left of the Persian line to deal with. The unit in front quailed at the thought of throwing their unarmoured bodies onto the Greek spearpoints but those on the flank had no hesitation and crashed into the flank of the phalanx throwing it into disorder. (My term) Elated, they threw high and the Greek armour for once failed them. Even with favorable omens and the presence of the general,  they were forced to check morale and failed. Uhoh! Rolling for distance, our nimble hoplites scooted back 12"  without shedding a single shield, leaving the less nimble Bythnians gaping at this display of atheleticism,  and calmly reformed ranks on the next turn. (Another fallback in disorder result in my book.)  Sometimes, skill is no match for luck! A leaden slingshot dodged for sure.

 The Greek right in peril.
The focus must now shift back to the Persian right where more Anatolian light infantry backed by cavalry were threatening the Plateans. Here, the only really major difference in the rules came into play. The Persian cavalry was not allowed to charge frontally into a phalanx, since I had taken away their javelins, their only option was to try and get behind them or ride away.  They shifted left and supported by the fire of Skythian horse archers tried to hold the center while the Anatolians worked around the Greek left. There just wasn't enough space and before the manouever could be completed, the Plateans had faced and then charged into them. No doubt here and the light infantry scattered  to the winds, carrying away the cavalry in their flight.

No room to retreat!
This left the final act on the Persian left. Supported (morally at least) by the general in his chariot, the Skythians faced their enemy while the cavalry and Anatolians manouvered on to the enenmy flank. A fierce charge by hoplites finally broke the last unit of Skythian foot. The Anatolians worked up the nerve to charge them in the rear but the elated hoplites turned and fought them to a stand still. (Here the armour proved its worth.) When a fresh phalanx charged the Anatolians in the rear they finally broke and the general, the  cavalry and the remaining unit all took to their heels. The battle had been close at times but in the end, was well won.  Some at least of the ships would burn!

 Confusion and chaos as the Persian left finally crumbles. from bottom to top are: Greeks, Bythnians, Greeks, Persian cavalry and more Bythnians and then more Hoplites!
Having been pleased with how well Harry's rules worked, I was even more pleased that my usual rules were also up to the task. (I'll confess that it was also a relief to be back to d6 & inches but that's the Old School Wargamer in me.) The Persian bowfire was awesome but ultimately inadequate against the rapid advance of the heavily armoured Greek phalanx. I would not care to be a Greek phalanx on the defensive against such a barrage though, a few more turns of shooting would have weakend some of the units to the point where they were in danger of collapse.
The phalanx rules work really well, a cumbrous machine but don't get in its way. Its only the second time I have used the Greeks as their own army under WAB and not as mercenaries and the first time that I used the omens. (at the start of the game, the Greek commander takes the omens by rolling dice based on the size of his army, the result are bonus points if you will that can be used to weight the results of combat.) I used them fairly heavily up front to help even up the rank bonus differential agiant the deep masses of Persians, as well  as countering the moral affect of their standards and it tipped the balance in more than 1 fight. By the time I was running out of omen bonuses, the fights were one sided enough not to need them.

The 16 man phalanxes were definitely a problem, if I hadn't ignored the need to maintain at least 16 men, one of the units would have been understrength before it hit, having taken 3 casualties from missile fire. Actually, even the 24 man units are too small but I don't want to reduce the number of units any farther and in any case I believe that the Greek and Persian units should be roughly the same size in theory.  Next time though,  I may amalgamate the two small Greek units into one 36 man unit. To help balance things a little, I will then consolidate the four 12 man archer units into two 24 man ones. 

With 2 successive defeats under their belt and given the terrain and the style of the Greek attack, I am beginning to wonder if the Persians have any chance of winning this battle, even at a nearly 2:1 points advantage. However, there were several times when a combination of luck and Persian tactical errors tipped the balance. If the Immortals had  been more succesful and routed the battered unit  in front of them, the Greek line might have panicked and for them, there would have been no return.  

Im any case, if all goes as planned, Gary and I will play the scenario again on Thursday and this time the fetters are off and I will let the Persian commander deploy his infantry as he chooses. the Greek commander may then study his dispositions and then make his own plan of battle.


By and large, there was little work needed to translate Harry's units into equivalents for use with WAB. The only real issue resulted from the shortage of figures which had caused me to halve (more or less) all the infantry units on both sides. Since Harry's rules don't count noses and the relative frontages were maintained as was the proportion of army frontage to deployment area, any distortion was minimal. For the Persians, 24 man units were fine but for the Greeks, 12 man units just wouldn't work. I decided to double up 8 of the units to make 4 x 24 man phalanxes and make 2 18 man units of the remaining 3. To make the comparison between rules as valid as possible, I wanted to keep the same orders of battle and the same battle plan for each side. How the execution fared would then be largely a matter of rules and dice.

The next task then was to define the units in WAB terms, I decided to stick with how the figures looked crossed with the list and adjust when necessary for consistancy between the games. Since the original made no mention of shield barriors, I left them out and counted the spara as ordinary shields. I was also at a loss for the extra commanders since the original WAB lists didn't have extra characters. Making up stats would not have taken much effort but I decided to just skip them. If Friday's planned game comes through I will probably add them. I did make 2 special rules, to reflect the Athenians running charge, I allowed the hoplites to "march" even if there were enemy units within 8" and I decided to allow them to keep their phalanx benefits even if they fell below 16 figures (ok to be honest I forgot about it in the heat of battle)!

So this gave me the following:
The Persians fielded:
General in chariot
2 x 24 Immortals with light armour, shield, bow, spear and shield
1 x 24 Persians with bow, spear and shield
1x 24 Saka with bow, shield and hand weapons
1 x24 Carian spearman with light armour, shield and spear. (I briefly thought about counting these as hoplites but had used the Persian stats for them in the first game so did the same for consistancy)
4x12 Archers, (Scythian, Ethiopean, Arab but treated as Persiasn for the day not levies)
4x24 Anatolians, Levy Light Infantry with javelin, spear and shield.
3 units of levy skirmishers, 1 each of bow, sling& shield and javelein & shield
2 units of Persian Cavalry, 1 with shield and throwing spear, one with light armour and throwing spear. (normally these have javelins but since the orbat says they have no missile weapons, I swapped them)
1 unit of Skythians: Levy skirmish cavalry with bow

The whole came to 19 units totalling 252 figures and 3,853 points
All close order units had standards and muscians

The Greeks fielded:
Hoplite General
4 x 24 Hoplites, heavy armour, large shield, spear, phalanx
2 x 18 Hoplites, heavy armour, large shield, spear, phalanx
3 x 12 skirmishers, with sling or javelin, 2 of which had bucklers as well.

This came to 11 units, 157 figures and 2092.

The ratio of figures was close enough to the historical but the point totals indicate that the Persians should have a major advantage, confirming my believe that most if not all point sytems are useless for game balance. Of course, the game might prove me wrong and be a walk over for the Persians which would at least match historical expectations.

Monday, January 25, 2010

First Battle of Marathon

The Greek advance into the beaten zone begins
On Friday I got a chance for a solo run through of Harry Pearson's Marathon scenario, published in Batllegames Issue 1, using Harry's rules which were published in the same issue. After some debate I decided to stick with 3 Greek units deployed 4 deep on each flank and 5 units deployed 2 deep in the center. To minimize the risk of being outflanked, I anchored the Greek right on the sea with a unit of javelins in support, deployed the slingers to the left of the line, but held the 3rd light unit to deal with breakthroughs (or at least be a speed bump). Te Persians were deployed with their best troops in the center, Immortals flanked by Persians, Saka and some Carian hoplites, and the weakest units on the flanks.

 For those (shame on you!) who don't have the magazine, I'll give a brief outline using my own terminology. The rules adopt standard unit sizes and assign each unit a number of attack dice (6 for hopltes ranging down to 2 for skirmishers) and a defence factor (18 for hoplites ranging down to 12 for skirmishers and tribal levies) which is an assesment of  combined morale, armour and mass of each unit type. This is the lowest score that will make a die roll a hit. there are a few modifiers to the number of dice to be rolled, +1 die for charging etc. When a unit takes 6 hits or if it loses a melee by 4 hits more than it inflicted then a  unit is destroyed with possible consequences for nearby friends.

The game began with both sides advancing, the Greeks to cross the beaten zone as quickly as possible, the Persians to come into range and to give themselves room to fall back if needed.  By the end of the 2nd turn the Persian light infantry archers were in range and opened up on the hoplites.

The Persian slingers open up.

 I had pondered holding the Greek center back but as the arrows began to rain down, I realized that the Persian attack factor with bow was the same as their close combat factor but with no chance for the Greeks to retaliate. It was time to do or die and all units pressed forward at full speed.

Once the Persian battle line was in range and busy shooting, they had command points left over to start trying to get some auxiliaries and light troops around the open Greek left flank. At this point, the Greek lights did stirling work with sling and javelin and shot the archers to pieces, the routing archers carrying away a few other tribesmen with them .
The skirmishing Persian archers get the worst of it.

As hoplite casualties mounted, I began to worry about them being able to survive long enough to get into combat, then I belatedly remembered the steadying effect of the Greek commanders. Each can cancel 1 hit per game, just enough to get the phalanx through the beaten zone intact, more or less. As the hoplites entered close range, they broke into a run and then charged.  Only one battered unit hung back (failed charge morale roll). Combat was general along the line with some expected and some unexpected results.

The veteran Scythian archers hold their own, and I mean veteran, most of them have over 25 years service and the hard core nearly 35 years!

On the right the Greeks swept away the Bythnian levies but were held by the Scythian archers and Carian hoplites. One poor phalanx was even driven back by the fierce Scythians (so many dice, so few hits). Towards the center, the Persians were able to destroy the battered unit which had stalled and then wheeled to assist the Carians.

Crisis on the Greek right.

Things looked bleak for the Greeks but in the center, the Immortals were quickly destroyed in a flurry of high die rolls though taking a Greek unit with them. Their flight was deadly to surrounding unit's morale. On the far right, the Greeks eventually managed to drive off the remaining Scythians, and the Greeks in the center shrugged off the flank attack and pushed both units back!  (The Persians rolled 10 d12 for their flank charge, the Carians rolled 6, all needing to roll 18 or higher to hit and not one hit! ) A rout soon followed. So what about the Greek left?

The Persian right surges forward reinforced by cavalry.

As the main battlelines clashed, the Persian right, supported by a newly  arrived cavalry unit, worked its way around the Greek flank forcing the Plateans to eventually turn and face them.  The Greek lights pressed forward, routing the remaining Persian lights then turning their slings and javelins on the auxiliaries and cavalry. As the 2 sides circled to line up for a charge the cavalry finally had an opening  but stung by their casualties, they refused the order.

At this point, the game looked like a fairly decisive Greek victory but I suddenly realized that there was no Army Morale, no turn limit and no victory conditions. Since I hadn't really seen the cavalry at work, and with 2 units now on the table, I decided to carry on. Then the Scythian Horse Archers arrived and with deadly aim, began destroying tired Greek hoplite units while skipping nimbly back out of reach. Once again the game hung in the balance.

The Greek right and center reforms and braces itself.
Again the Greek lights proved their worth, rushing forward they began to return fire on the horse archers while 1 unit covered the Plateans. The hoplite line reformed at right angles and began to slowly push the Scythians back against the sea. At last the White Cap cavalry, despite more hits, summoned the courage to charge. The javelineers nimbly ran back and the Hoplites braced themselves. The shock sent them back a pace or 2 but the line steadied and soon the cavalry was streaming back, carrying the remaining Persians with them.

The final scene.

The rules worked smoothly and did a good job of capturing the flavour of the Greek and Persian Wars. It was interesting to use units with single based figures for a set of rules which doesn't count noses, but it worked well. Technically casualties aren't removed but I found it easier to knock over figures than track hits on a die. Both methods can be seen in use in the pictures. It is odd how small differences  can affect the feel of the game. While the rules worked well, I am so accustomed to d6 and inches that I found that the use of d20 and cm felt awkward.  You'd never know that Canada  went metric when I was a wee lad!

Next up: A report on 2nd Marathon, the game refought using Warhammer Ancient Battles.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

East meets West

Marathon is a classic under-dog scenario but while we tend to think of the Persian army as the under-dog against Greeks or Macedonians, at the time, the smart money was on them. The Persians were on top of their game, a largely professional army, fresh from beating a number of hoplite armies in asia minor in a series of hard fought campaigns. The Athenians were heavily outnumbered, amateur citizen soldiers and untried against their foe. 

When you put this on a wargames table, there are 2 main issues to face. The first is a recreation of the orignal problem: how does a smaller, close combat army, defeat a larger balanced army with missile power, cavalry and close fighting capability. The other question is how much leeway to allow the players? At what point does hindsight and ahistorical tactics and capabilities change this from a refight of an historical battle into just another game and does it matter? The latter question is one that often leads me to avoid it by converting historical battles into generic scenarios!

The historical battle plan for the Greeks was to reduce the number of ranks in the center of the phalanx in order to lengthen the line, and to close at a run to reduce missile casualties. How much to  thin it, how long to make the line and how deep to make the wings are key decisions that probably couldn't have been changed once battle was joined. Another option might have been the reverse, thin out the flanks to lengthen the line but leave the center deep to break through the Persian center. Yet another possible tactic, if it had been thought of a hundred or so years early, would have been a refused flank, echelon, attack with a deep phaanx leading the attack on 1 flank and the rest of the army hanging back to make it hard for the Persians to get around the flank.  It would be interesting to try all three and compare their degree of success.

One possible Greek deployment, 1 deep in the centre, 4 deep on the flanks.
For the Persians, their plan seems to have been deploy their best troops in the center with the weaker auxiliaries on the flanks. I suspect they had been forming this way for several days under Greek scrutiny and the latter were aware of it and planned on it. Since they didn't know what was about to hit them, there is little reason to speculate on what else they might have tried so I will stick with it but it is worth noting that at Platea, the Immortals, Persians & Medes were on one flank.

Artaphernes behind the Persian center.
It looks like the game on Friday will be a solo affair so I will take advantage of that to try to follow the historical deployments and actions as far as possible. Next week my friend Gary is tentatively scheduled to come over and for that game, I will take the gloves off and let the players take command of their armies as they see fit.

What are the odds?

It occured to me out of the Blue today  that I may be off track. If my 20 sided die is marked 0-19 then I'm ok but if its 1-20 then I'm off.  (I'd look but the die in quest lives 75km away, where one day, with the favour of the powers that be, I will also live full time at last)

Take the Greeks, assuming a die number 1 to 20, if a score equal to or greater that 18 will cause a hit then there are 3 scores out of 20 that will hit, 18, 19 & 20 (15% if my math is right) that miss, on the other hand, if the die is number 0-19 then there are only 2 chances. If I half the score to 9 and use a d10 then there are  2 rolls out of 10 that hit or 20% and so on down the line, only the odd factor, cavalry, 15 to hit giving 6 chance out of 20  equal to 3 out of 10.

I now see 3 options (apart from trying harder to buy/borrow/make dice):
a)alter the odds and live with the small relative difference,

b) use d10 and combine with a d6 die roll to indictate whether the result is high (11-20) or low (1-10). In theory this would be done by rolling teh pair of dice at the same time but then I might as well use my 1 20 siders. Since the lowest score that can possible score a hit is 12, I could in effect just roll the d6. 1,2,3 = low, no hit regardless of what the d10 rolls, 4,5,6 is high, roll again and add 10 to the score.

c) Roll a d10 and double the score. (giving possible scores of 2,4,6 etc). Each face of the 10 sided die represents 2 x the number shown and 1 less than that eg 2 = 3 & 4, 9=17,18, 0=19 & 20.    If the score required to hit is exceeded then the hit is scored, if the number is met then you need to roll again 1,2,3 it is the lower number and the hit is missed, 4,5,6 then it is the higher number and the hit counts. So, against hoplites a score of 0 on the d10 would hit, a score of 8 or less would miss and a score of 9 would have to be confirmed witha  50% chance each of missing or hitting.

Perhaps I should have called this post, "Storm in a Teacup"


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The many faces of logistics

I ventured forth today to pick up some 20 sided dice for use with Harry Pearson's Quick play Greeks vs Persians rules. Alas my local hobby store no longer carries  "funny dice" (my term). I contemplated dragging my tail around town in my quest but a friend had suggested halving the factors and using 10 sided dice, if the majority of factors were even numbers. I have just reviewed the list and only the 3 cavalry units have an odd "to hit" factor. So 1/2 ing it is! That will bump me up from 1 die to about 4 which should suffice. (Trivia: 2 of those are actual 10 siders, the rest are the old "percentile" dice - 20 sided marked 0-9 twice, a curiosity now it seems.) Once the cavalry (if the cavalry) get into it, I can use my one 20-sider for attacks against them.

Hopefully the game will be  played on Friday. Meanwhile, painting of extra Persian infantry continues a pace with a 50/50 chance that they some at least will be ready to serve by then. 


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Customizing Marathon (2)

The first item to be tackled was the shortage of figures. Three solutions presented themselves to me:
A. Reduce the number of figures per unit,
B. Reduce the number of units
C. Find more men.

I knew I would not be able to buy & paint an additional 300 figures in a 2 weeks so option C would mean substitutes, Romano-British "hoplites" and various Scottish, Irish & Saxon auxiliaries for Persia. It didn't take long to decide that I'd rather not go this route if I could avoid it.

Reducing the number of units would mean no need for adjusting rules as long as I adjusted the table to fit  but it might change the dynamics and since the number of units was uneven (eg 3 units of light infantry, 3 units of cavalry) then any rounding might also alter the balance. Again, I decided that this was not my preferred route.

The first option remained, reducing the number of figures per unit. Once again the question arose of modifying the terrain in proportion to the frontage of the units, but there was also a question of whether or not changing the unit size work with the rules to be used. Deciding on a set of rules suddenly became a critical event.

Initially, I had planned to used Warhammer Ancient Battles (WAB) since these are what I have mostly been playing. However, when I re-read the scenario, I also re-read the accompanying rules and decided that I would like to try them. If I have time, it might be interesting to play it at least once with each set.

Looking at Harry's Quick Play rules, the first thing I noted was that standard unit sizes were given. The second thing was that since casualties aren't removed and the number of dice per unit is fixed, then apart from looks, the number of figures didn't actually matter as long as the unit frontages were relative. A Persian infantry unit deployed deep, a Persian archer unit and a Greek hoplite unit deployed normally, all have roughly the same frontage. If the Greeks deploy deep or the Persian infantry deploy wide, then 2 Greek units can attack them.  Since I was working towards 18 man units for both armies, it seemed that if I used these for the Greek and Persian archer units and put 2 of them together for the Persian infantry, then than would work well. Alas, I was back to not enough figures! Reducing the numbers to 12 and 24, I did have enough but I presumed that I had best call each rank as equal to 2 under the rules.

My next concern was the frontage of the armies and the width of the gap between the mountain and the sea.
I went back and re-read the battle report again. The conventional interpretation was that the Greeks thinned out the center of their line to extend their battleline. In the game they did this by deploying 3 units on either flank in 4 deep formation while the 5 units in center deployed 2 deep. This formation was not wide enough so they deployed light infantry on the flanks and still the Persians outflanked them. Now we come back to the size of the table and a new, previously undetected issue: how wide were Harry's units? It occurred to me that classic 25mm miniatures were probably based on tradional 15mm per figure frontages. A study of the pictures appeared to confirm my suspicion but thanks to the internet I was able to get confirmation from the author himself. Now some time ago, mainly due to some awkward poses, for example that on my Immortals, I started migrating to a 20mm frontage for all my infantry. That meant if I deployed my units with the same number of files as the originals, my formations would be 1/3 wider. Considering that my table is a foot shorter this compounds the problem and makes it far too easy for the Greeks. Math is not a strong point but it seemed to me that if I used the right number of ranks with my wider bases then my 1/2 size units would be about 2/3 of the right frontage. If I then reduced the gap to 2/3 of the original, all should be well. The discrepency in frontage vs ranges and movement should be small enough to be excusable.

Now, if I do decide to refight the game with WAB, I will encounter another problem, 12 man hoplite units are too weak to use the phalanx special rule. That will mean either combining units or making a scenario rule to allow the Greeks to get the phalanx benefits regardless of unit size. I'll worry about that if and when the time comes.

In the meantime, after an evening of rebasing any hoplites not on a 20mm frontage onto 20mm sq bases, replacing shields and spears and the occasional head and weeding out figures that were beyond easy repair, I found myself with the requisite 11 hoplite units each 12 strong along with 3 12 man psiloi units. Some shuffling of Persian units then allowed me to field 9 units each 24 strong and 6 units each 12 strong and I laid the whole thing out. (Yes I haven't mentioned cavalry yet but there are an excess of these and I will probably field 12 man units). Some of the hoplites are a 100 years or more later in fashion and some of the Persian units are unlikely at best and other a motley crew as I merged 18 man units in 24's but they will serve.

Now, to see if I can entice some players and set a date for the refight. Next post will look at some of the units and their capabilities and examine some of the tactical problems and possibilities.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Customizing Marathon (1)

< A Greek sentinal keeps watch on the Persian invaders

One of the first steps to staging  a scenario from a magazine or book, is to see how your own table, scenery and forces match what is suggested. Inevitably, there will be differences. The trick is to figure out what really matters and how to bend things to suit what you can do without breaking the scenario or changing the heart of it.   

Suggested Table: 6'x9'
My Table: 6'x8'

Issues: There is little terrain and it was easy to lay out something reasonably similar. The key feature is that the Greeks will have a hard time covering the distance between the sea and the mountain. They need to have a choice between stretching their line and risking it being broken, or deploying in depth at the risk of being flanked.   This is a cross between how wide the table is (1 foot shorter than recommended) and how wide my line of Greek hoplites is (yet to be determined)
Suggested Forces:
9 x 40 infantry, 4 x 20 infantry, 3 x 12 light infantry, 3 x 16 cavalry for a total of 476 infantry & 48 cavalry.
Greeks: 11x 24 hoplites, 3 x 12 psiloi for a totale of 264 hoplites & 36 psiloi
My Forces:
Persians: 10 x 18 infantry, most based 6 to a base 3 wide and 2 deep)  6 x 12 light infantry, 5 x 18 cavalry
Greeks: A disorganized mess of about 140 hoplites using at least 5 different basing systems and various frontages, about 1/4 missing spears, shields and/or heads, and a similar mess of about 60 light infantry not counting Thracian mercenaries (who will be fighting for the Persians)
 Issues. The first issue is that my armies are only about 1/2 the size of the suggested ones. The 2nd is that they are not organized in a similar matter. Whether or not either of these matter depends in part on the relative strengths of the armies, in part on how the armies fill the space on my table and on the rules being used.

Next entry will include a discussion of these issues and how I reached a conclusion and what that looks like. 

Sunday, January 10, 2010

In the beginning

As long as I am going to refight Marathon at long last, I figured I'd best go back to my earliest source on the battle for a refresher. Herod-who? no no I'm talking about:

Published in 1960, not long before I got it, this illustrated book covered  8 battles, Marathon, Chalons, Hastings, Saratoga, Waterloo, Gettysburg, Belleau Wood and Omaha Beach. I doubt if a week went by in the following 10 years that I didn't flip through it at least once. It is perhaps no co-incidence that I have painted figures for and gamed some aspect of each of these campaigns at some point. I hadn't reread it in a very long time but dug it out yesterday and had a look. Not surprisingly for a book written near the peak of the Cold War, it stresses the threat to an "end of Western civilization" but over all does a surprisingly good portrayal of the armies and battle.

OK so the Persians are rather over estimated at 100,000 men and the rather Ali Baba-ish Persians with curved scimiters aren't quite right but it describes the strategic setting and issues then presents a phalanx of  heavily armoured men closing quickly against a larger army of less well armoured men whose strength was archers and cavalry. It even describes the Persians breaking through the weak centre then being crushed by the victorious wings. Not bad for a kid's book. Tomorrow I start reviewing the troops on hand and will report back in a few days. For some reason I can hear Billy Bob Thorton's voice in my head "We're going to  need more men".
(All images in this post are taken from this book. It can still be found on line at used book dealers and is recommended especially as a gift for a young  potential recruit. In case you can't read the scan above the book is Stories of Great Battles by Robert N. Webb, illustrated by Shannon Stirnweis, published by Whitman Publishing Co in 1960.)


Friday, January 8, 2010

The Die is Cast

OK, The poll is ended, thank you to all who took the time and trouble to vote. I have had time to ponder the votes, what I want to do in the year ahead, what I am likely to be able to do, and what my existing commitments are. I did say that I would not be bound by the poll but would consider it and I think by following my own leaning, I can go someway towards presenting something for everyone. (For future reference the final result was: 37% An Ancient Persian Campaign, 31% A variety, 31% An early 19thC Toy Soldier Campaign, 0% none of the above) Time and other commitments, both hobby and other, will be an issue this winter so I shall start with some one off games that will require either minimum of preparation or where the preparation helps meet an existing commitment. Once the grass starts to green up in May and can support grazing horses, King Rosius will launch an invasion of Lydia. After that is resolved, there will be a short interlude while the militia gathers in the harvest, then I shall return to the Oberhilse & Faraway for a fall campaign.    Any non-campaign battle might draw on any part of my collection that appeals to me and seems suitable.

One early decision was that I do not wish to be as constrained as last year when I resolved to play the scenarios in order. This year I shall pick and choose to suit whim and situation. To date, there are 20 Tabletop Teasers (including the special) and more coming. There are also other non TTT scenarios (4 in the first issue alone!) so no shortage of material to choose from. However, it seems somehow appropriate to start at the very beginning, so flipping open Issue One, the first scenario to be presented is Harry Pearson's Marathon. It is there that I will begin.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010


2 more days for the poll to close and then I'll lay out the plan. Meanwhile, here are some previously unseen pictures from last year's games:

1st run through of HOT PURSUIT

2nd run through of HOT PURSUIT

Monday, January 4, 2010


In 2007 the HAWKS with  Not Quite the Seven Years War (NQSYW) using Charge! by Lawford & Young and 40mm homecast semi-flat toy soldiers from Prince August and Meisterzinn, presented an adaptation of Pontoon, a River Crossing scenario from CS Grant's Scenarios for Wargames.

In 2008 we presented "BROKEN GROUND" from CS Grant's Programmed Scenarios.

In 2009 we presented Not Quite Lobositz based on the scenario
presented in CS Grant's Wargames Companion.

(I think this photo was taken by Norman Dean. Its obviously not by me since I can be seen in the background with my camera in my hand!)
We invite you to join us as we play all 5 scenarios from the mini-campaign Raid On St. Michel by CS Grant and P Olley.  (see )

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Do you remember?

Getting down on your knees in the back yard and fighting battles with HO/OO plastic figures? The memories from childhood are treasured but dim. Those from 5 or so years ago ~ 2004, when Jerry Legge and I took our new 1/72 AK47 armies out in the back yard by the lake while the BBQ sizzled, are somewhat fresher. Actually, there were a handful of Airfix 8th Army and Giant US troops in my army who had taken part in those mid-60's onslaughts as well!

Herioc Naryatrian defenders (Tan) lie in ambush for the Evil Centralian forces (Green).
The elite Naryatrian  Lion Brigade Commandos in their red berets brace themselves for the assault by Centralian mini-tanks & Infantry. Honest! Look carefully by the big rock. 

The view from behind enemy lines. Its a jungle out there!

Next post a preview of an upcoming event.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Trailers and pre-show cartoons

While we're waiting for me to get organized and started, I'll post some randomn pictures. Here's some 54mm Highlanders that I converted from plastic figures for a freind. The 3 poses in the 2nd picture were cast in metal for ease of duplication. 

and here's one from my own 54mm wargaming days, more conversions but less drastic.