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.


  1. This is proving a very ineteresting exercise. Your comments in respect of the phalanx under bow fire whilst on the defensive is interesting in the light of later military history - for instance, Hastings.
    Oman had some comments to make about what should happen when an army predominantly of shooting foot and shock horse faced one armed primarily with spears and deficient in a strong horsed element. The result is generally - given reasonable generalship - very much in favour of firepower and horse.
    One feels, then, that the Persians might have done rather better than the Greeks, but for having unfavorable terrian in their rear (sea or swamp?). But how then to explain the battle of Plataea ten or so years after Marathon?


  2. The Persians certainly worried the Athenians even though its not clear if the Persian cavalry was present at Marathon. In any case, the Persian cavalry does not seem to have been shock cavalry at this point. The Greeka rmour may have also provided better protection that say Scots spearmen faced by English longbows.

    Platea is interesting as both sides seem somewhat leery of each other at the start and the battle then proceeded NOT according to either general's plans! One of my favorite bits on Platea, from Herodotus is a description of the Persian cavalry riding up to the Athenians and (imprecise quote follows) " taunting them, doing them great harm and calling them women". The impression is almost that the taunts were worse than the javelins! Interestingly the Persians were very close, an archer in the Greek ranks (don't often see that on a table) brought down a Persian commander and he was close enough for some hoplites to break ranks and attack him without being cut off. Incidently one of the first disguised scenarios I ever did was a refight of Platea casting mid16thC English as Persians (horse & archers) vs Scots (as Greeks)