Friday, August 27, 2010

PLATEA - Refighting the Charles Grant Refight of Platea

Charles Grant's book, The Ancient Wargame, has been in my wargames library since the mid-70's. My favorite part was always the battle reports. So, since I needed to test out a new set of home grown ancient rules named Gathering of Hosts after my ancients blog, I decided to stage the Platea game from Grant's book. I won't go into detail on the rules, those who are interested can look them up on google docs, (plse note that this link now points to the Apr 2011 edition of the rules which is a little different in mechanics)  but basically they work by drawing ordinary cards red for one side, black for the other. Each card allows a player to activate 1 unit or 1 group of units and complete movement, shooting and melee before pulling the next card.

For those not familiar with Platea, it was a battle between the Persian Empire and an alliance of Greek city states in 479 BCE.  The Greek army was composed primarily of heavy infantry while the Persians depended heavily on archers and cavalry but had a substantial force of allied Greek heavy infantry as well. The two armies had been facing each other across the Asopus river for about 10 days when the Greeks decided to pull back during the night. To make a long story short, it didn't go quite as planned and their army was split into widely separated detachments when day broke. The Persians immediaetly launched an attack to take advantage of the Greek's disarray.

Grant's version is typical of the way he rendered down troops and terrain from historical battles in a practical fashion to make a balanced wargame while maintaining the key elements of the original battle. One can argue with some of the details and choices he made, for example, amongst other things, I think the battle should take place on the 2nd ridge, not the one overlooking the river, but in the end, it works. Rather than design an alternate version, I decided to play it as straight up as possible given the differences in rules and in troops available. This included trying to follow the original game's battle plans as much as possible. The order of battle as adopted my me can be found here. The unit names refer to Grant's names but for the sake of those with the book I will try to stick with them in case they wish to follow along.

Here is the game set to begin as seen from behind the Persian lines. 
Please click on the pictures for a full size view.

Starting wth the Greeks, on our right we see 2 units of Athenian hoplites supported by archers. To our left, we see the Spartan Alpha battalion with its accompanying skirmishers. In the distance behind them is the other Spartan units in column heading for the rear table edge.  In the far distance on the right we see the Corinthians.

In the center of the Persian line are the Crescent Light Cavalry (white caps) with the Cadusi and Apadan light infantry behind and to the right of them. We can also see the Phrygian heavy infantry. Just off camera to the right of the Persian line are the Theban light cavalry and the Boeotian Hoplites. Off to the left are the Scorpion Elite Medium  Cavalry then 2 units of Persian infantry, the Green and Black Immortals, screened by the Median javelinmen. On the far right are the Horsetails light cavalry.

The view after turn 1.

The game opened up with the Spartan main body wheeling about to come up on the right of the unit left behind. This required the unit to hurry and being elite with a general attached, they  needed to score 2 or better on a d6 to do so in good order. A '1' duly showed up. Elsewhere the Persian light cavalry surged forward but their infantry struggled with the stream and continued in some cases to do so all game rolling an incredible number of 1's on their movement distance dice while getting their feet wet.

The Horsetails recreate their disastrous charge on the Spartans

The Spartans, now in disorder, only needed a 3 or better to regain good order and push on. A 2 duly came up and the Horsetail Light Cavalry, following the script in the book, launched into a charge on the diordered column. Seemed like a rash venture for light cavalry to me  but it wasn't going to get much better than this and it almost paid off, they sent the accompanying skirmishers scurrying off in disorder and tied the hoplites during the 1st round of melee but were finally forced to pull back in disorder after heavy casualties. On their next turn they failed to rally and rode off the table instead leaving the Spartan Beta Battalion to resume its march in peace.

 The Crescent Light Cavalry playing their part.

In the center, the Crescent light cavalry started to head through the gap to try and slow down the Corinthians but the book says they "collided" with the Athenians, probably a function of simultaneous moves, in any event, I ended up halting them in front of the Athenians, and then having the latter charge them with predictable results, having bungled their attempt to evade, the light cavalry fled the table. 

On the Persian left, the Median javelins drove off their opposing numbers though they did so with missile fire rather than charging in as per the original. They then withdrew to let the Immortals come up and open fire on the Spartans. On the Persian left, the Thebans crossed the river under showers of Athenian archers and advanced on the Athenian hoplites. As they got closer, the Athenians sounded the paean and  charged.
Greek vs Greek
Here the Athenians were supposed to sweep the Boeotians away but despite having deployed my favorite Benassi hoplites and having classed them as Elite, the raggle taggle collection of hoplites, Apulians and Carthaginians that composed my makeshift Boeotian unit gave them a beating and forced them back. All now depended on the turn of a card, if the Persians came up first the Boeotians would charge in and finish the job. But, no, it was a Greek card and the Athenians rallied atop the ridge and repulsed the Boeotians handily when they came, following up and eventually scattering them to the winds. 

   On the Greek right, the Spartans were finally reunited. Sheltering behind their shields against a storm of Persian arrows, they waited for omens to indicate the right moment to charge. A charge by the Scorpion cavalry which momentarily drove back the Spartan left flank showed the time was not yet.

In the center, the Athenian Omicron battalion followed up its success by driving off the Caduci Light Infantry and then hitting the Phrygians. These put up a surprisingly hard fight and momentarily held off the Greeks.

From behind their wall of shields the Persians darken the sky with arrows.
 As the Corinthians finally arrived in the center, the Athenians finally swept away the last of the Phyrgians and began the advance on the Persian camp. Atop the hill the omens were finally good and the Spartans charged the shield barrier erected by the Immortals. A fierce, hard fought melee followed but the end result was never in doubt.

The Immortals crumble under Spartan pressure.
   So ended my refight of Charles Grant's Platea.  The rules used were different and I had been forced to adjust the number of figures though not the number of units but the results were strikingly similar and reflected the historical outcome fairly well also. More than that, the rules played smoothly and the game was fun. even solo.  I think another game is in order!


  1. Well done sir! And not a war rhino in sight.

  2. Delightful evocation of the wargaming original - bravo!

  3. Hi Ross,

    Rack 'em up for another game of Platea to see if, after the euphoria of using new rules passes, the rules make you happy two times in a row.

    By the way, was I rolling the dice for the Greeks? Sounds like my usual results. Never say things like "anything but a 1." Don't even innocently think it.

    Excellent pictures! I better get started painting hoplite unit number 2.


  4. Ross,
    The movement table in your Host.doc was truncated on the left side. Google Docs in their infinite arrogance convert to their own format for storage, then screw up the formatting when they try to re-convert to MS. I am looking for another host site.
    John Ferryman

  5. John, (or anyone else) drop me a note at and I'll drop you the latest draft.
    (You can send me the Soldier's East set at the same time :) ) -Ross

  6. Plataea has always been one of my favorite of Ancient Battles - a very interesting situation the Greeks had got themselves into! I like your Spartans' 'waiting for omens' before summoning the ... whatever they required in order to attack.
    Every time I read a refight, though, I always rather hope that this time the Persians will turn it around. They haven't yet.

  7. Ross,
    For those of us who are not lucky enough to have a copy of Grant's book, could you provide a copy of your laydown (map) for the battle?