Monday, 4 April 2011

Salute Preview - Battle report of Magnesia with Warmaster Ancients

It was my good fortune to take part in a huge game of Warmaster Ancients at the weekend, based on the Battle of Magnesia. This was a practice run for a demonstration game at Salute which will be run by The Purbeck Brotherhood of Ancients in a few weeks and I strongly recommend you check it out if you are at the show.

The real battle took place in 190BC between a force of Republican Romans under Publius Cornelius Scipio ("Scipio Africanus") and his brother arrayed against a larger force of Seleucid Successor under Antiochus III (the great) along with exiled Carthaginian general and all round Roman botherer Hannibal Barca. The Romans reportedly had ~35,000 men against some 65-70,000 Seleucids.

Historically the powerful Seleucid cavalry on the right chased off the Roman flank and then went off to loot the baggage train, meanwhile the Roman right broke the Seleucid left. In the centre it was a fairly even fight between the legions and the Seleucid pikes, until the pike phalanxes were outflanked and destroyed.

In the Warmaster Battle the host, Jim Brown and a few helpers set out the battlefield and deployed the troops in a reasonably historical set-up the night before. All told there was just shy of 4000pts per side on a ~12x4' table!

View from the Roman Right, with the River Phrygius in the background
I was on the Seleucid side commanding the right-hand side of the Phalanxes and a brigade of archers, which probably put me in the shoes of "Philip, master of the Elephants" according to wikipedia.

Any attempt to have a detailed account of the battle would be largely futile, as I rarely had any idea what was happening on the Seleucid left, or in the centre! Therefore I'm just going to post up some super-sized pictures I took during the battle. As always click on them to enlarge to full-size.

After a couple of movement turns the lines were getting close to clashing
Jim used a sensible rules change for the first turn, which was that each overall commander threw a D4 and the result was the number of brigades that couldn't move during the turn - all other brigades move up to full pace with no orders. With another D4 thrown to see how many brigades could double move. This got the lines closer much quicker without dice rolls or too many tactical decisions.

The Seleucid Left saw the first hostilities as cavalry clashed
The middle part of the battle was very hard to keep track of, essentially the two flanks of cavalry pretty much cancelled each other out, with neither able to break through and get into the flanks of the enemy infantry. In the centre the Seleucid pikes on the right-hand side and the gallic warband traded blows with the Romans with no real decisive blow. However on the Seleucid right and centre firstly the Legions and Triarii managed some flank charges and significantly disrupted the Phalanxes here, the counter-punch when it came though was devastating. Frontal charges against the Legion by the pikes ripped them apart and the tide firmly turned towards the Seleucids.

View from the Seleucid Right Flank. Decimation across the board, but there are a few more pike blocks still standing than Legions
There was outrageous luck on both sides, both good and bad. On the Seleucid right the dice totally abandoned the Romans at the crucial moment and although all the business was being conducted in the centre, the chance to even things up and swing down the Seleucid lines was lost.

Not sure about the Roman losses, but there were 36 stands of pikes in this part of the battlefield at the start of the game! I think there might 5 left!
Just some of the Glorious Dead. Seleucids in the front-right, Romans towards the rear (behind the pikes)
In the end the Romans were fairly comfortably broken (break point 23!!). Although they had lost quite a few more units than the Seleucids, the crucial factor in breaking the Romans was the loss of all the Triarii units (which count as 2 units towards the break point).

So the course of history was changed! Scipio Africanus was sent packing and the Seleucid Empire went onto dominate the Eastern Mediterranean....maybe.

Hope you enjoyed this massive battle report, and once again get along to Salute and check out the demo game with all fancy terrain and everything on April 16th.


  1. What a great battle - I wish I could participate! And all those pike-blocks do look absolutely smashing.
    Thanks for sharing, and it was a pretty interesting rule for the first turn.

  2. The pike phalanxes really are nice when they are all ranked up. Increasingly tempted to get an army of them myself. Magister Militum do some alternative ones with pikes at about 60 and 45 degrees for the front ranks as well..

    The first turn rule worked really well, often the best rule mods/house rules are the simplest.

  3. Great review Simon :-)

    (far better than my effort below)

    I really enjoyed the day even if my Roman allies could not roll dice to save there lives :0

    Cheers Matt