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.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Battle Report - Sarmatians vs Dacians

This the second of the two games I played at the Stalbridge Warmaster Ancients day last month. It was a Dark Ages battle between two sets of Eastern Barbarians (at least that's how the Romans and Byzantines would have probably seen them).

I had first pick of the Dark Ages armies and went for the Sarmatians as a totally different type of force to ones I had previously fought with, being made up almost exclusively of cavalry, with warband shock cavalry at the heart.

2 Subordinates
6 Shock Cavalry
2 Light Cavalry
3 Skirmishing Cavalry
2 Levy Archers
4 Levy Infantry

Break point - 7

2 Subordinates
10 Warriors
2 Falxmen
4 Archers
2 Mounted Skirmishers
3 Sarmation Cavalry

Break point - 10

All the maps in this report have been produced using the FREE program - Battle Chronicler.


In order to get the game moving quickly we just set up our own forces simultaneously without worrying what the other player was up to.

 I set up with all of the warband cavalry on my right flank, in two brigades of 3 units to take advantage of their warband rule*, screened by the light cavalry. The mounted skimishers deployed on the far left opposite the wood, and the levy troops made up a very squishy and unreliable centre.
Ben deployed all of the warriors in one long line, two units deep, with the dangerous falxmen in the centre. He had archers on both flanks and all of the cavalry held in reserve.

His broad plan I think was to advance en masse and try and overwhelm me with numbers, I was trying to engage quickly with the cavalry and pick off isolated brigades.

* - warband gives you +1 to command rolls when brigades are 3 or 4 units strong.

Turn 1 & 2

The Dacians took the first turn and by their second turn had advanced in fairly good order to nearly the centre point of the battlefield. The only troops left behind were two units of archers that Ben had already decided to abandon as a lost cause. They were in difficult terrain (so immune to cavalry charges) and I had no infantry that could either get there, or do much if they did, so this made sense.

Ben ponders his next move

 His archers on my right flank were close enough for some pot shots at my levy archers and hit twice with the 4 stands that could see. With no armour and only 2 hits per stand (almost all units in the game have at least 3 hits) they lost a stand and were pushed back, being confused into the bargain.

This really bought home to me just how bad these Levy troops were, and how in serious combat they would quickly be decimated. I resolved to keep them out of harm's way for the rest of the battle. In my second turn I got my mounted skirmishers moving with a double move to cover the flank and clumped all my non-confused Levy troops into one big block. Then disaster struck as I rolled a blunder (12 on 2D6) to move my light cavalry screen, forcing them to move away from the nearest enemy. I managed to minimise the damage by moving them out to the extreme right flank, rather than through and behind the shock cavalry.

Sarmatian Turn 2
Turn 3

The lines were now only about 40cm apart, which is a double move (two consecutive successfully issued orders) for both infantry and cavalry, so there was a chance for Ben to charge my shock cavalry, or Levy troops. Unfortunately he was unlucky with his orders and in the end elected to move the left-hand archers into the wood and move the brigade of falxmen and warriors round opposite the levy. His positioning here was clever as they were a distance from my cavalry and anything charging this block would have the archers to their flank.

The archers again took plot shots, missing the levy, but scoring 3 hits on the mounted skirmishers pushing them back substantially and knocking off a stand. The Sarmatian left began to look decidedly dodgy (or it might have been it was dodgy all along and it was contact with the enemy that was bringing the fact home to me!)
Dacian Turn 3
In my turn I was determined to get stuck in. I intended on charging two units of shock cavalry into the falxmen. The way the narrow frontage of the shock cavalry works on the charge meant I could get all 6 bases of cavalry fighting against the frontage of just one falxmen unit. Although they would hit me with 12 attacks, these would be split between the two units and hopefully I would lose only 1 stand at worse, in reply I would hit with 24 attacks, needing only 9 rolls of 4+ to wipe out the unit.

I rolled for my chieftain on the left-hand brigade -12! Another blunder and they stayed put.

All is not lost I thought - I'll use my general to command the right-hand brigade. I easily passed the first command roll with Ld8, but made a very bad mistake in the movement - I split the brigade of 3 into the 2 units I wanted to charge and the one being left behind. This meant the brigade was no longer big enough for the warband rule to apply (+1 to command rolls). It meant my general now needed to roll 7 or less, instead of 8 or less to charge. - yes you've guessed it; I rolled an 8 and the attack stalled. And I had no more commands and a mess of a battle line.

Sarmatian Turn 3
 Turn 4

The Dacians wasted no time in capitalising on the mistakes of the previous turn, they reordered into a more solid central battleline, bringing up the flagging brigades. Ben then sucessfully charged one unit of shock cavalry over the hill on the right and into the flank of the dithering Sarmatian warband cavalry. In the shooting phase more hits and drive-backs were scored on the right and left flanks, but no confusion or lost stands resulted.

Dacian Turn 4
The combat was predictably bloody, over two rounds the Dacian cavalry managed to knock two stands off the cavalry unit they were fighting, pushing them back quite a way, before falling back out of the fight rather than stay with their flank exposed to the waiting Sarmatian battleline.

The Dacian cavalry maul the central Sarmatians

With time running out it was clear that the Sarmatian turn would be the last of the game, so I was determined to make it into combat this time. Firstly the 2 right-most shock cavalry units in the big brigade used initiative to charge the Dacian cavalry that had just pulled back. I then wanted to charge the falxmen brigade that escaped last turn but the two units that had taken a mauling from the Dacian cavalry (SH5 and SH6) were not upto the job on their own, but were blocking line-of-sight for the two units behind. I therefore used initiative to evade with the unit down to one stand and get it out of harm's way, I then used initiative to declare a charge on the light cavalry in the centre with SH5. If he stood and fought they would be wiped out, if they evaded, as they choose to, unit SH5 could fall back and would have broken up the formation of the cavalry brigade. The way was now clear for the remaining two units (SH1 & 2) to charge into the falxmen together. Finally I used initiative to charge the right-hand light cavalry into the mounted skirmishers on the extreme right.

Sarmatian Turn 4 - charges
Against the falxmen the shock cavalry duly wiped out the front unit and the unit behind over two rounds before withdrawing unscathed. On the right I got very lucky. I decided to fight the light cavalry first, hoping to wipe them out and get a break-through charge into the warriors on the hill. The mounted skirmishers were wiped out over two rounds, but Ben then pointed out very sportingly that actually with a 360o field of vision the closest charge target for the break-through charge was the already engaged shock cavalry. The lights hit them in the rear, and despite minor hits being inflicted, and the Sarmatian shock cavalry losing a stand, the Dacians lost the fight and were destroyed as they had no path of retreat with enemies to front and rear.

Turn 4 - follow up charges
With that the battle ended on a turn which had decisively swung things the way of the Sarmatians.

Final Positions

End Game
End of game positions
Dacians - 60pts
Sarmatians - 235pts

Break Point
Dacians - 3/10
Sarmatians - 0/7

As with my other Stalbridge battle report, there wasn't quite enough time to get to a decent conclusion of the game, although personally I feel this one was swinging firmly the way of the Sarmatians. Shock Cavalry unit SH5 is almost certainly doomed. However I'm not sure there are many other exposed juicy targets. Likely the Dacians would use their upcoming turn to reform a battle line, and possible move their brigades more toward the hill for a defended position. The complete lack of cavalry, skirmishers, or missile troops on the right flank though means it would be very tough to prevent the Sarmatians from harrying this flank and getting shock cavalry engaged here.

Another really enjoyable game, Ben is a great opponent but I didn't deserve to come out on top in honesty after the decision to split the warband brigade when trying to charge, and for not being aware of the possible rear break-through charge that was pointed out to me and was instrumental in finishing off the Dacian shock cavalry (+110 VPs).

Hopefully coming soon is a brief battle report of a huge practise game I took part in for a Salute demo game.

If you enjoyed the report, or you've got any other feedback, please leave a comment.