Friday, 1 August 2014

Alexander v Hannibal

There's been a recent TMP thread about who would win if you matched Hannibal's army from Cannae against Alexander's from Gaugamela.

Such conversations are essentially sterile; there's over a 100 years between them and circumstances and tactics change for a start. One was a head of state, the other wasn't etc, etc. We can only know what happens within a given period. Elite status, for example, is a comparative evaluation. Are Alexander's elite only as good as Hannibal's average troops for example.

Anyway I had some free time on Friday and I have enough figures for the armies (refought both battle in the past). I had Lost Battles and AMW to hand, - so why not try it out? After all, it looked like rain, so I couldn't really do any gardening.

I used AMW with the rule tweaks for Generals and Elites from the previous blog about Paraitakene. I took the numbers from Lost Battles, and adjusted them in proportion so there was an even number of units aside. I set the table up as Cannae as Sabin argues convincingly that there's no completely open flanks on either side. It's also Hannibal's masterpiece, and I thought he might need a hand. I tried to follow the opposing Generals' opening plans until they no longer seemed to make sense.

The set up. Hannibal to the left, Alexander to the right.

Opening turns. With Hannibal's Numidian Cavalry going out wide, nearest the camera, Parmenio has to react similarly to avoid being encircled, rather than just refusing the flank. The presence of the supporting infantry out on the flank means there's depth in the position to enable this to happen.

On the other flank Alexander and Hasdrubal have not wasted any time in getting down to it. Hasdrubal has an advantage in volume of heavy cavalry over here, but Alexander has his Prodomoi to give him flexibility. Plus he has his Companions, who I rate as the best cavalry on the board, and he's leading them too.

Hasdrubal's cavalry take a pounding, but Alexander has lost a base as well. Alexander has to commit his reserve cavalry line to cover the Carthaginian heavies coming up along side the river. The supporting hoplites on this flank are moved up to cover any breakthrough in the centre.

The Numidians' skirmishing has taken a base off Parmeio's horse, but they have to retire in the face of the heavier cavalry. The presence of the Cretan slingers should slow up the Macedonians, however, and provide cover to the infantry.

The centres close. The Macedonian light infantry covering the Hypaspists are able to inflict some hits on the Spaniards covering this flank. Hannibal's lights in the centre are endeavouring to do the same.

Alexander is doing well against Hasdrubal, wipes out his cavalry and also kills him. This is a serious set back for the Carthaginians, to say the least. With the flanks so important in this battle having a General in position at the point of action on each flank is proving effective for the Macedonians.

The light troops in the centre skirmish and do a speed bump impersonation. Under AMW it is a good idea to knock a base off phalangits/hoplites as it seriously degrades their performance when fighting other heavy foot. Well worth sacrificing some light troops to achieve.

On Hannibal's right the Numidians ran out of room and took some casualties. They have effectively been driven off by Parmenio's cavalry. The African veterans are having to react to this threat, rather than support their infantry, wheeling outwards.

It's nip and tuck on the other flank. Alexander has barrelled into some more Spanish heavy cavalry whilst the other units line up and get stuck in. The Prodromoi have kept out of trouble and are lining up to hit that Carthaginian unit in the flank.

Next turn Alexander loses his middle cavalry unit and the remnants of their opponents hit the side of Alexander's other heavy cavalry unit. Alexander is making good progress with his second opponents of the day. The Prodromoi throw themselves into combat and secure the destruction of the left most Carthaginian cavalry unit.

On the other flank the Africans are forcing Parmeio's cavalry out wide and prevent them from attacking the main line in the flank.

In the centre the infantry finally collide. The Celts put up a good showing against the pikes (the left hand phalanx is cut to half strength by their initial charge), but it is hard going. Hannibal is able to shore up the centre by getting involved. He needs some wins here, with the flanks both looking a mess.

And then it goes seriously wrong. Hannibal was needed in the front line to stop it collapsing too quickly (Generals get selective dice re-rolls, which can be devastating in melee) but his Celts are on the end of a thrashing this turn and he fails the General kill roll. Both the Barca brothers down and out in the same battle.

The right wing has now cleared up for Alexander, and he can now turn the flank of the centre.

The left wing is more problematical, as the African veterans can keep forcing the cavalry out wide by turning to face them, effectively operating on internal lines.

The other big clash of the day, - Hypaspists v  African veteran foot. The Hypaspists have a leg up due to hits inflicted by their light troop supports.

Meanwhile Alexander swaps units to one with a longer life expectancy.

This is getting very frustrating for Parmenio, but he eventually turns the position.

The Celts in the centre have finally collapsed, and the phalangites advance into the pocket... only there are no sides to it any more.

The clash of the infantry titans is in the balance, with both sides looking like they're going to lose a unit.

The infantry fight on the other wing / centre has become very scrappy, but the Macedonians clearly have the upper hand.

We're down one African veteran and one Hypaspist unit a piece, but Alexander has got round onto the Carthaginian's flank. Can't be long now.

.... and the Africans break.

The Macedonians have now also cleared the centre.

The remaining Carthaginian veterans on their right are now effectively circling the wagons for a last stand, fighting back to back.

And this is how it ended, with the last two Carthaginian units surrounded. Perhaps Alexander will be merciful.

So, a clear major victory for Alexander. He was lucky in the game, and of course a lot of it depends upon how you rate the troops. I think the Companions are the best cavalry out of the two armies. They decline under the Successors and lose their hard charging ability. I also think that the phalanx is superior to the Celtic warband.

It is often overlooked that Hannibal only ever won if he had cavalry superiority, - which in his period was mainly down to who had the Numidians. Alexander does not concede the cavalry advantage in this army, unlike the Romans. Hannibal would never have fought Alexander in a battle like this, - not if he had any sense, - and would have had to manoeuvre to get some form of terrain advantage. Which means Alexander would have refused to fight, or found a way to negate the advantage. Then add to that the fact that Alexander is not just a tactical genius, but a strategic one as well. Hannibal may be the former but he isn't the latter.

So, an enjoyable way to spend the day, but it probably proves nothing.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Battle of Paraitakene & some other games

Following hard on the visit of Mr Wallace of Treefrog, Shedquarters hosted another visitor. Richard Lockwood, who organises the Society of Ancients battle day, came up for a full day's gaming and joined a number of the Monday Night Group for the occasion.

The opening game was another AMW Successor refight - Paraitakene/Paraitacene. The set up was based on "Lost Battles" as usual.

Apart from using more than eight units we applied the following modifications:

  1. Generals: Eumenes & Antigonus got one selective re-roll per turn if attached to a unit. Subordinate generals got one total re-roll per turn.
  2. Elephants: Represented by four bases, one per hit, rolling 1 or 2 dice per base depending on opponent.
  3. Elite Troops: Elite troops were allowed a complete re-roll of combat dice if desired.

(NB The photos are taken with both my compact camera and my SLR. The SLR was used with a 300mm zoom to capture events at the far end of the table. This accounts for the variety of definition in the pictures and the colours not always being equally bright).

The set up: Eumenes to the left, Antigonus to the right.

First player to arrive was Richard, and he leapt at the chance to play Eumenes. He was followed shortly afterwards by Chris W, who willingly took Antigonus.

We had a short chat and decided to start without our other two players who had been unable to meet the agreed start time.
Antigonus' right wing

Based on Phil Sabin's analysis, we had Antigonus move first.

Chris decided to advance generally, eschewing the opportunity to refuse one of his wings. He was keen to get his infantry involved asap. The unit at top left on the white piece of paper is Eumenes' light cavalry on the left wing who historically re-deploy to the right in double quick time. I gave Richard the chance to do the same, but he declined.

Richard as Eumenes started to push his units out wider to stop him being outflanked by the missile armed light cavalry near the camera.

The Antigonian right wing turned into a bit of a traffic jam or exercise in formation dancing depending on your perspective as Chris wheeled his light cavalry out from reserve to cover his extreme right.

The wings are both heading towards each other at maximum speed. The white markers, BTW, indicate if the unit is either Elite or Levy. All other units are average.

After about an hour's play Phil & Will arrived. Will teamed up with Chris, & Phil joined Richard.

It was difficult to know who had been given the most difficult start. Richard, as Eumenes, took the right wing, facing off against Will. Phil was given the other end of the table with the instruction to "hold the left wing". Their arrival was timely, as it just preceded the first major clashes of arms.

Eumenes lead his Companions into the heavy cavalry opposite him, and Will galloped his general figure up to help out. As you can see it availed him little and he lost two bases in short order, one due to a morale roll.

This shot shows the Eumenids getting stuck in. On the right what you can see of the Antigonid body language shows they are very relaxed  about where they have got to.

A pure eye-candy picture, this one. This is the Antigonid right wing cavalry moving up, supported by elephants.

Phil by this point has organised the left wing defence, creating a crescent to receive the on-rushing cavalry. He has pushed the light horse archers out left to try and slow the advance down.

Back on the other flank Eumenes' troop did for his opponents pretty much immediately. Will's general survived, but suddenly looked a bit lonely.

Everything then happened at once at the far end of the table. I think Phil had just about got the line up of who was fighting who to his advantage, but Chris had more units, so Phil was always at a disadvantage.

Chris' master stroke turned out to be catching the elephant unit in the flank with his Companions. I think this may need looking at in future games.

In the centre of the table Richard did the equivalent of tossing a coin and hoping for the best, by charging his elephant into its opposite number. He got the better of the first round of combat, so it looked like an inspired decision.

Back on the Antigonid right Phil had seen off Chris' elephants and nearly lost a phalanx in the process. The Heavy Cavalry of both sides was locked in a death struggle, and both players had their generals at the red-hot point of contact.

Things were going really well for Richard on his right (near the camera). He drove Will's light cavalry out wide, creating a gap to push his cavalry through to turn the flank of the phalanx. However, he was relying on his left holding out against strong Antigonid pressure.

...and then Antigonus died at the head of his Companions. Chris remarked. "Well, that's about it then. Can we stop now?"

Yes, he took this reversal of fortune really well. However, Will was not down hearted, and believed he could grab victory from the position. Especially as he was now in charge of the army and the Antigonid head of state.

That view lasted for about a turn, when he was then trapped and killed whilst leading a heavy infantry unit.

Sometimes it just doesn't go for you, does it?

I was still not convinced it was all over, and made the players run through another couple of turns.

Richard finally won out in the elephant combat and so was able to inflict damage on the supporting Antigonid phalanx.

So I called the game as a Eumenid victory before the full victory conditions had occurred (quite a lot of the Antigonid army is still in place) as it looked like it could now only go one way. Plus it was lunchtime.

Richard provided our afternoon entertainment with some 15mm War of Spanish Succession and a set of rules he'd written in a coffee shop on the way to see us.

Last time he came to see us he gave us WSS using Charles Grant's "The War Game".

Now, with all due respect to Old School Wargamers, I have to say those rules suck. They're clumsy and unrealistic and take hours to achieve next to nothing. On this occasion we were only about 10 minutes in and I was able to say to Richard that he'd written a better set of rules than Charles Grant. Result.

Phil & I took the Anglo/Dutch forces, against Will & Chris. The scenario was a bridgehead, with the French trying to push us back across the river. Phil & I decided to counter-attack.

I was faced off against Will, commanding the cavalry.

We were soon into it with gusto. The rules use a "Disruption Point" system that reduces a unit's effectiveness and also enforces some compulsory actions, depending upon circumstances. This produced lots of charging, retiring and counter-charging.

Which seemed about right.

Infantry stop about two inches apart and have to fire at each other. Rules cover the removal of DPs, so positioning of brigade commanders is key.

Our reinforcements arrive. Lots of Austrian Cuirassiers.

Phil pushes our infantry reinforcements out wide to flank the French position.

Will is under a lot of pressure and has to stop for a refuel,

Not sure why I took this picture, but I can assure you it was exciting at the time.

We opened a chink in the French line between their foot & horse and in best Alexandrian style thrust some cavalry into it.

Oh yes! Cuirassiers exploit the gap and ram into the side of a French foot unit. French blushes are saved by the need to pack up and go down the pub for dinner. We were joined by Mrs T & Mrs W and it was only slightly marred by the decision of our chosen pub not to serve food on Mondays & Tuesdays, all signs outside to the contrary. So we went up the road to The Coach & Horses which I can thoroughly recommend.

Phil did some North African PBI (Italians v French) as the evening entertainment and as I was handling the Italians on my own I only took a couple of pictures, so I have no narrative. Hopefully Phil will supplement this with a full description over at his blog. Anyway, it looked great, and I was probably losing when we had to call it a day.

The Italian defensive position, before deployment.

My Syriana armoured car defends the oil depot.

Phil also brought along his quick paced WW2/Ironclad Naval Game. We squeezed in a quick run through of that. I hope to do it proper justice when it re-emerges on a Monday Night.

All things considered a very satisfactory day's entertainment. As Richard has since remarked "I think this is the way forward".

What, spending the whole day wargaming?

He may have a point.