Anyhow, back to the story....
Suitably refreshed after lunch at the Coach & Horses we were back for round two of our matrix game day.
As previously trailed this was Alexander’s last major battle, Hydaspes. I chose this partly because I’ve been doing it a lot over the last year or so, which means I’m fairly comfortable with what I think happened and so felt okay about adjudicating arguments about the battle, And partly because it has lots of elephants. Who doesn’t like elephants?
Phil was Alexander with Tony as his loyal lieutenant Coenus. Chris got King Porus with Tom as a unnamed side kick.
As you can see Tom loves to get behind lots of toy soldiers when he has the chance. Or was it because there loads of elephants. Did I mention that there were loads of elephants?
For this game I was using a version of “De Matricae Bellae” (which is still available from the Society of Ancients’ website or from the stand at all good wargames shows in the UK). I say “a version” as shortly after it was published I transposed the system onto squares. I did this not just to resolve the usual issues with measuring but also to deal with some issues around the number of elements involved in combat. The initial motivation had been from updating the system to the renaissance period as I wanted a more formal style of game, with units moving in a more regimented fashion. It worked very well so I retro fitted the changes back into the ancients version.
As usual the deployment was based on Sabin, but I went with his unit sizes as well, effectively doubling the size of average units or halving the size of the elite, depending upon your point of view. This can universally be regarded as a mistake in this game.
There are a lot of similarities in the basic mechanisms between the two games we played, but there’s more emphasis on players using their matrix arguments to modify unit effectiveness in the ancients game compared with the modern Africa version where they system leans more towards developing the narrative.
Now before I start the account of what happened I must say in my defence that it is a long time since I last ran one of these and I was a bit rusty and hadn’t got the set up quite right.
Alexander started because, well, he’s Alexander. In this system having the initiative is really important. You only fight in your turn and anything you do or say can only be contradicted through the emergence of new facts or events. You can’t just contradict your opponent and say something hasn’t happened once an argument has determined it has.
So Phil stormed forwards and made a convincing argument for why his Companions would be very effective in combat (see example in previous blog…..). He then rolled a double 1 and failed. This was the start of a succession of five 1s if memory serves. He had also (and I should have warned him) moved within charge range of his opponents so he would be on the receiving end of melee combat before he could hit back (this was the error in the set up I referred to earlier).
The consequence of this was that Chris piled in with everything he could and inflicted a lot of casualties. Phil was unable to get a saving roll in due to the run of 1s referred to above. That left one single base of Companions, accompanied by a rather exposed looking Alexander.
Luckily for the Macedonians Tony took the orders to refuse his flank as meaning “charge into your opponents and kill everything”, which he duly did. There's a rule in DMB about swapping a hit you inflict for a matrix card. If you can use this to argue for the outcome of the combat it counts double. Tony pulled this trick off twice, and the Indian cavalry was soon fleeing towards the edge of the table. This opened up a huge gap that Tony was able to exploit in a rather Alexandrian fashion. Tom was reeling by this point, although still smiling. Did he have a clever trick up his sleeve?*
Back on the other flank Phil threw in his light horse to hold up the Indian cavalry, and quickly redeployed his hypaspists to fill the gap. This just about stabilised everything.
Tony meanwhile had completely ploughed in Tom's wing, forcing the infantry to form a flank to prevent being rolled up. Tom in his chariot is just about to turn and flee, if he can make a good enough argument.
It all got a bit hectic after this and photos are few. The Indians stabilised their position a bit, and Alexander managed to break through on his wing at last.
This enabled him to evade the Indian defensive line and attack Porus in hand to hand combat. He was eventually beaten off, but gave the Indian leader a nasty scare.
The Indian army was now close to being double enveloped and the elephant attack on the Macedonian infantry had failed. The phalangites were just about to take the battle to the Indians, when the home team retired and the game was over.
In the final "who won" arguments round Coenus came out top. The troops were already tired after a long campaign and it was quite clear that Alexander had been pulled out of the mire by his colleague. Porus lived to fight another day with his reputation mostly unscathed. His side kick, however, had put up a less than epic showing.
And so ended a most enjoyable day. It was great to get out some old toys and dust down a system that has given me so much fun over the years. The games are vibrant, lively, with a real strong narrative. Players are constantly engaged and even those having a rough time of it can usually salvage something out of the game.
Wargaming is brilliant, isn't it?