Monday, 15 May 2017

Basic Errors

So, time for another of our quarterly gatherings, with Richard Lockwood, the organiser of the SoA's battle day coming up to visit us in Northamptonshire.

This gave me another chance to have a go at Paraitacene with Basic Impetus, as it is the battle for next year. Richard described the battle as "an open goal" for ancient rule sets. It is a straight classical period line up with all the expected troop types and no complicated terrain or surprises. What this means is, if your rules can't do this battle satisfactorily without major surgery then they're not really suitable for ancient warfare.

For this game I abandoned some of Phil Sabin's analysis and broadly had one unit of horse per 1,000 and one unit of infantry for 2,000 men. The elephants were more problematic, but basically I had one unit per 30 beasts. It is a moot point as to whether a unit of 30 elephants is the equivalent of 1,000 horse or 2,000 foot. Possibly not, as the game showed.

I also re-evaluated some of Sabin's and my previous classifications. One change I did make that is significant is the changing of two units of hoplites into peltasts to cover the Antigonid phalanx.

The main consequence of these changes was to require a longer table as we had more units on the board. I also felt we needed a bit more room to manoeuvre as well.

For this game Phil swapped sides and ran the Antigonids. I was hoping to have four of us, but a late drop out meant two players and one umpire. This may have had an effect on how quickly the game played.

As with the previous game the Antigonids sent their light horse out wide, drawing Eumenes out to cover the envelopment. Richard as Eumenes also sent his elephants left and right to support the cavalry on the wings.This is clearly saying he doesn't like the historical deployment as he thinks they're in the wrong place. This is an issue for refights unless you take Sabin's position and allow a completely free troop deployment. That's fine as far as it goes, but really means you aren't actually refighting the chosen battle, just using the armies for a "pick up" game.

Some of Phil's skirmishers make a brave attempt to stop Richard's elephants getting at his cavalry.

Soon the whole of that Antigonid right flank is a whirling mass of cavalry and elephants. This all takes a long time to resolve in game terms, and the speed of resolution may be an issue for the game itself.

Centrally the Antigonid phalanx starts to close down the centre. The peltasts are doing a good job of scaring off the elephants. They will eventually do great things.

Out on the right there's so little room to move about that the elephants are able to hunt down some cavalry. Both armies are trying to manufacture a position where they can get at the flank of each other's phalanx.

The two phalanxes steadily closed the ground between them. An impressive sight.

On the Eumenid right the heavy and light horse continue to dance round each other. The relative ineffectiveness of mounted bowmen is an issue. With only a VBU of 3, reduced to 2 because they're moving and halved because they're shooting to the side, leaving the need to roll a 6 for a hit they're scarcely the problem that Eumenes had to deal with*.

It's starting to get a bit tasty in the middle, with an elephant sandwich in prospect (!). The peltasts start to shower the Hypaspists with javelins.

The far end of the table is getting a bit crowded and a bit messy. Lots of attritional type action that doesn't look a lot like classical period combat.

The peltasts finally get in close with the Eumenid elite Silver Shields and Hypaspists.

This doesn't turn out as expected. Due to some outrageous luck in the Cohesion test, a unit each of Hypaspists and Silver Shields recoil from the peltasts' ferocious onslaught. At the end of the line the other unit of Silver Shields and their peltast opponents stay locked in combat.

The Eumenid phalanx has really started to fall apart here, with the right hand end falling away due to the shock outcome with the Silver Shields and Hypaspists. And the left hand end is having issues with some of its own elephants getting in the way.

The phalanxes finally closed (we can't push them completely together due to the levelled pikes). Phil is also taking measures to guard his left flank, by turning one of his pike units as a flank guard. In the middle we started to have issues with the BI rule that requires all units to be offset and not lined up (this is a rules issue that also came up in Armati 2 and caused a lot of heart ache). This rule assumes that units of opposite sides can never match exactly (unlike DBA where it is compulsory) and that it should always be possible to fight 2 :1 on a front face of a unit. I suppose in theory this is fine, but the random sideways shift causes an issue when you have a group of units like a phalanx and some units don't make contact in the first turn. It is then possible for their comrades to be shunted sideways in front of them, blocking their charge path. This looks wrong and really, honestly, this rule is a bit pointless and awfully gamey.

There's been a bit of carnage in the middle with some of the deep units no longer being deep because the rear unit has been broken. We had some discussion about whether the "Units in Depth" rule makes sense. It does feel a bit odd, fighting with the front and taking casualties off the back but I think it works. Phil, who is much more ancient savvy than I am, is not convinced (to put it mildly) and Richard is bit more philosophical about it.

Eumenes has finally seen off the light horse archers on his right, by chasing them off the board. Further up the table the Silver Shields have finally sorted out the peltasts and are about to get back in the game.

The Silver Shields are lining up the end of the phalanx and are preparing to give them what for. That flank guard is looking essential as the elephants have broken free of the cavalry haunting them.

And this is about how it looked when we decided to pack up. The Antigonid army had lost 21 of 51 army points, and the Eumenid 13 of 50, so a win for Eumenes, but not by much. We'd had three-four hours of game play out of it at least.

The game provoked a lot of discussion as I was packing away and over dinner and subsequently. The question of whether BI handled this battle well troubled all of us and we had a few specific problems, some of which have already been alluded to.** We also had some clarification questions that I have since mostly found answers to on the official BI forum.

We had the devil's own job trying to get the flanks resolved before the phalanxes hit. Flank resolution is a feature of classical Greek/Macedonian/Successor warfare. It can look like it is all going to clear up quickly, then you end up with two cavalry units on VBUs of 2 hacking at each other looking for a 6 that never comes to resolve it all. The inability for faster units, such as Light Cavalry, to break off from combat against any troop type is clearly an oversight.

Other issues we ruminated over, in no particular order, were:

Disorder: This is a really important mechanism but its main effect is to slow the game down as you have to halt to clear it or lose your Impetus eventually. This can have really significant effects on a phalanx, where one lucky shot at the ends unit stops the entire beast moving forwards.

LC Shooting: I've already touched on this. LC, and also Skirmishers, can end up with no dice to roll when shooting, even at close range. This doesn't look or feel right. What's more it is quite hard for them to dart in, shoot, and retire out of range in a controlled fashion (you can do this in AMW, which is a much cruder set of rules, so no excuse really). Especially when you bear in mind you can't break off from melee if you get caught by a charge (also see "Evading" below).

Elephants: Much too powerful. They aren't significant at this battle, but they have to be there. Even a single unit is a frightening prospect and I can't help but thinking that they are inaccurately portrayed. Having said that most ancient rules don't do elephants well, - a legacy perhaps of Tony Bath's love and use of the animals. I'm thinking of creating a hybrid Light Infantry/Elephant Unit type not in the army lists to deal with this.

Evading: Why can units only evade if charged from directly in front?

Offset Rule: I've talked about this above, so I'll move on.

Interpenetration: The interpenetration rules can have some odd outcomes, - forcing interpenetrated units to move forwards, for example.

Depth units: We have some need to clarify how these work. It looks like you do the Cohesion Test against the front unit, then take the hits off the rear unit with residual hits coming off the front unit. Say you have two pike units with VBUs of 4, and the rear unit is reduced to 3. If the unit takes 6 hits, it is testing against -2 (4-6=-2). A "1" is an autopass, but if a 6 is rolled, it looks like you take 8 permanent hits, which is enough to break both units.

About face/Wheeling: Units, particularly light units (not skirmishers), are quite clunky to move about. The restriction that prevents wheeling and moving without picking up disorder is a bit odd for light and all mounted units. I'm prepared to accept it for heavy, densely packed, infantry but otherwise it isn't giving the right answer.

Infantry Movement Speeds: Heavy and Light infantry move at the same speed. Yes. Peltasts and phalangites move at the same speed. On what planet is that right?

Phil has other concerns as well, - he also thinks the evade rule should be changed more than I do. Whilst that might be better the BI rule works okay if we remember to apply it properly, The same could be said for the retreat & pursuit rules which I didn't get absolutely correct (and the Initiative system which would have been better using the BI Big Game rules).

My concern is this. BI in it's current form isn't modelling this battle as well as I would like, bearing in mind it is "an open goal". This means I have a choice. I can put the game on "as is" and point out in detail in the Slingshot write up where all the problems lie. Or I could produce some scenario specific rules. Or I could take a knife to the rules and perform some surgery. However my concern would then be that at some point it ceases to be BI.

Honestly, I'm not sure what to do. And I've gone and bought extra figures too.

* Phil remarked after the game: "I am not sure any ancient authors say something like ... 'the Medes did no casualties because they tried shooting while moving which their horsemen find difficult'"
** It is possible our concerns are addressed in the full Impetus rules, but BI is sold as a standalone set now, so I feel justified in asking these questions.


  1. Man, where to begin? Since you mentioned that BI is no longer free, are you using Basic Impetvs 2.0?

    1. Yes, I am using the paid for v2.0. Be interested in your views as I know you are a user.

  2. Put it on "as is", Graham. Otherwise, as you say, it is not a fair comparison with other rules. Have a spare Elefant (sic) stand for anyone that gets grumpy :-)

    Regards, Chris.

    p.s. loved the PBI write up.

    1. I think there have to be some changes, but it is a matter of degree. Got loads of ellyfunts.

      I'll post some different PBI pictures shortly.