Saturday, 25 November 2017

The "Lost" Lost Battle

Periodically I do these big refights using my 20mm plastics and the orbats from Phil Sabin's "Lost Battles". I don't use the Lost Battles rules, but usually AMW instead. Due to an unexpected convergence of events I was able to run another one this Friday.

I've always liked the Successor battles for these as they're really big and have all the cool stuff like elephants in them. I'd like to do a few more Roman games but alas I really need to beef up my Roman Republicans and allies a bit more before I return to the battles I haven't done from that era.

Trouble is I think I've done all the Successor battles in "Lost Battles" now. I could always do a repeat, but where's the fun in that? Luckily, however, I also have "Strategos", Sabin's first go at the LB system. That has a few more battles in it, including the mighty clash between Antigonus and his son against Seleucus and his boy plus some allies at Ipsus in 301BC.

This is a battle with a lot of elephants.

And probably scythe chariots.

There is a reason why it didn't make "Lost Battles", however. Although we have force sizes and some description of the action it is quite a confusing engagement and most accounts have to make stuff up in order for it to make sense. In fact, it is so tenuous that Phil Sabin probably just couldn't work out how to make it fit in LB. Or there simply wasn't enough evidence to justify trying.

That's not going to stop me, however. And this time I thought I'd use Basic Impetus instead of AMW. I'm a devil once I get going, aren't I?

Working from the Strategos listing and my books on Successor armies I put together the armies using the various Army Lists in BI. The Early Seleucid listing on its own doesn't have everything. For example there's no Scythe Chariots and you've got to have those, haven't you?

Any how I ended up with twp armies, about 20 units aside, with an army value of 44 for Seleuceus and his allies, and 42 for the Antigonds. The two lists are given at the end of the blog.

BTW This is a Red Letter Game. First time neither army was hiding some interlopers such as Assyrians or Celts to make up the numbers. This was as a result of a painting splurge on the bounty I uncovered at Hereward, which I discussed here: link, and the completion of my four boxes of Macedonian Elephants.

My fellow players and opponents for the day were Chris A, and Phil, who wasn't sure when he would get there. Chris, who had never played BI before, took the Allies and I took the Antigonids

The Allies are nearest the camera, with their big block of elephants in reserve clearly visible. The location of Seleucus' 400 war elephants during the battle is a matter for some debate. Reserves are very rare in Successor battles, but the few facts we have about the battle (and there are really not very many) imply they weren't out front. Or at least not all of them were.

Antigonus has to win big on the right, where he has a lot of Companion quality cavalry, under his son, Demetrious. The need here is to blow away the Seleucid cavalry, keep the horse archers out of the way and then find a way round the elephants to attack the phalanx.

On the left BI showed us its mercurial nature. Chris skirmished with my light horse with his horse archers. I charged him, he evaded, I declared a false charge, threw javelins at him and inflicted a hit. He failed the cohesion test with a 6 and his unit evaporated. Would have been better off standing his ground and fighting.

The centre was getting a bit messy. I shot at and hit the scythe chariots (see centre, - they have a Rummikub tile to show the revised Combat Value- "VBU" - of the unit) but they passed the cohesion test. On the left of my phalanx the Seleucid cavalry was threatening to envelope me, so I needed to turn a few units of hoplites to face.

In the centre the chariots ran over my light infantry speed bump, and rather than hit the elephants was found to be lined up to clip the phalangites.

At this point we had a slight rules issue. The BI rules say, in respect of Impetus:

The (Impetus) bonus is allowed for Mounted troops that charge any type of enemy except Elephants, Wagenburgs, Camels (see 2.2.3), and Foot with Pikes, Long spears or Polearms or protected by stakes or pavises.

Now, Scythe Chariots are Mounted, under the rules (as are elephants). This means they are denied Impetus when charging phalangites.

What?? They don't get impetus against the troop type they are designed to fight??? But they do get it against light troops, which are the type of troops you would use to defeat them????

This is a big deal, - the scythe chariot basic factor is 2 (against, for example, a poor quality phalangite unit on a 4), but their impetus bonus is 5. That would mean rolling 7 dice instead of 2 in the combat if you get impetus.

After a short discussion we decided that this rule was stupid, and ignored it.

Ouch. I rolled my black dice (there's one too many in the picture) and missed (you hit on a 6 or two 5's) Phil rolled his and got two hits.

My phalangites staggered back, but luckily survived the cohesion test, so were only disorded (the disorder markers are blue, so easy to spot). The chariots now hit my elephants as well.

On my right the cavalry closed. One of my four units is off the picture on the edge of the table, flitting around with some horse archers.

In the centre Chris went "all in", adding peltasts and his front line elephant to the mix. This elephant had already seen off my Thracian Peltasts, because, although it doesn't get impetus, neither do the peltasts and it has a higher VBU, which means it is more likely to pass the cohesion test..

I could accept neither getting it, just, but this is another odd piece of rule writing (luckily it is easily fixed, and will be for future games).

Anyway, many hits are inflicted, but everyone stands their ground. Even those blasted chariots.

Over on the right some poor initiative dice rolling and some ridiculous luck on cohesion tests mean the Seleucid left clings on, and instead of being driven back beyond the reach of the elephants just means I'm stuck right in front of their charge path.

At the other end of the table my flank guard cavalry are steadily loosing ground. Alas I don't have a pile of elephants to come to their aid.

Back in the centre it's all a bit mixed. I finally killed the pesky chariots, and drove back the elephants attacking my left. However the peltasts did a number on the centre of my phalanx which fell back. You'll note the peltasts are still fresh (no disorder, no damage) so I'm clearly stacking up a whole lot of trouble for the future.

Contrary to expectations my right wing cavalry doesn't crumble. Luckily those elephants only have a side charge, not a flank attack. I just get bounced back, which isn't such a big deal. Especially as I've got a shiny clean unit of cavalry enveloping the flank, at last.

As predicted the peltasts break through, taking out two units of (admittedly not very good) phalangites.

However, honours are almost even as I do succeed in breaking the elephant unit in the centre.

Now, clearly this is something you should never, ever, do. Charge into the back of a phalanx with completely fresh light cavalry. They are still denied impetus by the pikes (somethings don't apply if hit in the rear, like defensive fire, but denial of impetus isn't in that list), but with the die rolling probably wouldn't have made much difference. Still it is a bit odd, and could be easily fixed.

Anyway, having cleared all the Seleucid crud out of the middle it's tally ho and get stuck in with a will. I need to take the phalanx apart to win, as that's where I have another small advantage. And I have to do it quick, before the Seleucid elephants in reserve come to sort me out, along with their missile armed light cavalry.

On the right we've traded companion quality cavalry, but those elephants won't let me alone. Then Demetrious, the son of Antigonus, gets trampled.

The centre is going well, however, although those returning peltasts on the left of the picture are a problem.

Some stunning skill sees my elephants punch a big hole through the Seleucid line. I've even avoided the peltasts and got into the phalanx Chris was trying to flank me with.

You can see here that Chris and Phil are using the elephants for some fire fighting. I'm round the back with cavalry, and through the middle. The army points count puts us neck and neck.

A stunning piece of dice rolling - four sixes out of six dice destroy the elephants, having caught them from behind. Antiochus, Seluceus' son, goes down in the melee.

Too soon to celebrate, however, as on the other wing the hoplite unit with Antigonus is wiped out, and he dies too*. It's still pretty close, however. Both armies are at the 50% break point.

Next turn everything Chris touches turns to gold, and units start breaking. Although the point tally for victory isn't done until after I move I can't get any of my units in a position to kill anything.

Win for the Seleucids.

So, what do we think? Well, it might not look much like the historical battle, but then we know so little, it might do. Chris hasn't played BI before and wasn't enamoured of the catastrophic effect the cohesion test can have. I'm okay with it. There are problems with the rules, - I have pulled out a few of the most egregious issues as I've gone along - and in our case they are probably fixable. There are other ambiguities, - the drafting of the rules on wheeling are marvellously incomplete, for example. The basic rule reads as follows:

A Unit or Group can move or wheel. If not in Disorder, the Unit can wheel (first) and move (afterwards) for the rest of the move, but the Unit will be disordered at the end of the move.

So, can a unit in Disorder wheel? One for the rule book lawyers which could be easily avoided without resorting to sub-clauses.

Will we persist with them? Well, yes, probably, and I'm intending to take them to the Society of Ancients battle day. How much surgery will be needed is a matter for deep consideration.

But a very satisfactory way to pass most of a day.

*Antigonus did die at this battle. Only not like this.

Army Lists:

Number Type
1 Greek Hoplites FP  VBU=4  I=2  VD=2  Long spear
4 Astetairoi FP*  VBU=5  I=1  VD=3  Pike
1 Lykian  FP  VBU=4  I=2  VD=2  Long Spear
2 Pezetaioi FP*  VBU=4  I=1  VD=2  Pike
1 Thracian Peltasts FL  VBU=4  I=2  VD=2  Javelin
1 Persian Archers S  VBU=2  I=0  VD=1  Short bow B
1 Pamphylians S  VBU=2  I=0  VD=1  Javelin
4 Agema CP2*  VBU=6  I=3  VD=3
1 Persian Cavalry CM  VBU=4  I=2  VD=1
1 Thracians CL  VBU=4  I=1  VD=2  Javelin
1 EL  VBU=6  I=3  VD=3
Number Type
2 Greek Hoplites FP  VBU=4  I=2  VD=2  Long spear
3 Argyraspides FP* VBU=5  I=1  VD=3  Pike
2 Phalangites FP* VBU=4  I=1  VD=2  Pike
1 Asiatic Archers S VBU=2  I=0  VD=1  Short bow B
1 Cretans S VBU=3  I=0  VD=1  Short bow B
1 Greek javelins S VBU=2  I=0  VD=1  Javelin
1 Greek Peltasts FL VBU=4  I=1  VD=2  Javelin
2 Agema CP2* VBU=6  I=3  VD=3
1 Greeks CM VBU=4  I=2  VD=1
1 Greeks CM VBU=4  I=2  VD=1
2 Horse archers CL*  VBU=3  I=1  VD=1  Comp. bow
4 EL  VBU=6  I=3  VD=3
1 Scythed chariots CF VBU=2  I=5  VD=0


  1. This is dangerous stuff! I find myself, after reading this and looking at the accompanying photographs, more excited about ancients that I have ever been before. A (-nother) wargaming butterfly that I must do my utmost to sidestep I fear.

    Best Regards,


    1. Bear in mind that those armies have taken years to assemble. And it is a very big table. I was a definite non-ancients player until I discovered Armati and Hat's Republican Roman's at the same time. So I've always been interested in armies and don't see ancients as a period. Mostly.