I brought together some old friends round a wargaming table to conclude my journey through the early Greek Hoplite battles, finishing at The First Battle of Mantinea (418 BC) in The Peloponnesian War. I decided to switch rule sets from Big Battle DBA (BBDBA) to Strategos II (the forerunner of Phil Sabin's Lost Battles). The change was precipitated from a request for less wargamng "twiddling" with a multitude of figures and the prospect of a quicker game, to fit comfortably within an evening's play. The advantage in Strategos II is that it concentrates the brain more to a few key decision points during the game, rather than a multitude of bottom up interactions (all those dice rolls galore with local tactical factors beloved by Grognards) that 'may or may not' make sense towards a "grand strategic way of thinking" (aka "the plan") that the C-in-C wanted to happen.
The Argives (Argos and their Athenian Allies) start on the left hand side of the photograph and the Spartans (Sparta and Peloponnesian Allies) start on the right hand side (see below, all as per the battle set-up from the book, red poker chips designate "key terrain squares" and green poker chips designate "lead units" in the zone):
The Argives go first and advance their centre and right flank, with their "average" Cavalry supporting their refused left flank (and who wouldn't want to hang back when facing the Spartan elites). The Spartan hoplite lines counter by advancing their centre and their right too, also hanging back with their weaker left hand flank of hoplites. King Agis of Sparta, through either foresight or fear and having some spare command points, tried to move a left hand unit of hoplites to reinforce his strong centre ("every little helps" or "over egging the custard"?). So far the novice Strategoes have played a respectable if not 'rather sophisticated' hoplite battle with their opening moves. Interestingly the Spartan inferior "levy cavalry" also chose to 'seize the moment' and try to get a first hit on their better quality "average" Athenian opposition, which almost paid off. There is certainly no lack of guts from Agis, the young "Spartan King" (see below):
By virtue of moving first the Argives are in position to attack first on turn two, the Spartans having nicely moved up into spear range. Going with the obligatory hoplite "all out" attack mode (as per the rules, as per the hoplite art of combat) the Argives give a very good account of themselves, scoring three hits out of their four attacks (ouch) but suffering one hit in return from the costly caveat of the "all out attack" (if you equal but do not exceed the opponent you do still strike a hit but receive one in return). The Argives miss a "potentially" (but nothing is certain in war) 'good move' of continuing onwards with their best hoplite troops (on their right) against the weakest of Spartan hoplites (on the Spartan left). However they instead concentrated their commands buying additional combat bonuses in the centre (a tactic which seemed to work well). The cavalry battle remains a bit of a "wet handbag" stand off as the Argive cavalry fails to score a hit on the "levy" Spartan Cavalry" (see below):
On their phase of the second turn the Spartan war machine unloads on the hapless Argives who discover the sharp end of "The Spartan Way of War". Four hits from the Spartan seven attacks (this being the result of being able to stack more veteran hoplites into the zones 'attack area' [not as complicated as it sounds]). The result: All bar one of the average Argive hoplite unit is now "spent", to the cost of a mere additional hit to the Spartans via the "all out attack rule". Even the Cavalry exchange on the flank is bloody as the Spartan "levy" Cavalry ups-the-stakes and also go "all out" scoring a hit but themselves becoming "spent" (see below):
So far a bloody affair indeed. From a small Argive opening advantage, the battle has swung in favour to the Spartans by virtue of the "push of spear" in the middle of the field. Can the Argives take back the initiative on Turn 3?