Thursday, 3 September 2015

Lost Battles/Strategos II with a Veteran Wargamer .. The Acid Test (Part II) First Mantinea 418 BC

The Argives make their momentous "march on Sparta" attack, thrusting their powerful right wing at the weak Spartan left (ahem, full of the 'suspect' Pelloponnesian "average" allies, sadly just off photograph, see below). The Argives were positioned ready to inflict a decisive round of combat, alas "next go". Meanwhile the Argive centre with its six average hoplites "took it to Sparta" with great effect, causing three casualties, of which the Spartan King Agis saved none but at least did not get himself killed in the process. The remaining Argive hoplites at the rear scurried forward to reinforce their comrades in the center before the inevitable Spartan riposte hits them (see below):

Sparta hit back hard, inflicting a savage three hits back in return on the central Argives, taking the Argives to six out of eight units spent (75%) while Sparta is only 'cruising' on (50%) themselves (see below, black counter indicates spent status):

Meanwhile the Spartan left manned with those expendable Peloponnesian allied hoplites, tickles the Argive "chosen men" on their right with a token 'hit' (hoorah) before the pseudo-Spartans are steamrolled into the ground, ow, I know what's coming as I have seen this movie before (see below):

So a round of mutual destruction follows, as the Spartan left disappears (a mere speed bump to the chosen men of Argive) a similar disaster befalls the Argive middle on a grander scale, double the number of units in fact. Note: The veteran Spartan "happily" hoplites soaked up another two hits before they destroyed the Argive centre. Each hit constituted 4VP worth of damage, which all adds up.

Cinematic direction "in slow motion" of the death if the Argive middle: 

As the first spent Argive Hoplite unit takes a second killing hit, the dreaded "don't roll a one or two" morale test is required. The result (slow motion close-up of dice being dropped and bouncing onto a 1), no more 'central' Argives. A litter trail of discarded Argive armour leads to the rear as they depart "helter skelter". Agis breathes a sigh of relief and orders his far wing right forces to turn to face the left hand threat, the day is his, but "don't count your chickens before the Helots have hatched them for you" as they say in Sparta (see below):

Out numbered by over two to one the Argives had great cause for concern, they were in a fight with a much more powerful foe that now distinctly had the upper hand. Yet they had played a textbook game and had caused the Spartans great pain but still they were on the receiving end. Frustrating to say the least. This is a cruel game of war we play and the Argives had to look deep into their hearts to see if they still had the will to fight. Indeed there was a strong argument to say that the Argives were best to retire with as much of their army intact to lessen the Spartan VPs and reduce their level of victory. There was an audible groan as Mr K to his great credit said no, he would fight on to finish the game "as history would have it".

The Argives and Spartans flung themselves headlong into each other to settle the matter, though not instantaneously, as from the Spartan perspective (me) it took an alarming number of turns (three) and the Spartans were sorely pushed. Agis himself fell  after an unsuccessful rally attempt which in turn caused the Spartans to take an "Army morale test" (which they passed to the credit of there superior quality and numbers). Now without a King the Spartans fought with a cold fury and inevitably a hit came to rest on a square full of spent Argives. The morale roll was not good enough to save them and it was over (see below, the final stand of the Argives):

Did it work as a gaming system? Mr K was unconvinced but There is something about its simplicity I like and its focus on modelling aka simulation. Certainly in comparison to Mr K's favourite miniatures rule system (Impetus) it lacked flavour, colour and a certain "edge of the seat" enjoyment factor. There was an air of predictability about the final outcome right from the start, yet that was partly my fault as I had chose this tutorial because it was so one-sided and simple in the number of troop types involved. I agreed with Mr K in that I think he had played a very good game (better than I had managed previously in his position) but there was still nothing he could do to change the course of history, but rather not lose as bad as the Argives had done. For this scenario yes, it was not finely balanced and Lost Battles simulates rather than entertains. It is not a miniatures experience although for myself I like to play on a board using miniatures as opposed to counters.

Victory Point Calculation (under the amended Lost Battle system):

Argive: 92 points
  • Killed: 1xLHC[4], 1xAHO[6], 1xUL[6] = 16
  • Routed: 2xAHO[6] +2 for each unit = 8
  • Spent: 6xVHO[24], 3xAHO[9] = 33
  • Offset: 19x3 = 57, reduced to 35 as max is half initial Spartan FV 70 = 35
Spartan: 74 Points
  • Killed: 4xAHO[24] = 24
  • Routed 3xVHO[12], 8xAHO[24] +11 for each unit = 47
  • Retired: 1xAHC[3] = 3

Outcome: Although a clear tabletop victory for Sparta the Argive (+18) outperformed his historical counterpart [by a narrow margin]

Postscript: This game was still a play-test being my fifth Strategos II/Lost Battles game. I am really grateful for Mr K putting the game system through the hoops and giving it a good stress-test with no prisoners taken. Subsequent analysis and questions raised on the Lost Battles forum has revealed that my still incomplete grasp of the rules gave the Spartans a few more advantages than they should have.

Example: Agis was not so hot as an uninspired leader so never should have been able to give his guard unit a second command bonus for example.

Additionally a few amendments that affected both sides were highlighted.

Example: When a hoplite unit moves up adjacent to an enemy hoplite unit the inevitable attack that comes at it does not receive a +1 DRM of Hoplite fighting Hoplite until both units are static

All-in-all the above would have made it a slightly harder task for the Spartans but still odds on to win the historical set-up


Renko said...

Twas I, and I must say I remain "unimpressed" with Lost Battles on a number of different levels. Of course this is all subjective and it would be foolish to judge a set of rules after one brief encounter, but at the same time a game must offer enough to justify the opportunity cost of playing again.

Lost Battles has some very nice touches. I found the grid and movement system to be functional if not inspiring. The combat system also seemed functional. I liked the idea of the flanking area of the battlefield being different to the central zones, and to a lesser extent there being an area of ground that was deemed important to hold, even if other rules do the latter in different ways.

I was less inspired by the morale system, which seemed to be very much a case of all or nothing - the game was decided on a d3 roll, which felt too predetermined.

However the main area I felt was a problem was the experience of playing itself. The game left a taste of cardboard in my mouth so to speak. The mechanism of designating a lead unit seems problematic, as in this case a unit of Spartans on their own made an attack outnumbered six to one, all well and good, but then before the Argives had the opportunity to strike back and use their superior numbers the Spartans moved more units into the square and designated a lesser unit as the lead to soak up the hits - it felt as though the original unit was allowed to do its thing with large bonuses for being the lead unit then teleport away from the contact and leave the dying to the meatshield - most frustrating. The other area that caused me enjoy the game less was that visually it was very uninspiring. The adoption of a grid, and their being no real relation between units in each square meant there was no visual impact or reward - what should have looked something like a long deep phalanx, each member relying on his neighbours shield for protection. actually looked like a chess board, and the ability to shuffle the position of units within the square at will destroyed any visual representation. In effect it was clear we were playing a board game with figures rather than cardboard counters.

That is the crux of the problem. Figure gaming has at the core a visual appeal. This game clearly relies on a number of mechanics that have been "ported" as the computer game players say, from a boardgame - lead units etc which have a detrimental effect on the visual. We are not stacking counters, those lovingly painted 15mm Hoplites should benefit from linear formations and support in depth, it is not really enough to say the rules do that through he mechanisms, there needs to be a physical relationship there too. otherwise why not just play the boardgame?

I'm more than happy to play again and will try to keep an open mind, but based on this experience I don't feel a great groundswell of enthusiasm

Geordie an Exiled FoG said...

Wise words and I am pondering them myself ...

I am troubled with the poor odds attacks going in with +ve attack bonuses because of lead unit status and combats bonuses, I think it is just plain wrong [I think the lead unit attack bonus should be harder to earn]

Having posted some questions on the Yahoo Lost Battles group I am aware that some of the combat bonuses were unwittingly mis-applied (making the combat quicker) however I don't think they would have affected the overall result to a great extent.

I am trying to get my hands on Phil Sabin's Legion game in which he tried to fix a unit to a position but interestingly he shied away from the combat mechanism he used there. Likewise I like the concept of a central area different to the flank, but think particularly for hoplite battles, there needs to be a liner locked in battle line

As you said Teleporting is not in the manual of hoplite battle tactics as per Herodatus (although plenty of strange other geographical stuff is)

Geordie an Exiled FoG said...

Comments from the Yahoo Group:;_ylc=X3oDMTM1YXA4ZGI4BF9TAzk3MzU5NzE0BGdycElkAzE5OTQ4NTYyBGdycHNwSWQDMTcwNTE4Mjc3MwRtc2dJZAM2MTc0BHNlYwNmdHIEc2xrA3Z0cGMEc3RpbWUDMTQ0MTUzNDkyOQR0cGNJZAM2MTE4

Lead units get +1 even when they are the only unit in the square because it is assumed that they spread out to cover the frontage and so get more of their troops in the front line fighting, with fewer in the rear ranks where they cannot reach the enemy. The more units there are in the square, the deeper the formations and so the higher the proportion of troops not contributing directly to the fight. Once the number of units exceeds the attack limit, the excess units cannot fight at all, and so they contribute only as attrition reserves.

By the way, the comment after your Mantinea refight blog suggested that a lone unit attacked and was then reinforced by other units which took over the lead, saving the first unit from retribution. This would happen only if the original attacking unit became spent through an all-out attack. Otherwise, its attack would have placed it in the lead, and the reinforcing units could not take over until it suffered a hit or that side's next turn came around.


Thanks Phil,

[Phil said] "Lead units get +1 even when they are the only unit in the square because it is assumed that they spread out to cover the frontage and so get more of their troops in the front line fighting,"
Ah, I can see where you are coming from now, I didn't think of that - just goes to you there is something obvious to learn every day ;)

[Phil said] "By the way, the comment after your Mantinea refight blog suggested that a lone unit attacked and was then reinforced by other units which took over the lead, saving the first unit from retribution. This would happen only if the original attacking unit became spent through an all-out attack. Otherwise, its attack would have placed it in the lead, and the reinforcing units could not take over until it suffered a hit or that side's next turn came around."

I am trying to remember the exact sequence of events in the game to see if I mal-played the rule
The two advanced Vet Spartans fought the advancing Argives
On at least one of the re-fights the normal vet Spartan went spent via 'all-out-attack' result so Agis found himself in the front line
Then the Spartan six vets moved up
I may "in my haste" have changed lead unit a phase too soon :(
You can understand the sense of urgency to remove Agis from too much danger and in the heat of the game so I may have slipped up
Moral from ancient times never trust the Spartans they are always doing things like that ;)

Thanks for taking the time to scrutinize the re-fight
Much appreciated

Also the "teleporting away" partly comment comes from the figure gaming perspective/experience/bias that once a unit is locked in a "tight spot" the table top geometry usually sucks them into a sticky tar pit
Getting away and or being relieved in line is not within the table-top game mechanics
The freeze frame of the "figure vignette of well painted miniatures" can often hold sway over the simulation mechanics of what was happening (continuous fluid movements over a period of time)
DBM being the cruelest of all (competition) games IMHO
And a reason why it is at the bottom of the pile of rules to play (perhaps I am just too lazy to memorize all those if-then +1/-1 combinations)
Board games in this respect are move abstract and fluid by nature
Thanks again for your comments/clarifications