Thursday 16 July 2015

Strategos II (aka Lost Battles) First Battle of Mantinea 418 BC (Part 2 of 2)

Time to pay the Ferryman: Turn 3+

The Argives advanced on their right flank in a desperate attempt to relieve the pressure on their centre (too late perhaps?). On their left a success was scored as the Argive Cavalry hit and panicked away the Spartan "levy" Cavalry (first 'true' blood to Argos but the Spartans easily passed their Army Morale Test caring nought about those 'bloody silly horses'). The Argives strategos could see a flicker of hope though. The Argives renewed their push in the centre showing great spirit and indeed managed to hurt the Spartans, but we all know the Spartans like it rough and was it really enough damage? No. The Spartan response was swift and devastating. It only took two hits to effectively destroy the Argive centre. An impressive blow took the last "fresh" Argive hoplite to "spent" status, then a follow up hit smashed into the lead unit and took it away causing a morale check. The Argive Army Morale now needed to be tested and the Argive strategos rolled a one. Seeing their comrades so brutally slain was too much for the sensitive sons of Argos and the remaining five hoplite units as a single mass turned and ran for their lives least they be "reaped like ripe wheat". The Argive centre was no more, it had bolted. Oh the fickle fortune of war, the damning hand of fate or yet another wargaming example of when not to throw a one when a two would have saved you, we've all done it! (see below, where have all the Argives gone?):

Bravely the remaining (left and right flank) Argives fought on, steadfast in adversity gaining Spartan respect. Then the myth of  Spartan "martial invincibility" took a Public Relations battering. Two whole units of Spartan hoplites were removed from play. Admittedly it was probably "other Peloponnesian Allies" under the microscope rather than true Spartiates, but still the fact remained the Spartan left wing 'disintegrated' as the powerful Argive right wing lead by their Argive "chosen" Veteran hoplites struck home. However the panic was checked as the rest of the Spartans outside the "zone of disaster" passed their important Army Morale Test. Unfettered by the shackles imposed by the Spartan "levy" Cavalry the Athenian Cavalry took great delight in racing to an advantageous position in the rear of the Spartan battle line (heroic stuff, the poets of Athens will make use of this feat of arms)! Finally the Spartan centre turned to face the emerging threat on their left flank while the elite Spartan right wing wreaked reciprocal havoc on weak Argive left wing (of a puny) two "average" hoplite units. In cricket terms the Argives here "did not trouble the scorer" (see below, see the emerging spiral of the classic hoplite battle):

The Argive ultimate hope rested on their last relatively "fresh" units of their right wing hitting the mostly "spent" Spartan centre. Great store was put in store for the (albeit "spent") Athenian Cavalry charge into the flank of the Spartan centre phalanx. The latter four legged Athenian attack alas spluttered, so sadly no great advantage was gained as the Spartans held the 'central squares' which were deemed to be good solid infantry terrain. In truth the Athenian horse were not true "impact cavalry" (unlike Alexander's Companions or Cataphracts of later years) and were content to mill about not appreciating the long pointy spears of the Spartans. So it fell again to remaining fresh units of the Argive right which attacked with urgent fury but was absorbed (not without pain) by the stoic Peloponnesians. The Spartans had somehow hung on and now it was their superior "veteran" status allowed them to go on fighting and start the "true killing phase of the battle". Despite being mostly "spent" the additional command attack bonuses and the leadership of the their King Agis tipped the balance. The keenness of the edge of the Argive attack was ground away as four out of the last seven Argive hoplite units became "spent" (see below):

Note re: Agis: Received mixed reports from his elders. It has to be said (negatively) he did not manage to rally a spent unit all game despite a dozen or so tries, but in fairness he did not also die either which could have had worse morale test consequences (as well as in terms of young Agis' personal self esteem and his ability to walk upright).

As the hoplites fought on in continued mutual savagery the "average" units on both sides melted away from either hits and/or morale checks. These included the Spartan "average" hoplite unit that had "walked the long walk" from the left flank to die in the centre (that's the type of thing the Spartan poets would like, if they had poets that is). Finally the three remaining Argive "veteran" hoplite units (the chosen men of Argos) were all that faced the entire Spartan Army (see below):  

The Argives had fought well but now enough was enough. The Athenian cavalry too slipped away to fight another day, or rather race back to their boats and get back to Athens. The "chosen" Argives backed away, one step then two and then turned around and fled, discarding all items of  heavy armour and weapons that could have slowed them down. The Spartans abruptly halted on seeing this. Theirs was not the way of senseless "butchery of the defenceless" without purpose. When a heroic enemy was defeated and yielded the field without trickery the Spartans often just let them go. The defeated would tell their own tales of impossible Spartan martial might so well as to spread fear into the stoutest heart. All one had to do would be to mention the name of  "Sparta" and peace treaties and tributes would flow. So today there would be no savage slaughter of pursuit. They were Spartans, with the battle now undisputed, their victory complete they would now attend to their rituals and keep their cohesion lest Ares spring a surprise upon them. The Spartans were a conservative breed fearing hubris. The classic "spiral wheel" effect of the ancient hoplite battle has been nicely replicated in this encounter. The "veteran" Spartan hoplites and the command benefit of Agis which the Spartan King had bestowed were the deciding factors (see below):

Victory Points: The Winner is ...

Despite the overwhelming tabletop position it "only" translated to a "marginal victory" for the Spartan players as it followed more or less the historical lines. The game was heavily in favour of the Spartans (FV70 to FV51) so the Spartans should always "win" on tableto but the question is how many Spartans would die in the process. Also note, most of the Argives ran away (through morale failure) rather than were killed . Historically Sparta probably killed more on the day.

The game I feel was very well played by both sides (completely novice to the rules) and played in a great spirit of friendship and fairness, with good humour abounding. All-in-all I was not too displeased at all with how it went, part simulation, part "active learning" and part "good conversation".


Wednesday 15 July 2015

Strategos II (aka Lost Battles) First Battle of Mantinea 418 BC (Part 1 of 2)

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.

Table-Top Set-Up: 

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?

Sunday 5 July 2015

"My First" Prussians make it to the Leipzig Tabletop

My Prussians finally make it to the tabletop in a battlefield formation! It has only taken them ten years to turn from silver legion wannabes to fully painted Prussian heroes with a flag (see below, as they march on to meet the French):

Meanwhile the Prussian maidens and womenfolk are left weeping as their menfolk walk off to war (see below, their view - "Will they ever see them again?") :

As part of the "map consolidation phase", the two separate battles being fought simultaneously are joined together on one table. An impressive Herculean task if truth be told as apart from the very "gingerly" physical movement of toys, much mental dexterity was required to rotate and merge the battlefield geography without teleporting troops in random directions (see the following photo sequence for full appreciation of the size of the battle):

My Prussians are part of a massive mixed  Prussian and Russian infantry XXX (see above top left, second formation down, the neatest formation bar the French "Old Guard" on table IMHO). On teh downside, they are headed towards a formidable line of French Artillery backed by infantry and cavalry. In short an "all arms" wall of death, not a nice wargaming christening (see below):

The panoramic view from the French lines on the main battlefield (see below, the Prussians/Russians are top, moving onto the battlefield and the French in the center of the photograph to bottom, ready and waiting, just off to the right would be a large formation of "Old and Middle Guard!" just emerging from the fields around Leipzig):

The view of the French dispositions across the blue river in the above photograph is shown below (see below, the French have a good combined arms force but are outnumbered, however the Guard Artillery 'park' and Cavalry XXX are within easy reach): 

The man himself, Napoleon, is now awake and talking to his beloved Guard, admiring their potent artillery pieces and the glint of steel catching the bayonet and cuirass of their infantry and cavalry (see below, ahem note the understated six figure command base as befits The Emperor):

I have a feeling The Guard may have to be committed early to crush one threat and then turn upon another in true Napoleonic genius for the French to win this one!