Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Seleucid versus Parthia – preparing for Magnesia 190 BC

Continuing my refresher exercise for pike versus blade, the combined Roman-Pergamene cavalry strength at Magnesia was estimated at 3,000 strong. This is dwarfed by Seleucid totals and thought it a good moment to field the Seleucid against a mobile opponent, Parthia. The battle was fought on the larger board with both commands increased to 18 elements. The Seleucid were invading the steppe lands of Parthia.

1 x General (4Kn), 1 x cataphract (4Kn), 4 x phalangites (4Pk), 1 x Theurophori (4Ax), 1 x Galatian (4Wb), 1 x elephant (El), 1 x scythed chariot (SCh), 2 x skirmishers (Ps).
Additional troops:
1 x cataphract (4Kn), 2 x phalangites (4Pk), 1 x elephant (El), 1 x Galatian |(4Wb), 1 x Asiatic skirmishers (Ps).

1 x General (4Kn), 2 x cataphracts (4Kn), 9 x nomad horse archers (LH).
Additional troops:
1 x cataphract (4Kn), 3 x nomad horse archers (LH), 2 x city militia archers (3Bw).

Recalling Alexander’s battle against the Scythian, the phalangites deployed in line and not their usual deeper columns. Behind them, the cavalry formed a reserve with the elephants and scythed chariots holding the left wing. Having deployed first, the Parthian deployed in five groups with ample spacing between each group. This proved beneficial as the Parthian quickly shifted their light cavalry to occupy the Seleucid left wing while the main threat would sweep the light troops from the hill exposing the phalangite line.

The Parthian assault on the Seleucid right was stemmed by the determined resistance of mercenary troops.

The battle for the hill cost the Parthian dearly in pip expenditure, leaving the Seleucid time to roll up the Parthian right to earn them a victory (6-4)

Swapping the role of defender-attacker, the Seleucid deployed first forming their battle line in echelon with a reserve formation posted on the hill to their rear. The Seleucid cataphracts formed to the left of the battle line had the elephants and chariots to their rear. In response, the Parthian formed a contiguous front with their foot archers positioned facing the Seleucid cataphacts.

Learning from the previous engagement, the Parthian would refrain from attacking both flanks, but concentrate on one; the Seleucid left. The Parthian battle line would keep pace with their foot archers and move steadily forward.

Seizing the initiative, the Seleucid phalangites struck first and despite their thin line, the sent the enemy horse recoiling back with the losses. During the same bound, the elephant and chariot re-positioned themselves between the Parthian light horse and their camp; this offered ample room for the cataphracts to attack the Parthian light horse inflicting more casualties.

A counter attack by Parthia proved costly as the Seleucid were able to contain each threat and retake the advantage on their bound resulting in another victory (6-2).


Command control posed less an issue for the Parthian commander, however, considering their mobility it is quite tempting to use or in this case mis-use flanking maneuvers. Integrating light horse among the cataphract has its risk as LH will flee if defeated by foot troops leaving the Parthian cataphract exposed. Consider also mounted will also recoil from solid foot on even combat scores, making the Parthian a difficult army to use. 

If there are any weak aspects of the the Seleucid army, then that would be the elephants and chariots. A simple ‘more than’ combat result will finish them both, hence their being tucked away in game two. 

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Rome versus the Seleucid - a preparation for Magnesia 190 BC

It has been nearly three years since the Seleucid army marched across the table and in preparation for the Battle of Magnesia later this month, I decided some re-fresher training might be in order. After a few standard 12 element games which ended in disasters, I increased the size of each command to 18 elements. This produced a much tighter game with the victor winning by one element.

Seleucid Army
1 x General (4Kn), 1 x cataphract (4Kn), 4 x phalangites (4Pk), 1 x Theurophori (4Ax), 1 x Galatian (4Wb), 1 x elephant (El), 1 x scythed chariot (SCh), 2 x skirmishers (Ps).
Additional troops: 1 x cataphract (4Kn), 2 x phalangites (4Pk), 1 x elephant (El), 1 x Galatian |(4Wb), 1 x Asiatic skirmishers (Ps).

Consular Army
1 x General (Cv), 1 x cavalry (Cv), 4 x hastati/principes (4Bd), 2 x Latin allies (4Ax), 2 x triarii (Sp), 2 x velites (Ps).
Additional troops: 1 x cavalry (Cv), 1 x hastati/principes (4Bd), 2 x Latin allies (4Ax), 2 x velites (Ps).
Note: the additional troops produced an even number of Roman (red) and Latin (white) types which can be seen from their shield colour.  

Test games
Rather than give a blow by blow description of the test games, I will highlight some of the key events that made this a useful exercise.

It goes without saying, the flanks of the phalanx are most vulnerable and in the first two tests, the phalanx was adequately protected by placing catapracht and elephants on either flank; subsequent tests did experiment with their placement.

The timing of an attack is crucial as the elephants are particularly vulnerable to enemy skirmishers as can be seen in the photo below.

In general, the both sides were well matched and scored an even number of victories. The Seleucid did avoid a catastrophe by exerting enough pressure against one Roman flank. This forced Roman pip expenditure on their bound must be re-diverted  to stave an impending disaster. 

Another test game Rome adjusted  their deployment to position a “flying column’ on each flank. This double envelopment by Roman cavalry and infantry support proved worrisome for the Seleucid as the cataphract were held back to protect the army’s right flank while on the left, troops supporting the phalanx were peeled off to deal with the threat on that side.

The final test resembled the deployments made at Magnesia. This was not on purpose, but developed as a consequence of trial and error of five games. The battle progressed much like Magnesia with the Seleucid cataphract destroying the Roman line to their front, the phalangites did make headway but exposed their left flank to a Roman counter stroke. This was not enough however to claim victory as entire Roman left crumbled to the combined efforts of Galatians, thureophoroi and cataphracts.   

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Rome vs. the Carpi

After a minor setback at our last meeting it was time to put the Romans through their paces in preparation for our next game. This time the Carpi would be invading and to make the games interesting I would increase both commands with six additional elements (18 a side). Space would pose no problem as our boards are 80cm x 80cm.

Game 1
The Carpi warband have falxmen interspersed between the columns; the left flank is covered by skirmishers and the right are the Sarmatae allies.

Rome deployed in depth with auxilia forming a screen ahead of the legions. The Praetorian guard and cavalry formed a central reserve.

Roman strategy would have the auxilia to take up positions in the BUA and wood while the legions of the second line form a contiguous line, This would funnel the Carpi approach forcing them to halt their advance to deal with auxilia or risk its flanks being turned.

In this case, an average pip score decided the latter option was selected as can be seen in the photo. The battle for the BUA and wood resulted in heavy casualties for both sides but to win, the Carpi must force a decision in the center. Keeping the pressure on both flanks and advancing the warband left no pips over, so the Sarmatian allies remained inert for two turns. A final desperate charge did result in one dead clibanarii, but the legions sealed the victory with a score, 7 – 4.

Game 2
Too much time and pips were needed to move the screening troops to each flank (auxilia) and for the Roman heavy infantry to  deploy into line. The placement of troops for this game would address those issues in addition to relocating the cavalry to positions were they would be better employed.

Changes were also made to the Carpi battle line; warband were grouped together, the falxmen were placed to clear the wood while the Sarmatae remained on the right flank.  

The Carpi advance maintained a uniform front slowing their tempo to allow both wings to clear the wood and BUA of enemy.

The Bastarnae were successful in clearing the wood of auxilia while the BUA still remained in Roman possession,

Sensing the time was right, the Carpi and their allies attacked the Roman center. Roman legions on the right not only held their ground but forced the Carpi back, but disaster fell to the Sarmatae as they were cut down to a man

At this point, Roman signals became confused (low pip scores) letting many a golden opportunity slip through their fingers. The Carpi recovered quickly and dispatched two more elements to bring the score to 5 – 3. On the subsequent bound, Rome responded with a vengeance to even the score at 5 -5.

The center now became maelstrom of elements flanking enemy elements with the Carpi capturing a narrow victory with a score of 7 – 6.

Game 3
The last test eliminated  a wood exposing an open flank for both armies. The change would hopefully give the cavalry sufficient room to use.

A classic head on collision of both front lines; Rome had half its force held back in either a reserve position or ready to move on the Carpi flanks.

Rome did strike at both flanks forcing the Carpi to deal with the threat on both flanks before launching a general assault. Sarmatian cavalry charged and destroyed the Roman light horse while on the Carpi right warband were able to contain the threat by the auxiliaries. Fortune turned for Rome as the Carpi center crashed into the Roman battle line destroying two blade but losing a warband to the Roman general and his bodyguard.

The Praetorian were next in line for the barbarians and they succeeded in eliminating half their number. Elsewhere, in a desperate struggle, the Sarmatian cavalry were holding off twice their number. Every Carpi unit had been committed in the fight, but Rome still had uncommitted reserves

Rome regained advantage to close on a number of exposed flanks to destroy a unit of Sarmatians. The Praetorians and General assisted by the timely arrival of auxilia destroyed their opposition leaving the Carpi no alternative to exit the battlefield. Score 6 – 5 for Rome.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Using Nuln Oil (GW Shade)

 I had recently finished a number of Spanish infantry of 1809 of which white is the dominant colour; coat, breeches, canvas bag, and belting for canteen (gourd), bayonet, cartouche and backpack. Nuln Oil (GW shade) was used in a number of YouTube tutorials to define all of the above. I therefore decided to change my old school practice of lining the above with black ink, later dark gray and try Nuln Oil.

Rather than begin with the Spanish, as I was uncertain about the end result, I thought it prudent to practice on an army with a similar clothing and found the Umayyad Arabs would do.

I have two DBA armies, so began applying Nuln Oil as was demonstrated in the videos and after completing all twelve elements realised my Umayyad had change their allegiance to become Abbasid (black clothing).

I decided to correct my technique for the second command and thinned the Nuln Oil with water and limit my shading to the folds and where belting met clothing, leaving enough of the original white exposed. The difference was amazing. A good amount of highlighting was needed to bring the first command back to the Umayyad fold while the second required much less.   

This may seem ‘old news’ for the younger generation of painters, but for this veteran of 72 years, an old dog can learn new tricks. 

Now, on to the Spanish infantry. 

Friday, 19 October 2018

Rome against the Marcomanni

The latest project Portugal 1809 has placed all my ancient activity temporarily on hold and after a suspension of nearly two months one begins to feel ‘stale’.  As my regular DBA sparring partner was away I managed a solo game between Rome (Middle Imperial) against the Marcomanni.

To make this an interesting exercise, I decided to increase each command from 12 to 18 elements with the loss of one third ending the game. Keep in mind, by adding the extra elements this would place a strain on ‘pip’ usage and lengthen the game somewhat.   

The Marcomanni
1 x general (Cv), 3 x cavalry (Cv), 2 x javelinmen (Ps) and 12 warriors (4Wb).
1 x general (Cv), 3 x equites (Cv), 1 x eq. Illyriani (LH), 7 x legionnaires (4Bd), 5 x auxilia (4Ax), 1 x archers (4Bw).

The Marcomanni were defending their forest region and a series of fortuitous die casts covered each quadrant with a terrain piece; three woods and one hamlet. The woods offered the Marcomanni coverage for both flanks, but hampered the deployment of their cavalry and these were placed in a second line behind the centre.

Anticipating a wild rush forward, the Romans formed two groups in echelon formation with a third group held back as a reserve. The bulk of the cavalry were placed on the right flank, beyond the wood, with an objective to encircle the barbarian horde and strike their rear.

The opening moves.
Fortuna was in a frivolous mood this night and held the barbarian pip scores low, but did Rome no great favour by giving them 'just a bit more' to play with. This forced the Marcomanni to concentrate their efforts on developing a flank assault on their right while the main body ‘shuffled’ forward.

The Marcomanni did inflict a casualty on the Roman left and this had the effect of drawing the attention of the left group away from the central attack.

Despite the assault on the left flank, the Roman second group held their position to await the eventual onslaught of the Marcomanni centre. The encircling manoeuvre by the Roman cavalry had advanced far enough to draw the attention of the Marcomanni cavalry. 

Middle game
Containing the Roman left wing opened an opportunity for the Marcomanni to breach a gap between the two groups. The effect was immediate as Roman losses were severe enough to call up the reserve group. Up to this point, the Marcomanni had incurred no losses against Rome’s two.   

Events took a serious turn as the entire reserve formation consisting of a unit of Praetorians and two of the 1st Parthia fell to the Marcomanni fury. The loss of a single Marcomanni warband was small compensation for the horrendous loss and the fast approach of break point (5 – 1).

End game
Fortuna finally grinned and blessed Rome with a series of high pip scores unleashing some remarkable Roman wizardry. The last of the reserve, the Praetorian cavalry were thrown in and the general led his own guard onto the dense barbarian columns and together with the legionnaires and auxilia redoubling their efforts brought the score even, 5 – 5.

Fickle as ever, Fortuna made a quick exit to leave Rome with a ‘1’ as their next pip score. Rather than force a new combat that bound, the Roman commander regrouped his own guard alongside the Praetorians. The Marcomanni did no better on their own bound leaving Rome to deliver the needed blow to end the game, 5 – 6 for Rome.

Some thoughts
The battle was played on an 80cm x 80cm board and took less than an hour and ten turns to complete. Despite the increased number of elements, there was ample room for troops to move about. Pip scores were average or slightly less which forced both Marcomanni and Rome to not overplay their game. The Marcomanni did well to focus on one flank before assaulting the Roman centre, this approach nearly won them the battle.

After launching the Roman cavalry wing I immediately had second thoughts if this was a wise move. It did however occupy the Marcomanni cavalry so they did not participate in the main battle which may have been a blessing.

Friday, 24 August 2018

939 AD, refighting the Battle of Trans-la- Fôret

Viking scouts had reported the approach of a Breton army. Deploying their troops in three groups, with the right flank resting on the crest of a nearby hill and the left flank rested on the fort. Any attempt by the Breton to turn the Viking left would be foiled by the presence of the fort offering them no further option that to attack the hill position.

Alan II divided his army into three divisions; and posted the militia and skirmishers on the left, Breton cavalry in centre leaving all the Breton light horse to take a position to the far right of some dense wood.

The militia were instructed to demonstrate in front of the hill while the while the light horse would attempt to turn the Viking left flank. This left the Breton cavalry to deploy in front of the Viking centre and await the proper time to make their assault. Anticipating this, the three separate Viking lines wheeled right to form a contiguous line while a reserve detachment were rushed to support the left flank.

Seeing the Breton militia were not willing to make an assault, the Vikings on the hill moved further downhill hoping to provoke them into action. The timely arrival of the reserves frustrated Alan II but confident that the light horse would reach some success he brought forward the remainder of the cavalry to extend the centre line.

The wait was over and the Breton cavalry launched their attack on the Viking centre. This attack caught the Vikings off guard as their entire line recoiled back from the charge. The Vikings on the left anticipating an attack by Breton light horse were caught off guard by an assault by Breton cavalry coming from the centre.

Despite the casualties received in that first exchange (0 - 1) the Breton cavalry reformed to make a second charge. A second charge sent Viking line back on their heels but they did not break, however elsewhere,  the situation took a desperate turn as the Breton cavalry supported by light horse had broke the Viking left (2 – 1). Viking survivors retreated to form a new line.

The collapse of the Viking left freed many Breton cavalry and light horse to look for new targets. Seeing their commander was hard pressed, Breton light horse fell on the rear ranks of the Vikings locked in combat. This move sealed the fate of the Vikings and they fled the field leaving their dead behind (4 – 1).

This concludes the series of Dark Age scenarios set in the 9th and 10th century. I had selected some 30 battles and trimmed these down to a possible 10 that I could feasibly do. The battles selected could easily be fought with a standard size army of twelve elements with a possible inclusion of allies. Those battles that reached the final selection were those for which I had in my DBA collection and required no new figures. That said, the Welsh were the only exception to this as I found the battles of Conwy and Buttington interesting to do.

We enjoy playing historical battles so this series proved a good exercise in how quickly I could translate obscure text to create a playable DBA game. No changes to the rules were made with the exception of a change of deployment; Leuven and Buttington required the defender to set up in the middle of the board and Brenta placed the attacker closer to the enemy camp to simulate a level of surprise. These did require an amount of play test but we found the end result worked well.  

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

939 AD, the Battle of Trans-la- Fôret

In the year 936, the political landscape of northern France was in a state of flux. Following the death of Rudolph of France and Louis IV ascending the throne of West Francia the Bretons seized an opportunity to divest themselves of Frankish hegemony and rose in revolt. Receiving some support from Athelstan of England, the Bretons were able to expand their rebellion throughout most of the peninsula and this brought them in direct confrontation with the Northmen colonists living within the region. Through the course of three long hard fought years, the campaign against the Northmen reached a conclusion at Trans-la-Fôret. On August 1, 939,  A Breton army lead by Alan II and supported by the counts  Hugh II of Maine and Judicael Berengar of Rennes, decisively defeated the Vikings bringing an end to their occupation of the region and the establishment of the Duchy of Brittany.

The Battlefield
Travelling south from Mont Saint-Michel Bay over the Coustenon River you can beach longships along a tributary within a kilometre from Trans-la-Fôret. Where the battle actually took place remains unknown, but the region is characterised with rolling hills covered by forests. Even Gregory of Tours as describes the region as sparsely populated in addition to it being heavily forested and hilly. The presence of wood enabled the Vikings to construct a fort near the river making La Guyoult the most likely candidate for a battle site.

Our battlefield should feature woods (2), a river, a gentle hill and a fort. We recommend using an 80cm x 80cm board with the maximum dimensions of the fort being 3BW x 3BW. If using a smaller board, then omit the river and use medium size wood (2BW x 3BW or 3BW x 4BW).

The Armies
The Vikings
The Viking are taken from Book III/40b which list eleven blade (4Bd) and one element of either berserker (3Wb) or archers (Ps or 4Bw).

The Bretons
In Book III/18 we find the Bretons of this period and it is quite possible to field an all mounted force. If selecting two horde (7Hd) options in place of mounted, the disguised Saxon option is not applicable.

The Setup
The Vikings are defending, determine which quadrant the ‘fort’ is to be placed and position this adjacent to the board edge. One element must garrison the ‘fort’ with the remainder of the Viking host positioned within their deployment area.

The Breton player deploys his army opposite the Viking fort. 

Recommended Reading.
La chronique de Nantes (570 environ-1049)