Saturday, 6 February 2016

The Battle of Issus - a test game.

“This should not have happened.”

As defender, the position behind the Pinarus seemed a strong one with the Sea of Issus on the left flank and the foothills of securing the right flank. One minor drawback, troops of the right flank were too far away to deploy behind the Pinarus, however the river did wind its way close to the centre command making it possible to defend the river bank on the first turn. The deployment of the left flank did not reach the sea but kept close contact with the centre command, here the seven units of cavalry would be sufficient to cover the open expanse.

Anullinus noting the small numbers on the usurper’s left deployed his central command opposite them and a near equal sized command opposite Niger. All the cavalry excepting the Contarii were grouped together forming a mobile reserve.

Seeing the buildup of strength opposite the right and centre positions, the opening moves were spent shifting troops eastward and those positioned on foothills would now redeploy behind the Pinarus. This was a bit of a race to reach the river first.

The first attempt by Anullinus to cross the Pinarus discovered its banks were steeper than thought. This posed less of a problem for the dice gods were extremely kind; crossing as individual units they still gave the impression of a huge wave moving forward.

After the game Anullinus (Jan) shared his strategy with me. Leading with the strong left flank (CinC) these would cross the Pinarus first drawing off troops from the central position. The mobile reserve would be set in where needed.

That seemed like a sound plan as some blade and auxilia were able to cross the Pinarus before an adequate defense on the right could be set up by Niger. Nonetheless, these were contained and pushed back as Jan commented later; the battle seemed more like the landing at Normandy.

Cavalry reserves from Niger’s central command were moved up to support the right and after several turns, the command of Anullinus became demoralized.

Further along the line, the central command of Niger held the Pinarus position beating back every attempt to cross. In desperation the mobile reserve (6 x Cv) sought a crossing point further downstream and found this held by one lone auxilia. These held their ground and moving a unit of cavalry to their support on the following bound killed their general (oops).

To top off the setback, Niger was able to sack the Imperial camp (oh dear).

I shared the actual account of the battle according to Cassius Dio including the thunderstorm that the troops of Niger saw as an omen from the Gods. The more we talked about the events being set in a scenario I realized this would game would be better placed in a small campaign with a narrative.

1.     Severus with the bulk of the army besieged Byzantium, Niger’s capitol.
2.     Sealing off Byzantium from Asia Minor, Severus crossed the Sea of Marmara.
3.     Battle of Cyzicus, Niger is defeated.
4.     Battle of Nicaea, Niger is again defeated.
5.     Severus resumes the siege of Byzantium while sending Tiberius Candidus in pursuit of Niger.
6.     Niger defends the Cilician Gates.
7.     Time is now spent raising frontier troops.
8.     Egypt now supports Severus as do other cities and some military units.

9.     Leaving to consolidate his situation, Niger confronts Anullinus at Issus. 

This approach has much potential as a small campaign.


  1. Prufrock,
    Thank you for the kind word.
    Niger’s force had been adjusted to reflect the VI Ferrata that deserted the cause and the extra auxilia would account for the newly raised frontier troops raised during the winter of 194 AD.
    This needs to be played out one more time, before tinkering with the number of elements per side.

  2. This battle is a great one (I have played it on bordgames) and your picutres are really nice, seems to be a splendid battle!

  3. Thank you Phil.
    The photos were taken by Jan while I was away gathering the refreshments.
    Regarding the board game you played, do you remember the strengths given for two sides?
    My estimates arrive at 50-60,000 for Niger and a bit more for Anullinus.

  4. Very nice. Someday I hope to get involved with DBA

  5. ljr70,

    When you do reach that point in your game experience, do stop by the Fanaticus Forum. There is a lot of good information shared there as well as photos of great looking armies.


  6. Nice pics and thoroughly researched, as always.I played the Roman invasion of Britain/River Medway crossing once. Had the same D-Day feeling.

  7. Thanks Jurjen,

    I had expected Jan to have read Curtius' History of Alexander and cover his river crossing with artillery. In this replay, the artillery could have enfiladed the right wing of Niger to clear the banks.