One of the problems inherent in writing wargame rules is to have some sort of game balance. In my case, of course, this is a major problem. The Greeks and Persians fought a good number of times in major battles, such as Marathon, Plataea, Granicus, Issus and Gaugamela. The result? Five nil to the Greeks.
You might well argue that these results are not representative. The Persian forces at Granicus, for example, were satrapal levies and therefore of lesser fighting value. Darius, you might add, was not one of the world’s greatest generals. And so on. On the other hand, we can see from the outcomes of the campaigns and battles that the Persian Empire lost.
Thus, the problem for the wargamer, rules writer or player, is to provide the losing side with some reason for turning up. After all, a refight of Gaugamala is hardly likely to set the Persian wargamer’s pulses racing. The problem is turning up and expecting (almost knowing) that you are going to lose.
Of course, this is not limited to the Persians. Napoleonic Turks have a similar sort of track record, and I suppose that early World War Two French and Russians would suffer from the same issues. Naturally there are always some wargamers who build these armies, just for the bragging rights that come when, on the odd occasion, they win. How embarrassing would it have been to Napoleon to have lost in Egypt? We do not know, but it would not have been a great public relations exercise. So, by extension, would it be for the Napoleonic French going down to a Turkish army.
In the annals of history you can usually find some campaign or battle which does give the historical losers a bit of a chance. The attack of De Gaulle’s tanks in 1940 is one instance. The ambush of some of Alexander’s men in the constant insurgency in modern Afghanistan (sound familiar?) would be another. But overall, persuading the losers to turn up is a bit of a problem.
We could, if we wanted to, launch an imagi-nation (as the word seems to have become) and, for example, stiffen our Persian levies with some elephants, or super-weapons of some sort, or cripple the Macedonians by removing the Companions. We are not, then, of course, playing a historical battle, but we might get a better wargame out of it. On the other hand, I am reminded of an account by a solo wargamer who did just this for his Napoleonic armies, got half way through painting them, and then decided that if they were equipped as British, they might as well look like them, and set to to repaint them. Not the most inspiring job in the world, I am sure.
I suspect that one of the problems might be that we usually look at history through the eyes of the victors. The Germans won in 1940 because of better tactics, communication, low level unit initiative and so on. We can list the deficiencies of the Allies by the same token and, hence, find some sort of reasons for the spectacular loss the campaign was. For Alexander of Macedon, we can search for the same sorts of reasons. We could list the sarissa, perhaps, or better command, better training for the Macedonians, and so on, and, similarly, lack of the same in their opponents. In fact, if you look up a bit, I did exactly that above.
But I still have no reason to launch on my next project, which is the painting of a late Persian army. There are a lot of them, and I do need some impetus to get started. I do not want to regard them simply as targets, as victims for the Macedonians (who are very nearly finished).
Assuming that my rules give historical outcomes (which is, I concede, a big assumption) the historical record of the Persians would suggest that they should be exactly victims. Short of delving into imaginations, fantasy or simply a-historical narratives, what can I do?
Firstly, I think the idea is to stop identifying with the Greeks. Our sources are all Greek (or Roman, as it happens) and are thus a wee bit biased against what they saw as the soft and indulgent Persians. Placing the player(s) as Persian generals would probably balance the game up a fair bit. Secondly, there is the issue of objectives. What would it mean for the Persians to win? After all, by some accounts, the Persians did win the Graeco-Persian wars by bribing the Greeks to fight themselves to exhaustion.
So how about something like this:
You are Memnon of Rhodes, Darius’ commander in the Mediterranean. Despite a recent grave illness, you have successfully landed a considerable force in Asia Minor and your objective is to relieve the citadel of Sardis, which is being besieged by a detachment of Alexander of Macedon’s army. Alexander himself is much further east. To relieve Sardis you must cross a major river; there are three bridges, one on the direct route between you and Sardis, one twenty miles north and one fifteen miles south. You have an army of reliable Persians and Medes, some local levies and some possibly reliable Greek mercenary hoplites. You know that the besiegers have a few Macedonians, some fairly reluctant allies from Greek cities, and some Greek and Thracian mercenaries. The latter will only get paid when the citadel in Sardis falls, which it will do in approximately fifteen days.
The actual details of the forces, the maps and so on can be worked out according to local circumstances, but the set-up is there. This surely is a reason for the Persian hordes to be painted; they have a chance against an enemy who cannot really move very far. I know that the scenario is not precisely historical (Memnon, in fact, died of his illness) but it is not so far from the bounds of probability. If, after all, Memnon had lived, Alexander would probably have had to turn back west anyway.
I would be interested in any further suggestions and ideas for similar balancing acts. And, of course, there is a small prize of internet kudos for anyone who spots the historical basis for the above scenario (it isn’t difficult; I think I have mentioned it before).