Saturday, 16 October 2021

Writing Rules

Recently, the Heretical Gamer has taken up the challenge of Anglo-Norman wargaming with a series of games around the Anarchy of Stephen’s reign. He has used rules including DBA and Neil Thomas’ Ancient and Medieval rules, but not the ones published with the articles the scenarios are based upon. As I have not read the articles I do not know the ins and outs of the rules that came with them. I am not going to comment on the actions reported, as they seem to be good, well organised wargames to me, but ponder a bit about how rules could be written for the period.

The first problem to be encountered is that, really and truly, little is known about the fighting of the period. The actual activity of the soldiers is very hard to establish from the records we have, and the historical record gets more and more patchy the further down the scoial class you go. That is, we can have a fair stab (pardon the pun) at how knights fought, because the chroniclers were from the knightly class (even if, as most of them were, they were monks). The audience too was from this class and so wanted to know how their heroic sons, cousins and, of course, selves fought each other with honour and chivalry. The infantry are rarely mentioned.

The fact is, however, that infantry were at all (or most) of the actions. We are not sure how many (chronicle numbers are always suspect) nor do we really know what they did. We do not know how many archers there were, for example, nor how many of those might have wielded crossbows. Our sources are, simply, not interested in such things. We are on slightly firmer ground with the accounts of the Crusades, where infantry were acknowledged as being important, but then the warfare was different as the Franks had to adjust to a form of warfare which simply did not exist in the West.

Another problem which we have, that is related to the point about the chroniclers, is that the last hundred years or so has seen the era from the fall of the Roman Empire (in the West, of course) to the outbreak of the Hundred Years War as the era of the mounted knight being a battle winner. This might have something to do with various analogies, such as the medieval knight as a ‘tank’, where in the First and Second World Wars the tank was seen as the weapon par excellence which won battles. This might not be true, of course (I am not a world war wargamer, but I am aware that in both world wars artillery did rather have a voice in action), but the analogy was very attractive. It just seems to have been wrong.

The other point of view, actually similar to the above, is that nothing much of any interest happened in the Anglo-Norman era, at least militarily. There were knights and they won battles, so most people did the sensible thing and hid in castles, of which there were many, until the knights came to the rescue. It is acknowledged, naturally, that there was a bit more to it than that but really, not much. Most campaigns, after all, got bogged down in sieges and sieges are, of course, very boring affairs. Even siege weaponry only developed slowly over the period and did not really establish superiority over the defence until the advent of gunpowder.

So how, out of this lack of information, could wargame rules possibly be written?

Well, to be honest, no period is easy for rule writers. There is a great deal to be considered, from ‘historical accuracy’ (whatever than means) to playability as a game. As I banged on about ad nauseum a while ago, a set of wargame rules is really a set of interlocking and interdependent models for different aspects of a battle. Nowhere in the accounts of battles I have read do participants say, ‘It is the end of the turn, we had better check our morale’. Morale is an explanatory construct made by historians and wargamers to explain certain outcomes.

The further back in time, the less we know about combat. For example, no-one really knows how battles in the Wars of the Roses took place. Ideas vary from dismounted knights exhausted under the weight of armour practically collapsing when someone taps them to the same men at arms doing handsprings while toting poleaxes. Spool history back another two centuries or so and you have further compounded our ignorance and conflicting accounts.

We have to make some sensible inferences and deductions. If our sources do not mention particularly the difference between crossbows and ordinary bows, then they do not appear in the rules. If some of the spearmen in the sources are armoured and some are not, then we can represent that but need to really consider whether they performed differently on the battlefield and, if they did, why. The answer is probably not coats of mail, but discipline – the word ‘mercenary’ did not have its negative connotations that accrued later but were more reliable troops who were expensive but could be paid off at the end of the campaign.

On the other hand, there is a limit to what you can do with a pointy stick. So perhaps the distinction is not between armoured and unarmoured spearmen, but between levies and mercenaries, the latter having a bit more sticking power, not because of their armour but because of their semi-professionalism.

The range of troop types is fairly straightforward in the Anglo-Norman period, of course: mounted knights, dismounted knights, spearmen and archers (conflating crossbowmen and archers into one). Complications arise because the knights could dismount to bolster the infantry, but that could be accounted for. Beyond that, a simple matrix style of interactions should result in something playable.

Morale would be an interesting question. I would usually go for the whole army approach, and still would, but perhaps losing knight bases would count for more than infantry, at least if we believe the chroniclers. But maybe that is just adding too much chrome.

Saturday, 9 October 2021

You Are Now Entering Marlborough Country

I am, of course, showing my age, my childhood hearkening back to the days when cigarette advertising was permitted, and, indeed, propped up several sports. However, I have, as you might have noticed, finished the Anglo-Duch and the Bavarian War of Spanish Succession armies, and so the pondering has been what to do with them.

Now, obviously, the answer is ‘have a wargame’, but the question is then ‘yes, but which.’ I am not a particular expert on the WSS, although I have read a little about it (it was a long time ago – my reading, not the war which was even longer ago). In desperation, I hit Google and came up with a bit of a gem, two battles (on the Helion website) reduced to wargame-ness by Andy Callan. I know its advertising, but it is also free and you do not have to buy the books.

The first battle is storming the Schellenberg in 1704. Well, maybe sometime. The second caught my interest a bit more, the Battle of Elixheim, July 1705. Looking at the orders of battle, I realised that with a little jiggery-pokery I could make up the forces. I then resorted to my few textbooks to try to flesh out the detail of what happened, behind the wargame reduction.

The short answer is that I did not find much, the 1705 campaign being rather relegated to obscurity between the 1704 Blenheim and the 1706 Ramillies campaigns. Still this book:

Chandler, D. (1973). Marlborough as Military Commander. London: MBS.

Came up with the goods. The situation Marlborough was tackling was the French (etc) army on the defensive, behind the ‘Lines of Brabant’. This was a network of forts, waterways, flooding, barricades, and entrenchments. The lines were undermanned; indeed the idea was that they would delay anyone crossing them, rather than stop them. Marlborough feinted south, convincing the Elector of Bavaria and General Villeroi to concentrate in the south, but Marlborough marched north overnight and crossed the lines.

According to Chandler, the hastily gathered defenders consisted of 33 understrength Spanish (presumably Walloon) and Bavarian squadrons, 11 battalions of Bavarian foot and ten triple barrelled guns. Marlborough (for it was the man himself) had 16 squadrons of British cavalry, plus the Hessians and Hanoverians of the advance guard and some infantry, with more approaching.

A brisk attack by Marlborough's men routed the opposing cavalry, but some hesitation on Marlborough’s part (uncharacteristic – Chandler cannot explain the blip on his hero’s record) let the Bavarian foot form a rearguard as the rest of the French army scuttled across the River Gheete to safety near Louvain.

A brisk little action, then, with not a huge amount of meaning. But something possible with the forces at my disposal. Callan has a handy map which, if you chop the lines off the right-hand side and heed to the advice that it was good cavalry country is easily represented on the table. Callan has the Anglo-Dutch with 8 regiments of horse and 4 of foot, while the French have 5 regiments of horse, 5 of foot, 2 dragoons and two guns.




The picture gives an idea of the field. Woods on the far side, Esemale to the left with the Bavarian lines. To the right are the British and Hessian cavalry with Elixheim behind them. The Bavarian infantry enters from the left on move 3, the British and Hessian infantry enters from the table corner (just off camera) to the right, behind Elixheim.

I confess it all went a bit pear-shaped for the great man. The deployment, it turned out, was not of the best. There is a reason for having multiple lines of cavalry, even in my rules. Marlborough was held by inferior numbers of Bavarians in the centre, while the Bavarians got the drop on the Hessian cavalry on their right. After a couple of rounds of combat, the Hessians fled. On Marlborough’s right, the rest of the British cavalry could not come to grips with the Franco-Bavarian dragoons. Then, as the infantry arrived, Marlborough was forced to deploy the Hessians to deter the pursuing Bavarian cavalry (which they did very nicely) but then lost one base in the central cavalry swirl while routing one. The Bavarian infantry was starting to arrive by then.




Final positions are as above, just as Marlborough’s side went to ‘fall back’ morale. The Hessian horse have disappeared stage right, while their foot are preventing most of the Bavarian horse from rallying from pursuit (you cannot rally while under fire). The British foot are proceeding down the table. In the centre Marlborough is rallying his cavalry while a Bavarian cavalry base pursues some English across the table. To the left, the Bavarian foot have arrived.

I pondered what to do here. Marlborough has not technically lost, although 4 being cavalry bases down means his morale is fragile. Strategically he does not have to win the battle, because the Dutch army has crossed the lines behind him and is now camping a bit further north. While they have marched 27 miles overnight, they will still seriously outnumber the Bavarians, who can still form the rearguard from Villeroi’s retreat.

Cavalry actions under these rules are fast and furious. I had to make up a few rules, specifically about when pursuers come under fire and lost the ranged combat. A pursuing base got a ‘recoil’ result from the Hessian foot, and so I had to ponder what that would mean. I decided that the pursuit would stop but that the cavalry base would not start rallying because it was in combat. The result was that the Bavarian horse were pinned in disarray in front of the Hessian foot for a few turns, the latter taking potshots at them.

I also discovered that I need some more marker types, for pursuing bases that have not started rallying yet, but that is part of developing and understanding rules. I also need to learn that deploying cavalry in two or more lines might be an idea.



Saturday, 2 October 2021

The Lead Pile Revisited

Those of you with long memories and high boredom thresholds might remember a post last year revealing the size of my unpainted lead mountain. Having, as it were, sized up the problem and roughly added up the total for painting in the previous year (when no official records were kept), I challenged myself to paint 1000 of the figures over the next year.

The original numbers were that I had 2248 figures to paint in the mountain. Over the year that number got revised and distorted. Firstly, as the blog record shows, I also acquired a Vauban-style star fort, which was painted, and a Russian village, which has also been painted. Alongside the village, a Muscovite army was purchased, adding 179 figures to the pile. The star fort, or rather the companion besiegers pack, included some sappers as well, which increased the pile again, and I tracked down some gunners and guns, officers and snipers, and a few other bits. So the pile grew by about 200 in that process. I also found some Early Modern civilians and ECW generals. So the overall total grew to 2534 unpainted little men, consisting of 1880 infantry, 621 cavalry, and 33 others – guns and chariots, for example.

The aim of roughly halving the size of the lead pile had to be shelved, of course. But nevertheless, the challenge of 1000 figures remained. I gave a mid-term report, which gave a total of 589 figures painted, 171 cavalry, and 403 infantry, along with 15 guns. This included the new purchases, and so I could feel rather virtuous about the whole thing. Not smug, of course, for my painting is nowhere near good enough to feel smug about but virtuous in that the lead pile had not grown any more by random purchases, and had, in fact, shrunk a bit.

At that point, 15 wargames had taken place and had, in the main, been reported upon. Some of these used the newly painted troops, and some did not. To date, a further 7 wargames have been played, bringing the total to 22, which is quite pleasing, even though few of them have progressed any of the ongoing campaigns, but have either been one-offs or played because I was avoiding the higher stakes games of the campaigns. Sometimes my own psychology seems to be a bigger enemy than any lead pile or table-top foe.

The initial painting phase focussed heavily on the early moderns, although the wargames included ancients: Caesar’s late Republican Romans and the Celts got a couple of run-outs, as did Marathon. The first try of Marathon hinted at some further painting requirements for the Persians; they were very limited in terms of reinforcements, and even more so if Immortals were not included (they probably were not at Marathon, after all). So as Persians formed the greatest unpainted force in the ancients part of the pile, effort was concentrated on them and nearly 200 figures completed.

I suppose that I had better clarify the basing for these figures. I am a lazy painter, as all of you out there who spluttered ‘Only one thousand figures?’ will aver. For the Irregular figures, infantry are six to a base and cavalry are five. For Baccus figures, there are eight infantry and six cavalry to a base. This is except for the ECW and similar figures, where there are sixteen infantry (or twelve Irregular) to a base.

You might deduce from that that my view of basing in muddled, and you would be right. I quite like the aesthetic of two ranks of figures on a 40 by 20 mm base. On the other hand, if you work out the ratio of frontage to depth for a 500 man battalion you get a width of around 60 men for a depth of 8. Hence you get an aspect ratio of 7.5:1 or thereabouts. Thus it seems to me that a single line of 8 figures captures the aspect ratio of the formation a lot better than two lines of figures, for all the aesthetic appeal of the latter. Therefore I shall keep basing inconsistently.

Army              Inf     Cav     Guns         Total

Polish GNW      48     48                          96

Danish GNW      8                                     8

Officers / snipers 9                                      9

Sappers              12                                      12

Scots              144     18                              162

Muscovite      102     75         2                  179

Civilians (EM) 39                                          39

Gunners              33              13                      46

Irish ECW          96                                          96

Anglo-Dutch WSS 56         30                      86

Bavarian WSS        64         30                      94

Persian                  176         21                      197

Totals                  787         222     15          1024

The current totals are shown in the table. The WSS troops are now complete, although I have not figured out my WSS in an afternoon scenario yet. The Persians are the only ancients to have been painted, and await further opportunities for winning at Marathon, although Plataea has been suggested as a more winnable battle for them.

The Scots and Irish ECW figures are finally being painted for a plan, that plan being the Battle of Benburb in 1646. JWH of Heretical Gaming had a go with the Polemos: ECW rules a while ago, and I have now read Hayes-McCoy’s account of the action, and it seems feasible, if I paint up some of the outstanding Scottish horse, including some of them as Irish. Hayes-McCoy claims that some of the horse on both sides were lancers, but I have no idea why. Still, it should be possible to give it a go with only a modicum more painting.

As for the future, I suspect (although I have note performed the subtractions) that I am starting to run a bit thin on Early Modern figures, except three regiments of Irish foot. A return to the ancients seems to be on the cards, where the largest outstanding army is the Parthians with a fair shed-load of cavalry. As they are one of the un-doubled ancients armies, they seem to be top of the priority list. After them, the rest of the ancients are really dribs and drabs of left-overs from old projects.

Of course, other things may occur. In the back of my mind I have Anglo-Dutch War ideas, more ECW infantry figures (see the Braddock Down write up for why) and possibly Punic Wars. But I would like to get my lead pile below 1000 this next year, or even (whisper it who dare) under 500. The current outstanding pile is 1510, by the way. Who knows?

Saturday, 25 September 2021

Little Braddock on the Down

You might have picked up that I am something of a sceptic when it comes to formations in wargames. For example, I do not really believe that the Persian ‘Sparabara’ formation was used much on the battlefield. It is a nice idea on the parade ground and doubtless looked very impressive. But as a practical field formation, I have my doubts. Similarly, I suspect that the classic ‘tercio’ formation of the Seventeenth Century was similarly a parade ground arrangement. I doubt that sensible Spanish commanders would relegate half their firepower to the back of a formation unless they really were in danger of being surrounded.

These formations are, I think, more a result of artistic representation than practical battle deployment. After all, if we went with the Bayeux Tapestry, we would have a fairly odd notion of the Battle of Hastings and the formations used, not to mention an even more confused account of the narrative than we already have. Useful as art is, it can easily lead us astray.

A comment in, I think, in Wanklyn, M. (2014), Decisive Battles of the English Civil War (Barnsley: Pen and Sword), is to the effect that we are heavily influenced by the conventional assumptions about deployment in the English Civil War as well. The assumption is that armies deployed with two wings of horse and a centre of foot. Which is, of course, perfectly true of many of the battles. It can, however, have some odd effects, most notably with respect the the left-wing of Essex’s army at First Newbury, which seems to have spent the entire battle enjoying the water meadows by the River Kennett. Wanklyn makes the entirely reasonable suggestion that the Parliamentarian left wing horse was not, in fact, on the left, but attacked in the centre; Essex, for all his faults as a general, was not stupid enough to waste half his cavalry on riverside picnics while the rest of the army was in danger of defeat, cut off from its home base.

I digress, but only a bit. Somewhere out there in the blogosphere there used to be a blog called ‘Going Back to the English Civil War’, and that is what I have done. For some reason, I have avoided the ECW, which was my first ‘proper’ wargame period. In fact, I dug out my 15 mm Peter Laing ECW collection recently, and then carefully put them away again. Nevertheless, the seed was planted, and I have gently meandered my way back to the Seventeenth Century and the ECW in particular.

I suspect that part of the reason for my reluctance was the experience of ECW battles with DBR (which was not, in my opinion, of the best) and my experience of writing ECW rules (which was fine, but a bit of hard work). Memories have faded and I was flicking through my sources looking for something to try out. Ages ago I considered Braddock Down (19th January 1643), but rejected it because of insufficient hedges in my collection. That has now been corrected, and after plenty of um-ing and ah-ing, I pinched the orders of battle and deployment from Julian Lander’s first book of ECW battles and got on with it, using my own rules.




The picture is taken from behind the left flanks of the Parliamentarians, led by Sir Patrick Ruthven. The road to Liskeard is just visible behind their centre-right. Ruthven had five bases of cavalry, ten of shot, five of pike, and a gun coming up from Liskeard, for a total of 21 bases. Hopton had six cavalry, eight shot, eight pike a dragoon base and a gun, for a total of 24 bases.

So far as I can tell, there is no good description of Braddock Down as a battle. In reality, the Parliamentarians seem to have shot off a volley and then run for it. A re-fight is unlikely to produce that result at least. Furthermore, Lander has gone for the conventional deployment of horse and foot on both sides, which may, or may not, be accurate. Additionally, under DBR, the pike and shot are not integrated (something that PM: ECW tried to fix), so the deployment is of blocks of pike and of shot separately, although the very brief account of the battle I have found does credit Grenville’s Cornish pike with the decisive charge.

So, what happened?


The final dispositions are above. The Royalists have pretty well destroyed the Parliamentarian centre, the pike fleeing back up the road, some shot have just been routed on the centre-left and the remaining Parliamentarian pike are looking a bit isolated. The royal centre is now stalled in front of the commanded musketeers in the road protected by the hedge. On the flanks, the royalist horse have been superior but not dominant. On the royal right, Hopton is about to dispose of the rest of Ruthven’s horse, while on the left most of the Parliamentarian horse has routed apart from that under Ruthven himself which has just routed some royal horse.

Nevertheless, the Parliamentarian morale has just dropped to ‘withdraw’, and so Hopton and the Cornish have won. I had forgotten how much fun an ECW battle can be, having been a bit dubious about the mirror fighting aspects of the period. The problem is that rules have a tendency to exaggerate the differences between the side. In DBR the Cornish pike are automatically Pk(S) and the royal horse are Pi(F). There is no evidence to speak of that that was the case at Braddock Down – it is retro-fitting from later battles. So in my rules, unless there are exceptional reasons for it, all troops are the same. Thus fighting a mirror image is potentially more of a problem.

In this case, however, the Parliamentary deployment given by Lander was more of a problem. If Ruthven had lined the hedges and not deployed in front of them the royalists might have had more difficulty. The commanded shot behind the lane are also a bit of a puzzle, as is how the routing Parliamentary foot got ridden down by their own cavalry.

Still, a good time was had by all (it was a solo game, of course) and I am now hatching plans to increase further my stock of ECW infantry, as I ran out. If you look closely some of the Parliamentary pikemen are, in fact, Swiss.



Saturday, 18 September 2021

Aztec Agency

It might have escaped your notice with everything else going on (it certainly nearly escaped mine) but August 2021 was the five hundredth anniversary of the fall of Tenochtitlan, to, well, to whom is the interesting question. The other interesting question is why there has been so little made of the event, which had worldwide implications. The celebrations in Mexico have been muted, to say the least, and that is not just because of a certain pandemic.

Specifically, the Aztecs surrendered on 13th August 1521. The winners were the Spanish under Cortes and a great alliance of other Mexica. The alliance had different aims from those of Cortes, of course. For them, the point was the removal of their vassal status under Aztec conquest and rule. Cortes aimed to plunder and, ultimately, to conquer. As Hassig pointed out a fair time ago, it was the disunity of the Mexica that caused their downfall, not really any technological advantage deployed by the Spanish.

That is not to say that the Spanish did not have a technological edge, of course. In fact, they had a literal edge with steels swords, not to mention gunpowder weapons, crossbows, and cavalry. But technology can be overcome. The Aztecs, for example, learned to run in a zig-zag fashion to avoid musket balls, and Cortes had to be careful in his handling of the cavalry because they could still get cut off and killed by Aztec fighters.

An article in August’s History Today reminds us of all this. It goes a bit further, arguing that the Aztecs and other Indians had agency in the conflict. That is, while the popular narrative gives all the credit to Cortes and the conquistadors, in fact, a lot of the running was made by the Indians, some of whom swapped sides when they saw the opportunity of getting rid of Aztec rule. It goes a bit further, observing that Monteuczoma perhaps invited the Spanish to Tenochtitlan because he worked out that they would be more easily destroyed in the city than in open battle. The Spanish nearly disastrous flight from the city in mid-1520 shows that he was probably right.

During the retreat from Tenochtitlan Cortez lost 860 Spanish and over 1000 Tlaxcalan allies, along with his cannon, many crossbows and so on. He also lost a huge amount of face and could not be sure that the Tlaxcalans and other allies would not switch back to the Aztecs. As it happened they did not, and they returned to the offensive with the Spaniards as a kind of crack assault troops. Cortes was a gambler, and his campaign was technically illegal. If it went wrong and he survived and got back to Spain he would be in trouble.

There is, of course, a lot more to say. The ‘Spanish’ conquest of the Aztecs is a classic case of post-colonial revisionism. Moctezuma was neither stupid nor cowardly. He did have a plan for handling the invaders (the Aztecs called them ‘bandits’, which is not far from the truth, and often killed them by striking the back of the head, which is how criminals were executed in Tenochtitlan). Other interesting bits and pieces arise: Malintzin (Cortes’ translator and concubine) is often portrayed as a traitor to the Aztecs, but she was from a coastal tribe, probably kidnapped by the Aztecs and sold as a slave to the Maya who gave her to Cortes. She was not betraying her people, she might well have had her own reasons for acting against them.

I could go on. Examples of the colonial treatment of the conquest can be multiplied. But perhaps it is best understood as an indigenous civil war in which the Spanish were involved, perhaps as partial catalysts and certainly as key troops. However, without tens of thousands of indigenous allies, the Spanish would simply have vanished in the interior, probably cut off in Tenochtitlan, and starved to death. We can also note that the allies simply saw themselves as transferring allegiance from the Aztecs to the Spanish king (who was conveniently far distant); post-conquest they sent a steady flow of petitions to the king and his council. The indigenous people adapted to the new political situation.

In wargaming terms, this gives us some real problems. Older, pre-post-colonial wargames, could pitch a smaller Spanish army with a few native allies against hordes of Aztecs who could be mown down by brave western technology. There is an element of truth here, of course, and the over-representation of the Spanish on the table could be rationalized by the disproportionate effects of their weaponry.

A post-colonial representation would be of Aztecs against an alliance of rebellious vassals, with a few Spanish added in. So far as I can tell the Spanish never amounted to much over 1500 effectives and very few of them were cavalry. In terms of my wargame rules of 1 base to around 500 men, that would be three bases and an insufficient number of cavalry to be represented.

However, the Spanish cavalry was effective. They could open holes in the Aztec units that other troops could exploit, as in the retreat from Tenochtitlan described by Hassig. Muskets and crossbows could also open holes but these could be closed more easily by the Aztecs. The cavalry disrupted in a way that the firepower did not.

Probably the answer in wargame terms is to allow the Spanish to be a special troop type, conquistador, which has assorted abilities to shoot, charge and defend at an advantage. They would, however, be present in limited numbers, one to three bases, and vulnerable as usually to being surrounded, which is what the Aztecs often tried to do.

It would also be best to see the conquest in a campaign context, with shifting native alliances. No-one likes being a vassal, particularly, and the indigenous people were alarmed by the growing power of the Aztec empire, even though is was a different sort of empire from the emerging European idea of one.

And now I have some ideas. I will see if anything comes of them.

Saturday, 11 September 2021

In Tibet

A long time ago I think I mentioned, in the midst of the rebasing project, that I had discovered a DBR army’s worth of Tibetans. They were rebased, briefly admired, and put in a box along with the Mongols, Ming and Manchu.

You might wonder why I have an early modern Tibetan army. It is, indeed, a good question and I can only plead either insanity of a completist mindset that was determined to create an army for every DBR army list nation. Insanity seems to most sensible choice.

Anyway, I have them and I suspect that they have never actually been on the wargame table. It was clearly time to change that and a ‘low stakes’ wargame hoved into sight. For this one, I had no particular narrative in mind and simply rolled the dice for the terrain, noting that Tibet does not have an awful lot of terrain features except hills.

The opponents were to be the Mongols, for no better reason than they were next door in the box. I think that historically the Mongols and Tibetans had a few punch-ups, but don’t quote me on that. It seems rather a long way on the map from Mongolia to Tibet. I could have used the Chinese, but I do not wish to come to the attention of the agencies of the Chinese state, so stuck to the Mongols. The latter have been on the table before, a long time ago, in one of the very few face-to-face wargames I have played. The figures, incidentally, are all Irregular.

The terrain rolling gave me a scenario: ‘The Battle of the Yeouch River’. There are hills and a ford which is the key strategic objective for both sides. The Mongols arrived first and seized the advantage, and the ford, assisted by being an all cavalry army. I was a bit nervous of the Tibetan's deployment because over half the infantry were rather feeble militia. Still, I had a steep hill and the deployment looked like this.


The Mongols are at the top, the lights on the Tibetan side of the river, the heavies about to ford it. The Tibetans have just arrived, planning to hold the hill (the front slope of which is steep) on their baseline while the cavalry sweep the Mongol lights away and the archers contribute some firepower. It did not quite work out like that.


The picture shows part of the way through the action. What has actually happened is that the heavy cavalry on both sides, or part of it, is clashing by the river. Both generals are involved. The Mongol lights, which were supposed to be shooting up the Tibetan infantry, have only just deployed and discovered that as the hill on which said Tibetans are deployed is steep, they cannot actually get to them directly.

I suppose it is worth noting here that the model of skirmishing is small groups rushing forward, firing their weapons at close range and then retiring to the main body and letting someone else have a go. Thus, in the model, even though the range of light horse skirmishing is four base widths, the leftmost Mongol light horse are not in range of the Tibetan militia. I blame poor staff officers, myself.

The gap between the hill and the river got quite crowded with a swirling cavalry contest. You might wonder why the Mongol heavies are on green bases while everyone else has a base which, in a dim light, could pass for desert sand. The answer is that I pinched the Mongol heavy cavalry from the Chinese Ming, as I do not have sufficient Mongol heavies to make up the numbers (due, I think to the DBR points system rating the Mongol lights are expensive). The advantage was that I could tell who was Tibetan and who was a Mongol, anyway.

The cavalry battle raged while the Mongol lights tried to figure out what to do. Eventually, the Tibetan luck ran out and their general went down, rolling a 6 on a recoil (5 or 6 to be lost) and being unlucky, while the Mongol general rolled a 3 on a 4, 5, or 6 recoil shaken and was lucky.

Even though the Tibetans were leaderless, they fought on a bit and took out another Mongol cavalry base, reducing the Mongols to ‘fall back’ morale. Without a general, however, there was not much more they could do and as the Mongols reorganised and brought their lights forward, aiming to outflank the militia on the hill and use a more amenable slope for their operations, I, as acting Tibetan general decided that a withdrawal was the best option. The only alternative was to be slowly shot to pieces by the Mongol light cavalry.

I think that the game shows how dependent armies are on the leadership of the general. I did consider a rule permitting a new general to be appointed if the original one is lost, but actually, in the real world, armies often collapsed upon the death or perceived death, or the leader. This was not just an Eastern phenomenon, however: consider what happened at Lutzen (OK, the Swedes wavered and the next commander in the chain took over) or Marston Moor while Rupert hid in the bean field.

I think the answer is that Lutzen and Marston Moor were both, in my system, big battles where there would be more than one commander, so the loss of one command stand would not be so devastating, although it would be inconvenient. On the other hand, loss of generals, or even perceived loss of generals (such as, out of period, William at Hastings) could cause wavering, command problems and require the leader to expose themselves (ooh-er missis) to prove that they were still there.

So I think, on balance, that the risk to leaders section will stay, even though often these wargames are decided by the loss of one or other generals. It seems to make historical sense, and I can, as demonstrated, rationalise away those occasions where it did not happen to be quite so devastating.

Saturday, 4 September 2021

Two More Marathons

Now, do not worry. Your correspondent has not suddenly started to move from couch potato to 26 miles without any training, but has returned to the battle of fascination (we all have one as wargamers, I fancy), Marathon 490 BC. I reported on a rather easy Greek win a week or two ago, and a slightly tougher one in April.

I have since refined the Persian deployment and had another go. Give my rules give the Persian infantry (which are a specific troop type) +1 for a supporting rank, and given that the tactics of trying to disrupt the Greek line by having a single line of Persians failed, I tried the doubled-up version.



The Greek deployment is the same – eight bases on the flanks, four in the centre, while the Persians are two deep, as seen, with a reserve of Ionian hoplites and the cavalry arriving the the right rear.

The plan was that the Persians should have a better chance of shooting some gasps in the Greek advance and then a slightly more equal opportunity in the subsequent melee. It sort of worked out like that, but not as much as I thought it would. The battle proceeded much as the last one, in fact, except that the Greeks did get a bit more raggedy on the way in to contact.




The picture shows the final positions, just as the Persians broke. You can see an encouraging number of Persians on the field, but a closer look would reveal that a fair number of them are routing. On the other hand, you can also see that the Persian left has done a reasonable job in delaying and disrupting the Greek right (the sea is nearest the camera, by the way), and the Persian centre is by no means defeated (which is right, proper and historical). However, the Persian right is a mess, even though the cavalry have done their job and delayed the far left of the Greeks.

Pondering the results, I came to the conclusion that the Greek assault was just too violent. The hoplites start at a base three, plus one for being two-deep (in the wings, anyway) and plus one for advancing into contact (the Greeks do not seem to need to have special charge rules here). The Persians are on a base of two. They might get a few added plus ones of overlaps, but still are a basic two against four, which does not add to the longevity of the line if they cannot disrupt the incoming Greeks. In archery, the Persians are at three against three. Perhaps I just roll badly for them.

Still, nothing ventured. I decided to give Persian infantry the extra plus one for being two deep in melee, and added some extra infantry (pace Sabin, who reckons that the number of Persian infantry is decisive in determining the outcome) and set up again.




This time, the Persian line being slightly extended, and you can see the sea. The eagle-eyed among you will note the extra base of Ionian hoplites in the Persian reserve, and an extra base of Persian infantry, making all the Persians two deep.

The game is slowly approaching the long, hard struggle that Herodotus reports. The extra for the two-deep Persians helps in starting to hold the Greek impact, but only a bit.


The slightly fuzzy picture shows the end of the game. You can see that the Persian right has held this time (and even routed some Greeks), and the centre has not done too badly either, but the left has collapsed, as have the cavalry on the far right, which got caught by the hoplites. The Greek right, nearest the sea, is now turning in, in the approved manner, and the Persians are committing the reserves to try to shore up their centre left.

It was, as I mentioned, a bit of a tougher fight for the Greeks, but they still won quite handily. Obviously the Persians need yet more infantry, or a complete tactical rethink, to win this one.

This has been an interesting set of battle and play tests. Marathon seems to be a tough one for the Persians to win, largely because they are automatically on the back foot, relying on archery to disrupt and delay the Greeks, rather than advancing themselves. This seems to be a reasonable tactic, it is just that when they get caught in melee, they are at a disadvantage. They need to get a bit lucky to disrupt the Greeks sufficiently to give the Persians an edge in close combat, and they cannot guarantee to obtain that all along the line. Therefore they will cave in somewhere, and that will be exploited by the Greeks.

The Persian tactics are reasonable ones, that is, their normal enemy were similar foes to themselves with lots of mounted troops, and massed archery was a decent response to that. The Greeks were probably the first massed armoured infantry force they met. Even the Persian Immortals do not seem to have been as heavily armoured as the hoplites, and remember, we are not talking about medieval bows here; an arrow that could puncture plate armour is a very different animal than a fifth-century BC projectile.

Still, it does make you wonder if Marathon is ever winnable by the Persians. I can, and probably will, add even more infantry to their line and see when they can at least hold the Greek centre adequately. Another idea which occurs is to put the Ionians in the front line to hold their compatriots at least somewhere. The Persian cavalry it seems can delay but not defeat the hoplites, at least in the numbers that were present at Marathon. Another base or two of horse would not seem to be going to make that much of a difference.

Either that, or the Persian archery needs to get luckier. But has anyone ever re-fought Marathon and managed a Persian win?