Dark Ages in Patras 2018
Ghaznavid vs Nikephorian Byzantine
The recent flowering of ADLG in Greece has opened up yet another country as a gaming destination and so the chance of adding Greece to the list of ticked-off international competition venues that already includes France, Belgium, England, Wales and Spain was unresistable - especially after the epic time that was had by Team Central London at the last Patras event (in the days of DBM would you believe it?!) way back in 2003.
So, once it was announced we were going come hell or high water - and that included a week-long work trip to Brazil that only got me back to the UK some 14 hours before I had to get up to head to the airport again for Patras 2018!
I had chosen Ghaznavid for this event - a somewhat hesitant choice for my army for Patras because, well, it is a popular and succesful list with a good range of troops but at the same time it is one has been well played and well tested by many of the world's leading ADLG players over several years meaning that there is very much a "right" way to design the list and use the army.
List Building with Ethan - The ADLG Ghaznavids
This sort of common approach is not usually one I lean towards, but as a counterbalance I was also weighing up my wish to put some very nice, recently refurbished and rebased Dailami and Arab Elephants on table (which dated back to the days of playing 7th Edition) as well as some of the seemingly thousands of Arab Ghilmen cavalry I had bought and painted up for 4 and 6-strong units for FoG.
The deciding factor in the end however was time - the date for submitting lists was fast approaching, and having run out of time to plough through all of the other "arab" lists to find something more interesting the idea of getting some long-neglected troops on table, using an army which was certified as being "good" (and so would not risk proving itself to be a waste of time having trecked all the way to Greece to play with it), and the very real and meaningful challenge of trying to learn the playstyle of a tiny sub-20 unit high quality mounted shooting army all won out and pointed to the Ghaznavids.
Anyways, here are some great Ghaznavid flags on Phil Mackie's website that you could use if you want to do this army yourself
An early start at Heathrow for 2/3 of Team Central London saw us start the day as we meant to continue - in the luxury of a T5 lounge sipping the finest wines known to humanity before our 'second longest short haul route' flight to Athens.
Once on the deck again in Athens, the Blues Brothers music started to rise in volume as we started to 'get the gang back together' - meeting Simon Ellis (no, not that one, the other one) at the airport and picking up a car
It was 250 klicks to Patras, we had a full tank of gas, half a capsule of oatmeal and wasabi vaping liquid... but it certainly wasn't dark, and we were all wearing sunglasses as the weather was absolutely glorious.
Let's hit it!
The journey was one to make Nigel Farage choke on his German ex-wife's cynically held beliefs as we tanked along a brand new EU-funded motorway in a little car in very little traffic, passing a variety of historical sights (Corinth, Salamis, Megara) all of which seemed to have acquired additional letters (mostly "k's") in the odd couple of thousand years since they made headlines.
Arriving in Patras at close to beer o'clock we just about had time to check into our well appointed and deeply well priced hotel overlooking the ferry terminal to Italy, find a few more members of the band (Robin, Mark, and of course another Dave - who this weekend had left Aretha Franklin back in Rugby, meaning we missed out on that particular song, which was a shame) - before meeting up with the locals to go force ourselves through the crowds of (other) hip cool young people thronging the streets of Friday Night Patras in search of beer, roasted meat, squeaky cheese and chilled red wine.
All of which we did, and all of which we heartily enjoyed.
The next day dawned warm and sunny - shorts weather. We all gave prayers for a well ventilated venue and headed off into the unknown. Quite literally, as the venue was so remote it was impossible to get to it by taxi. Anyway, it turned out to be a superb ex-restaurant in the middle of the countryside, with goats and olive trees on all sides, and a barman who looked suspiciously like Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic.
Slavisa Jokanovic selfie
Slavisa has done a very good job of getting his team into the playoff places for promotion to the Premier League this year, and I can confirm that his doppelganger is also very good at making coffee and opening bottles of beer, all of which were included in the entry fee. Nice.
My first game in Greece for over a decade, and almost inevitably the army to take to the table across from me was a Nikephorian Byzantine list - something I don't own, and haven't fought in a few years anyway.
The Nikephorians are a complex list, which in Greek hands also usually involved a high standard of painting and this variant had one of those two attributes (the painting!) as it was set up with 2 major blocks of mixed Bow/Spear Skoutatoi, and a third command of hard-core Elite cavalry.
The lists for the Ghaznavid and Nikephorian Byzantine from this game, as well as all the other lists from the games at Patras can be seen here in the L'Art de la Guerre Wiki.
With not much terrain on table (the Ghaznavids had gone for the traditional minimal field and a road) there was however one piece of woodland which was very prominent to the point of being right in the middle of the Byzantine deployment area.
This was defended by a couple of LF Javelins, and flanked on either side by a block of Skoutatoi with the Cavalry on the Byzantine right.
The Ghaznavid army, on table for only the third time ever had refused the centre almost entirely, planning an elephant Death Star-led hammerstrike on the left to punch through wnatever was in front of it and aim for the baggage. On the other flank the plan was for a largely defensive action from the Cavalry command.
That defensive start on the right suddenly looked like a plan that could and should be changed, as the initial attempt by the Byzantines to hold up the Ghaznavids with a lone LH ended in a spectacular 6-1 shooting win for the Moslems.
This decisive start had also given me sight of my first ever ADLG casualty marker to be inflicted on Greek troops on Greek soil. Or a Greek tabletop to be more precise.
With that massive success under their belts, and the knowledge that the Byzantines only had 1 cavalry on that flank the rest of the Cavalry command redeployed laterally, skilfully avoiding using the road they had deployed for that express purpose in an early act of incompetence which I have only just realised whilst writing this report some days later.
The elephant crew looked back over their shoulders in disappointment, but no great surprise..
What's Going on Here Then?
The small and compact Ghaznavid army has deployed skewed to the left and appears to be intent on refusing the right entirely as they withdraw their mounted wing with a view of shifting it entirely across to the opposite wing. The Byzantines have set up defensively, using the terrain to anchor their tough shooting army against Ghaznavid cavalry sneaking round their flanks.
Seeing the imbalance in the deplyment of the Byzantine mounted the Ghaznavids are mounting a rapid attack on the left to overwhelm half of the Skoutatoi before the Byzantine cavalry can get into the game.
The Byzantines had deployed cautiously and now, seeing the herd of elephants and insane maniac swordsmen flooding towards them decided that even more caution was needed as delaying combat was suddenly the most important thing on their minds.
They turned and marched back towards the table edge in order to buy time for the other block of Skoutatoi to arrive and to get out of the way of their own cavalry, who were countermarching in the opposite direction to the Ghaznavids.
Seeing enemy Cavalry piling over to the open flank, the Ghaznavid Cavalry commander decided that his march to the left had been a mere feint, and quickly turned his men about and counter-counter-marched them back towards where they had come from (again avoiding the road).
At least the Byzantines had left a couple of units behind, so potentially their command and control might be taxed somewhat when battle was joined.
This was a big wide open space, and there appeared to be plenty of opportunity for not much to happen in it until long after the 2 Death Stars were well stuck into the Skoutatoi - which suited the Ghaznavids down to the ground.
Driven forward by thoughts of the Athenian Sacred Band's tzaziki-smeared Attican sandals, the Death Star Express was steaming forward at a rate of knots as the Skoutatoi reached the table edge and turned around.
The trap was obvious, but it did clearly depend on the Byzantine LF holding the wood as a defensive obstacle on which one end of the jaws of the trap were anchored. The Ghaznavids started developing a plan.
Two Ghulam cavalry drifted out to the left, keeping carefully out of bow range until the Ghaznavids own Skoutatoi-esque foot had caught up to start exchanging bowfire first.
Arabs vs Byzantines
Sizzling Spanoptika! With the wood being the lynchpin, the unthinkable had to be thought - a Death Star was dissembled and the Impetuous Indian Swordsmen, aided by Light Foot Javelinmen and a Naffatun were tasked with clearing it - pulling a further Byzantine LF bowman into the fray as both sides sought to lengthen their lines as far as possible.
The first round combats were tricky, with the Indians losing a factor for difficult terrain but retaining Impact against the enemy +1 for Javelins.
L'Art de la Guerre hint - Medium Foot are unaffected by most terrain (fields, plantations) but suffer reduced moves and reduced combat values in Dense terrain like Forests, Villages and on Steep Hills.
But, if they won they still counted Furious Charge. 2 Decent dice rolls and most of the enemy LF were wiped out and 2 maniac screaming lunatic Indian swordsmen were licking their lips at the prospect of falling like wolves on the flanks of the Nikephorian Skoutatoi!
How well do the Indian Swordsmen fight then?
Medium Foot Swordsmen, who are also Impetuous. This makes them harder to control as once within charge range of any enemy - even Light Foot - they need to either charge of spend 3 pips to be held back. This is no mean feat iin normal circumstances, but in an army where their task involves staying as close as possible to (non Impetuous) friendly Elephants they need to be given to a decent General otherwise the Death Star they make up will fragment and go hairing off in all diections as the eager Indian swrodsmen seek targets and glory.
With their Impetuosity however comes Impact and also Furious Charge. When piling into anyone on foot (apart from other Swordsmen or mounted opponents) they gain an extra +1 in the first round, in the same was as the Dailami will do, but even more potently they also inflict an extra hit if they win in the first round against enemy foot (even if they don't charge them). The fear of their charge is often enough to deter many enemies, and allied with the fear than an Elephant adds to the mix it can become very, very dangerous to take these guys on. Even enemy mounted, who would normally see them as meat and drink will be deterred by the presence of the Elephant, making the Indian Warrior Death Star a fearsome anti-infantry weapon.
Trembling Taramasalata! The Nikephorian Klibanarii had swept round the terrain with speed and fanned out into a combat line to face off against the Ghaznavid Cavalry, who were not keen to fight lacking in Impact ability. But hey, what's the big grey thing sneaking into the photo from the left..?
What's Going on Here Then?
The Ghaznavids are closing on the Nikephorian Skoutatoi on the left, but in order to assault their strong defensive position the Ghaznavids are also putting troops into the wood to outflank the Skoutatoi. The Byzantine mounted wing is too big to ignore, and so the Ghaznavid cavalry have come back and are facing them off - now aided by an Elephant from the Death Star.
Almost the full force of the Ghaznavid attack is about to fall on the Byzantine Skoutatoi, hopefully before the Byzantine cavalry can get into the game.
The main line of Skoutatoi were coming off ridiculously poorly in the shooting match with the Ghaznavid equivalents, taking hits along the line to deadly dice-led shooting.
As the Skoutatoi shuffled forward and left, the Ghaznavids fed yet more troops into the woods to maximise their advantage. Having initially faced off against 2 Death Stars, the Skoutatoi now realised they only had 1 Elephant and 1 Dailami to deal with.
As the sound of smashing plates filtered through the hubbub from the restaurant next door, the Byzantine Klibanarii decided that discretion was the better part of being trampled to death by an Elite Elephant with an embedded Commander, and turned and fell back.
L'Art de la Guerre hint - Cavalry with bows, or without "Impact" capability can always evade. They can then turn about as a group and return to battle in their next turn.... but with an 80cm deep table and enemy cavalry potentially crossing the half way line in turn 1, and then charging an average of 16cm per turn the opportunity to dick about forever is rather limited. Sooner or later you need to stand and fight.
As harshly squeezed olives winced all across the land, the jaws of the Byzantine trap were now starting to show signs of some serious cosmetic dentistry as ever more Skoutatoi units were peeled off from the line to face the new threat of Ghaznavid Impact Foot flooding through the woods.
The combination of "Mediocre" spearmen and "Elite Impact" Cavalry was a tricky one for the Ghaznavids to fathom, one being a perfect target the other being about the worst thing they could come across anywhere on any table - but neither were coming into the woods anytime soon.
And, one of the Byzantines skirmishers had survived the fray as well. An unlikely injured LF bowman was eyeing up a chance for glory...
After much deep and considered thought, the Ghaznavid commander came to the reasoned and balanced judgement that they may as well just pile in all along the line and let the dice decide if it was a good plan or not.
As Olimpiakos ended yet another unsuccessful Champions League group stage qualifying campaign with a forward line led by Yanis Varoufakis' scutum-carrying Spanakopita, the remnants of the Death Stars together with the Ghaznavid archers closed rapidly on the line of Skoutatoi as well as the battle moved rapidly towards a crescendo.
Fortified by an evil mix of Metaxa and Ouzo and on the supposedly quite open flank lines of densely packed troops were fighting furiously as well, as the Byzantines chanced their luck and charged home again.
In the distance a Byzantine General started having thoughts of personal heroism and developing a winning position on what on paper was a none-event of a flank.
Was this likley to be A Good Idea you ask..?
Hold the Halloumi! In the first round of combat the Ghaznavids attempts to chop their way out of the woods had not gone all that well, especially for the Indians who had both dropped to 2 hits. The Dailami, being better generally and being in a better spot as well had done better, and now the game was poised for the Elephant to join in the fray in the next turn.
The Ouzo was flowing feely as a perfume marketed to Byzantine officers above Optio rank under the name of "Incipient Victory" when one of these same Byzantine officers spotted a sneaky opportunity - with the Ghaznavid cavalry focused to their front, the General ordered the injured LF bowman to jump out of the terrain, called in support from a Light Horse and led from the front into the tempting flank of the Ghaznavid Elite General's Elephant.
This did not end well for the LF, nor, sadly, for the General himself.
The Indians were starting to redeem themselves as the Dailami chewed forward through the Skoutatoi - one Indian was down but the other was gaining the upper hand and injuring the opposing Skoutatoi.
The Klibanarii's faces turned as pale as tzatziki as they dithered, knowing they were playing a vital role as overlaps but still feeling they should be doing more at this vital stage of the battle.
Klattering Kalamaris! Having now tasted Greek blood, the Ghaznavid elephant-mounted (ouch) commander had a taste for it. Slamming forward he removed a Kavallaroi without breaking sweat and continued on into the rear of the Byzantine cavalry formation, leaving behind a trail of -1 combat factors. The shocked LH dare not even consider attacking his flank.
The other Elephant also now went in supported by the Ghaznavid mixed shooters in a crunching attack that shook the Skoutatoi all morning long.
Ghilmen cavalry took advantage of the cessation in shooting to approach the flank of the Greek formation, which was now beginning to feel like someone had painted a target on it
What's Going on Here Then?
The Ghaznavids are slamming into and over the top of the Nikephorian Skoutatoi who have been their target since the very first move of the game. The Ghaznavid infantry have broken through the woods and are also threatening the wings of the defensive Skoutatoi formation.
Aided by an Elephant general, the Ghaznavid horse are holding their own against the Byzantine horse on the open flank - but this is now a mere sideshow to the main event where the game will be won or lost.
Galloping Gyros ! With the prospect of an early run at the buffet where other meal of grilled lamb would no doubt be waiting, suddenly the Dailami broke through!
The Byzantines had been outdiced along the line by some margin, and now the apex of their defensive formation had been removed from the field of play by the swift aggression of the Buyid mercenary warriors fierce charge and Elite vs Mediocre combat superiority.
Added to the losses of LF incurred in defending the woodland (or assaulting the elephant), and the mess on the other flank the Byzantine army slipped to defeat! A first victory on Greek soil in over a decade!! ,
The Result is a win for the Ghaznavids.
Click here for the report of the next game in this competition, or read on for the post match summaries from the Generals involved, as well as another episode of legendary expert analysis from Hannibal
Post Match Summary from the Ghaznavid Commander
First up, one must say what a spiffing venue - great food, included coffee and cakes, and even if they were difficult to find room for after the ridiculously cheap meal from the night before, the coffee at least was certainly most welcome this morning. Greek hospitality is legendary, and we certainly proved that last night.
On to the game, and I think this result does seem to prove the point that having 2 games of practice before a competition, and also taking advice from other people clever than me is a winning formula for success which I will only build on as the tournament continues over the coming days.
The chance to put some nicely painted troops on table was one of the big drivers of this army choice, but sadly in my first match I found that despite my best efforts my opponent was a much better painter than even my best efforts. But hey, my competently painted and recently refurbished elephants still stomped his well painted troops into the tablecloth, so clearly there is not quite as much value in great painting as I thought.
From now on I foresee an uninterrupted trail of victories stretching over the next 2 days which will see me taking home from Greece a huge classical sculpture trophy - which may well give the hand luggage chaps at Athens airport pause for thought, but if that is what happens because of my genius, so be it.
Hannibal's Post Match Analysis
Trembling Taramasalata! What a near-shambles that was - if this is what you are capable of after practicing, and stealing your army design from someone else it boggles my mind to try to imagine how hopeless you could be under your own steam entirely.
Your army consists of 2 Death Stars and some supporting troops. The Death Stars stick together and go over anything in their path, the rest of the army fends off assaults on their flanks, thats it. So quite how, in your first ever competitive game, you managed to dissemble not one, but BOTH Death Stars and send them in piecemeal against enemies against whom you had only marginal advantages is utterly beyond me.
In ADLG, you need to decide how to win, focus on that and execute remorselessly. Here you could not have dithered more if you were David McDitherer, competing in the world championships of Dithering held in Little Ditherington in the heart of the Dither Valley. I mean, where on earth did those cavalry go - and how did you forget to move them on the road as well?
I am sure that lunch will be fantastic, but I am deeply skeptical that your next game will be even vaguely approaching competence. Let see in the next game please.
Anyway, here's some more wonderfully painted Byzantines from another one of the Greek player's armies just for your viewing pleasure.
Click here for the report of the next game in this competition