Classical & Roman at Godendag 2018
Patrician Roman vs Palmyran
With the prospect of 4 consecutive defeats, all admittedly with their own unique flavour and textures, staring us in the face the 4th game was not really one we were looking forward to with much optimism. It was however another chance to undertake a bout of iterative improvement, the like of which should surely have been done before picking our list and deploying it on table for the first time ever barely 36 hours previously.
With a thematically coherent competition format comes the prospect of historically plausible battles and this time we again jumped a mere couple of hundred years into Rome's past to face off against the Palmyrans of Zenobia's somewhat unlikely feminist-inspired desert empire.
The lists for the Patrician Roman and Palmyran from this game, as well as all the other lists from the games at Godendag can be seen here in the L'Art de la Guerre Wiki.
This time, conscious of the significant probability of an early finish to the weekend and a prompt exit back down the M4 towards a dryer, less overtly Welsh metropolis the battle took place on the newly-purchased terrain cloth from Tiny Wargames which had been benefitting other people's games for the preceding 3 rounds.
And, with three attempts at terrain choice under our belts this time the new terrain cloth was to take centre stage as we defended yet again to secure a near-bald table in which two minimal sized fields nestled snugly in each of the back corners of our opponents half. Elsewhere a solitary hill, balder than the average wargamer, survived the removal dicing and landed neatly in the middle of our forward central sector.
The enemy had Cataphracts in two divisions on their right, a central core of unprepossessing Legionaries and a terrain hugging command of Auxilia and Bowmen floating in the treeless wilderness on their left - the sort of static, wide and inviting target the Foederate cavalry imagined they had found in the previous battle, only to have their hopes so cruelly dashed by Suetonius' bravery and dice.
The Palmyrans had clearly expected to see more infantry in our lines, hence their own relative disdain for cloying terrain, but even so a featureless, blasted plain was by no means unwelcoming for their principal arm of Cataphract Cavalry who lumbered confidently forward towards the line of Foederate horsemen behind their own screen of Light Horse.
How well do these troops fight then?
These slow-moving, Heavily Armoured behemoths are in many ways the exact opposite of the lightly armoured hard-charging Foederate horse. Their strength is unsurprisingly in their Armour, which outclasses everything else in the Classical and Dark Age eras and means that they will always be able to mitigate a 1-factor loss against almost any conceivable contemporary opponent - and often they will also be made up from the ranks of nobility, making them Elite and hence even more durable. Despite generally being lance-armed however, they do not qualify for "Impact" bonuses against Mounted opponents in the first round as their trotting speed is not sufficient to match the first-round ferocity of true "Impact"-style horsemen. Despite the lack of "Impact" combat bonuses against mounted opponents they do still qualify for "Impact" and "Furious Charge" against foot, handing out additional first-round casualties if they win in the initial clash. Durable and resilient, they grind down enemy horsemen in their preferred battlefield role.
The opposite flank was another open plain over which the Alans and the Regular Roman mounted command were already flying as they closed the distance to the somewhat refused Auxilia/Bow combination facing them. The advantage would lie very much with Rome here, but the 4 units of Palmyran bowmen could very easily have a similar matchup-balancing effect as the gentle hillock in Game 3 if they were given a chance to shoot down the onrushing Cavalry. The infantry were in trouble for sure, but they could even the odds a lot if they could inflict a string of debilitating shooting hits before contact.
Palmyra - the History
Conscious of this risk, and the need to avoid the Palmyan Legionaries the Alan Nobles kept carefully behind their Light Horse screen as they marched forward and drifted their formation to the right, towards the Medium Foot In The Open and away from the dense mass of close formation foot.
Aetius flank was far more simple. The 13 Foederate cavalry across both commands formed a solid mass, and had drifted left towards the edge of the table matching up their raw combat power against the lightly-armed skirmishers extending the shorter, more pound-for-pound expensive line of Palmyran Cataphracts.
L'Art de la Guerre hint -- Cataphracts are "Heavily Armoured", their 2 levels of "Armour" making them better than regular Heavy cavalry with 1 level of "Armour". In this matchup the end result is that the Foederate Medium Cavalry are just as good against the Cataphracts as the more expensive Foederate Heavy Cavalry, as the mitigating factor for "Better Armour" in combat is the same +1, irrespective of how many grades of "Armour" separate the two combatants. The Medium cavalry are however 7 points per base compared to the Heavy Cavalry's 9, and the Cataphracts 11 - allowing Medium Cavalry to greatly outnumber (and hopefully then outflank) enemy Cataphracts.
As the Alans and Romans pushed forward towards the Medium Foot In The Open, Aetius held his Foederate Cavalry back waiting on the Cataphracts advance. The Roman army had started to learn the important lesson of pacing the battle, and was in no hurry to instigate a mass combat in which it could potentially lose fistfuls of units in quick succession just yet. Far better to only start the lottery process after the hopefully far more straightforward riding down of the enemy Auxilia and Bowmen would already be well underway, as this should quickly tip the Palmyrans to within a few units of defeat.
Once that slaughter was underway, only then would the Foederate Cavalry begin their attack, Their role in this battle was not to win (or lose) the game on their own, but instead to chalk up the last few units needed to break the enemy - which they should be able to achieve in an exchange of casualties, even if they were to end up coming off worse overall in their fight against the Cataphracts.
The two commands on the Roman right closed in on the enemy loose formation troops. Mindful of the risk of enemy shooting, both commands elected to send forward their own Light Horse as a screen, figuring that it would be far better to take hits - or even casualties - on the Light Horse than to risk taking hits on the Lancers and Heavy Cavalry Bowmen, who needed to be intact to charge home in decisive combat. The Light Horse would not fight, and in any case could fall back and look to rally any bow-inflicted hits off later in the game.
L'Art de la Guerre hint - mounted troops can fall back to interpenetrate friendly LH, or charge through them as long as both are facing in the same direction. This allows LH to act as a very effective screen to their own battle cavalry, without needing to leave gaps in the cavalry line or undertake the complex technical manoeuvres that are needed to withdraw the Lights in unit-based games like FoG.
On the far flank the Cataphracts were keen to get into combat even if the Foederate Cavalry were not, and they pushed forward at full speed.
The Roman General pushed his men forward to drive away the Palmyran skirmish screen and drive a formation of Cavalry past the Cataphracts flank - this would be terminal for Zenobia's men, and so she bravely ordered he Light Horse (impact) to attempt to stand firm and protect the flanks of her Cataphtacts at all costs - even if it meant their with lives!
But, the attempt to half the tide of Gothic horseflesh proved only to be a partial success, with one Palmyran skirmisher eliminated at first contact allowing the pursuing Goths to step forward a full 1MU in pursuit, placing them proud of the rest of the formation.
The Foederate troops could now see a way past the Palmyran line to threaten their flank - and with the modus operandi of the Cataphracts being to grind out a frontal victory over several turns there should be ample opportunity for the flank to be exploited by the fast moving, but more lightly equipped Goths.
L'Art de la Guerre hint - Victorious troops can step forward up to a base width (4cm / 1MU) and Impetuous troops are compelled to do so.
In a situation like this, that extra bit of distance is very significant, as it places the front edge of the Gothic cavalry past the other 30mm deep enemy unit, and so also past the potential line of combat for the imminent mass melee. Read on to see how this works...
The Cataphracts situation was not going to be improved by waiting, they needed as many turns as possible of combat to push through the enemy opposing them and so seeing their flanks in danger of imminent submersion in Foederate cavalry they charged home!
"So, today you want us to pretend to be Palmyrans? And a month ago we were Sassanids? Well, we're not having it - we don't all dress the same you know.."
With the Foederate cavalry being generally +1 up in the first round due to their Impact, but the Palmyrans being better quality and having the loss-mitigating benefit of better armour the first round of combat was a bit of a damp squib all round
This was a situation which suited the Palmyrans down to the ground.
In subsequent turns the Barbarians would be at even factors, with worse armour and lower quality - ideal grinding fodder for the metal-skinned desert dwellers.
On the opposite flank the entire line of Alannic and Roman cavalry had gone in, charging through a somewhat battered light horse line and hitting the squishy Palmyran infantry with overlaps at both ends of the line. The perfect hit on the perfect opponent.
By now both formations of Cataphracts were in action, as the second, smaller block was charged - with multiple overlaps - by a second set of Foederate cavalry. The Romans had troops to spare, and now the Palmyrans were committed to combat the task of the Roman commander was to find the opportunity to deploy them.
The hit on the Medium Foot In The Open had gone pretty much as well as could be hoped, with two holes punched clear through the enemy line
The greater quality and resilience of the Palmyran Elite Cataphracts was starting to take its toll on the unarmoured and by now exhausted Foederate cavalry, as several of the units slipped perilously close to destruction with 2 hits each. But, at the top of the picture the Romans have hit an exposed flank with the lancer unit which had earlier stepped forward after beating the enemy Light Horse. This 40mm post-combat advance had put its front edge past the past the line of scrimmage and the front edge of the Cataphract line too, allowing the Goths to make a legal flank charge into the exposed end of the Palmyran line.
These Cataphracts found themselves on a -1 combat factor (zero for flanked, -1 for the hit inflicted by the flank contact) against the Goths +1 (1 basic, -1 for taking hits, +1 for a friendly unit in support).
Closer to the centre, the ends of the second, shorter line of Cataphracts were faring even worse. A long-awaited 6-1 in our favour saw the enemy embedded General sign out of any further participation in proceedings after he found himself perhaps unwisely overlapped and on the end of the block of Cataphract units occupying the middle of the field. His loss left the entire central Palmyran command bereft of pips and leadership.
Losing heart at the death of their leader the rest of the decidedly Average Cataphracts also stumbled - losing double-drop cohesion hits to the now fully riled up Gothic units of horsemen. The winning unit stepped forward into the gap - ensuring that the next turns would indeed be painful for the remaining Palmyran Cataphracts.
The Elite Palmyran troopers under Zenobia's personal command were faring rather better, pushing the unarmoured Foederate units close to destruction and defeat. But, with great holes being ripped in other parts of Zenobia's army by the rampaging Romans, even the handful of hits that these high quality Cataphracts were absorbing could prove significant in pushing the army of the desert fortress towards destruction.
In Our Time on Palmyra
And destruction was very much on the mind of all participants in the whirling melee on the opposite flank, as the last few Bowmen and Auxilia went down with all hands still on deck in a veritable sea of Roman and Mercenary horseflesh. The Palmyran Legionaries flank was now exposed, and their baggage train was in reach as well - the Romans had too many targets to choose.
With almost the entire Roman Foederate line on the brink of destruction the battle against the Cataphracts continued to rage - but now the gaps in the Palmyran line were being fully exploited by spare Foederate horsemen, of whom there were great numbers in play as the advantage of width over quality became blindingly apparent to Zenobia and her men.
The last bastion of Palmyran military prowess in the centre of the field was almost gone as the Goths rode rings around the static mail-clad enemy warriors.
Zenobia's last stand was brave, but matters elsewhere on the table seemed destined to make it an interesting but ultimately irrelevant sideshow to the main event. With 14 AP in the bag from the 7 Medium Foot In The Open on the opposite side of the board out of an army size barely above 30, every one of these casualties struck like a dagger to Zenobia's heart.
The final Bowman went down like BHS, while the abled bodied vultures monitored and picked at them.
They are going down, and it's no stress - they just lay and hope for the knuckle dragging exodus.
Zenobia's men started to lose heart and lose bases as they were assailed from all sides.
With the destruction of the last Cataphract in the centre, the army of Palmyra was finally vanquished. Zenobia's dreams of independence were over, Rome was triumphant - and the plan for using this army had finally come good at the 4th attempt!
The Result is a stonking great win for the Romans!
Rread 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 Patrician Roman Commander
Yes, yes indeed - a superlative display of cavalry expertise from my brave, brave boys here has meant we have at last lived up to the potental which I knew all along was heaving, positively heaving under the taughtly stretched skin of my army and allowed us to soar like birds into the sunlit uplands of a richly deserved victory.
This army was never designed or intended to be a brutal slugger, but more a rapier-like instrument which would either slice apart an enemy with style, grace, elan and a small dollop of good fortune, or which would fail gloriously but leave behind an exuberant memory of what might have been with a slightly better rub of the green.
In the end, only one game managed to achieve the success I hoped for, and three were still spectacular - but in exactly the wrong way.
At least now I feel that I have a much better handle on how to control, draw up and move the force around - the identification that defending is in fact a very viable option even for a mobile mounted force such as ours and especially in the 300 point game where the deplyment area is much deeper relative to the width of the table is a key learning point, and one which perhaps had I had even one practice with the army I might have identified earlier. Game 2 in particular would have been much different if we had been the home team I feel.
Whether I would take such a force, depending as it does on good luck and the extra damage done by "Furious Charge" for winning at the first impact to rip apart much more substantial foes is a questionable one, but even so this weekend has left behind many stories and created many legends, which is surely what the thrill of battle is intended to do, win, lose or draw? Am I satisfied - probably yes.
Hannibal's Post Match Analysis
I think, for once, and at this far too late stage, you have fully encapsulated the errors of your ways in this rare victory amongst a sea of defeats.
To pick an army and then attempt to use it in full awareness that it would need an over-the-odds slice of luck for it to win, but also knowing that if that luck did fall your way that the result would not only be effective but stylish and flamboyant takes a rare level of hubris which is matched only by your incompetence in failing to either undertake any practice games at all, or indeed to re-read the battle reports from a tournament last year in Estella, Spain in which you used a near-identical force at the slightly smaller 200 point level with a similar lack of success. Practicing may take time and effort, but re-reading my conclusions from that debacle is surely not beyond you?
Apart from your repeated lack of practice, your reluctance to change tactics over the weekend is also lamentable. All of these games were eminently winnable had you only paused to think about what you were doing, how the enemy was deployed, and what you might reasonably expect them to do. Oh, and working out the odds of actually winning in combat before entering combat too. Very basic stuff really.
What you have proved here is that it is all well and good getting extra hits through "Furious Charge" - this is cool, but to get these hits you first need to be winning the initial combats. Without this you have ended up with a weekend of getting soaked by incessant rain interleaved by brief interludes of driving your phalanx of 3-hit-point glass cannons into a series of solid brick walls. Reading about these repeated failures has been no fun for me, so I hope playing the games at least gave you some enjoyment, however masochistic that might well have been.
That's the end - so why not go back to the Match Reports Index and read some more reports?
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That's the end - so why not go back to the Match Reports Index and read some more reports?