Saturday, January 14, 2012

They shall not pass, or well, ok, maybe this time.

Well, my Bactrian army has been bloodied, very bloodied as it turned out.   My cell phone battery gave out so no pictures I'm afraid.

The scenario was Pass Clearance from CS Grant's Programmed Wargame Scenarios. The rules were modified Basic Impetus on a hex grid. The enemy was Ron Dynasty Chinese (That's Han to you). I had a rough idea of what sorts of troops I might face since I'd seen them on the shelf over the last 20 years but I avoided looking at the army lists since I figured that a new arrival on the scene, an army they had never fought before, might have been a surprise to the Greeks, Bactrians and various others who made up my army. It turned out to be a bit more of a shock than a surprise!

Whoever wrote up the Beta Han List was very generous with VBU and Impetus factors and the superior firepower of their crossbows was staggering. To overcome this army I was going to need the get the best out of my motley crew. Unfortunately, since it was my first time fielding it, I really didn't have a good handle on its strengths and weaknesses.

The position I was defending had steep hills on either sides with several patches of woods. I deployed my upgraded skirmishers, from whom I expected much given how well their plain Jane cousins did for me in the last game, in an advanced wood on the left hand slopes with light cavalry filling the plain. My main battle line was posted just behind the crest of the pass, archers in the woods to the right, then elephant, pikes, Thracians and lastly cataphracts.  Initially the Thracians were supposed to accompany the elephant but I switched and decided to have them provide a link between the phalanx and the cataphracts.  Despite finding my javelin armed peltasts most useful in previous games,  I decided that I needed more high VBU troops so upgraded the Thracians from VBU 4 to 5 which seems to remove their javelins, presumably indicating Rhomphai armament. They are useful troops but not strong enough for 1 unit to launch attacks and to make matters, worse, I kept maneuvering them into positions where they could launch javelin assaults, only to remember that they didn't have any! ARGGHHH! Luckily Ron was generous enough to allow me to take back such moves several times. General, Know thy troops! Next time I'll field proper peltasts and  leave the shock charges to the big boys.

The game began with some harmless insults being traded between my light cavalry  and the Chinese. The game is unfriendly to missile fire at light cavalry and a close look at his shock light cavalry indicated that they had twice the combat value of my Arachosians so basically, after a few maneuvers to try to disrupt Rons's march and deployment and to draw him into my ambush, I started to fall back at full speed to get my light cavalry safely out of the way. The first shot of the game came from my foot archers, disrupting a chariot but neither harming it nor slowing it down (we had drafted the discipline rule in from Impetus and Ron's well disciplined troops only occasionally failed their rally).  Ron deployed a mass of light infantry to flush me out at which point I was close enough to have a look and discover that these were a combination of elite shock troops that made my Thracians look puny, and massed crossbows with devastating firepower. I made a new plan. Skeddadle all my out classed light troops to safety and launch an assault with elephant, pikes and cataphracts, once he was through the gap.

Unfortunately there was a wrinkle. Basic Impetus is a game  which calls for an initiative roll each turn to see who would move first. I had successfully rolled low and moved second so far, being able to react to enemy moves and scoot out of the way. On the turn of the ambush, that flipped, allowing me to get my shot in  but on the next turn it flipped again giving Ron a double move at just the wrong moment for me and allowing his aggressive light infantry to reach my skirmish line before it could pull back. At the same time his light shock cavalry was able to also sweep forward to catch my skirmishing ones.  This was unfortunate but not necessarily a disaster, protected by the woods, odds were that my skirmishers would take some damage but stood a good chance of escaping and might even get lucky and win some of the combats. By the end of the turn my skirmish line was wiped out and my light cavalry reduced to a single stand. Five units destroyed in the blink of an eye. Nearly 1/2 way to my break point and I hadn't put a single hit on him. It looked bleak.

 There was an awful jumble in the middle of the table as the war chariots rolled up the road and deployed flanked by cavalry. The supporting infantry was somewhat held up by the woods but they would be up soon with those deadly crossbows and  hard charging halbardiers. One of Ron's horse archers topped the crest and sounded the alarm. There before him was the main Bactrian army, bronze helmets and shields and iron horse armour gleaming in the sun. From the woods my Saka bowmen (using the mountain Indian stats) strode forward from ambush and opened a frightful barrage (who knew so many dice had 1 or 2 marked on them?).  The elephant, a 40 year veteran, trumpeted wildly and rushed forward, trampling panicking horses beneath her feet.  Charge followed counter charge as the chariots, unable to stop and without room to maneuver, rolled forward. On the left, my Cataphracts maneuvered for a clear charge at the Chinese infantry as they cleared the wood. Then the crossbows twanged and my nobles back peddled desperately while I searched for a new plan. The score now stood at 7 army morale points lost per side. (Ron could lose 17, I could lose 13)

With unlimited time and an array of machine guns, crossbows, facing me, it was just a matter of time before he shot me to pieces. At this point, the question arose of how long I needed to hold the pass in order to claim a victory. Initially Ron had said 11 turns, and 11 turns were done, but the table was 24 hexes across and even if I had retreated off table on turn 1, he couldn't have made it. I suggested we roll 2d6 to see how many additional turns he could have but with two "new" armies on the table (most figures on both sides were 20 to 40 years old), we decided to just play it through.  There was only way, to avoid destruction, rally my shot up phalanx and cavalry and charge! If the charge worked, there was a good chance I could blast a hole in his army but if the attack was repulsed, then it would be all up. Do or die!

Even having to make piecemeal attacks, my shock troops proved their potential, inflicting buckets full of hits on the enemy. Ron's troops proved that their morale was good. (Now he rolls a 1!)
His line was battered and within a pip or 2 of having broken but it had held and now the counter attack was coming through. Shock infantry charging into the phalanx, crossbow bolts following up my cavalry as they rallied back for another charge. Then the battered chariots whipped their  horses up to speed and rolled forward into my Thracians and a battered phalanx and both crumbled, bringing me to my break point.

A hard fought game and one which reinforced my choice of army. As Phil Barker once wrote, pick an army that you can love, even when it loses.  

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