Gaming the Metaurus
My previous blog post explained how we created an ADLG scenario for the battle of the Metaurus. This post tells you how the game went.
Ben took the role of Hamilcar and Matt commanded the Romans. Ben followed Hamilcar’s deployment, putting his Gauls on the high ground protected by a strip of difficult terrain. He put his elephants in the centre, with Spanish and African foot behind them, and his cavalry on the right, supported by two more stands of Spanish foot.
Matt deployed one infantry command on his left, the other in the centre and his cavalry on his right.
Phase one of the game saw Ben’s elephants crash into Matt ‘s centre and pretty much slide off. We had expected them to be destroyed while disrupting the Roman centre but they barely made a dent. Matt’s dice rolling was consistently luckier than Ben’s, setting the pattern for the evening. On the Carthaginian left the Gauls and Roman cavalry looked at each other, while by the river, Ben’s cavalry advanced on Matt’s infantry but wisely chose not to attack.
In Phase two the two centres came to blows. Ben’s troops fought rather better than their elephants had done and the fight was quite balanced. Meanwhile a couple of stands of Gauls came off the high ground, to be mauled by Matt’s cavalry. Then, Ben decided to launch his cavalry at Matt’s unruffled left wing. Matt again rolled some lucky dice but he also had the edge in modifiers all along this combat. Ben lost several stands in one combat phase, taking him perilously close to break point.
In the final phase the rest of Ben’s Gauls came down from the high ground, too late to have an effect on the battle. His cavalry nearly all routed and his centre started to crumble, mainly because his Spanish MI were less resilient. The game then ended as Ben’s morale losses hit 26. At that point Matt’s losses were only 9 points, of which only 4 were due to units routing.
Measuring up to the history
According to the generally accepted account of the battle the Carthaginians deployed pretty much as Ben did in our game. The Romans on the other hand placed their cavalry by the river, Salinator in the centre and Nero on the right. Phase one of the battle saw the Carthaginian elephants attacking in the centre, with similar unimpressive results to what happened in the game. On the left the cavalry wings clashed and the Romans began to push the Carthaginians back. The infantry in the centre then closed, with neither side gaining the advantage. On the right Nero soon abandoned any intention to charge the Gauls, who were too well positioned on the high ground. He then marched his wing around the rear of the Roman line to the left and assaulted the Carthaginian centre in its right flank. With this, Hamilcar’s army collapsed and he spurred his horse into the melee. The first Hannibal knew of the defeat was when his brother’s severed head was catapulted into his camp.
The big difference in our game was of course Matt ‘s deployment of infantry on his left and cavalry on the right. This made Nero’s manoeuvre impossible. I could, I guess, have imposed historical deployment on both sides but would argue that the more restrictive the setup, the less satisfying the game. To be frank, I was surprised by Matt ‘s deployment and wondered at the outset if he was squandering his cavalry by placing it facing the Gallic Hill. As things turned out, I couldn’t argue with his emphatic victory so what do I know? Nevertheless his cavalry played only a bit part in that victory. I think he was helped by Ben’s decision to charge Roman heavy swordsmen with medium cavalry, rather perhaps than to shift this cavalry to face the Roman horse.
In the last turn Ben had to take a survival roll for his C in C when the unit he was with routed. He passed it, so at least our Hamilcar kept his head
We played a 200 Point game of ADLG last night. I always enjoy a game more if it is linked to a real battle (however fuzzily) and I wanted to see if I could fit a historical scenario into a ‘legal’ ADLG format. I chose the Battle of the Metaurus, 207BC, fought between Hamilcar Barca and a consular tag team of Salinator and Nero.
This post is about turning a historical battle into a scenario. The next one will report how the game played.
The Metaurus campaign was perhaps the last chance for Carthage to defeat Rome in Italy. After years of stalemate on the peninsular, Hamilcar had crossed the Alps with an army to reinforce Hannibal. Rome was determined to prevent the Barca brothers from joining forces and a lucky piece of intelligence revealed Hamilcar’s planned route. Nero, commanding the consular army facing Hannibal, took a picked force and rushed to join his colleague Salinator in front of Hamilcar. From being outnumbered, the Romans now had at least parity with Hamilcar and for once, seemed to have an advantage in cavalry. The Romans tried to hide the arrival of Nero and bring on a battle but Hamilcar realised that he was facing two consuls, supposedly because his scouts heard two trumpet calls in the Roman camp. Hamilcar withdrew along the river Metaurus, looking for a crossing point. However he was unable to cross and as the Roman pursuers came closer, he resolved to offer battle.
There are different versions of this story in the sources and the debate goes on about the location of the battle, nature of the field and forces involved. I chose what seems to be the current majority view, which results in the following elements:
Because he has turned to face his pursuers, Hamilcar deploys his whole army first. The river Metaurus runs down one flank of the table. It is impassable. Hamilcar deploys with his right wing on the river. Next to the river is a strip of open ground. Hamilcar’s left deploys on high ground, with a steep defile in front that will seriously disadvantage an attacker. The Roman side of the field has a low hill towards the rear, opposite the high ground. Otherwise it is featureless. After Hamilcar has deployed, the Romans deploy using the standard deployment rules, except that there is no ‘dead zone’ next to the river so troops may deploy adjacent to it.
I created two 200 Point ADLG armies, using army lists 53 and 55. All troop types were picked straight from the lists except the Gallic foot. Hamilcar’s Gauls were recently recruited. Some stories say they were drunk at the battle but it is also possible that they were just disaffected and shaky. Either way they fought badly and Hamilcar deployed them on the high ground to make the best of a poor contingent. I decided they would be mediocre heavy swordsmen and not impetuous, reducing their points cost accordingly.
Hamilcar’s army contained 6 stands of the mediocre Gallic Heavy swordsmen; 4 of Spanish medium swordsmen; 2 of African spearmen; 2 of Spanish medium cavalry; 3 of Gallic medium cavalry; 3 elephants; 3 Libyan light infantry with javelins; and 3 of slingers. Hamilcar was brilliant and his two subordinates were competent. Break point 26.
Nero and Salinator commanded 10 stands of hastati/princeps heavy swordsmen; 5 of light infantry velites; 2 of Allied light infantry; 2 of triarii elite heavy spearmen; 4 of Roman medium cavalry and 2 of Allied heavy cavalry. Nero was brilliant and Salinator and Licinius were competent. Break point 25.
Ben and Matt faced off on Wednesday evening. Their exploits are reported in my next post.
Matt and I played a 100 Point game of Art de la Guerre on Wednesday. Matt commanded Republican Romans while I had a Gallic army. This was the first time we have played with impetuous troops and with light chariots. I had hoped to field enough Gauls for 200 points but was 30 odd points off. I need to get my last bare metal Gauls onto the painting table.
Matt won the initiative roll and chose to attack. The field had two gentle hills and a field, all spread around the table edges. The middle of the table was completely flat. Matt placed his cavalry on his right and rested his left on hills. I put my medium cavalry on the right and light chariots and scouts (javelin armed light cavalry) on my left.
My plan was to hold back the centre at the start and send my mounted troops forward. The chariots were to attack the Roman horse on my left. On the other flank my Medium cavalry were to go deep right, to discomfort the Roman centre but wait for the Gallic foot to advance and then join the attack. I reckoned that the first turn disadvantage against Roman swordsmen needed offsetting with some combined arms combat.
My right wing cavalry galloped down the field and onto the first hill. I faced them at about 1 o’clock and then turned my attention to advancing the left and centre. Matt meanwhile peeled a base of hastati off his centre, turned them to face my cavalry and began to advance. I had a turn to react but chose not to. On his next turn Matt charged my cavalry in the flank. I elected to evade, in the expectation that I could travel deeper towards the Roman rear. However, the rules revealed that evading troops must make a 90 or 180 degree turn before scampering off. Instead of going down the table, I had to face the side. Even had I rolled a 1or 2 I’d have still left the table. Idiot.
I deserved that three times over. First, I should have chosen my position and facing more carefully. Then, I had time to respond to Matt’s threat but didn’t. Finally, I chose to evade without knowing what that means in the rules. Accepting the flank attack would have been expensive but at least I might have done some good. As it was, the hastati had time to rejoin the main line having done their job of chasing away the threat. I won’t do that again. Probably.
Anyway. On the Gallic left my chariots attacked and got the better of the Roman cavalry while my centre advanced. In the event, the first clash of the heavy infantry went the Gauls’ way almost everywhere. Despite the Gauls losing impetus against the Roman swordsmen, the Gallic dice just rolled higher. The luck evened out in following rounds but my first round advantage held and the Romans broke three points before mine did.
The last few turns were tense and Matt’s victory point tally nearly overtook mine. But if I won the game, he got bragging rights for chasing off 14 points of cavalry with a base of hastati.
I like ADLG. The rules are clear and I find them a lot more enduring than the entry level DBA. I do however wonder about the wide range of outcomes possible in a combat round. This victory felt unjust. Matt‘s swordsmen should have had the edge over my Gauls but the dice rolled well for me and poorly for him. Perhaps this was more noticeable because we were playing a 100 Point game: my luck probably wouldn’t have been so great with more combats to resolve in the centre. Perhaps we should focus on 200 Point Battles in future. So I’d better get all my Gauls painted.
We played a 200 Point game of Art de la Guerre last night. Matt led the Army of Philip V of Macedon against my Republican Romans. Matt was joined by Warren, in his second ever wargame, as commander of his left wing. This was the first ADLG game we have played with pikemen and it was an Education I’d rather have skipped.
Matt won the initiative and chose to attack. I decided to meet him in the mountains, hoping to exploit the vulnerability of pikes in difficult ground. I selected the maximum number of terrain pieces and Matt chose the minimum, one of which was a road. We ended with an impassable river down one flank, a lot of difficult terrain on the other one and a bowling alley down the centre.
It started well for me. Then the game began. With great care, I deployed an ambush of triarii in the difficult ground in my left rear, planning to tear into the Macedonian flank as they bore down on my centre. What a plan. I then completely forgot my basic idea and set off across the table to attack the enemy on their baseline. What a pillock.
Our centres met in open ground and after the brief benefit of impact in the first round of melee, my Swordsmen began to crumble. Warren kept my right wing busy with his Greek and Illyrian horse and Agrianoi javelinmen. He knocked out my Velites and Roman cavalry, then started hammering my heavy infantry from the flank. At about the same time, Matt punched a hole in the centre that I lacked the reinforcements to plug. Where were my triarii when I needed them? Oh, yeah. Sniggering in the bushes on the far side of the table.
The end came in a rush, with too many of my depleted units breaking together. In all, Warren’s flank attack took out two bases of swordsmen, two Roman cavalry units and two velites. On the opposite flank Matt’s Companions destroyed my allied cavalry, while his rock hard pikes in the centre overturned my heavy swordsmen, admittedly after several rounds but with grinding inevitability.
Lessons? Well, if you make a plan, stick to it. Pikemen in the open really are hard to stop and if I’m going to engage them frontally, I should have a pretty good chance of getting troops around their flank before they steamroll my swordsmen. And maybe in future I should spike the enemy’s drinks...
Warren seemed to enjoy himself and had the baptism of stabbing his hand on the agema’s pikes not once, but twice. You’re not a true Ancients player until you’ve drawn blood on a spearpoint.
It is lovely playing with my old 25s. Some of the Macedonians date back to 1982 when we started playing Ancients. Their pikes are dreadfully brittle and held together with superglue. The definition on the moulds is poor by today’s standards but I still love them.
Last night I had my arse handed to me on a plate. In the first game of Sword & Spear for a year, my Epeirot army was comprehensively pounded by Keith's Republican Romans. I did everything wrong, deploying my phalanx right on the front of the deployment zone, putting cavalry in a guaranteed traffic jam on the left and leaving my light troops, who seriously outnumbered the enemy's, milling about uselessly in the rear. Keith managed to absorb the threat of my elephants with a velite unit that lasted long enough for his Centre to close the gap with mine. When my phalanx 'crashed' home, three of the four units were disrupted by Roman thrown weapons, losing fresh status and hence the crucial extra two impetus dice. It was not a glorious evening. To add insult to injury, my dice rolled so consistently poorly that Keith, who was rolling sixes with the self same cubes, offered to get a fresh set of dice to break the jinx. Sometimes it's better to stay in camp. Actually, it isn't: the game was still exciting, I learned masses of lessons for the next time (just you wait!) and we polished off a jar of very good Somerset cider by the end of the evening that softened the blow. And in case of misunderstanding, I was losing big time before the dice turned against me, so I have nobody to blame but myself. And Keith played a nigh-on flawless game. This was the first outing for my new Romans so I'm pleased for them. No, I really am...
The day had started well, with a trip to Valhalla in Farnborough with Keith, Ian and Will. There were fewer stall holders and games than previously but my favourite traders were there: Warlord, Colonel Bill's, Newline and Charlie Foxtrot. This last team, Colin and Kevin, came up from Devon with a great range of mdf buildings and counters. I picked up some Bolt Action Brits to take me over 500 points; a German MMG and a Charlie Foxtrot farmhouse kit. I also picked up a 60mm Sword and Spear measuring stick and counters from Charlie Foxtrot. Fat lot of good it did me! But the stick is a great player aid, with ranges and movement distances marked on it.
On balance, it was a great Father's Day. To top it all, my older son gave me a DIY bacon kit. Just add pig.
A few months ago my painting plans were put on hold by the arrival of several boxes of old Minifigs 25 mm Ancients, mostly Polybian Romans plus a smattering of Carthaginian and Spanish opposition. They had belonged to Marius, an old sparring partner of my friend Keith. Marius died last year and his widow asked Keith to find homes for his Wargames collection. The Ancients came my way, as I have owned Minifigs 25mm Greeks and Macedonians from the early 1980s. In fact, my figures are from the last Minifigs range, which is still available through Caliver Books
The figures Keith gave me are from the Minifigs PB range which preceded this one.
The PB figures are smaller even than 'standard' 25s and some of the spears are on the trunky side. They reflect the accepted picture in the late 70s of how troops dressed. Thus, Carthaginian citizens have pointed shield bosses and all Spanish scutarii have cloaks and are bare headed. Animation is a bit staid and all rank and file in a unit are identical. However the proportions are good, some of the poses are very nicely done and, well, I just love them.
I decided to paint up the Republican army to face my Successors. Several units of Hastati/ Princeps had been painted but most of the figures were bare metal. Marius' collection included a great many Romans with spears, far more than would be needed for Triarii. I converted one 16-man unit of Spearmen to pilum-armed troops, by pruning back the spears and sinking sections of wire in the tops to represent the long metal shafts. The conversion worked quite well as it changed their silhouette, although it was a bit rough and ready.
I decided to stick close to the colour scheme used by Marius and to keep to a simple painting standard. I used Army Painter soft and hard tone washes but otherwise used very little highlighting.
I have now completed enough units to field a small army for Sword and Spear, amounting to:
4 units of Hastati/Principes
3 units of Velites
2 units of Triarii
1 unit of Latin allied foot
2 units of Roman cavalry
1 unit of Allied cavalry
1 unit of medium Spanish horse
1 unit of Scutarii
I am very pleased with the look of the final army and hope Marius would have approved.
This has been a great weekend. My oldest friend and opponent, Keith, came up for three nights to coincide with Salute 2016. On Friday evening, we played a game with Tercios, repeating the scenario from 1660 in Ukraine that I tried with Ian a fortnight back. As I expected, Keith really took to the Tercios system, especially the obligation to think carefully about the orders for each unit at the start of each turn. In this game I commanded the Polish assault on a Muscovite redoubt. Unlike Ian who succeeded in this role in our previous game, I was repulsed with heavy losses.
On Saturday Keith, Ian, my sons Nick and Will and I spent the day at Salute. I wasn't sure about the Steampunk theme but Keith, who had grown mutton chops especially for the occasion, assured me that there are some good games to be played in dystopian Olde London. I nevertheless resisted the temptation to invest. Instead I picked up some Fire and Sword 15mm Polish 17th century dragoons, a box of 28mm Warlord British WW2 Infantry, 24 Newline Celtic infantry and To the Strongest, yet another Ancients rule set. It was the best Salute I remember of the past few years. Interesting that clubs from Scandinavia are attending these days. One Swedish group laid on a beautiful early medieval display game,using the skirmish rules, Lion Rampant, adapted for larger battles.
Inspired by those Swedes, on Sunday Keith and I played two games of Lion/Dragon Rampant. We created two retinues using Warhammer Empire figures but agreed not to use magic or monsters, so in essence our forces matched the Lion Rampant 100 Years War lists. One scenario was about collecting taxes in a border village and the other required one side to escort a convoy from one corner of the table to the other. The sense of storytelling was strong and the rules worked very smoothly. We each won one battle, so the score was two to one in Keith's favour by the end of the weekend.
That evening we were joined by friends who don't wargame but do have a fascination for history, so we ended the weekend as we had started it, engrossed in conversation about Wellington in the Peninsular. A pretty hear perfect few days. If only I had taken more photos...
I have been working my way through a project to rejuvenate some very old Minifigs Republican Roman 25s. They came my way after the widow of Marius, a childhood opponent of my friend Keith, asked if he would find homes for her husband's figure collection.
Keith knew I already had several Minifigs figures and offered me a big box of Romans, Spaniards and Carthaginians. He remembered gaming with these figures in the 1970s, although they had evidently spent many years on a shelf, replaced by more modern projects.
Rediscovering these old castings has been great fun. I am not expert in the history of Minifigs but I believe this collection is from their penultimate (or original?) range, which had certainly been phased out when I started collecting ancients in 1981. They are even smaller than 'true' 25s, especially the horses, and the detail is superficial. However the proportions and poses are good and I find the look en masse very pleasing.
It turned out on inspecting the box that there were more unpainted than painted models in Marius' collection. I started by rejuvenating the painted models, all of which were of Hastati/Principes holding pilum over-arm. They had shiny blue shields with copper bosses and strips and were based in old style with filler painted green. I made up three new units of 16, leaving one of them with blue shields as a link to their past livery. Most of the repainting was of shields, plus an Army Painter soft tone wash on the flesh and bronze paint on helmets.
After repurposing the painted models I started creating new units to supply a respectable Republican Army for Sword and Spear. I found that I have a huge number of Triarii Spearmen, but no more troops with Pilum to reinforce the front line. I created a fourth Hastati/Principes unit by shortening the spears of a Triarii unit and inserting brass rod in the tops to provide the long shank of a pilum. I am pleased with the result. I will use other surplus Spearmen to create allied legionaries.
I have kept the paint jobs on new units simple and compatible with the older figures. The shield transfers are by Veni, vidi, Vici. I think they look impressive, even with telegraph pole spears, and if wanted to go super detailed, I shouldn't be using 1970s figures in the first place.
I have also completed a unit of Carthaginian Spearmen, holding shields with bosses, as they were portrayed back in the 70s. I know today's thinking is that bosses would have made fighting in a phalanx uncomfortable, but they look good, reflect the received wisdom of the day and that's enough to earn a place on my table.
This has been a really enjoyable exercise and I am glad Keith thought of my interest. I hope Marius would feel that I have kept to the spirit of his army and that he would be pleased to know they will keep on fighting for, I hope, another several years. So here's to the memory of Marius and to the pleasure of getting veteran wargame figures back onto the gaming table.
I recently picked up four 25mm elephants on EBay. They had been advertised as Sassanid but looked more Classical and I tracked them down as Carthaginians made by the late lamented Garrison. They came with a job lot of slingers, jevelinmen and a couple of Persian-style spearmen, as well as three crewmen for each animal. I think they are my best ever EBay find.
The elephants needed a fair bit of filing down and filling, but I am delighted with the end result. Lovely animation and they fit very well with my mostly Minifigs army. I will use them to represent Successor elephants but am sorely tempted to buy more 25mm Carthaginians.
One down, three more to go...