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.
There is a charity bookshop in our High Street, run by the Woking Hospice, that carries a particularly good history section. I have picked up some great books there over the years. Recently they started selling second hand games as well. This week I picked up Waddington’s Campaign, in excellent condition but for a slightly tatty box. I had no choice: my memory made me do it.
As a teenager I loved this game. It came out in 1971 and I was given a copy soon after. It was a good time for a newcomer to Napoleon, thanks to the film Waterloo, Airfix’s range of Waterloo figures and Bruce Quarrie’s Napoleonic Wargame rules. Waddingtons gave the game a Napoleonic flavour, suggesting players could refight the conquest of Europe.
In fact the game is pretty abstract and could as easily have been linked to another period. It is a great game nevertheless. Each player begins in their capital with an army of infantry and cavalry pieces plus a general. Their aim is to capture cities (some of which are recruitment centres), defeat the enemy’s armies and occupy their capital. The mechanisms borrow a little from chess and a bit from Diplomacy. In order to remove an enemy piece a player must neutralise all adjacent enemy pieces and still have two pieces attacking the target. No dice are involved. Clever deployment can block invasion routes and make it very hard for the enemy to pick off your pieces.
I suppose I should persuade somebody to play it with me to see whether it is as fun to play as I remember. But to be honest, just owning the game again after a break of 40 odd years is pleasure enough.
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.
I have been rattling through my 20mm German figures this past week, trying to create enough points for a platoon sized game of Battlegroup. Latest to finish are a Stuh and three Stugs. My painting skills aren’t great but I think they’ll do for gaming. I am trying various weathering powders, mud textures and washes. I could probably add a lot more weathering but don’t want to go overboard and regret it later.
I have three Panzer IVs undercoated but will finish them after I paint a Sherman tank troop and 6pdr with tow. The models are a mix of Combat miniatures, Airfix, PSC, Armourfast and a rather hefty diecast Tiger made by Lord knows whom. The model houses are a box of card models I picked up in a Bring and Buy at Valhalla a couple of years ago. I wish I could remember the manufacturer. They were top of the range in the 80s and still look good to me.
I have recently picked up a project that I had abandoned a good four years ago. The year that Warhammer Historical folded, I had picked up a cut price copy of Kampfgruppe Normandy by Warwick Kinrade. It is one of the best rulebooks I have ever read, packed full of historical information, scenarios, Army lists and photographs. I bought the makings of two 20mm forces, one British and one German. I painted a platoon of British and assembled some vehicles, but then stopped. The main reason was the gift of some 28mm Germans and a Warlord King Tiger, followed closely by a group decision to start up some forces for Bolt Action. We have been steadily building our Bolt Action armies and I especially enjoyed creating a stock of terrain pieces.
Bolt Action is great fun but with my table size, it will only ever permit platoon sized games. Tank War in particular is frustrating since the action all occurs at such close ranges. I hanker after something bigger, if only company or battalion level. Last summer I picked up the new printing of Battlegroup, which is pretty much the exact replica of Kampfgruppe Normandy. Another well-written rulebook, although less full of goodies than KgN, it has got me back into playing with smaller models. The 20mm project is back on track.
Several times in recent years I came close to selling my unfinished 20mm collection to fund new projects. I am relieved I didn’t. I have now painted two platoons of German Grenadiers, various support vehicles and an Assault gun. Several models are rejuvenated plastics that my friend Keith used to play with in the 70s. He donated them to me when a house move finally compelled him to thin out his collection. I have also picked up some new kits and am mid way through painting 3 panzer 4s and a troop of Stugs. 4 Shermans and two 6pdrs are on the production lines.
I now have to persuade poor long-suffering Matt to give Battlegroup a try. I swear he thinks this is my way of stopping him from developing his skills. Every time he masters one set of rules I hit him with a new one. In this case, I know he will thank me for the introduction.
I played the Markkleeberg scenario twice over last week, first with Matt and then with Keith. This was Matt’s first game with Lasalle and he picked up the rules very quickly. This was more of a training exercise than a full game and we played a reduced scenario, without Russian or French reinforcements. As Kleist, Matt broke into Markkleeberg and duffed up several of my Polish units. For a newcomer to the rules, he did very well and got the hang of the challenges of combined arms combat. Matt successfully evicted my Poles from the village and took out enough units to break my morale.
I played the Poles again in the next game against Keith. This time we used a bigger table and all the reinforcements. Keith set up his artillery to bombard the town and advanced his infantry on their right, to leave a clear field of fire for the guns. The Prussians prepared to assault the town from the east with two battalions while with the rest of their infantry they advanced on the Polish left. In two turns I lost 3 battalions: one in the town and two ridden down by Prussian cavalry, working in close partnership with their infantry. The Polish cavalry rode across the field one turn too late to save the infantry but destroyed the Prussian Horse. Keith’s occupation of Markkleeberg triggered the arrival of his reinforcements, followed shortly on my side by Semelé’s French Brigade. The game ended with the Prussians still in Markkleeberg and sending two battalions past the town down the Polish flank. While a draw under Lasalle’s rules, I conceded as I had both taken more losses and my flank was turned.
These were two entertaining games and I was pleased with the way the story unfolded. I did tweak the scenario between the first and second games to delay the arrival of Prussian reinforcements. On the day, the bulk of 12th Brigade was held in reserve until Markkleeberg was occupied. Allowing the whole command to be on table from the start did weight the first game in Prussia’s favour. Of course the Poles lost both times but the second game was a lot closer.
I am inclined to change the victory conditions for future Lasalle scenarios. The rules as written are complicated and, because the victory test requires a comparison with the turn number, only work within a limited range of game lengths. The main problem for me is that both sides can hit their break point and each continue to take the victory test for a few turns and regardless of further losses, the loser will be the first to fail their dice roll. I think later rules by Sam Mustafa provide cleaner victory conditions. So taking a leaf from Longstreet, I might just set a higher break point and just say that the first to reach their break point has lost.
Every so often, we return to gaming the Napoleonic period. Recently, I was reading Digby Smith’s history of Leipzig and got taken right back to an obsession that had lasted for most of the 1990s. Back then our rules of choice were Napoleon’s Battles, then published by Avalon Hill. One of the supplements for these rules included several scenarios for refighting Leipzig. My friend Keith and I agreed to collect the whole Leipzig Orbat in 15mm between us. We managed to paint all the units present on 16 October 1813 (admittedly at a scale of 1 figure to 120 men), but we didn’t get around to the Army of the North or other latecomers, so alas, no Swedes. Over five years or so we played several good games based on the events of the first day of the battle.
After rereading Digby Smith, I felt the urge to give Leipzig another go. I decided to start with the attack on Markkleeberg, which was made by a Russo-Prussian column under Kleist, mostly against Poniatowki’s VIII Corps, supported by Semelé’s division of Augereau’s Corps. I pulled together the other sources in my bookcase, which included Scott Bowden’s Grande Armee of 1813, the Osprey Campaign Book of Leipzig by Peter Hofschroer, Lorraine Petrie’s 1813 and two Polish language histories, one of the battle and the other about Poniatowski’s Poles throughout 1813.
I had three options for the rules: Napoleon’s Battles of course; Honour Games’ Blucher; or their older, tactical set, Lasalle. Plan A was to adapt the Napoleon’s Battles Orbat for Blucher and I do hope to do this at some stage. But having read about the exciting exploits of individual battalions and cavalry regiments around Markkleeberg, I decided to start with Lasalle, using my small collection of 6mm figures.
It proved tricky to work out the detailed order of battle and decide on deployments and reinforcement schedules. The accounts differ widely about exactly who was where and what happened on the day. No two books agreed on the troops involved. On the Allied side, some books just list the formal order of battle, which places Kleist at the head of the whole 2nd Prussian Corps, whereas Smith and Lorraine Petrie explain that at Leipzig, Kleist’s Brigades were shared out among the four Allied attack columns, to bolster their numerically depleted Russian allies. According to these sources, all Kleist had with him was the 12th Brigade, alongside Helfreich’s tiny Russian division. I decided to go with this version as it makes sense of the accounts in all of the books about how the engagement fought out. Had Kleist been in control of his full Prussian Corps, I suspect he would have overrun Poniatowski in no time at all.
On the Polish side, again, every book has a different Orbat. Bowden, whose research into French returns is exhaustive, touches only lightly on the Poles and his returns for them don’t match with any other source I could find. I think the trouble here is that several theoretical orders of battle that were decreed for VIII Corps were never implemented because events moved too fast. Mariusz Łukasiewicz, in his book “Armia Księcia Józefa 1813”, carefully examines the true shape of VIII Corps throughout that year. I therefore decided to go with his list.
As for the sequence of events, all sources agree that Kleist initially succeeded in taking Markkleeberg, was counterattacked in the course of the day and that by nightfall, he had been pushed back to his start line except he still had a toehold in the village.
The resulting scenario is here.
We have played it twice and a report and some photos are in my next post.
We played a three handed daytime game of Bolt Action on Saturday, to mark the first visit by Ian since he left for Asia in December. It was good to be back in BA after a run of Ancients games. Ian brought down his US paratroopers and Fallschirmjaegers and I wanted to include them in the game so I prepared a 1500 Point scenario very loosely based on Market Garden, as follows:
“The 101st Division has been holding the road open to Eindhoven, the first piece of the airborne carpet over which 30th Corps plans to roll in its drive to cross the Rhine. Delayed from the start, the Armoured column is struggling to stick to its timetable. The German forces have reacted faster than the Allies expected and are pulling together an increasingly powerful defence.
Place 3 objective markers along the main road, at 18, 36 and 54 inches from the Southern table edge.
The game lasts 6 turns, with the possibility of a seventh on a roll of 4,5,6.
1 VP for each enemy unit destroyed; 2VP for each objective controlled by troops within 3”.
Matt used his US troops as the relief force, with a Sherman, half track-mounted squad and an infantry platoon. I created 750 points of Heer Grenadiers for the on table Germans and a selection of Waffen SS and Fallschirmjaegers squads, a Stug and a panzer grenadier squad for the reinforcements.
The objectives were represented by oil drums, milk churns and a dog kennel.
The US paras set up in foxholes around the bicycle workshop and the dog kennel objective. The on table Germans all set up to the East of the road, with two squads and an MMG behind a hedge facing South and the rest facing the Paras to the West.
In the first stage of the game, Matt’s relief force attacked the German hedge line while the rear area Germans, reinforced by two arriving squads, attacked the US Paras. In the second stage, the relief force destroyed the hedgerow Germans and advanced on the second German line, while the rear area Germans tightened their grip on the Paras. In stage three, the relief force was stalled by the destruction of an M3 halftrack, and held up long enough for the US Paras to be badly mauled and dislodged from the dog kennel objective. The game ran to a seventh turn and ended with the Allies holding 2 objectives for 4VPs, plus 3VPs for German units destroyed. The Germans meanwhile held one 2VP objective and destroyed 6 US units. So a German victory at 10 VPs to 7.
The game was closer fought than the final score suggests. The US Assault on the first German line was quick and effective, destroying a 10 man squad and an MMG in short order. The second German line held well however, and was helped by the arrival of the Stug which first destroyed the halftrack then placed itself in ambush round the curve of a hill, threatening to enfilade a further US advance northwards. As it happened, when the Sherman did move into view the Stug only managed a ‘crew stunned’, but this bought enough time for the Germans to wipe out the US Paras.
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.