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"Toughest Ancients Battle to Replicate on the Tabletop?" Topic


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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian27 Aug 2020 5:53 p.m. PST

Writing in Slingshot 331, Dan Hazelwood asserts that "…Cannae is one of the toughest battles to recreate on the wargaming table in a way that even remotely replicates history."

Which battle prior to 500 A.D. do you think is the hardest to historically stage on the tabletop?

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP27 Aug 2020 8:14 p.m. PST

Anything involving the Republican Romans, or any Romans, with rear ranks relieving front ranks.
I've yet to see a set of rules that does this, without it looking like a gimmick that only a few are smart enough to use.

Uesugi Kenshin Supporting Member of TMP28 Aug 2020 8:04 a.m. PST

For me it's Pharsalus. If you make the order of battle as it actually was it's virtually impossible for the gamer playing Caesar to win.

That means you either buff Caesar's units in numbers, quality, or both. Or you decrease Pompeys numbers, usually amongst the huge cavalry force he had.

I usually give Caesar a slight buff in light troops while going on the lower side for Pompeys cavalry.

Its a tough one to game without tinkering with it too much.

MajorB28 Aug 2020 8:19 a.m. PST

"…Cannae is one of the toughest battles to recreate on the wargaming table in a way that even remotely replicates history."

Phil Sabin makes a pretty good fist of it in "Lost Battles". So no, I don't agree with him.

MajorB28 Aug 2020 8:20 a.m. PST

Which battle prior to 500 A.D. do you think is the hardest to historically stage on the tabletop?

The ones where we have little or no information about the size and composition of the armies and the location of the battlefield.

MajorB28 Aug 2020 8:21 a.m. PST

For me it's Pharsalus. If you make the order of battle as it actually was it's virtually impossible for the gamer playing Caesar to win.

Phil Sabin does a pretty good job on that one too.

Korvessa28 Aug 2020 8:41 a.m. PST

any battle dealing with am ambush or a surprise tactic.

JJartist28 Aug 2020 11:37 a.m. PST

Carrhae- because asymmetrical battles are almost impossible to reproduce, are no fun, and it is impossible to force the Romans to make all the wrong moves.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine28 Aug 2020 11:40 a.m. PST

Depends how much free choice you want to give the players. You can add house rules and tweaks to rail road players into making the same mistakes as their historical counterparts but if you give players free will then they are unlikely to follow the script.

I mean no player is going to follow the Roman battle plan at Cannae if they know what's coming. Given free will you might mass your cavalry on one flank and refuse the other or support your cavalry with some of your considerable heavy infantry assets.

At that point the Carthaginian player changes his plan and then are you really still re-creating Cannae?

MajorB28 Aug 2020 1:43 p.m. PST

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, you guys really should read Phil Sabin's "Lost Battles".
link

He covers Carrhae, as well as 34 other battles including several in the Punic Wars.

In the case of Cannae, he explains how the Roman player is pretty much forced by circumstances to follow the historical battle plan, but that the result is not necessarily a foregone conclusion.

JimSelzer28 Aug 2020 5:31 p.m. PST

Jericho

MajorB29 Aug 2020 2:25 a.m. PST

Jericho

I'm not sure there any any wargames rules that allow for divine intervention?

JJartist29 Aug 2020 9:03 a.m. PST

"At the risk of sounding like a broken record, you guys really should read Phil Sabin's "Lost Battles"."

I have read it. Lost Battles is a great book. I like the schematic system he created, more than my colleagues.

Other people were never into it. Therefore is is a great simulation that people didn't want to play- because of various needs of gameplay.

I can only say that Lost battles is not a "wargaming tabletop" game as stated in the question (although I have seen versions played with miniatures).

No doubt that Sabin's views on simulating asymmetry is better than any tabletop game does- mostly because it is zone based and as stated schematic.

Zone based or grid based tabletop games are a matter of a person's cup of tea. "To The Strongest: is another system that has merits for some of these situations, it too is grid based and therefore more difficult to convince others into playing.

Ultimately few of the Lost Battles scenarios had replayability or competitive play in mind, which is the go-to conditional for ancients in most cases.

As for Carrhae-
"he explains how the Roman player is pretty much forced by circumstances to follow the historical battle plan"

I must admit that I will go back and re-read that section. In recent readings of other works I still cannot fathom what the "Roman plan" was. The Romans failed because they refused to understand they were marching into a totally unforseen tactical ambush, that worked perfectly.

So the only plan would have been to uncover the enemy's goals and stratagems and counter them before offering their army for destruction by a smaller force.

I agree that tactically Crassus had more options than what apparently transpired, but his mistakes were made based on assumptions that gamer's already know in hindsight. Such as:

1: The Parthians have a large force of cataphracts, which were revealed only when the battle commenced.
2: The horse archer deluge of arrows would not abate when they ran out of arrows- because the Parthian general created a unique frontlines resupply method.
3: The Roman allied cavalry (other than the Gauls) were inferior, most had already run away.
4: The Roman mercenary skirmishers were inferior or unwilling or incapable or just eliminated.

All those things IMO make this a tough "tabletop" battle, including the space/time distance. The main army in square takes a pounding. then there is a break out by Publius Scipio that would take his force off table- to another battle where his forces are overwhelmed. Neither action helps the other except to allow the main force to retreat eventually. Timeframe is another, the attrition battle is only workable over a lot of game turns.

The other issue is that the Roman army wasn't really destroyed until they retreated, left behind thousands of wounded. Once the Romans fled and discipline broke down then that's when the army was mostly slaughtered, days later.

So really it goes back to what is victory for the Romans.

Just standing there is not a win- because that is how it played out in reality. Destroying the Parthian forces is practically impossible unless the Parthians simply offer themselves for destruction in close combat.

But I will re-read Dr. Sabin's remarks once again, so thanks for the reminder.

MajorB29 Aug 2020 9:21 a.m. PST

I can only say that Lost battles is not a "wargaming tabletop" game as stated in the question (although I have seen versions played with miniatures).

Phil Sabin and friends have fought many miniatures battles at shows in the UK over a number of years. AFAIAC that makes them miniatures rules.

Zone based or grid based tabletop games are a matter of a person's cup of tea. "To The Strongest: is another system that has merits for some of these situations, it too is grid based and therefore more difficult to convince others into playing.

Grid based rules certainly seem to be gaining in popularity, at least in the UK.

As for Carrhae-
"he explains how the Roman player is pretty much forced by circumstances to follow the historical battle plan"

Cannae, not Carrhae.

JJartist29 Aug 2020 9:51 a.m. PST

"If the Surena is classed as an inspired commander, then making half of the light cavalry veterans gives the Parthians a fighting value of 72. This is slightly lower than the Romans, but the first day's fighting left the main Roman force bloodied but intact, so an exhausted stand-off after 10 turns is exactly what we want to create."

Sabin, Philip. Lost Battles . Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

So the battle can indeed be replicated in a matter that "remotely replicates history." But it is a unsatisfactory game, which is mostly true of Carrhae in any gaming venue.

Oops I missed that you switched to Cannae for the last point. I agree with his assessment as well. The Roman deployment must be followed, their plan of center attack, has to be followed, in order to repeat the factors. Usually in games folks do things that maybe tactically were available later on due to innovation that tradition would not allow.

For example in most Cannae games I have witnessed or participated in, the Romans simply move the triarii immediately to the flanks to counter the Carthaginian cavalry. This is something that is well known later by Scipio Africanus and Caesar at Pharsalus but does not work if allowed in a Cannae game that wishes to "remotely" replicate history.

And yes I agree Lost Battles can be played on the tabletop- just the other day I saw this, as a solitaire game.

link

CFeicht Supporting Member of TMP30 Aug 2020 11:23 a.m. PST

Lake Trasimene

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