Wednesday, 19 September 2012

XIII. Crete - The final battle. History rewritten.

So this is it, the Grand Finale! The two empires meet on Crete, an island the two generals know too well. Three times before their armies have clashed near Samaria, the famous gorge which by now has had enough human flesh to feed an army of crows and scavengers.

After well-thought advice from historian Ermokratis, the greeks have spent some time at Hersonissos, a beautiful town in the north of Crete. The morale boost has been particularly evident on the varangians who were not raised with sunshine and beaches in plenty. Refreshed (and a little bit hangover) the byzantines march the long trek from Hersonissos to Samaria, the gorge near which Saladin has camped the night before. Both generals know that this will probably be their last battle against each other. This campaign has dwindled the coffers of both empires and both Palaiologos and Saladin need to return to the royal courts and tidy internal matters (a peasant revolt or two). Thus, the battle is a matter of honour. Both leaders want to win for their personal ambition, they want to go home and announce victory despite the cost. On to the day's work then.

The byzantine double-headed eagle flies high as the greek general deploys his troops. A mix of Pachenegs and kavallarioi on the left, heavier horsemen (along with the greek general) on the right and all the infantry to maneuver in and around the gorge. His army is fully reinforced and battle-ready.

Saladin deploys his forces with a different plan. Not as balanced as his enemy's, his line has archers and some cavalry on the right, some light infantry going for the gorge and most of his cavalry on the left.

Saladin advance his left, the bulk of his army. A solid group of five units moves forward to meet the greeks, while the rest of the egyptians are still far back.

Palaiologos makes his move as well. His cavalry on the right forms a line and marches forward. Behind the hills, a unit of Pachenegs rushes to reinforce the right wing. The byzantine heavy infantry is slowly negotiating the gorge.

It seems not long now... The greek right is quickly rushing forward with the varangians close behind. The Pachenegs are trying to arrive on time.

The lines are a stone's throw away from each other. Now the skutatoi spearmen are in the frontlines behind a unit of seljuk psiloi and the varangians to the right.Two units of Pachenegs approaching the greek right wing. Was that Palaiologos' plan?

The arabs' right wing seems to be far from the action. Has Saladin made a mistake? A unit of berber light cavalry is left behind to reinforce any wing in need.

As usual, this battle is turning out a fight against time. The egyptian general managed to get his units on the right in a good position but are they on time? His bowmen are heading towards the gorge and his cavalry is facing the greek horsemen protecting the camp.

On the byzantine right time is standing still. The lines of cavalry are ready but noone is making the final charge. In the gorge the sudanese bowmen are taking positions to shoot at the cumans and the skutatoi. On the far side the odds are even. Four horse units are facing each other.

Bodies are rolling down the hills as the sudanese shoot down the cumans who rout. With a stroke of luck the arabs gain a small and temporary advantage in the gorge. Now the greeks have to react quickly.

Battle is joined! Palaiologos orders the charge and the right wing rushes forward with the greeks shouting their emperor's name! The two generals are engaged very close to each other and Saladin is finally pushed back along with another of his units, while Palaiologos urges his men to grasp victory! In the center the Pachenegs valiantly enter the gorge to support the left side.

Saladin regroups his troops and he can't avoid feel a chill down his spine. If he falls, the campaign is over and Palaiologos is the winner. The greeks rearrange their lines as well and the Pachenegs who have been moving all over the place now seem to approach the right wing and reinforce it. The skutatoi are left alone to guard the passages in the gorge.

A mix of emotions is carved on the faces of the men who fight and die. Anger, desperation, fear and most of all constant bewilderment flash quickly in every face, including the two generals. Now comes the time of the varangians. They simply move forward swinging their axes at Saladin and the arabs try to keep them at bay. Palaiologos prepares for another charge with his guard.

Another panoramic view of the battlefield and the battle is raging. The sudanese archers approach the center to keep the Pachenegs in check. Still noone has the upper hand.

Turn of the tables. Now the gorge becomes the prize as a skutatoi unit defends the passes against two egyptian bow units while Saladin's light-foot jarwajaraya stand against a unit of Pachenegs on the craggy ground.

The Pachenegs' horses can't handle the rocks and javelins, and flee. Now the hilly center seems open to Saladin's troops for the taking.

The jarwajaraya quickly charge the greek flank and cut down a unit of Pachenegs! Palaiologos gets news of his left collapsing and feels panic creeping in.

The byzantine army is not giving up. The Pachenegs are back to aid the flank and the skutatoi retreat to defend the gorge farther back.

This is it! The final charge of the egyptians, of the battle, of the whole campaign. All the men (greeks, egyptians, cumans, serbs, albanians, seljuks, norsemen, muslims, christians and pagans alike) take a breath and get ready for the final push which comes from Saladin's army. "Allahu akbar!" and "o stavros nika!" are heard all over, and men and horses are lost in a cloud of steel, dust and blood. The whole wings are now engaged with a strong advantage of Saladin on his right, a jarwajaraya unit surrounding the greek psiloi.

DONE. The varangians are cut down by Saladin's personal guard and the egyptian general, now master of Crete, tramples on the norsemen's bodies. Palaiologos can't believe his beloved elite infantry are no more and starts regrouping his troops for retreat. Crete is lost for the greeks but the general is already thinking of his own head when he brings the news back to Constantinople. He nods a respectful acknowledgment to Saladin and his men, and rides away. There is still work to do for the empire and he must keep his head... clear.

Saladin watches his former enemy ride away and knows he doesn't need to pursue. The greeks aren't coming back to Crete soon. As the sun is setting, the byzantine dead are seen scattered all over the battlefield but the arab general intends to allow the greeks to gather their dead. They have earned much more than that. His mind settles to a grim satisfaction which he hopes not to forget as he keeps on forging egypt's destiny.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

XII. Saladin is back! The byzantines lose their foothold in the middle-east.

It's been a while (to put it mildly)... We are in Damascus again for our byzantine-egyptian campaign and, after the last greek triumph, general Palaiologos decided to fortify his position and fully reinforce his army. He is on the defensive now while Saladin is counter-attacking with a full army of arab soldiers. They are eager to wash away the shame of the last defeat but the greeks are not going to give up easily; this is a unique chance to expand their Empire...

Palaiologos deploys his army in a wide front. He mixes light and regular cavalry on the sand dunes, and sets his foot far left, in front of his camp. The greek general is in the center of his army. Saladin is advancing his horsemen on his own left, while all his infantry is widely deployed on his right.

The arabs are not wasting time, they are moving forward eagerly. The byzantines are praying to their lord jesus and they have a weird feeling that their god is watching over them...

"FORWARD" orders Palaiologos and he leads the bulk of his cavalry while they march out of the dunes and towards the enemy. Soon the desert will become the last resting place for many again.

The lines are ready to clash! Dust has risen around the horses and the men can barely see their comrades. There is only one way for them, forward! Forward where they will kill or be killed for their masters.

The two great lines of horses and men and steel smash into each other! Palaiologos is leading from the front and his deeds of today will be sung all across the Empire. Among the screams and the blood, the rest of the two armies move forward to join the fray.

While the battle in the center is raging, the arabs form a wider front, with reinforcements on their right wing. The greek foot on the left is still lagging slightly.

The battle's balance is kept in a terrifying way. Both cataphracts and ghulams are cut down and two holes open in both fronts.

After long minutes of fierce fighting, for the first time in this war the two generals are facing each other in person! The greek noble is ahead of his men like a spearhead, eager to face the saracen, while Saladin is weighing his opponent... "Coward!" shouts Palaiologos.

"CHARGE" orders Palaiologos again and his line forms and rushes forward! How long can the horsemen take the punishment?

Back and forth without pause and there! Left of the greek general a unit of Pachenegs routs but the battle is far from over.

Now the arabs seem to gain the upper hand, by forming a coherent front and encircling a serbian light horse on the right. Palaiologos gets his wish and faces the egyptian general man-to-man, even though he is on his own. Can he change the course of this war single-handedly?

This is a battle to be remembered. Again the byzantines push the arabs back. Saladin himself regroups while on the right the Serbs are doing a great job occupying two units of egyptian horse.

By now everyone is exhausted but no one gives up. Even after several charges and counter-charges in this terrible heat, the lines form again for another charge.

Another memorable moment as every other skirmish is won by the same army. Upper hand? Still nobody has it!

Absolute balance again as the byzantine kavallarioi bring down the berbers and open a new hole in the arab line.

The line order is gone and the armies are merging into a chaotic melee. The infantry is still not involved in the fight while all the cavalry is committed.

The brave Serbian light horse of the byzantines finally goes down and the greek right is weakening dangerously. Will Palaiologos take advantage of the hole in the arab left in time?

There! Kavallarioi encircle the khwarizmians on the right while the varangians are charging the arab bowmen on the left. The norse mercenaries are usually late to engage but when they do, they may still perform the coup de grace

"Not this time!" shouts Saladin at his opponent. The khwarizmians push the kavallarioi back and the ghulams coming from the right fall on them from the flank. Palaiologos is still engaged in the center and things are starting to look grim for the greeks.

The byzantine general is pushed back while the battle rages all around him.

"Alhamdulillah!" screams Saladin. His faithful ghulams stomp on the kavallarioi who were with their back to the khwarizmians and Palaiologos quickly orders the retreat. The remainders of his army turn and fall back rapidly.

The arab horsemen don't let the greeks go away easily. With their blood frenzy they launch themselves right on the back of the varangians.

The egyptians halt their charge after cutting down the byzantine skutatoi. Palaiologos managed to retreat in good fashion and his army shall live to fight again. It will all end where it started: Crete shall be where the last great battle will take place and the winner shall bring his Empire at his enemy's doorstep.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

And now for something completely different!

As you can see, we eventually decided to spice things up a bit. We thought to post a battle from our most recent campaign. We humbly think we have managed to improve the visual quality of our battles, even though we used simple tools: a piece of brown felt, a floor proofing material painted and coated with sand and some cotton for snow. We recently discovered a great method for hill-making: a simple foamy material, shaped into a hill and then placed under the felt. It creates really natural looking soil formations. When units approach it, you can push the felt and feel where it ends for gaming reasons. It should be trickier with metal or plastic figures but it is still worth trying.

This is our current campaign, playing the Scots common army against the Vikings (III/40b) (in between we played a more experimental campaign mode with Alexandrian Macedonian vs Later Achaemenid Persian with great success but that's for another time). This one was a very long battle on Scottish soil with a difficult river making our lives miserable... In the end it was kind of a massacre (10 casualties in total) but full of excitements and turns! This is the third season of our campaign, which ended up with the invading vikingr setting foot on north-eastern Scotland in full force (12 elements), near the village (and river) of Brora. The Scottish garrison are defending with a ten-element army, without their general (Kn) to command them.

We should note that we used the map from the We all go a 'Viking' campaign by  Check their website, it's truly worth it.

The steadfast Scots are deploying in front of the beach. They got news of the viking invasion and came from every coast settlement nearby. They form their schiltrons and prepare to throw the norsemen back to the sea.

A horde of vikings rush out of their tents when they hear of the Scottish threat on the other side of the river Brora. Are they too drunk to fight after their pillaging? Well, they would say they fight better drunk!

The two armies converge on the river. After a few tries, the norsemen discover it is a difficult one and, although it is freezing-cold, it is not frozen... The Scots are slowly marching towards the hill on their side.

The Scottish light units (a couple of highlander warbands and a psilos) take over the steep hill, while the pikemen are moving towards the river, always wary of their opponents.

On the other side, the vikings are preparing to cross the river. Not afraid of some chilly water, they slowly form lines and get ready to charge with axes held high.

Almost there... The two armies measure each other from across the river. The Scots are deploying defensively, ready to repel the norsemen back to the river. The vikings are deployed in a long, thin line and cry out "Til Valhall"!

Swordsmen start to cross the river across the hills. The highlanders come down the slope to repel them.

Highlanders and vikings meet with a thunderous clash! The Scots push back the norsemen but then become surrounded and are cut down. More vikings are following from behind.

A unit of pikemen approaches from the flank to support the already pressed highlanders. The ferocious Scottish psiloi manage to rout a unit of swordsmen, holding the tide.

Alas, another warband of Scotsmen is down and things are looking grim for the defenders. The vikingr renew their offense and send more troops across the river.

On the other side, several units have crossed the Brora, finding the Scottish schiltrons waiting for them with sharp pointy sticks (twice as long as a man :) in their hands! Another unit of norsemen is brought down, impaled by pikes.

An overview of the battle. Most vikings are across and the hill seems to be theirs. A lone psilos is maneuvering in and out of combat trying to keep them busy. On the Scottish left, the pikemen are holding steady, not letting the norsemen secure their foothold on that side. In the center, two separate melees have broken out.

This battle is turning into a bloodbath with no army taking the upper hand. Another unit of vikings is pushed into the river by pikemen who are constantly gaining ground.

Two viking units manage to cross the river on the Scottish left. Is it too late though?

The two schiltron formations have marched all the way to the river bank, while the fights on the other side are still on. The psiloi are immovable from the hill, and a couple of pikemen units are keeping the other blades at bay. An isolated engagement is ensuing between an element of bersekers (Wb) vs a lonely pike on the right. The battle is on!

The Scotsmen are pushing more vikings into the river in a fierce fight on the scottish left.

New deployment maneuvers from both armies. The pikemen are slowly forming into a square, back to back. The vikingr are trying to push from all sides. (Please ignore the hecklers appearing in the far right... They are up to no good.)

The Scots are bloodied again! The first pike is down and the norsemen are coming from all sides.

The vikings are trying to form a line and help their trapped comrades behind the schiltrons.

The Scots surround the isolated swordsmen who seem doomed. The other blades are still forming.

Valhalla awaits these norsemen as well and the viking army is being depleted.

The second pike is chopped down and the vikingr are screaming for more blood. The Scots are not intimidated, this is their land!

Time has become essential. The schiltrons are moving away from the gathered vikings, towards another isolated unit on the sandy beach. On the right, the psiloi skirmish with the berserkers and another isolated blade, which was heading for the Scots' boats, is being surrounded.

Double kill! Both isolated units of vikings are slain and the invasion is over. Steadfast beyond doubt the Scots, while the vikings proved to be impetuous to the point of hotheadedness...

The dead of the two armies. Six blades for the vikings and two pikes, two warbands for the Scots. A clarification in case of any confusion (we have probably explained this before but no harm): we are using a customized casualty system, where we first divide the army elements by four to decide the casualty margin. When that margin is reached (e.g. 3 for an army of 12), the player with most casualties rolls the die and must roll more than the difference to keep on playing. If he rolls less, his army flees.

Wow! What a battle to begin our campaign. A truly epic one, sending the remains of the norsemen back to scandinavia. And there we were, thinking the viking might be boring to play with. Interesting experience playing these two armies. Managing the mass of blades needs to spread them a lot to exploit their individual strength. On the contrary, the Scots need to stick together and create anchors as not to get flanked. The river was decisive for the vikings by being difficult. As attackers they had to cross and some of them were killed due to no recoil into the river (after rolling poorly...). It is certainly not an easy task holding back any blade army, with the Scots having a difficult job as well, especially playing with only 10 elements.