Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Kings and Soldiers - A time for Empires. The Battle of Armavir.

This feels to us like a trip to the past... Right after the initial byzantium vs egypt campaign, and quite some time before the upgraded vikings vs scots bout, we  played a more classic confrontation: alexander's greece (Alexandrian Macedonian) against darius' persian empire (Later Achaemenid Persian). We were both looking forward to reenacting such a famous conflict. In fact the campaign itself turned to be as interesting as the battles. This was our first attempt to develop complex mechanics and damn, it worked! We adopted some custom campaign suggestions of members of the fanaticus site, perhaps the best source for such material. The main feature is a map with particular regions (in red, we eventually changed to separate colours) belonging to the two factions and neutral ones (yellow). The lines show the connectivity between the regions and the green ellipses represent 'capitals' which have additional benefits (you can ignore the box on the top right).

The time-frame of the campaign was in years and seasons (4 per year) starting in spring. We begin with two armies each (24 units) and every season we could move any of our units one time (from one region to another connected region). In one season, we could also spend currency ('talents') which was gained once a year in the beginning of the winter season. We gained one talent per controlled region (2 per capital) (equal to 10 in the start of the game). We could spend these for recruiting new units (1 talent/unit, max units=12*controlled capitals), but only 'light' units in normal regions. Only capitals allowed any unit to be recruited. In the winter season we had to spend 1 talent for each 4 units we had, representing army upkeep. We could also improve our regions by building walls (2 talents, takes 2 seasons), barracks (3 tlnts, 2 sns) and markets (3 tlnts, 3 sns). The walls made sieges harder and defending a region easier. The barracks allowed for any unit to be recruited in non-capitals. Each market gave an extra talent per year. If a region got all three improvements, it became a capital (important for the final campaign scoring).   

I will leave it at that for now to move to the first battle. More details on the campaign's mechanics will follow. A central point is that such a game needs lots of miniatures given that the armies can become very mixed if one moves, say, the pikes and the cavalry of the macedonian army to different regions, leading perhaps to a battle with a 12-pike army. Paper armies are very efficient in this case for obvious reasons. Nonetheless, what is most important is flexibility and collective decision-making between the players. For example we are playing a similar campaign with plastic figures, having much less flexibility, but we still manage with some concessions and compromises.

After marching our armies forward to take over neutral regions (one needs to leave at least 2 units for a season in an area to become theirs), we met close to (Armenian) Armavir (top yellow region of the map above). Due to the strategic moves, the macedonian army bears 13 units while the persians have the usual 12. Darius is the attacker on a completely open field, with a forested area close to Alexander's right and a hilly area on the persian left. 

The armies are deployed across each other in two long lines. Several units of phalangites are arrayed in the front line of the macedonians while their flanks are protected by cavalry. The persian army comprises all its cavalry on the right flank and most of the infantry on the left. Darius and his bodyguards are at the center of the line, with the formidable scythed chariots on his left.

Darius' view of the battlefield. Having left his wealth at his camp behind him, he now watches the macedonian pikes glinting in the sun while he prepares his tactical plan. His soldiers are ready and feel confident with their general-king next to them.

Darius is boldly moving his cavalry forward while his foot soldiers are close behind. His lines seem unstoppable with his bactrian and median horsemen, scythed chariots and light cavalry marching inexorably. Alexander is slowly moving his army forth with only a unit of javelinmen redeploying to screen the macedonian right flank.

The lines are drawing close! The persian army has consolidated its two lines of cavalry and infantry and is ready for the charge.

The horses all around Darius are neighing, agitated and eager to spring forth. The persian flanks are protected by two light foot units, farther behind to close in on any flanking attempt by the macedonians. Alexander has been slowly moving his companions to the right of his army but otherwise he doesn't seem willing to change formation.

Sound the charge! screams Alexander and his right rushes forward to attack the persian infantry. The persian light horse moved quickly from the right flank to protect the outermost left but now faces Alexander and his companions. In the meantime a unit of prodromoi (greek Lh) has rushed to attack Darius' camp. A couple of phalanxes and two units of Alexander's best cavalry try to steal victory from the persian king by breaking the defending persian infantry.

And they do! Before Darius gets the chance to unleash his horsemen and chariots, the macedonian right routs the light horsemen and two units of cardaces. The battle is over and Darius withdraws his troops to fight another day. The war for Asia has just begun...

This was one of our shortest battles, sort of an appetizer for what was coming. Often our first bouts are tests of how the armies will play out against each other. The persian cavalry was looming dangerously but didn't get the chance it needed, especially with that scythed chariot in the center being an unpredictable factor. As usual the author was luckier in the die rolls, considering that three kills in one go is uncommon to say the least... Until next time.