01/20/07

The Successors Playtests Page 01

This excellent series of battle reports were submitted by Jérôme Grebet

Game 1 : Seleucids vs Maccabean

 The deployment was as follow, from left to right :

Seleucids (red) :

Katoikoi phalanx, covered by Bythinian skirmishers.

Katoikoi phalanx.

Elephant, covered by Elephant Guards.

Regular phalanx.

Cataphract, which unit included the seleucid Strategos and the Army Standart Bearer.

Xystophoroi, which included the Hipparch, and covered by the second Bythinian skirmishers unit.

Lykian light infantry on the wooden hill

Tarentine

Maccabean (blue) :

Spearmen & Javelinmen, including the Maccabean Hero and the Great Standart of the People. This unit is behind the Hasidim. Both units are screened by a unit of Guerrillas.

Spearmen, screened by Javelinmen

Spearmen, including the High Priest, covered with Javelinmen

Guerrillas  with slings.

Heavy Cavalry, screened by Guerrillas with slings.

Guerrillas in front of the forest

Light cavalry

Light cavalry

 

The Maccabean plan

When I first read the Infantry of the phalanx rule, I immediately though of a small body (let’s say between 10 and 15) of spearmen screened by an equivalent body of javelinmen. When charged or charging, both unit would reform into a “regular” 20~30 figures strong unit. This rule would allow me to field “regular” units virtually always screened by powerful skirmishers.

I was very curious of what such formations could do on the tabletop so for this battle, I first wanted to test this formation hence the deployment of the two units on the hill facing the phalanx.

When thinking about the Maccabean army list, I was aware that that was an army with many special rules that would allow some “stupid maccabean tricks” but despites these special abilities, it would be a hard challenge to defeat any more or less heavy phalanx. My first idea was to engage a phalanx with a powerful but forsaken unit and then add “another layer” with a second line unit that was ready to charge after the defeat and the flight of the first unit.

When thinking of the powerful but forsaken unit, I though of the frenzied Hasidim, seconded by the heaviest unit the Maccabean could afford : an armoured spearmen/javelinmen unit which was joined by the Hero and the Great Standart of the People.

The plan would then be first, to use the Maccabean special deployment rule and deploy last, second, to aim at the far left (or right, depending on my opponent’s deployment) phalanx, third, crush it and turn the whole army from their right (or left). The combo looked good !

But as the battle will show, that was a terrible plan that was doomed even before the table was set up...

Opening moves

 

The battle opened under the bright sun of Judea, with the Maccabean left (the Hasidim and the armoured spearmen/javelinmen unit) trying to reach the Katoikoi phalanx on the enemy far right while the Seleucid Cataphract and Xystophoroi were moving toward the Maccabean center.

On the far right, an indecisive skirmish battle developped and lasted almost all the battle.

I won’t enter into the details, but there is three interesting things to report about the game :

1. After my opponent quite unwisely sacrificed his Elephant Guards, I charged the elephant in the center of the seleucids lines with javelinmen (from the unit on the left, on the hill). Luckily (for me), all the crewmen died in the fighting and my opponent lost the control of the beast !

From now, that rampaging elephant started to play for me, running into the second katoikoi phalanx, then into the flank of the regular phalanx, then threatening the Cataphract unit in the last turn of the battle.

2. My great combo Hasidim + armoured spearmen finally revealed itself pitifully ineffective : after some delay (due to the frenzied Hasidim wasting time charging enemy skirmishers that were running around), I finally charged the katoikoi phalanx on the enemy far right. The fight ended with five Hasidim killed and the whole unit destroyed during the ensuing pursuit !

3. The Heavy cavalry unit was finally able to stand its ground against the charging Xystophoroi, which was a surprised for me as curiously, I didn’t expected too much from it. The unit broke only after having sustained too many casualties and, reduced to less than five models, fled off the table.

End of battle

The battle ended in a quite favourable situation for the Maccabean : the big regular phalanx was destroyed (with the help of the elephant), one of the katoikoi phalanx was fleeing, the cataphract unit (which included the Strategos and the Army Battle Standart), being reduced to less than five models had to disengage from the fight against a spearmen/javelinmen unit before it lose a round of HtH and the stampeding elephant was still there and quite threatening for the Cataphract !

But actually, I lost too many troops. All my cavalry was destroyed, along with the expensive Hasidim and half of the remaining skirmishers. My opponent also won two standarts and was able to claim half of the table for him !

Conclusion

The battle ended in a bitter defeat for the rebellious maccabean but it was full of lessons.

My initial plan was terrible because of two things :

1. As I was focused on the idea I had (to try to engage and destroy the phalanx on the enemy far right) I didn’t though one second that this phalanx was to be on my opponent’s refused flank : I would have to spend several turn trying to reach it while my opponent’s powerful cavalry had all the time to reach and break my own lines !

My plan to turn the seleucid from their right was already dead at the start of the battle.

2. The Hasidim proved themselves utterly ineffective, which was quite a surprise for such an expensive unit (no less than 295 pts for a 20-models strong unit).

When I field this unit, I had in mind the barbarian fanatics from the Barbarian army list. I was thinking that they were as effective as the barbarians, hence the design of the unit but the Hasidim are light infantry, they are not Warband and they don’t have throwing spears ! Obviously, I had to re-think completely this unit and its use !

My feeling about the Maccabean army is that it is a cool list. There is not too many different units but each of them has some special habilities that must be used, the challenge being to use all these capacities together to win the game.

After reading the armylist, I was thinking that this army had to be balanced 50%/50% between skirmishing units and formed units, which is already more than with many other armies (I never played so many skirmishers in my previous battles). After the game, I would have said it had to rely even more heavily on skirmishing units than on formed unit. This is where the real challenge lie because skirmishing tactics don’t break phalanx easily, especially in an open ground like the one we had for this game : if I wasn’t so lucky with my opponent’s elephant, the Seleucid army would have won the game almost unharmed !

Skirmishing armies are always tough to play with and against, as my opponent noted that “all your skirmishers have the Feigned Flight ability, this is a real pain !” but even if his army wasn’t really built to deal with this threat, he managed (or was lucky enough) to win the skirmish battle on his left flank.

I was really pleased with the Infantry of the phalanx mecanism. The dual role of the javelinmen (very good skirmishers/back ranks of the spearmen) allowed me to build a solid center and save points for more cavalry/skirmishers on the flanks. The javelinmen for instance charged the elephant and made it stampede before “entering back” in the spearmen unit when the big regular phalanx
charged !

The Seleucid army list is cool too !

The Hasidim experimented quite painfully the might of the phalanx. My friend, who were playing the seleucid, is used to the greek phalanx and found really powerful the macedonian/successors pike armed ones. As expected, we found that a good phalanx really don’t need to be composed of elite soldiers and any more or less big settler phalanx is well good enough in the role of repulsing enemy units (this observation is actually debatable, as we will see it in our next game...). I guess that big units of settlers/levy phalangites will make regular apparitions in the successors lists.
The elephant proved to be quite a pain for my opponent as it couldn’t have acted more favourably for me, stampeding in the flank of the regular phalanx while this unit was in HtH against one of my spearmen/javelinmen unit (the ideal way to use elephants : having them charging in the flank of a phalanx while it is already engaged to the front ! :)). My opponent stated he had a bad luck but I am convinced that he actually misplayed it : he should have protected it far better ! Instead of that, he sacrified his elephant guards in a very useless manner. I must write that playing an elephant against the Maccabean is quite useless (and worse : counter-productive) considering the fairly high number of maccabean skirmishers ! Well...the beasts are really cool miniatures, are fun to play with but really need to be handed carefully or they broke in your hands !
I liked the Xystophoroi. Wedge units are cool ! My opponent was disappointed as he though they were more heavier/powerful (“What, they only have a 5+ save ?! That’s light cav....”) although as we saw it, they were quite effective against my cavalry, despite some bad luck (for them) during the HtH. After all, that’s what they are good at and they are not meant to run over any kind of opposition ? I think that my friend though that they were a more “multi-purpose” unit.

We had a really fun game and decided to go for another battle.

Game 2 : Seleucids vs Maccabean, part two

For this second round, we decided to play the same armies as for the first battle as we wanted to confirm our first feelings. We went only for a minor change in the Seleucid army where the biggest phalanx was downgraded to Katoikoi status and slightly reduced in number while the two other phalanx were upgraded to regular status.

I decided to keep the Maccabean army as it was despite the urgent need to rebuilt the Hasidim unit.

The deployment was as follow, from left to right :

Seleucids (red) :

Xystophoroi (which included the Hipparch), screened by Lykian light infantry
Cataphract, which unit included the seleucid Strategos and the Army Standart Bearer. This unit is screened by one of the two Bythinian skirmishers units.
Regular phalanx
Katoikoi phalanx.
Regular phalanx.
Elephant, screened by Elephant Guards.
the second Bythinian skirmishers unit in front of the difficult ground.
Tarentine light cavalry on the seleucid far-left flank.

Maccabean (blue) :

A first unit of Guerrillas (betweenthe village and the small forest) is screening a first unit of Spearmen/Javelinmen (the javelinmen skirmishing “outside” the whole unit). That unit included the High Priest.
Same disposition but this time with a Light Cavalry unit between the two forests. The Spearmen & Javelinmen behind including the Maccabean Hero and the Great Standart of the People.
A first unit of Guerrillas with slings in the forest.
Spearmen/Javelinmen, in the center between the forst and the hill.
On the hill in the right-center of the maccabean deployment zone, there was the Hasidim in skirmishing formation behind the second unit of Guerrillas slingers.
Heavy Cavalry
Then, on the maccabean far-right, the second Light cavalry unit in front of the last Guerrillas.

Opposing plans
For this battle, I had no special idea in mind I wanted to try. I was asking myself how to deal with the phalanx and the heavy cavalry with skirmishing tactics and found no answers. This time, I decided to choose the second maccabean deployment option : “Chosen ground”, which allowed me to add a hill in my deployment zone and to obstruct to right part of the table with the big difficult terrain area. I noticed that my part of the table was heavily obstructed with terrain scenery so I decided to go for the very basic plan of waiting in my half of the table for the enemy to try to catch me. And this time, I was decided to win the skirmish battle on my right flank !
The seleucid deployment was no real surprise given the big difficult terrain on the right of the table and the corresponding plan of a right wing attack was no real surprise too ! Before the end of the deployment, I felt some confusion within the enemy staff : how could phalanx and heavy cavalry deal with such a sheer numbers of skirmishers ?
The seleucid plan was therefore quite simple : move ahead against the Maccabean hero and kill him ! Hopefully, that will have some pleasant effect on the rebels...

The battle begins !
With each commanders trying to find some ideas on how to deal with the opposition, the battle began with skirmishers erm...skirmishing. Here again, I won’t enter into fastidious details.

1. On the seleucid right flank, the xystophoroi charged the javelinmen screening the spearmen unit (the one with the hero and the Standart of the People). The javelinmen joined the spearmen and the whole unit managed to defeat to charging cavalry, thanks to the precious +3 rank bonus and the standarts. The xystophoroi were destroyed during the following fleeing/pursuit phase. What a good start for the Maccabean !

2. On the next turn, the victorious javelinmen/spearmen unit was within charge range of the cataphract cavalry. Instead of letting them charge and benefit of the strengh bonus of their xyston, the maccabean decided to charge ! The fight turned one more time for the maccabean, the hero even managing to inflict two wounds to the seleucid general that was within the cataphract unit. The maccabean won the fight, thanks one more time to the +3 rank bonus and the bad dice of the seleucid player. But this time, the cataphracts fled too far away and escaped the fate of the xystophoroi.

At that moment, the battle was still wavering as the ever victorious javelinmen/spearmen unit was now in a very advanced (due to two pursuit moves and a charge move) and precarious position with the still powerful cataphract unit (that managed to rally) in front of it and a phalanx threatening its flank (the phalanx that was next to the cataphracts and which made an “about face” move).

The maccabean right flank was threatened by the two big remaining phalanx but was still secured, the seleucid there only losing a few skirmishers and nothing was really decided here too.

3. The decision came during the last turn. The cataphracts finally managed to charge again the big javelinmen/spearmen unit and during the fight, the seleucid general, losing his last wound, was killed !!! By that moment, there was left in the seleucid army only, the Lykian skirmishers on their far right, the three phalanx and the cataphracts. With the death of their general, panic spread among the remnants of the seleucid army and every unit fled but the cataphracts !!

 

The Maccabean army, almost unharmed, was in full control of the table, thus ending the game on a decisive victory !!

Conclusion
The rebellion scored one point with this great and decisive victory !
It was mainly achieved thanks to the staying power of the 12 javelinmen/10 spearmen unit (including the Hero and the Standard of the People) against every cavalry charge. From our previous battle, it appeared that the xystophoroi were not really powerfull heavy cavalrymen (when compared to norman/crusader knights), that they were good at facing opposing cavalry (and they performed quite well against the maccabean cavalry) but it was very unlikely that they could do something strong against a powerfull infantry unit like the one they charged on the second turn so what was the point in charging ?

My friend explained me after the battle that he didn’t really expected the xystophoroi to break and wipe out the maccabean unit. He expected them to inflict enough casualties to have the rank bonus of that unit droping from +3 to +2 and then “fall back in good order”, leaving the place for the cataphracts to charge the following turn. That plan was a failure because as I wrote, the xystophoroi lost badly and failed their moral test, they were broken and destroyed, which brought the cataphracts within charge range of the maccabean unit.

I think that was a tough game for the seleucid although I don’t really know what is the biggest challenge : playing with phalanx against skirmishers or playing skirmishers against phalanx ? This time, I was more lucky (or clever?) with my skirmishers which allowed me to get rid of the skirmishing opposition. From that point, it was hardly possible for my opponent to achieve some results. I do think that trying to kill my hero was one of the few options he had available but even if he succeeded in killing him, it was unlikely that it would have some noticeable effect : there is no units in the maccabean army (but the few guerrillas skirmishers) that have a Ld of 6 or less !

The seleucid elephant proved once again to be completely useless (it was driven away by the Hasidim in light infantry formation after they had wiped the elephants guards out). This is not surprising as, given the sheer numbers of skirmishers they have, the Maccabean army is certainly one of the worst army to use elephants against.

There another really interesting conclusion to this battle. From game 1, I wrote that settlers phalanx were quite an excellent unit that allied the might of the phalanx with the low price of the settler profile. I, for one, think that veterans units (especially veterans from already powerfull armies, like the veteran legio in the roman army or the veteran phalanx) are two expensive for their use on the table : I don’t see a situation where a veteran unit is required instead of a regular or a raw one, given the fact that the regular/raw unit is bigger than the veteran unit.

Well, I’m saying that settler phalanx seemed to us the best choice for phalanx unit in the game but with Ld 6, they actually are somewhat brittle as we saw it when the seleucid general died. This is clearly a weakness that must be played. And as I really dislike to see one of my big inflantry block deserting my battleline because of the failed Ld test, this is one more argument which decide me to build an antigonid army !

One more word about the Maccabean Guerrila Tactics rules (Chosen ground or Spies). I like them very much and actually, I found them very well thought. Being a skirmishing army with few choices (I mean, few differents units to choose from the list when compared with the other lists), the Maccabean are handicaped when facing any opposition, especially if the opposition is made of pike walls ! They then must absolutely rely on the ground and the terrain available on the table. Chosen ground/Spies give them the opportunity to balance the situation in both case : when there is few terrain scenery on the table by deploying after their opponent or by adding more terrain if there are already some available.

Game 3 : Galatians vs Pergamene

I wanted to go for another Maccabean-Seleucid game (the final game), but my friend was reluctant to play another similar battle. As he stated, “this is boring to play against such many skirmishers”. So, as he has an extensive celtic army he always used with success, we decided to go for a Galatian vs something else battle. I chose to play a pergamene army because I wanted to play some war machines and I was curious about that list.

 

The deployment was as follow, from left to right :

Galatian (red) :

Light cavalry
The Chariotry (including one Chieftain), in front of the Scythed chariot
Slingers
The Veteran warriors unit, just in front of the Noble cavalry which unit included the Warlord & ASB.
Two Warriors warbands screened by the second skirmishers unit.

 Pergamene (blue) :

Light cavalry in front of the Xystophoroi in Wedge formation
Bithynian peltasts screening the Hastati and the Principes roman units in column formation.
Two units of Asiatic skirmishers just under the first Ballista (the hill in front of the ballista was actually impassable).
Bythinian peltasts screening the Thureophoroi
Second Ballista
Bithynian peltasts screening the Royal Guards
Light cavalry on the far right

The game

This battle is barely worth a battle report ! Beside an incredibly bad plan, an awful conduct of the battle and almost everything going wrong, the Pergamene army was crushed, grinded and buried (under six foot of earth) in three turns by the furious warbands !! The initial pergamene plan was to send the xystophoroi to break the enemy chariotry. The two roman maniples were to move swiftly towards the weakened flank, turn left and engage the galatian main battleline on its right flank. What a cool idea !The galatian plan was a typical barbarian plan : move forward and charge what was in front of them.

To make things short, the xystophoroi succeeded to engage the chariotry after some difficulties but never managed to break them. The roman maniples moved forward, in column formation, were engaged by the skirmishers in front of them (who previously wiped the screening Bythinian peltasts out). This allowed the veteran warriors warband to charge the roman columns in the flank !! On the other flank, the royal guards and the thureophoroi were still on the hill, waiting for the barbarians to come.

By the begining of the third turn, everything pergamene was fleeing but one ballista, the thureophoroi and the royal guards. We decided to stop the game here...

Conclusion
Despite the poor game we had, there is still something to say about it. First, I was happy and disappointed by the pergamene list : I wanted to play a stone thrower as it is both something original and fun but actually, stone thrower are restricted to siege scenario only. This is perfectly understandable from a historical point of view but this is a pain from the game point of view. My guess is that siege scenario are barely played so the chance to see any big warmachine on the table is weak. May be I could have anyway played one within some “special scenario” or house rule ?

The Pergamene army is a really strange one. It has no “soul”, no special feeling that would make a player choose to model it. This is mostly a composite force for players who already own several different armies and who could mix various units into one army. I thought that the “spirit” of this army was its high proportion of warmachines but I was somewhat disappointed as I wrote above. In other words, I think this is a perfect second choice army for players who are fed up to play with their “other” successor army (or any other amry actually). I guess that actual pergamene armies were recruited and build like that so...

The first impression the galatian list made on my “barbarian” friend was that it was a really powerfull army, especially the light chariots. Light chariots with the Feign flight ability seem to be a perfect multi-purpose light unit but which don’t fear to engage something strong. That was our real surprise here.

Game 4 : Galatians vs Ptolemaic

Last game (so far). Here again, I wanted to “replay” the same battle (I mean, with the same armies, Galatian and Pergamene) but one of my two gaming friends absolutely wished to test a ptolemaic army he had though of. So here we go for a galatian invasion of some ptolemaic controlled levantine region...

The deployment was as follow, from left to right :

Galatian (red) :

Veteran warriors, screened by a Bythinian peltasts unit
The Chariotry (including one Chieftain), behind the Warriors #1 which unit included the Warlord & ASB, both unit being screened by the galatian skirmishers.
Scythed chariot
Warriors #2
Warriors #3, screened by the second Bythinian peltasts unit
Light cavalry
Galatian slingers

Ptolemaic (blue) :

Nubian skirmishers #1, in front of the Royal Guards (light infantry option), next to the small wood.
Machimoi phalanx #1 --> #5
Screening the phalanx, the three Egyptian skirmishers with shord bows
African elephant and its Elephant guards
Nubian skirmishers #2
The Successor King and ASB were positioned behind the Machimoi.

Opposing plans
No surprise here. We (me + my other gaming friend) knew our barbarian enemy quite well (since he’s playing barbarians almost since we started to play WAB so long ago now) and we knew he would use his favourite & classical barbarian tactic : move forward and charge as soon as possible (he is someone who almost wish to roll ‘1” on his warband rule #2 tests as, as he say, “I don’t need to waste time to think about my move !”).

So, our opponent will almost certainly surge forward. Our army was made of the near perfect defensive units : the phalanx, so our plan will be quite simply to wait for the galatian onslaught. The only thing we had to think about was what to do with our elephant. We wanted to use it to lock one flank against the galatian feared chariotry & light cavalry. It ended on our right flank, facing the barbarian left half of the table.

Our Royal Guards will be missioned to try a flanking attack on the forward moving warbands. They were then placed on our other flank.
Our barbarian player countered our elephant’s threat by placing his chariotry right behind his center. This is a tactic I often use with my NKE chariotry : when I place the chariots on one flank, the opponent almost always lock this flank by placing some strong unit in front of them, preventing the chariots to do something interesting during the game. Instead of this, I then place the chariot behind my center which allow me to decide, once the game has begun, to move them toward the most interesting place, on one or the other flank. It was to be expected that the barbarian chariotry would move over the hill toward the ptolemaic left.

The game
The battle opened with the stamping galatians moving forward, excited by the promise of a true bloodbath !! No particular genius was revealed that day but the game was almost a perfect “case study” :
1. On the ptolemaic right, the skirmish battle went favourably us. The elephant did its role in repulsing by its sole presence the enemy light cavalry. The nubian skirmishers and the elephant guards routed the bythinian peltasts that tried to threaten the elephant. The galatian slingers didn’t moved at all, satisfying themselves with a long range shooting with no noticeable effect.
2. On the ptolemaic right, here again, the nubian skirmishers routed the other bythinian peltasts before being annihilated by the chariotry. The chariots did nothing really interesting in the following turns, spending one entire turn to reposition themselves after having destroyed the nubians, then moving forward only to be threatened by the Royal Guards.
3. In the center, the scythed chariot was destroyed by the lucky egyptian bowmen (that was somewhat sad as we lost the opportunity to see what they were worth against the phalanx). The warbands managed to move within charge range and what was to happen actually happened... In a few words, it was just like if someone ran into a wall. The Veteran warriors were actually really a little short into managing to break the far left machimoi phalanx but elsewhere, the galatian warbands had barely any chance to do something against the pikemen. On the following turns, the warbands broke one after the other (the veteran warriors were charged in their flank by the Royal Guards, were beaten. They fled and were destroyed), eventually, the warlord finally fled too and with almost no non-fleeing troops in the galatian army, we stoped the game here.

Conclusion
What a bloodbath !
That game perfectly showed us the limits of the galatian warbands in frontal assault of the phalanx. Actually, I do think that this was a very tough game for the barbarians : they played into the phalanx’s game, where they were at their best so no wonder that the warbands didn’t managed to do anything interesting. It is quite unwise to charge a phalanx but a warband, if it want to auto-break the opposition has to charge so there is few choices for the barbarian player. The key point is more than ever to try a flank charge to negate the phalanx bonuses.
We also noticed that the galatian warbands are actually less effective than the “normal” barbarian warbands (the ones from the rulebook) : they fight only with one rank and the Fury rule only partly compensate for the throwing spear option. The fact that they always fight after the pikemen reduce even more their charging impact. Home charging the phalanx with warbands is definitely not the solution. Galatian players will have to be imaginative when playing successors opponents !!

The result of the battle actually was not a surprise : phalanx were not the best units of their time for nothing ! I then believe that seeing barbarians routed by massed ranks of pikemen is a somewhat normal result for such a game. This raise a very important point as I’m sure there are some players that are not ready to accept this : that when playing such a game against the odd, a narrow defeat or a draw for the galatians can be a victory in itself. I, for one, am now used to that idea as, currently building a AtG persian army, I always remember your posts on the WABlist, especially one where you wrote that “the novice Macedonian player has the edge over an experienced Persian player” but some players, experienced or not, will expect any army to have a 50/50 chance to win against any other, the player’s ability making the difference.

Poor Roland seem to be really sad to have won no games with his persians when actually this is to be expected. That’s why I would humbly suggest you to raise that point in some “Designer’s notes” or so.

 

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01/20/07