Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Suthene Pass 68ad

My second game against Richard's Romans continued the theme of a hypothetical rebellion of the Greek states during the year of four emperors.  But after the pasting I took in a stand up fight last time, I felt I needed both a force equaliser and a narratively suitable sequel.

To that end another dip into the Charles Grant big book of solutions was deemed appropriate* and scenario 37 'Defile' was selected.  Richard's Romans were under the command of General Tyrannicus and his aide Missus; he had six cohorts of Legionaries, two of Equitales and a troop of Scorpion bolt throwers.  His limited force was to clear the Suthene pass of all Greek opposition to allow the main force to keep pace with the retreating army defeated previously.

In defence, General Oblivion commanded three phalanxes of Spartan's rescued from the main battle.  They formed a single line between the impassable mountains and forest unsuited to formed troops.  The infantry's flank was protected by commander Sorarches, leading a mixed force of light troops including peltasts, Cretan Archers and Thracians.

What the Greeks were not aware of was that there was a herders path through the mountains, too small for a major attack, but suitable for a flanking force; the Romans had been tipped off to this and were able to send a force to outflank the Greeks.

So yes, it is Thermopylae, transposed by some 500 years.  With that in mind deployments were thus:

Tyrannicus elected to lead only a party of cavalry over the mountains, leaving his Missus to attack the front of the Greeks.  Missus decided to form a Wedge with his troops to achieve this.

This vast formation of three thousand or so men seemed like a simple intimidation tactic to the Greeks of Oblivion, but he also recognised the vulnerability of it to sustained attack from the Peltasts of Sorarches.  Thus his orders were for the Peltae to concentrate on the head of the formation in an effort to stall its attack.

To Oblivion, and Missus' surprise the bow and javelin fire of the Greeks were immediately devastating, and the Wedge collapsed as two cohorts fled in panic, their Centurions and Optios picked off, killed or captured. Two other units were so badly effected by this that they were unable to make any advance, and the Roman attack foundered.

It was all Missus could do to hold his troops and reform into a smaller wedge, a Pigs Head formation, whilst their Scorpions tried to pin down the Cretans, and their remaining cavalry protected the flank from the deadly weapons of the Thracians.

The fight with the Thracians was a bloody affair, which after initially favouring the Romans, swung to the Thracians once the battle was conducted in the forest.  

In the end the Roman cavalry was broken by the fight, but so too, to all intents, were the Thracians.

Recognising what was to come Oblivion drew his Spartans in to a similar formation, whilst the Peltasts and archers continued to harry the Romans.

Missus corralled his troops and led in a typically devastating Roman charge.  The leading phalanx was destroyed, and shortly after the savage push of the Cohorts against the Greek left led to another unit being destroyed.  Soon only the Chalcidians were left with Oblivion.

At this point the Roman cavalry with Tyrannicus, arrived.

Oblivion had to withdraw, but it was also apparent that the main Roman body had reached breaking point, and Missus had to try and rally his men whilst under the belligerent fire of the Cretans.  The Spartans were immune to such trivialities, but not to common sense, their new position in the pass at least allowed them to face all their foes equally.

Tyrannicus had little time left, and could not rely on his infantry recovering, already they were beginning to pull back up the pass.  So he had to try to charge the head of the Greek phalanx.

Narrowly, the Greeks carried the fight, though at the cost of Oblivion's life; a junior commander steeped forward, and delivered a counter charge to the disordered Romans throwing them back even further.  As  the sun set, the Greeks still blocked the pass  and the now defeated troops of Missus were in the process of an orderly retreat.

Victory to the Greeks!  The Arena for Missus and Decimation for the men of the Eighth Legio.

A great game, that hung on an unexpected knife edge all the way through.  When I saw the Roman wedge I assumed it would be over in a turn or two, and my requirement to hold for eight turns looked impossible.  But Richards first two break tests for missile fire inflicted disorder, BOTH came up as snake eyes; so both units broke and ran.

At this point with my advantage in firepower and flexible troops it was in my favour, but the sacrifice of his cavalry kept him in the fight, and the dismal fighting performance of my Spartans (never more than five hits on thirteen dice in combat with the Cohorts) left me on the back foot again.  In the end the sustained attacks of the deadly Cretans won me the battle as much as anyone, containing and then breaking the Romans.  As stated the the Spartan infantry had a 'No Breakpoint' special rule for this battle, to emulate their historical antecedents, but this was balanced by being heavily outnumbered and potentially outflanked.

We both agreed it was an excellent game.

*See Playing Favourites, below


  1. I can hear Macro bellowing in the Roman ranks now along side Cato.
    Sounds like a great game and it was a good write up.

  2. Great battle report! Sounded like a very tense game!