Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Ornexses - 112ad: A Clash of Empires

And so on to the second big game of my weekend, and what a game.  Myself and Richard had talked about enlarging our ancients games into an occasional multi-player format; and this weekend saw the first of these grand engagements, and the first game at the club this year to nudge or top the thousand figure mark.

Having four Roman armies to hand and two large Greek armies, along with a variety of tribal forces I had to set about a scenario to allow the armies to plausibly meet and for a degree of fog of war to play on the game.  In the end I settled on a hypothetical invasion of Bactria by the Emperor Trajan, instead of heading south into Parthia, I have him turn north into Bactria instead; where he encounters friendly Asian allies (hereafter known as the Saka) and retrogressed Greek colonists who've forsaken Macedonian Phalanx battle tactics in favour of older Hoplite warfare.

The Battle would see four Roman commanders face five Greek, with myself acting as umpire.  For these big games I find an umpire essential, as there is seldom a full complement of players who know the rules, it is far easier to breeze through any disputes if someone neutral carries the final word, and, there is no better way of introducing deceit to the game than through a third party with no axe to grind.

The Roman's had one and a half Legions of infantry, plus a large cavalry contingent including substantial Saka allies.  They were tasked with trying to capture the only local well, at Ornexses, to keep the army watered.  In dry rolling terrain they deployed their three infantry commands, with the Cavalry command sent on a flank march and due to arrive later in the day on one of the Greek Flanks.

By their turn, the Greek plan involved several tricks including poison in the well, for they knew where fresh water nearby flowed and the ruse of drawing the Romans to befouled water to drink meant that even in defeat they might strike a deadly blow to the invader.  They rather deployed two large Phalanxes of Hoplites to the right of the well (far from the camera above) and two smaller phalanxes with greater numbers of Psoiloi to the left.

The Roman Left above, commanded by Andy, Facing the Greeks of Mark and Mikki; with Alex commanding a tiny cavalry force to the rear.  Mark had overall command of the Greeks.

The Roman Right, Richard commanding the Centre, and with overall command, Tom to his right.  Facing them, James with the troops in the hills and my old opponent Phil - in his first wargame in a couple of years - on the Greek Left, in a valley with some light woodland to his flank.

The initial dispositions seen from the opposite end of the battlefield, which makes clearer the size of the hills. The battlefield was 12 x 6 feet, and around 900 models began the battle on table.

The Romans had first turn, and cackling to themselves attempted to advance in an orderly fashion against the Greeks.  But apparently Tom hadn't received the plan, they were also trying to hide the fact that they had a fourth commander, Martin, with no apparent command; his being the flanking force of cavalry.

This wasn't fooling the Greeks who clearly assumed a flank march and decided to put pressure on the enemy as quickly as possible.

The Roman advance was still slow, except under Andy's command who took up the heights facing the well of Ornexses in the face of some 7000 Greeks:

As they advanced, the Greeks closed ranks into a dense formation of mutually supporting Hoplites, with Peltasts screening them.  The heavily outnumbered Romans had confidence in their abilities however.

Nevertheless, the Romans at this stage looked in danger of having their flank turned.

Behind the Greek lines, a veritable production line of Oracles was feeding (quite literally) the Greek commanders with information, and kept them cackling too.

And all the while vast formations of Greek heavy infantry rolled across the lowlands.

Finally, after a long breakfast of pickled Dormice wrapped in Palm leaves, washed down with generous amphorae of Sicilian wine, Tom's general finally directed his troops to some action; though his auxiliary archers soon retired behind the ranks when out numbered by Greek skirmishers.

At the other end of the battlefield the Greeks were pushing the Romans back, but they were not overly concerned for they were advised that Martin's mass of cavalry was about to arrive.  I checked their order of march and ensured they deployed as shown.  The Romans practically squeaked with delight:

Andy was heavily engaged, with support from Richard, who was trying to get the centre to turn against the smaller Hoplite force of James; as the Cavalry appeared to the rear of Mark and Mikki's larger forces.

However they were left scratching their heads when the Saka cavalry refused to use their bows on the Greek forces, at the start of the next Greek turn all was revealed; without orders the Saka galloped at full tilt, away from the Roman lines:

Suddenly it dawned on the Romans that they'd been duped, their supposed Saka Allies had changed sides. Alex's tiny cavalry contingent suddenly increased sixfold, whilst Martins reduced by two thirds.

The Roman Centre had to divide it's efforts once again, and as Phil's Greeks began to advance  in Support of James' on the Greek Left, Tom's Romans were suddenly under pressure.

The Romans made the best of what cavalry they had left, after all they were still in possession of three units of medium cavalry and an elephant.

The elephant helped rout the Greek cavalry, and then tried, and failed , th make an impact on the rear of the Hoplites.

On the other flank, the Greeks were steadily encircling the Romans.

The battle became intense on both flanks as the Romans threw reserves in to the battle.  This was enough to break Mikki's command, but as Richard admitted afterwards, he failed to exploit it.  Phil and James were containing Tom's force manfully.

On the other flank the cavalry battle was steadily turning in favour of the Greeks/Saka, and the hard pressed Romans under Andy were being outflanked.

By now it was late in the day, and the Romans were struggling; Richard's final reserves tried and failed - inexplicably - to save Tom's command.  Phil and James pressed home the advantage.

And thus the battle came to a close.  With the Roman lines split and the well still in Greek hands.

The Roman army had two out of four commands broken and marginally more units lost.  The Greeks narrowly had two of five commands broken, but held more of the field and were pushing back the Romans everywhere.

The Romans had to admit defeat, but as with the Greek commanders, agreed on it being a good game, with plenty of uncertainty and a closely fought outcome.

The betrayal of the Saka provided both sides with and excuse to snicker, first the Romans thinking they had outwitted their enemy, and then the Greeks when the truth they had known all along was revealed to the Romans.  Other special rules played no part in the game, as the Romans never made it to the Well; had they done so, they would have discovered it was poisoned and they would as a result have gained combat re-rolls to reflect their fury and desperation.

It was a tightly contested match, but for me absolutely shattering, though it turned out due mainly to my having had 6 hours sleep and having picked up a cold.  Still this sort of game doesn't run itself and as it kept ten of us entertained all day, it felt well worth it.

I think we'll come forward in time a millennia and some for the next big game, but until then it's back to more modest fare, and preparation for the gaming shows.

1 comment:

  1. James Symmons12 May, 2012 14:12

    It was a great fun game, with loads of nicely painted figures on both sides. I found it a really easy game to pick up, helped by previous times playing Black Powder.

    Definitely agree it was really helpful having an umpire for big multi-player games. Thanks Dean for helping us along and also doing all the planning and set up.

    Look forward to the next game.