Friday, November 26, 2010

Battle of Ashkelon - Philistines versus New Kingdom Egyptian

We have started getting a weeknight DBA going here in Sierra Vista - meaning we have had two games now :) - and I thought I would write up the interesting ones. This particular game was against Steve, who is just getting back into DBA and gaming in general. His last DBA game he used my New Kingdom Egyptians (option b, with the Warband) and I used the Philistines (option a, with the Blades). He didn't do that well with them so he decided to try the Philistines this time, so we reversed the armies.

I am going to try and write this battle report up using some of the ideas from my Writing Battle Narratives blog entry. Narrative will be in plain text and game notes in italics. This report is (mostly) written from the Egyptian point of view. Let me know if I succeeded in writing a better, more interesting battle report.

This is a timed game.

The Battle of Ashkelon

"If we do not find these pestilent Philistines and put this rebellion down, the Pharaoh will surely send me to the Fields of Aaru before my time!", the Egpytian general muttered. What was this, twice in as many years that the Pharaoh has had to send an army to punish the tribes around Ashkelon? Nebkare's thoughts were broken when a scout came riding up. "We have found the rebels sir! They are hiding in the next valley."

The Philistines are defending and the New Kingdom Egyptians attacking. My opponent, the Philistine general, sets up a crossroads and has a long woods and a medium-sized Steep Hill flank the crossroads. This makes for a narrow pass between the two terrain features, restricting the battle. I try and approach from the direction that would leave the open area to the Philistines, but the board rotates on me, leaving my troops in the open.

As the Egyptian army approaches the valley where the rebels were spotted, another scout barrels up to General Nebkare shouting, "Sir, the rebels have taken a secret path through the hills and have shifted their army onto our right flank! They are approaching us through a narrow pass on the road to Ashkelon!" Quickly the general orders his troops about and presses forward to the attack, lest these slippery rebels wriggle from his grasp through another "secret path".

The Egyptians are arrayed with their Blades pointed down the road, towards the pass, lest any Philistine chariots charge through the gap suddenly. The archers are to the left, to cover any flanking chariots, and the Gasgan mercenaries (the Warband), are on the right to move through the woods and spring an ambush on any Philistine Blades that pass too close.

I did not want to commit three chariots to the open left flank, so I placed one on the right, in hopes of drawing the enemy towards it. In hindsight that was a stupid idea as I was facing a slow army and he had already deployed his chariots in the center rear. No one was going to chase the lone chariot down.

My typical battle plan calls for me identifying four elements (or two, plus the enemy camp) that I will destroy in order to win. My game then revolves around hunting down those elements. Sometimes the enemy throws me a curveball and races other elements forward, getting them killed, allowing me to stop hunting some of the elements on my list.

This matchup is a tough one, as the NKE army is not really a good match for the Philistines as much as it is for itself. With three Bows facing all of those Blades, the NKE army is almost "outnumbered". The best you can hope for is to use the three Bows to take out the Philistine chariot, then move them to the rear so they are not easy targets for the Philistine Blades. It is a possibility that they could gang up and take out the Auxilia, but that is very hard to pull off given the speed advantage of the Auxilia.

With four chariots to the Philistine two (or, not counting the Generals, three chariots to one), it should be a quick victory for the NKE chariots, leaving them free to attack the enemy camp. With the Bows targeting the chariot and my chariots targeting the camp, that leaves one more element to get to 4 VPs. I decide that the best chance is either the Bows ganging up on an Auxilia or the Warband and my General ganging up on a Blade for the win. We will have to see which develops.

Given my targets the Bows go on the left and the chariots on the far left, the General stays in the center, with the Warband moving up through the woods.

This is not going to be easy...

All of the confusion of shifting the army to the right caused for great distress amongst the Egyptian troops. It takes some time before they get moving. Meanwhile the messengers from the right flank indicates that the whole of the Philistine army is on the move towards the pass.

Suddenly, a plume of dust rises, indicating a fast moving body. "Sir, the rebel chariots have appeared in the pass and are moving rapidly to our open left flank!" "Send forward the chariots of the Reed and Sky Squadrons and destroy them!" The swirling dust from the battle obscures both sides' chariots from the rest of the army, but soon a cheer is heard from the rebel infantry on the hill. Out from the dust come the remnants of the Sky Squadron, with the Philistine chariots not far behind!

The Philistine general opted for a daring move with his chariot unit and force marched them down the road within charge range of the Egyptian chariots. I rose to the bait and charged his chariot, easily getting an overlap in the process. But, Ra was not favoring my Egyptians that day as I promptly rolled a '1' to the Philistine's '6', getting doubled on the first combat. This did not bode well. Philistines 1-0. The chariots continue to press the attack on the remaining chariot, causing it to recoil.

Shock waves ripple through the Egyptian army as the men call out "Ra! Ra! Do not abandon us! We beseech you!" The army was paralyzed. Only the chariots on the right obeyed Nebkare's orders, shifting from the right to the left flank. With a roar the Philistine army continued to march towards the pass, ready to deal justice to their oppressors.

General Nebkare comes to his sense and realizes that his army is crumbling before his eyes. He signals his chariot squadron forward and races along the battle lines yelling commands and encouragement, just as the sun pokes out from behind the gray clouds... "A sign! A sign from Ra! Forward!!!"

Both the Egyptians and the Philistine have a brief spell of PIP starvation. With the Philistine chariots on the other side of the hill from the General, they need two PIPs to get moving, so when they roll a '1', things started to look bad. The Egyptians finally broke their long spell of poor PIP rolls with a '6', causing the army to come to life.

The chariots of the Sky Squadron on the left pulls back, allowing the archers to deploy into line. The chariots of the Blood Squadron on the right continue to shift to the left flank as the whole Egyptian battle line lurches forward.

The archers ready themselves for their advance to the Philistine chariot - this is their chance for some glory - when the enemy charges forward and slams into the archers, running down the right wing!

This is the second close combat of the evening and with a light chariot charging my bows with overlap support, I still managed to get beaten and quick killed. The Philistines are still winning, 2-0.

Nebkare barks to his messenger, "Go to the Sky Squadron and tell them that to flank the rebel chariots and destroy them, or prepare for the demon Ammit to eat all of their damned souls! They must not fail!" On the right the Gasgans move into the woods in an attempt to encircle the left flank of the Philistine main battle line, which is already bending  as it enters the narrow pass between the woods and the steep hill.

A great crash resounds on the left as the Sky Squadron encircle the Philistine chariots, with support by the remaining archer units. With a hail of arrows from all directions, the Philistines are destroyed by the combined might of the Egyptian left flank.

The Philistine chariots actually only recoiled, but they hit the Auxilia on the Steep Hill at an angle, so they were destroyed. The Egyptians are finally on the board, with the Philistines ahead 2-1.

Ra continues to smile on the Egyptian army, as the Philistine army takes flight and retreats up the valley, leaving one unit behind to block pursuit. "This seems too suspicious. Surely the rebels have not given up so easily." Nebkare, unsure of the Philistine ploy, halts the battle line as he considers how he will defeat the enemy hiding behind the hill.

One observing the game, without knowing the rolls or the rules, might have interpreted my moves as being stumped on how to proceed, but in fact I rolled a '1' on PIPs again. But it was funny because it looked like the Egyptian general paused, trying to figure out if the Philistine retreat was a trap.

The original plan of hunting down the single light chariot, sacking the camp, and destroying one auxilia still looked good, however, the Philistines had not had enough PIPs to retreat one of their Blades, who was close the Egyptian General and the supporting Warband. So, I decided to try and pick the Blades element off with the General and the Warband while the two light chariots swung around the hill on the left flank and threatened the camp.

Nebkare knew that he had to push out of that gap so he could turn the flank of the main battle line before the enemy reserves swung into action and turned his own left flank. Ordering the soldiers of the Sky Troop to push down the road, Nebkare swung his chariot squadron to the right, and with the Gasgans, advanced to attack the isolated Philistine unit. These promptly retreated towards the Philistine reserves, while the main battle line sprang forward.

The Royal Guard Troop give way as the Weshwesh come screaming down the hill in attack, while General Nebkare swings his chariot squadron back to the left to support the Sky Troop being pressed by the enemy left. Seeing an opening the isolated Philistine unit advanced towards the right flank of the Egyptians, threatening the General. The combat swings wildly back and forth as each side tries to turn the flank of the other.

Again General Nebkare swings his squadron to the right, but this time the Philistines cannot retreat fast enough and the Gasgans catch them in the flank. The Philistines do not give up easily, but they die nonetheless. However, the enemy reserves advance forcefully, ready to take the Gasgans' flank in turn.

Much of these turns was spent recoiling, using PIPs to recover the battle line, and threatening units on the flank, who in turn retreat. Finally the Philistine Blades get too close and the Egyptians get too many PIPs, resulting in the Egyptian General attacking the Philistine Blades, who also get flanked by the Warband. I still lose the combat though - I rolled another '1' - and end up in a very bad position as I recoil into the woods. Fortunately the following turn sees the Philistine Blades follow up and get doubled, resulting in their destruction. The game is tied at 2-2.

General Nebkare says a quick prayer of thanks to Ra as he quickly moves his squadron out of the entanglement of the woods he was forced into and rejoins the battle line. His archers on the left are still entangled with the Sky Troop soldiers and cannot effectively bring all of their bows to bear, but they are nonetheless effective at forcing the Weshwesh back up the hill. The chariots squadrons have disappeared from view, so Nebkare suspects they are rounding the hill and on their way to attacking the enemy camp. On his right the Gasgans are threatened by several thousand rebel warriors, but no panic is ensuing.

Slowly, as the Weshwesh are driven back by the archers, a gap starts to appear in the rebel line between the hill and the right of the rebel heavy infantry. With a roar the Green Troop soldiers charge forward into the flank of the enemy heavy infantry, destroying them. This sends a convulsive wave through the rebel line.

To the rear of the rebel army the Sky Squadron has finally charged into battle against the chariot squadron of the Philistine general. Although initially repulsed, the Blood Squadron begins to maneuver to support the Sky Squadron in another charge against the enemy general. It is only a matter of time...

Unfortunately, the curtain draws to a close on this game as two frowning librarians kick us out of the library before we can complete the game. This, of course, will lead to much speculation about why each of us would have won the game had we been able to complete it. :)

The game ended with the Egyptians in the lead 3-2 as they had destroyed a Philistine Blades element in a flank attack. I rolled my PIPs for the following turn and it was a 5. My move would have been to hit the Psiloi from the front and flank with two Blades elements. The question would have been whether to take the overlap (making the combat 4 to 1) or to risk the General in an overlapped combat with Blades  supported by Psiloi. Probably not...


So, my plan was to take out one light chariot (check), one auxilia element (not even close to happening, especially once I lost a Bows element), and the camp (getting there, but it would have been three to four turns before that happened). Instead I got one light chariot and two Blades. I honestly cannot remember if I got the first Blades element by doubling with the General or by quick killing it with the Warband.

As I said in the beginning, the New Kingdom Egyptian army is not designed to take on an army like the early Philistines with six Blades (or the Sea Peoples, with their eight Blades). The NKE have too many Bows, making them vulnerable to easy destruction by the Blades.

What I notice with my play is a bad tendency to not use PIPs when I have high rolls; there is this "pull" to use them all as they are such precious commodities. However, sometimes using a PIP causes you to commit an element that should not be committed. In fact, this is what happened to my opponent when he played the NKE and I the Philistines; he used PIPs to move the Bows closer to my Blades so he could shoot. It is this desire to "do something" with everything every turn that is so hard to resist.

In this game I was fortunate in that I kept some discipline and kept the Bows away from the enemy Blades, putting a steep hill between us. This allowed me to stand off 2" and shoot into the enemy Auxilia on the end of the line, in an attempt to keep my Blades from being overlapped or flanked. For the most part it worked.

As for the chariots, my play with them was horrible. My choices were to drive up the right flank and try and go through three Psiloi-backed Blades - not too probable - attack the right flank of the Philistine line, which happened to be Auxilia in Bad Going - also not too probable - or swing wide around the left and try to attack the Philistine camp or rear. The last course still looks like the best course, but that is such a PIP drain that it is unlikely to succeed. Upon reflection one other choice is available, and that is to serve as a second line reserve and plug any gaps or exploit any breakthroughs. But that is not very sexy... :)

All in all this was a very good game. We played slow because it was tense, swinging back and forth, but that proved our undoing as we did not get to finish. Next time then!

By the way, let me know whether you like the use of Battle Chronicler for mapping out the game. There is a sharp learning curve and time spent developing the core components, but once that is done, future battle reports can be generated faster and with less effort, so I just might keep investing time in this tool.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pondering Terrain Deployment and the Matching Battle Plan

I think most will agree that how the defender sets up the terrain greatly influences the resulting battle. I'm not one of those that think the battle is over because of bad terrain placement, but I do think it greatly changes the odds of your success or failure. Understanding why it does one or the other is the hallmark of a good gamer.

I think most will also agree that how you deploy your troops greatly impacts the odds of your success of failure in the subsequent battle. Again, I am not one that believes that a bad deployment means you will lose - there are too many variables that allow either player to lose grasp of victory - but I do believe that it can give you a deficit of a few VPs.

Quantifying what constitutes a good or bad deployment is a key to understanding and will help you not only in your solo games with DBAS, but in your face-to-face games. I don't claim to be an expert by any means, but the first step to quantification is to put it down on paper (digital or otherwise) so all can see, discuss, and dissect the results. So, here is my straw man.

The (Polybian) Romans

I've played a number of games with and against my Polybian Romans, both solo and face-to-face, and so can use that as a test-bed for discussions.

Against Auxilia-Heavy Armies

The Romans, on paper, do well against Auxilia-heavy armies. They have six Blades with a factor of +5 versus the Auxilia factor of +3. Attacking up a Gentle Hill results in a +5 versus +4 battle. Attacking in Bad Going results in +3 versus +3. Getting overlapped on one side makes the battle +4 versus +3. Sounds good overall with the Romans always having an upper hand.

That said, I have had the Ancient Spanish hand the Polybian Romans a loss even when the Romans won the terrain and put postage stamp sized terrain down. How can that be? One factor not mentioned is the Blades have a movement of 200 paces while Auxilia moves at 300 paces. That does not sound like much, but it really is. Added to the ability for enemy Psiloi to ZOC the Roman line and throw it into disorder (i.e. the element has to peel off from the Roman battle line to deal with the element) and what quickly comes to mind is that the Romans don't do as well as the combat factors portend.

So, if the Romans Blades anchor their flanks on Bad Going terrain (like Woods), it really does not do them any good against these armies as they move through it like butter (although they could have PIP problems due to having a shorter command radius), don't suffer a penalty against others in the Bad Going, and do not have their ZOC affected by terrain, so they can still disrupt you.

If the Romans are going to anchor their flanks, at least the gap should not be so narrow that the enemy General sitting in the center of the pass is within 6" of both forces on the flanks, thus allowing forces on both flanks being in command.

Against Light Horse Armies

The basic combat factors of Blades versus Light Horse is +3 versus +2, so the Romans have a slight edge, but given the incredible movement of the Light Horse it won't be long before the Romans are overlapped and flanked, making the odds +2 versus +2 with a recoil being a quick kill. Having the Psiloi in rear support changes the odds in to +4 versus +2 or +3 versus +2, but that is a thin margin to bet on. Given that the Light Horse cannot be destroyed in a straight-on fight with Blades, they have no reason not to keep tossing the dice in an attempt to break the line (think Carrhae - not Polybian, I know, but the same principle applies).

Quite simply the Romans cannot afford to let the Light Horse get on their flanks or to be without rear support from their own Psiloi. This leads to wanting the flanks of the line to be anchored on Bad Going terrain. This largely restricts the Light Horse to frontal attacks, and if the gap between terrain is narrow enough, gives the Romans a second line for reserves to plug any breakthroughs the Light Horse may be able to force.

Against Heavy Infantry Armies

When facing an army similar to itself, especially Blade-heavy armies, the Romans need to rely more on their auxiliaries, the Velites (Psiloi) and Equites (Cavalry), to get on the flanks of the opposing army and crush the center that the Roman line is holding. This means that the flanks need to be clear for those forces to operate efficiently.

If the enemy line is weaker - all Spear, for example - or less numerous then the Blades on the flanks can start to cave in the flanks and slowly roll to the center, making the cavalry battle on the flanks less of a concern.

Against Knightly Armies

This is probably the least favorable matchup the Romans face. Factors are +3 versus +3 and the loss results in the Romans being quick killed. The Romans can throw in the Psiloi as rear support and get +4 versus +3, but they risk the loss of two elements on one die roll. Not my kind of odds.

This is one of the matchups where the Romans want to be in Bad Going. Sure, they are -2, but so are the Knights, and the Knights also get quick killed on a simple loss. It will be ugly, but with rear support they are +2 versus +1 to the Knights.

Given the Knights movement, they are like Auxilia in that they will out-maneuver the Romans (in general) so can place their superiority where they want.

All-in-all not a good situation.

Against Warband-Heavy Armies

This is an interesting matchup in that the Warbands do not have much of a superiority in movement (a little bump with extra PIPs), have lower factors like Auxilia, but they quick kill Blades. With Blades getting rear support from Psiloi against Warbands the factors are +6 versus +3, so it does not look good for the Warband army. (I don't double-rank my Warband, as I do not like to commit two elements' destruction to a single die roll, so they rarely have rear support.)

Like Auxilia, however, they like Bad Going, so the Roman army is going to want to keep the flanks away from Bad Going terrain like against Auxilia-heavy armies.


So there you have it. The Romans like to stay away from anchoring the flanks on Bad Going, except when they want it or want to be in it! :)

So where are we. What has this little mental exercise gained us? Well, if the goal is to develop a means for "programming" an opponent, and that opponent is a a Polybian Roman army, we have a start on how they might choose terrain if they are the defender or how they would use terrain, based upon the army you chose. I see these choices as:

  • Avoids Anchoring on Bad Going terrain
  • Anchors on Bad Going terrain
  • Deploys in/moves to Bad Going terrain
One you have the basic strategy - to anchor, deploy in, or not - your battle plan writes itself. You choose a forward line of defense and that becomes your objective. Once you have the objective identified for your elements, you can use that for your scoring system in the Tactical Engine.

I would love to hear your ideas on these basic thoughts. Please feel free to respond here or on the Solo DBA Development forum.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Splitting it off

I've decided to split off my DBA gaming off into a separate blog - this one - so that those who are following my blog Dale's Wargames for the DBA content won't be annoyed by all the non-DBA content.

So, look for the DBA and DBAS (De Bellis Antiquitatis Solus) content here. If you drop following the other blog, I will understand. :)