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.

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