Archive for September, 2011

Reading List: Lost Battles

Lost Battles by Philip Sabin uses game theory to analyze army sizes from historical battles.  Our knowledge of ancient battles is often spare, inaccurate or deliberately misleading.   The one constant, is that most ancient battles were fought by choice – both generals needed to seek  engagement for a battle to happen.   The premise being, battles only occurred if both Generals thought that they stood the best chance to win, i.e. both armies were within a degree of parity.  Sabin creates a game system which incorporates leadership, moral, fighting skill amongst a number of other traits – then attempts to balance the opposing armies for the battle’s historical result.

As an example – Caesar’s battles in Gaul are well documented by Caesar’s own text.  We know how many legions were at each battle.  We know if the legions were freshly raised or veteran.  We also have a good understanding of the number of men in each legion.  In contrast, we know very little about the tribes which battled against Rome.  Enemy numbers vary significantly and can we trust troop sizes from a book written as a propaganda tool?  Using the game system, Sabin is able to estimate the number of tribesmen present at the battle as a balance vs the “known” number of Roman soldiers.

From a gamer’s point of view, Lost Battles is an excellent resource.  The book literally lays out battles in gamers terms – number of units, historical deployment, historical results.  His system uses a concept of Key Zone – a section of the battle field that the army needs to occupy to receive a moral bonus.  The Key Zone encourages generals to match the historical result through way of a reward.  Players may very well see something like it appearing in Adepticon’s 2012 WAB tournaments.

The author maintains a site containing an over view of the game system with links to a computer simulator using the book’s game mechanic.  A Lost Battles board game is also available from Fifth Column Games.

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Hail Caesar: Rome vs Alex

For this week’s Hail Caesar game we are changing up the time period & going with Ancients:  Republic Rome vs. Alexander’s Macedonians.

The Alexander list was easy to build – lots of pike phalanx, cavalry and a handful of light troops to support the main line.  The Elite useful rule was used for the Companion cavalry and the White Shield phalanx to represent the well lead and opportunistic  nature of Alexander’s army.

The Republic Roman list was a bit harder.  Traditionally, the Republican army deployed many small units in a checkerboard fashion.  One way to simulate this style of deployment would be to use many small units.  However, this sort of a-symmetrical army list would be difficult to use and be a bit of an exception when trying to teach the game.  The final list instead used large blocks for the Roman heavy infantry, representing the line in a more abstract way.  The phalanx useful rule was given to the Tirarius to represent the defensive nature of the unit.

Hail Caesar Republic Roman army list
Hail Caesar Alexander army list

Aftermath

Once again Hail Caesar provides a well matched game which came down to the last few rounds.  The Roman line threatened to fall apart after a series of unfortunate dice events lead to a unit of Hastati being broken, allowing the Macedonian Pike to begin a roll up the battle line.   While the Pike battered themselves on the Roman line, and All Start barbarian unit crashed the line.  Using a combination of follow up moves and Sweeping Advances, the Gauls destroyed 5 units in a rampage which covered half of the board.

I suspect that my opponent and I made a few rules errors in the course of the game, but that did not prevent us from enjoying a well fought battle.

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