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Horse archers versus Peltasts

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Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by Pezhetairoi on Thu Jun 26, 2014 3:25 am

We had an interesting 300pt game tonight of Skythians against Thracians.
It's our second Impetus game ever ... though I'm no stranger to ancient wargaming.

When my opponent selected the Skythian army for tonight's game, I was sure I'd be in for a thrashing. We had seen the horse archers in action against Alexander's phalanx/cavalry and they are pretty impressive. I had a few armies to pick from for tonight's game, but few of them had much to counter the flexible and deadly horse archers. I selected the Thracian list thinking I might struggle, but at least I could shoot back. Well, we were surprised...

Skythian
1 noble CM
8 horse archers CL (half upgraded to VBU=4)
2 bow skirmishers S

Thracian
1 noble CM
2 javelin CL (all VBU 3)
8 FL (6 with basic javelins, 2 with romphaia upgrade)
4 gymnetes S javelins

Both lists had average command, and CInC's were "fair". We play 28mm scale on a 6x4 foot table. The Skythian player took the typical approach-and-shoot tactic thinking he'd win out in the missile exchange. The Thracians formed a solid, anchored line, and held position. I held the nobles in reserve, to plug the inevitable gaps.

The Thracians were unstoppable. When we worked out the actual shooting dice, the Thracians were equal or at an advantage at all ranges, and could move into range and shoot without penalty.
For example:
Thracian peltast: VBU 4, +3 at point blank vs mounted, = 7
Horse archer: VBU 3, +2 at point blank vs inf, -1 for the move = 4
                  VBU 4, +2 at point blank vs inf, -1 for the move = 5

Thracian peltast: VBU 4, +0 short range vs mounted, -1 against CL/S at short = 3
Horse archer: VBU 3, +0 short range vs inf, -1 for the move = 2
                  VBU 4, +0 short rangevs inf, -1 for the move = 3

This meant that the Skythians were consistently out-shot Shocked  ... by dudes with javelins, who were cheaper and more plentiful and lots of back-up. I would expect this from bowmen, but from peltasts? I've never seen that before in any other game. Usually Thracians struggle against mounted troops. Would javelineers outperform mounted archers in a real fire fight?

So did we do something wrong? Flawed tactics?
Help me out! scratch
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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by Granicus Gaugamela on Thu Jun 26, 2014 4:15 am

If the javelin men move into the ZOC then they trigger a reaction if the Skythian so desires - either firing or getting charged (given they are I>0).

The Horse also get more flexibility in movement and can avoid your ZOC to fire without retribution at point blank.

They are numerous so can cut off your retreat path, ping you from the rear and charge in from all sorts of directions.

Remember that the javelins only get 1 move without firing penalty, as soon as they make a second move they get a full -2 penalty on their dice, it is not a consistent 1 dice removal Essentially you an claim a sprint running throw but anything with a longer run up leaves you less capable.

Having said all that your basic numbers seem right. So the comparative advantage for the Peltasts is getting into range and making it as personal to the face as possible.

The Skythians want to use movement to avoid that and get on the flanks and fire or keep out of point blank range and then get the double whammy of firing and hopefully disrupting and then using their movement benefit to enter melee (if the infantry are sufficiently weakened).

The cav should also always try and keep their front to the logical firing unit so they have the evade option to get out of range and remove dice from your hand.

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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by Jim Webster on Thu Jun 26, 2014 5:43 am

A table four feet deep isn't a lot for a 28mm horse archer army.
Similarly I'd go for two commands for the Skythians, so that your opponent has three options

1) Advance aggressively against one command and watch the second come round his rear
2) Sit somewhere where the second command cannot get round his rear and face the inevitable steady trickle of casualties because you are then shooting him from out of javelin range.
3) Get two commands himself in the next game, in which case with a deeper table you can draw the commands apart and then use your superior speed to get into the gap and concentrate firepower on one command.

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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by Pezhetairoi on Thu Jun 26, 2014 12:28 pm

Granicus Gaugamela wrote:Having said all that your basic numbers seem right. So the comparative advantage for the Peltasts is getting into range and making it as personal to the face as possible.
We are both novices to this game, but this was fairly easy from the Thracian perspective. I anchored a flank in the woods on the left, and then extended a line almost all the way across the board, creating a wall of shooters. Then I waited ...

-Maybe table size is a factor here. That's all I have at the moment, but I thought that was the recommended size for 28mm at 300pts.

Jim Webster wrote:2) Sit somewhere where the second command cannot get round his rear and face the inevitable steady trickle of casualties because you are then shooting him from out of javelin range.
We wondered about this afterwords. But when we examined the factors, Comp Bow B gets -4 vs inf at long range. They start with VBU 4 or 3, so ... No Dice! (in my best Charles Bronson impersonation Cool ). Effectively, the horse archers have a range identical to the javelinmen -- at 15U -- and the peltasts get more dice.

We considered a sudden charge by the horse archers. The VBU 4 units would have a +1 die advantage with their I bonus. We didn't feel that was enough to go on. At 300pts they have an excellent CM unit (VBU=6, I=2) that would easily punch a hole through the peltasts, but so do the Thracians. It was kept in reserve for that very reason.

I don't know. I was fully prepared to get trounced as the Thracians. I think we were both disappointed when I didn't. I'm a little concerned there is something wrong the interaction between these two unit types. I'm pretty sure the Thracians lived in fear of the Skythians, and fled to the Balkan mountains to hide.  
affraid
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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by Jim Webster on Thu Jun 26, 2014 1:22 pm

Firstly if you can fill the table then the table is too narrow. I don't know how much terrain you had but with 15mm figures at 400 points we have an eight feet wide table.

The two groups and splitting the enemy force only happens if the table is big enough. If the table is big enough what happen is that the light horse in front of one command just incline for the gap or round the wing. The end unit or two might get to shoot (40 degree arc of fire) but the three units a move moving through the gap ALL shoot at point blank range without taking fire.

But it strikes me that your biggest problem is table size.
Just for an experiment try a refight on the same table with 200 point armies and see if there is a difference. And give the horse archers two groups and be prepared to move fast.
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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by jeztodd on Thu Jun 26, 2014 4:29 pm

Hi just a thought in the original post if your Thracians are firing at point blank against the LC, they would still get a minus 1 die for firing on skirmisher and LC wouldn't they? Also if the LC was evading from firing it would be minus another shooting die.

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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by Pezhetairoi on Thu Jun 26, 2014 7:19 pm

jeztodd wrote:Hi just a thought in the original post if your Thracians are firing at point blank against the LC, they would still get a minus 1 die for firing on skirmisher and LC wouldn't they? Also if the LC was evading from firing it would be minus another shooting die.
We did notice the evasion -1, but my opponent felt that it wasn't always practical. He also felt that the -1 difference only introduced parity and made little difference to the outcome. If i wasn't directly forward, he couldn't use it anyway.

The pdf chart I have says -1 for short range, -2 for long and extreme. I assume this was an amendment.
The rulebook says something different, -2 against S, CL, and Art unless shooter is S or CL (then it's only -1).
Come to think of it, the original -2 (combined with evade -1) would probably help this situation greatly. I wonder if this is an unintended side effect of that change.

Looks like I have to build a bigger table.... Crying or Very sad
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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by Pezhetairoi on Sun Jun 29, 2014 2:37 pm

Yeah, this interaction really works out differently if you use the original factors in the rulebook:
At point blank the Thracians get 4 dice (adding the CL evade), instead of 7. The CL get 4 or 5 for taking the risk and getting close.
At short range the Thracians get 1 (adding the CL evade), instead of 3. The CL get 2 or 3.
This makes a little more sense intellectually.
Why was it changed? Was it to improve the effects of bow vs CL/S?
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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by Granicus Gaugamela on Mon Jun 30, 2014 4:22 am

OK, if you had a setup that gave the javelinmen an anchored point at both ends that couldn't be outflanked then the result is reasonable.

Equally the horse archers need to "encourage" you to move. Mass them at the end of your line near the woods so they have a local fire superiority over the last unit in line. Not every unit will fire but if they can get 2 or 3 units firing at your one unit then they should logically win in the end.

Be patient.

Swap fire until they win or you move to even up the numbers. Then your line has been broken and there is another point they can attack with local superiority.

If they don't do that then the problem is theirs. Light cavalry aren't designed to penetrate a line of infantry, they are designed to move and shoot and harass or run round the flanks etc. If the deployment prevents that then they need to do something to force the deployment to change so they can utilise their comparative advantage. If they don't then they are playing to your comparative advantage.

Hence you didn't get "trounced" because you had a nice solid line of men throwing pointy things that kept the men on horses with shooty things at bay.

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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by jeztodd on Mon Jun 30, 2014 5:21 pm

I think on this match up another advantage of the LC is that if they can nick a disorder at a short range shooting (so Javelins cannot reply) then another unit behind can move through and then get to point blank for a shooting move against a disordered unit. And another unit after that as well ...... and so on.

I have been on the receiving end of moving and firing like this .........

If you are just standing still trading off shooting factors then think the LC will lose out.
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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by Gaius Cassius on Tue Jul 01, 2014 2:43 am

I think the FL armies are a good matchup against horse archer armies in Impetus. Infantry firing on mounted is always to the advantage of the infantry. FL armed with javelin get the free move and FL moves quickly enough to make CL struggle a bit. The CL can gang up on the FL as Jeztodd suggests but always to the detriment of position. So overall a good cat and mouse game. VBU3 CL is so much weaker than VBU4 CL. The Thracians would have a much more difficult time against Mongols (but then doesn't everybody!)
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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by Pezhetairoi on Tue Jul 01, 2014 6:55 pm

Great game advice guys, I appreciate it.  Smile 
You offer good points for working within the existing system and you have convinced me it's not a completely fatal match-up for the CL.

However, I'm not convinced it's the right interaction for history. I think it is well-modeled for bow armed foot, but since it's javelins we both thought the barrage is significantly stronger than it should be if we are attempting to model a realistic interaction -- especially at the short (15U) range.
Granted, this is all up to your interpretation of things we've never witnessed, and opinions will vary.

I think I'd want to see the Thracians have a heavy barrage at point blank, but just a trickle at short range. The CL should probably out-shoot them at 15U (currently they don't). This would prompt the Thracians to aggressively advance to 5U for good dice, or stay in their "safe place" and hope to withstand a the disadvantage in shooting.
As an example -- It would model the tactics described in Arrian's Anabasis Alexandru (1.2.4). These were "S" troops (bow and sling) in this case, but the idea was that they could put out greater fire at range. There are probably other examples, but that's the first one that comes to mind.
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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by Boris the blade on Mon Aug 04, 2014 7:53 pm

I think you might need to play a few more game's. Before you argue hard for changes to interactions.
Good tactic and use of the battlefield make a big difference.
Play against a few other army types. I have played against thracians with my palymras and only lost a few stands.
Javlins are good but so are alot of other weapons used well
Have some more games and good luck

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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by Jim Webster on Tue Aug 05, 2014 4:12 pm

Historically from what we can make out from history and the few surviving horse-archers, if you want to cause casualties with a bow you have to come in to point blank anyway. One advantage of crusader crossbows was it kept the horsearchers at a range where their arrows didn't penetrate (and in that period the crossbow was just a self bow on a stick and may have been outranged by the composite bow of the horse archers. Horse archers standing out at a distance shooting were just a nuisance, shields seem to have stopped most of the arrows, it's when they get within 5u that they start piecing shields and armour
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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by Gaius Cassius on Tue Aug 05, 2014 8:19 pm

I agree with Jim. Horse archers weren't quite as tough as some suggest and I think Impetus does a reasonable job show the relative strengths of javelin and bow.
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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by Pezhetairoi on Sat Aug 09, 2014 3:09 am

Horse archers weren't quite as tough as some suggest and I think Impetus does a reasonable job show the relative strengths of javelin and bow.

I don't mean to pick on anyone since I've seen this reply a few other times. Can we be more specific?
How does it do this?

I don't mean to suggest there is something wrong with horse archers in Impetus. I think overall they work as I would hope/expect. When it comes to most other troop types they are pretty powerful, and rather irritating!

I like the crossbow reference, and I'd support it with the Skythian reluctance to close with the Persian bow-infantry (from Herodotus) -- and I'd be happy with that result from either bow or crossbow. In fact I'd expect it. But I'm talking about javelins.

A Thracian (or other peltast type) may carry around 5 javelins, with only a shield for protection, and be able to throw them semi-accurately at 40m give or take. Their barrage may be effective but ultimately unsustainable, and much more effective at closer ranges. However, I'm seeing them outshooting other bow types at range (as well as close-up), and the dice numbers support this observation. They can keep up this barrage indefinitely with zero incentive to close with the horse archers.

I am willing to be convinced, but I'd need to see some good reasons to believe this models history well.
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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by Jim Webster on Sat Aug 09, 2014 5:55 am

Remember that the horse archer didn't carry many arrows either. The legionaries at Carrahae apparently were willing to put up with the barrage because they knew it couldn't last, and were shocked by the novelty of horse archers being resupplied.

Also remember that when it comes to re-supply, the Javelinmen merely have to move forward forty or fifty yards and they just pick the javelins up and throw them again. With arrows each arrow fired is effectively lost, (ask any field archer how tricky it is to find an arrow that missed the butt. I've seen them searching with metal detectors and then having to dig them out of the ground because they can hit almost horizontally and disappear into the turf.)
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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by starkadder on Sat Aug 09, 2014 7:43 am

Using that argument, Jim, why doesn't javelin firing effect decay over time? Presumably they don't find every thrown javelin nor would their fire discipline be anywhere near as effective.

As to the sustained javelin fire, interpenetration and fire, I'd like to see it in action. I suspect it would be low comedy after the first attempt. I'm sure it was done but not as a unit to unit proposition.

Yet, interestingly, a horse archer gets to stand still as a pike block wheels and advances into contact (a twenty minute manouevre). Yes, CLs are nowhere near as effective against such puissance.

Just remind me about Carrhae. I seem to recall molten gold being poured down the loser's throat and a whole bunch of Romans sold into slavery. The horse archer recharge was a recognition by the Romans that they were stuffed. The pain was never going to end.
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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by Jim Webster on Sat Aug 09, 2014 8:25 am

Simple
You're using metal figures glued to a base and we have move based rule systems.
There are three options.
1) You go, I go, in which everybody has a fixed move and you get bizarre things happening like horse archers being hit in the flank by pikes.
2) Simultaneous moves where you write down what your army is going to do and everything obeys written orders (which is a nightmare, I can remember people fetching ten page 'standing orders' to wargames) These also tend to have fixed move distances which mean that at a perfectly arbitrary point you stop and do the orders again.
3) Continuous bound (or something like) where troops keep moving and obeying their orders not until they've covered a fixed move distance but until there's a crisis point. Perhaps it's they come within a certain distance of the enemy. At which point you decide that Unit A has the first crisis point which will occur after fifteen minutes, and you move both armies, according to their orders, 15 minutes worth of move. You then resolve the crisis and move on to the next one.
This idea hasn't been widely taken up.

I've seen rule sets where you have only so many moves of firing. Horse archers might have four moves, javelin infantry three, that sort of thing. You keep track of ammunition and you can even pay points so they can go back to the baggage to collect more.
People get a bit fed up when you tell them that those horse archers have four useful moves and then they'll fall back and sit around and watch the rest of the battle without contributing to it.
Basically that sort of rule set falls by the wayside because people don't like the book keeping. They get fed up with having to halt their attack and have their light horse spend four moves retiring and rearming

Basically you're limited by game mechanisms, history, and how people want to play their games.
Another good example of this is command and control. To put it at its basic level, anyone with a hoplite army can line them up, write a simple plan, and then start the army in motion.
At that point, he's in the front rank peering over his shield like everybody else. If you want the battle to be authentic, he should leave the wargames table and go and spend an hour or so at an intensive martial arts class whilst an umpire moves the figures, fights the battle and tells him if he's won or not.

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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by starkadder on Mon Aug 11, 2014 7:19 am

I don't know quite where that spray erupted from but I have also seen a number of play systems and philosophies come and go, Jim.

I am very aware of the compromises that are made to make a game playable. It has been my experience that the more abstract a rule-set the more likely it is to yield a more historical outcome - provided you aren't playing a "lawyer".

I was merely making a point about consistency in approach. Impetus is a country mile ahead of other systems. It has me playing ancients again after a twenty year break. It works superbly.

I would prefer some minor changes to reflect my own experience and prejudices (postgraduate work and forty years of riding can do that y'know) but if it is inappropriate then I shall demur to your opinions.

And I shall comment no further on this topic as it seems to upset you.
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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by Jim Webster on Mon Aug 11, 2014 7:43 am

Wasn't meaning to sound upset, I'm not. I was just trying to lay out some of the problems.
The main problem is that all wargames rules get somethings wrong.
I suspect that this is because eventually we get to a point with a set of rules that we realise that whilst we might make a slight change to make things 'more historical' the unintended consequence of the changes is that the rules break down in other areas, or the rules have to be made vastly more complex.

The horse archer v javelin infantry is in a small way an example of this.
In reality horse archers weren't really a lot of good at much of what we'd call 5u in Impetus terms. I have Napoleonic accounts of French cavalry being  shot at by horse archers in Russian. Under a torrent of arrows fired from a reasonable range the French had one horsemen with an arrow through his leg.
Similarly with the crusades, infantry marching along with lots of arrows sticking out of their padded jackets.
But if we restricted horsearchers to being effective within 5u this would have two definite problems. One would be that if you enter 5u you can be charged and as the phasing player cannot evade. You could change those two rules, but that causes far bigger problems elsewhere. Or you could add complication to the rules saying that there is an exception for horse archers (the DBM approach)
The other problem is that everything of interest now happens in a physically small space and we all end up having to put on our reading glasses and get micrometers out to do the measurements
So the rules compromise and make horsearchers reasonably effective at ranges far exceeding what they probably should be.
But the problem is that as they're better at long range other stuff has to be better as well for game balance. If javelin infantry was restricted to 5u (there's a decent argument for that) then all that happens is that horse archers methodically shoot down the javelin infantry without fear of response.
So to keep the historical balance between the two sides we have to extend the range of the other.
What is happening at 10u or even 15u on the wargames table actually happened in real life at distances of 10 to 50 yards

As for ammunition, wargamers got bored with keeping track of it, and frankly there are few occasions where the ancient authors even thought it worth mentioning. In a battle against the Samnites and Gauls there is a lull and Romans go out and pick up javelins ready for the next phase. The Parthians are mentioned having arrow resupply, once.
We probably use missiles far more intensively than the ancients did, probably because that is how war in our day is decided.
To get an authentic effect you should probably cut the missile factor at ranges over 5u to half the current factors, to show the careful way in which arrows etc were used.
A player could decide to order units to fire 'for full effect' at long range, but I'd suggest that we would also include a rule whereby if the unit rolled two '1's when firing, it ran out of arrows.
But of course if we include this method of improving accuracy we'll have to make other changes to keep balance or missile fire armies will be unreasonably handicapped so we'll have to make archers tougher in hand to hand, (justifying it because they've saved a few for a final volley) or make other troops more vulnerable to the arrows that do get fired.

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Re: Horse archers versus Peltasts

Post by 1ngram on Thu Aug 14, 2014 8:45 am

Well, I've both fought a fair number of Impetus games using javelins and I regularly shoot a horsebow. So I have opinions about both.

First the horsebow. The Chinese standard for a horsebow was that it could shoot through five layers of leather. Though they can , like any other bow, fire from a long way off, effective range is between 30 and 40 yards maximum - if you are shooting off the hand against a body sized target - a man or a deer, for example. Against a body of troops the technique was normally to fire on a high trajectory and have the arrows come down as vertically as possible on the enemy. The Turks used a Siper or similar to fire shorter arrows from within the bow - these were the "darts" that get a mention during the First crusade. We have to remember that they were firing against men with at least padded clothing if not mail on top (plus some form of head protection). Most other enemies, certainly lightly clothed other horse archers or light infantry would not have such protection. In Impetus they have got the effect of horse archers about right except for the close range which, in my opinion, is simply a-historical.

Now javelins. These are far too powerful in Impetus - even more so in Basic Impetus. In the latter they suffer no loss for moving while firing at all. Even with their closer range for fire they are devastating and if on horse simply uncatchable. I'm happy enough with skirmishers (or even troops without an impetus value at all) having them as a missile weapon but I think it would be more accurate if other troop types had the effect of the javelins incorporated in their melee value. I'm not suggesting these have their melee value changed as a result, merely that we acknowledge that their melee value includes the effect of missiles thrown at the point of melee - which, after all, is when such troops would normally use them.

1ngram
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