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Playing around with Pydna

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Playing around with Pydna

Post by AncientWarrior on Thu Jun 25, 2015 12:28 pm

My tabletop looked nothing at all like the one pictured in Mr. Simon MacDowall’s colourful and informative article, “Wargaming the Battle of Pydna 168 BC,” which appeared in the April 2014 issue of Wargames Illustrated. For starters and most significantly, there wasn’t a single painted and based 28mm figure (or figure of any accepted scale, for that matter) to be found on my tabletop. Consequently, there were no eye-catching units of cavalry, elephants, legionaries, mercenaries, or pikemen to be admired, to be “oohed and ahed” over. There were, however, colored cardboard counters representing cavalry and cohorts. There were non-traditional playing pieces representing pachyderms, pikemen, and peltasts. The terrain was also quite different from that pictured in the well written report. As my intention was not to refight the historical battle (this has already been done - and excellently - by Mr. MacDowall and his colleagues), I changed the look of the landscape to resemble the field of Pharsalus (a well-in-advance nod to the selection for Battle Day 2016). In addition to the river, marshy area, and elevation, I added a few patches of scrub to break up the otherwise featureless plain. I also added a couple of muddy areas to the marshy bank of the river.

Though I was not expressly interested in refighting the historical battle, I was interested in using the provided orders of battle as a starting/reference point for my own project. The presence of elephants and Roman legion infantry was an added bonus, as I was also interested in testing a couple of rule amendments.

I drafted the Republican Roman forces from page 39 of the Extra IMPETVS 4 supplement. The Roman left, or Command I, contained the following formations:

2 units of Italian medium cavalry (1,400 men) [42 points]
1 unit of Pergamene heavy cavalry lancers - General attached (700 men) [30 points]
1 unit of Pergamene light cavalry (300 men) [21 points]
3 units of Spanish light infantry (1,500 men) [57 points]
4 units of Italian light infantry (2,000 men) [84 points]
2 units of skirmishers - slingers (400 men) [24 points]
2 units of skirmishers - Cretan archers (400 men) [28 points]
1 x Fair General [20 points]
1 x Good Command Structure [20 points - applies to all commands of army]
Total Points: 326
Morale Value Points: 23; Command will rout when losses in units equal or exceed 12.

Command II (the Roman center-left):
1 regular legion consisting of -
2 units of Velites (600 men) [24 points]
2 units of Hastati (2,000 men) [44 points]
2 units of Principes (2,000 men) [56 points]
1 unit of Triarii - mounted General attached (600 men) [33 points]
1 raw legion consisting of -
1 unit of Velites (300 men) [12 points]
2 units of Hastati (2,000 men) [34 points]
2 units of Principes (2,000 men) [34 points]
1 unit of Triarii (500 men) [22 points]
6 units of Italian heavy infantry (4,800 men) [132 points]
1 x Fair General [20 points]
1 x Good Command Structure [already accounted for]
Total Points: 411
Morale Value Points: 39; Command will rout when losses in units equal or exceed 20.

Command III (the Roman center-right):
1 regular legion consisting of -
2 units of Velites (600 men) [24 points]
2 units of Hastati (2,000 men) [44 points]
2 units of Principes (2,000 men) [56 points]
1 units of Triarii (600 men) [33 points]
1 veteran legion consisting of -
1 unit of Velites (300 men) [14 points]
2 units of Hastati (2,000 men) [66 points]
2 units of Principes (2,000 men) [66 points]
1 unit of Triarii (500 men) [33 points]
4 large units (8 total units) of Gauls - light infantry (3,200 warriors) [84 points]
1 unit of Roman medium cavalry - General of the Army attached (600 men) [23 points]
1 x Expert General [30 points]
1 x Good Command Structure [already accounted for]
Total Points: 473
Morale Value Points: 42; Command will rout when losses in units equal or exceed 21.

Command IV (the Roman right):
3 units of Roman medium cavalry (1,500 men) [57 points]
3 units of Numidian light cavalry - General attached (900 men) [69 points]
4 units of Numidian light infantry (2,400 men) [76 points]
3 units of Elephants (let us say 36 animals) [63 points]
1 x Fair General [20 points]
1 x Good Command Structure [already accounted for]
Total Points: 285
Morale Value Points: 20; Command will rout when losses in units equal or exceed 10.

Taken all together, it may be remarked that this quasi-historical Roman army numbered approximately 40,000 infantry and cavalry. (This figure was arrived at using the suggested unit scales in Section 1.4 of the rule book.) In strictly IMPETVS terms - if my math is correct - there were 1,484 points worth of Middle Republican Romans and allies on the tabletop.


Now the Macedonian host. Their order of battle also goes from left to right. This army was selected from the Later Macedonians list on page 42 of the same supplement. Their separate commands are identified by capital letters. (Ideally, I should have used Greek letters.)

Command A (the Macedonian left):
2 units of Macedonian medium cavalry - General attached (1,200 men) [52 points]
2 units of Galatian medium cavalry (1,200 men) [46 points]
1 unit of Illyrian light cavalry (300 men) [19 points]
3 units of Thracian light infantry (1,500 men) [60 points]
3 units of Thureophoroi light infantry (1,500 men) [69 points]
2 units of skirmishers - Agrianians / javelins (600 men) [24 points]
2 units of skirmishers - Cretan archers (600 men) [28 points]
1 x Fair General [20 points]
1 x Fair Command Structure [12 points - applies to all commands of army]
Total Points: 330
Morale Value Points: 24; Command will rout when losses in units equal or exceed 12.

Command B (the Macedonian center-left):
5 large units (10 total units) of Galatian light infantry (6,000 warriors) [105 points]
5 large units (15 total units) of Phalangites - General attached (12,000 men) [215 points]
1 x Fair General [20 points]
1 x Fair Command Structure [already accounted for]
Total Points: 340
Morale Value Points: 51; Command will rout when losses in units equal or exceed 26.

Command C (the Macedonian center-right):
4 large units (12 total units) of Phalangites (9,600 men) [172 points]
2 large units (4 total units) of Agema (2,400 men) [90 points]
1 unit of Macedonian medium cavalry - General of the Army attached (600 men) [29 points]
1 x Expert General [30 points]
1 x Fair Command Structure [already accounted for]
Total Points: 321
Morale Value Points: 39; Command will rout when losses in units equal or exceed 20.

Command D (the Macedonian right):
3 units of Thracian medium cavalry - General attached (1,500 men) [69 points]
2 units of Illyrian light cavalry (600 men) [42 points]
5 units of Illyrian light infantry (2,500 men) [95 points]
3 units of Thorakitai light infantry (1,800 men) [87 points]
4 units of skirmishers - Cretan archers (1,200 men) [56 points]
1 x Fair General [20 points]
1 x Fair Command Structure [already accounted for]
Total Points: 369
Morale Value Points: 27; Command will rout when losses in units equal or exceed 14.

When added all together (again, allowing for possible - more likely probable - errors in the math), it may be suggested that this “historical” Later Macedonian army mustered roughly 45,000 soldiers to do battle with the Romans. Considering this total from the perspective of the IMPETVS army lists, the Macedonian commander-in-chief (King Perseus perhaps?) had a “troop treasury” of 1,360 points.

A Few Adjustments to the Rules
Though I am certainly no expert with the IMPETVS rules (I can almost see the gentlemen on the dedicated rules forum nodding their heads in agreement), this lack of certification does not prohibit me from tinkering and tweaking with the contents of the spiral-bound book. For example, based on experience with a couple of other sets (Armati and Hail Caesar primarily, and To The Strongest! - only just bought it and read it through once, but still), I think that the elephant rules in IMPETVS need a little work. So here goes . . .

Elephants - If an elephant unit fails a cohesion test and becomes disordered, well, fine. Carry on as usual. If, however, the elephant fails a cohesion test and suffers casualties, a separate and subsequent roll of 1 or 2 results in “panicked pachyderms.” The animals conduct an immediate about face and move - at their normal rate - directly away from the attacker/shooter. On subsequent activations, the direction of the panicked pachyderms is determined by rolling a 1d6 and using a protractor.

Die Roll Direction
1 left 30 degrees
2 left 60 degrees
3 straight ahead
4 right 30 degrees
5 right 60 degrees
6 right 90 degrees

Panicked elephants cannot be rallied.

Any friendly or enemy troops contacted are “burst through”: infantry formations are disordered and lose 1 VBU. Likewise, cavalry formations are disordered and lose 2 VBU. Additionally, once “burst through,” the disordered cavalry formations run away from the stampeding elephants 5u plus the distance rolled on 1d6.

If other friendly elephants are contacted by those that are panicked, a failed discipline test by the contacted unit results in the panic spreading and the above procedure is carried out for the newly infected unit.

The Roman Pilum - I have followed - with varying degrees of interest - the discussions, disagreements, and occasional diatribe on the IMPETVS rules forum concerning this weapon. Again, stipulating to my lack of expertise, I still thought I would try an experiment in this particular scenario.

A purple marker is placed on all Roman Hastati and Principes units. When the infantry formation throws its pila, the purple marker is removed. These Roman units get a single shot (a first volley - a la Black Powder - to borrow a phrase) with their pila supply and that’s it.

Roman Hastati and Principes are permitted to roll 4d6 when they throw pila while advancing into contact with the enemy.

Roman Hastati and Principes are permitted to roll 2d6 when they throw pila as they are charged by an enemy formation.

Disordered and or worn units of Hastati and Principes may roll 2d6 of pila (regardless of situation) if they have not thrown their pila (used their purple marker) yet.

Activation and Turn Sequence - As a solo player using IMPETVS, I sometimes struggle with this phase of the game turn. Which commands do I choose? Oh no, I rolled double this or that; oops, it’s a tie . . . now what was the command structure for each side again? So, to reduce the number of times I have to roll the dice by just a small amount (aside, I am really looking forward to my first test game using To The Strongest! but have to stay focused on this present project), I thought I would make a card for each of the commands in this planned battle and determine the order of activation by drawing a card.

To address the concerns of a commander’s ability, I would still roll 2d6 when a command card was drawn to see if that general suddenly became better or worse at his job.

To help recreate at least a little more fog of war, I would roll 1d6 prior to drawing any cards.

Die Action
1-2 Remove the top 2 cards from the deck. These cannot be played this turn.
3-4 Remove the top card from the deck. This command will “sit out” this turn.
5-6 All cards remain in play.

A Summary of the Tabletop Encounter
The battle plans of both sides were very simple: Attack! First blood went to the Numidian light horse on the Roman right flank, when they repulsed the charge of some Illyrian light cavalry. After that initial success, however, things turned sour for the Numidians and both of their combat units (not the formation with the sub-general attached) suffered terrible losses from a combination of pesky enemy skirmishers, light infantry, and a unit of much heavier Macedonian cavalry. The elephants on the Roman right fell victim to volleys of javelins from Agrianians, Thracians, and the points of the long spears of the Thureophoroi. One unit was destroyed outright; the other two were panicked and spent the rest of the battle stampeding hither and yon. Fortunately, these rampaging animals only ran over one friendly unit of Numidian light infantry.

Over on the opposite flank, it was a fairly even contest between the Roman left and Macedonian right. Missiles were exchanged, with little effect, between units of skirmishers. The Spanish light infantry moved up to engage the Illyrians and after winning this local battle, advanced to take on the Thorakitai. These enemy troops proved quite stubborn however, and it was very quickly the Spanish (those that were left) who were running away. The Italian light infantry then moved up and started a long and bloody fight with this smaller enemy formation. Due to the nature of the terrain and the number of troops present, the main bodies of cavalry could not really make their presence felt. A couple of units of light cavalry tried to work around the enemy flank right by the river bank, but these open order formations were riddled by arrows, javelins, and sling stones. Very late in the battle, things were looking grim for the Romans on this flank. The enemy light infantry had proved themselves quite capable of putting the Italians to the sword and or flight. The only real bright spot came when the commanding general of the Macedonian host became embroiled in a fight with some Spanish light infantry and then became focused on the happenings on this flank instead of what was going on with his own command (one of the main phalanx formations). His cavalry unit had suffered losses in a few melees and from close range arrow volleys by Cretan archers. The Roman commander in this sector, leading a unit of Pergamene heavy horse, finally saw his opportunity and smashed into the disordered ranks of the Macedonian cavalry. It was over in a few minutes. The Macedonian squadrons were no more and the general of the army galloped back toward his off-table encampment.

The center of the field witnessed the clashes between the Macedonian phalanxes and the legions of Rome. There were also a fair number of Italian allied heavy infantry present along with barbarians employed by each side. The first melees occurred between the impetuous Galatians and the equally impetuous Gallic warriors. No quarter was asked or given in this series of combats. In brief summary, both barbarian contingents wrecked one another. There was some survivors on the outer edges of the savage contests, but these wounded and disordered formations were soon taken care of by fresh regular troops - on both sides - who moved in and mopped things up. The phalanx “married” to the contingent of Galatians suffered severely at the hands of the veteran legionaries, and it was not long before this entire enemy command collapsed and gave way. Ironically, or perhaps coincidentally, the raw legion with the Italian allied infantry in support was unable to stand up to the units of Agema as well as the other main phalanx. The hastati were wiped out and after holding firm against the first assault, the Italian formations fell apart and were destroyed one after the next. In one turn, at least it seemed so, half of the Italian units were swallowed up by a hedge of pike points.

As the damaged and disordered units in the center of the field tried to reorient themselves to carry on the apparently pyrrhic contest (units of the legions were able to wheel faster than the cumbersome large units of pikemen), the battle reached its climax over on the Macedonian left. The Roman medium cavalry had been held in reserve throughout the fight. These squadrons even had to withdraw when the elephants started running amok on this flank. Once that danger had passed (stampeded in different directions), the Roman horse advanced and engaged the enemy. At first, things did not go well; the melee dice were definitely not in their favor. But eventually, the tide of battle and the dice turned in this sector, and the Roman cavalry were able to rout the formation led by the Macedonian sub-general. This “broke the back” of the Macedonian morale on this flank and, combined with the loss of the Galatians and one phalanx, spelled defeat.

It had been very close indeed: The Roman left was just 3 morale points from routing, and their right flank was just 2 morale points away from running away. A couple of different die rolls here or there could very well have produced a Macedonian win.

Evaluation
While occasional errors were made - not only tactically and on both sides of the field but also with regards to specific rule interpretations and processes - after 12 turns of battle spread out over the course of 4 days, I can remark that it was an educational as well as an enjoyable experience/experiment.

To be certain, my tabletop did not have the visual “pizzazz” typically seen in one of the monthly publications. I shudder to think what the traditional representation would have required in terms of time and treasure. Obviously, 6mm miniatures would have been less expensive. Then again, isn’t the temptation with this scale to use 15mm base sizes and prepare “large” formations?

The respective battle plans were not complicated. There was no finesse. It was simply a head-to-head (or legion-to-phalanx) match. Given the numbers of units involved on both sides (a necessary reduction from the original orders of battle), this was not a surprise. I was a bit surprised, however, with how long the contests on each flank lasted. At one point I had visions of Numidian elephants wading into the flank or rear of an exposed phalanx, but this never materialized. Sweeping flank attacks by cavalry formations never developed either. It appears that I put too many light infantry and skirmishers on the flanks for this major movement to happen.

Turning to a brief analysis of my rule amendments, I think, by and large, they worked rather well. Of course, this was just one field test. More evidence needs to be gathered. The rule allowing for “panicked elephants” added some flavour to the engagement. I do need to make an adjustment providing for automatic movement of these animals in the event that their command card is not drawn from the activation deck. It strikes me as odd to have “panicked elephants” suddenly - if temporarily - “frozen” for a turn of play.

The revision of the established Roman pilum rules added something to the wargame as well. I had to chuckle to myself though when it appeared just as easy not to throw 5s and 6s with 4 dice as it was with 3 dice. I did not keep exact records of the effectiveness of the pila volleys. On recollection, it seems to me that the performance of this weapon, the use of this tactic, did not have a tremendous impact on the enemy phalanx units.

The substitution of a movement card deck for initiative/activation added some interesting moments to the battle and, as predicted, saved me from making extra rolls of pairs of dice. I think, however, that with the next large IMPETVS project, I will add “dummy” cards to the deck in order to make shuffling a little easier. Two or three “dummy” cards - of a different color - for each command card should make this process smoother.

It could be remarked that one “opens up a can of worms” when one starts tinkering with established sets of rules. During the course of this educational and enjoyable experiment, I started thinking (again) about “refinements” to the movement procedure for impetuous units as well as about adjusting the process governing damage inflicted versus damage actually taken. I also made a short list of points that I will need to post to the rules forum in order to get expert clarification.

As the battle wound down and then ended, I also started thinking about setting it up again but with a different set of rules. I wonder if a similar result would be reached using the Armati rules? It might prove interesting to replay this “Pydna” using Armati as written and then again with an amended version of Armati. And while it is currently well beyond my experience level, I wonder how this engagement would play using To The Strongest!? To add yet another set of rules to my “choice list,” I recently saw a YouTube post about the new DBA book. Not the one with all of the army lists, but the one with just 50 or so and the inclusion of a turn-by-turn explanation of how a game is played. Would that all rule books contained such a chapter.

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Re: Playing around with Pydna

Post by Gaius Cassius on Fri Jun 26, 2015 3:03 am

I agree with your observations about Elephants in Impetus. They do need some work and I like the idea of panic resulting from melee. I was also thinking that infantry (other than FL and S) should be automatically disordered when fighting Elephants as well as cavalry to make them a little tougher. Perhaps they should keep their impetus a little longer than other unit types.
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Re: Playing around with Pydna

Post by AncientWarrior on Fri Jun 26, 2015 12:09 pm

Thanks for reading and commenting GC. I see your point about infantry vs elephants but would need more examples information regarding the case against horse.

Perhaps we might treat elephants like impetuous troops and permit them to keep their impetus factor until they are below 50% VBU?


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