Friday, February 23, 2007

Simple GBoH Face-to-Face

At last! I play an actual Great Battles of History game with someone else!

I discussed my efforts to learn/solo this game a few weeks ago, when I played the Bagradas Plains scenario from SPQR twice. In the meantime, I have also tried to play the two scenarios in the Phalanx module for Great Battles of Alexander, although the first was thwarted by an incredibly poorly colored map where it was very difficult to distinguish between the lower level hexes (although there were nine different elevations levels, so maybe they were running out of shades of greenish-gray), the second cut short by time limitations.

For our regular game session, I brought my copy of Alex plus expansions to Jesse's on Thursday, and he was willing to give this game a shot, mostly to compare it to C&C:Ancients. I personally don't think there is any comparison - the games both cover specific battles in the Ancient world, but the underlying mechanisms are very different. We played one of the scenarios from the Tyrant module, which is well-thought of and covers the battles between Syracuse (on the SE tip of Sicily) and the early expansion of the Carthaginians c. 450 BC, so it predates even Alexander the Great and thus uses Hoplites rather than Phalanxes.

I took the Syracusans, while Jesse's units (mostly Libyan MI and Celtic HI, with a few double-sized HI/HO units in the center) were backed up to a forested rise that played no part in our game. We missed the special rule that minimized the effect of the Libyan MI javelins (my units effectively got a +2 modifier when he tried to hit them, which would have helped a bit). However, this was a good scenario to try out the rules and learn the problems inherent in fighting with large and inflexible formations, which I had in droves compared to his mostly single-unit HI/MI units.

We started the game with our skirmishers trading fire, and Jesse clearly got the good end of this deal as he had about twice the skirmishers that I did. The trick to use with these units is to run forward, fire, then slowly drop back as your opponent moves forward. At some point they will die, but at 2VP apiece this isn't really a big issue - I had a whopping 8 points of skirmishers total. Archers are significantly better than slingers, but you'd expect that.

After Jesse's archers had messed up the Greek Allied contingent of HI/HO units on my right flank with a few hits here and there (and some significant damage to a Peltast unit guarding my far right flank), I started bringing both that formation and my center formation forward. His Libyans rushed forward and actually did quite a bit of damage with their javelins, which might not have been the case had we been using the correct rule (the idea is that irregular infantry formations in this period were less effective with the pointy sticks against Hoplite formations). What really hurt me, though, was when he managed to kill that formation's leader with his javelins, which only happens on one in a hundred rolls, a very unlikely outcome. With no leader (and me losing 25 Rout Points as a result), and about half of my army unable to engage or disengage with the enemy, it was just a matter of time before Jesse would roll up my flank like a cheap sleeping bag.

At this point it was time for my cavalry to advance on my left flank. Despite some shortcomings unit size, my units were of higher troop quality and heavier cavalry in general. After two turns of shock combat, he was down to one of the five units he had started with in that formation, but my leader had pursued his cavalry off-board and I was unable to get them back in time to attack his line from the rear. I will admit that my turn seizure attempts had been very successful over the course of the game, while all of Jesse's had failed, but with five HI/HO units unable to do anything but take hits on my right it really didn't matter much.

I did make a last attempt to close with his army's center, although I rolled quite poorly and had to devote the right flank of this formation to guard duty as the Greeks weren't helping any. My rolls chose that moment to fail me utterly, and while I never lost any of these units I was unable to do enough damage to his units to catch up in points.

The worst part, however, was when he managed to get his final two Rout Points by killing a lone skirmisher left behind out of position and routing him outright. That was 85 points and the end of the game.

This scenario was supposed to take about an hour, but for us it took more like three. Part of the problem was an unfamiliarity with the game (I'm still looking up rules), but also the fact that setting one of these things up takes quite a while what with finding the right units in the original game vs the module. Once I figured out that Jesse had the *blue* units, things went a bit quicker. Sigh.

Jesse enjoyed the game quite a bit, and he's planning to pick up the Alex/Tyrant combo soon. He also has the Caesar: Civil Wars game, although I understand that these games tend to be a bit one-sided, although not so much as Caesar in Gaul. We may try a Cataract scenario next time, or maybe another Tyrant game. I think it's worthwhile to get used to playing with a particular type of army rather than jump between the various legion variations, and with all of the C3i scenarios it shouldn't be hard to get at least six or seven good balanced games in just with the Hoplite/Phalanx era.

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