Sunday, January 29, 2012

Successor Readings

Over the last several weeks, I have read a couple of books on the Successors, one of which has been on my want to read list for years. The first is a recent history of the Wars of the Successors entitled, "Ghost on the Throne", by James Romm. This is a very good historical primer on the Wars of the Successors following the death of Alexander. It is more focused on political events rather than detailed battle descriptions, but if you are looking for a basic narrative of what happened during this era, this book will give you what you need. It starts with Alexander on his deathbed, and then follows up with Perdiccas' attempt to maintain the Macedonian empire in whole as the regent for the two kings - Alexander's infant son by the Bactrian princess Roxanne and his simpleton brother, Philip Arrhidaeus. After Ptolemy's theft of Alexander's mummified corpse and a long succession of wars and betrayals, it finally concludes with Antigonus' defeat of the Greek general Eumenes at the Battle of Gabene and the stabilization of the Macedonian Successor States. I could have used a supplemental cast of characters at the beginning of the book, along with some genealogical charts in order to keep track of who was related to who, but otherwise, the narrative is fairly easy to follow. I wish the story continued until Antigonus' final defeat at Ipsus, and the following establishment of the Antigonid dynasty in Macedon by his colorful son, Demetrius. Also, it would have been useful to have more detailed descriptions of the numerous battles, but the scanty original sources probably make this impossible. All in all though, if you are looking to get generally familiar with the Successors and their Wars, this is a good place to start.

The second book was more of a disappointment to me. This was "Funeral Games" by the renowned historical fiction novelist, Mary Renault. Decades ago, I had read the first two books in her Alexander trilogy, "Fire From Heaven", and "The Persian Boy". These were both very evocative of the era, giving one that sensation of actually being present at the historical events described. This book does do that, but is otherwise very disjointed. There are probably too many characters, and the book is broken into three distinct parts - first, the death of Alexander; second, the attempted revolt of Meleager; and finally, the travails of Eurydice - her marriage to Philip Arrhidaeus, her attempt to take over the Macedonian army as a queen in her own right, and then finally, her conflict with Olympias, Alexander's mother. Basically, this book covers the same timespan as "Ghost on a Throne", as a fictionalized account, but some of the characters that I find most fascinating - Antigonus One-Eye, Craterus, Eumenes, Cassander and Antipater - make only peripheral appearances. If you just can't get enough of the Successor era, then this book might be worth your time, even if only simply as a "you are there" account of events, but a reader who isn't already reasonably familiar with the era will probably only get confused and bored by this novel.

One thing that I would love to see explained, which neither of these books does, is how, after Alexander's death, these small cadres of mercenary Macedonians managed to control the recently conquered subject populations while fighting all out war against each other until the stabilized and relatively long lasting Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ptolemys, the Antigonids, and the Seleucids were established. Well, I guess it will just be an excuse for me to do some more research.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Battle of the Sambre with HAHGS

Last Sunday our local group of HAHGS gamers got together for the Battle of the Sambre in Thomas' wonderful man-cave.  It was a multi-player scenario game using the Hail Caesar rules that was designed to accommodate 3 players on each side and to last for 6 turns.  We all chipped in with whatever figures we had and used an order of battle obtained from the Commands and Colors scenario website.

Here is a photo of the battlefield laid out at the start of the game:

The Belgae, on the left, had a total of 16 warbands with one rated as the general's bodyguard on their left flank, a unit of javelin-armed foot skirmishers, a unit of Gallic medium cavalry, and three generals. The Romans on the right had bow and sling-armed foot skirmishers, a unit of Numidian light horse, all deployed in front of 4 veteran legions representing the Xth Legion commanded by Labienus, and 8 more standard legions in their center and right commanded by Caesar himself. The Romans also could anticipate four more units of newly recruited legionaries and a unit of medium cavalry that would show up as reinforcements in their 4th turn.

We decided to run this battle as a first time Hail Caesar game for our group for several reasons. One was the limited number of troops types involved that would make it easier to grasp the rules.  The other reason was that tactically the battle was a rather simple affair - basically an ambush out of the woods by the Belgae hoping to rout the Romans as rapidly as possible and to capture their baggage train.

The game opened with the Belgae having the first move, who promptly charged down their hill at the disorganized Roman legions. Here are the Belgae charging:

And another photo of the warbands just as they reach the Sambre:

Fortunately for the Romans, the center of the Belgae attack was delayed by less than spectacular command rolls that forced a stop on the river banks:

As opposed to Labienus' actual decision as the commander of the Xth Legion to counterattack the charging barbarians as rapidly as possible, our Roman player choose to halt and await the impact:

The Belgae left moved more rapidly on the Roman right wing awaiting the attack while Caesar scrambled to organize his widely scattered units that had been working on building the camp for that night's rest:

The hand to hand fighting on the Roman right wing commenced first, while the barbarian center was struggling across the Sambre and the Roman left got tangled in a skirmisher fight with the barbarian right.

Finally, the fight in the center got hot and heavy:

Note that we had to proxy some 5th Century Germans in for the Belgae because we ran short of appropriate figures.

After a round or two of combat, the Belgae center shattered their Roman counterparts, broke through the Roman lines and headed for the Roman baggage train.

Feeling the desperation, the Xth Legion finally got their nose stuck into the fray:

Unfortunately for the Romans though, the warbands hit the Xth in a solid line instead of as in the historical battle where Labienus caught the Belgae disorganized in the middle of the Sambre. With the barbarian slamming into the Romans as a solid, unified mass, the Xth was rapidly driven back:

At this point, the Roman reinforcements arrived:

And with the arrival of these reinforcements, the Roman lines regained a bit a fragile stability.

This was the end of the fifth turn, and we all decided mutually to call the game at the start of turn 6. The Roman center and right wings had been completely destroyed (as was the barbarian left wing), and the Xth legion was in serious trouble. There was no way the Romans could duplicate their historical performance, and since they were deep in enemy territory with a shattered army, we called it a significant Belgae victory.

All in all, we very much enjoyed the game. Most of the players had never played Hail Caesar before, and even though we made some errors with the break tests and casualty allocation, the game moved along easily, giving what seemed to be very accurate historical results. Most players neglected to get their generals involved in the hand to hand fighting though, something which could have effected the combats significantly - but I'm sure our players will be much more aware of that next time.

Since we all had such a good time, it appears to be confirmed that our group wants to proceed with the proposed Hail Caesar campaign. Hopefully I'll be posting more on that soon.