Playtesting for the historical version of Warband (hard, pdf) continues at a pace and this week we took a couple of large forces to the table in a non-historical battle.
Although provisionally titled "Comitatus" (the inspiration for the original name "Warband") these rules will probably not be released under this title. Someone got there first!
Anyway, Warband Historical (WH) is normally fought between two 500pt forces but for this battle, with access to a larger table, we pushed this up to 800pts, partly to test the scalability of the rules, but also to fill the table!
We used here our 15mm ancients armies based DBx style, and saboted (in some cases with blu-tac) onto 10cm x 5cm bases. We're playtesting in the Warband basing style, but its likely that the release basing will be 80 x 40mm - there's just too much dominance of the 40mm frontage in ancients gaming to resist!
To the south we have the Seleucids consisting of the following 17 units:
General (mounted, average quality)
5x Pike phalanxes (+ fierce and resolute - on 10 x 10mm bases)
4x Asiatic archers
1x Asiatic elephants
1x Companion cavalry (+ fear, powerful, Hero, sub-commander)
1x Cavalry (+ Sub-commander)
2x Cretan slingers
To the north we have the British Tribes consisting of the following 20 units:
1x Chieftain in chariot (average)
2x Charioteers (+ Sub-commander)
8x Warriors (+ fierce)
2x Light horse
I oversaw proceedings and let the four players get on with things. Two have played Warband so were familiar with the basics, although WH changes a few core elements and adds in some extras. None-the-less, even the new players picked up the game within a turn or two.
Both teams selected to place no terrain at all.
Comment: WH allows each army to select terrain based on the commander's quality, and its possible to take no terrain (this may change). Both side in this matchup lamented their decision to go with an open field, for different reasons!
The British deployed in traditional battle order with an infantry centre and cavalry/chariot flanks. The Seleucids chose a defence in depth with a front rank of medium and light archers supported behind by the formidable phalanx. The elephants formed up in the centre of the archers ready to meet the bulk of the British strength. They left the west flank empty, and put both their cavalry units on the east flank.
Comment: each army deploys in "chunks" of 3 units at a time so you can see your opponent's deployment develop. While you may sent units on flanking moves, neither army elected to do so.
The Seleucid disposition was defensive. Clearly outnumbered on the flanks by light and fast moving cavalry, they held the phalanx back to protect its flanks. The British intended a rapid envelopment on both flanks to exploit their strength in terms of numbers and mobility.
The battle opened with the British sub-commanders group moving their flanking forces forwards rapidly. The envelopment seemed inevitable. In the centre, the British sling-armed skirmishers advanced to try to pin the Seleucid centre.
Comment: sub-commanders are new rules that allow a commander to extend his command range in expending "command points". Sub-commanders can also conduct "group moves" allow the traditions centre and flanks structure of historical battles. The British used this to good efect in the early stages but their sib-commander on the west flank bottled out for several turns after...
The Seleucids were somewhat more cautious, but came out to meet the challenged. Their elite companions and cavalry moved to counter the attempted envelopment on the east flank. This was an unequal fight from the start. The British chariots were up against some truly exceptional opponents.
In the centre, the archers and elephants stepped out to drive off the British skirmishers.
In the initial exchanged, the British slingers were forced back under a hail of arrows, but not before they peppered the Asiatic archers with lethal stones, forcing them to fall back also.
The British fanatics, unable to restrain themselves, broke ranks and stormed off towards the Seleucids.
Comment: any unit suffering 2+ hits has to withdraw from its position by falling back. Although outranged, the slingers were stll able to advance and inflict hits on the enemy archers. Meanwhile, forgetting that their fanatics are "impetuous", the British players forgot to control them and so they headed off on their own in a forced "impetuous move"! This oversight messed with the British plans quite a bit and almost cost them the game.
Meanwhile, on the east flank, the British were able to make their envelopment, but lacked the numbers to do it effectively. The Seleucid cavalry flank was more than up to the job, ably supported by the Thorakitai infantry, and put the British charioteers and light horsemen to flight. Although successful, they were now chasing the routing British off and effectively advanced themselves out of the battle.
Things weren't going so well for the British on the west flank (top), and their mounted flank consistently failed to move for several turns. This meant they were unable to exploit the wide open flank before them!
In the centre, the Seleucid elephants were having a field day! They punched through the British fanatics and skirmishers into the main British warrior line, and despite taking casualties, were able maintain their morale! the British finally managed to stop the devastating charge and although they didn't take the elephants out, did have the threat they posed contained.
Comment: units must roll a "motivation check" to determine whether they move, and if so how far. The British players consistently failed this dice roll for several turns, and as they were attempting a "group move" the commander couldn't intervene to help motivate them.
Very much on the back foot, the British had lost the initial engagements to the Seleucids. It must be said some spectacularly poor dice rolling didn't help! However, the mid game began in earnest and the British attack began finally to develop. Their western chariot flank came in, and supported their slingers and warriors, threatening the Seleucid phalanx.
With their front line archers engaged with the British warriors in front, and their Thorakitai flank guard tied up with British skirmishing, the Seleucids peeled off a phalanx unit to try to hold the flanking move long enough to destroy the British in front of them.
The pikemen found themselves completely surrounded by swirling British skirmishers. Pressing on as best they could, it was a fight lost before it began and slings and arrows routed the heavy foot.
Things were starting to turn around for the British and the game was pulling back towards a draw.
Sadly we ran out of time, but as the phalanx finally began to move, and the Companions were heading back into the fight, the British were poised to take the Seleucid pike blocks one by one, rolling up their line.
The game ended with about 40pts between the two forces losses, so a draw. Given another hour who knows what would have happened!?
Comment: as we were testing the rules and had new players involved (and we started late) we didn't manage to get to a resolution. However, it was a jolly fun game, and a good test for the rules.
Tweaks include, addressing some suspect pursuit rules, considerations about skirmish units not blocking non-skirmishers from fall backs, and some discussions around tactics to take on elephants and mounted skirmishers.
Up next, Parthians vs Armenians I think.
OH and...a thing of beauty I think you'll agree...