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Subject: Gaugamela x 4 rss

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Philip Sabin
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At the Colours show on Saturday, we refought Alexander's classic engagement against Darius, using Eric Cruttenden's figures. We easily managed four refights of this battle, which is very fast-playing because of the asymmetry, the high attack limits and the predominance of cavalry rather than more resilient infantry on the weaker side. Lots of players joined in for the various games, including a retired general and a senior defence analyst. The pictures below show the Persian players pondering how to use their unwieldy forces against the fearsome Macedonian onslaught.



The Macedonians established a pattern of opting for an immediate flip-flop and attacking swiftly not only with Alexander but also with Parmenio's cavalry and the central phalanx in order to start a panic before the Persian wings could get into combat. This tactic proved successful and so was adopted by later Macedonian players, making the refights less varied than I might have hoped.

In the first battle, Parmenio's men were menacingly outflanked but on turn 4 they triggered the crucial panic which made Darius and his men flee. The handicapped victory totals were 91 to 80 in Alexander's favour, giving him a clear game victory thanks to the low victory threshold of 15 at this one-sided battle.

The second battle differed in that the Persians held back their centre, but the phalanx advanced boldly into the pocket, and the demoralisation caused by losing their key zone meant that the Persians again fled on turn 4 when Alexander achieved a breakthrough. Victory totals of 85 to 73 signified a less bloody battle but a similarly clear Macedonian victory.



The third battle was a real Macedonian whitewash. The Persians used double moves to get some cavalry onto Parmenio's flank on turn 2, but this was to no avail when both Alexander and Parmenio attacked so successfully that the Persians panicked on turn 3, having had only one post-deployment turn of their own. (A few flanking cavalry units survived the mass panic in all three of these refights, but they withdrew voluntarily lest they suffer more additional losses than they inflicted in a hopeless last stand.) This time, the hardly bloodied Macedonians won a major game victory by 89 points to 65.

As you can imagine, it was with some trepidation that I left the dispassionate security of my umpire's seat and took command of the Persians in the final game of the day, to see if I as the game designer could reverse their fortunes and outwit the usual Macedonian blitzkrieg. My plan was to use individual unit moves to get my flanking cavalry into action quickly, and to shift some light horse across from my left centre to my right centre before pulling back the rest of my left centre and advancing Darius to create a pocket to delay Alexander's fearsome strike.

Unfortunately for this clever plan, it was actually Parmenio who made most progress in his initial attacks, leaving even my reinforced right centre battered and precarious. Alexander, though, achieved little in his initial strike, and instead of plunging on into the pocket which I created, he led his Companions onto the flank to combat my own flanking cavalry. This allowed me to charge my own withdrawn cavalry back into the fight and to launch a series of attacks all along the front which produced a succession of lucky double hits. Alexander made several failed rally attempts, and I even managed to shatter one of his Companion units - the only Macedonian unit removed from the field all day.

Nemesis came when Parmenio achieved his threatened breakthrough and most of my jittery troops fled on a morale roll of 1, but the victory calculation showed that I had done just enough to gain a narrow Persian game victory by 95 points to 90, albeit due as much to luck as to clever tactics.

It is pretty clear from our experience that a further handicap bid of up to 10 VPs would be appropriate when bidding for the Macedonians in this scenario, as discussed in section 10.3 of the boardgame rules. Parmenio seemed rather too strong in comparison to his historically beleaguered experience in this engagement, and it would be interesting to tweak the categorisation of the two sides' cavalry to give the Macedonians fewer veterans or the Persians fewer levies. Another interesting experiment would be to adjust the initial Persian deployment so that their entire force is held back in their rear zones instead of forward deployed where they are vulnerable to an immediate Macedonian turn flip. This would increase the risk of a demoralising loss of the centre zones, but it would look much less artificial than the current staggered initial deployment, and it would give time for the Persian wings to arc forwards and come into action before the centre is overwhelmed.

Above all, as I discuss on pp.137-8 of my original book, my model challenges the common scholarly assumption that the Persians must in reality have had far fewer cavalry than the 40,000 horsemen attributed to them by Arrian. Against a better quality and better commanded Macedonian force of 7,000 horse and 40,000 foot, 40,000 cavalry is the bare minimum to offer any kind of serious resistance with so little solid infantry support.

It would be great if others could try some of the tweaks I have suggested (especially the more conservative Persian deployment), and report back with their own thoughts on this classic scenario. Meanwhile, I must get on with marking dissertations, preparing this year's teaching, and getting ready for our next classic refight - Zama, at SELWG on October 13th!
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Philip Sabin
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PS: After discussion in our Yahoo group (http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/lostbattles/), my own suggested tweak is to swap the LHC unit in the Persian right centre with 2 AHC units from the right wing. This leaves the Persian FV unchanged but gives them greater resilience in frontal combat with Parmenio's wing. Shifting the LLC to the right wing instead would slightly reduce frontal resilience but would increase the potential to outflank or encircle Parmenio. It would be interesting to refight this battle using free deployment, to see if the Persians can come up with a more effective deployment which is not easily countered by the Macedonians' own ability to redeploy and still get in the first blow.
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