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Subject: Trebia x3 rss

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Philip Sabin
United Kingdom
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At the Cavalier show in Tonbridge yesterday, our usual team of Mark, Alan, Eric and myself ran a participation game of Hannibal's initial victory at the river Trebia in the winter of 218 BC. Even though this is a drawn out battle, we managed to squeeze in three refights within the show hours between 10.00 and 16.00, and even to dash round the trade stands in between. As shown below, the battle is a classic asymmetric confrontation between dominant Punic cavalry wings and a veteran Roman infantry centre. The Romans are hindered by poor leadership and by the growing fatigue of their drenched and hungry troops, while the Carthaginians are handicapped by the low attack limit of 3 and by needing to do well enough to offset their initial fighting value superiority of 83 to 73.

In our first refight, the Romans gained enough initial commands to advance their infantry line while pulling back their cavalry wings into a hollow square bolstered by a couple of withheld legionary units. The Carthaginians countered by enveloping the front of the square with their cavalry as shown below, and using Hannibal's flip-flop ability to get in the first blows on turn 3.

Unfortunately for Hannibal, his initial surge did little damage, and the battle bogged down into an attritional slogging match. The Romans moved their cavalry back out to flank the flankers, and although the Carthaginians inflicted 7 hits on turn 5, they suffered a grievous blow when Mago on the right died trying to rally his men. The Punic left under Hannibal himself had better luck and managed to overwhelm the Roman right, but the strong Roman centre fought well under Longus and on turn 7 it triggered a panic which carried away most of the demoralised Punic centre and right. Hannibal turned his few remaining forces to face the Romans as shown below, and through successful rallying efforts he held off the enemy until fighting ended on turn 10. However, the Romans had done so well to turn around their initial inferior position that it was no surprise that they gained a major game victory by 145 points to 101.

In our second refight, the Romans again withheld two legionary units but kept their cavalry in position to counter the Punic horsemen directly. The Carthaginians employed the same tactic of a turn 3 flip flop, but with Hannibal moved to the centre to motivate the whole of his infantry line. Mago's horsemen quickly prevailed and the reserve legionaries moved to counter him, but when the Punic left flank cavalry also prevailed on turn 4, the way was open for them to gallop forward and surround the entire enemy line as shown below. On turn 6, the beleaguered Roman right centre collapsed, followed on turn 7 by the rest of the Roman line. This time the boot was on the other foot, as the Carthaginians obtained a major game victory by 118 points to 79.

The third refight would be the decider, and both sides sought to learn from their earlier experiences. The Romans had insufficient commands to pull back their cavalry, but they left infantry units in their right and left rear zones as a backstop to gain time. The Carthaginians used the same tactics as in the second game, and on turn 4 they duly saw off both Roman cavalry wings. Meanwhile the fighting raged all along the infantry lines, and on turn 5 the Romans made the fateful decision to call their Gallic allies forward from their reserve position to bolster their right centre which had just seen off the enemy elephants. This allowed the Punic left flank cavalry to surround the Roman line as in the second game. The Roman left centre was the one part not encircled, and on turn 7 it obtained the elusive breakthrough and surged forward out of the Punic net as shown below. However, the rest of the legionaries were soon assailed from all four sides, and on turn 9 the Roman army broke. This time the honours had been more even, and Hannibal gained only a narrow game victory by 112 points to 98.

The Roman breakout in the final game was very historical, since in reality 10,000 Romans cut their way through the Punic infantry line and escaped enirclement. Mago's men were not able to repeat their historical feat of surging out from ambush into the Roman rear, but since the Romans focused so much on guarding against this, they exposed their other flank to a similar encirclement. The difficult trade-off between holding back reserves and pushing forward enough units to win the frontal battle makes this a tense and fascinating scenario, and one which captures well the asymmetric strengths of the contending forces. We will now prepare to refight Pharsalus at the Society of Ancients Battle Day on April 2nd.
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