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Steve Bishop
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It occurs to me that someone 'stumbling' on this review may not understand some of the points made, and certainly not the title of the review unless they had read this first... http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/712105/beer-and-pretzels...
I include the above thread link to give the reader a context to some of the points made in my review.


Lost Battles.
Having had my copy of the ‘Lost Battles’ game for about a month now, played a few games of what I would term the ‘introductory’ scenario (Marathon) and then moved on to other battles that introduced different troop and terrain types in a gradual process, I now feel qualified to write an initial review.
I must admit that the game has captured my imagination and I’m really surprised that I didn’t know more about this system in its book form until only a few months before the ‘Deluxe’ game version was published. The reason is probably that it was never intended to be developed solely as a game but as a piece of scholarship and a model that could be used to test various hypotheses about Ancient battles that are more than often very poorly documented (hence ‘Lost’). The hard-bitten Ancient wargamer probably knew of its existence in some of its previous incarnations such as ‘Strategos’, another set of rules devised by Prof. Sabin the author of Lost Battles, and it was only after some fortuitous BGG surfing that I came across it.

Sinews of War.
I don’t intend to go through a full list of components in detail here as there are other reviews and certainly a couple of videos on this site that will do a better job visually than I can do in writing, suffice to say that everything about the production of this game is top notch and some would say beautiful. The tiles that make up the game board are fully mounted and double sided in order to be able to make up the different terrain on which the 36 different scenarios are fought.
The double sided counters representing the fighting troops come in a variety of sizes to represent the different types of units but apart from the size and the number of figures depicted there are no quantitative markings on the counters. The units are fairly generic so you get Heavy Infantry (HI), Heavy Cavalry (HC), Hoplites (HO), Roman Legion (LE), etc, all of the ‘high level’ types of troops you would expect in ancient battles (including the more esoteric Elephants and Chariots). The artwork on the counters is very nice and is the sort of thing you might see on an ancient Greek vase or frieze but I can imagine that some might like to see more ‘realistic’ depictions of their soldiers; from a distance you could almost mistake some of them for cave paintings. A nice level of detail however among the generic types is, for instance, veteran Hoplites with shields denoting Spartans (the famous Lambda symbol) and some individual units like the Theban Sacred Band.

Within each of the troop types the quality Is also denoted by being classed as Veteran, Average or Levy and the back of the counter shows the unit in its ‘spent’ state, each unit effectively having two steps – ‘Fresh’ or ‘Spent’ after which another ‘hit’ will cause it to become ‘shattered’ and removed from the field.
Along with the game pieces is a 70 odd page rulebook which at first sight might seem a bit daunting (especially to non-wargamers) but apart from the actual rules the booklet also includes all of the scenario information and there are also rules included for the ‘Empire’ game that comes with the package (which I don’t intend to cover in this review). Forty two pages of the booklet then are actually rules and ten of these are devoted to extensive examples of play. The rules are accompanied by two identical player aids with all of the necessary reminders and another aid containing game tracks for recording information about turns, commands and an army’s fighting value.
Capping the whole thing off (and to my mind the piece-de-resistance) is a copy of Prof. Sabin’s unusual book that also has the rules from the original game (only very slightly altered for this package) but in the main consists of an explanation of the rationale behind every mechanism in the game and extensive notes on each of the battles. What you have here is the best set of designer’s notes I’ve ever seen in a wargame and I was literally disappointed to get to the end of the book as it was such an avid read.

Simple Lost Battles?
The mechanics of the game are deceptively simple at first sight, a gridded 4 x 5 board making a playing area of only 20 ‘spaces’, a couple of which in the centre will be designated ‘Key Zones’ to encourage their possession. Each player controls an army of around 20 units with one or two generals thrown in and each army has a fighting value that is a reflection of its size but more importantly also its quality, for example, Levy units contribute 2 to the fighting value, Average units 3 and veterans 4. The fighting value will provide an army with a number of commands by dividing that value by 10 and rounding down; it can therefore be seen that 10 average units will provide 3 commands to its side but 10 veterans will provide 4 representing the veteran’s better training, discipline and overall quality. The fighting value of each unit also forms the basis of the victory points accrued for that unit to the enemy with different multipliers for it being spent, withdrawn, routed or shattered. Importantly the fighting value will also decline with casualties and the number of commands will also go down in proportion; as an army takes losses it will therefore gradually decline as an effective fighting force.

Generals are also ranked for their effectiveness ranging from ‘uninspired’, ‘average’, ‘Inspired’ and finally (here we have Hannibal, Alexander, et al) ‘Brilliant’. There will be no more than two generals on a side and each will contribute to the fighting value (and thereby the number of commands) but also get a number of commands for free; known as exemptions. Someone like Hannibal therefore with a fighting value of 18 and four exemptions is almost contributing 6 commands to his army.

A battle will last no longer than 10 turns (and often a lot less) and a game turn consists of two player turns, classic ugoigo; in terms of time I can’t see any of the battles lasting more than two hours and many half that. In the historical scenarios the armies mostly start on the map and the game begins at turn 2; it being assumed that turn 1 was the deployment to the field. However each battle can be fought with the armies ‘un-deployed’ and off map and the game will then begin on turn 1. A few of the historical scenarios also have one or both sides ‘surprised’ with a portion of their force off the board and struggling to join the fray.

During an army’s turn it will spend its commands, costing 2 commands to move a group of units together or a single command for unit moving on its own. An attack is best thought of as being done in lieu of a move and the unit or units simply attack the tile ahead of them, only units of one side can ever be in a tile. Infantry can basically move forward once and cavalry twice and a facing change can be carried out instead of a move forward, if an attack is carried out then it will be the last action for that attacking group.

Combat is done by comparing each attacking unit type in a tile in turn against a defending unit; the defending unit will be the current ‘Lead’ unit (of which more later) in the tile under attack. A cross reference table gives the score required on two dice to ‘hit’ the defender; most of the values on this table are 9’s or 8’s but there are exceptions such as Heavy cavalry hitting light infantry on an 7 and Light cavalry needing 10 to hit Heavy infantry.

The first hit on a unit flips it to its spent side and a hit on a spent unit will shatter it and remove it from play, every time a unit is shattered all of the units of the same army will have to check morale to see if the effect of this causes any of them to panic and also leave the field.
The game ends after each side has had 10 turns or one of the armies has only 3 units remaining on the map, victory points are then calculated based upon losses and the level of victory determined.
Sounds simple doesn’t it?

With Some Subtleties!
And actually, although I have left out a few key points, it doesn’t take much more knowledge than this to play what I call the ‘introductory’ scenario, Marathon. This is because it only has a very few troop types mainly Hoplites on the Greek side and Archers for the Persians, throw in a couple of Heavy Cavalry units and that’s it. The troops are also all either of Average or Levy quality so again less complication to contend with. Ok, there are a few generals in there as well but they are all ‘Uninspired’, you could probably play without them if you wanted to and not have too much effect on the result.
However as much as this is a simple scenario and a good one with which to start if you just based your opinion of Lost Battles on a playing or two of only this single battle you would be doing it a great injustice, for the very things that make it an easy scenario to play also highlight some of the things that people have tended to criticize the game for.

One criticism has been the ‘similarity’ of troop types that are ostensibly different, for example both the Hoplites and the Archers are ‘Heavy’ infantry and the Archers have no ‘missile’ ability. However, what we have to remember here is the scale (grand tactical) we are playing at and the fact that the game is looking for the ‘end result’ of battle in ancient times not the minutiae of weapons and armour systems. Both the Hoplites and the Archers represented in the game fight in ‘close order’ and overall have a similar effect at that grand tactical level but achieved in different ways.

In fact the Hoplites do have an advantage over some other Heavy Infantry types and this manifests itself in the use of ‘Lead units’. This Lead unit mechanism is one of the subtleties of the game and serves to bring out the differences between the troop types whilst not making any one type overwhelming superior to any others.

In essence every tile must have a designated Lead Unit and that unit will be the first to attack from a tile and the first to take any hits suffered from enemy attacks, when a defending lead unit is hit (and thus ‘spent’) it can be replaced by another to take subsequent hits thereby sharing the hits among the units in a tile. This system is meant to abstractly represent different lines within the same zone, the placement of screens and replacement of front line troops with those from the second and subsequent lines. As a general you can decide to share the hits out like this or choose that certain troops will take the bulk of the casualties thereby saving the best troops for a counter-attack. The Lead Unit attacking from a tile will normally get a ‘+1’ bonus to the 2D6 throw just for being in the lead and depending upon its immediate adversary (such as Hoplites vs Heavy Infantry) further bonuses to increase the chance of a hit. The choice of lead unit can thus have a distinct effect upon the ‘overall’ chance of the whole attack from that tile (i.e. from all of the units in a tile who will attack) causing the most damage possible.

Archers on the other hand will get a +1 when they attack any light troops, representing their ability to basically ‘outshoot’ these types whereas the other Heavies will have a tougher time inflicting hits on these nimble opponents. In our Marathon refight this element of the bigger picture is not brought out with the few types on display and the representation of the greater ‘missile’ ability of the Archers is not seen.

Depending upon how high the 2D6 throw is above the required score to hit there may be a chance to cause 2 hits to the defenders instead of just 1. A disadvantage with Levy units is that if they are the lead unit being attacked and 2 hits are scored then they must absorb both hits and immediately become shattered representing the brittle nature of these troops and their aversion to being used as cannon fodder. Even worse, a non-levy unit attacking a levy unit gets +1 to the dice throw making it even more likely that just such a result can occur. This makes you very careful with Levy units but unfortunately going back to our Marathon refight again the Persians have 17 Levy units out of a total of 23; the Persians cannot screen all of their levies and are inevitably going to take casualties!

Suffering four shattered units is a heavy blow and the reason for this is the way the morale system works.
As mentioned earlier whenever a unit shatters that units’ army takes a morale test, this morale test consists of two parts;
1. A D3 throw for ‘army’ morale which is modified by certain parameters, followed by;
2. Comparison of that ‘army’ score to each unit in the army which also have their own modifiers applied.

Generally any unit that finishes with a morale score of zero in a tile where a unit was shattered or has subsequently panicked will itself panic and leave the field, other units will require a score of -1 or worse to panic.

One of the ‘army’ modifiers is a -1 for every 4 shattered units so it is a 1/3 chance for an army so afflicted to get a net ‘army’ score of zero. When you then consider that Levy units receive a further -1 to that score to see if they panic individually; you can see that armies of Levy units become very susceptible to contagious panic. So again one of the things making Marathon an easy scenario to play means it also comes in for criticism because the Persians are likely to evaporate with some inevitability and being on the receiving end of this for most people will not be fun.

There are certain mitigations to this. Firstly it is historically accurate that armies did disintegrate in this manner and I would say that Lost Battles purports to be more of a simulation than a game and represents this well. In this particular model of ancient warfare it is the quality of the troops that is the determining factor that allows inferior numbers of better troops to beat huge numbers of poor troops; again with historical precedent.
Secondly the design of the victory point calculation takes this into account by providing the weaker side with a handicap total that the stronger side will have to overcome, granted the Persian player maybe has to enjoy being the ‘underdog’ that will lose the field to the enemy and must fight to cause maximum damage to the enemy, or cleverly avoid too much to his own.
Thirdly there are a lot of battles that do not have a preponderance of Levy units and this collapse is therefore only likely to happen after one side has taken a much greater number of casualties or suffered additional set-backs such as the loss off an effective general or the enemy having taken their key zone.
In some games this collapse will not happen at all and the battle will run its full 10 turns.

Another subtlety in the combat system is the ‘All-out attack’. If the combat roll is exactly equal to the number required to hit then a hit is only scored if the attacker carries out an ‘All-out attack’; similarly if the score is exactly 3 above that required to hit then this is 1 automatic hit but can be turned into 2 by the attacker again performing an ‘All-out attack’. There are also some restrictions, such as most units not being able to do this to Light cavalry who are assumed to be using evasive tactics and Light Infantry screens can only ever suffer 1 hit if they and their accompanying infantry are still fresh (representing the light screen thrown forward before it has suffered casualties or used up its ammunition.

The downside of this type of attack is that the attacking unit also suffers a hit (for this reason spent units do not have this option) and the decision to do this comes at a cost therefore and is a balancing act between taking and giving hits; Hoplites however must ‘All-out attack’ when possible which makes combat very bloody involving, and amongst, this type.

Generally Speaking.
Up to now I have only touched upon the effects of generals in the game, a hint of their effect was given when I talked about the number of commands and command exemptions they contributed to their army. It would be appropriate at this juncture to mention that commands can also be used in a different capacity and that is to give bonuses to attacking units, the base cost is 2 commands for a +1 bonus on the dice but certain troops like Lead Veterans and Light Infantry get this bonus for only 1 command (I’m going to stop talking about subtleties now as it should become apparent that all of these small differences are there for reasons, that are also well explained in the book).

Not only do generals give command exemptions (1 for uninspired, 2 Average and 4 for others) but they are also granted the same number of exemptions when it comes to combat bonuses. What this means is, for instance, that an Average general can use his two command exemptions to ‘activate’ all of the units in his tile to attack the tile in front and then use his two combat exemptions to grant the first attacking unit a combat bonus of +1, all of this without using any of the overall army command points. As you can imagine an Inspired or Brilliant general with 4 exemptions of each type is a powerful asset and contributes vastly to the effectiveness of his army.
Brilliant generals have an additional weapon in their armoury and that is the ability (once per game) to change the player order in the upcoming turn, effectively giving his side a double turn before their opponents can react.

We are not quite finished with our generals however because as well as having a ‘class’ as described above each general is also categorized either as a ‘leader’ or a ‘commander’. Leaders are always attached to their guard units and move and attack with them at all times, should the guard unit be shattered then the leader is withdrawn from the battle, Alexander with his Companions is such a leader.
Commanders are not attached to any particular unit and can be moved at no cost to any of their groups on the board, all exemptions must however be spent in the commanders starting tile, Hannibal is an example of a commander. Commanders will only be withdrawn if they find themselves in a tile with no friendly troops.

Both types of generals can also attempt to ‘rally’ hits just inflicted on units in their own tile (certain units such as Levies can never be rallied) but commanders can only rally hits on spent units to try to prevent them shattering, leaders must attempt to rally their own guard unit and Leaders of Hoplite units must also try to rally hits on other Hoplites within their tile. As rallying always carries a risk of the general being killed or wounded this tends to reflect the high incidence of casualties amongst Hoplite generals.

Added Depth.

So from our simple introduction to the system covered in the first few paragraphs I hope you can see the added depth that the different unit types and categories bring to the game, and I haven’t yet mentioned quite a few of the other features such as;

• Attack limits per tile that mean veterans take up less of the space when attacking (allowing more of them to attack) and cavalry and lights take up more, this is nicely represented by the size and orientation of the respective counters.
• The extra maneuverability of light troops over the heavies simply by giving them extra facing changes and their advantages in certain terrain.
• Express activation that is expensive in commands but allows a single unit to make a double move.
• Veteran legionnaires that have their own express activation type that makes them very flexible along the battle line.
• Cataphracts, Elephants and Scythed chariots that all have their own peculiarities
• Additional restrictions on Hoplite maneuverability
• The importance of guarding the flanks of HI especially Hoplites and Phalangites from both a combat and a morale point of view

….but, to continue would be almost to regurgitate the rulebook.

What I hope has come across is the feeling of a game somewhat chess-like in its basic system but with a depth that is created with sometimes only slight differences in the unit types. For me it creates a great sense of fighting a battle in the ancient period and although it has been designed for effect with hardly any chrome it feels like a grand tactical simulation with just the right amount of detail.

Some of the mechanisms I have described may sound complicated but after a couple of plays they become second nature; as an example during a morale check I find myself quickly scanning the board and almost see straight away who has a chance of panicking and who doesn’t and what the initial die roll would have to be to accomplish this.

Although there are also up to 19 modifiers to the combat dice roll there are very few that apply to each situation (again in our Marathon refight we would just ignore any to do with terrain) but as with the morale check you quickly get to know the exact modifiers that will apply.

‘res ad triarios venit’
I can understand some of the criticism and I have already alluded to this above in earlier sections dealing with the sometimes precipitous collapse of an army.

I also understand that some critics feel that a lot of the battles seem scripted, if you already have units next to your key zone and the enemy is in a similar position on their side of the board then you are probably both going to advance straight away to avoid the morale penalty that would accrue should you lose that zone. However, one has to remember that these are historical set-ups as determined by Prof. Sabin using the available knowledge as a best effort to reconstruct the battle to reflect how the armies actually deployed.
These scenarios start at turn 2 and the rules do make a point of this and recommend that players use the deployment rules, fighting the battle from turn 1 to make their own set-up decisions and allowing for a wider range of possibilities for each scenario. However if you really want a battle where both sides have an equal chance to ‘win’ then you can always just create a DIY scenario and choose armies with exactly the same composition of troop quality, you have all of the tools in the package to be able to do this.

Having said all that I like the historical set-ups because they play very well solo and as the game plays relatively quickly you can start over again making one side actually follow a ‘script’ and then attempt to beat them by trying different strategies with the other side. Marathon is actually a good case in point here because it has fewer different types of units and the Persians will probably ‘lose’ the battle, you can just set the Greek Hoplites marching straight forward with no other strategy than frontal attack, then see what you can do with the Persians. The two Persian cavalry units in this scenario give you just enough to try out a few different options with flanking.
Then run the scenario again, but in this refight have the two lead Hoplite units turn to the flanks to block the Persian cavalry and see what happens this time; I still want to have another go at this, the simplest scenario.

As you probably realized right from the start of this review (and by its general tenor) I really like this game and the way it approaches and models its subject. I have played both GBOH and C&C Ancients and I had thought about comparing the three games in this review and even throwing in DBA for good measure but I decided not to as all of these games, whilst sharing the same or overlapping subject matter, take a different approach. Each of these fine games will have their own champions and the various aspects of each will appeal to different tastes.

So it is perhaps best to close this review with the observation that this game hits the spot for me as it recreates the battles at the right level (in this case Grand Tactical) with the appropriate unit density and the right amount of complexity to make me want to keep coming back to play the game. The game is actually quite simple for a wargame but has many subtleties (that word again) that make it an intriguing exercise. The research behind the product is impressive, playing a wargame will often make me do some background history reading and vice-versa and in this case I have both aspects in the same package.

With ‘Lost Battles’ I really feel like I am wargaming history.

Thanks for reading.

edit - 1. missed some formatting.
2. added link
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Jim F
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Where the heck did this interest in WW1 come from?
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Thanks for such a thorough review steve. Not sure you have changed my mind but you make some good points. Maybe l need to give this another go with a different scenario.
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Jim O'Neill (Established 1949)
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VENI, VIDI, VISA - my good wife conquering a Shopping Mall.
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Like a good red wine, I improve with age... and being laid.
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Pyuredeadbrilliant

Jim...... mb
Est. 1949

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David
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Magnificent review. Although I haven't punched the game yet, I would love for someone to do a comparison with DBA. CC&CA is probably way too light to be comparable I imagine.
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Hidden Among the Leaves
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Excellent review! Congratulations!

M.
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Russell Woodland
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Great review, very well constructed. Excellent points.

Just makes me think, yes I made the right decision investing into the game.
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Nigel Wright
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Very thorough and very informative review/introduction to the game. thumbsup
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Niko
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It's a shame I could only recommend this great review once. Thanks for taking the time to write this.
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John Gorski
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Very thorough review.

I have just received my copy of Losts Battles and have thusfar only played through Marathon.

I will give it a couple of more plays and then add my own review but at this point I mostly agree with your observations.
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Andrew Saunders
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Good review. Steve. See you in a week or two and we can ensure we get in a game of this
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Jim F
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Where the heck did this interest in WW1 come from?
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Ok, I have just ordered this game. Either I am a weak person, easily led, or Steve is just amazingly persuasive or some combination of those three.shake
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Steve Bishop
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Ashiefan wrote:

Ok, I have just ordered this game. Either I am a weak person, easily led, or Steve is just amazingly persuasive or some combination of those three.shake


Sorry Mate

I am never more weak willed than when contemplating a game purchase!
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David Murray
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Good review Steve - one which sums up my feelings and experiences with the game so far, I also am surprised this game had not come across my radar before...
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Steve Bishop
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A Scripted Marathon Refight.

So I re-ran Marathon again and took my own suggestion to drive the Hoplites straight forward, attacking whenever possible and giving them combat bonuses to the left and right centres where there were surplus commands to use up.

I 'played' the Persian side and decided to 'refuse' both right and left rear tiles, batter through the centre with the best quality Persian Archers (average) and attempt to flank with the Cavalry on both wings. In addition to bolster the right flanking force (and deny the Greeks the +1 for Hoplites attacking a tile containing Hoplites) I would move the Persian Levy Hoplites out with the right flank cavalry.

The plan looked to be working as the centre Hoplites took a battering from the opposing Persian tile and although the Levy archers in the rear tiles were taking hits it looked as if holding them back was just going to give the centre enough time to break through.

Even more promising when all of the Greek units in the centre were shattered giving a -1 to the last morale roll and some of the spent Hoplites on their right were actually in danger of routing as they were flanked by the Persian Average Heavy Cavalry. A Maximum roll however saved them from that peril.
I moved one unit from the victorious centre to occupy the Greek key zone and looked forward to re-facing the rest in the next turn with the Greek army morale now on a -2 on the next morale test.

Then the folly of my plan came to fruition!
The right rear Persians had only 4 units and all were shattered as the Greeks used as many commands as possible and caused a few double hits.
With the Persian army morale now on a -1 because of the 4 shattered levies the die was cast.... and the dreaded minimum rolled.
The Persian army morale score was zero!

The right wing cavalry being levies suffered a further -1 and off they went and the accompanying Hoplites although offsetting the levy status with a +1 for being Heavy infantry found themselves on a net zero BUT in a tile with a panicked unit so off they went too.

The Persian centre tile would mostly have been ok as any hits had been taken by the average archers not the levies BUT they had enemy now on both flanks beacuse of their forward exposed position and this caused a further -1 to each unit morale check.... off they went.

The left rear had some spent levies giving them a -1 also and, yes you guessed it, off they went also.
With now less than 3 Persian units left on the field the remaining cavalry wisely withdrew and the battle was over.
The result was a narrow Greek Victory as they had lost 4 shattered and 8 spent units. Who knows, with the -2 army morale modifier applying, one more turn might just have been enought for the Persians to swing the battle as the 8 spent Hoplites would have no positive modifiers to contribute to the test.

But it wasn't to be, my bold plan to refuse both flanks turned into a trap in the end and in hindsight although it bought a bit of time for the levies on the flanks I should have just refused one flank (although the dice gods were not kind).
My plan to use the Levy Hoplites in the flanking move was also a mistake as although it did prevent some combat bonuses to the Greeks it was ultimately this weakened flank that eventually precipitated the defeat. They slowed the cavalry down and never got into a good position to attack and if I had left them to absorb some losses I might have been able to prevent the 4 shattered losses for 1 more turn and perhaps snatched victory.

Εκ των υστέρων είμαστε σοφή


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Steve Stanton
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Great review and comments.

I'm getting a copy from the Marketplace to see for myself. Hopefully I will be able to proclaim "Vidi, Vici, Veni".
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