On Friday, we ran two simultaneous refights of Cannae in my BA ancient warfare class, using for the first time the components from the board game.
Both refights worked well and proved very engaging. The game run by my
assistant Arrigo Velicogna ended in just an hour in a clear Punic game victory
as the Romans collapsed. My own game lasted 90 minutes and was more closely
fought, with Hasdrubal encircling and destroying the Roman right but then facing
stiff resistance from legionaries left behind by the Roman centre as it advanced
into the pocket of the Punic key zone. Meanwhile, Varro's horsemen on the Roman
left eventually saw off the Numidians despite their delaying tactics. The
decision came when Hasdrubal's Gallic cavalry finally rolled up the rear legions
and seized the Roman key zone, but with three Punic cavalry units shattered, the
Romans had resisted hard and long enough to win a narrow game victory.
The opposing teams faced a constant stream of difficult decisions throughout
with regard to activation sequences, attack bonuses, all-out attacks and rally
attempts as well as overall battlefield manoeuvres. This shows how important
and pervasive the decision element is during the game, even when using
historical deployments. Our standard approach of 'guided competition' also
worked well just as it does in shows, allowing the students to compete after a
brief initial explanation of the overall rules principles, despite being
unfamiliar with wargaming techniques.
We followed up this success by running figure games of Bagradas at the Cavalier show in Tonbridge today. Since the show only ran from 10 to 4, I was worried
that it might be hard to fit in our usual three games, but we actually managed
to cram in FOUR games (albeit by continuing the last one until 4.30), as well as
having two 25 minute breaks to look round the rest of the show.
We used historical deployments throughout. In the first refight, the elephants
trampled the Roman centre and Regulus died trying to rally a double hit (so
requiring the very rare rolling of three simultaneous morale dice!). However,
some legionaries held on and fought back bitterly, with Xanthippus himself being
hit during an unwise rally attempt. The Punic left flank horse finally
completed the victory on turn 7, but because of Xanthippus's mishap they only
achieved a clear game victory by 106 to 87 (a margin of 21 compared to the
victory threshold of 28 in this engagement).
The second refight saw the legions hold on more effectively, only succumbing to
encirclement on turn 9. This time the Cathaginians won only a narrow game
victory by 114 to 103 (a margin of 11). The third refight saw the Roman centre
smashed by a flank attack by the Punic left on turn 6 after initially doing
quite well. The legions which had advanced into a pocket in the Punic right
centre zone broke as well, and the three legion units which held on in reserve
inflicted little further damage before being overwhelmed. The Carthaginians won
another clear game victory by 104 to 89 (a margin of 15).
The fourth refight was the real cliffhanger. I commanded the Romans myself, and
used the flexibility of my veteran legionaries to bolster the flanks and prolong
their resistance against the overwhelming enemy cavalry superiority. Unlike in
previous games, the Carthaginians did not refuse their own right centre, so
fighting spread all along the line except on my left wing where there was a
stand-off for most of the battle. My refused right finally succumbed to front
and flank attack, but just then Regulus in the centre achieved the elusive
breakthrough, putting Xanthippus and the remaining elephants to flight and
advancing into the Punic key zone. There then followed two turns of very tense
'broken backed' warfare, with both sides occupying the enemy key zone and trying
to score the crucial final hit which would panic the opposing army. In the end,
Carthage managed this first, but Rome for once had done enough to win a narrow
game victory by 121 to 108, with its margin of 13 being only one short of that
needed for a clear game victory.
Lots of people joined in or watched as usual, attracted by the fast moving and
dramatic nature of the gameplay and the impressive sight of Eric's 28mm figures
(with 24 of them being used for each average infantry unit). We used the favour
of the gods option in the last three refights, and this helped to keep them so
well balanced as well as adding another tortuous decision element. As the
overall results suggest, Carthage has the edge at this battle (even after
applying the standard handicap) because the open terrain is conducive to its
elephants and cavalry, but this can easily be offset by bidding for sides to
generate a supplementary handicap as suggested in rule 10.3.
All in all, this was another very enjoyable day of battles. Now we must wind
our attention back two centuries as we prepare for the refights of Plataea at
the Society of Ancients Battle Day in a month's time!