Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Warmaster Ancients 6mm: Battle of Marathon 490 BC

After having the rules on my shelf for some years, I finally got around to taking Warmaster Ancients out for a spin now that I have playable forces for both Hoplite Greek and Achaemenid Persian armies. I've always had the battle of Marathon in mind as something to put on the table after I have enough Greek and Persian infantry, which I sort of do. They're not massive armies (about 500 points in Warmaster which is not a lot), but they model the key points of the opposing armies well I think.

For background (as if you don't know already), the mighty Achaemenid Persian empire is pissed off at these upstart Greek city states who supported the revolt of some Greeks who are Persian subjects. The great king Darius sends a punitive expedition to Hellas. The Persian fleet sails up and down the Greek archipelago, punishing away. When they land near a place called Marathon in order to march on Athens, they are met by an army composed mainly of Athenians and Plataeans. After a few days of staring at each other, the Greek army decides to charge the Persians, routing them. The Persians retreat to their ships and return home, only to return ten years later.

There are a few interpretations on how the battle might have played out depending on the direction of the Greek attack and whether the Persians had their cavalry on the field or not. I decided to have the shore at the flank of the Persian army rather than at its back, and that the feared Persian cavalry was not present at the battle.

The Persian army. The front stands are infantry and the back ones are archers. Having better close combat troops out front and poor ones at the back reflects the reality of the Persian formation pretty well, even if the rear stands don't get to shoot (the Persian infantry at the front gets to shoot).

The Greeks advance on the Persian line, flanked by the sea. The Greeks drew out their line to be as wide as that of the Persians, which caused the center to weaken.
The Persians start to pepper the Greeks with arrows, disrupting their formation. In Warmaster archers rarely cause losses but may cause the enemy to recoil, tearing apart their line.
The Greeks get their act together and charge the Persian line in unison (coming at the Persians with their formation scattered would have been bad)
In Warmaster, units at the back of the line support those in front in combat resolution. The Greeks at the center are at a disadvantage and must make up the difference by killing more Persians.

The armies clash

The Persians push back the Greek center but lose on the flanks, just as they did historically!
The Persians try to counterattack in the center, hoping to crush the Greeks there before the flanks fall. On the Persian left, they manage to roll up the Greek flank. One Greek unit is destroyed when they are forced to fall back.
On the Persian right, the Greeks crush all resistance and attack the Persian flank.
The Greeks crush the Persians and kill their general.
Well, technically the Persians won because the Greeks were first to lose half of their units but we played out one turn further and the result was a clear victory for the Greeks at that point. I like how Warmaster works and the game was entertaining even if it was a straightforward clash of infantry lines. Next time we will add some skirmishers and cavalry into the mix and give the players a chance to design their own formations.

Oh, and here's a description of the battle by Herodotos:

Hereupon all those generals who had been desirous of hazarding a battle, when their turn came to command the army, gave up their right to Miltiades. He however, though he accepted their offers, nevertheless waited, and would not fight until his own day of command arrived in due course. Then at length, when his own turn was come, the Athenian battle was set in array, and this was the order of it. Callimachus the Polemarch led the right wing, for it was at that time a rule with the Athenians to give the right wing to the Polemarch. After this followed the tribes, according as they were numbered, in an unbroken line; while last of all came the Plataeans, forming the left wing. And ever since that day it has been a custom with the Athenians, in the sacrifices and assemblies held each fifth year at Athens, for the Athenian herald to implore the blessing of the gods on the Plataeans conjointly with the Athenians. Now, as they marshalled the host upon the field of Marathon, in order that the Athenian front might he of equal length with the Median, the ranks of the centre were diminished, and it became the weakest part of the line, while the wings were both made strong with a depth of many ranks.
So when the battle was set in array, and the victims showed themselves favourable, instantly the Athenians, so soon as they were let go, charged the barbarians at a . Now the distance between the two armies was little short of eight furlongs. The Persians, therefore, when they saw the Greeks coming on at speed, made ready to receive them, although it seemed to them that the Athenians were bereft of their senses, and bent upon their own destruction; for they saw a mere handful of men coming on at a run without either horsemen or archers. Such was the opinion of the barbarians, but the Athenians in close array fell upon them, and fought in a manner worthy of being recorded. They were the first of the Greeks, so far as I know, who introduced the custom of charging the enemy at a run, and they were likewise the first who dared to look upon the Median garb and to face men clad in that fashion. Until this time the very name of the Medes had been a terror to the Greeks to hear.
The two armies fought together on the plain of Marathon for a length of time, and in the mid battle, where the Persians themselves and the Sacae had their place, the barbarians were victorious and broke and pursued the Greeks into the inner country, but on the two wings the Athenians and the Plataeans defeated the enemy. Having so done, they suffered the routed barbarians to fly at their ease, and joining the two wings in one, fell upon those who had broken their own centre, and fought and conquered them. These likewise fled, and now the Athenians hung upon the runaways and cut them down, chasing them all the way to the shore, on reaching which they laid hold of the ships and called aloud for fire.
It was in the struggle here that Callimachus the Polemarch, after greatly distinguishing himself, lost his life; Stesilaus too, the son of Thrasilaus, one of the generals, was slain; and Cynaegirus, the son of Euphorion, having seized on a vessel of the enemy's by the ornament at the stern, had his hand cut off by the blow of an axe, and so perished; as likewise did many other Athenians of note and name.
Nevertheless, the Athenians secured in this way seven of the vessels; while with the remainder the barbarians pushed off, and taking aboard their Eretrian prisoners from the island where they had left them, doubled Cape Sunium, hoping to reach Athens before the return of the Athenians. The Alcmaeonidae were accused by their countrymen of suggesting this course to them; they had, it was said, an understanding with the Persians, and made a signal to them, by raising a shield, after they were embarked in their ships. The Persians accordingly sailed round Sunium. But the Athenians with all possible speed marched away to the defence of their city, and succeeded in reaching Athens before the appearance of the barbarians, and as their camp at Marathon had been pitched in a precinct of Hercules, so now they encamped in another precinct of the same god at Cynosarges. The barbarian fleet arrived, and lay to off Phalerum, which was at that time the haven of Athens; but after resting awhile upon their oars, they departed and sailed away to Asia.