Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Magnesia: aftermath

Following on from the first and the second post on Magnesia we now find ourselves dealing with the aftermath.  I want to focus initially on the details of the losses and how they work out in terms of Lost Battles victory points, then go back to some of the key elements of the battle for the wargamer that I had talked about in the post on things preliminary, discuss those, and finish with a few points to ponder.

So, to the tallying of VPs.  For readers who may not be familiar with Lost Battles, it is perhaps as well to mention now that the Seleucids start with a 30 VP handicap in their favour courtesy of the fact that they are the weaker force by 10 points of fighting value.  Therefore, they were effectively 30 VPs ahead before the battle began.

Points gained by the Romans:

Shattered: 1 levy cataphract unit and 1 levy heavy cavalry unit for a total of 8 points.
Routed: 1 scythed chariot unit and one levy light infantry unit for a total of 5 points.
Spent: 1 levy heavy infantry and 2 levy light infanty units; 3 average phalanx units; 1 veteran heavy cavalry unit, 1 average heavy cavalry unit and one Indian elephant unit for a total of 26 points.

Roman total points: 39.

Points gained by the Seleucids:

Shattered: 1 average and 3 veteran legionary units; 1 average heavy and 1 veteran light infantry unit; 1 veteran and 1 average heavy cavalry unit for a total of 58 points.
Routed: 2 average light infantry units; 1 average and 3 veteran legionary units; 1 veteran heavy cavalry unit for a total of 32 points.
Withdrawn or lost:  1 average heavy infantry and one average commander for a total of 9 points.
Killed: 1 average leader for a total of 12 points.

Seleucid total points: 111 + 30 (the FV handicap) for a total of 141.

The Seleucids won by 102 points, thus notching up a 'stunning victory' - the highest possible category in Lost Battles - for Antiochus.

The emphatic nature of this result is not surprising given that the table top battle played out as an almost exact reverse of the historical battle!  It should also be noted that spent or shattered veteran units are worth a lot more points than other units in the final tallies: a shattered veteran unit is worth 8 points to an opponent compared to 6 for an average unit and 4 for a levy unit.  The Romans therefore with a higher number of veteran units have more points to give up, with a possible 168 VPs on the table (including the handicap) compared to a possible 122 that can be gained from the Seleucids. 

The Romans therefore have a narrower window for success and a wider margin for failure.

Turning now to our earlier post's identication of key moments in the historical battle, let's look at how these played out on the table top.

1) Eumenes' panicking of the scythed chariots.

Under Lost Battles rules scythed chariots automatically rout once they are attacked.  There is no need even for dice to be rolled, and their departure does not result in a morale test.  Thus, the chariots fled as soon as Eumenes advanced to the attack, which was in the second turn of the game.

2) The defeat of the scythed chariots causing a wider morale crisis on the Seleucid left.

According to Livy, the routing of the scythed chariots disordered and shook the morale of the supporting troops. We did not see this happen under Lost Battles, and I wonder if perhaps there could not be a slightly different mechanism in place to allow this effect to occur as a direct result of the scythed chariots being in action.

3) The battle between the phalanx and the legion in the centre.
This was a good fight under these rules.  The combination of elephants and phalangites was pretty potent when things were going well, though a double hit on the elephants at one point showed how things could quickly turn bad for the Seleucids if the Roman dice were right.  The Romans had plenty of staying power in terms of morale, but were simply worn down by the sheer number of hits registered upon them.  Lost Battles does a pretty good job (in my opinion) of simulating the legion v phalanx match up, and things would have gone better for the Romans if they had held back and let the Seleucids advance to close the gap between the forces, thereby giving the Romans the first strike.  That this did not happen was because of misplaced confidence that Eumenes would follow up his strong start with equally aggressive attacks on subsequent moves and would soon be available to hit the phalanx on its flank.  Then as the battle wore on it would perhaps have been sound practice for Scipio to have withdrawn his centre and Eumenes' flank so as to buy a little time and to allow the heavy infantry in the camp to be brought up as a reinforcement.
4) Antiochus' success on the right, and the timing of the advance on the Roman camp.

Antiochus did not gain dominance on his flank until the end of the battle after Eumenes had been killed and the Roman right dispersed.  The king probably needed to have got himself onto the exposed Roman flank to really make use of his capacity to give the household guard a double attack bonus when in the lead position.  This advantage turned out to be unnecessary in this fight, but it is a tactic that should probably be explored next time I undertake the battle.

5) The collapse of the Seleucid centre leading to Antiochus' decision to flee.

Again, this did not occur - quite the opposite in fact, as it was the collapse of the two wings that caused the Roman centre to flee.


The overriding impression I got from this refight was that the dice were abnormally favourable for the Seleucids and at times execrable for the Romans.  The Romans only scored fourteen hits in five rounds of combat, while the Seleucids scored twenty-five in the same time (though two were rallied), despite rolling fewer dice per turn.  The number of double hits that the Seleucids registered was quite extraordinary, with four (one being an all-out attack) that I recall off-hand, and possibly one or two more as well.  When one side is consistently rolling 10s, 11s and 12s and the other side is getting 4s, 5s and 6s then there's not much that can be done - though it does give me a good excuse to play the battle out again!

In terms of general tactics, the Romans did not maximise their chances.  Neither did the Seleucids, but they did not need to as it turned out.  The Roman commander should have held back his centre to get in the first attack and later withdrawn his under-pressure troops to force the Seleucids to chase him, hoping that he could catch them on the hop.  Instead, the Romans gave up their great advantage - manoeuvrability - and through lack of proper caution in the face of the phalanx allowed themselves be drawn into a slugging match in the centre.  As I was playing both sides, I have a lot to answer for...

Finally, and referring once more to my initial post, I must address the question of whether this was indeed one of those ideal refights of grand spectacle and compelling event, and whether it proved to be the thrillingly immersive table top experience that one might have hoped for. 

In this answer I suppose I must equivocate.  It certainly looked spectacular to my eyes - as I was setting up I couldn't help thinking that it was times like these that the many hours spent painting figures seemed worthwhile  - yet while the sequence of events was believable, frustration did creep in over the one-sidedness of the dice rolls and this tended to strain the wires upon which disbelief is so carefully suspended.  That said, even once the battle was surely lost for the Romans on VP count there was the possibility of redemption through Eumenes, and for two turns he could have routed the Seleucid left given decent dice.  If he had rolled something other than 3s this might have been enough to allow Scipio to win the field; so the battle did not lack for moments of excitement, tension and decision.

It was certainly not the perfect battle, but it was a fine thing to do and as a culmination of many months of work it was quietly satisfying to be able to add Magnesia to the list of battles done with one's own figures.  Still, incentive remains to keep striving for that ideal battle!

Magnesia: the battle

Following on from the previous post which detailed pre-battle information of interest, we can now move to describe the actual battle as it unfolded on the table top.

The Romans moved first and scored high with their command roll.  This saw them advance the cavalry and attack in two zones on their right, attack in position with velites on their left, advance the legions to contact in the centre (with no attack) and bring up reinforcements in the left and right centres.  Movements are illustrated with black arrows in the picture below.

Eumenes' initial attack (seen in the shot below) was a great success.  The Italian cavalry automatically put the scythed chariots to flight and Eumenes's guard troops subsequently hit the levy light infantry hard, forcing Seleucus (not present on table, but commanding the flank in the real battle) to hurriedly bring his levy cataphracts up into the lead position.

To the right of Eumenes the veteran Roman cavalry charged home against their Galatian levy opposites, but the Galatians stood the initial attack with minimal disruption.

On the Roman left the velites' skirmishing was ineffective but they successfully covered the advance of the legion and ala of the Roman left centre.  In the central zone, and encouraged by the success of Eumenes' assault, Scipio advanced his legionaries at the double to prevent the Seleucid centre from advancing and to pin it in place in expectation of a forthcoming flank attack.

On the right the peltasts and Cretan light infantry moved up to reinforce the cavalry who had made the first assault.

The Seleucids responded by rolling low for command, meaning that there could be no complicated manoeuvring.  Starting from the left, the levy Galatian cavalry launched an all-out attack on the veterans opposite them, leaving both units only one hit shy of shattering.  The levy cataphracts also managed a successful attack on Eumenes' zone, driving off the Italian cavalry, disrupting the peltasts in the process, and causing the Cretan infantry to be brought into the lead position.  The shot below shows the situation on the Seleucid left after the attacks; out of view is the unit of Roman veterans, who are just in front of the Galatians in the foreground.

The attack in the central zone was similarly successful, with the levy light infantry sending the velites running for safety and the massed pike of the phalanx units disrupting some of the hastati.

Fortunately for Rome, on the right the velites successfully evaded the attentions of the light infantry and Antiochus' guard cavalry.  Nonetheless, these half-hearted sallies allowed the right wing of the phalanx to be brought up into line without interference from the enemy.

On the third Roman turn the command roll was low, but with two generals there were still ample commands for the fighting that lay ahead.  The veteran cavalry on the far right launched a determined attack on the Galatian levies and this time broke them, sending a shiver through the Seleucid left and allowing the Romans to advance onto the flank of Seleucus' zone.  Despite this setback, the remaining troops on the left withstood any urge to flee. 

Elsewhere, the Roman attacks were largely ineffective against the main infantry lines, managing only to disperse the levy light infantry and send them scurrying back behind the phalanx. 

The Seleucid turn saw a better command roll, allowing the light cavalry to be brought into play against the Roman left.

A desperate attack was launched by the cataphracts and the guard cavalry against Eumenes, which succeeded in inflicting four hits.  The peltasts shattered and carried off the Italian cavalry in rout.  The situation for Eumenes - so promising just a moment ago - was now rapidly deteriorating.  

The shot below shows the aftermath of the attack by the cataphracts and the guard cavalry.  In the foreground can be seen the Roman veteran cavalry, on whose elan Eumenes' wing now greatly relies.

The elephants next commenced their attack in the centre with support from paired phalanx units, and the Romans could find no answer defensively to this combination of arms and types.  The remainder of the hastati and the lead elements of the principes now began to buckle under the strain.

On the right Antiochus himself pressed the attack, driving off the velites while the phalanx got its blood up and the light cavalry positioned itself on the flank of the Roman left.

The Roman fourth turn presented Scipio with some unenviable choices: his centre was under increasing pressure from the phalanx and the elephants while Eumenes' zone was held together only by the force of his personality.  On the plus side for Scipio, the veteran cavalry was in position to strike at the exposed flank of the Seleucid left and his own left was still in good shape; it having seen off a number of attacks and inflicted some hurt on the enemy while still keeping the legionaries fresh and ready for battle.

Scipio appears to have been a glass-half-full man, for he did not withdraw in the centre, and nor did he bring up reinforcements from his camp.  He staked the battle on a calculated assault from the right on the fragile levies of Seleucus' zone, trusting to fortune and the skill of the Roman and Eumenes' veteran cavalry to break the wing speedily.

The Roman response was indeed swift and deadly: Antiochus paid for his rashness in taking the lead by having his guard cavalry hit, necessitating their withdrawal behind the phalanx.  The elephants were at last hit in the centre and some fell back upon their own men, causing disruption in the phalanx.  On the far right, the Roman cavalry did all that was asked of them, as did Eumenes' Pergamenes, with both the cataphracts and the heavy infantry support being severely struck.  The guard cavalry and last fresh unit of Seleucus' zone was accordingly ordered into the lead position.

The following shot shows the situation facing the Roman centre and left during the fourth turn following the assault on Antiochus' household cavalry and immediately prior to the successful attack on the elephants.

The Seleucid turn saw every effort made to break Eumenes' command, but it availed them nothing.  The Seleucid left, down to its last fresh unit, now had the attacks of three veteran units, including two cavalry units, to endure next turn.

The centre was also less effective this time around, scoring only one hit.  The right was more successful however as the phalanx launched a frontal assault in conjunction with the horse archers' peppering of the Roman infantry from their open flank.

The shot below shows the situation as the phalanx on the Seleucid right engages the legionary infantry.

The Romans in their turn were now faced with a repeat of their earlier dilemma: should they retreat or push on with the attack?  As it had been all battle, it was left to Eumenes to set the tone.  He charged in again with his cavalry in the lead position and two combat bonuses to all but ensure success, only to baulk at the fatal moment.  The Roman cavalry on the flank seeing this also wavered and failed to push their attack through.  With the heavy cavalry so affected, the Cretans could hardly be expected to be immune from this crisis of confidence and they too failed to strike effectively.

Scipio in the centre was disheartened by the failure of his right to seize its chance, but his troops were oblivious as they worked away making further inroads into the phalanx opposing them.  They scored two hits, but two more would still be needed before any units of the Seleucid centre would be in danger of shattering.

Like the right, the Roman left struggled to get to grips with the enemy.  They were beginning to feel the pressure from the horse archers on their flank, and with one eye to their left they felt unable to press home frontal attacks with the urgency that the situation demanded.

So again the onus was on the Seleucids to tip the balance in their favour by forcing the issue on their left.  The shot below shows the guard cavalry preparing to charge at Eumenes.

The guard cavalry charged true, landing a ferocious double blow.  Eumenes tried to recover the situation by rallying his men but it was too late and he fell in the attempt.  This triple blow was felt all across the field as the Roman right collapsed.  As the next picture reveals, it was judged to be time to send the elephants to the lead and to press the issue in the centre.

The elephants scored a hit, as did the massed phalangites.  Under this much strain the Roman centre crumbled, losing men both shattered and routed until only Scipio and two of his veteran units remained.

It was a similar story on the left, which had lost two units to rout before coming under attack itself.  Under pressure from the phalanx and flanking archers it too was hit, and then even the veterans fled the field.

Scipio lasted one more turn in which time the veteran cavalry still in position on the flank managed to shatter the levy cataphracts, but it was all too late, and the centre broke as the Seleucid centre surged forward in victory.


So, there we have it - a dramatic reversal of the historical battle!  Stay tuned for the final results and a review of the game which will follow soon in another post.

Magnesia: preparations.

Magnesia is one of those great battles of ancient times that like Cannae, Zama, Issus and Pharsalus (to name but a few) tends to fill the wargamer with both excitement and trepidation, for there is a certain epic quality about it to which one would like to do justice. Ideally, the battle must firstly be a spectacle which evokes something of the grandeur of the troops massed on the field for combat; secondly, the result and the steps that take us to that point must be believable and internally consistant; thirdly, it must be an intense and immersive gaming experience. If we are lucky, the pageantry, game events and emotional responses may occasionally combine to conjure a satisfying 'objective correlative' of the battle (to twist T.S. Eliot's famous term) which leaves participants with a heightened awareness of the historical events, how they meshed together, what some of the key moments might have been, and the thrill of having taken part in a suitably grand game on a grand subject.

Naturally, this is a tall order. Nonetheless, after having spent the last month painting up scythed chariots, horse archers and heavy cavalry to fill some rather gaping holes in my figure collection, I felt game to give the battle a try.  As is usual for me, I turned to Lost Battles for the rules as they frequently imbue proceedings with an air of the epic: processes and results both lend themselves well to imaginative embellishment as a narrative emerges from the actions being played out on the table top.

The real battle went something like this: the Romans had decided that they didn't want Antiochus III making trouble for them in Greece or anywhere else, so an army under the command of Lucius Scipio, younger brother of the famed Africanus, was sent to deal with him.  Antiochus gathered a huge host in anticipation of the decisive encounter and for its own part Rome welcomed the aid of Eumenes of Pergamum.

The armies were encamped not far apart, and after some days of aggressive Roman intent epitomised by the moving forward of their camp an increasingly nervy Antiochus signalled that he would give battle.  The Romans deployed with their left flank of just 120 horsemen resting on the river Phrygius, the two legions in the centre and the alae on either side of them.  Eumenes and his picked cavalry were on the right, supported by peltasts and the bulk of the Roman and Italian horse. 

Opposite Eumenes were deployed scythed chariots and a mixture of foot and horse, some of which were cataphracts.  In the Seleucid centre was the phalanx, formed 32 men deep.  With elephants placed in the intervals between the pike blocks and the men formed up in such great depth, the centre must have been a forbidding sight. Antiochus himself commanded the right with his household cavalry, more cataphracts, and another mixture of horse and foot.  Light missile cavalry on the extreme right completed the Seleucid array. 

Converted to Lost Battles terms, the orders of battle (at a troop multiple of 6) look like this:



Six units of veteran legionaries and two units of average legionaries for a total of  16,000 hastati, principes and triarii. 

Two units of average light infantry for a total of 6000 velites.

Two units of average heavy infantry (Greeks, Macedonians, Thracians) for a total of 6,000 heavy foot.

One unit of veteran light infantry (Cretans, Trallians) for a total of 1500 light missile troops.


One unit of veteran Roman heavy cavalry and one unit of average Italian heavy cavalry for a total of 2,250 men.

One unit of Pergamene heavy cavalry commanded by Eumenes himself, for a total of 750 men.


Lucius Scipio is rated as an average commander and Eumenes is rated as an average leader.



Six units of average and one unit of levy phalangites for a phalanx numbering 24,000 men.

Two units of levy heavy infantry for a total of 12,000 assorted heavy foot.

Three units of levy light infantry for a total of 18,000 light foot of dubious quality.


Two units of average and one unit of levy cataphracts for a total of 6,000 men.

One unit if veteran household cavalry commanded in person by Antiochus, one unit of average guard cavalry, and one unit of levy cavalry for a total of 5,250 men.

One unit of average light cavalry for a total of 1500 Dahae and Tarentine missile cavalrymen.

One unit of scythed chariots representing 150 machines.

One unit of Indian elephants and escorts, representing 30 beasts and 1500 accompanying skirmishers.


Antiochus is rated as an average leader.

The battlefield is made up of 20 zones arranged 5 across and 4 deep, each zone being 1000 yards across and 1000 yards deep.  Both camps are present on the battlefield, with the Roman camp in their rear centre zone and the Seleucid camp in their left rear centre zone.  The Phrygius river cuts through two zones, the Roman left wing and left flank, and the rest of the battlefied is considered flat terrain.

Below are some pictures of the armies at deployment.  The first shot shows the battlefield from behind the Seleucid right wing zone.

The second shot shows the Seleucid rear right centre, with the phalanx and two units of cataphracts in front of the camp.  Antiochus leads his household cavalry in the next zone foward, supported by a detachment of light infantry.

The Roman infantry is deployed across two zones, with the velites forward of the main line.  The allied Greeks and Eumenes with the cavalry extend the line two zones further.

This shot here shows the Seleucid left, with levy troops and a unit of the guard cavalry supporting the potentially fearsome scythed chariots.  A unit of Galatian heavy cavalry is in the foreground, angled away from the main line.  Across the battlefield can be seen elements of Eumenes' command, though he himself is not visible in shot.

When the battle commenced Eumenes ordered his men to kill, maim and panic the horses of the chariots with missiles and noise, whereupon he took advantage of the disruption they had caused in their own ranks, charged home and put the Seleucid left to flight. With one flank now exposed the centre lacked essential support.  As the legions closed  it began giving ground and in the confusion the elephants with their support troops were driven into the men of the phalanx, exacerbating the disorder and preventing either troop type from fighting effectively, much less co-ordinating their strength.

Meantime - and in stark contrast to the problems besetting the left and the centre - the right under Antiochus advanced strongly, drove off the small cavalry flank guard and put some of the allies to flight. Elements of Antiochus' force briefly threatened the Roman camp, but resistance there stiffened in timely fashion and with his centre now collapsing Antiochus fled the field.

This (very) brief overview of the course of the historical battle tells us that the key elements of the battle from the wargamer's perspective could be thought to be as follows:

1) Eumenes' panicking of the scythed chariots.
2) The defeat of the scythed chariots causing a wider morale crisis on the Seleucid left.
3) The battle between the phalanx and the legion in the centre.
4) Antiochus' success on the right, and the timing of the advance on the Roman camp.
5) The collapse of the Seleucid centre leading to Antiochus' decision to flee.

Well, I've said about all I can say on the subject of preparations.  So, stay tuned, and the next post will look at the battle on the table top itself.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Successor heavy cavalry finished.

Here are some pictures of some just completed Old Glory Successor heavy cavalry from their Seleucid range.  The first use these chaps will get is in a Magnesia refight with Lost Battles, but in future encounters they are as likely to be ranged against as ranked up with one another so I wanted to be able to group them into easily distinguishable sub-units of 2, 3, 4 or 6 bases.  This was done by painting the cloaks in two broad colours and distributing them amongst the bases to form a spectrum.  I also wanted one base to be able to do double duty as cataphracts, so one has two Essex cataphracts on it.  I'm not sure the cataphracts blend in quite as well as I'd have liked, but you can't have everything, I suppose!

Just to be completely accurate regarding the figures, the generals based individually are from Xyston and there is another Xyston commander in the mix as well.

Here's a view from the front:

Another from an angle:

And one from the rear, showing the distribution of cloaks for unit recognition:

In seeing this last photo it has occurred to me that something is not quite right with the purple highlighting.  In fact, I wonder if I haven't used the colours the wrong way around?  I didn't notice looking at them normally, so perhaps its just a trick of the light, and the fact that they haven't yet had their coat of matt varnish applied...  At any rate, I'll have to do some further testing *sigh*!

Still, Magnesia draws closer...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Painting tallies updated

Well, it has been a successful six week's worth of painting by my standards. Since late September the output has been 16 eastern horse archers, 4 scythed chariots, 2 mounted generals and 36 Successor heavy cavalry. I also did a fair bit of touch up work on 18 Poeni and 21 Roman cavalry.
It's pleasing that the tiresome work I did earlier in the year prepping batches of horses has paid off, allowing me to churn out cavalry regularly and in pretty decent sized lots of late. The Successor cavalry was expecially speedy, needing only a week.

So here is the full list for 2010 so far:

12 Celtiberian scutarii (OG).
4 Carthaginian four-horse chariots, 12 crew (Chariot).
8 Successor elephants, 24 crew, (Chariot) 6 supporting skirmishers (OG).
1 mounted Successor general (OG).

18 Thracian medium cavalry (OG).
18 Illyrian light horse (OG).
12 Tarentine cavalry (Chariot).

4 Seleucid scythed chariots (Chariot).
16 eastern horse archers (OG).
36 Successor heavy cavalry (OG, with a few Essex and Xyston figures thrown in).
2 mounted Successor generals (Xyston).

Older figures made presentable:

18 Carthaginian Poeni cavalry (Chariot).
21 Republican Roman cavalry (manufacturer unknown).

One could just about say that 2010 has been the year of the horse!
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