Picts and Pikes: Conquest 2009

3 November, 2009

The day before I left for the DBA competition at Conquest in Christchurch, Keith, the organizer, sent out a list of “runners and riders”. This showed a lot of pike armies, something I learnt with some trepidation, as I’d not faced them before and felt I’d have trouble finding a weak element I could get an advantage over (certainly my spear were outclassed against the pike). I had no time to practice and trusted I’d get to learn on the day.

I had a great time at Conquest. I found all my opponents very friendly. I would like to thank Keith for organizing the event. We had 11 registered before the day, so there was a bye round; however, we picked up another player early on. He’d never played before and used a loaner Spartan army. He clearly enjoyed himself, even with a fairly ill-favoured army given the opponents, as he’s asking about where to get figures. He even managed a win against the Athenians, which is only right and proper!

The competition had as many players as the FoG one there, which shows the game has a good following in the South Island. Along with a Wellingtonian, I flew the flag for the North Island, and I’m keen to see if I can’t get something off the ground for DBA in Auckland now. Who knows? Sometime soon we might be able to have a genuinely national competition.

I didn’t bring a camera, nor did I take many notes, so the following battle reports have the character of an observer whose recall of detail is not always perfect. I welcome correction by any opponents with a more secure recall.  I have been able to add a few pictures kindly supplied by other players.

  • Game 1: Late Achaemenid Persians, II/7 (Nick Sutton)

Bridei mac Máelchú finally found the fabled land of Konkwest, or so he thought; he certainly found opponents in profusion, particularly ones with very long pointy sticks. There was no diplomacy; more often than not he was being attacked, though on occasions he threw the first stone, so to speak. This was certainly the case with the first army he met, who were an army of Late Achaemenid Persians, led by a Satrap of the Great King, Nick Sutton. Bridei spotted this army, took an instant dislike to it and got stuck in.

Nick set up a pair of hills and a wood on one side between two quarters. Bridei succeeded in getting him to deploy with this wood on his baseline, a situation that he’d found disadvantageous in the past . Nick set up with a cavalry wing on one side of this and his spear in the woods and psiloi on the other flank. Bridei responded by deploying his spear on a hill opposite the cavalry, his psiloi opposite the wood, and his LH on the right flank against the psiloi.

Low PIPs on the first turn prevented any attempt to trap the Persian spear in the woods with a fast move against them. However, the LH went after the psiloi, who are evenly matched, only a little slower. This combat didn’t come to much, though the LH did consider going after the Persian camp. Nick had to spend a lot of PIPs getting his spear out of the woods, and I think Bridei did send his psiloi after them, catching some of them just at the edge of the hill.

It was Nick’s attack on the hill where the battle was decided. It was recoiled without loss. In Bridei’s turn he was able to engineer an attack on the horse that left the Persian Satrap overlapped on both sides against psiloi-backed spear (from memory). He was doubled and the Picts started with a victory.

I caught up with Nick at lunchtime and asked how his Persians had fared. He confessed to being somewhat at a loss against the pike and elephant armies. I encouraged him to see the advantages of his army—its great mobility, especially if he took the auxilia, and the advantages they gave, along with his psiloi, in bad terrain and against elephants. Others encouraged him to use the scythed chariots as the properly Persian thing to do. His performance improved after lunch, which he put down in part to all the advice he’d got.

  • Game 2: Alexandrian Imperial, II/15 (Jim Morton)

Relaxing after routing the Persians, Bridei’s rest was interrupted by the imperious demand to submit. Or at least that’s what he thought. His interpreters were not too competent, though they reckoned the ambassador was speaking Greek, a language his monks had a smattering of. It transpired that some fellow, Alexander, was upset that Bridei had been beating up Persians, which was his job. Bridei decided he was quite mad and suggested he go boil his head.

Alexander was the attacker and Bridei met him on a field with two hills in opposite corners and a wood in the centre. He then set up his spear on one of these hills, the psiloi behind the woods, and the LH on the other flank. Bridei himself was in the centre.

Alexander countered this very successfully by putting his entire army against the flank with the LH. The spear spent the whole battle trying to move to the action. This was a deployment error Bridei didn’t repeat!

The battle, however, did not reach a conclusion before dusk, though I think Alexander probably had the upper hand. Bridei was attacking his pike with LH and his elephant with psiloi, but with no luck. Alexander had sent some LH behind the Picts’ the hope of my recoiling into them. However, as this was one of those multi-PIP moves they couldn’t go within a base width of the rear. The Pictish LH were recoiled and then couldn’t retreat because of these LH so they went against the pikes again, hoping to flee, which they could safely do past the enemy LH. This worked for one of them, and I think Bridei later gave the enemy LH a spanking.

Alexandrian Imperial

Alexander's response to Bridei's deployment leaves his spear attempting to move to the action in two columns. the psiloi dominate the woods and Alexander's LH can be seen between Bridei's (one has succeeded in fleeing past it).

This was the Picts’ first battle against pike and a good learning experience.

  • Game 3: Late Hoplite Greek, II/5b (Andrew Taylor)

After this encounter with Macedonians, the Picts made themselves scarce and in the process bumped into some more Greek speakers; these, the monks sagely informed Bridei, were somewhat easier to understand. They were Athenians, and they weren’t pleased to see the Picts.

The Athenians were a match-up that Bridei’d been hoping for, as he thought he’d have the advantage. They were both spear armies, but the Picts had more supporting troops, and looked forward to winning on the flanks.

Bridei was the attacker and he encounter the Athenians on a beach near two steep hills facing each other. I rolled for edge and as luck would have it got the very one I didn’t want—the beach! The Athenians forbore a littoral landing, though they did try to intimidate the Pictish camp by having their triremes cruise past it!

I soon learnt that Andrew’s claims to being a DBA novice were only partially correct. He’d used the Athenians in Keith’s recent Greek campaign and soon showed he knew more about hoplomachia than I did. The two hills created a corridor that neutralized the Pictish LH and largely their psiloi. It turned into a spear-fight in which numbers and a spear general gave the Athenians the advantage. The game ended in a draw but the advantage was with the Athenians; in fact I was luck not to lose a fourth element in the last turn.

Andrew was interesting guy to play. He may have lost the extra turn he needed to win by telling me about triremes; he’d been on the crew of the Greek navy’s recreation of one. After the game he pointed out to me that the Picts had advanced into the valley between the hills to their disadvantage; if they’d hung back a bit they might have been able to harry his flank from the hills with psiloi. It’s ironic that when I’d come to see the virtues of spear I’d have thought that another spear army would be an easy match for me!

  • Game 4: Pyrrhic, II/27a (Alastair Penney)

After encountering the Athenians, Bridei returned to the spot where he’d met Alexander. There he waited while I had lunch. This was interrupted by yet more Greeks! These had a few among them who had a smattering of Latin (though the monks wisely informed Bridei that it was very rough—not that they knew it was in fact archaic!). It seems this wood held some significance to the Greeks, but Bridei was in no mood to listen to them, and repeated to the ambassador of Pyrrhus the suggestion he’d made to Alexander to go boil his head. Pyrrhus was understandably unimpressed.

This time, however, Bridei deployed the Picts with the LH on each wing with a group of 3 Sp next to them, In the centre was the psiloi and the general. This way he could react to the enemy deployment more easily. It proved quite a good deployment.

I confess that I don’t really recall much of this fight. Perhaps it was the beer and the sun at lunchtime and the meal that I ate during the game (catering were overwhelmed!). Pyrrhus’ pike were forced to deploy on one flank where they did nothing. However, in the fight on the other flank against his cavalry Bridei had the upper hand until one LH turned aside to deal to a Ps that looked like it could become annoying. Despite having it flanked with Ps it lost (and may have been doubled). This left Bridei and his retinue able to be flanked and he was destroyed. In hindsight that was a mistake; Bridei should have kept the pressure on Pyrrhus, and also kept his flank protected.

  • Game 5: Asiatic Early Successor, II/16b (Keith McNelly)

Having met Pyrrhus, yet more Greeks showed up at this wood. This time is was Demetrius Poliorcetes. Bridei again had to defend the wood; he adopted the same deployment as he’d used against Pyrrhus. This time Demetrius deployed with his pike, himself and one Cv on one flank and his elephant and a Sp and Ax on the other, along with a LH. Bridei reacted by swapping a LH for a Ps to face the Kn and pikes and then the LH and a Sp to the other flank.

Bridei had enough PIPs to race the psiloi into the woods (the next turn I noticed a confused Sp had tagged along with them; he was promptly sent back to the start!). The attack on Demetrius’ left flank started well: the Pictish 2 LH destroyed his one, and then they destroyed the Ax, though his Sp caused a LH to flee off the field. However, then they could not destroy his elephant. Despite having overlap support from Bridei and then the LH to the elephant’s rear, for some 5 turns it stubbornly resisted. Even more bizarrely most of the results were ties!

The Picts close in on Demetrius' elephant, while over on the other flank Demetrius turns to come to their aid and the phalanx contiues to bear down on the Pictish spear

The Picts close in on Demetrius' elephant, while over on the other flank Demetrius turns to come to their aid and the phalanx contiues to bear down on the Pictish spear

Unable to destroy the elephant Bridei’s initial advantage began to slip away. Demetrius came to support the elephant and his pike reached the Pictish spear. When dusk fell Bridei was lucky only to have lost a Ps to Demetrius and his companions and have held on for a 2-2 draw. I was pleased, though, with the plan—I had a good shot at victory, but for that stubborn elephant.

Demetrius' Phalanx

Demetrius's phalanx approaches the Pictish spear

  • Game 6: Alexandrian Imperial, II/15 (Stephen Malone)

In his last two battles Bridei fought armies led by players from Timaru. The first of these saw the return of Alexander. Bridei was again the defending that wood, taking care to keep it in the middle of the battlefield. He deployed as he had against Demetrius. As Alexander had two 4Ax (although the list only permits one!), he steered clear of the woods and instead decided to attack his left flank, which had the elephant and all the cavalry on it. Bridei ignored Alexander’s right flank with the pikes. He advanced a block of spear with psiloi support against the Macedonian mounted, supporting it with the general and a LH. He was able to pull the other LH over from the other flank during the advance.

As the battle developed Alexander moved his elephant so that it attacked an element of spear that had had to turn (I think) to face the peltasts in the woods. In this combat the spear recoiled the elephant to almost touching the side of Alexander’s element. In response Bridei was able to advance one of his spear towards Alexander, where they gesticulated rudely at him. They also made noises that the Macedonian was not able to interpret, but seem to have been their approximation of the sound an elephant makes in reverse. With these blocking Alexander’s ZOC Bridei moved another spear with a psiloi support to provide overlap support for the spear that had faced off the elephants the turn before; these spear now advanced back into contact. The odds were good (5-3), with only a 1/6 chance of being killed, a 1/6 chance of killing the elephant (not the desired result) and over 1/2 chance of squashing Alexander. I got the result I wanted, though I refrained from making squelching sounds.

This battle only confirmed for me the solidness of psiloi-supported spear. And also the aggressive use of spear, not waiting to be attacked, but taking the initiative. Whereas against Keith’s elephant the odds were at best even and usually less, here the odds favoured me heavily. Still I can’t claim to have killed an elephant, though Stephen’s one was probably fairly contrite!

  • Game 7: Mark Bradley (Patrician Roman II/83b)

Having finally staked an incontestable claim to that wood, Bridei next went in search of more fights. He was the aggressor when he met some Romans. His monks were sure of this; they could even talk readily with them, though they’d not known the Romans to have any real army to speak of for some time (except those further east!), though a good third of the army were smelly Germans—a good deal smellier than the Picts! Bridei faced these Romans in a wooded area—two woods diagonally opposite each other. Through one ran a road with a small villa on it at the other end of the road. Opposite this wood was a low hill.

The Romans deployed along this road with a Bd in the villa, the general and the other two Kn between the wood and the villa, the four Wb in the wood and the two Ax, the Ps and the LH on the right flank near the villa.

Bridei responded to this by positioning his Sp backed by Ps on the hill, a LH next to them on the left flank, the other LH behind the wood to protect it and Bridei and the last Ps next to the right flank of the Sp.

The Romans sent their light troops into the woods, but otherwise showed no indication of advancing. This really gave the advantage to Bridei, but tired after a long day he muffed it. First he advanced his LH on the right flank where it met the Roman LH and was defeated. It would have been better to stay put and protect the camp if the Roman LH got adventurous.

Then he attacked the Roman Kn too soon. He had a LH behind their lines who could have got into the rear of the Roman Kn commander, almost ensuring his destruction. Instead the attack did little beyond forcing a few recoils and being destroyed the next turn. This overrecklessness was similar to what led to the Picts being roughly handled by the Athenians and is something to watch for in future!

  • Prizes

Comics Compulsion, the sponsors of Conquest, provided prizes for the first three places in the competition. Keith then gave the DBA armies provided by Magister Militum and Corvus Belli to the rest of us determined by different criteria. Stephen Malone won a Chariot Early Imperial Roman army for having the most generals destroyed (those of his enemies and his own). The other two armies were allocated randomly (I believe). I was lucky enough to get a Corvus Belli Ancient British army. The figures look really splendid and I’m looking forward to painting them. I think it’s great that these two figure manufacturers sponsored the competition so generously, and I’ll certainly be getting more figures from them both. it looks like my collection of Dark Age Celtic armies is now extending back in time!

  • After Dinner (BBDBA)

Half of us were still keen for more after the competition ended (the Timaru contingent, myself and two from Christchurch), so after a meal at a Thai restaurant, we got out the rest of my armies that I’d brought down for such an occasion and set up a BBDBA encounter between two Anglo-Norman armies each with allies. The first of these armies were commanded by the Timaruvians led by Stephen Malone, who had North Welsh allies led by Dave Batchelor and Norse Irish allies led by Mark Bradley. Against them Keith McNelly led the other Anglo-Norman army with Pre-feudal Scots allies led by Nick Sutton and Scots Isle and Highland Allies led by myself.

I had given a little thought to a possible scenario for this encounter, something along the lines of the Islemen going after a disputed kingship in Ireland and drawing on the support of a Scots lord and a Norman magnate. The Irish contender for this title also called on the help of a Norman marcher lord, who, most unusually, had good relations with a North Welsh prince, presumably one from Powys.

The Timaruvians were the defenders and deployed first. Initially they had the Anglo-Normans in the centre flanked on their left by the Welsh and their right by the Irish, but they then decided to swap the Anglo-Normans and the Irish. Their deployment left a lot of free space on their right flank.

It is indicative of how tired we were that none of us though to match their swap, and my Islemen faced a few Welsh archers fighting for the Anglo-Normans that were on a steep hill, while Keith’s knights faced a combination of Irish in a woods and knights.

The fighting on our right flank got off to a quick start, but the Scots, weary from their exertions as Picts during the day were not able to shift the Welsh from a low hill.

The Point of Contact

The Point of Contact: Keith's Spear and Bow meet Stephen's knights.

On my flank I made slow progress towards the hill, where my numbers were largely neutralized by these few archers. By the end of the game I’d only just started to attack them with my Islemen and it would have been a slow process to have driven them back.


In the foreground Galwegians charge the Welsh, in the centre Keith's Anglo-Normans have evaporated and in the background the Islemen have finally contacted the archers on the hill.

However, in the centre Keith’s Marcher infantry squared off against Stephen’s knights. They were in a formation of alternating archers and spear, and the odds were in their favour, but Keith’s wretched luck stayed with him, and the knights swept these troops away without any trouble. With his command now demoralized, it was only a matter of time before it was all over. Had we swapped positions, Keith could have exploited the open flank while I could have gone after the Irish in the woods. As it was Keith fought the Irish and a good portion of the Anglo-Normans on his own, and my troops were too slow to intervene.


The Islemen force back the archers, but the battle was already lost in the centre.

It was an interesting introduction to BBDBA. At this stage I don’t have enough troops to create one command that is larger than the rest. Had I had more feudal troops, Keith’s command might have had more staying power.

This battle brought to an end a really enjoyable day of DBA. I’d like to thank Keith again for organizing it and I look forward to getting along to the next one. I may even try to get to Tagcon in Timaru as well.


12 Responses to “Picts and Pikes: Conquest 2009”

  1. TWR Says:

    Great report Mark!

    The random army prize draws were random. They excluded those that had received placings, including that for most generals killed, and the organizer.

    • Mark Davies Says:

      Thanks, I was pretty sure it wasn’t for anything like best dressed!

      Corvus Belli mixed up the contents a bit, so they’re sending out the Wb figures they missed as well as the horses for the extra chariots I got instead. It looks like I’ll be getting more Celts, and may soon have enough for a BBDBA army!

  2. Stephen Says:

    Well done Mark. And you seem to have got the best of the prizes too. I was reading about Bridei travelling half way around Scotland to attack the Orkney Islands today. He’s a good choice for a Dark Age Celtic Odysseus.

    • Mark Davies Says:

      Thanks, though now I may be looking at Marian Romans to fight those Celts, sigh!

      The Orkneys, so that’s where he thought he was heading! Best not to compare him to Odysseus, though; he’s got a bit of a thing about Greeks!

  3. TWR Says:

    Thinking further about BBDBA if only I had positioned some more Norman knights behind the marcher infantry things may have also been a little different.

    Marian Romans being considered I see…

    • Mark Davies Says:

      Yes, a reserve of knights might have destroyed a few of his that were overlapped. I lost my last game of the competition by not thinking what would happen the turn after contact. However, the deployment as it was left my Islemen doing very little.

      Actually, I may go with Late Carthaginians, as many of their elements can be used to make an Iberian army or to increase the Ancient British to a Gallic army. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Carthaginians; must be my tendency to favour the underdog! Of course, then I’d have to get a Polybian Roman army.

      • TWR Says:

        Some may say that you just want to use all those Carthaginian elephants! One of the Timaru chaps used Carthaginians at Tagcon and I recall being a little nervous with a hoplite army!

  4. Mark Davies Says:

    Actually, I think most of the time the LH and the Cv would be more useful than the El.

    What I like more are the Ax and the ability to go for Wb or Ps. I’d like to see how 4 Ps would go against a pike army. One could provide rear support for the Sp and Ax when they go after the Kn and El and the others could neutralize the Pk.

    Having said that, it’d be hard to resist taking an elephant or two if facing a lot of Sp or Wb. Hardly sporting, though!

    • TWR Says:

      In some ways I question the Later Carthaginian list composition. For exmple I don’t believe there are enough Spanish or Italains in the list, or at least options to repesent them. If you compare the list to the DBM or DBMM list there certainly is some room for change. It would be an interesting list to redo at some stage even if unofficial.

      • Mark Davies Says:

        You’re probably right, especially with the Italians, as there’s very few Ax allowed for in the list, and the Italians are mostly southern ones who are largely Ax (though some could be Sp). The DBM list class most of these as allies, but you’d expect more Ax for Ligurians and Spanish. I may try to work out a list the way I did for my Dark age armies, one based on the DBM list.

  5. TWR Says:

    Some BBDBA photos added I see. Your BBDBA photo description “In the foreground Galwegians charge the Welsh, in the centre Keith’s Anglo-Normans have evaporated…” reads only to accurately. Not one of my most glorious days!

  6. Mark Davies Says:

    Blame some of it on the Galwegians. They surged ahead (as they do) and we all rushed to keep up. You might have been better to wait for them to come out into the open or for me to get closer (those Islemen are slow), but either way luck seemed against you!

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