The Battle of Alexandria (Marian Romans v. Ptolemaic Egyptians)

26 January, 2010

Today I caught up with the only other DBA gamer in Auckland I know, Joel, who’s been up here from Christchurch for a year now, but before the holidays was too snowed under with work to catch up for a game. We’re hoping we can have some regular games this year, which will be lots of fun. Joel was keen to use his Marians, which he’d painted over the break, and I was interested to try out a pike army, as I’d previously only fought against them. Therefore, Joel brought along figures to make a late Ptolemaic army, one that might have fought the Romans in Egypt after Actium. It consisted of a good pike block (6x4Pk), a 3Kn general, a 2LH, a El, a 4Wb, a 3Ax and a 2Ps. It faced Marians with a 8x4Bd (1 was the commander), 2x3Cv, 1x3Ax and 1x2Ps.

In this ‘what-if’ battle of Ptolemaic Egyptians against Octavian’s battle-hardened civil war veterans, I was the defender, and being littoral, I set up the waterway, a steep hill and a small marsh. Joel got the edge he wanted and any chance of me getting myself into trouble by being tempted to try a littoral landing was removed. I deployed with the mounted on the left of my phalanx and the light troops and warband on the right. I figured the mounted would have clear terrain in front of them and the other would do well on the hill.

Joel deployed his legions in a line with slinger support for the general and the auxilia on the hill. He kept his cavalry to the rear. Rather foolishly I didn’t see any need to swap any elements (only later did I realize that the elephant would be better on the other flank where the cavalry would advance).

Initial Deployment: Ptolemaics on the left, Marians on the right.

On the first turn both sides advanced, and the Roman cavalry set out to come around the hill to attack my right flank. I decided to counter this by getting the elephant to move across to meet them; however, this left my general on the left flank somewhat exposed.

Turn 1: The Egyptian elephant starts to move behind the phalanx to counter the Roman cavalry (out of view).

The advance continued with the Egyptians getting good PIPs (6).

Turn 2: Nellie continues to make his way behind the phalanx.

Things slowed down as the Roman cavalry passed out of command control behind the hill and the Egyptians entered a PIP drought (2 PIPs for each of the next turns, apart from one ‘3’).

Turn 3: The Roman cavalry come into view and the elephant hogs all the PIPs in an attempt to meet them.

The Egyptian light troops advance onto the hill, ZOCing the Roman cavalry, whose advance uses all of the Romans’ 2 PIPs.

Turn 4: The Egyptian archers advance to slow the Roman cavalry.

Facing this new threat, the Roman cavalry retire a little and deploy into line, hogging all the Roman PIPs. The Egyptian elephant also hogs all the PIPs as it continues to advance.

Turn 5: The battlelines are frozen as all the attention is on the Egyptian right flank.

The Roman cavalry think better of continuing to advance, and retire a little further. The Roman battleline expands as the auxilia retires to line up with them. The elephant continues to approach them.

Turn 6: The elephant forms a line with the light troops on the hill.

Still starved of PIPs the Egyptians respond to the approaching legions, by withdrawing their Galatians to line up with the phalanx, which wheeled and advanced.

Turn 7: The lines get closer.

For the next two turns the lines inched a little closer.

Turn 8: The lines are nearly in contact.

The Romans are uncharacteristically low on PIPs (1 PIP), while the Egyptians continue their drought, so neither side charge.

Turn 9: The Egyptians try to get their thureophoroi to help on the hill.

With 6 PIPs the Romans charge, they put the Egyptian LH to flight (and it takes no further part in the battle), leaving the general overlapped against the Roman general. My general rolls a 1 and is destroyed. On the hill, however, the dice are reversed, and my light archers roll a 6 and force the Roman auxilia to recoil. This gives the Galatians all the help they need as they cut up the legionaries in bad going in front of them. Elsewhere, the phalanx acquits itself well, with one ‘stick’ and two recoils.

Turn 10 (Romans): Oh dear! The general didn't put up much of a fight. Lucky those Galatians and archers were more serious!

The now leaderless Egyptians seemed galvanized, getting 6 PIPs (though everything cost 1 PIP more now). The Galatians flanked the legionaries to their left and the phalanx advanced on their enemies. The auxilia moved up to support those brave archers. Again the phalanx acquited itself well, destroying the flanked element and recoilling the other two. It was now 2-1 to the Egyptians, who were putting up a desperate fight.

Turn 10 (Egyptians): The Galatians contribute to more dead Romans.

With only 2 PIPs the Roman leader decides to flank the right of the phalanx, but is refuffed in a fierce fight (actually he’d rolled a succesion of 1’s!). The Egyptians got to keep fighting!

Turn 11 (Romans): The Roman flank attack on the phalanx fails.

The Egyptians have 4 PIPs (so the same as the 2 PIPs they’d had for most of the game!). They decide to drive forward with the phalanx. This time the Romans regains some composure and both combats were ‘sticks’.

Turn 11 (Egyptians): Stalemate against the phalanx.

This time the Roman commander attacks the rear rank of the phalanx, removing the support for element in front. This is unable to recoil and is destryed (actually, I think it was doubled). Elsewhere, the stalemate continues.

Turn 12 (Romans): The Romans even the score. In the foreground their auxilia has retired, as has their reserve element of legionaries.

The Egyptians are able to flank another element of legionaries, but cannot do much else. They win this combat, and are recoiled against the general.

Turn 12 (Egyptians): The Egyptians make it 3-2.

The Romans now fall upon the disorganized phalanx, flanking the surviving rear element on the left and attacking the rear element of the one that had flanked on the right. It was all over; unsupported pike against blade is ugly, and the Galatians prevented the element on the right from recoiling.

Turn 13 (Romans): Legionary tactics finally triumph over the phalanx in a bloody fight.

  • Review:

This was my first time using pikes and I now see the problem of supporting their flanks. If I had not tried to redeploy the elephant and just piled in on the Romans, I might have done better, but would I have been able to cause enough damage before the cavalry arrived? That said, if I had piled in, Joel might never have had the luxury of getting them anywhere (worth remembering!).

Though I didn’t know I’d get such consistently bad PIPs, it probably isn’t a great idea to move an elephant on its own! Once I had no general, however, I couldn’t complain about my PIP rolls, which kept me in the game.

I learnt a bit about how to attack pikes. If possible attack the rear rank! That’s what destroyed two of my elements.

Overall, it was lots of fun, I look forward to another game next week. Joel said he’ll look at getting together a Mithridatic army to face those Marians, while I will get busy with my Celts (Dwarves may have to wait after all!).


12 Responses to “The Battle of Alexandria (Marian Romans v. Ptolemaic Egyptians)”

  1. Stephen Says:

    A very interesting game. It must be refreshing to have a new ‘pool’ of painted armies to use.

    • Mark Davies Says:

      Absolutely, and a spur to get that stack of classical armies that I got at the end of last year painted. I’ve finally got going on the Celts, and now have half of an army ready.

  2. Dale Hurtt Says:

    Good battle report. I am looking at starting a pike army, to get more experience, so I like reading about how the various types do. Thanks.

    • Mark Davies Says:

      Thanks, I’m enjoying playing a more experienced gamer. The battle was actually a lot less close than it appeared. The way Joel went after the phalanx showed he knew what he was doing.

  3. TWR Says:

    Rumour has it the Marian Romans struggle against Numidians. Ask the local commander and listen to his reaction…

  4. Anarchangel Says:

    So do you play with some sort of DBM-style house rule that you don’t lose when your general dies?

    • Mark Davies Says:

      No, you lose when your general is destroyed AND you’ve lost more elements than the enemy. I managed to stay equal or ahead of Joel until the end (thanks to those Galatians).

      • Anarchangel Says:

        My set of the rules (2.2 from 2006, IIRC, I’m looking at a scan at the moment) says “either its general _or_ 4 elements” not “and”.

      • Anarchangel Says:

        Oh wait, I see, never mind. I’d missed that second clause.

        Thanks for alerting me to that! This is what happens when you teach yourself a game in Barkerese!

  5. Neldoreth Says:

    Excellent report. Interesting issue with supporting pikes… I have yet to play (neither against nor with) a pike army, but it seems like it might be tough to win with in a game that isn’t over early…).

    Nice report!

    • Mark Davies Says:

      Thanks, I think pikes are a challenge to win with, as they may be solid, but they don’t win quickly. The more I think about it, moving that elephant was a mistake. This week Joel’s Marians took on some Classical Indians, so I didn’t get experiment with pikes again, but the learning’s continuing!

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