Retrofitting hopla

17 November, 2010

I’ve been looking for good hoplite figures for a while. I guess I could go with Xyston, which are doubtless very good, but likely to be too big and are a hassle with their undrilled hands. I got some Gladiator hoplites, but am not really satisfied with them (though I’m yet to paint any). I actually like the Essex hoplite, but its shield is a travesty, being too small and having no rim. What’s a hoplite with a crap hoplon?

The old Essex hoplites.

I found a way around this when I got some of the hopla from Freikorp (for their HG17). I found it was actually quite easy to remove the Essex shields, although the spear had to come off as well (and it’s a whole lot easier if the figures aren’t based!). I used a craft knife and as the metal is very soft they came off without much effort, better still the arm stayed on! I painted the Freikorp shields up quite a while ago, but did nothing until last weekend about actually attaching the shields to the hoplites. I only have 8 of the Freikorp shields, so I painted up another element of hoplites and attached the shields using green stuff (as the concave backs made for poor contact with what remained of the figures’ arms.

The retrofitted hoplites.

One thing I’ve found with the Freikorp shields is that they seem to be quite porous, and washes are very dark on them, even after adding a transfer. By contrast, the Essex figures have very shallow detail, which means washes don’t pick up as much detail as on some figures. For all that, I like the pose of the Essex figure and the variations of armour and helmets that stop them being too uniform.

From another angle.

The hoplites are going to be used for a Syracusan army, though I’m sure they can morph into quite few other hoplite armies. Before I order any more shields, however, I have to paint some of the other Freikorp figures I’ve ordered, to check they’re a range I want to get more of. I’m working on a Seleucid elephant (HG10a), which I think has great animation, and compared to the CB one is a breeze to put together. I’m also working on a scythed chariot (HG27), which is very attractive, though a little big for the base. I’m also painting a command for the Later Macedonians from HG20 and HG21 and some Tarantine cavalry for these and the Syracusans (HG25).

Finally, I’m doing an element of Macedonian pike (HG03). These are nice figures, with a good pose and variations on the head position and helmet. The shield is also appropriately smaller than a hoplon. Once these are painted I’ll order some more of those hopla and the figures I need to complete the Hellenistics as Syracusans, Seleucids, Ptolemaics and even Pyrrhic (I only bought samples of the cavalry first up, but based on these I’m very happy with their range).

And another angle.

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The next day John and I varied the pike army a little, going with a Ptolemaic one: 2x3Kn (1=cmd), 1x2LH, 1xEl, 6x4Pk, 1x4Ax, 1x2Ps. This list is also a possible variant of the Imperial Alexandrian army. The same figures were used as the day before, and one can only imagine that poor old Hasdrubal was stranded on the same island in time for a rematch.

Hasdrubal went with two elephants, as they seemed the best counter to the Ptolemaic knights and elephant. He also went with two psiloi and two warbands. He was again the attacker and the littoral Egyptians laid two steep hills and a wood. Of these the wood was the only terrain that played a part, as the hills were on the respective baselines.

Initial Deployment: Carthaginians on the left, 'Ptolemaics' on the right.

I deployed with my bad-going troops on the right flank, where they could make use of the woods, the spear in the centre and the elephants on the left flank. This forced John to redeploy some of his knights away from the elephants, but more particularly, to redeploy the auxilia and psiloi away from the woods towards the elephants.

John sent his light horse wide and I responded by chasing it with my light horse, my general, and even my elephants; somewhat extreme, perhaps! The initial combat between the two light horse saw one of us recoil. John then very kindly showed me how I could flank the light horse by sliding my general into the space between the two of them, thus taking the Numidians out of ZOC where they could then flank the light horse. This gave the first kill to me.

The Ptolemaic LH is destroyed. Note the Balearic slingers at the edge of the woods, ZOCing the Ptolemaic flank; they got their in the first turn. Note also the Ptolemaic light foot facing the elephants.

With the light horse gone, John decided that the light foot were best to contact the elephants on their own terms, rather than wait. It was a tactic that bore fruit, when one elephant was destroyed.

Bonnachts against elephants and the Irish come up laughing.

At this point my PIPs really died away; I think I consistently had only one or two PIPs for the remainder of the game. I was really beginning to despair of the Carthaginians, as they had had such a long run of bad luck. However, John was a very helpful opponent and encouraged me to weigh up my options carefully to get the full value out of every PIP. The threat of the Irish to the elephants was neutralized by the Numidians attacking the kerns and an element of spear ZOCing the bonnachts.

To the rescue of the elephant!

The spear that peeled off to ZOC the Irish proved a real thorn, holding up a pair of ‘pike’. In fact, it stuck out repeated combats at uneven odds, refusing to budge.

The Libyan skirmishers recoil from the giant, while the blueshield spear drive back the bonnachts, despite their overlap from the 'pike'.

John continued to get more of the PIPs, but his left flank was severely compromised by the lack of any troops that could go into the woods. He had to peel off pike elements to prevent his main body from being flanked. In the centre, the giant put the Libyan skirmishers to flight, but those pugnacious blueshields drove back double-ranked pikes!

The blueshields frustrate pseudo-Ptolemy.

With only two PIPs the Carthaginians are unable to repair any of the tenuous position in the centre, and go for even odds on a kill on their right flank: Gauls provide a friction kill, but not flanking support for the Scutarii against an element of pikes. Both roll 6, and looking back I think this should have been a stick. Perhaps the pike were put down one for the Gauls in error—oops (unless we put the dice back in the picture in error, which seems doubtful)!

In a fierce encounter pike are destroyed by auxilia with some warband support.

Ptolemy then drives forward in the centre. One element of spear folds before the giant, the other recoils from the pike.

The giant makes it 2-2.

Again with only two PIPs the Carthaginians focus on the right flank. The warband go in on the side. One would provide a friction kill if the pike advanced against the spear and the other peels off the rear element of pike. The warband are at even odds, but QK the pike and in this combat triumph, making it 3-2.

Another 6 for the Carthaginians, and the Ptolemaic left flank is looking very fragile.

Good PIPs allow the Ptolemaic knights to advance on the Spanish Scutarii in the open, and to attack the spear with the giant and with the pike. However, the dice desert them in combat as they roll two 1s.

No luck for Ptolemy as the Carthaginian spear hold fast.

Now was the time to roll a 6 for PIPs and attack on all fronts, but the PIP dice was yet another 1. The auxilia had to remain in the open, the elephant remained unmoved from where it was very early in the game, as indeed did that entire wing. Instead Ambiorix (that’s the headhunter with clothes), attacked the pike from the rear. When they turned to face, the other warband (led by Lucterius of the Battle of Vienne fame) now flanked them. The combat dice continued to smile and it was game over! The Carthaginians had their first win!

In a emphatic 6-1 contest the Gauls chew up another element of pike to give the battle to the Carthaginians. Over in the centre the blueshields remain locked in combat with the opposing pike

  • Review

I could, and shamelessly did, whine about PIP dice, but the combat rolls went my way. Being able to ZOC the bonnachts with my general was crucial to preventing them from supporting the pike against the blueshields. In turn, the blueshields stalwart resistance was crucial in stopping their centre from folding.

The control of the BGo on the right flank proved the undoing of the pike on that flank; unsupported pike against warband is not pretty.

The elephants did little except die, but their importance was in pulling the opponents’ BGo troops away from the woods, and in putting their knights where they failed to get into combat, so perhaps they weren’t totally without use.

It was a nailbiting game because of the lack of PIPs, and my defeatist attitude after so many losses. However, the lack of PIPs did have the effect of making me focus, rather than try to  win everywhere.

This was a crucial victory before going down to the CWC competition. If I hadn’t won, I’m not sure what I’d have done with the Carthaginians. I’m sure I’d start to think they were cursed! I have John to thank for coaching me through my options when I was feeling like giving up in disgust over the chronic PIP-starvation. His advice to try to win somewhere faster than you lose elsewhere was very good, though in this game it was a matter of hoping not to lose too fast in the places I had no PIPs to spare! And my spear showed some real grit in making that happen.

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!).