Author Topic: Four times one-third of Chalons  (Read 358 times)


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Four times one-third of Chalons
« on: July 27, 2019, 12:57:10 AM »
Four Times One-Third of Chalons

Would the Gepids perform as well on my much smaller table top? Interested in answering this question which was inspired by Mark Fry’s concise, engaging, and entertaining narrative, “Chalons 451AD - With Epic Armati” (see pages 25-28 in the July/August 2013 issue of Slingshot), but much more interested finding out if an Armati wargame could be staged using forces four times the usual size, I quadrupled the number of units listed in the detailed orders of battle provided by Mark and his associates. Without going into specifics, I can briefly report that the Gepid commander, King Ardaric, had 12 units of nobles, 16 units of warbands, and 4 units of Hun heavy cavalry in his “steroid-infused” army. In comparison, the Roman commander, Flavius Aetius, had 4 units of Bucellarii, 8 units of Auxilia Palatina, and 12 units of Frankish warbands in his force.

Terrain and Deployment
As I was following (some might say imitating) the original presentation produced by Mark Fry and friends, I placed a fairly large and rather gentle hill in the middle of my table top. (The Armati report printed in Slingshot did not contain any photographs of Mark Craddock’s award winning model landscape, unfortunately. I did find a picture on page 30 of the August 2013 issue of Wargames Illustrated - I presume it was the Armati battle as Roy Boss is in the frame - but it was not a sufficiently large or detailed photo. I did not consult the map in Lebedynsky’s book referenced by Mark.) I also placed some patches of brush or scrub here and there around the playing area. As these are not recognized terrain types in Armati, these functional pieces of terrain were meant to break up the 24-square feet of dark green cloth. This terrain did not have an impact on movement, missile fire, or melee. Anyway.

The Romans and their “friends” were arranged on the near long-edge of my table. Their far right wing was held by some light cavalry and a “division” of Visigoth horse. Moving left along the long line, the Saxon warbands were next. These were screened by some skirmishers armed with javelins and then another rank armed with bows. Light infantry and light-heavy infantry formed a denser screen for the Pedes units of the Roman army. These troops also had a sizable screen of auxilia carrying bows. Next in line were the Frankish warbands. A portion of these troops were screened by their own archers. Guarding the far left of the position were more light cavalry, the Frankish nobles, and the Equites Patrician cavalry. Aetius took his place in the centre of the position. To his right was a small reserve of heavy foot (more Pedes). To his left were the Bucellarii.

The Gepids were on the far side of the table top. Their deployment did not look as solid as that formed by the Roman units. Their right wing was assigned to a combination of Scirii Retainers, Gepid Retainers, Gepid Nobles, and a couple of units of Huns. The Gepid centre was a wall of warbands, screened by packets of youths carrying bows. King Ardaric took up a position behind the main line, just like his Roman counterpart. The king had two groups of Gepid Nobles with him. There were quite a few more cavalry on the Gepid left wing than on the right. The first line consisted of Scirii Retainers, Gepid Nobles and Huns. The second line contained two large “divisions” of Gepid Retainers.

Rule Modifications
To a large degree, I adopted the “Scenario Specific Rules/Changes” used by Mark Fry and his colleagues. I adapted Rule 4 so that SI, LI, and LHI would have a double-frontage, as per the Armati rule variants. (Please see As for Rule 6, I increased the value of Aetius to 4 key units. One of his three subordinate generals was given a value of 2 key units. The other two each had a value of just a single key unit. On the Gepid side of the field, I promoted King Ardaric to 3 key units. All of his subordinates were assigned a value of 1 key unit. I did not bother with Rules 7 through 10, as I did not want to position camps and camp followers on my table top. (Interestingly, there was no camp for the Gepids, and there was no note about extra points to make one of their formations Veterans.) With regard to the previously mentioned variants, I employed a selection of these amendments as well, as long as they did not contradict and were not redundant with respect to any of the changes incorporated by Mark Fry and his established group of Armati veterans.

Summary of the Contest
On the Gepid left, King Ardaric certainly had the numbers. His cavalry formations made rapid progress across the open ground, shrugging off the long-distance annoyance of the enemy skirmishers loosing arrows. The first wave of Gepid and allied horse crashed up against the wall of Saxon warbands that had been able to gain the hill and form up in a defensive line. There was contact in the open terrain to the Saxon right, where the Visigoths bore the brunt of the charge. The Saxon warbands resisted stubbornly. The Hun contingent, wounded, decided to break off contact and rally. Other Gepid units stayed in the swirling melee and were ground down and broken. Interestingly, some Roman light cavalry along with a unit of Visigoth heavy horse were able to perform an “end around” and harass the second line of Gepid cavalry from the rear. Though only half of the Roman light troopers survived, they did throw quite a wrench in the Gepid works in this sector. The single unit of Visigoths, having escaped the chaotic contest wherein most of their brothers perished, was able to surprise a damage unit of Huns from behind and break them with the impetus of their attack. Overall, this portion of the field proved rather challenging for the Gepids. Though they did have the advantage numerically, they could not bring all that force to bear against a point or points in the Roman/Saxon line.

Over on the Roman left, their light cavalry recognized the danger right away and evaded the fast advance of the enemy heavy horse. Melees were soon joined on this flank, as Gepid cavalry did battle with Roman horsemen, Huns did battle with Frank warbands, and Frankish nobles plugged a gap, fending off charges by their Gepid counterparts. The engagements swayed one way and then another in this sector. As the Gepid command and control suffered during the course of the general battle, the larger cavalry formations on this part of the field could not bring their greater numbers into contact with the enemy. The Roman and Frankish cavalry capitalized on this, picking off units around the Gepid edges. Coincidentally, the Hun contingent in this sector of the field found themselves on the wrong end of a melee and decided to break off to rally. Fortunately, they were not surprised by a rogue unit of Visigoths.

In the centre of the field, an extended exchange of arrows between the opposing lines of groups of skirmishers took place during this initial stage. Due to distance, dispersion of the formations, and accuracy (poor dice), there were not many casualties inflicted or suffered. The Gepid warbands advanced as one, making relatively slow progress. By the time the forward slope of the central hill was within reach, it was populated with Roman light-heavy infantry, various warbands, and a strong reserve of Pedes “regiments”. Eventually, contact between the main lines was achieved, and just like on the flanks, the combats were confused and favoured one side, then the other. The Auxilia Palatina fought well, holding off a surging tide of Gepid warbands for several turns. Then, the Gepids doubled their effort and started cutting down the Roman light-heavy infantry. The same process happened over on the left of the Roman line where several units of Frank warbands held their ground until the Gepid pressure proved too much. In fact, Turn 8 witnessed the collapse and destruction of no fewer than eight Roman units across all three sectors. Up to that point in the engagement, it appeared that the Gepids were going to lose, and badly. King Ardaric could not take advantage of this temporary turn in his favour. The bad dice came back on Turn 9 and broke his army. The rout started on his left, progressed to his centre, and delivered the killing blow on his right wing. The Gepids were forced to flee. The silver lining to this cloud was that they had certainly inflicted quite a few losses on the Romans, Franks, Saxons, and Visigoths. However, Aetius did still have all of his Pedes “regiments” and all of his Bucellarii cavalry.

In stark contrast to the Gepids in games played by Mark Fry and his fellow player-generals, my barbarians lost. As mentioned above, there was that brief flicker of life during Turn 8, but the losses inflicted on the Romans and their allies were not enough to tip the scales of the battle. As an additional point of contrast, not a single commander or leader was involved in any melee. Consequently, not a single commander or leader was wounded or killed. This seemed odd given the numbers involved and the recorded history of the actual engagement as well as of the Battle Day reproductions. Turning my attention to the other question asked at the start of this report, it appears that I can stage a fairly large Armati wargame on my comparatively small table. (Full disclosure: an attempt at a similar sized battle featuring Franks and Huns earlier in the month did not work all that well and so was canceled and dismantled after six turns of play.)

On the plus side, this enlarged portion of Chalons was engaging, entertaining, and generated some additional ideas and questions. The game itself lasted nine turns, which were played over the course of three evenings. I did not keep exact track of the time involved as I was typing brief notes and remarks after each turn, but I question if I would be able to reach a conclusion in the same number of turns using a different set of rules. For that matter, I wonder if I could manage the same size armies using a different set of rules. Staging the battle, or portion of the battle, was very inexpensive. With my functional approach, I spent about 10 US dollars on the armies. As I am used to this method, the complete lack of figures did not bother me. I could tell what unit was what; I could see the condition of each (the addition of casualty and fatigue markers does not detract from the simple representation of the various troop formations), and I did not have to worry about damaging any unit due to accidental carelessness.

On the minus side, there were no figures deployed on my table top. There were no formations of cavalry or of warbands moving through or around patches of scrub or moving up and over the gentle slopes of a large hill. To be certain, it was nothing at all like a production from maestros such as Keith McNelly, Simon Miller, or any of a hundred other historical miniature wargamers. Shifting focus a little, I wondered about command and control as well as about army initiative. The Gepids seemed a bit constrained by their low total for heavy control points. This produced some rather large formations of cavalry and one very large formation of warbands. As the wargame progressed, the Gepids found themselves very near enemy formations but were unable to engage as doing so would have required voluntary splits to be performed. As they were out of initiative points, the Gepids were unable to move the few inches (less in some cases) and engage the enemy. To a lesser extent, this happened to the Romans, but as related above, they did well enough to win the contest. I thought the rules worked quite well. In my subjective opinion, the amendments and rule variants added a dash of flavour to the wargame. I did wonder, though, about the rout of units of light-heavy infantry not affecting friends behind them. In the latter stages of the battle, the Roman Auxilia Palatina suffered reverses at the hands of the Gepids but their breaking and routing did not have any impact on the nearby units of Pedes or warbands. Perhaps another amendment or modification of an amendment is in order? Maybe the rout of a LHI unit will disorder a friendly heavy unit, if that friendly heavy unit is within three inches of the routing formation and if that friendly heavy unit rolls a 1-2 on a d6.

In summary, an enjoyable nine turns played over the course of three evenings which produced one brief (at least compared to some of my other ramblings) narrative.

  • Chris Hahn