Monday, May 7, 2007

Prickly Pachyderms

Last week was Tim's choice, and he wanted a Command and Colors: Ancients scenario with Oliphants.

I'd recently been listening to a great audio course from the Teaching Company called “Great Battles of the Ancient World.” During the time when I was looking through scenarios, I was in the middle of the two lectures on the Macedonian army of Philip II (Alexander's father), Alexander's conquests, and the Successor states. (Granted, the Successors aren't covered much – not all that much innovation happened after Alexander's death until the rise of Rome.)

A good battle jumped out from the scenarios included in Expansion #1Raphia. This was fought near the present-day town of Rafah in Gaza in 217 BC between the armies of Ptolemy IV of Egypt (an ancestor of Cleopatra, I believe) and Antiochus III the Great of the Seleucid Kingdom (the easternmost of Alexander's Successor States).

The battle features no terrain, and two elephant units per side - one on each wing. The armies were both deployed in a similar fashion, but the Egyptians had fewer light troops. As is typical with C&C:A, we played the battle twice, swapping sides. As is also typical, both battles played out very differently.

The first battle saw me as the Seleucids involved both of us advancing on the flanks. I focused on the right, Tim on my left. There was a surprising amount of give and take until my elephants finally gave way. A handful of casualties were caused by rampaging, but nothing too major. The battle was going back and forth, however, as I was winning on my attack, but in danger of letting Tim through on my left. I had a severe drought of command cards capable of protecting my left flank, so I started to advance in the center. Events brought my attention back to my dominant right flank, however, and the final blow was struck at the end of Tim's center line. In a close battle, I ended up winning 8-6.

We swapped sides and gave it another go.

This time played out completely differently as we both pushed the center. The main battle lines clashed right about the same time things started to come to a head with the elephants. This session saw a LOT of elephant-on-elephant clashes. Mine eventually took the worst of it, again. I also took quite a few casualties from elephant rampages, weakening my left flank, in particular. If I remember correctly, I even lost my heavy cavalry unit to elephant rampage.

The final blow came on an attack up the center from Tim's main battle line. He managed to get two units attacking my heavy infantry unit with a leader attached, and took both out for the final two flags he needed for victory. The final score in this battle was 8-2, but at the end Tim had six different units down to a single block, one with an attached leader. The score here wasn't really indicative of the battle, but Tim definitely had the initiative most of the game, giving him the advantage. Interestingly enough, the historical winner of this battle lost both games.

Absolute top-notch gaming entertainment.

I'm particularly impressed in the very simple modeling of elephant combat strength to handle their increasing effectiveness against denser opponents. Elephants simply roll a number of dice equal to what their opponent would roll. Pack a legion up against them, and the elephant will go to town stomping away. Put them up against skirmishers (their historical nemesis) and they roll a usually ineffective two dice. Having only two blocks makes them more brittle than cavalry – also historically accurate. Very elegant design.

An interesting comparison struck me after Tim and I were done between C&C:A and Clash for a Continent discussed here a few weeks ago. In particular, the Camden scenario in CfaC. That battle also features two similar armies lined up across from each other with no terrain of consequence involved. Yet, Raphia proved so much more interesting, challenging, and entertaining than our Camden session. In fact, it was several orders of magnitude better. Tim's feeling is that the command cards in the C&C system make all the difference as you can't fully control where the action is at. CfaC at least gives some randomness in the varying action points, but you can still spend them wherever you choose, producing an increased level of control. While that may likely be better in terrain heavy situations, I think it breaks down in the type of battles frequently seen in ancient warfare: large armies arrayed in battle lines across a featureless plain. The command cards in the C&C system lead to asymmetries during play that make for more interesting tactical decisions as the game goes on. The increased number of troop types certainly help this situation as well.


It's my turn to choose this week, and I still have no clue what I want to play. I'm thinking of straying outside our typically covered ground, but I'll need to give Tim as much notice as possible if I do that. I'll post a comment here, likely Tuesday morning, when I've made my decision.

1 comment:

Eric said...

Okay... finally figured out what I want to play.

Age of Steam on the Austria map. It's the only 2-player expansion for it that I know about.