Sunday, February 14, 2010

Retrospective: 17 July 2009 Historicon WAB Medievals (Game 1)

Opponent: Justin Tebo (Low Countries). A soft-spoken and very intense opponent, Justin was fielding a pikeman-heavy force with a credible left and right hook (knights and halberdiers). An actual historically plausible conflict, this set up my Burgundians against a mercenary force of guilders and middle-class townsfolk from what is now the Benelux nations. Bloody rebels, anarchists, and republicans, is what they were, and no well-bred Burgundian nobleman was going to stand for it, I can tell you!

Army: (1500 pts)
  • 1x10 Knights (including General)
  • 2x24 Pikemen
  • 1x16 Heavy Infantry with Halberds
  • 2x10 Skirmishing Handgunners
  • 1x20 Longbowmen
  • 1x Light Cannon (and crew)
Mission: “Running Fight” – both armies start off the table, and bring a unit at a time onto the table. Deployment begins very slowly, with only one unit coming onto the table every two turns, but speeds up after Turn 6. Each player secretly determines in advance the order in which their units enter, and must stick to that sequence. Table quarters do not count for victory points, but the “village” on the table counts for a bonus 400 points.

Terrain: Generally open fields, with a small copse of trees on my table edge, on my far left flank. In the middle of the table (on the left) is a small village of several buildings, and in the middle of the table (on the right) is a rather sizable hill that blocks LOS.

What happened?
Given the mission, a whole lot of nothing happened for the first nine turns of the game, as we each brought on a number of units and carefully maneuvered them at extreme ranges around the existing terrain. Justin tried to move his cannon into firing position and got shot to shreds by my ranged weapons for his effort. Then, in the 10th turn, I stupidly screened my unit of Knights behind a unit of skirmishing bowmen, in a foolish attempt to protect them from Justin’s nearby unit of Knights. See, I was forgetting that in Warhammer Ancient Battles, this simply results in the skirmishers getting shredded and overrun, and the unit behind getting charged with no chance to countercharge. Long story short, I lost my unit of Knights.

I spent the next few turns maneuvering my General (attached to my unit of pikemen) toward the village, screening the flanks of the unit with my ranged support fire, and punched into the village (held by Justin’s heavy infantry halberdiers) with my pikemen on Turn 12. With the general and ASB on my side, and with both units essentially fighting in skirmish formation, the halberdiers were decisively routed, and I had the village… for at least a few turns.

On turn 14, Justin got a bit careless with his knights, and they were annihilated by my cannon (which had just arrived on turn 13) and crossbows, and were wiped out to a man. His general survived, however, and fled to safety on the far side of the hill, out of LOS.

On the 15th turn, Justin finally maneuvered his two large units of pikes into range of the village, and with the numerical advantage on their side, slowly began whittling down my one unit of pikes. I simply didn’t have the units to help out, although I did keep sniping at his other units to keep him honest. With my light cavalry safely out of LOS behind the copse of trees, and with my crossbows behind pavises, I was slowly winning the battle of attrition with his distant longbowmen, but only oh-so-slowly.

On the 17th (and final) turn, my position completely collapsed, and a close game turned into a rout for the Low Countries: my General and ASB were forced to retreat, and I had lost my sole unit of melee infantry. Justin’s two units of pikemen held the village. At the same time, one of my light artillery exploded, and the accompanying panic checks led to the rest of the battery fleeing off the table as well. Final score: 1220 victory points for Justin, and a mere 570 victory points for me.

Turning the Tables
The very slow set-up and maneuver that were part of the mission threw both of us for a loop, but there were several things I should have done that might have changed what my options were. First, there was no reason to challenge the Low Countries knights with my knights; the odds were in Justin’s favor with his general in the unit, and I basically threw my knights away with that stupid “screen with skirmishers” trick that only works in Warhammer Fantasy. I also lost a unit of Skirmishers in the equation. I would have been better off dancing around the village with my Knights, and using them to support my General and Pikemen – and taking advantage of my superior firepower to down his heavier units when I had the opportunity (as came about on turn 14).

Secondly, I set up my guns in a battery, which is stupid and without any benefit in a game of Warhammer Ancients. There are no real benefits, and plenty of disadvantages (as demonstrated by the panic check that sent them scurrying off the table) to doing so, and I should not have set them up in this fashion. Whether this would have made much of a difference in the game anyway is debatable, but it’s still a mistake that I should learn from and fix.

Given how slowly the game developed, and how many bonus points the village was worth, I don’t think it was a mistake for either Justin or I to spend so much effort and energy in trying to capture it – but with two units of pikes AND a unit of halberds on his side, and with so many units in reserve (and thus able to move on at any point on their long table edge), it was going to be difficult for me to get the upper hand on Justin with my superior shooting – his non-shooting units could simply move onto the table somewhere I couldn’t easily shoot, which is exactly what they did. With that in mind, my best option was probably to hold back and kill his knights with my shooting (which I did), and use my own knights to smack around his non-pike units, perhaps keeping one or both units of pikes from moving to take or support the village due to their threat, thus allowing my own pikemen, led by my general and ASB (and thus with the edge one-on-one against any of his infantry units in a village skirmish) to capture the village later in the game.

Instead, I lost my knights early on and Justin was able to leverage his larger number of pikes to his advantage by the end of the game. Defeated by a rabble of bloody plebians! Ah, the ignominy!

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