Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Retrospective: Cold Wars WAB Singles Tournament, 12 March 2011 (Game 2)

Opponent: Ken P (Arthurian Saxons).  This is an army list that I’m very familiar with, as I’ve helped Ken playtest and modify the list over a number of months.  It’s a pretty straightforward fast warband horde list – save one key difference that wouldn’t make much difference against me: no auto-breaking opponents after winning combat.  Since my elephants stampede automatically when they lose combat, and I don’t expect my archers to do well against the Saxons in melee, I figured this distinction was more or less moot.

Army: (1750 pts)
  • 4 units of 28 freemen, one with General & BSB
  • 1 unit of 28 churls
  • 1 unit of 10 skirmishing freemen cavalry
  • 2 units of 9 skirmishers
Mission: “Meeting Engagement”.  Armies deploy in pre-determined sequence (‘marching order’), with war machines automatically setting up last.  Units deploy 6” away from center line, and no closer than 18” to enemy units.  NO special/skirmish deployment to start game, and player who finishes first – or who has no war machines – gets automatic choice of first turn.

Terrain: Low hills and trees surrounding an empty midfield.  The Saxons had no terrain really breaking up their deployment zone, while my zone was broken up into several discrete areas, forcing me to set up fairly tight in order to have mutual supporting LOS with all my ranged units.

What happened?
Neither Saxons or Nubians are terribly subtle, and so this battle basically came down to who could do the most damage on a charge.  Ken deployed as close as possible, 6” off the center line, and I deployed well away from him (nothing said I had to be within 18” of him, and instead, I chose to set up more than 24” away with most of my army).

The Saxons rush forward at top speed.
Now it’s time for the Elephants to charge.

Well aware that when fighting alone, elephants are quite unreliable, I deployed my three elephants very close together, and hoped that I would be able to handle the Saxons.  Ken very obligingly marched his entire army forward, putting them within charge range of my skirmishers and elephants.  I wiped two of his units on the first turn of the game in a thundering pachyderm assault, but that still left three more – all of them reliable Saxon freemen, and one led by the warlord himself!

Putting the brakes on a rampaging elephant is a feat in and of itself, but the mahout handlers got the three elephants turned around and thundering down on the Saxon rear.  The Saxons hurriedly turned about-face, and the warlord himself managed to force two of the beasts to stampede away.  Then he immediately led a frenzied charge into the rear of the stampeding elephants (warband rules can be problematic!), instead of doing the far wiser thing and letting them run away from his hordes, and paid for his bloodthirst by being flattened by a bloodcrazed hephalump.

Guys, we beat the elephants!

Only one unit of freemen was still free to act, and found itself the target for every ranged weapon left on my side of the table.  Suffering a hail of ballista and arrow fire, they panicked and fled, and rallied far too far away from the battle to have any effect.

Meanwhile, the rest of my army had destroyed his skirmishers, including his cavalry, and although I actually lost an elephant to close combat attacks (against one of the two units of freemen that had charged into the stampeding elephants), a nearby unit of Archers was able to flank them and wipe them out.  With only one unit of freemen left on the table in the middle of the fifth turn, and that one almost back at his table edge, Ken had hit army break point, and the game was called.  In all, I had lost some skirmishers and one elephant, and had another stampeding elephant still pounding the Saxon warlord’s body into a fine paste in the midfield.  Final score: 2175 to 423, and that in a 1750-pt game, no less!

Turning the Tables
Ultimately, this game was just a case of really poor luck and the warband rules conspiring to sink Ken’s army.  However, his basic strategy seemed fairly sound – lining his units up as close as possible to me, charging them forward, blocking as much of my movement as possible, and hoping for the best.  Given that my elephants charger further than his warbands, he didn’t have many other good options.  As might be expected, he lost two of his infantry units straight away as I charged in with three elephants, but he still had three very effective melee units (especially against me) to handle my back line, and some skirmishers to screen his rear as he assaulted...

…except that he had marched forward with his skirmishers as well, and I had either tied them up or wiped them out with my own skirmishers and cavalry!  This meant that Ken effectively had nothing to protect the rear of his three units of Saxon freemen, and had to waste time (and risk further losses) by turning units about-face in order to fight off the Elephants on their second charge. 

Even had Ken not then flubbed two Warband tests and charged into the rear of two stampeding elephants (!), he would still have been in an awkward position, with three units of archers able to shoot him up, ballista with enfilading fire, and no guarantee that he’d be able to beat all three units of Archers after having suffered more losses.  Granted, his odds would still have been decent if he had all three freemen units left (as he did), but that was relying on luck and good fortune to shake off the Elephants, instead of having skirmishers around to do the trick.

In all, the Saxons probably had the slight edge in this game, as they could afford to lose two of their five infantry blocks and still win; but losing all their screeners and skirmishers meant that they were down to luck to beat back my Elephants and then break my archers – and Ken ended up having monstrously bad luck on the Warband roll, despite having the good fortune to stampede two elephants at once from a single combat just the turn before.

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