Thursday, 2 May 2013

Society of Ancients Battle Day 2013 Report - Chalons 451 AD - EPIC ARMATI

For this year’s event, our Armati player group were all in agreement that an epic historic battle such as Chalons, particularly one that sat right at the heart of the Armati Triumph of Cavalry Dark Ages sub-period - one of our favourite eras - deserved a truly epic depiction.  So to that end we elected to ask Richard to set aside a full 12 foot by 6 foot table for us - to force us not to compromise! This also gave Mark Craddock, our veteran terrain maker, a vast palette to display his creative ingenuity upon.

At first we feared  that our challenge was not having enough 15mm figures to depict the battle, However, in the final count, we could have easily doubled the entire set-up with all our combined troops between us! But how we were going to do it in a manner that did it justice both in terms of playing the game, as well as representing the armies?  Traditionally Armati is about a fast game resolved by true tactical principles and whilst we did manage two games played to conclusive results on the day of the Battle Day, we all felt in the end that what occurred on the table-top was a good reflection of the historic battle (or its potential outcome). So, to that end we were pleased that we had elected to go with the Armati ‘Epic scale’ depiction of units on the table top. It enabled us to put on a visual spectacle with 15mm figures. 
For those who don’t play Armati, there are effectively three different ways to depict a unit (see Table 1 below) with the most usually played (intermediate) version being the ‘Optimal scale’ which allows for a fast 3 hour game that can (usually) be played to a definitive conclusion in an evening. However, for our purposes ‘Optimal’ was just too small and we felt that even ‘Epic scale’ (the larger of the three scales) needed a bit of adjustment, partly to better accommodate the way our troops were based (particularly the heavy infantry) but also partly to improve the game-play and visual effect we wanted to achieve. 

Similarly we chose to approach the Huns very much along the lines (as outlined by Roy Boss on the SOA website) with the majority of the Hunnic Cavalry depicted as Heavy Cavalry (HC) rather than the more traditional (from a wargamers perspective) Light Cavalry (LC) style. Both types appeared in our Hun force, but in the reverse proportions to how they might usually appear, and both were still mounted archers. 
We also chose a slightly contentious deployment, with Aetius plus the Romans & allies on the Roman right, opposite the hill and facing the Gepids. This left the Visigoths on the left, facing the Ostrogoths with the Huns verses the Alan in the centre. We stuck to this deployment for both games, as we were looking to compare the results of the two games. The terrain also reflected one particular view of where the battle might have taken place, as this has a hill on the right and a low ridge running down the far left-hand flank - giving a good ‘edge’ to the combat area.
The terrain is based upon the map in  Lebedynsky’s book on the Attilanic invasion of Gaul and envisages the battle site being to the West of Troyes, that is on the Roman road from Orleans to Troyes as the Huns retired before the allied armies that had just raised the siege of Orleans.

Games & Results: 
Game 1 saw the Romans (myself) advance rapidly to take & dominate the hill, against the Gepids of Ardaric (commanded by Roger Williams), with the Alans (under Phil Steele) advancing initially very cautiously under massed horse archery from the Huns (commanded by Roy Boss) in the centre.  But on the far left, it appeared that the Goths (both Visigoths - commanded by Matt Bennett & the Ostrogoths commanded by Mark Craddock) might have come to some sort of pre-battle agreement, as neither closed particularly quickly on each other (!). Suspicion was being raised and had it not been for a very rapid Gepid advance distracting his attention, Aetius might well have been tempted to ride across to see what the h*ll was going on with his ally. However, as Sangiban the Alan picked up courage and charged the Hunnic centre, the waves of Gepid warband and armoured cavalry hit the Roman line … which, despite their uphill terrain advantage, proceeded to crumple like a sand-castle hit by a wave! I am sure that the Gepid general would put it all down to superior command and control, but if truth be told Aetius’ luck (dice luck) just deserted him and at the critical moment as well. Not only had the Roman cavalry died almost to a man, but Aetius, making a bid to reach the safety of his legions on the hill had been cut down in the pursuit.
However, in the centre, the Huns were also hard pressed by the Alan Heavy cavalry - whose better horse armour had protected them well enough from the Hun archery to allow them into melee relatively unscathed. And as the battle lines clashed Attila threw himself and his bodyguard into the fray, only to be skewered on an Alan lance.  So both our main protagonists lay dead upon the field! 

On the far left, both the Gothic generals seemed to be locked in a slow dance of cautious manoeuvre with no real engagements to speak of (although the Visigoth king did send a division of armoured cavalry to support & strengthen the left flank of the Alan centre) This was , in fact decisive as it stretched the Huns and forced Attila to commit  his guard with fatal results. So with the broken Roman command, both the Roman allies had to dice to continue the fight. But sadly the Alans had had enough and failed to pass their ‘continue fighting’ test, so withdrew from the field. The Visigoths however seemed completely unperturbed with the turn of events and chose to stoically defend the ground they stood on (almost the same ground they had started the game on!!!). The Huns - although Attila lay dead under his horse - had not broken, and with the victorious Gepids now closing in on the Roman camp, they could rightly claim a costly but hard-earned victory.  We can now translate the Gepid drinking toast to Attila; ‘May all the Hun Lord’s triumphs be posthumous!’

Game 2, saw a change of command, with myself taking the Huns & Ostrogoths, Mark Craddock the Gepids, Roger Williams the Visigoths, Roy the Romans and Jed Davies (he of Chariot Miniatures fame) joining us to take his place as King of the Alans.  As with the first  battle, each general was given lee-way to position  their troops within their deployment areas as they saw fit, and this time Roy laid out the Romans  with their infantry to the flanks and cavalry on the hill, facing a Gepid deployment (similar to the first game) with massed cavalry on the wing and combined warband and cavalry in the centre. In the centre of the battlefield, the all mounted nature of the armies made deployment pretty much standard, with large blocks of cavalry supported by wings of lighter troops on both sides. But on the ‘Gothic’ flank, the Visigoths had chosen to take the brunt of the anticipated Ostrogoth cavalry attack with their massed infantry - saving their armoured cavalry for the follow-up. The Visigoth infantry were rated as FT or Foot in Armati terms as we reckoned that 60 years of acculturation to the Empire had rendered them more disciplined than warband. As the poet Merobaudes says:  “these are not the same old Goths”.
The battle commenced, once again, we saw the Romans advance to claim the hill, and again the Gepids chose an all-out attack. In the centre the cautious Alan (counselled by the King of the Visigoths) hung back as the Huns advanced to within bow range. The Ostrogoths also charged forward straight into the waiting Visigoth infantry but again the gods of war (those damn dice) just failed to deliver their ‘promise’ and the Ostrogoth nobility ended up a smashed & bloody heap of mangled men & horseflesh at the foot of the Visigoth shieldwall (Steadiness being a clear benefit of Romanisation) .  As the Alans started to advance slowly towards the fast closing Huns, this game they were suffering badly from the massed Hun horse archery and when it came to the final clash of lances & swords, they came off far the worst in the melee. However, as with the initial game, all was not well on the Roman flank, and despite Aetius’s cunning move of placing his legions opposite the Gepid cavalry, so his own mounted troops might ride downhill into the exposed Gepid warband, once again the Gepid mounted charge did its trick and soon the Romans had reached close to their army break-point, as the legions fell-back. But at that point the Alans, under sustained pressure from the Huns who had used preparatory archery to good effect, broke in the centre causing the Visigoths to take a (continue-fighting) reaction test, which they passed. Likewise, the Ostrogoths, with their king dead in the shieldwall melee also broke, but the jubilant Gepids on the far flank, also passed their continue-fighting test as well. However, it was in the death of Aetius (again) in the final melees on the Roman flank that saw a victory for the Gepids, but even then with both their Alan & Roman allies fleeing, the Visigoths stood stolidly on the ground they had so heroically defended.

So we had two good battles across the day and in both cases the Huns were victorious. In our first battle both Aetius & Attila lay dead on the field of battle, and in the second, Aetius again perished as did the Ostrogoth king. The big surprise of the game was how well the Gepids had performed in both battles against the Romans. It just goes to show that no matter how ‘weak’ an army might look on paper, if the combination of deployment, command judgement and luck all conspire to support it, it can be truly deadly. What it again demonstrated, was how quick Armati is to play to a conclusion and how it rewards aggressive play, outnumbering an opponent at the point of contact and skilful combination of arms.

Overall we had 548 cavalry & 308 infantry 15mm figure in the Hun alliance verses 232 cavalry and 620 infantry figures in the Roman force. That’s a lot of figures!  I would like to thank all the players who participated, & Roy and Rodger for providing the vast majority of the troops, and to thank Mark Craddock for his wonderful terrain, which won him the ‘Best Terrain Prize’. 

Order of Battle:
Listed below is our Order of Battle - with special scenario rules.  Armati works on an army break-point basis but we felt that these forces were effectively a number of combined armies and wanted to represent the possibility for part of an army to break but the remainder to continue fighting. So in essence our forces were three armies a side with the Huns and the Romans both larger forces (by way of points size). Also the ‘lead’ army Generals had different characteristics from their ‘junior’ partners (not that I suspect the Visigoths would have recognised that ‘junior’ designation!). 
Rules: Armati v.2
Figure scale: 15mm
Unit/formation scale: Epic - with the following variation: 
1.       Foot (FT)/Warband (WB) 4 ranks deep, 2 base widths wide
2.       Light Heavy Infantry (LHI)/Light Infantry (LI) 2 base widths wide
3.       Heavy Cavalry (HC) 2 base widths wide + 2 ranks deep
4.       Skirmish Infantry (SI) & Light Cavalry (LC) are as per Optimal (normal) Armati 

Scenario Specific Rules/Changes:
1.       LC (Open order cavalry) may interpenetrate HC  (close order cavalry) via a normal or evade move - but HC must remain or have remained stationary even if the LC moves or evades first. HC & /or LC are able to shoot bows at an eligible target once interpenetration has been successfully completed [NB: not that any player used this rule-change in either game]
2.       If a LC unit evading through an HC unit cannot successfully ‘clear’ the HC unit both LC & HC units become Disordered (& the LC moves the extra move required for it to clear the HC unit) and neither can shoot
3.       All FT & WB are considered to be formed deep against charges with Impetus. This is a change from normal Armati where warband beaten by close fighting cavalry with impetus die in the initial round. We felt that epic scale represented German infantry formed in Keils (cunei or columns) and that the cavalry of the priod would think twice about a frontal charge on such a dense formation.
4.       LI/LHI (forms of loose order infantry) are considered to be deployed wide. In standard Armati a 15mm scale loose unit has a frontage of 40mm whereas in our game it had an 80mm frontage to match the frontage of cavalry and foot and warband units. However, this was a challenge for the Romans against the Gepids as the usual LHI formation would have given them two, albeit weaker units fighting against one enemy unit. Making them wider did make loose order units less manoeuvrable and less deadly against the cavalry.
5.       LC (open order cavalry) can deploy deep or wide
6.       Main Commanders are BP (Break Point) :2 if killed or captured, secondary commanders BP:1
7.       Secondary Commanders can only influence their own troops, Main Commanders can influence both their own and secondary commanders troops. Main Commanders may join & leave a melee (secondary commanders behave as per main rules).  Both sides main commanders readily joined melees, one questions whether they had noted this rule.
8.       Both Camps are considered to have the same terrain effect as a Wood (& cannot be shot over)
9.       A sacked Camp is worth BP:1 against the Main army BP, but a -1 on the Initiative level for all armies on that side of the battle
10.   SI (Camp Follower) can only be deployed in, & must remain in, the Camp & have no missile capability. However each base may move within the Camp as if a separate L:Div
11.   Visigoth HC(d) and Frank HC(d) in the Roman list can both dismount on table (unless Disordered) this takes a full move. If they are contact in melee by an enemy unit(s) in the move that they are dismounting they are immediately routed 

Armati decides the game by giving each army a number of Break Points (normally around five). Bigger armies with cheaper troops might get to eight points, smaller ones to perhaps three.  Most units are ‘Key’ units, when a Key unit dies that army loses one of its Break Points. Exceed the number of Break points and your army breaks.

Victory Conditions:
1.       If the main Hun or Roman command break, their side has effectively lost the battle, however the remaining commands on the ‘broken’ army side may throw a D:6 and if the score is undertheir Initial initiative level they may continue fighting in an attempt to defeat the army they are fighting or to achieve a heroic death! If they achieve this before they themselves are defeated they force the enemy army back to a winning draw
2.       If one secondary command in either army breaks before their main command, the main command in that army (the Hun or Roman) ignore this, but the other secondary command must throw a D:6 and on a score of their initiative level or lower will continue fighting, otherwise they too will break. If a second secondary command breaks, on a D:6 score of its initiative level or lower the Main Command also breaks and the entire army flees

Army Lists:
Hunnic Empire
Huns (main):
CR: H:4; L:3; BP:6 (2+4) ; Init:6
3 - HC (Huns) [k] 4[0]0 +1 Various/Bow@12pts
2 - LC (Huns) [k] 2[0]0 +1 Various/Bow@ 8pts
1 - LC (Allies) [k] 1[0]0 +1 Bow @ 6pts
Core Terrain: 1-Camp (WD) 
Bonus: 100pts
1 - HC (Bodyguard) [k] 5[1]0 +2 Various/Bow@15pts
1 - HC (Nobles) [k] 4[1]0 +2 Various/Bow@13pts  
4 - HC (Huns) [k] 4[0]0 +1 Various/Bow@12pts      
2 - LC (Huns) [k] 2[0]0 +1 Various/Bow@ 8pts        
2 - SI (Youths) 2[1]1 +2 Bow @ 2pts
3 - SI (Camp Followers) 2[1]1 +0 various @1pt
1 - Veteran upgrade for HC (Bodyguard) @ 1pt
Gepids (+ Scirii/Burgundians/Thuringians etc):
CR: H:3; L:2; BP:6 (2+4) ; Init:4                       
3 - HC (Gepid Nobles) [k] 5[0]0 +1 Lance @11pts                     
4 - HC (Gepid Retainers*) [k] 4[0]0 +1 Various @ 9pts            
Bonus: 75pts
3 - HC (Scirii* & Gepid Retainers*) [k] 4[0]0 +1 Lance @ 9pts 
1 - HC (Huns) [k] 4[0]0 +1 Various/Bow @ 12pts 
4 - WB (Gepids/Scirii/Burgundians/Thuringians etc) [k] 5[1]2 +1 Various @ 8pts
2 - SI (Youth) 2[1]1 +2 Bow @ 2pts

Ostrogoths (+ Alemanni):
CR: H:4; L:2; BP:2 +3 ; Init:4 (16+6+8=30)
2 - HC (Nobles) [k] 5[0]0 +1 Lance@11pts              
3 - HC (Retainers*) [k] 4[0]0 +1 Various@ 9pts     
2 - WB (Ostrogoths) [k] 5[1]2 +1 Various @ 8pts   
Bonus: 75pts
2 - HC (Nobles) [k] 5[0]0 +1 Lance@11pts              
2 - HC (Retainers*) [k] 4[0]0 +1 Various@ 9pts     
3 - WB (Alemanni) [k] 5[1]2 +1 Various @ 8pts     
1 - SI (Alemanni) 3[1]2 +2 Jav @ 2pts                      
4 - SI (Youths) 2[1]1 +2 Bow @ 2pts                         
1 - Veteran upgrades (1 x HC nobles to Household) @ 1pt
HC (Scirii*) and HC (Gepid Retainers*) and HC (Ostrogoth Retainers*) are all subject to Obligatory charge

Late Western Roman Warlord/Alliance
Western Roman Warlord (main):
CR: H:4; L:4; BP:7 (2+5) ; Init:5
1 - HC (d!) (Equites Patrician) [k] 4[0]0 +1 Various @10pts
1 - HC (Bucellarii) [k] 5[1]0 +2 Lance @ 12pts
2 - LC (Palatina Illyricani) [k] 2[0]0 +1 Javelin @ 7pts
2 - LHI (Auxillia Palatina) [k] 4[1]2 +1 Spear/Javelin @ 7pts
1 - LI (Limitanii) 3[1]2 +1 Javelin @ 5pts
1 - SI (Auxilia) 2[1]1 +2 Bow @ 2pts
Core Terrain: 1-Camp (WD) 
Bonus: 100pts
3 - FT (Pedes) [k] 6[1]1 +1 Spears etc @ 8pts 
1 - HC (Visigoths) [k] 5[1]0 +1 Lance @ 11pts
3 - SI (Auxilia) 2[1]1 +2 Bow @ 2pts                                      
3 - WB (Franks) [k] 5[1]2 +1 Various @ 8pts 24                  
2 - SI (Franks) 2[1]1 +2 Bow @ 2pts                                
1 - HC (d) (Frank Nobles) 5[0]0 +1 Various @ 11pts            
2 - WB (Saxons) [k] 5[1]2 +1 Various @ 8pts                 
1 - SI (Saxon) 3[1]2 +2 Javelin @ 2pts
1 - SI (Camp Followers) 2[1]1 +0 @ 1pt
1 - Veteran Upgrade for HC (Bucellarii) @ 1pt  

Alanii (+ Bretons):
CR: H:3; L:4; BP:6 (2+4); Init:4
1 - HC (Household) 5[1]0 +2 Lance @ 12pts
2 - HC (Nobles) [k] 4[1]0 +2 Lance @11pts
2 - LC (Retainers) [k] 2[0]0 +1 Various/Bow@ 8pts
2 - SI (Bretons) 3[1]2 +2 Javelin @ 2pts
Bonus: 75pts
4 - HC (Nobles) [k] 4[1]0 +2 Lance @11pts
2 - LC (Retainers) [k] 2[0]0 +1 Various/Bow@ 8pts
2 - LHI (Bretons)[k]  4[1]2 +2 Javelin @ 7pts
1 - Veteran upgrade for HC (Household) @ 1pt
CR: H:4; L:2; BP:7 (2+5); Init:4
1 - HC (Household) 5[1]0 +2 Lance @ 12pts
4 - HC (Nobles) [k] 5[0]0 +1 Lance @11pts
1 - HC (Retainers*) [k] 4[0]0 +1 Various @ 9pts
Bonus: 75pts
2 - HC (Retainers*) [k] 4[0]0 +1 Various @ 9pts  
6 - FT (Warriors) [k] 5[1]1 +1 Spears @ 6pts        
2 - LC (Basques) [k] 2[0]0 +1 Javelin @ 7pts 
3 - SI (Levy) 2[1]1 +2 Bow @ 2pts
1 - Veteran upgrade for HC (Household) @1pt
HC (Retainers*) are subject to Obligatory charge

A few photos before we all got too engrossed

Roy (Attila) surveying the battlefield
with Mark Craddock as the Ostrogoth King

King of the Gepids

The Roman deployment on the right flank
The Visigoth deployment - but no sight of the Visigoth King!
The Alan deployment in the centre

The Gepids charge into
the Roman cavalry flank

The Alani (advancing in-cautiously) in the centre -
with their King (Phil Steele) on the left,
watching as Attila tells Jed Davis (ex-chariot miniatures)
that this is how NOT to do it!

The Gepid nobles (top) about to roll-over the allied Roman & Frankish horse (below)


  1. Good stuff. As a long time intermitment Armati player, I really like reading about the way the SOA battle days are done with Armati. And it sounded fast (as it should be) and fun.

    1. Many thanks Shaun - it was great fun and even with so many figures on the table the game played out in true Armati style - fast and very furious :-)

  2. Looks awesome. Wish I'd been there.

    1. Hi Glenn - it was fun - we always manage to grab a few of the 'lost souls' who wander between the games, as we often manage at least 2 games to everybody elses 1.
      I am hunting back through my archive to see if I can find more on the Poitiers game which we did in 20mm using Roy's huge collection of old HYW Hinton Hunts - that was truly memorable.

  3. What a superb looking game! Terrific, inspiring stuff!
    Mike B
    Cardiff Space Cadets