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Subject: 1st Chaeronea - Tough on Macedon? rss

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Todd Pytel
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I saw the recent session report on 1st Chaeronea, but haven't seen other posts about it. I'm curious how it's turned out for others, as all 4 plays of it I ran today were (handicapped) victories for the Greeks. I tweaked the overall strategy in a few different ways and some games did see Macedon drive the Greeks from the field, but always at considerable cost to their own troops. Even in the best cases, nearly the entire Macedonian army ended up spent, which is close to 65 VP right there. With a handicap of 31 VP, it seems like Macedon has to wreak incredible carnage on the Greek troops (61 VP base) to make up the difference. So far that hasn't happened.

As I see it, the Greeks would be foolish to advance their left down from the hill and get pummeled by Philip's veteran troops. Better to let Philip take the Key Zone and then pound him from the hill where he has a much harder time striking back. Thus, my standard opening for the Greeks is to deploy one average hoplite to the right to reinforce the cavalry, advance the two main blocks of hoplite down the field, sit on the hill, and move the light infantry on the far left up to the other hill. That can all be done regardless of the bonus command roll. The Macedonians typically move Alex and his cavalry up into the marshes, advance their big phalanx blocks forward, and may or may not advance into the open Key Zone.

From there, the details obviously diverge. But the Greeks always have the significant benefit of striking the first blow against the phalanxes in the plain. If they're somewhat fortunate with their command rolls or scrimp elsewhere, they can probably manage to buy a combat bonus for the lead unit in each of those clashes (especially by letting the Sacred Band lead on the right). That means the initial clash gets 4 rolls at +3/+1/+0/+0, which are often good enough to weaken 3+ out of the 5 phalanx units. That denies the Macedonians the support bonus on their counterattack, which usually ends up being +3/+0/+0/+0 with less opportunity for an all-out attack. Meanwhile, Alex and friends are taking a -1 penalty for attacking out of the marshes, while the lead unit against him will get a +1 for attacking him in the river tile. He'll always break through eventually (barring dice catastrophe), but the Macedonian infantry get pretty savaged in the meantime. Even the lone Greek light infantry on the Greek left can profitably attack its Macedonian counterpart - a single command to activate it gets a +2 attack (+1 lead, +1 downhill). Should Philip advance to take the Key Zone, he'll likely only end up with a couple more spent units for his trouble, as attacking up the hill and without a phalanx bonus greatly limit his attacks.

Anything obviously wrong with my thinking, implementation, or rules here? The central issue I see is that the armies are closely matched in troop quality, while Greece both strikes the first blow and has highly favorable terrain. Meanwhile, that same terrain prevents the far better Macedonian leadership from making the best use of its bonuses and exemptions. Alex will eventually break through and flank the hoplites, and the Macedonians' extra commands will eventually add up, but not enough to compensate for their infantry losses along the way.

Thoughts? Suggestions?
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Andrew Chapman
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I've only played this one once, and had the Macedonians mashed, but it occurs to me that the Macedonians don't really have to advance their phalanxes straight away. They have excellent troops with heavy infantry morale bonuses and can probably weather a Greek advance into the critical central zones, and an advance into the right centre by the Greeks might give Alexander a chance for an early enveopment?
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Todd Pytel
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Hmm... seems gamey for Macedon to hang *all* their central guys back. On other hand, Greece's skirmishers are outclassed and outnumbered, so the burden is on their center to make something happen. If Greece does advance all the way up the field, then they take another turn to make contact. By that point, Alex should be finishing up in the marsh and almost ready to swing in behind them, negate their lead unit bonus, impose morale penalties, and probably nibble away a command or two due to FV losses. That would make a difference. I'll try that in Round 6 (Round 5 was another smashing Greek victory).

The difficulties here are interesting since, as Philip mentions, this is one of most "lost" of the battles in terms of the historical record. I gather that there's disagreement amongst historians as to what either Macedonian leader actually did to win the battle. If, as some sources suggest, Philip and/or Alex took advantage of Greek fatigue and overextension, then the Macedonians sitting back and waiting to win their flanks first makes some historical sense. I wonder also whether the abstracted nature of the game system makes a clear answer more difficult in this case. Diodorus implies that Alexander broke through a gap or weak point in the Greek line, not that he outflanked them. While one can imagine how that might work in real life, it's hard to model on a 5x4 tile field with relatively limited movement capability.

I love that Lost Battles prompts this kind of thinking. No other ancients game I've played does quite the same thing.

Also, I misstated the Greek handicap above. The handicap is limited to half of the opposing army's FV, so it would be 42, not 31. Even tougher for Macedon!
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Philip Sabin
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We played three participation games of Chaeronea at the big Salute show in London in spring 2010, and I just used the useful 'search' facility on the nearly 4000 posts on the Lost Battles Yahoo site to remind myself of how they went. This was as follows:

The first battle started with what I thought was a Greek mistake, namely not
sending LI onto the Chaeronea hill. This tempted the Macedonians to advance all
along the line except by the Cephissus, with Alexander joining the left of the
phalanx and Philip occupying the Greek key zone. However, the Greeks then had
incredible luck in their attacks on turn 3. The Athenians scored 5 hits despite
Philip's rally efforts, and the Thebans outdid even this by scoring 5 hits and
killing Alexander in a failed rally attempt! Philip performed a very historical
withdrawal along the Haemon while his LI prevailed on the hill, but the
Macedonian left centre soon collapsed, closely followed by the centre. Philip
then withdrew his remaining troops from the field, and the Greeks won a stunning
game victory by no less than 114 points (163 to 49).

The second refight saw the chastened Macedonians adopting a very different
approach, attacking on both flanks and in the left centre while holding back
their centre and right centre and sending phalangites from the centre to support
the attack on the left. This worked well, and the Thebans and the Greek cavalry
were routed on turn 4, except for the Sacred Band which hung on in isolation to
be overwhelmed on turn 5. Meanwhile, the Greek LI won the even contest on the
hill, and this tempted the Athenians to advance against Philip while they had
the chance. They were not able to make any major headway before Alexander's
victorious advance broke the centre and put the entire Greek army to flight.
This time, game victory went to the Macedonians, by 7 points (100 to 93).

In the final refight, the Macedonians repeated their tactic of attacking on the
flanks and in the left centre, but went even further by sending 2 phalanx units
from the centre to reinforce the left and by having Philip himself join the
attack on the Chaeronea hill. The Greeks resisted bitterly and caused a lot of
damage to Alexander's horsemen and the leftmost phalanx units, and on turn 5
they took the risk of advancing in the centre and left centre to avoid being
defeated in detail. The hoplites were soon encircled by victorious Macedonian
cavalry and light infantry, but before they broke, the Greeks caused enough
damage to make this the closest game of the day, with the Macedonians winning by
just 2 points (84 to 82).

As these reports show, the Macedonians can't afford to engage simultaneously all along the line, but must seek to defeat the Greeks in detail and panic them through poor morale. Even if they succeed, the VP margins will be very tight, which is why they need to win by just 9 points for a clear game victory and 18 points for a major game victory, as per the system in 10.4. Note that rules 10.3 and 14.1 suggest that players bid for sides using extra handicap points to take account of more subtle factors like the terrain at this battle.

The Fifth Column Games website describes in detail two further refights of Chaeronea, one of them as part of an Imperial Foundations campaign. In the free-standing battle, the Macedonians won a narrow game victory by just 2 points, while in the campaign, they suffered a narrow game defeat by 4 points (in terms of the latest rules) but still conquered Graecia because of Alexander's increased chance of strategic success.
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Todd Pytel
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Thanks for the summaries and thoughts, Philip. Those are really helpful. I forgot all about the Yahoo site - I'll be sure to check that out in the future. I naturally assume that everything I need to find is at BGG somewhere. It's good to see that the battle has in fact been quite close on so many occasions, with a very real possibility of a huge Greek victory.

pagsab wrote:
As these reports show, the Macedonians can't afford to engage simultaneously all along the line, but must seek to defeat the Greeks in detail and panic them through poor morale.

Indeed, that seems to be the lesson to take from the game. As you've mentioned, sources are especially scarce on this battle. Do you see these results as being harmonious with those sources or more as a suggestion of what those sources leave out?

Given the lack of certainty on what exactly Alexander was doing in the battle, has anyone ever run the battle with Alex attached to the left center phalanx? Would you find that plausible? Diodorus's comments that Alexander was accompanied by Philip's most seasoned generals and that he broke through the enemy line both seem consistent with Alexander leading the infantry, especially given the relatively poor cavalry terrain on the flanks.
 
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Todd Pytel
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Well, I've played the scenario 8 times now. It's been fun, though I think it's time to work on other things for a while.

pagsab wrote:
The second refight saw the chastened Macedonians adopting a very different approach, attacking on both flanks and in the left centre while holding back their centre and right centre and sending phalangites from the centre to support the attack on the left.

I tried this out in my recent replays, one of which led to the only dominating Macedonian victory of the series. Holding back the center and right center is a strong play for Macedon, as it forces Greece into lose-lose decisions. In particular, if Greece moves their central hoplites all the way down the field, not only will they lose their lead unit bonus and suffer the first counterattack, but their left center hoplites will be forced to abandon the safety of the hill and engage Philip to prevent him from crushing the central troops' flank. On the other hand, if the central hoplites just sit in the midfield indefinitely, Macedon can use its spare commands to wrap up the flanks, whittle down Greek morale, and possibly carry away the center without a fight due to a bad morale roll. All of this seems consistent with the general impressions from the historical sources that Greece was pushed into a uncomfortable extension of their lines.

Despite the overall strength of that line of play, it's still a tough fight. In one instance, the Greek right center, led by the Sacred Band, just crushed their opposition with amazing dice rolls on their first assault, flipping all 5 opposing phalanxes. In that case, they pushed ahead with the center to maintain pressure despite the risks and ultimately drove Macedon from the battlefield.

Also, as Philip relates in his summaries, there's an important subgame going on with reinforcements and redeployments in this scenario. Reinforcing the Greek far right with a spare hoplite does a lot to keep Alex from breaking through too quickly there, and may even stop him completely with good die rolling. But if Greece makes that move on Turn 2 (which is really the only time to do it), then Macedon can respond by relocating Alex to the left center to lead the attack there and just let the remaining cavalry defend behind the swamp. Similarly, Macedon has plenty of commands to redeploy phalanxes from the center and right center to respond to Greek advances, further punishing Greece if they refuse to advance their center.

Overall, there's a lot more depth to this scenario than I expected, especially considering that the battle is remembered more for the first appearance of young Alexander than for actual battlefield tactics. Great fun!
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Philip Sabin
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I discuss the relationship of the model with the sources in the Chaeronea sub-chapter of the main book. (This sub-chapter is also posted on the FCG website.) I do think the model accords well with Frontinus's mention of Philip drawing the Athenians out along the Haemon and then shattering them.

Both here and at Issus, there has been much scholarly debate about whether the Macedonian heavy cavalry could face infantry frontally, and whether Alexander in fact fought on foot rather than horseback. The Lost Battles model allows you to try this if desired, but its main contribution is to show that other factors such as the overall force balance on the wing concerned mattered a great deal more.

Your mention of 8 replays is very heartening, since it shows how quickly the game runs once mastered and how it holds the attention over multiple refights even of a single scenario from the three dozen in the game.
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