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Subject: Carrhae x2 rss

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Philip Sabin
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At the Warfare show in Reading yesterday, we undertook two leisurely refights of the classic asymmetric duel between Crassus's Romans and an entirely mounted Parthian force at Carrhae in 53 BC. Each refight took 2 hours, but they played out very differently indeed. The pictures show Eric and Alan with the initial battlefield layout of the Roman square and the striking force led by Crassus's son Publius on the right, faced by menacing squadrons of Parthian horse on both flanks.



The Romans actually enjoy a small fighting value superiority in this scenario (representing the first day of the real battle), so they need to engage if they are to avoid a game defeat. In the first refight, they did so in spades! Publius led his crack Gallic horse and supporting legionaries into the temptingly vacant Parthian key zone, while Crassus advanced to try to catch the horse archers on the opposite flank. Publius's charge proved a gift for the Parthians, who quickly surrounded him and shattered his isolated detachment with arrows and charges by their heavy cataphract cavalry, just as happened historically.

The Parthians had by now done enough to win a handsome game victory without further engagement, and in reality the main Roman square survived the rest of this day fairly intact. However, in our refight, the Parthians were tempted to press their advantage against the thinly stretched Roman right, while tying up the bulk of the legionaries under Crassus with deft skirmishing tactics. Aided by continuing high combat dice, the cataphracts and horse archers in the centre broke unit after unit, and when an eighth unit was shattered on turn 8, a poor morale roll combined with Parthian domination of the centre of the field carried away even Crassus's fairly intact wing. The Romans suffered a crushing game defeat by 117 points to 44, over twice the threshold of 32 needed for a major defeat.



Having learnt the hard way the grave dangers of over-extension and excessive aggression against such a mobile opponent, the Romans in our second refight adopted a much more cautious approach. Publius refrained from charging, and instead his wing was reinforced by detachments from the main square as the Romans prepared to counter enemy strength with strength of their own. The Parthians attacked Publius in front and flank regardless, but he proved adept at rallying his men, and on turn 4 the Parthians decided to pull back their unwieldy cataphracts while shifting their agile light horse across to attack Crassus's wing instead. The Romans shifted some troops back across behind their lines to counter this move, though they were wary of sending too many lest the remaining Parthians renew the attack and shatter the Roman right as they had in the first game.

Thanks to better luck than in the first refight, Crassus's wing was able to resist the Parthian attack, and even to launch an advance of its own which prompted the Parthians to withdraw back to the safety of their left wing by the time the game ended on turn 10. Each side had only a single cavalry unit removed from the field, and the Romans inflicted more hits than they received during this much more tentative and protracted engagement. The victory count was very close, with the Romans scoring 36 points and the Parthians inflicting just 17 points of damage, though this was still enough when combined with their handicap bonus of 24 to give them a very narrow game victory by 5 points.

Carrhae is a classic case where the standard handicap provisions need tweaking as suggested in 10.3 to take account of specific scenario characteristics. The entirely mounted Parthian force benefits from an open plain with the maximum attack limit, as well as negating the legionaries' defensive bonus against infantry. Bidding VPs for the privilege of commanding the Parthians would make this a very tense contest, with lots of tactical dilemmas for both sides over how to balance attack, defence and redeployment. The attack bonus for cavalry attacking heavy infantry along a board edge or accompanied by fresh cavalry of their own becomes particularly important in this battle, as does the reduced cost of 1 command rather than 2 for light cavalry attack bonuses. The game shows vividly how the Romans can suffer an accelerating collapse once the Parthians crack their defences, but how the contest can otherwise become an extended stand-off. It also shows how important was the Parthian foresight in providing resupplies of arrows, as reflected by making over half their horse archers veterans. One need only imagine replacing the 10 VLC with 5 ALC to see why the Romans had such misplaced confidence that the Parthians would withdraw once their ammunition ran out.
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Mark Herman
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Nice set! Always more fun with toys.
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David
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May the Great Spirit Bless all who read this.
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When are we going to get the deluxe deluxe boxed version with the above components?
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