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Subject: The Second Punic War, part 3: The Battle of the Trebbia River rss

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Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
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Randy and I finally returned to our Second Punic War campaign a fortnight ago, and engrossed ourselves in the play of the Battle of the Trebbia River. Historically, this battle was an utter defeat for the Romans - possibly their second biggest loss after Cannae, which still lies in the future of our campaign.

Previous battles:
Part 1: The Battle of the Tagus River
Part 2: The Battle of the Ticinus River

Let's face it, most of the Second Punic War lies ahead of us at the moment. And the early stages are pretty dire for the Romans, which I'm playing in this campaign.

Looking at the set-up, we find the Carthaginian forces - including a few elephants - guarding one of the major tributaries of the Trebbia River. The Romans have set themselves up in their standard formation: Velites, Hastati, Principes and Triarii lines. They have cavalry on both flanks, but it's about to have a very bad day.



When it comes to SPQR, I'm not the best tactician. That's fine: it pretty much matches how good Tiberius Sempronius Longus was as a commander. (I'm hoping I'll be better later on, once I'm trying to be as good a commander as Scipio Africanus!) Of course, I was working with inferior troops: the legions had been tramping through the mud and streams without breakfast to arrive at this battle, and they were tired, cold, hungry and depressed by the time they got there. Taunts from the Carthaginians didn't help their morale, either.

The Roman attack on the Carthaginian forces began with the cavalry charging on both flanks, hoping to stop the Carthaginian cavalry from gaining an early advantage. It almost succeeded on the right flank, where the Roman Cavalry did significant damage to the Carthaginian Lancers, who were trapped against the river and couldn't get away.



Meanwhile, on the left flank, the Carthaginian Light Cavalry did an exceptional job of holding off the Roman attack - yes, they took plenty of cohesion hits, but these were superior troops... and the Roman Cavalry weren't. With half of the Roman horses deciding they'd have enough and routing away, the left flank was now looking very weak. It only got worse once you realise that the moment it routed over the stream, it'd be eliminated.

Finally, the Hastati began to move up, hoping to engage the Carthaginian skirmishers and then their inferior infantry. Unfortunately, the river would cause a great problem for them, soon enough.



Continuing to look at the left side of the battle, we now find that Hannibal (Randy) has let loose the Elephants, who smashed into the flank of my cavalry and done horrible, horrible damage to it. Meanwhile, the leaders of the Carthaginians on that flank were running around and rallying the cavalry: removing cohesion hits and moving them back into some semblance of form. The Roman Cavalry on the left flank was basically out of action, and it left the infantry unprotected.



On the right side, the Carthaginians were also gaining the upper hand. The initial attack of the Roman cavalry had been held at bay, and with the ability to cycle in fresh cavalry to fight, the Carthaginian cavalry now set about the elimination of the remaining Roman units.

In the centre, the Hastati line moved up further, getting close enough to begin some initial skirmishes with the Carthaginians. The Roman forces were clearly superior in this area, but they were running out of time before their cavalry collapsed and their flanks were exposed.



The biggest problems the Romans were now having were in their communications: the lines were getting clogged up by retreating forces (Velites, mainly). The Hastati finally engaged the enemy, and the Carthaginian Skirmishers discovered that the river was as much foe as friend. So too found the medium infantry that was unfortunately on the same side of the river as the Romans!

The Principes line also advanced, with part of it splitting off and changing facing to guard the left rear flank from the attack of the remaining Carthaginian Elephants and Cavalry.

Unfortunately, no such commands were issued on the right flank, and the Carthaginian Cavalry began its movement towards the Roman infantry. Some was held back successfully, and the Romans gained some brief success by making the opposing infantry rout from the field with nowhere to go but over the river.



Randy noted that with the losses I'd taken, I could now bring the Triarii line into play. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to deploy them - and besides, I'd needed their commander elsewhere in the battle. The Roman forces really needed their lines to stay, well, in lines, but the chaos of the battle amongst the freezing water was doing little for that!

Tiberius Longus continued to run around the battlefield, giving little concern to rallying his men (any time he tried, a "9" would be rolled, giving you a fair impression of how much they took stock of their chances on the field), instead mostly calling on them to charge the Carthaginian scum.

This worked to a point, and that point was the river. Unfortunately, most of the Roman troops would have to cross the river to reach the Carthaginian forces, and that was a very bad idea indeed. One brave unit tried it, and took so many cohesion hits from crossing the stream that it immediately routed and was eliminated. The rest of the units took note and settled down to await the end.

The Carthaginians then launched one more trick: a hidden reserves of cavalry led by Mago entered the battlefield on the left flank. This was less of a trick than hoped for, as the Romans weren't anywhere nearby any more. They rode towards the rear of the Roman infantry, yelling war cries.

Far more effective were the Carthaginian lancers on the right side of the battle, who were now just leaving routing and dead Romans in their wake. The right side of the Roman forces completely collapsed, and with that horrible sight well within his vision, Tiberius Longus called for the retreat: the Romans had lost the Battle of the Trebbia River, and they'd lost it badly.



The final score of the battle actually found me 2 Rout Points short of surrendering, but as Randy was about 100 RP shy of that total, there seemed little point going for another hour to reach that conclusion. The Romans had found some minor success where the Carthaginians were on their side of the river, but little beyond that, and the effectiveness of the Carthaginian cavalry and leaders could not be denied.

With regards to the campaign, this was an expected loss, and so no additional glory was achieved by Randy. The next battle is a War Galley one, and historically it was a success for the Romans; let me hope that I am as successful as they!
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Andrew Young
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And if you never have, you should. These things are fun and fun is good.
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Great report... Tom and I were doing the 2nd Punic War as well but have stalled. I'll live vicariously through you!

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Tom
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As Gygax intended.
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“It is a trivial grammar-school text, but yet worthy a wise man’s consideration. Question was asked of Demosthenes, what was the chief part of an orator? he answered, action; what next? action; what next again? action.”
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I think I'm missing something fundamental about the tactics for this game. I lost this battle badly as Carthage even though they are (supposedly) heavily favored. Either that, or Andy is the reincarnation of Scipio. robot

It may be time to revisit this beast.
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Andrew Young
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And if you never have, you should. These things are fun and fun is good.
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I've stepped in scipio before.... that could be the connection.


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Jon
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Lots of fun to read and see. Thanks for putting it together. The pics are fantastic as I have not seen this battle set up before. It appears cramped. Interesting.

Looking forward to that War Galley session too....
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Andrei Shlepov
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We played Star Fluxx, Star Munchkin, Dixit, and, of course, Bomb Alley.
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Great picture of the crumbling Roman right flank...
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