BrentS
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I've been able to play half a dozen games of the new expansion on Vassal and have really been enjoying it. The scenarios I've played have been interesting.......fairly linear infantry lines without much in the way of mixed arms, which seems like it should be tactically pretty unrewarding, but does actually present tactical challenges of its own (I had thought about jotting down some strategy notes on this subject when I get a chance). There are, however, some other very diverse scenarios in the expansion, with important terrain, interesting unit mixes and special scenario rules. One of these is Thermopylae (Middle Gate). Long before this expansion arrived, Thermopylae had been debated as a possible design limit for C&C:A, perhaps one that the system could not handle....a crucial question because it is one of the most famous and intriguing of ancient battles, even if its importance is questionable.

When I had my first opportunity to sit down to play one of the Spartan scenarios on the table it had to be Thermopylae.....and I'm pleased to say it was excellent, modelled the historical battle well, and had everything I love about the game....deservedly the centrepiece of Expansion 6.

I hadn't planned to write a session report, so didn't take pictures or write notes as I went (I can't even give banner counts), but we enjoyed it so much I wanted to jot down some thoughts while it's still fresh.



Terrain is an important feature of this scenario. Impassable mountains and ocean constrict the field on either flank, funneling the action onto the line of ramparts defended by a solid phalanx of Greek hoplites. One of the big questions was how they would simulate the ability of a small but elite Greek force to hold a narrow passage against a far larger Persian army and it hasn't been done in the way I expected, but I think has been handled masterfully.

The Persian army is a mess here. 4 to 6 hand disadvantage, units scattered (particularly the mounteds), their best units stuck near their baseline and their most vulnerable close combat units, their Auxilia, right up front without full leader coverage and a very short-looking one hex distance from a solid phalanx of superior enemy hoplites. The Spartans have hand advantage, superior close combat units (including the very hard to eliminate Spartan hoplites) and are protected by their ramparts. What the Persians do have, however, is far superior range attack capability and the possibility of bringing their ambush force down the goat path into the rear of the Greek left and threatening their camp, which is worth a victory banner. This gave me the impression of a greater Persian threat, the menace of the huge army, even though they don't have many more units on the board.

What all of this does mechanically is put a clock on the Spartans and places the impetus for attack on them in what could otherwise be a static situation. Sparta can't actually "fight in the shade", waiting to be whittled away by overwhelming ranged fire and for Xerxes to draw a leadership card and spring the ambush. This may seem counterintuitive, that the historical onus of attack was really on the Persians. However, the Spartans could never have survived Thermopylae and many believe Leonidas knew this. It's also generally believed that the delay of the Persian army at Thermopylae was irrelevant to the outcome of the war.....that honour belonged to the Athenians at Salamis. So what was the Spartan objective? Possibly it really was honour and a glorious death. Kill Xerxes? Kill enough of the enemy to demoralise the Persian army? Make a stand heroic enough to be immortalised in legend? Ten victory banners (more than any other single board scenario in C&C:A) is a lot of hard fighting, a lot of dead Persians and a lot of glory....but only if Sparta comes out from behind their ramparts and wins it for themselves.

We played two games, swapping sides.

Game 1

The Persians played a Line Command straight up to withdraw as many of their Auxilia from the dangerous front line as possible and start firing into the Spartans with their bowmen. Sparta responded with some ranged fire on the flanks for a few turns while staying on the ramparts, giving Persia time to whittle away a few hoplites at range and bring forward the chariots, heavy cavalry and Xerxes. When Sparta finally decided to attack, Demophilus came out himself on a Spartan hoplite unit, destroying a trapped Auxilia and nearly destroying a bowman.....but he momentum advanced too far on his own. Persia played a Centre Leadership, cutting off Demophilus' retreat path with lights and destroying his unit with the heavy mounted units. He died on the leader escape through the lights. On the next play Persia played a Right Leadership and sprung the goat path rear assault against the Spartan left, already weakened by arrow fire, then Mounted Charged the advanced heavy mounteds into the same flank. The Greek left collapsed and their camp fell. Leonidas held his right flank but never left the ramparts. Sweeping victory to Persia (with the aid of a near perfect draw).

Game 2

Sparta learned a lesson from the previous game and immediately charged from the ramparts with an Order Medium into the line of Auxilia, destroying one and depleting a few more but taking a lot of unexpected damage on the battle back. Two hoplite units were destroyed before the Persian Auxilia were all wiped out and the Spartans broke through to be faced with the strong Persian rear and the Immortals.....too strong. Leonidas abandoned the centre and right, shifting to the left and away from the Immortals' bows with a Line Command, hoping to pin the bowmen there and trap Hydames before he could start down the goat path. The Spartan left also came forward in support, leaving a lone Auxilia to guard the camp. Realising this, Persia sprung the trap with a Leadership Any Section and took the Greek Auxilia down to one block....but it held just long enough for one hoplite unit to get back to the rampart line, with Demophilus detaching from the front and hastily coming back to attach to it. Risking a leader escape situation himself he destroyed both enemy Mediums with some spectacular rolling, knocking one off the camp before it could be removed from the map and reoccupying it himself. Meanwhile Leonidas and the phalanx Double Timed into the Persian rear, pinning and destroying both bowmen and the heavy cavalry and almost doing the same to Xerxes. Victory to Sparta.

A thrilling game with plenty of narrative and high drama, opportunity for good, creative play and an uncertain outcome down to the final turn. Leonidas had three hoplite units destroyed from underneath him, survived all leader checks and delivered the decisive blow at the end....a legend . Demophilus' desperate and dangerous race back to save the camp was great story.

I rate Thermopylae (Middle Gate) an A+ scenario, the best I've played so far from Expansion 6 and up there with any of the best from previous expansions. I'm looking forward to playing it again.

Brent.


Additional: In contrast to Middle Gate I have to say I don't get the Grand Overview version of the battle. It looks extremely limited tactically and I've never seen a C&C:A scenario I feel less enthusiastic about playing. I'd be interested to hear feedback from anyone who has actually tried it.
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Miguel (working on TENNISmind...)
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Glad to see you enjoyed it, Brent!

I'm not sure if you considered it, but the way I read the special rules the rampart hexes work as the camp hex, any of them occupied at the start of the Persian turn is removed and gives VB. So the Greeks cannot leave the wall so happily, they have at the same time to avoid abandoning part of it for the Persians to gain several VB.

I have the same feelings for the Grand Overview, I don't know if I'll play it one day...
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BrentS
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franchi wrote:


I'm not sure if you considered it, but the way I read the special rules the rampart hexes work as the camp hex, any of them occupied at the start of the Persian turn is removed and gives VB. So the Greeks cannot leave the wall so happily, they have at the same time to avoid abandoning part of it for the Persians to gain several VB.



Thanks Miguel,

I don't know how but I completely missed that.blush. Most of my ramblings on tactics should be ignored. Too eager to play to read the scenario rules carefully (I don't get out much at the moment ). That might change my opinion of the scenario.....it would certainly change the tactical considerations. The onus will still be on Sparta to come out but they will have to pay more attention to guarding their right flank and rear, which will be a real problem. Now I can see what the cavalry tucked away on the Persian left baseline are for.I'll have to replay it properly.....and send an apology to my opponent. Still enjoyed it immensely, though

Brent.
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Dan Cavaliere
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Nice session report Brent - you always do a good job with those here

I'm currently 'stickering' my blocks but hope to get some good '300' style battles in sometime with my son.

Your report has inspired me to stop pausing between rows of stickers -
of course there's always Vassal too
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BrentS
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Gamer DC wrote:

of course there's always Vassal too


If I run into you online, Dan, and you're not booked for a tournament game we should try this one...with the proper rules

Brent.
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James Mckane
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Quote:
I'll have to replay it properly.....and send an apology to my opponent. Still enjoyed it immensely, though.


No apology necassary, I had an absolute blast. We'll retry the scenario next time we game. I can see that Sparta with the Rampart rules might be encouraged to stay put whilst the Persians might be encouraged to hit hard. Although with the amount of ranged attacks they have Sparta would probably have to step out or be slowly picked off.....hmmmmm, we must play this one again soon.
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Todd Rewoldt
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goshublue wrote:

Additional: In contrast to Middle Gate I have to say I don't get the Grand Overview version of the battle. It looks extremely limited tactically and I've never seen a C&C:A scenario I feel less enthusiastic about playing. I'd be interested to hear feedback from anyone who has actually tried it.


Played it twice, once as each side. What I did enjoy about it is how different it plays from most other scenarios. Interesting "C&C problems" in the scenario, but yeah, otherwise not "fun" like most scenarios.
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BrentS
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On further reflection, I think that even with the "addition" of the rampart-for-banners rule, Sparta's tactical imperatives are much the same. Staying on the ramparts is death. They have to attack with their hoplites, but with the added problem of protecting their flanks to avoid the quick Persian units, particularly those light and medium cavalry, getting around and storming the sea wall. Leaving the two lights on the right flank ramparts, with some protection from being retreated off by banners, would be an important consideration.

There will definitely be a desperate race for banners if the Persians do get into the rear. Sparta also has to hope that their main infantry line doesn't break, because once the Persian centre starts pouring through to the ramparts, it's probably all over. Sparta has the hand advantage and is likely to have many options, as opposed to the Command 4 Persians. This is usually the best strategy for a Command 6 vs 4......push hard and fast and give Command 4 no opportunity to build a hand or settle, force him to constantly respond with his best cards and capitalise on the moment he can't respond effectively, which will come because of his limited command options. This is particularly important here, where Sparta wants to win or be in an unassailable position by the time Persia draws a Right or Any Section Leadership card to spring the goat path ambush.

The side for which the rampart rule really changes things is the Persians, because playing for the opportunity to get in behind and take the ramparts is their best chance of victory. They just have to be very careful that they don't get trapped behind the Spartan hoplite line and have their retreat paths cut off by something catastrophic like a Double Time.

I think these hard tactical choices will considerably enhance the strategic challenges of this scenario from the dodgy version we played (which was already great) and I'm really looking forward to giving it a proper rerun.

Brent.
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Les Haskell
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I just played this scenario and posted this session report on FaceBook. Yeah, I know: FaceBook? I also "liked" a couple of political memes and heartwarming pictures and mentioned that I killed a Black Widow while grilling some chicken in the backyard.

The Battle of Thermopylae was exciting. The Spartans and the other Greeks waited on their ramparts for the Persian's attack. The Persians moved their infantry within javelin range and began picking off Spartans until King Leonidas led a large group of Spartan and Greek hoplites in a charge eliminating the front rank of the Persians and pushing the Persian bowmen back out of range. Then the Persians found the mountain passes which brought them down behind the Greek ramparts threatening the Greek camp. A vicious battle over the camp ensued until the Persian force that came through the passes was wiped out. The surviving Greeks on that flank were worn so thin they were useless for the rest of the battle. Meanwhile, King Leonidas fell under a hail of arrows, but the rest of the hoplites held firm. Then the Persian cavalry attacked the combined Greek hoplites destroying most of the Spartans. the remaining hoplites fell back towards the minor extra protection of the ramparts. Some of the Persian cavalry was able to get onto the ramparts but were quickly dispatched by some light infantry that had remained behind. In the continuing bloody battle in the center the Persian Immortals gained the upper hand over the hoplites and one of the Immortals units was able to breach the ramparts. They were driven back by slingers and light infantry throwing javelins. This broke the Persian army giving the victory to the Spartans and other Greeks.

 
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Les Haskell
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One of the first things I did as the Spartans was to start shifting Demophilus to the left to be on hand to help protect the Greek camp. That came in very handy when the Persians showed up.
 
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