Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Magnesia: aftermath

Following on from the first and the second post on Magnesia we now find ourselves dealing with the aftermath.  I want to focus initially on the details of the losses and how they work out in terms of Lost Battles victory points, then go back to some of the key elements of the battle for the wargamer that I had talked about in the post on things preliminary, discuss those, and finish with a few points to ponder.

So, to the tallying of VPs.  For readers who may not be familiar with Lost Battles, it is perhaps as well to mention now that the Seleucids start with a 30 VP handicap in their favour courtesy of the fact that they are the weaker force by 10 points of fighting value.  Therefore, they were effectively 30 VPs ahead before the battle began.

Points gained by the Romans:

Shattered: 1 levy cataphract unit and 1 levy heavy cavalry unit for a total of 8 points.
Routed: 1 scythed chariot unit and one levy light infantry unit for a total of 5 points.
Spent: 1 levy heavy infantry and 2 levy light infanty units; 3 average phalanx units; 1 veteran heavy cavalry unit, 1 average heavy cavalry unit and one Indian elephant unit for a total of 26 points.

Roman total points: 39.

Points gained by the Seleucids:

Shattered: 1 average and 3 veteran legionary units; 1 average heavy and 1 veteran light infantry unit; 1 veteran and 1 average heavy cavalry unit for a total of 58 points.
Routed: 2 average light infantry units; 1 average and 3 veteran legionary units; 1 veteran heavy cavalry unit for a total of 32 points.
Withdrawn or lost:  1 average heavy infantry and one average commander for a total of 9 points.
Killed: 1 average leader for a total of 12 points.

Seleucid total points: 111 + 30 (the FV handicap) for a total of 141.

The Seleucids won by 102 points, thus notching up a 'stunning victory' - the highest possible category in Lost Battles - for Antiochus.

The emphatic nature of this result is not surprising given that the table top battle played out as an almost exact reverse of the historical battle!  It should also be noted that spent or shattered veteran units are worth a lot more points than other units in the final tallies: a shattered veteran unit is worth 8 points to an opponent compared to 6 for an average unit and 4 for a levy unit.  The Romans therefore with a higher number of veteran units have more points to give up, with a possible 168 VPs on the table (including the handicap) compared to a possible 122 that can be gained from the Seleucids. 

The Romans therefore have a narrower window for success and a wider margin for failure.

Turning now to our earlier post's identication of key moments in the historical battle, let's look at how these played out on the table top.

1) Eumenes' panicking of the scythed chariots.

Under Lost Battles rules scythed chariots automatically rout once they are attacked.  There is no need even for dice to be rolled, and their departure does not result in a morale test.  Thus, the chariots fled as soon as Eumenes advanced to the attack, which was in the second turn of the game.

2) The defeat of the scythed chariots causing a wider morale crisis on the Seleucid left.

According to Livy, the routing of the scythed chariots disordered and shook the morale of the supporting troops. We did not see this happen under Lost Battles, and I wonder if perhaps there could not be a slightly different mechanism in place to allow this effect to occur as a direct result of the scythed chariots being in action.

3) The battle between the phalanx and the legion in the centre.
This was a good fight under these rules.  The combination of elephants and phalangites was pretty potent when things were going well, though a double hit on the elephants at one point showed how things could quickly turn bad for the Seleucids if the Roman dice were right.  The Romans had plenty of staying power in terms of morale, but were simply worn down by the sheer number of hits registered upon them.  Lost Battles does a pretty good job (in my opinion) of simulating the legion v phalanx match up, and things would have gone better for the Romans if they had held back and let the Seleucids advance to close the gap between the forces, thereby giving the Romans the first strike.  That this did not happen was because of misplaced confidence that Eumenes would follow up his strong start with equally aggressive attacks on subsequent moves and would soon be available to hit the phalanx on its flank.  Then as the battle wore on it would perhaps have been sound practice for Scipio to have withdrawn his centre and Eumenes' flank so as to buy a little time and to allow the heavy infantry in the camp to be brought up as a reinforcement.
4) Antiochus' success on the right, and the timing of the advance on the Roman camp.

Antiochus did not gain dominance on his flank until the end of the battle after Eumenes had been killed and the Roman right dispersed.  The king probably needed to have got himself onto the exposed Roman flank to really make use of his capacity to give the household guard a double attack bonus when in the lead position.  This advantage turned out to be unnecessary in this fight, but it is a tactic that should probably be explored next time I undertake the battle.

5) The collapse of the Seleucid centre leading to Antiochus' decision to flee.

Again, this did not occur - quite the opposite in fact, as it was the collapse of the two wings that caused the Roman centre to flee.


The overriding impression I got from this refight was that the dice were abnormally favourable for the Seleucids and at times execrable for the Romans.  The Romans only scored fourteen hits in five rounds of combat, while the Seleucids scored twenty-five in the same time (though two were rallied), despite rolling fewer dice per turn.  The number of double hits that the Seleucids registered was quite extraordinary, with four (one being an all-out attack) that I recall off-hand, and possibly one or two more as well.  When one side is consistently rolling 10s, 11s and 12s and the other side is getting 4s, 5s and 6s then there's not much that can be done - though it does give me a good excuse to play the battle out again!

In terms of general tactics, the Romans did not maximise their chances.  Neither did the Seleucids, but they did not need to as it turned out.  The Roman commander should have held back his centre to get in the first attack and later withdrawn his under-pressure troops to force the Seleucids to chase him, hoping that he could catch them on the hop.  Instead, the Romans gave up their great advantage - manoeuvrability - and through lack of proper caution in the face of the phalanx allowed themselves be drawn into a slugging match in the centre.  As I was playing both sides, I have a lot to answer for...

Finally, and referring once more to my initial post, I must address the question of whether this was indeed one of those ideal refights of grand spectacle and compelling event, and whether it proved to be the thrillingly immersive table top experience that one might have hoped for. 

In this answer I suppose I must equivocate.  It certainly looked spectacular to my eyes - as I was setting up I couldn't help thinking that it was times like these that the many hours spent painting figures seemed worthwhile  - yet while the sequence of events was believable, frustration did creep in over the one-sidedness of the dice rolls and this tended to strain the wires upon which disbelief is so carefully suspended.  That said, even once the battle was surely lost for the Romans on VP count there was the possibility of redemption through Eumenes, and for two turns he could have routed the Seleucid left given decent dice.  If he had rolled something other than 3s this might have been enough to allow Scipio to win the field; so the battle did not lack for moments of excitement, tension and decision.

It was certainly not the perfect battle, but it was a fine thing to do and as a culmination of many months of work it was quietly satisfying to be able to add Magnesia to the list of battles done with one's own figures.  Still, incentive remains to keep striving for that ideal battle!


  1. Your main criticism - the sometimes decisive effect of dice in Lost Battles - is one I've heard before. It comes down to a discussion we had a while back on the Lost Battles group - there should be no or a very minimal random factor in a match up between two large bodies of men. If one is qualitatively superior to the other it MUST, with no other factors interfering, beat the other, every time.

    Interfering factors are what create the fun of a wargame: terrain advantage, presence of general, the rout of other nearby units, etc.

    PS - as far as I know there is no record of a Roman legion ever beating a formed phalanx on good ground frontally, so in this regard the battle was good reproduction of history!

    I look forward to reading your next battle report.


  2. Hi Justin, nice to hear from you!

    Yes, I recall that discussion on the group. I take your point, but I don't know that it's quite so simple, and there is also the fact that it's not always obvious who is qualitatively superior until it's put to the test.

    Until there's a diceless game that I can also play in the comfort of my own home, equally well solo or with company, in an hour or two, with plenty of twists and turns, that is engrossing, requires decision-making (but does not induce headaches), lends itself well to imaginative interpretation and gives satisfactory outcomes, Lost Battles and its dice will have to do!

    There are lot of good things about the game so I guess I can live with the dice playing up once in a while :)

    And yes - I have a healthy respect for the phalanx after having played this game!

    Hope you'll pop by here a bit more and do feel free to drop me a line anytime :)


  3. Just a short note to say it is a great writeup. I have lost battles but have yet to play. I want to, and your writeups get me closer !


  4. Thanks for the note, Shaun; it's much appreciated. I've enjoyed reading your Callinicum rules comparison reports and have found them very useful. Will look forward to seeing more of them, and hopefully a Lost Battles report too some day!


  5. [Until there's a diceless game that I can also play in the comfort of my own home, equally well solo or with company, in an hour or two, with plenty of twists and turns, that is engrossing, requires decision-making (but does not induce headaches), lends itself well to imaginative interpretation and gives satisfactory outcomes, Lost Battles and its dice will have to do!]

    Fair enough - it's a tough order to meet. I was and am still fond of Legion, which is about the best dice-and-hex system I've come across (not that I've known that many). My impression of Lost Battles is that grouping units on a 5 x 4 tiled battlefield is an ingenious way of speeding up movement and combat resolution. Legion takes longer as there are one, or at the most two, units per hex, and of course a lot more hexes.

    As you know I'm working on something in the diceless field, but in the meantime there's always checkers....

  6. I have Legion, but still haven't got around to making up the counters. A fellow on the LB group did a cyberboard version though so when I have time I want to have a crack at it using that.

    As for your own rules, I'm looking forward to giving them a go when they are ready!

    Anyway, I must get back to that checkers board... ;-)


  7. The fellow is Arnaud Christen. We've played a couple of Legion games using his cyberboard module which is now complete - his battle reports are on the Lestafette site. If you like I can email you the module.

  8. Thanks Justin - Arnaud has already posted it on the yahoo group, so it's just a matter of finding the time to sit down and look at it...

  9. Prufrock,
    Some technical questions in re your battle:
    - size of squares
    - size of bases, and numbers of figures/base

    BTW, the figures look terrific!

    Concur, as well, with the thought that, for closely matched opponents, especially large formations, a more nuanced CRT is needed; not sure I know how to create one, though. One of the advantages of individual figure removal schemes...

  10. Thanks for popping by Joe, and for your kind comments. To address your questions:

    Size of squares - my small table is 1200x800, so the squares are 240mm wide by 200mm deep. This is a bit cramped, but it does allow me to get a game in at home on a weeknight, which is something of an advantage...

    The bases are the standard 15mm DBx size, that is, 40mm wide by 15-40mm deep depending on the troop type. Heavy infantry are 4 to a base, cavalry and medium/warband infantry 3 to a base and skirmish types 2 to a base. Veteran units were here represented by 2 bases, average 4 and levy 8 (though I think I used 6 for this battle as I was a few bases short; I can't quite remember now).

    One of good things about Lost Battles is that it is 'broad brush', so while it may lack in fine detail, this is compensated for in speed of play and epic feel. Not everyone will agree with me on this, of course :)

    I hope that answers your questions. If you have any more, please fire away!


  11. Aaron,
    It's been a while since I looked at Sabin's rules (and I'm on the road this week); my memory says that each "unit" is represented by only a single stand, as in his schema, it does not model an actual tactical unit, but simply represents approx 5% of the strength of the army. So, did you add the extra stands for appearance, but treat the unit as a single entity during combat? Or am I remembering incorrectly?

  12. Not too far off Joe, but the sizes do scale up. Veteran units equal x number of troops, average units 2x and levy units 4x. To represent this on the table, I usually use 2 bases for veteran units, 4 for average and 8 for levy. Cavalry follow the same ratios but contain only half as many troops per unit in real terms.

    Units also have a frontage value - 1/2, 1 or 2, which value is taken into account when calculating how many units can attack out of a zone (a bit like stacking in some boardgames) - so using bases allows me to show that on table as well: one base width equating to 1/2, two base widths to 1 and so on.

    As you say though, despite all that the figures are really only there for aesthetic reasons, so you could use counters, cards, stones or whatever else you had to had to hand to represent the units if you wanted to just sit down and play.

    And your memory is not playing tricks on you: each unit is indeed treated as a separate entity for game purposes.

    Hope that helps!


  13. Aaron,
    That does help. I've got a fair number of Ancients I've been working on for some Featherstone gaming, but am considering using them to put on a Sabin demo. All my figures have rare earth magnets, so I've ordered some metal bases to stick them to. Since I'm using 1.5" x 3" (39mm x 76mm?) bases, I'll likely label them for unit strength and frontage, although I will have to think about ways to make the differences more visible.
    Thanks for the help; talking this over has helped a lot!

  14. Hmmm, what size figures are you planning on using, and did you have a particular battle or set of opponents in mind?

    If you're using 15mm (though I suspect if you're gaming Featherstone it's probably 20-25mm?), you could order a few extra 1.5" x 1.5" bases to use for veteran units and put two of your 1.5" x 3" bases side by side for cavalry frontages or in column for any levy infantry units.

    If it is 20mm+ though your veteran bases would be looking pretty sparsely populated, so if you don't have enough troops to double up the bases you might in fact be better off using labels.

    Sounds like a good project anyway, and if you want to talk it over some more feel free to drop me a line at prufrock DOT japan AT gmail DOT com (or just add a comment here, of course).



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