Some free time on Saturday and a quick message to old mate SP saw us convening for a game of Lost Battles and a couple of beers. The scenario was to be Heraclea (see here for the armies involved), which would be our third game in a row on the theme of Pyrrhus, following on from two games of Asculum a few weeks ago.
SP has got the hang of the system now, and he needed to have, as Heraclea is a tricky battle to fight. It starts with both sides surprised, meaning that each commander can only deploy four units per turn. This puts a premium on making good decisions. Use of command points is key, particularly around deploying the right units into the right zones at the right time. Getting these things wrong can seriously hamper one's cause.
Fortunately, he is a quick learner, and has internalised the system so well that picking up the unique features of the battle and the special rules around deployment was not a problem.
To the battle.
First turn, the uninspired Laevinus rolls a 5 for command points, with which he deploys light infantry and heavy cavalry into the centre, centre right and right wing. The inspired Pyrrhus rolls 4, matches the Romans with light infantry in the centre, with two units of heavy cavalry in his left centre, and then challenges Laevinus by advancing light cavalry into the centre right zone.
Second turn Laevinus rolls a 4. He brings his four units of legionaries on in the centre rear, and makes attacks out of his centre and centre right zones, scoring two hits. Pyrrhus rolls 5. He attacks in both zones in contact, scoring two hits of his own on the Roman centre right. He marches up two units of veteran cavalry to overmatch the Roman right wing, and double-moves veteran and average phalanxes to support his centre and centre left.
|The field after turn two.|
Third turn Laevinus finds himself out of his depth. Rolling a 3, he is forced to either reinforce or attack. He chooses to reinforce. Four more legionary units come on in his right rear, and the others from last turn advance into the centre. Pyrrhus rolls a 5, and attacks along the line. Two shatters are scored against the Roman centre right, and a fierce charge clears the cavalry opposing the Greek left wing. The Romans have lost velites and two units of cavalry in the one turn. It is very close to a triumph for Pyrrhus. He elects to advance the left wing cavalry forward into the zone vacated by the cavalry, but does not advance his centre left. He reinforces his centre and centre left with three units of phalangites, and moves himself and his guard cavalry to the centre.
Fourth turn Laevinus rolls a 3 and is again obliged to choose between reinforcement and attack. Once more he chooses reinforcement: his legionaries in the right rear move forward into the zone recently cleared by Pyrrhus' attacks and four of the remaining units are brought on in the left rear. Again, there are no hits scored against the Greeks, who have scored six hits all told versus two by the Romans.
Pyrrhus rolls 5 and brings elephants and phalangites up into his left centre. He turns the cavalry on his left wing and forms them up to attack the flank of the newly-advanced Roman infantry next turn. Attacks in the centre succeed, scoring two more hits.
|The centre at the end of the fourth turn.|
|The Greek cavalry break their opposites and outflank the infantry line.|
Fifth turn Laevinus rolls a 1. He attacks centre and centre right, scoring two hits, and surprises the Greek cavalry by advancing three units of equites into his right rear wing to outflank the outflankers. A 4 from Pyrrhus sees him press on with attacks, scoring two hits - both on the Roman right centre - and brings up elephants, phalanx and levy phalanx to join the light cavalry that has been commanding the right centre since turn one.
|Some serious fighting in the central zones.|
|The Roman cavalry reserve arrives on table, and is about to wheel to the attack,|
Sixth turn Laevinus rolls a 2. He attacks all along the line: his newly-deployed cavalry complete the trap, wheel in and score a hit against their opponents, but it is an all out attack, and they suffer a hit of their own in prosecuting it. Three other hits are scored in the infantry fight, and Rome begins to make some headway at last. Laevinus leaves his left centre refused, inviting Pyrrhus to advance.
Pyrrhus rolls a 1, and does not move his right centre forward. His attacks in the centre and centre right continue to bear bloody fruit. Three more hits are scored.
|The field after turn 7.|
Seventh turn Laevinus rolls a 2 for command, but despite this scores a scarcely credible six hits. The cavalry attack shatters a unit - though the other survives the rout test - and four more hits are scored in the centre.
Pyrrhus rolls a 3 and pulls the cavalry of his left back further to trade space for time. He scores a hit in the centre, shattering a unit and causing the velites and a unit of demoralised cavalry to rout. With four units now shattered, Rome's morale incurs a permanent minus, making it more difficult to survive future morale tests.
A stocktake shows Rome has to this point scored 14 hits with one shatter to the Greeks' 16 hits, four shatters and two routs. Both sides' centres are close to fully spent. The Greeks are still ahead, but Rome is clawing its way back into the contest.
Eighth turn Laevinus rolls a 6. With both sides desperately trying to feed fresh units into the exhausted central zones, Laevinus scores three more hits. A shatter is saved by Pyrrhus rallying his troops. Roman hearts sink; Greek ones soar.
Pyrrhus rolls a 2, scores three hits in the central zones and forces a fifth Roman unit to shatter. The Greeks soar some more!
Ninth turn Laevinus rolls a 2. He directs all his efforts into attacking with the infantry. Two hits are scored on Pyrrhus' zone, but the indefatigable Epirote king rallies them both. Two hits are scored on the Greek left centre, and with no one there to rally them, there are two shatters. Morale rolls are fine, and the Greek army holds.
Pyrrhus now rolls a 4. He also throws everything into the infantry fight, but at the key moment fails to score any hits, in some part due to a Favour of the Gods re-roll requested by Laevinus.
Tenth and last turn Laevinus rolls a 3. He presses the attack, two shatters are scored, and with Greek morale now also at -1, the Greek centre left routs. Pyrrhus still stands, and rolls a 3 for commands. He attacks the centre, and causes double hits. Laevinus attempts to rally the shatter, but dies in the attempt! Miraculously, despite being at -2, the Roman morale holds.
With the tenth turn completed, the day is over, and the battle is a bloody draw, with both sides still having troops on the field.
In the aftermath, it is determined that Rome has managed a narrow victory by virtue of the Lost Battles handicap system. Pyrrhus has inflicted 71 points of damage to Laevinus' 70, but the handicap gives the game win to Rome.
This was a tremendous fight, and the brief description given here cannot do justice to the tension attending it. It seemed as if all was lost for Rome on more than one occasion, but the tenacity of the legions was something to see.
So too the heroism of Pyrrhus - his rallying three shatters in two turns kept his army in the hunt for victory.
It was fitting in the end that the game came down to the last roll. Rome passing its final morale test at that juncture allowed the Roman player to take home the Washbourn Trophy (the piece of plasticware over which we shall henceforth fight!) on points.
It was a real thriller, and SP showed his mettle as a commander. He will be pressing hard again at our next battle.