Saturday, 12 January 2019

Battle of Heraclea 280BC using an combination of Ancient Battlelines Clash and when Warriors Collide

This is game 31 (take 2) in play testing my ancient rules by replaying historical battles.  The latest version of ‘Ancient Battlelines Clash’ is on its own blog page. I am play testing the rules by replaying all the Peter Sides scenarios from his Historical Battles books.  ABC is designed to finish in around 30 minutes on a 2'x2' table.

I actually played this battle a year before this post (about January 2018 I think).  I had the draft post without the images ready to go and have forgotten all about it! Anyway,originally this was not a battle I was going to play.  I played the battler in late 2017 using a new homegrown set - When Warriors Collide (based on my grid-based rules but without grids). But I did yet another pivot with my rules.  The rules are a mashup of all the good bits of the Ancient Battlelines Clash (ABC) revised with some concepts from Warriors Collide.  The ABC rules changed a lot or a little and the intention was to move forwards with these rules as the new version of Ancient Battlelines Clash.  But after playing one game the concept was good but the rules were not as solo friendly as Ancient Battlelines Clash.  Mainly a lot of the reactions and movement was deterministic (not rolled for) and so the unpredictability was gone.  So while a OK ruleset, not for me.

The mashup of Ancient Battlelines Clash and When Warriors Collide (for interest)
When Warriors Collide (WWC) was mashup of applying Ancient Battlelines Clash concepts to Bill Banks Ancients (BBA). So the troop types align to BBA, combat was based on force ratios and rolling multiple dice.  I still think the rules have value but I strayed to far from where I wanted to take Ancient Battlelines Clash. I reread some secondary sources and looked closely about what I still thought needed improvement in ABC, most of which was in WWC. Hopefully it reduces some of the dice rolling where it was adding little value, but still just as mush decision making and just as much randomness - important for solo play.  It should also be faster!  The rules changes in ABC are:
  • Movement is like WWC where a unit can only face one of four directions.
  • Gone is rolling for orders - army is split into three divisions and one move/rally per division.
  • Combat is streamlined with less modifiers.  It is still 1d6 but now shock and flank attacks are built into the results (get 6+ for a shock/flank attack and defender routs).  And also results of defender depletion also cause disorder for the attacker.
  • Disorder is no longer a negative modifier to many of the tests (only melee)
  • Phalanx rules have been modified to make them less fragile when disordered.
  • Peltast-type infantry now have short missile ability,
  • Reaction to charging and missile fire are automatic rather than rolled for.  This also allowed for a streamlined missile system and a fire contest to occur immediately rather than do a two misses duel first (this last bit was from WWC).  It is also harder to rout units just by missiles
  • Victory is not when you break the enemy, although it will likely; there are victory points for breaking enemy, routing enemy leader, looting camp, having units left on the table at the end of 6 turns.
I have written up these rules and have posted them for historical purposes.  The automatic reactions and not rolling for movement I did not like as mush as I thought but did incorporate some changes from When Warriors Collide into Ancient Battlelines Clash to create a new version that is  mostly the same as ABC v2.5 but has some streamlining.  Expect to see the new ABC version 3 rules posted in 2019 followed by some games with the new version.

Battle of Heraclea
Pyrrhus comes to Italy to assist the Greek cities their against the Roman aggressors.  For more detail on the battle and the units see this blog post I did prior to my replays: Heraclea deployment and background.


Pyrrhic army

1 Agema, Medium Cavalry, high fortitude, impetuous
1 Elephant, Elephant
1 Hoplites, Heavy Infantry, phalanx, some MP (missile protection)
3 Phalangites, Heavy Infantry, phalanx
1 Hydaspists, Heavy Infantry, phalanx, high fortitude
1 Peltasts, Medium Infantry, short missile
1 Light cavalry, Skirmish Cavalry, short missile
2 Skirmishers, Skirmish Infantry
1 Leader with the Agema

Breakpoint: 8

The Romans

2 Cavalry, Medium Cavalry
4 Leves, Skirmish Infantry
4 Hastati/Principes, Heavy Infantry, line relief, some MP (missile protection)
2 Triarii, Heavy Infantry, high fortitude, drilled
1 Light Infantry, Medium Infantry, short missile
1 Light cavalry, Skirmish Cavalry, short missile
1 Leader with one of the legions

Breakpoint: 9

As per Heraclea deployment and background

Deployment - Pyrrhus to the left, Romans on the right

The Game
Both centre battlelines advance.  The Elephant and the Agema advance but not too far so they do not have to charge the Roman cavalry.  The skirmish and light cavalry of each side advance but not to within missile range.

Both centres advance, as does most of the flanks. Roman cavalry bottom right does not move as they are outclassed on that flank.

Pyrrhic infantry battleline advances slightly to bring skirmishers into range, but not the phalangites.  On The Roman's turn, the skirmishers fire - all Pyrrhic skirmishers gone, one Roman Leves lost.

Centre infantry is close and the skirmisher screens interact with the Pyrrhic skirmishers gone and one Roman Leves lost.

Pyrrhic line advances into the levies - all retire but do disorder one opposing pike unit.  The pikes and legions clash.  Orders phalanxes are +1 (disordered get no bonus so a disordered phalanx has same combat value as a legion).  To lucky rolls see two legions retreat and all are disordered (change in rules - previously only defender would be disordered on a roll of 6).  The hoplites and a pike unit pursue (another change - pursuit is automatic for heavy infantry).  In the subsequent melee the hoplites are routed.  The other two melees see all four combatants disordered.  The Hydaspists cannot move - they already did this turn.  In hindsight maybe should have moved them into melee.

Battlelines clash, Pyrrhic hoplites routed.

The Elephant and Pyrrhus move as far as they can.  Should have really done this last turn, I am forgetting that there is a time limit in these games now!  Roman cavalry do not react.

The Elephants and Pyrrhus advance..

In the centre, a roman legion is destroyed and the opposing phalanx advances.  Hypaspists advance and rout the opposing legion and are themselves disordered. They also pursue.

Two more Roman legions lost in the centre. 

The Romans advance the Triarii towards to now open right centreline.  Triarii are drilled so may wheel and move. A phalangite is routed (far left).

On the left a  Phalangite unit is routed.  The Triarii, bottom right, is coming to help on the right.

The elephant and Pyrrhus slam into the Roman Cavalry. Pyrrhus rolls a 6 and forces the roman Cavalry to retreat with no adverse effect to the Agema.  Pyrrhus pursues and rolls another 6 for melee and routs the opposing cavalry. Very lucky with both rolls.  Pyrrhus pursues nearly off the edge.  Meanwhile, the elephant forces the opposing cavalry to become disordered and they retreat; the elephant fails to pursue.

One Roman cavalry unit routs off the field of battle; the other retreats from battling the elephant.

The lone centre battleline phalangite that has been hanging back manages to rejoin the main battleline.  The Triarii wheel and advance into the line.  The heavy infantry line is looking like a proper battleline again. The resulting combat was not decisive for any side - all units were disordered but no routs.

Triarii join the line and battle continues along the centre heavy infantry clash.  The resulting combat saw all units disordered. 
Last turn Pyrrhus was not disordered.  This will help do a complex move, but the Agema heavy cavalry simply does not have the movement capability to be able to wheel sufficiently large and then charge the remaining Roman cavalry.   So, as the next best option, the Elephant does instead.

... and rolls a 1 for melee; anything else would have routed the roman cavalry.

The elephant have a 5 in 6 chance of routing the Roman Cavalry.  It rolled the 1 in 6 result!

In the centre battleline a Pyrrhic phalangite is lost.

A Pyrrhic phalangite is lost. in the centre.

The game now lasts 6 turns.  It is the end of turn 6 and the last die roll of the game is the roman cavalry melee with the Elephant - the cavalry rolls badly and routs.  Elephant does pursue this time.

The game is a draw - neither side panicked (reached their breakpoint) and neither side has lost two times the units of the other.

End game - Pyrrhic units on the left of the white line, Romans on the right.

I like the rules, even after one game.  The reactions system flowed faster as it no longer needs dice rolls, phalanxes are not so easily defeated and the revised combat table (where if one side is depleted, the other will tend to be disordered) seems to better balance battleline clashes.  Less modifiers also helps.
But it is a step too far - some of the rules changes I liked, but the rolls in reactions helped with solo play by adding in some uncertainty.
I have revised Ancient Battlelines Clash into version 3 with some minor changes to fix some of the niggling issues I had with the existing rules that led me to create this mashup of rules. So not wasted as helped me shape what ABC version 3 should be. I am hoping to post the ABC Version 3 rules in 2019 and play some games.


  1. Hi Shaun, always interesting see evolving systems. Each of the changes by themselves seem sensible and sometimes subtle, but collectively, I imagine they make quite a difference to play, especially the changes as to what disorder does, which seems a good way to take that condition.

    Perhaps a draw result is at least reflecting some stability in the rules at this stage, making it easier to tweak to bring about some decisive moments.

  2. Interesting game, thanks for posting. I followed most of the logic, I think, but the light infantry clashes felt quite quick and decisive.

    1. One of the design principles I have for the rules it that skirmishers disappear very quickly - they are effectively one-shot weapons once launched. They screen your main force and fire some missiles when close to the enemy. But if they do no damage and are faced with heavier opponents they are likely to retreat and play no further part. Hence they go quick!

  3. Yes, lots of small changes were all sensible on their own but collectively deviated too far from what I wanted to experience with the rules. It did help me figure out what changes to go with and which ones to discard!

    The draw result is more from adding some options for calculating victory that should help with games that are part of a campaign. I only discovered that more nuanced victory conditions were useful after playing a campaign in 2017!

  4. I Your thinking on skirmishers reflects what is assumed to happen in the battle. So it sounds fine.
    Skirmishers being caught between the main battle lines and being destroyed doesn't seem to fit with reality.

    1. Hello Peter

      It is likely a game terminology thing. Skirmishers in front of a battleline engage fire at other skirmishers or the opposing heavy infantry and then retreat through the ranks of the heavy infantry behind them and then are removed from the table. In game terms this a retreat and then a rout (to be consistent with how it works with other units) but the way I envision it is there job is done and they retire out of the way of the enemy heavy infantry (“retreat”) and play no further part in the battle (”rout”). So they are not really destroyed, just removed from play. In a campaign, I would have them all come back for the next battle.