Saturday, February 20, 2010

Old school wargaming: Smackdown in Seleucia II

We played our second game of WRG 4th edition ancients today. The rules are long in the tooth, first appearing in 1973, but the cast of gamers was even longer in the tooth. Bill Stewart brought his beautifully-painted Seleucid army to face my third-century Romans (augmented by some of Bill's Camillan Romans as ersatz legionaries). On bill's side was Rich Knapton, who was seeking to redeem himself after his phalanxes routed the first time we played. The other Roman players were Bob Mackler and Dick Larson.

We set up terrain about as haphazardly as we could, diced to see who would choose their side to deploy, and then set up our forces. On the Roman side, Dick commanded the cavalry, included my just-completed dromedarii unit. Bob commanded the center legionary units, the bolt-shooters, and a unit of lanciarii. I commanded another two smaller legionary units plus the auxiliary troops.

Roman mounted wing: dromedarii in front with catafractarii and equites behind

The Seleucids were divided with Rich having the two "common" phalanxes, a unit of cataphracts, some psiloi, the light cavalry, and an elephant. Bill commanded the argyraspides (a.k.a. "silver shields"), a unit of cataphracts and another partially-cataphract cavalry unit, the peltasts, and more psiloi.

Rich came up with an idea to use command markers that we would use each turn to mark what we would do. It worked OK, but WRG ancients really don't allow for changing your orders each turn and we had a lot of paper cubes on the table, as the pictures show.

Turn one saw Dick leading with his camels against Rich's cataphracts. It was a bold move—but doomed to fail. Even disordered against smelly camels, Rich's cataphracts could hurt the unarmored dromedarii enough to send them running, especially when they were supported by an elephant.

The dromedarii labor in vain against bigger, heavier opponents

In the center, Rich slowly advanced with his two phalanxes screened by his light psiloi, while Bob did the same with his legions.

The armies advance

On my side, Bill moved aggressively forward with his peltasts and cataphracts. He also ran his light javelinmen towards Bob's bolt-shooters. The bolt-shooters' fire was about as desultory it gets and Bill's light infantry just ran them over, leaving a nice hole in the Roman line.

The Roman line breached by Seleucid light troops

Meanwhile, my auxilia was mixing it up with Bill's peltasts. The first round was in my favor and I pushed the Greeks back. However, subsequent rounds did not go my way and the peltasts eventually wore me down until I routed away.

Roman auxilia push back the Seleucid peltasts for one glorious round before getting their butts kicked

In addition, Bill sent his cataphracts against my strongest legionary unit. In the initial round of kontos versus pilum, the kontos won, pushing me back in disorder. In subsequent rounds, I got pushed back three more times, which finally broke me–at which point we realized that the final three push-backs shouldn't have occurred because the cataphracts, having to resort to hand weapons after the initial charge, weren't inflicting enough casualties to cause a push back ("more that inflicted and at least one per figure"). Without being pushed back, the legionaries would have recovered their order and started pushing back the cataphracts, who would likely have rallied back to charge again later. C'est la guerre, c'est la stupidité. We weren't going to turn back the game three turns to rectify things, so we just wrote the two units off.

Cataphracts versus legionaries

On Dick's flank, the Roman catafractarii got to grips with Rich's cataphracts. This contest continued through the game. Neither side did enough casualties to push back the other, so they just sat in a disordered scrum while events moved around them. The Roman equites fought against Rich's elephants and light horse with the result of getting routed off the board.

Events in the center started looking grim. Bill's argyraspides smacked into Bob's rear legionary unit while it was changing formation. In disorder, the legonaries were helpless and routed immediately. Bob's elite lanciarii got bested by Rich's vile psiloi scum and his remaining legionary unit was suddenly facing two phalanxes.

Things are looking bad for Rome

But then THE MIRACLE happened. Beset two to one, Bob rolled high for his random factor and Rich rolled low for both his phalanxes. In the ensuing mêlée, Bob routed both phalanxes in the first round and fortune smiled on Rome for the first time in the game.

Triumphant legionaries see the backs of their beaten foe

While Bob was restoring our center, I charged my second legionary unit into Bill's cheeky psiloi, who had broken the hole in our line by wiping out the bolt-shooters. Caught in a quandry about whether to run or stand, he stood rather than evade through his argyraspides and disorder them. The legionaries broke the psiloi in the first round and they scurried off through the phalanx, which remained stationary to avoid disorder.

Next, my pursuing legionaries charged into the flank of Bill's argyraspides while his previously unengaged cavalry charged me in the flank. I looked like curtains for my legionaries, but the hung in for the first round.

Legionaries in an ugly scrum

Meanwhile, Dick had reformed the dromedarii and run them around to harass Rich's fleeing phalanxes, which by now had no hope of recovering and returning to the fight. At this point we called the game. Bob's other legionary unit had recovered and was ready to throw its weight into the battle on my flank. It was a qualified Roman win.

Post mortem

It was great playing WRG ancients again. I have always been a huge fan and this project has been a lot of fun.

We definitely need to play more to get more experience. I used to play WRG 5th edition ancients rules, Bill, Bob, and Dick used to play 6th edition, and Rich's story keeps changing (I think he started with 3rd edition). The upshot is that none of us played 4th edition and even the versions we played were played back in antiquity. (I think my last game of WRG 5th edition was played sometime in 1979 when I still had pimples.)

Our inexperience lead to some frustration, but we're all agreed to play again in the near future. I've got more painting to do...


  1. David:

    That is a great looking game. And the figures are well-painted - they look like some may be Old Glory. Bill's army is very impressive. Awesome collection. Dean

  2. WOW!! This IS old school! I have never played WRG Ancients. Perhaps I should scare up a copy. I like large units and these look good.

    Are the minis 28mm? The look excellent! If they are 15mm than...well...WOW!

  3. The minis are 28mm. The Seleucids are Old Glory and the Romans are A and A Miniatures.