page id: 193 Battle Report IV: John's Byzantine try to repel Matt's Persian horde in this Warhammer Ancients grudge match.


By Matt "Xerxes the Great" & John B. (as in Byzantine)

With the faint lightening of the dawn to the east, Bandon-bearer Theodosius of the scutatoi regiment Basilicus Anthropoi crouched down, his banner furled and carried low to the ground. The rest of the unit of 250 strong fell in behind him, heavily armored and struggling through the underbrush in the darkness. They had worked their way forward successfully in the early morning hours, and soon, with the sounding of the horns for a general advance, they would emerge from these woods and confront their enemy; the Persians. Theodosius had heard the rumors that their army had been strengthened by the addition of several elephants. He took some comfort in the fact that the monsters probably wouldn’t face his unit, but would be used for the more important job of running off the Emperor’s shock troops — the Guard Cataphracts of the Imperial household.

"It’s cold," he thought, and as he knelt he longingly watched the cook fires of the Persians crackling brightly only a few hundred yards off. By his presence on the far side of the valley, Theodosius realized that the Emperor was taking no chances with the Capital so close, and that he meant to transfix the foe at this flank while attacking elsewhere. He knew the Emperor had to attack with his whole force to defeat a foe this large. Almost every unit in this province was present on the field, including slingers, archers, and the Turks the townspeople called "Scythians." The last troops they passed on their way forward had been the almost 200 strange Norsemen of the Varangian Guard. As they grimly sharpened their big axes, he heard some of them engaged in the heresy of praying to their gods Wotan and Thor. He only hoped that on this part of the battlefield, St. George and Christ would bestow their favor on the faithful.

The cold, starlight skies turned from purple to orange. The wind shifted and brought the smell of cooking lamb and bread to him from Persian fires. His stomach was empty. He said a prayer, stood, and let the strong breeze catch the the brilliant red and gold banner in the first rays of sunlight. The horn sounded.

Once more into the breach...

You'll recall at the end of our last battle report, Matt's Persians had ground my Byzantine army to dust. Now, for our battle report re-match, the Persians were working their way into the fertile western part of the Empire and nearing Constantinople. With no diplomatic options possible, the call has come from Emperor Nikepheros: "The Persians must be stopped!"

This will be the fifth time Matt and I have played ancients on opposite sides of the table, and apart from one occasion when I fielded Ottoman Turks, the other battles have pitted his Persians against my Byzantines. So far, we're tied, and I think that by now, Matt has become familiar with my tactics. Lest he should become too comfortable, I tried to think of a plan, which would keep him on his toes and allow me to bring superior force to bear on a critical part of his line.

Matt's army has a number of serious threats in it, of which he knows how to take full advantage. His heavy chariots can turn a unit to hamburger with a good impact roll and they usually do. Matt's elephants, by virtue of their terror-causing abilities and just plain monstrous strength, can dominate their section of the battlefield. Finally, Matt's line troops - especially the elite, stubborn Immortals - can shoot massed volleys of bowfire in two full ranks and half ranks behind that. Being within half range of these troops is often where our battles are decided. I needed to neutralize these three problems.

The fact is both Matt's and my armies are better defensively. Sure, we both have hard-hitting units (cavalry, elephants, chariots), but our more plentiful defensive units are superior (my spearmen and crossbows, his line troops). Therefore, to beat the Persians would require making them attack me or getting up and moving across the field quickly to attack them. I had never charged my force in before, and as this would be unexpected and uncharacteristic - I liked the plan immediately.

I would take a strong defensive position, and on the first turn, I'd leave it. My crossbows, artillery and Turk horse archers would hold the heights and right flank, and take out targets of opportunity. My Varangian Guard, spearmen, heavy cavalry and light cavalry would march toward the Persians' right flank. Once Matt moved to neutralize this threat, in a massive head fake, I'd march toward the opening in this line, driving a wedge between his forces. I'd also take advantage of a special secret deployment rule I have by placing my most heavily armoured spear unit in a wood, directly in front of his right flank. I'd tie Matt down here and hopefully make the threat to his flank that much more severe - and harder to ignore. Once he engaged, I'd run my forces into his line for the hand-to-hand at which my troops should excel. I would keep my cavalry away from the elephants and charge where I could do the most damage.

That was my plan. The only things that could stop me were the dice and one very determined mess of Persians.

For the Empire!

Since our last battle report, John's Byzantines have battled with my Persian horde on several occasions, and I've gotten to know his army in-and-out. Playing one opponent several times over can lead to interesting games, as you will each try to out guess the other guy. So going into this one, I tried to guess at what he'd do.

Each time we've played, he's lost his main unit of heavy cavalry to the terror-causing Persian elephants, which pretty much ends the game for him. I therefore expected him to play the heavy cavalry differently, or try to account for the elephants in some other way. Having said that, I've little else to stop a 12-man unit of 2+ armour-save-nasty-pike-armed dudes, so the elephants would have to put on a good show. I just had to get them in.

The last few games he's brought out a Varangian Guard unit; stubborn, toughness 4, 2-handed weapons - a badass unit to say the least. Whatever else happened, I meant to shoot them down to 1 or 2 ranks before they got stuck in. I certainly couldn't hope to beat them otherwise.

The other unit I continuously worry about are the nomadic horse archers. These guys can really be a pain in the @ss, with their move-shoot-move ability. But I (thought) I had just the thing for 'em- War Wagon! This super-chariot could fire off 12 shots per turn in any direction with no penalties for moving. Perfect for shooting down the light-armored nomads.

The other main element of the Byzantines I'd learned to respect was their firepower. They don't have 120+ bowshots per turn like I do, but between skimishing BS4 crossbows and 2 stone throwers, they can do a number on my hard-hitting units like chariots and cavalry. Unfortunately, there's not a thing I can do about it, as the Persian army is not built for projecting power across the field. I would hide my best units until they were needed, and hope for the best!

I also needed a new wrinkle of my own, to throw off John. While my main strategy is dictated by the nature of the army (stand, shoot, hide!) winning is always in the details. The Immortals, my crack infantry unit, have the 'stubborn' special ability, which lets them auto-pass their first break test. This is something I felt I'd never fully taken advantage of. My big wrinkle this go 'round was to split my 20-man unit into units of 10, let them get charged, then flank charge the initial charging enemy unit with a second unit.

This would also serve to widen my battle line to a solid 36 inches! Imposing to say the least.

With my head full of tactics, strategies, plots, whatever, I set up my enormous horde.


Having assembled the best troops in Byzantium, Emperor Nikepheros chose his ground carefully. He held the heights overlooking the field with his crossbowmen, each one a deadly marksman. He placed his artillery at each end of the ridge, from where it could command the entire valley. He deployed his heavy infantry and horse in a line running from the center of the ridge off to the left. Several fresh units had arrived from Constantinople, including elite staff slingers, guard archers and light cavalry. On the right, his Turkish vassals waited to spring out and harass the Persian flank. Finally, under cover of the receding darkness, a unit of well-equipped scutatoi had infiltrated forward to a copse directly before the extreme Persian right. They were as yet undetected.

On his signal, covered by skirmishers and the woods, the entire army moved. The guard and provincial infantry swung to the left and moved off the ridge. Cavalry surged forward in a mass toward the woods. The Turks moved up to an exposed position, shot, and faded back behind a stand of woods on the right flank. A full block of the Emperor’s best household troops emerged from the woods, directly before the Persians. Stone throwers hurled their projectiles toward the Persian heavy chariots in the center, but the stones deviated, crushing several line troops and a handful of the king’s elite Immortals.


Thrown by the boldness of the Byzantine move to his right flank, King Xerxes did not guess at his enemy's unfathomable battle plan. Supremely confident in his destiny to rule the unbeliever's land, the King ordered his slaves to follow his original plans. The elephants moved to confront the strong Byzantine cavalry beyond the woods on the right, while the newly constructed War Wagon lurched forward against the nomadic cavalry to the left. The King's chariot squadron, eager to avoid the incoming stone thrower shots, moved right, beyond the woods. A horn sounded, and a hundred arrows let fly into the heart of the enemy. When the sky cleared, few casualties had been caused; the enemy was too far for spotty Persian bowfire. Still, a unit of staff slingers fled the scene. It was little to cheer for.


Now that the screen of skirmishers had melted away before the Persians’ concentrated bowfire, Nikepheros sent his light horse forward to protect his infantrymen. His scutatoi, Varangian guard and heavy cavalry all advanced, edging closer to the extreme left of the Persian battle line. The Turks moved, shot and killed some Immortals, and receded into the woods. Crossbowmen hit the Immortals at long range, killing several more. Both armies watched the arc of two huge missiles flying from the Byzantine stone throwers. With a crash they landed amongst the Persian chariots, destroying one and damaging another.

P2.Unbowed by the heavy casualties taken by 2 of his best units, King Xerxes jumped on the opportunities presented him. He ordered the lowly slave slingers to charge the opposing skirmishers, then repositioned the rest of his horde to prepare for the oncoming enemy. With a long blow of the horn, the sky went dark with arrows, slaughtering the light cavalry that held the center of the field. The remnants of the unit fled back away from the Persian line. The War Wagon, slow but steady, made its way toward the Nomads, firing with minimal effect. In close combat, the half-bred, down-trotted, lowly slingers made short work of the opposition, but failed to catch and destroy them. The rest of the army stood it's ground, spitting distance from the closest Byzantine unit.


Nikepheros rallied his fleeing light horse and few surviving javelin men. He then ordered his army to make its move. The heavy Cataphracts suddenly changed direction, swinging toward the enemy center. His infantry wheeled right and marched to close the gap between the armies, leaving the Persian skirmisher and elephant force far behind in the woods. Unable to restrain his troops’ ardor, Nikepheros let his forward unit of scutatoi charge into a company of Persian infantry before his main force could fall in alongside — he knew that thus committed, they must hold until the Varangians reached them. Meanwhile, as the lumbering monster of the war wagon advanced on the other flank, Nikephros’s Turks and crossbowmen shot, seriously damaging the infernal machine. Once again, Byzantine projectiles arced menacingly over the Persian line, killing several troopers and causing one of the Immortal companies to flee from the field. His plan had worked, surprising the Persian King, but Nikepheros knew it was a long slog across the killing field.


Xerxes screamed in disgust, hacking through the advisor closest to him - he’d been fooled! The Byzantine cavalry made their true intentions known, and swung left, far away from the elephants. They would surely ruin his battle plan, as he could do little else against them.

Further, the battle was growing, and would soon be joined by the rest of the Byzantine army. There was little time left to thin the ranks of the oncoming enemy; without a strong round of shooting, Xerxes thought, the Persians would have to quit the field. He ordered the right flank forward, hoping beyond hope to catch the enemy cavalry before they reached the battle line. He proclaimed death upon the fanatical Varangian Guard, the best of the Byzantine infantry, then watch satisfied as half their number fell to a hail of arrows.

In bloody close combat, the Persians drove back enemy scutatoi into the woods behind, only to fail in their attempt to catch them. The next round would be decisive...


With a roar, the scutatoi rallied and faced their pursuers. They had failed the empire and threatened their general’s plan by fleeing, but if they were able to hold, they could redeem themselves. Xerxes’s thrust could be entirely blunted.

The Varangians, decimated by Persian arrows, braced for the chariot charge they knew was coming, and as they waited, their compatriots fell in alongside into charge range of their opponents. As an artillery projectile flew harmlessly over the Persian line, another landed among the enemy’s Bactrian cavalry. The Turks once again advanced and shot, killing more cavalry. Nikephros’s marksmen, now in short range, blew the Persian War Wagon to bits with a hail of crossbow bolts.


As the decisive moment drew near, Xerxes ordered charges everywhere he could. Persian man and Persian Elephant crashed into the scutatoi unit in the woods. The remainder of the chariot squadron charged forward into the crack Varangian Guard unit before them. Skirmishers closed in on the stone thrower to the rear, which had caused such heinous casualties. Xerxes ordered his personal guard, the Immortals, forward to intercept the second oncoming scutatoi unit. Seeing that the elephants would never reach their intended target, the Heavy Byzantine cavalry, Xerxes had to switch to his backup plan; lots of arrows! Once again, a hundred arrows flew, but most that found their mark bounced harmlessly off heavy Byzantine armour. In close combat, the elephant and Persian unit defeated their foes, and slaughtered them mercilessly as they fled. The Chariots smashed into a wall of hardened Varangians, killing few; the battle was drawn.


With the destruction of the flank guard scutatoi, Nikepheros knew that he risked encirclement. The battle would be lost if each of his units did not break or hold their foes. However, Nikepheros was confident.

On his signal, the parts of his army that could charged. The Turks impacted with the mauled Bactrian cavalry, breaking them. The scutatoi charged the remaining Immortal Company, pursuing and destroying them, then impacting with the Persian unit behind led by Xerxes and his standard bearer. Alongside, the stubborn Varangians had held admirably against the chariots. In a rage, they managed to chop one of the war machines to kindling and damage the other with their axes, but they were finally overcome, fleeing and then dying to a man under the wheels of the remaining chariot. In revenge, the crossbowmen targeted the advancing Persian infantry unit, killing almost half their number and causing them to break. As the Persians fled, the Artillery, ordered to deal with the threat of the elephants, wounded one and placed another stone directly on top of the second elephant, killing the entire crew and wounding the beast. To the shock of both armies, the dying beast rampaged directly into the nearest thing it could see — the other Persian elephant!! With blood and brains flying everywhere, the two monsters collided in a cacophony of screams. The dying elephant, repulsed, flailed and spun and started crushing Persian skirmishers in a rage. This carnage allowed Nikepheros the time he needed. The Byzantine cavalry regiments ignored the carnage to their rear and now moved up into charge range. The Persian line, as yet largely intact, could only wait for the onslaught and watch as their friends broke, died, and milled in confusion.


This was it! The battle would be decided here and now. The right flank was a complete and utter disaster, with Persian Elephants and skirmishers mixed up in a bloody mess. The unit of Persians that had threatened the flank of the Byzantine line was retreating in disorder; once they had come to their senses, they were too far forward to affect the battle further. The Bactrian heavy cavalry turned around as well, ready to face the enemy anew.

Persian bowfire fell like rain upon an uncaring stone, as once again the Byzantine Heavies survived a hail of arrows. In bloody hand to hand, scutatoi spears could not find their way through the wall of Persian spara. Xerxes, enraged at the bold defiance of the foreign unbelievers, (unwisely) hurled himself into the fray. The battle itself was a draw.


Finally in range Nikephros’s uncommitted cavalry forces now spurred their mounts on and charged. The cataphracts, eager for the glory of winning the battle here and now, crashed headlong into a unit of Persian infantry, scattering spara left and right as their lance-like kontos (needing 6’s) miraculously found their marks. The infantry, unable to hit back effectively against the heavily armoured foe, were crushed in their flight from the field. While Nikepheros regrouped, his Turks and light cavalry threw themselves headlong into the Bactrian cavalry. Despite their long spears, they failed to damage the durable unit, and this fight was a stalemate. The last scutatos regiment held firmly, now able to bring their second line of spearmen into battle. However, despite their superior skill and numbers, this battle was also draw due in part to the intervention of Xerxes himself. Artillery crews, perhaps distracted by the major contest to their front, miscalculated the tension of the their ballistae, and their projectiles sailed harmlessly over the targeted units of Persian infantry and the remaining elephant. Although his crossbowmen found their targets, Nikepheros surveyed the field and realized, that although he had done what he set out to do, the Persians were still very much alive, and that this last charge, though spectacular, settled little.


The sun began to set on the battlefield; all around lay the dead and dying, but the battle would soon draw to a close. Xerxes, tired from the mortal combat he had stupidly thrown his divine body into, called upon his troops for what he hoped would be the final onslaught. It proved to be quick in coming. The last scutatoi unit, sensing the oncoming flank charge, panicked and turned heel! They were swiftly and mercilessly crushed by the 2 Persian units behind them- and the rest of the Byzantines, seeing the battle was lost, turned and fled as well....! The battle was over- all Byzantium would soon bow under the heel of their new God-King.

Byzantine Wrap up

Oh man — what a battle! The advantage, and the lines, seesawed back and forth so many times I got dizzy. During the battle, it seemed to me as if victory was within my grasp several times. However, after a cursory analysis, I realized I needed some good luck to make up for a mistake I made earlier in the battle. As anyone who plays can tell you, if you get to a position where you need to count on the dice, you’ll be disappointed.

I’m happy to say that my plan to surprise and confuse Matt worked, but I went further with it than I needed to. Once I deployed and successfully made Matt commit to placing his elephants on the wrong side of the woods on the flank (where they had only one option - to go forward!), I had the initiative and never gave it up. However, I really didn’t need to go to all the trouble of marching left and then counter-marching. Matt was hung up and I wasted two turns maneuvering when I could have been advancing straight in. That’s the mistake that ultimately cost me the battle.

As a result, my forces went forward in echelon, and Matt was able to concentrate fire and troops on them one at a time. If you look at the battle maps, you’ll see my force disintegrating one unit at a time from the right of Matt’s line to the left. Most of my engaged units stuck around for a turn or two of unsupported combat, and although they never lost badly, all I needed to flee was a bad roll. After a turn or two, a bad roll is very likely. If they’d all hit at the same time…well, we all agreed the outcome would have been easy to see.

Elsewhere: I think I controlled the right of the board throughout — the crossbowmen and Turks have hardly ever let me down. I used terrain well to counter the threats I was worried about. And again, my artillery crews must live right because I got through yet another game with nary a misfire. Someday the law of averages will catch up with me, no doubt. The incredible luck continued with my cataphracts, who on their one round of combat needed sixes to penetrate the spara barrier — and got them in spades!

Speaking of luck, there was that catastrophically comic moment when the war gods looked down and blessed the shot that caused Matt’s elephants to run all over the place! Although they were not in a position at that point to cause terror or effect combat, I did need some breathing space from them. They responded to the shot by cracking into each other like a pair of insane, 10-ton, goblin fanatics. It was incredibly lucky, totally unexpected, and unbelievably funny!

Matt fought well, kept his cool, stayed put and trusted in his army’s inherent strengths — numbers and shooting. Once he realized what I was up to, he did the right thing by keeping his line intact and his chariots and heavy cavalry back if needed as a reserve. I guess we Byzantine Greeks ought to get used to eating Persian food. The way to conclude this battle series would be to place Constantinople under siege — I’d like to see you win that one, Xerxes!

I hope you can get a sense of just how wonderful a game this was. We never knew from one minute to the next exactly how it would turn out. In the end, it really didn’t matter who won; it was just a blast to play.

Persian Wrap-up

Whoa- that was a good game. John completely surprised me with the huge fake flanking maneuvre. Thankfully, I didn’t overreact, and left the Persian army safe behind their spara. Had I moved my line at all, it would have lost me 2 turns of valuable shooting time (between moving and resetting the Spara) , and probably the game.

Once again, the squad of chariots proved to be the best hth unit the Persians have, breaking John’s elite Varangian Guard unit through volume of attacks and sheer luck. At the decisive moment in that fight, I had one chariot left with 1 wound. John scored 2 wounds on it, which I promtly saved by rolling double six! Immediately afterwards, the Varangians failed their break test on a 12 and were chased down. That was the real turning point, I thought.

My elephants got stuck in a hilarious bloody mess, thanks to John’s lucky stone thrower fire. Not once did he misfire the entire game- that’s 12 rolls!

War Wagon? What War Wagon? The new ‘wonder weapon’ in the Persian arsenal was crap. Partly to bad luck, but then 1 round of shooting from John’s crossbowmen put it down, and that I wasn’t expecting. At 150 pts, It will need to make more of an impact next time, or it’s back in the box.

Persian Infantry was solid if not spectacular, as always. In hth they are consistently outmatched, even with the Spara to hide behind (attackers need 6’s to hit them in the 1st round of each combat). What they lack in strength, they make up for in numbers, as this game showed well.

My general suffered another of his momentary lapses in judgement, challenging a Byzantine champion to a challenge. Thankfully he ended up not getting himself killed- that would have lost the game quick. Overall, it was the most competitive, see-saw game John and I have had- certainly the most entertaining, and that’s the whole point of the thing. Next I look forward to our recreation of Bosworth!

Theodosius, his armour now shed and his banner lost, clambered up the side of the rocky ridge where a hundred or so crossbowmen gathered in the darkening twilight. His eyes smarted and his muscles ached. His fingers were numbed and swollen. He reached the top and a vision of utter defeat greeted him.

Small, silent knots of men had gathered on the crest of the ridge behind the crossbows. Turks, Greeks, Syrians, Italians, Normans and Norse sat mixed together, clutching bows, swords and pieces of personal baggage. A group of Imperial engineers, having left their immobile ballista behind on the field, were careful not to crow too loudly about how many Persians they’d hit that day.

"Did you see how they ran?" said one, quietly. "I’d never seen an elephant before this that took a stone! Then did you see those Persian dogs run from him?"

"More of ours ran," said a voice sternly, "including you lot."

Theodosius looked around and saw the Guard Cavalry leader among his unit. The horsemen looked proud and serene and as though there wasn’t a scratch on them.

"Fall in for march order," the officer commanded. "We move now or die tomorrow morning."

"Where do we go?" Theodosius heard himself ask.

"Where do you go? You never mind where you go! March where the Emperor says, fight when he orders it, and die when he wants you to. Prepare son. The emperor needs you now. Be wise enough not to question his and God’s will."

Theodosius picked up a discarded tunic, wrapped it around his shoulders and slowly began to march where the Emperor wanted him to march. He joined a long line of men, broken down and tired, as they threaded their way West.

Created by: system. Last Modification: Monday 26 of January, 2009 03:05:04 PM EST by ZiggyQubert.

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