Sunday 27 June 2021

Clash of the ailing titans - L'Art de la Guerre c.120 BC

Ptandrew and I met up again this week for our second bout of the newish 4th edition of L'Art de la Guerre. This battle saw Ptandrew fielding a Hellenistic army for the first time in the shape of a late Ptolemaic force. I dressed to match with a late Seleukid army, c.120 BC. By the late 2nd century, both 'empires' still had a couple of generations of juice in the tank, but both were also very much approaching (if not already mired in) their autumn years.

The armies were rather asymmetrical, with the Seleukids composed of massed pikes and cataphracts with a little bit of support from two units of imitation legionaries, some levy bowmen, two units each of skirmishing Cretan archers and slingers, and a unit of Bedouin medium camelry. Nothing too fancy.

The Ptolemies had a much more diverse army mixing elite Galatian cavalry, pikemen, imitation legionaries, thorakitai, and a tumble of mediocre spearmen and mediocre elephants.

Out-foxed during deployment, The Seleukid cataphracts on the right found themselves facing the Ptolemaic pikemen. Making use of a relative abundance of command points in the opening turn, the Seleukid c-in-c (almost certainly an Antiochos of one sort or another) turned the cataphracts into column and headed to the centre of the table, away from the Egyptian pikes. Meanwhile, the Seleukid pikemen advanced and slid to the right to try to meet the Ptolemaic pike head on. The Seleukid legionaries remained in post protecting the extreme right of the line.

Advancing at pace, Ptandrew soon discovered that the presumed ambush in the settlement was very much real (and packed with slingers!). As the Egyptian light horse went wide, the Seleukid's tame Bedouin shadowed them on the far side of the village. 

In the centre, the pike blocks met, with the Seleukid's not quite getting far enough to the right to prevent an overlap at both ends of the line. In his haste to meet, the very ordinary Seleukid commander of the centre left behind the unit of bowmen to pepper away at the Ptolemaic legions from afar. The Ptolemaic cavalry on their left swung around to face the Seleukid legionaries while a second ambush of Cretan archers materialised to their rear.

Over in the village, the Egyptian light horse swung in and attached the slingers in the flank. I chose not to evade, as they were at a disadvantage in the difficult terrain. However, the slingers were so distracted that they failed to see the frontal charge of mediocre Ptolemaic spearmen which took them by embarrassing surprise.

At about this moment the drachm dropped and I realised a flaw in the Seleukid plan. Although the flanks being refused/stalled, and the centre match ups not too bad, Antiochos couldn't declare a sweeping charge with six units of shiny cataphracts against four juicy legions and two squishy thorakitai, because some lazy bastard had left his bowmen sitting in the way!

On the Seleukid right, the Ptolemaic cavalry and one of the units of Galatians charged the Seleukid legions, while the other unit of Galatians hit the exposed right flank of the Seleukid pike block. Luckily, these were the elite agyraspides and, with the support of their attached commander, they managed to hold on despite the savagery of the new outflanking rules.

Elsewhere along the line, the Seleukid pikes performed marvellously, inflicting brutal defeats in all the other melees.

The Seleukid legionaries routed their Galatian opponents, and the Cretan archers swept in from behind to envelop the remaining Ptolemaic horsemen.

In the centre, the majority of the Seleukid cataphracts advanced...

Although one was waylaid by some mediocre elephants. Meanwhile, the Bedouin camelry had managed to disperse the Ptolemaic light horse with shooting ad now turned and charged the column of Ptolemaic spearmen in the flank.

On the right, the brave agyraspides finally broke and Ptandrew started to roll up the Seleukid pike line. Desperate to stop the disaster, one unit of Seleukid legionaries detached from the fight against the Ptolemaic heavy cavalry and joined the main battle, attacking the remaining unit of Galatians.

Back on the left, the Bedouin routed the mediocre spearmen and moved on to the next unit. The unfortunate cataphracts lost their battle with the elephants and routed, as the second unit of elephants trundled on towards the Seleukid camp.

Despite the best efforts of the Seleukid legionaries to stop the destruction of the Seleukid pikemen, the route continued as Ptolemaic pikemen turned to their right and pushed down the line.

The fight between the Ptolemaic heavy cavalry and the encircling Seleukid infantry had rather stalled as well by this point with both the legion and the cavalry teetering on the brink.

The Seleukids lost the roll off and the legionaries fled. The cavalry then conformed to the skirmishers on their flank who were immediately dispersed.

In the centre, the fight between the cataphracts and the Ptolemaic legionaries was pretty evenly matched until one of the Ptolemaic elephant units came hurtling un from the flank. The other elephant unit marched into the Seleukid camp and turned what had been a hard fought, knife edge Ptolemaic victory into the sort of thing you'd carve on the side of temple...

The final score saw the Seleukids break with 26/19, while the Ptolemies just hung on at 23/24. The Ptolemaic man of the match was undoubtably the Ptolemaic heavy cavalry who survived the entire game despite being attacked on three sides, while for the Seleukids, the Bedouin camelry managed to disperse two units single-handedly, and bought a third to within one cohesion point of breaking. The key takeaway from the battle? If events transpire to allow pikemen of elephants to start rolling up your flanks, it is pretty much all over.


  1. I rea;; want to ask - Do you actually think it reproduces Ancient Warfare better or is more fun than than Fantastic Battles?

    1. That is a really tricky one to answer because, lets face it, I wrote one of them to be the kind of game I want to play, and I might be a bit biased.

      They are essentially different abstractions of the same thing - ADLG is probably better suited to competition play because there are less variables (such as Mishaps etc). However, the historical games I have played of FB have been really good fun and certainly seemed to refelect ancient warfare in a way that felt 'right'.

  2. Great to see an historical match up.. Whilst I have played many many non historical Ancients games in my time my interest in them has waned somewhat. Good report and nice looking armies

  3. Solid report - it was fun to follow the swings of fortune.