Gaugemela, 331BC

I have never got into “Ancient” period wargaming. My interests lie in military activities after the widespread deployment of gunpowder.

However, i was inspired recently by an article in “Military History Matters”magazine to have a crack at the battle of Gaugemela, also known as Arbela.

Unwilling to spend vast sums on new armies that will probably never get painted, and thus delay my actual playing of the battle, I tried another option by buying the Commands and Colors game from eBay. As the base game is Romans vs Carthaginians I had some extra work to do.

As it happens, this project coincided with a string of eye operations which effectively have, for the time being, disabled my painting ability. I can however squint at a computer screen for about half an hour at a time, so I made some “top-down” templates adapted from those available on the Junior General website.

I decided to play the game twice, using C&C rules and also those from the Portable Wargame books.

I found a C&C scenario on the internet and created the necessary counters. However, PW uses different troop classifications, so I adapted by making all medium troops into heavies and auxilia into light infantry.

I counted all the C&C blocks by type and using one point per block recreated the armies with the PW point system.

For example, a light infantry bow unit in C&C of four blocks became two bow units of two points each in PW. Two light cavalry units of three blocks became three units of two points. Elephant and chariot units gained a point each, but I reduced the number of heavy cavalry to compensate.

Portable Wargame

My final armies, excluding commanders, came out within one point of the original number of blocks. And so, here is my initial deployment for the Portable Wargame on an offset square grid.

Initial deployment. Persians on the left, Macedonians on the right. For ease of gaming I later stacked the units within their squares.

Macedonian Army (red). Exhaustion point 21. Persian Army (blue). Exhaustian point 26.

Darius sent his light cavalry to the left and right flanks while simultaneously launching his chariots and elephants at the Macedonian centre. He also sent his light bowmen forward to support the attack in the centre.

Three infantry and one cavalry bow units have targets in range and line of sight. The light cavalry unit hit the Macedonian heavy cavalry which fell back.

In the cavalry skirmish both sides took one hit. All other contacts were inconclusive. Alexander ordered his cavalry on both flanks to stop the chariots while he personally led two phalanxes forward to take on the elephants. The Persian light cavalry suffered heavy losses but the elephants forced the phalanxes to withdraw to their start line.

End of turn 1

The cavalry melees on the flanks continued inconclusively. The elephants were beaten off and a unit of Macedonian bowmen was ridden down by light cavalry. In the next turn a second unit of bowmen was lost but the chariots were turned back and the war elephants defeated. Alexander sent his heavy cavalry against the enemy archers on his left flank.

Finally the cavalry fights began to be resolved in favour of the Persians. Alexander refused his left flank and reinforced it from the reserve line of phalanxes. A cavalry counter-attack on the right drove the enemy cavalry and Chariots away.

End of turn 5. Imminent Persian victory.

A final push by combined Persian heavy cavalry and chariots failed to dislodge the Macedonian phalanxes, but the break point had been reached, and the Persians won the day.

Commands & Colors.

Initial deployment

Alexander advanced his phalanxes and accompanying infantry advance to provoke the Persians without breaking the cohesian of the line.

Darius launched his chariots and elephants at the enemy centre, aiming for light and medium troops rather than the phalanxes. All attacks were resisted or beaten back.

Alexander responded by sending his medium cavalry on both flanks to wipe out the chariot attack for 2 victory points.

Persian bowmen shot at these cavalry, forcing them back. Then they were charged by fresh cavalry and destroyed.

The Macedonians then launched their entire cavalry force on both flanks against the enemy medium and light cavalry. With leaders attached and a bonus card they took out four enemy units in the sweeping charge and won the battle.

End of turn 3. End of battle. Macedonian victory

Conclusions.

I felt the Portable Wargames rules bogged down the cavalry in protracted melee whereas perhaps the “momentum” rule for cavalry in Commands & Colors made them too powerful. It must be said that the die rolls for both sides in PW were generally poor, and in the C&C game the Macedonians kept rolling “leader” dice results exactly when needed.

Both games were fun. The PW rules were easier to memorise, but after a few games I suspect both games could be played with minimal reference to the rule book.

One aspect of C&C that I did like was the negation of a “retreat” result if a unit was well supported, so a wall of phalanxes would continue to stand until the line was broken.