Monday, August 4, 2008

Field of Glory vs Armati: revisiting the Arsuf show game

Claymore: After Action Report

This report does not attempt to give a fair and comprehensive review of Field of Glory. It does attempt to tell you what happened when we set up our Shows North Armati scenario (here ...) for Arsuf, then played through it with Field of Glory.

The game should have a chance of working ... the scenario's orders of battle followed the historical encounter as best we could accommodate it, and both games are unit-based (in FoG they are called battlegroups - BGs). One of the differences between the games is that in FoG, the BG size is variable, where as in Armati the unit sizes (within any given troop type) are uniform. In practice, we made the (few) Saracen Heavy units into 4-base BGs, but amalgamated the Turcomans and LI/SI foot roughly so that their Armati divisions became FoG BGs (of 6 bases).

On the Crusader side, we similarly kept the HI units the same (4s), grouped the main body Knights into 4s, and amalgamated all the Turcopoles into a single 4-base BG. This left both the Templar and Hospitaller Knights (the vanguard and rearguard) with just a pair of bases each. Historically these were pretty small contingents, and the 2-base knight BG does exist in FoG (just not in the Late Crusader list) - so we decided to leave them as little elite units ... to see what would happen.

The Armati scenario listed quite a few commanders, and all can be played in Field of Glory. We rated Saladin an Inspired Commander, and his subordinate (who commanded the army on the day), Takedemus, as a Field Commander. Richard we also played as a Field Commander, with the rest of the Crusader hierarchy as Troop Commanders. This was less a judgement on relative ability as on behaviour ... the Saracen leaders exercising command from afar, the Crusader lords being much more tightly lined up with their men. The balance - a couple of long range commanders v. a cluster of limited and local ones - seemed to work fine...
Deployment, approach to battle etc.
This phase of the of the Field of Glory game worked better than expected. I knew that the FoG systems would be handy with respect to the Crusaders deploying from the march. I was a little more concerned about move distances and shooting ranges (as these are much longer in Armati): I didn't want us to have ended up with the forces too far apart, and spending all day on the approach. In fact, although you do have to get quite close to make the shooting effective, FoG has very few complications until you get there, so, like Armati, you can get on with it (gone are all those excruciating hours of irrelevant Pip management that DBM made mandatory just in order to get two distant armies to close with each other ... you can get to the proper battlegame quite quickly).

In fact, in our game, the Saracens moved across the plain and closed around the marching Crusader columns in a very similar pattern to the familiar Armati envelopment (both games encourage proper battle lines, Armati with its manoeuvre divisions, FoG with its commanders moving linear arrays). We quickly got to the phase where the Saracens were shooting, and the Crusader commanders (Chris, ably assisted by a cluster of visitors who seemed pleased to stay with the game) needed to decide how, where and when to drop out of their columns, and organise a proper response to the intensifying harassment.

Armati, of course, normally starts the battle with armies deployed opposite each other, and only allows an (authentically) restricted capacity for units/divisions to turn, wheel, expand etc. A big chunk of the scenario, therefore, sets the parameters for deployment - fixing the orientation and composition of divisions, where and when they can be set up. This is quite complex, but worth the trouble ... as you get to play the game with a very good set of rules.

In this situation, FoG's comprehensive movement and manoeuvre rules are a real winner. For symmetrical set-piece battles, they are undoubtedly over elaborate (and if you were playing any of the open field Hoplite battles, you really ought cross most of the 'Simple and Complex Moves' page out). Here, it saves all the extra rules the Armati scenario needs. Everyone can turn to face the enemy, BG's can deploy with gaps in between ... Knights can deploy on a one-base width in order to charge through the gaps in the Crusader infantry line (and expand later and/or in the melee if they can bring one about ...) ... all pretty much as we imagine it must have happened. Again, there are issues of balance to achieve: although the Crusader infantry was seasoned, and (on this march) evidently excellently disciplined, I thought that they ought to take Complex Move Tests to deploy (a CMT is a simple 2D6 dice roll, modifiable around a 50/50 chance)... that would make them 'undrilled' in FoG nomenclature.

Keeping the Crusader BGs small certainly helped out this phase of the FoG game. I don't really buy the 'shot = no shot' (no point in rolling the dice...) that commonly happens in the standard game (if twice as many shooting might have an immediate effect, why do smaller numbers shooting for several turns never need even pick up the dice?) . In this game, with the Crusaders in 4s and the military orders pairs, the shooting was consistently exciting. I suspect, in the fullness of time, correctly balancing the BG size of shooter and target will be an important component in designing FoG scenarios. A successful ratio of hits to the target's unit size forces a Cohesion Test, and it is collapsing cohesion which causes BGs to rout. The effects of intense archery gave encouragement to the Turks, and some failed Cohesion Tests forced the Crusaders' hand.

Charge and Chase:
Where FoG does outclass many contemporary games is in its 'old school' sequence of declare charges/evade/dice for evaders-dice for chargers. This makes the whole process legible and exciting (like WRGs 6th and 7th edition) ... whereas Armati is legible but a little predictable - it is all on the 'whole turn' initiative roll - and, of course, DB's abstract way of doing skirmishing was just dull. Here, the sequence follows our understanding of the engagements ... the skirmishers need to get close to get their hits. If the shooting isn't doing too well, the target player will be happy enough to try to move closer without charging. If he takes damage the impulse will be to charge sooner rather than later (either they will run away which might be good, or they will be caught ... which will be better)... Crusades games are all about this interaction ... Knights against Turks ... Shock troops against mounted archers.

Everyone enjoyed this phase of the game. It was obvious that the skirmishing needed to be neutralised, it was equally obvious that the knights and Turcopoles needed to press the attacks home if they weren't to end up pulled out of position and surrounded by hostile archery.

Key Moments...
An important charge was made by the Templar Knights in the vanguard. At the end of the line, the Turcopoles (deployed by us as Light Horse, not Cavalry ..).. were getting the better of a larger unit of Turcomans who had decided to put their faith in numbers.... but the position was still compromised. A successful charge, now, would gain the Crusaders the upper hand. Actually, both target and charger threw 6s , so the charge was futile, and also pulled the Templars way out of position. They survived the shooting phase of their own turn - but the Saracen move saw them assailed from all sides. Although they still passed the Cohesion Test, they had to roll at least a 4 on a death roll not to lose a base. They failed, and in FoG BG's reduced to only one base are dispersed at the end of the turn. This mechanism worked nicely in everyone's opinion: ... the brave Templars surrounded, undefeated and undeterred ... yet shot down to just a few militarily insignificant stragglers. The Saracens looked to be getting the upper hand.

In the centre, it looked no better ... with Cavalry and LH horse archers liberally scattering Cohesion test failures about amongst the infantry. The bigger BGs of Crusader knights committed only to chase vainly after evading Ghilman cavalry ... Again everybody liked the way this passage of play depicted the relative flexibility of the fighting styles.
At this point, the Saracen player (me, that is) made some crucial mistakes .... in the centre, the first of two BGs of knights charged after some (evading) Turcomans. As these knights were disrupted (one rung down the cohesion ladder), some enterprising Ghilman cavalry launched an interception charge. Adjacent, the next Turcoman BG had declined to drop back in front of the other knights (electing to keep in close range of some infantry who had just failed a test ... and trusting to a '35/36's die roll to get away when the knights charged...). Both calls were bad. The evading roll of 1 was not enough to get away from the charging roll of 6. The disrupted knights next door still converted their 'impact' advantage on the Ghilman BG. A disaster, and a losing melee were the twin results.

To grab back the initiative, in the following Saracen turn, I declared a charge with the Saracen guard cavalry on a disrupted BG of 'defensive' Spearmen. A critical point in the line, they could be taken out quite quickly, and the Saracens would be through. Actually, the charge was a catastrophe, and the guards were immediately in trouble.

In the space of a couple of turns, accident and design had produced a rash on contacts across the battlefield, and the Saracens were losing all of them. Those valiant Templars turned out to be the only Crusader BG destroyed in the game (though many were severely worn) - and the battle had become unwinnable. I know how Saladin must have felt. It had all seemed to be going so well....

Afterthoughts ...
This game worked out very well. Field of Glory 'dropped into' a unit-based scenario with very few complications. As a rules set to play 'historical' Crusades, it worked in a clear and entertaining way. In the battle we played, the game's narrative was clear enough... the Saracens seemed to have the upper hand until the player tried to capitalise over-aggressively and found his troops in melee with the Crusaders. They are good at this, and it should be avoided at all costs. The game was lost very rapidly. The Armati game has been played dozens of time, with a very even distribution of results. We played this time with Field of Glory, and the Crusaders won hands down, once Saladin had made his mistakes. Actually, for what it is worth, that is a historical result - but there is no way one can speculate about the balance.

Field of Glory Scenarios: as mentioned before, we thought the 2 BG size for the military orders worked very well, and I suspect it is the right way to go for scenarios. Players would not do this for tournament games, and bigger BGs of military orders knights will be very powerful.

An important way of approaching these balance issues in designing the scenario is listing the units already in partial decline (starting disrupted, or disordered from the defile etc.). We started everyone fresh, but only for ease of set up.

Historically, the general engagement at Arsuf was prompted by the master of the Hospitallers (the rearguard) disobeying Richard's orders not to charge. Obedience is not a problem in the standard FoG game, but will be quite an important feature in developing plausible historical scenarios. There is quite a lot of potential here, and scenario designers have been given a pretty blank canvass.

All in all, a very worthwhile experiment. Field of Glory does 'attack on a marching force' well, and its 'charge and chase' mechanism suits the Crusades period ideally. Whatever the issues of balance maybe for tournament play, everything is there to make FoG an adaptable system for building up interesting historical scenarios. Thanks to everyone who joined in at Claymore.

Oh! Sorry .. Armati versus FoG? Too early to tell. As explained, this is exactly the sort of scenario that suits FoG's game type, and it did very well. The Crusader army and leaders were, however, too disciplined in my view, and in writing a scenario for this battle in future, I would concentrate on making the command and control far more challenging. This battle happened because, despite all the preparation, Richard lost control of the army ... and not its 'greener' European contingents, but its 'professional' military orders.

1 comment:

tradgardmastare said...

An excellent report- thank you for your efforts -it made great and thoughtful reading.
best wishes