Thursday, December 12, 2013

Tukish Delight? The Battle of Manzikert, 1071 A.D.

Our Byzantine opponents, Joel and Keith

So, one of our regular Sunday night gamers, Steve, is a big fans of staging refights of historical battles. He'll playtest them with us and then takes them to area conventions to run. The latest battle that caught his eye was the Battle of Manzikert -- a pivotal encounter that probably did the Byzantine Empire as much long-term damage as any other in their history. Because of this disaster, the empire lost is vital agricultural and recruiting lands in Asia Minor. Through the centuries, the Byzantines had relied on this area for manpower, horses, crops, and other goods. Its loss to the Turks was one of the nails in the empire's coffins, though Constantinople did not actually fall for 400 more years.

A couple weeks earlier, he and Keith had tested out the game using Might of Arms rules. Steve wanted to give the battle a whirl using Hail Caesar rules, which our group had played a number of times. I enjoy Hail Caesar, though I often end up getting hammered by its abundant dice rolling! It plays quickly and is easy to learn its mechanics. There is a bare minimum of modifiers -- all of which makes sense.

The centers advance towards each other...or would be, if my light horse would move! Allen's heavy cavalry behind are getting impatient and would ride through as we stalled for a third consecutive turn.
In this game, Allen and I would take on the role of Arp-Aslan and his Turkish emirs, while Keith and Joel would be Emperor Diogenes and his subordinates. Both Allen and I like to play fairly aggressively, so we planned an immediate advance all along our front. One problem, though. My dice rolling was its usual suck. I needed to roll an 8 or less on 2d6 to activate my troops. In the first three turns, I failed on that 5 of 6 times (I had two commands). Considering that rolling an 8 or less is a 72+% chance, you can see how poorly I was rolling!!! Whenever one unit in a command fails to activate, you are done for that command. So, our Turkish advance stalled. In fact, it stalled so badly, Allen's heavy cavalry in the center advanced through my motionless, screening light cavalry.

By turn four, I was starting to succeed on activation rolls. I began to envelop Keith's left wing, spreading out my more numerous horse archers out to concentrate fire on him. Eventually, this wore his command down, along with a couple charges that went my way. His broken left wing ended up being the only command broken in the entire battle. We were really surprised at how much horse archery could wear down an opposing battleline. It taught me that you need to have reserve troops to punch through once the enemy is wavering.

With my slacker light cavalry out of the way, Allen was able to close with the Byzantine center and soften it up with archery fire before charging in.
Allen and Keith did get to grips in the center, with honors about even -- maybe with a slight edge to us. I couldn't follow the action on our left so well, but from the sound of it, Allen and his brother Joel were battering each other about the same amount. In the end, it was likely a minor victory for the Turks -- unlike the overwhelming disaster it was for the Byzantines historically. The thing I took away from the battle is how different a horse archery duel plays out from the usual Roman vs. Carthaginian foot slogs we'd done before. That is a good thing, of course. Those two types of battles should feel different.

Late in the battle, my right wing starts to turn inward on the Byzantine center
Next week, I believe we will be doing board games. I'll post a report following the evening's gaming.

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