A couple of days ago Johan came over to my house for a few beers and a game of To the Strongest! I had recently finished a couple of additions to my 6mm Greek army that I was keen on getting to the table, so we played a Peloponnesian War scenario: the battle of Stratus in 429 BC.
A while back we recreated this battle at club, using the Sword & Spear rules. It turned out to be a fairly dynamic setup that time, and so I thought it would be interesting to see how it worked with the TtS! rules. The historical battle of course resulted in a devastating defeat for the Spartans. But as we all know, one of the beautiful things about wargaming is that history doesn’t have to repeat itself.
The premise of the battle is as follows: the Spartan admiral Cnemus, campaigning in Acarnania in western Greece, joins his allies in an assault on the town of Stratus. The allies consist both of Ambraciot and Anactorian hoplites (i.e. other Greeks) and of Chaonians – local “barbarian” warriors.
On the march towards Stratus the Greeks and the Chaonians become separated as the latter, eager to take the town for themselves, rush ahead of the main force. Meanwhile the Acarnanians have had plenty of time to set up their battle line.
They’ve also laid an ambush – from both flanks light cavalry advance through the fields towards the barbarians, who consequently find themselves in a rather dire situation. Will their Greek allies arrive in time?
They will certainly try. Cnemus now orders his command forward and they advance at the double – hoplites in the center and psiloi on the flanks.
His Greek allies, under the command of fellow Spartan Alastus, do the same, and make good speed across the fields.
The Chaonian chieftain Photius, literally caught between a rock and a hard place, sends his javelinmen far out on the flanks, cutting off the approaching Acarnanian cavalry. One of the javelin units fails to maneuver into a favorable position and ends up with its flank towards the enemy, who rapidly seizes the opportunity. The attack fails to make an impact, but in the meantime, the whole Acarnanian battle line advance, closing in on the Chaonians…
…but Cnemus and his men are rapidly advancing on the Acarnanian left flank.
The defending auxilia – basically the town guard, made up of poorly trained craftsmen and merchants – brace themselves at the sight of elite Spartan warriors. And on the right flank, Alastus’ forces are quickly closing in, the psiloi making good use of the treeline. However, his Ambraciot hoplites suffer a serious setback as their ranks are disordered by Acarnanian cavalry fire. But together with their Spartan allies they still present a real threat.
Realizing that the initial advantage may well be lost all too quickly, the Acarnanian general Kritias now attempts to annihilate the Chaonian forces before it is too late. His regular hoplites, a considerably more fearsome bunch than their irregular comrades, clashes into the barbarian ranks while uttering wild war cries. The undisciplined Chaonians waver before the assault, but still hold their ground.
The defenders move their cavalry away from harm’s way on the left flank, while maintaining battle line cohesion all across the field. The attackers seem to have lost momentum and still have their forces spread out a bit too thin. And with two units in disorder, precious activations are spent on rallying.
Cnemus, impatient with this turn of events, maneuvers his troops forward and makes a diagonal charge (a term that only makes sense in Tts!’s context of square grids) against the auxilia on the Acarnanian right flank. But amazingly, these amateur troops hold their own against the elite Spartiates. Who would have thought?
And on the left flank, more strange things happen as a unit of regular hoplites starts wavering under barbarian javelin fire. Today must be Opposite Day in Greece or something…
To round this up-side-down turn off, Cnemus’ own unit is thrown into disarray by an Acarnanian light cavalry flank attack. Not a very “Spartan” round for the Spartans, to say the least! However, they do manage to kill off some of the ambushing cavalry in their subsequent turn.
The defenders have now managed to disorder both Chaonian units, but their own light troops suffer some losses on the left flank. The general in charge of the cavalry, Anacletos, finds psiloi javelin a bit too much to handle and tries to retreat. But coardice is its own worst enemy, and he ends up face-down in the mud with a javelin through his throat – a costly loss of victory medals for the Acarnanians.
With the left flank cleared of pesky javelin-throwing horsemen, the Spartans press on and engage the enemy in earnest.
The auxilia are the first to suffer from this, as their ranks shatter and they are thrown into disarray. Luckily though, they swiftly recover and stand their ground.
Desperate for an opening, Kritias orders a unit of regular hoplites to leave the battle line and push ahead, hoping to outflank the attackers. A risky maneuver, as it exposes the men to no less than four enemy units…
…but meanwhile on the right flank, cheers can be heard as that hard-as-stone auxilia unit manages to disorder their Ambraciot opponents, while Cnemus and his men struggle to maintain unit cohesion. This can still go either way!
But then comes the real Spartan push. “Come on you pansies,” Cnemus shouts to his men through the fear and alarm. “You call yourselves Lacedaemonians? Lycurgos himself would have blushed with shame at the sight of your cowardice!”
That does it – eager to prove their honour and courage, the sons of Sparta makes a furious charge and shatter the defenders’ lines on both the left and the right flank. Finally they feel like true Spartiates again, and are already chanting victory hymns.
And then the final blow is struck. A well-aimed javelin kills one too many of the defending regular hoplites on the left flank, which make them break from combat. This means that the Acarnanians have lost their last victory medal and the game is over.
So history did not repeat itself this time; the Spartans won the day and the town of Stratus is no longer part of the Athenian power sphere north of the Peleponnese. Phobius the Chaonian will no doubt be chastised for his rushed advance, but given the circumstances things could have panned out much worse for the Spartan side.
An enjoyable game overall, even though it got a bit bogged down for a while as several units went through the “get charged-get disordered-rally” cycle a few times and nothing major shifted the dynamics of the game. Also, due to TtS!’s quick and easy movement system, the Spartans reached the battle much faster than what the scenario setup meant them to, which meant that it ended up more of a straight up “hoplite line vs hoplite line” kind of thing than what was originally anticipated.
But we had fun nevertheless, especially when it came to some of the poorer units’ amazing capacity to withstand assaults from much superior troops and the overall unpredictability of it all. Also, the fact that a javelin decided the outcome in the end is quite hilarious – here I’ve been going on about how underpowered missile troops are in this game…
Another game of To the Strongest! is scheduled at club next week, as me and Ulf are continuing the Battle of the Defile. It will probably be a rather massive affair, since we want to try how well the game handles really huge armies. So stay tuned for some more ancients/medieval action coming up soon!