Lots of To the Strongest! going on here lately – it’s actually the only game that I’ve played during the last weeks. Partially because it’s a fun game of course, but also due to time restrictions and a generally busy life outside of the hobby.
This time Ulf and me met up for the conclusion of the Battle of the Defile, a three-day carnage that took place in 731 AD in present-day Uzbekistan. We recently recreated the first day of the battle, when the Umayyad Caliphate pushed through Turgesh forces into the the Tashtakaracha Pass.
Now the Umayyad commander Junayd ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Murri has moved his forces out of the mountains and onto the plains of Transoxiania, were more enemies await.
The Turgesh clan leader Khagan Suluk, who suffered a serious and humiliating injury last time, has recovered just enough to mount his horse, gather his forces and set an ambush for the advancing Muslims. He has also called for reinforcements, which means that this battle will be a lot bigger than the previous one.
The Umayyads have four commands of troops that range from decent to elite, while the Turgesh forces (also four commands) mainly consists of light horse archers and thus dwarf the Arabs when it comes to sheer numbers. They also have the “infinite ammo supply” houserule: they may refill their ammo indefinitely, but to do so they must be adjacent to the camp box.
So the setup is similar to our last game, but with a slight twist: two of the Turgesh commands start off-board and enter the scene from the table edges in round one – the aforementioned ambush. Will the Caliphate be able to push through?
Well, they start off self-confidently enough, the infantry marching at a steady pace and closing their ranks at the sight of the enemy.
For this game we decided to use d10s instead of the chits that we normally use. This made the game considerably faster, although it also skewed the probabilities a bit. More about this later; for now I’ll just say that I like dice and will probably always prefer them to both cards and chits. Perhaps that’s why we also continued using d6s as ammo counters…
Anyway, the Umayyad advance loses momentum as al-Murri suffers his first setback: he sends his light troops ahead on the flanks and then wants the center to follow, but a series of poor command rolls breaks up his battle line and leaves a couple of infantry units stranded dangerously close to the enemy lines.
We actually discussed implementing a house rule about division movement, as it’s both inconvenient gameplay-wise, but also a bit unlikely from a historical perspective, that it’s so easy for troops to get separated and break up their battle line before even making contact with the enemy.
However, for this game we stuck with the vanilla rules. Consequently, several Umayyad units now becomes easy targets for Turgesh missiles. A unit of light javelin horsemen gets shot at by tribal milita, but the raw recruits and undrilled irregulars fail to hit anything.
Then a unit of Dailami Guards gets a rough focused fire treatment and are thrown into disorder. But this elite unit is also deep, which effectively gives them an extra wound…
…something that helps immensely when you get bombarded with arrows and javelins from all sides. When Suluk’s own unit of Tribal Nobles fire their arrows, the Dailami find it hard to stand their ground; they are now doubly disordered and close to their breaking point.
But they still hold, as does their comrades who were also subject to a round of extremely intense Turgesh fire.
Spurred on by the enemy’s annoying resilience, the Nomad King swears at his men and orders in the reinforcements.
And here they come, pouring in from the Umayyads’ left flank…
…as well as from their right.
The Arab forces are now confronted with quite the dilemma, as the entire battlefield seems to be swarming with Turgesh horsemen: push on through, or defend the flanks?
Al-Murri, not wanting to spread his forces to thin, decides on the former. Together with his Jund Cavalry, he gallops straight ahead and clashes into the Turgesh ranks. The infantry follow suit, but once again some poor command rolls make them hold back.
Some of them are also busy rallying, like the aforementioned Dailami guard unit, who now finds itself a bit too far from enemy, rather than too close.
Meanwhile on the right flank, Umayyad commander Amir Tamim orders his men to turn and face the advancing horsemen. By cornering them between two units of Jund Spearmen he halts their advance, while at same time giving them a harsh lesson in archery.
But on the left flank, his fellow commander Amir Rabiah is having some trouble – his forces are separated from each other and the Turgesh now gallop straight for yonder hill, were Umayyad javelin horsemen and a unit of Spearmen desperately try to take up an advantageous position. A lone unit of Arab archers fails to make an impact on the advancing horde of Nomads. Instead, they are themselves disordered by enemy arrows.
So while Umayyad forces are stalling the Turgesh reinforcement on the right flank, it is only a question of time before the left flank is pierced and the center threatened. In other words: time is of the essence.
Said and done; al-Murri keeps up the pressure on the Tribesmen, who still hold their ground. A second unit of Dailami guards move up to the right of the cavalry column, intent on stopping any nasty flank charges.
The horse archers on the right flank are firing wildly at Amir Tamim’s men, but it seems like the rumors of their amazing archery skills are slightly exaggerated; they rapidly waste their ammo, while the Jund spearmen smirk condescendingly.
On the left flank, the race for control of the hill continues. The Turgesh have routed the Umayyad horsmen, but the Jund infantry keep marching, albeit in a dangerously exposed formation.
And in the center, disaster looms for al-Murri as one of his attacking cavalry units are thrown into disarray by enemy arrows. The good news is that they soon rally, while Suluk’s men now are nearing the end of their arrow supply.
Meanwhile, Amir Amim’s infantry destroys the enemy sub-commander’s unit, forcing him to join another unit close by.
The Horde horsemen on the left flank, being out of ammo, now slam into the flank of Amir Rabiah’s infantry, who haven’t managed to take control of the hill in time. Fortunately for the latter though, they are able to withstand the attack for now.
Also, their archer comrades are shooting at the enemy, baiting some of them away from the action and thus preventing them to make a coordinated push. The ambushing forces are now struggling on both flanks…
…while the situation in the center are looking grimmer by the minute. Some of the ambushing horsemen are racing towards camp to refill their empty quivers, while Suluk’s main force is now staring at an ever-advancing Umayyad battle line.
A unit of Tribal nobles feels the pressure mounting, and lose cohesion in their ranks as the Dailami confronts them head-on. Suluk’s own retinue also start shaking in their boots when faced with this wall of unrelenting Arab troops.
And then things go from bad to worse on the right flank, as the sub-commander’s new unit is also destroyed.
He scurries off to join his last remaining unit – a rugged band of foot levy who just sneaked out of the woods…
…but they are rapidly thrown into disorder by the Jund infantry, and subsequently retreats off the table. And that’s it as far as the ambush on the right flank is concerned.
On the left flank, things aren’t looking any better – the Umayyad archers actually defeats the enemy cavalry in close combat, while their infantry comrades successfully maneuver into a defensive position, effectively blocking the Turgesh advance. Also, the ambushing forces are now out of ammo and far from camp.
Smelling victory, al-Murri keeps pushing in center, pinning Sluk’s forces down and preventing them from stopping what has fast become the greatest threat to the Turgesh: a unit of Dailami who is rapidly advancing towards the camp.
With no one available to stop them, they now rush in to the camp (they look so scary that only a camel remains to face them), which spells Umayyad victory and the end of the game.
As you might have gathered, I played the Arabs this time around. It was all great fun – a rather massive battle with a very unpredictable outcome, at least up until the last couple of rounds. The Turgesh’s dependence on ranged combat proved to be a bit of a problem for Ulf, as he suffered a series of poor rolls initially and thus ran out of ammo before being able to make much of an impact. Thus, he lost some of the advantage that the ambush setup provided.
Speaking of poor rolls: using d10s really made the game a different beast, and I’m still in two minds whether we should stick to it or not. First off, it has several advantages: it’s easy, it’s clean and it’s fast. But it does slant the probabilities quite a bit – you always have the exact same chance of rolling a 1 as a 10, while using cards or chits means you at least have some general idea of how many 10’s or 1’s you’ve already put on the table. On the other hand, this means that using dice is more unpredictable, and therefore fun.
But anyway, more games of TtS! are bound to come up, a we’re now planning a full-fledged campaign. So stay tuned for more medieval bloodshed!