The Roman World, To the Strongest, 28mm
My chum Peter Mearns came up this week, to return the two Ancient armies he’d borrowed from me. He also laid on an Ancient game of his own, using his own toys. This scrap, set during the First Mithraditic War was between Bythnia and Pontus, with the Bythnians fielding a Roman-trained force, while Pontus relied on a phalanx-based army. The game was played out on a 6×6 foot table, using 20cm “squares”. In fact you couldn’t see squares – Peter’s mat just had faint markings on it where the squared grids crossed. It was very effective, and to the casual observer it really looked like we weren’t using squares at all. Gyles hadn’t played To the Strongest before, so he teamed up with me to run the Bythnians, while the more experienced Peter took on the role of Mithradites of Pontus. For those bothered with counting, both sides had armies of around 100 points. The Pontic army had four phalanxes, two of which were formed by ex-slaves, plus a smattering of lighter units like skirmishers or thorokitae, and two small wings of cavalry.Our army had six main units, five of which were trained to fight in the Roman manner, while the last was a Bythnian spear phalanx. We too had a couple of skirmish units and cavalry wings. We began with both sides shuffling cautiously towards each other. In To the Strongest though, things don’t stay static for long. Soon the two cavalry wings were in action, with me wiping out a Pontic light cavalry unit, and them doing the same to us on Gyles’ flank. It soon turned out that the Pontic cavalry had lances, which gave them a bit of an edge. After a rocky start they wiped out Gyles’ remaining horsemen. On the right flank though, my cavalry eventually saw off their Pontic rivals. Back in the centre both infantry lines had clashed, after a little bit of skirmishing by the light troops. When it came Gyles threw back a pike phalanx, then wiped it out. By this stage we’d 9 points in victory tokens – we needed 11 to win. That meant another cavalry unit, or a 3-point pike phalanx would give us victory. peter had 5 points, with 6 more to get. So, things were looking pretty good. Like I said though, things don’t stay static in To the Strongest. Fate can change with the flip of a card. In the next turn, Gyles and I lost two infantry units – both rolled over by Pontic phalangites. This blew a nasty hole in our line, which Peter filled with one of his phalanxes. Now, we’d list 9 points apiece. So, everything hinged on who would lose a unit first. I thought I had the edge. My cavalry had finally rallied itself, and while a light cavalry unit harried the flank of a pike phalanx, the other one lined up to launch a flanking charge. Peter’s slave phalanx (less well trained that his regular ones) turned to hit my spear phalanx in the flank. I survived and turned to face him, and in the melee that followed I managed to disorder him – twice. So, everything was hanging on the next turn. One more push should do it…That’s when my cavalry failed to activate. So, the enemy flank was safe, and in the infantry melee neither Peter or I scored the hit that would break the enemy. It was all down to Gyles. He’d a couple of Roman-trained units left, but both were disordered. The Pontic phalanxes were knocked about a bit too, but they needed three hits to kill them rather than two. The safe plan would have been to pull back and recover a hit. That though, would give Peter the initiative. So, true to form, Gyles decided to go for broke and charge. He almost pulled it off too. He disordered his opponent, nd when they fought back they didn’t get a hit on Gyles. However, a sneaky second Pontic unit – I think it was the thorokitae – hit the Bythnians from one side – a diagonal attack – and Gyles’ unit went down. So, that gave Peter 11 points to 9, and victory! I have to say, it was a close-run game, and either side could have run right up to the wire. An onlooker, Malky, was mesmerised by the whole thing. As a result, we might wean him off his fantasy gaming!That though, is what makes To the Strongest such a great games system. I’ve never played a dull game using these rules, and strangely, for all their lack of tapes and dice, they work a treat at putting the fun back into Ancient wargaming. So, I can see myself dusting off my Caesarean Romans and Gauls, and encouraging others in the Orkney club to get involved. Some are even painting up Gauls and Galatians already, so here’s hoping a few more game like this will be enough to tip them over the edge!