Friday, July 4, 2014

The Battle of Cunaxa: Persians vs Persians!

401 BC. While the legitimate shah, Artaxerxes, has gone east to quell a revolt, his brother, Cyrus the younger sees an opportunity to fill the vacuum. He declares himself king, wins the loyalty of Asia Minor and the Levant. Getting word of Cyrus' mischief, Artaxerxes heads west with the royal guard (including the famed Immortals and some newly-painted heavy cavalry. Cyrus hires 10,000 Greek hoplites (whose story is chronicled in Xenophon's Anabasis) to match his brother's forces and heads west. They meet on the bank of the Euphrates, 40 miles from Babylon, near a little town called Cunaxa. That much is history. 

Last night I hosted and reffed this game for two history professors, Professor T and Professor D. The first to arrive at my house, prof T, took on the role of the firstborn son , Artaxerxes and prof D, when he got there, played the second born, Cyrus. 

Here's our play area, not a bad bit of terrain if I say so myself. The sand is just a variegated, sort of tie-dyed looking brown/tan felt I bought at a fabric store. The river is tie dyed craft paper. There was no difficult terrain here, but I ruled that the Euphrates was deep and swift along this bank, and that any unit forced to give ground or withdraw into the river would be lost.

Cyrus (professor D) has a fantastic first shooting round, his bows and slings rolling sixes and triggering some pretty unlucky rolls from Professor T. Half of Artaxerxes' skirmishers are cut down before they finish lacing their sandals.

So Artaxerxes scrambles to make contact with the usurper's troops, light cavalry on his flank.

Nearer to the river, the (lesser, non-royal) commanders are having less luck with their orders -- the two sides, including Cyrus' hoplites and Artaxerxes' guard cavalry, just glare at each other.

Artaxerxes gains ground with a solid line: Indian subject levy, sparabara, and Immortals backed by elephants.

And Cyrus' takabara levies fall back.

But the would-be emperor strikes back with these scythed chariots. These one-shot weapons are going to annihilate a unit of sparabara and cripple the Immortals. "Immortal THIS, bitches!" squealed a man with a PhD.

With the sparabara down, the elephants more or less become Artaxerxes' front line.

A bit late to the (toga) party, the hoplites advance. Prof D was worried about them being so far from their barbarian allies. Turns out he needn't have been -- heavy infantry with long spears and phalanx formation is a tough package in Hail Caesar. They chopped through a unit of sparabara with really lovely salmon and turquoise outfits, I mean really lovely, just look at them. Anyway, they died. Even the heavy cavalry wasn't making a dent in Cyrus' phalanx.

On the far end of the fight, the brothers actually meet, Cyrus leading a unit of takabara and Artaxerxes among some subject infantry (both of these guys reduced to consorting with levy troops! They must have been desperate).

As Atraxerxes' levies retreat, both sides have seen a lot of casualties, but only Cyrus still has anything resembling a battle line.

And then Cyrus led a unit of takabara against an elephant. And some dice got rolled. And Cyrus got his fool head stepped on. In Hail Caesar, of course, every time your leader contributes dice to a battle, there is a small chance that he will die. And so he did; and with the death of Cyrus the question to succession was settled. (In real history, Cyrus's death in this battle abruptly ended the civil war. The Greek mercenaries offered their services to another Persian; they said that they could make him king, but he declined, because his blood was not noble enough). Professor D was kind of surprised by this quick end, leading me to wonder if I had made the victory conditions for this scenario entirely clear at the beginning.

This was a great scenario; everybody had a blast, and I would not mind running it again, perhaps at a convention. I have to make sure that the generals are highly motivated to stay in battle because I WANT this battle to get resolved by the death of either Artaxerxes or Cyrus, and in Hail Caesar you have the option of keeping your generals VERY safe as long as they aren't contributing dice to a battle. What fun is that? A little house ruling is needed.

These hoplites were still standing tall at the battle's end, and we thought about running a sub-game wherein the hoplites, with no allies, had to fight their way off the table, which was the plot of Xenophon's book.


  1. Great report and sound like you all had a good time.

  2. Looks like a real blast! Great battle report!

  3. Sounds like it went well. A good scenario that I'd like to give a go.

  4. Enjoyable report and pics. Loved to have watched this one