NatCon 99

And how the Sub-Roman British came out on top...

This page last modified: April 15, 1999

Introduction: Army selection

It took me a great deal of time to decide which army I was going to take to the 1999 Nationals - I have bought a reasonable amount of lead over the years, and I've even had time to paint it. Choices, choices!

As I have always had a bit of a jinx at tournaments, I had decided there was little point in going for a 'killer' army, since I wasn't going to win (ironic, eh?), and besides, I didn't own many armies that are considered in the killer catagory. I wanted an army that could close quickly with the enemy, since my playing style has until recently been a bit plodding, and in a win/draw/losss format, as was used at Natcon 99, draws are less rewarding (and rewarded) than normal.

Recent experience with my Alamanns had led me to appreciate the virtues of a LH (S) command in stopping the enemy from interferring with your foot's advance, but I was a bit worried that there would be too many Ax (S) in the competition for my Alamannic Wb (S) to thrive. (Alamanns, like Sub-Roman british, belonged in period 2, which includes Romans, with all their Auxilia, and Macedonains, with all their Thureophoroi). Experience with them showed that in period, I didn't really need to fight 4 deep (Since I often didn't play in period, and even when I do, their deep formations make for more manoeuverable formations, I tend to put them 4 deep anyway), so I reasoned that Wb (O) with a front rank of Wb (S) would do the job just as well, and cheaper.

This immediately led me to look at my Sub-Roman British figure selection, for the Amoricans can have both Alan and Saxon allies. Looking at my figures, the only things that were missing were the massed monks (the vision of them advancing boldly on to martyrdom just couldn't be resisted) so I borrowed some off Corbon, on condition that I repaint and base them. Fair enough too, it's only 2 elements! One of these days I might even return them...

Army composition:

The army as conceived was based around the Saxons as the strike force, and the Alans as the pinning force. A 20 strong command of Wb, 14 (O) with 6 (S) elements in the front rank including the general, fights very well against anything except Kn and El, of which I hoped to meet few. It also costs only 77 points - a real bargain. 16 Franks cost 85 AP and are not as useful as an ally (I took a Frankish ally to my Late Imperial Romans last year).

I could have taken Kn (F) as the strike force, but didn't for several reasons.For one thing, I simply don't like Kn (F)! I don't like the internal British ones - you have to take a Reg CinC to get them, which is a waste of points, and the Patrician allied ones are much cheaper and more numerous. But I didn't take them either - too expensive IMO. Too vulnerable. And they're on horses. Smelly things!

I'd played the 10-strong Alan LH (S) wing before; unlike Kevin Donovan, I've found that making it larger harms me more than it benefits me, by making it less weildy, and decreasing the Wb numbers too much. So 10 LH (S) were fielded for the SRBs too; they come to 75 points. I also brought along their 12 TF for the wagon laager, since that too was vital to the army's strategy, which was that my two main fighting forces, the Saxons and the Alans, were completely expendable. I wanted the enemy to have to break them to get anywhere, and still not be able to beat me, or at least beat me easily.

So I took an internal British ally with 3 elemnts of Cv in addition to himself, 2 LH, plus 13 infantry to man the wagon laager. So long as the general didn't die, the command could only be broken by storming the camp - a long shot indeed. To guard aganst ths, the 3 infantry that couldn't directly man the TF (only 10 can man 12 element-lengths of TF effectively) were Reg Ax (I) so they could move to any trouble spots. As it happaned, they didn't move all convention, exactly as I hoped! As a reserve command, 3 Cv, 2 Lh and a Cv general are quite useful, and as a reserve command, they have plenty of time to recover from an unreliable die roll of 1.

Hence, if that command wasn't broken, the enemy would have to take out my main command to win the game. This was 6 Cv (O) including the CinC (who hid suitably to the rear - the one game I lost with this army in one of my 6 practice games was when my generals were taken out), 3 more British LH (O), 22 Sp (I) with 8 Ps support, a single Ax (I) to bolster a Ps line if needed, and the 2 hordes (I) of monks. The idea of this command was to keep all the foot except the monks suitably out of harm's way at the rear parked on a H(G) or some such - one of which is compulsory if defending, so that they couldn't be broken either.

The army came to 400 AP (399, plus 1 AP spare so I upgraded one Cv to Reg), with 82 EE, 20 Saxon, 10 Alan, 16 Allied British and 36 CinC British. So long as I kept the 2 British generals alive, I could afford to lose all the mounted except one CinC's element (for which I would always have a PiP to spare), and all the Saxons, and the enemy would still have to find my foot.

Day 1

Round 1 saw me pitted against Greg Wells' Palmyrans of 273 AD, so no Romans were included in his force. I knew Greg to be a failrly inexperienced commander from a previous encounter at a wellington convention (not many opponents in Blenheim, save Mike Campbell, who's now left for Wellington!), but his catafracts were still a worry. I turned out to be the aggressor, invading an hour before dawn on a misty night - perfect weather for me, since it allows the Wb to barrel forward without pesky things like LH getting in the way.

He put down a large brush-covered hill in his central deployment edge - perfect camel ambush country I thought, another one went down to (my) right, in his rear zone, away from the table edge, and that made his 3 TE. His Bg were positioned behind this second hill, only about 600p from the side table edge, so I decided to flank march the Sxons there to pillage it. The two RGo hills of his would stuff up a frontal advance of Wb (S/O), and it seemed plain that my open right wing would have to contend with his catafracts.

Deployment indeed had his catafracts there, supported by 6 LH (F), and that's where I put my Alans, as the delaying force. He also had 6 Bw (O) there, somewhat inwards toward the centre. My laager and minor horse went in the centre, where it turned out he had a large block of Bw (I), and I expected camels to be supporting them (if they flank marched instead, so much the better!), but none were visible. To their right (my left) was his LH (S) CinC, and some other LH; my CinC's horse were opposite these, with the foot huddled dutifully to the rear. He had a micro command of 2 Kn (X), 1 LH (F) and a Bw (I) by the Bg.

My advance saw me slowly moving forward through the mist (as quicky as possible - for 4 bounds my PiPs were no lower than 19, so the mist didn't stay for very long!) waiting the Saxons to arrive. My horse moved up to pin his central formations, while the Alans singly moved up to his strike command in case the mist cleared suddenly.

As it was, the lift misted just as I had gotten my CinC's horse to within 200p of his CinC command's LH (lucky me!), so I charged in as the mists evaporated, and this weakened his centre somewhat. His expected Arabs were indeed behind the central hill, and I skirmished my British ally's horse successfully in front of them and the nearby Bw (O), while my Alans started moving off from in front of the catafracts to aim at the LH (F) on that wing. I'm a believer in using pinning commands quite aggresively - they will probably go under anyway, so why not take some of the enemy out on the way?

At this stage my Saxons also arrived, so he had to choose between reinforcing his flank or his front; chose to do both and achieved neither. His LH in the centre were gradually being wittled down by my Cv, and preventing his Bw from firing effectively, while the two elements that arrived to delay the Saxons found themselves running out of room. The Saxons moved on 4 deep - I was expecting losses from the 2 Kn (X), and there wasn't room for width, on account of the big brushy hill, which both our CinCs had now climbed up, the better to shelter from the battle and overlook it.

His 2 Kn (X) eventually took out 6 of the Wb, but by then my Saxon general had killed the Bw (I) in front of him, pursued into the Bg and was eating it up at a guarenteed 2 EE a bound. My Alans hit his LH (F), killing several, my Cv had killed enough LH in the centre plus some Bw (I) by now, breaking that, and the Saxon general had wiped out enough Bg to take his army over its break point giving me 10-0 in two and a half hours.

Feeling vaguely smug at this auspicious start, round 2 had me pitted against DBM-list lurker Brett Preston-Thomas from Auckland (North Shore club if I recall correctly). He fielded Alexandrian Imperial 325 BC. His naturally aggressive stance (Ag. 4 for these lads) saw him putting down my compulsory road; my large H(G)s ended up one on my centre base edge, one on my right flank edge, on my side, but also touching the centreline, and one on my left flank, in his half, away from the edge.

My wagon-laager went down to the right of 'my' hill, with the CinC's foot all hidden behind it near the table edge, except the 2 hordes, who went with the Saxons on the left hill in his half. I'd decided to be bold, and see what they could do from there. The Alans went all behind the right hand hill on the far side.

I couldn't believe my luck when he started deploying his pike at the bottom of the Saxons' hill. In a practice game, they'd gone straight over the top of Tim Driver's Seleucid Pk (S) with general included, and here I was waiting to charge downhill onto them, with them being just (O) for the most part.

Next to them inwards was a weird Indian ally - 2 El, 3 Bw, 2 Cv and a Kn general. Hmm, that wasn't so good - they could demolish the Saxons single handedly. And on the other side of his Pk block went all his Kn and (few) LH - the monks would have a hard job stopping them... His other Pk command, and wodges of Thracian Ax (S), was in the centre in a box formation around the Bg.

It was at 6 in the morning on a beautiful Brittany summer's day with the morning mists long gone as he advanced up the hill, to stop 99p short of the crest of the hill detecting my Saxons 1p on the other side. These immediately went berserk, flinging themselves onto the pikes, straight awaytaking out one block of 4, and subsequently 7 more (3 by the floating Zone Of Death - but that wasn't needed - they were shattered anyway). His Companions charged through the monks, but they'd held the flank up for a precious bound, and the El trundled up the other end wrapping up the Saxons. To cut a long story short, all 22 elements I had on that hill eventually died, but I'd killed 18 on the hill myself, and those that were left from that command fled from the field save Alexander himself. Of couse, I could afford 20 EE of losses, Brett couldn't.

My Alans couldn't make any headway against his Thracians, nor my Cv against his thinly deployed pikes, even at the corner junction, though I had many a go. Eventually, his victorious Companions came into the fight, thinking my small command was vulnerable (I used their general as a kind of bait), and I could pick them off one by one, and eventually his penny-packet losses broke him, giving me a 9-1 victory. When I told him there were 30 more elements hidden behind my central hill he knew he'd been fooled into a false hope. I've never seen such carnage on one single terrain feature though, 40 elements dead was quite something. Brett eventually came in 6th out of 32, commenting that he didn't think much of win/draw/loass at the start of the competition, but voted in favour of it at the end, since it encouraged people to come out and fight him: important in a foot-heavy army such as his was.

So I was quite jolly until I learnt my next game the following morning would be against Mike Campbell's Kushans. More Kn (X) - my worst nightmare (for El my Sp + Ps can cope with), but never mind - I'd had my fair share of luck until then...

Day 2

Having been shot down in the WW I flying aces game in the evening with 2 kills (second equal) by the guy who went on to get 7 (jammy bugger), I was reasonably happy about that, but bleary-eyed I was in the morning as I struggled out of bed to get down to the club. Rhys, staying at my place, looked far more alert, but using Early Burgundians his way (attack attack attack until we're all dead), rather than mine (attack attack attack until they're all dead), he'd have to be!

Mike invaded in Summer, 8 AM with the mists long departed. My road was of no consequence, going from one flank to my rear centre. The large H(G) was in his rear centre projecting in from the edge. My other two hills I changed so that they were still gentle, but had the bottom 100p covered in rocks, so thus becoming H(S) of the 'non-entirely' variety. One ended up in my rear centre, so my Sp held the GGo tops, and the Hd and Ps and lone Ax the RGo lower slopes. The other had to be discarded. The laager was to the left of that.

He'd put 6 Bg to the centre, and strangely, 2 more out on (my) right flank. His army date was 358 AD, indicating Chionite allies, and Mike these days wasn't using Elephants I knew, so the Kn (X) would be his main strike force. He had a whole mass of them stretching from the hill across to the centre, supported by numerous LH (F) on both sides. Some more Kn (X) to the (my) left of them, with 7 elements of Chionite Huns in column further over near the table edge, opposite my Alans.

I'd decided to flank march the Saxons on the left again - no Bg to plunder, but they really were best kept out of the way of all those catafracts, and coming in on the flank would make best use of them. In his rear he had 16 Indian Bw (X), and some Ax and Ps; the Bw (X) were in a column parallel to the long edge, facing inwards towards the centre, a very odd set-up which I still can't figure out. He just seemed to want to be able to march them away from a left flank march (as indeed happened), and towards a right-hand one. Later he reckoned he did it because it's a good way to get them somewhere useful when you don't know where you want them to be initially. Better to know where you want them to be in the first place, I reckon!

A slow initial start saw not much happen, with the usual LH pickets racing out from both sides. He boldly sent a heap of LH (F) forward to come behind some of mine (something which had badly backfired for me with my Nikephorians a few weeks ago), and my Alans raced forward, but I forgot to expand them, leaving a gap for his Chionite Huns to exploit, if he got the PiPs. He did, and decided for another bold stroke, slipping them away down the table edge. Unfortunately, my Saxons were arriving, and they came on with another 6 (I think, it was high anyway), so 1 DBE came on at the half-way line, making 2 or 3 Huns flee into my Alans, while my British ally's horse struggled to move up to block off the remaining space, something they never really got the PiPs for.

The rest of the Saxons came on en masse further up the table, where they were soon delayed by some rear-positioned LH(F), Ps and Ax, as well as the odd fleeing Hun, whom my Alans had immediately broken since his Chionites were at odd angles on account of those elements fleeing from the Saxons.

More of my Saxons had managed to get into his Kn (X) that had just broken the Alans that had in turn pursued his Huns, and in the struggle, I killed his general there through bad recoils. His commad survived, (50/50 chance), but leaderless, it was a spent force, and it's few LH directionless.

Thus my CinC's horse, outnumbered, but ultimately expendable, were able to get into his LH(F). Everywhere he had a flank position, we drew, everywhere I had one, I won, and his commands started looking more and more brittle. Eventually, his general-less command broke; this combined with his Huns already gone, meant it wasn't hard to pick up the few more LH (F) needed to break his army. He made some bold plans, but they were perhaps over-bold; his smaller army couldn't afford the losses when they went wrong, unlike mine. 9-1 to the SRBs.

The afternoon saw me pitted, now that the 1st and 2nd periods had been melded, against Andrew Hunter's Imperial Hittites hailing from Tauranga. And what a beautilful sight they were. His Bg was really good, and as I invaded, we used his sandy brown base cloth rather than my verdant green one, which was also excellent. It was muddy, with rain and flooded rivers. I chose a narrow river to follow, 1200p in, on my right. I wasn't sure half-way through the battle if this was wise or not, but we both afterwards decided it worked OK, since a third of the terrain fell outside it, and was worthless to him.

A small orchard ended up in his rear centre by the river, another by the river on the other side, near halfway, and a large steep hill behind that to his rear. The only two pieces of consequence were the gully on my right flank, just inside my half touching the edge, and a small steep hill almost smack bang in the centre of the table, just on his side of the centreline.

I was rather pleased with this battle, since I came up with a PLAN, and it worked.

I was a bit worried that an ambush in the gully could hold me up, but we both knew I could get into it in my first move if needbe, so Andrew decided not to put anyone in it. In hindsight, a single Ps (I) - of which he had bags, might have changed the game. So the Alans went opposite that, ready to scout it out. Next to them was the Sp + Ps block - finally a battle they could be of use in! My CinC's Cv went behind them in column ready to sweep around them to support the Alans if they went unreliable, or reverse to help the Saxons as appropriate. The laager was behind, with their horse to the left behind the Saxons. The Saxons were in the remaining space, their flank protected by the swollen river.

The plan was to advance with the Saxons, and get them broken by the enemy Kn, then pick off the enemy with the British horse as they pursued. There was no way I could contest the small hill in the middle, so I couldn't advance past there, not close to it anyway.

As it was, the Alans were reliable, and discovering nobody in the gully, they galloped up the flank, where the Syrian vassal ally Cv (S) command was debating whether to join battle or not! This necessitated Andrew bring up his Ax (O) to bolster them and cover the gap between them and the table's rear edge as my Alans got within striking range. A bunch of Cv and Kn chariots had in turn to come up as my Sp slowly trudged forwards to cover the withdrawl of the unreliable vassals, save one who couldn't get out in time. As a consequence, my CinC's horse moved behind the Sp in support of the Alans.

His CinC's command of Kn and Cv moved up to strike my Saxons, who after a while broke, causing his CinC to pursue after them. While my British general and another of his elements covered the Ax on the hill, another 3 elements swung around into the flank of the pursuing chariots, taking out the two at the and, and then advancing on the CinC who was next in line. With the CinC in contact, and doubly overlapped, and unable to break off, it was only a matter of time before I killed him with the LH in the centre. But he fought bravely on...

On the other flank, my Alans got stuck into the Ax (O) and remaining vassal chariot, while my British horse held off his other chariots, as my Sp trudged forwards, making it eventually to the half-way point. The Alans broke the flank command by killing frontally one and then flanking the remaining Ax, while eventually his CinC went under, and that broke the army when his command failed to roll high.

Andrew should have kept his CinC's Ax, or even his Ps (I), up with his chariots to support his charge to prevent my winning flanking attack. If I ever get up to Tauranga I'll look him up for another game, his army was great, the battle interesting and the commander most genial.

So that left me with another 9-1 victory, and well ahead, since I was the only person to have won all four games. Not a position I was accustomed to, already the comments were going around that they'd have to rebuild the doors after my head had been broken out of the hall!

The evening saw more WW I battles and beer, and I'd been drawn against Dave Evans of my own club, using LIR for the fifth round, and I knew he was no match for me. Hubris alas, all hubris...

Day 3

It was 7 in the morning, with a stiff wind blowing in the faces of the Romans trying to reintroduce the law into my little corner of Gaul (our armies were 8 years apart, and his was one from Gaul...). Alas, I forgot all about the wind during the battle, and that would have helped me later; idiot that I am. He positioned the road, and diced for steep hills. A middling rocky one ended up on my left, stretching in fom the side, about 500p from his base edge, guarding his flank most effectively. Another ended up in my left flank, not touching the edge, on my side, so I could hide on that, and this is where my Ps went. Three small wooded ones all went on his side, one in the middle of his deployment edge, another to it's right, separated by about 500p, and another between his first one and the third one, creating a beautiful little fortress for him.

My 3 gentle hills went one on my left rear, which I parked my Spear block on, one between his 3rd and 4th hills, giving him an even better set-up, and one in front of his remaining two hills, on my left. I put all my CinC's horse there, just in case he advanced out of his box of hills (knowing Dave, this was unlikely).

Flank marching the Saxons was useless, since they'd be stuffed by the steep hill on the flank edge before they could get to his camp's TF, so I put them smack bang in the centre, with the Brtitish ally's horse in support to their right, and th Alans further to the right again.

His Bd, including CinC were luckily in the centre, opposite the Saxons - my hopes were well-founded. More Bd and Ax to the left, on and inbetween the steep hills, his one Art (F) being made useless by it being too close to the central hill to get good arcs of fire. They didn't advance more than about 200p all game because my Cv stood their ground on the H(G) to their front. He had Cv, Bw and Kn on the hill in front of the British ally, who would threaten the fkank of the Saxons as they went it (how could I forget about the wind?); and my Alans discovered lots of Ax and LH (S) hidden in the wooded hill further out.

His PiP dice were terrible, but he wasn't making use of them anyway. A few LH (O) from his CinC's command came out to play footsy with mine, but soon retired as my Saxons hove into veiw. My Saxons charge into his Bd line, my general against his. I had his general doubly overlapped, CF 5 against CF 5 with a quick-kill for 7 bounds without killing him! It was so frustrating. The Saxon's right flank was being turned, as his horse were uphill of mine, and although I killed him in bound 8, with 5 1/2 EE gone, he rolled a 6 and survived! The noise of his crowing was something else. My Saxons broke in disgust, and that was that.

I couldn't get into his position on the hills, and he wasn't coming out to play. A 4-6 draw in his favour. Boy was I disappointed. That CinC's command surviving of his meant that I needed to draw my next game at the worst, win it at best, and I was drawn up against the Marcin Wolski's Central Asian Turks, with Tibetan allies (717 AD). Not a good combination for me. If I'd won against Dave, I could have conceeded the next game 0-10 half-way through, and still be guarenteed winning the tournament.

As it turned out, I defended in fair weather. Of my two bad hills (I planned to put all the Sp in R/DGo, since my 8 Ps and 2 Hd (I) were more than a match for his foot - Ps (O) and Hd (O)!), one ended up on his rear table edge, and the other one on top of it (by 2mm - what a cock-up) so it was discarded; the H(G) was in my centre rear, so the Sp had to go on that.

I was so tired I was almost falling asleep at the table - being the registrar meant a lot of late nights in the days before the competition proper setting everything up. Marcin should have walked all over me but he didn't. My British horse delayed half his army well, in penny-packets. My Alans held back the rest, then broke, and he had to spend half an hour getting his army back together again as my Alan general led them on a merry dance. The Saxons eventually arrived on the left flank, and he sent LH to deal with them when he needed something more solid. I brought on only 6 initially (DBEd, so break-point 8), but immediately threw another 6 and had to bring on the rest. And he left it till the last bound before sending in the Tibetans against the spear. That should have happend in bound three at the latest.

As it is I made a huge fool of myself. In the tension (and it was very stressful, I don't want to have to go through that again), I'd got it into my head that he'd broken my Saxons for some reason (he'd killed just 2). I added up my losses - 41 - exactly enough to break my army. He said that he had no idea I was so close, and while everyone one was looking on (it was the only game to go the 4 hours) I suddenly noticed there was only one DBE in the Saxon tray - he needed another 18 EE to get me! What a plonker...

So a 3-7 draw was enough to secure me 1st place (just). The stress of the last game was awful, and I didn't cope well. I got a bit less amaiable than normal for one thing. It wasn't worth it. Next time I'll take an even more 'weird' army and hopefully I won't be up there.

Andre Evers umpired exceedingly well, and everyone agreed on this one point if no others. (I conducted a survey after the event to see what people thought of the competition format).

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