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arginusae battle report

I was finally able to do a new solo game with He Hemetera Talassa – Mare nostrum. This time I tried one of the scenarios included, Arginusae. Unfortunately I am still waiting for the additional ships to arrive from Irregular miniatures, so I had to make do with the few units I have moulded so far and play in a quite reduced scale.

The battle at Arginusae, a small group of islands close to Lesbos, happened when, in 409, Phormio’s son Conon was bottled up with the Athenian fleet by a superior Spartan fleet. Athens then arranged to put another, brand new fleet at sea in record time to save Conon's. Of course, this second fleet was crewed by literally anyone who would be around in Athens at the time, including slaves, so most of the crews were pretty green. In fact I often wondered how did the Athenians pulled this battle off – but I was soon to find out!

This is the start of the battle. The Spartan fleet is in the foreground, deployed in line: the exceptional stratego Callicratidas leads his elite squadron from the leftmost position (yes, I know), then follow three additional squadrons one of which is also elite.

The motley Athenian fleet is divided in two. Trasillus’ inexperienced crews leads the right side (they were supposed to be ok, but a scenario-mandated quality test after deployment reduced their quality to poor!) with Protomacus in support, while Aristocrates leads the left, with Diomedonte behind. The Athenians have no fleet admiral – this democracy thing is indeed just another name for anarchy!

Civilian traffic hurries away to get out of the war galleys’ way.

Callicratidas signals the general advance. His plan is to contact the closest Athenian squadrons before the two supporting units can get in position. But in the Athenians’ veins, even inexperienced crews like these, still runs Themistocles blood, and they also surge forward to meet the enemy.

Now Callicratidas signals the attack: the Lacedemonians sing the paean and increase their rowing. A-la-la-la-leu! But the Gods send them a horrible omen. The stratego rolls the dice for the attacking manouver and rolls a 1. Only his confident leadership and the quality of his crews allow the squadron to contact the Athenians!

And what is worse, even two of the remaining three Spartan squadrons barely manage to make contact, only thanks to leadership and quality. Oh, women in Lacedemon still today wishes that the crews had heard the Gods’ clear message and turned away their prows! Alas, the triereis are now engaged in combat all around the Arginusae.

And here comes the first great surprise of the battle. Trasillus’ green crews, composed by newly freed slaves and unemployed bums from all over Attica, manage to soundly beat both Callicratidas and Pleistoanax’s experienced and well oiled squadrons! The Lacedemonians lose some ships and, more importantly, become severely disorganized.

On the other side Mindarus and Dexippus, as planned, inflict some proper punishment to Aristocrates’ squadron, which nonetheless manages to hold the position. Now that the first lines are engaged, the Athenians plan can start to be implemented. Protomacus’s ships, positioned behind Trasillus, perfectly execute a simultaneous 90° turn right and prepare to run a periplous around Callicratidas. This simultaneous turn is actually not allowed under the rules, but I houseruled it is allowed under certain circumstances (see the first test at Naupactus for a full discussion of it).

But they will not have the time to complete the bold manouver! What happens next is the stuff of legends. Historians will write in awe about it for centuries and poets will sing about the glory of Trasiullus’ heroic tramps and bums, who alone and again completely overcome the two, much better Lacedemonian squadrons in front of them…

diekplous them!!….

AND THEN ATTACK THEM FROM THE BACK!!, completely destroying them both!! Themistocles get out of my way!!

This incredibly heroic deed shatters the Lacedemonian left and ends the battle. Completely outnumbered, Mindarus on the right decides that not even a Spartiate can be cool with these odds, and retires.

This was another very fun game, even if incredibly one-sided die rolls for the Athenians made it shorter than usual. However, I am not fully convinced by the breakthrough possibility you have when, in melee, you score a victory with a difference of 4+. If you win by 7 +, you are also allowed to immediately attack the enemy squadron from behind without additional manouver test (that is, if I interpret it correctly!).

Once two squadrons are entangled in melee, I think, it would very soon degenerate into a free-for-all furball of individual duels, with both squadrons gradually losing any semblance of coherence and with the admirals losing any command and control capability. From here on, the clash between the two squadrons should be attritional. I do not see a squadron in such circumstance being able to assume again a cohesive formation and perform a break throught (basically a diekplous) from the enemy's back.

I personally see diekplus as a manouver that can only be performed by a squadron which n. 1) is arriving at some speed towards it target and n. 2) has chosen to do the manouver and therefore prepared and adopted an appropriate formation. In game terms, I would thus only allow a squadron to perform a diekplous if it has not yet contacted the enemy and if it has adopted the correct formation. Maybe have him do a roll on the Manouver table with specific modifiers? or an opposed roll?

In my view, if the diekplus attempt fails, there should be two possibilities, corresponding to how bad the attacking squadron screwed up. Either they realize it is going to fail and are able to stop in time, then the attack is aborted with no contact made between the squadrons. Or, they screws up badly: they cannot breakthrought but are not even able to stop in time. Then the diekplus becomes a normal melee which I would play it with a negative modifier for the attacking squadron.

In short: I would prefer a breakthrough to happen only if the player successfully performs a diekplous manouver before the first round of attack, and not as a melee result. BUT I think this, while probably being more realistic, would make the rules more attritional, more predictable, longer, and in all probability less fun... so I can see the design choice which has been made. In the end, I will better refrain myself to make any change in the rules before I have the chance to try it with some players – hopefully very soon as the lockdown ends!

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