Following the Herd

Using a lot of elephants in my first tournament
(This article was first printed in Slingshot Issue 230

Having played DBM for almost 10 years I have never gone into a competition, having suspected that in a competition I would meet ‘rules lawyers’ and ultra-competitive players who would be argumentative and would make an unenjoyable game. However, everyone I have talked to said that the Burton-On-Trent DBM doubles competition was very friendly and welcoming, so this year I decided to enter.

The competition this year was for armies between 476 AD and 1071 AD, and whilst I should have probably played a ‘competitive’ army in my first competition I decided to choose the army I was painting (if only to give me an incentive to get it finished): Khmer with Burmese and Cham allies. This is very much a ‘gimmick’ army rather than a competitive one, and is the army that can have the most elephants of any DBM army book. I collected it after fighting Andy Cumming’s Burmese army and being confounded by the number of elephants; I vowed to find an army of the same period to have an epic elephant versus elephant battle. My thanks go to Andy Cummings for lending me his Burmese troops for my allied command – I never did get my Burmese allies painted.

My army consisted of:

Khmer Battle Line Command:
Khmer CinC – Irregular Elephant (O)
8 Elephants – Irregular Elephant (O)
8 Long-Shield Infantry – Regular Auxilia (S)
8 Supporting Archers – Regular Psiloi (O)
2 Small-Shield Infantry – Regular Auxilia (O)
10 Unarmoured Spearmen – Irregular Auxilia (O)
5 Javelinmen – Regular Psiloi (I)
8 Baggage Elephants.

Reserve Command
Khmer Sub-General – Irregular Elephant (O)
2 Guard Cavalry – Regular Cavalry (O)
4 Cavalry – Regular Cavalry (I)

Cham Allied Command
Cham Ally-General – Irregular Elephant (O)
2 Elephants – Irregular Elephant (O)
2 Long-Shield Infantry – Regular Auxilia (S)
1 Supporting Archer – Regular Psiloi (O)
1 Small-Shield Infantry – Regular Auxilia (O)

Burmese Allied Command
Burmese Ally-General – Irregular Elephant (S)
3 Elephants – Irregular Elephant (S)
2 Standing Army Spearmen – Irregular Auxilia (O)
2 Militia Spearmen – Irregular Auxilia (I)
4 Archers – Irregular Bow (I)
1 Standing Army Cavalry – Irregular Cavalry (I)

In total the army had 17 elephants (not including the 8 baggage elephants!) and a mixture of assorted light troops. The main Khmer command was over half the army in Element Equivalents and meant that I could loose all three smaller commands and still stay in the fight. My partner for the doubles tournament was Steve Drew, still at school and doing his mock exams. He was quite new to DBM, but once the mock exams were over he quickly learnt the ropes and acquitted himself very well in the tournament. We fought five battles against the four other Swindon & District teams who had entered the Burton Competition, and discovered that we were very vulnerable to missile fire and heavy infantry, against whom we had little reply. We were, however, optimised against knights! During the competition I played the main Khmer command and the reserve; Steve played the Cham and Burmese.

My final preparation for the tournament was to commission some terrain from Mike of ‘The Scene’: a huge 19½-inch diameter hill, two 14½-inch diameter hills and two 9½-inch diameter hills in case we were attacking and my opponents had steep hills and a road. These hills are works of art, and drew admiration from all who saw them. I also bought some carpet tiles and cut out similar diameter circles to the hills – these were for woods if we were defending, and scattered with 15mm scale trees they looked quite the part.

Game 1 – vs Khitan-Liao

We were the defenders in this game. The Khitan-Liao put down no terrain, so Steve and I immediately put down our 19½-inch diameter compulsory wood, and then put down four more woods so that there were plenty of places to hid our light troops. The terrain ended up as shown:

The Khitan-Liao deployed in four commands: on our left a large command of knights, cavalry and light horse, with a sprinkling of bow and blades, backed up by a horde of .er.hordes, then another large command of the same, an allied command (Hsi-Hsia?) of knights and inferior bow, then a very small command of light horse, cavalry and even more horde than the other two commands. They had effectively deployed with their two big ‘strike’ commands on their right.

We deployed between the two woods on our side of the table, with Burmese on our left, then Cham, then the main Khmer command with the mobile reserve behind. Our plan was to anchor on the left wood and push out from the right in an arc, securing the woods on our right flank as we advanced.

However, on our first dice roll the Burmese allies were unreliable, and the Khitan-Liao troops rushed in, trying to get their knights into the Cham auxilia – if they could break the tiny Cham command the Burmese would change sides and effectively the battle would be lost (not immediately but they had 3 hours to do it!) Not surprisingly the Khmer tried to stem this flood, rather than advance themselves. The game soon came down to a critical die-roll of a single enemy knight against double ranked Cham auxilia – we won the roll, and the next turn the Burmese, impressed by this martial display, declared for the common cause and became reliable. We counter-attacked hard, but in doing so lost the Burmese who were a bit too aggressive and paid the price. However, hard attacking by them and the Cham against the His-Hsia bow and knights broke the small allied command. After some hard and confused fighting the game ended a draw, 5-5.

Game 2 – vs Early Samurai

We were the attackers in this game and chose steep hills and a road. To our delight the terrain all landed on our side of the table, like this:

The Samurai deployed in three huge commands, with 31, 34 and 34 elements respectively. These commands had virtually no mounted troops, but had two ranks of superior bow backed by two ranks of inferior auxilia. They also flank marched an allied Warrior-monk command.

We deployed with the big Khmer command on the left, anchored on the 1½ FE hill, with the Cham in Ambush (out of sight behind a hill in a flank sector) on their right and the Burmese on out on their right. All the elephants were deployed behind the hills, as were the baggage and the reserve command. It was very crowded behind the hills! However, I had seen what massed longbows could do and our plan was to draw the Samurai onto the steep hills where they would not get a supporting rear rank in combat and then attack downhill with our auxilia.

The Samurai suffered all battle with appalling movement dice, and on their first turn the warrior-monks were unreliable. The next turn they rolled a ‘6’ and arrived on our right flank, still unreliable. The Burmese elephants were actually deployed facing the flank and the warrior-monks therefore decided to mass on the steep hill instead. For the next two turns the Burmese and Cham (now revealed) feverishly manoeuvred their auxilia to get into a good combat position, whilst I force-marched some inferior foot skirmishers over to give them flank support. When the attack went in it was decisive, with the auxilia getting a bonus for attacking downhill and the warrior-monks being disadvantaged for being in difficult going (and ‘fast’ to boot). Steve’s auxilia pushed some warrior-monks off the table edge, some warrior-monks were ‘doubled’ and destroyed, but after a few turns of combat we had destroyed the six elements we needed to break the command.

By now the Samurai were at the foot of the hills but their appalling movement dice left them frustrated at the bottom whilst my long-shield auxilia taunted them, safely out of bow range. However, eventually the Samurai did get up the hills and my Khmer attacked downhill. We got shot to bits, and when we did stagger into combat we were outnumbered, out-flanked and destroyed. Steve was keen to throw the elephants forward and counter-attack but I used my position as CinC to over-rule him. We therefore used out superior movement to shamefully run-away.

Over on the right flank the Cham and Burmese light troops also threw themselves into a counter attack, and suffered a similar fate, the Burmese breaking and the Cham becoming one element away from breaking. The Cham therefore ran away as well, and by the end of the game the Samurai were advancing over the central hill and were actually taking pot shots at the massed elephants below! However, it was too little, too late and the game ended a 5-5 draw. Afterwards, I apologised to my opponents for such shameful corner sitting, but given the results of the limited combat that took place it was a sound decision.

Game 3 – vs Chinese Southern Dynasties

We were again the defenders in this game, this time against historic enemies! Sadly the opposing team had not included any ‘bamboo and paper lions’ that the Southern Dynasties traditionally used to frighten Cham elephants. The Chinese decided to attack along a river. We put down as much wood as we could, as shown:

The Chinese deployed on the larger side of the river (our left), with two big commands with a lot of blades, some bow, an element of inferior artillery (gulp) and some knights (who kept well out of the way). On their left they had a smaller command of cavalry and bow (although this also had lots of troops in ambush in the woods across the river) and a boat.

We deployed with the Burmese on the left, the Cham to their right (on a one-elephant frontage!) with the Khmer to their right, in two lines of elephants. We also deployed exclusively on the large side of the river, again anchored between two woods.

Well, Steve and I had had enough sitting around being attacked, and we rushed up the table to take on the Chinese foot. The Chinese, rather than use bow and artillery to take us on, moved forward rank upon rank of foot skirmishers. With some very jammy die rolling we killed most of these, and then charged the combined Burmese and Cham elephants and the most forward Khmer elephants into the artillery and bowmen, killing them all in a single round of combat! This left the Chinese command on our left flank an element away from breaking, but we had been attacking two commands skilfully deployed to spread casualties fairly evenly over them. However, in pressing home the attack the Burmese had again pushed aggressively out the woods and were attacked by the Chinese blades, who promptly broke the Burmese (for the third game running!). However, this caused a burst of over-confidence in the Chinese and they rashly threw in their weakened command to finish off the Burmese, whereupon a demoralised Burmese elephant, double-outflanked, killed an element of light horse and broke the weakened Chinese command!

After this the Chinese tried to push their blades on their left flank around the large wood into the Khmer long-shield auxilia, but a wall of Khmer skirmishers on the edge of the big wood hindered them and the game became a wild melee in the centre between the Khmer and unbroken Chinese, in which the Khmer lost all their forward elephants but never looked close to breaking. The Chinese also released an element of ‘dare-to-die’ impetuous blades from the boat against our baggage, but the reserve command cavalry took care of them and then went on to destroy the immobilised boat! The game ended in another 5-5 draw.

Game 4 – vs Feudal Spanish

We were again the defenders in this game (“Why on earth are we attacking Cambodia ?” asked one Spanish general. “Must be a crusade” his partner replied) and the Spanish chose no terrain. We, of course, put out some woods but I also chose three areas of rocky rough going to try and tempt the impetuous enemy knights in against my foot! The terrain looked like this:

The Spanish were aghast at the amount of terrain on the table (“Well what do you expect in Cambodia ?” we quipped). They went away and muttered darkly, before announcing that they formed a plan so cunning they could clean their teeth with it. I suspected that this would involve a flank command, so I deployed a few troops in ambush accordingly.

The Spanish deployed with a small Andalusian allied command on our right (3 elements of cavalry and 6 elements of light horse), with the CinC’s command in their centre (a massive spear block with supporting archers). On their right they had a big block of irregular knights (hurrah!) that deployed against the table edge, as far from the elephants as possible. This command also had 18 elements of inferior foot skirmishers, some supporting skirmishing slingers, some light horse, some cavalry and 4 elements of irregular crossbow. As we expected, they also had a flank command.

We deployed centrally, with the Khmer on the left (elephants in two ranks) the Burmese to their right and the Cham with their flank resting on the rightmost wood. The reserve command and the second line of Khmer elephants deployed far back, to counter the expected enemy flank command.

The Spanish were clearly not keen to get to grips with us (to be fair, the Spanish suffered appalling movement dice all game), awaiting their flank command, which I suspected would be a lot of knights. Consequently we rushed up the table, getting the Khmer long-shield auxilia into the rough going in the centre and advancing a large block of skirmishing foot through the wood on our left. We also brought up the first rank of 5 Khmer elephants. The Spanish command opposite wanted to get their mass of skirmishers against my Khmer elephants, but in doing so advanced beyond the central rough going and my auxilia gleefully rushed out to hit them in the flank as well as getting into frontal contact with some as well. In a couple of turns of fighting I had killed a whole heap of enemy skirmishers, and the Spanish CinC was desperately urging his companion to withdraw to avoid being broken. However, the sub-general was on crusade! He boldly counter-attacked with crossbowmen and cavalry (as much as he could with his limited PIPS – he also had to hold the knights each turn). He promptly shot down some of my skirmishers and the cavalry killed some of my long-shield foot. However, I managed to get an element of auxilia into the flank of his bowmen, turned them and killed all four elements (but only because they were inferior – the combat would otherwise have been a draw). The Spanish command was now half an element away from breaking, and the general rolled another ‘1’ PIP. He could either hold the knights or retreat the vulnerable skirmishers, and he chose to retreat the skirmishers. Released from their enforced inactivity the brave Spanish knights burst impetuously towards the Khmer auxilia, who promptly ran back into the rough going. One element of knights rushed up to the Khmer elephants, which next turn contacted the knight element and promptly killed it, thus breaking the command. The flank march, which had been getting the only good PIPs all game (but never a ‘6’) still refused to arrive.

Over on the other flank the Burmese and Cham had secured their flanks in rough going or wood, with elephants to the fore. They looked at the Spanish shield-wall, unwilling to fight it in the open, whilst the Spanish stared back, not wanting to approach the rough going. I urged caution to Steve, as I knew we still had a flank command to contend with and the Burmese would be no match for the Spanish once out in the open. However, with the Cham foot safely hidden in going the Spanish spear and mounted Andalusians wouldn’t care to enter, the Cham could afford to loose both elephants and still not break, so Steve’s Cham elephants went hunting the small Andalusian command. He also pushed the Burmese forwards aggressively from the rough going, and the Burmese bowmen also went hunting the Andalusians. The Andalusians obligingly rolled several ‘1’s for movement and tied themselves in knots trying to get their general out of bow-range of the Burmese. However, the Cham elephants managed to contact an element of light horse and killed it, the Burmese shot dead the remaining Andalusian Cavalry and suddenly the Andalusians were broken too.

At this point we had broken over half of the enemy troops on the table but had not broken over half the enemy army. Emboldened by the size of their long awaited flank command, the Spanish CinC’s spear block charged the exposed Burmese elephants and their supporting auxilia, now in the open. However, the Spanish flanks were not secure, and soon Cham elephants attacked one flank whilst Khmer auxilia in the central rough going were attacking the opposite flank. In a hard fought combat the Spanish spearmen pushed the Burmese back but couldn’t break them. They did take out one Burmese elephant, one Khmer element of auxilia and eve killed a Cham elephant, loosing a few elements in return, but with the Spanish spear block getting increasingly surrounded it was only a matter of time until they would break. They fought doggedly on, waiting for the flank command to arrive.

For some time I had used a spare PIP with my CinC’s ‘free’ PIP to move his element and the other second-line Khmer elephants into a defensive line facing my left, and added some of the reserve command into this line as well. Unknown to our opponent, we also had an ambush in the closest wood, and our 5 elephants and 4 elements of cavalry awaited the enemy flank command. After almost three hours of combat it finally arrived, and was huge. It was, in fact, the mirror image of the command the Khmer had broken earlier, and our opponents worked feverishly to get it onto the table in time to march up to my thin and exposed battle-line. However, the organisers called last pair of bounds before the command could be deployed.

So on the last turn, we had to take 6 more elements to break the whole enemy army. Over on our right flank the last remaining Cham elephant charged two ranks of Spanish spear whilst an element of Burmese bow hit them in the flank. We won on the dice and 2 elements of Spanish spear were dead. On our left flank, two elements of Khmer long-shield foot hit the rear of two Spanish spear, the rear element of which turned to face. With one overlap to the Khmer it was three-all in combat modifiers, and we both rolled a ‘4’, but being inferior the spear recoiled into the back of the spear behind them and 2 more Spanish spear were dead. Now you might remember that my Khmer first line elephants had broken a Spanish command and they were busy chasing the last remaining knight element towards the enemy baggage. They did catch and destroy the knight element (backed up almost against the enemy baggage) and we now saw a very rare sight as one of my elephants crashed impetuously into the enemy baggage! This would count as two elements if destroyed in combat, but the baggage, parked next to the inspirational ‘Cross of Pelagius’ enemy War Wagon, recoiled the elephant! So it came down to the last dice roll of the game, as a Burmese elephant charged two Spanish spear whilst an element of Khmer long-shield foot swung into its flank. We beat it on the dice and with the final roll we killed the last 2 elements we needed to demoralise the Spanish army. The game finished a 10-0 win.

With 25 tournament points we finished the highest of the Swindon teams, despite being the only ones with an ‘uncompetitive’ army! To be fair, we rode our luck: if the knight had beaten the Cham auxilia in the first game we would have lost 10-0; in two games our opponents had some of the worst movement dice I had ever seen; and our ‘terrain’ dice roles were inspired – we managed to get at least 4 Feature Equivalents of terrain out each game, often more. This shielded our light foot and hindered enemy movement. All in all, it could have gone much worse!

Best of all though, Steve and I had four excellent games against really friendly and relaxed opponents, and had a really enjoyable weekend. My thanks go to the Burton club for running such a superb event, and I would also like to thank my opponents for making the games such fun and the other Swindon teams for making the evenings such fun! If you would like to enter a tournament but are worried about it, enter the Burton event next year. It is simply excellent. Last Updated ( Wednesday, 29 November 2006 )