28 January 2021
“There is nothing impossible to him who will try”
ABOVE: Alexander’s pike phalanx forms up. Pike armed forces by Foundry.
Words and photographs by George Moraitis and John Kersey
Stride across Asia with Alexander and his Macedonians as he wrests control of the Persian Empire from Darius, the king of kings. Carry the battle into India or westwards against Rome, fight the wars Alexander would have fought had he lived.
From the Warhammer Ancient Battles rulebook.
ALEXANDER MOVES EAST
Alexander the Great is one of those larger than life characters who needs no introduction: his exploits and his campaigns have fascinated generations of world leaders, conquerors and miniature wargamers. Alexander embarked on a campaign of conquest which led his forces to invade India in 326 BCE defeating the armies of King Porus at the Battle of the Hydapses river. However, his men – weary of war and desperately homesick – would not follow him further east. Alexander went into a petulant sulk which lasted a few days, but he was forced to concede and marched his troops back to Babylon where he eventually died.
But what if, instead of dying in Babylon, Alexander planned and pursued fresh conquests? In which direction would his ambitions have taken him? Going west to take Sicily and using that as a staging ground for a war against the rising power of Rome presents a likely scenario. However, we wanted to create a game where a more ambitious plan presents itself.
After Alexander retreated from India, he left garrisons of mercenaries in his wake. Following his death, they were variously overcome by the Indians or deserted of their own accord. Historically, the brilliant leader Chandragupta Maurya was able to unite India under his leadership. Of course, he did not have to contend with the genius of Alexander...
And so, the hypothetical “what if ?” takes shape. Chandragupta’s successes forces Alexander’s vassal Porus to seek aid against the rising power of Chandragupta. Alexander – needing little motivation for war – raises a new polyglot army and he assembles his forces: Persian troops trained to fight with pike in the Macedonian system; nomad horse archers from the Asiatic Steppes; massed Persian heavy cavalry; wild and savage Thracians and elephants gather before their King.
Alexander heads east: there he confronts Chandragupta and defeats him. His pursuit of Chandragupta takes him further east through Burma using the route later to become famous as The Burma Road and to the gates of China. Now, older and scarred, his ambitions still burn within him and Alexander marches to war against the land of China...
Of course we could also surmise he invades China to obtain the secret of immortality or as a route to access the sea. Instead of heading south he could have taken the northern route through the Tarim Basin encountering fierce nomadic tribes and ultimately the state of Qin.
THE WORLD OF WHAT IF?
It’s a fascinating subject: counterfactual history or the world of what if? In a way all wargaming is that as even if you faithfully re-create a historical battle such as Waterloo at the starting positions on the 18th June 1815 then it is highly likely subsequent results will diverge from the actual historical flow of events (as I’ve said many times, it’s all non-historical – or fantasy – gaming: it’s just a question of degree... Ed.). Some feel counterfactual history should only play with altering one key factor such as Grouchy intervening in Waterloo and within the possibilities of that time. Others like to look at a whole set of circumstances that never happened but could have, such as a Nazi invasion of Spain and Gibraltar in 1941. Then again there are those like the novelist Harry Turtledove who speculated about a whole series of unlikely themes such as America re-fighting the civil war in World War 1, space aliens intervening during World War II and even what if? The Confederates had AK47s! (I thoroughly recommend the classic Harry Harrison novel Rebel in Time: the South gets Sten Guns! But that’s definitely another story... Ed.)
Alternative history has become more accepted of late due to the mainstream TV dramas of SS-GB from the book by Len Deighton and an adaptation of Philip Dick’s The Man in The High Castle. These types of books come in waves and our own game was inspired by the approach in two books edited by Robert Cowley (editor of The Quarterly Journal of Military History magazine) – What If? published in 1999 and its sequel More What If? published in 2001. The format of these books comprise short essays by eminent historians speculating on what might have come to pass if Anthony and Cleopatra had triumphed at Actium and William the Conqueror were to have been repulsed at Hastings. Our game takes inspiration from an essay in the first book called Conquest Denied about the premature death of Alexander The Great. We flip the idea and ask: what if he lived longer?
ABOVE: Inspiration! Lots of bedside reading material to be had.
ALEXANDER IN CHU 320 BCE
As the Alexandrian forces come down from the jungle-clad Hengduan foothills the country he is confronted with is not yet China. It’s in turmoil in a period later known as the Warring States period. Hostilities have been underway for hundreds of years between the various combatants who sought protection in a series of fluid treaties. The struggle for survival accelerated military developments both in military hardware, battle tactics and ploys.
ABOVE: The battle develops in the middle. Chinese Warring States by Curteys Miniatures Pike - Foundry
Chinese armies were evolving from armies of the size of 30,000 with nobles in light chariots backed up by light infantry retinues to large conscript armies of the order of magnitude of 100,000 in flexible units and formations. Heavy chariots and cavalry were starting to come to the fore.
If Alexander had taken the northern route he would have encountered the state of Qin, the ultimate victor in the Warring States period and the home of the later First Emperor, of ‘Terracotta Army’ fame. Qin had transformed from a primitive backwater to a well organised state with a formidable army after the reforms of Lord Shang who died in 338 BCE.
However, our favoured option is the southern route which finds Alexander’s forces pushing into the state of Chu:
Qin’s deadly protagonist. Although regarded as rather backward – the people of Chu were described by other local states as “monkeys with hats” – it had held its own in the incessant wars. In 320 BCE Chu was in a strong position under the reign of King Huai (who ruled from 328-299 BCE) having defeated the neighbouring states of Wei and Yue. It too had been strengthened by the guiding hand of an advisor, Wu Qi.
SCENARIO: THE RIVER DAN
Here we present a scenario: The (hypothetical)Battle of the River Dan 320 BCE. It is based on the Warhammer Ancient Battles rules (version 1.5 published 2005) however, what we set out as a scenario can be easily adapted to suit your own favoured ancients rule set such as Hail Caesar, Clash of Empires, Swordpoint or War and Conquest. We used the WAB supplements Alexander the Great and Art of War for the Chinese. The Chinese forces use a hybrid of the Zhou Dynasty and Warring States army lists reflecting the army in transition.
Alexander’s army of conquest has been marching along the course of the river Dan into Chu. It is early morning and his advanced guard spy the first crossing point that will take them across to the eastern bank and towards Ying, the capital of Chu. Alternatively, they can continue on their present route and cross further upstream. The scouts also notice a traditional temple in the distance. However, they also note the presence of a large Chinese army with a multitude of banners deployed and already split into three divisions. Alexander draws
in his commanders and hastily makes plans for deployment and a hasty attack from the march.
ABOVE: Qiang tribal skirmishers defend their watchtower against Alexander’s Thracian skirmishers. Tribal skirmishers by Newline Designs, Thracians by Foundry.
The area is primarily dusty and arid with some hills and cultivation along the river which runs along the eastern flank. This is only able to be crossed at the crossing point (bridge). Other notable features are a walled outpost near the bridge and a temple on the western flank. Other features such as hills can be added to suit.
The armies consist of an Alexandrian army of Later Conquest and a Chinese Early Warring States army (note that they can incorporate features from a Zhou Dynasty army and a Warring States army). This is representing both the timing of the conquest and the state of Chu being relatively backward in military developments.
ABOVE: Battle of the River Dan 320 BC
The Chinese player deploys their entire army in three divisions within a deployment zone 12” in from the northern table edge. A small detached force of tribal auxiliaries can be deployed within 6” of the outpost and within it.
The Alexandrian army of Later Conquest is in line of march and follows the rules for WAB main rulebook (1.5) for scenario 2 – Meeting Engagement. requiring it to make a list of the units in marching order. The Alexandrian player nominates a 12” wide entry point on the southern table edge and their army will come on unit by unit from here during the movement phase.
The players elect to play for an agreed number of turns or, alternatively until one army breaks or concedes (and lives to fight another day!).
WHO GOES FIRST?
The Alexandrian player goes first by moving his army his army onto the board.
Unless one player concedes beforehand, the winner is the player who has accumulated the most victory points at the end of the game in accordance with the main WAB rulebook.
Instead of Victory Points for table quarters, these are allocated for objectives as follows:
- River crossing in possession of either Alexander’s or Chinese forces at the end of the game: 300 VP
- Alexander exits first unit off the northern side of the board: 200 VPs
- Alexander’s forces capture the Shang Temple: 100 VPs
Wild card: + 100 VPs (the Alexandrian player secretly allocates this to one of the objectives and is revealed at the end of the game).
ABOVE: Chu local troops of the Yue clan battle against a stampeding war elephant. Shang Dynasty nobles and Early Chinese levy by Curteys Miniatures
The Outpost. Rules for this will follow the type of model the players have. Ideally this should be a fairly substantial settlement enclosed by a wall however it shouldn’t be so formidable that it requires a full scale siege and escalade. As a house rule, units in phalanx may not assault this (this encourages the Alexandrian player
to use his other units to deal with it!).
MODELS FOR THE PERIOD
Macedonian and Macedonian Successor armies have long been a popular choice for figure manufacturers with many long established manufacturers having extensive ranges. For the Salute game, pikemen from Wargames Foundry, Crusader, and Polemarch figures were mixed in for variety. Other manufacturers’ such as Newline Designs, Curteys and Old Glory have large ranges which would also fit the bill. Wargames Foundry have an extensive range of figures in their World of the Greeks covering Companion cavalry and light troops including Thracian infantry for some colour. For those wishing to game on a budget Victrix and Warlord Games provide plastic kits which provide a cheap way of building an army on mass.
In recent years Polemarch figures have stepped up to fill the gaps in the market by supplying figures to cover the more specialised options for the Successor period including heavy cavalry with chamfrons and half barding, which we have chosen to use to model Persian cavalry in Macedonian service. Finally, Aventine Miniatures have an extensive range covering many options.
For the game we have assumed that Alexander’s forces would have been supplemented by Indian allies and auxiliaries and for these there is an extensive range offered by Curteys Miniatures. At the time of writing; Watchful Studios – a new contender – has promised a dedicated range of Mauryan Empire. By far the best resource for all things related to Macedonian is the website ancientbattles. com which contains detailed reviews and plenty of useful information.
For the Chinese forces there are several ranges employed. The main port of call are Curteys Miniatures Warring States and Early Chinese ranges. These include light and heavy chariots, cavalry and infantry as well as tribal warriors and skirmishers. For variety these are supplemented with tribal skirmishers from the Curteys Song Dynasty, Yi skirmishers (based on the Angus McBride illustration in the Osprey Chinese Armies book) from Amazon Miniatures, and nomad cavalry from Essex Miniatures.
Colourful flags are a trademark of Chinese armies and Little Big Man (LBM Studios) do a range that features specific states such as Chu as well some less specific one. These are excellent and are based on actual designs from the period. Handmade flags can be made from paper or by using self adhesive printer labels. Searches of Chinese history or art websites can yield likely designs.
For our game we used a range of Chinese buildings from Monolith Designs, Village Green (now defunct) and an artisan Qiang watchtower constructed by Oshiro. More recent Far Eastern ranges are available – Curteys and Sarissa Precision, for example, make some.
Alexander: conquest fulfilled will be presented at Salute 2019 at Excel on Saturday 6th April. Come and see the game in action at GF17. For more details on the WAB revival and the game check out the Warhammer Ancient Battles Facebook page.
This article originally appeared in issue 432 of Miniature Wargames. You can pick up your issue of the magazine here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.