Thursday, March 15, 2007

Designing Wargames on Ancient Battles

One of the upcoming games from FFG is WICKED NARROWS 9 A.D. Also known as the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, which occurred in September, in Germany.

After researching the battle I came to the conclusion that, at least with this battle, little is really known about it. The Roman historians usually cited wrote about the battle some 50 years later! No writer had actually been in the battle. In fact, it was not until the 1980's, that the battle location had been determined at Kalkreise, Germany. Specific details about the battle are not known, even the time is not known. We know that 20,000 Roman soldiers were destroyed by an equal amount of German Tribal soldiers who laid in ambush. We know how the ambush occurred.

There are two schools of thought about this battle:

1. The destruction occurred over a period of three days.
2. The battle last no longer than three hours, with the bulk of the killing occurring within 30 minutes.

Item 1 is supported by several Roman accounts, all very general, and most agree that some men escaped by the 3rd or 4th day. This seems logical, as 20,000 men is a lot of bodies to lose in a half hour.

Item 2 is mostly conjecture but based on what is known about ancient warfare. Most battles lasted no longer than 30 min. before the opposing sides withdrew and recovered for the next round. But losing 20,000 men in that time seems illogical with the weapons available at the time. If one states this amount was lost over three hours time, it seems far more plausible.

With item 1, how does anyone really know that the Roman historians simply did not rely on what was previously written, maybe the battle did not last three days--there were few survivors and none of the Roman historians were there.

Then there is the weather. Roman accounts chat about torrential rains hammering the legions and the forests. Many recent accounts write that the references to rain is incorrect and was used to "enhance" the dramatic battle--again, does anyone have a weather report for 9 A.D ??? As to the Forests, well, the Kalkreise area does have a forest, but the route of the Romans did not take them through them per se, so the battle did NOT happen in the forests, but on open terrain with a marsh on one side and a forested hill on the other. The Romans hated forests! It spooked them.

As a designer, I had to decide how to contend with these differences. I tend to think it lasted one day with the bulk of the killing occurring in the daylight hours on the 2nd day (when the Romans approached the "Narrows"). Over a period of 10 hours, it would not be hard to believe that 20,000 men could be killed. Many probably died slowly from wounds. Some probably did escape as Roman accounts declare, making it to safety on the third day. In game terms, the design focuses on the 2nd day.

In any case, that is why I usually stick with more recent events to design a wargame on--the informational is more reliable.


Seth Owen said...

Of course, the lack of information gives the designer a certain latitude. Who's to say you're wrong?

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