Battle of Deehash
The first game of the Bathelas imagi-nations campaign featured the outnumbered forces of Byzarbia, hastily rushed to the Si'idnell Pass in the far northeast of the country, sandwiched between the Tenzhon Depression and the Sudur Afa hills, facing their belligerent neighbours from Tartanos, arriving from the east.

Determined to resist the incursion by the massed Celtic forces of Tartanos with their exiled Byzarbian overlords, the Byzarbian force, consisting only of some mixed infantry, a lone regiment of light horse archers and a couple of elephants rushed from the coastal city of Zabir, formed a line in the flat area between the hills and the below-sea-level depression astride the little village with its well, took a deep breath as the deep enemy formations took the field and vowed, "In Ava's name, they shall not pass!"

In game terms, we were using the Warhammer Ancients Battles rules, version 1.5. The army lists required a bit of fudging – these are, after all, imagi-nations – with the Byzarbian force currently resembling Early Abbasid Cailphate Arabs and allies, and Phil Sidnell's Tartanos mob being primarily Celtic, with a few Arab infantry thrown in. Byzarbia's troops came to roughly 1,400 points based on those lists, whilst Tartanos topped the scales at just a shade over 2,000 points.

Note that the points totals are just a guide. because this is a campaign, we expect many, if not most actions to be fought between widely divergent forces in terms of numbers and styles, both geographically and historically, though vaguely Roman and suspiciously Greek or Macedonian seem to be popular choices!

The battle was tremendous, with the Tartanos warbands and chariots advancing rapidly at the outset. In response, the Byzarbian archers sent volleys of arrows into the swift-moving enemy ranks, and the light cavalry surged and retreated on the right flank like a lapping tide, loosing Parthian shots towards the foe as they turned. As the chariots, with the Tartanos general Airfix of the Long Arms aboard, approached the village, the Byzarbian general Kirik el Douglass realised that his forces would be overwhelmed unless he took prompt action. Archery alone would not be enough to stop the screaming, wode-smothered barbarians. And so, just as the enemy was thinking the moment was right to unleash a chariot charge, the horn sounded and the general himself, together with the two elephants and crews, hurled themselves towards the vehicles and their astonished crews.

One little advantage the Byzarbians had was that their forces are familiar with elephants, working around them and fighting alongside them regularly, whereas their Celtic foes quailed in their boots at the sight of these enormous, bellowing creatures thundering towards them. Tests were made amongst nearby units and sure enough, several decided not to stay and face the mighty beassts and turned tail.

As for the chariots, the impact was dreadful as lovingly-crafted carriages were splintered underfoot, their crews tossed into the air and crushed flat by the raging elephants. General Airfix, a mighty and skilled warrior indeed, issue a challenge to Kiriki el Douglass, which was accepted and the two men traded blows, one on horseback, the other aboard his chariot. Honours were even as blade met blade, but with his fellow charioteers slain around him, Airfix's sense of self-preservation kicked in and he turned and fled from the scene.

With the scent of victory in their nostrils, however, Kirik and the elephants sensed a key moment had arrived to split the enemy army in two. With ever more foes needing to test their morale, now not just because of the elephants but also because they were witnessing their friends in full flight, the Byzarbian leader shouted "follow me!" and a headlong pursuit began, which resulted in one of the elephants thundering ahead and crashing into a huge Tartanos warband that had been supporting the now-demolished chariots, just as their general shoved his way rearward through their ranks in his panic.

As this was going on, Tartanos continued its advance on the right flank towards the village, with a unit of naked fanatics – one dreads to imagine the sunburn, rushing into combat with the Byzarbian combined spears and archers, despite withering losses to archery, an entire rank eventually being felled. But the left flank was busy as it approached the grove of date palms and rough ground, deciding amongst themselves who should be the first to rout off the table as panic spread due to both elephants and fellow fleeing troops. At least three units decided that the slippery slopes down into the depression were preferable to chancing their luck against Byzarbia!

But now, the forces of Tartanos showed their tactical nous and, with general Airfix managing to calm his nerves and return to the fray, the warband beside him managed to hold its own against the pursuing elephant. This was coupled by a clever manoeuvre by their neighbouring warband which, with curses and shuffling, managed to swing around and attack the elephant in the flank, peppering it with javelins and spearpoints in a fierce combat.

Poor Lynx the elephant (it's a long story...) decide that enough was enough, caught in the angle between two furious warbands intent on revenge, and he reared up, his crew hanging on for dear life, and set off on a stampede in a north-westerly direction towards the centre of the village. It happened so suddenly that poor Kirik el Douglass, who had been right beside the terrified beast, had no time to evade two tons of furious grey beast and was crushed to an unceremonious pulp.

Naturally, a ripple of shock ran through the Byzarbian ranks at the sight of this squishy demise, but with the bellowing encouragement of the army's standard bearer, Reeshard el Kalark, who galloped from unit to unit shouting obscenities about what he would do to any man who left his post, the line in front of the village steadied. However, the small unit of spearmen south of the village, sickened by what they had witnessed, decided to adopt a position a little farther back, and Quinn, the other elephant, frightened by the behaviour of its fellow, was led to the rear in gentle fashion by its crew.

With the line stabilised for the moment, the attempt by Tartanos to sweep up the hill to the north was further stymied by the arrival of a group of archers that had started the battle in the village, but their commander had soon realised that they would be better employed on the far left flank. These worthies added their fire to the archery of the main unit, and it was just enough to help whittle down the strength of the large Arabic unit and the skirmishers beside them.

The climax near the village came when, sensing the imminent charge of the naked fanatics, the Byzarbian colonel reformed his combined unit from a wide line into a dense column, thrusting spears at the front with archers behind. The crunch that ensued was terrible, and the raging Celts nearly smashed their way through, but after a furious encounter, honours were even – on a knife-edge, in fact.

It all came down to musicians.

Both the Celts and the Byzarbians had them, and these worthies were playing their hearts out to encourage their respective warriors. Each, therefore, was allocated a die.

The dice rolled.

Tartanos: 1.

Byzarbia: 4!

This tipped the balance, the melee was lost by the Celts – and they ran!

The once fanatical, bloodthirsty horde turned on their heels, and at the sight of this, the javelin-armed skirmishers and Arabic infantry in turn looked aghast at the sight, swivelled and took to their heels.

The sense of relief around Deehash was palpable. The Byzarbians, having begun the fight fearing it may have been their last, were delighted. the horns blew, the drums beat, and a pursuit was ordered to usher these enemies from the field.

This left general Airfix in a fix. He had just two relatively intact warbands remaining in the centre – even his much-vaunted Celtic Noble Cavalry had decided not to get their swords dirty today and became tourists in the Tenzhon Depression behind the others, forming a Queue of Shame on the paths to the desolate desert.

With units to either side heading home to Tartanos, he took the wisest decision he could, and ordered his remaining forces to fall back in good order. As evening fell, the Byzarbians, having lost their general and the small unit of spearmen despite Reeshard el Kalark personally promising to insert their thrusting spears to make giant kebabs in them, realised that pursuit was out of the question, other than the light horse archers continuing to make irritating feint charges and Parthian shots. The two elephants were eventually calmed and reunited in the city of Zabir.

That, then, is the account of the battle, a real corker and packed with nail-biting excitement as much as any game I have ever played. It was a learning curve for both Phil and me, since we were both returning to WAB after an extremely long interval, and it was only our second ever game. under such circumstances, gentlemanly conduct and patience counted for a lot as we took time to check and re-check the rules at every turn, making sure we have not omitted anything nor gained any unfair advantage. There were frequent cries of "oh no, I think I got that wrong!" answered with "just take them back and do it again, old boy" – a sign of two players determined to win or lose on the merits of their generalship, not taking advantage of the other's lack of experience with a particular ruleset.

I already thought Phil was a lovely chap – he's been my patient editor at Pen & Sword books for more than a decade now – and this experience confirmed my impression of him in spades.

Enjoy the photos!
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