Battle for the Horn of Africa: A Field of Glory II AAR

Almost completely overlooked by historians is the conflict between the Arabs, Ethiopians and other peoples for the control of what is now called Yemen. Recently, G. W. Bowersock has written The Throne of Adulis: Red Sea Wars on the Eve of Islam explaining the politics and economics of the region. Field of Glory II‘s custom battle function allows us to use the book to construct a possible battle in the region around the First Century CE.

From Whole Cloth – Almost

The Horn of Africa was an end terminal of one of the branches of the Great Silk Road. As such, whoever controlled it could reap riches from trade and tariffs. The Nabatean Empire, based at its magnificent capital of Ragmu (modern Petra) controlled the area for almost four hundred year before being conquered by the Romans (like, who wasn’t) in the early first century CE. The Arabs, although not united, were always in the background and covetous of the trade and caravans. Thus, a clash between the Nabateans and some large, rich and united Arab tribes would be, although not yet documented, quite probable.

The many nations and other options for creating a custom battle are manifold.

The versatility of the builder even before the inevitable add-ons is impressive. Few developers would even know about the Nabateans not to mention including a thumbnail history of them.  If the description of the Arabs is briefer, chalk it up to the many fractious tribes. The key to the validity of the imagined battle is that the time spans of the two groups overlap.

The next step is clicking on the size of the army choosing from five steps from very small to very large. Since neither nation was all that, big, a medium sized army would be the best either could field. The eight scenario types range from open battle to escorting a baggage train. The next choice is between using a medium, wide or very wide map. Map types cover everything from the forests of norther Europe to the sunny Mediterranean climes down to the tropics of Africa. Naturally, this open battle will be fought in the desert. Advanced creation options allow setting time limits, force points and further map size adjustments.  Players can allow the computer to select the composition of their force but that wouldn’t be fun. Also, players may have tactics in mind that need specific troops.

The next screen has players picking unit types. As in the Battle Academy series, the choices are limited in number and the cost of the unit are in points. The Arabs have nine unit types, primarily mobile and light missile troops. The only infantry as such is poorly armed rabble (the game’s term, not mine) who have orders to disarm the enemy by impaling themselves on the foe’s spears. The army’s core will be the few armored cavalry and numerous camel formations. The bulk of the force is various missile troops: archers, slingers, javelins both mounted and dismounted. The map and terrain is suites for such mobile war. Even a medium sized army has many units so auto-deploy will set up initial positions and it does it quite well with light missile troops ahead of the main line and cavalry and camels on the flanks. Players can still adjust their forces by dragging them about during the deployment stage.

Choosing Arab units isn’t simple.

Field of Glory II’s two-screen custom battle builder is much simpler the original’s multi-screen system where generating an army, creating a map with many details and then joining them with some parameter could be bothersome. Battle Academy, the model for the newer game, isn’t as flexible as the process described above. Even Pike and Shot lacks the simplicity and flexibility of the newer function. Players who want more control over terrain can use the campaign editor which is similar to Pike and Shot.

Blood on the Sand

The battle is joined! The Nabatean army has similar troops but is deployed with the main line composed of archers supported by camels. This fight will have all the subtleness of a barroom brawl. The first turn sees the Arabs advance in line, a concept made easier by the “Move  Whole Command” option that allows several units to move at the same time. The Nabateans do the same and the two armies close to within five squares of each other. With the forces that close, only individual units can be moved. The Arab mounted archers trot to the maximum distance and loose arrows. First blood drawn! Some slingers and javelin men also get near enough to make hits. The rest of the Arab army moves up as far as possible.

The battle lines are drawn and begin to close for the clinch.

Both sides exchange close range arrow and javelin fire to no immediate effect other than minor troop strength losses. The Arab initial success on their left flank proves transitory as the Nabateans have staggered their advance in order to form a reserve. Both sides’ missile troops are surprisingly steady in melee so no advantage is gained by either army in the center.

Incessant missile fire gradually wears troops down on the flanks. The Arab advanced troops on the left are unsupported but, as in so many battles, this situation is mirrored  on the opposite flank. The Arab troops on the right manage to rout some Nabatean archers and the Arab veteran armored cavalry sweep all before them. However, the lack of a reserve prevents any effective follow-up. Meanwhile, commitment of reserves allows Nabatean to whittle down the Arab left. The center remains locked in melee.

A fallen camel portends disaster on the Arab left.

Both sides’ left flanks fold but the Arabs cannot quickly take advantage of their success, while the Nabateans pour mobile troops through the opening and get into their enemy’s rear. The Arab archers and javelin men become disrupted, fractured and finally routed. By turn ten, the Arab line is reduced to mere pockets of resistant and the game calls a halt after Arab losses hit 61% of their original force.

Creating a custom battle in Field of Glory II is so easy and almost as fun as playing the battle.  We can surely expect the large community of players to create a myriad of scenarios for us.

This article discusses a game developed and published by members of the Slitherine Group – for more information, please consult the About Us page.