Monday, 28 May 2012
Size of an Elephant! Random Thoughts on the Elephant in Wargames
Ever since reading Terry Wise account of his Carthaginian v Romans clash "The Battle of the Po" (a thrillingly Old School affair in which Airfix redskins are deployed as Numidians) in his Introduction to Battle Gaming (1969) I have experienced a, frankly, juvenile excitement about the prospect of deploying elephants on the tabletop.
In wargaming, I think it is fair to say, the elephant is just about the only thing that is capable of doing more damage to its own side than to the enemy (Insert your own joke about the commanding officers here). This capacity for uncontrolled mayhem is, naturally enough, the wargame elephant's greatest appeal.
In Terry's battle, the pachyderms - six Britains baby elephants with cardboard howdahs - were formidable indeed, destroying "all infantry in a line two inches directly in front of them" and requiring consecutive sixes from opponents to kill (the howdah occupants are more easily dealt with). Looking at Terry's account of the battle again, however, I was suprised to find no rules that gave the elephants the opportunity to run amok. Once all the pachyderm's crewmen were killed he appears simply to have subsided with a weary sigh, like a well excercised dog in front of an wood fire.
Luckily this suprisingly dull approach from one of the Sixties pioneers is more than made up for by the radically different attitude of another two, Don Featherstone and Tony Bath. In the ancient rules provided in The Don's War Games (1962) the pachyderm is delightfully capricious, requiring no more than a good shouting at to go into full stampede mode (when approaching infantry three ranks deep and D6 throw of 1,2,3 cause Jumbo to swerve, with a directional dice score of 6 sending him racing back towards his own lines, trumpeting and flailing his trunk). In the Battle of Trimsos, played with Bath's 30mm flats, three elephants are deployed on the Hykranian side. The first is killed almost immediately by a stone thrown by a war engine. The other two successfully charge through a unit of Hyperborean infantry, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake, but then when faced with a second infantry unit one shears off to the side and drops off the table edge. The other carries gamely on, smashing through a further Hyperborean infantry formation before a crushing blow on the head from a well-aimed missile from a war engine brings him to a juddering halt.
In Practical Wargaming (1974) Charles Wesencraft - who deploys Minifig S range and Garrison 20mm figures in his armies - divides elephants into light and heavy, summarising the former as "Usually fairly obedient, they have a tendency to go berserk...". The later meanwhile "do no not go berserk so easily as light elephants but when they do disaster can follow". Wesencraft gives the mahout the opportunity to kill his rampaging elephant before it does any damage (throwing 3,4,5,6 on a D6) but after that hilarity ensues.
While I can't say that I have read around the subjective exhaustively it appears to me that there is actually little in the way of substantial evidence to support the "mad stampeding elephant" idea (though, of course, it happens quite often in Tarzan films). It is true that at Xama Hannibal's elephants were confused by loud noise and ran away, but as a counterweight Porus' elephants at the Hydaspes seem to have fought gallantly and to the bitter end without trampling their own side. On balance Terry Wise may have taken the correct approach with his sensible slumping pachyderms. However, for historic wargaming reasons - and because it's vastly more entertaining - I follow the Featherstone-Bath-Wesencraft line.
Posted by camsell59 at 03:21