The Battle of Tingi

On August 24, 2009, in Games, by peterb

I don’t often write so-called “After Action Reports”. There are people who are big fans of this, who write in the voice of their characters, making long, multi-part sagas outlining the rise and fall of their empires. It’s just not my thing.

Today, however, I’m making it my thing, because I had a battle in a session of Rome: Total War last night that was so satisfying that it perfectly encapsulates what I like about the game.

Why We Don’t Live In Mauretania

A brief outline of the strategic situation before I get down to brass tacks. I’m playing as the Julii, one of the three initially playable Roman factions in the game, the other two being the Brutii and the Scipii. In the opening stages of the game I aggressively moved into Gallia Comata, reduced the Gauls to a band of disorganized tribes, and chased them halfway into Iberia.

Why We Don't Live In Mauretania

Our Sea, cira 225 BC.

Nominally allied with the Iberians, while in Iberia I seized Corduba and Carthago Nova from the Carthaginians. Pushing my luck, I sent a strike force across the Straits of Gibraltar to take the settlement of Tingi, in Mauretania, originally a Numidian outpost, but now held by Carthage. Tingi was lightly defended, so I took it with little difficulty. While this was risky, given that I might find myself fighting Gauls in the North and Carthage in the South, I decided it was a strategically safe move for a few reasons: first, the Carthaginian’s main front was fighting the Scipii in the East. Second, taking Tingi gave me complete control over the Straits of Gibraltar and thus supremacy by sea. Third, to reach Tingi by land required a long march through the desert. I had no intention of pushing east towards Cirta and Carthage, at least at this point, but holding Tingi seemed plausible. So I gave it a go.

In Rome: Total War in order to develop a settlement you need to keep a family member in it to serve as Governor, and who also serves as your military commander if attacked. I certainly wasn’t going to keep my best general, Decius, in this provincial backwater. Fortunately, I had the perfect candidate lined up: Manilius the Lewd.

I, Manilius

In Total War, family members accrue traits as they age. Decius, for example, is known by his troops as “Decius the Morose.” He’s a latter-day Tiberius, always depressed, a terrible speaker, who can lull troops to sleep before combat with his stuttering, clumsy orations. I actually heard him one time — I am not making this up — telling the troops “We are gathered here today to do battle. Regrettable isn’t it? I didn’t want to be here myself, but my mother told me that I better make a good show out of it. So here it goes.”

Young Manilius was a heavy drinker who, in an unwise moment, I put in charge of the newly-conquered city of Massilia. Presumably besotted by wine and drowning in an endless procession of golden-braided captured Gallic slaves, Manilius began developing a reputation for obscene behavior, for wine-bibbing and indecent behavior with Roman citizens’ wives (and, on occasion, with their sons). This problem only intensified when a few years later, for tax reasons, Massilia became our faction’s capital. Shipping him off to distant Tingi was the perfect solution. Even a bad Governor was better than no Governor at all, and being so distant from the capital, Tingi was practically doomed to being a financial drain anyway. At least he’d only be embarassing himself in front of some proto-Barbary Coast Barbarians, instead of in front of some Senator who might influence our family’s fortune. It was a win-win situation.

Manilius was duly installed in Tingi, with a few cohorts of experienced troops — mostly there in case we needed them in Corduba in a hurry. He had two units of velites, lightly armored, who hurled pilii (a sort of short, sharp, sling-thrown javelin). He also had two units of hastati, younger troops in armor who fought with pilii and sword. He had two additional Legionary cohorts. He also had a unit of equites, light cavalry, and his own personal heavy cavalry guard, who were mostly responsible for carrying him home safely after he threw up all over someone else’s toga.

For a while, everything was going swimmingly. The Gauls were conquered. We began a war against the Iberians, who had committed the terrible insult of serving us inferior Lusitanian hard cider instead of the superior Asturian cider. And that was when Hannibal and Hamilcar Barca began their seige of Tingi with two separate armies. My other armies were too far away to help; it was Manilius against the hordes of Carthage.

Madidus Fortuna Adiuvat

The Carthaginians outnumbered us around two to one. Manilius was not exactly Gaius Marius — he’s an average, or perhaps slightly worse than average, commander. Things were not looking up. I deployed my troops near the city’s front gate and hoped for the best.

As the battle began, I realized things were even worse than I had thought. The enemy had deployed fairly smartly, putting a battering ram at both the front and rear gates of the city. Surrounding each ram were several units of infantry, sling-throwers, and, unfortunately, spearmen, who would make short work of my cavalry. Even worse, in the distance was a troop of elephants.

Taking a deep breath, I marched all of my troops out of the front gate, cavalry leading the charge, straight at the infantry who was carrying the ram. Miraculously, we broke them (and their ram) in fairly short order. Pulling the cavalry back into the city, away from the dreaded spearmen, I sent them galloping across the city towards the rear gate, while my hastati cleaned up the now-routed ram-carryers, and then had them harry the spearmen. The rest of my troops I reformed inside the city gates, and marched towards the town square. The Carthaginian troops, realizing that this gate was lost, pulled back and began the long walk around the city to the rear gate.

Swinging the camera back to my cavalry I saw that holding the rear gate was impossible: the Carthaginian battering ram had shattered it open, and their troops began their invasion. I had saved us from a hammer-and-anvil attack, but at the cost of losing the gate more quickly. I pulled all my troops back to the town square in the middle of the city.

Rome: Total War has a game mechanic that, when I’m on the attack, I sort of hate: troops stationed inside the town square will never rout. This is even more annoying in Medieval 2: Total War where it feels like every siege eventually degenerates into “build a pile of corpses around the town’s central flagpole.” This siege marks the first time that I’ve had to rely on that game mechanic while on defense.

My two units of pilum-throwing velites surrounded the town’s central flagpole. As each enemy unit approached, they would sally forward and pepper them with spears to try to break up their formation a bit; velites will fall back by default when attacked, so this is reasonably safe if you’re fighting on one front. When the unit was in spitting distance, I would engage them with my legionaries (if the enemy was a unit of spearmen) or try to break them with a cavalry charge by the general (if they were anything else). My light cavalry roamed around the town’s back alleys, looking for units trying to flank us, of which there were a few. Fortunately for me, none of the flankers were spearmen. Most of the flankers were isolated, and easily broken.

The Carthaginians sent unit after unit straight at us, and we held the line. Their men would rout, run away, and then come back for more punishment. We were doing well.

Finally, tromping down the town’s main road, came the Carthaginian elephants. There were 5 of them. I had never fought elephants before. “How hard can they be?” I thought. “There are only 5 of them.”

Peppering them with pila, I braced my legionaries for impact. It did not help much: bodies literally flew into the air and the elephants seemed none the worse for wear. Had this happened out in the field, I have no doubt that every one of my units would have broken and run at that moment. Desperate, I threw both units of cavalry at the elephants. This didn’t actually hurt them, but scared them sufficiently to force a rout. As they retreated, we managed to kill one of the lumbering beasts.

The Carthaginians tried one more rally, but midway to the square, the elephants went mad, stampeding their own troops. Shocked and dismayed, the Carthaginians routed for the final time. In disbelief, I took stock of the situation. Against all odds, I had held Tingi, losing 50 men in so doing. Carthage had lost nearly 800.

That night, Manilius had a good drink, and I didn’t begrudge him it one bit.


4 Responses to “The Battle of Tingi”

  1. Andy P says:

    Inspirational. A great report, you really caught the essence of your campaign, it was like reading a real account of the actions of Caesar or Mark Antony. It’s why I love Total War and why I recommended it. You have to consider the strategic level (shatter the Gauls then seize Iberia), operational level (capture Tingi to master the Straits of Gibraltar while hopefully being safe from attack via the desert) and tactical level (fighting off a two-pronged attack one stage at a time) all at once, and each leads perfectly sensibly into the other. No other game manages it IMO; at best they treat each in isolation, but more typically one or two levels get ignored completely.

    It does sound like you need to build more watchtowers, though. A couple of watchtowers a couple of turns’ march into the Mauretanian desert could have spotted the oncoming Carthaginians in plenty of time to allow you to reinforce Tingi by sea. Spies are also excellent for this kind of thing.

    I still remember one of my generals from the first Medieval, though not his name I’m afraid (Henry something I think). My English had defeated the French but I’d overstretched myself in trying to hold onto the domains I’d conquered. The Almoravids invaded from Spain, leaving a small force of 500 English, fortunately led by Henry, an excellent and experienced general, to try to defend against 2000 of them. My English held the crest of a steep ridge flanked by cliffs, forcing the invaders to attack uphill, and bowfire weakened the first wave enough for my cavalry to charge downhill and drive them off, taking hundreds of prisoners. The second wave attacked but the casualties I’d taken meant there was no way I could withstand it. Reluctantly Henry ordered the prisoners to have their throats slit. This bloodbath unnerved the oncoming Almoravids so much that rather than fight such brutal murderers, they fled.

    I reinforced my army up to 800 men but Henry had already earned a reputation as the most bloodthirsty man in Europe. A year later, the Almoravids attacked again, this time with 3000 men. The same scenario unfolded, and after this second battle (which featured over fifteen hundred prisoners executed at once, which finally caused the third wave to flee) Henry became unhinged, awoken from his sleep every night by the ghostly screams of the dead, and seeing blood and gore everywhere he looked; he was a haunted man. Feared across the continent he may have been, but his mind was shattered and his generalship adversely affected. Feeling sorry for him, and now with better generals available, I recalled him to England, where I imagined him living out the rest of his days shivering constantly, with a thousand-yard stare, with his servants always making sure he wasn’t allowed near sharp objects. (The Almoravids never attacked again, though).

    Yes, I think it’s fair to say I love Total War.

  2. peterb says:

    The watchtower suggestion is a good idea. Gaul is already covered with watchtowers, so I didn’t have to build any, I just took over the existing ones, so it never occurred to me to build them in Mauritania myself. I guess I’ll read the manual tonight.

    Re: your Medieval campaign – I didn’t even know you could take prisoners!

  3. Andy P says:

    I don’t think you can take prisoners in Rome, but I’m pretty sure you can in both Medievals. Definitely the first, anyway.

    While looking at watchtowers, check out forts too. Less useful as they’re too easily avoided, but excellent to put near mountain passes or river crossings, to allow a smaller force to hold off a larger. (With even forces you’re better off offering a battle on even terms so forts are a waste of money, so you’re unlikely to end up doing the real-life Roman thing of fortifying your encampment at the end of every march).

    Oh, and yes – elephants – scary!

  4. Allen Pike says:

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