Friday Night Book of War

Here's a Book of War game from a few weeks ago, when my girlfriend decided to try using the option of war elephants with archers mounted on the back:

Start -- Basic Rules; 300 points; War elephant option. At top in red, opposition has selected crossbows, 3 figures of war elephants with archers, and medium infantry. At bottom in blue, I've chosen medium infantry, regular archers, and two groups of horse archers. I've batched my infantry & archers into two big units in the hopes of surviving morale checks; except that I placed a small unit of 3 infantry as a feint/delay tactic near my right side. Terrain are 2 areas of woods surrounding a hill in the center of the board. Red has set up first and will take the first turn.

Turn 2A -- On the first turn, opponent moved full, while I moved full on either flank (note horse archers galloping into enemy rear in top-right), and moderate half-moves in the center (no shooting because the hill crest was blocking us). Now, opposition has come through the woods, taken the top of the hill, and makes the first missile attacks of the game. Each of my lower units have lost some figures, but my horse archers there have routed. This sucks; they'll flee off the table in the next turn. (As we've seen, getting the first attack in BOW is highly desirable.)

Turn 2B -- Now I move forward and make my counterattacks. I'm trying to clear out all the supporting crossbows before taking on the elephants in the center. This goes well; infantry attack on the left, archers, in the center, and horse archers also get attacks around the woods to the rear; crossbows take heavy hits and they're all routed. I've also sent my small unit of infantry into combat in the woods on the right, and this will delay the enemy infantry there for a turn or two. Already, things look much better for me.

Turn 3 -- Well, this sucks. While enemy crossbows flee to the rear, elephant-back bowmen on the hill have shot at my archers, killing 4 figures, and the unit has now routed. Also, on the right, her infantry are finishing off my small unit there.

Turn 4 -- My big infantry continued into the woods, getting more hits on the retreating crossbows there before they could get away; also, there was another fleeing crossbow unit that got shot down by my waiting horse archers. Opponent has turned her forces around, and elephant archers have scored one hit on my horsemen. But, luck smiles on me -- my archers have managed to un-rout just before they escape from the table (scoring exactly the minimum requirement of 9 here) -- so now they'll get to turn around and harass the enemy from a direction she thought was secure.

Turn 5 -- What's happened here is that my horse archers ran into melee against fleeing crossbows at the edge of the woods, finishing them off; and my big infantry unit has done an about-face and started to wheel out of the woods (planning to charge up the hill en masse and catch the elephants on rough terrain). Before I can complete this, on opponent's turn, the elephants get just 1 figure of attacks (4 dice), because the other figures are blocked by the top-crest of the hill, and scores of 5+ are needed to hit my medium infantry in chain mail. But most grievously, all of those dice have come up 5 or 6, killing 4 of my figures, and then I've also lost the morale check. Even 1 pip higher would have succeeded; but now my whole infantry force is going to turn tail and run off the side of the board. Dammit!

Turn 8 -- Three rounds go by, and the elephants have shot at my retreating infantry to make sure they don't come back. Meanwhile, my horse archers have come forward through the woods, shooting at the elephants as they ride by (as long as they keep the target to their left-hand side, they can shoot even 180 degrees to the rear in the middle of their move). Foot archers are firing everything at the elephants in an attempt to degrade them. Here, with some good rolls, I manage to take out one of the elephant figures. Huzzah! But, with the elephants' high hit dice, that's not enough to force a morale check, and the opponent's infantry has maneuvered into position on the hill for an attack.

Turn 9 -- Opponent tried to position her infantry near the edge of the hill, out of my archers' range, but close enough to charge in the next turn. Unfortunately for her, she's miscalculated, and my archers have opted to shoot at them, with devastating results. In that infantry unit, 7 of the 8 figures have just died -- and yet they've heroically succeeded at the morale check, and on the next turn will in fact charge my archers, preventing them from firing in the next turn as they are forced to melee the lone infantry (much like how I used my rogue infantry unit back in Turn 2B). And on the next turn I actually make the same mistake, getting my horse archers too close to the elephants, after which they also get shot down. (Lesson: Trying to be fiddly and overly clever in Book of War rarely pays off.) This leaves the elephants against my foot archers.

Turn 12 -- The End. Once the elephants finish off my horse archers, they turn to my footmen with devastating results. Here, my archers are fleeing off the board -- but opponent is not letting them rest, as inflicting further hits prohibits any attempt at un-routing (a lesson she's taken to heart from Turn 4). Victory for the opponent! The war elephants have won the day.

Postscript -- We like to call this game "Killing Me Softly with Her Elephants". Turn 5 was probably the pivotal moment in this game, in which I suffered hits on every single enemy attack die, and then had my largest unit miss morale by 1 point.

One thing I did not do in advance of this game was check simulated unit matchups against elephants before selecting my army, and as it turns out -- horse archers are actually the very worst unit you can field against elephant archers. So recommendation is not to repeat that if you think you might be facing off against war elephants (even though my horse archers did a fair job in the rear of the enemy position against already-damaged crossbows). Our consensus is that the elephant archers played out a lot like tanks here -- big, hard to put down, and with a fairly crushing ranged attack. But maybe if I'd been smarter with my army selection, and a bit more dice luck, things could have turned out differently.

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