Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Kadesh, a review

Kadesh: Mobile Warfare in the Ancient Middle East is a hex-and-counter wargame depicting the first battle in history we have any kind of substantial historical record for.

Fought between the Egyptians and Hittites in modern-day Syria, it occurred sometime between 1300 and 1275 B.C., (sources differ, the game asserts it was May 10, 1285 B.C.).

Unlike nearly all other ancient battles, Kadesh was not a line up and hack away formal fight. Instead it was a dramatic battle of maneuver, attack and counterattack. In part this was because of the large numbers of chariots present, and in part it was because the Egyptian army was organized into all-arms independently marching divisions, a concept not seen again for some 30 centuries.

In this case, it caused one part of Pharoah Ramses II's army to be routed in a surprise attack, but it also allowed him to rally his troops, based on another division, and use a third division to launch a counterattack that saved a battle that had seemed lost and turn it into something he could (and would) call a victory.

The game, which was the issue game in Command Magazine No. 7, covers the whole day's battle, at 100 yards per hex, 30 minutes per turn and 1,000 men per infantry unit. Chariot units represent 250 machines.

The 12-page rule book describes a game of low complexity by wargame standards. The Mark Simonitch map is attractive and functional. It shows an open and nearly featureless plain divided by several watercourses ranging from a dry streambed to a major river. Several roads converge on the fortress city of Kadesh, while two potential Egyptian campsites are shown.

The 168 counters are mostly combat units, with a few markers. Units have values for close combat, movement, morale and, in some cases, missile fire. All the counters are cleanly laid out. This was the first wargame to use full-color icons instead of silhouettes. The Egyptian troops are generally on light blue counters, except for a few allies with light or dark green or dark blue backgrounds. The native Hitittes are tan, vassal states in dark brown and Syrian allies in red. The different divisions are identified through shield colors.

The game turn uses a straightforward IGO-HUGO sequence with leadership, movement, combat and rally phases. Chariot units can use a form of overrun combat called "pass-through" against units in certain vulnerable postures such as marching. Units pass through four levels of effectiveness from ordered through shaken and disrupted to routed. Routed units are subject to "slaughter" if attacked and may be eliminated. In order to act at full effect, units need to be in command control, which is defined as a chain of units all connected to the division headquarters.

Those headquarters can only move if they pass an "initiative" roll. This is where the two armies differ, as most of the Egyptian units have high initiative, while only the Hittite Chariot Reserve does.

The game has a lot of variety after the initial onslaught of the Hittite Chariot Reserve against the marching P'Re division. After routing that force the Hittite is faced with two choices. He can follow the historic course of action and pursue the fugitives to the Egyptian camp in hopes of overrunning it before the defenses can be organized. This is likely to result in the historical result of the Chariot Reserve fighting alone against most of the Egyptian army as it arrives on the field. Or the Hittites can try to move their whole army into action. This may be feasible if Muwatallish, the Hittite king, comes out of his tent and takes an active role in the battle. (Historically he did little).

After recovering from the initial attack, Ramses likewise has some options, including trying to capture the fortress city of Kadesh.

Victory is based on losses, the capture of Kadesh and the camps.

The game is easily playable in one sitting and only takes about a quarter hour to set up. There is just one scenario.


(Yes) For Wargamers: An unusual ancient battle with some interesting choices.

(No) For Collectors: No remarkable collectibility.

(No) For Euro gamers: As a hex-and-counter wargames the game play is intricate and detailed.

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