Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life; currently concentrating on a re-fight of the entire Peninsular War, but with the odd foray into ancient, medieval and WW2 battles.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Polemos SPQR: Battle of the Sambre

This scenario is taken from the version of the Battle of the Sambre from Phil Sabin's Lost Battles but using the Polemos SPQR rules - as suggested in the comments section on a recent post!  It helpfully limits all its scenarios to c.20 units, which makes them perfect for small-ish Polemos battles.  Obviously it makes a nonsense of the specified base:troop rations specified in the Polemos rules, but the designer thinks that shouldn't be much of an issue!  More of this later...

The Battle of the Sambre is a river crossing by advancing Gauls against light screening Roman forces, whilst the legionaries rush to reinforce.

Roman Forces:

Julius Caesar (Inspirational)
Labienus (Average)

1 base Skirmishers (Average)
2 bases Cavalry
11 bases Legionaries (Armoured, Veteran)
3 bases Legionaries (Armoured, Average)

The legionaries enter at a rate of 4 bases per turn, on every turn after the first.  Labienus may enter with any group of legionaries.

Gallic Forces:

Boduognatus (Average)
17 bases of Tribal Foot (Average)
2 bases of Cavalry (Average)

The Battle:

The view from behind the Belgae.

A view of the Roman skirmishers and cavalry facing them

Julius Caesar with his cavalry

The Belgae start their advance

The central mass of Belgae foot approach the stream

The Belgae begin to cross the stream...

However, the Legionaries are rushing to reinforce...

Caesar takes a calculated risk and leads a charge in person to throw the Belgae cavalry back over the stream

Roman cavalry on the other flank pushes some Belgae back into the stream

The main Roman forces approach

A group of Belgae foot charge and push back a legionary cohort...

The Roman legionaries charge down the hill and some of the tribal foot are routed - Caesar again in the thick of the action!

The Roman cavalry have pushed some of the tribal warriors back into the woods*

The bold Belgae succeed in routing one of the legionary cohorts...

As more and more legionaries arrive, the tide of battle in the centre appears to have swung towards Rome

The Roman legionaries have broken through between the groups of Belgae, some of whom who are now routing

More even here, but still the Legionaries are pushing forward; the Belgae morale collapsed at this point
Game Notes:
A good game, which showed some of Polemos SPQR's best and worst points.  Unlike in many games, the best formation isn't a line: non-drilled forces in particular need to be in blocks.  I actually used the exact deployment in this first game, so some of the forces weren't in particularly efficient arrangements - this really hampered the Belgae, as it stopped them launching a coordinated attack on the Romans, as it took a while to get everyone moving.  It also means that it is very undesirable to stop the bigger groups in case it takes a while to get them moving again.  The sum total of this is that, quite realistically, the tribal forces work better if the plan is simpler.

One slightly amusing part of the SPQR rules is that bases need to roll a D6 when crossing a stream and a '6' indicates that the base fails to cross: I have christened this the "crocodile test".  Anyway, the Belgae seemed particularly afflicted by the curse of the crocodiles in this one, which further delayed and disrupted the attack.  More seriously, a combination of the deployment and the crocodiles mean that the Legionaries hit the tribal foot whilst they were still working their way past the stream and up the hill.

I won't repeat previous comments about the relative merits of legionaries and Gallic warriors.  Instead, I will talk about the "swing effect" in the Polemos SPQR rules.  That +2 for charging, plus the fact that quite often troop types have an extra pip advantage when attacking, can add up to quite a bonus.  So although Caesar was taking a bit of a risk in leading his charge, it really was almost a certain thing, especially if the defending base is already shaken.  This is a massive, massive difference to Wargaming: An Introduction, where troop type is the major determinant of success and terrain makes a relatively marginal difference.  That charge swing also means that aggression is a prerequisite - and the legionaries are disadvantaged by being so rubbish at charging.  Unlike in other Polemos rules, there are no negative effects for not charging, but the opportunity cost for failure is quite high.

Instinctively, I am quite opposed to (radically) changing figure:man or base:man ratios, since I feel that centuries, cohorts, vexillations and legions did fight differently - combat is not fractal in that sense, even ignoring the range/ground scale issues.  That said, I tend to think of it is a lesser issue in ancient gaming than it would be in more recent times.  I'll look forward to seeing in detail how Lost Battles itself deals with the issue in future.  The scenarios all look great!

Otherwise, same comments as before - a good accurate with game with some fiddly bits in a couple of the mechanics. 

Figures by Baccus 6mm.

Wargaming: An Introduction - Gallic War Pre-Emptive Strike

A second go at this scenario, this time using Neil Thomas' Wargaming: An Introduction rules.

The Scenario:
See the blurb for the Polemos version of this game.  The only thing that needs to be taken into account is for the settlement/hill fort, since the W:AI rules don't include any rules for settlements or forts in this period.  I gave all bases inside a saving throw of 4-6 against missile fire, and counted troops defending the perimeter as wearing heavy armour.

I considered treating the settlement as a proxy wood, but that didn't seem quite right.  However, looking back, perhaps there is a justification for that.

The Orders of Battle:

The Romans:
4 units of Legionaries (Heavy Infantry, Heavy Armour, Elite)
1 unit of Light Infantry (Light Infantry, Light Armour, Javelins, Levy)
1 unit of Light Cavalry (Light Cavalry, Light Armour, Javelins, Average)
1 unit of Heavy Cavalry (Heavy Cavalry, Medium Armour, Average)
1 unit of Artillery

The Gauls:
Force One:
1 unit of Chieftain's Bodyguards (Warband, Light Armour, Elite)
2 units of Warriors (Warband, Light Armour, Average)
1 unit of Skirmishers (Light Infantry, Light Armour, Javelins, Levy)
1 unit of Noble Cavalry (Heavy Cavalry, Light Armour, Elite)

Force Two:
1 unit of Chieftain's Bodyguards (Warband, Light Armour, Elite)
2 units of Warriors (Warband, Light Armour, Levy)
1 unit of Skirmishers (Light Infantry, Light Armour, Javelins, Levy)
1 unit of Noble Cavalry (Heavy Cavalry, Light Armour, Elite)

Force Three:
3 units of Allied Warriors (Warband, Light Armour, Levy)
1 unit of Skirmishers (Light Infantry, Light Armour, Javelins, Levy)
1 unit of Allied Noble Cavalry (Heavy Cavalry, Light Armour, Average)

Adjust orders of battle and troop quality and armour ratings to taste...

The Battle:

The Romans coming out of the forest...

 And marching towards the settlement...

The light troops face off against each other.  The Numidians cause some casualties amongst the Gallic cavalry (top)

The Numidian horsemen continue their good work: half of the Gallic cavalry is out of action and they turn back towards the settlement; Gallic javelinmen try to delay the Roman advance...

The Gallic skirmishers are overmatched by Roman skirmishers and Numisian  horsemen, however

However, the first set of Gallic reinforcements arrives!

Just at the moment that the Gallic horsemen and javelinmen have been pushed back beyond the settlement and the legionaries begin their ascent of the slope.

The Romans make the final adjustments ready for the attack

However, the Roman general has had to detach some forces to hold off the Gallic reinforcements.

The Roman assault goes in, whilst the cavalry fight continues at the bottom of the slope.

Can a unit of legionaries stave off the tribesmen's advance?

The fight around the settlement continues; the Gallic warriors are holding on, even if they are taking the heavier casualties

A wider view, so the two distinct areas of action can be clearly seen - note that in the background (top) further Gallic reinforcements have arrived...

A closer view of the reinforcements

The armoured legionaries seem to be making short work of the Gallic tribesman and skirmishers, although the Roman cavalry (left) has taken heavy casualties

The grinding fight around the settlement: the Romans are winning, but are they winning quickly enough?

The Romans fighting the delaying action have been steadily worn down by superior numbers

The furiously fighting Gauls are still holding on to the walls...just! Roman casualties are starting to mount...

The Gallic defenders are beginning to crumble at last, but have they held on long enough?

The Roman delaying group has nearly been destroyed...

A wider shot: the Romans are nearly masters of the settlement, but the delaying detachment has nearly been destroyed and there is very little now to stop the final tranche of Gallic reinforcements

Only a few Gallic warriors are still fighting, in the bottom-right corner of the settlement

But the way is clear for the intervention of the final advance of the Gauls

Gaulish fighters start fighting the legionaries just outside the settlement as the the last Gallic warrior within the settlement falls...

The last Roman remnants on the plain are eliminated

The already exhausted Romans are too weak to fight effectively against the fresh Gaulish warriors and the Roman army is defeated!  The remnants will escape to the bottom-left...
Game Notes:
A good, fun game this one - a credit to the scenario designer, who obviously has a keen understanding of how to get force balances right in Gallic Wars scenarios!  The key difference with the Polemos version of the scenario was that this time all the Gauls turned up and turned up a bit sooner, so that in itself weighted the scenario differently.  On the other hand, Roman legionaries are straightforwardly superior troops in W:AI, whereas as I explained in my last AAR, in Polemos well-handled Tribal Foot have a good chance against the Romans.
I think that the rules for the settlement worked okay but I would really like to know more about how such attacks panned out in reality before picking a firmer solution.
In contrast to the Polemos rules, there are no command rules as such.  Neil Thomas is sceptical about such rules, and I think this game showed why.   The Polemos game was slower, since the commander had to spend more command effort organizing and rallying troops, rather than just moving troops from A to B.  But the logic of the game and the troop types always provides more of a framework for how the battle will play out.  So although the Polemos rules do feel more realistic, the broad strokes are captured even by the simpler rules; this leads us to the same question I asked in the previous blogpost - how much is the slightly greater accuracy in effect worth in heavier game mechanics.
I think perhaps a greater problem in the Neil Thomas rules is that, broadly speaking, troop types are twice, three times or four times more effective in combat than each other.  It is difficult for them to be, say, 20% better (not impossible, but you would have to know what you were doing in probability terms by adjustments to the armour and morale values).  I am looking forward to getting into Lost Battles next year, to see what it makes of the whole issue.

Figures by Baccus 6mm, buildings by Timecast.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Polemos SPQR: Gallic War Pre-Emptive Strike

This is another Romans vs Gauls scenario, again from Miniature Wargames 91:

This was the second scenario from a set of three.  The re-fights of the first scenario are here and here. The scenario in the magazine is essentially an attack on a Gallic hill-fort by the Romans with large Gallic reinforcements arriving to defeat the Romans.  The scenario calls for sending messengers out and then the reinforcements turning up after due delay.  I didn't think that the scenario was that realistic at this scale, so mentally I changed the scenario.  The local Roman commander has gained intelligence that the Gauls are planning to raise a large army to destroy the Romans in this region and has also discovered the location of the assembly point.  Hoping to destroy the forces already there before the other contingents, he sets out with his forces to destroy the fort before the other tribes turn up to concentrate.

The perimeter of the Hill Fort I counted as a Defence Value 2 obstacle, the interior is DV1.

The Gallic player brings to roll for the first set of reinforcements from turn 8 onwards, the second set from turn 13 onwards, in both cases needing a '0' on a D10 for the forces to arrive.

Orders of Battle:

The Romans:

C-in-C: Maximus Vacillanus (Average)
8 bases of Legionaries (Veteran, Armoured)
2 bases of Skirmishers (Raw)
2 bases of Cavalry (Trained, Armoured)
2 bases of Light Horse (Trained)
1 base of Artillery

The Gauls:

Force No.1 (around the hill fort)
Warlord: Incompetix (Average)
1 base of Tribal Foot (Veteran)
5 bases of Tribal Foot (Average)
2 bases of Skirmishers (Raw)
 2 bases of Cavalry (Veteran, 1 base is also Elite and Armoured)

Force No.2 (1st reinforcements)
Warlord (poor)
1 base of Tribal Foot (Veteran)
2 bases of Tribal Foot (Average)
3 bases of Tribal Foot (Raw)
2 bases of Skirmishers (Raw)
2 bases of Cavalry (Veteran)

Force No.3 (2nd reinforcements)
Warlord (poor)
1 base of Tribal Foot (Average)
5 bases of Tribal Foot (Raw)
2 bases of Skirmishers (Raw)
2 bases of Cavalry (Average)

The Game:

Incompetix' fort to the left; the Romans approach through a path in the woods towards the bottom right.

A slightly closer look

And closer again on the hill village

And a closer view of the Roman approach march.

The Romans have nearly finished passing through the woods and are beginning to form up ready for their assault; Incompetix has moved forwards his skirmishers and cavalry to harass and delay the Roman advance.

The view from behind the settlement as the Romans come into view

Having forced the Romans to deploy, the Gallic cavalry moves to challenge the Numidian light horsemen

Same position, but looking all along the troops

The Romans start to lumber forward once again

The Numidian horsemen's accurate javelins have halted the Gallic cavalry

The leading legionaries push back the Gallic javelinmen and reach the slopes of the hill

Some good timing sees the Gallic cavalry catch the Numidian horsemen!  Despite the disadvantage of the slope, the odds are with the Gauls..

And the first base of Numidians (left) duly breaks

Things are looking grim for the remainder of the Numidians too...

The Romans slightly held up by the Gallic youths, skirmishing

The Gallic cavalry finish putting the remainder of the Numidians to flight

A batch of Gallic reinforcements turns up!  Will they be in time to save the settlement?

A closer view of the reinforcing tribal infantry...

...and the cavalry...

The overall position: the Roman assault is just on the the brink of getting underway, but the Gallic reinforcements have arrived (top); the Gallic cavalry has gone off pursuing the routed Numidians (top-left); note that the Gallic skirmishers have started to be dispersed (bottom-left)

Crunch!! The Legionaries break into the settlement; the Roman cavalry has finished off the last Gallic skirmishers (top)

The Romans swing part of their line around to face the advancing Gallic reinforcements

The grinding battle in the hill-fort continues: some Romans are in, some Romans have been pushed out (bottom)

A couple more turns of hard fighting sees the Legionaries victorious however

And the Gauls are in full flight down the slopes!

Seen from the other side

Just as the settlement falls, the Gallic reinforcements are about to come into action

The line of Legionaries braced for the charge

The Gallic cavalry have returned from their pursuit and are about to rejoin the fray (left)

The Gallic cavalry charge sees Roman horsemen and skirmishers running!

The Gallic foot are trying to follow up the success of their cavalry (left)

The remaining Roman cavalry pull off a daring charge against the flank of the Tribal foot, with great success

Feeling that things are going against them slightly, the Gallic commander commits his horsemen to charge the legionaries

The Roman cavalry have routed another base of Tribal foot

The main melee is a to-and-fro affair

The Roman cavalry pursue off into the distance! (left)

The legionaries rout one base of Gallic cavalry, although the centre cohort has been routed in its turn

A closer view of the routing Romans; however, the overall casualties caused the Gallic Army to collapse at this point.  A close run-thing!
Game Notes:
A very good scenario this - both sides were in with a sniff of victory until the end.  Although I modified the "fluff" of the scenario, I didn't modify the actual mechanics of the scenario.  It was too bad for the Gauls that their other set of reinforcements didn't turn up!

The Polemos SPQR set gave a pretty good game.  I still do a few minor things wrong with this ruleset, although I think that I am getting to the bottom of it now.  Areas of error: some bits in how groups work and in how recoiling works.  The Gauls are a lot more fierce in this game than in Wargaming: An Introduction, I have noticed!  This is a function of how the charge rules work.  A Gaulish base has a slightly better than 50:50 chance of being able to charge its opponent successfully.  A successful charge brings with it a +2 modifier.  As attacking Gauls will normally be at a basic +1 against Legionaries anyway (same close combat modifier, but +1 for being "unshaken unformed" in the first phase of combat), this amounts to a hefty +3 modifier.  Going with par, that means that the Gauls will be following up the Romans (+1) and the Romans will be shaken (+1).  So it is very touch and go for the Romans whether they will manage to beat the Gauls off.  I make no comment about how realistic this is, but it does mean that the Romans have to be very careful...

I will go into this in detail in later posts, but during this game I had my second moment of basic insight into what my (slight) problem with Polemos SPQR is.  I asked myself what I wanted from this ruleset.  I know what I want from DBA - it says so in the introduction page: the simplest quickest game that still gives some of the flavour and decision-making involved in ancient and medieval gaming.  In my opinion, DBA does what it sets out to do very well, removing almost all marginality at the sacrifice of some flavour both in terms of the mechanics and in terms of army differences.  I know what I want from Neil Thomas' rules: the simplicity of an "old-school" wargame with much more streamlined mechanics and IMHO, it delivers this in spades, despite some missing mechanical detail and a slightly caricatured approach to the armies.  What I want from Polemos is to be like DBA, but with more of the period flavour and nuance.  I think it achieves this, but it loses too much of the design elegance in the process.  One basic way to look at this is to compare dice rolling.  In DBA, the player has to roll dice for basically two things:

1 - PIPs (i.e. Command Points)
2 - Combat

In Wargaming:An Introduction, the player has to roll for three things:
1 - Hitting in combat
2 - Saving rolls in combat
3 - Morale as a result of combat

In Polemos: SPQR, the player has to roll for:
1 - Tempo points (i.e. Command points)
2 - To charge the enemy
3 - Combat
4 - To rally individual bases
5 - To cross terrain (in some cases - more on this in some of the upcoming battle reports)
6 - Army morale

In addition, each of these elements is more complicated in SPQR than in the other two.  A morale test in W:AI is a single roll against one number which never changes - a rally test in SPQR is a modified opposed roll, which is modified both by circumstances (i.e. a table of factors and potentially by command effort).  Every shaken base has to roll to be rallied every turn.  There are also two types of shaken (one as a result of difficult terrain, the other from combat).   It is more complicated than its stable mate Polemos Napoleonics, because the latter effectively uses the tempo roll to provide the randomization for 2, 4 and 5 of the steps above rather than rolling for each of them individually.  Plus, its formation morale system is simpler too.

Now, I don't want to overplay this - I like and enjoy Polemos: SPQR and I think it does a better job than the other two in reflecting the reality of first century BC combat as I understand it.  But those improvements come at a noticeable cost.

Figures by Baccus 6mm, buildings by Timecast.