Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life, featuring small skirmishes and big battles from many historical periods (and some in the mythic past or the far future too). The focus is on battle reports using a wide variety of rules, with the occasional rules review, book review and odd musing about the gaming and history. Most of the battles use 6mm-sized figures and vehicles, but occasionally 15mm and 28mm figures appear too.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Polemos SPQR: A Gallic Wars Ambush

Issue 91 of Miniature Wargames featured three scenarios for the Gallic Wars.  They weren't based upon real battles, but were more to give a (slightly tongue-in-cheek) flavor for the conflict:

I broke out Polemos:SPQR for this, since it is a while since I have played a game with it.  Part of the Polemos family, it is much closer to the ECW rules than the WSS and Napoleonic rules. 

The Scenario: A traditional standby of Romans vs Northern Europeans - the ambush in the woods.  A Roman column is escorting some wagons full of supplies/booty when it is ambushed by a large group of unhappy locals...The Romans are trying to fight off the attack and save the booty, the Gauls are trying to crush the Romans and recover the supplies.

Orders of Battle:

The Romans:

C-in-C: Maximus Vacillanus (Average)
6 bases of Legionaries (Veteran, Armoured)
2 bases of Skirmishers (Raw)
2 bases of Cavalry (Trained, Armoured)

The Gauls:

Warlord: Incompetix (Average)
9 bases of Warriors (Trained)
3 bases of Skirmishers (Raw)
3 bases of Cavalry (Veteran, 1 base is also Elite and Armoured) 

The Set-Up:

The Romans enter the woods behind a screen of skirmishers.  Gallic skirmishers meet them.

A view into the woods - Roman skirmishers approach from the left, Gallic skirmishers backed by warriors await them in the woods

The remainder of the Gallic Army wait outside the wood for the trap to be sprung

And the view from behind the position

 The Battle:

After a largely ineffectual skirmish exchange, the Gallic warriors push forward

The initial impact of the Gallic attack pushes the Roman legionaries backwards

The Roman Legionaries get a little support from some skirmishers

The Roman Legionaries have stooped the rot and are pushing back; tough Gallic warriors have the upper hand against the Roman skirmishers though

The wider position; the Gauls haven't gained the conclusive triumph they sought for in the woods, but their remaining foot warriors are moving around the woods

The Gallic warriors and the remaining legionaries advance towards each other

The Gallic Cavalry is riding forward to help

The Gallic infantry in the centre of the wood are beginning to be outfought and outmanoeuvred

The clash of sword, spear and shield; the red shaken marker indicating that here the Gauls are coming off worse

However one band of Gallic warriors is pushing on relentlessly towards the supply wagons

However another group of warriors has routed and the final group in the woods looks as if it is about to follow them

A closer-shot of the same

The last warriors are running, the Roman legionaries head towards the Gallic skirmishers behind

The Roman skirmishers are routed by the warriors careering through the forest

Shock of impact: the left-hand cohort is pushed back by the Gallic charge

Another shot

The Roman cohort is defeated and runs!  Luckily there is some Roman cavalry close by; the other Roman cohorts have withstood the initial assault and are now pushing the Gallic warriors back

The cavalry begin to move towards each other

The remaining Roman legionaries put their better equipment and greater experience to good use

Some quick action by the remaining Roman skirmishers works, flukily routing the Gallic warriors

The last Gallic foot warriors are defeated and in rout

Honours were even in the cavalry clash but as the remainder of the Gallic's army was in rout, the cavalry galloped for safety too.

Game Notes: I am currently trying Boardgamegeek's 10x10 Challenge, in which you commit to playing 10 games at least 10 times each during the course of a calendar year.  The idea is to really get to know the games one is playing, rather than a few plays of a cool game then move on.  The value of this was really brought home to me playing this game, since my lack of familiarity with the nuances of the rules allowed the Gallic ambush to misfire badly and the Romans to win (relatively) easily.  In these rules, the Gallic warriors need to be the ones to hit the Romans quickly before they have a chance to get their act together.  Skirmishing isn't very effective in Polemos:SPQR, possibly because it is a "shock"-based game rather than an "attrition"-based game.  One would expect skirmishing - the whole point of which is gradual attrition - to thus be more effective in other games.  As to which one reflects reality more...
In similar vein, although the tempo point system is easy enough, one does need a bit of familiarity to operate an army - particularly an irregular army - in the most efficient way.  Interestingly, this set breaks from other rules in the series and the DBx series in allowing continuous orders (i.e. once a group of bases is set in motion, they don't need additional tempo points to keep them moving).
Although these rules are different in many particulars to the ECW rules, there is enough in common to draw attention to some similarities - in particular, the increased use of "shaken" as a result of terrain, in addition to it being used as a combat modifier - feels a little clumsy, just as it does in the ECW games.  It is not that the mechanic is bad as such, just that for some reason the Polemos Napoleonics was more sparing in what deserved a combat modifier and what deserved a shaken penalty too; thus there is less stuff to "manage". 
The army morale mechanic is interesting, since it allows fluctuating morale; however, I find it a little fussy perhaps.  Armies are generally much harder than in say the Napoleonic rules: there, the sudden collapses are a definite possibility, this is much less likely in these games.
Anyway, an enjoyable enough game which should be easy enough to replicate for anyone with the basic Polemos army packs as an easy introduction scenario.

Figures from Baccus 6mm.


  1. This is great stuff! Reading the course of the battle was fascinating and easy to follow.

  2. Thanks very much Jonathan, more coming up soon.

  3. Polemos SPQR is a ruleset I got when it first came out but have never played. it does get favourable mentions from a number of people, even some that only played it a few times have told me I need to at least try them.

    I cannot remember too much on the rules but are there not supposed to be 20 bases per side? And if so, is there anything you had to change to allow for the differing number of bases, or did it not matter due to this particular scenario setup?

  4. Hi Shaun. No, the 20 bases-per-side thing is just what the sample armies are based around. The scenarios in the rules have a 19-base Roman Army against a 30-base Pontic Army (for Charonea) with variants for 27 vs 69 and 46 vs 144(!!!!); and pit an 18-base Roman Army against a 20-base Caledonian Army (for Mons Graupius), with variants for 31 vs 40 and 44 vs 80). The rules are based around elements of a similar size to DBA, but the author isn't averse to a bit of bath-tubbing. So, anyway, no, the rules are perfectly happy to deal with different numbers of bases on each side.