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, 21 December 2017

Polemos SPQR: Battle of Mons Graupius I

And in the last in my current series of Romans vs Celts scenarios, it has to be Mons Graupius.  I had a look at the scenarios in Miniature Wargames 84:

It was a good edition of the magazine (the article "In Search of the Realistic Wargame" by Jason Monaghan was great, with a good ECW scenario and an interesting looking Cold War mini-campaign) but the article on Mons Graupius was the kind of historical overview article which was more interesting in the days before the Internet: it wasn't really a scenario, as such.  There was a much better article in MW97, which does give a full scenario:

The only minor criticism I would have about this scenario is that it advises having very large forces of model soldiers, which is great, but I wonder how many rulesets around in the 80s could have dealt with having 650+ Caledonian warriors on the table...

Anyway, I used the scenario from the Polemos SPQR rulebook, in the end:

The Forces:

The Romans:

General - Gnaeus Julius Agricola (Average, Steady)
7 bases of Legionaries (Trained, Armoured, Formed)
5 bases of Auxiliaries (Trained, Armoured)
2 bases of Cavalry (Veteran, Formed)
3 bases of Cavalry (Trained, Formed)
1 base of Artillery (Trained, Boltshooters)

The Caledonians:

Commander - Calgacus (Poor, Rash, Unformed)
3 bases of Chariots (Raw/Elite, Unformed)
3 bases of Light Horse (Raw, Unformed)
1 base of Tribal Foot (Trained, Unformed)
10 bases of Tribal Foot (Raw, Unformed)
3 bases of Skirmishers (Raw, Unformed)

The Battle:

The Romans look up the hill towards the Caledonians

A slightly closer view of the Caledonian forces

And the reverse - on the mountain with the Caledonians, looking down upon the Romans

A closer view of the Roman army

And a closer view of the Roman infantry - Auxiliaries front, Legionaries in the rear

And so it begins.  Both sides advance, and the Caledonian chariotry charges the Roman cavalry (right)

A closer view

Round one to the Romans!  One base of chariots is broken and flees, whilst the other remains locked in combat

The chariots on the other flank charge home and do some damage to the Roman cavalry

The fighting rages amongst the charioteers and horsemen on the flanks, whilst the Roman infantry plods forwards (centre)

And so it continues...

The second base of chariots is broken on the Caledonian left; however the other Roman cavalry has rallied from pursuit but is very disorganized

On the other flank though the Caledonian charioteers have reversed the outcome and instead have routed some of the veteran Roman cavalry!

The massed Caledonian warriors smash into the Roman auxiliary infantry, disordering some of them

The Caledonian chariots wildly pursue into the depth of the Roman position

Some effective javelin-throwing routs the disorganized Roman cavalry

The varying fortunes of war!  In the very centre, the Caledonian warriors have pushed the Romans back and back.  However, elsewhere the exact reverse is the case and the Romans have held on, then pushed forward

Both sides destroy the enemy in front; however overall this is of benefit to the Romans, as six bases of Tribal Foot are destroyed or routed

The wider view - note that the Roman cavalry (top-left) have managed to catch a group of skirmishers on foot

Caledonian morale collapses and the Romans win - just!
 Game Notes:
A tight run thing, but just going to the Romans - there wasn't much in it however.  A charge by a deep block of tribal foot is really difficult to stop in Polemos: SPQR - only the Romans superior training allowed them to prevail by enough to stop, push back and then break the attacking tribesmen.  It poses a difficult question: just how effective should the charge of tribal foot be?  And how important should armour be?  As a matter of fact, does anyone know on how many occasions Western European tribal foot swept away legionaries in the open?  Anyway, this is how the odds stack up:

Tribal Foot Attacking +3 vs Legionaries Defending -3
Charging into the Front +2
Unshaken unformed in 1st round of combat +1
Each additional rear rank of foot (up to 3) up to +3

The tribal foot will lose at most -1 to being overlapped and given even numbers that suggests they will get at least +1 for having the extra rank i.e. cancel out this advantage.  All this gives excellent odds that they will achieve a shaken result, which is the real lever into victory.  Only much superior Roman skill can mitigate this.

I do wonder about a couple of the modifiers in these rules.  For instance, being "Armoured" is mainly considered an advantage in charging - it isn't considered a bonus in actual close combat.  But the most prevalent armoured troops are Roman foot, who are considered rubbish at charging in these rules!  Similarly, I do wonder about giving Tribal Foot (for instance) a bonus in attacking whilst testing to charge, in close combat when attacking, plus the additional charging modifier.  I wonder if the same phenomenon is being rewarded 3 times with the overall result that it is much more effective in the game than in real life. 

Anyway, it is a superb little scenario this -highly recommended.  The game was very tense up to the end.  I did slightly mess up some of the rules to do with shaken bases and recoils, but I have cleared them by speaking to the author, David Heading, on the Polemos Yahoo! group.  I don't think anything I did wrong made a crucial difference here.  The reason for the mistakes were that some of the way shaken works is slightly different to other rules in the Polemos stable.

Figures by Baccus 6mm and Rapier miniatures.


  1. You are rattling off these BatReps at a pace faster than I can keep up! This is another interesting replay.

    Looking at your game photos, the photo will all of the red markers showing the Caledonians pushing the Roman center back while the Romans push the tribals back on the flanks provides a historical puzzle to me. Can you envision such an alignment on the ancient battlefield? Perhaps the combat ought to be resolved as one large fight rather than three individual match ups? Your thoughts?

  2. Yes, I am busy clearing up the backlog I built up when I was doing lots of gaming trying to complete the 10x10 challenge!

    I don't think I can envisage it quite as depicted, but I think that is part of game unreality. What I do envisage is a curved line where the Caledonians push forward in the middle but the Romans push ahead on the flanks - which is what is happening in the game, but the size and shape of the bases give a distorted image.

    In some ways resolving combats as one is tempting too mind. Or adopting the Neil Thomas approach which is to effectively fix everyone in position, assuming that forces might be driven back, but they aren't going to be driven back 40 - 80 -120m and still be fighting.