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.

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.


  1. Interesting thoughts at the end there - rules are designed around certain principles of what the author wants to achieve and I agree with all your points. Maybe Polemos SPQR may not have lost the design elegance in the process as the design principles have constrained how to achieve the outcome. And the design principles are inherited from the Polemos rules family. so what you may see as losing in design elegance, other see the elegance in the solution to achieve the outcomes. But then again, most rules are always loved by at least a few! It may well be that part of the reason the ones that are loved more than others comes down to the design elegance in achieving the outcomes/aim of the rules. Which does mean I am still agreeing with all your points!

  2. Yes, agreed Shaun. I think you are entirely right, although I wonder if what happens as well is that for some gamers, including myself, there is a parabolic curve of rules appreciation, increasing as we become more competent in the management of the game, then later decreasing as we become more and more aware of the faults. The faults may not actually be really big, but they become more obvious. But I am still thinking about your insightful comment, so more in a later post, perhaps.