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.

Saturday 14 March 2020

Polemos SPQR: Gallic War Battle 1

For various reasons my initial stab at doing my refight of the Gallic War hasn't gone particularly well and I am about to re-boot it.  This isn't a problem, it has happened with all my more ambitious campaigns and I have come to see it as almost inevitable.  I will speak to the details of this in a different post but I did get round to fighting a few battles first...

Gallic War - Battle One:
The campaign more or less automatically generates this scenario, since it seems so optimal for the Roman player.  The Roman player is poised in the set-up for an attack on the Helvetii so that is what Caesar did.  Using the terrain generator in the Polemos: SPQR rules, which to be honest need to be expanded for this campaign, I did generate some high ground and some farmland for the Celts to defend although it didn't exactly scream out "Switzerland" to me...

There are various combinations that Caesar can use in his invasion. My campaign Caesar picked one of the slightly more risky strategies, using a total of four legions in two groups of two against three contingents worth of Celt warriors.

The Forces:

9 bases of Trained Legionaries (Armoured)
2 bases of Trained Light Horse
3 bases of Trained Cavalry

10 bases of Raw Warriors
2 bases of Raw Javelinmen skirmishers
4 bases of Trained/Elite Cavalry

I was still slightly feeling my way with these classifications.  The base boardgame for the campaign has the Romans as distinctly more effective unit-for-unit, but reflecting that was still a work in progress at this stage.

The Set-Up:

The Helvetii are set-up in two contingents: one is on the hill...

...the other defending a small settlement and surrounding farmland

A closer look.  Foot warriors defend the edge of the settlement boundary, with some mounted nobility and skirmishing youths supporting

With a further group of warriors holding the Gallic right flank (top-left)

A wider view; the two legions of the Romans (bottom) face three Gallic contingents (top-left, top-centre, right)
The Battle:
Quite predictably, the Roman left advances, hoping to engage and turn the Gallic right which is "hanging on the air"

The Gauls advance to meet the oncoming legionaries

A wider view of the advance

The bodies clash; both sides slightly overlap the other's right wings...

The Gallic skirmishers unfortunately for them having been caught and crushed between the main bodies, the fight develops across the line...

The legionaries have rather the better of the clash, with a quarter of the Gauls already casualties or fled...the Gallic cavalrymen on the flank (left) are doing rather better however...

Continued pressure is pushing the Gallic foot warriors back down the road...

More Gallic warriors flee (top) and the situation is looking grim for the remainder (centre, noting the shaken marker)

With the Helvetii's attention focused on the plain, the contingent on the hill doesn't move...

The last Gallic warriors are grimly holding out against the advancing Legion: the end cannot be far off...

However, the flanking legionary cohort (bottom-left) is starting to disintegrate...(note the shaken markers)

....and breaks!  The last of the Gallic foot warriors on this flank has just broken too, however (top-right)

The wider position of the Roman Left and Centre: apart from the isolated success of the Gallic cavalry, the Romans are in a good position: the legionaries are in a position (centre) to attack the enclosures (top-right) from an undefended flank

Another Gallic cavalry charge goes on, achieving some success...

As does a further charge, putting pressure on the Roman cavalry guarding the Roman Right flank...
At this point, my phone started playing up, so no pictures of the endgame, but basically the Romans were able to defeat the Helvetii around the enclosure before the Helvetii cracked the Roman right, so victory to the Romans...

Game Notes: The game worked as a narrative, producing an interesting and plausible encounter.  It was less good as a gameplay experience: it had been a while since I had played Polemos SPQR and it showed a bit, not so much in me forgetting the basic mechanisms but more in forgetting my own or the author's clarifications of a few points.  I asked a few questions and the author's answers are here.

I believe that ultimately the Polemos family of rules are a development of the DBx system, with an initiative system added and more nuanced, but also more complicated, point activation and modified opposed dice combat systems.  The key question for a Polemos ruleset to earn its keep for me is does the overhead in complexity justify itself.  In the case of Polemos: SPQR, the answer, again for me, is yes: the rules serve to make commanding a Roman legionary army a different experience to commanding a Gallic army which is much less the case with DBA, for instance.  The way this works is for, very broadly speaking, Roman manoeuvre to cost less activation points than Gallic manoeuvre.  The Roman general can therefore do slightly fancier stuff, whereas the Gallic leader has to broadly point his contingents and let them go.  Wide-frontage Gallic contingents are difficult/impossible to get going and are more combat effective if deep, so there is also an interesting deployment dilemma for both sides: how narrow can each side afford to go?  Experience has shown me that the best deployment for Gallic foot warriors is three ranks wide and four deep: if that lot get going, it is very hard for the Roman centre to resist it.  Conversely, the best Roman deployment is two-wider and the same depth as the Gauls, to get some outflanking bonuses but not lose out in depth.  However, both of those are very hard to acheive in practice with limited troop numbers...which is why it is interesting!

Figures and building from Baccus 6mm.


  1. A nice looking game and interesting to read your post game comments. I've gone down the route of significantly reducing the varied rules I play, to make it easier to remember them when I do get to game. This allows me to concentrate on the game, rather than the rulebook.

    1. I very much sympathize with this idea. But for me it is a tricky compromise since there are no rulesets I have that I am completely happy with; at least, not that come immediately to mind. So if I don't try out new rules then I may miss out on better rules; but as you say, the more new rules I try, the more that impacts on the gaming experience.