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, 27 October 2020

Gallic War Campaign Battle 5: Ariovistus at Bay

Ariovistus' position in late summer 57BC had become reasonably dire.  All of his attacks had failed and although the revolt of the Treveri in his favour had caused the Romans a bit of a shock, the Gaulish tribesmen failed to capitalize on their opportunity.  Caesar was then determined to capitalize on his opportunity, and quickly marching North-East with the troops he had to hand - a mixture of Veteran Legionaries and tribal warriors, he determined to crush Ariovistus whilst he and his battered warriors were resting in the territory of the Leuci (in modern Belgium)...luckily he had encamped near a strong position - a settlement protected by two large hills, with a stream in case of such an eventuality...

The Forces:

The Romans:

General: Julius Caesar (Inspiring, Steady)
X Legion: Marcus (Inspiring, Cautious), 6 bases Veteran Legionaries, 1 base Veteran Cavalry, 1 base Veteran Skirmishers
Roman Cavalry: Publius (Average, Steady), 4 bases Trained Cavalry
Mandubii (1): Biuito (Average, Rash), 1 base Trained/Elite Cavalry, 4 bases Raw Tribal Foot, 1 base Raw Skirmishers
Mandubii (2): Rigant (Poor, Steady), 1 base Trained/Elite Cavalry, 4 bases Raw Tribal Foot, 1 base Raw Skirmishers
Aedui (1): Durno (Poor, Steady), 1 base Trained/Elite Cavalry, 2 bases Raw Tribal Foot, 1 base Raw Skirmishers
Aedui (2): Mutinos (Poor, Rash), 1 base Trained/Elite Cavalry, 4 bases Raw Tribal Foot, 1 base Raw Skirmishers
The Germans:
Leader: Ariovistus (Inspiring, Steady)
Comitatus: 1 base Trained Cavalry, 1 base Trained Skirmishers
Germans (1): Adalgard (Average, Cautious) 1 base Trained Cavalry, 4 bases Trained Tribal Foot, 1 base Trained Skirmishers
Germans (2): Filibert (Average, Cautious) 1 base Trained Cavalry, 4 bases Trained Tribal Foot, 1 base Trained Skirmishers 
German Cavalry: Widald (Average, Rash) 4 bases Trained Cavalry 
Treveri: Casso (Average, Cautious) 1 base Trained/Elite Cavalry, 1 base Raw Skirmishers
Leuci: Carantos (Poor, Rash) 1 base Trained/Elite Cavalry, 2 bases Raw Tribal Foot, 1 base Raw Skirmishers

The Set-Up:

From behind the German positions:  The German cavalry are on the high ground to the bottom-right; whilst the German foot warriors are on the high ground to the left; their Gallic allies occupy the settlement and are in reserve (centre, bottom-left); skirmishers support the horsemen (centre) and the flanks of the German foot warriors (left)

And from behind the Roman positions: the X Legion and the Roman cavalry are on the left, the Gallic foot warriors are on the right, supported by their cavalry.  Skirmishers support each flank, as well as a contingent in the centre (near the trees)

A closer look at the massed Gallic warriors, ready to advance

The X Legion: will they advance or will they hold?

A view of the Roman left flank - Caesar is obviously leaving a tempting whole and an infantry flank slightly 'in the air' to tempt a German attack - will Ariovistus take the bait?

The local warriors defend the local settlement from the advancing Romans...

The Battle:

Feeling that advancing across a stream with formed troops against massed cavalry was unlikely to bring success, Caesar instead ordered an attack by the Gauls on his right; naturally the German foot warriors have counter-attacked!  The Germans push the Gauls back slightly, as their lead warriors fall...

The Gallic horsemen charge in their turn, catching the German warriors in the middle of the stream...

The impetus and ferocity of the Gallic charge carries their cavalry through the stream and onto the opposite bank

Ariovistus' attack looks to have miscarried, as the Gallic foot warriors, encouraged by the success of their mounted chieftains, renew their assault on the Germans and push them back!

A wider shot; the supporting Gallic cavalry (on the German side, top-left) have refused to charge!!!  The omens for Ariovistus again look poor...

Finally Casso gets his horsemen into motion and they charge home against the advancing Mandubii and Aedui, causing heavy losses in their front ranks...

This successful charge pushes back the Gallic foot warriors, and also inspires the German warriors to renew their own attack (Centre-right), pushing back their opponents: the Gauls have suffered heavily being pushed back across the stream

A wider shot of the stalled Gallic attack - although their horsemen have made some headway (top-right)

Slowly but surely, as their bravest warriors are killed, the Gauls are pushed back from the stream (and some of the less stout-hearted begin to run away...)

And the Gaulish foot warriors collapse under the onslaught of German foot warriors and opposed Gallic cavalry!

The position near the close of the battle - with the Gallo-Roman centre-right collapsed, the morale of Caesar's Army was too shaken to seriously continue the struggle.  Ariovistus was not inclined to press the pursuit too hard however, fearing that the powerful Gallo-Roman cavalry might yet turn his victory into defeat.

 Game Result:
A convincing victory for Ariovistus this time: he might well have felt that at last some justice has been done, since he did require some luck to hold on early on.  The losses fell most heavily on the tribal foot, with the noble cavalry, professional legionaries and young skirmishers on all sides barely losing a man!  But some c.6000 Gallic foot warriors were killed, wounded or ran away, as opposed to 'only' c.2000 Germans. Gaulish leaders Rigant and Mutinos were both killed during the battle, as was Filibert of the Germans.

Game Notes: 

It felt like quite an interesting battle this - probably since the forces were slightly unusual.  Ariovistus got lucky with the terrain rolls, which allowed him to construct a strong position without many obvious weak points.  Caesar's mistake was probably to disperse his Gallic cavalry into two small groups rather than one big one...but even then, that might not have sufficed, since Ariovistus could probably have covered this move.

Perhaps I wasn't in quite the right mood, since I found this battle interesting, generally enjoyable, but occasionally a little frustrating (I can usually tell the symptoms: it is when I start thinking during the game that I should stick to playing Neil Thomas' rules from now on...).  I think this was a rules issue, and I have spent a little time trying to express what it is.  It is to do, I think, with the complexity of the interactions possible in the Polemos: SPQR rules, regarding how individual bases and groups interact with each other, especially since those groups can contact each other at varying angles and with various depths of formation, with quite a wide variety of possible outcomes in terms of recoiling, breaking, following-up and pursuing.  There was definitely a good reason why DBx uses alignment rules, to make this kind of thing much simpler.  For instance, when the right-hand unit of Gallic foot warriors initially pushed back their German opposite numbers, who had attacked at c.35degree angle, which line should the Gallic warriors follow-up on?  Straight forward or in full base contact with the Germans?  How should their supports then act? It isn't necessarily that the rules for these things are bad - for instance, the recoil rule with rear supports is really good (i.e. if the support is unshaken, then beaten-up forward units can recoil through them, but not if the support is shaken) - but in some cases they are not too intuitive.  I think I need to devote a little time to refreshing my understanding of these kind of issues in the rules. But, all in all, pretty good.
I also need more command figures!!

Rules were Polemos: SPQR, figures and buildings by Baccus 6mm.


  1. That first photo provides a wonderful vista and really pulls you in to the rest of the AAR. As for rules, I suppose the important thing is whether the Polemos differentiates between the two types of army to your gaming satisfaction. Easy rules can sometimes be too generic to do that convincingly.

    1. Many thanks Norm. And you are right: Polemos SPQR really does differentiate well between the different types of armies (it differentiates in structure superbly, the calibration is not bad). As much as anything, and I probably didn't convey this quite right, it is making the rules for these sort of things stick in my head so I don't have to look them up, when there isn't necessarily an obviously intuitively correct answer.

  2. Yes, increasingly I am seeing a need to streamline my rule systems, so that I can concentrate on a few titles and get to know them better. The more complicated ones only have to be left alone for a few months before they start slipping from memory.

    1. We are thinking along much the same lines.

    2. I've been streamlining for a number of years for the self same reasons. Sometimes less is more! So these days I can focus on the game and not the rules, which makes a big difference.

    3. Yes, quite right. Although sometimes problems with rules only emerge after gaining that expertise!

  3. Entertaining report of a tight tussle. The Germans did well to avoid X Legio. Why did Caesar leave it all to his allies? Was it simply their cautious leader who held them back?
    Regards, James

    1. A good question. Basically it was because Ariovistus' cavalry was in a strong position to attack the Legionaries if they moved forwards, especially as the Legionaries would be disordered crossing the stream. Neither side was confident enough of victory on that flank, so the only thing that happened was some ineffectual skirmishing. When the shape of the battle became clear, Caesar had to decide whether to take the risky approach of trying to redeploy his left to help out the right - this might have worked, but might equally have exposed his far more valuable legionaries to defeat. In the end, this wasn't really worth it, since Gallic foot warriors are replaceable (and expendable) in a way that veteran legionaries are not.
      This leads on to why Caesar deployed the way he did...and that is worth a blog post in its own right.