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.

Sunday 10 January 2021

Gallic War Campaign Battle 8: Battle of the Arar

 Gallic War Campaign Battle 8: The Battle of the Arar

Situation: Caesar had become increasingly alarmed by the course of events in 55BC, although being absent in Rome, there was a long time delay between an event and his knowledge of it.  After a string of military and diplomatic reverses to his Gallic allies at the hands of Ariovistus, he ordered a two-pronged attack up the Rhone valley.  The left-hand column, consisting of the XI and XII Legions, was ordered into the area of the Aedui, in order to subdue the rebellious tribe which had left its previous alliance and joined the Germans.

The Forces:

The Romans:

Commander: Falco (Inspiring, Steady)
Sextus (Average, Steady), 2 bases of Trained Cavalry, 2 bases of Veteran Legionaries, 10 bases of Trained Legionaries, 2 bases of Trained Skirmishers, 2 bases of Artillery
The Gauls:
Commander: Cannatus (Average, Rash)
Tascos (Average, Cautious), 1 base of Veteran/Elite Cavalry, 1 base of Trained/Elite Cavalry, 1 base of Trained Tribal Foot, 7 bases of Raw Tribal Foot, 2 bases of Raw Skirmishers 

The Set-Up:

The initial set-up: the Romans are approaching from the South, with their two legions in the centre and their auxiliary light infantry and cavalry on each flank; the Gauls have divided their forces into three, a horde of tribal warriors on one hill (left), their noble cavalry on the other hill (right) and their youths in the centre to harass the legionaries.

The Gallic foot warriors atop one of the hills, led by Tascos.

The youths of the Aedui tribe, ready to delay the Romans in the centre.

The Gallic Cavalry, led by Cannatus in person.

Another view of the whole battlefield.

The Roman legions: XI Legion is on the right (i.e. left in the photo), XII Legion is on the left.

The Battle:
The battle begins with the Roman legions wheeling to face the direction of the threat on each hill; feeling that they must attack or be slowly overwhelmed, Tascos leads his warriors towards the Romans (top)

A wider view: the Gauls are rapidly approaching the Roman legionaries (centre) but the Roman cavalry detachment is preparing to charge in support of their foot brethren (bottom)

On the other flank, Cannatus rides at the head of his horsemen towards the Romans

However, seizing the initiative quite brilliantly, the Roman cavalry (just out of shot to the bottom right) begins to charge and some of the Gallic cavalry flinches! (centre)

The Roman cavalry do not hesitate and drive back their foes!

The Roman cavalry supporting XII Legion also charge home, although the Aedui foot warriors are slightly less intimidated.  The Roman charge does halt the Gallic advance here, however.

On the other flank, half of the Gallic cavalry is in rout up the hill; Cannatus, with frankly little other option, decides to press on.

The Gallic foot cannot charge whilst they are in contact with the Roman cavalry.

Cannatus leads his cavalry into the mass of the XI Legion: the leading cohort is driven back in disorder, but it takes its place behind its supports whilst it attempts to rally (centre-bottom)

The reserve cohort vigorously pushes back and the Gallic horsemen are forced to give ground (centre); Cannatus becomes a casualty in the melee.

The XII Legion makes contact with the Gallic foot warriors; meanwhile, the warriors on the Gallic right (left) are pushed back by the Roman horsemen.

The leading foot warriors fall, are put to the sword, or flee, Tascos amongst them; the Roman cavalry and legionaries push on remorselessly.

The Aedui are losing heart quickly, shaken by the efficiency and violence of the Roman attack

The collapse begins

Meanwhile, the Gallic cavalry is in full flight on the other flank (top-right)

 Game Result: A fairly convincing victory for the Romans: being more skilled, better equipped and more numerous, this was perhaps not surprising.  The Aedui lost around 2000 killed and wounded, with the same again captured, deserted or dispersed: Roman losses were quite trivial, with their cavalry losing around a hundred, the legionaries even less.

Game Notes: A fairly straightforward game, which turned on a couple of key moments.  The Roman deployment allowed their cavalry to intervene effectively, as long as they could seize the initiative at the right moment - which they did.  This blunted both Gallic attacks, robbing them of speed and impetus.  This meant that the shock of impact did not do enough damage to the legionaries to cause anything but the mildest problems.  The loss of the Aedui's leaders quite early didn't help either, and afterwards the tribal warriors were ground down.  The Gallic skirmishers were too weak to intervene effectively, which is typical of light infantry in this game - they are really only good for delaying advances and causing otherwise pointless tempo point expenditure.   Conversely, the spoiling attacks of the Roman cavalry were probably the most important bits of the battle.  Why was this so?

It is an emergent property of the 'groups' used by Polemos: SPQR.  It isn't really explained as such, but these are the key elements of the game, both for good and bad.  Unlike in DBx-games, these groups have to be constituted before the game.  Therefore the only way that bases can be voluntarily 'detached' is as single bases: the tempo point cost is prohibitive unless you really need to do this.  However, bases which are shaken also stop being part of the group until they are rallied back to normal.  This causes some interesting effects:

So looking closely at the tribal foot, one of the leading bases is shaken by the Roman cavalry (you can just see the shaken marker between the triangular-'advance' marker and the tribal foot base).  It is therefore 'not' part of the group at this point.

As it was halted, the group no longer has its 'advance' orders and because the base is shaken, the bases behind it cannot interpenetrate and therefore the remaining 7 bases, all of which are still in the group, cannot charge.  The only base that could charge would be the unshaken leading base, if it did so independently.  This would be so unlikely to succeed as to be not worth the bother.  There is also a hidden danger in using 'depth' rather than 'width' to stack combat bonuses in Polemos:SPQR, although tribal foot doesn't really have that much choice: 'shaken' units to the flank can provide support, 'shaken' units to the rear cannot.  Since one of the good mechanics of the game is that shaken units can be relieved by their rear supports, this comes up quite often. Thus, for tribal foot to win, they must successfully charge home - if a fight lasts for more than a couple of rounds, it is much more likely that the Romans will win it.

Everything I have written about groups above is directly taken from the rules.  It is however taken from mentions in many separate places.  This is one of the problems that makes the rules more confusing than they need to be, important concepts are widely separated and not treated holistically in the play examples.  Those examples are generally fine, but they needed to be much more in depth, I think, to truly make Polemos:SPQR a great ruleset.  With the exception of Polemos: Ruse de Guerre, which uses a much simpler system, the concepts of 'groups' and 'forces' were under-explained, and perhaps under-developed, in many of the Polemos sets, considering their importance to play.

On a less theoretical note, I used two 3'x2' gameboards today, rather than my gaming mat.  I decided that there was a bit too much room on the flanks in a couple of my previous games, so I have started using a formula which is number of bases in the largest force x 6cm is the minimum width to be used, up to the next 'foot'.  So the Romans in this game had 16 bases (excluding commanders and artillery), so a minimum of 96cm, therefore a 4' wide board was used.  I was a bit happier with this.

Figures as ever by Baccus 6mm.



  1. Nice game and really interesting concept to us a formula for game size. I will keep a note of that and see how it equates on my own tables.

    1. Thanks Norm. Definitely not an original idea...I think Featherstone and Gilder used something similar...I may have read it more recently in Iain Dickie's book too.

  2. A nice game and when I saw the OOB, I thought the Romans might have the edge, and so it proved to be. Ineresting to read about the groups and how one shaken unit can stop a group from charging home. I think the board width worked a treat and nice to see how you went about coming up with the size, which is a neat idea.

    1. Thanks very much Steve. The stuff on groups is all bracketed with "I think", since it is always possible I have made a mistake (or the intention of the rules is slightly different to how I have understood it).

      The board width stuff is somewhat related to how I handle deployment and so on, which might make it into the game notes in future.

  3. Another nice write up. I don't know the Polemos rules system but they seem to create a believable AAR narrative which i always think is a sign of rules that have at least one foot in the historical accuracy camp.

    Table size is one of my personal bugbears. I like to have scope for open flanks simply because there are no table edges in real battles, the question is how much space is enough. Your use of a formula tied to army size is a good take on how to solve the issue. I may well steal (er borrow I mean borrow) it.

    1. Thanks very much. Yes, I don't think Polemos SPQR does too badly on the historical accuracy side (although I do have the odd issue).

      Table size is important and I like having some open space (usually, it isn't always appropriate - in C20 games for instance, a table edge can usefully be used as a unit boundary), but too much open space doesn't help, unless the action begins at the right moment. For ancient 'formal battles', it probably isn't appropriate to have too much (since your troops are never going to there).