Friday, February 12, 2016

AAR Adrianople, 378 AD (Part two: the game)

Adrianople      378 AD

A few days ago we retreated to the attic to play out the battle of Adrianople using the Hail Caesar rules. As covered in part one (the scenario), this was a dramatic defeat of the Eastern Roman Empire by the Goths and their allies. It's an excellent starting scenario for Hail Caesar and it has plenty of drama (Will the Gothic and Hun cavalry show up in time?).

The deployment for the battle is simple. The game was played on a 6' x 5' table and there was only decorative terrain, except for the large hill in the center on which the Gothic warbands were deployed. The Romans formed their battle line  at least 36 cm (or 24" if playing with 25mm figures) away from the Gothic warbands. I played the Romans and my son ran the barbarians. I formed as the Emperor Valens did historically, with the Roman infantry, archers, and Scorpion battery formed in the center, with a small cavalry wing on each flank.

 The Goths formed up on the hill on the left, while the Romans deployed on the right
View from the Roman center towards the stoic Gothic warbands
The Gothic warbands steady themselves for the Roman attack
The Romans deployed with Comitatenses in the front line, Limitanei in the rear, and skirmishing archers covering the entire formation
The Romans, being the attacking force, were to move first on each turn. Anyone familiar with the Hail Caesar rule system knows that just because a commander has a fine plan, your troops may not cooperate. Command and control is a critical part of the game. Units can be rolled for individually, or entire groups of units can be rolled for (if within 6 cm of each other -- again for 15mm figures). To begin the attack, I formed my units in close supporting distance from each other and rolled for entire divisions. On turn 1, the Roman left wing cavalry (under Valerianus) and the left-hand infantry division (under Bacarius) rolled away and advanced relatively quickly towards the Gothic warriors. The Roman cavalry on the right flank (under Potentius) failed their command role and the right-hand division of infantry (under Sebastianus) crept forward one move. I was able to move the skirmish screens forward to meet the Gothic skirmishers in the center.  During the Goth turn, the warbands stood motionless, while the Gothic skirmishers began to engage the Roman archers. It was also time to roll for the two wings of Gothic cavalry to enter the field. My son needed a 1 on a 1d6....the left wing of cavalry failed to enter, BUT he rolled a 1 for the right wing of cavalry (under Saphrax). The Gothic cavalry was deployed on the table, but failed their command role for further movement in turn one.
The left wing of Roman cavalry
The Roman infantry on the left outpaced their counterparts on the right
Saphrax' cavalry on the right arrive before expected but advance no further during Turn 1
Turn two saw more maneuver and skirmishing in the center as the forces moved to engage. The Gothic cavalry experienced more command problems, while the Gothic cavalry due to arrive on the left failed their arrival roll. The Romans on the left continued to advance quickly, threatening the Gothic warriors' right flank.

As the Romans advanced, it was obvious that the Gothic infantry's right flank was very exposed
A frightening sight to the warriors as Roman cavalry move too close for comfort
The next couple of turns saw the Roman cavalry maneuver around the Gothic right flank, but were finally engaged by rapidly advancing Gothic and Alans cavalry. Bacarius' infantry division continued to close to engagement range with the warbands, while Sebastianus' infantry continued to creep forward (fire that General !). Roman cavalry on the right began to harass the Gothic warriors holding the left flank of the hill, taking multiple casualties from the Roman Sagitarii (horse archers). As the lines began to meet and the cavalry action began on the Goths' right flank, the left wing of Gothic cavalry entered the field.
Cavalry engaged on the Goths' right flank
An interesting development occurred on turn 4, as the Gothic warband on the extreme right flank attempted to maneuver to refuse the flank, boxcars were rolled. This, in Hail Caesar is a "blunder" and the unit will maneuver in an unexpected manner when rolled on the "blunder table." In this case, the warband ran away, exposing the Gothic right flank even further. In the above picture, the warband is seen with their backs to the action. What disgraceful behavior for these barbarians!
View of the table at the beginning of Turn 5, right after the left wing of Gothic and Hun cavalry arrive on the field (top right corner of picture)
The game began to turn into a slugfest at this point, as the infantry lines began to engage and the cavalry action on the Gothic right flank was in full force. Here, the Goths made a tactical mistake. Instead of leading with the heavy cavalry against the Roman heavy cavalry, the light cavalry was thrown forward, seemingly to attrition the Roman heavies so that they could then be mopped up afterwards. The Alans light cavalry was unsurprisingly broken, but they inflicted casualties on the Roman heavies. The Gothic heavy cavalry then charged, as the Romans countercharged. Even in its weakened state, the Roman cavalry overachieved and broke the fresh Gothic cavalry. At this point, the Gothic commander had lost 3 units out of 6 in the right cavalry more unit lost and the wing would be forced to retreat !
Roman heavy cavalry engage the Alans light cavalry as the Gothic heavy cavalry is poised to mop up
On the other side of the field, the Huns had advanced in open order to exchange fire with the Roman Sagitarii, but the remainder of the cavalry actually blundered again, retreating one move ! The Goths were really having trouble with command rolls thus far. With the obvious command problems that the Gothic cavalry were having on their left flank, the Romans continued to close for the kill, with the Roman cavalry preparing to charge the warband on the extreme left flank.
Action on the Goths' left flank as the Romans close for the kill
But alas, the Roman heavy cavalry failed to charge the warband, giving time for the Gothic cavalry to finally move up. Only the Huns were doing the job on this flank so far. The Roman cavalry finally abandoned the idea of crashing into the Gothic infantry and maneuvered to engage the Gothic and Hun cavalry.
Meanwhile, the Roman left-hand infantry division was fully engaged with the Gothic warbands on the hill. The action here was back and forth, with the Romans charging and the Goths countercharging.
As the cavalry battle continued to their left, the Romans and Goths were fully engaged at the foot of the hill
The action continued as both Roman infantry divisions clashed with the ferocious Gothic warbands. The Goths on the right flank actually forced the Romans back at one point, but the Romans counterattacked across the line, eventually and slowly forcing the Goths back. The Romans utilized skirmishers and Limatanei as supporting troops, adding valuable dice to the action. The Goths, in turn, readily countercharged, using their powerful Clash attack dice in an attempt to overwhelm the Roman infantry at the onset of each melee. Two Gothic leaders, including Fritigern, were wounded as they led furious countercharges.
The Goths counterattack at one point in the battle, sending the Roman archers reeling
View of the Gothic left flank as the cavalry moves to engage and the infantry are locked in bloody melee
As the battle was in full force across the line, the Gothic cavalry under Saphrax suffered its fourth unit loss, perpetuating a forced retreat. The Roman cavary facing them were shaken and exhausted, so the action on the flank began to die down as the Gothic cavary moved to disengage.
At this point, several Gothic warbands had broken, and the center of the Gothic position was wide open. The Gothic infantry divisions had also each lost over 50% of their units and were forced into retreat. The only Gothic force that was ready to fully engage was now the left wing of Goth/Hun cavalry. But it was too little, too late. The game was called at this point. Three out of four Gothic divisions were retreating and the Romans were in decent shape for a pursuit. A Roman victory was declared.
As always, the game was analyzed and keys to Roman victory were determined. First, the Romans utilized a second line of supporting units that were critical to providing the Roman infantry with extra attack dice. Second, the Goths suffered a multitude of poor command rolls, especially with regard to the cavalry. If the powerful Gothic cavalry could have engaged faster, the battle might have ended very differently. Third, due to a tactical mistake of leading the cavalry attack on the Gothic right flank with light cavalry versus the Roman heavies, the loss of these units put the entire cavalry wing in a poor position and ultimately forced the Gothic cavalry on this flank to withdraw.
What a great game !  I can't wait to play it again. Hail Caesar provided a very entertaining game full of colour and flavor of the Late Imperial Roman period.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Adrianople, 378 AD (Part One: The Scenario)

Adrianople      378 AD

A Hail Caesar scenario


The Germanic barbarians, collectively known as the Goths by the Romans, were under constant attack north of the Danube River by the Huns, scourge of the East. In 376 AD, the Goth tribes asked permission from the Eastern Roman Emperor, Valens, to settle in Roman territory. In exchange for Gothic warriors protecting the border, the Romans were to provide provisions and shelter. Instead, the Goths were abused by the local Roman authorities. A prime example of this cruelty was the demand for Gothic children as slaves in exchange for food. As the children were led away, the Roman authorities supplied dead dogs for the people to eat. One can understand the outrage of the Goths and it was only a matter of time before Duke Fritigern led his people in revolt. Gothic warriors pillaged Roman towns and villages at will. This area of the Eastern Roman empire was in total chaos. Emperor Valens was determined to quell this rebellion and eliminate the threat of the Goths once and for all.

Late Imperial Romans stand against the Goth onslaught

He arranged for his cousin, Western Roman Emperor Gratian, to march and combine with his army and face the Goths in open battle. As the two Roman armies marched to converge, Fritigern executed a stunning maneuver, marching to the East and to the rear of Valens' army. Deploying in the vicinity of Adrianople, the Goths now threatened even Constantinople. Not waiting to combine with Gratian's Western army, Valens countermarched to meet this threat. Valens' and Fritigern's forces faced each other on an open plain, with the Gothic warbands deployed on a hill. Behind the Goth troops, the many wagons of the populace were arranged in a defensive circle. The Gothic cavalry, which ironically contained Huns in addition to Alans horsemen, were away from the battlefield, foraging for food. At first, Fritigern sent emissaries to offer a truce to Valens; whether this was a ruse to allow the cavalry time to reach the field is unknown. Initially, Valens' officers counseled him to await Gratian's army, but the Emperor was in search for personal glory. Valens saw no Gothic cavalry on the field and undoubtably noticed that the Romans held a 3:2 advantage in numbers. Roman steel would definitely win this day !

The Battle

The Roman army marched onto the field with the infantry and archers in the center, protected by a wing of cavalry on each flank. There is much disagreement about the numbers present at the battle, but most sources agree that it was approximate to the following:

Goth infantry    10,000
Goth, Hun, and Alans cavalry   10,000

Roman infantry   10,000
Roman cavalry      5,000

Historians generally agree that the left wing of Roman cavalry impetuously advanced and attacked the Gothic warbands on the hill. They were summarily repulsed. At this point, whether planned or not, the Gothic cavalry arrived on the field. The right wing of Gothic cavalry countercharged the retreating Roman cavalry and utterly destroyed it. The left wing of Gothic cavalry also advanced and attacked the Roman cavalry on the right, winning the engagement decisively. It was all elementary as the Goth warbands charged howling onto the Roman infantry, while the Goth cavalry enveloped both flanks. The Roman army was decimated. Emperor Valens himself was killed as well. The battle of Adrianople was an incredible victory for the Goths and a humiliating defeat for Roman arms.

Most historians lay the blame for the defeat on the Roman cavalry, which not only performed timidly in battle, but prematurely charged the Goth warbands before the Roman infantry was fully deployed for battle. The arrival of the Gothic cavalry, which outnumbered the Roman cavalry by about a 2:1 margin, sealed the battle's fate.

Goth heavy cavalry overwhelm Roman horsemen

Afterwards, the Goths unsuccessfully attempted to attack the city of Adrianople. The new Eastern Emperor, Theodosios I, coordinated with Gratian and pursued the Goths. In a see-saw war that lasted 4 more years, neither side was ultimately victorious. A new treaty was signed in 382 AD, but the battle at Adrianople proved that the barbarians could defeat the Romans in open battle. The result of the battle was that the floodgates were finally opened. The clock was now ticking for both Eastern and Western Roman Empires.

The Scenario

This battle can be played on a 6' x 5' table. The Gothic wagon circle is assumed to be off-table behind the warbands in the center. With a larger table and enough wagons, that would be a great visual addition to the wargame.

Very simple terrain; view is from the Goth side of the table

Terrain The terrain is very simple and open. The large hill in the center of the table is the site of the Gothic warband deployment. Any trees or shrubs are purely decorative. The Gothic warbands, while on the hill, do have a saving throw advantage for being uphill during melee.

Initial deployment. Gothic warbands on the left. Roman infantry and cavalry on the right

Gothic Cavalry arrival 

Roll for each wing of Gothic cavalry separately. Using a 6-sided die, begin rolling for arrival on turn 1. If a 1 is rolled, the Gothic cavalry enter the table. On turn 2, if a 1 or 2 is rolled........and so on. If a 6 is rolled at any time, the Goth player secretly rolls another 6-sided die. If this second die is also a 6, the Gothic cavalry wing never enters the battle. It is imperative to keep this roll secret; the Roman player must not know of the Goth cavalry's failure to arrive. He'll figure it out by turn 6 anyway.

Special Rules  

The Gothic warbands are considered Wild Fighters and may re-roll three missed attack die during the very first round of melee that the warband is in. Gothic warbands are also Stubborn, which allows each unit to reroll a missed Morale role if the save is 5-6. Hun Horse Archers have the Parthian Shot rule, which allows each unit to conduct a closing shot before evading a charge.

Roman Comitatenses, in addition to being classified as heavy infantry are also Drilled, which allows one free move, even if the command roll is failed. The light Scorpion battery is also Drilled. All Roman Comitatenses and Limitanei  have the Pilum rule, which states that an enemy has a -1 Morale save modifier in the first round of any melee.  Limitanei are considered Levy troops, which must roll 4+ to recover Disorder any given turn.  Lastly, Roman Horse Archers also have the Parthian Shot rule (described above). 

Orders of Battle

The Romans:

Commander in Chief       Emperor Valens      CR  8

1st Division Commander   Sebastianus     CR 8
    3 Comitatenses Standard Cohorts   7 Clash, 7 Sustained, 3 Short,  4+ Morale,  6 Stamina

    2 Limitanei Standard Cohorts     6 Clash, 6 Sustained, 3 Short, 5+ Morale, 6 Stamina

    1 Scorpion Standard btry   1 Clash, 1 Sustained, 2 Short, 2 Long, 0 Morale, 3 Stamina

    1  Skirmish-bow Small unit    2 Clash, 2 Sustained, 2 Short, 2 Long, 0 Morale, 4 Stamina  

2nd Division Commander   Bacarius     CR 8

     3 Comitanses Standard Cohorts  7 Clash, 7 Sustained, 3 Short,  4+ Morale,  6 Stamina

     1 Limitanei Standard Cohort     6 Clash, 6 Sustained, 3 Short, 5+ Morale, 6 Stamina

     1 Archer Standard  unit     4 Clash, 4 Sustained, 3 Short, 3 Short, 0 Morale, 6 Stamina

     2 Skirmish-bow Small units    2 Clash, 2 Sustained, 2 Short, 2 Long, 0 Morale, 4 Stamina

Left Cavalry Wing    Commander   Valerianus    CR  8 (7)*

      2 Heavy Cavalry Standard units      9 Clash, 6 Sustained, 3 Short, 4+ Morale, 6 Stamina

      1 Horse Archer Small unit     4 Clash, 2 Sustained, 2 Short, 2 Long, 6+ Morale, 4 Stamina

Right Cavalry Wing    Commander  Potentius    CR  8 (7)*

      1 Heavy Cavalry Standard unit      9 Clash, 6 Sustained, 3 Short, 4+ Morale, 6 Stamina

      2 Horse Archer Small units     4 Clash, 2 Sustained, 2 Short, 2 Long, 6+ Morale, 4 Stamina

* For an added challenge and historical accuracy, rate the Roman cavalry commanders a CR7. This will substantially affect game balance though.

The Goths:

Commander in Chief       Duke Fritigern     CR 8

1st Division  Commander  Saurus    CR 8

       4  Warbands Standard units    9 Clash, 6 Sustained, 2 Short, 5+ Morale, 6 Stamina

       1 Skirmish-javelin Small unit    3 Clash, 2 Sustained, 2 Short, 0 Morale, 4 Stamina

       1 Skirmish-bow Small unit    2 Clash, 2 Sustained, 2 Short, 2 Long, 0 Morale, 4 Stamina

2nd Division    Commander    Alavirus    CR 8

       3 Warbands Standard units    9 Clash, 6 Sustained, 2 Short, 5+ Morale, 6 Stamina

       1 Skirmish-javelin Small unit    3 Clash, 2 Sustained, 2 Short, 0 Morale, 4 Stamina

       1 Skirmish-bow Small unit    2 Clash, 2 Sustained, 2 Short, 2 Long, 0 Morale, 4 Stamina

Left Cavalry Wing     Commander    Alatherus    CR 8

       2  Heavy Cavalry Standard units    9 Clash, 6 Sustained, 3 Short, 4+ Morale, 6 Stamina

       1  Alans Light Cavalry Small unit    5 Clash, 3 Sustained, 2 Short, 6+ Morale, 4 Stamina

       3  Hun Light Cavalry Small units   5 Clash, 3 Sustained, 2 Short, 2 Long, 6+ Morale, 4 Stamina

Right Cavalry Wing    Commander  Saphrax    CR 8

       2  Heavy Cavalry Standard units    9 Clash, 6 Sustained, 3 Short, 4+ Morale, 6 Stamina

       1  Alans Light Cavalry Small unit    5 Clash, 3 Sustained, 2 Short, 6+ Morale, 4 Stamina

       3  Goth Light Cavalry Small unit    5 Clash, 3 Sustained, 2 Short, 6+ Morale, 4 Stamina

Deployment:  The Gothic warbands should deploy on the top of , or slope of, the center hill. Roman forces should deploy no closer than 24" away (36cm if using 15mm figures like myself).

Victory: There is no other victory condition than to destroy or force the enemy off of the field.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Review and Summary of Hail Caesar

A review and summary of Hail Caesar

Hail Caesar is a set of rules by Rick Priestley of  Warlord Games that enables a gamer to recreate miniature battles covering the Biblical age through the late Medieval period. On seeing these rules become available a couple of years ago, and always desiring to jump into Ancient wargaming, I decided to pick these rules up. I have not been disappointed. Including similar concepts from Priestley's previous efforts, most notably Warmaster Ancients, Hail Caesar provides an extremely entertaining game with more than enough period flavor (especially if additional rules such as Parthian Shot or Wild Fighters are utilized--more on those later). With Napoleonics being my primary gaming period, Hail Caesar allows me to game a side period without having to do a ton of research or diving into a set of overly-complicated rules.

The Hail Caesar rulebook and the supplement I used to build my Late Imperial Romans and Goths

Units represent tactical units of the Ancient era, such as warbands or cohorts. Each unit is classified as Tiny, Small, Standard, or Large. For example, a standard Germanic warband is made up of 32-36 figures in a double rank of stands, while an Imperial Roman cohort contains 16-18 figures in a single rank of stands. Unit frontages are defined, but actual number of figures can be scaled up or down per stand (I typically use 5-6 figures per stand). Each unit also has detailed characteristics covering combat values for Clash (first combat round) and Sustained action, short or long range missile attack rating, morale based on training and armor (saving throws), and Stamina ( the number of hits a unit can sustain before becoming Shaken). Any additional rules are added to enhance historical flavor. For example, Roman heavy infantry can use the Pilum rule, or a Barbarian warband  can be categorized as Wild Fighters, each characteristic having an effect on game play.

An example of a Late Imperial Roman Cohort

And a Goth Warband

Units are then organized into Divisions under a sub-commander.

The Game Turn

There is no initiative roll for each turn. At the beginning of the game, one side is designated to move first (usually the attacker). The first side rolls for command and moves, then conducts missile fire, and then melee is computed for any charges that rammed home. Then the second side moves, shoots, and conducts melee as well. Pretty simple and straight-forward.

Command and Control

The Command phase is an important part of the game that people tend to either love or hate. In order to move or charge with a unit, 2d6 are rolled and compared against the division commander's command rating. How well a player throws determines the unit's action. Oh, and to throw some added frustration in, a gamer must declare what the unit's action is before the dice are rolled. As for the dice, a result equal to or less than the commander's rating equals 1 move, 2 below the commander's rating equals 2 moves, and 3 or less on the dice roll equals 3 moves. Obviously, these command rolls generate uncertainty and, in some cases, anguish. For example, a commander's command rating might be 8 (between 1-10) and he wishes for a unit to charge an enemy unit straight ahead 2 moves away. Throwing a 7 means that the unit may only move forward 1 move, failing to close with its target. The unit must then move the proper distance and wait until the next turn to attempt another charge. Units in close proximity may also conduct one automatic move instead of relying on a commander's dice roll. I personally love this system; a gamer never quite knows if his army is going to act according to plan or not --- most often, a player will have to modify his plan due to these "surprises." Some gamers absolutely hate not being able to micromanage. Take your pick. I personally enjoy the lack of control.


I have attempted to play the horse and musket period with Black Powder, which underwhelmed me. I'm not sure if it was my inherent bias or what, but it didn't "feel quite right" to me. It wasn't a bad game, but I preferred other rules sets, like General de Brigade. Hail Caesar, to an Ancients novice like myself, plainly "feels right."  Missile combat occurs right before Melee, and it causes more slow attrition. Melee is downright decisive, which seems like it aligns well with Ancient wargaming. Imagine a unit of skirmishers causing a constant stream of minor casualties over several turns, while Melee is much more dramatic-- a unit can be destroyed in a blink of an eye, or is sucked into a bloody struggle over a couple of turns. Each unit in Melee throws a corresponding number of "hit" dice and then throws saving dice in a simultaneous phase within the turn. The side that suffers more losses then consults a "break" table to determine what happens (unit stands, is shaken or disorders, or breaks in terror). Supporting units (like skirmishers, etc) can impact the number of attack dice thrown as well. It is a very simple, yet effective system.

Goth and Roman Heavy Cavalry meet in a melee


Hail Caesar is simply a fun game that is unpredictable and has enough period flavor to satisfy most gamers. The command system rewards a sound plan and smart tactics. A player will need to modify his moves in order to cope with the fact that his army will not act completely in concert with the original plan. The game is relatively simple to learn, but has a subtlety to it in order to fully master. I've had several games now with my Goth and Hun barbarians versus Late Imperial Romans, and every game has been a blast. It has forced me to do the proper research, which I've always felt was a critical part of the hobby anyway. Not only have I come away from each game a bit more knowledgeable about the period, but the experience has fueled even more my interest in the Ancients and Medieval eras. More of a game than a simulation, I'm sure that some gamers prefer a ton of detail in their Ancients games; it is not any different for Napoleonics. Speaking for myself, I give Hail Caesar high marks. It is the first system that actually motivated me to dive into the Ancients period of wargaming.