Thursday, January 19, 2012

Battle of the Sambre, 57 AD

On Sunday, January 8th, we of the Hartford Area Historical Gaming Society had a grand Ancients game at the Home of HAHGS member Thomas (who has just started his own blog). Ultimately, a total of 8 of us were in attendance, including Peter C. (game Organizer and referee), Joseph C. (spectator extraordinaire, and bringer of snacks, nutritious and otherwise!), the Barbarian (Nervii) players, namely myself, Thomas, and Andy; and the Roman players, namely Greg, James, and Matt. It turned out that with many of us having some Roman and Gallic/German/Barbarian armies, we were able to filed quite an impressive force, with some 16 Warbands of  24 figures each, and a nearly like number of Romans, of 16 each, plus a smattering of skirmishers and cavalry. Part of the point of running the game was an introduction to the Hail Caesar rules, which  we are planning on using for a very loose, abstract Ancients "campaign". As none of us had played more than a game or two using these rules, and several of us (myself included) don't even own a copy yet, this was intended to be very much a low key learning experience... and so it proved. I did prepare a bit by reading the "orders" section of Black Powder, from which Hail Caesar is in part derived, and that did prove helpful.

Hail Caesar Rulebook

Peter C. set up the scenario, adapting it from the Commands and Colors scenario for the same battle. You can read Caesar's own account of the battle here, but briefly, despite knowing that the Belgae were massed in force and planning an ambush, Caesar managed to fall into the trap, and was very fortunate to secure a victory, largely through his own personal efforts (at least by his own account, written for popular consumption back home!) rallying the surprised and dispersed legions who were constructing the usual Roman defensive camp, and the stellar fighting qualities of his veteran 9th and 10th Legions.

View of the Nervii line from their right; I apologize for the poor quality of the pictures, which were taken with my I-phone (the camera of which really isn't up to the job of miniatures photography). The large window at the end of the game room is great for letting the light in, but thoroughly confused the camera as well. Don't bother to click on any pics for enlarged views! :-(   Still, you can get a sense of the sweep of the game! There are much better pictures here on Peter C's blog.

Close up of the Nervii right, with skirmishers and Cavalry fording the Sambre, and Roman skirmishers opposite. 

"Where did all those Barbs come from?"

View of the Roman Left, with LC and skirmish archers and slingers to the front, and the venerable X Legion behind them.

The dispersed forces of the Roman Right at the start of the game. They were still building the Camp when the Nervii came boiling out of the woods and across the Sambre!

Blurry view of the Nervi line from their right, where my command, with the C-in-C lay. We are poised to cross the Sambre at the earliest opportunity!

My boys crossing the Rubicon... er, Sambre!

Greg, as Julius Caesar himself playing opposite me, calmly organizes his Legions just before the Barbarian Storm hits!

Meanwhile on the Nervii right, Andy's Warbands just make it up to the River, while their skirmishers boldly, some might even say rashly, take pot shots at the Romans, to little effect.

On the next  Nervii move, my warbands have made contact with three Roman units, and in two cases I have a second warband in support. "Eat Belgic Iron, you garlic chompers!"

After the Impact round, the near melee has resulted in a Barb win, with the Romans pushed back in Disorder, and my two warbands following up in immediate pursuit. The other combats see the Romans outscoring my guys, courtesy (in part) of very cold dice on my part, and very hot dice by Greg, especially his Saving throws... the accursed Romans, with their heavy armor, save on 4,5,6 on a D6. My brave lads, who usually save on a 5,6 for their medium armor (mostly their big, Bad @$$ shields), are reduced to a mere "6" to save on the opening round, modeling the effects of the Roman Pila in the opening round. 

Meanwhile, back on the opposite side of the field Andy and Thomas have finally gotten their own warbands clear of the Sambre. It is another three turns before the raw, reserve Legions (under Jim) can enter the rear table edge to succor the Roman cause...

The next round of melee sees my two far left flank warbands trade shots with their Roman counterparts. Despite the support and the Roman Disorder (the additional Roman unit of Greg's seen coming up doesn't quite mange to get into the action), the dour Romans manage to give as good as they get, while the middle (one Warband against one Roman) melee is decisively lost and my Warband dispersed. "Curses, those smooth-skinned eye-talian guys know how to fight after all!" The final 2 one on one melee grinds on with both side taking mounting casualties. In the center, however, Thomas' dice are as hot as mine are cold and *his* lads blow a hole right through the Roman center. Yay, Team!

In the following round, the disordered Romans on the far flank got support form the new unit moving up, and vaporized the primary warband in the combat, leaving the support unit to the flank of the entire Roman line, but very isolated. meantime, my general along with 2 warbands has crashed into a single Roman unit, whilst Thomas continues to steamroll the center. Even with all those advantages, I *still* can't break the damned Roman unit, though!  Argh! "May Crom curse you Romans and your evil saving throws!"

Back on the Nevii right, the clash bewteen the Barbarians and the X Legion is a mixed bag. Matt's Romans managed to charge Andy's Barbarians first here, which put the Nervii at a decided disadvantage, but the dice dictated perhaps a better results than the Barbs deserved. Still, one Roman unit is destroyed whilst 2 warbands are thrown back with heavy losses. 

Only a single unit is left in my once proud command; Hail Caesar has a rules mechanism that prevents cutesy flank attacks, so neither of these opposing units will get  chance to strike the other in the flank; rather they will face towards one another each in their own move, and settle matters in the following Turn. This worked very well without some of the annoying "legal brief" style rules about maneuvering units in proximity to the enemy found in some other ancient rules. 

James' command with the raw Legions of the Reserve have arrived, and none to soon. Meanwhile, Matt's X Legion is wisely pulling back to the comparative safety of the ridge line... and the friendly baggage!

View of the Roman Left at the end of the battle; Nervii attempts to storm the heights are defeated (the hill advantage is just too much to overcome along with the other Roman perks), but not with out sending some more Romans on a journey across the River Styx to meet the Dark God, Pluto!

At this point,, we called the game and declared it a Nervii victory, the sneaky tribesmen having outperformed their historical counterparts (with scant credit to my command, I might add). Although we made at least our share of rookie mistakes with the rules, we found them fairly easy to learn and fun to play. While probably not my first choice of rules for this era (I dislike saving throws as a rules mechanism, for one thing), they were fun to play (the excellent company certainly helped there as well), gave historically plausible results, and the game concluded in a reasonable time period (less than 4 hours with no expert players or referee). The variable movement distance rules I have no problems with, a similar concept (although executed quite differently) being a feature of both Field of Battle and my own Hostile Realms. Will I play them again?  Certainly!  I look forward to playing some more games of Hail Caesar! with the HAHGS guys; now I just have to decide if I'll take up the standard of my Carthagenians, the Romans, or go for a more unusual army, my Late Assyrians. For the sake of variety on the battlefield, if not competitiveness, I am leaning towards the later... in which case I may need to paint up my spare 4-Horse chariots!

Petronius (?)


  1. Bravo, bravo, bravo!!
    Very well written, Peter. I enjoyed this battle report just as much as I did the actual game.
    Thank you for putting such a fabulous AAR together. I love it. Thomas

    1. Thanks, Thomas, and than you once again for hosting it! It was great day.


  2. Greg (Caesar) pointed out to me that:

    "I add only that as in history, Caesar grabbed a shield and joined the front line, effectively rallying a right flank unit, a sorely needed boost given that 4/8 cohorts were lost, with 2/4 remaining on the right flank near the 'shatter' point at games end, recreating the loss of most centurions on that flank. Sadly, my 8/9 savings rolls were matched by break rolls of 2, 3 and 4... alas the gods of Rome take as well as give!"

  3. Great battle report. I really must use these rules someday ! :-)

  4. Good AAR. Which rules do you prefer for Ancients?