Monday, 12 October 2015

Clash of Celtiberians and Greek Hoplites



At last! My inaugural game of Hail Caesar. It's been almost a year since I ordered an Imperial Roman army from Warlord Games with high hopes of getting a legion onto the battlefield. 

However, for one reason or another, mostly to do with far too many competing gaming distractions (you know how it is!) my legion is still being formed up. The Emperor is not happy.


So, to temporarily allay the Emperor's displeasure - before he starts ordering executions - I arranged a test game at my local club using my Saga miniatures against Hellenistic Greeks. Now, my reader may have noticed I have a Scots Saga warband. Therefore, instead of Romans I decided to ruin a Celtiberian list. My Celts were off to Spain for their holidays!

We didn't pay too much attention to points values or units type as this was purely a rules familiarisation and game mechanic exercise. We just made up a single, roughly balanced 'Division' each, comprising four small units plus the command unit to get troops on the battlefields.

For my Celtiberians I had three units of medium infantry and one medium infantry bodyguard armed with swords and javelins, my opponent with some impressive looking Hoplite heavy infantry with spears and javelins.

Celt at rear: "This is ma' go'in round the corner spear!"
From there we just played a straight head to head. It was a slight adjustment for me coming from a regular run of skirmish games to playing with unit base frontages rather than individual soldiers but I soon got the hang of it, having played large scale Warhammer fantasy and Flames of War. 

Hail Caesar is an Ancients development of Warlord Games' Black Powder game that covers the 18th and 19th centuries which I'd had a brief flirtation with, so many of the procedures were familiar.

As usual when introducing a new system (like Frostgrave recently) there was quite a bit of rule book and army list referencing which slowed things down at the start however by the latter stages of the 'game' we were starting to speed up the turn sequences. 

Greek Hoplites: "Bin lids at the ready men!"


Initial thoughts?  Hail Caesar is a game system I'm really keen to 'get into' so it was great to finally have an insight into the game-play with a similarly experienced opponent. The mechanics are relatively simple, and this exercise proved very useful answering questions I had around the organisation of the divisions and units, the command structure, unit formations and the combat sequence. 

It's certainly looking like the large scale ancients game I was looking for, with enough scalable complexity within the rules to provide a good balance between game-play and simulation. The turn sequence (Command, Ranged, Hand-to-Hand) is straightforward, with the Command phase being particularly interesting.

Armies consist of a number of Divisions, with commanders for each division looking after multiple Units within their division; generally, (factional constraints aside), there is no limit to the number or consistency of units within each division. However, it soon became clear that large, unwieldy divisions would be difficult to command.

Celtiberians: "Come on if ya' think yer' hard enough!"
Commanders have a leadership rating up to 10, with 8 (Good) recommend for learning the game. This is where players get to move their units, by using issuing orders on behalf of the army's units - stated 'aloud, in good, time and in a straightforward, robust fashion without conditions or vagaries' according to the rulebook!

Critically, units don't need orders to fight or make ranged attacks, they automatically use their initiative to do that. The Command role his is all done via a 2D6 looking for a score on or below the commander's Leadership  Rating with 3 below the rating giving the maximum three orders. Therefore, if you have 4 units, only three are going to get Move orders, unless they are subject to free moves.

All movement is performed via the bases and frontages, with infantry typically moving 6", the miniatures on the bases are representatives of that particular unit. There is a comprehensive section on moving units and changing formations such as Squares or Line, Front or Rear facing, whether they are Ordered or Disordered, Shaken, Charge moves (and enemy reactions), Blunders etc . All very atmospheric stuff!

Units have stats called Fighting Qualities: Clash and Sustained (hand-to-hand), Short /Long (ranged), Morale Save, (the unit's combat resistance), Stamina and unit specific Special characteristics, with the Stamina value being used to represent how many casualties a unit can take before it is 'Shaken'. This is where casualty markers are useful!

Its still early days so I don't want to pass too many judgements just yet, suffice to say I thoroughly enjoyed my wee taster game - the Hoplites eventually managed to push back the Celtiberians after a bitter fight, with the last two remaining Celt units beating a retreat.

I'm really looking forward to playing my first 'proper' battle, so I plan to push on with painting the Romans over the next couple of months. Hopefully.