I played through the awesome Ancient Pub Battles from Command Post Games. It comes with rules, blocks for your Roman and Carthaginian armies, and setups for four scenarios, as well as a system to create your own. I added the hessian playmat — Pub Battles’ other games have the attraction of a beautiful period-looking canvas terrain map. The materials really make this game feel special — and its simple but robust rule system makes it play like a charm.
I organised troops into 12-point blocs and selected 7 for each army, then traded off some units for generals. Here are the opening formations of 84-point armies:
Stronger generals for Carthage, of course (Hasdrubal, Hannibal, Mago) but with Caesar flanked by Paulus and Flaminius for Rome. I’m playing the full 8 rounds, allowing rolls to change turn order, and including the rules for spears vs swords. I’m playing ‘simplified’ flanking rules: you’re only flanked to the rear, or by more than one unit.
The first round (round zero) was just manoeuvring. Round one brought the first engagement. Rome’s focused centre was very effective against Carthage, causing five losses vs two, all amongst green troops. Both sides held back troops at this stage.
Rolling to jostle for position in the running order seemed crucial. I spent a lot of time doing this, and thereafter limited rolls to one change of order per side per round. I might really resist allowing this during future solitaire trials, but wanted to get a feel for the mechanic. It’s one of the things that on the whole advantages Carthage, with its stronger generals’ ratings making it easier to roll under and take charge of the order of command.
Round two saw more losses for Rome, and some reorganisation of the lines — looking unusually clean at this stage? Rome’s scattered units at the vanguard were lost to Hannibal’s advance from the rear, and they consolidated a defensive line.
Round three was something of a turning point. On Rome’s left flank, a big push scattered troops on Carthage’s right, leaving spent troops in retreat. Combats on the other flank disrupted the lines and cost Carthage three more units…
Which led to the loss of Hasdrubal! Things are looking good for Rome at this point.
Round four. Most of the events are now on Rome’s right flank, where they are badly scattered and disrupted. Rome’s elites are on the run and nearly driven off the map. It also loses them one more unit, taking them to their threshold of seven, which means Flaminius is defeated. (Perhaps while crossing the battlefield to bring order to the right flank?) Rome set up a defensive formation on their left which is to stay there for a couple of rounds.
Playing multiple-units-flank tended to mean units ‘ganging up’, causing Elites in particular to retreat, and then units were left clustered around the site of an elapsed conflict.
Carthage press their advantage on their left flank in round five. They destroy two of the Roman elites and one more is fleeing to the north.
Command order was crucial here, as well as decisions: Caesar rolled to go first and travelled across to get those elites out of their precarious position at the edge of the map. But it couldn’t save them; it just presented their rear to Hannibal, and the commands are becoming perilously strung out on that flank.
Round six finishes off the action on the far flank, and two more Romans are lost. Attention turns to the other flank, where Rome wipes out those fleeing Carthaginians, putting them on the brink of eliminating another enemy command. Perhaps they should have done this first, taking the initiative rather than attempting to shore up the far flank? Now Carthage looks scattered, though the Roman cavalry at the rear on their right is dithering, out of command.
The penultimate round. Carthage manages to consolidate their command, but Rome can’t get to that cavalry to command it, and are looking sparse; whereas Carthage are regrouping into supported concentrations of troops. Rome lose the two units that tip them into a further loss of command: Paulus is off the battlefield. Rome are feeling the tide of battle turning against them.
Final round. Caesar cannot keep up with his troops, who are fleeing or retreating across the field. The only thing to do now is bug out for Rome. With two commands, Carthage are still an effective fighting force at the close of battle.
But they have lost Hasdrubal, which is costly! Their elite cavalry have also fallen to Rome. Counting up casualties across both sides, Rome scrapes the points advantage! 51 points of Carthaginian troops defeated, versus 50 Roman.
The result could be seen as a ‘pyrrhic victory’ for Carthage. Alternatively, the numbers would play well at home for Rome, covering their ignominious retreat from the field.
The rule disadvantaging swords vs spears in the first round of battle (and the reverse thereafter) seems to lead to historical outcomes — i.e., it’s a challenge for Rome to keep up!
I’m still struggling with managing flanking in a non-fiddly way. I tried ‘you’re only flanked if attacked from the rear, or on two sides’ here but this wasn’t entirely satisfactory. Some attacks felt like they should have had flanking bonus, and didn’t get them, because only one unit was in contact.
I’m not that good at managing multi-piece combats; I’m never sure who gets to fire, and when, nor who decides the order. Perhaps this is just a solitaire issue, or keeping in mind the order of engagement.
I also forget in complex combats which elite troops have absorbed a hit already. I wonder how best to mark this. Use spare elite troop blocks?
Possible house rule for flanking and multi-unit battles:
- No numerical adjustments for flanking…
- Instead, the defender only rolls a maximum of one die vs a unit on its flank.
- You share out your (three) dice to defend against multiple attacking units.
So, a typical flanked unit might roll two dice vs the frontal attack, saving one for the flank (no more).
This seems simple to manage but should reflect the disadvantages of being flanked and/or surrounded. It makes it statistically harder to inflict hits when flanked than just suffering a -1 penalty; though there is no *numerical* bonus for the flanking unit, increased survival should more than compensate, I think.
The 3.0 Pub Battles experimental rules also use dice variance, to reflect fire vs melee combat. Under the above flanking house rule, fire would instead be at a -1 penalty for infantry & dragoons, impossible for cavalry, and no penalty for artillery. Dice variance would be reserved to reflect flanking positions as described, and include the dragoons’ dice reduction.