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The Battle of Orchomenos, 88BC

The Roman World, Crusader Ancient Rules, 28mm

While I have a couple of Ancient armies (Late Republican Roman and Mithraditic Pontic) this isn’t really a major period for me. Its one I return to now and then when I want something different. Well, Orkney wargamer Joe had been wanting to play an Ancients game for some time. So, everyone was told to read the rules, and Joe would run the game. Inevitably when the day came Joe couldn’t make it. Being a medical cove he’s on call sometimes, and sure enough some kind of medical emergency meant he couldn’t make it. This wasn’t too hands as Gyles, Alan and I had only skimmed the rules, and didn’t really have more than a broad strokes idea of what to do. Undeterred, we decided to press on and give the rules a spin. Then, the next time we stage a game, we mightn’t be so clueless. So, this game wasn’t anything more than a glorified rules playtest, with no attempt to set a scenario, or to balance the armies.The terrain was minimal – a flat sandy plain somewhere in Spain, and a few gentle hills. For us the main thing was to figure out how the mechanics worked, so distractions like fancy terrain wasn’t allowed to get in the way! The Pontic army lined up on top of a ridge, with two pike phalanxes, two blocks of peltasts and two blocks of archers, with two more units of skirmishing archers out in front. The cavalry  – two small forces of Bactrian horse archers and Pontic horse – formed up on either flank. I played the defenders, while Gyles and Alan took command of the Roman steamroller. This time round we had six cohorts of Romans (24 figures strong rather than my usual 16), two wings of cavalry (Gallic and Numidian), plus a couple of units of skirmishers out in front.Now, in these Crusader rules one side retains the initiative until all its units have moved, or one of them fails a morale test. Then the other player has a go. Moves are done one unit at a time, including any shooting and melee, and morale tests. This takes a little getting used to, but after a bit we all seemed to get the hang of it. The Romans rolled forward, as the two cavalry wings clashed with each other. These cavalry melees were pretty bloody, with units retiring, pursuing, charging in again and retreating, one after the other. By the end of it everyone had just a few figures left in their cavalry inits. On the Pontic right only the Bactrians were left in play, and had been rolled back to the table edge, all without suffering any casualties. This is thanks to the rather strange melee system, where a unit can break even though it won the melee, inflicted casualties on its opponent and suffered none in return! Still, it worked – sort of.On the Roman left the Gallic and Numidian horsemen were eventually swept from the field, but the surviving unit of Pontic horse was so depleted it was effectively out of the game. As the two battle lines drew closer the skirmishers did their thing, inflicting casualties on their counterparts. Then the Cappadochian archers got the range of the advancing cohorts, and added to the frustration of the Roman players. This though, wasn’t enough to stop the Roman advance. I would have called it a remorseless advance, but we kept having to stop every few minutes to check the rules, or to grab another beer. We thought we were doing it all correctly, but then we found a couple of major rules we’d blithely ignored, which led to a quick rethink of how the mechanics worked. In fact the system is fairly slick, albeit it requires a lot of die rolling to see the shooting and melee phases through to their conclusion.We actually brought the game to an end before the main battle lines had been fully tested. In one clash between phalanx and cohort the Romans inflicted more casualties, but the phalanx – quite rightly – gets a bonus for depth and numbers, and the Romans were forced back. We’ll play it all out again some time, and this time we’ll have Joe on hand to keep us in line. Still, the jury is still out, whether this set of rules are better than Hail Casear or not. At least with HC I sort of know what I’m meant to be doing most of the time, but that’s all down to experience. The proof – as they say – will be in the pudding.



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