Work continues its seasonal madness, but the end is in sight. I managed to get away for a game Wednesday night, a biggish game of Hail Caesar put together by JJM. He's recently announced he'll be leaving for England in the not-too-distant future; we'll miss him for both his devotion to old-school 25mm figures, and for his recurring offers to "make a spreadsheet for that" ;)
|Hail Caesar! No, wait . . .|
JJM put two lists together in the 550-600 point range, 4 commands a side, and each of us took a command. It was Pre-Imperial yet-Imperialist Romans with allied Hairies against the flower of Cartharge and her freedom-loving allies. Guess which side I played?
This was my first game of Hail Caesar, and I've been looking forward to it. The rules, like most of the recent offerings from Warlord, have attracted a fair bit of attention, and I've been favourably impressed by Black Powder (at least in theory, not yet had a chance to play). In a nutshell, I like them. They're a little fast and loose, but they suit the kind of game we played; it was large, raucous, and multi-player. We had fun ;)
Deployment is fairly straightforward, and goes down by commands. We massed our cavalry on the left, had the Liby-Phoenicians in the centre, and Gauls on the right. They had 2 legions, an allied "legion" and a detachment of allied cavalry on their centre-right.
Tactical acumen wasn't a big factor in this game, partly due to atmosphere, but also due to scale. The command mechanics in HC allow for some pretty zippy movement, as a good command roll means you can move up to 3 times. That said, there just wasn't room on the table for a lot of clever outflanking; we played on an 8x6 space, and you'd need at least twice that for a stunt like, say, Gaugamela. What the mechanic does ensure is a rapid contact of lines; there's little of that slow-crawl-across-the-table that you get in some games.
I ended up in (by which I mean, jumped on the chance to) command of our Numidian and African cavalry. I got a good command roll on the first turn, which meant my lads were chucking javelins at the opposing horse from turn 1. Being pesky Numidians (in HC terms, open-order light cavalry), they also ran away when this provoked a predictable response, and the Roman cavalry ended up running into a pile of counter-charging L-P badasses ;)
The net result was both sides took some damage, but the Roman horse was thrown back in disorder, licking their wounds and wondering what had happened. Of corse, this left my boys facing down chunks from two Roman legions, but you can't have everything ;)
On the right, which was dominated by infantry, things took a little longer to develop, with both sides closing in, skirmishers to the front. In the middle, the Roman cavalry counter-attacked, but we were reinforced by the arrival of marke, who took over command of the spanish and gallic cavalry on our far left
By this point, we had a nasty little melee brewing in the centre, with attack and counter-attack raging, and the Numidians tossing javelins at anything that got close.
On the right, the infantry lines made contact, and ernieR. commanding our African troops, began a spectacular string of bad dice rolls. It didn't help that our gallic foot had been stranded by low command rolls, and were struggling to catch up.
On our left, marke sent the cavalry smashing into the Romans. Things there were fairly even I think, until his opposite number, AlexM, discovered the support rule (extra dice for units in contact to the side or rear), and began to grind the cavalry down. You can get a sense of the battle at this stage in the shots below. Nice, orderly contact up and down the line, and chaos in the centre, courtesy of your truly ;)
I think this was the high water mark for us, I think. I'd hoped to break through the middle, and get my cavalry, especially the Numidians, in behind the Roman line, but it didn't work out. On the left, marke was thrown back from the Roman lines in a flurry of abysmal rolls.
In the middle, while I destroyed one of the Roman cavalry, Jack1080 brought in a fresh unit that returned the favour, and left my remaining heavy unit torn up and exposed.
The centre-left in general was starting to look a little grim.
Things on the right weren't much better, as ernieR's command struggled to play King Canute, and Altus tried to lash his Gauls into the fight.
ernieR's boys were thrown back from the Roman line, and there was a bit of a pause as things were shaken back into order.
On the left, marke and I were pretty much reduced to screening the Romans with whatever we had left, he with some gallic horse, and I with my Numidians.
On the plus side, Altus had caught a break, and it looked like his fresh command was about to explain to the Roman allies the error of their ways. We hoped that we could hold off the Roman left long enough for him to turn their flank, we might salvage the game.
Of course, that meant three cavalry units would be fighting most of two Roman legions, and what was left of their cavalry.
On the next turn, the lines clashed.
But in the end, while we did some damage to the Romans, we took some ourselves, and just couldn't pull it off.
I think the best way I can sum up my first game of Hail Caesar is that I had a great time getting my ass kicked ;) A couple of high points in the rules for me:
1) Support mechanics. There's a mechanical reward for using contemporary tactics; it makes sense to form your units into lines, to have them operate in close proximity, and having the cohesion of your lines is a problem both because of the chance for outflanking, and because you lose support.
2) Speed of play. We had 8 players, with a command each, most of whom had never played the game before. Everyone made contact within around 3 turns, and the game progressed to a "call-able" state within three hours.
A couple of "might be good, might not" points.
i) Combat mechanics. These are a little different than what I'm used to, but reflect the philosophy underlying point 2. Each unit has a stamina, and takes damage until they reach that score. After that, combat gets very risky, and very decisive, very fast. Losing combat once you are shaken (i.e., have hit your stamina cap) produced a high likelihood of losing the unit, and big swings in the game can occur off a single bad die roll. Nothing much seems to happen in combat, and then it happens all at once, with no clear sense of how the end result reflected the overall process. For example, in the cavalry duel in the centre, I won a fight, won a fight, won a fight, and then my unit was destroyed by the one I'd been fighting. This happened in a few places across the table.
ii) I think the system strongly favours "endurance" units like the legions. Shock units, whether cavalry or infantry, just aren't going to punch through a resilient line without some very jammy rolls. In retrospect, I'm not sure how we would have succeeded in this game, at least given the deployment. There may be a critical role here for skirmishers or disposable troops, who can wear down tough units before contact, but their ability to do so seems limited.
This might be less of an issue if there was more room to manoeuvre, but under the circumstances in which we were playing, the game felt a little bit "line them up, and bang them together", with a clear advantage to whatever side had more innate resiliency.
I don't think this will replace Impetus for me, but I will be picking up the rules, and I think it does have a place in the canon; what HC lets you do is play a fun and time-efficient game with lots of figures and multiple people. I can see it being what I play when I want a bigger game than 500 point Impetus. We're also planning on trying it with our 80mm frontage / 15mm figs from Impetus, on a slightly smaller scale, maybe using cm instead of inches. We'll see if that opens up some room to manoeuvre.
Many thanks to JJM, who's collection is a product of years of focused work. I think everyone had themselves a grand time. I know I did.