Sunday, February 08, 2009

Project SPQR, Pt 1 - Bagradas Plains

A couple of years ago I blogged (with pictures!) on playing through one of the scenarios from GMT's Great Battles of History - SPQR game using the Simple GBoH ruleset. Bagradas Plains is one of the very few land battles from the first Punic War and wasn't much of a challenge for the Carthaginians, with the Romans going down twice in a row. 

This year, one of my gaming goals is to get through all 14 or so of the Deluxe SPQR scenarios using whatever ruleset I feel like at the time, which for now means the Simple rules (the "normal" rules, while in their third iteration and theoretically in good shape, are 32 pages and that game requires more markers than I'm going to know what to do with). I had intended to get through one or two before the start of the year, but a grandchild and the Death March that was trying to grok Fields of Fire became put the kibosh on that idea. Still, better late than never.

Simple GBoH is one of those strange beasts that works up to a point. In all three of my Bagradas Plains exercises, I tried to use the Romans as they were modeled to be. You run the Velites up to the front, throw a few javelins around, they run back. The Hastati charge up, and when they start looking ragged you pull them back and insert the Principes, which can take a lot of damage. Through all of this you are hoping that your Roman cavalry will hold out for at least long enough to keep the much better Carthaginian cavalry from worrying your flanks. 

The problem with Bagradas Plains is two fold. First, it's a tiny Roman army, and not deployed in double depth (stacking the legions together), so they have very exposed flanks. Second, the Carthaginians have a huge line of elephants deployed in the front, which creates more trouble. The Velites aren't faster than the elephants, so they can't just melt away when the elephants get close, although they can use reactive missile fire when the elephants engage to shock. Worse, if by some miracle the Velites could manage to start a turn exactly two spaces away from elephants so that they could use their Hit and Run tactics, there's a negative DRM against them if attacking said elephants. As such, the Velites are kind of useless against this kind of skirmish line. Making things worse, the elephants are only worth two rout points each in this game, whereas the Velites are worth five each, so trading units isn't going to cut it (although there are about twice as many elephants as Velites). 

As such, I decided that the Velites would have a much better time of it trying to hurt the elephants by letting them charge in and at least get the chance to cause rampages if they hit with a reactive missile attack. The results were about what you'd expect - the elephants are more or less expendable from the Carthaginian perspective, so the Romans end up beating up their Velites and Hastati just clearing them out, while the Carthaginians move up their cavalry to engage and wipe out the Romans cav. Fortunately for the Romans, the Carthaginians felt like pursuing the routing Roman cav, including their leaders, and as such that threat was at least taken away in large part. 

However, the elephants caused so much damage that the Romans couldn't withstand more than a few rounds of the Carthaginian main line crashing into them, with the phalanxes on the Roman right and the Celtic infantry to the right. Cohesion hits in Simple are a bitch - they never go away and they have an enormous effect on your ability to fight. It wasn't long before the Romans passed their 120 rout point limit and once again lost the day.

It's a good learning scenario in some respects (scope, for one, and limited missile troops), but in almost every other it's not a great way to learn to play a Roman legion. 

With the "learning scenario" down, it's on to Heraclea and the Tarentine Wars, where our man Pyrrhus got famous, he of the "Phrrhic Victory" where you win at such a high cost that you really end up losing. From this point on, we play the scenarios in historical order. Again, this is only the scenarios that come in the Deluxe third edition box, which means most of the scenarios from the original four expansions (both of the Tarentine War scenarios are from one of these), as well as a few that were originally published in other forms. 

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