Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Project SPQR - Pt 3: Ausculum

After having pulled the counters for this 1+ mapper (that wouldn't fit in a poster frame, sadly), and finding the various markers that my family's darling moppets hid around my game room last time we had a family gathering here, I finally decided to pull this out and get it done. Surprisingly difficult, as I had a lot of gaming going on here during that time and needed at least four or five days to get through what is one of the larger battles in the set. 

I felt I had a better grasp of how to use the Velites with the Romans, most of whom managed to get in, cause a lot of damage to the Epirote skirmisher line, and get out again with only one or two losses. I can't say the same for the Epirote skirmishers, who got steamrolled by the Hastatii line with little disruption, although the Hastatii then took a lot of damage from the phalanx and heavy infantry, and some of them managed to escape before routing. 

The Principes line smashed handily into the Epirote center, composed of Tarentine medium infantry, which buckled rather badly. Worse for the Epirotes, they lost the leader who commanded the phalanx on their left, effectively castrating that part of the line from advancing at a point when the Roman portion of the line had taken heavy damage. At the same time, the Romans were punching through the center and Pyhrrus had to bring up the reserve heavy infantry to try to plug the hole. Cavalry on both sides were not a big factor, although both met and each side had varying degrees of success. 

At this point, the shine came off of the game for me. Early on, I'd been thinking how much I liked the system, especially now that I'd figured out to put the damage markers under the units rather than on top. The things that acted as gumption traps for me:
  • Shortage of counters for both shock combat and damage. I ran out of 1/2 counters pretty quickly, a testament to how effective getting the Velites and Hastatii out of harms way had worked. I was using the Shock markers with arrows on them to denote that the unit had moved into combat and got the various bonuses associated with it. In both cases, I had to raid my 2nd ed SPQR game for more counters, which I was hoping to avoid.
  • Difficulty in differentiating the alae cohorts from the Roman units. The biggest problem here is that the alae in the Hastatii line and the Principes line are virtually indistinguishable from each other aside from the ID letter, which is *tiny*. As such, trying to determine which units would be activated for shock, formation integrity, etc, became a chore, taking 15 minutes just to figure out which units could attack and which couldn't (you can activate both lines at the same time, but only one is considered In Command). Not too bad once the Hastatii had pulled back, but there were still quite a few that I had to mark to determine if the Principes line was still intact. 
  • Too many special rules for the campaign, split between two rulebooks (Simple and Original). Combined with Berg's *long* discussions of the various reasoning behind the rules, and I started to lose interest. I don't think I used any other than the terrain rules for the river between the two forces. One, the Devotio rule where one of the two Roman Consuls commits the Latin equivalent of hari kiri in order to get a benefit, doesn't actually seem to *do* anything other than get him out of the way to let the more effective Consul take charge, as most of the bonuses affect *that* activation, but that's all you're supposed to *do* in the activation, so you'd never see the bonuses. 
As such, I played up to the point where the Romans had clearly broken through the center and Pyhrrus was about to advance to plug the hole. I looked at the game, lost every ounce of gumption I had, and packed it up. 

This doesn't hold a lot of promise for the rest of the Project, at least in the sense of playing the rest of the scenarios out using the Simple GBoH rules, and I'm not even going to consider playing using the regular rules. Another part of the problem is that I just don't enjoy solitaire play enough with this system to work through the standard rules, at least with this system. I'd much rather play HL2 on VASSAL or Fields of Fire, so as of now I'm abandoning this particular gaming goal for 2009. It may morph into me trying the system with a different game (one with fewer scenarios, such as Devil's Horsemen or Chandragupta), but I don't know that it will be that much different. There are a lot of other games I have opponents for that I'm interested in. 

Kind of a disappointment, really. The system has a certain appeal to me, but the truth is that much of the Simple system is based on getting units into combat then seeing how things work out, with a certain amount of leaders running around to allow some units to get out of trouble. It does show how best to use the Roman manipular legion (apply each wave to the combat, get them out when things get dicey, then on to the next wave), but at a certain point things will just kind of move along on their own and you watch units live or die on the whim of the (linear) die roll. However, it was rewarding to see the goal of the system (hope that you punch through the line before your legionnaires die in sufficient number to rout). 

I'm also enjoying listening to First Man In Rome, the first in Colleen McCullough's excellent historical fiction series on the Late Republic and it's conversion to the Empire, with a focus on the Marian reforms and the shift from Consular armies operated by elected generals (good to keep the military from running things, at least up until around 30BCE, bad for actually winning battles). I may come back to this at some point in the future, but it certainly won't be a focus until after WBC West is over and I'm not so concentrated on getting up to speed on games that seem to change weekly. 

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