It's not that I've being doing nothing, just I haven't raised brush to model in about 6 weeks. Other writing and development work has continued, if at a snails pace... here's one of the summer's few games.
Over the past 6 months one of my main ‘jobs’ has been developing and play-testing 'Soldiers of Rome', a version of my Soldiers of God rules for Imperial Rome vs its main enemies. I’ve already posted some of the battles of Rome vs the Barbarians, and they’ve been brilliant fun, the system works really well and bring the two side’s different methods of warfare to the fore.
I’m happy with the balance of Romans and Barbarians, both feel right, the Barbarians are scary, but the Romans stoic. The reckless Barbarians have the initial impetus, but the Roman’s more attritional style can wear them down and turn the tide, if you play your cards right.
I also want to include another style of warfare, the eastern one of horse archers and harassment, for the Parthian Empire (been here before with SoG). So, over the last month we’ve played a few games testing a Parthian list against the same Roman Legionary list, and new cards for the Parthians and their Sassanid and Kushani allies (war elephants, gotta love war elephants!).
Here are a few shots of my SoG Saracens army standing in for the Parthians. Horse tribesmen don’t change much, and they are the backbone of the Parthian army. Ghulams are standing in for Sassanid Cataphracts, not radically different really.
In this ‘small field battle’ I picked a Parthian army entirely mounted. 2 flanks of horse archers with my Cataphracts in the centre (and their elephant), and a simple battle plan to charge up the middle and smash my way through the Roman centre whilst skirmishing to hold the flanks and avoiding battle as best I could (and horse archers are good at avoiding a fight).
Of course, that plan did not survive contact with the enemy. The Romans had gone for an all out attack, advancing on both flanks but with the weight of his attack coming in the centre. We were on a direct collision course, but his centre was now the strongest point of his line, against which I would have to throw my heavy cavalry, which isn’t ideal. Such are the vagaries of the Battle Plan system. There would be a titanic clash in the centre, just when?
The reluctant war elephant... can't we give it an iced bun or something?
Here are a few snaps of the game in progress. It was a very, very close and a brilliant game. Both players know the game mechanics very well and stretched the system to the limit. Canny play and a few pieces of outrageous luck made for a see-saw battle that saw first the Romans in the ascendancy, then a strong Parthian comeback, then a spectacular Roman comeback to look like that might win it, to a very close finale where both sides almost broke.
The Romans started well, throwing a massive spanner in the works when my hired Kushani war elephant refused to fight due to a grievance over pay (or just being a stubborn brute). My shock troop, which was to lead the cavalry assault, was out of the game, and so I decided that to attack without it was to invite quick defeat and so held my lines. Meanwhile, the aggressive Romans pressed forwards down the length of the tabletop, coming on fastest in the centre with blocks of legionaries and their auxiliaries, support by a few archers and slingers. On the flanks my horse archers galloped forwards to engage with bows, and then fell back, as they should. It worked well on the left, but the Roman cavalry on my right (his left) made it impossible to do this ‘shoot and scoot’ for very long, they were closing in too fast, and so my right flank looked vulnerable. My horse archers are brilliant for nuisance value and their archery packs a punch, but if caught in melee, well, they aren’t up to much. It didn’t help when one small unit deserted and fled the field on a special ‘deserters’ event… eek. Cowards, come back!
As I awaited to get the card I needed which would see my elephant return to active duty, I kept up the flank skirmishing, and my archery began to tell, building up a lot of Disorder on auxiliary spearmen and archers. The Roman centre closed right in, almost to charge range (not far for heavy infantry in close order), so to buy me extra time my heavy cavalry centre fell back, and realigned their ranks for the charge that would come, but only when I wanted it, not before. The Romans long march across the table most continue. My enforced wait was worth it, suddenly the elephant resolved its greivance (here, have some more bushes to eat!), and immediately charged th surprised Romans! It piled headlong in a legionary block, trampling them and satisfyingly caused a lot of Disorder, before expiring in a pilum-stuck grey heap. Damage done though, elephants are quite expendable and rather unpredictable. With a legionary cohort in chaos from the paciderm, my first cataphract unit immediately followed up with a second charge. Kontos levelled, they slammed home and overwhelmed the legionaries, who broke and routed (not common that - routing cohorts). Suddenly, the Roman line looked weak, his auxiliary archers, surrounedd by horse archers also broke as did another unit of Auxilaries, worn down by horse archers. He lost 10 army morale (almost half) and was now on the back foot. The Parthians had started slowly but unleashed the power of heavy (and very heavy) cavalry. The other cataphracts also charged, and inflicted more Disorder. The big fight was on… and it was heated, many cards were being played on the melees as both sides could see this was the heart of the game. My initial charge’s impact was countered by the Ramans Rally card (grr, so much hard work for little) and being well-drilled. It would become a protracted fight, and the legionaries excel at them. Oh-dear, the battle was turning. The cavalry charged had not broken them.
On my right the Romans mopped up, killed the commander of my right battle and surrounding my last unit of horse archers with their own cavalry. They hung on for a while, with me spending cards to keep them in the fight, but it was a losing battle and it the end the horse archers were routed in a bloody masacre. Disaster, my entire right battle had been wiped out, I had lost a card form my hand for the lost commander, and the Roman cavalry were free to swing around the finish me. My army morale total plunged from a healthy 16 to 7… and suddenly the Romans were winning.
It was my left flank horse archers that came to the rescue, they galloped across the table to try and mop up the isolated Romans rear, including a Scorpios crew (who put up a tremendous fight and refused to die easily). Th light cavalry pepper the Roman’s centre battle’s commander with arrows, and he too survived and responded by charging into the horse archers and fighting a heroic melee, also saving his legionaries from being charged from the rear. But he could not save his vulnerable baggage train, and my last unit of fast cavalry closed in on that valuable prize, with nothing to stop them.
So came the finale, the last turns, with the Romans on 6 army morale and me on 8. Combat in the centre was vicious again, and my cataphracts came of worst. Two of the three units broke and routed, costing me 6 army morale. But the Romans lost their Scorpios, finally, and my horse archers pin-cushioned the baggage train mule handlers and its few civilians, destroying it too and grabbing the loot. With other Disorder this reduced the Romans to exactly 0, with the Parthians still on 2 army morale. The Romans conceded the battle and the field, but it had been so very, very close… a brilliant afternoon of very hard fighting, but victory for the Arscanid Emperor!
Well, the Parthians work… so far the games have all been even fights, and only a few tweaks to the elephant rules required along with a new ‘Elephant Ramage’ special event. So the game now has three army lists and the action card deck is split between all three factions: Roman Legions, Barbarians and Parthians. The game is almost done for development. Now to write up the rules in the full… Soldiers of Rome may well see the light of day in 2017.