Yesterday I completed my first run (part-game) of Lost Battles and, as hoped and expected, they showed great potential for me.
I tried Bibracte, using Sabin's post-deployment positions provided on his map (see my previous post). Bibracte is one of 35 major battles in the book for which he provides a description, scenario and some analysis. I'll chiefly use photos and captions to describe this playtest/game, following on with some general observations and ideas of how I intend to progress with Lost Battles.
A note before you read on.
I made sure that I kept the units arrayed within the zone and most-often had the lead unit a little in advance of the others. This makes the photos look quite abstracted with precious little 'contact' between opposing forces that are supposed to be in deadly hand-to-hand combat! It's a factor of a novice with grids/zones in miniature wargaming, rather than a factor of the rules and how they work aesthetically. I think/hope that I improved with this as the game went on...
As with the historical action, it is the Helvetii and their allies who take the initiative in this game. I rolled an above average '5' for command, giving them a total of ten commands to use to open their account (after adding five for their army fighting value).
|Next, the group to their left, using another two commands. For these I left two stands in the rear zone for some hoped-for, tricksy, flank stuff later on.|
|Then the last group of foot warriors. Four commands left.|
|These I used to turn the two bases of warriors that I had left behind in the rear zone and move them one zone to the left at a cost of two commands each.|
|Leaving the table looking thus.|
I called it a night at that stage, saving the Roman phase of Turn 1 for my next instalment.
|I took advantage of having loads of commands to 'spend', to bring on the un-deployed legionaries (at rear of the photo). These used two commands and could only enter the camp (which I indicated with a few shield markers and individual figures).|
|I used Caesar's command exemptions next (I don't think that there is any requirement to use them first?) for the appropriate purpose of sending the legions in the zone with him to attack the centre of the Helvetii line.|
|This resulted in the Gaul's lead unit being shattered, along with one other and a third being spent.|
I made two important mistakes here. Firstly, I should have re-designated the Gaul's lead unit when it became spent, so the result should have been three units spent and one shattered. This I realised at the end of the turn.
My second mistake was that I only 'charged' the Romans one command for the attack bonus. This was a biggie as it enabled the group of legionaries in the next zone to also attack using attack bonuses (I did not realise this mistake until the end of the following turn!).
|The legions from the Roman left-front zone attacked.|
Due to my error in the number of commands required, each was given an attack bonus:
- the first base caused one hit, the second failed to hit, the third produced a hit and the last two hits!
|By the photo, this resulted in the lead unit being shattered and another becoming spent—I evened up my mistakes a little here as I seem to have missed a hit!|
|The first game is all about making mistakes, isn't it? I had forgotten morale for the Gauls! Not a big problem as I rolled 3s and so had no effect.|
|Having realised two of my three mistakes, it was clearly time for another break! I rolled for the Gaul's second turn, a '4' giving them eight commands to use; next time.|
|Time to counter-attack the Romans:|
- a hit, a miss and a second hit (photos above and below)...
|... followed by a second miss with the last of the allowable attacks. This left the Roman left-front zone with two spent units and the Roman's lead unit twice re-defined.|
|Time to incorrectly count commands in favour of the Gauls(!), allowing the centre zone to attack:|
-adjudicated no hit, hit, no hit (although looking at the dice in the photos, I think it should have been three misses!).
My poor counting of commands continued, allowing the centre-left zone to attack the Roman allied cavalry:
- inflicting no hits!
|A roll of just '2' for the Romans, but still nine commands, plus Caesar's two exemptions.|
|Attack bonuses used for each one (I continued to under-'charged' at a command each); but only two were needed before the Gaulish centre non iam exstat!|
|A morale roll of three says that the other Gauls were not perturbed.|
|Send in the left!|
|Not such great rolls this time, even with the attack bonus (@ incorrect cost of one command), but sufficient to inflict four hits, one to each Gaul base, as each took it in turn to be the lead unit.|
|The last Roman command was used to give a base of veteran legionaries in the camp a double move to begin to protect the right flank.|
As I had expected, after I read the book back in July last year and checked out some of the games and descriptions on Here's no great matter, Parade Ground 20 mm and Ancient & Mediaeval Wargaming, the excellent blogs of Aaron, Tony and Keith respectively, I like the overall model/system of Lost Battles. Also as expected, I am not convinced about wanting to be constrained to zones, I don't really like commands (although this Lost Battles version is far preferable to me than other dice/pip-style movement systems), I'd like more detail in combat and to further eliminate the idea of 'units'.
I made copious notes of ideas as I played and am going to wholeheartedly take on Philip Sabin's imprimatur to adapt and to adjust:
The model comes into its own as a vehicle for user experimentation with different ideas and interpretations, including through tweaks to the system itself (p. 225).
It may seem precipitous to some, but I am ready to 'tweak' already!
When one has been wargaming as long as most of us who operate and read blogs, you know what you like, what you don't and have some idea of what you are looking for—even if not quite sure how to produce it. Added to that is the time imperative of being in the shorter, second 'half' of life!
Rather than 'ditch' zones altogether, I think I'll try something akin to Empire's grand tactical and tactical movement. This will have forces move by zone until they are one zone apart and then to scale-down movement to a slower rate. These will be at factors of a base move of 'X'. Initially I'll use my base width as X, hoping that this will scale naturally with different sized games. Foot will move 1BW, horse 2BW, charges at double move rate, uphill/river/swamp/marsh deduct 1/2BW. Other things may occur as I go along...
I plan to get rid of commands, to have simultaneous movement with each group (see later) able to move once in a turn—as the constraints of the presence of terrain, friends and enemies allow. This 'let the player move everything' is an aspect that I really liked in Impetus (amongst other rule sets that operate like this). I may need to introduce restrictions on changing 'orders' each turn, insisting that charges keep charging or such, but I strongly suspect that this will not be necessary, particularly with the scaling of movement to two levels.
I reckon that I'll keep the deployment aspect of Lost Battles (which I have not even used yet!), with each side drawing up a simple order of march, that will dictate the order of arrival (as I won't have commands to limit this). Movement in this part will then be per Lost Battles (since the forces will be beyond one zone apart, by definition).
I want to have forces move and to fight by groups appropriate for the scenario and nationality. I read Book 1 of Caesar's commentaries in detail (along with Holmes and Napoleon's descriptions/analysis) as I played through this part-game. It screams out to me that the main body of the Helvetii operated in one mass at Bibracte. The four front-line Roman legions did too. At Vosges, the armies were perhaps in three separate groups (centre, left, right). There is a habit for ancient wargames to begin with lines of troops and then to break into smaller and smaller sub-groups/actions as a battle/game goes on. This does not seem correct to me. My understanding of other battles/campaigns gives me the same impression (e.g. Alexander's battles, Punic war battles). The use of zones in Lost Battles gets around this 'problem'. I am keen to do the same, but with more freedom of movement appropriate to a miniature wargames tabletop (as first introduced by von Reisswitz in Kriegsspiel).
For each battle/scenario there will be some kind of mandated requirement for the minimum group size. Troops will move and fight in these groups. At Bibracte, the entire Gaul and Roman front line will be single groups. I plan to use the combat factors (and probably most of the modifiers) from Lost Battles, rolling for each base, but to have 'hits' accumulate on the group. Impacts will be based on hits per base with impacts on fighting ability beginning at half the number of hits to bases, a group becoming spent at one hit per base and shattered at two. (At this stage I do not want to introduce another level at 3/4, but we'll see).
As I am going to discard the zones once forces are within a zone of one another, I'll have separate missile and hand-to-hand combat. These will use the same 'to hit' factors (and probably modifiers), at least in the first instance. Range for javelin/pilum will be 50 m (a bit long, but works with the scale of the zones), while 150 m for bow and sling. I am hoping and expecting that the combination of scaled-down movement, terrain, charges and the like will enable a key difference between Bibracte and Vosges to 'fall out'. That is, the failure of the Gauls to come to grips with the Roman line at the former, compared with their hitting the line before the Romans could throw their pila in the latter.
Using the above, the rules for morale should largely work as they are, except I'm thinking that I'll test as a group, not as a base and may add in a few other modifiers. We'll see. I'll keep the impact of commanders as they are, apart from command exemptions.
Playing solo will enable me to 'make it up as I go along' and even include elements of the narrative version of Kriegsspiel to make an umpires judgement on things (adding in rules later if necessary). I am hoping and expecting that this dynamic and iterative process will enable me to refine and to clarify my adaptations to a level that I could explain them to another person, if required.
I'll use Bibracte once or even twice more as the testing ground of ideas. Assuming that my ideas survive this level of 'contact with the enemy', I'll apply my adapted Lost Battles to other actions of the first year of Caesar's Gallic campaign, intending to begin with the skirmishes with the tribes of the Alps (which is outside the intended size for Lost Battles), proceed to the first attack on the Helvetii when crossing the Saône, possibly to yet another go at Bibracte and then to the Vosges/defeat of Ariovistus. These will keep me going for quite some time! The succeeding years of the campaign and the civil war will beckon after that...
Before I do any of that though, I want to apply at least some base colours to the Gauls and perhaps add in a few 'accessories' so as to improve the look of my next attempt.
Caesar, GJ (2012) Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul. Military History From Primary Sources Ed. B Carruthers. Pen & Sword Military (an imprint of Pen & Sword Books Ltd), Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England. 256 pp.
Sabin, PAG (2013) Lost Battles Reconstructing the Great Clashes of the Ancient World. First Published 2007. Bloomsbury Publishing, London. 298 pp.