The Roman World, To the Strongest, 28mm
This week – a day of non-stop rain – Campbell and I braved the elements and made it to the club, where we fought a small Ancients game, using my Gauls and Caesarean Romans. This was Campbell’s first foray into the Gallic Wars, and his first proper experience with To the Strongest. Having just spent six weeks painting them, I took command of the Gauls (actually the Helvetii for this game), while Campbell commanded the Romans. The game was fought on a 6×4 foot table, with an 8″ grid superimposed on it. To save time and trouble we dispensed with the cool pre-game sequence. Instead, we placed our rival camps, deployed our armies and waded straight into the fight. Both sides has six infantry units – 18 man Roman cohorts on one side, and 36 man Helvetian warbands on the other. Both sides also enjoyed the support of two cavalry units (each 9 figures strong), and a skirmish unit (also 9 figures). Finally, each army had three commanders – one of them being the senior one – Chief Tobleronix for the Helvetii, and Legate Maximus Crispinus for the Romans. This meant that each side had three “brigade-sized” commands – an important point, as in To the Strongest the side with the initiative gets to go first with one of his commands, then the other side chooses one of his own, and so on until everyone has gone. So, getting the order right was one of the challenges facing us. You turn cards for everything – there are no dice. I used mini cards, bought on e-Bay, so they weren’t too intrusive as full-sized ones when you stick them on the tabletop next to activated units. The Romans went first by advancing their force. I replied with an advance of my own, so the two sides were now in easy charge range of each other. This was going to be short and bloody – or so we thought. I got the initiative on the next turn, so my centre charged in, led by Tobleronix, carried into action by four shieldbearers, like Chief Vitalstatistix from the Asterix cartoons. The Romans threw their pila as I came in – no effect – and in the melee I disordered the two leading Roman units. So far so good. Elsewhere the two lines clashed too, although on the Roman left (and Gallic right) I had an overlap of warbands, held up by a solitary unit of Gallic ally horse. Unfortunately for Chief Yodelix and the Teutones on that flank, I kept on pulling lousy cards, and mt advance there ground to a halt. Things were hotting up on the left too. The Helvetian cavalry and their Roman ally counterparts – an auxiliary ala of the Aedui – charged, countercharged, clashed and swirled, but apart from both sides disordering each other nothing else happened. The supporting two warbands of the Tigurini under Chief Cukuclox whacked into the cohorts on the Roman right flank, but both sides didn’t score any hits. Back in the centre the Romans were holding their own. The melee there had degenerated into a big long hacking match, and the two sides seemed fairly well-balanced.In To the Strongest, both sides hit on a card of 6 or more (8 if disordered), while the Romans save themselves from hits on a 6 or more, while the Gauls need a 7 or more. However, the Romans get disordered if they take a single hit, and are removed on their second one. The Gauls get disordered too, but take three hits before they break. So, it was a struggle between skill versus wight of numbers. We were actually doing something wrong here – something crucial. Each 8″ box could only contain one deep warband, but two Roman cohorts. We were letting the rearmost cohort step forward to relieve the front one if the leading cohort got disordered. However, on re-reading the rules it turns out you can’t do that if the enemy are in an adjacent square. It gave the Romans an important edge, and while it accurately reflected their ability and professionalism, it wasn’t in the rules! The Romans lost the first unit in the centre, but any Gallic crowing was cut short when the same happened to a warband of Verbigeni. The Roman ability to relieve pressure on the line wasn’t available to the Gauls, and as their warbands inevitably disordered, they were forced to pull back towards their own base-line. The following turn both sides lost another unit, which meant that I’d now surrendered six victory medals, and Campbell had lost four. You see, each unit is worth victory points – three for a warband or camp, two for a cohort, cavalry unit or a general, and one for skirmishers. Each army had a set number of medals – 11 for the Helvetii, and 10 for the Romans. We were now down to 5 and 6 respectively. You lose the game when you surrender your last medal.We were now entering a new and rather dynamic phase of the battle. The Romans had chopped a hole in the Helvetian ranks, and were about to exploit it. I’d actually started reforming some of my disordered units, but that meant I’d given ground. the Romans rolled on, and one cohort even charged my camp – a wagon laager , but were repulsed and disordered by the defending unit of Gallic archers. The two sides were pretty spent, but the Romans were more manoueverable as they didn’t have big deep units to activate. So, led by Maximus Crispus himself, after wiping out my Verbigeni warband, the 4th cohort, led by Maximus Crispus himself, turned 90 degrees to its right and charged into the flank of an already disordered warband of the Tigurini, over on the Gallic left. That’s the situation in the picture above. The warband broke, which took me down to just 2 medals. Defeat was staring me in the face. then, on what turned out to be the last turn, Gallic fortune took a turn for the better. First, the Tigurini cavalry over on my left flank broke their opponents – that ala of the Aedui auxiliary horse. The same thing happened over on my right, as the Teutones horse charged into the flank of the Roman’s second cavalry unit – an auxiliary ala of the Allobroges. It routed, which netted me another four victory medals. So, I was down to two, and Campbell had one. That’s where we ran out of time. We’d still everything to play for – both armies were within a decent card turn of victory – but we decided to call it a day, and declared the game an honourable stalemate. I’m still getting my head around To the Strongest, but I really like the rules, and while we got off to a slow start, by the end of the game we were fairly flying along, with very little need to check on the rules. The systems are pretty intuitive, and the game had a nice rhythm to it, as we got used to deciding which command to activate, and calculating the pros and cons of each unit activation. Getting the order right is crucial, and we were both getting pretty good at spotting the key points of the battlefield by the end. Campbell declared the rules to be excellent – he really enjoyed his virginal foray into the Ancient world. So much so, in fact, that he’s buying a Caesarean army for himself. Next time too, we’ll have the rules down better. Already though, To the Strongest have become our Ancient rules set of choice.