Sunday, 10 January 2016

Augustus to Aurelian Play Test

Rules review and play-test by JJ and Mr Steve

Another Roman army disappeared in the German Wald yesterday as the DWG play tested Phil Hendry's rule set "Augustus to Aurelian" (AtoA) published by the Too Fat Lardies back in 2012. 

I got a copy of the rules back then when I listened to Phil's interview with Neil Shuck on the Meeples Podcast, where he discussed the design principles behind the rules.

The rules are card driven, like many of the Lardies own sets, and the cards determine when commanders and their units get to do things in the game. I know that is not to everyone's taste, but I personally love games where that "friction" is built in to stop players having a totally unrealistic control over their army.

Having had the rules in my library for several years now and in the process of constructing a 28mm Dacian Wars/ Germania collection of figures as well as trying out sets of rules that might "tick the boxes" for me as far as what I want in my ancient games, I have been looking forward to giving AtoA a run out.

Over the Xmas break Mr Steve sorted out his 15mm collection to organise some forces that would cover the period I am interested in whilst I got the cards and various markers together to give them a run through yesterday.

Simple laminated cards created to drive the game

I should stress that this game was played very much as a "test game" and in the spirit of seeing what the rules can offer plus how easy were they to play with a group of us who hadn't played them previously. Please don't get too concerned seeing figures that aren't quite what they represent as Mr Steve is not really in to Romans or Principate Romans for that matter and so we have them on table as stand ins.

So the table below shows the game set up at start with the Romans (left picture) and the Germans (right picture and nearest camera).

German warband division set up in woods bottom left using their "Forest Fiend" attributes.

"Carpe Diem" cards allow the commanders to try and take action at specific points in the game

The various troop types in the rules and army lists come with special attributes that can differentiate the various armies. The table was set up to offer the Germans the best possible kind of terrain they would choose to fight in and so were able to choose one of four "Forest Fiend" attributes. Mr Steve the willy German commander chose "Mist and Rain" which presupposes the Germans have made full advantage of the poor visibility and conditions prevailing in the German wald to manoeuvre one of their warband divisions through the trees on to the Roman right flank after the Romans had set up

The Roman Legionaries bottom right were too far away to support the auxiliaries to their right and had little impact in the game - well it was a test game and we won't do that again!

In addition as "Forest Fiends" the Germans found moving through the thick German forest easier than the drilled Roman troops which only added to Roman problems.

For their part the Romans would try to take advantage of the "Triplex Acies" rule that enabled them to fight more extended and to support front rank units with rear rank units in combat, whilst making good use of their "Pila" rule where casualties inflicted would count towards the hand to hand total of casualties and thus impact on results in those combats, plus their "Gladius" rule giving them an extra die role in hand to hand combat in the second round of fighting.

The "Meridiato" Cards of which there are two determine a reshuffle of the deck
 and  start the hand to hand combat phase in the game

As you can see the orders of battle in AtoA are similar to "Hail Caesar" and designed around ideally divisions of four or more units, known as formations in the rules, each under a commander with a general commanding the army.

The level of these commanders determines what they can do, with army commanders able to change the orders of formations under their command and within command range, whilst formation commanders are concerned with the management of their individual units and trying to make sure they are in the right place at the right time to oversee and potentially aid combat whilst watching over units that are close to becoming shaken, or disordered.

The order that the opposing commanders get to do things, like moving and charging their respective units is determined by when their commander card appears from the deck. To help identify respective commanders I produced some little picture profiles of each commander that was placed by the respective models and you can see them on table.

The German Commanders had their set up issues as well, as this powerful warband division was to far away from the Commander to have their orders changed from "Hold" for most of the game - remember "test game"

Each individual commander has a command rating from 1 to 3, that determines how many cards with their face on gets put in the deck. This means the more cards the more likely that commanders card may appear first and the more likely they will get to do multiple tasks during a phase, bearing in  mind that the units under their command can only do one type of action one in a phase.

The range of actions available to a formation commander are;
  • add a d6" of movement to a unit that he is attached to, known as "Follow me lads".
  • add a die to a reaction test.
  • increase a units Combat Dice by one die for that round of combat if accompanying the unit.
  • remove disorder marker
  • remove a casualty once from an un-engaged stationary unit, usually done to prevent the unit from becoming shaken and thus forced to take a reaction test.

The Legionaries with attached artillery and skirmishers had limited impact on the game 

As well as the commander cards, the players each were given "Carpe Diem" cards designed to allow the respective sides to attempt to interrupt the card play from the deck and take the initiative before the opposing player could react. These cards were held in hand, to begin with but once played went into the deck to be shuffled and would allow activation of a commander from the respective side when later drawn from the deck.

The various commanders had differing numbers of cards in the deck
with their portrait that allowed them to activate them and their "divisions"

To simulate the better command and control of the Romans vs the Germans they received seven
Carpe Diem cards to the Germans five, based on one card per formation, plus the Roman bonus.

The main German attack moves in against the Roman Auxiliary division ahead, set up unprepared facing straight ahead

The final cards in the deck consisted of two Meridiatio cards which with the first card drawn warn players that the phase is close to ending and with the second ends the phase of play by concluding the outcome of any hand to hand combats that have occurred in prior movement, allowing unactivated units to shoot and react. Once done the pack is reshuffled and a new phase of play begins.

German light and Noble cavalry cover the open ground in the centre

As indicated at the set up, the Germans took full advantage of the terrain which aided their initial placement and attack and did nothing to allow the Romans to make full use of their manoeuvring advantages.

The first attacks when they came caused the Romans to have to expend their advantage in Carpe Diem cards as the auxiliaries fought to keep the German division at bay.

Tribesmen - fousands of em!

With little option left but to fight, the plight of the auxiliaries gave us ample opportunity to try out the combat system as cohorts slammed into warband and the mayhem began.

The combat process is very straight forward with each troop type given a combat attack (CA) factor with the auxiliaries on a 3 and the warbands with their size of unit advantage on a 4. This basic factor is used to find the column on the Combat Attack chart and aligned with the row that corresponds with the enemy's armour. Thus the Germans with no armour gave the auxiliaries a basic chance to hit of 6 or less on a D10 whilst the Germans against the auxiliaries medium armour were hitting on a basic 5.

This hit number can be adjust up or down according to circumstances, for example flank or rear attacks, winning previous round of combat, first round if Romans had thrown pila, plus others. Each unit would then get to throw a set number of D10 determined by size of unit thus the warbands were generally throwing four dice to the auxiliaries three. Again the dice thrown could be adjusted with attached commanders able to add a die and Romans in second round of combat getting an extra die for their "Gladius" special rule.

The number of hits were then recorded with the micro dice and an eye kept on the total hits suffered, as once the unit's outlook number was equalled by the hits taken the unit was deemed Shaken, severely impacting its ability to fight and increasing its chances of breaking.

The Roman Commander's card. His head was last seen atop a German spear,
disappearing among the trees

Roman Auxiliary infantry with Roman Ala cavalry top right

The indication of how straight forward the combat was, was how quickly we started to roll through the stats to resolve it, not without a few mistakes along the way, but that's why you play test games.

The first unit on Roman Auxiliary infantry charges in trying to hold up the impending German attack

Shooting attacks were conducted similarly to combat with the added factor for range and shield etc.

The whole idea is to degrade the enemy with hits quicker than they you and thus break units and then complete formations to gain a victory.

Commanders and Carpe Diem cards become critical as the action intensifies, and the ability of commanders to influence the larger battle degrades as they get caught up trying to do multiple tasks at the same time.

Lots of Germans closing in on the Roman right flank

In our game the Roman forces were under growing pressure to win combats forced upon them that commanders were forced to add their extra combat die effect by attaching to units but then running the risk to themselves.

The German centre moves in as the battle on the Roman right flank develops

The reaction tests that followed required the rolling of 2D6 and looking to roll lower than the morale rating for the unit to be ok, thus auxiliaries were testing on 7 and warbands on a 6. To the dice roll were added or deducted situational factors, such as excess casualties suffered compared to the enemy, being attacked in flak or rear, already shaken, deductions would include rear and flank supports, the general attached etc.  

If the morale rating was exceeded then the size of the excess determined the severity of the reaction ranging from disorder to disperse with a result of 5 or more in excess.

More fighting and push-backs as the battle on the Roman right develops

As our battle unfolded, it became more and more obvious that the Roman position was untenable and given our focus of throwing units into the fray to see how the rules worked, it was little surprise when with two Roman generals killed, the auxiliary division broke, leaving the Roman cavalry and legionaries to face a fast approaching horde of German warbands intent on sealing the deal.

Meanwhile without new orders the German right flank holds its ground

The accompanying pictures reveal the progress to this invertible defeat.

So what did the game demonstrate other than not to put your legionaries so far away from your auxiliaries and take extra care on a table covered in German forest? Quite a lot I think.

The game rolled along really well with lots of entertainment and drama generated especially in the combat. The game is not complicated and with plenty of scope for tailoring units and scenarios by adjusting the various stats and set up options.

I now know what markers are needed to make the game more attractive and easier for players to monitor the status of their commanders and units.

I know we made mistakes in the game and that some were spotted as we went along and others with reading and checking the rules after the game, but nothing major and only confirms my thinking that these are a straight forward set of rules to play with no major quirks revealed.

After just one play I have to say I really like them a lot and I want to play them more regularly and am now thinking about what I need to create in the way of stat cards for units and other table top markers that will be easy on the eye.

So lets see what Mr Steve thought?

Casualties mount - the little red marker dice record the hits taken and will determine who has to take a Reaction/Break test

First up I would like to say that my collection of ancients is sadly lacking much in the way of any Roman figures therefore when Jon asked me to supply armies so that he could try out this set of rules it was looking a little bit tricky. For Imperial Romans I substituted some old Marian period figures I found in a dusty box and which one day might be used to fight the Pontic army currently under construction and the best I could do for Auxiliaries was to use various Republican Romans and any odd Thorakitai I had available. Apologies therefore in advance .

I will let Jon cover the actual events of the game itself to preserve my modesty so let’s get onto the rules themselves with the usual proviso of course that after just one play through any subsequent game would be much smoother and be more likely to follow the rules properly (and play all those rules we had missed out). 

With the Roman right flank in disarray, German cavalry move up to take advantage

The randomised movement is of course in line with the majority of other Lardey games so it wasn’t anything new to us, did it work for an ancients game? I think it did; if we played it correctly then you have the possibility of getting two activations per commander which you can then use for one movement activation and then for some other things like boosting fighting or morale/disorder recovery etc. how and what you can do depends on your leaders level of course. Formations/commands get a group order which they must follow until changed and whilst I play this sort of thing in other eras I am still undecided on whether I am for or against it in these rules .

One thing I wasn’t sure on was if you could move your leader in both of his activations , this point arose after I remembered that only the General can amend orders and that mine was miles away over on the left flank and that my right flank leader was stuck with hold orders. There was some discussion later that evening on whether a leader would just sit there and not attack by using his initiative; we decided that you could see various points arguing for and against this happening so as it’s in the rules then that’s what you play to.

The Roman auxiliaries fight a losing battle as they try to stem the German attack

I didn’t see much disadvantage for the Germans in unit control or movement as I had been promised beforehand ; admittedly the Romans could utilise their special advantages to allow them more space between their units and theirs commanders but as long as the Germans maintained a battle line then their much smaller command radius wasn’t a problem, I guess if we had a few broken units falling out then getting them back might have been harder but the beauty of Barbarians is that there are always more tribesmen waiting to take their place.

Fighting is straight forward, you cross reference your attack skill against the opponent’s armour rating , then throw a quantity of D10’s relevant to your unit. However when this takes place wasn’t immediately clear (i.e. we cocked it up), even with my exceptional brightness it took us some time to grasp that we were doing it at the wrong time in the move so perhaps a better layout of the turn sequence is required (my point, I guess, is that however clearly its explained in the rules, we didn’t spot it or get it right for several moves and the majority of us weren’t drunk nor are totally senile yet).

German and Roman cavalry clash (left) that saw the Roman commander killed whilst attached desperately trying to stop the rot, whilst a mixed unit of German light cavalry and skirmishers charge into the rear of an auxiliary column!!

I found it really helps to be a large unit when fighting (any armour helps as well) as you will get more dice to roll and usually a combat can last for several rounds which is as it should be, however as the Roman legionaries were so disgracefully lead we never got the opportunity to try out either the Pilum rules nor their own combat abilities on barely clothed Germans; this may have been much more devastating than what the medium sized auxiliaries units could dish out. I think making all the German units large may have been a mistake but I suppose it was some compensation for being classed in the worst possible defence class.

Most units can only take 4 hits before the next hit shakes them and thus requiring a morale test to be taken against their rating (combat losers always test as well), non fighting supports help in morale so the positioning of troops is important and there are lots of special abilities which is always fun as long as you can remember them.

With the Roman cavalry engaged in the centre with the German opposites the legionaries just in shot bottom move up to oppose the supporting warbands

So let’s run down the key points of any rule set one by one.

Movement: Works Ok, although I must put in a general gripe for all rules to include both 28mm and 15mm measurements covering shooting ranges as well, in this day and age surely it cannot be too difficult to have two versions of the QRF on-line (see Fire and Fury). The variable move works as does the sudden ending of a turn. You also move by formation (i.e. commands) activation which is both speedier and more realistic, units do/can move individually if they wish but all their friends will also get to move as well at the same time . 

Fighting/Shooting. Also Ok.

Simple to do and has enough differentials to cover the Ancient era. I liked the method that fighting is carried out after all movement (eventually!)and as you are not sure when the move will end then units get fed in bit by bit with one side really hoping that the next card up stops the turn.

The battle reaches a full crescendo as two Roman commanders go down in the fighting

Morale. Ok.
Not too many +/- to work out but enough to make it interesting. I would like the results table to be a little better in its meanings and applications and we also spent some trying to work out what happened after combat in all possibilities.

We managed to kill two of the Roman leaders and whilst it is clear what to do when junior generals get their just deserts we couldn’t find out what to do when the Big Cheese himself runs out of breathing privileges.   

Personal Hobby horses addressed:
No points list for army calculation although there are general army lists and unit stats available. I didn’t think our game was very balanced but as I was German I wasn’t the one crying in my beer. 
Obviously not relevant for those who hate army lists.    

Skirmishers, not really effective in their purpose of screening but handled better than in some other rules which I am no longer allowed to mention.

Charge Moves: I have some unease about just doubling your normal move to become its charge move as it is in this set , I think I am probably in the camp of allowing  a little bit extra , say 50% on top of normal but its really not that terrible I suppose.  

The auxiliary division (top left) is broken and the legionary division beyond will be lucky to make it out of the debacle

Overall, Not Bad,
I would strongly suggest that you make up a lot of different markers beforehand to help remember what’s going on or what’s been used etc but definitely a set worth having a go with I would say.

Thank you to Steve L and Ian for joining in the fun and for thoughts from a guest who joined us during the day, another gentleman called Steve, but who we have called Bruce, because we now have a ban on anymore Steve's coming to the club as the older members find it to confusing.

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