Sunday, 12 August 2018

Hold the Pass - Augustus to Aurelian

So for those watching the progress of my new collection of figures on JJ's Wargames Dacian Wars based around Emperor Trajan's war in Dacia, the long awaited first game was played at the club yesterday with the units, less a few, created so far.

The game also gave a chance to get reacquainted with Augustus to Aurelian (AtoA), Phil Hendry's rules, together with a scenario entitled 'Hold the Pass' from the Warlord Games, 'Rome's Dacian Wars' scenario book.

The scenario depicts a likely small battle between a Roman supply column trying to make its way forward through one of the many Dacian mountain passes and running up against a Dacian blocking force intent on preventing the supplies reaching the front.

The Dacian force consisted of four warbands, one capwearer, one falx and two others randomised between lowlanders and regulars.

Alongside the heavy infantry, were two units of javelin and archer skirmishers and two 'scorpio' bolt shooters.

The Dacian stats table above shows the factors the players work with during the game referring to each column as required, starting with unit Size (L) large (M) medium, (S) small and (T) tiny, Movement in inches, Combat Dice showing the number of d10 to roll in hand to hand, Combat Attack factor indicating the column to be used on the combat/shooting table, similarly the same for Shooting and Shooting Attack factors for use in missile attacks, the Outlook factor indicating the number of hits the unit can take before becoming shaken and finally the Rating used to indicate the units likelihood of passing a reaction test, with the number needed to be rolled equal to or less than with 2d6 before additional factors.

Note from the above that Scorpio crews aren't exactly designed to engage in hand to hand combat!

The Combat and Shooting table on which the relevant factor is used to find the column
against the armour class for the target. This generates a number to hit scored with a d10 roll equal to
 or less than the number. Additional factors can shift the column used either right or left

For comparison you can see the Roman force stats sheet for a force consisting of two cohorts of legionaries, one hardened veteran, two cohorts of auxiliaries randomly rolled for quality but with one turning up as hardened veteran.

This infantry core was accompanied by one archer and one slinger skirmish unit, one ala each of auxiliary cavalry, Praetorian cavalry and Numidian light cavalry, escorting two supply wagons.

The Romans were randomly tested for their experience levels with all the units testing as regular, except the auxiliary cavalry which were rated as 'Untried' and the Praetorian's who rated as 'Pseudo' awarded to guard units better suited to parade duties in Rome rather than being on the field of battle as an elite fighting force.

Also worth noting that the Numidian's only ever rate as regular or hardened veterans.

As you can see from the pictures of the table, the Dacian force is arrayed at one end of it, holding higher ground either side of the road pass and have built a barricade across the road.

The Romans are approaching from the other end escorting their wagons, intent on breaking through the block.

The armies organised into their respective divisions the game commences

Both sides organised themselves around two divisions under a commander with a senior commander in charge. The commanders were diced for to randomly determine their abilities.

The scenario has a time limit of about seven to eight turns for the Romans to get or be deemed to having got their wagons off the table for a major victory or to have broken the Dacian force but with their wagons on the table for a minor victory, and this definitely puts some pressure on the Romans to get on with it. Any other result would be a Dacian major victory.

One of the aspects I most like about AtoA is that unit activation is by chit/card draw and thus variable with commanders able to have a limited influence over that process with the use of 'Carpe Diem' chits used to grab the initiative when required.

However the turn phase is also governed by the revealing of the Meridiatio chits of which their are two and with the second drawn indicating the end of the turn. This means game turns can be long or short with all or some units getting to activate.

To add yet more uncertainty I randomised when the game would end so putting plenty of pressure into the scenario for both sides to either look to hang on or press as hard and as rapidly as possible to get a favourable result.

The Romans advance with bright red order markers next to command bases and darker red pilum markers next to the legionary cohorts

Throwing a certain amount of caution to the winds given the time constraints, the Roman force barrelled on down the road using march movement to close on the Dacian position within about two complete turns.

The pilum marker is used to indicate when the legionaries have used their specialist javelins

With one Roman division on their left composed of the cavalry plus a unit of skirmish archers, the Praetorian cavalry, led the way and closed on the Dacian right division ahead of the supporting legionaries and auxiliary infantry.

The Dacian warbands sport yellow counters to record their 'brave warrior' count, two each, allowing the unit to get an extra combat dice by deploying a berserker into the Roman ranks - In time I will replace the counters with more suitable individual figures.

Meanwhile as the Romans methodically approached, the Dacians contented themselves to plying their ranks with scorpio bolts and greeting their arrival at their line with additional arrows and javelins.

The Dacian line was well supplied with missile troops

The Praetorian cavalry were a little annoyed with the greeting they received from the Dacian skirmish screen and quickly drove it in with a charge, only to be met my two yelling bands of Dacian warriors crashing into their line from the ridge above.

En mass, the Dacian infantry appear very intimidating

However, palace guards they may have been, but they still bore the title Praetorian and were determined to live up to it, taking enough hits to cause them to go shaken but surviving the reaction test that followed the melee to remain in the fight for another turn.

With their skirmish screen forward, the Dacians cause early casualties with long range bolt shooting scorpios

As the Praetorian's held their ground the Numidians and auxiliary archers cleared the skirmishers from the Dacian extreme right flank whilst the auxiliary cavalry moved up in support.

Fortunately for the guard, the infantry were only a move away from supporting them on the other side of the road, and sure enough, in the next turn the cohort of veteran auxiliary infantry charged forward with a volley of javelins to hit one of the warbands fighting the guard and thus relieve the pressure on them.

In the next round of combat both Dacian warbands were shaken and pushed back but the Praetorian resolve gave way as they fell back through the auxiliary cavalry.

The Roman cavalry on the left of the road lead the Roman assault on the pass

Both opposing divisions were now teetering on morale failure with halve of their units close to being shaken or driven from the field thus forcing the remainder to retire.

Another round of melee saw that situation arise and both divisions were forced to break off leaving the weaker of the two Dacian forces to face off against the Roman infantry desperately trying to engage before the game time expired.

The Roman supply train follow in the wake of the troops

The first cohort of legionaries lived up to their billing hitting with both their pila and gladius strikes to leave the opposing Dacian warband reeling with four hits but not before returning the compliment with three hits of their own on the much smaller Roman unit causing both to go shaken, but seeing the Roman unit win the combat and push the Dacians back.

The Dacian field warbands of around a thousand men in each

With the game time allowed closing in on just one turn remaining and with all the 'Carpe Diem' chits thrown into the draw bag, both sides went at it for one more desperate round with the Roman infantry looking to break the opposing Dacians and grab a minor victory whilst their opponents grimly looked to hang on.

The Praetorian Guard cavalry are counter-charged by two Dacian warbands

Their simply wasn't enough time for the Roman infantry to bring their full force to bear which would probably have seen them victorious in another turn or two, time they did not get.

The Roman infantry, under heavy bolt shooting, press on towards the Dacian ridge line

So victory to the Dacians with the pass held and Trajan no doubt cursing over his delayed resupplies likely forcing the campaign to a close and his army into a winter quarters to await the spring.

Thanks to Steve L, Mr Steve, Mike and Nathan for a fun game using the new collection and to Nick for a resupply of tufts and flowers to garnish yet more bases and indeed the newest unit to join the collection, the Praetorian Guard cavalry, finished off that morning.

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