Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Review and Summary of Hail Caesar

A review and summary of Hail Caesar

Hail Caesar is a set of rules by Rick Priestley of  Warlord Games that enables a gamer to recreate miniature battles covering the Biblical age through the late Medieval period. On seeing these rules become available a couple of years ago, and always desiring to jump into Ancient wargaming, I decided to pick these rules up. I have not been disappointed. Including similar concepts from Priestley's previous efforts, most notably Warmaster Ancients, Hail Caesar provides an extremely entertaining game with more than enough period flavor (especially if additional rules such as Parthian Shot or Wild Fighters are utilized--more on those later). With Napoleonics being my primary gaming period, Hail Caesar allows me to game a side period without having to do a ton of research or diving into a set of overly-complicated rules.

The Hail Caesar rulebook and the supplement I used to build my Late Imperial Romans and Goths

Units represent tactical units of the Ancient era, such as warbands or cohorts. Each unit is classified as Tiny, Small, Standard, or Large. For example, a standard Germanic warband is made up of 32-36 figures in a double rank of stands, while an Imperial Roman cohort contains 16-18 figures in a single rank of stands. Unit frontages are defined, but actual number of figures can be scaled up or down per stand (I typically use 5-6 figures per stand). Each unit also has detailed characteristics covering combat values for Clash (first combat round) and Sustained action, short or long range missile attack rating, morale based on training and armor (saving throws), and Stamina ( the number of hits a unit can sustain before becoming Shaken). Any additional rules are added to enhance historical flavor. For example, Roman heavy infantry can use the Pilum rule, or a Barbarian warband  can be categorized as Wild Fighters, each characteristic having an effect on game play.

An example of a Late Imperial Roman Cohort

And a Goth Warband

Units are then organized into Divisions under a sub-commander.

The Game Turn

There is no initiative roll for each turn. At the beginning of the game, one side is designated to move first (usually the attacker). The first side rolls for command and moves, then conducts missile fire, and then melee is computed for any charges that rammed home. Then the second side moves, shoots, and conducts melee as well. Pretty simple and straight-forward.

Command and Control

The Command phase is an important part of the game that people tend to either love or hate. In order to move or charge with a unit, 2d6 are rolled and compared against the division commander's command rating. How well a player throws determines the unit's action. Oh, and to throw some added frustration in, a gamer must declare what the unit's action is before the dice are rolled. As for the dice, a result equal to or less than the commander's rating equals 1 move, 2 below the commander's rating equals 2 moves, and 3 or less on the dice roll equals 3 moves. Obviously, these command rolls generate uncertainty and, in some cases, anguish. For example, a commander's command rating might be 8 (between 1-10) and he wishes for a unit to charge an enemy unit straight ahead 2 moves away. Throwing a 7 means that the unit may only move forward 1 move, failing to close with its target. The unit must then move the proper distance and wait until the next turn to attempt another charge. Units in close proximity may also conduct one automatic move instead of relying on a commander's dice roll. I personally love this system; a gamer never quite knows if his army is going to act according to plan or not --- most often, a player will have to modify his plan due to these "surprises." Some gamers absolutely hate not being able to micromanage. Take your pick. I personally enjoy the lack of control.


I have attempted to play the horse and musket period with Black Powder, which underwhelmed me. I'm not sure if it was my inherent bias or what, but it didn't "feel quite right" to me. It wasn't a bad game, but I preferred other rules sets, like General de Brigade. Hail Caesar, to an Ancients novice like myself, plainly "feels right."  Missile combat occurs right before Melee, and it causes more slow attrition. Melee is downright decisive, which seems like it aligns well with Ancient wargaming. Imagine a unit of skirmishers causing a constant stream of minor casualties over several turns, while Melee is much more dramatic-- a unit can be destroyed in a blink of an eye, or is sucked into a bloody struggle over a couple of turns. Each unit in Melee throws a corresponding number of "hit" dice and then throws saving dice in a simultaneous phase within the turn. The side that suffers more losses then consults a "break" table to determine what happens (unit stands, is shaken or disorders, or breaks in terror). Supporting units (like skirmishers, etc) can impact the number of attack dice thrown as well. It is a very simple, yet effective system.

Goth and Roman Heavy Cavalry meet in a melee


Hail Caesar is simply a fun game that is unpredictable and has enough period flavor to satisfy most gamers. The command system rewards a sound plan and smart tactics. A player will need to modify his moves in order to cope with the fact that his army will not act completely in concert with the original plan. The game is relatively simple to learn, but has a subtlety to it in order to fully master. I've had several games now with my Goth and Hun barbarians versus Late Imperial Romans, and every game has been a blast. It has forced me to do the proper research, which I've always felt was a critical part of the hobby anyway. Not only have I come away from each game a bit more knowledgeable about the period, but the experience has fueled even more my interest in the Ancients and Medieval eras. More of a game than a simulation, I'm sure that some gamers prefer a ton of detail in their Ancients games; it is not any different for Napoleonics. Speaking for myself, I give Hail Caesar high marks. It is the first system that actually motivated me to dive into the Ancients period of wargaming.