Friday, February 12, 2016

AAR Adrianople, 378 AD (Part two: the game)

Adrianople      378 AD

A few days ago we retreated to the attic to play out the battle of Adrianople using the Hail Caesar rules. As covered in part one (the scenario), this was a dramatic defeat of the Eastern Roman Empire by the Goths and their allies. It's an excellent starting scenario for Hail Caesar and it has plenty of drama (Will the Gothic and Hun cavalry show up in time?).

The deployment for the battle is simple. The game was played on a 6' x 5' table and there was only decorative terrain, except for the large hill in the center on which the Gothic warbands were deployed. The Romans formed their battle line  at least 36 cm (or 24" if playing with 25mm figures) away from the Gothic warbands. I played the Romans and my son ran the barbarians. I formed as the Emperor Valens did historically, with the Roman infantry, archers, and Scorpion battery formed in the center, with a small cavalry wing on each flank.

 The Goths formed up on the hill on the left, while the Romans deployed on the right
View from the Roman center towards the stoic Gothic warbands
The Gothic warbands steady themselves for the Roman attack
The Romans deployed with Comitatenses in the front line, Limitanei in the rear, and skirmishing archers covering the entire formation
The Romans, being the attacking force, were to move first on each turn. Anyone familiar with the Hail Caesar rule system knows that just because a commander has a fine plan, your troops may not cooperate. Command and control is a critical part of the game. Units can be rolled for individually, or entire groups of units can be rolled for (if within 6 cm of each other -- again for 15mm figures). To begin the attack, I formed my units in close supporting distance from each other and rolled for entire divisions. On turn 1, the Roman left wing cavalry (under Valerianus) and the left-hand infantry division (under Bacarius) rolled away and advanced relatively quickly towards the Gothic warriors. The Roman cavalry on the right flank (under Potentius) failed their command role and the right-hand division of infantry (under Sebastianus) crept forward one move. I was able to move the skirmish screens forward to meet the Gothic skirmishers in the center.  During the Goth turn, the warbands stood motionless, while the Gothic skirmishers began to engage the Roman archers. It was also time to roll for the two wings of Gothic cavalry to enter the field. My son needed a 1 on a 1d6....the left wing of cavalry failed to enter, BUT he rolled a 1 for the right wing of cavalry (under Saphrax). The Gothic cavalry was deployed on the table, but failed their command role for further movement in turn one.
The left wing of Roman cavalry
The Roman infantry on the left outpaced their counterparts on the right
Saphrax' cavalry on the right arrive before expected but advance no further during Turn 1
Turn two saw more maneuver and skirmishing in the center as the forces moved to engage. The Gothic cavalry experienced more command problems, while the Gothic cavalry due to arrive on the left failed their arrival roll. The Romans on the left continued to advance quickly, threatening the Gothic warriors' right flank.

As the Romans advanced, it was obvious that the Gothic infantry's right flank was very exposed
A frightening sight to the warriors as Roman cavalry move too close for comfort
The next couple of turns saw the Roman cavalry maneuver around the Gothic right flank, but were finally engaged by rapidly advancing Gothic and Alans cavalry. Bacarius' infantry division continued to close to engagement range with the warbands, while Sebastianus' infantry continued to creep forward (fire that General !). Roman cavalry on the right began to harass the Gothic warriors holding the left flank of the hill, taking multiple casualties from the Roman Sagitarii (horse archers). As the lines began to meet and the cavalry action began on the Goths' right flank, the left wing of Gothic cavalry entered the field.
Cavalry engaged on the Goths' right flank
An interesting development occurred on turn 4, as the Gothic warband on the extreme right flank attempted to maneuver to refuse the flank, boxcars were rolled. This, in Hail Caesar is a "blunder" and the unit will maneuver in an unexpected manner when rolled on the "blunder table." In this case, the warband ran away, exposing the Gothic right flank even further. In the above picture, the warband is seen with their backs to the action. What disgraceful behavior for these barbarians!
View of the table at the beginning of Turn 5, right after the left wing of Gothic and Hun cavalry arrive on the field (top right corner of picture)
The game began to turn into a slugfest at this point, as the infantry lines began to engage and the cavalry action on the Gothic right flank was in full force. Here, the Goths made a tactical mistake. Instead of leading with the heavy cavalry against the Roman heavy cavalry, the light cavalry was thrown forward, seemingly to attrition the Roman heavies so that they could then be mopped up afterwards. The Alans light cavalry was unsurprisingly broken, but they inflicted casualties on the Roman heavies. The Gothic heavy cavalry then charged, as the Romans countercharged. Even in its weakened state, the Roman cavalry overachieved and broke the fresh Gothic cavalry. At this point, the Gothic commander had lost 3 units out of 6 in the right cavalry more unit lost and the wing would be forced to retreat !
Roman heavy cavalry engage the Alans light cavalry as the Gothic heavy cavalry is poised to mop up
On the other side of the field, the Huns had advanced in open order to exchange fire with the Roman Sagitarii, but the remainder of the cavalry actually blundered again, retreating one move ! The Goths were really having trouble with command rolls thus far. With the obvious command problems that the Gothic cavalry were having on their left flank, the Romans continued to close for the kill, with the Roman cavalry preparing to charge the warband on the extreme left flank.
Action on the Goths' left flank as the Romans close for the kill
But alas, the Roman heavy cavalry failed to charge the warband, giving time for the Gothic cavalry to finally move up. Only the Huns were doing the job on this flank so far. The Roman cavalry finally abandoned the idea of crashing into the Gothic infantry and maneuvered to engage the Gothic and Hun cavalry.
Meanwhile, the Roman left-hand infantry division was fully engaged with the Gothic warbands on the hill. The action here was back and forth, with the Romans charging and the Goths countercharging.
As the cavalry battle continued to their left, the Romans and Goths were fully engaged at the foot of the hill
The action continued as both Roman infantry divisions clashed with the ferocious Gothic warbands. The Goths on the right flank actually forced the Romans back at one point, but the Romans counterattacked across the line, eventually and slowly forcing the Goths back. The Romans utilized skirmishers and Limatanei as supporting troops, adding valuable dice to the action. The Goths, in turn, readily countercharged, using their powerful Clash attack dice in an attempt to overwhelm the Roman infantry at the onset of each melee. Two Gothic leaders, including Fritigern, were wounded as they led furious countercharges.
The Goths counterattack at one point in the battle, sending the Roman archers reeling
View of the Gothic left flank as the cavalry moves to engage and the infantry are locked in bloody melee
As the battle was in full force across the line, the Gothic cavalry under Saphrax suffered its fourth unit loss, perpetuating a forced retreat. The Roman cavary facing them were shaken and exhausted, so the action on the flank began to die down as the Gothic cavary moved to disengage.
At this point, several Gothic warbands had broken, and the center of the Gothic position was wide open. The Gothic infantry divisions had also each lost over 50% of their units and were forced into retreat. The only Gothic force that was ready to fully engage was now the left wing of Goth/Hun cavalry. But it was too little, too late. The game was called at this point. Three out of four Gothic divisions were retreating and the Romans were in decent shape for a pursuit. A Roman victory was declared.
As always, the game was analyzed and keys to Roman victory were determined. First, the Romans utilized a second line of supporting units that were critical to providing the Roman infantry with extra attack dice. Second, the Goths suffered a multitude of poor command rolls, especially with regard to the cavalry. If the powerful Gothic cavalry could have engaged faster, the battle might have ended very differently. Third, due to a tactical mistake of leading the cavalry attack on the Gothic right flank with light cavalry versus the Roman heavies, the loss of these units put the entire cavalry wing in a poor position and ultimately forced the Gothic cavalry on this flank to withdraw.
What a great game !  I can't wait to play it again. Hail Caesar provided a very entertaining game full of colour and flavor of the Late Imperial Roman period.


  1. A super looking battle! Minis and terrain look excellent.

  2. Entertaining and attractive looking game and table! Are those 15mm?

  3. Hi David......yes they are 15mm.....and thank you for your kind words.

  4. Beautiful game, and a great report! What size bases do you use for your regular infantry units?

    1. Thank you for your kind words......I base my 15mm infantry with 1 1/2" frontage x 1" depth......5-6 figures on each base. Thanks again !

    2. Also......individual skirmishers are based on pennies.....hard to beat the price.....