Monday, July 4, 2022

First Test of Battle for the Republic's Legionaries

    My new Republican Roman Saga army faced a stiff first test in a civil war against Late Romans
I had to skip our Saga game day in June, so I was really looking forward to July’s game day at the Guardtower East. I hadn’t played Saga in awhile, and was eager to roll some dice and try out my new Republican Roman army. We had 10 players show up, another good thing, as it meant I wouldn’t be “odd man out." Once we were sure we had everyone, I let folks choose their matchups. I ended up squaring off against veteran Ancients gamer Bob B, who I always have close, gripping matches with. This one would prove no exception.
    My Roman army hides in the shadow of gentle hill, trying to avoid 2 bolt-shooters behind the bog
Bob was fielding his Age of Invasions Romans, so we had a civil war, of sorts. My Republican Roman list is quite different, though. Most of my faction’s advanced Saga abilities are usable only by the heart of the army, the legionaries. In fact, only ONE of the 10 abilities does not specify which of your units can use it. They go from being as permissive as “Infantry” (two abilities), to as restrictive as Hearthguard defenders. Most abilities specify as being usable only by Maniple units, which are Roman warrior or hearthguard  infantry in units originally of eight figures or less.

    Facing off against the Republican legion in the center are a large unit of legionaries & cataphracts
So, the Roman battle board pushes its players to use small units of legionary infantry. I conformed to this historical list building and had four units of 6-man warrior Hastati or Princeps infantry and one unit of 8 figures. I also had one unit of 4 Triarii (hearthguard foot), and one of 12 levy javelinmen known as Velites. There were no mounted troops in this army. Instead, only lots of plodding heavy foot.

    As historically, the Roman Velites skirmishers screen the advance the army against missile fire

Examining the advanced abilities revealed they have excellent defensive capabilities. However, crucially those defensive abilities work ONLY in melee. Their anti-shooting abilities were weak, being limited to one ability which was usable only by Maniples. So, what did Bob field with his variety of Romans? LOTS of shooting capability! The Age of Invasions Romans are known for their ability to field a manuballista, or artillery bolt shooter. Most players take the ballista, but Bob decided to up the ante and fielded two! In addition, he fielded his legionary foot in two large, 10-man units to take advantage of the Plumbatae ability. This represents the small javelins thrown by late Roman legionaries. Plumbatae allow Romans to fire 1:1 with these, which means he’d be rolling 10 attack dice on his shots with them.

    The Velites place themselves between the bolt shooters and the heavy infantry, taking casualties
So, my number one goal would be to not have my heavy foot shot to pieces as we closed with his battleline.  Bob was 1st player, and surprisingly, placed a large, gentle hill in the center right of the battlefield. I had already been planning on playing a hill to block the line of sight of his ballistae, so deployed a large steep hill in the left center. This gave me two tall pieces of terrain to hide behind, at least on my initial advance. Next, Bob placed a marsh towards his center. With three pieces placed already on the board, I could eschew placing another one and instead move one of his. I chose to scoot his bog towards his baseline so he couldn’t hide the ballistae behind it. Bob’s last name IS Boggs, so he placed a second marsh on his left for his ballistae to hide behind, after all. Our battlefield was now set.

    Bob's cataphracts open the melee portion of the battle, hurling back a unit of legionaries
In the Clash of Warlords scenario, the 1st player deploys half his troops. Then the 2nd player deploys his entire army, followed by the 1st player setting up his remaining troops. Luckily, Bob deployed both his ballistae in the first half - behind the marsh, as I’d suspected. Unfortunately, their 24” range on a 4’x3’ battlefield would allow the artillery to shoot just about anywhere they wanted that was not blocked by the hills. Now, I could have sat back on my baseline, out of his range, and said, “Come get me!” There are Saga players who would do this. My number one goal, though, is to have fun. That would NOT be a fun game. So, I bunched up my army in the shadow of the gentle hill, preparing to march down the valley between the two hills. Bob deployed one of his large legionary units near his baseline opposite the valley, backed up by a 6-man unit of mounted cataphracts. Cataphract armored cavalry is an excellent troop type added in the Age of Invasions book. They are slower in “Moves” (but not “Charges”) than traditional mounted hearthguards. However, they are one better armor class. This would be a key point as my Velites javelinmen would try to harass them through a good half the game.

    Late and Republican Romans charge and countercharge, while another tries to circle the steep hill
In Republican Roman legionary tactics, the Velites are the screen - deployed out front of the heavy infantry to absorb enemy missile fire. That would be their job in the opening phases of this game, too. They absorbed volleys from both ballistas and one of Plumbatae from the enemy legions. When they were reduced from 12 to six figures, I scurried them away from the center and screening role and onto the slopes of the steep hill. They would remain out of range of the ballistae for the remainder of the game — barely. However, they would toss javelins from the slopes at the enemy horsemen whenever they got a chance.

    Bob's left wing finally arrives with a thundering charge by barbarian cavalry Foederati
Speaking of those cataphracts, Bob opened up the hand-to-hand portion of our battle with a charge from them against one of my small units of legionaries. A wily general, Bob had noticed I had queued up two abilities (Close Formation and Tenacious) which grant me attack or defense dice when outnumbered by the enemy. It’s the whole reason that many Republican Roman Saga players go with 6-figure units. However, his cataphracts were also six figures, which meant I couldn’t really use either of those. I was taking advantage every turn of Exhortation, which gives every friendly unit in melee within a Long distance of my warlord two bonus defense or attack dice. Once again, NOT against shooting, which was where Bob would do at least half of his damage in this game. I was finding that our late Roman cousins were NOT a good matchup for my Republican Romans!

    A Roman saying says that a battle is a grim one when the Triarii veterans have to enter the fray
Bob’s charge shattered my legionary unit, who recoiled away onto the hill slopes where the cavalry would be unlikely to follow. However, this finally brought two of Bob’s units (the legionaries and the cataphracts) in range of my legionaries’ charges. Up to this point in the game, we were suffering the casualties and the late Romans were the ones dishing them out. I launched a very disappointing charge against his big legionary unit (13 dice causing only two casualties). This established a new theme for the second half of the game: Bob’s saving rolls. To this point, I had been rolling above average saving rolls against his shooting. However, Bob would prove to roll incredibly well in melee saves. His shooting may be subpar, his melee rolls were about average, but he shone all game in saving rolls.

    Bob's sole remaining cataphract won him the game with his heroic saving rolls against all odds
For several turns, we traded charges, Bob chewing up my small legionary units (always softening them up with their Plumbatae missile attack). I was simply not doing enough in return on my counter-strikes, though. He was winning the war of attrition. The Velites were slowly but surely whittling down the enemy horsemen with their javelins. I thought the cataphracts would finally be eliminated when they charged my Trairii. I rolled four casualties in melee against their two remaining horsemen. In Saga, you save against melee hits only on a 5 or 6 (1/3 chance). So, how many of those four hits did Bob save? Three of four — 75% of them!

    We had 10 players show up for our July Saga game day fielding 9 different types of armies
Still, when he charged in his mounted general to finish off one of my legionary units, I thought I had a way of winning the game. If I could kill that last cataphract, its loss would inflict a fatigue on three of his units, including his general. I could then charge in my fresh, 8-man legionary unit against his general  and hopefully kill him, too (as he would have two fatigues). How did it work out? Bob proceeded to roll a half dozen saving rolls in a row for the lone cataphract, effectively clinching his victory.

    Jenny's war wagon in her Eastern Princes army takes a historical opponent in Dan's Poles
When we counted up the points, it would have been a Draw if I had killed that last cataphract. However, since I couldn’t take him out, Bob eked out a victory. We both agreed that that horseman would be awarded medals and honors for his heroic stand. I had lost, but honestly, I felt I did as best I could with a brand new army and a matchup that was disadvantageous. Whereas before I felt that the Republican Romans were somewhat weak against enemy shooting, I think this game confirmed it is worse than I thought. They are highly vulnerable to enemy shooting. I think I am going to have to rethink my army composition against “Shooty” armies. It may be time to hire some mercenary Cretan archers or even recruit another unit of Velites. With an armor of 4 and my small unit sizes, I can foresee bad things happening against our missile-rich Numidian, Carthaginian, and Spanish enemies in the Age of Hannibal book. And that doesn’t even factor in all of the ahistorical Shooty armies like my own Moors. Or the Irish. Yikes!

    Dan's Polish knights resplendent in their individual medieval heraldry triumphed over their foes
Still, solving tactical puzzles is one of the strengths of Saga as a game. I will have to figure out a way to overcome that, just as the actual Roman generals did two millennia ago when they conquered the Mediterranean and built an empire.

Here were the results of the games from our July Saga game day:

  • Bob B's Romans (AOI) defeated Mike D's Rep. Romans in Clash of Warlords, 16-11
  • Andy S's Rep. Romans defeated Mike C's Jomsvikings in Battle of Heroes, 10-0
  • Lee P's Milites Christi defeated Tyler P's Irish in Battle of Heroes, 23-13
  • Dan N's Poles defeated Jenny T's Eastern Princes in Clash of Warlords, 16-12
  • Mike S's Vikings defeated Tom G's Welsh in Clash of Warlords, 19-11
  • (Rematch) Tom G's Welsh tied Mike S's Vikings in Clash of Warlords, 22-22 

1 comment:

  1. Great overview as always. I take Cretan archers to give my Republican Roman’s greater missile capability. We’ll played Mike.