Last night the kids found a very good documentary on the revolt of Bodicca. Made by an English team, it used a mix of re-enactors and animation to show the various battles, stunning maps and even “interviews” with actors portraying both Britons and Romans. Magnificently well done.
And got me to thinking. So next morning when the kids came down for breakfast I had the Bodicca scenario from Battles of the Ancient World all set up. They both immediately recognized it for what it was and launched into a vigorous re-telling of the story, with even more detail than the game can actually provide. Nevertheless, we elected to skip breakfast and slug it out at once.
Now this game is deliberately designed to be fun first, accurate second and it does indeed skip over a few details. But it is faithful enough to be recognizably the battle and we certainly had fun with it. Here is our story.
Roman Commanders Appreciation
Badly out-numbered, having only some 17 units vs. at least three times that many Britons, the only chance is to pick advantageous ground and rely on superior discipline. The Romans have placed their line across a shallow valley floor, at the west, or upper end of the valley. Their left and right flanks rest on the hills marking the southern and northern sides of the valley and the Britons have drawn up at the wider and lower eastern end of the valley. Very dense woods lie behind the Romans and wrap around both hills, extending for some distance to the east. These woods are impenetrable to all but the lightest of the Briton’s infantry so the valley itself will tend to funnel the Britons attack and protect the Roman flanks.
Queen Bodicca’s Appreciation
Now that the last Roman legion has stopped to fight, total victory in the rebellion lies at hand. The Romans are badly outnumbered and while the battlefield they have chosen makes it hard to get at them, it also serves to trap them like rats in a bottle. They can no more enter the dense woods behind them then can her own chariots!
History and Game
Historically, as we had learned the previous night, the Britons rushed the Roman line with typical barbarian courage and lack of planning. At the same time, the Romans advanced in a saw blade formation, that is a series of triangles, joined at the base but presenting “points” of as few as 3 men to the Britons. These points tended to funnel the Britons towards the base of the triangles, where they were literally crushed between the Roman shields and the masses of more Britons pushing them from behind.
The game does not allow for any fancy Roman formations, but it does represent the crush of Britons by advancing the eastern edge of the map west one hex row every turn. Any Briton caught from behind by this rolling map edge is automatically destroyed and the Romans are encouraged to advance by a rule that gives them an automatic victory if even one Roman makes it to the advancing eastern map edge. Otherwise the victory conditions are quite simple, any Roman survivors means a Roman victory, complete annihilation of the Legion is a victory for the Britons.
The Romans advance slightly from their start line to take advantage of a few slope hexes on their northern flank. Any unit defending a slope from an attacker coming up hill is doubled.
The Britons dispatch their few light infantry towards the northen woods, but with a movement rate of 5 and woods requiring 3 movement points it will be some time before they can get to the Roman flank. In the middle, Queen Bodicca advances her entire army, chariots leading, and everyone slightly displacing to the south as the funnel effect of the terrain is felt already.
The Romans stand firm in what they consider the best possible terrain. The strongest cohorts are in the middle, weaker units on the flanks and on the extreme right is the very small Roman Calvary. The Britons could launch a chariot attack from here, but prefer to move up a little closer and keep the infantry well to hand. Chariots have double combat strength if they can charge across even one open hex before hitting the Romans so Bodicca halts them two hexes away in the middle and southern part of the field. On the nouth, her lead infantry hits the Roman line, all uphill. One Roman unit falls back and the Britons surge up the slope.
The Romans counter-attack in the nouth, driving off the barbarians and regaining a nice line along the slope. Roman plan is to remain on defensive in good terrain, so they simply await the coming charge.
The Briton’s chariots charge and the infantry surges forward, the entire length of the Roman line is engaged. The Britons, showing perhaps ahistorical command presence, are careful to leave a row of empty hexes behind their first rank. This gives them a place to retreat if necessary, and the CRT is quite heavy on retreating. They also carefully position their three horse archer units to fire over the first rank. Successful missile fire will temporarily, this turn only, cut the targeted Roman unit’s combat strength in half.
This first major clash goes well for the Britons. Their archers find the mark on two units and they are able to force a couple of retreats, with consequent advances after combat by the Britons disrupting the Roman line. In those cases where the chariots are forced to retreat this is even considered a good thing by the Britons, because it gives them the chance to earn the charge bonus again next turn. If they had simply stayed in the front rank they would fight at strength 2, and in effect been in the way of the basic infantry units with strength 3.
The Romans on their turn eliminate those Britons who had advanced and the Romans are able to restore their line again.
This sets a pattern for the next several turns. The Britons can rarely achieve the odds necessary to outright kill a Roman unit and when they are successful in causing a retreat the Romans typically are able to kill the advancing units and restore the line on their turn.
But there are exceptions. The Roman Calvary is soon forced to retire behind the shield wall and form a roving reserve. The weaker Roman infantry on the right, lacking a suitable slope even with that of the left are forced back, creating an bend right in the middle of the Roman line. And the light Briton infantry has advanced far enough in the northern woods to be able to engage the Roman left.
The Britons are taking the majority of the casualties but the bend in the Roman line is increasingly giving them the chance to bring more units to bear than the Romans can match. The occasional exchange result is greeted as a victory by the Britons. Bit by bit they are able to gain, and hold, a toehold on the northen slope, denying the Romans the doubling of terrain advantage the next turn.
The Romans are driven back, both flanks eroding as they fall back to the west. The Britons press closely, but terrain continues to favor the Romans. As they fall back they occupy another slope and regain much of their terrain advantage. Even on the northern flank where the Britons have pretty well penetrated the woods, there is no way for them to get directly at the Romans, they now will have to force their way southward through the woods protecting the Roman back.
But the exchanges keep occurring, and now with the Britons pressing in from both flanks, the situation begins to arise that a given Roman unit has no clear retreat path, and is eliminated by the not infrequent defender retreats results. The Romans are being compressed into a small line in their middle.
But time is running out for the Britons. While the rolling eastern mapedge has not caught any of the reserve units (of which there are still hordes!) the turn marker is marching towards 10 and end of game.
At the beginning of the last turn, the Romans were down to six units, and while no Briton had yet gotten behind them, they could only control two empty hexes to retreat to. The Britons made one final push, first hitting the southern flank where they were able to achieve 4:1 odds and eliminate the Roman unit. Advance after combat threw a zone of control over one of the remaining possible retreat hexes. The northern flank also caved in and suddenly the remaining Romans had no room to retreat if required. The next unit to be attacked, one of the big strength 6’s, was destroyed by the hordes who were now able to reach him. Two more units were killed when unable to retreat.
This left one last strength 6 Roman unit. Attacking at 2:1, the Britons needed only a retreat result, but rolled NE – No Effect! This one last cohort, now completely surrounded, hung on to just gain a victory for the Romans on the last turn.
Not terribly historical. The Romans felt, I think correctly, that they were better off staying on the defensive than trying to advance through the Britons. This gained them considerable terrain advantage over the course of the game and prevented the Britons from using their superior numbers until the very end. And obviously the turn limit is artificial, the Britons would certainly have won a major victory if allowed one more turn.
The Britons were also handled with ahistorical competence and tactical flexibility. Certainly the documentary of the previous night gave no hint of carefully calculated charges, deliberate concentration of missile fire or reserves held back just enough to give the front ranks room to retreat when necessary. Quite the opposite in fact, the rolling eastern map edge did not roll up fast enough to force a crush of troops at the front.
But for all that it was a fun game, finished in under 2 hours and giving a great sense of the terrain and the huge numbers of Britons remorselessly pressing down on an ever dwindling Roman line. A very enjoyable experience and an excellent reinforcement of the documentary.
- Last edited Tue Apr 16, 2013 6:53 pm (Total Number of Edits: 3)
- Posted Sun Feb 26, 2006 5:41 am