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Board Game: Caesar Imperator: Britannia
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Subject: Caesar Imperator Britannia: An initial view rss

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Charles Vasey
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This is a Vae Victis game by Patrick Receveur based on his Spartacus Imperator game, and an ancestor of Pyrrhus Imperator. The subject is the two landings (pick your own choice) by C. Julius Caesar in 55 BC (just one legion) and in 54 BC (three legions). He is faced by various Celtic kingdoms. We have only played the 54BC version. The earlier invasion involves an opposed landing.

The game is played on a small A4 map covering Britannia from the Solent round to beyond Sole Bay. So the Romans may be facing warbands from four out the available nine tribal regions (Iceni, Coritani, Dobunni, Atrebates, Catuvellauni, Trinovantes, Belgae, Regni and Cantiaci). The Roman landing place determines which tribes are active. So, for example, a landing in Iceni territory will lead to war only with the north Thames tribes the Catuvellauni, Iceni, Trinovantes and Coritani. The rest remain mercifully peaceful. The map is split into Regions containing Areas (the Cantiaci for example have four Areas, one forest, three of plain - one of which contains Dubris). Areas are either plain or forest. There are also settlements and oppida but the only fortifications are in Portus Itius (somewhere near modern Wissant) in Gaul and the fort built on landing, now Richborough in Kent if you go historical. In the 54 BC scenario the Catuvellauni have an oppidum (and a decoy) which Caesar needs to find and destroy.

The units have some jolly little sprites who are correctly attired for the period. The Roman legions appear as three units (so approx 3 cohorts a pop), one a Vexillation available for detached service, a second has the Eagle of the Legion and must be accompanied by the third counter. There are also auxilia but much less in number than in the Augustan, Claudian and Flavian eras. This shortage can be a problem when faced by chariots, especially as losses must be allocated to non-Romans first. Protect the Head Count!

The Celts are mostly tribal infantry (many with no special combat skill effectively Homeric spear carriers), but with some chariot units which can be mounted or on foot as the player chooses. The Celtic counters have only one step, but the Romans have two. The unit represents about 2000 men a counter (for infantry) and 1,000 for cavalry/chariots. The Celts do not have a printed tribal affiliation (as they could be from nine tribes) but instead four different Celtic symbols which you allocate to the tribes at war. Both sides have leaders and the general atmosphere is very good.

Each turn covers but 2 days (so very different from other games in the series). Before the Activation Phase the Romans check for storms. These can be of vital importance because keeping a strong fleet is a Roman objective and galleys in Channel seas have issues.
Each turn is anchored around an activation Sequence where both sides alternate the use of their leaders (and the units which they can lead, the better the general the bigger army). There is no passing, you must activate a leader each time (even if only by flipping him over).

Both sides may choose one of the three common actions (and some specifically Celtic or Roman actions). The common ones are
1) Do nothing, flip over the counter and meet your requirement to activate a Commander.
2) Move an Army with the possibility of swapping units with friendly leaders at the beginning or end of the move. Movement is one area per turn. It also results for the Romans in exploration, an important objective for Caesar.
3) When you activate a Commander instead of activating his army you can pick a single unit and move it.

Roman Actions
1) Build the castrum, this takes time and legionaries. It constitutes an independent area which lead to some rule queries. It needs garrisoning because its fall not only loses ships, prevents units being restored but also is a Roman objective lost.
2) Ravage: collect booty and spread fear.
3) Restore damaged units: this is very important as the Roman must not lose legionary troops, but it can mean that instead of constantly pursuing the Celts the Roman takes time to nurse back the wounded.
4) Propose submission: Caesar with a legion equivalent can summon a tribe whose units are all elsewhere (dead, fled or led). There's a die roll and Commius of the Atrebates can help broker a deal. The leader of a submitted tribe is taken prisoner for Caesar's triumph and their lands can no longer be ravaged by Rome.
5) Caesar The Saviour: Caesar can in certain circumstances move into an adjacent area under Celtic attack and join a combat.
6) Naval movement: As it says, the building of the castrum (as a naval terminus) is key.
7) Repair ships: losses from the weather and raiding Celts mean it is vital to have a garrison at the castrum (or Portus Itius) with a leader and legionaries to repair.

Celtic Actions
1) Recruit units in unravaged tribal territory. Units are drawn from the tribal bowls at random, or (if Fortuna is with him) by choosing one unit or drawing two at random (a good way to recover strength if one has been lucky in battle, but still taken losses as one does with a Roman opponent).
2) Harassment: Chariots (only) can raid an adjacent plain area. They shoot first, the Roman returns fire and the chariots go back to their own area. A most useful ability.
3) Ambush: A Ravaging Roman army can be ambushed by an adjacent Celtic force. This requires a die roll, otherwise it is a normal attack, and once again the Chariots shoot first and inflict casualties before the Romans.
4) Submit: A Celtic army with Commius may decide to submit (thus scuppering ravaging)
5) Rise Up: A voluntary submission may be overturned by a storm or a Roman defeat.


The leaders are rated for number of units they can control and, for the number of dice re-rolls they can have each battle. Caesar has two lieutenants and each tribe one Commander; a maximum of seven leaders a turn.

Battles are handled by a neat subsystem. Units are rated for melee and missile-fire, and in some cases for especial utility by colour coding. You lay out your units on the second line of your display. From here they can each cause a loss if they score up to or equal to their combat value. The best units have a value of three. Some battle tactics allow certain units into the front line where they hit as usual except that a roll exactly equal to their strength causes two hits. However, the first two losses caused by the other side must be allocated to these assault troops.

The first choice of each battle is the tactics: effectively, frontal attack, general attack, envelopment and skirmish. These have an effect also in judging the result of the battle after losses have been taken. The combat effects are quite neat. Frontal attack (Ad Gladios) moves your yellow sword units (heavy infantry into the front line for an old style linear clash). The general attack (Signa Inferre) leaves everyone on the second line but gains you an extra re-roll. The skirmish (Infestis Pilis) moves forward the blue units into the front line (these are the lighter formations) AND they can try to retreat the army in good order at the end of each of the two battle phases. (This is one for a weak army). This retreat requires a roll of 6 on the plains but 4-6 in the forests or if your army has chariots. Finally, the cavalry wings (Ala) put the cavalry (not chariots) into the front line as your horse attack the flanks.

The battle opens with a simultaneous Round of Missiles (called "fire", tsk tsk). Then a simultaneous Round of Melee combat. After that the battle is over and a matrix tells you if the loser was wiped out, withdrew in good order, or remained in status quo. The loser is the one with the most losses, and, apart from the obligatory front line losses, you pick who gets killed from your own army. For the Celts the chariots are vital at helping a Retreat In God Order.

Sieges only occur in the castrum: a Round of Missiles (defenders first) followed by two rounds of Simultaneous Melee Combat (the second of which is not obligatory for the attacker). There are no tactic choices and the defender ignores one loss from fire.

There is much else that is clever (although not always where you would expect in the rules) including a financial system requiring D20s to record the booty.

Special rules include the Big Storm (all rather D-Day reminiscent) and smaller storms which keep the castrum busy repairing ships. Caesar can delay the storm if he is at sea (his ancestress Venus intervening for him) at the cost of handing over the Fortuna marker to the Celts for a number of turns. Fortuna gives a number of benefits and is usually obtained by victory in battle; think of it as momentum for one side or the other.

The victory objectives are very clever: there are seven of them, and the Roman must have five of them to win. They are

1) Bring 26 points of booty back from ravaging Britannia (gold)
2) Bring back three hostage chiefs (participants in the triumph)
3) Bring all your legions back (keep losses low)
4) Explore 16 areas (science)
5) Have at least 26 naval points (control the high seas)
6) Destroy the oppidum of the Catuvellauni, (demonstrate victory) and
7) Construct the Castrum in one of three sites (establish a safe base).

These mean that much of the time the Romans have business other than killing tribes, and some events (notably the naval one) can be rendered very difficult with a late storm. The Roman player has so much to do that he is always tempted to act on a shoestring and risk a nasty surprise.

The special rules for the 54 BC landing include the
• disappearance of Dumnorix and his Aeduan cavalry
• Landing without resistance
• The role of Cassivellaunus
• Mandubracios of the Trinovantes (tipping Caesar to the presence of the Oppidum).
• Stake defences on crossing the river Thames first time.
• The fortified status of the forest of Cantium (down Kent way), AND
• The Oppidum of the Catuvellauni whose chief has numerous useful abilities (including Scorched Earth to prevent Roman ravaging, thus reducing available booty)

In our game as Celt I had some real successes notably the storming of the Castrum with my Atrebates and a number of successful chariot raids, but in a number of battles it was clear just how fragile my tribal army was, even when doing well, with considerable losses and a long time recovering. The Romans had time to proceed steadily with their various tasks but over the 28 turns did not quite make it. It is a considerable planning issue as to how you achieve your 5 objectives: do you concentrate on a couple of areas (perhaps smashing the Celts if you can catch them) then try to catch up on the rest? Or is a mixed approach racking up points in each category? The feel of the game is very much more operational that that of Pyrrhus, and we felt was very effective at taking one back into the pages of De Bello Gallico.

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Andrew Borgelin
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This is very timely Charles as I have recently acquired this and have played a couple of games of the 55 B.C. First invasion. There is so very little written on this game and I have had a few rules issues myself with it. However I really enjoyed playing and there is a puzzle optimisation problem to be resolved. I played solo and I have to say it worked very well indeed. Would love to see more about this game, be it reviews or videos etc. Certainly very playable.
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Charles Vasey
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Hatricvs wrote:
This is very timely Charles as I have recently acquired this and have played a couple of games of the 55 B.C. First invasion. There is so very little written on this game and I have had a few rules issues myself with it. However I really enjoyed playing and there is a puzzle optimisation problem to be resolved. I played solo and I have to say it worked very well indeed. Would love to see more about this game, be it reviews or videos etc. Certainly very playable.
It may be that its small size and magazine origin tell against it. Try to get a two player as it's full of hidden fears.
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Patrick Receveur
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All the events are from De Bello Gallico and some details from Cicero and Dion Cassius.
The historical article in the magazine should interest you but it's in French. I spent a lot of time on it. There is a lot of French jokes about Albion inside laugh

Thank you to play this game, the game about this invasion are very rare.

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Charles Vasey
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Patrick Receveur wrote:
All the events are from De Bello Gallico and some details from Cicero and Dion Cassius.
The historical article in the magazine should interest you but it's in French. I spent a lot of time on it. There is a lot of French jokes about Albion inside laugh

Thank you to play this game, the game about this invasion are very rare.

Jokes about Albion, billions of blistering blue barnacles. This means war!

French holds few fears for me, so I'll run my eyes over it. As you say many of the events take one back to the texts delightfully. Also the feel of the Celts is straight out of De Bello and from the famous Celtic tales like the Táin Bó Cúailnge. I was for a while the Hound of Ulster.
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