The following is a report of a series of two battles fought between a Roman general and an Orcish horde. Both were played with 60 points of units and used the same units but with different deployment and tactics each game.
On a hillside underneath a grove of trees I positioned myself to watch as a Roman army campaign was underway against some Orcs that had taken up camp in their land. From reports I've read the Roman General leading this army was cocky and confident that his units were better than any force that could be mustered against him. The Orcish army on the other hand had experience and cunning on their side. As an aspiring historian, I felt this surely would be a battle for the history books so I took notes keenly.
Roman Unit Selection
His first wave approached the battlefield. A simple detachment, he had two units of cavalry each with 2 Cataphracts with a Centurion in the middle. He also assembled to infantry units which contained 3 Praetorian groups along with 1 group of Legionaries. Lastly, I noticed a single unit of Auxiliares which I assumed the General would deploy as some sort of tactical diversion or fodder against a strong Orcish charge.
I noticed a few things about the Roman army, that keeping the Cataphracts together, while they were heartier units that could take more of a beating, did not give any additional advantage to each other and might have been deployed in a better mix. Also, while trained well and more likely to be efficient at causing damage to enemy lines, they did not at first glance appear to be as powerful. The Centurion, noted and gifted commanders of the field, might prove to make these units more useful however.
The Infantry lines, while certainly more powerful, had the weakness of not being able to withstand as much from enemy attack. That, and between the two infantry units included exactly half of the Roman Commander's forces, a problem for including that much of his total strength among such vulnerable units should the enemy choose to capitalize on it.
Orc Unit Selection
Noticing the Roman army approaching, the Orcs made haste to recruit up units of their own. Many Kobolds were assembled, I'd notice them to be a staple of Orc units lately. The Orcs assembled two truly terrifying units, each had Bugbears, Gnolls, Orcs a Standard Bearer and Kobolds. This pretty much fit idea military theory of getting a mix of units that compliment each other, that were both efficient with their hits as well as capable of causing powerful damage to an enemy and some staying power allowing themselves to absorb damage while remaining fairly effective.
The Orcs also brought something to the battlefield I had not seen among the Roman forces: ranged units. 2 units of Bolder throwers, each accompanied by an attachment of Kobolds. The Orcs also brought in their brutish Troll.
Lastly, the Orcs were going to employ a similar tactic as the Romans but to greater effectiveness as 4 single Goblin units followed, each I assumed would be sacrificed to block a Roman attack.
The Orcs set up with their Boulder Throwers each on one flank and the Troll in the middle.
That's when I noticed something interesting. The Romans were setting up all their forces in the middle! Surely this couldn't be as it would cause problems with flanking, but sure enough the Roman General must have seen no need in organizing his forces in order to beat these lowly Orcs.
The Orcs countered by placing all of their Goblins in the middle and the two remaining giant units on the flanks.
First Battle Round
The Orcs got the first attack, charging their unit headed up by the Bugbears, flanking into a Roman unit of Praetorians. The attack completely wiped out the Romans.
It immediately dawned on the Roman's field commander that this battle set up had been a blunder. Now, down a quarter of his army, he knew he would not be able to redeploy his slower Cataphracts and his infantry would take to long to set up on a flank to be useful. Instead he ordered a charge of his cavalry. Rather than letting the troll take the beating the used a goblin to intercept, a sacrifice but it slowed the charge.
The Orcs charged from the opposite flank, again targeting the vulnerable Praetorian group and killing all but one unit there. The Orcs were close to victory.
The Roman field commander, dismayed, charged with his other cavalry unit. This time the group was allowed through by the Orcs and they charged the Troll. Though a solid defender, the Cataphracts were able to overwhelm and destroy the Troll on the field.
However the Orcs responded immediately by attacking with their engaged Bugbear unit, destroying the last Praetorian unit and winning the battle.
Humiliated the Roman field command retreated back to account for the battle back to his general while the Orcs regrouped for the second Roman assault.
Angered, the Roman General demanded the head of his field command. Still, having heard his report of the battle perhaps he had overlooked the Orc's abilities and decided to make some tactical changes for the next engagement for which he personally would field.
The Orcs again deployed their Troll in the middle followed promptly by the Romans positioning the Auxiliary unit across the field.
The Orcs placed a Boulder on a flank and the Romans, vowing not to be outflanked this time, placed their Praetorian on the opposite flank. Each following placement of Roman units was matched with the Orcs deploying a Goblin to match.
I noticed this to be a potential problem for the Roman General and he did appear to be a tad nervous but ultimately still confident and oblivious as to why this should worry him.
The Romans placed both Cataphracts on each flank and then deployed their remaining Praetorians in the middle so now the battlefield appeared to have a left flank of 2 goblins and a Boulder Thrower facing Roman Cavalry and Infantry, the middle of a Roman Auxiliary and Infantry facing the Troll, Goblin and Bugbear grouping and the right flank of a Cataphract facing Bugbears, goblin, and Boulder Throwers.
First Battle Round
The Orcs redeployed their left flank Boulder Thrower to the middle, away from the strength of the Roman Army, and charged with their right flank Bugbear group toward the Roman Cataphract group. The group was able to injure the Romans but no units were removed, and in the resulting counter attack the Orc Kobolds were destroyed.
The Romans next charged with their left flank as the Orcs sent in one of their goblins to intercept. It was clear to me at this point the Roman strategy was to last long enough to kill their way through these small, Orcish interceptors.
The Orcs redeployed their middle goblins to the left, to provide more fodder the Roman army would have to overcome, and then charged again with the Bugbears, eliminating the injured Cataphract group.
The Romans countered by charging with their middle infantry and the Orcs intercepted with the Troll which was wiped out in the attack.
The Orcs, having limited ability to act before regathering, knew they needed to wound the enemy to slow them down. The redeployed the goblin from the right flank to the middle then used their Boulder Thrower in the middle to toss rocks at the Roman Cataphracts. The Troll was to toss 5 rock but he dropped the first one on the head of his Kobold ally, crushing him instantly. Of the remaining rocks, one did in fact find its mark, injuring one of the Roman Cavalry.
They in turn charged killing another Goblin.
Second Battle Round
The Romans regrouped but noticed now there was no way to protect their middle infantry. The redeployed their Auxiliary to the flank anyway and proceeded to attack with their middle infantry. The Orcs intercepted with a goblin and then charged with Bugbears, killing the entire Roman infantry group in the middle.
There was nothing the Roman General could do. He gave one more desperate charge into Goblins and then watched as the Orcs gave yet another command to rain down boulders on his infantry, forcing him to surrender, retreat and ultimately abandon his campaign.
Watching this battle I was able to glean a few things about the tactical strategies employed by each side.
The Orcs had by far the most effective unit on the field as well as the better unit mix. The Romans were cleaver in figuring out to include a single intercepting unit but there the Orcs were almost 4 times as effective, having 4 such units and able to stop all 4 groups of the Romans at least once.
As far as tactics, the Romans quickly learned that leaving flanks open was a problem. Not only that, but the Orcs made far better use of redeployment - it's unsure still whether the Romans ever did learn this lesson or whether them including so many "slow" units simply prevented much of this type of movement.
Ideally, next time the Romans should definitely deploy more ranged units, then they would be able to strike and decrease the cohesion of the Orcs bigger units without allowing them to intercept.
Ultimately, it has been widely noted that the Roman army has as unfair advantage and this almost undisputedly untrue in my eyes. Though the Romans could definitely have improved their unit selection, deployment and tactics, the Orcs have certainly found some weaknesses in that the Romans are not as quick, more costly, and don't have "Overrun" to help with many small units.
Live free or die
Excellent session report!
I have to concur, the play balance is there with all of the armies, as you point out, and you just have to understand their styles.
Perhaps the Romans with the flank problem were commanded by this guy...