Ken hosted a game of "Soldiers of Rome" with his gorgeous 28mm Romans and Barbarians yesterday and invited me to command the Romans (more on this in a bit). As the pictures will attest, it was quite a spectacle!
Many of you who have followed my blog over the years know I'm a Warwick Kinrade fan as I appreciate his practical, no-nonsense and authenticity approach to rules. Playing something other than a 20th century game written by WK was instantly appealing.
A Barbaric Invitation
This past week, Ken sent me a rather macabre picture featuring 28mm Wargames Foundry Germans holding the head of a former Roman Soldier. I believe this is a set you can buy that serves as a command stand, or objective. I immediately wrote him back "Claudius! No!" A storyline was born. Ken sent pictures of beautifully painted 28mm Roman Centurions swearing vengeance for Rome.
Claudius' death must be avenged. Perhaps this was done to bait the Romans into war after the uneasy peace along the Rhine? Time to send the Legions back in. Or would the Germans pre-empt Rome by crossing into Gaul?
|The Roman side, organized into 3 "Battles" "Stephanus" commands the center Battle and is overall commander of this force. I picked the model based on our similar hair styles. You can smell the uncivilized Barbarian horde on the other side of the table!|
Soldier of Rome (like its predecessor, Soldiers of God) has you select your battle plan, which enables enduring "orders" or battle cards that stay with your force throughout the game. These interact with your play choices in an elegant way without becoming completely and arbitrarily card-based. It's actually a genius mechanism. Anyways, I selected "All Out Attack" which gives me an initiative value of 3. My left battle's card is "March", my center battle's card is "Charge" and my right battle's card is "March."
|Stephanus commanding the center battle.|
|Auxilia on the left. Unfortunately, guess where the main barbarian assault is going to come from.|
|My mercenary barbarians. "Arrows cost money...."|
|German command stand! "you there! pick up those heads on stakes and take them with us when we move!"|
A few things about game play that I liked were the dead simple mechanisms in the game and the grinding, attritional nature of the combat - exactly how an ancient fight would have been.
Probably the most complicated element of the game is the card management and that starts to click after a few turns. It's not necessarily as rigid as Commands and Colors, but definitely has some familiar feels to CCA. Your "battle" cards, that is the cards belonging to each battle based on your mission, are enduring and with that battle each turn. You also draw 4 random cards that allow other actions. You can always "burn" a card and reduce a disorder.
Disorder is also clever. It doesn't have bearing on combat, but accumulate enough and your unit will run, lowering your army morale by 1 (similar to the Battlegroup morale breakpoint chit pulls).
|Stephanus's veteran cohorts trudge forward.|
Combat was first joined in the center by German lights and my mercenary lights. The rolls are simple and straightforward. Movement is also not fiddly. Note I did not say generous - just not fiddly! My Romans moved 3 paces per turn!
|My mercenaries hitting the German lights|
|This, at least to me, looks like a proper ancient battle! Note the horse to the right of the picture coming onto the field. They're Ken's...|
Soldiers of Rome has some neat tricks in addition to the combat - you can select "Events" and do cool things like send your light cavalry out on flank marches. Ken does precisely this and after a few turns sweating that they might "get lost" and not arrive, sure enough they arrive as my line is solidifying. Ken sends them charging into the rear of my center battle!
|Ken charging his light horse into the rear of my cohorts!|
Here is where I found out how tough and lethal the Roman cohorts are! Hitting on 2+, the Romans are nasty in combat. Though slow and inflexible, they are extremely tough in combat! Eventually Ken's horse are sent packing and Stephanus (me) must rally off disorders.
By the way, I like the way combat is handled with the dice "to hit" numbers remaining the same. advantages add dice (like charging an opponent in the rear garners you 3 additional to hit dice)
|Ken's 28mm troops were an absolute joy to game with! |
On my right, a Gallic village is worth 2 morale points if Ken can seize it. My cohorts will have something to say about that! Ken's crazed berserkers are supporting his lights in front! Also there is a cool rule with the Barbarians whereby if your Chieftain is not fighting you have to pass a "fealty" roll or something like that or lose a morale point for your force!
|Ken's troops trying to break into the village!|
I feel like things are going pretty well until Ken's main attack develops and thousands of screaming Barbarians stampede over the hill in front of my Auxilia...
|Things WERE going okay!|
|I need to break more of Ken's units so my center cohorts after dispatching the threat to their rear move towards the fight to their front. My barbarian mercenaries are about to evaporate! |
|The CHARGE card is permanently with the center battle for the entire game. They can use it each turn or "burn" it to lose a disorder.|
|Fighting on the right in front of the village|
|THe battle rages! Trying to knock out another unit and continue to bring Ken's morale down|
|Meanwhile on the left, Ken's barbarians smash into the Auxilia! |
|This Barbarian unit is in trouble.|
|Contact in the center! Took me almost 3/4 of the game to get these slow moving Legionaries up to contact.|
I hope you enjoyed reading about this battle as much as I enjoyed participating in it. Ken's breakpoint reduced alot more quickly than mine but he had Barbarians and I had Romans who are twice as expensive, points-wise. This game really checks all of the boxes for me as far as an Ancients game is concerned. I loved the grinding, attritional combat, the morale, and the cards are a neat and elegant way of adding extra spice to the game. This was both Ken and my first game and we finished in 3.5 hours without too much looking up things in the rules.
The rules were extremely entertaining and packed with surprises which I really enjoy (one of the reasons I love the Commands and COlors series of games - because there are lots of surprises). I would like to purchase the Crusades version, Soldiers of God, if I can find a copy. Could this finally be the rules set to get me into 28mm? Time will tell! For now, I have boatloads of Romans and Barbarians in 15mm and I'm continuing to base them on single-unit stands for Commands and Colors!
All in all, an outstanding game, conveniently packaged into 3.5 hours on a Sunday afternoon. I'm definitely going to be playing again, and I'll definitely pick up "Soldiers of Napoleon" if they're anything like this!