Roman Civil War Replay

[Originally posted to consim-l in two parts.]

This is a report of the first part of a campaign game of Roman Civil War (issue game from Strategy & Tactics #157) which we played some time ago, adding for the first time the map for Caesar in Gallia which represents the western part of the Mediterranean. We also used the battleboard rules as presented in Moves #77, with the modifications I posted on the list some time ago (the most important being that panic was checked for in terms of units lost instead of strength points), and one deletion - we did not allow double movement for the player with tactical superiority.

The game takes on a completely different air with the western map - in previous games I was involved in, the decision usually came fairly quickly, with Pompeius counterattacking before Caesar had taken all of Italy, and either triumphing or dying as a result. This time, with lots of space to maneuver in, it took longer to come to grips.

In the first two turns of the game, not much happened besides recruiting.

April 49 BC: Caesar predictably moves to take Rome, which falls without resistance. Pompeius sits in southern Italy, recruiting.

May 49: Random event - "citizens demand reforms." Neapolis and Syracuse among others lose their civis - an unpleasant blow for Pompeius' "wait and see" strategy. Caesar's legions swarm across the peninsula. An army under Aulus Hirtus starts moving from Massilia towards the Hispanic border, but stops at Narbo Martius, unsure of whether to advance. The only setback for Caesar is that Longinus, without engineers, fails to storm Rhegium. Leaving a weak garrison in Brundisium, Pompeius sails to Syracuse with two legions, an impeditus, and an auxiliary unit, to regain control of the empty city. In Spain, Afranius concentrates his forces in Tarraco, not daring to move against Hirtus.

June 49: Random event - "provincials demand justice." Again, cities rebel against senatorial rule (Rhodus is the one major city afflicted). Hirtus' attempts to spy out the troops of Afranius meet with failure. Longinus again fails in taking Rhegium, by now the last bastion of senatorial power on the Italian mainland, but its brave garrison is finally starved into surrender. In the senatorial turn, Pompeius, judging that his days in Sicily are numbered, sets sail for Dyrrachium, hoping for a chance to counterattack in the Balkans. Scipio, Pompeius' lieutenant in Syria, starts moving into Anatolia to regain control of Rhodus.

July 49: Random event - disease strikes the republic. The Caesarian side loses six units, the Senatorial side five. Hirtus' spies fail again, and Antonius is sent to Narbo Martius to provide more stalwart leadership in the west. Curio arrives in Rhegium, to watch the luckless Longinus fail in crossing to Sicily (with Messana, without a civis unit, beckoning across the straits). On the east side of the Adriatic, Pompeius, after recruiting an engineer unit, quickly moves to besiege Salonae. He gains a breach in the walls of Salonae, but gapes in amazement as the troops assaulting through the breach are repulsed. He loses one of his precious veteran legions in the process.

August 49: Revolt in Hispania! Concentrating the Spanish garrison forces with Afranius proves to have been an error for Pompeius, resulting in another disaster as almost all cities rebel against the Romans. Antonius immediately crosses the border to take advantage of this fortuitous turn of events. In the Adriatic, Caesar sails from Brundisium into Salonae harbor, lifting the siege. Confronted with a force that is now superior in numbers and quality, a dismayed Pompeius withdraws towards Dyrrachium where he left his fleet. In Spain, Afranius, feeling a bit overextended by the combined threats of rebellion and Antonius' approaching army, recruits Brutus, who sets off accompanied by a lone cavalry unit to regain control over the interior. (An interesting task, since Hirtus is underway in the north with a similar mission for the Caesarian side.)

The senatorials are reeling from the blows they have taken, any thoughts of a counteroffensive now gone. Pompeius originally intended to wage an energetic political campaign, but now has to reserve all political markers for recruiting. Caesar, with a Tribune in place to ward off trouble, is content to keep the political balance as it is.

September 49: Pro-Caesarian Omens! Groans from Pompeius. Longinus fails a third time to cross into Sicily, but in Hispania, spurred on by the omens, Antonius marches on Tarraco to challenge Afranius. Afranius decides to give battle outside the city.

The Battle of Tarraco (Antony vs Afranius) - September, 49 BC:

Antonius, with six legions (three veteran, the rest recruit, raised to imperator and veteran class for this battle by the omens) and about 12000 cavalry and auxiliaries (four light units in all) faces Afranius with eight legions (three V, five R) plus auxiliaries across the Iberius river. Antonius moves to the attack, but counterattacks by Afranius's troops at the river edge quickly cost him a legion and an equites unit. Undaunted, he renews the assault, and within two turns four of Afranius' legions are routed from the field - a disaster for the Pompeian side. The rest of Afranius` army does not break and run despite crossing the panic level, but the center and right show gaping holes and Antonius' men pour across the river. The remains of the senatorials try to retreat into their fortified camp, but only one legion makes it and is disrupted after eliminating another of Antonius' cavalry units. Afranius, busy exhorting the troops on the left wing, races heroically to rally the legion, but comes too late and dies when the camp is overrun. The left wing is outflanked and slaughtered. Reconstitution brings all Caesarian units back except one cavalry unit (hm, looks like there were a lot of Senatorial turncoats). Antonius triumphantly lays siege to Tarraco, doesn't attempt to storm it though - he wants a chance to try a tribute stratagem before risking his troops (which now include three freshly promoted 'I' legions).

Brutus and his single cavalry unit now are Pompeius' last army in Spain. In a thoroughly black mood (I wonder how he knows about Tarraco already), Pompeius sails from Dyrrachium around the Peloponnesus to Thessalonika, gratefully adding its garrison to his small army. Scipio recruits a new civis unit in Rhodus and manages to sail back to his army in Ephesus before the winter storms set in. For now, Pompeius has managed to maintain the five-major-cities limit needed for getting the additional stratagem marker per turn.

Winter I: In a stunning reversal of fortune, Antonius fails both to subvert and storm Tarraco. His decision not to attack it in September comes back to haunt him as winter surprises him camped before its gates, with the stores of the city out of reach - the supply check brings attrition! Half of his army dies or deserts. Everybody else just sits in camp.

Winter II: A chastened Antonius does not try again to subvert Tarraco. His mind is on getting his troops to safety. Using a military stratagem, he moves to the next safe haven, unoccupied Barcino. However, on the march back, winter attrition strikes again! Of the triumphant army that beat Afranius, only two legions make it back across the Iberius to safety. Suddenly, the situation in Spain is again wide open.

April 48: Pharnaces, King of Pontus, decides to join Pompeius' cause. (Either he hasn't heard of Tarraco, or the news of Scipio's advance through Anatolia seems more pressing to him.) Longinus and Curio finally manage to heave their force across the straits of Messana and force march on to Syracuse, where, exhilarated by their good fortune so far, they immediately assault the city and take it at the cost of an auxiliary unit. Now all of Italy is in Caesar's hands. In the east, Scipio, with one of the two sizable armies Pompeius has left, pays a diplomatic visit to Mithridates.

That's as far as we came - if there's interest, I'll post further installments once we play again. Right now, Caesar seems to have a significant advantage, but with the recent setbacks, it's not at all certain whether Pompeius is going to collapse quietly.

OK, here is the second installment of the RCW campaign I posted on the list some time last year, again playing with the battleboard and the same house rules. Those who don't remember what happened :-), can look it up on web-grognards, I think. Interestingly enough, the game ended much quicker than either of us expected (and the outcome was unexpected as well).

In case you don't remember, the first installment ended in April 48, BC with Spain mostly in anarchy, Afranius' army utterly destroyed, and only two of the legions with which Antonius defeated him still in existence - the others were succumbed to winter attrition. In the east, Pompeius was withdrawing from Caesar's pursuit and trying to gain allies in Anatolia.

May 48: Dissent in the Senatorial ranks. Pompeius haggles with his generals about what to do, and can't move his army out of Thessalonika. This is about the worst thing that can happen to him, because it means that Caesar can reach him in two months' marches if he is quick. Caesar indeed moves to Dyrrachium and subverts it. This places him within striking distance of Pompeius. In Anatolia, Scipio's attempt to gain Mithridates as an ally for Pompeius fails.

June 48: Bread riots in Rome. An annoying setback for Caesar, who did not leave any garrisoning units in Rome. In fact, there are no units within marching distance of Rome, a major gaffe given that Pompeius still has a fleet and some land units stationed in North Africa (Utica, to be exact), that could conceivably retake the empty city in the Pompeian turn. However, such an invasion would be mostly of nuisance value, since there is no leader in Utica who could recruit troops in Rome and no reinforcements can be expected as long as Brutus and Pompeius have superior forces nearby. Undeterred by the setback, Caesar pushes on to Thessalonika, and propelled by a favorable march table result, he does not even need to force march to reach the city. Pompeius decides to await developments in his fortified camp outside the city, a wise choice as it turns out, since Caesar subverts the Civis unit without a hitch. At least Pompeius does not have to fight his way out of the now unfriendly city. Predictably, Caesar now attacks him in his camp, seeing a chance to end the war in one blow.

Battle of Thessalonika, June 48 BC

Caesar, with nine legions and accompanied by Lepidus, attacks Pompeius who commands eight. Both sides possess some light cavalry and auxiliaries in addition. Caesar has one heavy cavalry unit. Interestingly enough, Caesar's army contains only a single "I" legion, and even some recruits. In his haste to take advantage of Pompeius' misfortune, he has not taken care to assemble a truly superior army. Pompeius still is inferior in veterans, but his disadvantage is smaller than expected.

Caesar's army moves to the attack. Pompeius, realizing that he may have to rally some routing units eventually, does not try to move back towards his camp (which is on the second row). This may give him more time to rally fleeing troops but also means that his fleet firepower (only usable on the two last rows of the board) will go unused until Caesar's army advances far enough to start encircling the camp.

However, things develop differently. As Caesar's legions meet the Pompeian line and melee ensues, two Caesarian legions are routed by their counterparts. Caesar's center becomes extremely vulnerable, and this is exploited by Pompeius. As more legions fall on both sides, Caesar's army reaches its Panic value first. At this point, Caesar makes a fateful decision. Instead of retreating towards his camp to save the rest of his army, he attempts to reverse his fortune by renewing the attack. If two Pompeian legions fall to his remaining troops, the battle will end up a draw and he will probably be able to reassemble most of his routed troops. However, it is not to be. The counterattack is cut to pieces, the Caesarian camp overrun. Caesar and Lepidus die.

At this point, we ended the game, as the stunned Caesarian player did not really want to continue (duh :-). The loss of (almost) two armies to one Senate army is indeed something that is hard to survive. It should be noted that Caesar already held more cities than Pompeius and Antonius gave him the edge in Spain. But with Caesar and his army out of the way, the possible loss of Rome to a Pompeian move from Africa, instead of being a mere annoyance, was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Btw, just recently I played another RCW game against a different opponent. This was against a veteran of many Trajan campaigns but novice to RCW. He (as Caesar) also launched an Antonius-led invasion into Spain, but he did so on a turn with Pro-Senate Omens! Antonius was intercepted at Barcino and received a severe drubbing by Afranius. While I was busy trying to gather Allies in the East (a necessary but very slow task for Pompeius), he had to race around with his leaders, realigning cities that had fallen into anarchy. After a year, he launched another attempt against Spain with a stronger force, but was fought to a bloody draw. Reconstitution brought a slight advantage to the army of Afranius, whereupon he ended the game. A rematch is scheduled. Both opponents of the above games have now purchased their own copies of the game to experiment with strategies before we meet again. This is going to be tough. :-)