I’ve long been looking for a set of wargame rules to cover the Roman period, and at last I found a good one.
Generic rulesets like DBA and Neil Thomas’ Ancient and Medieval Wargaming are fun, but they lack the historical feel that comes with disciplined legions, howling barbarians and the trials of trying to control an army of tens of thousands of either of them.
Over the last year I have discovered TooFatLardies and their rules like Sharp Practice, Bag the Hun and La Fleu Sacre (Napoleonic corps-sized battles) which are card-driven. Instead of each army taking turns to move all their troops, you have a card for each commander, and they act when their card is pulled. Better commanders have more cards, giving them a better chance of getting activated. There is an “end of turn” card which shuffles the deck of cards and starts the turn sequence all over again.
This of course, leads to a very erratic turn order, where you don’t know when you will be able to activate that crucial flank command, or whether you will be able to charge before your opponent’s turn. This is actually a good thing, because warfare is erratic. War is not an intellectual game of chess where you go, then I go; it is about hordes of individuals running around trying their best to kill each other. The best commanders did not control the chaos, they made the best of what they could do inside that chaos.
Augustus To Aurelian is a wargame in the TooFatLardies tradition (indeed, you can buy it pretty cheaply at their site). It covers (obviously) the period from the beginning of Emperor Augustus’ rule to the end of Emperor Aurelian’s (25 BC-275 AD), which are the real glory days of the Empire. When you say Romans, this is what we think of. Glory days they might have been, but the Romans still had some hard fighting against the Germans, the Britons (including Boudicca’s famous rebellion), the Jews (twice!), the Parthians, the Dacians and the Sassanids, not to mention themselves.
I love the fact that the turn order is card-driven because to me it emphasises the chaotic nature of ancient warfare, where the commander had to be on hand to have much impact on any part of the battle. The better the commander, the more cards he has and the better he can redirect the chaos around him to his benefit. The combat system is relatively simple once you get the hang of it, and there is a morale system as well, which is important, since not even Romans were fearless superheroes who never ran away!
I’m not sure whether I like the European theatres with their misty and mysterious wild-lands and hordes of smelly barbarians or the cultured east with its’ epic pitched battles and organised, deadly Roman enemies. I suppose I shall have to do both…!