Sunday, 1 July 2018

Battle of Honiton Bridge, 5th century Romano-British vs Saxons - Augustus to Aurelian

Illustration by Angus McBride
It was back in 2016 that I first got a chance to play-test Augustus to Aurelian (AtoA), following my dissatisfaction with the crop of Ancient Rules titles that had hit the wargames market in the preceding years.

As an early adopter of the concepts of friction and limited control of ones forces, expressed by Richard Clark and Nick Skinner at the Too Fat Lardies, I was immediately drawn to the attraction of AtoA in that the game engine was developed around those very ideas by the use of cards or chits to determine activation.

This idea has become more common and much more accepted now as an idea to the point that now the debate has moved on to can we describe any game a wargame if we don't include friction.

It was probably the noise created around some of the other large game ancient sets published at the same time as AtoA that caused them to get somewhat overlooked and a few of us are now inclined to develop collections around them to illustrate what a good set of rules Phil Hendry came up with and to look at expanding them to cover other large battle periods we are interested in.

You can look at some of the early games played together with materials developed by club members here and on the DWG Club Blog.

Devon Wargames Group - Augustus to Aurelian
JJ's Wargames - Augustus to Aurelian

Too Fat Lardies - Augustus to Aurelian

As followers of the blog will know I am deep into building my Romano-Dacian collection which in time is planned to include Sarmatian and German forces together with a larger collection of Romans to allow civil conflict battles from the Principate era. I also have plans to take that collection further with the addition of a British/Caledonian army and possibly a Parthian force to top and tail the most likely enemies a Principate Roman force could expect to face.

Alongside my own collection, which is designed to model forces that the rules were principally designed for, fellow DWG member and friend Nick has already put together a large collection of Dark Age figures that he was keen to use with the rules, which after some considered tweaking has worked for the games we wanted to do.

Likewise Nick has experimented with the earlier Roman Republican era by recreating some Roman-Italian wars scenarios incorporating the odd pike phalanx to see how they coped with the needs in that period and again AtoA proves to be a very solid engine to work with.

Despite being quite a different period to the one I am working towards, the similarities presented in the game reported here and played this weekend are very stark with warbands predominating and the use of pilum or dart like throwing weapons prior to close-combat.

Those factors and that Nick's size of collection closely mirrors the planned tables I intend to produce proved a huge attraction to play in this game, not to mention getting to play with such a lovely collection of figures and with friends from the DWG. 

The game was also another 'proof of concept' scenario where we were tweaking the use of command levels and the play of the initiative seizing 'carpe diem' chits and seeing how many turns of play were possible with the rules with this size of game over a day of play.

Map to illustrate the deployment and where the action occurred

Romano-British Briefing

All commanders are classed as Level 3, this gives more flexibility when it comes to orders. Each
commander also has a sub-commander which can be deployed at any time to take command of some
units within division. This will be explained fully on the day.

Jon Jones: aka Aulus Paulinus
Steve Huntsman: aka Grasientus
Steve Land: aka Functio

Unit list
Romano-British - Number of Units Stands per Unit
Infantry Units 
Companions 1/3
Nobles 2/4
Legionaries 4/4
Limitanei 6/4
Bowmen 2/3

Cavalry Units
Body Guard 1/4
Heavy Cavalry 1/4
Medium Cavalry 2/4
Light Cavalry 2/2

Skirmisher Units
Bow 4/2
Javelin 4/2

Romano-British deployment is anywhere alone the southern edge, the river is classed as difficult terrain.

Other hazards may appear on the table top, as your troops have not been able to fully scout the battlefield.

The table at the start with the Roman-British on the right and with their march stealing forces in place on hill 4 (top right)
and in the village (top centre)

Stealing the March - Key Objectives
There are five key objectives which can be captured and held, which are numbered on the map. Each commander can attempt to steal the march on their opponent, and try and take and hold the objectives before the battle begins.

How does this work.
Each army commander has five steal points, each point represents a unit, these can be any units which are within your army.

For example
The British player wants to steal the march on two objectives, and bids 3 points on objective 3, the village and 2 points on objective 5 the hill.
Units for objective 3
• 1 x Noble Heavy Infantry
• 2 x Legionaries medium Infantry
Units for objective 5
• 1 x Heavy Cavalry
• 1 x Light Cavalry

A command stand must be placed with each bidding group, this can be a sub commander (level 1) who is operating independently from their division. Which is only in play as long as the units are separated from their division. Alternatively, a player may take control of them with their commander. It should also be pointed out if the enemy player also bids on the same objectives, that all troops of both sides which had been placed as a bid will be placed around the objective just outside of charge range.

Saxon warbands and light troops in the centre

Saxon and Irish warbands behind the river opposite the bridge

With both commands having sent in their deployment plans prior to our gathering the table top set revealed that the Romano British had gained a hold on both hill 4 and the village allowing the army to see the Saxon deployment before deploying their own follow up forces.

This was, as it turned out, a double edged sword in that the Romano Brits could arrange their divisions appropriately on their pre-planned deployment areas but that it would mean a race to support the 'speed bump' forces particularly in the village which they would need to defend until the close of play.

As it turned out they came very close to doing just that despite overwhelming numbers of enemy thrown at their position.

Two Roman-British Limitanei and javelin skirmishers hold the village awaiting support

Romano-British light forces out on the left flank around the broken ground below hill 5

The centre of the Roman-British line with legionaries, nobles and companions

The Romano-British right with two warbands of Foedarati on the extreme flank added before the start of play

The nature of these stand up battles where features are key objectives is that you see a typical attack and defence game and with a bit of a slogging match as the two sides seek to make breakthroughs.

The Romano-British are Romano in name only as they are not using the triplex-acies that their Principate forebears would use thus able to batter the first warbands that hit the line and then replenish the forward units with fresh ones fed in to replace them, something that AtoA models quite well.

The small force in the village prepare to resist whilst the rest of the army closes up

The two lines start to come to grips

Thus we had a typical dark-age set to with the use of our Level I commanders very helpful in directing the initial clashes as their senior commanders brought up reserves.

The cavalry, something the Romano-British excelled in come to grips first with the struggle on hill 5

A fierce struggle ensued in the meadows close to the village

This was a really quite large battle for this size of table and thus the Romano-British were unable to take advantage of their cavalry superiority by infiltrating the rear area of the Saxon line as they pressed forward to contest key areas of ground.

That said the size of the battle really tested the ability of the rules to cope and keep the game moving along with lunch and pre-battle coffee breaks.

In the end we managed to cycle through seven turns of play having started at about 10.30 and finished at about 17.30.

Leaders need to be close to the action

Saxons and Irish pressed on over the river

The Romano-British forces holding hill 4 went over to the attack as the Saxons came across the river

As the infantry close the javelins and pila start to fly

With regard to the use of the 'carpe diem' chits, the distribution was similar between the two forces but with the added twist that they were not added to the bag when played but simply used just once to influence play.

An interesting idea that is all what AtoA is about, allowing players to tailor the rules to the situation they want to model.

The pressure on the Roman garrison in the village builds

Massed Saxon warbands press forward

The view of the Romano-British left flank viewed from the Saxon held hill 5

The cavalry melees turned into a too-and-fro affair as they often do as both sides attempted to gain dominance

As we got to the close of the game both sides were giving each other a good battering but with many of the better Romano British infantry units not involved due to limited access to the front line.

The small better quality Romano-British legionary units seemed very capable of giving an account of themselves against the much larger warbands when one or two of them got into the battle.

That said the Limitanei with their light armour and less effective weaponry performed marvels in their staying power and kept the game in their favour right up to the last turn when they finally broke after heroic resistance.

I have a feeling that my better equipped auxiliaries will be able to give an ever better account of themselves.

The Romano-British centre closes up on the village and meadows

The fighting went on all day in the centre with the Romano-British begrudgingly giving ground

The close terrain limited the options other than to keep on attacking what was in front

The attacking posture of the Romano-British right flank forced the Saxon left to pivot and meet the threat

The lines were gradually grinding the forward units down with many close to their break point but desperately holding on

As you might imagine, I came away from this big game very enthused with the rules and my own plans which now include getting some movement trays for my own collection following seeing how Nick's set up greatly improved moving such large forces about the table.

The Romano-British cavalry couldn't break through 

The Saxon left flank looked the more exposed part of their line as the battle came to a close

Having held all day the Limitanei in the village finally broke on the last turn giving the Saxons a one point advantage in key areas held.

Thanks to Steve L for his hospitality and table, to Nick for setting up the game and providing the bulk of his collection and to Steve H, Steve M, Stephen H, Ian and everyone for making a very fun day rolling bones.


  1. Great looking game, the Saxon warbands look the part and the British cavalry are great!
    Best Iain

    1. Thanks Iain, yes Nick has built a glorious collection which really added to our game.