Monday, 31 December 2018

Hold the Pass - Augustus to Aurelian, Romans vs Dacians

Well the day finally arrived to be able to run my first complete game of Augustus to Aurelian (AtoA) using the start of my new collection of figures together with my newly created terrain and mat put together for it.

I ran the scenario with the incomplete collection at the Devon Wargames Group back in August but that was very much a warm-up proof of concept game and only spurred my efforts to move the collection on to have all the figure options available for this scenario and to further try out the rules on a scenario designed around Hail Caesar (HC).

My Roman cavalry division with the wagons enter the table, ahead can be seen elements of all three Dacian divisions

This particular scenario sees a Roman escort of two divisions, one infantry and the other cavalry, together with supply wagons  attempting to force a mountain pass position barricaded by one large and two smaller divisions of Dacians intent on stopping the much needed Roman supplies making it up the road to the Romans in need of them.

One of the smaller Dacian divisions holds the barricaded road. A similar sized force occupies the wood centre-left and the larger Dacian force in the woods centre-right

Thus the original design sees the Roman commander (me in this game) tasked with either marching rapidly down the valley road, engaging the Dacians and forcing my way off table with my wagons in tow, all within six turns to achieve a Total Roman Victory.

Alternatively the Romans can settle for breaking the Dacian army within eight turns whether able to get the wagons through or not in that time, assuming that with the Dacians in the area broken they would not be in a position to impede supplies getting through if a little later.

The other less likely option is to get the wagons off table without breaking the Dacian force in eight turns.

The two latter options are measured as a Partial Victory and with any other result being a Total Dacian Victory.

The Auxiliary Ala support the Numidians on the Roman right

The key difference between AtoA and HC, and why I prefer it, is that the turn lengths in the former are unpredictable in that two chits drawn from the bag of unit activation chits will end a turn randomly whether formations have activated or not. Likewise formation activation is also somewhat random, reliant on when an activation chit is drawn in relation to all the others in the bag.

This randomising can be modified by 'Carpe Diem' chits that will allow a commander to interrupt that process and grab an opportunity to activate or perform a task as required rather than waiting on chance, but these chits are once only use and limited thus restricting the player and forcing choices.

Two falx armed warbands supported by two lighter armed ones emerge from the woods on the Roman left

So with a system of fairly predictable length turns and movement even allowing for the HC compromise of  the 'Blunders' system versus the greater unpredictability and control offered in AtoA, the scenarios I am using as written need some play-testing and potential modification to make them fit for purpose.

One of the smaller Dacian divisions of one warband. two skirmish units and a scorpio hold the road barricade

That said I like the potential of choices offered in this relatively small limited action in that the Dacian commander has the option of fighting his battle forwards or backwards, that is to deploy the bulk of his army close to the barricades thus surrendering ground but able to combine the bulk of his force to hold out, or to fight forward relying on his force in front of the barricades to act as a 'speed bump', but denying himself the support of the barricade force, whilst hoping to still be an army in being but able to delay a Roman advance down the table.

One auxiliary cohort out on the Roman left has rushed forward to hold back the Dacians as my Praetorians look to redeploy

I should also point out that the Dacian forces selected to defend other than those ordered to hold the barricade should only deploy on one alternative table edge, but in this test game where I was trying out all options, Will opted to deploy on both edges and it gave a chance to see what effect that had on the game.

On the right of picture the auxiliary cohort has just charged the falx warband and is to far ahead unsupported

As in the DWG Club play through the Romans opted to lead with their enhanced cavalry division of Praetorian Guards Ala, Auxiliary Ala, German Foedarati and Numidian Light Cavalry Alas.

On reflection I would not do that in future games as the Romans are probably better off leading with their infantry and using their cavalry from reserve to support and follow up fleeing Dacians rather than, as in the two battles reported on, seeing them embroiled with fresh Dacian warbands leaving it difficult for the infantry to come to grips.

As the auxiliaries do their best to stem the tide the other warbands become uncontrolled and charge forward

My preamble gives a clue as to what happened as the large Dacian force of two falx armed warbands supported by to lighter spear and sword warbands debouched from one of the centre edge woods, threatening to charge my Praetorians that I was trying to get behind them.

Seeing the threat I rather rashly, as it proved, pushed forward a cohort of auxiliaries to prevent this but so far forward that it left them unsupported only to see them hit by the falx armed horde and evaporate under the assault and then to see the Praetorians forced into a fight I was looking to avoid.

My auxiliaries going down under a flail of falx blades

As in the other game the Praetorians are a tough nut to crack and after two further rounds of combat they disposed of the first falx warband, allowing my auxiliary ala, auxiliary infantry and a legionary cohort to come to their support and break the other three warbands and the Dacian formation as a whole.

The auxiliaries managed to cause three hits on the Dacians but the five hit mini dice next to a shaken marker tells its own story and in the next turn they were gone

However the Dacian large force had done its job, despite being broken, in that it left me only one turn to try and close on the other Dacian formation before game end which was not enough time and thus we called it in favour of Will's Dacians.

The table is turned following the initial Dacian success as the Praetorians and remaining Roman infantry have cleared the Roman left of enemy warbands. Note to self - I must get those casualty figures painted up to show the human wreckage of battle

The auxiliary ala managed to administer the coup de grace by hitting the last falx armed warband in the flank.

Both Will and I learnt a lot from this game in that unsupported cohorts are a 'Dacian dream' come true, Legionary cohorts can certainly dish it out but they are relatively weak and so need to be able to be relieved if they take casualties to allow them to recover.

The ability for the Dacian commander to allow his warbands to do what they do best i.e. go impetuous and charge in right at the beginning of a turn can be a devastating tactic as it puts them immediately into hand to hand combat, thus avoiding the worst of Roman missile fire and forces the Romans to react to their attacks rather than to directing where they want to fight the battle.

Cavalry on the flanks or rear are devastating and an infantry army up against another force with even a small amount of cavalry has to watch its flanks carefully.

The legionary cohort seen left were particularly devastating hitting with all their gladius and pilum strikes to cause four casualties in the first round and shaking the now departing enemy warband (centre-top)

This scenario produced a great little battle and has the potential to be a really interesting invasion scenario as part of a campaign all though I think the turn numbers need adjusting even perhaps allowing the Roman commander to spend Carpe Diem counters extending the time allowance.

Likewise the Dacian deployment areas need to follow the original set up of only operating from one table edge as a dispersed Dacian defence makes it harder for the Romans to go for the second option of simply trying to break the Dacian army in the number of turns given.

Despite going shaken in their last round of combat the Praetorians hold the field as the Dacians break off.
Thank you to Will for playing his old Dad and sharing his insights from the Dacian perspective and to Jane my neighbour who shares a passion for history and the Romans and who joined us for much of the game acting as an impartial chit drawer on behalf of Fortuna.

Happy New Year


  1. Great post! Ah, if only you had Centurion Corvus you could have won the day! Always inspiring to follow you and read your posts.

    1. Hi Adam, thank you.
      Ah yes, Corvus, now there's a chap to have in the front rank of my Tungrians when the going gets tough!

  2. Just a tremendous battle report, which I just discovered! Just getting back into gaming the last year or so and teaching the grandsons Hail Caesar. Do you still like Augustus to Aurelian? Very similar to Hail Caesar but a very interesting mechanic. I have been thinking about tackling one of the Lardie's games and thought this period might suit me fine.

  3. Hi Kris,
    Thanks for your comment. Yes I really like AtoA and you will find lots more about the units created and how they work with these rules.

    I haven't had much chance to play many games this year with them due to house improvements causing my collections and games room to be put in storage during the building and so I will hope to do more with them next year.

    Unfortunately the Lardies are no longer supplying the rules and they are unavailable unless you can get hold of Phil Hendry the author. If you need to know more then drop me an email on the contact form top right on the blog.