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Tactics in Queen of the Celts
Scenario #1: The Medway, Part 1
By Doug McNair
November 2007

Rome at War returns in triumph with Queen of the Celts, our game of battles between the Roman legions and the tribes of ancient Britain. Although named for Queen Boudicca, the game covers nine separate battles starting with Emperor Claudiusí invasion of Britain in the year 43 right up through the Celtic tribesí last major battle against the Romans in 84 CE. Each scenario offers players a unique tactical situation, and one of the most interesting is the first one, The Medway. In this battle, the Briton war chief Caratacus makes his stand against the Roman invaders by rallying the tribes along the north bank of the River Medway (the bottom edge of the board in the photo below is the north edge):

Having destroyed the river bridges, the Celts are in a strong position to beat back any Romans who try to directly ford the river, but the Romans have used the power of persuasion and the purse to get local Britons from south of the Medway to show them other fords that are out of sight of Caratacus’ army. Plautius sends his Batavian and Illyrian auxiliary troops under Gnaeus Sentius Saturninus across the river on Caratacus’ left, and sends the II Legion under Titus Flavius Vespasian across the river on Caratacus’ right. With the two forces attacking both Briton flanks simultaneously, Plautius will try to ford the Medway and hit Caratacus’ center, engaging and hopefully wearing down the Briton army enough that when XX Legion under Hosidius Geta arrives, the Celts will have no choice but to flee the field. This will give the Romans the bridgehead over the Medway, which they need to begin the conquest of Britain. But if Caratacus can destroy a good chunk of the Roman legions and then retire in good order, Plautius won’t have enough of an army left to conquer Britain since Caratacus will be able to rally more barbarians to his cause if he can claim a victory against the Romans.

Victory Conditions

Each side scores victory points by inflicting step losses on enemy units, with long infantry steps worth more than other steps and legion steps worth the most of all. The game ends when all units of one side have been eliminated or have exited the board. The Romans win if they score at least 20 more VPs than the Britons, and if they have at least four long infantry units north of the river at the end of play. The Britons score an immediate victory if at any time there are no Roman long infantry units north of the river.  Failing that, they win if they score at least 60 victory points and prevent the Romans from achieving their own victory conditions.  Any other result is a draw.

Roman Tactics

Plautius’ double flanking attack is a risky one — the auxiliary troops hitting the Briton left have no cavalry or artillery support and have lower combat strength and morale than the barbarian infantry in the Briton center. 

Caratacus has sent his chariots under Segovax to deal with Sentius’ auxiliaries, and they can easily surround Sentius and pick away at his flanks and rear with missile fire while heavy infantry from the Briton center moves into position for a devastating assault. Sentius would be wise to pull back toward the river and anchor his flanks there and on the rise in area 371, keeping his troops in a defensive posture until the legions make a break in the Briton lines that Sentius can exploit.

But the situation on the Briton right is far different. Most of Togodumnus’ troops are of poor quality (as indicated by the fact that they appear as a disorganized rabble on the counters).

All three of Togodumnus heavy infantry units have a 6-6 combat strength and morale at start, but once the Atrebates and Durotriges barbarians start taking step losses their morale drops quickly, and that will make it very easy for legion units to get a +1 modifier to each die-roll for attacking units whose area morale is half or less than their own. Once that happens the weaker barbarians will crumble, and Caratacus will have no choice but to send more infantry from his center to hold back II Legion so they can’t move in to screen Plautius’ river crossing. 

As for Plautius, he can’t afford to wait and see how the battle north of the river develops before fording the river. This is because Sentius and Vespasian will only be automatically In Command for the first three turns of the game. After that they will each have to roll against their own initiatives to try to put themselves and their troops in command, and Sentius in particular has only a 50 percent chance of doing that.  If he fails, he and his auxiliaries likely will be wiped out. And while Vespasian has a two-thirds chance of putting his formation in command on his own, Caratacus can keep him bottled up between the marshes and the river with ease by sending more troops from the center. So Plautius must get troops across the river fast to tie up the Briton center and force Togodumnus to withdraw northward to avoid exposing his rear to XIV Legion.

Briton Tactics

The Celtic barbarians can do a lot of damage to the Romans early on, but they can’t outlast them in a stand-up fight. Caratacus must try for a quick victory, and the best way to do that is to wipe out all the long infantry units north of the river before Plautius can get either of his legion cohorts across. That will give the Britons an automatic victory since it means they’ve held the river line against the legions. Caratacus’ infantry of the center should attack Sentius’ auxiliaries aggressively to get them out of the picture fast, while sending a couple of infantry units to the right to help Togodumnus slow Vespasian’s advance.  Meanwhile, Segovax should send a couple of chariot units ranging up and down the north bank, pouring missile fire into Roman units fording the river and threatening the flank and rear of any legion cohort that tries to cross to the north bank alone.  If the Celts can wipe out the Auxiliaries quickly, they should let Segovax and a couple of supporting infantry units keep Plautius at bay while the rest of the Briton army moves right to wipe out II Legion. If that doesn’t happen and Plautius gets XIV Legion across the river, then Caratacus must go on the defensive and anchor his flanks on the marshes to the right and the rises to the left, trying to inflict the 60 VPs worth of damage on the Romans he needs to win the game before withdrawing off the north edge.

Game Summary

With that, here begins a replay of Scenario #1, The Medway.

Turn 1: Plautius and Caratacus both have an initiative of 5, so this is one of the rare occasions where the Barbarians are on an equal footing with the Romans as far as generalship is concerned. All formations are automatically In Command on Turn 1, so both players roll for initiative and the Romans roll a 4 + 5 = 9 while the Britons roll a 1 + 5 = 6.  The Romans go first, and Plautius rolls a 1, which subtracted from his initiative of 5 means he can activate 4 formations (since he only has 3 formations he can activate them all). 

He starts by activating Vespasian on the Briton right, and the II Legion artillery fires at the Briton center, but rolls two fives and misses. Then the light cavalry on Vespasian’s right flank charges the Briton light infantry guarding Togodumnus’ left flank.  The light infantry makes its morale check and rolls a six to score one hit on the charging cavalry (1 Briton VP), and the charge is repelled with the cavalry scoring no hits. Then II Legion moves ahead and to the right, hitting Togodumnus’ weak flank near the river while Vespasian’s archers and the rest of his cavalry screen the legion artillery and II Legion’s left flank. 

The archers score one hit on the strong infantry unit on Togodumnus’ right (2 Roman VPs), and the light infantry unit that withstood the cavalry charge fails its morale check when confronted by an incoming Legion assault and loses a step (1 Roman VP).  The light infantry withdraws before combat to avoid being annihilated, and the legion cohort that was going to assault it advances into the area it vacated. Then Vespasian’s legion cohort assaults the weak Durotriges infantry just left of Togodumnus, but neither side scores any hits.

Then Sentius pulls his Auxiliaries south toward the river, anchoring his right flank on the rise near the left board edge while his light infantry moves to screen the auxiliaries from chariot charges. The light infantry hits the chariots with missile fire (from which they cannot withdraw before combat) but scores no hits.

Then Plautius activates, and XIV Legion artillery fires and misses.  Then he orders XIV Legion into the river. The Thracian heavy cavalry on Plautius’ left rolls a 1, fords the river and crosses to the other side, cutting the retreat of the light infantry unit on Togodumnus’ left. But the Thracian light cavalry can only enter the river and not cross. Neither Legion cohort is able to enter the river, and a unit of archers from Plautius right flank is able to make it into the river but the accompanying light infantry does not.  Plautius decides not to try to cross to the other side himself, as doing so without a legion cohort would leave him dangerously exposed.

Then Caratacus rolls a 5, meaning he can activate one of his formations. Togodumnus pulls back because II Legion has turned his flank. The Briton light infantry unit does not score a hit with its missile attack, but the Thracian heavy cavalry unit fails its morale check when assaulted by the Atrebates barbarians, and since the cavalry can’t withdraw due to the failed morale check the barbarians wipe them out (2 Briton VPs). The light cavalry on Vespasian’s left pass their morale check when assaulted by the stronger barbarians, and withdraw before combat.

The Romans are done activating so Caratacus rolls again to activate units. He rolls a 1 and can activate his other two formations. Segovax sends four of his chariots to the riverbank to screen Togodumnus’ left and to rain arrows on the Romans in the river, while the other two move to attack the light infantry screening Sentius’ auxiliaries. The Britons miss the Romans in the river, and the light infantry unit anchoring Sentius’ flank on the river passes its morale check but takes a hit from Segovax’s chariot assault (1 Briton VP). Then Caratacus sends three heavy infantry units east to deal with Sentius, and his archers miss the reduced Roman light infantry up by the riverbank.

The score is now Romans 3, Britons 4. 

Turn 2: The Romans beat the Britons by one on the initiative roll, but Plautius rolls a 6 when trying to activate his formations, which is one more than his initiative. He can’t activate anyone, and Caratacus then rolls a 2, which is 3 less than his initiative, meaning he can activate all 3 of his formations. Segovax begins by having two of his chariot units charge the reduced Roman light infantry anchoring Sentius’ flank on the river, and the light infantry fails its morale check and scatters before the charge (1 Briton VP).  Segovax then drives into the Roman rear, loosing arrows at auxiliaries from the riverbank while pulling in the rest of his chariots to block more Roman river crossings. Segovax’s chariots do no damage to Sentius’ formation but score one hit on the archers in the river (1 Briton VP). 

Then Togodumnus activates and sends his Atrebates infantry south to the riverbank to hit the Thracian light cavalry in the river, while the stronger infantry pulls back in line with the Durotriges. The Trinovantes light infantry misses its missile shot, and the Thracian light cavalry make their morale check and withdraw to the north bank. Then Caratacus activates and sends a strong Dumnoni infantry unit plus a Catuvellauni archer unit to shore up Togodumnus’ center, and then the heavy Catuvellauni, Trinovantes and Dobunni barbarians move in for the kill on Sentius’ auxiliaries. The Trinovantes make a combined arms assault (infantry and archers) on the Roman light infantry there so it can’t withdraw before combat, and it fails its morale check and gets wiped out by an 8-die assault (2 Briton VPs). Then the Dobunni attack Sentius and the Batavian auxiliaries at 6 dice to 6, but neither side scores any damage. 

The Catuvellauni archers that Caratacus sent to help Togodumnus score no hits on the Romans, and the Britons are done for the turn.

Then Plautius rolls a 1 and can activate all three of his formations.  Plautius activates XIV Legion first and sends them into the river again, right after XIV Legion artillery scores a hit on the weak Atrebates barbarians anchoring Togodumnus’ left flank on the north bank. The Thracian light cavalry enter the river again at the same spot, and then the first cohort of XIV Legion enters the river but takes a step loss due to loss of cohesion (3 Briton VPs), while the other cohort gets badly disorganized while failing to enter the river and also takes a step loss (3 Briton VPs). But the Thracian light infantry on Plautius’ left makes it into the river, and then it, the archers and the Thracian light cavalry all loose arrows, killing one chariot step (1 Roman VP).

Then Vespasian activates, and II Legion slams into Togodumnus’ formation. Legion artillery misses, but first cohort hits the weakened Atrebates on the riverbank that got hit by Plautius’ artillery, getting a +1 bonus to each die rolled since it has double the Atrebates’ area morale. The Atrebates hold morale, but the Romans score 3 hits and shrink the Atrebates to a remnant (6 Roman VPs). The Atrebates score no hits in return, and the Trinovantes light infantry on Togodumnus’ left flank fails morale and scatters before a Roman cavalry assault (1 Roman VP).  Vespasian’s archers score two hits on the strong infantry unit anchoring Togodumnus’ right flank (4 Roman VPs), and then Vespasian hits Togodumnus himself head on with II Legion’s second cohort, attacking with 11 dice to 9.  He scores 3 hits, shredding the weak Durotriges (6 Roman VPs). But Togodumnus gives as good as he got, doing a very impressive 3 hits on 9 dice (9 Briton VPs). But legions are far tougher than weak barbarian units, and even after 3 hits Vespasian’s area morale doubles that of Togodumnus, so if he gets initiative next turn he will wipe out Togodumnus.

Finally, Sentius backs up north against the river and attacks whomever he can. The Illyrians assault the chariot unit that was in the Batavianís rear, and the chariots fail their morale check, take a step loss and then get wiped out by the Illyrian assault since they canít withdraw before combat due to the morale failure (2 Roman VPs). But they inflict a step loss on the Illyrians before dying (2 Briton VPs). Sentius and the Batavians then attack the Dobunni that assaulted them last turn, scoring one step loss and taking none (2 Roman VPs).

The score is now Romans 25, Britons 25.

So after two turns the score is tied, but the Britons have inflicted close to half the 60 VPs they need to win. On the other hand, the Briton right flank is falling apart fast and in danger of being cut off by the Romans in the river. Caratacus and Segovax have Sentius where they want him, but they need to wipe him out fast or they will soon be forced to break off the attack and form a line in the center to hold off the advancing legions. Much will depend on who gets the initiative next turn, since Roman initiative likely will mean the destruction of Togodumnusí forces while Briton initiative will mean Plautius will be stuck north of the river and unable to put Sentius and Vespasian in command on Turn 4.

Who will the fates smile upon? Tune in next time and find out!

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