Sunday, July 21, 2013

Hail Caesar Thoughts

OK so we've played several games of HC so far, and so it giving fun games and the basic system works well.  We've used it for encounter games using cavalry heavy armies (El Cid era) and a slug fest using infantry heavy armies (ancient Greeks).

Probably the most controversial aspect of these rules (and their sister set Black Powder) is the "all or nothing" movement which randomly leads to some troops moving lots and others staying put.  Having played through a few games I've decided that overall I like the movement/command roles much as I find them frustrating at times.  Of course I've been GMing rather than playing and I might find it more frustrating as a player.

Some thoughts on making the system work.

  1. Use a big table, specifically one with depth (or cut the movements rates to match your table depth).  That way troops have to make a few movements before coming in contact.  That gives the attackers a couple movement rolls which tends to average out the "all or nothing" rolls.  And if one division moves in contact faster than the rest of the team, well there's plenty of historical precedent for that stuff.
  2. Give each player a couple of divisions to run.  That way it's likely that every one gets to do something each turn - and if they roll really badly send them on a beer run while every one else moves.
  3. Make sure to remember the General re-roll rule (one that we tend to forget in the heat of dice rolling) or mulligan.  Once per turn the CinC can reroll a failed movement roll.
  4. Encourage the players to make division moves at least in the early stages.  It doesn't reduce the probability of a no move turn, but it does increase the expected number of units that get to move (Ok that's the actuary talking).  Plus it prevents the division getting disjointed, like the last game when one of Sylvain's pike blocks blundered through another pike unit.  Also that's how armies move - in big blocks - and the rules are flexible to allow let units reposition themselves along the way.
  5. Use the "special rules" to your benefit.  Troops in column get a free move on a failure.  Drilled and eager troops get free moves too.  Upgrading a General from an 8 to a 9 increases your movement rates and likelihoods.  Similarly remember to use the penalties for the inferior troops (militia and levy rules).   And recall that once you get within 12", you can move once on initiative.
  6. Sometimes the dice know better that you do!  It sucks but sometimes sitting tight where you are or a sudden blunder move to one flank is exactly what the doctor ordered (see the example below).
  7. Read your history - especially the primary sources- before you vent off about how "that would never happen in reality".  Two things become abundantly clear about ancient and medieval battles.   The first is that no one really knows what happened as the source descriptions are brief, often incomplete (dang those Christians who burnt the library in Alexandria), full of propaganda and focus on individual heroics rather than command control.  And really it is an educated guess as to how the battles unfolded.  You can find some very scholarly debates about the better known and documented battles (Marathon, Gaugamela, Hastings).  In a lot of cases we still can't be sure where they happened let alone how they played out.
  8. The second thing that is clear from the sources is that command control sucked back then.  Units show up (or not) in the wrong place and at the wrong time with great frequency, and yes stand about examining their own navels at the most annoying times.  So accept your bad rolls as fate, karma or the will or the gods.  Be philosophical, enjoy your beer and deal with it!

As noted above the ancient sources are notoriously scanty on details.  But later on, we get much better documentation of what happened at the command level.  Plus we get armies with better command control and better time pieces (this actually is important in figuring out what happened, and when and where it did).  And guess what we still get lots of examples of "failed command rolls".  Here's the classic case - so classic that it appears in one of the great novels.  So taken from Mr. Tolstoy we have what Christopher Duffy calls one of the most famous exchanges in military history (from the morning of Austerlitz).

"Why aren't you beginning, Michael Ilarionovich?" said the Emperor Alexander hurriedly to Kutuzov, glancing courteously at the same time at the Emperor Francis.

"I am waiting, Your Majesty," answered Kutuzov, bending forward respectfully. "Not all the columns have formed up yet, Your Majesty."

"You know, Michael Ilarionovich, we are not are not on the Empress' Field where a parade does not begin till all the troops are assembled," said the Tsar 

"That is just why I do not begin, sire," said Kutuzov in a resounding voice, apparently to preclude the possibility of not being heard, and again something in his face twitched- "That is just why I do not begin, sire, because we are not on parade and not on the Empress' Field." 

Remember this conversation the next time that you fail a command roll.  And while you are at it, recall that although the Allied plans (and Napoleon's plans to boot) Kutusov's column was to have cleared the Pratzen heights and join the attack on Napoleon's right flank.  Instead they ended up sitting tight in exactly the right place and time to meet Soult's assault.  If more columns had failed their command rolls the battle might have gone very differently!  In fact I'd suggest a read (or reread) of Duffy's Austerlitz book for any war gamer who entertains any idea of command control.  If Napoleonic armies blunder about like that, how can we possibly expect ancient and medieval armies to run by clockwork?


  1. Great post, I went and watched a game of HC yesterday and thought it played very well

    1. Andrew

      Thanks. So far so good with HC. It does seem to give a good game.


  2. played a few BP games and I like the orders myself.
    Peace James