PUSH BACK THE ROMAN INVADERS!
July 29 marked my return to regular Monday night war-gaming with the club after a little over a month off for reasons mostly having to do with my daughter. For the occasion, Greg and I decided to try out the Chipco Fantasy Rules 3! Modified for 6mm ancients (meaning no magic). A number of club members are assembling armies from the Republican Roman era, but we’re the first two to have gotten any decent sized forces done -- Greg’s Romans and my Macedonians. Joining me on the Macedonian side of the table was Jayson of Iron Ivan Games fame, who announced before-hand that he had never won an ancients game before. I’d never played Chipco rules before (I’ll give you my thoughts after the recap). Omens, omens.
Jayson and I won the right to set up as the defenders in a broad valley between two tree-topped hills. He took command of the main infantry line and the Thessalian cavalry on our left, while I took the skirmishers, elephants, light Podromoi cavalry and Hetairoi cavalry spread out to the front and right of the infantry. Because we were the defender we were able to scout one terrain piece to see how difficult it would be to cross. We chose the tree-top hills to our right and found out they were heavy and difficult to get through.
We also won the right to move first and moved all but our two Greek mercenary hoplite units forward (we didn’t have enough orders available to get them moving.) On both wings I moved some Podromoi cavalry out to begin a sweep around the Roman flanks (on the right skirting the heavy woods) while both Jayson and I followed them up with the heavier cavalry units we commanded.
In response Greg pretty much just moved his forces forward. His ability to counter our cavalry was limited as he didn’t bring very much horse to the battle, and what he had was almost all on his right flank. He used his light horse on the right to attempt to drive off my flanking Podromoi, but results were mixed. We fought there for a bit, neither side gaining any advantage, until Jayson’s Thessalians arrived to tip the odds in Macedon’s favor.
In the center, I stopped my skirmishers well in front of their infantry but let the elephants go charging in. I hoped to inflict some damage with the big guys, but by holding everything else back, also minimize the chance that they would go rampaging back into my own men. Finally, on our right, my remaining Podromoi and all of my Hetairoi continued their sweep around the Roman left-flank, poised to strike at his infantry or, possibly, his increasingly exposed camp.
As the fight progressed, the weight of the Thessalians tipped the cavalry fight on the left in our favor, forcing Greg to commit a unit of heavy cavalry to the fight and to send some Goth allied infantry to get involved. On the right Greg also had to try to counter our cavalry, but was ill-equipped to do so with only one cavalry unit of his own and some triarii available to undertake the task. In the center, some of my elephants crashed into (and pushed back) some Roman light infantry, while my other elephants went toe to toe with Greg’s.
As combats ensued, a definite trend emerged, i.e. Jayson and I were rolling a lot better than Greg. In Chipco, there is a way for almost any unit to take out an opposing unit provided you roll well enough…and we were. When we did take hits, we were almost always able to rally, thus limiting the Roman opportunities to force a breakthrough. Even when Greg was able to bring forward his light infantry to contact my skirmishers, the skirmishers gave better than they got, quickly contributing to the loss of cohesion that Greg was facing. That both took him further and further away from a potential victory, but also limited his ability to control large portions of his deteriorating formations. Moreover, Jayson moved up a pair of additional peltast units so that Greg still didn’t even enjoy a significant numerical advantage.
While Greg was able to rid himself of the nuisance of the elephants I had charged with on the Macedonian right, our elephants on the left defeated his and sent them rampaging back into his own infantry. Meanwhile on both the right and the left, Greg’s cavalry units were soundly defeated. To add insult to injury, I succeeded in getting the Podromoi cavalry that I sent around the dense woods on the right all the way behind Greg’s forces to seize his camp.
By this point the writing was on the wall, Greg’s army morale had been reduced by so much that his army was almost impossible to coordinate. Meanwhile he had done only minimal damage to Macedonian units. He was now surrounded by cavalry that he could not counter and still had a pair of elephant units (one his, one ours) in the midst of his troops ready to cause more havoc. Wisely he elected to withdraw and lick his wounds, lest we move up our pike and other heavy infantry units to crush his demoralized force.
In retrospect, Greg had a tough assignment once we won the right to defend. In order to have a chance at defeating our heavy forces, he had to commit everything he had forward, but that left his flanks and rear open to our superior numbers of cavalry. Add to that difficulty how well Jayson and I were rolling, and Greg’s task became impossible. It was still a fun learning experience, and we managed to complete the game in less than three hours despite each army having about 30 units. Oh, and we got Jayson his first ancients win, too!
Now, my thoughts on the rules. First, you should know that I really don’t like DBA, and also generally don’t like a game system that requires the use of a ton of modifiers that you have to keep track of. I like reasonably fast moving games that, nonetheless, seem to allow for the modeling of differing tactics and give accurate results. Currently my favorite ancients rule set is Hail Caesar. So take what I have to say in that context.
While this was only one play-through, the Chipco rules felt good to me. They are simple enough to learn and play quickly, but allow for most tactics you would want from an ancients game. While at first blush most base units are pretty vanilla, you can give them attributes and capabilities that allow them to take on the character of the ancient forces they represent.
The only potential weakness I see is also one of the things that, in many ways, I like – the morale clock. In Chipco, each side starts with a d10 at 9. This represents how many combat phases you can lose before the game is over as your force disintegrates, but also limits the number of units or contiguous groups of units you can give movement orders to. As it decreases it gets harder and harder to control large armies. While I think this accurately models how, through losses, an army’s cohesion degrades and maneuver becomes difficult, it also leads to a cascading effect where an army that loses too much, too soon simply can’t recover. While this too is certainly historically accurate, from a gaming perspective it can be a downer for both sides if the match-up is decided very early and everyone just feels they have to play out the inevitable. Time will tell if this is a recurring problem (Greg, who had played Chipco rules in the past didn’t recall it being one), or just an outlier born of this particular force match-up and unusual die-rolling.Overall a fun night – thanks Greg and Jayson – and we’re already planning on more Chipco ancients battles in the future, this time also utilizing some pre-battle events and strategy. Eventually, once other members of the club bring their 6mm armies online, we should be able to run some massive battles and maybe even figure out a Punic War era campaign system.