Weekend table hobby time was invested in emptying the table from the cardboard wargame I was recording, Vae Victis Champs de Bataille – sorry for that millions of fans ! – and prepare the full table for the new queen of the battlefield, the brand new release from Reisswitz Press, Strength & Honour.
At this point I’ve been cranking the brain cells on how to lazily approach the issue of marking the grid on the battle mat. It is of note that is a 6 by 4 standard and not cut to precision so to guide oneself to precision is a recipe for slanted outcome.
After some consideration and consultations with the household – what I refer to as “the Admiralty” – I got through what textile industry does. Rulers, squares and chalk.
The benefit of chalk is that it can be cleared easy and fast if needed but stays for a long time if not purposely removed. The green chalk will blend in nicely after a few uses and I am considering upgrading the whole mat with pieces of foliage clumps and stones in the grid points.
After the whole process was finished to a satisfactory result, then the fun could begin.
Some terrain pieces I’ve been making on purpose to play S&H and it feels good seeing it thrown across the battlefield. A towel underneath the battle mat shapes a hill in the far side. As Strength and Honour deals with a scale of “thousands” the terrain features, especially hills, do feel right.
I was just playing around with the battlefield shaping without any consideration of what battle to play and somehow everything fell into place to replay one of the famous clashes of antiquity – the battle of the Silarus river ( modern day river Sele ) that marked the effective end of the third Servile War in 71 BC.
For such a short war, by ancient standards, the Spartacus led revolt did take a lot of ink, especially by all those classical historians. Appian, Livy and Plutarch, all wrote about it and dedicated more lines to it than other more “important” conflicts – by our standards. For the sake of it do compare the writings about this rebellion and Sertorius in Iberia.
The last stand at the hill overlooking the Silarus was the culmination of 2 years of rampaging, looting, murdering and overall having no clue whatsoever, perpetrated by the “Slave Army” led any point by Spartacus and also Crixus, both originating from the most resistant cultures to Rome – thracians and gauls.
Two years that couldn’t be averted due to an odd deficiency in the Roman home provinces military leadership that took that long to adapt – but remember that Rome always adapted and always triumphed in the end, at least during this time and for the next two centuries.
The table was set, the scene was ready for a clash. And I was going to play the part of Spartacus against a most cunning opponent – Marcus Licinius Crassus, represented by my own daughter ( yes, she is a tabletop wargamer 17yo ).
Strength & Honour rules are very accessible and can be taught in 15 minutes and less bar some specifics that may arise only now and then. This was pointed out by my opponent as “is that all !? cool!” also adding “no rulers !? that is much better!” which is important to her as a gamer and I will explain.
Some games we play rely on rulers, not that many ( gladly! ) rely on formation wheeling and such, and the biggest issue always presented is the fiddly turns, movements, arbitrary choice of how much to move ( or not ! ) and the ineffective and ambiguous representations. With the grid, she said, it becomes easier and is more time dedicated to strategy, not measuring stuff.
A note: despite the enjoyment for the grid, she does not like counter and hex games but rather play area games which is proven by favouring to play games like This War Without an Enemy or Santa Cruz 1797 for example.
As I don’t have any army bases yet we play with the print out armies. With minimal preparation work a decent setup can be achieved. With tape is easy to write and erase as needed.
A good moment in the game came early when the very first Discipline Test rolled by the Slave army in a Push Back came out as a critical success. “I am Spartacus!” chanted all the warriors.
The flow of Activations went smoothly as the rules get cemented and a natural flow of battle ensues.
Romans are a good force for newcomers. They are good at everything but lack some of the flavour that other cultures armies possess. Nonetheless it is a superb opponent, usually Drilled and Battle Trained, and that makes them efficient in performing advances, flanking, charges and overall above decent in Combat. The army of Spartacus is an odd mix of everything.
After the battle started I noticed that I have made an error as both contingents of Trained slaves are graded as Warbands and it allows for mutual support during Combat, but I forgot and deployed them separate – one in the center and the other acting reserve with the Gladiators.
Nonetheless and after the initial probing attack on my left I decided to push downhill.
The Roman Equites are repulsed in disorder but the charges in the center did not prove successful and grind to a halt. In the far right the light skirmishers hold the flank but would soon face a Legion.
I must reinforce the fact that S&H rules lay upon planning a battle and ordering contingents, not necessarily conducting the battle at low tactical level. That is achieved by a very smart usage of mechanisms. One I really enjoy is when to decide to commit and how control is somehow lost once it is done – as troops get themselves locked in battle.
Decisions have to be made and accepting that once a commitment is done, with an entire flank worth dozens of thousand of fighters or just one contingent worth a handful thousand, there’s a loss of control.
That makes up for a great game aiming to recreate battles set in the ancient periods of war.
The battle evolved in a sequence of flank blows and counter blows, with the more decisive being the Roman right which, after reforming the Equites pushed forward like the Romans Legions always do. Methodical, assured and efficient.
Spartacus had to endure one call for Homunculus Est ! by spending a Strategy Point and trying out one more charge but the dice proved against, which simulates a critical loss of control of the army at this point. It totally made sense in the big cinematic scene. The rebels tried to charge, got beaten back, were trying to get their formations going again and were in no way, shape or form, going to be directed with a new set of commands, having to reform lines again was taxing enough already.
Then the call came again and I could not avoid it. The amount of card in hand wasn’t decisive but my opponent confided that “you told that one of the uses is to provoke Fatigue”. That is a smart move, I thought. I was confident I could beat the defeat but, given I already had a Disaster card, it would certainly result in a Fatigued army.
But the gods decree was harsh.
“You shall not defy Rome… ever again !”
And the cards were flipped. My army Morale being 20 I simply had to accumulate enough points to be under that score…
… but with a perfect 20 score Spartacus could no longer control the army and history repeated itself with contingents fighting on their own without performing as a cohesive force and will be eventually put down by pilum and gladius by Pompey’s Legions at a later stage or crucified right away by Crassus’ forces.
All in all a spectacular little game putting to good use the rules and the units provided.
Looking forward to having miniatures bases and playing in full three dimensional glory.