Legio Wargames

The Legio Blog

By smacdowall, Oct 16 2017 08:38PM



My sincere thanks to Richard Lockwood for organising the second Society of Ancients conference of this millennium. Once again it offered a great mix of discussion, games and good companionship and I thoroughly enjoyed it.


I took the opportunity to put on the Battle of Ad Decimum (AD 533) with my 6 mm figures supplemented by Geoff Fabron’s. This all cavalry battle resulted in Belisarius taking Carthage from the Vandals with only 6000 mounted men. Belisarius left his 10,000 infantry along with his wife and baggage in his camp.


Ad Decimum is a battle I have long wanted to try out. As it was an encounter battle fought over a wide area I felt that it needed the smaller scale miniatures to do it justice and I just based managed to base my last Vandal the day before the conference.


I set the game up historically but gave the players a number of options and let them play out their roles more or less as they wished. I also added a number of Moors riding around the countryside who would shadow both armies and not attack unless they were attacked or if the Romans weakened their camp too much.


The opening moves
The opening moves

The battle opened historically with Ammatas (The Vandal King’s son) enjoying his lunch at Ad Decimum — 10 miles from Carthage — where he had been ordered to take up a blocking position. On sighting the Roman advance guard he charged forward without waiting to form up, nor waiting for his other men who were strung out in a disorderly column on the road from Carthage.


I gave the player representing Ammatas a chance of forming his men up but I weighted the dice against him and so he did as his historical counterpart had done with the same disastrous result. His Comitatus was routed and he was killed. With the reckless Ammatas out off the way, his remaining troops managed better die rolls and began to form up. This caused the Roman commander of the advance guard to prudently pull back and re-form his own men rather than pushing on to Carthage.


The Roman commanders consider their options
The Roman commanders consider their options

The Roman column advances on Ad Decimum
The Roman column advances on Ad Decimum

Meanwhile the main Roman column debouched from the camp as their Hun flank guard was pushed back in a series of aggressive attacks by Gelimer who led his men in a beeline for the centre of the field.


Gibamund's column advances
Gibamund's column advances

Gibamund — who historically led the advance of the main Vandal force coming up from the south — was delayed by a series of bad die rolls. Eventually his column came onto the table, taking up the left flank of a Vandal strike in the centre.


The Romans deployed into line to meet the Vandal attack with Belisarius leading his bucellarii against Gibamund’s household warriors. To add a little fun I gave Gibamund the option of challenging Belisarius to personal combat which he did and which Belisarius disdainfully ignored.


When the main lines clashed the results were fairly even. The Vandals managed to rout one of the Roman units of bucellarii but their right wing units were attacked from two sides and driven back shaken.


At this point I called an end to the game. Although the Vandal attack had failed to defeat the Romans, it was clear that Belisarius was not going to reach Carthage that day. Therefore I declared the result a strategic Vandal victory even if the tactical results were even or even slightly in the Romans’ favour.


The rules we used were a stripped down version of my Legio VI Constantiani which are available as a free download in the rules section of my website. I will write the game up more fully for Slingshot in the near future




By smacdowall, Jul 3 2017 04:41PM

A long time ago when the world was young, I was slim and the internet had not yet been invented — there was only one wargames scale. That was 25mm. There were also Airfix HO/OO plastics which were more or less (mostly less) the same size. For quite a while my Airfix plastics and Minifigs metals served alongside each other quite happily until the latter began to grow in size — especially the telegraph poles they carried instead of spears.


Then we began to hear rumours of 15mm scale but I was not tempted. The first samples I saw seemed pretty crude. Even when much better ones came along I saw no reason to ditch the scale I already had for my ancient — mostly Roman armies — and their enemies. Even as 15mm came to be the most popular scale for ancient wargaming I remained a die-hard 25mm hold out.


As new 25mm castings began to grow in size, I kept my older miniatures and they still happily fight alongside each other despite the differences in size and detail. I do, however, draw a line at the newer bulky 28mm figures which are really closer to 30mil or even larger. In the old days the scale was measured head to toe. With scale creep it is now often toe to nose so that a 33mm tall figure is still called 28mm.


It was not until the turn of the millennium that I started to collect my first 15mm army. I wanted to fight the campaigns of Belisarius against the Persians and — coincidental with a move to London and severe reduction in playing space. I succumbed because I realised that if I wanted to conduct sweeping cavalry actions in a campaign where all the best troops were mounted, I needed an army with smaller troops. Later I took to 6mm scale to field the massed legions of Caesar and Pompey at Pharsallus.


Inspired by the research I did for my book of the Vandals I am returning to Belisarius with the idea of re-fighting his battles in North Africa against the Vandals. Although Belisarius had a significant infantry contingent he rarely used them in open battle and by the early 6th century all the Vandals were mounted, sometimes ineffectually supported by Moors.


Rather than expanding my existing 15mm collection I have decided to scale down to 6mm. I find painting smaller miniatures easier and more fun than larger scales and I was reminded of this when I painted up my 1:2400 scale ships for the Battle of Sole Bay.


Needing masses more horsemen for the 6th century North Africa campaign, I really could not see myself managing to bring the armies to completion in 15mm scale, let alone 25/28mm. 10mm would have been a good compromise but the last thing I need is yet another scale. I can happily paint up a unit of a dozen 6mm horsemen in a couple of days. It takes me more than double that to accomplish the same in 15mm. The other impetus for the much smaller miniatures is that some battles, such as Ad Decimum, were fought over a vast area with different bodies of horseman heading off in all directions. Using 6mm miniatures makes it possible to recreating this an similar actions on a reasonably sized table-top.


Although a fan of the smaller Heroics and Ross 6 mil figures, I have decided to go with the larger and more detailed Baccus miniatures for this project, if for no other reason than I already have some of them which can be drafted in. Baccus do not make any Belisarian era Romans but there are plenty of suitable figures in their other ranges for bow-armed 6th century Roman horsemen.


On the painting sprue are some undercoated Baccus Sarmatians who will become Belisarius’ bucellarii. The painted unit in the background are Baccus Sassanid Persians painted up to be regular Roman heavy horse archers. One of the blessings of this smaller scale is that in the end it is the overall look of the unit that matters — not individual detail. Therefore you can use a variety of miniatures regardless of what the manufacturer calls them.






By smacdowall, Nov 20 2016 03:13PM

At the Society of Ancients conference back in October, I wanted to re-do a game I first ran at one of the original 1980s events. Set in late Roman Gaul circa AD 430 it is a multi-player game which attempts to recreate the chaos and confused loyalties in the last years of the Roman Empire in the West. The scenario is published in my first book: Goths, Huns and Romans (Argus, 1991)


Mirroring actual events of the time the Visigoths were pushing north from their base in modern Bordeaux. The patrician Aetius was using Huns and Alans to keep order and campaign against the Burgundians on the Rhine. Franks and Saxons were moving down from the north while the Gallo-Roman natives hung on to a precarious existence. Some entered into voluntary serfdom exchanging their freedom for the protection of immensely rich and powerful landowners. Other took to the greenwood in a sort of Robin Hood way — becoming known as the Bacaudae. Particularly prevalent in Armorica (roughly modern Brittany) their ranks were swelled by refugees from Britain.


One player seems happy with his brief - the others deep in thought
One player seems happy with his brief - the others deep in thought

I had room for 8 players: Analosus, a young Visigothic noble who had become frustrated with years of peace. Striking north without official authorisation he is busy accumulating wealth and prestige. He has with him Dietrich (a young firebrand) and Atulf (an older wiser head). Ragnar, a Frank, has been hired to protect the villa of the unpleasant local landowner — Castius, who happens to be a personal friend of Aetius.


One of Ragnar’s thugs raped a local woman and the villagers are up in arms. Ostirus, the Roman garrison commander is doing his best to keep order with locally recruited men who are more than a little upset with Castius and Ragnar. Tibatto, leader of the Armorican Bacaudae is showing up on the scene to avenge the villagers and gain new recruits. A Saxon — Gundar — is in the area with a band of freebooters looking for gainful employment. Meanwhile Aetius has sent Litorius with a Roman field army to crush the Bacaudae and make sure that everyone else behaves themselves. Litorius’ ‘Roman’ army is almost entirely composed of Huns and Alans. Analosus, Tibatto and Litorius are all historical characters — the others fictitious.


All the player-characters had different and conflicting objectives. None had sufficient forces to accomplish their objectives without help — they would have to make alliances. This was what made the game so much fun in the past and did again this time. My intent was to make it a combination of Diplomacy and a miniatures’ wargame.



The village
The village

We had about three hours and much of the first two were spent with each player making tentative moves, trying to figure out who was whom and testing out those who might be open to offers. I asked that none of the players were to reveal who they were so as to keep everyone guessing. When troops arrived on table, if someone asked me what troops the were, my unhelpful answer tended to be: “What they look like.” With Roman armies composed of Huns, and Goths wearing Roman kit, this did not give very many useful clues. The player-characters had to find out for themselves. Messengers were sent criss-crossing the table as plots were hatched and alliances sought, made, and broken.



A sketch map of the battlefield
A sketch map of the battlefield

Ragnar decided at the outset that he was better off without his employer so he did away with Castius, owner of the rich villa which was the target for many of the other players who were in search of loot. He kept this secret, intercepting all messages (also killing the odd messenger) and claiming to speak in his late master’s voice. Ostirus and Tibatto cut a deal early on, both professing to take the cause of the villagers and to avenge their wrongs. Gundar, the Saxon, first promised to support the Goths and then switched sides to join up with Ragnar. A cut of the villa’s wealth and the prospect of further employment swayed him. The Goths also promised Gundar a cut from the villa’s loot but as Ragnar held it and the Goths had to take it. Gundar reasoned that Ragnar’s offer was a firmer bet.



Ragnar's men prepare to defend the villa
Ragnar's men prepare to defend the villa

The Goths had the most numerous troops — possibly enough to capture the villa on their own without help. As loot was one of their main objectives this is what they set out to do. They were hampered by a river which had some dodgy fords. A first attempt to cross failed and although they eventually found one, by the time they were in a position to make an assault, other players were moving against them.


Atulf, the older Gothic leader turned out to have an agressive streak and was more interested in reputation than wealth. While Analosus drew up his followers for an assault on the villa, Atulf attempted to draw out Ostirus under guise of a parley but with the intention of defeating him in combat. When Atulf led his Comitatus out to challenge Ostirus, the Roman withdrew back to his lines but eventually had to turn to fight. The Goths had the better of it, driving the Romans back, but Ostirus survived the combat.



Atulf's Goths (left) drive Ostirus back in front of the village
Atulf's Goths (left) drive Ostirus back in front of the village

Leading a strong mounted force of Huns and Alans, Litorius took over a watch tower maned by Ragnar’s men and a catapult. He viewed Ostirus and Tibatto converging on the village on the other side of the river but could not be certain who they were. Not knowing that Castius had been killed, Litorius decided to support Ragnar in defending the villa from the Goths in exchange for a token contribution to the army’s upkeep.


Analosus attempted a mounted assault on the villa but his horsemen had no chance against the fortifications and took heavy casualties from the defenders’ archery.



The Goths assault the Villa
The Goths assault the Villa

The Goths pulled back, rallied and made ready for a second attempt but by this time Gundar’s Saxons, together with Litorius’ Huns and Alans were blocking the way. In the combat which followed the Goths drove the Saxons back and had some success against the Litorius’ Alans but his Huns had the better of the Goths.


As dusk fell, Tibatto was in control of the village with a new, willing, source recruits. Ostirus had been driven back by the Goths and had lost men, although his standing with his troops and the villagers was reasonably high thanks to his bravery. The Goths had failed to secure any new loot and they had lost quite a few men. Gundar had a deal with Ragnar but his men were being pursued by the Goths and it was not clear how many would survive. Ragnar still controlled the villa and its treasure but he would have trouble holding on to it once Litorius and Aetius learned that he had killed the owner. Litorius had successfully helped to defend the villa but Tibatto’s Bacaudae had been strengthened not weekend. One can only imaging a rather awkward conversation between Aetius and Litorius several days later.


The Goths (left) chase off the Saxons but are held by the Huns
The Goths (left) chase off the Saxons but are held by the Huns

Adding up the victory points and looking at the situation I declared Tibatto as the winner. He had achieved his aim of securing further support and had not lost any men in the process.






By smacdowall, Nov 3 2016 05:21PM

Ernie Fosker, who commanded the Romans in the Daras Battle has kindly provided some more photos and better ones that I used in the previous post.



The initial deployments
The initial deployments


The three lines of Persians
The three lines of Persians


Hermogones' death
Hermogones' death


Hermogones' Bucellari seek vengence
Hermogones' Bucellari seek vengence

The infantry take no part in the battle
The infantry take no part in the battle

The Persian second line closes in
The Persian second line closes in

The Romans are surrounded
The Romans are surrounded

Belisarius comes onto the field but too late to save the day
Belisarius comes onto the field but too late to save the day


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