417 AD Visigoths versus Roman – A Dux Bellorum Battle Report

It is 417 AD in our Fall of Hispania Campaign, four game years since our last battle. I rolled the Visigoths again but this time Chris Harrod got Late Roman. The rules were Dux Bellorum.

The summary is: Being new to the rules I assumed the hill was difficult terrain, deployed accordingly, realised too late I was wrong, and then watched as Chris rolled over my hastily improvised battle line.

The Armies

Chris got Late Roman. In Dux Bellorum that means Riders, Shield Wall, Skirmishers, Bow and Cataphracts. Of course, they are all on Big Bases.

Late Roman army in Dux Bellorum

Late Roman army in Dux Bellorum

I got Visigoths. Of course, being based in Britannia, Dux Bellorum doesn’t have a Visigothic army list. So I made one up. Couple of Riders (Nobles), including the General’s Companions, six Warriors (Warband), couple of foot skirmishers (Archers and Javelinmen), and mounted skirmishers (Alans).

Visigothic army in Dux Bellorum

Visigothic army in Dux Bellorum

The Battle

The outcome of the battle was pretty well determined at the outset. Chris hadn’t read the rules. I had read the rules – but not carefully. We went through the deployment rules and found Chris was the aggressor and I was the repeller, so I chose the terrain. All good so far.

I picked a nice big hill which went in the centre. I’d read in the rules that movement was halved in area terrain so I assumed this was true for hills. I set up my army to avoid the hill, massing most of my army on the left where the gap between the hill and the table edge was. When the game started I moved my cavalry to spearhead the drive around the hill. That left a single warband and my skirmishers in front of the hill and wood.

The armies approach

The armies approach

Chris, who hadn’t read rules, assumed the hill was good going and lined up all his infantry to go over the top. When the Legionaries got to the hill I checked the rules to make sure my recollection was correct. It was, but not entirely. I again found the bit where it says area terrain (and by implication any kind) slows movement. But I also found the chart of terrain effects which specifically says hills don’t affect movement. It seems Chris’s assumption was right. All i could think was “Ooops”. Ah, well, I’d see how good my skirmishers were at delaying actions under these rules and try to win quickly on my left flank where I had vast superiority in numbers.

The battle started on the hill first. And then I discovered there wasn’t an evade rule. Presumably an evade is achieved by using a Leadership Point to pre-empt the enemy move and move away. That probably would result in not shooting by the skirmishers – which seems odd – but it was academic as my Leadership Points were used elsewhere.

Battle starts on the hill

Battle starts on the hill

I wanted a decisive result where my cavalry was so I chose to stock up my General with Leadership Points. However, I then chose to use them to cancel hits rather than to give more aggression dice. So that particular combat was going to drag on a while.

Visigothic King stocks up on Leadership Points

Visigothic King stocks up on Leadership Points

Meanwhile, on the hill I quickly discovered how brittle skirmishers are. The first one routed quick smart.

Visigothic skirmisher begin to peel away

Visigothic skirmisher begin to peel away

Back on the other wing the Roman Cataphracts went slap bang into my line of warband. Neither Chris nor I knew what would happen. Chris, of course, was hoping that heavily armoured guys on armoured horses would carve their way through warriors pretty quickly.

Here come the Cataphracts

Here come the Cataphracts

I was hoping that 6-to-1 odds would work in my favour, and quickly. In fact neither of us were right. The Cataphracts killed my warriors but not quickly. My numbers told, but it took time.

Cataphracts surrounded

Cataphracts surrounded

Meanwhile the legionaries on the hill took my skirmish line apart. The drove back everything I could fling at them and rapidly dominated the hill.

Romans dominate the hill

Romans dominate the hill

I like to think that I dominated the flat on my left flank. But in reality the score was fairly even. My cavalry killed some units. Chris’s Cataphracts killed some units.

Visigoths almost dominate the flat

Visigoths almost dominate the flat

Ultimately, my original deployment mistake lost me the game. Chris won on the hill before I could win on the flank.

End game

End game

Conclusions

In three games we’ve used three different sets of rule sets and four different armies. I deliberately designed the Fall of Hispania Campaign to enable this kind of variety. I like it.

This was our first game of Dux Bellorum. Chris enjoyed it, but acknowledged that winning helped his opinion.

I wasn’t too impressed. My big issue with the rules is that I couldn’t distinguish the various troop types. All of the units seemed to operate like heavy infantry. Some of them were brittle heavy infantry (skirmishers) and some where hard as nails heavy infantry (mounted companions and cataphracts) and the rest were just normal heavy infantry (warriors, shield wall). Okay they all had different factors but the net effect was that some were normal, some brittle and some hard as nails. The skirmishers didn’t / couldn’t skirmish in the rules. And my impression of cavalry combat is that it is more volatile than the foot but in this game the cavalry was as solid as the infantry – and in some cases more so.

Because everything behaved like heavy infantry the game was quite grindy. It took a long time with a lot of dice rolling but without much happening on the table.

I didn’t like all the factors as well. I was forever looking up the factors in the rule book. And to make it worse different types of factors were on tables on different pages. Very annoying. And slow.

Chris objected to the number of markers on table. The Leadership Point gems. The casualty dice. All got characterised as “table clutter” by my opponent.

On the plus side it was nice to break the “all armies have 12 elements” aspect of DBA.

2 comments to 417 AD Visigoths versus Roman – A Dux Bellorum Battle Report

  • bigbadbat

    I am afraid you may have missed some key points the designer has made regarding this rule set. Visit the forum on BGG, or read his blog for additional points, by the way.

    Skirmishers work in this game, and work well. I have used LPs on them to conduct ambushes, destroy shieldwalls, (missile fire can be quite deadly in this game) and harass enemy flanks. BUT if you graft DBx tactics onto this game, you will lose right quick.

    His notes point out that the game is focused on Arthurian Britannic warfare. You’re free to try to expand it to other areas, but it needs tweaks to do it. He points out that the British ponies in use in the period rendered cavalry more like infantry. Generally the nury is still out on cavalry in Arthurian Britannia. Even the cataphracts are not known to have done much more than fight like mobile infnatry. Classical ancient warfare this game certainly ain’t. Skirmishers are NOT Balearic slingers. They are old men and young boys who are good at shooting and scouting, but not much else!

    You have to bear in mind that Dan Mersey has done far more research for this period alone than many ancients rules writers carry out for the entire spectrum of pregunpowder warfare. It may be that Arthurian warfare is not your thing (but compare DB to “Dark Ave Infantry Slog” for instance) but the game is not wrong.

    Fot LPs we based up 6 individual figures for each force, on pennies with flocking, to replace the glass beads. They look fantastic.

    • Steven Thomas

      I’m aware of Dan’s pedigree as a Dark Age authority. I picked up “Glutter of Ravens” years ago. And I occasionally visit Dan’s blog post. And I freely admit I’m no expert on the rules. Learning rules by reading them on the Tube is not optimal.

      However, it still seems odd to me that you have to expend limited LP to get skirmishers to skirmish (i.e. shoot and evade contact). You don’t, for example, has to expend LP to get close combat fighter to fight (although LP will make them fight better). Actually, I believe, even LP would only allow Javelinmen to skirmish as only they can shoot and move. Skirmishers with bows have to either evade and not shoot, or shoot and get caught and killed by heavier troops. Of course I could be missing something entirely. Happy to be corrected.

      I also find it difficult to accept that warfare in Britain at the end of the Western Roman Empire is quantifiably different to warfare across the channel. I believe a battle between Late Romans and a Germanic tribe would be the same, whether in old blighty or Gaul.

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