Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The rules Cannae take it ... well actually they can.

I recently bought a set of rules called "To The Strongest!" by Simon Miller (BigRedBatCave). Myself and my good friend Stuart tried them out.

I set up a Cannae style battle of Romans and Carthaginians. The thinking being that if a set of rules can "do Cannae" they must be OK.

 Overview, Romans on the right

 Latin Cavalry
 Roman Cavalry
 The Legions
 Punic and Spanish Cavalry with Punic heavy foot behind
 Numidian cavalry with more Punic foot
Gauls and Spanish in the centre

No points were used, I just laid out two armies that looked about right.

To the Strongest! uses a grid for movement and weapon ranges. I marked mine out with little green sticky disks bought in W H Smith. My grid was built with six inch squares (rules suggest 150mm but 6" is close and quicker to measure out with my ruler). Units have to fit into the boxes, I went with a unit frontage of 120mm for foot and 100mm for horse. My foot figures are on 40mm Squares so three to a unit. Cavalry on 25X50 so four to a unit. The Roman heavy infantry are in small units so I gave them an 80mm frontage. These frontages are not too important, it is the grid that matters.

Each unit with a distance weapon has an ammunition supply. I represented this with some coins covered in sand and flock (some with arrows) that I use as casualty markers with other rules. As units shoot they give up ammunition. Once exhausted they cannot shoot. There is a limited resupply available. Units that pass a test can take on more ammo.

Each army is divided into commands. Activation is per "box" for a command. The command activates units in boxes until it fails or runs out of things to do. Units can do multiple things in a "turn", we had units doing up to four actions. To activate the unit must pass a test. This test is a number that must be exceeded. All tests are performed using the number cards from two standard decks of playing cards. You declare what a unit will do, turn over a card and if you pass the unit takes its action. You can then move onto another unit or re-activate the unit just activated. It becomes increasingly difficult to get units to activate after the first attempt.

Shooting and combat also use the cards. Target numbers to hit (e.g. 8 for shooting) and then a save. Variability in troop types is mostly built into the save values. There is a lot more to the rules than I have described here of course. I was wary about playing card clutter on the table so I found some tiny cards (about 40X20), these worked well.

So to our game. I took on the Romans, Stuart had the Carthos.

The armies got to grips very quickly. Shooting was ineffectual and most units expended their ammunition to no avail. Hand to hand combat was brutal and fast. The Roman small units are very flexible and pretty hard hitting (they demolished two gallic war bands) but they can only take one hit so they died quite rapidly.

There were protracted cavalry actions on the flanks. Where the medium cavalry clashed the hand to hand fighting went on for a while with lots of rallying and re-joining the fight. Where the Latin cavalry were fighting Numidians there were evades and chases which covered a lot of that quarter length of the table.

Eventually the Roman cavalry was eliminated and the Latins neutralised. At this point the Carthaginian heavy foot advanced and turned to face each Roman flank. The Romans kept up the pressure in the centre. Both armies were one victory point away from defeat (as units are lost victory tokens are surrendered from an allocation made at the start). The Romans almost burst through the Carthaginian centre but failed their activations (two aces in a row). Then the Punic pincer gripped and the Romans lost a unit. It was all over. The Carthaginian cavalry was poised to trap the Romans ...

End of the game

So yes the rules can do Cannae (or something a little bit like it).

Overall. We liked the grid, made movement simple and removed any arguments about the eligibility of moves. I was sceptical about the cards but they are easy to use and very fast. We had fifty units on the table and played to a conclusion in 2 1/2 hours. The mechanism for Roman line relief is very subtle and worked well. Effectively if the Hastati die the Principes  get to strike back for them.

We will be playing these again. They are faster and less fiddly than Sword and Spear (which we like) so better for big games.