Solo Thoughts – Hail Caesar… and all that!

Okay, I’ve finally decided to take the plunge back into historical wargaming, pretty much where my tabletop gaming began.

There are a couple of things that led me to this decision.

Firstly, I’ve been putting together a series of posts on how to create a tabletop wargame AI for solo play. I’d decided to write all of the posts before publishing them live, just because I knew I’d need to make changes as I worked on the process, however, after a couple of posts I realised things weren’t going well.

I was trying to encompass too much. Trying to tailor for all (well, almost all) the different mechanisms used across the many available game; it just didn’t work. I needed a focus. Looking at the war/skirmish games I currently own and play, I realised that they didn’t lend themselves to a generic form of AI because they incorporated event/command cards that were quite game specific. They also had too many special abilities tied to units or commanders, thus making a generic AI inadequate for their needs.

So, as I said, I needed a focus, and I wanted something that I could use to form a solid base for an AI, something that could then be easily modified by the user to suit differing rulesets, and that trying to include games that featured a hand of cards in some way would have to come later, if at all. It was time to look around at what would work.

Secondly, a timely couple of post from John, Just Needs Varnish, titled, ‘A Classical Theme!‘ and ‘The Persians Are Coming!‘, brought back happy memories of my youth, where I would spend many a day fighting ancient battles between the Romans and the Britons, or re-enacting Waterloo from the Napoleonic period. This really set the itch going again and made up my mind… It was time to get back to history!

Having made up my mind to do this, I had a number of decisions to make, what period, what rules, and what scale?

From Thermopylae to the Bulge!

This was the easiest of the decisions to make. I’ve played games covering so many different periods, including the American Civil War, WWII, and even some modern-day stuff, but I had my favourites.

Ancient and Napoleonic were the two I played regularly, and a quick glance at my bookshelves would tell anyone that I have a deep interest in these periods. I’m also quite fond of WWII wargames, as they offer something quite different to the other two periods – losing the formed units and fixed structure, thus introducing whole new strategies and tactics.

However, there was something else that influenced my final decision – Time of legends: Joan of Arc. The game, along with the expansions I have, includes around 300-400 miniature, maybe more, so I already had the makings of an army or two… or so I though (more about that later).

The Medieval period, despite taking an interest historically (the Hundred Years War and The War of The Roses), has never been something I’d wanted to replicate in a wargame before, and to be quite honest, It doesn’t wholly grab my interest now either. I don’t know what it is, but it just doesn’t appeal to me in that way. But I had all those miniatures, so it seemed logical to pursue that avenue.

Time of Legends, yes, it is a wargame, but it isn’t a conventional historic wargame. You’re restricted in the amount of units you can move and how you can move them; there’s no replication of formations or unit size, and the tactics don’t really bare any resemblance to those actually employed at the time. It is a good game, though… Just thought I’d clear that up!

Rules! If we didn’t have rules where would we be?*

* Those who know the Pub Landlord know the answer to that one!

The next step was to find a ruleset that interested me – this one wasn’t so easy.

After trawling the Internet for Medieval rules one good thing came to light, and that was most of them were tied into ancient wargame rules, so I’d be covering a period I really was interested in.

First off was De Bellis Antiqutatis 2.0, better known as DBA. This is a very popular competitive ruleset, so I thought it was worth considering. WRONG! Ah, the book is a difficult read, aimed more at people who have previous experience with the DBA game. It also wasn’t the type of game I wanted – a lot of the unit level rules appeared over simplified, such as troop types, and the distinction between differing units was kept to a minimum, at least that was my impression of it, it really wasn’t for me. (I’d actually had these rules for some time but could never get more than half way through reading them before giving it up as a bad job!)

I looked at a few other rulesets, but again I just couldn’t find anything that floated my boat, so to speak, and then I remembered reading John’s posts and the Hail Caesar rules they used.

Hail Caesar – Battles With Model Soldiers In The Ancient Era. A quick look on the Warlord Games Website confirmed that it too included the Medieval period – at this point I wasn’t too bothered about scale, as it doesn’t usually take much work to change things to fit, and actually the book includes a section on using different scales.

I’ve pretty much read it cover to cover now and have decided to use this as a base ruleset. I say base, as there’s a couple of things I might want to tinker around with, for example: there’s no restriction applied to a unit that that wheels in line, it can still move without restriction (If you’ve ever tried it then you’ll know how difficult it is to wheel in line formation). There’s also no restrictions on how a Phalanx moves either, but that can wait until I’ve played it as is to see how things go – one of the niceties of this ruleset is that it approaches the game expecting you to make your own changes, and actually encourages it.

At this point, though, I had started to go through my Joan of Arc miniatures to get an idea of what I could put together, and it wasn’t too bad, I could probably field about a dozen or so units, but there isn’t quite enough of each unit type to field opposing sides – 1 unit Foot Knights, 1 of Mounted Knights, etc. depending on unit model count of course; I went with the suggested unit size in the rules, so there’s always some tinkering that can be done. (JofA has a lot of fantasy miniatures, so if I ever want the Roman Legion to take on a hoard of skeletons, then I’m ready!)

There’s a ‘but’ coming…

But, basing and painting was going to be a pain, as I would also need the miniatures to play the JofA game, which meant they’d need painting to represent a variety of nations, though I could probably get away with just the English and French, and they’d need to be removable from their bases. Also, did I really want to shell out money to buy more miniatures for a period that was well down on my list of favourites!

Time of Legends: Joan of Arc - Miniatures
Mounted Knights, Halberdiers, horse archers, heroes… and a werewolf!

In the end, I decided to continue sorting out my JofA figures into units, just to see if I could field two small opposing divisions, and in the meantime I’d pursue something much closer to my heart – Ancients!

So, I’d decided on the period – ancient, I’d got a decent set of rules – Hail Caesar, all I had to do now was get myself an army or two, but which scale?

It’s the size that counts!

There were several miniature figure scales to consider, each with their own advantages, and equally, their own disadvantages. Here’s my thinking…

28mm

It’s funny, but when I used to play in the early 80’s this was one of the least popular scales for wargames, but now it appears to be the one to go for, and the majority of rulesets I looked at were based on this scale.

The quality of the miniatures has a lot to do with it, they’re absolutely gorgeous nowadays and look formidable when massed together in a tabletop battle. The material they are made from has made a difference, as plastic and resin miniatures have come along way over the last couple of decades and are so much more cost effective than metal ones. A metal army in 28mm would set you back a fair whack, but plastic/resin makes things a little more affordable, though it is still a costly thing putting together an army.

Another consideration with 28mm is the battlefield size. 6′ x 4′ is recommended and you really need that space; some units that can move 36″ in one turn (In Hail Caesar it is possible for a unit to make 3 moves in a turn, with light cavalry able to move 12′ per move), so anything smaller would prove restrictive unless you’re planning on Divisional battles or smaller.

At the moment, my big table resides in the loft, and as I have yet to insulate the ceiling up there it is either 40°C+ or absolutely bloody freezing! I do have an extendable board rigged up in the garage, though, which is 6′ x 3′ and clamps onto my workbench. 3′ would be pushing it a bit with two full, 28mm armies on it, so that needed consideration.

One of the big positives for this scale is the availability and variety one has to choose from; every period and every nation appeared to be covered, whereas I found this a drawback with some of the other scales, as we shall see.

Finally, and this is a big snag for me, is painting. You just can’t let a bare, naked army take the field, it just isn’t done, and so they need to be painted and that leads me to an issue – I’m the Captain Slow of the painting world!

The problem here is that 28mm figures are lovely and detailed, and so a quick base, wash and drybrush, just wouldn’t cut the mustard, I’d have to give it my best shot and it would be a year or two before they saw any action!

So, in the end I ruled out 28mm. It was a difficult decision because they look so good on the table, but cost, space, and the time to get them up to standard meant it just couldn’t be… for now!

20mm or 1/72nd

There is some variance between these two scales, but I’m grouping them together as they’re often close enough as to make no difference.

1/72nd scale was where I began, with all my Napoleonic miniatures. They were plentiful but not especially great, made from soft plastic that often took on a mind of its own. No idea who made them, I was given a job lot in a shoebox. They may not have looked like anything special, but at the time they meant a lot to me and kept me busy for hours on end.

So, this scale would have been worth considering but I ruled it out quite quickly for one simple reason, there wasn’t enough availability for the Ancient or Medieval period (I’m only considering the UK market here). I found Romans pretty well supported but even then, the range was small compared to other scales.

So, I moved on with my search…

15mm

This would be my preferred scale – the detail of the miniatures is pretty good, they don’t take up as much storage space as the larger scales, the battlefield size can be reduced to what I have available, and, as this was the scale of JofA, I already had some scenery.

Joan of Arc Miniatures
JofA miniatures are 15mm, though actually come out at 17-18mm head to toe when measured.

Things were beginning to look a little more promising. looking around I quickly became impressed with the quality and detail that is being produced and I eventually found a manufacturer that caters for a wide range of nations – Forged in Battle. There were also plenty of other manufacturers to back this up, so all seemed well.

There’s another ‘but’ coming…

But one had to consider the cost. A box of infantry from Forged in Battle was £12 and contained 24 figures. Compared to 28mm this sounded quite good, coming in at around half the price of Warlord’s own range, and a starter army came in at £88, which contained around 8 units. The problem is, and it’s a common one for solo wargamers, I’d need to buy an opposing army too, so that would set me back £176!

Could I really justify paying that? Certainly not all in one go, so maybe I just needed to bite the bullet and take my time, buy a unit a month, paint it, and build a couple of armies up that way – I’d get there in the end.

And so, I was almost ready to take the plunge but then something else caught my eye, something I had considered earlier but discounted it on previous experience…

10mm

In some respects, this scale appeals to me the most. It enables mass battles to become a reality on a battlefield the size of the family dining table, and it brings with it a new outlook to strategy and tactics that don’t always appear when using armies made up of fewer units.

I’d discounted it, far too easily it would seem, because I’d watched games being played with this scale some years ago (maybe early 90’s, I can’t quiet recall) and, well, the miniature quality was pretty dire.

How things have changed! I came across many a site offering a good range of 10mm ancients, but one in particular caught my eye, Pendraken miniatures. The detail, at least in the images, looked decent for the scale, they actually resemble the soldiers they are, as opposed to some undefined blob!

The best bit, though, is the price. An army starter set costs £34 for about 8 units (20-30 figures a unit), making it feasible to build up armies from different nations quickly. They’re also a lot faster to paint, as the visual impact, when viewing from a gaming distance, is more about the numbers than the individuals, and so you use techniques that draw the eye in a different way – fewer but brighter colours and a focus on shields and helmets.

Okay, there isn’t quite the range that Forged in Battle provide in terms of nations, but 10mm is a growing market, and so it is worthy of consideration. All the periods are covered too, and with the entry level cost being lower, it makes branching out much easier, especially if you build up an assortment of terrain.

My only thought is, how will the Hail Caesar rules hold up to the reduction in scale? It does say that they’ve successfully experimented with this scale using the rules as is, but I’d want to adjust all the movement and range distances down, otherwise it would be too disproportionate and defeat the idea of being able to field a large amount of units – having 28mm and 10mmm units move and fire the same distance defeats the object of scaling down, you might as well just use a piece of wood to represent the units!

Victory… of sorts!

So, I’m going to go with Ancients, I’m going to start off with the Hail Caesar rules, and I’m pretty sure I’m doing it all in 10mm scale – unless anyone can persuade me otherwise, that is!

That leaves one more difficult choice – which armies to buy? One will just have to be Roman, but which nations bottom do I want them to kick, that’s the question!

7 thoughts on “Solo Thoughts – Hail Caesar… and all that!

  1. Ooooh, exciting times! 🙂 Sounds so good to me I can overlook you going for 10mm scale! 😉 Actually I can see your point – the only reason I don’t go below 20mm scale for figures is that I can’t paint them!
    I almost gave up with Franco-Prussian War armies that I’d based around 20-figure infantry battalions until I found out that going for 10-man battalions made things much easier and still looked OK! So for the same number of figures I get more units, so if you’ve got some flexibility than go with what suits you!
    If I was doing Ancients I’d go with Eastern Roman Empire and Sassanids as a first choice I think and maybe early imperial Chinese armies as a next choice! Looking forward to see what you come up with! About six years ago I planned on doing Napoleonics, since I wanted some “toy soldier” type armies, but in the end that project got shelved when I made progress with my 19th century Prussian, French, Austrian and South American armies. But I’m now thinking about maybe starting Napoleonics in the next couple of years, although at the expense of my WW2 armies (so a difficult decision).
    Anyway, thanks for the mention and hope you manage to make good progress! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exciting times indeed, or at least they will be when I pull my finger out and get ordering.
      Believe me, I’d love to go with the 28mm miniatures; every time I see them on the battlefield I revert to being a little boy again – ‘Gimme!’ Gimme!”
      At least going for 10mm I can get them painted pretty quickly and field a good sized army within my limited space. Storing them is a lot easier too!
      Unit sizes – I’ll work out the specifics once I have the figures in hand, I can’t get a feel for how to base them until then. The thing is with 10mm, though, that you have to have a good number in a unit otherwise they look a little odd, but when 30 infantry costs around a fiver it’s easy to do.
      Romans are top of the bill, probably Caesarian or early Imperials, but I want to branch out, maybe the Punic Wars and some Classical Greeks. Once I’ve scratched that itch, I’ll start on the Napoleonic period, and maybe even some WWII as well, the world is my clam, as they say!
      Had to drop a mention in there for you, loved reading your posts and they pushed me over the edge in terms of wanting to get back into things, so thanks 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ancients – my fave period. And within that, my real favourite, the era when Roman dominance in the Med was really settled, e.g. the Second Punic War and the wars against the Hellenistic powers that followed (the decades either side of 200BC). Hannibal, Scipio, Philip of Macedon, Antiochus III! You will be spoiled for choice in opponents – tribal armies like the Gauls, sophisticated Hellenistic combined-arms forces, the Carthaginians, etc. The main difficulty with most rulesets is simulating the Roman multi-line formations – I don’t know how Hail Caesar deals with those?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ll probably start with the Caesarian period, my favourite, or maybe the early Imperials – either way, Romans have to figure in there somewhere!
      I’m a little light on knowledge regarding the Punic wars but it’s something I aim to rectify, and then maybe dabble in the Classical period too.
      That’s the beauty of 10mm, it’s a cheap way into the hobby, so small armies of different nations can be put together and stored fairly easily… at least that’s my plan!
      I have a few concerns regarding the Hail Caesar rules, but it was a case of him many different rulesets do I buy before I find one that does what I want.
      There’s nothing specific to simulate the use of the Roman Battle formations of that time, though there are traits that can be given to a unit, such as Elite, Drilled, Pilum, Steady, Testudo, etc.
      How these would work for units deployed in a triple line, with the units given traits one would expect of them? Well, my previous experience with Romans has always been post Marian Reform, so I can’t give a judgement on how the rules would work in that instance until I’ve tried it.
      Talking of rules, which would you recommend for this period?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sorry, but I haven’t played an ancient game for some years now. I’m guessing that you are more up to date with current rules than me. Back in the day I quite liked DBA, a little impenetrable perhaps but good for a quick contest, and Tactica, because the rules were simple and novel (though I think these are best suited for simple, fairly rigid classical Greek hoplite-style battles). The perfect set of rules is still rattling around in my head somewhere! As for the Roman multiple-line system, well I don’t think anybody is confident about how it actually worked and why it was so effective.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Yes, DBA, impenetrable is definitely a word that springs to mind!
        I will probably just tailor things to what I want; the beauty of playing solo is that I haven’t got to please anyone but myself, lol!
        I used to play a lot of Rome: Total War on the PC, and I used to set up my Roans exactly as described for the multiple-line system – Velites, Hastati, Principes, Triarii – and they were invincible. The gaps between the units allows for mutual support from those behind as the Velites retreat back through the gap, and then they close up to form a solid line with the Triarii in reserve, at least that’s how I played them!
        Whatever it was, they were good at it. I think that discipline played a major part in it, that and training, which some nations actually did very little of!

        Liked by 1 person

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