Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Second Civil War: Fictitious Battle of (Nearly) Thapsus

It is around the year 46 BCE. The soon-to-be divine Julius, having roused himself from his 'sojourn' in Alexandria with the intoxicating Cleo' (following his defeat of his old colleague, son-in-law and sometime rival Pompey the Great) has transported his army to Afrique. Initially under-manned, Caesar had to await the arrival of the remainder of his troops before he and Marcus Antonius confronted the Optimates forces commanded by Metellus Scipio and Juba I of Numidia, along with Caesar's former subordinate from Gaul, Titus Labienus. Still facing odds of 3:2, Caesar, ever the gambler and having confidence in destiny, advanced to face his rivals...

The Optimates formed up with an oasis and gentle hill strengthening their left (Biko's photo)

This was our first game for 2016. We do not yet have all of the forces for a 'proper' re-fight of the Battle of Thapsus, so we settled for a fictitious game based loosely on that battle. The aims were simple, to have a bash with some ancients so as to blow the cobwebs off the Impetus rules and to deploy as many units of various troops as possible that are appropriate for the Second Civil War campaign in Tunisia.

We were joined by Mark 'Sun of York', Mark 'Biko' and Stephen our honorary ANF members from the NWS. You may already have read Mark's excellent report of the game (I recommend it to you if you have not).

As so often happens, the civilians were out in force early, taking photos of the deployed armies from various vantage points

 With Caesar's command of 'good luck', the Populares forces advanced

First 'blood' to the Optimates: Juba's pesky Numidian cavalry scratching one unit of Balearic slingers.

The Caesarean right was confronted by Labienus' elephants...

 who foolishly charged against one of their nemesis units, skirmishing javelinmen.

 Trouble is that no-one had told these elephants about the nemesis!

Joining their Elephantidae companions, the Optimates' levy cavalry charged the Caesarean Germanic cavalry, suffering the expected result, but greatly weakening the former's precious mounted force.

It was easy for Cretan archers to see off the second unit of Thracian peltasts having seen their comrades turned into elephant tusk-picks.

Caesar's Gallic cavalry defeated the previously victorious elephants, the latter being still disorganised ('disordered') and a little weakened from their Thracian appetiser.

On the Caesarean left, the Numidian cavalry were proving a headache for Marcus Antonius, shooting the s... out of one of his units of Gallic cavalry...

but his other unit of Gauls managed to catch the elusive horsemen and fight them to a 'nil all' stalemate.

The wings having seen most of the action to date, but the time of the clash of the centres was fast approaching.

Below are two photos from Biko showing the overview of the table at this stage.

Labienus sent his veteran cavalry to attack Caesar's elephant-crushing Gauls, but they too met with defeat.

The second, flanking unit now moving to attack finally overcame the brave Celts. There's that six that I was after, pity that it was for the cohesion test. We were to see a bit of this flawed strategy from most players throughout the afternoon.

In the centre-right, Caesar's auxiliary spearmen charged and broke Scipio's unsuspecting Hispanics.

 The next unit of Optimates charged the victorious Caesareans, the mêlée continuing.

Over on the Caesarean left, Marcus Antonius was getting some revenge against the Numidians as first one...

 and then another unit was broken.

More of the African horsemen counter-attacked the previously victorious spearmen, resulting in an inconclusive mêlée.

The final unit of Numidians rained spears on one of Antonius' antesignani, who were unable to return the compliment.

Back on the Caesarean right, Labienus' remaining unit of elephants charged the veteran legions, neither side prevailing.

Further down the line, the sides continued to exchange skirmish fire, in preparation for the attack of the legions.

Below are Biko's overview photos at this juncture.

Scratch one elephant. It was Labienus' turn to try rolling a six in a cohesion test, a sure-fire losing strategy!

 Things went from bad to worse for the Optimates on their left flank.

In the centre two units of levy Spanish spearmen combined to break the Caesarean veterans.

 Further to the left, the sides traded skirmish blows, and losses.

In went the legions in the centre, neither side gaining the upper hand as pila went sailing through the air and a cacophony of steel on steel and shied resulted.

The Optimates began to get the upper hand...

Here's the Biko-cam view of the battlefield!

Had lady luck deserted the Populares? First Marcus Antonius and then Caesar himself rolling double-one, resulting in a downgrade of their command status.

Time to for action! Caesar sent his veteran legions to take the hill.

One unit of levy pseudo-legionnaires defeated.

Two units of Cretan archers attempted to stop the legions with bowfire. They too went to valhalla.

On the far Caesarean left, the Optimates' veteran cavalry and Caesarean Germanic horsemen decided to wage their own private war.

Building on their initial success, Caesar's veteran legions pressed on, breaking a second unit of pseudo-legionnaires and taking control of the central hill.

Below are the last two of Biko's overview photos of the table.

One of Caesar's victorious legionary units joined the fight in the centre, breaking the Spanish spearmen, but failing to repeat the dose against one of the Optimates' legions.

 Labienus' veteran cavalry finally got the better of the Germans.

Those losses took the Caesarean army past its demoralisation level. Could the legions break sufficient Optimates to also break them before the adding up at the end of the turn?

They tried to repeat the success of the previous two turns, but, fatigued by their exertions (wargamer's story telling), they fell short 

It had been another excellent game using these fine rules. The result attests to the closeness.

Caesareans VDT at the end of the game 24 points (army break point 22 points)Optimises VDT at the end of the game 28 points (army break point 29 points).

So there were but three points in it and, just one inch of charge move on the die. Meaning? The unit of pseudo-legions just visible at the bottom left-hand corner of the second last photo above was one inch too far for the fresh unit of Caesarean legions, who were bearing down on its rear...!

Not the only what-if, of course, and mistakes on both sides did not help one's own cause. Top stuff!


  1. Both reports are really entertaining, intense and great looking battle!

    1. Thanks Phil, it was a really enjoyable game/day.

  2. What is the game table surface resting on?

    1. They are light, foldable saw-horses that Mark picked up from a local hardware chain. Being from PRC, I'm sure that they are available everywhere!

  3. Sounds like an excellent game! What else do you have coming up this year?

    1. Thanks Ian.
      Would you believe that we don't actually have any set plans? Some Napoleonics in their for sure, perhaps Ligny and Craonne, but we are currently just letting our 'flavours of the month' lead us. I'm on an ancients binge at the moment, trying to convert unpainted into painted figs, so there's a bit of that coming up!

  4. Great start to the year James. Seems you had a great game. I especially like the casualty markers.
    Love a bit of ancients but never get around to it, there simply isn't enough time is there?
    Or money!
    Very best wishes for 2016,

    1. Cheers Jeremy. I know exactly what you mean. Most people seem to have a preferred, favourite or best period--Napoleonics for many, you and me included, I think. Then you look at figures from another period, begin to read about the history and...!
      Fortunately for us the economics are a little easier with the plastic 1/72nd figs that we use and prefer.
      Looking forward to exchanging numerous comments on one another's blogs again in 2016!

  5. Huge table and massive number of troops. Great to see Impetvs back on the gaming table. I love that game!

    Well told, James!

    1. Thanks heaps Jonathan. Yes, Impetus opened up Ancients for me, after years of staying away from them, largely because of the cumbersome or stylised rules. I/we like our 'heritage' rules, as you know, but 7th edition WRG ancients are not one of those! DBx are swear words around us!!
      Interestingly, we had mis-interpreted the permanent losses as a level taken prior to breaking (only) and had not included the diminution of VBU with losses. We approached using this with apprehension, expecting that it would lead to extreme fast play, but, in fact, it prolonged some combats as the hitting power of both sides was reduced. Reckon that we'll stick with the interpretation intended by the authors then! :)

  6. Great report James, always entertaining and amusing at the same time, which I know is difficult for you :^) Love the Impetus rules as you know and they have certainly taken over, quite rightly, as the ancients rules of choice at the NWS as well. We have a gaming day set for Feb 13th if you are about mate.

  7. Thanks Carlo, I think... I always amuse myself, at least!!
    Feb 13th may well work, being the week after our scheduled date for Pharsalus on the 6th.

  8. Fun report James. Impetvs seems to working for guys. Were you using casualty removal for VBU loss? At first I thought you may be then later maybe not.

  9. Thanks David.
    We did both figure removal and used casualty markers with the casualties, just to confuse the viewers!
    p.s. we'd love to have you join us again sometime if you are free.

    1. Ha ha Ok I thought you guys might be doing something clever like indicating the current unit VBU by the number of figures in the back rank or something. Love to get together for a game sometime.

  10. Fine looking game and report. I shall have to try Impetus some time. At present I am focusing on To the Strongest, however, with a game coming up this weekend and again next month.

    1. Thank you Peter.
      I dunno. If you are happy with a set, stick with them, I reckon. Let's you focus on the games and what they can inform you about the history--plus the shear fun of it!

  11. Great report James. A very close game. I am feeling comfortable with the rules after just my second game and am now looking at developing some skills. That second and subsequent march ability looks very promising, especially for quality troops.