For the last couple of months, I’ve been slaving away at painting Almoravids and Christians for my medieval Spain project. I’ve also read the Hail Caesar rulebook and liked it a lot as a book – the laid back approach suits our own style of wargaming. But how would they actually play? Last weekend it was time for a first game.
We decided to play with only one division per player. I took the Almoravids with two units of their trademark ‘phalanx’ and one of swordsmen, one unit of light cavalry and one of tribal skirmisher archers. K. got the Aragonese with two units of heavy cavalry, one of light cavalry, one of crossbows and some skirmishers. I also put all the terrain I’ve made so far on the table. However, we decided to declare all terrain impassable for this game so as to concentrate on learning the game mechanics. We also left out the special rules for commanders.
The game started with the Aragonese advancing at a steady pace while the Almoravid infantry stood rooted to the ground. When I read the rules, I didn’t imagine that the orders mechanics could be that harsh! However, we liked the orders a lot, they helped to create the chaos and confusion we enjoy so much in our games.
On the left flank, our light cavalry units charged each other and we could experience our first melee. This was a rather short experience for K., whose horsemen were broken by my stout warriors! Meanwhile, in the centre, things weren’t going better for her: When her knights heard the sound of the Almoravid drums, they lost nerve and decided to get out of earshot – K. rolled a blunder and had to make an uncontrolled retreat.
Rubbing my hands, I already saw my light cavalry flanking her line, but – alas! – another blunder led them to mill about without aim. K. quickly redirected her crossbowmen to this flank and harassed my light cavalry until they were shaken and more or less out of the game.
She also managed to reorder her ranks and convince the heavy cavalry to finally charge my line.
One of her units charged into the phalanx, which had the ‘Long Spear’ special rule, forcing her to test against becoming disordered. This she prevented, but the knights also lost their charge bonus, making them fare not too well in melee. Her other unit of knights however charged my swordmen, who couldn’t withstand the attack for long and broke. With a sweeping advance, the knights folded my flank!
Angrily, my last remaining unit of spears charged forward into the crossbowmen, which were about to return to the centre. They won melee but were now in a very unfortunate position, anxiously listening to the sound of hooves at their back…
At this point we called it a day. Half of my division’s units were broken or shaken, so according to the rules my division counted as broken and would have to retreat. A victory for K. and her Aragonese knights!
When we talked about the game we both concluded that we liked it very much – in fact, I liked it better than I would have thought. We especially found the command and control mechanics and the quick and easy combat resolution appealing. We played for less than three hours, and that included setting up the stuff, explaining the rules to K. and looking up all kinds of things in between. It also looks like Hail Caesar lends itself very well to scenarios, which is important for us, as we prefer scenario-based gaming.
By the way, I didn’t use the official army book for force composition – the unit stats are based on what my research yielded plus some artistic licenses to make for an exciting game. I was anxious if the ‘Long Spears’ special rule would be too powerful for the Almoravid phalanx, but I wanted to make a direct charge risky. Historically, charging them frontally almost always led to tears, as Alfonso VI. can attest. In any way, it worked well in our game and K. broke through at the weakest part of my line when she charged the swordsmen.
I’m happy to say that Hail Caesar exceeded my expectations. The first game was a blast and we are looking forward to many more.