Spanish Songs – First Game of Hail Caesar

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 lines facing each other.
The lines facing each other.

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.

A sudden panic catches the knights!
A sudden panic catches the knights!

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.

Light cavalry faces crossbows.
Light cavalry faces crossbows.

She also managed to reorder her ranks and convince the heavy cavalry to finally charge my line.

Now we're talking!
Now we’re talking!

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!

There goes my flank...
There goes my flank…
...and it's gone.
…and it’s gone.

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…

The end.
The end.

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.

Happy New Year!

I hope you all had nice and peaceful Christmas holidays and a good start into the New Year. We had some relaxing days with the family, giving me the chance to play a couple of games with my nephew, whom I gave a copy of the boardgame Duel im Felsental as a Christmas present. Of course I couldn’t resist painting the minis!


What will 2015 bring at The Raft? Well, I’ve got a whole load of plans. First of all, I want to continue the medieval Andalusian project and bring it to at least a temporary conclusion as far as painting is concerned. I’ve already got a good-sized force of Almoravids and Christians and want to complement them with enough Taifa units to field them as a separate army. Most importantly, we are going to start gaming with them. Hail Caesar is my first choice and we’ll see if we like them – if not we’ll try something else.

The sci fi project will also continue. Palomar Breach will see a new faction, the Interplanetary Union, a high-tech force with power armoured infantry and a mech. Fortunately, you don’t need many figures for Wandering Star and I’ve already procured most of them, so this won’t be too much work.


I’m also thinking of branching out the sci fi stuff… into spaaaace! Lately, I’ve been pondering the idea of a spaceship combat game that would specifically be designed for cooperative (or solo) play. I’ve scribbled down some basic mechanics and would like to investigate this further, so let’s see if this will lead to something.

However, the most exciting thing will be a new historical project. Or rather it is not so much a project but a topic, which will bring together many of my research as well as wargaming interests. Under the header of Wargaming Warrior Women, I will present research, scenarios and ideas pertaining to female combatants in history. My main interests are medieval and ancient times, but I will also deal with other historical periods. To kick the new topic off with much fanfare, I’ll soon present you some figures I’ve had sculpted of an elite unit of female archers.

Joan of Arc, one of the most famous female warriors.
Not the only female warrior of medieval times!

If you are more into battle reports don’t despair, they will always form the backbone of The Raft – after all, K. and I enjoy gaming and retelling games too much to forget about that.

Of course, there is also real life and some equally exciting things are going to happen there this year, probably including a change of job and a house move, so all of my carefully laid plans might be upset at any time.

I hope to see you around and wish you all the best for the New Year!

The New Project: El Cid

In another post, I’ve hinted that I was about to begin a new project. Well, it’s officially started: I am going to do early medieval Spain for element-based large battles. Yes, we dyed-in-the-wool skirmish gamers are going for mass combat.

Why this period, you may ask? I was looking for something medieval that includes non-European armies, that demands different tactics from what we usually play and that is colourful. By chance I read about Spain at the end of the 11th century and was hooked. For one thing, there are a lot of options for army building: The Christian kingdoms, the Islamic Taifa kingdoms of Al-Andalus and the Almoravids from North Africa. Even better, everyone fought against everyone else, so there are also a lot of options for gaming (more than with the typical crusader line-up of Christians against Moslems)!

For research, I first got the obligatory Ospreys (El Cid and The Moors), which are a bit disappointing as they cover a wide period and only contain superficial information on the stuff that interests me. I then read The Quest for El Cid by Richard Fletcher. This is a fabulous book which I can’t recommend enough. Even if you are not interested in the period, it’s a masterful example of historical writing, combining a lively, engaging and witty style with a critical approach towards the sources. I also got a second hand copy of the old Warhammer Ancient Battles supplement El Cid, which is inspiring and helpful for putting together armies.


So which armies will I collect? I decided to go for a Christian one, as it allows to field Rodrigo Diaz himself, which in turn allows to field Islamic allies and auxiliaries, and an Almoravid one, as they have colourful and unique troops and interesting tactics. I will paint some Taifa units which can be used for both sides. Incidentally, I find the Taifa kingdoms to be the most likeable of all the factions, so I might paint up enough figures to field them on their own.

For figures, I ordered something from almost all of the 15mm manufacturers. Christian troops were no problem as Dark Age Normans work very well. For the Almoravids, it was more complicated. As they have a distinct look, most generic Arabs won’t work well. Some companies offer Berber troops, but only in limited poses. It took me a while to discover the Arab Conquest line of Museum Miniatures , which has just the right figures for the job. Those are now going to make up the bulk of my Almoravids.

Rules wise, I intend to use Hail Caesar. I’ve read good things about it and already bought the book. I like very much what I’ve seen so far: The style is laid back and the author stresses that the rules offer a tool box and should be adjusted to the players’ needs. They are scenario based and seem to give pretty fast games.

BP Covers and Spine

Now Hail Caesar is explicitly written with large battles in mind. The recommended unit sizes made my eyes water – there is no way I’m going to paint that many figures! However, the author also stresses that, in fact, it doesn’t matter how large the units are as long as their frontages are consistent. So I am going to follow the DBA standard for basing as this will allow me to play all kinds of rules (not least DBA, which I played once and enjoyed more than I would have thought). But how many bases to use for one unit? After much humming and hawing, I decided to go for 4 DBA bases for an infantry unit and 2 DBA bases for a cavalry unit – I don’t think I am brave enough to paint more horses than that.

That’s still a lot of figures to paint. But then, I’m in no hurry. K. already told me that she is not too keen to learn yet another set of rules in the near future, so I will approach the whole thing rather relaxed.