Saturday, 5 December 2015

A walk in the park, a.k.a. the Battle of Teutoburg Forest

Today we played a re-fight of the battle of Teutoburg Forest 9 AD, where three Roman legions commanded by Varus were ambushed by German tribesmen led by Arminius (a traitorous ex-Roman auxilia commander). The scenario was from the Hail Caesar supplement "Germania".

It's an ambush!

"Join the army they said! See the world they said!"

Deployment for both sides was semi-randomized. The Germans had the first turn, on which much depended. The wildly hooting hairy savages stormed from the forest upon the hapless Romans, who were advancing in very vulnerable columns without flank guard. The Romans got lucky, for the discipline of the German army failed and the Germans failed to launch a simultaneous attack against the length of the Roman column. The Germans facing the centre of the Roman column launched their assault too soon and drove back three Roman units with great losses. In contrast, the German units facing the head and tail of the column generally failed to close with the Romans.

The Germans facing the centre of the Roman column spring their ambush too soon.

Roman raw recruits give a good account of themselves

The centre of the Roman column is in dire straits - retreating in disorder and with heavy loss from the German onslaught.

The German's hesitation gave the Romans time to reorganize their line. The rearguard of the army turned to face the attacking barbarians. At the head of the Roman column chaos reigned. A few Roman units were caught unawares and pushed back with great losses, while Varus himself led a unit of auxilia cavalry and some freshly recruited legionnaires in a counter-attack that brought the rest time to reorganize. The situation was most tense in the centre, where the German's initial assault had cloven into the Romans and left them very vulnerable. Lady luck smiled on the Romans in the centre, since the Germans failed to attack them when they were most vulnerable (failed command roll). Obviously the Germans were more preoccupied with looting the dead than with pressing their advantage.

Roman rearguard have ample time to form into a battle line

After valiantly holding up the Germans, Varus and his auxiliary cavalry are destroyed

On turn 3, the situation was still far from good for the Romans, though steadily getting better. The Romans were getting their lines in order and the Germans started to lose steam. The Germans opposing the Roman rearguard finally got their act together and assaulted the Romans, only to get a bloody nose. At the head of the column things continued as hot as ever, with things turning sour for the Romans. The Roman vanguard had fared remarkably well so far, but the German numbers started to tell and in quick succession, the unit of auxilia cavalry and a unit of legionnaires were routed.

Combat erupts at the end of the line
The Germans facing the Roman rearguard are quickly routed

Another legionary unit is routed at the van of the army

With the Roman vanguard in tatters, the Romans concentrated in rescuing their centre. One unit of legionaries was deployed in a square formation to protect the flank of the remaining, reorganizing units. The Germans attacked and were repulsed in the centre. The unit in square was hard pressed, but managed to hold the barbarian onslaught. This gave enough time for the Roman rearguard to mop up barbarian resistance at the end of the column and for the centre to regroup. The Roman rearguard then engaged the German centre, which freed the Roman centre units to wheel and attack the Germans at the head of the column.

A unit of legionaries forms square to protect the flank of the regrouping centre

Battlefield around turn 4

Roman counter-attack mops up the Germans

The German unit facing the Roman square was easily mopped up and the Romans could now advance in one front to relieve their beleaguered vanguard. This was not enough to save Varus or one of the legionary units at the head of the column, who were slaughtered by the German cavalry.

This was the German's last success. The legion-strength force of Romans (4 units), advancing in close order, was too much for the Germans. Two German units led by Arminius himself were routed and, with that, the remnants of the Germans abandoned the field.

Turn 5 - Roman vanguard collapsing

Roman centre rushes to aid the beleaguered vanguard

Arminius and the remnants of the German horde are put to flight by the combined assault of the legions

All three German "divisions" had been broken by the end of the game, while only the Roman vanguard was broken (at the very end of the game). Most of the Roman units were quite worn down, yet operational. After a steep uphill climb, the disaster had been averted and turned into a glorious Roman victory!

Closing thoughts

Despite the end result, this game was quite tight. I got lucky with the Romans since failed German activations enabled me to reorganize my central and rear-guard units. Once these entered the game in a "straight up" fight with Germans, I managed to mop up the German divisions one by one.

It's nice to play these kinds of historical scenarios and this one definitely had a character and narrative of its own. However, I do think that the scenario could be better balanced in favour of the Germans (and more clearly structured in general). In particular, the special rule allowing Romans to bring back their destroyed legionary units at half strength allowed me in one instance to slow the German onslaught long enough to regroup the rest of my army. That said, all in all a fun and unique game.

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