Just after I’d finished my latest batch of Persians, Johan came over to my house for some ancients action. We used the Hail Caesar rules, and pitched the freshly raised Persians against my Greek veterans in an imaginary battle during the Greco-Persian Wars.
Not only was it satisfying to bring my new 6mm lads to the table, but it had also been a while since I last played HC, so it was nice indeed to bring that beautiful book out of the bookshelf and leaf through it again.
The setting: a peaceful village somewhere in southern Thessaly, where a brave contingent of Spartans and Athenians, together with the local people, are making a desperate stand against the Persian onslaught.
The invaders’ eyes are set on the wheat fields, which they will attempt to ravage and burn…
…but they will of course also try to level the village itself, although that might prove to be more of a challenge as it’s separated from the fields by a river.
The local farmers, carpenters and goatherds have gathered in the village square under the command of Lycurgus, who is a horse trader by day.
The men are now donning their grandfathers’ rusty armor and grabbing some sharp sticks while they desperately try to form something like a hoplite formation. Meanwhile, the slaves and old men are given javelins and then pushed onto the fields, making up the defenders’ light troops.
Luckily for them, the Spartans (and their Athenian allies) are now arriving – late as usual, but just in time for the action. Commanded by the valiant Theokritos, they have been busy sacrificing and waiting for the proper phase of the moon; after all, real Lacedaemonians do not simply march into combat without properly consulting the gods first.
But now they’re finally here, and instead of joining the villagers they march straight at the road, where the Persians can now be seen in the distance.
The invaders have been advancing at a leisurely pace, not expecting much in the way of resistance. The infantry are marching in column formation down the road together with the archers and skirmishers…
…while the cavalry are crossing the fields. Two units of medizing Thessalians have joined the invading forces and are now leaving their nearby camp, eager at the prospect of looting their neighbors.
At the sight of the approaching Spartans, the Persian commander Achamenes orders his men into battle line formation and then turn to face the enemy.
The archers line up so as to get a proper line of sight, while the Immortals (in the shield-bearing Sparabara formation), together with the somewhat reluctant levy, slowly advance behind them.
Achamenes also moves his scythed chariot into position, getting ready to blast those infamous Spartan lines apart.
Meanwhile Lycurgus attempts to order his men to advance towards the enemy in an orderly fashion, but the amateur soldiers fail to recognize the “orderly” part. They blunder ahead at the double, almost rushing into the river and getting wildly off track in the process. A less than stellar first move, to say the least. But at least the light troops manage to cross the ford.
And things are looking grim by the road as well; the Spartans are getting peppered by Persian arrows, losing cohesion and struggling to keep their laconic calm. Not even Theokritos’ jokes about fighting in the shade succeed in shaking off the men’s dismay at seeing their comrades killed by these womanly weapons.
And then things go from bad to worse as the scythed chariot thunders into their ranks. But the result is not as disastrous as Achamenes had hoped; the Spartans hold together, even in face of such a horrible attack. And now the chariot is spent, being a single-use weapon.
Seeing how the Greeks are struggling, the Persian cavalry commander Youtab hopes to seize the opportunity and urges his men forward, towards the wheat fields. But despite his reputation as a stout commander, he fails to get this simple point across to his men.
And thus the cavalrymen hang back as the Greek traitor Xenokrates leads his Thessalians through their ranks. “Leaving the loot for us, eh?” he shouts to his Persian allies as he marches past them. Luckily for him, neither Youtab nor his men speak a word of Greek.
So while the Spartans and their Athenian allies are hard pressed, they attackers still have a long way to go before they reach the village.
The Spartans are forced back by yet another hailstorm of arrows, but this also means that they’re able to join the Athenians in a real battle line.
And now finally Lycurgus the horse merchant has succeeded in getting the local defenders out of the village; they’ve even managed to form a proper column, marching across the bridge in an almost soldier-like manner.
Spurred on by the sight of fellow Greeks willing to die for their country, the Athenians make an aggressive charge, shattering the Persian light troops…
…but then they, too, get a sudden taste of Eastern missiles. Disordered and weary, they halt by the side of the road.
But their compatriots are not so easily deterred. “For Athens!” they shout and clash into the Immortals, who desperately try to fend off the furious assault.
Meanwhile, Theocritos has rallied his men and slams into a Persian archer unit, who perishes in no time.
Battle-weary and covered in dust and blood, but eager to catch up with the Athenians, the men from Lacedaimon hurry ahead. “We can’t let those pansy philosophers and playwrights have all the fun, now can we, boys?” Theocritos shouts as he leads the way.
The defenders’ light troops are pouring out across the fields, spreading out in an attempt to divide the attackers’ forces. But Scythian horse archers have already reached the outskirts of town, aiming straight for the wheat fields.
And now the Athenians are hard beset; while they’re held in place by the Immortals, a unit of Persian levy attacks their flank.
This is too much for them, and they rout, leaving a pile of dead and dying in the mud while cheers echo down the Persian ranks.
But the attackers still have some work to do if they wish to finish their repulsive task before sundown. Youtab keeps struggling with his cavalry, the bulk of which have yet to reach the wheat fields…
…and despite having routed one unit of hoplites, Achamenes is tied up by the road. He now joins his Immortals and gathers his levy troops closer, getting ready for the inevitable Spartan onslaught.
The resulting fight is pure carnage, with heavy losses on both sides. But Spartan discipline finally triumphs, and the Immortals break and run.
Things suddenly look rather bleak for the invaders; their infantry division is falling apart, and the cavalry, together with the allied foot, still hang back. And now the Greek levy are coming down the road to join their allies.
But the Scythians, fastest and nimblest of the Persian cavalry, have now reached the northern wheat field. The defenders harass them with javelins, but to no avail.
The whole thing turns into something of a standoff, while the Thessalians and the main part of the Persian cavalry are approaching in the distance. Against them, the slaves and old men will not stand a chance.
Seeing the plight of their fellow townsfolk, the levy hoplites turn around, form into battle formation and rush towards the fields. “There is still hope!” Lycurgus screams in his thick Thessalian accent.
But the men in the fields have a hard time hoping. They fall in heaps, their blood glistening in the setting sun.
And then all hope is lost for the northern field, as the Scythians set the wheat ablaze.
The smoke can be seen far away, blackening the sky and blotting out the final rays of the sun.
A glorious sight for Persians eyes, no doubt. Unfortunately for Achamenes, he only catches a glimpse of the spectacle in the corner of his eye as he speeds away across the fields – his division is now broken and he has to leave the battlefield.
The defenders’ only hope now lies in stopping the Persian cavalry from reaching the southern wheat fields, or even worse: the town proper!
The Spartans and Athenians will be hard pressed indeed to manage this, as the Persian horsemen are now encouraged by the sight of the fire and finally get going. Rapidly they gallop against the levy hoplites, who brace themselves for a last stand by the road.
They fight bravely, but they can’t possibly withstand the combined force of three cavalry units.
However, their stalwart defense proves useful in the end; it stalls the attackers long enough for the Psiloi to get into javelin range, and some well-aimed projectiles now disorder the Persian heavy cavalry. Perhaps this will buy enough time for the Spartans and Athenians to save the remaining field?
Indeed, the Athenians make good speed down the road and catch the horsemen off guard. A devastating flank charge kills enough of them to break their morale…
…and then the boys from Attica are able to rear-charge the Persian heavy cavalry as they’re heading for the fields. No mean feat, all things considered.
But alas! there are still one unit of cavalry left, and it wastes no time in burning down the second wheat field.
It will be hard for the Greeks to save the day now, and since the sun has long since set (both in game and outside my window), the commanders decide to call it quits. The Persians win, but it’s a Pyrrhic victory if ever there was one – their main commander has run away with is tail between his legs and almost half of the remaining forces are slaughtered. A dear price to pay for some burning wheat!
All in all great game, full of hilarity and tense moments. Hail Caesar lends itself really well to a narrative, asymmetric playstyle, which is what I’m mostly looking for when it comes to wargaming. The only downside with this game was that it took a fair amount of time; we played for almost four hours and it was well past midnight when we finished, but the game was far from completed from a gameplay perspective.
This was of course partly due to the fact that our rules knowledge was a bit rusty, but also that a decent amount of alcohol was consumed during the evening. While good for enhancing immersion and the general fun factor, those beers do tend to blur your most acute sense of rules details, turn sequence, modifiers, and so on…
But anyway, it was great to get my Persians on the table and I look forward to more 6mm exploits soon!