Alesia (Vae Victis)
Playings 3; 2 Gallic, 1 Roman win (5 hours)
Alesia was a bit of a surprise after Charlemagne. I was not expecting too much but have had some fun with TAHGC’s Caesar in the past and fancied a go. After the Caesar map the Alesia job is a bit of a squeeze but all the fortifications are still there with plenty of space to move around the edges. The game logo box gets in the way in one corner but if you allow part hexes to be playable units can squeeze past. I play with a tube of glue handy to fix the counters that I hurriedly assembled still this is well worth 39FF.
The Romans are restricted to moving within 2 hexes of their fortifications and can only go in and out of their lines by camps that are set up prior to play. Like those in Caesar but you only get nine of them. It pays to put one camp adjacent to the inside walls in case you want to nip into the Gallic home turf. If units are more than 4 hexes (3 at night) from the enemy they are hidden off-map under leader counters. The leaders move in a strategic phase and stop when seen by the enemy. The tactical phase starts with deployment of seen units and then goes onto standard movement of everyone who is deployed but not any still hidden leaders. Any units out of sight at the end of a turn go back behind their leaders. This allows the Gauls to pull back from an assault and try elsewhere; of course the Romans will also vanish from sight.
The Romans are well hard behind their fortifications; the Gauls will be lucky to disrupt a Roman legion or even half legion behind the walls. I tried and did not even manage that in my 1st game and lost a few dead Gauls and others fleeing back or disrupted. Things looked pretty bleak but I pulled back out of sight, rallied and moved up for another go. In this 2nd assault Vercingetorix broke out with 5 units for an instant win. It seems that the key is movement not force. The Gauls cannot break through a tough Roman line but not all the Romans are as good as others, Gauls need a broad attack most of whom will not bother rolling for combat but exist to tie up the Roman line while someone somewhere gets through. This is not easy but once the Gauls are inside the walls they can match the recruit legions and auxilia. If Vercingetorix can slip through from the inside they have cracked it. This cunning plan is none too easy and does rely on the Gauls having the tactical initiative on a phase that they approach the walls from multiple angles. If they start to foul up a retreat is in order.
Naturally the rules are in French and although it is only about GCSE standard some areas need very careful reading to see their implications. ZOCs extend out of fortifications not into them allowing the Romans to slide along the inside of the walls while the Gauls have to pull back to move along. Walls are able to fire if empty (if Romans are behind the walls this is part of combat) but only outwards. A Gaul inside the walls is a happy Gaul.
Combat cleverly uses quality to add to the die as well as strength and circumstances. It took some headbanging to sort out so I will précis it while I am on top of it. Combat is voluntary but if you attack all units in your ZOC must be attacked. The defender fights back simultaneously, the result depends on the strength, average class, class of the best unit and the usual terrain stuff. There are no odds; size of the defender does not matter although his quality does. A stack can avoid having to attack all adjacent units by other friendly stacks adjacent to the same enemy attacking it. The most common result is a disruption test that is failed on 3 or less. The unit quality is added to the die roll, Caesar’s best legion is a +3 so will never fail this test. They can be swamped by numbers but are more likely to be let down by less sophisticated legions.
Soak off attacks are not such a good idea because the defending stack’s combat effect depends on the attacker’s quality. Use rubbish units to bulk up or distract the opposition and the attack can have a reduced chance of success. Attacking at low strength just gives the enemy a chance to attack back with predictable results. The whole is quite clever although the modifiers are "trop"; a large gaggle of units all sorted out into matched combats can be heavy going. This is going to happen just as Vercingetorix tries to break out. If he is not out in a turn or two the assault is off and the battle may continue but will no longer affect the game result. The Gaul will have to look at the current time and number of escaped units then decide to withdraw or give up.
The key to winning is in where the hidden counters go. Both sides have 2 blanks to aid deception although the Roman is deployed more tightly and has a better chance to shuffle the blanks. If through luck or planning all the Gauls move up to strong Roman leaders they are stuffed, time to pull back. Another advantage goes to the player deploying his units last. This is usually the Roman although the Gaul has a better chance at night. If the Gaul wins the tactical initiative roll (+2 to Rome, +1 to Gaul on D6s) he can deploy after the Roman defenders hopefully nearer the empty bits of wall. He then gets to move 1st and will get adjacent to empty areas on that turn although he will be unable to cross. A bit of dice luck and some counter shuffling luck with the hidden leaders another plus on the chaos front. Definitely a hit