Monday, January 05, 2009

The Battle of Colline Gate 82BC

I went over to Friendless' house this evening for some more Commands & Colors: Ancients gaming.

We'd previously decided to play the Battle of Colline Gate 82BC from the Commands & Colors: Ancients Expansion Pack #3: The Roman Civil Wars and Friendless had the board already set up when I arrived. I happened to sit down on the side of the table that the Samnites were on and so the battle commenced.

The Battle of Colline Gate (82BC)

Historical Background (From the scenario booklet)

Lucius Cornelius Sulla became the leader of the “optimates” faction in the civil war with the “populares” led by Gaius Marius. Sulla seized Rome in 88 BC and reorganized the government to his liking. However, when Sulla marched east to campaign against Mithridates of Pontus, Marius regained control of the capitol. Many of Sulla’s supporters were hunted down and killed. Although Marius died soon after, his son and other “populares” leaders maintained control of Rome. Meanwhile, Sulla defeated Mithridates and outmaneuvered a Marian army in Pontus, returning to Italy in 82 BC to restore his position and punish the Marians. Sulla quickly defeated the Marian forces in Etruria and then marched to take control of Rome in November. The remnants of the Marian forces, after their losses in Etruria, joined up with the Samnite army under Pontius Telesinus. The combined army advanced on Rome, and encamped near the Colline Gate on the northwest wall of Rome. Sulla took up a position just outside the gate and deployed. The ensuing battle was a desperate struggle, with both sides believing they were fighting to save Rome. Sulla’s legions were pushed hard on his left flank, and his men literally fought with their backs against the city walls. However, Crassus’ forces, fighting on Sulla’s right, managed to turn the opposition’s flank and drive them back. Riding his white horse, Sulla arrived on the left and rallied the flank. Still, it was not until the early hours of the next morning that the Samnites and the Marian forces were broken. In the aftermath, Sulla’s enemies in Rome were rooted out and eliminated, leaving him with absolute power as dictator.

The stage is set. The battle lines are drawn and you are in command. The rest is history.

War Council

Samnite Army
• Leader: Pontius
• 5 Command Cards
• Move First

Roman Army
• Leader: Sulla
• 6 Command Cards

5 Banners

Special Rules

  • The walls of Rome (rampart hexes) are impassable terrain.
  • Marius Legions Rule is in effect for both armies.
  • When a Roman unit occupies an enemy camp hex at the start of the Roman player’s turn, the Roman player gains one Victory Banner that cannot be lost. Remove the camp terrain tile hex and collect the Victory Banner before playing a Command card.

Image from
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Game 1: In our first game I commanded the Samnites (grey blocks), while Friendless commanded the Romans (red blocks). I had played this particular scenario commanding the Samnites once before against Friendless back on 9 April 2008. In that game I won 5 banners to 3. I wondered if I would again achieve victory over Sulla's Roman forces.

This was an interesting scenario. The walls of Rome counted as an impenetrable barrier which meant that if the Romans were forced to flee as an outcome of combat then they would lose a unit block for every hex they could not move. There was also the effect of the Marius Legions rule which allowed all Medium Infantry in this scenario to throw their pila (a pilum is a heavy javelin) for 1 die at range 2 whether they moved or not. Finally, the Samnites had two camps on their board edge which, if taken by the Romans, meant a victory banner for each.

My plan in this game, as commander of the Samnites, was to deny my left flank and push forward in my centre and right flank. The battle went fairly according to plan and it ended up being a race to see who could claim 5 banners for the win. I was progressing well on my right but the Romans had pushed me back on my left.

Then came an incredible stroke of luck for myself. In over the dozen or so games of C&C Ancients that Friendless and I have played, a general has never died in combat due to the loss of one of the blocks they commanded. In this game the Roman general Sulla had advanced on my centre and was making short work of my Auxilia units. In one combat, one of my units of Auxilia with only two blocks remaining survived an attack and therefore had a chance to battle back. Not only did the Auxilia unit destroy two blocks of Medium Cavalry in the battle back combat but for the first time for both of us we witnessed a Leader casualty roll of two dice actually succeed. You see, if you destroy a block of a unit a Leader is commanding you then roll two dice to see if the Leader is killed. For this to happen you have to roll two purple Leader symbols - a 1 in 36 chance. Sulla was the unlucky general on this occasion.

My Samnite Auxilia unit bottom left kills 2 blocks of Medium Cavalry and then their commanding general.

After another couple of turns of brutal fighting Friendless was on 4 banners and I was on 3. Friendless then advanced on my left flank with his other general, Crassus, who also commanded a unit of Medium Cavalry. Crassus managed to defeat a unit of my Auxilia which had retreated to one of my camps. Friendless then moved Crassus on to the camp. At that point in the game Friendless only needed one more banner to win. He would achieve the banner (and victory of the game) for claiming the Samnite camp at the beginning of his next turn.

With only 3 banners I needed to claim a further 2 banners on my turn or suffer defeat on Friendless' next turn. My only Leader, general Pontius who was commanding a unit of Medium Cavalry, had advanced on my right flank. He was the only unit capable of killing 2 units on my turn. My only problem was that I had no cards that could possibly manoeuvre him on the right flank! Then I looked closer at one of my cards. I can't remember which card it was, but it was a special one that I couldn't use, however if it couldn't be used then you could use it to order 1 unit of your choice. I was then able to order Pontius forward to attack a 1 block unit of Roman Light Slingers which he destroyed. With the Medium Cavalry unit ability of a bonus attack with momentum advance Pontius then followed up with an attack on a 2 block unit of Roman Medium Infantry. I needed to roll 2 hits on 3 dice. Pontius' attacks hit home and he managed to also destroy the unit of Roman Medium Infantry. On my turn I had claimed the 2 banners necessary to claim the victory condition of 5 banners and win the game!

Final score was me with 5 banners for the win against Friendless with 4 banners.

The placement of forces at the end of the battle. Viewed from the Samnite side.

Game 2: We swapped armies so I now commanded the Romans (red blocks) and Friendless commanded the Samnites (grey blocks).

My plan as commander of the Romans was to attack with my greatest strength which was my infantry in the centre and right. One of my goals was also to move Sulla and his units at the entrance of the Colline Gate forward to plug the gap in the centre of my line and also to send Crassus and his cavalry around to flank the Samnites on my right. I had a pretty good hand to start with which included a Counter Attack and Darken the Sky.

Friendless' Samnites went first. Their first move was to advance on my left flank. My first move was to advance my rear units at the gate up to the centre of my line. Friendless then moved units from his centre forward. I was pleased with this as I was just waiting for his line to enter missile range and I'd let the Samnite forces have it with a play of Darken the Sky (which allows missile troops to shoot twice).

Meanwhile, on my left flank the enemy general Pontius moved forward to attack. I had successfully used Pontius to destroy the Roman left flank in my two previous plays of this scenario and I feared what Friendless may achieve with him in this game. I moved Sulla and his Medium Cavalry as well as a unit of Medium Infantry to bolster the forces on my left.

Sulla, commanding his Medium Cavalry and supported by units of Auxilia, hit hard against my left flank. After that first clash the Samnites had destroyed two of my units and claimed 2 victory banners.

This concerned me and I used my next orders to prop up my left flank and counter attack with little effect. My plan was falling apart. Then Friendless' Samnites did something I had not expected. He sent four units of Auxilia and Medium Infantry forward in the centre to attack me. I had not worried about them because they were out of range. He played a Double Time card (which allows foot units to move twice and then attack) and suddenly they had advanced and were hacking and slashing into my centre units. I think I lost another one or two units in that attack.

Meanwhile, I was in a position on my left flank where by simply ordering two units (Sulla commanding Medium Cavalry and a Medium Infantry) I could effectively block Pontius' retreat and have attacks of 7 dice (with Leader hits) against him. This in all likelihood would kill him and his unit and blunt the Samnite threat on my left flank. I chose a Rally card which not only would allow me the chance of replacing lost blocks of my two units but would then allow those units to attack. I had to roll dice equal to command (6 dice) and only needed a combination of two blue symbols or purple Leader symbols to come up. I rolled my 6 dice and was dismayed to see that none of them came up with the appropriate symbols. Not only was I not able to replace blocks from my wounded units but I could not order them! What a wasted opportunity!

Now, I'm not one to normally blame the dice for my losses, but if there was a god of luck then my Romans forgot to sacrifice to him prior to the battle.

Having said that, I have to give credit where credit is due. Friendless' bold advances and highly effective use of the Double Time card gained him the initiative and I felt that through the entire game I was simply responding to his attacks. My plan to push forward on my right to advance on his camps came to nothing and I never regained the initiative.

Final scores were Friendless with 5 banners for the win and me with 0 banners.

The placement of forces at the end of the battle. Viewed from the Roman side.

The final total score of both games was Friendless with 9 banners to my 5 banners. When Friendless and I next meet we will play the second scenario of the base game of Commands & Colors: Ancients - Crimissos River 341BC.

Friendless then suggested we play a game of Axiom. Axiom is a 3D abstract game which is a bit of a brain burner. On a player's turn you can either move a scepter or a cube of your colour. The aim of the game is to move your sceptre to a cube holding one of your opponent's sceptres or force your opponent into a position where they can't move. Check out Friendless' review of Axiom here.

The starting positions of the playing pieces. The board is simply used to turn the pieces.

I was surprised to find that this game was initially made in 1988. We were playing with a newly released edition from Essen last year which has lovely magnetised plastic pieces. For its age Axiom is a surprisingly refreshing abstract game. Friendless was taking it easy on me for my first game and pointed out that I was in 'check' on a couple of occasions. I was able to go on to win the game in the end though. It certainly takes a bit to get one's head around the tactics involved in moving cubes and sceptres in three dimensions. As I said earlier, it's a bit of a brain burner but I did enjoy the game.

The placement of pieces at the end of the game. My orange sceptre has moved to the same cube as Friendless' sceptre which won me the game.

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