The Gauls in various guises had fought against Rome for many centuries. By the time of the 1st Century BC, Gallic society was well developed with oppida serving as defensive positions as well as important economic centres. Powerful nobles and chiefs were able to raise large armies around them and often raised allied tribes in support. Furthermore, powerful chiefs might have their own retinues of more professional warriors or soldurii and large numbers of cavalry. While the Gauls mostly fought Rome during the period of the Gallic Wars between 58-51BC, there were later smaller rebellions into the early part of the 1st Century AD.
The make up of most Gallic armies tended to centre around the retinue of nobles who provided a semi-permanent basis for a larger tribal army. The rest of the army for the sort of battles we are focussed on would take a larger time period to gather and be composed of units organised around clan, family or town groupings. These warriors would be poorly disciplined and lack training compared to the more professional soldiers of Rome. They tended to form up in quite dense formations with their long shields and sharp spears providing a formidable and intimidating sight. The Southern Gauls were wealthy enough to have had large bodies of cavalry, particularly prevalent in Aquitania. These were good warriors and enthusiastically employed by the Romans in many of their campaigns – Crasssus even took a contingent of Gallic cavalry East to fight against the Parthians in the ill-fated campaign at Carrhae in 53BC.
While the developed economy of Southern Gaul was capable of growing a surplus of food to sustain a large army in the field for a short period of time, commanders were aware that a long drawn out guerrilla campaign would be difficult to maintain and that most campaigns would be best completed with a decisive battle. Gallic armies were typically slow moving, requiring large numbers of wagons, and weighed down with additional non-combatants. This made it quite difficult for the Gauls to engage in intricate strategic manoeuvres before a battle. The campaign of Vercingetorix seemed to be the exception to this rule, as he was able to maintain both continued skirmishes with Caesar and an army in the field ready to pounce on his opponent if the situation favoured it. Gallic armies also took time to array themselves for battle and often prepared themselves on the key battlefield the day before the actual fighting commenced to organise themselves.
In Strength and Honour the Gallic army will be a common sight amongst players. The versatility of the units will also mean with a simple name tag change they can pay service in many other armies making them a very flexible starting force – especially in the smaller scales where the cultural difference between a Suebian topknot and Gallic moustache are impossible to identify!
What do we have in the Gallic core force? Let’s see…
Core force – 2 COMMAND POINTS, 1 GENERALSHIP POINT
Warband x 3
Starting cost: 37 points
The core of the Gallic force will therefore be made up of warbands. These troops are cheap and plentiful and help to make up the numbers. They are frustratingly awkward to co-ordinate and will be incapable of carrying out refined manoeuvres across a whole battle line. What they lack in co-ordination they partially compensate for in their ferocity in the initial charge and their ability to provide rear support for other warbands. On mass, a Gallic charge at close range which is well supported is a very powerful tool, the problem is charging is a risky activation, which faces a reversal of fortune if your unit rolls poorly and fails to make contact. A good Gallic commander will attempt to bring his line forward in the most cohesive body possible and be willing to expend some of their command dice in the movement pool to maintain a solid battle line before the final (and hopefully decisive) charge! One question with deployment is whether to deploy in single or double depth with your warbands. Invariably if you want to punch a hole through Roman legions double depth at least in several places is very useful, but be brave enough to extend your line longer and thinner if your opponent has cavalry or well supported heavy infantry. Instead start to look for opportunities to turn the flanks.
Cavalry provide an opportunity to turn the enemy flanks and if additionally chosen as your rare units will provide the mobility and punch you need to hopefully see off all but the most determined Roman cavalry. As you start with a cavalry unit, unlike all Roman armies, in the basic force you should be able to muster more horsemen than your opponents if you prioritise them. Don’t be afraid to support them with either light cavalry, or as a cheaper common option like javelin-armed skirmishers. The additional unit can make all the difference on one flank and is a cheap way of providing you with an advantage. The skirmishers can also be employed to add a bit more backbone to the main battle line and can temporarily compensate for the lack of strength in units that are only deployed one unit deep. They also help to make your line more intimidating to counterattacks if only one section of your warbands charge home.
Invariably you will need to bolster your force with additional warbands and skirmisher units to allow you to choose more of the battle winning rare units. The Gauls here have a few interesting choices. The elite Gallic warband represent a bodyguard of soldurii or a particularly confident group of warriors. If these are employed make sure you use them to spearhead your attack. Re-enforce them with a warband in support behind and if possible one on either side as well as skirmish lines. Make sure they are used to charge the enemy and whatever you do don’t hold them back! A cheaper but more risky option is the ferocious warband – representing tribes like the Boii. These are particularly useful if well supported or employed to chase off enemy skirmishers. Their ability to charge and battle twice in one turn can cause a real shock to an unprepared Roman player, however, if you are not careful their activation can lead to a very quick reversal of fortune as their chance of rolling a 1 or a 2 on the battle dice table in single dice battles is very high! Again, strongly re-enforced with skirmishers and rear support they can be battle winners, but very often they end up a bit disappointing!
The option of using open order warbands is available. Generally speaking these are a bit too flimsy to engage with a strong Roman battle line in a pitched battle. Their advantage is in their initial charge and ability to manoeuvre more effectively which can prove pivotal on the flanks. Their poor discipline score however means used head-on they will often get quickly rebuffed if the initial attack makes no headway. They make an interesting and cheap alternative to a cavalry option on the flanks which might be unexpected from your opponent.
With a relatively low initial Command Points score of just 2, the Gauls will always be struggling to allocate enough dice into the different pools. Getting some good auguries will obviously help a great deal, but the random nature of this means sometimes it simply can’t be helped. I always like to keep at least a couple of Command points in the Defence Pool as the Warband’s poor discipline score means failed tests are commonplace and can really scupper a plan early on. Battles are often lost with the Gauls before contact, so I always feel having at least a point in the Movement Pool on your Command Board is a worthwhile investment. Your general should really go with a noble unit – be it cavalry or a bodyguard unit of warband infantry to maximise their impact. Leading from the front is part and parcel of the Gallic heroic tradition and the consequential risks are normally worth taking.
Instead of a standard Gallic army, you might opt for a Belgic army prioritising solid infantry over the mobility of the cavalry. By discarding the cavalry and replacing them with an elite bodyguard unit in the core force you have a few new options available to you. Ferocious warbands can now become a common option, and you also have access to stubborn warbands with solid discipline scores. You’ll need to rely now on the strength of your infantry battle line to win the day and the ability to charge at the key points in the enemy line and co-ordinate your infantry attack become even more paramount. The cheaper cost of these punchier infantry options also mean you should be able to make some breakthroughs. The cost of course is in a lack of mobility and risk to your flanks from Roman cavalry. Try to use rough ground like woods, bogs, or even rivers to secure your flanks to minimise this risk, and if required expend a Command Dice from your Strategy Pool to make sure you don’t get badly outflanked in your deployment phase.
Lastly, use of ruses can be very useful. In Bibracte in 58BC the arrival of a flanking force made the battle a very close-run thing, while at Sotium in 56BC the Aquitanians employed cavalry to draw Publius Crassus’s Romans into a well-prepared ambush from concealment. Even the might of Rome’s best legions are vulnerable to a ferocious flanking charge. If you get a lucky breakthrough a Roman force can quickly accumulate extra Setback Cards and Disaster Cards due to centurion losses or their eagle being taken. Such events, though rare, can be critical in giving you an advantage and allowing you to shout the all-important “Homunculus est” first!
The Romans are an exceptionally tough opponent for the Gauls to beat, and the odds aren’t really in your favour, but fighting dirty and using every trick you can to throw a spanner in the works of a safe and steady Roman plan will help to even the odds. Caesar may have won in Gaul in the end, but the Gauls still have the potential to give the Romans an unexpected shock and well-handled a very dangerous adversary. Finally, when it comes to playing Gauls you have the advantage of knowing that the sky is definitely not going to fall on your head!