Certainly not! In fact, unsurprisingly, the Romans will be a common army in Strength and Honour games which at first glance might seem to have the potential to make the game rather dull and repetitive, but in fact there a wide number of different Roman armies to choose from each with a distinctive flavour. Potentially the most powerful army in the game is that of the Roman warlords. This represents the huge armies gathered during the First Century BC under the command of the famous generals like Caesar, Pompey, Marius and Sulla. With a solid grounding in experienced and veteran legions, high Command and Generalship Points, this army might seem unstoppable. For the Roman commander who wants to take on later era opponents the Principate army list combines the solid legions with well drilled auxiliary cohorts. For the commander who tires of solid legions and wants a challenge, a Late Republican hastily raised army to deal with insurrections and rebellions is the antithesis of the Warlord army. Made up predominantly of raw and levied legions, the Roman commander will have to be very careful with his shaky troops and rethink their tactics to bring slave revolts and local insurrections to heel. Alternatively, maybe you prefer the role of a corpulent proconsul living out his days in command of a province on the borders of the Empire against invading forces, maybe with the support of local levies or client kingdoms and their imitation legionaries? If a more mobile force is what you want a Sertorian army combines well drilled legions with aggressive local irregulars. Fighting for the Marian faction during the Civil Wars against Sulla’s supporters in Spain, Sertorius’s semi-regular army held up vast numbers of troops sent from Rome. The joy of smaller scale 2mm figures is of course that many of these armies can quickly morph into another with a quick change of labels. There is no need to worry about the anachronism of your legionary’s armour, helmet designs or shield motifs!
The core of most of these armies is of course the legion. Legions varied immensely in quality and size during his period. While in theory legions were meant to have been made up of ten cohorts of just under 500 men each, understrength legions were very common, especially during longer campaigns and the Civil Wars. Understrength legions were sometimes brigaded together to form composite fighting units. The experienced legions in Strength and Honour are very powerful indeed. While not the fastest unit, they can manoeuvre effectively on open ground using their drilled characteristic. Their discipline is solid and they will rarely break compared with the majority of their opponents. Their battle training also allows them to hold the line, pushing back their enemies, where less experienced troops would fall back themselves. The veteran legions bring superior discipline and will take a huge amount of punishment before they break. Such troops can be relied upon especially when well led with a few Command Dice on the Battle Board saved up to cancel the occasional mishap. They are best positioned on the flanks of your battle line to prevent the line being flanked and rolled up. The raw legions might lack the discipline and manoeuvrability of their more experienced counterparts but they are still capable troops more than capable of holding the line. Their cheaper cost allows you to increase the size of your army and helps to balance the odds. Your opponent will be looking for weak spots in your line and the raw legions are likely to be the most vulnerable. Make sure they are well supported with either solid legions on either flank or a screen of skirmishers to soak up enemy attacks. Don’t think of the legions as a simple slow-moving defensive force, be willing to strike hard into the enemy ranks and take the fight to them. When campaigning in challenging terrain, Spanish legions representing troops who had stayed in the province and adopted more open formations provide a much more flexible force exchanging a slightly less resilient unit for something more mobile that can really shock an opponent expecting to see slow steady lines of legions.
The flexibility of the legions make them stand out against their less professional opponents. Once you have grasped the basics of the game you might choose to use some of the special formations such as the single acies when you need to cover more ground and fill in gaps. While your thin line of cohorts might be a little bit more vulnerable, the wider frontage of the legion will be much harder to flank. Consider saving a few Strategy Dice to form an orbis defensive formation for a legion that is being overwhelmed on all sides, or perhaps detach the rear line of cohorts from a couple of legions to give your opponents a nasty surprise by forming a brand-new unit– as Caesar used against Pompey at Pharsalus. All these interesting formation changes show how the Roman legion was able to adapt to the myriad of challenges it might face from the deserts of Parthia to the thick forests and mountains of Illyricum.
Despite all their strengths, the legions have vulnerabilities. While they excel in open ground they are poor in rough terrain and can be easily beaten if dragged into unfavourable ground. Legions rarely break, but when they do the effect can be doubly devastating if the unit’s sacred eagle is lost. Care needs to be taken to not allow individual legions to be picked off piecemeal as a single legion routing could potentially reverse the tide of the battle if you were unlucky enough to receive two disaster cards. Making sure you have a spare Defence Dice on your Battle Board will minimise these risks further, but a good Roman commander will be careful at managing these risks and only exposing their more vulnerable weaker legions when the odds favour them.
The legion the Romans are often likely to be heavily outnumbered and will need to consider how best to deal with their opponents. Careful use of terrain can help to minimise the enemy advantage in numbers. Suetonius Paulinus used a defile and woods on either flank to prevent his small battle force being enveloped against the Iceni at Watling Street to great effect. Deploying on a hill and timing your counterattacking charge with precision can also help to balance the odds. Take care not to sit on a hill and wait for the enemy to manoeuvre around you. Against enemy warbands you can take advantage of their broken co-ordination when they advance. Try to hold the line as best you can and be prepared to take on isolated enemy warbands that charge prematurely.
Cavalry tend to be fewer in number in most Roman forces compared to the majority of their opponents. Nonetheless they are particularly useful at guarding flanks and even more useful at delivering the critical counterattack once your opponent commits their main attack and to hack down inflexible warbands that will struggle to redeploy and respond to new threats. In the early period of these rules your cavalry will probably be made up of Celtic, Spanish or German mercenaries. By the Principate this is likely to be well trained auxiliary cavalry. Take care to avoid more mobile enemies who will want to draw your cavalry away from the main line, in this respect the Numidians and Parthians are particularly dangerous adversaries. With such opponents you will need to bide your time and be careful to time your charges. It was a poorly timed charge by Publius Crassus’s Gallic cavalry against the Parthian horse archers at Carrhae that led then into an unfavourable clash with the previously concealed cataphracts of Surena.
Skirmishers might seem a weak unit at first, but they are critical to strengthen the battle line of legions and take the sting out of an enemy charge and maintaining the line when deployed as skirmish lines. On a flank they are a great cheap option to draw off enemy warbands into unfavourable rough terrain and extend an otherwise shorter line.
Auxiliary infantry provide a cheaper option to the legions which are more than capable of holding their own against most opponents. The veteran auxiliaries are particularly tough and can be deployed with confidence as good quality frontline troops as used by Agricola at Mons Graupius against the Caledonians. Auxiliaries also make a good quality reserve. Being drilled, they are capable of responding quickly to threats and manoeuvring to exploit gaps in the enemy lines.
Typically, Roman forces have a high number of Command Points. With many of the units in the army being Drilled, placing large numbers of Command Dice into the Movement Pool can be wasteful. Having one or two in Movement can be useful especially when a poor movement roll leaves a big gap in your main line of legions. As mentioned earlier, a Defence Dice or two is normally a sensible investment. Don’t be afraid to maximise your Attack Dice and really take the fight to your enemy, Many of your battles will be fought with localised superior odds, and being able to re-roll all your battle dice will help to maximise your ability to punch huge holes in the enemy army. Your general is probably best placed either at the place where your attack is going in, or at the point in your line that absolutely must hold! Caesar tended to gravitate to the right flank and support his elite 10th Legion, and the extra Generalship Dice of a commander can help to stack the odds there further in your favour.
The Romans are a very flexible army to have, and their fighting style has the potential to adapt to the wide range of opponents they might be facing. While the might of the legions might seem unbeatable, be aware that your opponent won’t let you live it down if you lose a handful of eagles in one battle!