The Romans: A Tactical Guide

The ancient wargames I played in my youth were typified by a somewhat linear style of game where two armies deployed in line of battle and moved to engage an opponent similarly drawn up.  There were, of course, variations on a theme, but as a generalisation the ‘real deal’ was the fight between the opposing centres where the medium and heavy infantry slogged it out.  This could not be described as ahistorical; however, as is so often the case with a wargame, the confines of the table, and the generality of a linear deployment from one edge or another, did lend itself to the more formal large-scale battles.
When playing Infamy, Infamy! It is important for the players to keep in their mind the fact that the game is focused on a skirmish.  When we look at a Group of eight or ten figures, this is not a discrete Legion or Warband.  This is a small number of individuals who probably do not think of themselves as a unit in any sense of the word but are rather a component part of a larger body.  For the Romans this is a small, under-strength Century or a large patrol.  For the Barbarians, the whole force is a single Warband or raiding party, what in many more traditional sets of ancient rules would be represented by possibly one large base of figures or just a couple of small units.

The reason we wanted to create a set of rules for large skirmishes in the ancient period is that we enjoy seeing the detail of the combat.  Where rules for larger battles will assume that our Romans are doing their drill, or the Barbarians are feeding more men into the fight, the purpose of Infamy, Infamy! Is to allow is to take control of that small details of command ourselves. As a result, the game plays (we hope) quite differently and needs a potentially different playing approach.
Of course, this approach can be quite a surprise for people expecting just ‘another set of ancient rules’.  It can also be a challenge.  This is entirely intentional.  We want the you to go through a learning curve as you discover how best to command your force.  However, we also want to be able to help them on that journey.  To that end, we thought we’d produce a series of tactical primers, one for each force in the rules, in order to help you on your way.  Here we start with a look at the Romans.
The Romans are possibly the most sophisticated force on the table in Infamy, Infamy!  They have ‘skills and drills’ that nobody else has in the form of their Drill Manual; they have the well-armoured Legionaries who are tough to kill and very tactically flexible with their options of Close and Open Order.  However, they are also up against a very tough opponent who has a unique weapon in their armoury in terms of Fervour and is also aided, significantly if the Romans are not careful, by their intimate knowledge of the terrain as embodied by the system of Ambush Points.  Let’s make no bones about it; the enemies of Rome are dangerous if not treated with respect.
Selecting Your Force
As a Roman, your force is likely to be of high quality and generally ‘better’ than your opponent.  However, that will not, by any stretch of the imagination, guarantee you victory.  You are likely to be operating in territory which is hostile, even when you control it.  Your opponent is much better equipped to take advantage of his superior fieldcraft to outmanoeuvre you.  However, you can mitigate this by selecting your force with care.  Selecting a purely Legionary force can provide you with a ‘Death Star’ body that is highly effective in combat, but a more balanced force including Auxilia, Tribal allies, cavalry or Eploratores will give a much more flexible force and will, hopefully, allow you to shut down some of the threatening enemy Ambush Points before the game even begins.
Deployment Options
When deploying onto the table, the Romans need to spend more time considering where the enemy could come from rather than where they are.  The Romans have a very efficient force, especially if fielding Legionaries, but their quality is a double-edged sword, the enemy likely having more men as a result.  As a result, consider terrain when both selecting your deployment zone and when actually deploying.
If able to select their deployment zone, the Romans should do so taking into account how much of the terrain on the table this will allow them to scout automatically as a result and, if they have Ambush Points of their own, how these can be used as part of their battle plan.  In the rather extreme example below, we can see that the Roman player, given the choice between the two long table edges, can automatically scout far more terrain pieces, possibly all of those edged in red, and therefore deny their use to the enemy, if they enter on the top table edge. Even if their deployment area was to the left or right on that top edge, the woods on their flank would give them a secure anchor upon which to make their initial deployment.

When deploying onto the table, the Roman player should be aware that his greatest risk is to see his force divided and defeated in detail.  Rushing forward your Auxiliaries or tribal allies from an Ambush Point to try to snatch your objective early in the game can often appear attractive, but it can also gift your enemy some low hanging fruit that he can easily ambush and defeat, leaving you on the back foot from the start.  Romans work better when they operate as a coherent force where the parts mutually support each other.  In an ideal world they will oblige the enemy to fight their best troops, quite possibly the Legion, while their more nimble comrades protect their flanks.
In the image below, we can see that the Romans have deployed the Legion from their ‘perfect’ deployment zone between the woods at the top of the table.  This has allowed them to secure an Ambush Point in the woods and they have used this to rush forwards their Auxilia, Cavalry and skirmishers towards the village, their game objective.  Whilst looking like an apparently large force heading for the village, there is real weakness there.  If the Barbarians attack from the village and/or the wood that is right off-centre, the Roman cavalry will fight but only for a limited time before they fall back to reform.  The Skirmishers will scatter and evade if the Auxilia are attacked as they are within 4” of them.  Very rapidly the over-extended Auxilia could well be overwhelmed, the cavalry much reduced in effectiveness and the Legion obliged to continue the attack with unprotected flanks.

An alternative would be to deploy in a more coherent manner as we see below.  Here we see the Legion are still in their central position.  The skirmishers have deployed into the wood, strengthening the natural protecting that terrain affords, but are still within 6” of the Legion so may use them as a Rallying Point of attacked.  The biggest threat to the Romans comes from the woods to the right centre and bottom.  By placing both the Auxilia on the flank of the Legion and the cavalry refused on their flank, any Barbarian attack from this direction would be risky.  An attack from the woods would have to be made frontally on the Legion, with the Auxilia able to support with javelins as the enemy charge was made.  If no Barbarian attack was forthcoming, a rapid final advance with a ‘Step Out’ could see any threat from these areas negated and the Barbarians left with just the village to deploy from.  Shutting down these Ambush Points is important, but doing it in a measured and careful manner is much safer than simply running at them. But do you have the time?  That will be decided by the scenario.

Effectively, what the Romans have done in the second image is to oblige the Barbarians to fight on their terms, leading with the Legion, their most effective killing machine and protecting that with their more flexible, but weaker, troops as it advanced.
Before Contact
When the enemy do appear on the table, the Roman player should be aware that his foe’s biggest weapon is Fervour.  Fervour provides the Barbarians with a real hard punch, but possibly more important is that it gives them an effective buffer against the impact of Shock.  For the Romans, hard to kill as they are, Shock is what will cost them the battle.  In the early stages of battle the Romans should focus on reducing or removing Fervour from their enemy while at range.  Even simply ensuring that the level of Fervour on the Groups in a Barbarian Mob is at different levels will frustrate and limit the Barbarian player’s options.  It is well worth Darkening the Skies with missile troops to limit the Fervour your opponent has but be careful not to fritter away all of the Signa Cards in your hand as you want to be sure that you can deliver a volley of pila (or two!) when the enemy do make their charge to contact.
In Combat
As we have seen, the Barbarian player’s Fervour is a huge, albeit fleeting, advantage in Close Combat.  Whilst Roman Armour can deflect kills, Shock is harder to avoid, especially if fighting in Close Order.  The Roman player receiving a Barbarian attack should do all they can to tip the scales in their favour in the initial phases of combat where the enemy has that supper-charger of Fervour.  Being in Close Order is a big enhancement to the initial defence as it being Braced to receive the charge.  But that’s just the start.
At all points in the combat the Roman player will be battling against Shock.  Do not hesitate to use Signa Cards to rally off Shock.  Use your drill to Fill Ranks, or use your Triplex Acies if your Republican troops can do that, in order to keep the fighting line full and fresh.   As soon as the enemy has lost their Fervour, break contact by Punching Shields.  This rallies more Shock and gives you a breather to get your men in order.  This is especially valuable if the enemy are winning the combat and getting the additional 2D6 for that.  Breaking contact removes that benefit from them.  Oh, and don’t forget your Optio at the back.  His ability to hold the formation in. place can be a game saver.
Once the enemy have lost their Fervour you can burst out from Close Order into Open Order to really do some damage.  But there is a risk here.  Be careful that you have Filled Ranks and reduced your Shock before you come out swinging.
In a nutshell, the Romans need to keep things tight and fight a disciplined game using their drill at all. Times to gain the edge over their opponent.  They cannot allow themselves to be drawn out by Barbarians attempting to goad them into doing rash things.  There are, to use rugby terminology, no quick and easy breakthrough tries to be scored.  The Romans need to play their way through the phases, keeping things tight and tidy as they go.  When done well, the Romans can look like a well-oiled machine.  However, the Barbarians always have the ability to throw a spanner in the works.  As we will see next time when we look at the Britons.


2 thoughts on “The Romans: A Tactical Guide”

  1. Bartley Butsford

    Oh, goody! The recently rediscovered Roman tactical manual ‘Tacticus Infamia’ attributed to Baracus Lardus Maximus.
    “The Romans have a very efficient force, especially if fielding Legionaries, but their quality is a double-edged sword…”
    Would that be a Gladius Hispanicus by any chance…? Or was no pun intended…? 😉

  2. Bartley Butsford

    “When done well, the Romans can look like a well-oiled machine. However, the Barbarians always have the ability to throw a spanner in the works.”
    Oh dear! Anachronism upon anachronism! ;-b
    This calls into question the reliability of the surviving manuscript of ‘Tactica Infama’ and the extent of interpolations by the scribes of Lard Island Monastery. 😉
    More seriously: All good stuff! Any recommended further reading, please…?

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