Saga: Republican Romans vs Carthaginians

A big thank you to Gripping Beast who provided the Age of Hannibal supplement book, Roman and Carthaginian dice, all gratis. The book includes boards for the Republican Romans, Carthaginians, Nunidians, Iberians, Gauls and Greeks (Epirotes, Syracuse or Magna Graecia).

For a start the Carthaginian and Roman boards will be considered after a couple of play throughs, the second of which is detailed below. Building up a Saga army is a feature of the list limitations of the book and the opportunities provided by the related battle board. Age of Hannibal also offers ruse cards (These can be downloaded from Studio Tomahawk) some of which offer benefits that are linked to fielding certain troop types. The cards cost from 1 to 3 points and an army has a budget equal to the army points value.

Saga 2 still holds onto some of its Dark Ages Saga roots in the Levy class. Broadly they are hard to shift but units of 12 make tarpits that are not worth the reward to the enemy from eliminating them. Field 2 units of 6 and losing 1 figure from each makes them useless. This is a poor match for the light troops we need in Age of Hannibal but the new boards take some steps to resolving the issue. One would expect fast but fragile units that can scout ahead and offer a limited delay to the enemy’s progress. The Roman board buffs Levy with 2 abilities, allowing any 2 infantry to move and another with a defense bonus for any infantry. Carthage can move 2 (or 3 mounted) units with 1 advanced ability and 1 or 2 units can move (short) in the opponent’s order phase (avoiding the fatigue of multiple activations in the same turn). Carthage also has some advanced combat buffs that can apply to Levy units. In addition some of the ruse cards could benefit units including Levy.

The Republican Roman list choices are simple. Triarii are Hearthguard, Hastati or Principes Warriors and Velites are Levy. There must be more Hastati or Principes than Triarii and also of Velites. There is only the option to field a single unit of mounted Warriors. The non-levy infantry have battle board benefits from being in smaller units than their opponent and from not being bought in units larger than 8. A workable army could be 8 Triarii (2 units of 4), 24 foot Warriors (3 units of 8 or 4 of 6) and 1 unit of 12 Velites. That gives 7 or 8 Saga dice including the Warlord.

The Carthaginian load out is a trickier choice. Units are levy, citizen or contingent (Iberians, , Numidians, Gauls, Italians or Greeks). At least 1 unit must be citizen and the whole army could be citizen. Foot Hearthguard are citizens so the citizen category should be thought of as troops with particular loyalty to their commander such as Hannibal’s Italian veterans. Contingent units have a slight defensive bonus on the battle board but are harder to activate than citizens. There are no citizen mounted Warriors so these will need to be contingent. The ‘Encirclement’ ability allows 2 or 3 mounted or elephant units to be activated encouraging at least 3 such units in a Carthaginian army.

Another important factor are elephants. Up to half an army points can be elephants, fielded as units of 1 or 2. Carthage, Numidia and Epirus can field elephants. No warlord can be mounted on an elephant. The Epirote elephants could have been Indian or African. Pyrrhus had been supported in regaining his throne around 297 BC by Ptolemy I. Alexander had come across Indian Elephants at Hydaspses in 326 BC. Also consider the use of a tower. In Saga elephants can shoot like composite bows which suggests modelling them with a tower and the choice of larger Indian elephants to support the tower. Using elephants without towers matches a depiction on a Carthaginian coin of an African elephant with rider but no tower. Dropping towers could be a significant purchase cost saving as they are easier to model and paint up. In such an interpretation javelinmen or bowmen could be placed on the elephant base to represent the shooting element. The same elephant could be used for Carthaginian or Numidian armies but a Numidian crew might be out of place on an Epirote elephant.

Two of the Carthaginian ruses give a benefit to elephants, one of which gives a bigger bonus to units of 2. The Carthaginian battle board also includes an ability to remove a fatigue in melee and another to transfer a loss to a nearby unit. These both benefit elephants who are resilience 2 but when fully fatigued will be lost on a single hit. Neither the Epirote nor Numidian get such a bonus to their elephants. Also Carthaginian elephants activate on Hearthguard dice because they are citizens. Other nations’ elephants activate on Warrior dice so will be more difficult to activate. In summary if elephants can be made to work the Carthaginians would be the best nation to maximise them. Nevertheless the Numidians and Epirotes would benefit from an elephant punch to support their other units.

With a less analytical approach than the Romans; Carthage will field, Warlord, 2 Citizen mounted Hearthguard (2 points), 1 elephant (3), 1 Levy javelin (4), 1 Citizen infantry (5), 1 Contingent cavalry (6).

Here we are set up for ‘Feasting and Pillaging’ from Book of Battles. The object is to carry off the 3 centre table objectives. The terrain is 2 rocky areas, a ruin and a wood (away to the side of the main action). After 1 turn the Romans have pushed as far forward as they can.

The Carthaginians grab an objective with their Warrior cavalry. This unit is now stuck with the loot and counting as in uneven terrain will only move short and gain a fatigue with each move. On the other hand it is one objective the Romans are further away from controlling.

The Romans grab the centre objective and chase after the Spanish horse. Although almost on top of the other objective the Carthaginians prevent the nearby Roman Warriors from activating and moving onto it.

With a combined elephant and Hearthguard punch the Carthaginians knock out a Roman Warrior unit. The citizen infantry take a loss on behalf of the elephant.

One unit of Roman Hearthguard pulls back rapidly with its objective. The other chases the Spanish cavalry and takes theirs. Yet again a cancelled activation prevents the Romans seizing the final unclaimed objective.

Carthaginian mounted Hearthguard seize the centre objective while citizen infantry take the right. Off to the left the Spanish cavalry shed fatigue.

The Roman Hearthguard, rest and fully buffed up regain the centre objective, wiping out their Carthaginian opposite numbers. They now have a short journey to the board edge and safety. Another cancelled activation traps the remaining Roman Hearthguard well up the field.

The Carthaginian citizen infantry move back with the their objective. The remaining Carthaginian units sort them selves out to trap the remaining Roman Hearthguard and their objective.

The Romans move to protect their objective.

The Carthaginians close in, not wanting to take needless losses.

The Romans have the same idea, control of the final objective is crucial.

In a nail-biting finale the Carthaginians charge in with their horse and then their levy. Despite a mass of defense dice the Romans fail every roll and lose control of the objective.

Counting up the survival points: Carthaginian; 9 (Objectives), plus 24 for units, Romans; 6 (Objectives), plus 14 for units. A clear Carthaginian win but holding the last objective with no losses would have added 7 to the Roman total and reduced the Carthaginian count by 3, a re-count of 30 to 27.

Reflecting on how the boards played out the Carthaginians were easier to manage as they fitted in with manoevre and targeted assaults. The ability to to prevent a unit with fatigue from activating at all with a rare dice is a big help. This can prevent a key enemy advance, the unit will retain its fatigue and become a potential target again the following turn. Carthage could instead merely cancel the fatigued unit’s activation with any dice. The opponent could then activate the unit again later in the same turn. In effect both sides are swapping use of 1 Saga die.

The Romans have a selection of advanced abilities that buff combat; many of them in defense. They might want to close ranks in combat (except against elephants who inflict 4 hits on close ranked infantry) hope to take minimal losses then move back into contact on their following turn. This is a trickier but perhaps safer ploy to charging straight in. On a common die Romans can throw their pila either before charging in or before an opponent charges them. A nice tip of the hat to pila tactics but as an advanced ability this will only happen once a turn. Another historical (as far as Saga is a history game) one-off is the ability to move 2 units through other units with a bonus of short to their move reflecting exchanging fresh troops for tired. It is of equally good for running away.

Victrix – Age of Hannibal or Clash of Spears

The skirmish rules Saga Age of Hannibal and Clash of Spears cover the same time and geographical setting. They are skirmish rules based around the armies and enemies of the Roman republic at the time of Polybius.

Polybius writings of around 150 BC includes detailed descriptions of the Roman army at the time. He was a Greek noble who spent years in Rome as a high ranking hostage and accompanied the Roman army during the 3rd Punic War so we can be confident about what he describes. For the Roman army his accounts should hold true up to the Marian reforms of 107 BC. Moving back in time the Polybian model could stretch to a less exact circa 300 BC. With only a little artistic license the same Roman figures can run throughout this 200 year timespan including Pyrrhus (right at the period start) and all 3 Punic Wars.

The Victrix path was the 3rd set of Macedonian and Punic Wars armies built up by your author. The 1st was of 6mm Irregular Miniatures some time in the 1980s and was used for home brew rules before being sold off at a bring and buy. Much later numerous boxes of Zvezda and Hat soft plastic models were built into bases of 1-4 to replace the wooden blocks of the board game Command and Colors Ancients. These images are from a time of lower resolution cameras but show that a fair effect can be achieved with little effort.

Zvezda/Hat Plastics

These definitely looked the business but using the original wooden blocks was less effort and the painted plastics went off on eBay.

Command and Colors

3rd time out and taking a punt at hard plastics. Victrix offer a range of sets for the Macedonian and Punic Wars period. Although cheaper per model than metal alternatives the sprue and packing structure means that models may need to be bought that are not essential to build up skirmish armies. There is also the issue of assembly. Some of the Victrix parts are on the thin side for gaming. Spears and pila are not too bad but some javelins broke on removal from the sprue or during the painting process (during the essential ‘dropped on the floor’ stage). Compared to similar plastic offerings Gripping Beast are the chunkiest, Fireforge relatively solid, Crusader pushing the limits and Victrix going a step too far in flimsiness. There were noticeable flash lines on some of the models. These came off well with a very sharp knife but soon took the edge off the blade making removing awkward slivers of plastic a tricky and time consuming job.

To start off the Roman infantry boxes are a no-brainer. There are 3 boxes with different armour load outs. The Allied Legions and Legions of the Republic II are similar enough to mix in the same unit. Legions of the Republic I are in mail not bronze chest armour so would be the best choice if buying 2 Roman armies and have them fighting each other or running towards the end of this time period. All 3 boxes have 60 models that will run nicely in Saga as foot Warlord, 12 Levy (Velites), 12 Triarii (Huscarls with spear) and 24 Hastati (Warriors with pila) making 7 points. This leaves 6 light infantry left over which could be converted to just about anything with the right heads and shields and some less useful command figures with wolf skin headwear.

Velite, Hastatus, Triarius

The Carthaginian choice is not quite so simple. The Warriors of Carthage mixed bag will work although all the troops would count as citizen not contingent troops in Saga. The 14 light troops will build as 12 Levy with 2 spare. There are 21 Libyan hoplites, not enough for 3 units of Warriors but one of the standard bearers and both horn players from the command sprue can be converted to hoplites. There are 24 veterans in Roman mail and shields. 12 is more than enough as 3 units of Hearthguard. The remaining 12 could be fielded as Triarii, defecting Roman allies or as Roman extraordinarii. With a suitable swap of shields, arms and heads the basic figures could run as just about any heavy infantry of the period. Their dress does assume that they have been equipped from Roman stocks making them most useful for later wars.

Libyan spear, veteran and skirmishes

Some Victrix cavalry boxes come in 12s, others in 16s. The Macedonian Greek Successor cavalry box is of 12. 8 could be used as Carthaginian Hearthguard cavalry or Roman equites or allied Warriors leaving 4 models to stand in as sundry mounted Warlords.

Successor cavalry

Another Carthaginian approach is to build an Iberian (or Gallic or Numidian) army and add a single Carthaginian citizen unit as required. Either the Macedonian cavalry or the citizen infantry pack would work. The Iberian cavalry come in 12s and could run as Hearthguard or Warriors. The figures could be run as 4 Hearthguard and 8 Warriors but they all have similar armour so will need some easy means of distinguishing which is which. Some models could be given cloaks or equipped with spears (which are only slightly longer than the javelins). To make it absolutely clear these Huscarl candidates have been painted in red with white borders and the Warriors in white with red borders.

Iberian cavalry

The Iberian infantry come in bags of 40 armoured or unarmoured but with the same pose and weapon load out in each. A mix of both sprues would be ideal but they are not packed that way. The infantry sprues come with an equal mix of large and small shields allowing all to be built as Saga Warrior or Levy. The weapon layout is not quite so useful if all the scutati are to be built with large shields and throwing spears and the caetrati with small shields and javelins. There are too many javelins and too few good sized spears, one of which would be best used as a thrusting spear. The surplus of javelins is not entirely bad as these are susceptable to breaking. Saga does not differentiate between thrusting and throwing spears but these are different weapon types in Clash of Spears. Some scutati can be modelled with swords or assumed to be keeping their javelins for short range use.

Clash of Spears allows armoured or armoured Spanish ‘Warriors’ but their ‘Levy’ are assumed to be unarmoured. The Spanish armour consists of small bronze plates so even the armoured models would be best described as in partial armour. Any spare Libyan or Velite light infantry can be mixed amongst the Iberians with new heads and shields as unarmoured models. The Carthaginian and Roman bodies are less animated than the Iberian bodies but it does break up the 6 (and 2 command) body outlines of a single box. There are no slings with the Iberian packs but Victrix produce 3 other packs containing slingers. Converting 8 of the Iberian infantry to slingers is achievable.

Iberian infantry, far left Roman conversion

The full line up of Carthaginian, Roman and Iberian armies in ‘Really Useful’ boxes with ferrous paper liners.

Romans, Libyans
Carthaginian veterans and Iberians