Wow, we put a LOT of troops on the table! This is going to be a big game, a good 3 or 4 hours at a guess, and there is still 100pts to add to each army". That was my initial comment to Huw, it would turn out to be very wrong.
I was controlling the EIR, Huw was taking his beloved Barbarians, he has spent about 4 months painting both armies in 20mm plastics, and damn they look good... But Huw isn't an ancients player, he has played a lot of Wars of the Roses with ALP, but so far he has only played a small 200pt game of ancients where i was having an off day and he trounced me without even trying. For this game however we were off to Firestorm Games in Cardiff, with all the figures and 2 decks (all be it of the play test cards still as the official decks arrive next week) and it was going to be a very different battle to what he had experienced before.
Terrain was placed and initial deployment rolls were made, i lost (damn it!) so i would be setting up first, but i would also get the first turn, however, knowing Huw, he would be an awkward git with his deployment so i had really wanted him to set up first. ALP works best at 15mm, but the game we were playing was 20mm, not much of a difference, but the required table size for a 500+pts game creeps up from 6x4 to 8x4, so knowing Huw he would set up on one of my flanks or the other, rather than in the centre of the table, so, me being the fool that i am deployed my Romans in a duplex acies, smack in the centre of the table, my Legionaries would hold my centre, with the 1st Cohort on my left and my Auxiliaries would form up on my flanks, with my single cohort of western archers on my left (to give support to the 1st Cohort) and my single heavy cavalry Ala on my left as well.
It came as a surprise when Huw deployed a huge block of British infantry in the centre of his deployment area and flanked it with massive contingents of slingers, i was expecting it to be on my flank. Then the penny dropped as he deployed 11 bases of chariots and 14 bases of light cavalry on my right, an absolutely massive force, in reality in excess of 200 chariots and 2000 horsemen, typical Huw, i put my strength on my left and he deploys overwhelmingly on my right. I looked at the 3 auxilia cohorts there and had visions of them being turned to chowder in short order. But Huw had made a mistake, he didn't know it yet, but he had made a massive miss calculation about the quality of his forces; he was used to fighting with medieval troops, billmen and men at arms, where a huge sledgehammer block can work, but these were Britons, they were squishy, and he had deployed them as one huge, single unit of 50+ bases, if i broke that i would win instantly... i had to break it first though...
Turn 1 and i threw my legionaries in my centre forwards, 3 out of my 5 cohorts, they would act as a speed bump to slow the advance of that massive infantry force. On my right my 3 cohorts of auxilia quickly deployed into a line to face the massive charge of horseflesh, the only saving grace i had was that Huw had placed the woodland too near to his side of the table for him to be able to sneak units out of it in ambush attacks.
The next 2 turns saw us slowly moving our forces into position, my 1st cohort, another legionary cohort and an auxilia cohort disordered and dashed for my centre to plug any gaps that would appear when the British smashed into my small blocking force (12 bases vs 50). My right formed its spear line, but a horde of skirmishers were starting to nibble at it. My left, hindered by the terrain, was slowly wheeling towards the centre and a hill that Huw had occupied with a mass of slingers who were causing horrible casualties amongst my legionaries and auxilia alike.
On my right my auxilia were suffering. Huw was concentrating his missile fire from his skirmishers onto my centre auxilia cohort, but the real threat were the chariots. In the rules the British chariots are only skirmishers, so pretty weak in combat, but the cards they can play are absolutely horrendous and Huw definitely had them in his hand. The first card played was "Fast and Furious", the chariots raced forwards, their passengers throwing javelins at my lines and then raced away at full speed. Having caused casualties with that card he followed up with "Grizzly Trophy", one of his chariot riders leaping from his rapidly moving vehicle beheads the corps of one of my fallen auxilia and parades in front of the unit, holding the head up for all to see, instantly inflicting a morale hit on my unit and forcing a morale test, he had more cards like this in his deck, and unless i neutralised the chariots they would be more of a threat to me than the light cavalry. But now i had other things to worry about...
In my centre the wall of enraged nutcases struck, breaking against the thin red line of my legionaries. I had maintained the checkerboard formation as my 3 cohorts advanced, 2 up and 1 in reserve and the 2 flanking cohorts took the full brunt of the charge, again Huw had some nasty surprises for me. "Berserk charge", linked with "Ferocious charge". Berserk charge is by far the nastiest single card in the Warband decks, it gives a move bonus, increases the attack ability of the units charging AND allows a second rank of bases to fight as well, this, linked with ferocious charge, which is an armour modifier and the impact ability of warbands, which is another armour modifier, was going to add up to a bad day for my 2 cohorts. The cohort on the right was lucky, a combination of bad rolls and fluffed positioning meant they only got slightly dented by the charge (it still hurt though), the cohort on the left was another matter, they got hammered, losing a base and taking 50% casualties in a single turn of combat, which, for Romans, is disastrous. Unless i supported them quickly my speed bump was going to be destroyed without actually being a speed bump at all.
I quickly reformed my 1st Cohort and my other reserves while the remaining cohort of the 3 that i had thrown forward prepared to charge. I slapped down 2 cards, "Volley and Charge", my legionaries hurled their pilum into the front ranks of the warbands and followed up with a "Heavy Charge", smashing into the British lines and killing hundreds of them... which had absolutely no effect whatsoever, the unit was just too big and they simply absorbed the damage done.
Huw was fishing for cards though, his light cavalry sat and looked at my lines, his chariots did nothing more than turn around to face me (the Fast and Furious card leaves them facing away from the unit they attacked), his slingers and javelins did a little damage, but the turn was quiet... apart from the cohort that was slowly being murdered, they took more casualties and lost another base, even with the friendly unit right next to them they were enveloped on a flank and the extra attacks were taking their toll. Their morale was now at 4, but in my last turn i had drawn 2 "Tough Nut" cards and i played one now so that they would automatically pass their morale test.
My turn came around and looking at the cards in my hand i had the faintest glimmer of a plan, so far i had got away pretty lightly, but that could quickly change, i needed to get my wrecked cohort out of the fight or watch it be destroyed completely and that rescue mission would fall to my 1st Cohort, my veterans, the best unit in my army, which was aimed perfectly at the enveloping flank of the massive warband, but possibly, even more importantly, my western archers were angled against the exact same point of the Britons line. The volley of arrows, against the flank of the unarmoured troops was devastating, they loosed an "Arrow Storm" that shredded nearly every base on the flank of the British horde and my 1st Cohort followed up with a brutal attack that finished off 1 base of troops... 1 base, from this massive horde of 50+ bases, i had one chance, and this was it. The horde took a morale hit from the single base lost, thats a 2+ morale test, not hard to pass, until i dropped "Waiver" and "All is lost" on the table. The Waiver card adds another morale point to the unit and the All is Lost card forces a -1 on the dice during a morale test. Huw needed a 4+ to pass his morale and he only had the 1 re-roll left. If he had the "Heedless of losses" card then he would automatically pass the test, if he had the "Strength in numbers" card then he would add +1 to the test for every base in the unit... +49... so another autopass and i knew that both were in his deck... he rolled a 3 and then burnt his last re-roll, scoring a 3 again!!! The whole unit broke and fled the field, all 50 bases gone, just like that... it was all i could do to maintain a gentlemanly air and shake his hand, though i may have pointed and laughed, i can't remember.
What we had both expected to be a 3 or 4 hour slog fest was over in just over an hour, with a surprisingly realistic outcome. I had definitely come out of it more battered and bruised than the Britons, but a light tap had shattered their glass hammer and Huw had learned some valuable lessons about how to use his Barbarian Horde, lessons which he will no doubt batter me with next week when we play again, but this time with the official cards and possibly a printed copy of the rules or two