Sunday, 21 August 2011

Hail Caesar

Over the past month at the Sheffield club we have been play testing with Hail Caesar. While not unhappy with Impetus I have started to find it limited when trying to refight scenarios and the flexible nature of Hail Caesar appealed to me. I did plan to write a series of postings reflecting on the different game elements but I’m really busy at the moment and know I won’t get round to it.

We have fought three battle. Two medieval including a refight of Tewkesbury and one ancient, which was a refight of the Battle of Bibracte. I forgot to take photos of the first two but scattered throughout are photos of Bibracte.

Hail Caesar is an ancient version of Black Powder. The one game of Black Powder I played put was enough to put me off it so I didn’t have high expectation for Hail Caesar.

I didn’t like the command/movement system in Black Powder. The idea of having to tell my opponent my orders before I know whether they have been carried out didn’t sit well. If the orders fail then they know my intentions and can react to them. While the same command system is in operation on Hail Caesar, I don't have as big an issue with it as the orders are generally a direction of travel for the troops as formations are more set in ancient battles. In the horse and musket period the formation of the troops determines their firepower and I didn’t like telling my opponent where I planned to line up.

The movement system is interlinked with the command system and is the most flexible of any set of rules I have played. Basically you say where you want your troops to go and then throw against their commanders rating and depending on how low you throw they will either not move or move up to three times. There is no measuring for wheels or about faces you simple reposition the troops. This makes the movement very dynamic but does leave it open to exploitation.

Rick Priestley declares up front that this is a set of rules that he plays with like-minded individuals based on their interpretation of history. The rules are able to be loose because they all know each other and tend to play with an umpire so disagreements are easy to resolve. This makes the rules impractical for tournaments and I fear for most wargamers who vary opponents regularly, without a shared understanding (right or wrong) of how ancient battles were actually fought, there will be disagreement.

The combat system is alright. There are a lot of dice and a range of factors to build in. Basically each side throws to work out the number of hits, then each side makes saving throws, the side that inflicts the most hits wins. A friend of mine once made the only favourable argument I have found convincing for WAB: "it tries to represent the different weapons and fighting styles of the different troops." This is also true of Hail Caesar. In comparison to rules like Impetus where as many of the units fighting characteristics are forced into a single value, its VBU, Hail Caesar allows are much greater diversity. This is something I like in principle but where Impetus represents different factors by the number of dice thrown, Hail Caesar modifies the score needed to hit. This gives the modifiers a greater impact on the outcome which, while the historical accuracy can be debated, players moving from one set of rules to another may find difficult to swallow.

The flexibility of Hail Caesar does make it easier to write and play historical refights. Playing scenarios normally requires some deviation from the written rules and the principle of adaptation runs throughout Hail Caesar. However, the first army list book is due out next month and I fear that once that is released it will restrict appetite for historical refights as players will be able to see which side has a points advantage.

Overall, I prefer the command and movement system to Impetus, I am on the fence about the combat system but lean slightly in favour of Impetus. I like the flexible nature of the rules but feel that this will be lost once the army lists are released.

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