Saturday 6 July 2024

A Punitive Expedition

‘What do you mean, the Romans are coming for us?’

‘They are sending a punitive expedition.’

‘Oh, well. If it is puny we don’t need to worry about it.’

.Not puny, sir, punitive. To punish us.’

‘Punish us? What for?’

‘Um, well, we took Muchado recently, which was claimed by the Galicians.’

‘So? That is perfectly normal.’

‘Yes, sir. Except the Galicians are allied to the Romans, and so the Romans are coming to punish us for attacking their ally.’

‘But the Galicians weren’t allied to the Romans.’

‘No, sir, they were not. But now they are, and so the Romans are coming to punish us for attacking their ally.’

‘To whom they were not allied at the time.’

‘No, sir. This is what passes for logic in international relations…’


So, back in Spain with an old scenario, which I played a couple of times with Romans and Dacians. Both times the Romans lost, and I was starting to wonder if I was biased against them. After all, I am on record somewhere as agreeing that the only good Roman is a dead Roman. Still, this is the battle of Temeshvekovar shifted in time and space to northern Spain around 20 BC.

The Romans enter on the road at the bottom left, and their objective is the town on the hill in the far right corner. The playing cards are the Spanish ambushers, in unknown strength at each location – behind hills, woods, and rough going. About one in four cards will disclose a base or two.

When I tried this with the Dacians, they just about managed to defeat the Romans by ambushing on the hill near left, before the Romans got their march column deployed. With this in mind, I modified the Roman tactics, firstly to keep their scouting light horse free from entanglements along the way, and secondly to deploy before the column could be hit by any marauding tribal foot.

A few moves in and the Roman strategy (or is it tactics?) are starting to pay off. The auxilia are proceeding up the nearest hill, to, surprisingly, no opposition at all. The near right-hand rough ground gave two bases of Spanish light horse. I’ve sent the Roman lights on ahead, and am covering the Spanish lights with auxiliary cavalry instead. The Spanish command post on the right-hand front hill is also visible.

A few moves later the Spanish on the hill have been revealed, as have some skirmisher and light horse bases near the stream. The Roman auxiliary cavalry have caught the Spanish light cavalry and are handing out a pummelling, while the legionaries deploy to face the Spanish tribal foot on the hill.

Looking carefully at this position, I realised that, without support, the Spanish on the hill were vulnerable to being surrounded. As Spanish commander, I needed to try to prevent this, and so I revealed the troops across the stream on the Roman right, hoping that they would be more tribal foot and cavalry. Alas not, they were more skirmishers (almost inevitably in a Spanish army, I suppose). The only thing was to beat a hasty retreat from the hill and hope for the best.

The shot shows the Roman foot steadily advancing, while the cavalry from the rear of the column has moved up and is now crossing the road just in front of the legionaries. The auxilia are facing off the annoying skirmishers on the left, while the auxiliary cavalry has seen off the Spanish light horse. One base has rallies under the general and is looking threatening to the withdrawing Spanish, while the other has yet to be issued with orders.

The crunch came when the auxiliary cavalry under the general got onto the flank of the withdrawing Spanish foot and charged. This was one of those messy, swirling combats that occur from time to time using these rules.

In the centre of the picture, you can see the Roman auxiliary cavalry (with the brown disordered markers) which has just routed the tribal foot and skirmishers you can see in front of them. The cavalry have just been hit in the flank by the remaining Spanish tribal foot, however, who managed to get out of the firing line from the charge because their compatriots held out for a turn before routing.

The Roman cavalry was routed in its turn, but the general survived. The newly charged Spanish foot were charged in turn by the lead base of the Roman cavalry which you can see on the left, led by the Roman sub-general. The Spanish tribal foot base was routed, the general was hit, and the Spanish morale went to fall back.


At this point, I stopped the game, as the Spanish were clearly losing. I checked which units were where on the other side of the stream, and the Spanish heavy units were too far away to help. For once, the Romans had survived an ambush. I supposed that the Spanish, being now general-less, would decide that defending the village was not worth the spillage of Spanish blood and would withdraw, while the Romans would advance, burn the place, and also go home.

That was an interesting action, I felt. The card deployment for the Spanish kept me guessing, while actually, it did not really do the Spanish any favours. Perhaps I should have concentrated the Spanish, or at least the heavier infantry and cavalry, into fewer cards, which would at least have given them a better chance against the Romans. The sight of a seven-base phalanx of legionaries advancing over the hill did make the Spanish hearts quail a bit.

As the Roman commander, a more circumspect approach paid dividends, although I did start to wonder whether a time limit on the game might have made them hurry up a bit and risk being caught out, although with the Spanish deployment as it was that was not, in fact, terribly likely. But it is all ingredients for the thinking pot, as it were.

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