Review – Augustus to Aurelian

Rating: 4 stars

A2AFrontCoverPrintWhilst many wargamers are content to play with rules they have bought ‘out of the box’, there is a sizeable number of gamers who are notorious for ‘tweaking’ rules, changing them so that they correspond with their own particular view or reading of history. Sometimes, this reaches such an extent that the original rules disappear under the weight of the amendments, and it is magically discovered that a whole new game has been created. Such has been the journey that Phil Hendry has been on, and has eventually led to these rules: Augustus to Aurelian.

As you might expect from rules of this name, Augustus to Aurelian, rather than looking at ancient warfare in its entirety, concentrates firmly on the battles taking place during the Roman Principate, although the author says that they will also work reasonably well from the Marian reforms until the Tetrachy. They are aimed at playing large battles using at least 3 formations of roughly 4 units each (although they will work with smaller forces). The game uses units, which have several defined sizes: Tiny, Small, Average & Large (rather like Hail Caesar, in fact). Advice is given in the rules for playing the game using individually based figures, or using elements.

Troops types include everything you might expect in ancient warfare: formed troops, light troops, skirmishers, cavalry, chariots and elephants. A unit of troops is defined by several attributes:, Size, Movement (distance in inches), Combat Dice, Combat Attack, Shooting Dice, Shooting Attack, Outlook and Rating (Morale). In addition, units have details of their armour and weapons, plus any special rules which may apply to units.

a2a1The central premise of these rules is that ancient armies tended to fight with a certain amount of inertia, based on their initial orders. Once battle was joined direct action from senior commanders was usually required to change the orders of an army or formation. There are four different types of order used in the game: Advance, Attack, Hold and Retire. Each of these general orders defines what the formation is allowed / expected to do within its activation.
Magni Viri (‘Big Men’), are used in the game to command the army, wing, formation or unit, depending upon how good they are. This is a concept which will be familiar to anyone who has read/played Too Fat Lardies rules before.

The game turn sequence uses card activation. The number of cards in the activation deck will differ dependent upon how much control players want their commanders to have. There will be a number of cards for the Army and Formation commanders, two ‘Meridiatio’ cards (Latin for tea break!), cards which affect blinds (for hidden movement), off table forces or special events. In addition, each side will have several ‘Carpe Diem’ cards in the deck. These can be held in a players hand and can be used by the player to activate one of his Magni Viri ‘out of turn’. Each level of Magni Viri has a number of actions he can perform when activated, although this differs dependent upon his level.

The game turn starts by the card deck being shuffled, any reaction tests and compulsory moves taking place and then cards being turned over, one-by-one. If a formation card is drawn, charges are declared and charge responses resolved. Movement is then carried out.
When the second ‘Meridiatio’ card is drawn, the turn stops and all shooting and combat (plus potential Reaction test, Flight & Pursuit) are completed. Once the combat is completed, victory conditions are checked, and if the battle continues, you shuffle the card deck and a new turn begins.

a2a2A unit fights in the form of Shooting or Combat (melee), but is essentially performed in the same way. Shooting and Combat both have combat results tables (CRT). You cross reference the Shooting or Combat attack value of the attacking unit with the armour of the defender. This gives you a number. Modifiers can be applied by shifting columns to the left or down (making the unit harder to hit) or to the right or up (making the unit easier to hit)
You then roll a number of (rather unusually) D10 dice equal to the units Shooting or Combat Dice value, attempting to roll less than or equal to the number in the CRT. Any dice that do so cause casualties. Once a unit has taken a number of casualties equal to its ‘Outlook’, it becomes shaken.
If units are in hand-to-hand combat, once casualties are resolved you then work out who won and the loser is forced to retreat and may break and flee.

Once enough units in a formation are shaken, the formation they belong to becomes broken and will be forced to Retire. If half of the formations in the Army become broken, that army has lost the game. This, of course, is a general rule, and can be affected by the scenario that you are playing.

Other than the basic rules of play, the main rules contain several appendices, which deal with such things as figure scales and basing, game scenarios, optional rules for the effects of weather and some guidelines for play, as well as a bibliography and some designer’s notes.

AGFrontCoverPrintA separate document gives army guides for all armies covered in the period of these rules: everything from Ancient Britons to Germans, Dacians, Parthians, Sassanid Persians, Jewish Rebels and Imperial Rome herself. It is worth noting that these are not army lists – and there are certainly no points on offer. Rather, Phil takes the approach of outlining the stats of each type of unit in an army, and giving a broad indication of army composition, but no more. It is left to the individual player to build his army dependent upon the scenario which is being played, and his own convictions of how his army is ‘supposed’ to look. This gives a lot of freedom to each player, and is perhaps a little too unstructured for some.

a2a3The document set is completed by two sets of card templates, a QRS, some markers and a roster. What is more, the PDF is available either in a ‘standard’ print variant, or as an interactive document for use with a mobile device – a complete electronic rules package which is intelligently thought out and works rather well.

Whilst there is much of Augustus to Aurelian which can be seen as derivative of other rules, Phil has done a great job of pulling together a varied mix of mechanics, given it his own particular touch and created a game which offers a challenge to the commander of ancient tabletop armies. It has moved away from the all powerful, all controlling general of some games and toward the figures of history who planned, issued orders, and then managed to be in the right place at the right time to achieve glory and victory.

Augustus to Aurelian is available to purchase from Too Fat Lardies. It can be purchased in PDF format, as a Tablet edition, or in a bundle of both.

If you want any further information on these rules, you can always listen to the podcast episode, in which I chat to rules author Phil Hendry.

Disclosure: A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher

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