LNLP - Nations at War

Alea Jacta Est – Cantabrian Wars Scenario DLC


Reviewed by Boggit, 22 February 2013

Developer and Publisher: AGEOD and Matrix Games

Back in December Boggit reviewed the well-received core Alea Jacta Est game – see here for the original review. Recently, AGEOD have added to this excellent game with the Cantabrian Wars scenario. Boggit takes the Grog’s view of whether it is a “Fiery War” or should “Just burn”.

For those gamers with Alea Jacta Est, it is recommended to upgrade to the v1.02 patch. V1.02 adds a number of nice features including tabs for city and fort size, enabling these important values to be spotted at a glance, but most importantly if you want to be able to play Cantabrian Wars you do need to patch to v1.02 from vanilla or from v1.01.

Although the game can be played PBEM, I’ve played the Cantabrian Wars scenario against the AI, which in my opinion is for the most part a very good opponent. In this review I’ve included some AAR from my test to add flavour and to give a feel for gameplay specific to this scenario.

Following Octavian’s victory at Actium, he was at last master of Rome, and free of mainstream domestic rivals. Reserving the governorship of the three provinces of Syria, Gallia and Hispania to himself, he returned control of the balance to the Senate. He then decided to eliminate any pockets of resistance within his area of control, and undertook a campaign of subjugation of the remaining tribes of Hispania (Spain) starting in 29BC. Ten years later in 18BC, after a gruelling, extremely bloody and vicious war, the Iberian tribes eventually submitted to Roman rule.

In this scenario, you can play either the Cantabri (Spanish tribes), whose goal is simply to survive the Roman onslaught, or the Romans who goal is to control every area by the end of the game.

The game area covers the whole of Spain, the Balearic Islands and Southern France, the rest of the game map (not surprisingly) is out of bounds.

In testing this scenario, I played the Romans. I knew that during this period the Romans were a tough professional force and thought I’d make short work of the Iberian sword bait that opposed me. I was wrong.

 

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Thinking I’d made a good start, the Iberians kick me from my siege lines at Segisama

Immediately I marched my main force to attack the Vaccaei tribe at Segisama, defeated the force defending it and laid siege, only to be booted out the next turn by a relieving largely Cantabri force.

Meanwhile, on the Atlantic Coast my other major Army was defeated by an Asturii tribal force of half its size. In the next turn, I found my Atlantic Coast Army under siege and my main force retreating back to the nearest base to recover losses and cohesion.

To make matters worse another of my towns came under siege, with me fielding onlya few scattered Auxilia and Cavalry as a reserve to frustrate this. Fortunately Winter was coming and the Iberian tribes would hopefully fall back to Winter Quarters.

After my initial attack and the Iberian counterattack, I soon found myself going onto the defensive. My problems suddenly compounded a couple of turns later, when the Aquitanians of southern Gaul, encouraged by the Cantabri resistance rose in revolt. What a mess. Whilst I had some very good troops, there are just not enough to have an adequate presence and rebels seemed to pop up everywhere.

Luckily for me the next turn gave me a military option to reinforce with more Legions arriving at Massilia to crush the Aquitanians – but at a price in victory and engagement (a form of political capital) points. Not only that – rebels were starting to take cities in my territory, and with the fall of Brigantium the Gallaecians went into open revolt – all quite the opposite of Octavian’s intention.

Eventually, my counteroffensive started to push back the Iberians but I was beginning to see why this war lasted 10 years and was so bloody.

 

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Although Octavian has finally arrived with yet more Legions, one look at the map shows that my Roman Butt is still tender and bruised.

Without any doubt Cantabrian Wars is a substantial success as a scenario, but even a great scenario can be challenged by history and I did find a few small historical anomalies in the Cantabrian Wars scenario. As a Grog I’m inclined to be pedantic over even small issues when I write about games produced by developer’s – who are in my opinion at the top of their game – if you’ll excuse the pun. There is little doubt that such developer’s produce truly excellent games – AGEOD, JTS, Battlefront, Slitherine (as developers), and Fury Software are all good examples of this, yet sometimes very small flaws get overlooked and find their way into a game. AGEOD is usually faithful to historical accuracy in their games. However, I found a few small issues with the game, mostly due to a generic game engine, which works well for most campaigns of the period, but which struggled a little trying to deal with what was an unusual campaign. I’m being picky – but ask yourself: If that’s all Boggit could find, then the scenario must be pretty good.

History shows that the Iberian tribes in this campaign generally fought by setting a missile ambush then getting away before the Roman heavier troops could engage in close combat. Essentially, this should reflect a shooting phase but no action in the assault phase, provided the ambush was successful. In practice the game engine works well for this period overall, but as a generic game engine for Cantabrian Wars it does not model guerrilla hit and run well in the battle resolution part of the game. In almost every battle my troops fought, there was the shooting element and the close combat element to the battle resolution. How could the lighter Iberian tribes survive the onslaught of the legionaries, when the game engine does not handle this “shoot and scoot” behaviour well? Given the Cantabrian Wars was mostly one of guerrilla warfare, the scenario designers had to be inventive to overcome the limitations of the game engine to achieve a believable operational result resembling the history of the campaign.

The designers seem to have come up with a workable solution by improving the combat strength of the Iberian forces. This gives them a chance to defeat even sizeable Roman units, at least before they start getting really ground down later in the campaign. There isn’t much historical evidence to support Iberian tribal armies regularly fielding quite sizeable forces for the times. Aside from raiders, I tended to encounter some hefty tribal armies ranging from 20-40,000 men in a number of engagements – on one occasion substantially more (close to 70,000 men) – but this and the building of a dynamic strategy into the scenario compensate for the weakness in handling guerrilla warfare by the game engine. It yields the approximate historical result of putting the Romans under a lot of pressure all over the operational area. It might be a bit of an ahistorical decision but it works very well.

 

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So much for the yet to be Divine Augustus. The Iberians force him to retreat after a fierce skirmish.

Another historical anomaly – due to the operation of the game engine – occurred when I managed – on some of my occasional victories – to capture substantial numbers of prisoners, and again occasionally, when a city fell it sometimes fell due to surrender. This is not at all odd for Roman warfare of the period, but the Cantabrian Wars were different to many Roman wars. Massacres were commonplace and surrender wasn’t an option to many independent minded Iberians, who preferred death to slavery – often sadly at their own hands. In game terms, you’d expect to see city/town garrisons either eliminated by storm, siege attrition, or when an effective breach is made and/or field units destroyed when the odds are so great that capture/destruction was inevitable, but not by surrender. The casualties, bloody as they are, should be far worse in this scenario than normal because of the no quarter nature of the campaign. The number of prisoners taken should be substantially reduced. To be fair this is a function of the game engine, and whilst a departure from history it doesn’t really affect the game outcomes in the wider sense, other than perhaps giving me a better treasury than I should have had through selling prisoners.

The other tiny flaw – outside of the game engine and squarely a scenario issue is a graphic one- the Roman garrison of Lapurdum consists of Gallic swordsmen. Fair enough, although the Celtic militia seen elsewhere are arguably more appropriate for a garrison role – but it is extremely unlikely that having been part of the Roman Empire for several generations that they would have fought as naked “Gaesatae” as depicted in their unit card. AGEOD might have had a tenuous argument for them in a scenario set at least a couple of hundred years earlier, but such troops even then – being fairly rare as an élite of sorts – would not have been merely garrison troops. Similarly, Aquitanian Rebel “Pedites” (aka Foot) are similarly depicted, when ordinary clothes, a short spear and shield would be the more likely appearance.

 

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Shortly after Octavian’s reverse another Roman main force gets whacked by the Iberians. I win some other battles elsewhere though. Should I change my strategy?

The Cantabrian Wars is a truly outstanding scenario with lots of events, many seemingly dynamic to the campaign. There is rarely a dull moment as so much tends to be going on, whether a series of raids, a new revolt, or a major invasion. You really need to consider your strategy to cope with your own limited resources, a frequently changing situation and an active AI. As stated earlier, the historical flaws are minute in the context of this scenario, and in the one instance actually help the gameplay achieve a historical result. This scenario is a good one, lives up to the historical campaign and presents a realistic challenge.

The Grumpy Grog says “This is no easy Triumph. Draw your sword and fight this one!”

Discuss this review in our forums >>

 

Recommended reading

Cantabrian Wars at Wikipedia

Cantabrian-War at About.com

Cantabrian War Sources at About.com

Romes Enemies (4) Men-at –Arms 180 –R. Martinez – Osprey publishing

Legions of Rome: The definitive history of every Roman legion – Stephen Dando-Collins (Published 2010 by Quercus – available at Amazon)

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