Alea Jacta Est – Spartacus Scenario DLC

Author: Boggit

Developer and Publisher:  AGEOD and Matrix Games

In December Boggit reviewed the core game Alea Jacta Est, which offers the same game mechanics as Birth of Rome – you can see that original review here http://grogheads.com/rev-aje.html. AGEOD/Matrix has complemented this outstanding game with the Spartacus scenario, so Boggit takes the Grog’s view of whether it should “be crucified” or “granted a Rudis.”

For those gamers with Alea Jacta Est it is recommended to upgrade to the v1.02 patch. This is not necessary for those players using Birth of Rome only since V1.02 is the standard version shipped. 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 Spartacus 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 Spartacus scenario against the AI, which in my opinion is for the most part a very good opponent. As with my sister review of the Cantabrian Wars scenario I’ve included some experiences as a kind of AAR to add flavour and to give a feel for gameplay specific to this scenario.

In 73BC the legal status in Rome of a slave was simply that of a chattel. As “property” a slave was incapable of any legal rights and a slave owner could treat a slave as they liked without limitation. In73BC Spartacus, a gladiator then living south of Rome in the Neapolis area planned to escape from a gladiator training school along with some 70 other gladiators. They were betrayed, but fought their way out setting the scene for the Third Servile War. After some initial successes against local militias the gladiators were ultimately defeated by Marcus Crassus. Nonetheless, they gave the Roman state several years of trouble. In the end, after a final battle in which Spartacus was presumed killed, the survivors were brutally crucified as “an example” to would be slave rebels. This revolt so shook the Roman world that subsequently legal limits were set upon how slaves could be treated. This was the last Servile war in Roman history, so Spartacus’ legacy had (to some extent) a lasting positive effect on the treatment of the slave strata in Roman society.

In this scenario, you can play either the Slaves, whose goal is simply to survive, or the Romans who goal is to kill Spartacus and eliminate all Slave rebels at minimum cost. The Slaves get a victory bonus by evacuating the peninsula (AGEOD here giving a nod to the views of Plutarch) and by taking cities.

The game map covers the whole of Italy (including Sicily) and Dalmatia, the rest of the game map is out of bounds.

In testing this scenario, I played the Slaves vs the AI. I’ve largely done the review in an AAR style, since when looking at an individual scenario it gives more a more personal engagement with the scenario than a brief overview.  I knew that during this period the Romans initially facing Spartacus were second line troops and that it would take some time before the tough Legions could be brought to bear. The game lasts for 70 turns, which is a long time to need to survive. So what to do? My strategic plan is a choice of fighting the Romans to liberate the slaves by taking Roman cities, seeking freedom (?) by escaping from Italy or a combination of the two. I chose the combination strategy on the basis that it offers flexibility if I am thwarted early on, and to keep the AI off balance as to my intentions.

At the outset, I have the benefit of the initial revolt. The benefit, such as it is, is that I get Spartacus – a very able general, and a decent core force of 2400 experienced gladiators. I also get some other light troops, which won’t last long against armoured legionaries. On the flip side I’m up against Caius Glaber and a couple of Urban Cohorts. Historically, Spartacus killed Glaber and his cohorts, which inflamed the revolt. If my two pronged strategy is to work I’ll need more troops, so Phase One is to tackle Glaber and perhaps take Neapolis, before scouting an exit and waging a guerrilla war – fighting Rome in a field battle against regulars is going to be suicide.

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I’m Spartacussss…! And these are my Boyz!

Glaber slips away to Capua, so I besiege Neapolis with Spartacus in the hope that it will capitulate quickly. In the meantime the revolt is expanding with recruits starting to flood in. With my main supplies with Spartacus and the siege force, I despatch Crixus, the Slave cavalry and Oenamus to expand territorial control, to pillage and raid. I can’t adequately supply them, so let them forage and put the Romans off balance. It sort of works, Beneventum and Luceria fall and a revolt arises from my cavalry raid into the toe of Italy. The only downside is that Glaber with 11,500 troops defeats Oenomus with 2000 in a large skirmish. Still, Oenomus lives to fight another day and as Glaber has retired to Capua, Oenomus raids south, meanwhile Crixus raids north.

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The revolt is spreading quickly. Unfortunately the Slave cavalry raiders have been destroyed by the Metapontum garrison.

The revolt is progressing well despite some minor defeats at the hands of numerically superior forces. I do actually achieve a victory with Oenomus in the heel of Italy over actual legionaries (even if they are provisional and kill more of mine than I of theirs, but it’s still a victory). Finally the scenario forces my hand and makes me decide on my strategic options – a nice touch. I’m going to cut my losses and try to break out of Italy doing as much mayhem on the way as I can. If I stay, I face the might of Rome and am likely to eventually be ground down by superior forces. If I go now I might get out before the Romans can build enough legions to flatten me.

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Go North, Stay South? Decisions have a political and strategic impact on the game.

I start the drive north aiming for my exit point at modern day Trieste, but am blocked by Legions and am defeated. I’ll have to try another route. The campaign now is all about getting out of Italy, but my efforts are constantly frustrated by the Romans setting up blocking positions. It’s frustrating. Time is against me. I have Crixus on the East Coast besieging Sena Gallica (Ancona) and Spartacus besieging Rome now simply because they are blocked from moving north. Finally there is a showdown between Spartacus and Publius Publicola who previously had given Crixus a defeat when he’d try to break north. I’m generally blocked, so I’ll try to join Crixus and break the deadlock with a bigger army. Unfortunately the next turn Crassus makes a deal with the Senate and raises a consular army. The more delay the more trouble I’m in.

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Spartacus defeats Publicola, but is it enough to resume the breakout north?

I try to break away from Rome with Spartacus to link up with Crixus, meanwhile sending slave cavalry to raid and pillage in northern Italy and Dalmatia. Unfortunately Crassus catches me with his new army, but I win – for the moment. Get away to the province of Narnia a bit closer to Crixus – perhaps Aslan the lion will help Spartacus? Crixus is still stuck in the siege of Sena Gallica. In the south I get more recruits, which I leave to raid unoccupied Roman provinces as a distraction, and Metapontum falls to the Slave revolt.

It’s not long before things in the South turn nasty, Metapontum is stormed by the Romans and Crassus turns South. In a way that is good, since Spartacus has joined Crixus but remains blockaded at Ancona. Hopefully he can now break away from Italy with the bulk of the Slave army. Time goes by and my units in the south are gradually hunted down by superior forces. Worst of all Crassus is coming north and I’m unable to break from the siege at Ancona. The Romans decide to crucify captured slaves as an example and Spartacus loses a morale point – although when you think of it, I suppose it could be interpreted the other way too, as it has become clear that surrender isn’t really an option for wavering slaves.  Still I have prisoners too and if the Romans think they can play that game, then Spartacus can too. We select the option to have our own parody Circus games to undermine Roman morale…

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Die Romans! You crucify our prisoners and we’ll play games with yours! This is not a “nice” war.

At last Spartacus’ forces capture Ancona, and fortuitously Bononia surrenders to Cannicus and his mounted brigands clearing an escape route for Spartacus and the main force. He marches to Tarvisium, but his force is exhausted. Time to rest and recover cohesion. We are behind a river line, so that helps defensively. To add a little security to this exit route we build a Castrum at the painful loss of 10 Victory Points. Hopefully, this will delay Roman pursuers, especially as the northern garrison has now activated. The remnant slaves in the south are now only partially supplied, so it’s time for them to break to the north whilst they still can. Spartacus following his last victory also gets an option to free prisoners, which we do, getting a new élite unit, several line replacements, and a national morale point!

The plan is now organising the rearguard and moving to the exit point at Trieste. Gradually the withdrawal takes place screened by bandit cavalry. It turns out that building the Castrum as a road bump was a good idea. Crassus, with the main Roman army, and supported by two more armies lays siege to it after a rapid pursuit up the Italian peninsula. Spartacus might just make his escape…. The next turn is interesting: Crassus has stormed the Castrum and advanced, destroying the bandit screen under Cannicus. However, Spartacus has reached Trieste, built an Oppidum, a depot, and has despatched the first evacuees for 25 victory points. The next few turns will be decisive. Finally, Crassus comes for Spartacus with a 75,000 man army against some 29,500 under Spartacus. Against the odds, Spartacus wins the first round, but is ultimately ground down and defeated by Crassus’ overwhelming forces.

Retreating to Histria with his remnant forces, Spartacus awaits the end. Despite having killed a third of Crassus’ force, with some 3,000 survivors he is outnumbered 12:1 by Crassus and there is a Roman force to the south at Salonae. The strategic balance is now overwhelming against him and there is no way out, save to go south. Spartacus tries to escape through Dalmatia, but the 15,000 army at Salonae intercepts him and finally he is killed in battle. A turn later the scenario times out and Spartacus gets a minor defeat on points, since neither side achieved their territorial objectives.

The Spartacus scenario is not well-balanced for players, but it reflects history very well which is what a historical scenario is about. It’s a lot of fun and having got two evacuation groups away from Trieste, I felt I’d achieved more than Spartacus did in reality. I think my strategy was reasonable, in aiming for a break out, but fighting a guerrilla war in the south was a viable option in the medium term. Do I recommend the scenario? Yes, I do. It’s a “different” spin on Roman operational war and is actually a challenge. The Romans are ultimately overwhelming, but a victory of sorts can be achieved with a bit of luck and planning. Whilst I was beaten in the end, it was an intriguing game.

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Spartacus’ Last Hurrah! Crassus with overwhelming force continues the assault until Spartacus is forced to retreat with a remnant force and final doom.

The Grumpy Grog says “Break your chains! This is better than dying in the Coliseum!”

Recommended reading

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spartacus

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Servile_War

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcus_Licinius_Crassus

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