Saturday 14 October 2023

Taking Hail Caesar for a spin (WotR)

The Battle of Skenfell Mere 1471.

The recent 2nd Edition printing of the Hail Caesar rules were expanded slightly, pushing them forward to cover the Wars of the Roses period.

I have owned both HC editions, but to date, have not had a game with them, so as I look for some alternative rules to cover my fictional WotR Piggy Longton games, I decided to run a test game to see how it all goes.

I have played a lot of Black Powder and of course HC is a relative, so I was hoping for an easier introduction.

The following post just looks at how the armies are dealt with and a short AAR is included. Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.

The following table is using 28mm Perry figures, a gaming mat from Geek Villain and a tree / pond terrain feature from Andy at The Last Valley. The ditch with dead bodies in, is a scratch built base, inspired by a modelling article in Andy Callan's ruleset - Never Mind the Billhooks.

One of the unknowns of the period, despite it only being 500 years ago, is exactly how the armies of the period were organised. Men were raised and armed locally and then marched to a rendezvous point, where the armies would form up.

Did all of the archers form up into bow only units and the melee troops likewise into heavy infantry units, with commanders then allocated to them or did a local leader take his body of men, comprising of archers and heavy infantry and then keep them together, under his command in battle, fighting as one entity?

I tend to favour the latter, though there may have been a mix of both methods, so that some flexibility and central command was preserved ..... archers at Towton for example!

In their expansion, HC authors also favour the latter and they have created a new type of unit, a mixed unit of bill and bow called the Household.

A typical way of showing such a unit is with three bases, the middle base will be heavy infantry, the two wing bases are bowmen. They fight in line with both a shooting value and a melee fighting value.

There is some advantage for the bow, as a household unit saves on a 4+, whereas longbow unit on their own save at 5+. Both unit types can claim the Marksmen ability.

Anyway, what I had to immediately sort out was how I could get my basing to work with this, which have frontages of 80mm and depths of 50 - 60mm. I wanted a single base to count as a single unit, but that would mean that bill and bow would always be represented separately - not combined as a household.

I decided to keep the 80mm frontage and simply put a bow base and an archer base down, one behind the other and touching to represent household.

To test this out in practice, in my game, I had the centre largely comprised of Household units (though not the MAA, Pike or crossbow units) and then the flanks would be good old standard stand-alone bill OR bow units, according to base type.

Dismounted Men-at-Arms are fielded as small units. This on first sight makes them more vulnerable and less effective than standard infantry, however, they come with the abilities of Tough Fighters, Stubborn and Valiant, so in battle, they are getting some dice boosts, even so, they still don't seem to be the powerhouse units that my previous rules created.

EDIT - Explanation needed. Devil’s Ditch is rough ground with high reed and scrub and so a unit defending it will count as a ‘not clear’ target for ranged fire and in close combat, the terrain negates the charge bonus (thanks to Tony for the prompt).

Anyway, let's get going.

Above - the table layout, this is a 6x4 space. You can click on the image for a better view. The Yorkist side is nearest the camera. The Lancastrian won the die roll and will be player 1.

The game is set up with three divisions (HC terminology) per side and these are representing the historical designations of Vanward, Mainward and Rearward. Each ward has a leader and the Mainward (centre) leader is also the Army Commander. All commanders have a command rating of 8.

Units start well out of bow range and just inside artillery extreme range, so there will need to be some manoeuvre to get the sides into action.

The battle account will be discussed from the Lancastrian Perspective, in terms of left and right flanks etc.

ABOVE - On the Lancastrian right, Yorkist handgunners manage to run up and get amongst the rough ground at the edge of Skenfell Mere, before the Lancastrian wing could get close.

These proved to be tough to shift and Lancastrian Bill took heavy casualties whilst trying.

Above - The first decisive action takes place here as well, as Yorkist cavalry charge and Lancastrians counter-charge, The first round is indecisive, but on the second round, the Yorkist cavalry break and flee the field, though the Lancastrian cavalry are now too weak to press on (with 4 losses) - they need to do some serious rallying.

By the end of play, the Lancastrian right, just can’t make any headway and has to break contact and pull back.

Above - On the Lancastrian left, their men are the first to make to Devil's Ditch and from it's protection, they start to get the advantage in an arrow exchange.

Above - Yorkist infantry (left of picture) try to get around the ditch to assault the enemy infantry, but they become seriously compromised as their attack fails, they are hurled back with high losses and the Lancastrians then cross the ditch and go onto the attack.

By the end of the game, here on the left, the Lancastrians totally smash the Yorkists, who fled the field, allowing the Lancastrians to turn and threaten the centre.

Above - In the centre, the arrow exchange does not give advantage to either side and casualties mount. The Lancastrians decided to attack with their pike and Men-at-Arms. They can't co-ordinate a wider attack because the two household units are disordered (from arrows) and can't move.

Above - Lady Luck is not with the Lancastrians, as Yorkist archery is very effective. Firstly the Mercenary crossbow working with the Pikes suffer heavily and they pull back, allowing the pike to plough on ... but the pike likewise start to take worrying levels of casualties from Yorkist arrows and then more bad news .... the Men-at Arms are thrown back when Yorkist Household counter-attack and assault them!

Above - Viewed from the Yorkist side of the table (green dice). The Lancastrian attack (red dice) in the centre falters and they withdraw to reform - though nothing is properly settled here, both lines are disjointed and hampered by disorder. 

Both sides have taken heavy losses and while the Lancastrian attack here has stalled, their big success on the left is now seeing those flank troops turn inwards to help roll up the Yorkist line.

The writing is on the wall for the Yorkists, they have actually largely held the Lancastrians at bay, but with the collapse of that wing, their position is no longer tenable and the Yorkists retreat from the field to preserve their forces to fight another day.


Well, that actually went very well. This is very clearly a relative of Black Powder and knowing those rules allowed me to very quickly pick this up, but the differences are also there, giving this game its own flavour.

I like that in close combat, the difference in the sides losses is applied as a negative modifier to the Break Test taken by the loser. This helps translate very successful attacks into meaningful defeats on the enemy.

I kept looking at the losses, thinking 3 is bad (echoes of Black Powder), but at 3 losses, there is still mileage left in these units, though there is a goodly difference between being fresh and having 3 hits in terms of the expected longevity of such units.

I have been using Swords & Spear rules and also Never Mind the Billhooks in previous WotR games and within the limited experience of today's game, I think I am already preferring the Hail Caesar set.

It nicely handles the size of game that I like, the standard infantry moves 6" (potentially out to 18” with 3 moves) and bows shoot 18", so the 6x4 is fine and the 'divisional' approach to army structure works well for the WotR game, with van, main and rear wings handled well, with them each having their own thing going on, remote from everything else, but ultimately the fate of a division feeds into the outcome for the entire army.

I didn't feel that any of the outcomes were a given. If the scenario were replayed again, a different outcome could easily  be possible.

In terms of performance some basic unit stats can be similar and so as with Black Powder, using the unit attributes to personalise the units is important to giving increased feel and connection to the game.

Combining two bases, front and rear for Household units did work, which I am hugely pleased about as I have no intention of going down a re-basing route. It maintains frontages, though increases mass and of course costs me another base, but I think it also enhances the look of the game.

Likewise, just using a single base as a unit (sort of Impetvs style) is fine and it was nice to see that there is a tactical ability within that umbrella of a divisional formation that I would want to see in my Piggy Longton games ... for example when the bill unit attempted to enter the Mere feature to take on the handgunners, there was a ton of local stuff going on there for a few turns, that really made it feel like it was its own individual part of the battlefield.

The often cited dislike of these systems is the rolling for orders and the repeated failings due to unlucky dice, resulting in units or entire formations just sitting there from turn to turn. 

I had a number of failed order rolls, but I actually like that chaos element of the rules and as the sides close, the Proximity rule can take over anyway, so the impact on failed orders is often more about the manoeuvre stage and it does inject a dynamic into the game.

In this game the Lancastrians made it to Devil's Ditch first and took advantage of its cover, but with the possibility of failed orders as a 'thing', there is no guarantee that player 1 is going to reach something first. 

The same kind of luck shone on the handgunners who got into the Mere quickly and from there, had a big impact on what subsequently happened on that wing.

One additional rule that I did add (and will think about some more) was the rule used in the ACW and Napoleonic supplements for Black Powder and that is that a unit that moves more than once, cannot shoot in the upcoming shooting phase. It might be more important in a wars of the Roses type setting because of all that powerful archery - but it is an area that I will keep my eye on - perhaps it should not apply to skirmisher types ..... or perhaps it is simply not needed in the first place.

As a first playing, I know that I have likely missed a ton of subtlety by being only briefly familiar with the rules, but I am enthused enough to dive back into the rule book and drag out some more nuance / detail for the next game, probably running the same scenario so that I can benchmark any differences.

Resource Section.

My sister webspace ‘COMMANDERS’ is being re-configured to showcase various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and gives a flavour of where current projects are up to. Link.