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.


  1. Glad you enjoyed your first outing with HC, when I played originally I could not take to them, something just didn't click. When we tried again, I had with 2nd edition in the horizon, watched several games on UTube and started to get to grips with them and with HC2 being a bit more clear with it's explanations I am now enjoying using the rules immensely. I like the household approach and it's good to see it appears to work in practice.

  2. Hi Phil, I was interested that you started using them after using your Neil Thomas conversion for so long and having regard for the size of game you were playing - which is a good fit for me.

    Afternoon having my first game under my belt, I think I need to go back into the rules and have a deep read now. Pre-knowledge of Black Powder gives a somewhat superficial appreciation of the system.

    I am really liking a lot of things in there. It does seem to be missing a decent play aid though, I may have to make one.

    1. IIRC the QRS is the same for HCII as the original HC, as I too was looking for an updated one.

    2. Thanks Steve, I will chase that up.

  3. Glad to see you enjoyed your first outing with HC, Norm. I have yet to play the first edition but am very much looking forward to it. Your post moved it higher up the list for me :)

    1. Hi Steve, I have two interests for these, 1066 and Wars of Roses and the then the possibility of the next Epic release being Roman based, which is a lot of period for just one set of rules - a theme that I am currently exploring.

  4. Great looking figures. HC is different from BP is several ways and I enjoyed my one recent outing with rules.

    1. Thanks, my collection was given a lovely boost by a kindly donation from a fellow blogger who is no stranger to a brush.

      I would like to get this back to the table quickly, so that I get a bit of momentum behind the rules learning.

  5. A interesting battle and a great read. I have HC 1st edition when /i was on a spree of buying lots of rules to try out but my focus has shifted to my own rules. I still want to get back to playing with varied rulesets and HC is definitely on the short list. Of course, I will be trying them out on a 2'x2' and have some notes somewhere on how to do that with HC. Speaking of 2'x2' - playing on a 6'x'4'! I hope your back held up well for it.

    1. Hi Shaun, my two most recent figure games took too long to play and standing at the table did become a problem, that was a prime motivator for me to put the HC out, to explore whether I could bring that game time down …. and it did.

      I don’t really know what the differences between editions are, other than I got 2nd because Wars of the Roses is a prime period for my interests. I think a lot of people would like to see you get HC to a 2x2 :-)

  6. Great looking game Norm...lovely to see your splendid WotR figures back in action! I have played both HC and BP a couple of times and found them "OK" but not great. What has prompted you to look for an alternative to NMTB? They were " the next great thing" when they came out a couple of years back....everyone was using them!

    1. Hi Ross, NMTB give a really nice game, but for my personal purposes it has two drawbacks. Firstly my basing is fixed multi figures and the system uses single figure removal, so I need to do a bit of maths with markers, no big deal, just a bit less intuitive.

      But the main issue for me is that the system easily brings situations of commanders fighting each other, with the result of one dying. For my fictional Piggy Longton campaigns, which builds up characters, that becomes too much leader churn … though of course, as I write this, it suddenly occurs to me that I could ignore the rule … doh!

  7. Replies
    1. Thank you Michal, always nice to see the medieval figures on the table.

  8. Interesting. I never took to BP HC or the Pike and Shotte one, but I’d struggle to say why. I’d play NMTBH by choice…but after your article I’ll go back and have another look at HC.

  9. Hi JB, I am exploring the three WG rule books in a holistic way as being a common series that can hit a lot of periods.I think the secret with them is to try and break up any sense of generic rules by introducing abilities to some units, such as Valiant etc and perhaps also using scenario rules to bring additional flavour. I always thought BP and HC were ‘very’ similar, but they are just as different as they are similar if that makes any sense.

  10. Norm, enjoyed that read. I have been busy painting and basing 15mm WOTR for Test of Resolve ( not played yet!) but I’ve also watched a number of play throughs on YouTube by 7th son and they’ve certainly got me interested in HC2.I have the book and you’ve certainly encouraged me to give them a read. Also if the anticipated next epic release is Hail Ceaser then it could be ideal.

  11. Hi Graham, the good money for the next Epic release seems to be on something Roman related and that if the other releases are anything to go by, will be supported by a HC rulebook.

    7th Son does seem to get good narrative type games from HC, which is what interests me.

    I have only watch one Test of Resolve video and it seemed to have a lot of ‘column’ type formations in it, I couldn’t work that out.

  12. Norm, yes Test of Resolve looks odd when the archers fall to the rear of parent unit. I don’t mind the two bases deep it looks of but 4 does look odd. I will most probably try and tweak it when I try a game if it’s worth it and yes the epic Hail Ceaser I’m sure will be Roman, I’m hoping for Marian so civil wars will be on the agenda and quick to establish the armies.

  13. I never thought of civil war, that would make a big difference to Warlord Games, as the number of different sprues needed would be reduced …. I was hoping for elephants :-)

  14. I always enjoy your search, discovery, testing, and discarding of rules in your quest for the "perfect" rules. I hope that HC meets your goals and requirements over the long haul.

    You make a good point on choosing a set of rules. One criterion must be, do they meet your perception of how battles were actually fought? WotR combat is no exception. Without having the breadth of knowledge of some of your readership and your national interest, I tend to view combat in this period as local leaders forming companies within a battalion structure. Completely opposite to what you prefer and HC models.

    Here is a link to another set of rules that might fit into your combat model assumptions from a discussion on the SoA forum:
    It may be of interest or not!

  15. Hi Jonathan, I hope to stay with HC long enough at least to get properly acquainted with them. Perhaps at that point I can return to this scenario and do a comparative evaluation.

    In the game, I forgot to use the Marksmen attribute (re-roll one failed missile attack dice), which would have made the archery more effective and likely compelled the lines to close to contact faster - who knows! Both sides had similar archer numbers and in the real battles, there is a belief that because of this, the advantage of archery tended to cancel itself out. So a replay would interest me to see if that compulsion to advance to contact is replicated (earlier than it was).

    Someday, somebody will come across a document somewhere that will add to the little that we know on how forces were put together and deployed ….. I wish they would hurry up! :-)

    thanks for that link, I shall check it out now.

    1. Jonathan, I recognise the title, these were reviewed in the Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy magazine a couple of issues ago (perhaps issue 125). I had meant to download them at the time, so that is a timely reminder.

    2. In my text, I mention Towton as an example. Lord Fauconberg was in charge of the Yorkist vanguard and he orders ALL archers forward to take advantage of the prevailing wind. My mentioning of it was to highlight that there isn’t a simplicity to a local Lord having absolute control of ‘his’ men, but rather a tiered system of command and formation existed and that there was an inter-play between them (probably ensuring that the whole business remains as clear as mud to us :-) ).

  16. A great review of your game and the benefits of sticking with one 'core' set of rules, or at least game mechanics, rather like you are trying to do with your boardgames. We were talking about this at the show yesterday and as we get older and hopefully wiser, sticking with those 'core' sets means you can focus on the games rather then spending too much time trying to find 'that rule' somewhere in the text.

    As for archers moving and shooting, certainly in a skirmish type formation it is very, very easy to do, with no need to pause and form up etc. I'm not sure how well trained the archers were at this date, but during the 100 Years War they were expected to be able to hit a running rabbit, but sadly can't remember the distance!

  17. Hi Steve, hope your show and game went well yesterday.

    Yes, I think reducing down to some core sets has big advantages, accepting that there may be some compromises along the way, it is still a good choice of gaming style.

    I have given some further thought to the move / shoot thing and have decided that limitations certainly shouldn’t happen to skirmishers, but the nature of longbow units still has me thinking that a limitation on them might be worthwhile, but as always, there will likely be a bit of a gap between what is in my minds eye and what works on the table :-)

  18. Great looking battle Norm and your collection is making me think I should start my WoTR collection ?

  19. Hi Matt …. It’s been on your want list for a while, so perhaps as the Napoleonics fill out, these could take up some of the slack :-)

    I’m really surprised that the Perry’s didn’t put out a starter set for WotR is the way that they did for the ACW, as they have the full range of figures in plastic and a building that could be bundled.

  20. Great to see a 28mm battle on a 6 x4 board on your blog! I'll be playing boardgames next! Obviously I'm with you on sticking to Blackpowder/ pike and shot/ hail Caesar, it just gives my ageing brain a chance of remembering what's going on!
    Best Iain

  21. Hi Iain, it’s been a while since these have been out, so it gave me a very pleasant afternoon and highlighted what needs painting next.

    The total period coverage of HC / P&S / BP and their inter-related systems, is a real boost in just getting games to the table.

    Look forward to your boardgame :-)

  22. Glad you're trying out HC 2nd edition. Our group in Utah (WFHGS) has played it a few times now and really enjoying it. We've done a couple of War of the Roses battles with 6-8 players and it's been fun and a bit different than our ancient games in 1st Edition. Our first playtest has been written up in our on-line magazine Warning Order #63. Looking forward to your posts on the WOR of course.

  23. Hi Mark, thanks for dropping by. I enjoyed your table and figures in Warning Order issue #63 and thought it gave a good sense of the period. I quite like that the WotR section in HC2 is set out almost like a separate chapter and it feels like the author has given some thought to accommodating the period, rather than it just being a generic add-on.

    Also thanks for all your efforts in keeping such a fantastic magazine going.

  24. Fabulous looking game Norm, loving the dead figures in the swamp! May have to copy that.

    I have played quite a few games of Hail Caesar and it is a favourite of my best mate. For me I felt it gets a result but I still was not satisfied with it, with a few local tweaks it could improve. I am not in agreement that the units were mixed as the English copied the Breton ordonances Organisation.

    Look forward to your next game


  25. Hi Matt, I saw the ‘bodies in the ditch model’ in the modelling section of the Never mind the Billhooks rules, so I also borrowed the idea :-)

    Interesting comment on the Breton Ordonances. It fascinates me that there remains such an open question on the subject, you would think that there would be enough prime evidence for us to just know! I think I may restrict the number of household units in play as they are almost too efficient.

  26. Ah, a great review of the rules and it reminds me that I did, in fact, pick up HC 2nd ed. a few months ago - and only skimmed through it, but did see the WotR addition. Your game has inspired me to try it out with the WotR stuff I've had sitting collecting dust for several years. The last time they were out they were used with Lion Rampant.

  27. Hi Dean, your stuff would look a treat on the table :-)

  28. Great write up - Hail Caesar is a big win for us in the Shed as the rules can deliver a big multiplayer game in an evenings play. Only played WOTR once with Hail C and then Billhooks arrived. At some point we will dust off the figures and use HC to refight some of the iconic battles

  29. Hi, I very much enjoyed the first outing and know that I likely missed some nuances, which should come through in some more games. A Bosworth on your table would be tremendous :-)


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