Viriathus, Enemy of Rome

Following on from my recent Punic Wars gaming, I found myself stuck at home having to self-isolate. Tom WD suggested a Zoom game to cheer me up so I got organising. Of course, this meant that I’d just have to use my own collection, so I plumped for the fascinating campaigns of Viriathus.

Left: Viriathus and his bodyguard cavalry fight a losing battle against the Principes.

Viriathus (Viriato in Spain and Portugal) was a charismatic Lusitanian warrior who caused serious problems for the Romans during their occupation of Hispania in the 2nd Century BCE. He comprehensively defeated a Roman force under Praetor Caius Vetilius at the Battle of Tribola (we gamed this in 2017 at the Hereward Wargames Show in Peterborough using Simon Miller’s To The Strongest rules – game report, historical background and photos from this one can be found here: ).

L-R: Viriathus plus chieftains Audax and Ambon. Viriathus and Ambon are from Crusader Miniatures, the others are all Gripping Beast.

I set up a simple scenario based around the Tribola battle, with the Romans attacking a Lusitanian force in the open but with some of the Iberian warbands being concealed on the flanking hillsides and appearing later on during the game. Tom WD messaged me his deployments for the Spanish, while James D (playing the Romans) just adopted a standard triplex acies formation as Vetilius deployed his troops for battle. He was aware that it was hostile territory so kept the cavalry and Triarii handy to cover any sudden appearances!

Roman Commanders Praetor Vetilius and his legate, Marcus. As we can see, Marcus isn’t too chuffed at being posted to Hispania when daddy promised him a comfy job in the Senate.
Initial Roman deployment – two ‘legions’ with cavalry covering the flanks.
The Lusitanians take up position with a force to goad the Romans into the attack with light cavalry, slingers, warriors and Viriathus and his bodyguard in the rear.

We were playing my own Midgard rules again (still testing out ideas) and were experimenting with a couple of new concepts for this game. I’d reduced the Spanish warriors’ attach dice but increased their speed to create a slightly different dynamic to the warbands given their reputation for guerilla warfare, and the ‘Replacement’ trait for Roman manipular formation was also due for another run-out. However, I imposed a penalty on the Triarii to simulate the fact that, if they got into combat, the Roman army would be in trouble. The game uses Reputation to record victory and defeat, and I decided that the Romans would forfeit a Reputation token if the Triarii got into combat, or double that if the combat occurred before any of the Hastati and Principes in the legion had seen action.

The hillsides are full of danger in Lusitania! (My son appeared and decided to add a wolf from my Middle-earth collection into the cave. We decided that any unit encountering this would have to take a Command Test).

I don’t think that James was particularly surprised when some Lusitanian warbands and caetrati under the command of warleader Ambon appeared on the hillside. Marcus promptly wheeled part of his legion to the left to cover this flank, which was an easy manouvre thanks to the Romans’ drilled trait.

Romans advance strongly in the centre and the Lusitanian light cavalry are beaten back.

Roman allied cavalry ride up to deal with the Lusitanian flank attack. Surprisingly, this newly-painted unit acquitted itself well!

The flank attack on the Roman left stalled due to poor leadership, with units not carrying out their orders and Ambon (only a Level 1 Hero) unable to do much about it. This resulted in a combat on Roman terms, with casualties on both sides. Ambon was killed by a Roman pilum and the warbands started to sense defeat.

At this point, the second Spanish ambush (on the Romans’ right flank) was unveiled – two units of slingers emerging from the rocks and trees. Vetilius despatched a pair of units of Velites to deal with them.

More slingers emerge from the woods.

Tom committed Viriathus to the fight, hoping to break his way through Marcus’s legions to the Triarii. However, the Lusitanian cavalry suffered badly and were cut down to a man. Viriathus survived, losing a point of Reputation for having his guard killed around him!

Having escaped the killing of his cavalry, Viriathus joins a fresh warband.

The big fight in the centre continued apace, with the Romans beating back the Spanish. The flank attacks had failed to create the disorder that Viriathus needed for a breakthrough and his men were now being ground down by Roman pressure.

Audax leads the warbands against the Romans.

Praetor Vetilius takes command of the melee and drives off the Lusitanians in the centre.

Marcus’s legion stares down Viriathus and his surviving warriors, who sensibly decide to melt back to the hills.

With teatime being called in all our houses (between Suffolk and Nottingham), we had to call it a day. The Romans had won a clear victory, killing warleader Ambon and retaining 6 Reputation tokens to the Lusitanians’ 1. Had we played another turn, there is no doubt that Viriathus’s army would have broken.

The new rules had worked pretty well. The replacements trait was used on a couple of occasions to shore up the Romans trying to hold off the left flank attack and was instrumental in pulling damaged units out of the line and replacing them with fresh ones. As Viriathus tried to break through. Marcus sent a unit of Triarii in to replace a damaged one of Principes and was justified in doing so – despite the loss of Reputation, the veteran warriors saw off the Spanish in short order.

Despite committing some Triarii to the fight, the Romans have the victory with 6 Reputation tokens remaining. With a mere 1, the Lusitanians are on their way out.

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