Friday, January 20, 2012

Converting Hail caesar for 6mm, first playtest session

I got Hail Caesar on the table today together with one of my regular opponents. I have been toying with the idea of starting a new period, and with the release of Hail Caesar by Rick Priestley and the release of new Greek sculpts by Baccus, I'm tempted to do a hoplite greek set.

Shining bronze, detailed shields and naked greek men. What's not to like?

There are some considerations before I pull out my Visa. First, will Hail Caesar work with 6mm miniatures, and what basing would work well? Second, is the game better than say, Warmaster ancients? Well, I've only skimmed the rules of Warmaster and never played it, but since both games are Priestley's work, it's a good base assumption that the new game is more refined than the old. Do I hear the cries of "Cult of the new!" over the horizon? Maybe it was just the wind.

Hail Caesar is primarily designed to be played with 28mm miniatures on a table which allows a 36" space between the opposing lines at the start of the battle. I wanted to try out one of the example scenarios in the rulebook, but there were no guidelines in the book on what size the tables are in the scenarios. Now, Priestley states many times in the book that players are free to tailor everything to their needs (as if we needed permission) but I think in published scenarios it is nice to know the relative distances between the forces as this impacts scenario balance. I asked about it on the Warlord Games forum and got a reply from Priestley himself:

Most of the games were played on Alan or Michael Perry's wargames table - both six feet wide and usually ten or twelve feet long depending on how its set up.

The Sassanid game and the Roman/Celt game were played on John Stallard's table - which is more like five feet by ten if I remember right - it does depend on how things are set up. The Roman/Celt game was re-photographed after the event - the Sassanid game was photographed as we played.

Three feet apart is good for a very standard type of 'line em up' style game - basically both sides deploying within six inches of the table edge of a four foot wide table. That's a realistic table size of most people I think (including me!). The games in the book are all much more narrative apart from the Sassanid game - which is fairly close to a line 'em up game - so the sides start off often much further apart. Three feet puts both armies out of 3 moves at the start of the game - which is what I'd aim for.


Now, 6 feet is a pretty deep table, 182,88 centimeters to be precise. It's possible to have a table that big in your average home but it will be difficult to set up a game and have enough terrain on it to keep it attractive. Here's where the 6mm scale shines. Baccus miniatures are designed to look best on a unit stand with a 60 millimeter frontage. The frontage of your average 28mm Hail Caesar unit is stated to be somewhere around  160-200 millimeters, that is eight to ten infantry wide, if they're based individually on 20mm bases. Suppose I just shrink the game so that each inch from the rulebook counts as a centimeter? This means that the 6 foot deep table would now be only 72 centimeters deep. That's almost a DBA sized table! This means I have to shrink the units as well. A Baccus infantry stand 60 centimeters wide would with this scale be the same as a 152,4 millimeter wide unit on a "big table". Close enough for me, and I'm sure it works gameplay-wise as I'll probably end up doing all the armies for this set anyway. The depth of the units is not an issue according to the author, anything that looks appropriate should work. I think for depth I'll stick with the 1:2 ratio to the frontage, as this would allow the stands to be used in a variety of games.

I deemed it necessary to play a test game or two with the rules before committing any money to figures, so I made some print & play units for hoplites, light infantry in open order and cavalry.

Here's an example of the units I made. I drew them on a computer, printed them out and glued them on cardstock. The hoplite units are, at the moment divided into two blocks, as it allows me to use the different formations in the game without resorting to markers. There's a small light infantry unit which I though should at most be half as deep as a hoplite formation. Then there's a small light cavalry unit. The "figures" should have a footprint more or less equal to what the corresponding 6mm figures would have. 

The example scenario we played was a small two division versus two division fictional battle set in the Peloponnesian war. The Spartans and their allies are attacking a road held by the Athenians and their allies. A simple line battle with no special twists. There was an ambush rule in the original scenario, but that would have been difficult to do without an umpire so I didn't include it.

The opposing forces meet. The many dice near the units are for keeping track of casualties as you don't remove figures from the units in a game of Hail Caesar. Another thing in favor of 6mm armies, but it does give the game a cluttered look until I get some casualty tokens.
The game was straightforward. The Spartans advanced on the Athenians. The Athenians, being more numerous, attempted to flank the Spartans with poor success. Battle was joined, casualties suffered, and the Spartan elite hoplite phalanx was left king of the hill, being the only unit not shaken at the end.

This was a learning game so we got some rules wrong which were possibly game impacting ones. That didn't matter as we had a fun evening even with these small forces. It took us around three hours to play the scenario and after learning the rules, I think this'll finish in less than two. The 6mm basing worked well for the hoplites and cavalry, but I still have to think about the basing of light infantry. They can change between open order and formed quite easily and making open order visually obvious gives me some thought. Should I have one or two of those small rectangles with figures in scattered formation or put them on a circular stand? With a circular stand the open order formation is immediately obvious, but it might be difficult to position the troops in some situations, and you can't have a long string of skirmishers when they're in one "horde". In the very least, I might end up doing separate versions for light infantry in formed and open order mode as it won't be much trouble. 

Every Phalanx shaken except the Spartan one. No, I don't want to hear the catchphrase.
I can't give much insight on the rules before I play a couple more games. It's obvious however that veterans of Warhammer and Warmaster should feel right at home in this one. The terms are different but the rule mechanics are very familiar. Especially the different special rules which you can give units had a very Warhammer-y feel to them. The biggest departure is probably that you don't need to pay wheeling costs for units. You just move into the direction you want and pivot the unit to the facing of you desire when you finish. If you move within 12" (or 12 cm in my case) of an enemy, you have to face that enemy and can only move towards or away from that enemy as long as you are within 12". If you announce a charge, you have to move into contact by the most direct route, eliminating the chance of overly agile flank charges. It seems to work fine, but I'm not yet sure if hoplite warfare has the right "feel" with these rules, or if they're more at home in the dark ages.

Ok, if you actually read this far, you're a better man than I and deserve a rest. I'll continue on the subject on a later date as my plan evolves.


  1. So those units you're showing - what size is each printed block? 60x30?

  2. Each block was 30mmx30mm. I toyed around with the idea of having two of those forming one standard unit. It would allow for column formations and you could use single 3x3 blocks for small units. It didn't have a good feel to it though, and I'm not sure if there's a need for using columns with greek hoplites. Something tells me the formations weren't agile enough for switching between columns and lines in the scope of the battle.

  3. Hey man great stuff, is there a way for me to download the pictures to use. I thought you did a great job and I want to try them out.

  4. I would, but I seem to have misplaced the file. I'll see if it turns up and post it.