Punic Wars: Refighting Trebbia with ADLG (2023)
Rome vs Carthage
This website is unashamedly a bit competition-gaming orientated (no sh-- Sherlock!) but occasionally I do play other sorts of games, and with Dan H from the US putting out a series of Punic Wars scenarios on the ADLG Facebook group using pretty standard sized armies, the opportunity to do a club-night refight using some little-seen classic Roman figures was too good to miss out on.
Just to prove it happened as much as anything else, I also brought along my camera and took a load of photos to cook up a battle report as well.
Trebbia is a battle where Hannibal has just crossed the Alps and must prove himself on Italian soil. The Romans have been baited to hastily come out of camp before breakfast, cross a cold river and fight a battle of Hannibal’s choosing.
The scenario PDF specified not only the army lists compositions for both Carthaginian and Roman armies, but also the initial deployments of the commands, with the arrangement of troops within each command being the only deployment-time decision left to the players (aka me and Andy from the Podcast).
This made for an interesting and rather different playing experience to a normal pickup or competition game, with a real constraint on the number of decisions each general was able to make - which I guess is exactly why playing such scenarios is inherently interesting but also different.
The battle features a Roman army with lacklustre leadership and questionable morale against Hannibal’s cunning plan. Even the inexperienced Roman legion still proved to be a powerful adversary that Hannibal had to defeat with his wits. Hannibal’s army contains more mounted and light troops, while his heavy foot is not as ready to meet the Romans on even terms. Hannibal placed his brother in ambush with a picked force on the flank of the Roman army.
In the game I took the role of the Roman commander, and immediately had to get my head around the extremely sub-optimal army composition and especially the collection of 3 rather poor quality commanders leading it!
The lists for the Rome and Carthage from this game are included in the download document
With deployment pre-ordained, the two armies starting extremely close together, and Hannibal having just revealed Mago's troops in an ambush to the Roman rear/left I found myself pitched immediately into damage limitation mode - there would be no time or opportunity to use early-turn redeployment or any type of faffing about to try and engineer an optimum position for my guys before they were embroiled in hand to hand combat!
That initial setup had however left me with a longer line of Heavy Infantry than the Carthaginians, with some of their cavalry and infantry led by Mago now appearing as a flank march over to the Roman left, out of this picture.
I quickly realised that I didn't have enough cavalry on my left wing to deal with Mago's flank marching Gallic and Numidian horsemen and also hold off the rest of the Carthaginian mounted wing ahead of me, so immediately the task before this wing of the Roman army was to try and delay defeat at the hands of Hannibal's superior mounted force as long as possible.
On my right there seems to be little to delay my Legionaries, but sadly this photo was taken before Andy had finished deploying his own cavalry on that wing too, so in reality both wings saw the Romans outnumbered somewhat in horsemen, the main difference being that on my left the flank march meant some of them started behind my lines rather than in front!
The Carthaginian cavalry have now been successfully deployed. I'm now scratching around for a plan, and the fact only some light infantry are linking up the gap between the Elephants and the Cavalry on this wing seems like one of the few positive opportunities I can see right now.
I resolve to throw the legions (many of whom are Mediocre raw recruits) forward to try and engage the cavalry and elephants, drawing them both into a war of attrition against my stodgy foot before they have a chance to join up the gap in their line.
Hopefully then my rather Ordinary General on this wing can drive off the Carthaginian skirmishers with yet more Legions and Triarii, and then exploit the resulting gap to divide and outflank the beasts of war and the mounted troops and overwhelm this wing of the enemy army
Mago's flank march is made up of peltast-style warriors and a small force of cavalry - (but with my own mounted troops already facing a larger enemy force from the front my options here are very limited.
I find myself almost immediately defaulting to a plan of smashing through the Carthaginian centre as quickly as possible, resigned to losing out on this wing where delaying defeat for a little while is about as good as it may get for Rome.
With "delay" front of mind, and fearful of the flank march, I've rushed almost my whole line forward to try and buy some space and time before Mago's flanking troops hit my rear.
Some Roman cavalry and a few units of Legions have been sent out in penny packets to try and hold up the Carthaginian flank attack, and the Triarii are also hanging back too in anticipation of being needed to stem the tide in the near future.
I know they are all probably doomed, but if they can hang on for a short while (and fight and die as far away from my center as possible!) then it may help buy time for the best and only other plan of smashing the enemy centre.
As you can see the Carthaginians have a great advantage in numbers and speed here, with cavalry poised to zip in any direction hunting Roman flanks.
At the moment Mago is however not rushing into any hasty attacks, but instead moving up carefully and positioning his men to inflict some more telling blows in due course, coordinating their attacks with the right flank of the main Carthaginian army which is also moving forward at pace.
On the right I've expanded out my Legions and drifted them to the right to face down the Carthaginian cavalry, freeing up a gap for the Triarii to come through - although the poor quality of the Roman leadership on this flank does end up limiting my ability to pull off this many separate moves rather more than I would have liked.
There is no need for reserves here, the plan is to catch the enemy before they can close up and exploit that frailty as quickly as I can, especially with the ticking time bomb of the opposite flank ringing loud in my ears.
In the centre it's a case of attacking as quickly as possible - there is no time, and again no command capability to bring the Triarii forward into the front line, I think that I simply have to get the Hastatii and Principes into action early doors to give them as many turns as possible to fight a successful attritional battle against the densely packed spearmen and Roman-trained Gallic warriors in the Carthaginian centre
Mago has now committed his cavalry to the attack, joining the Carthaginian forces to my front - and despite my best efforts it simply hasn't been possible to protect all of the flanks of my units from their assaults.
I am hoping that the armour and sheer solidity of the Roman infantry will buy my army time, but a powerful attack from the Carthaginian and Gallic horsemen soon puts paid to that hope!
Anyways, the two centres are fully engaged. The Romans charge home in a flurry of pilums and swords, driving into the Carthaginian spear and swordsmen desperate to see their first round advantages counting
For Rome to come out on top, the Carthaginians need to collapse like a deck of cards at this very moment, and the newly raised legions need to raise their game to as yet unseen heights of competence - and quickly
On the Roman right, the Carthaginian horsemen have probably wisely declined to take on my Legions and Roman cavalry, and instead have fallen back well out of reach.
This does at least start to open up the flanks of Hannibal's Elephant corps, but it has also essentially taken a goodly proportion of my best infantry out of the game, chasing mounted shadows and unable to inflict any losses on this wing against an enemy army already looking well set to wrap up the opposite flank.
The Roman troops are holding up bravely on the left, even though their are outnumbered badly by the faster Carthaginians.
The Roman foot are teetering on the edge of destruction but have hung on in there so far long enough for the much tougher Triarii to move into position to be a second line of reserves - so perhaps the plan is slowly getting back on track?
Suddenly Roman resistance implodes and the true extent of Carthaginian cavalry superiority on this wing becomes obvious to all.
I am rushing up yet more reinforcements from the centre, but they now look like they may arrive too late other than to serve witness to the seemingly inevitable and systematic dismembering of this flank of my army.
In the centre the struggle is tipping slowly in my favour, as the Roman infantry gradually gain the upper hand against the Carthaginians
But there has as yet been no decisive breakthrough, just a gradual tipping of the scales in favour or Rome.
I find myself urging my men on to greater martial efforts, just one big push away from bursting through the middle of this enemy army and frustrating their cavalry's attacks on my left with a proper manly Roman approach to heroic battle
Disaster! Instead of success, the raw Roman legions and even more suspect Latin allied infantry suddenly decide that they have already given their all.
Instead of breaking through, they are exhausted, rocked on their heels by a resurgent Carthaginian spear line. The centre of the Roman spearpoint is now fractured and on the very cusp of breaking!
As the two lines of troops start to blend together, there are local wins and losses all along the line where Legionaries and Carthaginian infantry punch holes in one another
But this attritional tit for tat warfare is not the outcome I need as the Roman commander, with Carthage having taken almost no losses on either flank at the expense of slowly eroding the Roman left.
I needed my Legions to achieve a heroic, quick and decisive victory in the centre, and this is absolutely not that at all.
On the right the lumbering blocks of Legionary infantry have finally managed to outflank the elephant guarding the end of the Carthaginian line, but he has chosen this moment to fight with hitherto unknown depths of bravery, resisting the multiple attacks of the Roman swordsmen far longer than should have been the case - stopping dead any hope the Romans had of breaking through here and rolling up the Carthaginian centre.
Carthaginian cavalry have returned to harass and engage the rest of the Roman right wing, ensuring it has no opportunity to rejoin and contribute to the main line of battle.
On the left the wheeling clouds of cavalry and Mago's infantry have all but swept away the entire Roman wing. With dangerous enemies to their front, the mostly raw Legions have been bamboozled and surrounded, and I have been unable to cobble together a sufficiently competent defensive line to hold up the progress of the debacle.
Only a battered and bruised unit of Triarii remain on table.
In the centre the Roman attack is ebbing away from an admittedly not all that impressive high tide of success, checked by the resistance of the Carthaginian Heavy foot and unable to break through their lines in any meaningful way.
The Roman commander, with no better plan, commits himself to the front line in one last desperate attempt to punch a hole .. and ends up being speared by Carthaginian infantry and dragged to his doom.
With that the battle ends, in a compelling defeat for the Roman forces. Their left wing has been forensically dismembered by Mago and his flank march in concert with Hannibal's cavalry, and their right wing has been neutralized, mostly chasing shadows and meeting surprisingly stoic resistance from a supposedly second rate elephant corps to add insult to injury.
Faced with an initially almost hopeless position on one, and arguably both flanks the Romans ended up looking for their citizen soldiers to work a blunt force miracle in the centre and smash the Carthaginians wide open - but that too has proved to be mere wishful thinking, as the inexorable mathematics of two pretty equally matched lines of heavy infantry slogging it out has soaked up all of the available time without leaving a decisive winner
The Result is a decisive win for Carthage - as was the case for the actual battle too.
The scenario was not designed to be balanced, with the historical victor enjoying an in-game initial advantage which in this case the Romans were unable to manage to do all that much to overturn!
Read on for the post match summaries from the Generals involved, as well as another episode of legendary expert analysis from Hannibal
Post Match Summary from the Roman Commander
This was a really interesting experience, having to play with a pretty poor hand in terms of troops, deployment and also command and control capability in an army with 3 Ordinary Generals (2 included!) and 27 units to command.
This all meant I had to try and come up with a plan to win the game in the few moments available to me after deployment, against a mental backdrop of having already decided that it looked pretty much unwinnable right from the off!
That combination led me almost immediately to the very simple plan of "Delay defeat / attack and punch through quickly / try and work an advantage" with the three Roman commands from left to right.
The decision to focus on the centre as the place I could, or would hope to "win" and do so quickly and decisively was - in retrospect - somewhat of a triumph of optimism over maths, as my Legions only held the slimmest of advantages over their Carthaginian opponents.
However with little else to work with I jumped at that sliver of upside (of course also hoping for the opportunity to be rewarded for the dramatic and heroic deeds that success would have entailed) and invested all my belief in the ability of my little lead and plastic men (after all, they are Roman Legions!!) could somehow make it happen - discarding any thought of looking for other solutions in the process too
For a while the right flank also looked like a spot where I might do well, but the combination of a judicious tactical withdrawal by the Carthaginian horse, and some heroics by the Carthaginian elephants put paid to that idea. Even had that worked I think I was still on a losing wicket as soon as the assault on the centre came up short
The Carthaginian flank march was the final straw, as it efficiently picked its spot time after time to collapse my left wing and add injury to the insult of the legions not doing the business in the middle. A chastening experience, but one where even now I struggle to see what else I might have done differently
In terms of a game, it was a very different experience to a normal game to be dropped right into the hot-seat of being a commander set up to lose by a far more clever opponent - making the game more of a role-play experience than a competitive game-playing exercise.
The scenario as written didn't come with explicit victory conditions, and with an ADLG game being easily playable in a couple of hours our plan is to replay this game but with me using the Carthaginians this time, and see on balance who does best over the two games.
Hannibal's Post Match Analysis
Alright, listen up, you m*****in' history enthusiasts! I'm about to break it down for ya, Hannibal-style, with that Pulp Fiction hairstyle of mine taking the semantic lead here brothers. So buckle the f**k up and get ready for some ancient Roman ass-kickin'!
Picture this, m*******ers: It's 218 BC, and I, Hannibal Barca, am leading my badass Carthaginian army against those pompous Roman b*tches. We're up in northern Italy, near the river Trebbia, ready to unleash a world of hurt on those Roman dumbasses.
Now, these Roman f@@@ers were all about their discipline and formation sh*t. They thought they had this battle in the bag with their fancy-ass legions and their straight lines. But guess what? I had a little surprise for those uptight pricks.
I knew I couldn't take those Roman m*******ers head-on, so I came up with a plan. I sent my cavalry on a flank march to harass their flanks and disrupt their precious formations. While they were busy dealing with my horse-riding bad boys, I unleashed my African f*****'in' elephants on their asses!
Can you imagine the look on those Roman faces when they saw those massive, trumpeting beasts charging at 'em? They sh*t their tunics, I tell ya! Chaos erupted, and those Roman legions were scatterin' like scared little b*tches. It was beautiful.
But that's not all, m*******ers! I had one more trick up my sleeve. As the Romans were disoriented and sh*tting their pants, I unleashed my elite infantry, the f*****'in' veterans from Carthage, on those fools. These dudes were battle-hardened and ready to rip some Roman asses apart.
So while the Romans were still recovering from the elephant madness, my infantry tore through their disorganized ranks, slicing and dicing those poor f@@@ers. It was a bloodbath, my friends. A goddamn glorious, bloody massacre!
By the end of the day, Rome had suffered a humiliating defeat. The river Trebbia turned red with Roman blood. I had outsmarted those Roman m*******ers and showed 'em who the real badass was.
So there you have it, my friends, the story of how I, Hannibal, won the Battle of Trebbia. I brought the pain, I brought the chaos, and I brought the muthaf*****'in' victory! It was a case of "And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger!" Hannibal style!
That's the end - so why not go back to the Match Reports Index and read some more reports?