Counterus Hex

Hex and Counter games reviewed and discussed by an old Grognard.

Rome at War III: Queen of the Celts

Originally posted January 13 2014 in the now defunct Booze & Board Games blog and moved here for posterity.

Queen of the Celts is the third installment of Avalanche Press’ tactical war games set in the Roman Period aptly named Rome at War. This version focuses on the invasion and subjugation of Britain by the empire. What caught my attention with this rather small game was two things; 1st the price I paid for it on Ebay, a paltry $6.00 US, and second the tragic tale of Boudicca  Queen of the Iceni tribe, which has long been of interest to me.

So last Sunday, amidst the chaos of a wailing snow storm and cruel flu bug I laid this title out and played my first game. Avalanche Press is notorious for two aspects of their play systems. The first one being the use of the “bucket of dice” combat resolution, which entails throwing a number of dice equal to the combat strength of the units involved then applying all sixes as hits. Initially I thought that this system would be more fun than the old CRT (combat results tables) of Avalon Hill war game legend. However after a few rounds of tossing handfuls of die the novelty faded along with the dim winter daylight out my window.

The second and really painful aspect of this AP game is the rule book. Having perused this sixteen page mess of cross references and special conditions every night for a week prior to actually laying out the pieces, I was still forced to reference the book almost continuously during play. It is not written well and is is no way linear in presentation. I had hoped that by getting the game set up some of the odd rules would make a bit more sense to me. No such luck in that department. I walked away from the table after 3.5 hours feeling like I had not done anything right, the best way to sum up the rules and book is to call it “counter intuitive”. For a game that is supposed to be 1.5 stars (easy) on the difficulty rating one would think the literature would be easier to read.

Another small bother I found, outside of the obtuse rule set up, was that the maps are not mounted but plain glossy paper. I have always been a stickler for having playing surfaces mounted. Paper maps easily tear and have creases along the folds which need to be flattened out or the playing pieces tend to rise with the fold when laid out or stacks of counters fall over unbalanced. I could, lay a piece of plexi-glass over the map itself to solve the issue, but I don’t have one readily available nor am I so inclined to go and purchase any. Paper maps of course are of small consequence if the game itself is dynamic and enthralling….. yeah there is a bit of a no on that part too.

Right Flank of Celts at start up.

As most battles of the time were fought on open flat terrain, the maps have very little in the way of variation. For example: the battle of Medway scenario used a map that had a river running across the northern portion, and a few swamps in the southern corners. the river, was barely an obstacle for the Roman legions, in that to attack them while crossing offered no bonus to the Celts. Thus negating the advantages of river defenses. The swamps were never entered by either army so no use of terrain to advantage, which for me is anathema. The “Ground” and the choice of ground is extremely important in armed conflict. The Generals of the time understood this as well, and I find it difficult to believe that they were unable to thwart a river crossing where the enemy had no bridges or engineers to build them. 

Celtic Counters

On the plus side the counters are really very pretty to look at and help one absorb the “theme” of the game. There are a few different types of units Leaders being the most important, followed by what are called “Long” units representing large formations of infantry i.e. Legions, and smaller “auxiliary” units that consist of archers, light infantry, chariots, and oddly enough, artillery. The mix of different forces made me smile as I thought the use of combined attacks using all the different types would be exciting and fun. Sadly the game didn’t play out that way.

A fundamental concept of this game is what is described as “Command”. Leaders command various units within their sphere (movement allotment) and only units “in Command” can be moved or attack. Of course units can be Out of command by being outside their leaders control or the leader failing a morale check which essentially means he has lost control of his troops. This system is supposed to represent a sort of “fog of war” situation and though it is hard to wrap one’s head around at first actually makes sense. Essentially a player could find him/herself with half their army out of command and immobile, thus creating a tense situation indeed.
Romans crush the right.

In the scenario I played, not once were any troops out of command which made decision making much easier, however, the constant rolling of dice to determine command got a bit old. Also at the end of my game the Celtic right flank was rolled up and pushed back into center group. This created a situation where it became difficult to determine which troops were commanded by which leader, and who could activate and when. Ultimately I made a House rule in which the local commander became subservient to Army commander and gave control to Army Leader. If the counters had easier to read divisional numbers rather than tribe names on them such a situation would have been negated. As it was, once the Celtic Right fell in with Center, I found myself trying to look up the starting troops from the scenario set up booklet to match the names with the leaders. Frustrating to say the least, thus my making the House rule and moving forward.

Half the troops intermingle after being pushed back, command difficult to determine.

I am not going to go over every aspect of this rather difficult experience, as I am sure that most of you can tell by now I do not give this game very high marks. I will say though as I doggedly moved my Celts to the fore to try and thwart the Roman advance a wee thrill of excitement ran through me. I could see the chariots racing off to my left tearing up the light infantry of the enemy while my larger tribes locked horns with the legions on the right. I almost felt the desperation of the Celts as they began to succumb to the disciplined heavy troops of Rome. However, one wee moment in an entire afternoon, makes not for good game play and I felt rather worn out in the end. Perhaps I’ll try this title again someday after I make a reference sheet for the various stages and rules so I can easily memorize them.
As it stands today Rome at War III will remain in my game closet till that time or someone asks to play it. I’ve far too many titles to pick from that make me happy to spend too much time on those that don’t.

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