Programmed Wargames Campaigns

I came across this idea on Solo Wargamer's Site.  The rationale is that a (relatively) short campaign can be constructed that:
  • Needs no maps
  • Proceeds by random events
  • Can be played solo or by a group
The basic premise is that all of the main player armies belong to the same empire.  They each go off on their career of conquest, and whoever does best wins the campaign.  It occurred to me that this would make a really good and painless way to play an ancients campaign, especially after reading about Solo Wargamer's Normans.  In homage to Charles S. Grant's book Programmed Wargames Scenarios, I decided to rename it Programmed Wargames Campaigns.  I have adapted it for the Romans because most clubs are likely to have enough of these to go around, but also because their interminable civil wars are just crying out for something like this.  I have written it as generically as possible, with the assumption that the basic unit for the Romans is the cohort.  You may want to change this and the other units to suit your chosen ruleset.  The game could easily be used for many other empires.

The Events Table
This is the core 'driver' of the campaign.  Roll randomly for player activation every game turn.  When it is your player turn, roll 1d10 and take the results as follows:

1: Desertion – one non-legionary unit is reduced as though destroyed in a winning battle.
2: Disease – lose one legionary cohort.
3: Bad Terrain – lose this turn and miss the next as well.
4: Barren Lands – no effect, no further action.
5: Reinforcements – increase one non-legionary unit (determine unit at random), or buy 12 skirmishers.
6: Easy Plunder #1 – 50 gold talents' worth of loot and slaves extorted from the locals.
7: Easy Plunder #2 – 100 gold talents handed over by locals as major city capitulates.
8-10: Fight next battle on list.

Campaign One: Marian/Caesarean Roman

This campaign conflates the Marian/Caesarean periods into a manageable game for three forces (or players).  One force is assigned the Western Theatre, one the Central Theatre, and the third the Eastern Theatre.  All battles take place against a standard sized army - you should choose what this means for your campaign depending on the rules you are using.  The battles are played in order as follows:

The Western Theatre
  • Assault against Jugurtha's Numidians
  • Meeting engagement with Sertorian Spanish
  • Assault against Spanish
  • Meeting engagement with Gauls
  • Assault against Gauls
  • Meeting engagement with British
The Central Theatre
  • Meeting engagement with Germans
  • Assault against Germans
  • Assault against Gauls
  • Meeting Engagement with Illyrians
  • Meeting Engagement with Early Dacians
  • Assault against Early Dacians
The Eastern Theatre
  • Meeting Engagement with Early Pontics
  • Assault against Armenians
  • Assault against Later Pontics
  • Meeting engagement with Parthians
  • Meeting engagement with Parthians
  • Assault against Late Egyptians
A meeting engagement should take place in intermediate terrain.  An assault takes place in terrain that favours the opposition a bit more.  One more point: you don't have to fight a battle, but this will cost.  You slip back one point in your Theatre of War table, and lose 25 Gold Talents if you decline a meeting engagement, and 50 if you decline an Assault.  Example: you have just had a bad time in the second battle against the Parthians, which means that you are forced back and will have to refight the first battle with them.  In your next turn you are unlucky enough to roll this immediately on the table, so you decline, bribe the army with 25 Gold Talents, and then fall back into Pontus again.

Starting Forces
Each of the Roman players starts with the following force.  I have built this for the rules we use, but it should be easy enough to convert to your own system.  The Romans should start with a larger force than normal; this is deliberate.  There are two reasons for this.  First, it should give the players a decent start, since there's nothing so dispiriting as being effectively knocked out of a campaign almost as soon as it starts.  The idea is that the initial battle at least should work out well.  Second, attrition is built into the campaign, and not only because of the Events Table.  Reinforcements are also catered for including the option to get some skirmish archers or slingers.  The Romans:

3 Militia Grade legions, each composed of 10 cohorts of 8 figures, plus 20 legionary skirmishers with javelins
24 Auxiliary Light Infantry
18 Roman Medium Cavalry
12 Auxiliary Heavy Cavalry
16 Auxiliary Light Cavalry with javelins

The force should work out to whatever your standard army is normally, plus about 10% (in our rules this lot is just over 2200 points, for our usual game of 2000 points).  Unless specified, all troops are of average (veteran) quality.  The various auxiliaries should be drawn from nationalities that seem appropriate to your Theatre of War.  So, for example, for the Western Theatre, the Light Infantry could be Numidians.  In the Central Theatre, the Heavy Cavalry could be Greeks.  In the Eastern Theatre, the Light Cavalry could be Cappadocians or whatever.  Each player also starts with a personal treasury of 50 Gold Talents.  One Gold Talent is equal to one point in troop value. 

Post-Battle Resolution
You need to define two victory levels for battles.  When a Roman force wins a minor victory, it receives 25 Gold Talents.  A major victory is worth 50 Gold Talents.  Additionally, a successful meeting engagement nets 25 Gold Talents, and an assault 50 Gold talents.  It is assumed after an assault battle that some major population centre falls to the victorious invader.  Note that this does mean that a major victory in an assault is worth 100 Gold Talents.  The force would then continue to work its way through its list of battles.  If a Roman force loses a battle, it does not lose any of its accrued wealth.  However, it will probably have to spend some of that anyway when repairing the damage.  Also, as noted above, a defeat forces you back upon yourself, undoing some of your previous progress.

This is the part of the campaign that everyone hates, but in this case it is integral to the overall feel of the game.  In addition to wealth and reinforcements accrued from battle and from the events table, the armies recover losses in battles as follows:

Militia Grade: 50%/25%
Veterans:       66%/50%
Elite:              75%/66%

The first number is the percentage of casualties you get back if you win, and the second is for when you lose.  In the case of non-legionary types, you only make this calculation if a unit is destroyed in battle.  For the legion, it applies right across the board (in effect, the legion is considered to be a single large unit).

Example: Crassus has only just defeated the Armenians.  As well as other losses, one of his Militia Grade legions lost 30 figures.  15 of them come back after the game.  Since a cohort has 8 figures, he loses two cohorts from that legion and has one understrength at 7 figures.  He can choose to deploy the last the way it is; leave it out of the next battle altogether; or use some of his treasury to pay for it to come up to full strength.  He also lost an 18 figure unit of Veteran Roman cavalry, which is typical for them.  12 of them come back automatically. 

Rationale: in our rules, individual figures matter, but they are organised in standard element sizes, which are then combined into units, within certain specified restrictions.  This means that, for example, the 24 auxiliary light infantry could be composed of two units of 12 figures, or one of 24.  After losses, it could be one of 18.  The same principle applies to reinforcements gained from the events table: if it turns out that your unit of 12 Heavy Cavalry gets lucky, it increases in size to 18.  Rationalise this any way you want: perhaps they are local tribal elites attracted by the prospect of easy loot fighting with Rome rather than against it.  Or something like that.

The Treasury
The player who comes out the richest wins.  However, there are things you can do with the money apart from just hoarding it.  In fact, you will probably have to, because as the campaign progresses and attrition starts to hurt, you will need to invest in your army in order to keep going.  If your rules have a points system, this is easy: just pay for the extra troops you might need to bring your units up to strength.  There are also other, much more interesting things you could do.  An obvious one is to pay for morale upgrades to your troops, within limits.  You can do this for a whole legion at a time (100 figures = 100 points = 100 Gold Talents); obviously if the legion has taken losses, it will cost a bit less to upgrade.  This is well worth doing, and represents the raw recruits becoming seasoned over time on campaign.  I would suggest that only one legion could receive a second upgrade (Caesar's Tenth!), and also that only the Heavy Cavalry could be upgraded to elite (the German bodyguards).  Otherwise, it will turn into an arms race, and that should be kept within bounds.  After all, the point is to return to Rome as the wealthiest power.

Victory Conditions
Easy enough: just play as suggested with, say, a 30 turn limit.  If we assume that one campaign turn is a season, that's ten years (winter doesn't count).  Or, go for a more random endpoint: say that the game is over when one player completes all six battles - that force is then the winner.  Or, for maximum flavour of Roman infighting, the player who wins all six battles then attacks the others to see who becomes the first Emperor.  In this variant, you can use accrued money to raise another (one only!) Militia or Veteran legion from scratch; you can do this only at this point (Caesar's Alaudae).  Keep using the events table, but a battle result means a fight against another player.  You would need to specify what is needed here to complete the campaign.  I'd suggest that if a player has two minor losses or one major defeat in a civil war, then it's game over for that faction.  Just make sure that you agree all of this at the start of the campaign!  If you don't like the totally random nature of the events table, then simply reroll any results that have already come up until you have had them all, and then start again.  This might suit a club game better than the solo version.  One final (historically accurate) point: you could play the game such that if your general is killed, it's campaign over.

Campaign Two: Early Imperial Roman

Same ideas as above, but with different starting forces for the Romans:

2 veteran legions, each composed of 10 cohorts of 8 figures, plus 20 legionary skirmishers with javelins
96 Auxiliae (in the east, 24 of these can be archers)
18 Roman Medium Cavalry
12 Auxiliary Heavy Cavalry
16 Auxiliary Light Cavalry with javelins

This is a shorter, more intensive campaign.  The Theatres of War each represent an extended campaign against one major enemy.  The Northern Campaign is against the Germans.  The Central Campaign is against the Later Dacians.  And the Eastern Campaign is against the Parthians.  Each is composed of two Meeting Engagements and then an Assault to finish off.

The Finale
This is where this campaign differs from the earlier period.  There is a fourth force, in Rome, representing the incumbent Emperor:

2 Veteran legions, each composed of 10 cohorts of 8 figures, plus 20 legionary skirmishers with javelins
48 Auxiliae
24 Elite Praetorian Guard
18 Roman Medium Cavalry
12 Elite Heavy Cavalry
16 Auxiliary Light Cavalry with javelins

When one of the three player forces wins its objectives, it keeps rolling on the Events Table.  A battle result means that it can acclaim its general as Emperor and march on Rome.  If you stay loyal, fine, you can use the result to attack a usurper or pass with no negative effects. A second battle result means that you fight the current Emperor in a Meeting Engagement. There are two ways to go from here.  The first has the Emperor as a passive force that always stays the same and just sits in Rome.  Or you could make it more interesting: the first time a usurpation takes place activates the Emperor as an entirely new player.  Ultimately, there can be only one.

Campaign Three: Middle Imperial Roman

Exactly as Campaign Two, with the following differences.  The Northern Campaign is against the Germans (Rhine Frontier).  The Central Campaign is against the Goths (Danube Frontier).  And the Eastern Campaign is against the Parthians.  Each is composed of two Meeting Engagements and then an Assault to finish off.

An Alternative
Play this one slightly later.  Replace the two Eastern legions with one large double-size Legio Parthica.

Another Alternative
Even later: replace the Parthians as the Eastern enemy with Early Sasanians.


  1. That is impressive stuff. We're starting an ancients campaign soon and I think this will be a big help in setting it up.

  2. Hi Paul, this very much reminds me of a DBA campaign I ran in Central London wargames club, a couple of times. It was called "Rome in a Day", and it was very much like your Caesarian campaign except played very quickly, using DBA; 4 games in a long evening. 6 Players were "elected" to command armies in campaigns by the votes of the senate (all the players); successful campaigns gained them ally contingents, and victory was eventually decided by a big battle. was a lot of fun...

    I've been thinking about using the boardgame Junta as the basis of an EIR campaign. Need to paint more minis first...

    Cheers, Simon

  3. Cheers, both. I wanted something between the abstraction of Empire, and an intensive map-based campaign. I'm glad it makes some sense!

    Which armies/period are you thinking, Phil? From reading your blog I kind of assume Macedonian/Punic wars...

    Hi Simon, the DBA campaign sounds like fun, and so does Junta. Good luck with all the painting.

    Solo Wargamer has some reports from his micro-campaign on his site. It might be worth a look to see how something like this plays out.

    Cheers again

  4. Edit: I counted up the points vales for the later campaigns, and realised that the Romans needed beefing up a bit. I increased the legions to veteran status and gave them some more auxiliae. Just in case anyone notices!


  5. This might work well for a Punic campaign as well! Very interesting idea and thanks for the heads up.


  6. Cheers Andy, and thanks for looking.

  7. Why ancients? How about French Revolutionary Theatre commanders. Fight the Prussians, The Austrians in Germany, the Austro-Sardinians in Italy, the Spanish and the Roylaist Uprising in western France. Succeed and take over the Government before the deputes en mission get you.

  8. I agree - it's just that ancients is mostly what I play at the moment. The idea could be applied to anything. The one I really fancy is Orion Pirates raiding into different territories. Here a Meeting Engagement would be a raid on a convoy, and an Assault would be to capture an installation of some kind. It's been a while since I played anything like this.

  9. I love your take on this solo campaigning idea - it's a really neat and well thought out development of the basic concept (and thanks btw for linking to my blog). I came across a mention of this post in Henry Hyde's new tome on wargame campaigning - he's given us both honourable mentions, so we're now officially famous ;o) I'm definitely going to give this Roman campaign a go at some point.

  10. Thanks for the comment, Jay. I haven't been so active recently because of a move abroad, but I really should buy Henry's book. I'll also have a look around your site again!