I love those games which are suitable for modding / fan-made scenarios, campaigns or special variants. I find Commands and Colors system very suitable in that area. And once you played all the base-game scenarios, such add-ons prove to be an invaluable source of additional great experience. So I was very intrigued when I saw Gothic Wars discussion thread on Commands Colors Medieval BGG forum. As it occurred, my fellow C&C friend, g1ul10, was creating a campaign from the scenarios he designed based on historical records and pertaining to the Emperor Justinian Gothic War.
Let me provide more details as described by author. Gothic War is a collection of scenarios for the Commands and Colors: Medieval game. There is six of them and they cover some of the major engagements of the Gothic War that ravaged Italy in the first part of the sixth century. Through a series of pitched battles and sieges, Emperor Justinian I and his generals, most notably the famous Belisarius and Narses, succeeded in conquering a large part of the Italian peninsula, destroying the Ostrogoth Kingdom that ruled that land since the deposition of the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, in 476 AD.
But despite the military success, the Byzantine ruling of Italy proved to be ephemeral. In fact, the war devastated the peninsula both economically and socially. The great cities were abandoned as Italy fell into a long period of decline. The impoverishment of Italy and the drain on the Empire made it impossible for the Byzantines to hold their gains. Only three years after the death of Justinian in 565 AD, the mainland Italian territories fell into the hands of the Germanic Lombards.
The whole campaign was neatly compiled by Giulio in a Gothic War campaign file (BGG access required). It is also part of the newest Vassal module, just make sure you downloaded The Gothic War extension.
Other interesting C&C Medieval articles: [UNBOXING] CCM C&C: Medieval vs Ancients – Part 1 – Major Changes C&C: Medieval vs Ancients – Part 2 – Minor Changes C&C: Medieval vs Ancients – Part 3 – Comparative Plays CCM Belisarius Campaign [REVIEW] CCM
Having such a great material, the idea of playing the game in campaign mode was obvious. I immediately reached to stormwalker, my C&C buddy and he agreed to take on the challenge. I was to lead the Ostrogoths while Marcin – Romans. Even the first look at the set-ups was enough to be sure that a completely different experience is awaiting us in comparison to the base game. Much more infantry and terrain, more maneuvers and longer sessions. Great! Let us see how it went!
Open Battle at the Siege of Rome 537 AD
The siege of Rome already lasted for several months but the Goths did not seem able to make any progress. The Byzantine army and the people of Rome, encouraged by successful cavalry raids against the besieging army put pressure on Belisarius to march forth into an open battle. At first, Belisarius refused because of the still-great numerical disparity, but was at length persuaded, and made his preparations accordingly. The main force, under his command, would sally forth from the Pincian and the Salarian Gates in the north. A smaller cavalry detachment under Valentinus, along with the bulk of the armed civilians, would confront the large Gothic force encamped west of the Tiber. Finally, a body of infantry reinforced by armed civilians is positioned as a reserve and rally point for the cavalry. Vitiges, for his part, deployed his army in the typical fashion, with the infantry in the center and the cavalry on the flanks. The Byzantines initially achieve some results, but the increased confusion among the Roman militia and the fierce resistance of the Goths near their eastern camp caused them heavy casualties. Thus, when the Gothic cavalry in the right-wing perceived their opponents’ weakness, they moved against them and routed them. The infantry reserve disintegrated and the Byzantine army was finally in full flight for the safety of the walls.
This is one of the more rare set-ups in C&C – a siege with defenders sally. There is moderately similar scenario in the base game – Dara – but here Tiber divides the board in sections adding new tactical dimension. Let us see what happened in our game. Key actions:
- Marcin – as expected – moves his cavalry forward on both wings; he is much more successful in his attacks than the expected value and probability would assume, with two of my units reduced to 1 block.
- That begs for a response! I am rapidly moving forward my central infantry force – those warriors are best foot unit in the game – and start to attack Marcin center… only to lose two of my units by battle backs!
- Barbarians are relentless! I continue with second Line Command in sequence and now the effect is much better! Four enemy units yield to Goths attack and the Byzantine leader has to flee!
- Marcin – try as he can – is not able to find many spots to score the points. His luck – which was seen to great extent in the initial phase of the game – fades and my last mounted charge kills the roman cavalry giving the barbarians well-deserved victory.
- Michal (Ostrogoths) 6 – Marcin (Romans) 2
Battle of Faventia 542 AD
In 541 Totila was elected king of the Ostrogoths. Meanwhile, the Byzantines, towards the end of 541, tried to take over Verona but without success. When Totila was informed of the events in Verona, he called a large part of the Goths to garrison there, thus putting together an army of 5,000 Goths, and leading them to Faventia (modern Faenza), where the imperial army had retired. The Byzantine commanders were divided on how to operate and did not adequately prepare their army for the imminent battle. Totila commanded three hundred soldiers to cross the river, to approach the enemy camp and to dart it, in the belief that the turmoil created would make them desist from any thought of valiant deeds. Meanwhile, having crossed the river with the rest of his army, he immediately engaged the enemy. The battle was decided when the Gothic detachment sent to harass the Byzantine camp, unexpectedly attacked the imperial army from behind. Byzantine soldiers, mistakenly convinced that those 300 Goth soldiers were in greater numbers, turned shamefully on the run, being chased by the enemy and suffering many losses.
That one has an intriguing set-up – as Goths I am able to attack on any of the wings, while Romans can react accordingly, having very pretty strong force in the center. Key actions of the game:
- I decided a quick and decisive attack on my right will be better than trying to get camp on the Byzantine opposite side. So I am playing couple of good cards in sequence – Line Command, Order Medium, etc.
- The final attack is definitely below my expectations. While in the end I manage to Kill the Roman Super Heavy Cavalry, the response is devastating – full strength Gothic Warrior and Leader disappear. Again, as in first scenario, despite my initial advantage, I am starting to lose.
- And as in the first game, that all changes with my one, focused counter-attack, which kills 3 of Marcin units and almost finishes the game.
- After this we have one weak Roman response and a coup-de-grace from my units. The plan to attack quickly and decisively in one place, not allowing opponent to bring the reinforcements, proved to be great idea!
- Michal (Ostrogoths) 6 – Marcin (Romans) 3
Battle of Mugellum 542 AD
In their descent into Italy the Goths, after having defeated the Byzantine armies in the plains of Faenza, inebriated by the victory, decided to continue their advance towards Tuscany. They sent an army against Florence, garrisoned by the Byzantine commander Justin. Justin had not prepared the city for the siege and send a messenger to Belisarius, who immediately sent a sizable army headed by the lieutenants Bessas, Cyprian, and John. The Goths, informed of the arrival of the enemy army, immediately raised the siege and retreated in a place called “Mucelle”, about a day’s walk from Florence. The Byzantine army arrived in Florence, left there a garrison of a few men to defend the city, and continued the pursuit of the enemies. The Goths noticed the coming of the adversaries and, much scared, they decided to leave the valley where they had camped and promptly retired to a hill from which they could control the movements of the enemies. However, the clash was inevitable. But at some point, in the middle of the battle, the false news of the death of John spread among the ranks of the Byzantine army, and the soldiers, panicking, begun to scatter. The presence of the minor captains was of no avail. Even the
presence of John himself was of no avail. The Byzantine generals knew that the battle was lost and withdrew their men seeking refuge in a nearby fortified city.
Visually, I had very strong defensive position. Additionally, the woods are really great hindrance for cavalry. Still, only two leaders and one cavalry contingent meant I will have no chance in open battle thus a careful game was awaiting me. What happened in that scenario:
- Marcin had only 4 cards, so his vector of attack was strictly driven by this. Having mainly left-wing cards he approached my Auxilia in woods and attacked it couple of times.
- I managed to repel that attack, killing one of Medium mounts. And then the fun started.
- My cavalry and Warriors re-positioned to the center. In the meantime Marcin pushed on his right, almost killing my bowmen, but that was only a nuisance.
- Using Mounted Charge, luck in my defensive rolls and Order Medium I managed to encircle Marcin mounted forces and destroy them.
- For the first time in our games we have seen rally bringing back not only blocks to unit but also a new leader. That unfortunately did not helped Marcin and complete calamity has fallen upon Romans. 2 leaders dead, no VPs for Byzantine.
- Michal (Ostrogoths) 6 – Marcin (Romans) 0
The campaign score after our first three games: Michal (Ostrogoths) 18 – Marcin (Romans) 5
That proves to be a very difficult and brutal campaign for Romans, much more than historically. They will eventually recover – you will see it in the second session report – but it will not be easy. I would like also to underline that the scenarios are interesting, with good composition of infantry and cavalry and great usage of terrain. That is new and refreshing experience of CCM – there were battles in base scenario, when after playing 3 cards, some of the with Mounted Charge, the game was over. I really appreciate the Giulio’s design and a new look at the early medieval battles. I hope for more to come!