As I had a pleasure of playing in short succession the Byzantine Battle of Callinicum (531 AD) using both Mark Herman Great Battles of History (GBoH) and then Richard Borg Commands Colors Medieval (CCM) I would like to share not-so-typical after action report. Yes, I will look into the details of the engagement, historical result, how it went on the board and what result was. But I will also do the comparison of how it feels to play with both systems. Should be fun!

The Systems

Let me first tell you a little about both games and systems.


Cataphract is the eighth volume in the Great Battles of History Series, following titles like The Great Battles of Alexander or SPQR. As such, it uses the same “basic” system as the preceding titles in the series:

  • Troops activation & sequence based on Generals ratings and initiative system
  • Battle resolution based on units types, direction of attack, size of units, etc.
  • Cohesion and Troops Quality as decisive metrics of troops experience and value
  • Rout and Rally actions
  • and many more mechanics making this system pretty detailed simulation

Still, Cataphract portrays the development of the art of war wrought by the early Byzantine empire (also known as the Eastern Roman Empire) during the reign of the Emperor Justinian under its great generals Belisarius and Narses. During this period, the Byzantine Empire for a brief period re-captured a large portion of what was formerly the Western Roman Empire. Although successful in its attempts to re-conquer Italy and North Africa, the Byzantine empire’s resources were insufficient to hold onto its gains.

Commands Colors Medieval

Commands & Colors: Medieval is based on the Commands & Colors game system and by design is not overly complex – especially in comparison to just mentioned above series. We have the deck of Medieval Command cards that drive movement while creating a “fog of war,” and the battle dice that will resolve combat quickly and efficiently. The stylized battlefield scenario maps emphasize the important terrain features and highlight the historical deployment of forces in scale with the game system.

On the other hand, CCM bring many new mechanics to the system, justifying new line of games:

  • Superior armor and status when battling
  • Cavalry units increase to 4 blocks
  • Heavy infantry battle dice are reduced from 5 dice down to 4
  • Light Bow Cavalry units can employ the Parthian Shot when they evade

Now, let us move to Historical Background!

The Battle

So Sassanids had lost at Dara and Satala in 530 AD but that definitely did not end the so-called Iberian War – a conflict raging between the Byzantine and the Sassanid Empires from 526 AD to 532 AD over the eastern Georgian kingdom of Iberia. Spring of 531 AD saw another Sassanids army invading Roman Mesopotamia.

Belisarius was caught unawares by the rapid invasion and had to quickly scramble all the forces he could muster. He outmaneuvered the Persian army and wished they just simply retreat but was forced by his subordinates – and threat of mutiny – to deploy for battle. The first part of battle was focused on initial skirmish, extensive missile fire exchange and the Sassanid charging and getting great tactical position on nearby hills. In the second part – when the key hills were already occupied by Sassanids – the Romans had not much space for maneuver and the result of the battle was decided. Let us see how it played-out on the table!

Great Battles of History (Cataphract) Session Report

Let me start with the GBoH session. My companion in both games was Marcin – a sturdy opponent, with whom I had a pleasure to play many various games. As for the report, I will use pictures which probably convey most information and allows Dear Readers to easily follow the flow events. Enjoy!

Initial set-up of the forces – I am in charge of Byzantines, Marcin leads Persians
“And here they come! Sassanids in attack! What? They do not charge? They just shoot? Again and again? Yes, composite bow is quite deadly sire…”
“Well, let us push them back – we will pin down at least one of their units!”
“Wait, what you are saying? That our flanks are exposed?”
“Commander, three of our units just routed and the enemy rolled successfully for momentum! We should say goodbye to our comrades…”
“Here they come! Again! And again – just shooting and shooting. That can be really deadly – another units routs sire!”
Belisarius hearing above reports of the battle could not be happy – he was right not to engage and was regretting being pushed to. Three strong attacks from Sassanids versus one weak counter-attack from Romans that was definitely not what he expected!
The score at the end of the battle (finished slightly early). A devastating Sassanid victory in Rout Points.

Although I played many more games in Cataphract than Marcin, he had no problem with outmaneuvering and outshooting my forces. Belisarius was right not to engage Sassanids – they have devastating advantage, mainly in bows.

Commands & Colors Medieval Session Report

Let us see how the battle unfolded in C&C game. Remark here – C&C Medieval splits the engagement in two phases and so we have played also two scenarios.

Callinicum 531 AD (Phase 1)
Initial phase set-up in CCM; there are a lot of similarities to GBoH – like rive, hills, etc.
Not surprisingly,  more numerous and well equipped Sassanids advanced in the center, only to be surprised by successful Roman Ambush! In the end the charge finished in a draw, seeing both sides severely weakened
“Not all is lost!” yelled Belisarius when he played Rally to recover most of his depleted forces. He was very successful in the process and brought the whole infantry to its maximum strength!
The great general would not be himself if he had not have something prepared for the Persians. Four Swords rolled on the battle back completely obliterated enemy cavalry!
“A coup de grace” thought great general when he observed again and again the Mounted Charge actions on Sassanid side  And so it was…
Final dispositions – my Byzantine showed a decent amount of fighting spirit but still lost – much less decisive than in GBoH scenario
Callinicum 531 AD (Phase 2)
The situation in second part of the battle (second scenario) is completely different. As you can see above, the Sassanid forces already took the hills and Romans are pinned against river. That does not bodes well for the result…
A vert fast and classic opening – Mounted Charge (using Inspired Leadership). Of course versus Roman infantry. Pretty deadly attack, as one leader dies and a full infantry unit is destroyed.
The best way to lift the pressure is to counter-attack – my units charge Marcin’s left. Again, pretty decent result, with two units routed. Still, it will be virtually impossible to do anything more as Sassanids are in a strong position on the hills.
But before I can do anything, Marcin plays another Mounted Charge and completely decimates my vulnerable left flank…
Game over – and final dispositions – my Romans lost quickly 1-5 which was much more similar to what happened in our GBoH game.


After those two sessions with two titles I am ready now to share my thoughts how the games went when you compare one to another. I will use my favorite approach, so go in bullets:

  • The Scale – even looking at the maps, you can see that we talk about completely different scale. Each unit in CCM represents many more units / troops that the counter in GBoH; that is of course reflected in number of block formations (fewer) than the chits (many more)
  • The Sassanid’s Bows were much more deadly in GBoH then in CCM; I am not sure if this was due to the number of Cavalry units, probability of hit or other factors but evidently, the range combat in Cataphract is much more important / deadly than in Medieval
  • In CCM once unit is destroyed it is gone; in GBoH you have Rout Mechanism, and units – although battered – were coming back to fight!
  • The activation and sequence is of course much more straightforward in block game; in counter position you have leaders initiative, you can have 2-3 turns with each of them and you can try to trump – much deeper tactical decisions
  • Of course, the final result of the battle on the table made a huge difference – GBoH was a swift and decisive Sassanid victory, the Medieval, at least first part, a much closer contest.

With this great experience I am planning to play more battles in similar way, utilizing both systems and comparing the experiences and results. This is indeed great fun and allows look at the interesting engagements from different perspectives!