I had previous complained that Alea Jacta Est falls into an unhappy medium between a tactical and a strategic representation of the Roman Republic. My comments about the game’s treatment of the Pyrrhic War is that it left the player with too little of value to play with, focusing primarily on the operational level of that war. It occurs to me that one of the issues is that the Pyrrhic War scenario may be better played as Pyrrhus, not Rome. Rome won the war, in part, by fielding new legions* when the existing ones were defeated in battle. So the Roman strategy is one of replenishing their forces, throwing them into battle, and then see who wins. If it’s a loss, then repeat. For Pyrrhus, however, he has more operational decisions. He is more limited in his resources and so has choices to make. How can he fight his enemies in detail, particularly once Carthage is involved. Does he focus on Italy or take the fight to Sicily?
Similarly, in the early part of the Second Punic War a gamer may be better challenged by taking the part of Hannibal. He too has the single but large invading army which he can use against the Roman forces wisely to break the Roman will. Yet from the Roman side too, the operation strategies may be more interesting. While there are similarities between the invasion of Pyrrhus and the invasion of Hannibal, the Second Punic War is far more complicated. While Hannibal leads the main Carthaginian force, his brothers have forces in Spain. As the war progressed, Italy, Spain, Sicily, Africa, and even Greece all became potential fronts in this conflict. Given all that, it might be worth looking, again, at the war from a higher view.
As I briefly described before, the meat of Alea Jacta Est family is managing army operations. This consists of movement, the resulting combat, and the management of supply. In this case, the movement is implemented as a planning phase followed by a month’s worth of simultaneous execution. In addition to all of that, the make-up of armies must also be managed. In the AGEod family, this is more than just creating “stacks” of units subject to supply limit. First, the mix of the army’s units drives the tactical level and provides one of the player’s main methods of impacting the detailed battle results. In addition to balancing the combat unit types, the commanders must be chosen to be sufficiently capable of managing the army for which they are responsible. This can imply balancing the military with the political as poorly-performing generals inevitably make their way up into senior command positions. It’s a complex system, and one that (for the Second Punic War) I’m jumping into with inadequate preparation. Rather than think about the game as a simulation of the war as a whole, I’m going to look at it more as a framework playing Hannibal’s early victories, but seen from the Roman side.
I started the scenario that begins in the late fall of 218 BC. Hannibal is across the Alps and the stage is set for the showdown across the river Trebia. Modern politics is often (and annoyingly) compared with warfare. In the Republic of Rome, however, success at the ballot box was often tied to one’s success on the battlefield. Sempronius Longus’ eagerness to engage Hannibal, even when at obvious (particularly as seen in retrospect) disadvantage, is in part because achieving personal glory on the battlefield would translate to political and financial success in Rome. It was therefore easy enough for Hannibal to draw Sempronius into a fight across a river in winter conditions, where he was defeated.
Taking on the vague persona of “Rome,” I’m under no such pressure. I was slow to relocate Sempronius’ forces from Sicily** and then, once they were in northern Italy, moved them into camp to properly prepare for battle. I was so slow, in fact, that Gaius Flaminius and Gnaeus Servilius Geminus replaced Sempronius and Publius Cornelius Scipio as consuls. Maybe Sempronius was on to something? I also waited a few more months for reinforcements to arrive (which, frankly, I was still trying to get figured out) and for the weather to be good. I wouldn’t make my move until August.
Having fully assembled both consular armies and beefed up my forces, I first crossed the Trebia River at an unopposed crossing so that I could attack Hannibal on even ground. As it turned out, it didn’t do me much good. Despite my organization, I came upon a Carthaginian army which significantly outnumbered and outclassed my own. All my preparation wasn’t for naught. The loss wasn’t a disaster; my losses were only about double that of Hannibal and more than half my forces remained in fighting order. I was able to retreat back across the river and keep my army intact, ready to fight against Hannibal (and, yes, lose) another day, as he moved south through the Italian peninsula. Publius Cornelius Scipio, meanwhile, although many months behind schedule, moved back to Rome in preparation for leading his historical command in Spain.
I’ll not dwell on the campaign that followed except to note one thing. As I continue my chase of Hannibal through Italy, I’ve yet to experience the massive defeat and resulting loss of all legions that marked Hannibal’s greatest victories. Part of this may be due to my more pensive operations; the Romans have yet to be caught out with the consuls split and defeated in detail. Also, by the time I actually did lose a single legion to Hannibal, I already had a replacement waiting in Rome. I suspect that was triggered in the scenario by the historical defeats that never actually happened in my game. It is also, I imagine, due to a leveling effect that comes from the random resolution of battles. Statistically speaking, this should tend to avoid the outliers in terms of extreme victories or defeats, as a Cannae or Lake Trasimene would seem to be.
The end result of all this is that, because Rome never has a catastrophic loss and because I’m recruiting replacements in anticipation of heavy casualties, the pace of my campaign picks up rapidly. In the game, I can force a major battle every two or three months through the seasons with favorable weather. I lose, sure, but each time Hannibal also loses forces he can’t replace while Rome is able to patch up her legions in short order, ready to send them out again. What is it about the modeling that causes this departure from reality? Am I allowed to beat the cycle of military defeats followed by Senate reaction by anticipating my losses? Is this a reasonable result of my losses being lower than the historical ones? I have no idea, but it does have implications with respect to exploring “what ifs.”
*In the Pyrrhic War, it was less an issue of creating replacement legions as rebuilding the ones that had been depleted. I use the terminology because, isn’t a unit which has had the bulk of its soldiers replaced in many ways “new?” Plus, I want to make the comparison with the actual destruction of legions from which Rome suffered in later wars.
**In another historical note, I came across a telling detail regarding the relocation of the Sempronius’ consular army from Sicily to Italy. In game, I marched them by land, a procedure that took time and cost me through attrition. Sempronius himself dismissed his army after having them swear an oath to reassemble at Armenium (right edge of the top-most screenshot). Essentially “strategic movement,” as it is sometimes called in other games, was left as an exercise for the individual soldier. It must have worked, at least to some extent.