Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


About three weeks ago, my friend Paul R. invited Grant G., his brother W.J., and myself to his house for a game of the classic Caesar: Alesia (designer Robert Bradley, publisher Avalon Hill).  This hex-and-counter wargame revisits the Gallic attempt to break the Roman seige of the fortress at Alesia in September 52 BC.  I'd read an English translation of De Bellis Gallicus by Julius Caesar, so I was somewhat familiar with the battle and its context.  The interesting aspect of the battle is that the Romans had formed a double ring of fortifications around Alesia - an inner ring to keep the occupants of Alesia from escaping, and an outer ring to defend the Romans from other Gauls attempting to break the seige.

The rules of the game require that the commander of the "interior Gauls," those that start in Alesia, may not communicate in any way with the commander of the "exterior Gauls," those that start off the map, until they actually join forces.  The "exterior Gauls" start off-map in the southwest but can move from one off-map "zone" to the next without revealing the makeup of forces in each zone.  Romans can send cavalry on reconnaissance patrols off-map, which means that the Romans can actually gain more information about the disposition of the exterior Gallic forces than the interior Gallic commander has.  The objective of the Gauls as a team is to effect the escape of Vercengitorix from Alesia off the map; the objective of the Romans is to kill him.

Paul gave me choice of roles, and I selected to be Vercengitorix, commander of the Gallic forces inside Alesia - only because I liked the idea of having interior lines of communication.  Grant and W.J. elected to be the Roman commanders Caesar and Labienus, respectively, leaving Paul as Vercassivellaunus to command the "exterior Gauls."

This was a lengthy game.  I think the rules explanation alone ran over an hour.  The initial Roman set up took a fair amount of time after that.  But as experienced wargamers, we got the hang of the game in good time.

Turn 3:  Gauls deploy from Alesia, while relief forces
arrive from south (right) and west (bottom)
Photo by Paul Rice
Paul's exterior Gauls opened with an initial foray on the banks of the river in the southwest, a trap that Labienus couldn't resist and that ended up in his early death.  More Gauls entered with greater force in the west, and then more in the south.  W.J. had left the Roman southern ramparts weakly defended as compared to the rest of the Roman fortifications, so I deployed all forces from Alesia with an expanding perimeter to north, west, and south and took the north bank of the southern river.

Later in the morning, I was able to cross the river and establish a bridgehead.  Vercingetorix followed soon after and took position on the river to the south, ready to advance an escape or retreat to Alesia depending on how the battle shaped between the southern Romans and the exterior Gauls.  Paul expanded the scale of his western and southern incursions and added pressure in the southeast and other diversionary deployments to keep the Romans from over-concentrating at the points of attack.

End position:  Gauls establish a southern corridor for
the escape of Vercengitorix
Photo by Paul Rice
By the afternoon (Turn 5), my southern bridgehead force met up with Paul's southern incursion and allowed us to coordinate the establishment of a southern corridor to facilitate the escape of Vercingetorix.  Before the end of the day, the Romans conceded that they could not prevent his successful evacuation.  The result was a Gallic victory.

We discussed at length whether the Gauls had an inherent advantage.  Paul, the only one with experience in the game, had seen plenty of Roman victories and offered a rematch with switched sides to demonstrate how the Romans could be played.  He felt that the Gauls might have a 60-40 advantage over the Romans overall, but that it was certainly a winnable game for the Romans.

All in all, this was a fun game for a number of reasons, not the least of which was sinking my teeth into an old school Avalon Hill wargame.  Other than Midway, I hadn't played many such games in a long time, so it was good to revisit my serious boardgaming roots.


  1. Good writeup, and a great game! Thanks to all for playing.

  2. Good stuff, Paul. You just gotta love this game. I'm glad it's still getting table-time somewhere else besides my house! I added a link to this article on my web site (www.grognard.com). Thanks for taking the time to write this up.

    1. Thanks, Mark! All credit goes to Paul "Kriegspieler" Rice who has talked for years about getting us to play this one. When I was a big AH wargamer, I was never interested in the ancient period games. I love that stuff now, and I have great appreciation for Alesia.