In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Hail Caesar: A First Look

Hail Caesar: Battles with Model Soldiers in the Ancient Era
by Rick Priestley
Published by Warlord Games Ltd. 2011
Hard Cover 192pp
Cdn$47.00 (30 pounds)

I've been waiting for these rules since I first caught wind of them last year. After much anxiety, they finally arrived in my mail box the day before Canada Post went on strike for the summer. I've been reading them this past week in between work and painting and had an old friend over for a first run through last night.

Like Black Powder, they are straightforward and intended for big armies and a convivial atmosphere. You can add more grit and detail as you grow in comfort with the basic rules, but the basic rules still give a fun game.

My friend and I don't get to see each other much so the game kept pausing for a lot of catching up, in addition to the expected leafing through the rules but we still played to a result in 4 hours.

To try the rules out I got my Spanish tribes and my Marian legions out. I opted for 80mm frontages, giving 12 figure standard units for the Romans, 24 figure warbands for the Spanish and 6 figure skirmisher and cavalry units (the basing is very flexible and  adaptable to any basing scheme as explained here). We also measured the ranges and distances in centimeters instead of inches.

Romans deployed

The hand to hand combat is more detailed than in Black Powder (as explained by Rick Priestley here), and there are some differences in break tests and stamina levels. A nice change in Hail Caesar is if a unit takes a catastrophic number of hits (double it's stamina) then it is immediately destroyed without a break test.

Spanish Tribes
Even though Scott hadn't read the rules and I had only gotten as  far as Shooting, we were still able to make the game work by using the handy Rules Summary at the end of the book. This is a great feature which I wish Black Powder had.

Lusitanians boil out of the woods!
The rules are only the first 85 pages. Then there is a lengthy section (10 pages) on troop types discussing the various ancient warriors and how they fit into Hail Caesar descriptions. There are also the Useful Rules to add special rules to give more flavour to various armies. Then there is a 60 page section taking the player through seven different scenarios and corresponding sample armies. The scenarios cover the Chariot Era, the Classical era, Imperial Rome, Later Imperial Rome, the Dark Ages and the Crusades. There is also a brief section discussing the Middle Ages and using Hail Caesar for battles up to The Wars of the Roses even though they are intended for earlier battles. This section closes with sample, formal Army Lists (with points!) for two of the armies that Warlord produces; the Early Imperial Romans and Ancient Britons. Rick Priestley has announced that volumes of Army Lists will be developed for those who want them, but that books taking on a format more like their scenarios will also be published for those who prefer to go in that direction. The end of the book is the 10 page Rules Summary and 4 page QRS (available for download here). The QRS includes the basic stats for the common troops types which I found very handy since I hadn't made any rosters up.


As with Black Powder you live and die by your Command Rolls. I had a nice division of cavalry sent off to turn the Roman left but they seemed to have stopped for a picnic and butterfly catching! My Celtiberian tribe was also foot dragging, leaving the Lusitanians on their left and the Iberians on their right to do all the fighting.

Commanders can do a bit more in Hail Caesar as well. They can get stuck in in the best heroic tradition and add to a unit's attack dice. Scott's legate did this at the crisis of the game and I'm sure earned himself some honours from the Senate by destroying a warband and its supports.

Finally getting to grips!

The Crisis! Dice under casualties mark multiple hits.
There are some subtletites that Scott and I missed in our first game which we'll pick up on as we gain more experience.

  • very attractive production values
  • flexible basing
  • gives a fast game
  • players are encouraged to adapt rules as they choose
  • can handle big armies
  • price (although I have it discounted in my store for $30 Cdn!)
  • the flexibility leaves loopholes (but that's only a worry if you've got a rules lawyer in your midst) 
  • there might be issues with the binding after heavy use, but the rules are straightforward enough you shouldn't have to use the book after a few games
  • some of the pictures aren't quite up to the standards set in Black Powder (but that's a minor quibble)
I've written several sets of ancient and medieval rules, and played many others which never grabbed my attention, but I like Hail Caesar. If these rules are easy and fast moving enough to help my friends and I get our armies on the table more often for a fun game, then that is a big plus. I think I'll be playing Hail Caesar a lot in the coming months and years.
The Bitterness of Defeat!


  1. Fantastic review James - not my time period - yet - but I'll probably be headed this way in the near future. Look forward to trying the game out myself.

  2. Great review. I really appreciate it.

  3. Sounds good. I like the casualty markers :-D

  4. Very nice review - I'm just getting the hang of the rules and really like them

  5. I appreciate your review and have decided to order them from in the hope that it may rekindle my interest in Ancients (since I have numerous large armies in storage which haven't seen action for about 15 years).

    -- Jeff

  6. You're welcome! I hope they work out for you. Nothing sadder than armies going unplayed because you can't find the right set of rules!

    I was actually discussing this with someone the other day how we used to be able to spend whole weekends with rules and charts and have big detailed battles that took a couple of weekends to play out. Now if I can get my friends together once a month I'm happy. so we just want to get on with it and play! My wife says it's called 'Getting a Life!' :)

  7. Very nice review, James! I don't know that I need HC, but I own BP and HC is $31.35 on Amazon. I don't play very often, but I love and adore Ancients. So my big question is does this trump other accessible rulesets like WAB2?



  8. I think so. I tried WAB and didn't really like it. HC plays very similar to BP but with a bit more detail on the hand to hand.

    I haven't tried WAB2 though so I can't comment.