Last week I broke down some of the considerations players will face during the early maneuver stage of a scenario in The Grass Crown. Today, we're going to focus on what happens once the two armies are finally in contact.
Just as in With It Or On It, an attack will inflict an Exhaustion result on the attacker or the defender or both, but these results can be resolved by shifting the hit onto an adjacent Fresh Unit in that Wing. It's only when there are no eligible Fresh Units around that an Exhausted Unit will be Eliminated – or when one of those Fresh Units is revealed to be Brittle. At that point, its removal triggers a Rout Check, which might cause additional Units to be removed depending on the overall cohesion of the line. Naturally deeper, tighter formations tend to be more resistant than thinner, looser ones, though formations that are designed to fight more independently – like the maniple or cohort – don't fall apart as easily as a Phalanx does once the line breaks.
And so your goal in this stage of the game is to put pressure on the enemy line, trying to make it break so that it will hemorrhage units, while mitigating the pressure being placed on your own line. The first is accomplished via Combat Phases, and the second via our old friend the Rally Phase.
Each turn will generally see players making one big decision and several smaller ones. As with the maneuver stage, the big decision is going to be what pair of commands to use, though with the Skirmishing done with, those options are a bit more tightly conscribed.
We'll start with the obvious one, Rally and Combat. The first attempts to flip Exhausted Units back to their Fresh side. As the game moves further along the historical narrative across the various scenarios, the Romans develop new tools that will allow them to Rally more easily. The Veteran Rule provides a "+1" bonus on top of the regular DRMs, while the Marian Rule allows Units to swap places in the formation before making the roll – pulling frontline Units into the back so they might safely attempt to recover. The Rally Phase happens before the Combat Phase, which is good, because only Fresh Units can participate in the fighting.
So, assuming you have Exhausted Units in your line, why wouldn't you always pick Rally and Combat? That's because Combat and Aquila gives you a favorable "-1" modifier to every roll on the CRT. You also receive modifiers depending on unit type and the support of other friendlies, and piling on these modifiers is the key to getting your die roll out of the EX range (where both sides take losses) and into the DX or even DE, which, respectively, Exhaust the enemy or Eliminate them outright.
There's another use of the Aquila however. Instead of making the phase it's paired with more powerful, it can be used to give the standard version of that Command to all Foot Units on a side. Remember, each turn you're activating a single Wing. This is fine for the manipular legion, where each line of the triplex acies is represented by one Wing that covers its entire frontage, representing its increased tactical flexibility. But their enemies are often divided into two or three Wings – for example, a left, right, and center. And so a non-Roman player turn is only going to see attacks being made in a single sector – unless you use the Aquila in this way, ordering attacks all down the line.
This comes with a cost, of course – exercising this kind of command reduces your side's Rally Limit, which as you might guess limits the number of Units you can attempt to Rally each turn.
You can also pair the Rally with the Aquila if you're especially beat-up, or the Rally with Move if you need to shift troops from the back of your line to fill the holes in your front, but most of the time, your big decision each turn is, am I gonna use Rally and Combat, or Aquila and Combat (and if the latter, which version)?
The small decisions wrapped up in that are about which pieces of cardboard are going to attack which other pieces of cardboard, and then which of those will be flipped to resolve losses. And this can be tricky. First of all, it's tricky because attacks are required. If you've got a Fresh Unit adjacent to an enemy Unit, it must either make an attack or Support an attack made by an adjacent friendly. An isolated, lightly-armed hastati forced to attack an enemy Phalanx is not gonna have themselves a good time.
A Fresh Unit adjacent to the enemy makes an attack, and can be supported by any friendly Fresh Unit that's adjacent to that attacker – but that's all those supporting Units are going to be doing this Phase. They won't be making attacks of their own. Which brings us to the second reason this is tricky.
Your goal – "put enough pressure on the enemy line in the right places so that it breaks" – requires two mutually-exclusive approaches: making a higher number of weaker attacks with fewer Units supporting, and making a smaller number of stronger attacks, with more Units supporting. The first reduces the number of options your opponent has to resolve future Exhaustion results, but increases the chance of your own Units being Exhausted. The second mitigates your own liability, and might even result in an outright Elimination of the target, but by scoring fewer hits on the enemy, it becomes easier for them to recover.
Put it another way: if my Wing of Phalanx has a frontage of five squares, am I going to make five small attacks that are riskier or two big ones that are safer? This is going to be influenced of course by the health of my overall line, as well as which player has possession of two very important markers: Initiative and Fortuna.
The Initiative Marker is used at the end of your turn to take a second turn in a row, at which point it passes into the enemy's possession. So I might make a higher number of risky attacks if I know I can spend the next turn Rallying, or to set myself up for a big attack next turn that will scatter my enemies.
The Fortuna Marker allows you two re-rolls before passing to your opponent. This is for any kind of roll – combat, rally, morale checks, skirmishing, cavalry charges, elephant trampling, elephant rampage, you name it. But controlling the Fortuna Marker during your own Combat and/or Rally Phase especially is a huge advantage, and will influence your decisions on both the macro and micro level.