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Posted on Jul 20, 2020 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

“…the bodies were countless” – Chronica Gallica Anno 511  Chalons 451 AD Board Game Review

“…the bodies were countless” – Chronica Gallica Anno 511 Chalons 451 AD Board Game Review

Rick Martin

Chalons  451 AD    Board Game Review.  Publisher: Turning Point Simulations   Game Designer: Richard H. Berg   Price  $34.95 (zip lock bag) or $39.95 (boxed)

Passed Inspection: Well written, witty rules and examples. Easy to learn. Fast to play. Great value for the money.

Failed Basic:  Initiative rules are a little unclear.  

Chalons 451 AD was designed by the late Richard H. Berg and is a part of Turning Point Simulations’ Decisive Battles of the World series.  Chalons uses the same design system as Berg’s Arbela – Gaugamela 331 BC which was reviewed by Armchair General in 2017.

First some back ground on this decisive and historic battle directly from Turning Point’s own webpage for the game:

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 Born half-Roman, but all business, the Battle of Châlons saw “the last great Roman general”, Flavius Aetius, at his finest!

And “finest” would mean both political maneuvering with shifting alliances as well as tactical finesse.

The build-up to the Battle of Châlons (also called the “Battle of the Cataulnian Plains”) is incredibly complex, and we are not certain which parts are actually true. Certainly much of the “invasion” of the Late Roman Empire were fierce peoples — Vandals, Goths, Alans, etc — who were fleeing from the even-fiercer Huns. But Hunnish leaders like Attila, were far more than merely brutal, playing alliances, taking advantage of the deaths of neighboring leaders, and playing both Eastern and Western Romans as clients and victims. The Roman leader, Aetius, had Hunnish warriors fighting FOR him in earlier battles, and spent time with both the Huns and Goths as a honored hostage (learning much about both peoples while there.) In fact, his father was a Roman general of “Scythian” origin, one of the original groups of powerful mounted nomads, so you could say he was closer to his allies and adversaries than most Roman commanders of the day, which is one reason he was one of the most influential men in the Western empire for over 20 years.

Attila had spent time “visiting” various parts of both East and West, but taken home more loot from the East and decided there must be riper pickings in the West. Adding much of Gaul to his empire and plundering the rest looks to have been his aim, but his movements suggest as much opportunism as strategy.

The “two” armies involved at Châlons were a varied hodge-podge of peoples, with the “Hun” side including various Goths, Alans, Burgundians, Rugians, Franks, Thuringians, and many more. The “Allied” side was primarily Visigoth and “Roman” (which would be a broad mix of peoples in the same uniforms) but also included various Celtic and German tribes, Romano-Britons and their own allies of Franks, Alans, and Burgundians.

Chalons’ components include:

Over 60 large colorful playing cards

Pieces: 48 full color, large 5/8″ die-cut counters

Rule book

One hill terrain display

You will need two 6 sided dice to play the game.

The 12 page rule book is logically laid out and nicely written.  There are plenty of examples and the rules are rife with Richard Berg’s humorous observations making it a very fun read.   As with Arbela, I did find the initiative rules are not well explained. It appears that the Visigoths always start out with the initiative and then the Romans and finally the Huns but, by utilizing the Leaders’ ability to steal the initiative, the flow can change which then maintains that new initiative order until someone else steals the initiative.  I lost a game pretty badly owing to the ability to steal the initiative.  I was playing the Visigoths/Romans.  The Alan tribes’ armies had just deserted my legions leaving dangerous holes in my ranks.  Then Attila and his Huns stole the initiative, had great roles for activating their armies and launched a massive and extremely successful counter-attack which crushed my center and defeated my left and right wings in detail.  Darn you Attila!  There will be a rematch!

Each unit in the game is represented on a card.  There are cards for the leaders and for the troops.  Troop types include infantry as well as different qualities of cavalry, archers and skirmishers.  Each unit is rated for combat strength, missile attacks (if any), armor (rated for the unit’s front, sides and flank), speed and other specific stats.  A series of figures on the front of the unit show its speed and types of maneuvers it can perform.  The units “feel” right and are obviously very well researched.  Each type has its unique strengths and weaknesses.  The Huns have a great deal of cavalry units which make them fast and agile.  The Fifth Century Roman Infantry was slower than the skirmishers or cavalry but more heavily armed and armored than the other infantry units included in the game such as the Visigoths and Burgundians.

Leader cards are very important and can greatly add to the battle effectiveness of the units.  Leaders are rated for combat modifiers, ability to order a flank attack, overall command ability, ability to seize the initiative and a casualty value if killed or captured.

The cards are laid out on a table and the rows and columns represent battle lines.  The “battlefield” is 7 cards across by 7 cards deep.  The lines are broken in to reserve areas, 2 deployment rows, 2 advance rows and 1 battle line.  Units are moved per their formation ability and speed.  Some units can attempt to outflank and attack to the rear.  That’s where the cavalry comes in handy.  The table is effectively your game board.  The battlefield is flat with the only terrain being a two level hill which must be placed near the Roman/Visigoth’s right wing.

Missile Combat is resolved by looking at the unit card and determining range and then a handy chart is provided on the card itself for determining what is a hit or a miss using 2 six sided die.  A unit can take up to 4 points of damage from archers after which it is considered destroyed as a fighting force.  A handy damage counter is placed on the unit’s card to track damage from missile combat.

Shock Combat aka “melee combat” is also equally easily resolved.  Figure the attack rating of the unit based upon where the defender is in relation to the attacking unit’s front, side or flank, roll one six sided die and add that result to the Shock Combat Strength of the attacker.  Subtract the number of hits the attacker has received from other combat rounds, add the Combat Rating of the Leader if he is stacked with the unit and then compare the results to the Defender’s die roll plus his Defense Rating.  Units can be eliminated, disrupted, damaged or have successfully defended.  When a unit is eliminated, the card is retained by the victor to determine victory points.

And that’s pretty much it.  Chalons is easy to learn and play and elegant in its design. A full game can be played in 60 to 120 minutes.

My own personal area of interest in regards to the Roman Empire is the end of the Republic era and up through the fall of the Julio-Claudian dynasty.  My knowledge of Fourth and Fifth Century Rome is rather limited but this game has ignited my interest in learning about the turbulent later years of Roman history.

The artwork of the unit cards is evocative and lovely while being functional and logically laid out.  I found it fun to lay out the cards and compare unit quality.  The application of the tactics of the time to the unit cards brings to life the chaos and dynamism of these types of battles.

I did find one typo on page 4 section E “Movement” in which the text says that the unit can move “3 sections straight ahead”. It should read “2 sections straight ahead”.

Chalons has more detailed random events which can occur based upon the individual leader’s abilities. In addition, as happened to me, the Alans have to be carefully watched as they may rampage or just leave the battlefield if they think things are not going their way.  Thanks guys for costing me the game after you retreated from the battlefield at the first sight of Attila’s forces.

How does the game play solo?  While the game does not have a solo bot system, the die roll for leaders to activate their forces and the low unit density makes it very easy to either play both sides or pick a side to identify with and play the other side very aggressively by focusing on the goal of achieving the side’s victory conditions.

I really enjoyed this game and if wanting to play it over and over again is any indication, this game is a winner.  Richard H. Berg may be gone but he has left us with a wonderful legacy of gaming and Chalons is no exception.

Armchair General Rating: 97 %

Solitaire Rating: 3

About the Author

A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer. He designed the games Tiger Leader, The Tiger Leader Expansion and Sherman Leader for DVG and has designed the solo system for Forsage Games’ Age of Dogfights.  In addition, Rick can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!

components
Aetius
King Theodoric
Attila the Hun
the battle
Aetius in trouble

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