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  US $70.00 / £59.99 - £70.00 UK 

CATAPHRACT: The Reconquest of the Roman Empire is the eighth volume in the GBoH series of wargames from GMT Games. First published in 1999 this second edition version is updated and revised and released in honour of Richard Berg who sadly died last year. The game design is by Richard Berg and Mark Herman with the additional JUSTINIAN campaign: Reconquest of Rome credited solely to Richard Berg. 

The good thing about producing a series like GBoH is that you can (and GMT does) begin at a chosen point in history and then with each new release move forward to the next significant period. The series has a 'basic' rules system that was created with hindsight to be flexible so that it could be changed as necessary when tactics, strategies, weaponry and military intelligence changed as years passed; thus GBoH is a perpetual metamorphosis reflecting on history through the ages.

I have mentioned the basic rules being used for all GBoH games, but you do not need prior knowledge of them to play any of the games in the series. All games are stand alone for playing purposes and are only linked by history. You do not even need to know your history to play. If you know something of the time period then that will help put the imagery of the battles in your head and help create an atmosphere in which you can operate. Without prior knowledge of the period you are shifting counters and rolling dice over hexagons printed onto laminated paper maps that without the Battle Name and Date on them would not be recognisable from any other hexed map. Although you can (obviously) play from a blank [mental] sheet, it is your imagination and your understanding of these great battles that gives this series its deserved success. 

Emporer Justinian may be a name you remember from history lessons at school. If you do then you should also remember he was the Eastern Roman (aka Byzantine) Empire who tried to reunite them with the Western Roman Empire. There is a separate Rule Book and Map specifically dedicated to the Justinian attempt to reconquest the once all powerful Roman Empire. 

Throughout the Rules Booklet there are Blue Boxes that contain Rules specific to CATAPHRACT. Attention is drawn to these boxes to ensure that ALL players, including those used to GMT and GBoH rules read them thoroughly. They are important to the satisfying and historical value of this game. Other rules are independently found under the Headings and Sub-Headings regarded as the norm for tabletop wargames, making it reasonably easy to quickly locate rules points when required. Everything about CATAPHRACT is aimed at making the game comfortable to learn and satisfying to play.


GMT are one of the few companies remaining who still produce tabletop wargames that use small counters on hex maps. If you have counters like GMT make, of good quality card, then you can print virtually all the game information required onto the front and back of each counter. Regular Infantry and Cavalry Units may have six individual pieces of information on their Front sides whilst Leaders have nine, and both also have a fair-sized illustration and the counter number; the flip sides of these counters are slightly different to indicate they are not the Front side. The counter numbers are used for setting up of the different scenarios, ensuring the correct unit type and number are positioned in their correct starting hexes. 

CATAPHRACT uses initialisation (most are wrongly called acronyms) throughout its books to refrain from continually using the full description. Most of these initials are either already known to wargamers or are easy to decipher. You will also find many of them on the counters so knowing them assists in understanding your units at a glance. ZOC = Zone of Control. OC = Overall Commander.  CC = Contingent Commander. RP = Rout Points. Cat = Cataphract. HC = Heavy Cavalry. LC = Light Cavalry. TQ = Troop Quality.  HI = Heavy Infantry. LI and LC = Light Infantry and Light Cavalry. LN = with Lance or Lancer. OW = Orderly Withdrawal. IO = Individual Orders. IR = Initiative Rating. etc. etc. As I said most of them are easily deciphered and many are consistant with every tabletop wargame no matter who the publishing company is.

The Battles in CATAPHRACT take as long as they take with each Game Turn taking around 20-30 minutes depending on the players and the situation. Battles continue Game Turn after Game Turn until one side has little option but to withdraw; these are historically based battles not fantasy combats where the idea is to totally eliminate the opposition.

The CATAPHRACT Scenario Book has seven Land Battles plus one Sea Encounter 'Sena Gallica' which history recounts as the first Naval battle. Because of the scarcity of complete authentic documentation the authors have scoured through numerous books and writings dedicated to the period covered and recreated the battle scenes accordingly. History is, as they say, written by the victorious, and thus the strengths, positioning, strategies and tactics of the armies involved may be tainted but slightly by the books and scrolls that survived this era and have been translated and published by learned scholars and historians over the years. The true account of each battle may never be fully known, only the general outcome, and so when taking control of Attila's Huns, Theodoric's Goths or Justinian's Romans, you are stepping into one of the most exciting and bloody of times with the power at your fingertips to change history.

Each scenario begins with a short historical background to set the scene as understood by the authors and for the reason of giving the players purpose. These battles are for you to win or lose through tactics and skill, and like so many throughout history, with a little luck. This game gives you the ways and means to conduct and reconstruct ancient battles. The Troops, the Leaders, the Battlefields, are all taken from the pages of history as we understand it; the movement, the combat, the Leaders Orders are all down to you, the players. The Romans are stoic and regimented whereas the Huns, Goths et al are less constrained by uniformity, though all units on either side need to not stray beyond the reach of their Commanders, something the player controlling the armies fighting against the Byzantine forces needs to manage. There is more to being the overall Commander of one or the other of these sides than simply pushing stacks of counters around a hex-based map.

Included in the second edition box is the stand-alone game about the Reconquest of Rome by the Emperor Justinian. This has its own map, and its own counters which I suggest you pop safely from their die-cut frames and keep in zip-loc bags. GMT do provide zip-locs but they are 16cm x 10cm and rather larger than necessary for individual types. I bought myself a pack of small zip-locs (6cm x 7cm) so that I could keep every type of counter set separate. I marked the outside of these bags with a permanent marker for ease of location and use. JUSTINIAN is Byzantine versus Barbarians. It is played over 10 Turns by which time the Byzantines are expected to win by one of a few conditions; historically this would be the second appearance of the Plague. In years, each Turn equates to around four years of campaigning though this is only a rough assessment seeing as if you accept the game's information that Justinian started his reconquest in 527CE and ended it around 558CE (531 years), then 10 Turns of 4 years each (40 years) would make the actual end 567CE, 4 years after he died in 563CE. For readers unsure of the CE in a date it is generally taken to mean either 'Common' or 'Current' Era which is the equivalent of AD (Anno Domini).

The JUSTINIAN game should last about 5 hours. It has its own rules and player Aid cards. It's counters are slightly different, Justinian Leaders for example, do not have as much information on them and that which they have are mostly different. For CATAPHRACT the front side of a Leader's counter has this information: Name, Rank, Command Range, Elite Indicator, Initiative, Line Commands, Charisma, Personal Combat. JUSTINIAN Leaders have Name, Control Rating, Movement Rating, Battle Rating; the Justinian counters are designed for quicker game play and to be immediately easier to recognise and understand.

JUSTINIAN uses Gold as income, a means to pay troops and as a treasure/reward to capture and gain. If you don't have enough Gold it will affect your Army activation. You can obtain Gold by stealing it or most regularly by collecting income from controlling Provinces. JUSTINIAN is set in the same era as the CATAPHRACT game it comes with, but it uses a somewhat different rules system. For instance: Gold is only used in Justinian not in Cataphract, and the D10 dice system in Justinian gives a result of 1-10 whereas in Cataphract it gives results of 0-9; also in Justinian it's Byzantine versus Barbarians with all the Persians, Vandals and Goths lumped together under the Barbarian umbrella. Emporer Justinian was renown for being tight with his money and is also known as being the Overall Commander, Imperator Caesar Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinianus Augustus, and for claiming back much of the lost ancient boundaries of the Roman Empire. This he did by ensuring his Armies had strong, military-minded, order-obeying Generals, like Belisarius, whilst Justinian kept himself away from the Battlefields.

JUSTINIAN is a slightly simpler version of the GBoH rules system but it's not quite as simple as the actual Simple GBoH rules as located in the Cataphract Scenario Booklet on page 26. These rules are specifically for the first two scenarios in the aforementioned booklet; 'The Utus River' and 'The Catalaunian Fields' both of which feature the Hun Army of Attila. These are the only scenarios to have the special simple rules and also the only scenarios to feature Attila.

Both games use Activation mechanics. In Justinian game-play is useful as an introduction to GMT Ancient Armies GBoH tabletop wargaming even though it is a 5 hour undertaking, which doesn't mean it is not fulfilling, satisfying or a strategic challenge to both players - it is! Combat mechanics are also somewhat different in both game systems. In Justinian both sides make a modified die roll (DR), the difference of which determines SP loss on both sides, with the option of retreating also being determined by a modified die roll. The combat for Cataphract concerns TQ (Troop Quality) and CH (Cohesion Hits) rather than the loss of SP and may or may not include the roll of the die, some damage is automatically applied - Charts on the Cataphract 'Player Aid' card make the determination. Leaders in Justinian have less impact and are less effective than in Cataphract.

In our games of Cataphract a good few battles have been decided by how well the players have used their Leaders. Each Leader has a Command Range where he can affect the troops within the perimeters of this area. Those units can receive either Line Orders or Individual Orders from their Leaders and can be aided to rally. Leaders should be kept out of the enemy's ZoC if possible as being within such an area seriously diminishes the Leaders initiative, control and efficiency.

When I used to miniature war game (years ago) I often used to use a Roman Army generally against opposition that were often Goths, Persians, armies with quick light cavalry etc and it was enthralling to see how the regimented cohorts of the Romans stood up to the harrassment and wearing-down tactics of the mostly lighter, speedier troops. My Roman units would march across the battlefield, 3 or 4 cohorts looking lost in the middle of an 8ft x 4ft wargame table and almost surrounded by swift moving barbarians and less disciplined troops. Twenty or Forty hits on a cohort resulted in one lost figure, but like a juggernaut the cohorts moved slowly but steadily towards the enemy hordes. Cohort soldiers were mostly armed with one or two Pilum (lances) that were thrown just prior to hand to hand contact with drawn Gladius (sword) at which the enemy would lose the routing die roll and the battle lost.

This doesn't happen in tabletop board war gaming. The units, small counters, don't look as impressive as figures (obviously) when lined up in their hexes and facing across a paper map towards a line or two of opposition counters. Nor, in most cases, is it as easy to move the speedier light troops in and out using marauder or hit and run tactics. In fact it is difficult for a board war game to represent the thrill of fighting with miniatures even though there is far less of any type of book-keeping. GMT's GBoH does better than most to create the exciting atmosphere and CATAPHRACT  players can help themselves by perhaps not setting up the Barbarian units in the straight, uniform, regimented, lines as shown in the Scenario Booklet. The designers have given us the opportunity to relive some of these great, but rarely documented (in full) Battles, by creating reasonable facsimile's of the numbers and types of troops and units who were in attendance at these Battles, but it is up to us, the players, to bring the designers contributive research to life. With the winners writing history it is unusual that the frightening Attila and his Huns, Theodoric the Great with his loyal Ostrogoths and his son Thorismund with the powerful Visigoths at his command are better known other than by historians and war games players, than the Roman General, Flavius Aetius, who is the OC (Overall Commander) of the Western Roman Empire, and who defeated and destroyed Attila.

Those Ancient times produced some of the most colourful Great Battles of History and mentally more than visually, GMT have intellectually recreated them in the shape of small card counters with a solid set of rules and game mechanics. Yes, it does take more than a quick read or browse through the booklets to bring Ancient Rome to your games room (or in many cases, dining-room) table, but the time worth learning is time well spent away from the television, phone or computer.


PUBLISHED 2019, 1999      DESIGNERS Mark Herman and Richard Berg     DEVELOPER Alan J. Ray    PROJECT EDITOR Gene Billingsley
ART DIRECTOR Rodger B. MacGowan    MAP ART Mark Simonitch    COUNTER ART Rodger B. MacGowan and Mike Lemick   
PACKAGE DESIGN Rodger B. MacGowan    PRODUCERS Gene Billingsley, Tony Curtis, Andy Lewis, Rodger MacGowan, Mark Simonitch

Note on this 2nd Printing: This edition includes the Battles of the Utus River (447 CE) and the Catalaunian Fields (451 CE) from the original Attila Scourge of God Module.

LIVING RULES:  Cataphract Rules     Justinian Rules     Errata and Clarifications


© Chris Baylis 2011-2015