The Siege of Jerusalem Review by Len Krol
Published by the Avalon Hill Game Company (1988)
Designed and developed by Fred Schachter, Steve Weiss, and Bruno Sinigaglio
Field battles can be polite affairs where you allow the other guys to shoot first. However, sieges are not. They can be very brutal. I have just finished playing Siege of Jerusalem by Avalon Hill and I feel that I have been through Hell.
Jerusalem is the largest city that the Romans had to ever besiege. They could not surround it and starve it out. It had to be taken by assault. One assault would not do for Jerusalem because it was divided into eight different sectors and each sector was a fortress into itself. This had to be done quickly, and with as few casualties as possible for enemies both foreign and domestic were waiting to strike if there was any sign of weakness.
The game has a 49” x 33” map. This was the largest map, Avalon Hill ever made. It has three sheets of counters and two 8” X 11” charts, and a sixteen page rulebook.
Siege of Jerusalem comes from a time when the rules were not as organized as they are now. There is enough to start the game, but I had to make a number of house rules during the battle. For example, they do not say what the arc of fire is for the siege engines. It implies that it is in a straight line. I ruled that Onagers and Ballistas have to fire in a straight line, but catapults have a 120 degree arc. Archers and the rest can shoot all around. I am not sure I am right, but this is how I played it.
This campaign is on two levels. There is the strategic side and the tactical side. The strategic side is slanted in favor of the Judean player. The Judean player receives points for killing Roman infantry, siege engines, artillery and leaders. If the Judean’s earn 400 points in one assault round, they win. If they earn 1500 points total after any round, they win. If Titus and Titus Alexander die, the Judeans win. If the Romans did not capture areas fast enough to reduce the replacement rate quick enough, the Judeans win. If the Siege lasts more than 26 weeks, the Judeans win. This is all stated in the rules booklet, but not in the same place.
The Roman player then determines how much time he will prepare for the next assault. The longer he waits, the more destruction he can inflict on the walls, and the more replacements he can bring back. He can also build ramps, and acquire an armored tower (A combination of a ram and siege tower that’s hard to destroy). The longer you wait, the more points the Judean player gets. The Judean player secret records where he will place his artillery and make repairs to the wall. The Roman player then places his units on the map. He can leave a legion off map. The Roman legions are placed 5 hexes away from the wall. The Judean player then places his units. In a siege, the defender always knows where the attacker’s main effort is. Next, the assault begins.
- Roman Rally Phase
- Fire Phase (Judean’s fire first, then the Romans fire)
- Roman Movement Phase
- Roman Melee Phase
- Judean Rally Phase
- Fire Phase (Roman’s fire first, then the Judeans fire)
- Judean Movement Phase
- Judean Melee Phase
- End of Turn
There are ten rounds in an assault phase. The first seven rounds are in day light, and the last three at night. The Judean player adds a +1 modifier to any melee attacks at night. The Judean player can concede an area, but only if the Roman player allows it. The Roman player can add three more night turns if he wants to.
For a Roman to conquer an area he must have ten fresh heavy units in the area and control 15 built up areas. In Herod’s palace and the temple area, you need 10 fresh heavy units and conquer four edifice (Large Buildings) hexes.
The Judeans have three types of units: militia, regulars, and Zealots. The militia are the most numerous. They have a strength of 2 and have missile ability at a range of 1. The regulars have a melee strength of 5 and missile range of 4. They are the best defensive units in the game. The Zealots have a melee strength of 7. They are the best units for defending in forts and have some counterattack capability. The Judeans have units that garrison certain areas. These units are not allowed to leave or retreat from these areas and cannot be replaced. They have artillery such as catapults, Onagers, and Ballistas. The Judeans have Cauldrons of boiling oil to drop on the Romans. The Judeans are a light infantry force. They work better fighting in the hills and wastelands where they can maneuver around the enemy and destroy them. The walls and forts in Jerusalem give them a fighting chance to survive for a while.
Romans are the only ones who have heavy infantry. These are three types, Veteran (7), Line (6), and Recruit (5). If these three are stacked together in their cohort, there is a die roll modifier when they attack or defend. The problem is that there are many areas that only allow one or two units to stack. The Romans have light troops such as the Velitae (3-9) and the Foederatti (2-10). These units have missile fire up to one hex. There are a number of uses for these light units. They can push rams and siege towers. They can cordon off gates, they can flank enemy units. The Romans also have archers, just not that many. Each legion receives only three of them. They are very effective. The Romans also have cavalry. Surprising, there are uses for these units in a siege. The Romans also have artillery and siege engines such as rams, towers, and armored towers.
Both sides have leaders. They have melee strength and a ten hex radius to activate units. Each side has a commander, Titus for the Romans and Eliezar Ben Yair for the Judeans. These commanders cannot be replaced if lost. Each legion or Judean faction has their own leader. They can be replaced, but their command radius is reduced. There are certain problems with leaders in this game. The leader, artillery, siege engines and cavalry counters are larger than the infantry units. This makes it easier to spot them when setting up. It also makes stacking difficult. You can have two infantry units pushing your siege tower with two units on top and a leader. This is an unstable column and these stacks are constantly falling over. The rules never explain how leaders die. I made a house rule that the leaders are a unit and suffer the combat results as a leader. If a leader is stacked with another unit, and the result is an “EE,” then both the unit and leader are eliminated. If it was an “E,” then just the unit is lost and the leader survives.
There are two types of combat: missile and melee. In missile combat you cross index the missile strength by the terrain. That tells you what column to roll. You add or subtract modifiers to the die roll. As expected clear terrain is the worst to be in. The Roman side tends to spend many turns in clear terrain and has to endure missile fire twice a turn. He hates the missile phase. In melee you determine the odds ratio and add or subtract any modifiers. The results affect only the defender so you can attack at low odds. There will be a lot of die rolling for little effect. The Roman player loves the melee phase. His army is trained to fight at sword point. I found the Roman heavy units are great street fighters and once in the built up areas are impossible to push out.
I’ll describe the campaign I played. It will give you an idea on how the game is played. I played solo.
First Assault Phase
The New City is a good place to start. There is an introductory scenario The Assault of Gallas. This was a Roman attack on Jerusalem in 66 AD. It was repulsed. You had only one legion in that attack and it took me all ten rounds to break in. It is a good way to learn how to both attack and defend.
For the full campaign I would have four legions. I thought about maybe attacking the Lower City or the City of David, but thought it was too risky. I decided not to use any time in preparation. I knew the walls were thinner and could easily be knocked down. I figured that I would need more time later in the campaign, so I deployed the 10th and the 8th legions to the north on the plain. In two turns they would be pounding walls and the towers would be assaulting the bastions. The 15th Legion was deployed off the map. This forced the Judean player to deploy one of his factions to defend the Lower City and the City of David. This legion would appear on the east edge of the map, I wanted to make sure I capture the New City. Failure to do so would lose the campaign for Rome. The 12th legion would attack the west wall. They had to go up a slope. It would take four turns to get to the wall. The 10th and 8th had a hard time. Then I realized that the legions needed to be in a Testudo formation. I did this and it reduced the casualties. The 12th legion created a breach in only two fire turns. At the same time, the 12th legion leader led an attack on a bastion. He captured it and the faction’s leader died. In the next Roman movement phase, he realized that there was nothing between them and the Tyropean City. The Velitae and Foederatti raced through the New City and escalated up into an unoccupied bastion. The next movement phase, they were in the city. One faction moved in and was about to attack until they realized that they were out of the command range of their leader. The Romans were also outside of their commander’s range, but he moved up first. They had to wait for the next turn to attack. In one swift move, the Romans captured two areas instead of one.
The Judeans got to call up their reserves. For every two built up by the Romans, the Judeans can bring in a new unit. Some factions may end up larger than when they started. Reserves are limited by area and the number of units in the factions. To the Roman it seems like the Judeans multiply like bacteria. There is a limit. The Judean often has to decide where the best place to deploy his maxed out factions.
By capturing two areas I reduced the replacement rates. The New City and Tyropeon city combined are 20%. This means that 20% of the Judean casualties are loses. I destroyed 40 units, so 8 units are permanently dead.
The Second Assault
I sent two Legions against the Upper City and two against the City of David. The Judean rolled the dice and determined that he would put two factions in each city. I waited four weeks, because I thought the Romans could make only one mining attack. Actually he can make one per legion. Hence, there was a ferocious attack on the wall. Once again the 12th legion broke through. There was not much defending the built up areas, so the 12th needed only 2 melee rounds to take the city. The attack on the City of David failed.
The Third Assault
This time I sent three legions against the Lower City and one against the City of David. The attack on the City of David was more of a demonstration to tie down Judean forces. Since I had three legions demolishing walls, I put lots of holes in it. The Romans got into the city easily. This time it was a ferocious struggle for the built up areas. It seemed like the Judeans lost most of their militia units and only regular and Zealot units were left. The Romans fiercely attacked and inflicted enough disruptions to force back the Judeans. Once in the built up areas, the Romans could not be dislodged. The Romans were able to conquer the 15 built up hexes to take the area. Once they did, I withdrew the legion attacking the City of David.
The Fourth Assault and the Escape
It is time to take the Temple. The Temple had to be taken or the Romans would lose. The Romans think that there are too many zealots in the game while the Judeans feel they do not have enough. There are seven Temple hexes and each one had two Zealot counters on them. The temple is surrounded by two walls. The outer wall is worth twelve points while the inner is worth 8. In the previous two assaults if a ram was not doing anything, it was pushed to the outer temple wall to pound holes in it. I waited nine weeks and was able to increase the number of breaches. I put enough breaches so that the rams could enter and pound the inner walls. Siege towers were also pushed in so that the bastions could be stormed. The Roman legions had to endure flying rocks while trying to invade the temple. Roman leaders joined in the attack. Finally, the stack with Titus eliminated one zealot and was allowed to roll again. The second Zealot was also eliminated and Titus moved in. Two rounds later, the temple was taken.
The temple falling triggered an escape. The 10th legion was based on the west side to stop escapes. The light troops and the cavalry of the 15th legion were placed on the left flank to stop escapes from the City of David. I forgot to place the cavalry and light infantry of two legions, so a number of Judeans got away. They get points for this. At the end the score was 1592 points. This meant that Rome had the city but the rebellion still continues. This was the historical result.
The main problem with this game is that the rules are only semi organized. A veteran wargamer can handle it, but a newcomer would be overwhelmed. The rally phase should be at the end of the player’s turn sequence. I believe that if a unit is disrupted, you shouldn’t be able to use it for a turn. Both the Romans and Judeans can rally units too soon. There should be one fire phase per side. You can double the firepower rating and it will have the same effect.
This game is also a challenge. Each siege is a different type of battle and a different type of challenge. As the Roman player, I kept wondering if I made the right decisions. Maybe a different strategy would have been better. I want to play it again, but this game requires too much time. That is my main gripe against it. There is also too much die rolling.
I am surprised that other publishers have not done their version of this battle. I think that there would be an interest in it.
Buy your own copy here.