Sunday 18 March 2012

Medieval Eye Candy - 1st Battle of St Albans

Once a year my old friend Paul D. puts on a Medieval battle for the Greatfield group. Last weekend we fought the third one using his own set of rules called "Love, Blood and Treachery". Although the rules are good for any kind of late Medieval warfare Paul specialises in  the Wars of the Roses and this time we fought the first battle of those wars - 1st St. Albans, 1455.
I'm certainly no expert in this period but I can't fail to be impressed by the splendid display of Paul's 28mm armies and his fine half timbered buildings, not to mention the very clever rules which give great period flavour. So I'll attempt to give some idea of how his battles are conducted and just a broad outline of our game, illustrated with lots of photos. Here's an interesting one to get us started.
This is one of three bottles of beer specially brewed for the Battle of Bosworth and kindly given to me for Christmas by my brother, Peter. I saved them specially for a Medieval wargame, and although this one is called "Let Battle Commence", as you'll see it takes a realistic build up before one of Paul's actually does! And before I could crack open the second bottle, my host commander, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, had plied me with a can of Theakston's Black Sheep just to keep me sweet - and it worked! Here's a view of the table as we six players first walked in:
St Albans town is on the left and the town ditch straddles the middle of the table, defended at three crossing points by small "Battles" of Lancastrians behind barricades. The ditch was very difficult to cross. Hotspur was the leader defending the middle crossing and Henry VI, having one of his bad days, was "commanding" a Battle skulking in  the town in reserve. On the right are the nucleii of three Yorkist battles, mine was in the centre, led by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. Richard Plantagenet's was on my right. The river in the foreground was only crossable at the bridge.
Paul D umpired the game and the players were:
Lancastrians - Richard N., Pete G., and Tony W.
Yorkists - Mike T., Chris G.,  and Edward G.
And here is what it looked like in a bit more detail:

The scene set it's now time to introduce some of the key elements of Paul's game. It's a game that's easy to pick up but devilish to master, and full of such layers of intricacy that I can but barely skim the surface. Paul has kindly offered to answer any queries by email, and may have a set of the rules to offer, but I'm not sure if they are ready for public viewing yet:
Paul enjoys delving into the history of his refights so he compiled special cards for each of the major leaders showing all their various characteristics and heraldry. You can match the coats of arms with banners in the photos to identify the Nobles.
Yorkist Leaders

Lancastrian Leaders
Value of leaders if captured etc.
Winning the game depends on progress up a chart with a sliding scale representing the overall army view of how their "cause" is fairing. This can be altered by players' actions prior to fighting commencing and, more significantly, during the violent part mainly by putting enemy leaders out of action, or achieving other valiant deeds. Here is the chart near the start when neither side had achieved much (progress indicated by the shields).

As shown, Paul had set up the main "Battles" but it was up to the players to allocate the lesser leaders and the game commenced with as many rounds as required of preliminary "build up", for want of a better word . The cards, drawn blind, generated the sequence of activation and each commander could make one among many choices of activity per turn. No fighting was yet taking place so it could be, for example: sending a herald to undermine the morale of an enemy stand, or a priest to give your troops extra "resolve" (strength points); a champion could challenge an enemy noble or his champion to mortal combat, or a "henchman" could seek out a noble to assassinate him. Money can be used to bribe a nobleman over to your side, or maybe to buy high quality mercenary men at arms. Logistic preparations for battle can be made such as accumulating ammunition for "arrow storms" or building defences. However, of most significance to all present in this refight was the uncertainty created by it being the first battle of the War and both sides had few troops present but King Henry wished to try to avoid bloodshed. That meant all commanders used most of their decision choices to slowly add archer and billmen stands to their Battles, hoping to derive sufficient advantage to either promote or deter attack, depending on your point of view. The onus was on us Yorkists to attack and we needed a lot of men to be sure to cross that ditch.

None of the above actions is free of risk as dice must be rolled to achieve them - rolling a '1' usually means some adverse effect on you.  Turn after turn I just could not seem to be getting it right, and my successive 1's meant loss of Resolve for the reserve stands I was trying to call up to the battle line before they had even seen the enemy!  By the time we had succeeded in calling up all our outlying, foraging troops stands, Ed on my left and Mike on my right both had Battles that were twice as strong as mine. The enemy too had probably doubled their small front line contingents. So far this had taken us from our 1030am start time till about 12.30 pm and I was feeling a bit despondent so opened my bottle of Bosworth Ale, just at the same time as the Duke of York pronounced "Let Battle Commence!"
Richard Plantagenet , Duke of York advances on my right
within medium bowshot of the enemy
Thomas Neville, Earl of Salisbury, advances on my left
My Battle, led by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, advances  reluctantly towards
 Percy's  Battle defending the central barricade. All those red spots indicate loss
of Resolve among my poorly motivated soldiers who are only just coming under fire.
Percy's "Hold" order meant he was peppering me with "arrow storms"
at three times the normal hit rate and was adding 1 to each die roll
 for having a master archer present, not a happy situation.
Well, as Medieval battles go the opposing "Battles" lurched towards one another, exchanged lots of bowshots and then got to grips. On the wings our Yorkists seriously outnumbered the Lancastrians behind their defences. On the left Ed's Earl of Salisbury force overcame the opposition eventually and broke off half the men to take the smaller party guarding the bridge in flank. Earlier in the day some clever bribery had summoned a less than loyal noble over to our side and these few troops were used to outflank the Lancastrians via the bridge. Later a "fate" card brought forth some mounted troops on our side but within a turn or two they also had switched sides. To me it was all very confusing and the rules are not called "Love, blood and treachery" for nothing!
Initial confrontation at the bridge. Lancastrians at right,
defected Lancastrians at left

Cavalry and more Yorkists join the fight
On the right flank Mike's Yorkist "battle" received a counter charge across the barricade from Tony's very depleted Lancastrian force. Amazingly these few hardy troops held up about 5 times their number until Mike took his commander and split off half his "battle" to head towards King Henry's reinforcements who were struggling to get out of St Albans town and support the centre.
Duke of York receives a brave charge by the Duke of Somerset
but later forges ahead on towards the town
to confront the Duke of Buckingham (below)
Meanwhile I had my own fight in the centre, where, despite my earlier misgivings, my own arrow storms
 had put paid to a number of enemy stands with only the loss of one of mine, so Percy got worried and, like his other Yorkist kinsmen, charged over the barricade at me.
I now found myself in the most dreaded part of medieval wargaming - hand to hand combat. It can be a dire slugfest, but not usually with Paul's clever system. It's a very elaborate and period specific take on "scissors, stone, paper" whereby there are eight cards from which the player can choose depending on how he sees his circumstances at the time. Thus there are colourful names such as "By the banners - hold!"; "To the bloody slaughter!"; "Slip the knife in" etc..... which give a snapshot of the detail on the card consisting of various bonuses that can be reduced or completely negated depending on what card the opponent plays. I must admit the first time I played, about 18 months ago, I was up against wizz-kid Ed who always predicted what I would play and countered it, so I got very disillusioned . But judging by my results at St Albans I've begun to understand the system better and was completely successful over two turns of combat.
Percy's circular base with the cross of St George banner is a "Reserve stand"
 that can , move by move, replace  lost resolve as if with reinforcements to the front line.
 It didn't do the poor noble much good this late in the day though. 
My foe, Percy, was soon reduced to his own stand of men at arms and a stand of bowmen. I then played the card "Seek the Noble Lord out", stormed forward with the Earl of Essex wheeling his men on Warwick's right to take Percy in flank. This photo shows the empty space with my opponents' stands gone to the great cemetery known as the "back table".....
I could hardly believe I'd actually won as things had looked so bleak a few hours earlier, and then I looked up from my blood soaked armour to see that King Henry's reserve had moved up to man the barricade to my front .....and I'd got to do it all over again!

But, thank fully it was not necessary, as my colleagues to left and right had experienced the same sort of hard fighting, but like me had prevailed and Lancastrian nobleman had been going down like nine-pins in the skittle alley behind Ye Olde Dog and Duck Inn. There was not much left of the King's Army intact and the scoreboard looked like this when Paul called the game over about 6pm.

So, as in the historic first battle of The Wars of the Roses, the Yorkist cause stood "Great and True" and I felt drained as if I'd really been in it.

This is not fast play wargaming by any stretch of the imagination but it is oozing with realism and period flavour under Paul's enthusiastic and expert direction. I hope this account has shown that during the course of a day we went through all the "foreplay" and onto the main event as a natural progression and the battle ran it's course with lots of player decisions but not needing the elaborate command systems of many wargames rules. The game was enlivened by "fate" cards but these were strictly rationed and fairly balanced so did not spoil the game. I'm not a Medieval wargaming enthusiast but this proved for me, and most present, a very enjoyable and worthwhile day - thanks Paul. 

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Rossback Refought on a Guest page

This posting is just to point you to another Guest Page I have added to show off the charming "old school" style Seven Years War set-up of Ian Allen, using 15mm figures. Please see the tab for "Ian Allen 3" above, or click this link. ian-allen-3
But it's more than just an account of a wargame with photos. Ian has played out both the cavalry battle and the full infantry battle using the Blackpowder rule set and he is deliberately light on narrative so that more space can be given to discussion of pros and cons of the BP system.  For that reason I've also added a very useful summation of BP by my other guest, Terry Preen. I hope visitors too will join in this discussion if you have points to add, or merely to thank Ian and Terry for presenting us with the fruits of their endeavours in combining the new with the old in the true spirit of this "not just old school" blog.

Here's a photo of Ian's game - plenty more on his page.