The Viking Legal Team in Action

The Viking Legal Team in Action
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Monday, February 2, 2015

Neil Thomas "One - Hour Wargames" #20, Fighting Retreat

So the essential thing is to play the rules and subject them to the rigors of playtesting with people who don't know them.  Headed down to the local game shop and met up with a Dark Ages fan who loves SAGA, B-Ham of the linked blog "By Brush and Sword".  I like SAGA also, but it feels a bit Hollywood to me, and it isn't really suitable to teams of 3-4 a side who don't know the rules well.  In part, my development of this set of rules is to be able to field my entire collection of Dark Age warriors with 6-8 people who don't know the rules well in large violent battles.  Ergo, the battles continue!

So some of the lads hanging about in the shop stopped to watch, and one agreed to play - a playtesters pleasure to have two newbies fighting each other!  This allows me to concentrate on the rules and how they are playing out on the table.  Another watched the explanation and seemed interested but couldn't stay.

So after some planning and setup, we had the table pretty much ready and the forces laid out.  The scenario pits a 6-4 Unit attack on a retreating force that has either two fords to hold or a hill to retreat back onto.  The victory goes to whomever holds the hill at turn 15, but obviously if a force is destroyed by turn 13 or so then the other side wins [and have a leisurely walk to the hill, I might add].  As the hill overlooks both fords, it has strategic value as a point of watch, but I was surprised there wasn't at least a trail going thru each ford - I guess the local shepherds don't need to use it much as a byway, it's just a low river.

Below is the book's map.  Remember that the board is a 3'x3' grid, so you can pretty much gauge the terrain dimensions accurately at 6x6" or 6x12" etc.
The Red force sets up on the South side of the river with its four Units.  It has two turns of movement to get across and any Units that fail to are destroyed [!] as they are retreating in the face of the enemy.  In the bottom of Turn two, the Blue force enters with all six Units from the South edge of the board.  Again, victory goes to whomever controls the hill at Turn 15.

Note that this scenario is the logical next edition of the narrative from the preceding battles. You will remember, dear reader, that the Strathclyde Welsh have been invaded by the North Welsh, their aggressive neighbors to the South [Strathclyde is modern Scotland South of the Clyde River, more or less, while the North Welsh are in modern North Wales, more or less]. The first scenario had the NW forcing their way across the stone Bridge along the Roman road, routing the response force from the SW.  In the next scenario, the NW flanked a blocking force along the same Roman road, also routing it.

Today, the shattered remnants are trying to retreat across the next river, hoping to hold it and / or survive.  Preferably survive, THEN accomplish the military objective, most likely! So I picked one Unit of Cavalry with javelins, a Skirmish Unit with bows, and two Units of Infantry [shieldwall types, you will recall].  With the new rules the Infantry are a little slower, and the Cavalry have three shots so are a little more dangerous.  Their Personalities included a Christian Priest and a Hero.  The invading NW have five Units of Warband and one of Skirmish bows.  They also have a Hero with a Banner.

So this is the end of Turn 1.  The top of the river has the retreating SW bow well across the ford but the Infantry are struggling in the rocks with their big shields and spears, apparently [low roll].  I made a mistake in forgetting that Skirmishers can pass through Infantry, so should've lead the column at the ford with the slower Infantry [moving 1d6+1 v. 2d6+2 for the Skirmishers].
At the bottom, the Cavalry and an Infantry Unit are almost across.  With the board's slightly narrow dimensions, this is a concern as the advancing NW can roll up and probably contact someone within 9-10" of the board edge.  "Run Forrest, Run!!"

At the end of Turn two, the SW have finished crossing at the west ford, leaving a tempting space on their side covered by the Cavalry ready to flank attack - will the fighting fury of the Warbands overcome their common sense??  Or will this become a Maldon for the SW? Touching the back of the SW Cavalry is the Hero, mounted.  Note that being mounted makes no difference - he's still just a Unit upgrade that can switch to another Unit within 6" at the start of a friendly movement phase.  It's all about looks, here!

Meanwhile, the invading NW came within a fraction of touching the Infantry plodding through the east ford.  At that point it's a roll-off in my book.  A win for the Warband would probably trash the Infantry as even an average roll would be 11-12 Hits with the Hero attached.  Alas, twas not to be as the hastening Infantry out-rolled them:
The archers easily made it into position to cover the ford, but the two Warbands - one with the leader and banner [foreground] are _very_close!  Helping to inspire at the ford is the Christian Priest, but his ability to rally Hits is useless unless the Infantry can get a turn of rest.  The implacable barbarian hordes will not grant it, however!  

Turn 3, the east ford Infantry just make it to the other side to defend it, getting Hits against them halved for shieldwall and halved for defending the ford.  Altogether they will 1/4 melee Hits against them which makes them last twice as long.  They should be able to chew up two full Units of Warband if the dice allow. Archers of both sides twang away to little effect. No green dice are down so pic must be before the casualty roll for the Warband assault.  
North Welsh Hero with Banner seen from top view - banner is black flag with white star - hard to see from the top.  Hero is behind it to the left.  Christian Priest is behind the Infantry, encouraging them with a hymn perhaps?  "Onward Christian Soldiers..."

End of Turn 3 at west ford.  Clearly, the Warband didn't read their tactical manual about crossing a river in the face of determined opposition!  They've taken a solid hit from the javelins of the Cavalry, who advanced and threw at the end of their move, rolling a '5-1' but +1 for the Hero [who aids any combat rolls, shooting or melee].  Warband must've done some casualties, probably haven't rolled it yet.  Here the Infantry will suffer only half casualties due to being in shieldwall, but won't get the additional halving for defending the bank of the river.  Will the "let them cross" ploy work?  When the Cavalry attack, they'll inflict d6 Hits x2 for the flank, so it looks promising...

And the noble cavalry charge in at top of Turn 4 - inflicting only...a disappointing 4 hits, rolling a '2'.  Wa-wa-wa-waaaaah.  Still, that and the five from the javelins is 9, over half dead.  The Infantry inflict a measly '2' also, total 11.  Note that the cavalry could've rolled a 4-6, inflicting 8-12 Hits, and that would've wiped the Warband out.  Now they'll live another turn.  They roll average and the Infantry are now up to 8 Hits.

Meanwhile, at the east ford, the Infantry finally break the leading Warband Unit, killing the Hero whose Banner falls and is lost in the river.  A poem in the making... This does not dissuade the following Warband from attacking in an enraged fashion to avenge their fallen Hero.  The SW Archers are now out of arrows and moved behind their Infantry to hold the ford should they break - however, they are determined and break the following Warband Unit instead.  Their archers will then try to force their way across.

Blurry picture of west ford, where the holding Infantry have finally succumbed after destroying only the lead Warband.  The Cavalry fail to make it good however, also rolling weakly against the flank of  the second Warband.  The third Warband will then charge the Cavalry's flank, breaking them, and allowing two Units of Warband to head to the victory hill, only opposed by the SW Skirmish bow.

The final attack below.  The bowmen break the Warband but in turn take so many Hits that the following fresh Warband break them, commanding the hill position.  Who can stop these rampaging marauders?  Where is the Arthur of days gone by??

The rules worked well.  The play was simple enough that both players were able to grasp the simple and straightforward tactics quickly and attempt to use them to gain advantages. The scenario probably favors the NW, but it seemed the logical one along with the force selection for the narrative I've been running in this blog.  

Due to the comments of the players, we played again with me trying to use maneuver and wiles to outfight the NW, but at a critical moment was outrolled and caught by a lengthy move from a Warband [rolled natural '11' + 2"].  I am going to try again to play this and try another deployment instead.  


  1. Great report. I like your additions to the rules.

    Also, one thing I've noticed in your bat reps that makes the battles tactically very interesting is the mix of ranged/melee attacks. In the Horse and Musket rules, only cavalry get to melee, and everyone else just shoots. This can cause a battle to grind into a dice rolling duel if cavalry are not present (which did happen a bit in my game, since I rolled on the table and got two cavalry-less forces facing off). I think I might start ignoring the force compositions that don't include cavalry, to ensure a mix of shooting and melee (and thus more tactical interest).

  2. Yes, it's part of the period. I think that NT simplifies into a very fair "big part of the bell curve" for what is typical in battles, and he eliminates the tiny fraction of crazy things that require another 20 pages of rules to codify.

    I'd permit Skirmishers to melee skirmishers in rough terrain, infantry to melee infantry in open terrain, cavalry to melee any of them in open terrain, artillery to be eliminated if melee'd. Also, concentration of fire is a big part of the attacker's advantage, so try a scenario with an obvious attacker and defender, and pick a suitable force to see how it plays out.


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