The Battle Of Ethandun Part 2

The Battle Of Ethandun
The Battle Of Ethandun

This post continues where the previous one ended – scroll down to view it or click here for link.

The Basics

This scenario is designed to work with the “non-player general” (NPG) controlling the Danes, and the human player controlling the Saxons. It would be straightforward though to reverse those roles with a bit of adjustment.

I’ve used a tweaked (house rule) version of Hordes of the Things (HoTT) to play the scenario, but any suitable rule set will do. Overall the two sides should be reasonably well balanced. As the Danes are “professional” fighters they may merit a higher combat ranking than the Saxons, but you obviously need to ensure that the two sides are not so ill-balanced that the Saxons face an impossible task! In HoTT terms, I classified the Danish grunts as a mix of Blades and Warband, and the Saxons primarily as Spears sprinkled with a few Blades to represent household troops. I may amend this in future games to run the Danish side as an all Blade army, and/or run the inexperienced Fyrds at a combat disadvantage to reflect their rawness. I classified Uhtred and Svein as heroes.

In line with Bernard Cornwell’s fictional account of the battle, the main action begins on the Saxon right flank. On the other flank, Guthrum’s defenders and the Fyrds under Wiglaf pin each other in position until the fighting on the right is resolved.

Begin the battle by advancing the whole of the Saxon right wing, including Uhtred and Alfred, slowly towards Svein’s Danes, who will also begin to shuffle forwards. Once the two opposing lines are within a couple of moves of establishing melee contact, the first random factor comes into play. Needless to say, all these steps are optional – you may choose to just fight this out as standard wargame using the starting positions shown above, or pick and mix whichever bits appeal to you.

Single Combat – Uhtred versus Svein

In ‘The Pale Horseman’, single combat takes place during a pause in the fighting on the right flank, when Uhtred has a rush of blood to the head and challenges the Danes to provide a champion to take him on in single combat. Svein, who commands the Danish left flank, accepts his challenge. I’ve moved this forward in time as it would be difficult to model with the rules I’m using once the two shield walls have clashed.

First of all, dice to determine whether Svein answers Uhtred’s challenge – a throw of 3 to 6 on a D6 means that he takes him up on it, a 1 or 2 means that Svein opts to stay behind his lines (in which case, move on to the next section).

If single combat takes place, either use your own favourite skirmish/duelling rules to decide the outcome, or resolve it with a D6 throw for each combatant. In playing this out I added a factor of plus one to Uhtred’s dice score to reflect his effectiveness (and good fortune!) in the book. The losing combatant is removed from play, with the following impact – again determined via a D6 throw – on the loser’s side during the ensuing melee:

1: No effect

2 – 4: fight with a minus one modifier in the next round of melee

5 – 6: fight with a minus one modifier in the next two rounds of melee

Wulfhere’s Fyrd Troops

As the two sides come face to face, the troops of the Wiltunscir Fyrd under Wulfhere who are fighting alongside the Danes begin to have second thoughts. Do they really want to fight against their fellow Saxons and co-religionists? When the two shield walls are within a single move of each other, throw a D6 and interpret the results as follows:

1 – 2: They remain in position and fight for the Danes

3: They turn and retire from the battlefield

4 – 6: They defect to the Saxon side

The consequences of throwing a 1 or 2 need no further explanation.

If a 3 is thrown, the Danes will “shuffle up” and plug the resulting gap before the melee begins, as Wulfhere’s troops fall back (they play no further part in the battle and can now be removed from play).

If a 4, 5 or 6 is thrown, then we need to determine the effect that this change of allegiance has on the two battle lines. Again, throw a D6 and apply the following :

1 – 2: They pass through the Saxon shield wall without significantly disrupting it, and re-form immediately behind it.

3: They are incorporated seamlessly into the Saxon shield wall, other units shuffling up to incorporate them.

4 – 6: The defecting troops break the cohesion of the Saxon shield wall as they attempt to join it. Model this by moving the Wiltunscir/Suth Seaxa Fyrd units facing Wulfhere’s defecting units back one full move, then place the defecting units behind them. In this way the Saxons will have gained some troops but will have lost cohesion – definitely a mixed blessing.

In all of the above instances, the defecting elements immediately come under the command of the Saxon (i.e.human) general.

Now the melee on this flank begins in earnest…

Guthrum’s Response

Once the two steps above have been completed the fight on the Saxon right must be fought to a conclusion.

How will Guthrum react to what he’s seeing? Will he send some of his own troops to reinforce Svein? Or will he skulk in his defensive position and refuse to intervene? Although they’re allies he has no love for Svein and may prefer to just stand and watch.

At the start of each Danish turn from this point onwards, throw a D6. If a 5 or 6 is thrown, then Guthrum will commit some of his troops to reinforce Svein’s wing. Throw a D6 and apply the following:

1 : Guthrum sends a single unit to reinforce Svein’s shield wall

2 – 3: Guthrum sends two units to reinforce Svein’s shield wall

4 – 5: Guthrum sends two units specifically to target Alfred and his household troops

6: Guthrum launches an all out attack. He sends his flank units to support Svein’s troops and attack Alfred, and sends his troops on the main ridgeline facing Wiglaf’s Fyrds forward to engage them. Guthrum himself will advance down onto the main battlefield with his household unit, but will hold back from combat himself for as long as practicable.

Note that this is a one off event. Once Guthrum has sent reinforcements in or launched a general attack, this chance event is considered resolved and no further reinforcements will be committed.

Common sense also needs to be applied here. If there have been several rounds of fighting already on the Danish left flank and Guthrum sees that Svein’s wing is collapsing irrevocably, then ignore the dice and allow him to continue exercising caution. He won’t throw his own men into a hopeless fight for Svein’s sake.

If Guthrum has launched a general assault (a throw of 6 in the above action list), then the next stage becomes redundant and the battle is simply fought to a conclusion on the ground in front of the hill fort.

Otherwise, resolve the battle between the Saxon right and the Danish left flanks before moving on to the next (and final) phase.

The Attack On The Hill Fort

The battle on the Saxon right must be fought to a conclusion before moving on to this next phase. Obviously if Guthrum has launched a general advance then this phase is in any case redundant. Otherwise, and assuming that enough Saxon troops remain on the field of battle, the focus shifts to an assault on the hill fort itself.

This will be a frontal assault on the edge of the old hill fort immediately facing the Saxon left.

Redeploy any survivors from the Saxon right to reinforce Wiglaf’s Fyrds.

Similarly, redeploy Guthrum’s troops and any survivors from the Danish left to present the strongest possible defence of the ridge line facing the newly reinforced Saxon left.

Deploy Guthrum’s troops in a defensive posture and move your Saxon troops to the foot of the ridge.

At this point, and before advancing further, dice for the possibility of a rear attack on Guthrum’s position by Fyrd troops who have worked their way around to Guthrum’s rear. Throw a D6 and apply the following outcome:

1 – 2: The rear attack fails to materialise. Not good news for the Saxons, who face a (literal) uphill battle against Guthrum’s men

3 – 4: One fresh Fyrd units appears at the rear of Guthrum’s position (see photo above, top left corner, for placement)

5 – 6: Two fresh Fyrd units appear in this position

If the Saxons have succeeded in deploying to Guthrum’s rear, dice for his reaction (if any). Throw a D6:

1 – 3: No reaction. Guthrum is unaware of the threat until the Saxons carrying out the rear attack reach the flat ground within the walls of the hill fort

4 – 6: Guthrum realises he is in danger and may move up to three of his units immediately to counter the threat

The attack on the hill fort is then fought to a conclusion. Note that the fort represents a strong position and the defenders will fight at a factor of plus two while they hold the high ground.

Victory Conditions

The Danes:

The Danes will score a major victory if they kill Alfred and rout his army. They will score a marginal victory if they rout the Saxon army but Alfred lives to fight another day (by exiting the battlefield via his own baseline).

The Saxons:

The Saxons will score a major victory if they succeed in routing the Danish army and capturing the hill fort. They will score a marginal victory if they destroy Svein’s flank,  succeed in protecting Alfred, but fail to take the hill fort – provided they have at least two more elements left at the end of the battle than the Danes.

Any other position at the end of the battle will normally represent a draw, in which case the Danes and the Saxons will sit down and discuss terms over a nice cup of tea.

Sources

The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell – part two of The Warrior Chronicles series.

Alfred, Warrior King by John Peddie.

Hordes of the Things by Phil Barker, Richard Bodley-Scott and Sue Lafflin Barker.

Bratton Camp - Probable Site of the Battle
Bratton Camp – Probable Site of the Battle

 

The Battle Of Ethandun Part 1

The Battle Of Ethandun
The Battle Of Ethandun

This solo scenario is based on the battle of Ethandun, or Edington, as described by Bernard Cornwall in his novel ‘The Pale Horseman’. Cornwell bases his account of the battle primarily on John Peddie’s excellent ‘Alfred, Warrior King’. I’m using the fictional account because it provides lots of options for chance to intervene; in any case, like most battles of the period there are few reliable historical facts to hand.

Rather than simply re-run the sequence of events described in the novel, I’m going to plunder Cornwell’s version of the battle for a selection of random events that can be woven into a table top game. I am, however, going to begin with a layout that is pretty faithful to Cornwell’s account. I’m using the ‘Hordes of the Things’ (HoTT) rules in a house version to play out the game, but any suitable rule set will do.

The photo above shows the basic set-up.

On the Saxon side, working from left to right, we have:

i) Fyrd troops under Wiglaf (HoTT Spears plus one Blade).

ii) Alfred and his bodyguard (two HoTT Blade elements).

iii) Uhtred of Bebbanburg with Leofric, Pyrlig and Steapa (a HoTT Hero element).

iv) The Fyrds of Wiltunscir and Suth Seaxa under Osric (HoTT Spears).

Across the battlefield we have the Danes. Going from right to left this time, they comprise:

i) Svein of the White Horse, at the rear of the main line (a HoTT hero element).

ii) Svein’s Danish warbands, along with turncoat Fyrd troops commanded by the treacherous Wulfhere, who has defected to the Danes’ side (HoTT Warbands and Spears).

iii) Within the hill fort (I know, I know – it was the best I could do at short notice!), we have Guthrum the Unlucky, overall commander of the Danes and not a big fan of his ally Svein. His troops are a mix of HoTT Blade and Warband. In the photo, Guthrum’s element provides the hinge on which the line bends.

In the far left corner at the very rear is the unguarded weak point in the hill fort defences, a point from which an enterprising little band of Saxon Fyrdmen (HoTT Spears) may, as per the novel, launch a surprise attack on Guthrum’s apparently impregnable position.

The novel provides a whole skein of “what if” options for the game. One of the best things about the description of the battle is that Cornwell emphasizes the two aspects of warfare which are often downplayed – morale and chance. In theory, the Danes should win easily. In practice, a number of random events tilt the balance the other way. As options for the solo game, the following elements of the account need to be modelled as possible events:

i) The defection of Wulfhere’s Fyrd back to the Saxon side as the shield walls on the right approach each other.

ii) The positive or negative effect on the Saxons if the rogue Fyrd does rejoin them, either strengthening the Saxons or inadvertently breaking their shield wall.

iii) Single combat between Uhtred and Svein, and – depending on the outcome – the impact it has on the two sides.

iv) The decision of Guthrum to (a) reinforce Svein, (b) attack Alfred’s flank as it advances on the right, or (c) stay put and hold his troops in reserve.

v) If Guthrum does launch an attack, what will he do about the Fyrd troops facing him? Will he advance to meet them, or hold the front edge of the hill fort to keep them pinned without risking any loss?

vi) And finally, there is the possibility of a rear attack by those sneaky Fyrd troops, which could turn Guthrum’s defensive position into a death trap…

Note that to keep more or less in line with the fictional account, a number of assumptions are made here:

i) As per Alfred’s orders, the left wing of the Saxon army will not launch an attack on Guthrum’s wall until the fight on the Saxon right has been resolved. Until then it will hold a static position – unless it’s attacked.

ii) Guthrum may choose to act at any point by committing more troops to the fight, but unless he launches an all out attack right along his line he will not leave the walls of the hill fort unmanned (i.e. he won’t risk the possibility of the uncommitted Saxon left wing flanking his charging troops or taking the hill fort). In game terms, the Danes on the hill fort facing the Saxon left flank are effectively pinned by them.

iii) The rear attack on Guthrum, if it occurs at all, will not take place unless and until the Saxon right flank is victorious and Svein’s troops are destroyed.

Anyone familiar with the novel will see that I’ve fudged a couple of issues here when it comes to timing; but as I’m using the book as a source to mine for ideas I hope that is acceptable.

In my next post (after a bit of play testing!) I’ll set out some options for modelling the chance events mentioned above – and also look at what might comprise suitable “victory conditions” for each side.

 

Battle Cry Game Review

Battle Cry

After seeing lots of stuff online about Battle Cry I was really looking forward to unpacking the game and trying it out for myself, particularly to see whether it would work as a solo wargame.

Battle Cry is the first game produced by Richard Borg using a core system which he has since expanded into the Ancient, Napoleonic, Samurai and Modern eras.

The game comes with a sturdy game board, customised battle dice, command cards (a key part of the system), terrain tiles, army flags, a whole bunch of plastic miniatures and a few other bits and bobs. All of the components seem well made and durable, with the caveat that over time the command cards themselves are likely to be subject to a fair bit of wear and tear. The game also includes a very straightforward rules booklet which includes thirty battle scenarios, plus a terrain quick reference sheet.

You will want to paint up the 20mm figures yourself, and in time replace the flimsy generic unit flags with more specific ACW standards. For a good overview and footage of the game components, see Marco’s YouTube review here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFxd-DXLkXQ. For related eye candy and lots of other resources, check out BoardGameGeek here: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/88827/battle-cry-150th-civil-war-anniversary-edition.

Command Cards

The heart of the game lies in its use of command cards and the division of the battlefield into three sectors (left, centre, right). Each side draws a number of cards at the beginning of the battle, and plays one card per turn thereafter, drawing a replacement from the deck. Most of these command cards facilitate movement in a particular sector of the battlefield – for example enabling a player to move three units in the centre sector, or two units on the left flank, etc. But the deck also includes a range of cards giving interesting one-off options. Your sharpshooters, for instance, may be able to target an enemy general; you may be able to force march certain troops, or use cavalry to charge then retire; reinforcements may arrive on your baseline; you may be able to cause supply problems for an enemy unit, forcing it to retreat to its baseline; and so on and so forth.

Battles are won primarily by capturing enemy flags (i.e. destroying units), and/or taking and holding objective markers, and the judicious use of the cards is a key part of the game. I’d wondered whether this would make the game a bit predictable, given that most of the cards are about activating troops in particular segments of the battlefield. This fear proved unfounded. While most of the cards are sector specific, the inclusion of so many unique ‘wild cards’ gives the whole game an air of unpredictability, and nicely models fog of war. No game is going to play out the same way twice, which means that even if you stick to the scenarios included in the booklet (and there’s no need to, as others are available online) you’re never going to be bored.

So What About Solo Play?

I bought Battle Cry primarily to play solo, as there seemed to be a lot of scope for tweaking the system and a lot of positive comments online about its solo potential. In fact so far I’ve played the game solo “as is”, enjoying the battles I’ve fought to date without feeling any need to adjust the rules. Given that each side has limited, shifting options – depending on cards held and cards drawn – it’s easy to set aside your own preferences for one side over the other once you’re immersed in the battle, and simply play each side to the best of your ability. The combination of chance with a degree of constraint seems to recreate the unique feel or flavour of a two-player game. I’m not entirely sure why this is – but it works for me!

However, the potential for further adjusting the rules for solo game play is very clear. Starting your favoured side with less cards than “the enemy” would be a simple and effective mechanism – a quick fix that would make the game a tough challenge. Drawing a fresh set of cards for each “enemy” turn would also provide an interesting solo variant. There are more suggestions for solo tweaks available here: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/355739/solo-battle-cry.

My initial impression of this game is that it will provide many, many hours of solo gaming. I’m looking forward to applying various solo customisations as time goes by. It’s certainly expanded my appreciation of the potential for using “chance cards” in a solo game, from simply inserting random events (as per Don Featherstone) to actually limiting the options available on the battlefield in a radical way.

General Impressions

However, this game won’t be for everyone. The elements of chance that make it so good for solo play – in particular the use of cards – and the straightforward nature of the core battle rules will put some people off. So will the fact that Battle Cry is played on a hex board. The movement/firing/combat rules themselves are very basic.

This could however be seen as a plus point, because it means that they’re very easy to expand and amend to your own specifications. As I think Marco pointed out in his video review (see above), you could use these core rules as a tool-set to develop further. In particular, adding additional detail for specific units and unit grades would be pretty straightforward.

This brings me to another bonus offered by Battle Cry. With a little customisation, and the purchase of suitable miniatures, it would be easy to adapt the game system to other conflicts of this era. The “bare bones” nature of these core rules means that they are ripe for expansion and adaptation. Using this system for the wars waged by Bismark’s Prussians immediately springs to mind, and they may even bear adaptation for 19th century colonial conflicts…

And Finally, An Apology

You may have gathered by now that I really, really like this game. I find it so addictive that it’s finally dragged me away from my computer and back to the wargames table. Still, I feel somewhat embarrassed by my unalloyed enthusiasm for it. So apologies if I seem a little over-enthusiastic – not something I can normally be accused of!

But what the heck – I’ve been assimilated by the Borg, and I’m loving it!

Battle Cry - Shiloh Day One
Battle Cry – Shiloh Day One

Marco Solo

For any solo gamer who isn’t already familiar with his YouTube videos, Marco is a prolific and erudite video blogger who discusses and reviews all sorts of boardgames, often discussing their solo playability as part of the review. I can’t recommend his stuff too highly. Although not a tabletop/figure wargamer as such, his reviews are a terrific resource, covering as they do primarily military (and sometimes magical/D&D type) games. His reviews are short but comprehensive. The main page for Marco’s reviews is here – http://www.youtube.com/user/marcowargamer?feature=watch

Below are a couple of examples. First up is his review of Battle Cry, a Richard Borg game with obvious solo potential (the review was good enough to persuade me to go out and buy a copy!). Second is his review of Thermopylae, a free print and play game available here – http://battreps.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/thermopylae.html.

I’ve found that Marco’s video reviews are a great way of sorting the wheat from the chaff.

Journey to the Overland

Overland

Deano Ware has been a mainstay of the solo wargaming scene for several years, so it’s great to see that his new Kickstarter project is up and running.

Called ‘Journey to the Overland’, Deano describes it as  a “Solo Tabletop Roleplaying Game where players take on the role of characters traveling throughout the Overland in order to obtain one of the Five Weapons of Power”.

It is custom-designed for solo play: “Because Journey To The Overland is an open ended solo tabletop roleplaying game that allows players to explore and interact with the game world in almost any manner that you could in a traditional roleplaying game except Journey To The Overland lets you do it without a gamemaster.”

For further information check out the link here:https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1235706284/journey-to-the-overland-a-solo-tabletop-roleplayin

More on the game:

and a short video review here: