A stonking playtest on Lard Island last evening as we ran out one of the scenarios based around a Saxon raid to steal some British livestock from the festering swamp lands around Llon-i-Dunican. I’d have preferred some cows for this but haven’t found what I am looking for (Welsh Blacks) in 28mm yet, so sheep had to do.
The table was a difficult one, with three main areas of raised ground and a Y shaped river punctuated with small lakes dividing the three. The Saxons started the game in the red shaded area at the bottom of the picture and had to find one of the two fords marked with the red arrows. The British were hot on their heels and were due to arrive on one section of the blue shaded areas on the table edges. The rolled to see which side they arrived on and then at which point, it could have been in any 12” section of the 48” edge marked. They then rolled to see how many turns it would be before they arrived.
As it turned out Cyddic had four turns lead on the British so he needed to find one of the fords as soon as possible. Rather amusingly he decided to go and check out the largest lake rather than the move obvious sections of narrow stream, and this really caused him problems, especially as the sheep kept wandering off. Wulfstan spent the first four turns running after an unruly group of wooly monsters who kept going round in circles.
As it was, by the time Cyddic found the ford the British were already entering the table. To make matters worse they were coming on at precisely the point nearest the ford and rushing forward to try to get a shieldwall in place to block the Saxons’ line of escape.
As it was the British were not quite in position when Cyddic led his hearthguard across the ford as the vanguard of the Saxon force. Desperate to stop them Noggin ap Nog advanced with his Milites in shieldwall to make contact.
(Apologies, that’s a rubbish picture, but I didn’t have another one)
The fight was a hard one, the shieldwall ignores the first kill on each Group of men making it a tough nut to crack whilst the Saxon hearthguard are vicious killers. After two rounds of fighting the British fell back with two men dead from each Group and excess shock. The rules make the presumption that once you commit your troops to a fight you lose much command ability. You can rally them and exhort them to fight well, but you can’t simply decide to withdraw. Once a fight is initiated it continues until one side or the other falls back, usually through a combination of Shock (which can subsequently be rallied) and men killed (which can’t be replaced). If a unit withdraws a couple of inches then the enemy will follow up and maintain contact. More than that and the lines have come apart due to fatigue.
Whilst they had been repulsed the British had hurt the Saxons, killing a couple of men and, importantly, wounding Cyddic. Leaders have a certain status level which tells us how far their command range is, how many things they can do in a turn and how many dice they add to a fight. Each time they take a wound this is reduced by one, so Cyddic was now reduced to a status II leader, making rallying his men harder. This led to a momentary pause in the fight as he attempted to get his heartguard back in order rather than follow up the retreating Britons.
Now Gaius Ambrosius, the last of the Romans, brought forward his Comitatus, his best troops. Forming them into a shieldwall with the Milites he rallied shock using his command initiative. Like Cyddic he began the game was a Status III Leader, so can do three things in a turn. One was forming the shieldwall, the other two were used to rally the Milites, taking one point of Shock from each of them.
In the next turn Gaius used two of his command initiatives to rally two further points of Shock and then used his last initiative to lead the shieldwall into the fight. In addition Gaius played four cards from his Fate hand at this point. Usually a commander can only play one card when he is activated, but if he holds a Carpe Diem card he may seize the moment and play a run. In this case he played an Aggressive Charge, increasing his chances of hitting, a Bounding Charge which ensured that he’d make contact and not fall short, a Hero of the Age which with him personally leading and fighting in the front rank gained additional dice in the combat (albeit increasing his chance of a wound), and the Carpe Diem card. As three of these were from the British Dragon suit he also gained a further three dice in the fight.
The ensuing fight was desperate, two rounds of combat failed to see a winner, ending Gaius’s activation. The two sides remained contact, the fight would continue when the next Leader’s card was dealt. In fact the next card dealt was Brythnoth, the deceiver. Brythnoth used his two Command Initiatives to rally shock from his group (once in the front rank of combat the leader’s command range is ignored, he can only affect the Group he is physically with) and the fight continued. This time one of the Groups of British Milites had had enough and fell back 4”. This was sufficient to break the shieldwall, leaving three Groups of Saxons facing two isolated Groups of Britons. With the advantage in his favour Cyddic used just enough dice (he hoped) to hold the Comitatus whilst loading the rest against the remaining Milites In the subsequent second round of combat the second Group of Milites was decimated, the survivors fleeing the field, but the Comitatus slaughtered the Saxon heartguard facing them, albeing suffering sufficient shock to see them break contact, withdrawing 3” to try to reform.
Gaius’ card was now dealt, and everyone expected him to rally the Comitatus, who had a dangerous level of Shock, but it wasn’t to be. Instead he rushed to join the Numeri of the Levy.
By now Wulfstan had given up chasing sheep and had cross the ford. His fresh Group now rushed forward to engage the Comitatus. Just a couple of points of shock would see them fleeing the field, but a remarkable round of combat saw the British hold. Cyddic, now with a second wound, flung what remained of his heartguard into the fight, but still the British Comitatus held, albeit recoiling again.
It was now that Gaius sent in the Levy. Again he played a Carpe Diem card in order to make a successful flank attack (otherwise your enemy will just turn to face you) and piled in with two Groups who broke from their shieldwall and charge in as a mob. A third group rushed forward and dispersed the Saxon archers who simply run away of contacted by an enemy, which indeed they did.
Normally in combat levy die like flies, but here they were hitting an exhausted unit with a leader down to Status I, which is as bad as it gets. Weight of numbers was sufficient to see Cyddic flee the field, having just missed being killed by playing a Armour Bright card which allowed him to shrug off the last wound which would normally see him dead.
A really gritty game with all the flavour of a Dark Age battle fought over a river crossing (Maldon anyone?). To be fair to Cyddic (and more to the point Sid, who was playing him) he was VERY unlucky that the British arrived at precisely the worst possible point on the table from his perspective. However as a playtest game it is good to take the worst possible situation in order to test the scenario to its limits, and let’s face it if you’re daft enough to think that a lake is a ford you deserve what you get! Hell hath no fury like a regional weatherman foiled…
To clarify a few points on the rules. The turn sequence is card driven, but somewhat different to some of our other games. There is no “Tea Break” card which ends the turn prematurely. All the cards in the deck are played each turn, but with the order in which they are dealt meaning that you get varying permutations in terms of the order of activation. The deck is actually very small, just three Big Men for each side, and a card for each Group of archers and skirmishers who do their own thing rather than rely on instructions from Leaders (frankly the leaders are too busy to be interfering with these lesser mortals, they focus on the fighting men, not the young lads with a few bows). So, we had a Game Deck of nine cards for this game.
The Fate Deck is a central part to the game. How big a hand you get can vary in a battle depending on whether the Gods are with you and other bits and bobs that Dark Age folk worry about, but for a raid it is the standard five card hand for both sides. This allows them to construct their plan of action and, at the appropriate moment, play their cards to gain a tactical advantage. You can, of course, try to improve your hand and this makes for a fun sub-game within the main game. That said, the Fate Deck does not totally dominate play, a good plan is still a good plan without any Fate cards, but if you have a decent plan it can give you a fleeting edge at the moment of contact.
Next week I hope we’ll be adding some cavalry to the mix.
In his dark, cheerless hall Cyddic had endured the summer, calling upon his pagan Gods to send him assistance from his Saxon homelands, for he could be sure that the dark boats that crossed the wide sea would bring with them more of the vile spawn which so blighted Britain’s fair lands. And come they