It has been four hundred and seventy four years since the birth of our Lord and five thousand seven hundred and thirty-three years since the world was created.
The frosts of winter had barely left us when the Saxons returned. Again it seems that we carry the cross for the entire island as we face the wrath of the interloper. To our east Caer Colun still holds most of the eastern coast, but news from Caint and Cair Llundain is bleak. In the former the Britons are enslaved whilst the latter is almost entirely abandoned. The valley of the great Tamensis is now desolated as far as the bridge at Pontes, with all civilised men having fled before the raiding hordes. With the riches of the land stripped the Seax look north to Verulamium and its wealth.
So it was that in the month of Martius our Tribune again called forth what few men we could spare for our defence. Splendid were our leaders, in their blue armour. Maximus Boycicus, our Tribune in the purple, Cadwalladr the Brave with his shield of white, Gaius Ambrosius, the last of the Romans among us, and Mullard ap Artor our unbeaten champion, his bronze armour bright. Our shieldwall stood ready on the Via Nero near the old shrine of Jupiter, our men grim yet with faith that we should be delivered from the pagans. A cheer was raised as the Tribune spoke of our homes and our cives, and how we should keep the pagans from our hearths,
Now stepped forth Egfrith the Deceiver, recovered from his wounds of last November. Bitter was his gaze as he called forth our champion. Fast was his knife as he deceitfully ended the paternal dreams of ap Artor. His revenge complete he returned to his ranks.
On then came the Saxons, the demon Cyddic at their head. Fleet was their advance, pride plain upon their faces as they sought slaves and wealth from among our people. On their right came Aelfric, rushing forward towards where Gaius Ambrosius and the Palatini stood atop the rise. Forward they came, their numbers great, ours few, yet on that hill the Roman ended their arrogant pride. Amid the blood and slaughter our small band stood against the Saxon tide and fought to the death.
But now, in the centre came Cyddic, his Gedriht around him. Their axes thrown, they closed with the shieldwall, Egfrith first among them. Yet for all of their hatred they could not break the wall. As blood runs from the body, the fight left the Saxon horde. As they fell back the shieldwall broke apart and Maximus ran forth, his bright blade rising and falling among the Seax, his men following to complete the killing. Red was the ground as they gave way before our charge. Saxon corpses lay to feed the soil and the creatures of the forests.
Such was the victory of Maximus Boycicus, Tribune. Yet still among our Numeri were losses grave, and the Palatini of Gaius Ambrosius had nearly fallen to a man to defend our left. There was little rejoicing that day, not for many subsequent.
This third playtest was the first time we had introduced the Fate Deck to the game and what a difference it made. Whereas up to now we have been focussed on getting the nuts and bolts right, this was an opportunity to add the chrome and see how they looked. The Fate Deck links together the three phases of the game; the pre-battle phase where the players attempt to psych-up their men, the battle itself and then the post-battle pursuit phase.
In the pre-battle phase the players may attempt a variety of options to motivate their troops. For the British this increased their hand size from the basic 5 cards up to 6 cards. For the Saxons it put a couple of dice to their “dice pool” to use in the battle. Both Cyddic and Maximus made rousing speeches and gained an additional point of command initiative each, VERY helpful in the heat of battle (and a first time for Maximus who has clearly got a new script writer).
We have taken the basic “hand-management” system in Terrible Sharp Sword and really moved it on apace. During the game the players’ card hands change, with them either playing a card or discarding one each time a Battle Leader is activated and then picking a new one up from the Fate Deck once they complete their turn. The Fate Deck is made up of cards that everyone can use, but the Raven cards provide a greater bonus for the Saxons and the Dragon cards are better for the British. Ideally the players will build up a hand of cards that suits their way of fighting and then use a Carpe Diem card to enable them to play a run of cards at the critical moment.
We had some really great plays that added a huge amount of flavour. Gaius Ambrosius held the line on the British left after shrugging off a potential wounding blow and then launching a savage attack of his own. The Saxons nearly fled before his onslaught, but playing the “Men Good and True” card kept them in there. In the centre Cyddic’s charge was held twice by a braced shieldwall by the British who had carefully reserved these options.
What looked like a major victory for the British actually turned out to be less impressive when the humiliation of their champion was taken into account, and the fact that their Levy had taken heavy losses. Nevertheless the Saxons have been driven out for three months, so Cyddic won’t have had fresh reinforcement from Germany until June. As the keen-eyed among you will have noticed, the next game will be the fourth game and it will then be over one calendar year into our campaign. The campaign system that is part of the game is not a blitzkrieg type campaign where the Saxons steam in and turf the British out overnight. It took years for the British Kingdoms to fall, indeed Verulamium and actually survived as an outpost of the Kingdom of Calchwynned for over 100 years. What we are looking to replicate is the rise and fall of both sides, with them both seeking to gain followers to strengthen their position. However that will be a gradual process over what will probably be many campaign “years”. It will allow players to start off with a very modest force and gradually add to that as victories make points and points make prizes (of additional volunteers).
Cyddic had been hoping to win some prestige with his raid and gain some more followers, but it seems that he is back to square one again. He does, however, now have a nice new purse thanks to Egfrith…
One of the questions that I get asked more regularly than any other (apart from “Is it your round?”) is whether it is worth putting units into Formation in Sharp Practice. The argument runs that if an individual Group is harder to hit than a Formation then surely the benefits cancel each other out. It’s a