The Battle of Nicaea – May 1097

To tie in with my post on the history of the battle and siege of Nicaea in the First Crusade, I thought it would be a good time to play a small battle set up in a similar way. As a ruleset I used Soldiers of God and I’ll give some further thoughts on that at the end. The battlefield was set up with a steep ridge at one end (treated as rough ground and a hill) along which the Turks deployed with the Crusaders deployed in the plains below. The armies were built to reflect the forces used in the real battle. It’s been five months since I’ve played any battle, and longer still since I last used SoG, so was a little rusty on a few bits, however I got to grips with things again pretty quickly and the battle proceeded well. I apologise for the poor lighting in the photos, the sun did not want to play ball.

The Turks were a little surprised to find a force of Crusaders awaiting them on the plains.

As the battle opened the armies began their advances towards each other. Kilij kept his better trained cavalry on the ridge top awaiting an opportunity to use them while the Turkoman light horse on the flanks swept down the ridge. The crusader knights surged forwards, with the infantry moving up slowly behind. The advance began to test the resolve of both sides, the crusaders right flank had a minor wobble but recovered while a handful of Turkomen on the Turkish right fled from the field completely!

Turkish right flank looking a little leaner than before. The eagle eyed amongst you will also note one less unit in the Turkish centre, I’d accidently put out one unit too many but removed before the battle started. Oops!

The crusader knights move up to charge the light horse. The left flank unleashes it’s missiles but the Knights plow on undeterred, causing them to scatter. The Turkish left is more successful and manages to cause disorder amongst two charging units of knights, slowing their advance.

The Knights attempt to charge down the nimble Turks.
The Turkish right flanking the Crusader left.

The beleaguered knights call on God for strength and prepare to surge forward with renewed effort and despite taking heavy losses they make contact with the enemy in a crushing blow, shaking off any trepidation in the bloodbath they enter, routing the tribal horse. The rest of the light horse flee and scatter from their charge. Kilij, seeing the crusaders are reaching the bottom of the ridge, starts sending his trained cavalry down to take advantage of any weaknesses in the Christian lines.

Kilij begins his advance

As the Turkish ghulams close with the crusader knights they start to feel a little wary of these heavily armed monsters and have no desire to charge headlong into a melee. Instead they take potshots with their bows, doing no real damage. The Turkomen cavalry are more effective with their archery, causing some consternation amongst the crusader ranks, though one unit strayed too close to the infantry crossbows and took some damage for their troubles, before being caught by the crusader infantry in a melee. They took some damage but their speed and maneuver ability kept their confidence high.

Not quite nimble enough Mr Turkoman

The Christian knights were stalled at the ridge edge, being unable to maneuber over the steep ridge and seeking a path they could use to assault the enemy lines. The infantry move up, pushing out on the flanks and assaulting the light horse. The Knights regroup and pull back to give themselves space to move and the ghulams move away from the Knights to focus on the infantry. On the Turkish left, the horse caught by the infantry is destroyed and flees from the field.

The battle on the flank turns bloody
The knights begin to pull back

The additional space allows the Knights to turn about and line up fresh charges at the flanking Turks. All hell broke loose. Knights charged into enemy formations left, right and centre, the Turks responded with mad charges of their own to deflect some of the impetus of the knights. Arrows tore into advancing lines as the melee crashed and circled. As the dust cleared, it was evident the fight had been a bloody massacre. A unit of knights and crossbowmen were clearly wiped out, but so to were a unit of ghulam, not to mention Kilij himself along with another of his generals had been wounded and dragged from the field. The morale of both sides was spent and they withdrew to lick their wounds. On any other day this would be a mutual defeat but as the goal of the crusaders was to prevent the Turks getting into the city, they could just about claim a pyrrhic victory. Barely.

A massacre as Kilij joins the fight
Things fare little better on the other flank
The final positions

All in all it was a good game. It went a little bloodier than historically for the Crusaders, I think due to not giving enough plains space on the table. The Turks were able to quickly retreat up the ridgeline, when in reality the knights had time to charge them before they got there. Nevertheless it turned out out well. After a slow moving turn or two while the knights repositioned, violence erupted across the battlefield and in a single turn the battle was over. Both sides were reduced to below zero morale (though much more negative for the Turks with the loss of two commanders) so it was a mutual defeat.

In the past I’ve had issues with Soldiers of God being a bit of a slow paced game at times, there was a bit of that here, but given the higher ratio of cavalry than in previous games things did move a lot faster and the battle turned vicious in the blink of an eye.

I’m not sure if I’ll do every battle I write about this way, but it might be interesting to do some of the main ones. I’ll need to paint up a lot more forces though, especially horse archers of whom I never seem to have enough! Hopefully there’ll be more of that to come in the near future.

Until then, thanks for reading!


A Flippant History of the Crusades – The First Crusade – Naughty or Nicea?

In the last post, we looked at some of the key players in the First Crusade on both sides and how the various Christian leaders made their way to Constantinople (Byzantium).

A brief summary of where we are so far: The Byzantine Emperor Alexios sent a request to the Pope to put out a call for some good Christian knights to aid him in his war with the heathen Turks who had overrun eastern Christendom. Rather than a small contingent of elite nobles as hoped, thousands of cross-sworn soldiers of all levels of social standing turned up at the Emperor’s gate. Alex, wary of what such a horde of heavily armed troops might do if left to their own devices, asked the leaders to swear oaths to him that they’d return all reconquered territory to their rightful owner, i.e. him, and ferried them across the Bosphorus with much haste. Their first target? The ancient city of Nicaea.

Nicaea (or Nicea) at this time was under the control of the Seljuk Turks, specifically Kilij Arslan, Sultan of Rum. The lands of Rum covered much of modern-day Turkey and were so named because when they conquered the area from the Byzantine Empire, the Byzantines rather confusingly called themselves the Romans, so the Turks assumed that was the name of the land they had conquered – Rum.

Nicaea, a great city on the edge of a lake going back to ancient Greek and Roman times, was the Turkish capital for the region and where most of the Sultan’s treasures and family were kept. This was somewhat unusual for the nomadic Turks who valued pasture land for their vast herds of horses over pesky immovable cities, which they viewed as little more than tribute givers to provide funds for the army. On the whole, they tended to work like a national scale extortion racket1, sideling up to a city and passing suggestive comments in how flammable those thousands of buildings looked, all it would take is a few hundred clumsy oafs dropping torches and we’ve had such a long ride and our arms are tired holding these flaming sticks and what’s that? You’re wanting to give us all your precious belongings just out of the goodness of your heart? Well, thank you so much!

Anatolia and surrounds at the time of the First Crusade

This did, however, show an increasing trend towards a more settled status for the Turks and indeed when the Crusade arrived, the Sultan was off at the other side of his domain, attempting to forcefully settle some land away from another group of Turks known as the Danishmends. When word first reached Killy that a force of Christians had arrived, he dismissed them. His previous experience with the recent People’s Crusade lead him to believe this was another rabble of troublesome peasants who could be dealt with after he was done with the Danishmends. He was very much mistaken.

The crusaders besieged Nicaea on 14th of May 1097. Godfrey was the first to arrive but was soon followed by Bohemond and the others as they were transported over from Constantinople. They were joined by Peter the Hermit, who was still floating around with the remnants of the People’s Crusade2, as well as a small Byzantine contingent sent along to keep an eye on things. Raymond and his large army was, however, several days behind as was Robert. The city was well defended with multiple tall, broad walls, a deep water moat fed by the lake and by hundreds of towers equipped with ballista (giant crossbows firing huge heavy bolts).

How are we supposed to get up there?

As was standard for the time, the crusaders launched an attack as soon as they arrived to try and overwhelm the city, but the city had known of their coming and had time to prepare the defences and barricade the gates with earth and rubble. The attack was thrown back by the defenders and the Christian forces settled down for a siege. As Nicaea was bordered by marshy ground to the south as well as a large lake to the west and they hadn’t any ships to blockade the port, the crusaders focused their siege to the north and east.

By this point, Killjoy Arslan had received word of the real size and strength of the first crusader armies and gave up his squabbles in the east to rush back to his capital, arriving just a day after the first Christians. Scouting out the crusader position he realised the south was poorly defended and the armies were not all there yet, so he could attack quickly and move his forces into the city to bolster the defence. Things started to go poorly for the Sultan when several of his scouts fell into Christian hands and after a little “gentle persuasion” revealed the Turkish plan, allowing the crusaders to prepare a defence and send word to Raymond to stop dawdling and move his arse along to get there in time for the attack with the rest of the army. A forced march ensued to arrive just in time for the battle the following morning.

The elite core of the Sultan’s army, around twenty per cent of the troops, were the personal household troops, the Askar (army), along with some Ghulam/Mamluk3 slave soldiers. These were well-armoured, well-equipped and well-mounted troops, highly trained and veterans of many battles. They were armed with powerful composite bows, sharp swords, and sturdy lances and were highly proficient in their use. They could ride rings around crusader infantry, unleashing storms of arrows into their ranks, then go toe to toe with the knights in a melee. They were exceptionally badass and looked the part with golden shining shields and jewel-encrusted standards that glittered in the sunlight. The rest of his army, the vast majority, was made up of the Turkomen, light tribal cavalry archers, who would swarm across the battlefield like wasps, using their arrow stings to wear down the enemy then melting away in feigned retreat if charged, only to circle back and attack again when the coast was clear. This made for a fast and flexible force that could cover large distances in short times and outflank and outmanoeuvre their enemy.

The crusader forces, in contrast to the all-mounted Turks, was primarily an infantry force. This infantry would be equipped with a wide array of weapons and armour and was well supported with large contingents of crossbowmen known as arbalists. The crossbows of this time were weaker, less accurate and couldn’t keep up the rate of fire of a bow. Regardless, crossbows were cheap, lightweight and easy to produce and they didn’t require the years of and experience that a bow experience. This made them an easy and obvious ranged weapon to equip masses of inexperienced peasants with and could be devastating when used effectively in combination with the heavy European infantry and cavalry. So much so in fact that various Pope’s over the years tried (unsuccessfully) to prevent Christians from using them against other Christians4. Around fifteen to twenty per cent of the armies were made up of the knights. These heavily armoured cavalry troops were the cream of European society, equipped with the finest armour5 and weaponry of the time period. Their horses were also larger and heavier than the nimble horse of the Turks, which gave increased weight to their charges when they crashed into Turkish lines. While these weren’t quite yet the “tanks of the medieval battlefield” they would soon become, they were a force to be reckoned with and the impetuous charge they so loved would break many an Islamic army in battles to come.

Ray-Ray arrived just in time to take up position to the south and as the Turkish horses poured over the ridgeline to the south, instead of a wide-open space and a sleepy camp of dozy Christians, they were met with the fully armed lines of Raymond’s army, and the rest of the crusader armies moving up in the east. The Turks surged forwards and unleashed a hail of arrows at the Christians, before turning back and fleeing in what seemed to be wild panic. The crusaders cheered and surged forward, assuming their ferocious presence had scared the Turks into flight. They were met with another wave of horsemen who unleashed their arrows then turned in feigned flight. The crusaders were meeting for the first time the famous hit and run, feigned retreat tactics of the nomadic horsemen. Archers would move in and out of the battle, attempting to disrupt enemy lines and draw contingents out into the open, where the heavier horse could ride them down.

The Christian knights, well trained and well-disciplined, held their lines and moved forward as one, rather than splitting into scattered and easily defeated groups like they were supposed to. The knights churned into the Turkish lines and this time the Turks fled for real, having no desire to cross swords with these heavily armoured monsters. They charged back up the ridge and disappeared into the mountains. The knights, on their larger and heavier horses, were unable to follow and went back to resume the siege, though not before beheading all the Turkish dead and wounded and parading the severed heads back through the camp. Some of these were kept as trophies on saddles and spears, some catapulted into the city as a message of fear and warning to the inhabitants, and a cartload or two sent to the Emperor as a gift.

Present for you my good chaps, will really help you get “a head” in life, ha ha.

Kilij had had his fill of killing (being primarily on the receiving end of it) by this point and abandoned the city to its fate. He would encounter the Christians again soon but he was out of the picture for the moment. The crusaders then put their full efforts into taking the city. They started using stones instead of heads to launch at the walls and built various battering rams, mobile sheds, and siege towers to break down, undermine and assault the walls. These were generally ineffective as the rough ground around the city and the numerous defensive towers made the approach treacherous. The sources tell of one of the first engines, “The Fox”, a heavy mobile shed full of sappers to burrow under the wall tipping up at an angle when reaching the wall, then collapsing in on itself, killing all inside. While the walls were hard to approach, they were equally difficult to breach and the stone-throwing catapults hadn’t enough force to do any serious damage to the thick walls. Hunger and disease ravaged their camps, as although the Byzantine supply lines kept the flow of goods coming to them, the hefty price tags they attached meant those who could afford it had enough to eat. Bobby Blah and the last of the crusaders arrived at this time, completing the encircling of the city. Well, semi-encircling, as the lakeside of the city was wide open allowing the inhabitants to resupply easily.

There are several tales of individual heroism recorded during the siege. One tells of a mad knight who was so frustrated with the inability of the siege engines to breach the walls that he ran up to the wall by himself and started hacking away with a pickaxe in one hand and a shield held over his head in the other. He shouted encouragement to the others to join him and hack down the wall themselves without the cover of the useless mobile sheds. Sadly he soon learned why his colleagues preferred a bit of cover for such tasks when after weathering a hail of rocks and javelins from above, he was crushed by a large rock. The defending Turks had their own heroic madmen, including one who single-handed stalled a crusader assault by firing crossbow bolt after bolt down on them, then switching to rocks and whatever else he could find when his ammo ran out. Despite going full Boromir and being pierced by around twenty shafts from the attackers, he still fought on ferociously, to the point that Duke Raymond himself, an expert marksman, had to be called to the assault and under the shield cover of several knights, delivered a mortal shot on the hapless Turk.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
No…its a honking great rock about to
crack open your skull, you ninny!

Assaulting the walls was never a pleasant task as would require weathering hails of missiles and showers of naphtha, a horrific flaming liquid known as Greek fire in the west, that stuck to and burned everything. One particularly embarrassing defence tactic for the attackers was to throw down hooks on long lines to snag on crusader armour, then to pull them up the walls, kill and strip them and then hang their corpses over the wall to discourage the enemy. Despite this, over time some of the besiegers began to undermine the walls by tunnelling under them, building wooden braces, then setting fire to them to weaken and collapse the foundations. Unfortunately for them, burning out the tunnels to collapse them could take some time and often the walls would subside during the night, giving the defenders time to reinforce and rebuild them before the morning assault, leading to more fruitless deaths and having to start the mining efforts anew.

The siege had been going on for about five weeks when the crusaders finally admitted they couldn’t take the city by force alone. After some discussions back and forth with the Byzantines, Alexios agreed to send some ships to finish the encirclement by taking the lake. The only problem was that the lake wasn’t connected to the sea, meaning these ships had to be transported at great effort overland. Along with these new ships the Byzantines sent more troops along, primarily archer contingents armed with more powerful and efficient bows than the crusaders to drive the defenders from the walls. The harbour now fully blockaded, and the siege engines beginning to weaken the walls again, the Sultana6 and sons of Kilij attempted to flee the city but were captured by the Byzantine fleet. With this and the ongoing crusader attacks, the Turks realised the situation was hopeless and sent word to the Byzantine fleet commander that they were willing to talk terms. Crucially at this point, the Byzantines failed to inform the crusaders that this was happening, leaving them to continue dying in their assaults against the walls.

As the crusaders prepared for another assault someone shouted out and pointed to the walls. Where the battered flags of the Turks had once stood, new flags with Byzantine markings now flapped defiantly. The city had surrendered, not to the crusaders who had been fighting and dying in the assaults the past six weeks, but to the Byzantines who turned up at the end to take the city and the credit. To add salt to the wounds, the Byzantines allowed the Turks safe passage with all their personal possessions and even enlisted many of them into the Byzantine army, leaving the crusaders next to nothing to show for all their blood, sweat and toil. There’s a reason that Byzantine is a byword for deception, craftiness and manipulation. The Byzantine commander, Butumites (I am sure that the Crusaders came up with many unpleasant nicknames for him) was given the title of Duke of Nicaea. Emperor Alexios, wary that the crusaders were a tad upset, reminded them of their oath to return the former Byzantine lands to him and gave them a large sum of money for their troubles, drawn from the Sultan’s treasury that had been left in the city.

This did assuage a few noble egos, but many of the soldiers were left with a bitter taste as they had nought to show for their endeavours but a handful of copper coins rather than their well earned looting and pillaging. This was only one of many encounters between the Eastern and Western Christians that would turn their relationship increasingly sour, but with nothing left to do at Nicaea, the crusaders turned south and began their long trudge through Anatolia.

Hopefully it won’t be quite so long until the next one, but in the meantime if you’re interested in a battle fought in simulation of the battle of Nicaea, please check out this post!

1 Or “government” in modern parlance.

2 Who by this point were probably wishing this mad Pete fellow had stayed a hermit rather than leading them all into a Turkish bloodbath.

3 The terms are used interchangeably depending on time and region but they were essentially non-muslim slaves (that’s all the words mean) who were trained from a young age to be a powerful military caste, completely loyal to the Sultan. This practice began with the Abbasids in the 9th century and would continue in various forms, such as the Ottoman janissaries, up until the early 19th century. Some would become powerful figures in their own right, even founding their own dynasties in Afghanistan and Egypt.

4 Their use against heathens and pagans was, of course, completely fine and even to be encouraged.

5A brief note on armour. The word knight often conjures images of men on huge horses clad head to toe in plates of gleaming armour charging with lances couched. This would be centuries off at this point. The knights here were primarily those of the Norman style, as seen in the Bayeux tapestry, in steel mail over thick cotton gambisons with kite shields, swords and spears. They were, however, the most heavily armoured people on the battlefield of the period.

6 The Sultan’s wife, not a dried fruit snack.

For King and Parliament First Outing

This morning I was able to get FK&P onto the table for the first time. Been working on the ECW troops for the last year so it’s good to finally get them out.

Unfortunately the second table I’d ordered didn’t arrive but was able to get a decent setup using the one I had and the kitchen table. For those who aren’t aware, FK&P by Simon Miller and Andrew Brentnall is a playing card driven, grid based game for the British Civil Wars. It’s based on the To The Strongest! Ancients ruleset with many additions and tweaks to suit the period. The basic concept is you activate a unit by drawing a card, then continue to activate units drawing cards until you draw an Ace or a lower card in a unit with a higher card. Those activations can then be used to move and attack, drawing various cards for hits and saves.

Below is a picture set up with the grid. The grid corners are laid out using small stones and tussocks made from glue and flock – glue gun blob, flock, PVA spray.

The effect is quite subtle and doesn’t really get in the way once the game begins.
The Royalist veterans, Rupert leads the horse on the right, Sir Jacob the foot on the left and King Charles looks on.
The Parliamentary forces. Cromwell leads the horse, Skippon the foot and Fairfax as overall commander.

The Royalist order of battle consists of two standard units of foot, Prince Ruperts Bluecoats and the King’s Lifeguard of Foot, as well as a pike heavy unit of mixed regiments, the various leftovers of broken battalia from a long war forming a tercio under Sir Henry Bard. There are also two units of horse, Sir William Vaughn and the Northern Horse. All units are rated as veteran and the horse have attached shot, small units of musketeers to provide some extra initial firepower.

The order for the Parliamentary side is three standard units of foot, John Pickering’s, Sir Hardress Waller’s and Phillip Skippon’s own, as well as a unit of commanded shot, two field artillery and two units of horse, Nathaniel Rich’s and Edward Whaley’s.

The miniatures are all 10mm Pendraken and based on 120mm frontage for foot and 100mm frontage for horse and commanded shot. The grid was 150mm squared.

The Royalists make the first move and press the advance. Cautious of the enemy artillery the horse sweep round the flanks while the infantry surge forward to try and close before too much damage can be done. Bard’s motley crew lag behind the other foot but still press forward. The Parliamentary horse rush to greet the advancing Rupert but both sides draw off after an initial clash ends in stalemate. The Parliamentary foot move up on the flanks hoping to envelop the smaller enemy force while the concentrated firepower batters their centre, but at this distance the shooting from both sides proves ineffective.

Vaughan managed to get a bit ahead of the Northern Horse so Rupert went to badger them along. The Parliamentary horse moved up in good order together.
The foot stare each other down, laughing off the long distance potshots. The artillery, a little perturbed by the Royalist’s rapid advance, miss their targets badly.

The Royalist advance moves up to closer range, exchanging fire with the ill-prepared artillery and driving them from the field, but Skippon and Waller fill the gap and lay down retributive fire, inflicting heavy casualties. The Northern Horse join the flank fight and both sides battle hard, neither giving any ground.

Fight on the flanks heats up with Whaley’s horse taking some damage.
The devastation of close quarters musketry takes its toll on both sides.

Vaughan breaks Whalley and sets off in persuit, but the arrival of Cromwell gives Rich’s men a fresh burst of vigour and they press the fight against the Northern Horse, breaking them and setting off in a persuit of their own. While Rupert’s foot fall back to regroup from the fight, the King’s Lifeguard launch a brutal salvee charge into Waller’s men. The sturdy Roundheads take the punishment and push the redcoats back, turning their muskets on them and unleashing wave after wave of shot until their red coats become redder still. The Lifeguard break and flee the field.

A brutal exchange ends in a Parliamentary success.
Bard is feeling a bit lonely at the front
“Eh guys…you’re going the wrong way!”

As the foot start to tire from the heavy fighting, Bard launches a half arsed charge, but is driven back by the concentrated fire of the enemy. They have no desire to press the advantage though and take the respite where it is available. Rupert, in a rare moment of awareness, realised the foot were struggling and managed to rally his remaining horse while Cromwell charges after the jubilant horse calling them back to the fray unsuccessfully.

In a bit if a role reversal, the Royalist horse pull off from the persuit while the Parliamentary horse charge on.
The foot stand off. Notice that fresh unit of Pickering’s relaxing in the rear.

Cromwell finally manages to pull his horse back in line and gets them turned round and back towards the fight in short order. Rupert struggles with his own horse as, unused to continuing the fight after a good rout, they mill around in disarray but eventually get turned in the general direction of the enemy. The foot battle back and forth, slowly grinding each other down.

Horse finally facing the right way
The bluecoats eye the wavering troops of Skippon’s regiment

The bluecoats surge forward in a last ditch effort and break the heavily disordered Parliamentarians. With renewed effort they launch an attack on Pickering’s reserve troops but are thrown back by the fresh troops. Rupert urges his horse onwards towards the exposed flank of Waller’s regiment but the long day has tired them and Waller has time to turn his men to face the incoming attack, stopping it short. With a ripple of musketry from the Parliamentary shot, Bard’s beleaguered troops finally break and flee from the field. Seeing his centre broken and Cromwell’s imminent return, Charles sounds the retreat. The day goes to the Parliamentary forces, but the Royalist veterans put on a brave fight.

The main forces at the end of the fight, viewed from the Royalist side
The view from Cromwell’s position
The view from Rupert’s position

Overall this was a lot of fun. The difference between the staying power of the veteran Royalists vs the numerical superiority of the Parliamentarians gave for an interesting balance. The fight got pretty close at the end. Had Rupert got one more activation and managed to hit Bard’s flank it might well have been a Royalist victory.

As far as the rules go, I do think they’re an improvement over TtS! and can see a lot of the modifications that have been added to the predecessor come to their fruition here. I suspect we’ll see those come into the ancients rules too in the next version.

The game started a bit slowly, partly due to my constant checking of the rules for things like range, and what numbers I needed to get, but after the first turn or two I didn’t need to check them again and got in the swing of things. The first few turns had high cards for activations and low cards for attacks, the opposite of what you want, so that slowed things down a bit too, but once the range closed the fighting got much faster and more furious. I particularly liked the persuit mechanism as it was something very important in the outcome of fights of this period and something not all rules cover well.

The most awkward part of it all is the set up process. The tussocks and stones worked well to not distract from the game, but laying out the grid with measuring tapes was time consuming and awkward. My two options going forward are to either use my felt cloth and mark out the grid directly on that, or else make some form of template to make it easier to lay out quickly.

I know I made some mistakes with the rules, but hopefully only a few small ones. I’ll have to have another read of the rules now I’ve had a game to put it all into context. I’ll definitely get some more games in the future and have a few more units in the queue to add to the forces in future. I didn’t use a few of the rules available as this was a test game, but will be more confident with using then in future.

Thanks for reading,


What am I at?

This year has been one of the busiest of my life, both in work and personally. Hobby time overall has been pretty small compared to what I’d like due to time and budgetary constraints.

However, while work continues apace, my personal life has become a bit quieter and a bit less expensive for the moment so all being well I can focus some more time on hobbies!

The past few weeks I’ve been getting into my lead hillock and clearing it down a bit. First up, some additions to the Islamics for the crusades. This was primarily Arab tribal units and horse archer units with figures mostly from Irregular miniatures, though a few from Pendraken too.

Arab light infantry/skirmishers
Horse archer (Pendraken) marker unit
Arabic tribal light cavalry
Arabic tribal light cavalry
Horse archers
More horse archers
Even more horse archers

I’ve also made up a few “minor” command bases for the Crusaders. These can operate as sub commanders, though I intend to use them as the main commanders in a campaign that I plan to do between two minor (imaginary) Crusader and Islamic states. Figures are again a mix of Irregular and Pendraken.

Next up a little preview of some work in progress. I’ve settled on the Crimean War as my 2mm project and have started putting together the British units. Still toying with basing design and flags.

There’ll be plenty more to follow in the near future. Initially I’m doing the Battle of the Alma with BBB so will need to fill out the British, French, Russians and a few Turkish too. Depending how I feel about things after this I may expand the forces out to cover the entire set of BBB Crimean War scenarios.

This week also marks the arrival of a fairly large order from Pendraken:

This contains the seeds of multiple projects to keep me going for the next little while, plus expansions to existing ones.

The main new project is from their Aztec range, where I’m hoping to do some of the pre-Columbian wars between the various states such as the Mexicans, Tarascans and Tepanecs.

There was also a few models from their early 20th Century ranges and a copy of Blitzkrieg Commander IV to experiment with a “Very Nor’n Irish Civul Whar” project, more on that in future posts.

There’s a stack of figures from their fantastic fantasy/dungeon ranges to have a stab at some fantasy RPG games. I’m mostly interested in historical, but the odd foray into fantasy can be fun and it’s a good way to draw others in.

There are several figures to round out my ECW armies, as well as some packs from their newly (re)published TB Line medievals to expand out the Crusader armies. Their figures, especially the cavalry, are a bit bigger than Pendraken’s normal cavalry figures, which works well as most of my knights are currently from Magister Militum, which are generally a bit chunkier and taller anyway.

Lots to keep me busy! I’m sure I’ll also be getting back to the Flippant History posts at some point too, though they’ll probably take a back seat for a while to painting.

Thanks for reading!


English Civil War Progress Update

As I’ve mentioned a few times in past blog posts, I’ve been working on an English Civil War, or British Civil War, or War of the Three Kingdoms (but that just makes me think of China and all the potential there…) project. It has been somewhat slow going, mostly due to this being a pretty busy year (one of the busiest of my life to be honest) so in the past ten months I’ve only been able to produce a couple of small forces.

I’m basing the project on the Battle of Naseby, a turning point in the Civil War that saw the Parliamentarian New Model Army overcome the rag tag Royalist veterans. I de-scoped my initial plans a bit to focus on producing two smallish forces that I can game with, then add to and expand into the full order of battle I want.

I’ve now (finally!) finished these small forces and as of today have them varnished and drying. I decided this would be a good time to photograph them as well. Alas my photography skills are poor, and I’ve only my phone camera and poor lighting. Though typically the sun came out after I was finished! Awh well.

I’ll be putting together an order to “finish” the project in future, but want to take a break from the period for a while and focus on other things. I’ve a bunch of odds and ends for the Crusades projects to paint up and I think I’ve settled on a 2mm Crimean War project next.

So without further ado…here are the pictures. You can click on them to enlarge.

The Royalists

Parliamentarian New Model Army

Bits and Bobs

Various markers that can be used for attached shot, hero markers, etc. I’ve some casualty markers too, but I haven’t photographed them, so you’ll have to wait for when I get a game in for that!

I’ll be expanding there forces gradually over time. More horse, more foot, some dragoons are all on the agenda. I’ll also try and get a game in at some point as I’ve been looking forward to trying out the For King and Parliament rules.

Thanks for reading,


A Flippant History of the Crusades – The First Crusade – The Road to Constantinople

In the last post we looked a little at the background of the Crusades and the state of the (relevant) world before the launch of the First Crusade. We also looked at the less than stellar performance of the People’s Crusade, sometimes known as the Peasants Crusade, Crusade Zero, or a huge mob of mislead poor people making a mess of everything except what they were supposed to. In this post we’ll take a look at the “real” First Crusade, the Princes’ Crusade and the characters and events therein.

To summarise where we are up to: The Byzantine Empire, or the (Eastern) Roman Empire as they liked to call themselves, was feeling the pinch from decades of internal instability, being overrun in the East by the Turks and threatened in the West by the Italo-Normans. At this time the Christian world was split in two, the eastern and western halves having mutually excommunicated each other half a century prior in the Great Schism1. The current Byzantine Emperor being a bit more Westophilic and pragmatic than prior Emperors, reached out to his Christian brothers through the Pope and asked for the help of a few hundred western knights against the Turks, and hopefully distract the Italo-Normans from conquering his westerly holdings in the process. Filling the Pope with (somewhat exaggerated) tales of the horrendous onslaught of the Muslim Turks and the great suffering their fellow Christians were being subjected to worked2 and at the Council of Clermont in France the Pope incited hordes of people to take up the cross and prepare for an armed pilgrimage to the Holy Lands to help retake Byzantine holdings in the Near East and onwards to Jerusalem3. While a bunch of upstart peasants got a bit overexcited and went charging ahead to their deaths, the main bulk of the western armies spent a year preparing for a mighty campaign. The First Crusade was underway.

Key Players

Before getting into the story, I think its best to explain a little background to who the key figures are and the roles they will play in the events to come.

The Forces of Allah

In this section we’ll introduce the main figures in the Muslim lands against whom the Crusade will be targeted. A quick note on titles and their rough English equivalent:

Sultan: King/Emperor (secular ruler)
Caliph: King/Emperor (secular and religious ruler in one)
Emir: Lord/Commander/Prince (usually the ruler of a small state/city subject to a higher ruler)
Atabeg: Turkish title indicating a high placed governor, advisor and leader who was also charged with the care and upbringing of the Sultan’s heirs.

Just look at that ferocious ‘tache!
(Not a real picture)

First up, Sultan Kilij Arslan I, who had to have one of the best names in the time period. It’s like someone took the English words Kill, Pillage, Arson and Slain and mashed them together into a cool sounding name, which just happened to mean “Sword Lion” in Turkish. I mean…is it any wonder the Turks were so fearsome with a leader named like that? He forcefully reunited the Turks in Anatolia and reformed the Sultanate of Rum when the previous Sultan of the Great Seljuk Empire, Malik Shah, died leaving a fractured empire. He had previously been a prisoner of Malik Shah who was jealous of Arsalan’s awesome name and so insecure about his own he had to call himself King King in two different languages just in case anyone doubted his position.4 Name coolness rating: 10/10.

Yağısıyan, I think pronounced a little like “You-aah-uh-suh-uh-you-an” or “Yah-gi-see-yan ” based on my sketchy understanding of wikipedias phonetics5, was the Emir of Antakya, or as it is better known in the west, Antioch. Not much is known of him beyond this and that he was a brother of Malik Shah. When Antioch was besieged by the Crusaders (spoilers!) he did reach out for help to the other Emirs in the region, but the divisiveness that had grown after Malik Shah’s death played against him. Name coolness rating: 5/10.

Maybe I should steal all the pictures from Crusader Kings II

Kürboğa/Kurbaga, I believe pronounced “Kur-booh-a” though I’ve heard it said as “Kur-bo-ga”, I’m fairly sure that ğ is meant to be silent and extend the preceding vowel.6 Regardless, he was the Atabeg of Mosul giving him great power and influence as well as being a famous soldier and military commander. He would attempt to attack the Crusaders at Edessa and Antioch, without much success. I’ll give him an 8/10 on the name coolness rating as it sounds a little like something a Ninja Turtle would say while kicking some righteous posterior.

Sultan Radwan of Aleppo, was the successor to the Syrian throne when his father, Tutush I, died. He ruled from Aleppo and despite a minor quibble with his brother over ownership of a city or two (see below) had a reasonably successful early reign. Most of this was due to Janah ad-Dawla al-Husain, Atabeg of Homs, who was the real governor of Syria. When Janah was assassinated, literally, by one of the original Assassins, Radwan had to fend for himself. He managed to retake Damascus after his brother’s death, but got his nose bloodied by the crusaders, specifically the Norman Prince, Tancred, eventually being reduced to a tributary of the same. Name coolness rating: 7/10, the “Rad One” is a little dated but still has some charm.

Duqaq was a buddy of Yaghi-Siyan and brother of Radwan.He revolted against his brother with the help of Yaghi and split Syria in half, becoming the ruler of Damascus in his own right, one of the key cities in the region. He joined up with Kurbaga to try and retake Antioch after the successful Crusader siege without much joy. After taking a few punts at the Crusaders over the years and grabbing the city of Homs after the previous ruler was assassinated, he grew sick and died leaving his rulership to his young son under the stewardship of his loyal Atabeg, Toghtegin, who promptly took over and established his own dynasty. Name coolness rating, 2/10. I’m sure its a delightful name in Arabic, but in English it sounds a little like something you don’t want to step on in the street. Condolences.

This is all I thought of while reading about him

Al-Afdal Shahanshah, the Excellent King, the Glory of Islam and Protector of the Faith, was a modest man born in Acre who went on to become the vizier to the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt, maneuvering a child Caliph onto the throne rather than the more competent older successor so he could take the reigns himself. He went on to reestablish Fatimid control over much of Palestine after it had been lost to the Seljuk Turk invasions. Mistaking the Crusaders for mere Byzantine mercenaries, he approached them looking an alliance against the Turks, only to be rebuffed when the Crusaders didn’t stop their conquest at Antioch and continued onwards towards Jerusalem. He fought multiple times against the Crusaders and put up a fearsome resistance, but gradually the peripheral edges of the Fatimid holdings were ground down and taken over by the upstart Christians. The Egyptian core stayed strong, however, and proved fertile ground for the next generation to show the Crusaders what was what. But that’s a story for another time. He already has so many glorious titles attached to his name, a mere mortal such as I is not worthy to rate it.

Danishmend Gazi, who is not a Dane on the mend you’ll be surprised to hear, caused the Crusaders a little consternation in Asia Minor by getting in their way. He did not last long. Name score, 6/10.

Iftikhar al-Dawla was governor of Jerusalem until the Crusaders unceremoniously booted him out. He then went on to rule Ascalon, until the Crusaders unceremoniously booted him out. “Lift a car al day-a” deserves a 7/10.

The Forces of Christ

Portrait of Emperor Alexios I, from a Greek manuscript

Alexios I Komnenos, Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans was a bit of a badass as far as Byzantine emperors go. The Empire had been in a long slow decline, losing territory to the various Muslim and Turkish invaders in the East (culminating in the devastating Battle of Manzikert) and to the naughty Normans in the West. Alexios was able to turn things around for the Empire and kicked off a restoration movement that lead to military, economic and territorial recovery. While he didn’t forestall the slide into ignominy permanently, he did rage brightly against that dark night of the Empire’s decline. Much of what we know of him comes from the writings of his daughter, Anna, who being unable to enter politics herself, did what many of those excluded from the circles of power do and wrote about it instead. The “Alexiad” is obviously heavily biased towards her father and the Byzantines, but is an invaluable resource for the period. Alexios was a consummate politician and we’ll encounter many of his crafty political wranglings as we move on in the story.

The Five Armies

Rather than go through all the figures in Christendom involved in the Crusade I thought it best to break them up into the five main contingents that left Europe on their way to the Holy Land and talk about the individuals there in that context. This has the advantage of moving the story long a bit faster as I’m sure you’re asking when the Crusade will actually start!

Map of the region prior to the First Crusade showing (if you squint) the paths of the various armies progressing towards the Holy Land.
You can boil my hat to make bouillon

The Army of Godfrey of Bouillon7
Headed up by Godfrey, Duke of Lower Lorraine, himself along with his younger brother Baldwin (take note of him, we’ll be hearing a lot more from this one), it was drawn from the germanic region in and around Lotharingia, roughly equivalent to modern Belgium and Lorraine in Eastern France. Godfrey sold or mortgaged off large portions of his land to several “charitable” bishops to raise funds8 to gather a large contingent of knights and an army potentially as large as 40,000 strong and set out in 1096 on the overland route to Byzantium.

This was the same general route used by the People’s Crusade and when Godfrey and his troops turned up on Hungary’s doorstep, the King was understandably reluctant to let thousands of potential pillagers into his lands. Eventually they agreed on a compromise with the Hungarian king keeping some of Godfrey’s family as hostages, including his wife and younger brother, to insure the army crossed the land peacefully. They managed to do so without any plundering, quite the achievement by Crusader standards, and his family was released. Now they were into the Empire proper and arrived to camp outside Constantinople two days prior to Christmas. Alexius suggested Godfrey (and the other Crusaders) swear an oath of fealty to him before setting out on the Crusade. Needing the support of the Byzantine supply lines, Godfrey agreed to a modified oath that would return some of the lands conquered to Alex.

Take that!

Army of Robert Curthose of Normandy and friends
Lead by Bobby Shortstockings, Duke of Normandy and eldest son of the previous Duke of Normandy (and King of England), Billy the Bastard. Since losing his claim to the English throne to his little brother William II, who was in the right place at the right time, he was left with poor old Normandy and had to mortgage his lands just to raise the funds for the Crusade. The forces were drawn (unsurprisingly) from Normandy and England and joined up with the armies of his relatives Robert II, Count of Flanders, and Stephen II, Count of Blois9.

After a saunter through France and Italy he and his men hopped on some ships and sailed to Constantinople, swore the required oath to Alex and set off for the Holy Land. It was said Robert was an excellent field commander, but had no head for strategy. This might explain why he was found sleeping in, drunk and naked when his other brother Henry, now King of England due to patiently waiting in England for his brother to die rather than swanning about on crusade, decided to invade Normandy and relieve Bob of his Duchy, his liberty and eventually, his life.

Army of Hugh the Great
Hugh was Great. Like really great. The greatest. He was the son of Henry I, King of France, which made his extra great as well. He married the Countess of Vermandois, which was pretty great because it made him the Count of Vermandois. He set out with a small band of fellow great knights on the jolly jaunt to the Holy Land, taking a cruise from Italy to Constantinople. He was so great, the Pope gave him the Banner of the Holy Roman Church, which he was sure to wave heartily as he sashayed his way into the city. He was the first Crusader to get there, how great is that? And of course considered himself the clear choice for leader of the crusade.

Look how great he is.

He’d already sent word to the Emperor on how he expected to be greeted, “Know, Emperor, that I am the King of Kings, the greatest of all beneath the heavens. It is fitting that I should be met on my arrival and received with the pomp and ceremony appropriate to my noble birth.” Alexius, crafty bugger that he was, wined and dined him and impressed him so much that Hugh swore that he would serve Alexius and relinquish any lands conquered by the Crusaders back to the Empire. Later in the Crusade, he would be sent back to his new bestie, Alex, for reinforcements. When none were forthcoming, instead of returning to the Crusade and making his way to Jerusalem, he went back to France to tell people how great he was. Shamed by not fulfilling his oath to Jerusalem, he made another attempt to do so a few years later only to be killed by the Turks. So great.

Who me?

Army of Bohemond I, Prince of Taranto
Representing the Italo-Normans was Bo Taranto, son of Bobby the Weasel, conqueror of Italy. When all these Crusader fellows started drifting through his lands talking of land and riches to be had in the Middle East, the canny prince’s interest was peaked. Together with his nephew, Tancred, he gathered a hefty Norman force and headed for Byzantium. His army, while small, was one of the most experienced to go on Crusade, having tested their skill against the forces of…eh…the Byzantines for many years. Understandably, Bo and Alex were a little wary of each other, but when Alex hinted that there might be some nice shiny gold in it for Bo, and that with all his combat experience he’d make a pretty good leader of the crusaders, he was happy to swear an oath of loyalty. Distracted by his old enemy swearing the oath, Alex didn’t seem to notice that Bo’s nephew, Tancred, had snuck through Byzantine lands without technically swearing the oath of fealty. Oops!

The Army of Adhemar of Le Puy and Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse

This was the largest of the armies to set off and was lead by two of Southern France’s leading figures. Adhemar of Le Puy Lentil was the designated papal legate and “official” leader of the crusade as the pope’s representative. He had the honour of being the first to take the cross at Clermont. Never one to let his bishop’s robes get in the way or a good fight, he could often be found in the thick of battle leading knights against the infidel.

See that? I own that. I’m rich you know, so rich I paid an artist to knock a few years off my painting.

Ray was the richest of the crusaders and also the oldest, a venerable ancient at 56 years old. It’s said he lost an eye when he travelled to Jerusalem on pilgrimage, after getting into a fight with the doorman of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Possibly he was refused entry for being too drunk on the holy spirit. The rich old cripple was a devoutly religious man and had no greater desire in life than to die in the Holy Lands. His wish was fulfilled, though not in the way he’d entirely expected. As the leader of the largest army on crusade as well as being the oldest, and did I mention richest, member of the noble crew he felt himself the natural leader. That must have been a bit awkward when traveling with Adhemar and his “official” command, but maybe Addy was just humouring the old boy. Regardless, he turned up in Constantinople with only an incy wincy tiny little bit of looting of Christian lands by his army and being far too old and rich to swear any oaths of fealty to some upstart young whippersnapper of an emperor, instead swore an oath of friendship and offered to support Alex against Bo and the Italo-Normans if they got uppity again. This seemed to be sufficient and he and his army were ferried off to Asia minor with the rest of the Crusaders.

Finally, the crusade had left Europe and was en route for Jerusalem. First stop, Nicea. But that’s a story for next time…

You may have noticed a common theme here. These aren’t two unified sides clashing against each other in an epic battle of Empire. These are two large groups of diverse leaders who often end up fighting and disagreeing with each other as much as against the enemy. This will continue to reveal itself throughout the First Crusade, and in no small part the success of the Christians is due to the fact they were able to pull together slightly better than the various enemies they faced. Though… that isn’t saying much…


1I didn’t mention this directly last time, it’s pretty important. They did not get along. The division between the Greek and Latin church had been growing for a while, ever since the Bishop of Rome did what had previously only been the prerogative of the Patriarch of Byzantium and crowned a new “Holy Roman Emperor”, Mangy Charlie, on Christmas day 800 AD. In the centuries since then things had only gotten worse and in 1053 the divorce between the two traditions was formalised. They were all, however, still technically Christians.

2This also helped the Pope redirect western knights and lords from fighting each other and attacking someone outside of Europe for once.

3The Byzantines didn’t particularly care about Jerusalem and the Holy Land at this point, having gutted it of most of it’s holy relics and shipped them back to Byzantium (now Constantinople) before it went under new management with the Muslims. As far as the Byzantines were concerned, their great mother city was their holy place.

4This is probably not why he was imprisoned, but Malik does mean King in Arabic and Shah is King in Persian. Then again, when your full name is Jalāl al-Dawla Mu’izz al-Dunyā Wa’l-Din Abu’l-Fatḥ ibn Alp Arslān, Malik Shah is less of a mouthful.

5Deepest apologies to any Turkic speakers for my horrendous butchery of this and any other names.

6Aren’t linguistics fascinating!

7The region in Belgium, not the tasty broth.

8Also rumoured to have extorted money from nearby Jewish communities too, as was a popular Christian pastime in medieval europe.

9Better to be called the Count of Bleh since he fled the battle of Antioch and ran home, never reaching Jerusalem. He did make another attempt a few years later, only to be killed by the Fatimids.

Paper Wars in Action

Last week I was able to roll out some of the 2D armies for some games. I’d put together forces for the Boyne, Culloden and Gettysburg and got a chance to play a couple of games with my father.

Culloden didn’t get onto the table, though as it was the one I was least interested in I wasn’t too concerned. For the Battle of the Boyne I used the Pike and Shotte rules with my own custom scenario for the battle. For Gettysburg I used the excellent Bloody Big Battles ruleset with a scenario from the BBB Yahoo group.

The magnetic tape the paper counters and labels were attached to worked well, giving the playing pieces some weight and other than perhaps cutting some of my flexible ferrous paper into movement trays to keep them all together on hills, I’m pretty happy with them. I’ll definitely be using the tape for future projects, provided I can find a way to cut it a bit more regularly square. I suspect patience and care is the answer but life’s too short for taking your time!

I’d initially scaled the games for dining table play but the discovery of a table tennis table at the place we were staying was too good an opportunity to pass up. With a little tweaking I was able to stretch them to suit the larger space.

I’ll be sharing all the resources I used here at the bottom of this post so stick around if you’re interested in any of it for yourself.

The Battle of the Boyne

The Battle of the Boyne is quite the appropriate one to play given the proximity to the 12th July, the traditional “celebration” of the battle in my home country, complete with bonfires, bowler hats, orange sashes, marching bands, protests, riots and flags on every lamppost (I counted no less than sixty on my short walk to work). If you don’t know of what I speak, Wikipedia is a good place to start!

Controversial as the “celebrations” may be all these centuries later, it is still an important turning point in the history of the British isles and as a battle offers a lot of fun opportunity to game.

Queen Mary and her consort, Prince William of Orange, had recently been welcomed by Parliament as the new Queen and King of England when the last King of England, James II, having the audacity to declare himself a Roman Catholic, was promptly deposed. It’s said when William turned up on England’s shores for some light invading, King James decided to do nothing about it due to having a bit if a nose bleed, which was enough to make even the most loyal of royalists rethink their position. Supporters flocked to William and Mary in droves and James, in a petulant temper, chucked the the king’s seal* into the river and fled the city. This gave Parliament the convenient excuse of claiming James had abdicated. Huzzah to the Glorious Revolution! All nice and neat. Now William…er well his wife Mary (James’ little sister) could be Queen and after some legal wrangling and red faces in the House, William and Mary were declared joint monarchs.

James ran off to Ireland to drum up support with the help of the French and started making trouble in his neighbourhood. He got in one little fight and then got scared and ran off to be the king of … nothing. That fight was the battle of the Boyne, part of a wider campaign by William to bring the unruly Irish (who seemed to think they should be allowed to practice religion however they wished, the horror!) under full control. In truth the battle was less significant at the time than the battle of Aughrim a year later, which ended the Williamite War in Ireland, but as James and William were both present at the Boyne it tends to get all the press.

Interestingly, it was the anniversary of Aughrim that was originally celebrated on the 12th, with the Boyne taking over in importance a century later and stealing the date (it was fought on the 1st by the Julian calendar). Also, if seen in the wider context of European politics it is interesting to note that the Pope at the time was in fact an ally of William in the League of Augsburg arrayed against the French, a bit of an odd quirk of history given the sectarian nature of the war and remembrance of it.

The battle was preceded by a feint by William, sending a small contingent of cavalry far down the river to ford while bringing his main force towards Oldbridge where the river was more easily forded.

James mistook the feint for the main attack and sent around two thirds of his force to intercept. They pulled up opposite sides of an impassible marsh and stared at each other until word reached them that William had crossed already at which point James promptly ran away.


* The kind used to stamp things, not the noisy sea mammal, who would be unperturbed by a dip in the river. 

I decided to focus the battle at the Oldbridge crossing, here are some shots of the setup:

Oldbridge Town, the main objective of the game to hold/take. The fields in the distance cover the whole area enclosed by the hedge (as I said, expecting a smaller table!)

I’ve set up two crossing points, one a ford, the other an island with slightly different rules for each. There’s marshy ground on the other side of the island.

The sheep in their enclosures. No sheep were harmed in the making of this battle.

I took on the role of James’ understaffed defenders while my dad decided to lead King Billy’s forces across the river.
William started his advance by sweeping the cavalry round towards the island, and moving his elite infantry up to the ford. He opened combat with a somewhat ineffective artillery barrage. The defending forces deployed the dragoons along the hedges and moved the cavalry over towards the ford to try and support the Oldbridge defence. The infantry fired a few potshots across the river to no real effect.
William’s cavalry moved across the island with great elan, only to end up mired in swampy ground and milling about in skirmishing disorder for most of the battle, while the Irish dragoons picked them off one by one. The infantry began their inexorable advance across the river ford under the fire of the defenders.
The Dutch guard advanced up to the walls and hedges of Oldbridge before being thrown back by the king’s foot guard. The Irish cavalry tore along the river towards the encroaching enemy but stalled in confusion under the harsh battering from William’s artillery barrages, eventually becoming broken and scattered.
William’s infantry kept advancing under heavy fire and getting thrown back by the elite King’s Foot Guard at the walls. Confident in the defense ability of the guard, two units of infantry hopped into the open to enfilade the enemy and managed to break a couple of units before getting bogged down in combat. A shaken unit of Williams infantry (mistakenly) advanced on the guard and despite drawing combat, the support of the units coming up behind was enough to cause the foot guard to take a break test, inexplicably breaking completely without having taken a single casualty. Luck of the Irish…

The Williamite forces surged forward seizing the town and taking the victory. James turned up at the end to see what was going on, far too late to do anything worthwhile.

Some shots from the game, Dutch in Orange, Irish in Green. Obviously!

William’s forces advancing towards Oldbridge

Some milling cavalry

The advancing cavalry, looking frisky, unaware of the artillery barrage about to cause them some consternation

All in all the scenario played out well. I think I managed to organise the forces well and the terrain added a lot of flavour to the game and helped balance the overwhelming numbers of William. I did get a few rules wrong, only one of which really altered the overall play, but was a good close game regardless.

I might make a few tweaks to the scenario if I play again, but all in all, I was pretty happy. This was my first time playing P&S but found them to flow as well as the HC games I’ve played. It would have been good had I time to play them solo first to iron out a few rough edges as was teaching my dad as I went. His summary was it was good but a bit too complicated to remember all those rules!


Next up was the Battle of Gettysburg using BBB. This as a cracking game played over two days and was a close one in the end.

I’ll not go into the history as I did with the Boyne as my ACW knowledge isn’t so deep (an area I’m working to improve) but this is another attacker Vs defender scenario with the fresh faced Union troops attempting to hold their ground against General Lee’s Confederate veterans.

Dad took the dirty rebs, I took the upstanding army of the Union.

Here’s some pictures of the layout, ran out of brown tape (having used it at the Boyne) so grey and brown indicate roads, black is railway (and later rifle pits) and blue the streams. Sorry about the poor lighting, though as you can see by the light it’s been a glorious day outside. 

The rebels swept in from the north but fell like wheat to the scything gunfire of the Union forces. All day they pushed forwards but couldn’t make ground on Gettysburg. They did better on the western flank, after a bit if a stalemate over ttje railway line, they broke it and proceeded to push the Union back from the railway, forcing them to retreat up Seminary hill and pushing forward to threaten the west of Gettysburg.

Night fell with nothing more gained and the forces pulled back to recover their troops and give space for reinforcements to.make their way to the field. Day two opened with a smattering of ineffective gunfire from the Union on the west, but a devastating barrage on the east against the rebel artillery position caused some damage.

The rebels pushed forwards with great gusto, advancing on Gettysburg from the north and west but the concentration of fire from the Union lines held them at bay. A Union assault up Benner’s hill was repelled by the rebel artillery but a further Union barrage swept the hill wreaking havoc amongst the rebel artillery corps.

Some shots of where things are halfway through “day 2”:


The west

The east

Fighting intensified in the second half of day 2. Pender lead the assault from the west of Gettysburg while McLaws and Anderson pushed from the North and Rodes advancing cautious from the North East. Early and Heth sat back and licked their wounds. The invincible Hood charged the rifle pits of Barlow against withering fire from across the hill, pushing them back to the river then obliterating them in a follow up assault.

The assault on Gettysburg was a success and in the closing hours of day 2, despite the valiant defence from the Iron Brigade they were shaken out if Gettysburg and the victorious rebels swarmed into the town for a well earned night’s rest. The forces consolidated their positions over night and brought in their last reinforcements. The cavalry was still engaged in battle on the east field so didn’t make an appearance.

Day three opened with the Union moving swiftly up to defend their western flanks and trying to take the round tops and devils den against Pickett and Hood moving up the West. The northern lines sent a smattering of fire into Gettysburg without much impact. The rebels launched their assault on cemetery hill, throwing everything they had at the position and quickly overwhelming the defending Union troops. Good and Pickett, overcautious of the Union artillery after the damage they’d done in the previous day’s hung back, attempting to silence the artillery position before assaulting up the steep slopes of the round tops. They succeeded in silencing them but we’re unable to take advantage of this before the fresh Union reinforcements made their way to the hills and the den. The Union made a failed attempt to retake the cemetery and as the day drew to a close the rebels in the North threw their forces against Culps hill in one last desperate charge but was thrown back by the combined firepower of the Union. 

The battle ended in a draw. The rebels had fought hard to take Gettysburg and cemetery hill, but were completely spent by the efforts. Both sides drew back to leave the fight to another time.

All in all a close run thing. Had the rebels taken Gettysburg earlier in the game they could probably have swept to victory. As it was, the solid defence put up by the Union troops broke the Confederacy troops down and managed to hold in to a draw.

Assault on Gettysburg

Assault on Cemetery Hill

Pickett’s not charge


Below are links to download the labels, scenarios and templates I used for these games.

Battle of the Boyne

Boyne OOB inspired by:

Labels for Gettysburg

Scenario for Gettysburg – requires sign up to the Yahoo Group

Markers and Objectives

Paper Army Unit Pack – including both borderless and bordered (depending on the printer)


A Flippant History of the Crusades – Prelude

Welcome to my new series exploring history in a fairly lighthearted way! A detailed treatise this is not, but rather a general gloss of the periods and events covered with a (hopefully) humorous twist. My aim is to give you enough of an introduction to peak your interest enough to delve deeper into the serious stuff and look into the fascinating details that make up the history, if you so wish.

My interests tend not to lie with modern history (though that may change in future), so I suspect most of these will end up being pre-20th Century periods. This also helps avoid the tricky line between humour and respect when dealing with recent history and those who lived it, or have loved ones who did. While time and distance should not lessen the human experience or suffering, as people we will always be more affected by those we can identify with than those we cannot and I have no desire to make light of such matters while there are still those around in living memory to be hurt by it. Apologies to any erstwhile time travellers who feel I have disrespected your time period, I promise it comes only from a good place. I mean if we can’t laugh at ourselves as a species what are we even doing here?

The first series I’m beginning is covering the Crusades, unsurprising given the topic matter on this blog thus far! To begin with, I thought I’d provide a little context to the world before the initiation of the First Crusade. This will be a fairly rapid march through a few centuries of history, future entries will be a bit more focused on shorter time spans. I suspect this will have a somewhat western-centric approach, mostly due to the fact that that most of the resources available to me in English will have a western perspective. Anyway…

Islam exploded out of middle east in the 7th century and quickly rampaged its way across the Mediterranean, conquering everything from Morocco to Afghanistan before butting up against the Byzantines in the East and switching direction towards Spain and Italy. An Umayyad Caliphate commander called Tariq led a raid into Iberia that accidentally turned into a full-blown conquest. They named a mountain after him, Gibraltar in modern parlance.

The Franks suddenly realised they had some new neighbours that weren’t particularly friendly towards them when the Moors (as they were calling them, because Muslims was too hard to say) came knocking on their door with twenty thousand armed men. Thankfully the Franks had a secret weapon in the shape of Charlie Hammer, who crushed the invaders at the Battle of Tours. A generation later, his Great1 grandson took the fight to Spain, got nowhere fast and turned around to go home. There’s a famous song about the last stand of one of his knights, Roland, and how the entire army got badly bloodied by some Basque hill tribes during the retrea….backwards advance.

Meanwhile, other Islamic forces started scooping up islands in the Mediterranean and into southern Italy, because… why not? The Italian island of Sicily became a major Islamic stronghold from which Western Europe could be threatened. The Europeans as a whole were not fans of this.

Eventually, the Islamic invaders got into difficulties with the Germans (calling themselves the Holy Roman Empire) in the north and the Byzantine Greeks (calling themselves the Romans to add to the confusion) in the east. Some Norman mercenaries, fresh from conquering everything they laid eyes on (it wasn’t just Billy the Bastard2 you know), realised that there were some fine pickings to be had in Italy. They called in their buddies, mostly from the Hauteville family under the leadership of Bobby the Weasel and went on to build the Italo-Norman Kingdom in Southern Italy and Sicily. From here, they were able to start fighting those pesky Greeks to the east who dared to think they had claims over lands that the Normans could see just because they’d ruled them for a few centuries. Fools.

Back in the east, the nomadic Turks, gradually coalescing into a single force known as the Seljuks, turned up in a weakened and fractured Anatolia asking “Where’s the Rum3?”

They found it

The Byzantine Emperor, Alexios I Komnenos, feeling the Turks eyeballing him from their newly conquered capital of Nicaea, went to the Pope for help. “Papa, old buddy, old pal, how are things in the West these days? I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye but you’re an urbane4 fellow and we’re all good Christian brothers so I don’t suppose you could ask your western barbar…good Christian knights to come and fight the Turks for us? I mean, help us fight them, because we obviously have a great and powerful army, we just need a little help from our friends to take back Nicaea. Now I’m not saying we’ll give up our Orthodox ways and turn Catholic or anything but…you never know…”.

Pappy Urbanus thought this a marvellously good idea and went straight to his old stomping ground of France to preach to the feisty Franks, whipping them up into a frenzy by suggesting they take up an armed pilgrimage against the infidels who were polluting the Holy Land with their heathen presence. Oh and Nicaea, they had to take back Nicaea for the Greeks, then ONWARDS TO JERUSALEM! GOD WILLS IT! DEUS VULT! And other such stirring incitements to mass violence.

There were a few mutterings of approval from the crowd, but someone chirped up with the ever present question in any call to action… “What’s in it for us?”. The Pope thought for a moment, then with a smile and an expansive gesture declared “Why you’ll be forgiven all of your sins of course…even those you haven’t committed yet!”. The crowd went silent for a moment while the implications of this sank in then erupted in roars of approval.5

The Pope began handing out cloth crosses to be sewn to the clothes of all those who swore to bear arms to the Holy Lands and so many took the cross that the priests in attendance had to tear up their own vestments to make sure there were enough to go around. A little free sinning was too good an offer to pass up. Word started to spread across western europe and more and more took up the cross in a mass outpouring of religious fervour.

This fervour spread out like wildfire amongst the less noble sorts of the Frankish and Germanic peasantry, helped along by a couple of popular preachers known as Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless, who whipped up a storm among the populace. These peasants led by preachers set off in different groups on their own pre-crusades armed with more faith than sense or weapons. They had a merry old time raping and pillaging their way across (Christian) Central/Eastern Europe and slaughtering a few thousand innocent Jews for good measure. After a bit of a minor war with the (Christian) Hungarians over the price of a pair of shoes6, they arrived at the gates of Constantinople (not Byzantium), and ate the Emperor out of house and home until he managed to ship them off in the direction of the enemy.

After the French peasants had a bit of a laugh pillaging the outskirts of Nicea, though not making any real effort to conquer it, the Germans took a side track to the castle of Xerigordos, which they promptly seized, got counter-sieged by the Turks and were reduced to drinking donkey blood and urine before giving themselves to conversion or slaughter at the hands of the Turks. The remaining forces marched on through northern Anatolia until at the Battle of Civetot they came up against a force of Turks with horses and bows and weapons that haven’t previously been farming implements. The pre-Crusaders quickly realised that faith isn’t much help against a face full of arrows. Sadly, they came to this conclusion much too late to avoid the inevitable bloodshed. A handful of survivors limped home, but the People’s Crusade was finished.

Over the next year, the minor nobility of Western Europe mortgaged their holdings, sold what they could and raised the funds to mount a mighty expedition to the Holy Lands. The upper echelons of nobility, being too busy with the business of fighting each other and looking after their kingdoms and duchies, took a rain check on the armed pilgrimage and left it to their lesser Barons and knights to do the heavy lifting.

Among those nobles a few clear leaders emerged at the heads of four different armies. It was August 1096 and the First Crusade had begun7 .


1Charles the Great, or Charlemagne,  was Charles Martel’s (the Hammer) grandson, not his great grandson.

2Or William the Conqueror as he’s sometimes known.

3Cause the Rumans…eh Romans? Greeks? Byzantines? lived there. So it must be Rum/Rome right?

4Pope Urban II

5It probably didn’t actually happen like this. There were likely many genuinely devout people who felt it was a holy calling, and the theology of remittance of sins through action had been building up in the background for a while. On the other hand, human nature doesn’t ever really change…

6I’m not even making this up.

7They weren’t known as Crusaders, those marked with the cross, until much later. At this time they were just pilgrims…with swords.

Images from,,, general image googling and Wikipedia.

Paper Wars

After my recent experiment in 2D wargaming I’ve been busy expanding the project further. I’ve now created digital copies of the troop types than can easily be recoloured and printed.

To solve the issue with the card being too thin to be practical I decided to use magnetic tape I found on eBay. The tape is a couple of mm thick so provides a good weight to the counter and being 25mm is easy to cut to shape. It’s adhesive backed as well so can add the printed and cut paper straight onto it. I also picked up a half width one to use with status indicators.

I like the magnetic tape a lot and may use it as bases for my 2mm armies when I settle on what I do for them. The Crimean being the current front runner, though if I find I like using these counters enough I may just start on 2mm 3D terrain to be multi functional instead.

The benefit of using magnetic material over thick card or MDF is I can affix them all the ferrous sheets for ease of viewing and access, rather than having to rummage around in a bag for the rights bits. It also allows me to make flexible movement trays if I need them.

I’ve also been making unit labels as counters in their own right so that they can be used in the unit and padded out with the generic troop counters. This will be useful for games where there can be a lot of different unit types and stats, or for people new to wargaming as an easy reference.

As you may have guessed from above, Gettysburg is one of the battles on the roadmap. As I’ve a family gathering for a week in June and a father and brother who could be cajoled into a game or three, these counters will provide a good ability to put on some games without being tied down to my meagre miniatures collection, which would be difficult to transport regardless.

My dad tends to be most interested in 17th-19th century conflicts, so it was no major surprises when I asked if there were any battles he’d be interested in recreating. He said the Boyne, Culloden and Gettysburg.

I’ve decided to use the excellent looking Gettysburg scenario from BBB as it seems like it will give a great sense of the conflict. I may need to make some modifications depending on how much space is available for play at where we’re staying, I doubt we’ll get a 6×4 unless we play on the floor so may have to adapt or compress things.

For Culloden, Black Powder seems a good fit, and I found a good order of battle on Junior General that I’ve used to make up the units. Keeping it fairly simple with only a few special rules to add character to the units.

The Battle of the Boyne is an interesting one. I’ve decided to focus on the actual crossing at Oldbridge and Drybridge as that was the significant action of the battle and provides a fun scenario of a weaker force defending the crossing against a large and well equipped enemy. I’m going to use Pike and Shot rules for it and have put together some special modifications to give the scenario a bit more flavour. I’ve based the OOB on this superb project.

I’ve sourced, made or modified some top down printable terrain as well so I can at least add a little more visual appeal than my quick and scrappy sketch approach last time.

There’ll be more to follow as work through the projects and assuming the battles go ahead, some battle reports to follow. I have most of the scenario design and digital work done, so now I’ve a lot of printing, cutting and sticking to do!

I may need to find some way to protect the printed counters from sticky fingers. Brush on varnish tends to smudge, and spray on isn’t much better…

Oh well!

Thanks for reading,


Remember the Alma…

As promised, I’ve rolled out the new 2D armies to try out the Bloody Big Battles ruleset. This let me put together a game to play the rules out despite the fact I don’t have a proper miniatures army.

The scenario I picked was the Battle of The Alma from the Crimean War. The French, Turkish and British forces are attempting to overrun a defended Russian position to open the road to Sevastapol.

The terrain is very much rough and ready, much like the armies themselves!

The Turkish position arrayed for the defence:

And the allied forces entering the field:

Turn one begins with the allies advancing on the two bridges to try and sweep aside the Russians.

The Russians move in to block the way:

Turn two the British push across the river but take a heavy beating from the Russian guns in the process:

The Russians are pushed back by the French but the Russians are still preventing them from crossing the river.

On turn three the Russian assaults continue to hold the French at the river while the British seem to be stalled exchanging fire with the Russians across a stream.

The British occupy a small village and repel an assault by the cavalry.

Turn four and the pressure is on, there are only six turns to take the roads and the allies are far behind where they need to be.

The French slog across the river slowly while the British seem to do little. It seems like they have forgotten they can cross streams without a bridge!

Turn five and the French continue their grinding slog towards the objective while the British slowly, cautiously try to outflank the much weaker opposing forces rather than getting their feet wet and storming them across the stream.

The surge of Russians against the French throw them back from their hard won ground.

Turn six, the final turn and the British finally realise that they can just hop over the piddly stream and give the Ruskies their cold steel. Too little, too late.

The French flail around in disarray. The fight is over, night draws in and the allies retreat in disgrace. There is much to celebrate in the Russian camp that night.

За здоровье!

The purpose of this game was threefold. First to try out the cardboard counter armies, second to try out BBB and third to give one of my potential periods for a next project a go.

On the cardboard armies, they fared well enough. My two main issues came from the lack of weight and lack of identification. The identification issue can easily be solved with a bit of prep work to create labels but the weight issues may need some more work. The issue being that the light card tends to bunch up and overlap making it difficult to move about. This could be solved with MDF counters as someone suggested, or by using some sort of sabot system. I’m pondering the use of some old painting sticks to make labelled sabots for the counters to solve both these issues. Regardless, they worked well to get a feel for the conflict and I didn’t mind the abstracted nature of it so I’m sure they’ll come out to play again in future. Best of all, the entire project fits into a small zip up food bag!

As suggested in comments of the previous post and a related thread on the Pendraken forum, there are some great paper armies out there as well as a load of excellent looking paper terrain on so I’ll be definitely checking that out. Thanks to everyone who commented, the feedback and suggestions are always welcome!

Regarding the Bloody Big Battles ruleset, I really enjoyed them. They’re intuitive and fun to play and keep the action moving at a good pace. I played the entire game with just two dice, rolling against a table for movement and combat rather than the buckets o’ dice or single resolution approach that I’ve encountered previously. I probably did many things wrong (like forgetting that you can cross streams until turn six!) and I’m looking forward to reading the rules in depth now I’ve a sense of the core concepts. I always find the best way to get to grips with a rule set is to get it on the table and fail fast. You learn more from where you go wrong than obsessing over knowing it all before you start. It’s all in the name of fun so no harm in fudging things here and there using common sense where you’re uncertain! I’ll do a proper rule review in a future post once I’ve had another go with them. I’d enjoy playing this scenario again and trying different approaches to see how they fare. There’s plenty of other scenarios to choose from too!

Finally, the next project. I reckon that BBB will be a lot of fun to play in 2mm where you can represent the scale of the conflicts involved. The Crimean War is a potential option. As are the Prussian wars (Austro- and Franco-). At 2mm you can easily proxy armies without it looking out of place so it wouldn’t be too difficult to field multiple conflicts with the same sets of figures. There’s plenty of other rule sets out there too covering these periods that they will adapt well. Some more research to be done!