Rules for the Sengoku Jidai: Core Mechanics

In my last post I gave a bit of background for my thinking on how a Sonae based Sengoku Jidai ruleset might work and some of my early experiments with it. To recap, the Sengoku Jidai refers to the period of civil war that devastated Japan in and around the 16th century. Armies were generally organised into sub units of mixed arms clans known as Sonae. The terrain of Japan meant warfare tended to favour looser formations and manoeuvre than would typically be seen elsewhere in the world at the time.

For the moment I’ve settled on “hit dice” as my randomisation method, namely rolling 4 dice, adding or removing dice based on situational modifiers, then counting any 6’s as a success. In this post I hope to explore some of the core mechanics I’ve been trying out; command and control, movement, combat and morale.

I am writing these into a more “technical” rules document, but wanted to lay out some of the general concepts here. At the end I will have a brief pencil and paper battle report to show how some of the mechanics play out.

Command and Control

This refers to the means in which the players actually command their armies and give orders to commanders and units. There are essentially three levels of command. The first and lowest level is the individual units, typically a mixed arm Sonae, commanded by a Samurai-daisho (military leader) a minor Daimyo (feudal lord). These commanders are abstracted into the units themselves and assumed to be dealing with the individual allocation of troops within the Sonae.

Multiple Sonae will generally be grouped together into a Te, or division. The most senior, and usually most powerful, Sonae within this division, is known as the Honjin (or headquarters Sonae), usually commanded by a senior Daimyo. This Honjin Sonae is the Commander for the entire Te, and is the one from which actions to the individual units will flow.

An army will generally consist of several of these Te with the leader of the most senior Daimyo’s Te being designated the overall Army General. Unlike the Commanders who are embedded into their Honjin Sonae, the Army General is treated as a stand alone entity based separately to a Sonae, though they will usually have one or more powerful Sonae in their own Te commanded by trusted retainers, usually including a Honjin Sonae with it’s own Commander. Typically there will be one Army General per side, but in large, multiplayer battles, there could potentially be multiple Army Generals, each leading their own set of divisions in coordination with their ally. This can lead to some fun possibilities for betrayal and treachery, as was common in the period.

These Army Generals may be in one of two states. The first is “Encamped” whereby they are based with their Maku screen and retainers, usually in a prominent but well defended position in the battle field. In this state they have powerful defensive modifiers, can send out messengers to their commanders, but cannot move themselves.

The second is “Mobile” whereby they mount up with their personal unit of bodyguard troops, known as the Hatamoto, and become a powerful unit in their own right with rapid movement but no ability to send out messengers to commanders and a greater chance of personal injury.

The fourth Battle of Kawanakajima: Takeda Shingen Vs Uesugi Kenshin - by  Dmitry Filatov. | Takeda shingen, Samurai art, Japanese history
There is a somewhat fanciful story of the great rivals Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen engaging in a brief duel when Kenshin, mounted with his Hatamoto personal guard burst into the Takeda camp and engaged an unprepared Shingen, who was forced to defend with his steel war fan until his own Hatamo could drive Kenshin off. While it likely never happened, it does provide a good example of the two different ways Generals can operate.

Given the hierarchical clan status of the armies, the loss of a Commander will generally mean the loss of an entire division, and the loss of the Army General will usually spell the loss of the entire battle. So there is a fine balance between using these as powerful offensive units, while keeping them safe from harm at risk of collapsing the army. There is some potential around loyalty and successor mechanics that may mitigate this collapse somewhat, likely a series of Morale tests for the units and a test or special trait that allows a Commander or General to have a worthy successor to take the reigns of battle, but I’ve still to shake out the details on them.

Each commander (including the general) will have an Authority value representing their right to rule and the respect they hold from their retainers. This can be a positive or negative value, depending how powerful or weak they are. This value will be used to modify the number of orders that they can give. The commanders will also have a Command Radius that extends out from their unit, with Authority increasing or decreasing the range. Any units outside this Command Radius may only be given one order per activation. Any units within the General’s Command Radius will gain a bonus to their Morale tests.

At the beginning of each turn the player will decide if their Army General is Encamped or Mobile. If Encamped then they may designate a Commander to send a messenger to. If both the General and Commander are out of range of any enemy units then this is decided with a simple 4 + Authority d6 check (success on at least one 6). If either is within range of the enemy, the check is opposed and must score more successes than the enemy to succeed. If successful, then that commander can add the general’s Authority along with their own to their next activation. I did briefly toy with having messengers as their own units that travelled across the battlefield, but it became somewhat messy and required remembering which messenger had been directed at which commander. I suspect the messenger rules will undergo further modifications in time, for instance reducing the available dice over longer distances.

Activations are dynamic. For each command a token should be placed in a bag or stack to allow for random activations. Ideally this would be a token with the clans Mon (or symbol) on it, but could equally be coloured dice or chits, a stack of cards, etc. Anything that lets the players randomly allocate command activation. Players will draw a token and whichever general that token belongs to can allocate it to a command within the army. That command then activates and performs its actions, then the next token is drawn and the process repeats. This means play can alternate back and forth between the players, or may result in one player having a run of a few activations then the other player having the same. Each command can only activate once per turn.

Kamon Symbols of Japan — Encyclopedia of Japan
The Mon of some of the better known clans in the period, this would appear prominently on banners and screens for the clan’s troops. Some of the clan names in this graphic are non-standard renditions, such as Mouri (Mori) and Houjou (Hojo).

Once activated the command rolls a single d6, adding the appropriate Authority modifiers, and that will give the number of orders that can be given that activation. Orders can then be allocated out amongst the units under command to move, engage in combat or rally. There is no limit to the number of orders that each unit can have assigned, up to the total allocated, but those units receiving a large number of orders will have to take a morale test and on failure become fatigued and unable to take any actions the following activation.

Once all the orders have been allocated, or the player doesn’t wish to allocate any more, the activation ends and the next one is drawn. Once all commands have been activated, the turn ends and the cycle begins again.

Movement

This relates to how the units actually manoeuvre around the battlefield. My plan is to keep movement fairly simple. The distance of movement is the same for all units, though certain units will be allowed an extra move such as mounted generals. I’m generally assuming the unit of movement will be around a base width, as that’s usually a decent indicator of unit and table size. Each unit will have a front quarter, a rear quarter and two flank quarters, with the boundaries extending in diagonals from the unit’s corners. When I say something is n Movements, it means n units of whatever the movement distance is. To make a movement a unit will be issued with a Move Order. This will allow them to do one of three things:

  • Move directly into their forward quarter by up to 2 Movements maintaining facing. This may include charging into contact with an enemy unit.
  • Fall back into their rear quarter by 1 Movement maintaining facing. If this is given to a unit in combat they must take a Morale check after doing so.
  • Change facing to a different quarter and make up to 1 Movement in the new direction of facing. This covers all manoeuvring, whether it be changing facing and remaining in place, or moving in a new direction.

Units may be issued any number of Move Orders so long as the commander has Orders to allocate and they begin the orders within the Command Radius of the commander.

Terrain will have some impact on movement, essentially difficult terrain will only allow one Movement forward rather than two and roads allow an extra Movement when going forward or back along it. These rules still need a bit more experimentation. It may be that difficult terrain ends all movement for that unit for that activation and they cannot be given any more Move Orders.

Charging Mounted Samurai
Massed cavalry charges were rare in Japanese warfare of the period, but small groups of mounted samurai could turn the tide of battle when striking the right place at the right time.

Given the fixed distances, the rules as written could be easily translated to a square or hex grid. I’ve been playing out test games on gridded notepaper (mostly because it’s all I have to hand with everything packed away to sell our house) and it’s worked reasonably well, but overall the fluidity of free measurement will provide a much more satisfying range of movement options.

Ranged Combat

There are two types of combat in the game. The first, and generally less effective, is Ranged Combat. This represents the proportion of bows and guns within a unit. While bows and guns of the period had a theoretical range of 300-500 metres, in reality the effective range against armour was around 50-100 metres. Over time as the proportion of guns increased, firepower became more effective, but was still primarily used as a means of defence, behind screens and fortifications, or for softening up an enemy before the charge into melee for offensive actions.

Standard Ranged Combat will work as an exchange between two units at a range of 2 Movements or less. Most units will have some means of firing, even if its just a few samurai with bows and guns. There will be modifiers available to units, typically ranging from -2 to 2 that can reflect the proportion of guns and firing capacity. In a Ranged Combat exchange, both units will roll their ranged attack dice, hitting on 6s then total up the number of hits inflicted. The default number of attack dice is four, though the modifiers mentioned previously along with a few other special conditions (e.g. firing up a hill would be -1, while firing at close range would be +1) can modify these dice up and down.

Any side that receives at least one hit must make a Morale test, which will be described later but essentially consists of throwing four dice (+/- modifiers) with at least one 6 needed for a pass. For each additional hit past the first one in the Ranged Exchange, a dice is removed from the Morale test. So if a sonae of the Ouchi engages a sonae of the Mori in a ranged attack, both players would roll their attack dice. If the Ouchi rolled three 6s and the Mori rolled one 6, then both sides would be required to take a Morale test, but the Mori would do so with 2 less dice than normal due to the two additional hits.

Failing a Morale test from a ranged attack results in a unit status change. A unit that is fresh and in good spirits will become Wavering, which will somewhat impair their ability to fight in Close Combat. A unit that is already Wavering will become Brittle, which impairs them further still. A unit that is already Brittle will break and be removed from the battle. This means a ranged exchange is unlikely to cause serious damage unless a unit is already in dire straights. There will be a Rally mechanic described later to remove these statuses.

Ranged Ashigaru
Most ranged combat was done by sub units of Ashigaru peasant soldiers armed with matchlock “teppo” guns and light weight long bows known as “yumi”, though samurai would often have guns and bows as their primary weapons well. Indeed the yumi was the traditional primary weapon of samurai in earlier periods before massed peasant infantry and firearms became the norm.

Exceptions to this standard exchange are when engaging from the flank, in which case only half your attack dice can be used, or from the rear, in which case only one attack dice can be used. There is also the possibility of Opportunity Fire, the exact details of which are still under review, but will generally allow a unit to take unopposed pot shots at anyone entering firing range. I’m still not entirely sure on this given the exchange nature of standard firing, it’s mostly a means to prevent units skipping along the front of the enemy without consequence, but I may instead implement some form of Zone of Control on movement that prevents this instead. The other type of firing is Closing Fire, which I’ll cover shortly as part of the Close Combat exchange.

Close Combat

Close combat consists of up to four phases, Charging, Closing Fire, Melee and Shock. Charging is covered under the movement rules and is a movement that ends in contact with an enemy unit. The unit that initiated the charge will gain an extra dice in the first round of Melee. If a unit is Wavering it must pass a Morale test before charging and a Brittle unit cannot charge at all.

The defending unit may choose to use Closing Fire, that is an unopposed ranged attack, i.e. only the defender rolls their attack dice. If it is successful in hitting the charger, and the charger fails the Morale test then the new status is applied, the charge will be cancelled and the charger will fall back or pull up 1 Movement short of the enemy unit. However, if the charger is unharmed, the defender will have one less attack dice to use in the following round of Melee combat. This is to simulate the delay in bringing up the melee troops while firing at the charging unit.

The Charge and Closing Fire occur as part of the normal cycle of Orders, but Melee doesn’t occur until the end of the Activation. This allows all movements and ranged attacks to be carried out first, then all close combat will be resolved.

The Melee Phase involves both participants rolling their attack dice, modified as needed, with different results depending on the outcome. If both units fail to make any successful hits, then each will fall back 1 Movement to their rear quarter. If this movement is blocked, for instance by another unit or a terrain feature, they must instead take a Morale test and apply the appropriate status if failed. If both units make the same number of hits, they remain locked in combat and nothing else happens for them until the next time one of their commands is activated. If one side manages to make more successful hits than the other, that side is considered the victor and may move onto the Shock Phase.

The Shock Phase is representative of the elite troops, such as the samurai, exploiting a weakness opened up by the melee and rushing in to try and destroy the enemy command. In the Shock Phase the victor rolls their attack dice modified by any shock modifiers they may have (typically terrain affects the impetus of the shock phase more than the melee) with the outcome depending on how many successes they have.

With one success the enemy unit is destroyed but the attacker is Fatigued.

With two successes the enemy unit is destroyed and the attacker is not Fatigued.

With three or more successes the enemy unit is destroyed, the attacker is not Fatigued and gets a bonus order to use immediately.

The number of orders may increase with increased success, to be confirmed, and the destruction on one success might be too powerful, so one success may apply a status while two success destroys, etc. These are details to be ironed out in play testing.

Artwork of battle
Combat in the period often ended in bloody and brutal close combat.

Where multiple units are engaged, all dice are rolled together. This is the most “bucket o’ dice” part of the rules, but means large engagements can be dealt with quickly, and makes multi unit melee combats very dangerous, especially if Commanders are involved.

Flank and rear attacks also behave a little differently. There is no Closing Fire when attacking a flank or rear of the unit, and the defending unit cannot use a Shock Phase if it is engaged to the flank or rear, instead if it is victorious in the Melee Phase, the attackers both fall back 1 Movement. This is because an attack at a weak point of the formation would usually be reinforced by the samurai core of the unit, meaning they’ve less momentum to carry out a destructive counter attack immediately and instead just drive the attacker off. Any unit attacking the rear gains an additional attack dice as well as that was usually the weakest point of a formation.

Morale

As mentioned in previous sections, each unit will have a certain amount of Morale that it can use to show how resilient it is to breaking. All units have the same potential Morale statuses, Wavering and Brittle, though how those statuses affect different areas of the game will vary. Morale tests are called for in a number of circumstances where the resolve of the unit needs tested. Morale tests behave the same way as other tests in the game, a number of dice, four by standard, are thrown with at least one 6 being required to make it a success. Some units may have Resilience modifiers that can increase or decrease their morale dice, and having the Army General within range can provide an extra morale boost too.

One of the orders available to a commander is a Rally Order. With this a unit that is not in attack range of an enemy unit (i.e. typically 2 Movements away) and within the Command Radius of it’s Commander, may perform a Morale test and if successful, can reduce their negative statuses. So a Brittle unit that passes it’s Rally Morale test will become Wavering, and a Wavering unit that passes loses the negative status and returns to being fresh and ready for action.

Facing this sort of devastation would shake the morale of even the loyalist of samurai, let alone the peasant masses.

There are still some balancing tests needed with morale, for instance having the presence and loss of nearby units impacting the roll or requiring additional tests, but for the moment I’m keeping it reasonably simple.

Other Considerations

There are a few areas that still need some thought and consideration. I’m still testing out various options for moving through and fighting over different terrain. Given the varied landscapes of Japan I don’t want this to be too much of an imposition, but certainly particularly rugged ground should impose some limitations and fordable rivers appear in a fair few battles of the period so they are important to consider too.

Defensive works is another area that needs some thought. It was quite common for armies in the period to entrench into a defensive position, especially as the ratio of guns increased in armies allowing them increased concentrations of fire. This is definitely something I want to include, either as fixed terrain pieces on the battlefield or as a “dig in” option for a unit. I need to do some more reading on this before deciding how to represent them though.

Assaulting a defensive line
Defensive works were commonly employed on the battlefields of Japan, often made from bamboo or bundles of reed mats. By the later period, concentrations of firepower would make assaulting such defensive works head-on suicidal.

Beyond that there are a number of special rules and traits I want to include. I’ve already got an outline of many of these as a means of conferring special abilities on Generals, Commanders and individual Clan units. I want to be reasonably cautious with these to avoid it becoming a bit too video gamey or “Hollywood”, but I do wish to include some means to highlight leaders who stood out from their peers through tactical or strategic brilliance, or lack thereof, as well as clans that specialised in particular types of combat or weaponry, or were particularly loyal and devoted. There’s also some consideration to be given to the numerous sects of fanatic warrior monks throughout the period and peasant rebellions. I’m not focusing too much on these until I’m completely happy with the core mechanics, though have plenty of ideas for how they could work.

Formations is another thing that needs more consideration – both the individual makeup of the sonae and how they organise themselves internally, as well as the larger formation of the entire army. For the sonae themselves, different formations may confer different sets of modifiers, for instance aggressive or defensive formations, or those focusing on concentrating firepower, while for army wide formations, I’d be inclined to leave them up to the whim of the players as if I get things right they should “just work” as they were intended given the way the battles play out. We shall see!

Beyond that I’ll want to consider some “meta” play around a campaign system, or some means of playing linked battles, as well as some strategic considerations around scouting and espionage that may aid with deployment and game set up. The idea is allow for both historical battles and ones of the players own devising covering various possible scenarios from a straight up fight, through defensive actions or taking of key objectives. I’ve not decided if I’ll look at sieges or not yet, though castle assaults were a common feature of the warfare.

Battle Report

This is one of my pencil and paper test games played out on gridded paper to try out some of these core mechanics. In it, the fictional Maru (circle) and Shikaku (square) clans engage in a clash for control of a key river crossing. I rolled for random entry points across the game area rather than having everyone come in from opposite sides, this felt natural given the mustering of troops tended to involve calling in subject clans. Each army consists of three divisions, marked 1, 2 and 3, so for the purpose of this I will refer to them as the divisions as Maru-ichi (in the south centre), Maru-ni (north centre) and Maru-san (north west), then Shikaku-ichi (west centre), Shikaku-ni (south east) and Shikaku-san (north east). The notations is as follows:

Gm = Mobile General (bonus to movement and attack, negative firing)
Ge = Encamped General (bonus to everything, messengers but no movement)
C = command sonae (bonus to everything)
X = normal sonae
F = firing focused sonae (bonus firing, negative melee)
M = melee focused sonae (bonus melee, negative shock)
S = shock focused sonae (bonus shock, negative firing)
f = fatigued
w = wavering
b = brittle

Hopefully the hills, forest, river, stream, bridge and marsh are self explanatory. The position of the number indicates facing and the negative number on commands indicate lost units.

In the opening turn the Maru-san clan attempts to skirt around the Shikaku-ichi position to link up with their General, however they soon come in range of the enemy gunners stationed on the hill.

In the south, the Maru-ichi General moves to fortify a hill opposite the Shikaku position. Meanwhile the Shikaku-ni clan rushes towards the bridge to seize the objective and support their allies. In the north the outnumbered Shikaku-san clan attempt to secure their flank on the forest and present a line of attack to funnel the Maru-ni enemy into.

The Maru-san find themselves pinned down by enemy fire as the Shikaku General brings his troops to bear on their slow advance. Feeling the pinch on their flanks the Maru-san turn to engage. In the north east, after several exchanges of fire, an impetuous rush by a Maru-ni daisho drives some of the Shikaku-san from the field, and feeling the potential for encirclement growing, the Shikaku-san pull back into a better defensive position.

Not wishing to relent on the pressure, the Maru-ni keep pressing the beleaguered Shikaku-san, while the unopposed Shikaku-ni set up a solid defence between the stream and river. Frustrated by the fire from the hill, the Maru-san charge the Shikaku General’s position. The Shikaku-ichi manage to stall them at the foot of the hill, but the Maru-ichi take advantage of the exposed southern flank of the Shikaku position and storm the hill from there.

Attacked from multiple sides the Shikaku-ichi begin to collapse and the General abandons the camp and flees for the defensive lines of the Shikaku-ni. However, the Maru-ni advance crushes the Shikaku-san in the north and begins to sweep down towards the open end of the Shikaku-ni position, while the rest of the Maru forces begin their advance towards the stream.

The Shikaku fall back over the bridge, hoping the choke point will let them wear down the enemy, but the Maru forces sweep in from all sides.

The assault on the bridge begins and while the Shikaku forces put up a brave fight, they are now heavily outnumbered by the Maru attack.
In an epic clash, the elite shock troops of the Maru-ichi break the bridge defence while the constant fire exchange across the river wears down and eventually breaks several of the Shikaku defenders. With his army broken and troops fleeing the field, the Shikaku general signals the retreat and slinks off the field in disgrace. The day has gone to the Maru, and they have secured control of a vital point between the rival lands.

This was a lot of fun as a game, the narrative flowed easily from the mechanics and while there were a few points were I had to tweak bits or come up with rules for things on the fly, it really helped me refine down some of the mechanics, and determine what did and didn’t work.

Summary

To conclude, in this post we covered:

  • Command and Control: the role of commanders and how the dynamic activation and order system works, as well as the role of messengers on the field.
  • Movement: how movement is determined and the different types of movements available.
  • Combat: both ranged and melee combat and the opposed roll system they use.
  • Morale: how units test for morale and rally from their various states of disorder.
  • Discussed other areas for expansion and thought once core mechanics are settled.
  • Finally finished with a pencil and paper test game and report on how it went.

I’m not sure what my next post on this will be, as the next stage is probably play testing and refinement, then looking at some of the special rules. No doubt you’ll see some Feudal Japanese forces creep into my painting queue in the coming year in 3mm, 6mm and/or 10mm, along with some more test game battle reports.

Thoughts and suggestions are always welcome, I’ve only been in the hobby a few years and don’t have that many games under my belt, so any pitfalls or glaring omissions I’d be interested in knowing about, so please share!

As ever, thanks for reading,

Matthew

Rules for the Sengoku Jidai

The Sengoku Jidai, or the Japanese Age of Warring States, has long captured my attention and interest. The turbulent history and larger than life figures have offered prime material for any number of games, books, films, series, and more and I’ve always had an interest in the exceptionalism of Japanese history, how it rocked between long periods of insularity only to go through short bursts of seismic change. The Sengoku Jidai is one of these periods.

Brief History

Map showing some of the major clans of the era.

It is typically reckoned to have lasted around 150 years, from 1467 to 1615, and completely changed the socio-political makeup of Japan. It began with the Ōnin War, a civil war between two mighty clans under the Ashikaga Shogunate, but then spread to become a series of near constant civil war between rival clans across Japan. Powerful ancient families would fade into history and arrogant upstarts would rise to prominence only, in many cases, to fall. Famous clans like the Oda, Tokugawa, Uesugi, Takeda, Hojo, Shimazu, Date and Mori would stamp their legacy into Japan’s history as they fought for control of the provinces and country.

While Japan claims an Imperial family stretching back to the dawn of time, by this period the power of the Emperor had been reduced to that of figurehead and governance lay in the hands of the Shogun, the overall military commander of the Empire. Over the centuries, the Ashikaga clan holding this position had weakened and power became increasingly concentrated amongst the vassal clans in the provinces outside the Imperial capital of Kyoto. These clans formed a complex hierarchy or vassalage and alliance that constantly shifted throughout the period as small clans broke free of their overlords and went on to become mighty in their own right, while once powerful clans fractured to internal and external enemies.

The period ends with the Unification of Japan under the Three Unifiers: the ruthless general Oda Nobunaga who learned how to leverage European style firearms to dominate the battlefield; his successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a mere peasant who rose to prominence through his craftiness and prowess on those battlefields; and finally the great politician and general Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was patient, careful, bided his time until the moment was right then struck fiercely and went on to establish the Tokugawa Shogunate, which would close off and rule over Japan until the late 19th Century.

Tokugawa Ieyasu as Shogun

Warfare in the period was also quite distinct from that found in most other historical periods and regions. Most armies were based around clan structures, and it wasn’t really until the end of the period that particular warlords, or Daimyo as they were known, were powerful enough to break up subject clan troops into larger weapon specific sub divisions. Most armies consisted of a series of mini armies, known as Sonae, each controlled by a Daimyo and consisting of a mix of different troop types. Each Daimyo would bring along their subject clans as well, so an army may consist of the top level Daimyo and the Sonae they controlled directly, then under them there could be a number of senior retainer Daimyo with their Sonae and then junior retainer Daimyo under them with their Sonae and so on. A typical Sonae would be from 300-800 men, though some powerful Daimyo could field ones upwards of 1500 men strong, or even multiple ones. As the period progressed it became more common to split off smaller units to provide specific tactical roles, for instance concentrating firepower, but in many cases battles would consist of conflicts between a series of mini armies on the field.

This was further exacerbated by the terrain of Japan, which tends towards a lot of mountains, forests and rice paddies, none of which are ideal for line up and fight battles. This meant tactical manoeuvring and flexible mixed arms units made a lot more sense than the dense pike and shot formations you’d see in the likes of Europe at the time. Battles could scale from small clan conflicts all the way up to massive battles between vast alliances of clans.

A folding panel showing the Battle of Sekigahara. Note how spread out the battle is over the hilly ground compared to how European battlefield paintings at the time appeared, with their dense formations and more gentle ground.

There’s a superb blog that goes into a lot of details on the structure of these here, but essentially I’ve been giving a lot of thought on how this would be best represented within a set of wargame rules over the past year or two.

Rule Systems

Most rules, especially those for ancient and medieval periods, assume each unit will generally have just one or two weapon types.  Those of Pike and Shot period tend to be quite specific to the European style of warfare, which doesn’t translate so well. There are some 19th Century rules that abstract mixed arms units out, but those tend to focus on the grand sweep of huge battles, which doesn’t quite fit the character of the age. I would be tempted to attempt some of the very largest battles in the period, such as Sekigahara, using this style of rules, where each unit is actually an entire division of clans, making the smallest unit a Te or division. Something like the 19th Century focused rules Bloody Big Battles could work quite well here, as would allow you to represent the different division sizes for different clan powers and there are enough modifiers to indicate tactical efficiency and concentration of firepower, with a few tweaks to the rules to handle the reduced ranges and technology available.

Guns became more prominent later in the period, often proving decisive in battle, especially on the defensive

For small scale games, many ancient and medieval rulesets will generally work well, such as To The Strongest and Hail Caesar. Within the Sonae there is an organisation of sub units based on their arms, known as Kumi, that equate pretty well to a unit of pike or spearmen, a unit of bowmen and/or gunners, some heavy infantry samurai or cavalry, etc. So for fighting battles where it is maybe a small clan vs clan battle of a few Sonae against Sonae this could translate pretty well. They did tend to fight in fairly loose order given the terrain and small numbers within the units, but that can generally be sorted out with most rule sets, which don’t concern themselves too much with specific numbers in units. There are a couple of period specific rulesets that cover this style or warfare too, Killer Katanas II and Peter Pig’s Battles in the Age of War come to mind, though I don’t yet own either.

One of the key aspects of the fighting is the use of complex formations, in which small Kumi of ranged or melee units, usually peasant troops known as Ashigaru (or “light feet”) led by a samurai, would spread out across the front and flanks probing the enemy for weaknesses. At some point there would likely be a charge of the spear troops who would fight until one side revealed a weakness and the elite samurai who would have been supporting the fighting can charge in and attempt to break the enemy. Again for a small game this works fine with many existing rule sets. You could also go smaller again down to skirmish level gaming with individual samurai and retinues, something I may consider in future as I own a Test of Honour starter set, though the rules never really inspired me to paint any of them up.

The difficulty comes from the mid size games. This is where you want the smallest unit to be a Sonae, i.e. each unit is a mixed arms mini-army of different strengths and sizes. This means it needs to be able to handle everything from a detachment of gunners up to a huge Sonae for a powerful Daimyo, without being cumbersome. The way I visualise this is each side will typically have an Army General, the most senior Daimyo, who commands the overall army, which comprises of a number of Commanders, that is the retainer Daimyo under them. Each of those Commanders is in charge of a Te, which itself is comprised of a number of Sonae, each representing the clan army (or detachment) of a more junior Daimyo.

A typical army of around 12 units may consist of the Army General’s Te, including the General themselves with their bodyguard, their own personal Sonae (usually a large size one) then a couple of smaller Sonae/detachments, then two Commanders with their own Te, each comprising the Commanders own Sonae (into which they are integrated) and 3 other Sonae/detachments representing junior clans and detachments. This can easily be scaled up and down to handle different sizes of conflict. Given the shifting natures of allegiance and betrayal, it also adds some nice potential for scenarios, or even multiple players with uncertain loyalties.

This is very appealing for smaller scale figure gaming as it allows for some very interesting basing opportunities. I’m a big fan of this blog, which discusses similar considerations and has some superb 6mm bases on show. At this point I have no figures for the time period, wanting to settle on some rules before jumping in. I’ll likely pick up some 3mm figures that can be done up reasonably generically, then use 6mm or 10mm for when I settle on what clans I’d like to work on and what scales of game I want to represent.

There are some key elements needed for a game of this type. Historical flavour being a big one, as well as the ability to try out historical tactics and the unusual formations that (allegedly) appeared on the battlefields. It should be able to handle mixed arms units in a way that is interesting and characterful. Leaders should be important. Feudal armies were intrinsically tied to their hierarchies and leaders, so they should have a strong presence on the field, while still keeping within the realms of historical possibilities. I did consider some form of duelling/challenge mechanic, but that is more something that would happen at the level of the individual combatants, not the grand tactical level of the commanders, despite what some romantic histories would have you believe!

Armies often fought in complex formations with multiple layers of attack and defence.

I’ve not come across any rules that really achieve that for me, though I may try and get my hands on BAW and KK2 at some point to see how they fare. There are some board games, Tenkatoitsu for instance, that do apparently model this somewhat and a few people have been looking at adapting this to miniature wargaming, but I’ve always had an interest in writing my own rules and this seems as good a possibility as any, so I’ve been pushing around ideas over the past while on what this sort of game would look like.

This is interesting for me as it’s making me really analyse what I do and don’t like in wargame rules to find a system that will really work for me. One thing I find I don’t overly like is extensive wound tracking. I dislike having to push a lot of dice and counters around with units when moving them, as dice are easily knocked over or mistaken for rolled dice, and when you can have more than 6 wounds you end up with multiple dice, or polyhedral dice even more prone to being knocked over.

One or two status markers is generally okay, especially if thy can be modelled to fit with the unit on the table. TtS! does this well, where most units typically only have 2 or 3 hits total, meaning you’re usually only needing to track a small number of wound tokens. I’ve taken to making one or two wound tokens with most units I make for this purpose.

I like the idea of unit status rather than strict wounds. Most modern systems are more concerned with the overall morale of a unit than specific strength reduction through damage and this is a system I favour, so my plan would be for units to have particular statuses rather than a certain number of hits.

As far as period combat goes, looking at ranged combat in the early period it was rarely decisive. Given the relatively short ranges of bows and early guns along with the looser formations of troops, ranged combat was generally not the deciding factor in battle until much later in the period where concentrated gunfire was used to devastating effect. Bows and guns were generally mixed together in varying proportions, so any ranged combat rules need to reflect the proportion of guns and bows more than differentiating the specific weapon types. Even when guns became much more prolific, they were still of primary use in defence, while offensive actions tended to favour melee. After the period, during the Invasion of Korea, the Korean and Chinese troops were more afraid of the Japanese steel than they were of the gunners who while numerous, were not considered particularly good.

As such, I want melee to be pretty decisive. Accounts seem to indicate that most melee that isn’t resolved in the initial clash can go back and forth along the line of combat until one side creates a significant breakthrough and has an opportunity to destroy the enemy. This is something I want to represent in the rules, with the standard melee phase representing the fighting between the Ashigaru spearmen, then a shock phase when one side comes out on top representing the elite samurai exploiting an advantage.

Given the nature of the clan relations, I also want something a bit more characterful with the command and control system to represent different general personalities, and to give players meaningful decisions about what to do with their generals. Typically the General would sit somewhere with a good view of the battle field surrounded by a mako screen and their bodyguards, but would also mount up with those bodyguards and charge into action when needed. I have plans to treat the general differently depending on which of these states they’re in.

The core of what make any game fun and playable is the mechanics. This is probably the key area to settle on first since the flavour tends to flow around the mechanics. There are two main parts to this, the actual means of controlling units and how they fight, them the means to hire those fights are resolved with some level of randomness. I’ll begin with the latter here.

There are, to my mind, several potential systems. One is a modified d6 system. This means for resolving pretty much any action you roll a six sided die and on a certain value it is a success. My vision for this was that the “standard” success was on a 4+ and various modifiers would move that up and down. I played a couple of test games (with pencil and paper anyway) using a system based on this and found it to be unsatisfactory. I spent a lot of time doing mental maths and mostly forgetting modifiers, so there was less of an instant “yes, it hit!” and more of a “oh I think it hit, add this, take away this, and yes…no…yes yes it hit. okay moving on…”, which doesn’t have the same impact. I also found I didn’t enjoy the act of throwing one dice over and over again.

The outcome of one of my test games. At the bottom the attacking force ground down the defender, assaulting the general’s HQ, but a relief force managed to break through the delaying force of the enemy at the top and in a daring dash, catch the exposed enemy general in the flank and drive him from the field.

I had always been somewhat put off the “bucket o’ dice” idea of gaming having seen some of the crazy numbers of dice that can be involved, but I’m actually finding that a moderate amount of dice throwing is okay, up to about the limit you can hold in one hand. There’s something much more satisfying about throwing a handful of dice than just one. My current thinking is that the mechanics consist of rolling 4 d6 as standard, then adding or removing dice (down to a minimum of 1 d6) based on situational modifiers, with success being on a 6 appearing. I don’t want to have too many of these as I want to keep things simple, but certainly things like terrain, actions and morale will play into it.

I quite like the idea of opposed rolls, where both players involved partake in the action. My current thinking is that for a shooting or melee action both sides roll their required dice and count the number of successes, then various outcomes can depend on that. E.g. in a melee if both miss then both sides pull back, if both hit the same amount, they remain locked in combat and if one sides scores more hits than the other, then things can get pretty nasty for the losing side. I’m using my trusty pencil and paper to play out some games with these mechanics to see how they fit with satisfaction, and to ensure they stay more in the cup ‘o dice than the bucket ‘o dice territory, though resolving multi unit combats is the biggest risk of buckets.

Another test game. The attacker moved in from the north west to assault the defender across a stream. The relief force attempted to join the defender but was pinned down while the attacker moved to the stream, but a fearsome defence repelled the attack and the relief force engaged with the main enemy army in a dramatic multi unit fight that broke the attackers main division. In a fit of frustration the attacking general charged the relief force commander in an attempt to drive him from the fight, but was cut down dead.

Another possibility is creating some form of Combat Results Table, where you throw, say, two dice, add them together, then compare that against a table with modifiers. I’ve seen a few quite scary examples of this, going multiple layers deep, but some systems, such as BBB, do it quite well and it’s easy to follow on a QRS. This is a potential option, but I’d quite like a system that has the immediate feedback of knowing that an action is a success without having to constantly refer to tables. I may explore the CRT in future, but for now my experiments lie more with hit dice.

I generally want to avoid “unusual” dice. That is to say d8, d10, d12, d20, etc. I have no massive objection to using them myself, but I feel they can be a barrier to entry for some people and I find tend to work better for a modified single dice system, or one with lots of complex variables. A possible exception to this is the d10, which Simon Miller very cleverly got around in To The Strongest and For King and Parliament by using a familiar deck of cards to simulate similar results. I may come round to such systems if the number of dice start getting out of control, but for now I plan to stick to standard d6.

In the next post I’ll cover some more of my ideas around the mechanics of taking actions within the game as well as a bit of a battle report of a larger pencil and paper sample game.

Summary

  • The Sengoku Jidai was a period of bloody civil war in feudal Japan.
  • The terrain and complex clan hierarchy meant armies were more retinues of retinues than strictly organised armies.
  • Each unit in the army may be a mini army unto itself with mixed arms.
  • Most rulesets deal with the actions of small armies and their constituent parts rather than these mixed units.
  • I’m having a go at developing my own rules to cover this.
  • Having toyed with a few types of resolution mechanics I’ve had some success with a dice system somewhere between a single modified dice and a large bucket of dice.
  • Next time a little more on the action mechanics for movement, combat, etc, and a battle report.

Thanks for reading,

Matthew

Projects Update – September 2020

September hasn’t been a particularly productive month for hobby stuff. Real life has been busy trying to put the house up on the market and find somewhere to move to so have had to pack most of my hobby stuff away and do a lot of 1:1 scale work instead.

A few bits from earlier in the month before everything was packed away (some of which were spillover from August).

From the Trojan War project:

Chariots from the hollow lands and valleys of Lacedaemon.

Spearmen from the island of Salamis:

As with my other Trojan War ones, I’ll finish basing at the end so please ignore the bits of bluetac on the spearmen base as they would not stand up straight no matter how much I filed the bases!

Onto the Valley of Mexico now.

A unit of Eagle and Jaguar Warriors to serve as a back rank on my Bodyguard unit when I need to make it “deep”:

And with the bodyguard (bases are more similar than the picture would have you believe):

And another division for the army:

Other than a few casualty markers, the generals and maybe one more skirmisher base this army is almost finished (for phase 1 of course) and I can move into their opponents, either Tlaxcalans or Tarascans.

That’s all for now. Painting for the next little while will likely be fairly limited, though hopefully I can get a game in again soon. I have been spending a bit of time thinking and planning a few things, such as more pre-Contact American lists for TtS, as well as picked up on writing my own rules for Sengoku Jidai warfare, something I’ve dipped in and out of over the past little while. I’m sure I’ll have more on that in future, Japanese are a strong possibility for project slot once one of the ongoing ones is further along.

Thanks for reading,

Matthew

Battle Reports – Shadow of the Eagles

Most of my hobby stuff is packed away as we’re planning to put the house on the market very soon. However I did keep a few bits and bobs handy for if I ever did get a break from the chaos to have a little hobby time. Tonight was such a time and I decided to crack out my 2mm Crimean figures for a trial run at Keith Flint’s new Napoleonic ruleset, Shadow of the Eagles. The rules are still in development and are available to download for free if you join the SotE group.

Firstly an apology to the author who is avidly not a fan of 2mm figures, however as it is the closest I have to anything vaguely Napoleonic, I’m sure he’ll forgive me!

The ruleset is aimed at novice gamers and particularly those who have perhaps been daunted by the prospect if delving into Napoleonics given the plethora of rules, not to mention to deep historical studies and dizzying array of information out there. I definitely fall into this camp and Napoleonics is an era I’ve avoided up until now. While I’m still not ready to dive in (2021 perhaps…) I am ready to dip my toes in the waters and this seems as good a place to start as any.

As the army lists and historical background parts of the rules are still to be published I cobbled together a couple of small forces from what I had to hand. I just had one division (brigade? I should really learn the proper terms someday) per side. In the red corner three units of infantry are supported by a half unit of heavy cavalry and some artillery. In the brown corner, three units of infantry and a full size unit of heavy cavalry bear down on the field. Everyone is standard and capable to keep things simple, I’ll experiment with troop and general quality another time.


The Redovian Commonwealth and the Kingdom of Brunvinia have gone to war and as the Marshal’s mobilise their grand armies, small strike forces are sent out to seize key strategic interests. One of these is the sleepy town of Bridgepont, unremarkable but for the several crossings of the meandering Sinueuse River.

As the Redovians crest the hill to the west they spy the muddy mass of Brunvinia already descending on the town from the east.

General Sir “Ruddy” Hughes orders the red jacketed troops forwards to try and intercept but General Korichnevyy of Brunvinia seizes on the initiative and splits one unit off to occupy the town while the rest of his forces move with great elan towards the enemy. Ruddy attempts to rush one of his own units towards the town while the rest skirt round a bend in the river to face the enemy assault.

Korichnevyy forms his units into assault columns, planning to move forwards quickly and break through the enemy formations, while Ruddy shakes his columns out into lines, hoping to pour fire down on the oncoming assault. On the far flank the thundering advance of the Brunvinian heavy cavalry forces one unit of infantry to pull back into a square formation.

The Brunvinians seize the town, quickly forming a defensive line along the bank of the river, taking positions behind walls and in buildings near the western bridge. The Redovians form up along the bank and the two sides exchange fire, the exposed Redovians taking the brunt of it.

As the Brunvinian forces move up on the Redovian defensive line in the field they suffer heavily under the withering fire from the red jacketed devils.

With a dash of elan the Brunvinians charge home against the Redovians. Their assault columns exchange a brief range of fire before giving them a taste of steel, but the short range gunfire from the Redovian lines combined with their own glittering bayonets manage to drive back the assault, holding themselves in check as the Brunvinians fall back, licking their wounds.

Meanwhile the cavalry charge into each other with great shouts, and even though the Brunvinians have the numerical superiority, the Redovian horse men, like their infantry counterparts, are able to drive back the Brunvinians hordes.

Things don’t go so well for the Redovians at the town though as the onslaught from the entrenched Brunvinians pushes them back, taking heavy casualties.

On the field, the Redovian infantry pushes forwards, taking the fight to the Brunvinians before they can fully rally. The Brunvinians pull back into line, hoping their firepower can hold off the red devils bearing down on them. Black smoke rolls across the field of battle as the two sides exchange volley after volley, but the Brunvinians, disordered from their failed assault see their casualties mount and the Brunvinian infanty breaks and runs.

With the backbone of their army routing from the field, the heavy cavalry choose not to pursue the fight and break off themselves, leaving the last infantry unit trapped in the town with the enemy encroaching on multiple sides. Surrender is their only option. The day is won for the glory of the Redovian Commonwealth and this will provide them with a key position from which to prepare strikes into the hated Brunvinian heartland. General Sir “Ruddy” Hugh surveys the town so many of his men died to take and with a nod to his senior officers declares for all to hear “Well that was a good old fight chaps, now lets see where they keep the wine cellars.”


As this was my first outing with the rules, I’m pretty sure I got a lot of stuff wrong. I’ll read them through again soon to get to grips with what I messed up, and while I was pretty shuddering at the start of the game checking on everything, by the end things were moving more swiftly and I had a good sense of the core rules without needing to check the reference sheet too often.

I haven’t played any of Kieth Flint’s previous rule offerings but have heard good reports. I can see how these rules could play very well on much bigger games. Obviously this was a very small sample, in a normal game this would be just one corner of a larger battle field, but they still gave a good pace of play for a quick game. Adding on extra divisions to command would not be too onerous for the player(s) and I imagine give a much more satisfying game.

There were a few bits I was a little unclear on. One was the fallback mechanic, I only halfway through realised it was meant to be dictated by an average dice. As I don’t own any average dice I went with what I’d been doing thus far and had them fall back a single movement. I didn’t really get to use my artillery either, mostly through poor manoeuvring it ended up stuck behind infantry most of the game.

I’m generally not a huge fan of a lot of wound tracking, and at 7 hits to rout a unit I was expecting it to be a bit of a slog. But without any save mechanic (beyond rallying off hits when out of attack range or with a general present) the damage mounted pretty quickly and combat felt brutal and decisive, which is what I would expect. As there are different statuses depending on the amount of wounds, subtle tokens could be used to reduce table clutter or dice or casualty bases could be used, perhaps a bigger one when they’ve taken enough hits to be “Weakened”, meaning there never needs to be more than a few casualty tokens out at a time.

Overall I enjoyed the play. Unfortunately I felt just as I was getting to grips with it the game was over, but that was mostly due to the small scale of game I set up. I’ll be keen to try them out again now I’ve got the basics down, and once I’ve had another read-through. With it being fairly quick to play I could probably fit a game like that in an hour, give or take 10 mins for setup/teardown. At some point down the line I may even try a bigger multi division game, though I suspect I’ll have to use my 2D counters for that, or paint up some more 2mm (sorry Keith)!

I’m not quite ready to be dive headfirst into the depths of Nappies (not just because it sounds so wrong), but the first steps on the path have been fairly positive. I have a few books and lecture series lined up to start getting into the history of it in a bit more depth in the future, which I’m sure will inspire me and I can see how the combat, formation changes and manoeuvre attract people to the period. It’s a different vibe from the ancient/medieval warfare I’ve mostly focused on up to now, with a lot of fun potential.

Thanks for reading,

Matthew

Battle Report – The Battle of Dorylaeum (1097)

A relief bringing cool breeze* swept lazily over the hot, dusty plains of Dorylaeum in the summer of 1097. To the east stood the forces of Kilij Arslan upon their innumerable steeds. To the west stood the glittering battle line of Bohemond’s vanguard of crusaders, protecting the camp that lay directly behind them by the marshy banks of the Thymbris river. Many miles behind them camped the main force of the Crusaders with Godfrey. Seeing the mounted hordes of Turks on the horizon, Bohemond sent messengers to Godfrey requesting aid, and prayed to God that they could hold off the Turks long enough for him to arrive. It would be a long day.

*i.e. a standing fan.


The field of battle
The view from the Turkish lines
The Crusaders look on defiantly

The battle opened with the Turks surging forward on their right flanks, the swarms of horse archers supported by the small contingent of heavy cavalry led by Kilij himself. Their left flank proved slower off the mark, somehow missing the order to advance and lingering by the river overlong.

The Turks surge forward

The knights, seeing the advancing enemy, charge forward recklessly to meet them. Brave as they are, the storm of arrows that come their way from the Turkish archers catches them off guard and drives them back. It is all Bohemond can do to rally them and get them back in the fight.

The knights run away

The horse archers continue to unleash their arrows into the charging knights, causing confusion and disorder among them. As the knights close with the light horsemen they throw their spears and skewer a few of the screaming pagans with their unholy demonic cry of “Allah Akbarghhhhhh…”, while those with lances lower them into couch positions and prepare to drive through them when they seem to just melt away. The cries of “Deus Vult!” die in their throats as their disordered ranks find themselves facing the well formed ranks of Kilij Arsalan’s elite heavy cavalry, who unleash a hail of arrows themselves before charging to meet the intruding Europeans. The horse archers charge up the slopes and attempt to sweep round the flanks of the Crusaders, though are slowed by a few lucky shots from the defending crossbowmen.

“Now you see us, now you do..oh no they have shooty things too!”

The Turkish horse archers on the left finally rouse themselves and begin to move forwards, not liking the look of the heavy cavalry melee nor the solid line of shields and spears that was the infantry, they plunged into the marshy river grounds, attempting to use the terrain to flank around the enemy. They gain some success, with the two sides exchanging potshots at each other as they moved past.

Nothing to see here…

The melee between the two heavy cavalry forces continues, with the battle ebbing back and forth throughout the morning. The Crusaders seem to be getting the better of the fight to the North, but to the South the Turks are pushing the knights back towards the lines of infantry. Both sides are in rough shape, but the Turks take courage from the sight of the horse archers flowing around the enemy infantry and towards the camp at their rear.

“If we move really quickly maybe they won’t catch us.”

The melee continues with both sides taking heavy losses, but a group of knights manage to reform and charge deep into Kilij’s Guard Cavalry, and with a roar of triumph drive them from the field. Kilij moves to take control of another group of his heavy cavalry, these fresh from fertilising the valley floor with the blood of the infidels and attempts to turn back and attack the knights in the flank, but as he turns another group barge into him at a charge, disrupting his troops and engaging in a frantic combat. The knights prevail and from their midst the one known as Tancred, nephew of Bohemond, launches himself at Kilij in mortal combat. The two fight valiently, but the Norman proves the stronger fighter and slays the great Sultan, raising his bloodied spear in victory to God Almighty and screaming his victory cries. Urged on by his glorious combat, the knights drive the remaining Turkish heavy cavalry from the field.

There were troops here a second ago.
Kilij Wuz Here

Meanwhile, Bohemond, aware now of the Turkish flanking action, sent word to the infantry to fall back to defend the camp.  They turn about and start a march back towards the camp, exchanging fire with the swarming horse archers as they do. The Turkish horse fall upon the camp, but the Crusader infantry aren’t too far behind and attempt to drive them off. Bohemond turns his knights around and rushes to join the infantry in the defense of the camps.

“About face!”

The horse archers run rampant through the camp and attack the infantry from a distance, but just as they feel their victory is assured a dust cloud on the horizon materialises into a contingent of knights charging down the valley at them. More worryingly still, the dust cloud behind them seems considerably larger. Where did these knights come from? There surely can’t be another Crusader army coming?!

“Behold, The Godfrey”

Godfrey arrives at the head of the army, having charged well ahead of the rest of the troops. As his knights join him in drips and drabs the Turkish horse archers gather to try and drive back this new threat and give themselves space to flee, while the Crusader infantry closes in behind them and the original knights, tired though ebullient, begin moving around their flanks.

Chaos ensues

More knights continue to arrive down the valley as the noose closes tighter around the now panicking horsemen. With the full forces of the Crusaders bearing down on them, slaughtering them in their hundreds, and no sign of their great Sultan anywhere, the horse archers break and flee into the hills and marshes. The pursuit lasts long into the evening as the rest of the army arrive, eager for blood, while the weary victors plunder the camp of the great Sultan.

A ring of horse archers greets the new Crusaders.
The battle at the camp
One last Deus Vult for old times sake

God clearly smiled down upon this mighty crusading endeavour.


All in all a good fun game. I used Hail Caesar as the rule set as I’d not had a game of it in around a year and a half. The scenario I designed worked out well, though I may make a few tweaks if I play it again. It gave a good fun game and I think had the Turks not been so sluggish on their left for the first few turns it could have gone a different way. For the scenario I decided the Turks could have a minor victory if they managed to plunder the Crusader camp for a few turns without being driven off, and a major one if they were able to break and drive off the Crusaders. The Crusaders would have a minor victory by just holding on until Godfrey’s full army arrived on Turn 10, though I had units of knights charging ahead of the main force start arriving from Turn 6 on a dice roll (6+ Turn 6, 5+ Turn 7, 4+ Turn 8, etc). If I play again, which I hope to some day, I’d probably make a few tweaks. I would perhaps add another unit of heavy cavalry to the Turks, or, possibly more likely, reduce the number and strength of the Crusader infantry. I had the infantry causing a -1 to-hit on ranged attacks which made them very difficult to damage. I had a special rule (that I didn’t use) that the knights could be ordered to dismount and join the infantry, which would convert them from medium to heavy infantry units, on reflection I should probably have kept the -1 to-hit for then too, though perhaps a faster acting Turkish action could have collapsed the Crusader flanks as at least one unit was on the verge of being Shaken. I will have to play again sometime to see.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did playing it and as ever, thanks for reading!

Matthew

P.S. if you want to read about the real history that inspired this battle you can do so here.

Battle Report – Crusaders and Saracens with TtS!

It’s been quite a while since I’ve played a game and even longer since I played a game of TtS so since I have recently finished a slew of crusades forces it seemed a good time to get a game on the table.

This game fit nicely on the kitchen table with a 12×8 grid of 100mm squares and I was able to utilise some of my newly made terrain pieces and newly acquired chits.

To the Strongest uses an activation system whereby each unit under command attempts to activate until it fails, at which point activation switches to the next command. The game is intended to use a deck of cards for this and while I do like this variety from using dice, it requires a fair bit of space to place the cards down with the units. The author suggests chits or d10 can be used for smaller scale games and I’ve opted to use the chits here for activations while retaining the deck for combat. This worked reasonably well, though I will probably attempt to use a d10 for combat in future too for comparison.

The forces today are two evenly matched armies at 130 points each. The Crusaders have a smaller, tougher force of heavy infantry and knights, while the Saracens have swarms of cavalry backed up with a mob of poor quality infantry. It’s an age old match up of quality vs quantity.


The battlefield at the start of the battle. Crusaders at the bottom, Saracens at the top. A dense wood to the right and a patch of rough ground on the left make up the terrain, with stones and clumps marking out the grid.

The cavalry heavy armies of the Saracens edge out the slower moving Crusaders in the scouting department and take the first move. Hoping to deny the enemy the centre and unleash a flurry of arrows before pulling away the Saracens surge forwards towards the Christian lines.

“You infidels will soon feel Allah’s wrath!”
“We laugh at your excuse for a flank!”

The advance goes well, but before they can get into bow range horses and men start screaming and falling. A wall of steel tipped death roars towards them as the crusader infantry unleash their deadly crossbows into the face of the advancing cavalry. The light cavalry are no match for such an onslaught and are cut down in droves before fleeing in panic.

“Offendi, where’s my horses?”

The Crusaders feel victory in their grasp and while their original plan of securing their flanks with the terrain in the centre is stalled, their flanks take advantage of the panic to sweep forward, the Holy Orders keen to wet their blades with the blood of the heathens.

“Forward for God and Glory!”
“For Jerusalem!”

The advance on the flanks puts the Saracens on the backfoot as they struggle to reform their lines and prepare a counter attack. However, Crusader arrogance pushes the Christian knights into overextending themselves, pushing too far forward and separating themselves from their support. The Templars find themselves cut off and surrounded multiple flanks with horse archers swirling away from them unleashing their arrows. The Knights of Jerusalem and Turcopoles find themselves being potshot on the flank and the Hospitaliers grind against the Islamic infantry on the far side. The Crusader infantry attempts to move up to support the Knights, taking a few shots at swirling horsemen ahead of them but soon running dry on ammunition after their initial bombardment. With the solid line behind them the cavalry push forward against the enemy, wounding the enemy captain but not breaking their resolve.

“Typical Knights, always charging off ahead and getting themselves into trouble!”
“We got your backs, now get to it!”

Despite the forward momentum of the Christians, the Saracen forces are able to seize the initiative again and the infantry hordes run forward to swamp the tired knights while the cavalry forces on the Saracen right break through the Crusader cavalry, wounding then eventually killing their captain, wiping out the Crusader left and threatening to roll up the line if infantry that is starting to look a little more shakey.

“Allah wills it!”

The Hospitaliers, worn out from their long fight, pull back to let fresh reserves of knights take their place against the masses of Ghazi warriors and Islamic levies, though to little effect.

“Those guys are crazy!”

On the Saracen right, the cavalry line up for a charge while the horse archers disrupt the infantry with well placed archery. The cavalry charge again and again, and while the Christian infantry prove resilient they are pushed back and eventually, worn down by the onslaught of lance and bow, broken.

“Here we come, ready or not.”

With one flank destroyed and the other ground to a halt, and with the infantry shaken and breaking, the General calls for the retreat. God was not with the Crusaders this day and they flee the field in the shame of defeat.

The view from the Saracen right at the end of the battle with the location of the lost Crusader infantry marked.

All in all it was a good game with a close fought matchup. At first I thought the Crusaders were in for a sweeping victory after a successful first few turns and a series of poor activations for the Saracens but fortunes soon changed and with Crusader ammo reserves running dry the Saracens were able to use their superior numbers to surround and destroy the Christians. The quality vs quantity played out well with the Saracens able to absorb greater losses while every destroyed Crusader unit bit deeply into their remaining victory points.

The chit and card combo worked well, the chits fit well into the small grid without looking too intrusive and the cards gave a rapid play drama to the combat and saves.

I probably got a few things wrong, I suspect I made an illegal move or two and I’m not sure I used generals entirely correctly. I forgot all about the strategems for much of the game, or rather I kept thinking I must use them only after they would have been useful! Awh well.

I’m looking forward to getting these rules on the table more with a couple of in progress projects aimed at making use of them, and it was nice to be able to fit the game on the kitchen table without having to set up large tables. Making the grid is still a bit of a faff so think I’ll start marking out permanent grids in future and make my own boards and mats for some of the smaller projects.

Thanks for reading,

Matthew

A Very British Civil War in Ireland

The aim of this post is to provide some background to my AVBCW project in Ireland, primarily Northern Ireland/Ulster. This is still a bit of a work in progress, but think I’ve got the general background worked out now.


For those unfamiliar with the world of “A Very British Civil War” it is an alternative history scenario, wherein King Edward VIII does not abdicate in 1936 causing Parliament and the CoE to take a huff with him, so he installs Oswald Mosley, of the British Union of Fascists, as Prime Minister. Many people consider this an affront to tea and crumpets and good British sense so England fractures into a staggering array of squabbling factions, Scotland declares independence, then fractures into a few squabbling factions itself, Wales implodes, the Cornish secede, Communists pop up everywhere, Prince Bertie invades at the head of a Canadian army, and Ireland annexes Ulster.

People's Front of Judea (PFJ) - Home | Facebook

Essentially it’s like if P.G. Wodehouse wrote the Spanish Civil War and peopled it with Dad’s Army and the People’s Front of Judea…

The Irish aspect of this always struck me as a bit dull. Given the zany antics of the rest of the British isles, it seemed a shame that Ireland was given such short shrift. Now to be fair Ireland has had its fair share of bloody internecine conflict through the real 20th Century, something I well know having grown up during the tail end of the euphemistically named “Troubles”, and still see the legacy of it all around, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to be poked at lampooning stereotypes. I have no intention to cause anyone offence and the factions will be mostly fictional or heavily fictionalised versions of the history, and certainly not intended to be taken in any way seriously.

To that end, I’ve come up with a slightly altered version of the timeline. The events on the mainland proceed much as the standard narrative suggests, but there’s a few key divergences in Ireland. The primary one is a very different outcome to the Irish Civil War.

Real Irish History 1922 – 1937

In our timeline, after the Irish War of Independence, the British and Irish put together the Anglo-Irish Treaty that would make Ireland (excluding the 6 North Eastern counties) a Free State, though still nominally part of the British Commonwealth and still swearing allegiance to the monarchy. Those favouring the treaty saw it as a sensible stepping stone to full independence in future given how close they were to surrendering to the British at the end of the war, while those opposed felt it was giving into British demands and would accept nothing less than an all-island independent republic as declared during the Easter Rising.

When the treaty was ratified by a majority of just 7 votes in the Irish parliament, the Anti-Treaty members who had lost the vote walked out. Tensions continued to rise between the Anti and Pro treaty sides in the run up to the 1922 elections. Any attempts at reconciliation were scuppered by British insistence that the treaty terms must be followed to the letter and no republican constitution could be made. When the Pro-Treaty party won the elections, those tensions came to a head and violence broke out.

The Anti-Treaty forces consisted of around 12,000 men, mostly IRA veterans, while the Pro-Treaty forces numbered around 8000 former IRA and WW1 veterans. The AT forces held much of the south and west of the country, but despite the higher numbers and more land held, they were poorly equipped and uncoordinated. The PT forces, with arms, vehicles and equipment shipped over by the British, were able to grow the newly formed National Army into a much more effective fighting force and eventually overwhelm and defeat the AT forces, ending the conflict a year after it started. The Free State was formed and many of the Anti-Treaty politicians returned to parliament as a new political party, Fianna Fáil.

The conflict was bloody, as is often the case with a civil war, with many comrades from the War of Independence just a few years prior now bitter enemies. Atrocities were committed on both sides and indeed the legacy of the conflict still shapes much of the politics of Ireland to this day. Even the nominally independent Catholic Church took sides, supporting the treaty and refusing the sacraments to known Anti-Treaty IRA members.

All in all the conflict proved somewhat futile when in 1937 the Irish Parliament, now led by a resurgent Fianna Fáil, ratified a new republican constitution, with no mention of allegiance to the British monarchy and Irish independence was gained without British objection, much as the Pro-Treaty advocates had always claimed would be the case.

In my alternative timeline, things turn out a little differently…

Alternative Irish History 1922 – 1937

The British take umbrage at the attempts by the Pro-Treaty politicians to amend the treaty with a republican constitution to appease the Anti-Treaty side and when war breaks out are much less willing to provide supplies to the nascent National Army, though still do offer some begrudging support. As such, the Anti-Treaty forces are able to hold onto much of their territory and the war drags on for many years leading to deeply divided and embittered Ireland. The Pro-Treaty forces push south as far as Waterford and north around the borders of Ulster. Wary of the threat of the war spilling over, the British fortify the borders of Northern Ireland, absorbing Donegal into the state and creating a line of defence across the entire North. The Anti Treaty forces manage to seize the Pro-Treaty Co. Galway, connecting their south western territory to their north western territory. Exhausted by the conflict and lacking the resources to push into the enemy territories, both sides settle into an uneasy stalemate, fortifying the “T Line” that has divided them across the top and down the middle of Ireland.

Throughout the conflict, Communism International had come to see the Anti-Treaty side as allies in their movement. In our timeline they provided mostly moral support to “the struggling Irish national revolutionaries” and offered to “assist all efforts to organise the struggle to combat this terror and to help the Irish workers and peasants to victory”. In this alternative timeline, given the war dragged on for longer that a year, this support moved from the moral to the material, with equipment and vehicles flowing into the West to aid their fight. This, combined with the rejection by the Church and a longstanding hatred towards the Anglo-Irish landholding elite, leads the Anti-Treaty Irish to declare themselves the Citizens’ Republic of Ireland, a socialist republic with strong ties to Soviet Russia and Communism International. Dissenters and elites are suitably purged and the military is reformed among Soviet lines as the “Green Army of the CRI”. The Starry Plough, gold on a field of green, is officially adopted as the flag of the new Republic.

The flag of the Citizens’ Republic of Ireland

On the Pro-Treaty side, bitterness towards the British grows and though paying lip service to the treaty, division between them increases. Eoin O’Duffy and his proto-fascist Blueshirts are able to grow from strength to strength and become even more fascist in outlook. In our timeline they petered out in the early thirties, being subsumed into the Fine Gael political party. Here they come to be the dominant party in the Irish Free State (what was left of it) and their corporatist and militaristic rhetoric resonates with a people still at war and feeling surrounded and under threat. In 1932 Eoin O’Duffy becomes Taoiseach and declares that henceforth the Irish Free State would now be the fully independent Irish Social Republic. Having been in close contact with the Italian fascists for some time, the army is reorganised with Italian supplies as the National Guard and the new Republic takes as it’s flag the red St. Patrick cross on a field of blue.

The flag of the Irish Social Republic

When the Spanish Civil War breaks out, both sides are well positioned to assist the rival factions. In real history, Eoin O’Duffy raises an Irish Brigade to go off and fight for Franco, but in this timeline, given his position as head of state, he’s able to provide much assistance to the Spanish Nationalists throughout the war. Balancing this, and seeing an opportunity for a proxy war with their bitter rivals, the CRI send support to the Republicans. During the war, any time the two Irish sides met across the battlefield the fighting would become particularly intense, akin to the “Bad War” of the German Landsknechte and Swiss Pikemen of the 16th century. This pushed the war to its conclusion faster than in our timeline, finishing in the autumn of 1938.

The Nationalists are triumphant and, grateful for the Irish Social Republic’s support, agree to an alliance with O’Duffy, meaning Spanish Nationalist support flows into the nation, adding to the Italian support and bringing along with the grudging acknowledgement of Nazi Germany. Meanwhile, the defeated Republicans flock to the west of Ireland to take refuge with their socialist brothers in the Citizens’ Republic of Ireland, bolstering their ranks considerably and shifting the Soviet focus more directly to the British Isles.

In the meantime, the abdication crisis has kicked off in England and the British have pulled out of Northern Ireland to deal with the situation on the mainland. The Ulster Unionist government initially maintains control but without the full force of Britain behind them, other forces start to arise and new factions seize control.

A Verry N’orn Ayrush Civul Warr – Ulster 1937

The British withdrawal from Northern Ireland is pretty hasty given the state of affairs on the mainland. The Ulster Unionist government moves quickly to requisition whatever military hardware the British don’t carry off with them and immediately drafts the now disbanded provincial regiments of the Royal Ulster Rifles, the Royal Irish Fusiliers and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers into a new military force, the Loyal Ulster Defenders and declares themselves the Loyal Democratic State of Northern Ireland. They are not yet clear just what it is they are loyal to, just that they are loyal in general. The former Rifles are deployed from their base in Ballymena to secure Belfast and the Parliament building at Stormont, while the former Fusiliers, operating out of their base in Omagh, attempt to re-secure the defensive lines along the North-South border.

Taking advantage of the dramatic reduction in military forces in the region, and the chaos that it is causing, the regional IRA forces, re-branded as the Irish Democratic Republic Army in opposition to the abandonment of the Republican ideals by the South, move from their low level guerrilla campaign to an all out uprising, seizing large swathes of territory in the western counties as well as instigating risings in the sympathetic Antrim Glens and West Belfast. In Omagh, they besiege the token force left at the St Lucia Barracks, leaving the government the difficult decision of whether or not to order the troops away from the border defences.

With socialist uprisings across England taking root and the socialist state of the CRI in the south, socialist and communist groups in the North had been growing from strength to strength in recent years. Many of the working class of Belfast, as well as areas of south-central N. Ireland had developed a strong socialist tradition, and while having many divergent viewpoints, a loose grouping of many different organisations, calling themselves the Socialist Workers of Ulster United, rise up in revolution, tacitly supported by the Soviets and the CRI influence. Riots and uprisings break out across Belfast as revolutionaries flood in from the surrounding regions to the southwest. The revolution coalesces on Stormont, besieging the government there and forcing them to begin a retreat out of the city with the aid of the former Royal Ulster Rifles to set up a government in exile at the newly built St Patrick’s Barracks in Ballymena.

In Co. Down a growing movement of radical protestants with fascist leanings had grown with close links to international fascist movements, especially in Germany. The popular Ulster Youth organisation, having run “educational” events and meetings for children and young people over the past decade had raised a generation of young men and women who were militant in their faith and outlook and well drilled and disciplined in military maneuvers and armaments. The parent organisation, the Ulster Protestant League, had been formed by a former army chaplain turned firebrand preacher, known as “The Big Man” Commander John Campbell, whose particular brand of populist preaching had seen many churches align with the UPL. Seeing the opportunity the chaos presented, the UPL quickly mobilised, with sympathetic factions in the Palace Barracks in Holywood opening the gates to the Commander, the UPL sets up their base of operations there. While appearing to be aligned with the fascist government in England and claiming “loyalty” to them, there are whispers that The Big Man has much different plans in mind.

The powerful southern states look at the fragmentation of the North as a key opportunity to gain an advantage over their rival, though for now, neither side is prepared to make the first move. The military buildup of recent years resulted in some very tempting targets in the northwest, especially the military airfields, and control of the region would give the owning side a clear means to encircle their enemy and move to unify the entire island.

And so it begins.


In a future post I’ll go into more details of the various factions, as well as some of the setup for the narrative campaign I’m planning. I’ve still a bit of thinking to do around that, as well as more details on the individual factions (e.g. who leads the CRI? A moderate de Valera trying to control a cadre of spittle mouthed communist die-hards? Or maybe a Citizens’ Council?). Also need to work out a mechanic for the ticking time bomb of southern involvement in the north, as that’ll kick things up a notch. I want the campaign mechanics to act as a narrative guide rather than be a hard set of rules to follow, just to keep a bit of randomness and interest. I plan to have a few variables within the wider campaign to trigger different outcomes, for instance having levels of resource, morale, and factionalism. These will likely be scales of 1-10 with different affects on point values, experience levels, and trigger new special events such as new factions spawning.

At this point I’ve only a few units made up for it, I plan to use Blitzkrieg Commander IV as the primary ruleset, though may look into others for variety in time. I know Bolt Action is very popular for squad-based combat so may suit some scenarios. The plan will be to start with a few small actions to get a feel for the rules, then start looking at dealing with the currently disputed areas, the Seige of Stormont and the Battles of Omagh and Armagh for a start, maybe some guerrilla conflicts in the Antrim Glens, and work out what the hell is going on around the Foyle!

I still don’t quite know what to call this project, I’d initially gone with A Very Northern Irish Civil War, but it’s gotten a bit more widespread, AVBCW in Ireland is too much of a mouthful, and A Very Irish Civil War doesn’t quite sound right. Given the main theatre initially is in and around N. Ireland, AVNICW will likely do for the time being.

Thanks for reading,

Matthew

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,

Matthew

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,

Matthew

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!

Gettysburg

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”:


Gettysburg


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

Resources

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

Battle of the Boyne

Boyne OOB inspired by: https://onelover-ray.blogspot.com/2013/06/battle-of-boyne-oob-broadside-2013.html

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)

Terrain