Sunday 29 December 2013

The Battle of Heavenfield

Xmas is usually a quiet time on the gaming front for obvious reasons, but this year with the family away in Los Angeles (a long story) I was able to meet up with my friend Keith for a game or two of Dux Bellorum (he fancied something a bit different for once). I got everything set for when he arrived and so after the usual chat about wargaming etc, we sat down to play the 'River Battle' scenario straight from the book.

This turned into a bit of a slugging match over the ford as I had only made it wide enough for one unit to cross at a time, so wasn't a very challenging game to be honest. We both agreed that the ford needed to be wider in future and also that having the odd cavalry unit would help due to their greater mobility. Time was still on our side so we proceeded to play a straight 'Annals Battle' which was much more fun and challenging. Again we both agreed that the odd cavalry unit here and there would add another level to the game, so my partially painted cavalry for my Saxons have been bumped up the painting ladder as it were.

The following day I went to WH Smiths and bought the latest issue of Miniature Wargames magazine, which I thoroughly enjoy reading. By chance it had a scenario from Dux Bellorum author Dan Mersey in it based upon the historical 'Battle for Heavenfield', between Cadwallon and Oswald. I had left the table out from the previous night with the intention of playing a solo game or two from the book, but decided there and then to game the Heavenfield scenario as I had enough units for both forces from my collection of Pendraken figures.

Dan had also come up with a nice little pre-game idea where both players can bid secretly for certain terrain, re-inforcements etc. As I was playing solo I ignored this but am keen to try it out in future games. To my mind it looks a lot of fun and will add something extra to the game which is always a bonus in my book. 

I won't go into the detail of the background of the battle here, but recommend that you buy the magazine instead. However I will give the forces for both sides to help understand the units on the table.

Oswald's Army - Repeller
1 x Saxon Shieldwall Companions (with Oswald)
3 x Saxon Noble Shieldwall
2 x Ordinary Irish Warriors
2 x Saxon Foot Skirmishers (I opted to equip them with bows)
2 Extra Leadership Points

Cadwallon's Army - Agressor
1 x Welsh Shieldwall Companions (with Cadwallon)
7 x Ordinary Welsh Shieldwall
2 x Saxon Ordinary Warriors

Oswald's forces deployed on the hill as per the historical battle, in a strong defensive position, facing the numerically larger force of Cadwallon.
The shieldwall units deployed in the centre with the Irish Warriors and skirmishers on the right flank.
Cadwallon deployed his Shieldwall units into two blocks, with the aim of the centre tying down Oswald's forces on the hill while the right flank attempted to move round and attack the left flank of Oswald. The Saxon Warriors deployed on the left flank facing the Irish Warriors of Oswald.

How the game played out.

Cadwallon's line advanced en masse whilst the Irish Warriors and Saxon skirmishers of Oswald's army advanced to threaten Cadwallon's left flank.
Cadwallon's army continues to advance, but the central Shieldwall units fail to move. The Saxon skirmishers shoot into the Saxon Warriors, causing a hit, before combat is joined. The Irish push back one Saxon unit and elect to follow up.
Cadwallon's army advance in unison this turn whilst the Warriors and Skirmishers continue to battle it out, with the Irish gaining the upper hand.
Only Oswald's centre manages to advance with the Warriors continuing to fight it out.
Cadwallon's right flank fails again leaving the centre to charge uphill into Oswald's Noble Shieldwall, who unsuprisingly come off worse. The Saxon skirmishers shoot and charge into support on the right flank with the Saxon Warriors under severe pressure from the Irish.
With the loss of a Saxon Warrior unit, Cadwallon's left flank is starting to look vulnerable. The centre gamely continues to attack Oswald's Nobles, but to no effect. Finally Cadwallon's right flank starts to move up into support.
The remaining Saxon warrior unit is assailed from all sides, but somehow manages to draw the combat! Cadwallon's units start to really threaten Oswald's left flank, forcing him to move back slightly. The centre continues to slug it out with Oswald's Nobles, who show the mettle.
The Irish Warriors see off the last Saxon Warrior unit, leaving Cadwallon's left flank rather exposed. On the hill Oswald's left flank comes under attack but grimly holds on depsite being assailed on two sides.
Cadwallon's Army attempts to envelope Oswald's Nobles, but is attacked in the rear by Irish Warriors.
Multiple attacks from front and rear see the loss of two off Cadwallon's sheidwall units, which he can't afford to lose. To add insult to injury his right flank fails to move into the attack. Cadwallon is now down to 2 LP's and 1 off his break point. Oswald still has 7 LP's tp play with.
The battle descends into a confused melee, but Cadwallon's forces are under severe pressure, but crucially do not lose any units this turn.
The inevitable happens and Cadwallon loses enough units to force a break test, which results in other units fleeing the battle, thereby taking him over 75% and thus 'losing' the game.

As this was essentially an 'End of Reign' battle, it was a draw as neither side had succeeded in killing their opposite number. However Cadwallon's forces had lost 6 units to Oswald's 2, even before rolling for break tests. So in my mind a victory to Oswald and the death of Cadwallon, cut down near the stream as happened at the end of the real battle.

Post Game Thoughts
I found this a thoroughly entertaining game, made all the better by the background detail provided by Dan in his article. So here are a few thoughts on the game:
  • Shieldwall units on a hill are damned hard to shift.
  • The lack of skirmishers for Cadwallon told in the end as they helped Oswald's Irish Warriors win the flank battle. Also they are very useful at attacking shieldwall units with their hit on 5+.
  •  With the loss of the left flank, Cadwallon's army was always going to be in a tricky situation.
  • If Cadwallon's force had made a unified attack on Oswald's Noble shieldwall from the front and side, this would have helped. In the end I was too hasty and commited the troops to soon and in a piecemeal fashion. Lesson hopefully learnt!
  • Cavalry would have helped Cadwallon's army as their mobility might have been enough to un-lock Oswald's shieldwall. Dan does mention the option of this in his article.
So having had a few games in quick succession, I'm going to order a few more units from Pendraken to flesh out my existing armies. Broadly speaking these will be a mix of cavalry and foot, to allow me to field a Late Roman army as well as Irish and Pict allies. With Pendraken due to release some new Ancients ranges next year, these should be ideal for the latter.

Sunday 15 December 2013

General Musings on AARs

Some General Background Information
Craig and I visited Warfare in November for our first proper chance to walk a wargames show. Normally we are putting on demo games and so have little chance to really have a good look around. Sadly the demo games were not up to much, but this was more than offset by the traders, and both of us picked up some goodies from Pendraken. Craig ended up with a decent amount of kit to put together a nicely balanced battlegroup for BKCII. We resolved there and then to try and get a game in with our new toys before Xmas. There is nothing like a deadline to focus the mind on the painting and modelling front.

We agreed to do a fairly mobile scenario to reflect the early days of Operation Overlord and the fluid nature of the front and the battles that took place in early June. We decided upon a straight forward 'Encounter' scenario from the book, with each side having 2,000 pts. It was nice to be playing something a bit different from the, for us, fairly standard attacker versus dug-in defender scenarios that we have played of late. 

For my Brits I decided upon the following:

4th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry, 129th Infantry Brigade, 43rd 'Wessex' Division.
Support from 'A' Company, 8th Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment.
1 Troop, 43rd Recce Regiment.
477th Battery, 112th 'Wessex' Field Regiment Royal Artillery.

As always, I really enjoyed researching the units I was to field. For the scenario, it was to be based upon the figthing that took place on the second day of Operation Epsom, in and around the villages of St Mauvieu and Marcelet, with the crossroads located between the villages as the objective. The Germans were a Kampfgruppe from the units of 12th SS 'Hitlerjugend' and 21st Panzer Division.

So after some research I came up with the following layout for the table:

The outskirts of St Mauvieu are on the right (British deployment), with Marcelet on the left (German deployment). The objective of the scenario was control of the crossroads in the centre of the table.
The view from Marcelet towards St Mauvieu.
The view from St Mauvieu, with Marcelet in the distance.
Departure From the Norm
Now those of you that follow my Blog know that generally speaking I like to do fairly detailed AARs to show how the game went. Afterall this is something I like to see on other Blogs. But on the day I just was not in the mood to take copious notes and photos to put together my normal AAR. And do you know what? I enjoyed the game much more! 

So this got me thinking about why do we bother with putting up AARs on our Blogs? After all as I've mentioned before, they can take up an inordinate amount of time, generally a lot longer than the game itself. So with a couple of weeks to mull over this issue, I thought I'd jot down some musings from my perspective with regards the above:

Good Points
  • I like to show how I came up with a scenario, the table layout, the forces involved etc. After all that is something I enjoy on other Blogs as it can inspire me to try something a bit different.
  • A good description of how the game went accompanied by some nice photos showing progress of the units makes for enjoyable reading IMHO. You do not need to be Tolstoy, but a clear and coherent narrative with appropriate pictures and captions normally suffices. Whitty and dry comments are a bonus, one that my friend Keith excels at.
  • The background 'fluff' to a game I always find interesting, even if it is not from a period I normally game.

Bad Points
  • Writing AARs take time; an awful lot of time in my case. Maybe I ramble on too long and should try a case  "of less is more".
  • Taking notes during the game disrupts the flow as well as ones concentration. It also takes time to write them, increasing the length of the game. I was pleasantly suprised at how much more I enjoyed the game when I was able to give it my undivided attention.
  • Taking the pictures during the game, then editing them and sorting the good from the shocking (too much of the latter I'm afraid) takes time. Then you have to remember which pictures fit in which part of the game notes and then try and add appropriate captions to help with the narrative.

In future I still want to post useful and hopefully interesting AARs on my Blog, but I will try during the game to be less distracted by the whole taking notes business, and maybe rely more upon the pictures to job my addled memory. Hopefully this will work but only time will tell.

For those that are interested, the British won the game around the 6th Turn, when their Churchill tanks saw off the last of the German Pz IVs, leaving them with no viable anti-tank units to contest the crossroads.

Until next time...