Sunday, 13 November 2016

A Gathering of Ravens at Littleham Cross - Wessex Attacks (Dux Britanniarum)

Yesterday's game at the DWG November meeting was an opportunity to play-test the annual big bash held in December when the members of the club traditionally "go large" on one game that all the members who can attend join in.

This year needed a little more preparation as the period and rules selected for the club to wheel out its enormous collection of 28mm dark ages figures was a Saxon v Romano-British clash using The Lardies "Dux Britanniarum rule set.

The idea was to play our large game with one set of cards used in the rules to drive activity along the length of our table to see how easy it would be to herd the cats that are the DWG membership, or not.

As it was Jason, Nick and Nathan did a sterling job maintaining a sense of co-ordinated activity throughout the day which produced a very enjoyable, convivial dark ages set to.

That said the December game will not follow the format of yesterday (that's what play-testing is all about) and we plan to  break our battle up into four separate tables with their own card decks but with all the results on each contributing to the final outcome for the day. With at least four regular members away yesterday, the game in December should be a really good one to finish the year off with.

Our table with the Saxon forces to the right of picture
The other end of the table with Saxon lines to the left of picture
As with any of our big games in the past we always like to have a bit of local history included in them combined with a large chunk of "what if" included but like all the best historical fiction you will find fictitious names and places mixed in with the historical. Any similarity between actual people and places is purely coincidental!

So with that little preamble out the way, to help avoid anyone looking up this particular battle on Wikepedia and to save me time writing it up there anyway, on with the context behind this mighty clash at what became known in the Saxon Chronicles as the Gathering of Ravens at Littleham Cross.

The history of the enmity and suspicion between the West Saxon Kingdom of Wessex pressing up to the modern day county borders of Somerset and Dorset with the Romano British Kingdom of Dumnonia occupying the area of modern day Devon and Cornwall is well documented if a little sketchy on detail.

The West Saxons continued pressure to occupy yet more lands of the Britons saw King Ceolwulf of Wessex occupy Dorset in the 590's bringing the West Saxons onto the borders of Dumnonia.

The Kings of Dumnoina and Gwent combined to strike back against Wessex in 612 that saw the Dumnonians defeated at Bindon on the Devon-Dorset Border.

A period of relative peace then followed before the men of Wessex under King Cenwalh tried their luck again in 661 by marching on Exeter, beating the Dumnonians at Posbury near Crediton but themselves forced to withdraw as Dumnonian diplomacy paid dividends when pleas for help were met by King Wulfhere of Mercia who invaded Wessex in response and later defeated King Cenwalh after he had hurried home.

And here we are in the summer 670AD and the aged King Cenwalh, determined to press the Dumnonians under King Geraint, has brought his host over the River Axe pillaging the peaceful idol that is East Devon on his march towards the Dumnonian capital at Exeter.

Determined to resist yet again and with assurances of help from the Mercian King Wulfhere, Geraint brought the Dumnonian forces to Littleham Cross a hamlet just six miles south east of Exeter.

The Saxon Chronicle talks of battle lasting the day with great loss on both sides and a gathering of ravens that remained over the field of battle for the weeks that followed.

But the West Saxons were forced to retire and Dumnonia would remain independent thirsting for revenge and determined to take the fight into Wessex.

The two lines goad each other in and around the hamlet of Littleham

King Geraint had gathered his finest warriors
King Cenwalh was determined to settle the matter once and for all
Messengers travel along the line of battle
The javelins fly as the two lines close
The terrain broke the fighting up into areas of resistance - those pigs look good enough to eat!
Britons v Saxons in Littleham
No quarter asked or given

The Dumnonians on their extreme left flank form shield wall on the Salterton Road under Dux Bob.
Both sides cavalry groups joined in the fray
West Saxons gain some ascendancy in the centre with both sides swapping flights of arrows

The Saxons pressed hard but the Dumnonians held
Both forces are well and truly blooded with honours even
The line had degraded into wins and losses along its length for both forces.

Littleham occupied by Saxons with Britons occupying the surrounds and high ground
So with the rule set tested to destruction and the combatants brought up to speed with their tactics and battle skills we are all set for next month when King Geraint strikes back and takes the fight to Wessex.

Thanks to all the members of the DWG who provided all the fun and the great figures and terrain for me to take pictures of. Here's looking forward to next month.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Greeks v Persians - Hail Caesar

Many thanks to Chas & Andy for putting on today's trip back in time to the Greco/Persian wars.

It is nearly fifteen years since we played the Battle of Platea to death and just as long since many of our 28 mm collection of figures graced the table (some say Andy has more recently used them for DBMM, but I don't care to spread such rumours). The game was played to Hail Caesar rules.

The scenario pitched Steve H, Jason (for a period) and myself as Greeks, against Chas, Andy & Steve M commanding the Achaemenid army. I took the Spartans under Leonidas on our right, Jason (then Steve H) the central Athenian division and Steve H the double size division (eight phalanxes) of Allied hoplites on our left. A screen of skirmishers across the battle line and one unit of cavalry on either flank completed our force.

Award winning Immortals face off the Greeks - Note they don't go anywhere without their trophy.
Facing off against us were three divisions of Persians. Chas was opposite the Spartans, Andy the
Athenians and Steve M the Allied hoplites. Chas fielded a unit of cavalry, a selection of skirmishers and a line of spearmen. Andy had two units of Immortals (nice dressing gowns; award winning some would say), a solid line of spear units, a screen of skirmishers and a cavalry unit, whilst Steve M had two mercenary Hoplite units, more Persian spearmen, skirmishers and some cavalry. Needless to say every man and his dog in the Persian army had a bow or a fistful of javelins or both.

The game kicked of with Andy rolling a 6 for initiative to decide first turn, a feat I could not match. The Persian line moved up to missile range, with only Chas's division, opposite the Spartans, holding back. I think we could all see what was on their mind. Be they Medes, Paphlagonians, Kardakes or Egyptians, they bent their bows and fired. Even at long range hoplites fell across the line.

Seeing no future in standing as missile targets, the Greeks were given the order for a general advance. The Athenians & Spartans did as they were told, but the Allied division must have thought Leonidas wasn't talking to them and stayed where they were.

The Athenians hit the Persian centre and a general melee developed. The Persians were forced back in places, but a flank charge from the cavalry took the Athenians aback and advantage swung back and forth. Two scythed chariots rushed across the field to flank the Athenian second line. One passed harmlessly by as the hoplites opened ranks, but the other struck home. In the fight the hoplites cut down the chariot, but took casualties in the process.

Chas's force watched the Spartans jog trot across the field, as Persian missile fire saw off the Spartan's supporting cavalry and skirmishers. Meanwhile, in the centre, a life and death melee had developed with both sides flanking and throwing in supports. Steve M's force took the hill and fired on the Greek Allied hoplites, who were still refusing to move.

Now the Spartans hit Chas's line and swept them away. It was a lot to expect them to stop the best troops on the table, but they had occupied the Spartans long enough to allow Andy's Immortals to force the Athenians into retreat and then withdrawal.

The Spartans turned their attention to the Persian centre, as the Athenians withdrew from the field. The Greek Allied hoplites still refused to move and missile fire rained down on them, forcing two units back. Steve M now brought the Persian mercenary hoplites up and the Persian centre tried to engage the Greek Allied hoplites, before the pursuing Spartans made contact.

Finally the Greek Allied hoplites deigned to move and charged the Immortals. With the Spartans came into charge range, the writing was on the wall and the Persians conceded.
The game was played in the usual good spirit, even if it soon became clear we did not know the rules as well as we thought. The rules gave an interesting series of problems, some of which required help from the experienced rule lawyer "Mr Steve" to adjudicate.

All in all a good game and a comprehensive refresher on the Hail Caesar rules. As we intend to use these rules for next summer's Punic game, we clearly need to read them up and get some more practice !


Sunday, 9 October 2016

Augustus to Aurelian - Battle on the River Visurgis

This month Mr Steve dug out his 15mm Roman and German collection to play a second test game of Augustus to Aurelian by Phil Hendry.

Augustus to Aurelian
Devon Wargames Group,Play-test 1

The last scenario played was very much on the Germans home turf and the warbands made full use of the forest terrain to take it to the Roman foe.

In this test I chose a scenario published by Phil Hendry in the Lardies Summer Special 2013 where Phil had the Roman forces taking on a British army defending a tidal river crossing. The Romans have split their force sending off a powerful left flanking force of legionaries and a right flank group of mixed cavalry.

The Romans are tasked with getting across the river with their auxiliaries and reinforcements whilst the water is relatively low, but with the threat of the waters rising at some stage whilst not being certain as to when their flanking forces will turn up. The Germans with their full force have the opportunity of taking on the Romans piecemeal but in relatively open ground that may favour Roman tactics.

The Britons were replaced with Germans and the Romans Imperials with Steve's Republicans, but this is after all a play-test and the scenario produced a really interesting game.

The picture below shows the Roman auxiliary division under Qunitis Atrius Decianus set up before the might of the German force under the command of Valwerd

The river is deemed to be fordable between the two areas of marshy scrub seen at either end of the opposite banks and was currently deemed to be 'difficult terrain' causing the Roman formed units to cross it at half speed.

In anticipation of the Roman advance five German warbands with one in support are doing the 'Dirty Harry maneuverer' and have pressed up to the river bank and with shouts of abuse and clashing weapons on shields goading the silent Roman line to try their luck - the classic "well do you feel lucky punk?" tactic.

This is our second game using the rules which we played back in January this year and after a bit of time taken sorting out the card deck which activates the various divisions and takes care of when specific events will occur and the placing of markers to identify the various commanders we were quickly into the sequence of the game and play flowed along very seamlessly.

For those not familiar with these rules, they display influences from various other rule sets out their for playing ancients, with the addition of the card activation system favoured in other Lardy rule systems which really capture the friction of battle so well.

The use of unit and commander attributes together with special abilities are a very familiar idea as is the splitting of units up into divisions under a commander and I have attached pictures of the orders of battle sheets to illustrate how we kept a note of who was who and what they could do.

The commanders have a two ratings which identify their command level in Roman numerals I-IV with the higher level commander able to do more with his activations and their ability rating of between 1-3 with a higher rating indicating a better ability to lead and influence their troops.

The individual unit stats are straight forward with the size of the unit indicated as Tiny (T) through to Large (L) indicating the number of figures in the unit and the 'footprint' it makes. Movement rate is in inches for 28mm or as we played centimetres for 15mm.

Combat Dice - the number of d10 rolled when in hand to hand (note there can be additions to this such as Romans using the gladius can get an extra die).
Combat Attack - the measure of how good the unit is in hand to hand, the higher the better with a d10 roll equal to or under plus factors required to score hits.
Shooting Dice and Shooting Attack work similarly to the Combat Factors except for missile fire.
Outlook (Training) - Indicates how up for the fight the unit is and added to casualties the unit inflicts in hand to hand versus what the opposition inflicts together with their outlook sets up a comparison to determine who has won the combat. Again the higher the better.
Rating (Morale) the number used to roll against, including plus or minus factors, when reacting to events with a need to roll equal to it or lower to pass a Reaction Test.

The Armour, Weapons and Special Rules indicate where the unit can claim extra benefits to its normal stats, with for example Romans having Pilum that can cause additional hits in hand to hand combat.

So with the opposing forces set up and off table reinforcements sorted out, Legatus Metellus ordered his auxiliary infantry forward preceded by his skirmish screen of javelin-men and slingers who started to pepper the German line with deadly accuracy causing the first casualties

German warriors yell insults across the Visurgis.

In response the German skirmishers ran forward aiming to return the compliment with interest only to find their ability to hit the Roman infantry less effective than their opposing counterparts.

Valwerd the German commander was well aware of how able and likely the Romans were to attempt to outflank his position here on the upper reaches of the Visurgis deep within the territory of the Langobardi but was confident he could take the fight to this small force of Romans and pin them back into the river whose tidal flow was dramatic at this part of it and likely to destroy any units caught in it at the full flood.

Nevertheless he cautiously held a second line of warbands in reserve, including his personal guard together with his cavalry to enable him to react to any potential threat to his positions from another direction.

The German second line with Ceoran leading the cavalry, there to cover any approach from unwelcome visitors
As the Germans look on the Roman line approaches the river in silence
Tribune Decianus under the watchful eye of his commander Legatus Metellus orders his auxiliaries forward  
With the initial skirmish battle well and truly joined the first auxiliary cohorts tramped into the relatively shallow water taking their time to maintain formation and avoid slipping on the unseen rocks and boulders littering the river bed; whilst endeavouring to shelter behind their scutums under an ever increasing hail of missiles directed toward them.

Every now and then an unfortunate comrade would let out a despairing cry and fall into the waters as a German javelin found its mark with the yells of the centurions and optios calling out the orders to close up and maintain the line.

The Romans advance in Duplex Acies allowing them to extend their frontage and to use passage of lines when needing to relieve front line cohorts, whilst screened by their skirmish line
With the opposing lines closing rapidly the need to maintain order and react to the enemy began to cause pressure particularly in German ranks. The right flank Roman auxiliary cohort had suffered under the German javelins and Cahallra the commander tried to order his warband to charge in whilst the enemy struggled to reach the opposite bank.

Tribune Decianus aware of the need to hit the German line with a charge and knowing his auxiliaries didn't carry pilum got the drop first and his line left the river crashing into the German shield wall with spears thrusting into the opposing ranks.

With the heavier infantry locked in mortal combat, the opposing skirmish lines fell off to the flanks to continue their jousting as the the two lines commenced a push of shields.

The Romans grabbed the advantage on their left but were losing on the right most part of the line. Decianus displayed his lack of experience by not ordering his reserve cohort through the ranks of those hard pressed troops to their front, but was saved from embarrassment by the lead cohort reacting to their defeat by coolly withdrawing through the ranks of their supports who were able to take up the fight as a fresh unit.

(Note an extraordinarily low die roll with two d6 converted what seemed like an inevitable rout into a full move withdrawal facing the enemy; and avoided the reserve cohort from having to react to routers passing through them - junior officers save the blushes of their more senior commanders yet again).

Battle joined with the Romans nearest to camera getting the worst of it. Wait is that reinforcements I can see top centre appearing on the German right flank!
The battle on the river was in full swing with the waters steadily rising and with the Germans getting stuck into their task.

Suddenly trumpets blared and Praefectus Superstes a veteran commander of many seasons lead his veteran legionaries onto the Field of Mars just at the right moment.

As if to emphasise it was time for Valwerd to get his hat and coat, Roman cavalry under Tribune Valens wheeled into line on the German left flank in the next turn.

The arrival of the Roman flank marchers couldn't have arrived more opportunely as the German commander contemplated settling the battle on the river by throwing in elements from his second line.

With the arrival of the newcomers there was a flurry of movement among the German commanders as new orders were hurriedly issued and units repositioned to contest the advance from the flanks.

Meanwhile on the river both commanders were throwing in their 'Carpe Diem' cards as they attempted to get every advantage going in the hand to hand fighting; with the auxiliary infantry getting stuck in with gladius in the second round of combat bestowing an extra d10 to reflect their handiness with the deadly short sword against their unarmoured opponents.

However it was left to Superstes legionaries to demonstrate how to combine the use of pilum with the gladius as they positively seemed to be licking their lips as the German line turned to greet their approach.

Superstes dispensed with any attempt at maintaining a reserve line as, preceded by skirmish javelins and Scorpio bolts, his four small legionary cohorts unleashed a hail of pilum as they charged into two large German warbands. The right most warband evaporated under the assault in the first round with the second left flank unit struggling to stay in the fight and getting pushed back on its supports but now with two victorious legionary cohorts hovering on its unprotected flank.

As the Roman cavalry acted as a threat to the German left flank and prevented the German cavalry from swinging in on the auxiliaries still fighting hard on the river, the waters rose inexorably higher providing some respite to the Germans as one auxiliary cohort was swept away in the flood and both Metellus and Decianus were left stranded on the opposite bank only able to observe the battle on the opposite side.

We ended the play test there with Roman fortunes on the high rather like the River Visurgis but with some interesting command and control issues to attend to.

The game rolled along really well and we were soon rattling through the moves as the factors and processes became more familiar, which is always a good sign. I really like the use of cards to control the play and the 'Carpe Diem' cards really allow the players a modicum of control which gradually dissipates as the battle unfolds, just as it should.

Play tests always reveal some issues that need resolving and I am happy with changes made from the previous game including the more concise orders of battle and unit stat sheets, but need to think about some combat resolution ideas when fighting with multiple units of differing quality, together with improved and additional markers.

I really like the look of the game these rules produce and am now confirmed in using them for my Dacian Wars collection of 28mm figures with the anticipation of the release of the new Victrix plastic legionaries, hopefully next month.

Thanks to Mr Steve for providing his figures to stand in for my lack of armies at present so I could work out if these rules would fit the bill and to him, Nick, Steve L, Ian for playing a very entertaining game.

If you are interested in seeing progress to date on the Dacian War 28mm collection then just follow the link to my personal blog "JJ's Wargames

JJ's Dacian Wars