Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Battle of Dunkeswell Down 1488 - The DWG 2014 Xmas Game

This is a DWG - Deus Vult Production of the Battle of Dunkeswell Down 1488

A gathering of the hosts, with the nibbles out and the vanguards of both armies set up
Every now and then we like to go large at the Devon Wargames Group, and our end of year Xmas game always seems to be a good excuse for the club to come together in one game and get all the toys out on the table.

These kind of games are played in a very light hearted spirit, especially at this time of year, and as your humble game reporter, I am often left to come up with a title and background to our clash of arms.

A few last minute conversations before bringing the rest of the forces to the table
So to set the scene, following his victory at Bosworth, King Henry has only reigned for just over two years when he was killed in a hunting accident. All that inbreeding within Royalty finally took its toll as it is rumoured he tried to reload his crossbow the wrong way round with the bolt pointing towards him and well, you know!!

Lancastrian mercenaries
With the unexpected death of Henry Tudor, the whole country braced itself for another round of blood letting to decide who would be King and so it was that two new "wannabe's" emerged from the Houses of York and Lancaster the Duke of Exeter and the Earl of Torbay, cousins from different strands of the Plantagenet line, going back to a common ancestor, the love child of Edward III (1312-1377) and a certain barmaid who worked in the Rose & Crown in Honiton where Edward had his lodgings on a trip to Exeter to cut the ribbon on the new bridge liking the City to St Thomas's.

Archers to the fore with one of Warwick's battles in support
Fact is often stranger than fiction, but it turns out that these two families are still in Devon today and both Andy and Nathan were able to represent them in our game being distant relatives of the two nobles in question and Edward and the Inn keepers daughter. This also explains the unusual DNA discovered in King Richard III's bone analysis earlier this year. Andy and Nathan are involved in the search for Richard's relatives and have both had mouth swab cell samples taken last month.

Loose and darken the sky
So to the clash that nearly re-wrote the history books on the Wars of the Roses. A few notes first will help the reader get a sense of the dynamics at play in this titanic struggle in the Blackdown Hills on the Somerset/Devon border.

First, this battle involved a lot of cousins and close neighbours and the inevitable blood feuds had sprung up during the long years of war. In our re-fight any opposing nobles engaged in fighting units with blood feuds could issue personal combat challenges to decide the fates of the forces in their battle. This was a rule that got used a lot in our game and quite a few old scores were settled and several nobles ended their days as foot stools in their nemesis's campaign tent. In addition, any enemy nobles defeated gave personal honour in the form of points to the victorious noble along with any enemy units driven from the field of battle.

Second, given the nature of warfare in these troubled times, you could never be really sure who was on which side, rather like what goes on in modern politics today. Thus there were rumours circulating that at least one noble in the other camp was liable to change his colours when the opportunity presented.

Yorkist commanders discuss tactics with Sir Thomas, Lord Exmouth. in his unusual black and white surcoat, with his familiar arms, the white snowman.
With the commanders and their forces set up, the respective leaders constructed their orders of march with the van, centre and rear battles nominated. This would be the order that the various battles would arrive on table or be held off on potential flank ambushes.

First contact, Lancastrian billman face off a Yorkist cavalry attack
With Andy (Baron Blackmore) leading the House of Lancaster and Nathan (Baron Goodyear) for York, the units started to arrive on table and it seemed to groan under the weight of all the metal and a few plastics.

The Yorkists made an aggressive thrust at the opposing van with a charge of massed mounted knights into the opposing billmen and archers. The fighting became confused and bloody and both sides struggled to gain an advantage.

The centre is soon engulfed with Yorkist knights at the tilt
As the struggle between the vans continued, more forces started to appear on either side of the fighting units as the opposing lines advanced to support their neighbours or grab important terrain.

The Lancastrian pretender arrives with his battle array

The Yorkist knights start to gain the ascendancy in the middle of the Lancastrian line
With the fighting close to the centre of the Lancastian line at full tilt, the left flank was surprised by a Yorkist flank march of mounted and foot troops.

surprise, surprise, well I didn't expect that!! - the Yorkist flank attack on the Lancastian left

The Earl of Exmouth is caught in the flank by forces under the command of his Son, Lord Thomas, a blood feud indeed!!
With both armies deployed and battle royal joined in the Lancastian centre and left flank, the Yorkist forces had the upper hand. The fighting was fierce as the Lancastian left deployed their "Darken the skies with arrows" tactic. Yorkist archers were decimated in the arrow storm.

Try not to throw 1, 2 or 3 - Oh dear, how sad, never mind!!
Calls of "Yield" were issued by Yorkist commanders as they sought to enforce their advantage.

The Yorkist mounted knights continued to threaten the centre ground 

Warwick tries to contain the situation in the centre of Lancastian lines. Rumours of his death earlier in the war were greatly exaggerated
Both commanders "girded their loin"s and sent heralds along their respective lines promising wealth and titles for one last push.

Baron Goodyear seen "Girding his Loins" during the battle

Desperate to swing the fight in favour of their respective camp, treachery started to reveal it's dark plan. Sir Stephen of Cardiff, a Devon noble banished to estates in South Wales for unnatural relations and concepts in animal husbandry, revealed his true Yorkist sentiments and added to the woes of the Lancastrian centre. In response, the Sir Lancelot of his Peers, Sir Stephen of Lympstone a man who preferred to do most things on the back of a horse suddenly announced, after gutting the Lancastrian centre with his "mounted joustabouts" that he really was for Lancaster and hoped for a spirit of forgive and forget to prevail.

The bloody battle rages between father and son as the Lords of Exmouth engage in mortal combat

The stress of the consequences of failure were starting to tell, or perhaps it was the desire to get down the pub for a Xmas tipple, either way, the personal challenges started to fly. It started with the most personal of blood feuds as Sir Jon, Baron of Exmouth, fuming with rage at the disloyalty of his son, The Honourable Sir Thomas, issued a personal challenge and, although chastising the errant lad with a breath taking display of swordsmanship, left the lad standing and returned to the cheers of his followers. This was to prove a mistake as Sir Thomas, boiling with rage led his men in a fanatical charge breaking two of his fathers units and capturing the old man.

Arrows were flying in all directions

The Lancastian left in trouble

Lancastrian billmen head towards the left flank in a bid to hold it

The day started to lose the light as the fighting broke down into personal little fights all along the line. No quarter was asked or given, noble footstools were being fashioned throughout the opposing camps as personal challenges were decided.

With the battle very much in the hands of the Yorkists, Baron Blackmore decided to make one last desperate roll of the dice. He issued a personal challenge to his opposing contender. Sir Nathan, Baron Goodyear, Lord of the Isles, Protector of the Faith and Lord High Commander of the King's Chamber Pot. The Baron Goodyear, never known to back down from a challenge to his honour, said "no thanks, not when I'm winning and about to get the job of being King".

In the face of such implacable determination, the Lancastrian forces broke contact as darkness fell, quitting the field and headed off towards the rallying point at the Queen's Head.

Warwicks retinue charge into the fight

The day was for York and the honour went to a young noble Sir Thomas of Exmouth who bagged double points for taking his Dad prisoner in a blood feud and breaking two of the enemy units.

Baron Goodyear ignores the catcalls about being frit and prepares to acknowledge the accolade for his victory 

Baron Blackmore, fumes as his personal challenge is refused
So as the dust settled and the armies returned to their camps, it was left to the camp followers to pick over the debris of battle. Their resources had been pillaged by the two opposing sides and their winter supplies entirely consumed as the two forces engaged in this mighty struggle to be known as the Battle of Dunkeswell Down.
It's true, "an army marches on it's stomach"
And what became of the two pretenders to the crown? I hear you ask. Well Baron Blackmore fled to France dying two years later in poverty and madness after his defeat but instilling a burning fire for revenge in his young son who returned to the westcountry, but lost his titles in a game of dominoes, trying to raise funds for a new campaign.

The victor of this tale also suffered an ignoble end failing to get back to Westminster for his Coronation after picking up a dose of the pox after a night out in Exeter to celebrate his recent victory. The rest as they say, is history.

Let the ballads say that much fun was had at the DWG 2014 Xmas game, with much laughter and banter prevailing. Thanks to Gamemeister Chas for pulling the scenario together and managing to herd cats.

Happy Xmas to all and here's looking forward to new games in 2015

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Dux Britanniarum

I got to play my first game of Dux Britanniarum at this months meeting and thought I would share my first impressions.

I have followed the launch and uptake of this rule set ever since hearing Richard Clarke discussing them on Meeples podcast and as I am a fan of pretty much all things "Lardie" I was really pleased to have a play. In addition I am enjoying all the drama of this period on the British History podcast at the moment and so had an itch to start forming a few shield walls.

We set up a little raid scenario where I was leading three warbands of Britons, supported by some archers and javelin-men raiding a Saxon village in search of loot. I was to be opposed by a similar sized force of Saxon troops coming onto the table three turns after my force.

The object thus, to get in and search the village and get out before my perimeter defences were seriously challenged by the locals. The moves and combats in the game are generated with a combination of cards and die rolls in the best traditions of a Lardie game. There is nothing very complicated in the process and I could quickly see that when you are aware of the potential pitfalls and opportunities offered by the card play lots of options are presented to the players.

The combats are simply a matter of gaining d6s to roll vs your adversary, with formation, situation benefits ( flank attack etc) plus special cards that capture the feel of these dark age clashes. These cards can see one side being goaded into charging the other in a situation that the wargame commander would not necessarily choose to do; others can influence the addition of extra die to roll for a benefit the card imparts.

Once the combat die are rolled each side gets to try and save the hits based on how well kitted out your warriors are and how good they are at looking after themselves. All this play is simple to do but gives a real feel for the period.

My game saw my force quickly establish a defence of units around the village whilst my levies searched the houses, quickly finding the loot. My left flank was surprised by a Saxon ambush and my chaps got the worst of it. My force was able to quickly pull out of the village losing a half warband of levies.

The game has a very neat campaign mechanism that simulates what happens after the table top clash. This models the effects of pursuit and the replacement of casualties together with the value of any booty taken. As the game progresses players are forced to consider disposing of cards they would use in the combat to ones that offer benefits to the army in pursuit or retreat. The aim is to get as many cards that help your force in the post battle phase. As it turned out I was able to get as many retreat cards as my opponent had pursuit ones, but although I also captured the loot my casualties and low casualties to my opponent combined to make the game a draw. Altogether, a very clever rule set.

There seem to be a few minor rules queries that you have to use common sense to interpret, such as how many dice to roll to generate backward movement, without facing away from the enemy. That seems open to debate in the rules but we soon came up with our own interpretation.

As I expected these are a solid set of rules with some clever mechanisms that really capture the feel for the period. I'm not a great Dark Ages fan, but if I were looking for a set of rules to play this period, Dux would be right up there.

Thanks to Nick and Mr Steve for a fun game and for breaking my Dux duck.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Operation Cerberus - The Channel Dash 1942

This month at the club I got to try out a mini-campaign that I had always wanted to try and replicate, namely the famous German Naval operation, code named Cerberus, to move its heavy surface fleet of ships from Brest on the French Atlantic coast to Wilhelmshaven in Germany via the English Channel. This daring plan challenged the historical record in that no enemy fleet had successfully navigated the English Channel since the Anglo Dutch Wars.

Channel Dash

Originally I had planned to just replay the scenario where the German ships were attacked by five WWI vintage British destroyers, but then I came across this very interesting little game recreating the whole operation as a simple board game and thought about using it on Cyberboard as a basis for fighting the whole thing using my trusty old copy of ShipBase III computer rules to determine the combat.

Operation Cerberus Channel Dash

So having deployed the various combat units on the map, it was determined that the British were on a low state of alert as Admiral Ciliax prepared his fleet to break cover from the protection of the Brest harbour and move out into the Western Approaches.

The first command decision for the German admiral was whether to press on at a full 27 knots and take advantage of the British unpreparedness and cover two areas in a move instead of one but run an increased risk of taking hits from British mines in the Approaches.

(The way we handled the various areas with a minefield needing to be traversed, was based on the fact that in the board game there is a one in six chance of encountering mines. Thus on the table we simply divided the sea area into six zones and the British plotted their minefield in one of them, whilst the Germans pre-plotted their course by selecting a column to move along. If the course went through the mines we moved the action to the table as the various ships attempted to move unscathed until through them. If as happened the Germans chose to move at full tilt then they would not be able to plot a course change to reduce their time traversing the mined area, if they only moved cautiously to one area per turn they could. We used ShipBase III to determine potential mine strikes. This created quite a bit of tension as both sides attempted to bluff about where things would be and as you will see a lot of nail biting with each move among the mines.)

The Cyberboard module up and running on the monitor to allow the German fleet commander to observe his progress
To keep the period feel of the game, I kept the pictures in black and white format interspersed with pictures of the real thing.

The map above shows Ciliax went for the bold move and sped out into the Channel charging through the mines. In response the MTB flotilla at Plymouth motored out to intercept south of Lyme Bay.
However the German Admiral guessed wrong about the location of the mines and soon found himself at full speed ahead in the middle of them in Area one.

The view from a German escort plane as Scharnhorst hits a mine
Suddenly a massive explosion rocked the Scharnhorst and the mighty ship lost speed and the control of her rudder as a British mine found its mark. This would be another dilemma for the German admiral to deal  with, whether to slow to one area per move and escort the damaged Scharnhorst, taking longer to pass through the danger zone but offering better protection to all vessels or to leave her with a small escort and press on with the faster elements. The order was given to maintain formation.

Scharnhorst losses her rudder to a mine
As the fleet regained its composure and started to exit the minefield, the rear of the column was lit up as the Prinz Eugen kept its destiny with another British mine. The meeting between the two was devastating as the explosion penetrated amidships, detonating Y turret magazine and causing the mighty cruiser to disappear in a pall of black smoke.

Prinz Eugen strikes a British mine and is ripped apart by a massive internal  explosion
As the German fleet pressed on with no time to mourn the loss of their comrades in the Prinz Eugen, lookouts on the Z31 leading the column spotted small craft ahead at 20,000 yards on heading 030'. Alarm sounded over the ship as signal lamps flashed out their warnings to their neighbours. Eight small vessels were counted as the guns were brought round to bear on to the new threat.

Not all mine strikes had the desired effect

British MTBs are met with a hail of gunfire as their torpedoes speed off in search of enemy hulls. The launch counters and track markers can be seen indicating the course interception. As in history they were launched at max range on a slow setting.
Soon the initial salvos from the destroyers were joined in by the secondary and tertiary mounts on the big ships and amidst the shell spashes could be seen the occasional flash as a shell found its mark. In a matter of about 40 minutes of firing the small on rushing craft were destroyed but not before eight 21" torpedoes had been sent on their course of interception.

ShipBase is known for having too high a rate of fire for each class of ship, the original stats being based on best conditions range firing. In combat the rate of fire would be much different and so I reduce all my ship direct fire rates by 50%.

Just as with mines, the passage of a torpedo spread can be just as nerve racking as each vessel that crosses the tracks tests for impact. As the Germans had ordered full speed ahead and "damn the torpedoes" they were not at liberty to make a course change.

The beauty of ShipBase is that you set up the torpedo attack by selecting the speed and thus the range of the launch together with the bearing as indicated by the two markers each carrying an identifying letter; spread A, spread B etc. Once the markers are on the table, the software monitors the time the "fish" have been in the water letting you know when they have sunk or, in a test for contact, letting you know if there was a bang or a dud. Simples!!

With only eight fish in the water fired on a low speed setting at maximum range, The British were not expecting much action, but as luck would have it and with six tests all missed the Scharnhorst was suddenly shrouded by a massive plume of water as she was struck amidships. The blast caused 25% flooding reducing the speed of the great ship still further.

Needless to say, the remaining torpedoes missed and the German fleet limped on further up the Channel.

A rare colour combat shot as seen in Signal Magazine two months after the Dash.

The map above shows the situation mid-channel with Scharnhorst's counter flipped to its red side to indicate the damage and Prinz Eugen's counter removed. With five more areas to cover before slipping into Wilhelmshaven it was looking pretty serious for the remaining German ships, if the British became aware of exactly what was going on. Had those pesky MTB's given a full report before being destroyed? Had the Luftwaffe done their job in keeping away RAF reconnaissance aircraft?

Well apparently the answer to those questions was a resounding No and Yes, as try as they might the British command testing as each area was entered could not get a d6 to roll any higher than a 4. The table on the map shows the scores required to raise or lower British Alert Levels and only one 4 was rolled which only moved the response up one level. It is only when the BAL reaches level 3 or above that a response kicks in and as the Germans moved clear of the Dover straits the British were hoping to at least get in a Swordfish strike at the end of play. But it was not to be.

The Ship Record at the end of the game showing the damage sustained to Scharnhorst from the mine and torpedo strike

Admiral Ciliax breathed a sigh of relief as his reduced force traversed the mines in Area 6 and plotted a course for Area 7 and then the sanctuary of Wilhelshaven. This was literally the last chance for the British to really spoil the party as the minefield off the German port was deemed to be of moderate concentration rather than a light field as all the others had been.

One more strike on the Scharnhorst could be very serious and so avoiding this field would be quite important to avoiding further loss. The game of bluff started up again and the British commander having noted that in each previous course plot the German admiral had attempted to move his ships along each board edge decided that he was more likely to break the pattern and try to move up the centre.

Wrong! Admiral Ciliax kept to his plan and stayed on course along one table edge, skirting the edge of the British mines and entering port without further loss.

The Scharnhorst having its damage assessed the day after arriving in Wilhelmshaven
So our game ended with a tactical victory for the British having destroyed one of the German big ships, Prinz Eugen, and badly damaging the Scharnhorst. If the God of Dice had not been supporting the Germans it could have possibly been a lot worse.

Thanks to Ian for a very entertaining afternoon in the English Channel.