A couple weekends ago, Alex - my old Saga opponent - asked me to help him playtest the fast-play rules he had written for Dark Age warfare. This game was the third in a series Alex has been reporting on his blog. Bob, another gamer who had been visiting the game store that day, agreed to take the role of the fleeing warband of Britons. They would have a couple turns to move onto the table and cross the river at the fords before the Saxons, played by me, would come on the table in force and give chase.
The Britons would either have to be in control of the hill at the end of turn 15 to win, or the game would end when either side ran out of units.
The rules Alex has written can be found on his blog.
The terrain for the game featured a river with two crossings, with a swampy area coming out of the river into the center of the table. A small forest and some ruins were placed on either side, and a large hill dominated the other side of the table. The swamp, forest and ruins were impassible to all units apart from Skirmishers.
The Britons came on first. On the far side the Infantry and Cavalry units made it across the river quickly and set up their strongpoint. At the other crossing, the Skirmishers made it across - they could move 2d6" in a turn - while the 1d6" moving Infantry was stuck getting their feet wet in the river.
My Saxons came on at the bottom of turn two, but a low movement roll for my initial Warband unit, which move at the same speed at Skirmishers, meant that the units that followed essentially moved into a traffic jam. Bob's Cavalry unit waited to the side of his angled Infantry, hoping to get a flank charge when my Saxons inevitably attacked.
It's important to note that in Alex's rules, Cavalry acts more like mounted Skirmishers than, perhaps, Norman knights. They have javelins to engage in ranged combat with, and can move 3d6 in a turn, but they can't take a charge as well.
On the right, my Warband and Skirmisher units had been nipping at the Briton's heels, but the Infantry managed to make it across the water and turned to face the charging Saxons. They would be stuck in for some time, as the Infantry unit was incredibly tough. Any hits taken from the front (and that would be 1d6+2 from the warband, and 1d6 from the Skirmishers) were halved. Hits were then halved again due to where the Infantry was standing, where the water meant the river bank.
My Saxons finally engaged on the left, with the Cavalry throwing their javelins into combat. All ranged units only had three shots. This might be fine in a shorter game, but Bob and I found that the combination of such limited ammunition in a 15 turn game, along with the somewhat ineffectual amount of damage shooting did, meant that ranged units quickly turned into just slightly weaker combat units.
An overhead shot shows all the action occurring at the river crossings. With my advantage in units, Bob was forced to keep his units at the river, rather than make for the hill, which could have also provided him with the same defensive bonuses as the riverside.
The grinding melee on the right saw my first casualties - a Warband unit, along with the attached Hero and Banner! Whoops. Perhaps I should have let the other unit go first.
Units in Alex's rules can take up to 15 'wounds' before being removed from the table.
Meanwhile the bowmen on both sides of the river sat back, content to let the other units beat each other up.
At the other crossing, another of my Warband units broke, meaning Bob and I were now matched in the number of units we had. On both sides I moved up my next rank of screaming Saxon infantry.
Bob's infantry finally gave way to the grinding assault of my Saxons at the left ford, which only left his cavalry defending that crossing.
Unfortunately for Bob, a couple of lucky dice rolls saw his Cavalry flee the field of battle as well after being chased by the fleet-footed Warbands. Bob's Skirmisher's turned to face the new threat.
Bob's remaining Infantry unit defeated my second Warband on the right. With the Infantry severely wounded - you can see the three dice's worth of damage done - I threw my weak Skirmishers into combat.
Bob's Skirmishers clashed with my Warbands at the foot of the hill. Unfortunately, his battered Infantry were destroyed by my charging Skirmishers. It may have cost me two-thirds of my units, but I finally controlled both river crossings.
The last turn of the game saw Bob's Skirmisher unit defeating and routing the Warband unit it had engaged in combat with. However, with a fresh Warband to the front, and a rapidly-advancing Skirmisher unit in the rear, we decided to call the game as a victory for the Saxons.
Bob definitely had a tough time in this scenario. He could have made a mad dash for the hill and hope to run out the clock, but being outnumbered and having to survive 15 turns did not make that an attractive option. His only other option was to get stuck in at the fords, but even with such strong defensive positions, my force was large enough that I could throw enough bodies at the shieldwalls to eventually force my way through.
Next week will feature the same scenario, with Alex as the Briton and with Bob and I splitting command of the Saxons.