Saturday, December 31, 2016

Norman Invasion II, the Sequel

The burden of defending England in the great battles of 1066 was borne by a small part of her military strength. The great battles happened in quick succession and were decisive, leaving most of the English fighting men no opportunity to take the field against the invaders. One such contingent were the men owing service to Ealdorman Earwig of North Anglia. In peace and war this forgotten corner of England was left largely unmolested. However, in the spring of 1067 William, newly crowned King of England, was casting about for lands to reward his followers. One of his lesser Barons, Ralph of Amiens, called “Short Sword”, but never in his presence, was assigned the lands of Ealdorman Earwig, if he could evict the current occupant.
Ealdorman Earwig deploys his men

                            Norman foot take up position
Ralph made his way north with his followers; 135 horsemen, 144 spearmen, 72 archers and 36 axmen. Soon after crossing into North Anglia he was confronted by the army of Ealdorman Earwig. The English force consisted of 432 men. A third of them were his housecarls, well armored and armed with the dread Danish long axe. The rest were the Fyrd, reliable men but armed with shield, spear and long knife only. They were, for the most part, unarmored. The ground between the two armies was broken by rough hills and scattered copses of oak. A bad place to fight for both sides, but the leaders were determined to settle the business then and there. The Normans formed up in three bodies with roughly equal numbers of horse and foot in each. The English slid down off their ponies and sent them to the rear. They then formed in three contingents with the housecarls evenly divided between them.
Stalwart Saxon Fyrdmen deploy
Ralph directed the infantry of his left wing to occupy a rough hill in a defensive stance while the horsemen of this contingent advanced to support his center. The center of the Norman host moved straight forward against the English line opposite them. The Norman right was assigned the honor of striking the decisive blow. The infantry on this side was directed to take the hill that anchored the English left while the mounted men swept around the enemy flank to roll up their line.
The Norman center deploys
The Norman left holds

In the event the slow moving foot of the Saxon right swung around to align with the Norman foot defending the hill on that side of the field. They shrugged off the ineffectual Norman archery and assaulted the hill as ordered. The fighting here was indecisive and the issue was settled elsewhere. The mounted Normans in this part of the field were so poorly deployed they played no part in the battle. They spent their time edging away from the advancing English in an effort to not be caught among the trees and cut up by their dismounted foes.
Norman Milites on the left embarrass themselves
The centers of the two armies engaged in a protracted and indecisive contest with first one side and then the other gaining some small advantage which never developed into a breakthrough. The Norman right fared better. The infantry element of this wing was sent forward according to plan to assault the English foot holding  the hill anchoring this flank. The housecarls on the summit were in no mood to give ground, and sent the attackers reeling back.
Housecarls hold the hill anchoring the English left
 At the same time the mounted Normans moved quickly around the English left and attacked a smaller force of Fyrd  posted behind the hill to prevent just such a move. The Fyrdmen resisted bravely but, against the relentless assault of the mounted Norman elite there could be only one end. The Normans rode over the defenders and on toward the enemy camp. The English right broke and fled the field. Earwig, seeing the writing on the wall ordered the rest of his army to withdraw and live to fight another day.
Norman right wing horse descends on Saxon Fyrd
Mike and I played this game of Big DBA to test drive the new Conquest Games Norman figures I picked up at the Fall In convention. These two armies seem to be a pretty good matchup, although too much terrain on the table kind of muddied the waters. It is a bit of a mystery to me why the English gave up after Hastings. They had vast reserves of manpower to draw on while the Normans would find it difficult to reinforce across the channel.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Peticus, Dux Bellorum

The Warlord Ardo had broken the peace and crossed the border at the head of a Saxon horde. The King of Dumnonia directed his Dux Bellorum, Peticus to meet the invaders before too much damage was done. So it was that the two armies faced off among the wooded hills of the borderland. The Saxons were moving through the rough country carelessly when they found themselves confronted by the army of the Britons in battle array. Peticus had massed his horsemen on his left flank under his own command. His spearmen and archers would hold his center and right while the horse delivered the decisive blow.
                          The British gentry in arms
Ardo could see that his best chance of victory would be to strike the British center and right hard before the enemy horse had a chance to overwhelm his right.
The Saxons view the British center, bristling with spears
The Saxon right adopted a defensive posture, making what use they could of the terrain while their center and left rushed forward to break the British foot.
Peticus makes his final dispositions before the clash
 The combat began in the center. The Saxons threw themselves on the British shieldwall with wild abandon, and were sent reeling back with heavy losses. After this rough reception Saxon morale in the center was close to breaking. The Saxon left was rushing to engage their British opponents and their formation was somewhat broken up by the terrain and  the scramble. The first to engage was the Saxon leader and his bodyguard on that flank. To get at the British line he had to pass through a wooded copse, where he was engaged by a handful of British archers, who delayed his progress during this critical time.
The last ride of Peticus
Peticus had posted himself at the head of his bodyguard at the junction between his spearmen in the center and the massed horse on his left. He saw his target of opportunity, charged with his guards ahead of the rest of the horse, which was still deploying, and.......was dropped out of his saddle by a Saxon spear. His bodyguard dismounted, surrounded him and carried him from the field. The British army, dismayed at the loss of their leader withdrew from the field. The Saxons, for whom the battle had not been going well, were happy to let them withdraw unmolested.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Mask of Aksoum

It was in December of 1866 that I arrived in Zanzibar. I had been contacted by the correspondent of the Paris Charade magazine, Georgio Snufalufigos. He knew I would be passing  through that port on my journey back to Paris and he wished me to carry his account of a mysterious expedition he hoped to complete before I arrived.  On the appointed day and time I entered  the Cafe European to meet my friend. He wasn’t there but the barkeep directed me to a stranger sitting in a dark corner who had been upcountry with Georgio.  I approached and introduced myself to the stranger, explaining my agreement with Georgio. He shrugged and pushed a chair out with his foot by way of welcome. He was gaunt and hollow eyed and already drunk, while it was not yet 2 PM.  
Bentley Speedicut takes the field
The man’s name was Bentley Speedicut and he was one of those English gentlemen who inherited a great deal of money, allowing him the freedom to wander the dark places of the earth for the purpose of enhancing his status and reputation at home. This Speedicut had heard from the Arabs, tales of an ancient ruined city in the hills above Lake Tanganyika. He set about organizing a small expedition to the area, hoping to be the first European to explore the site, and perhaps pick up a few shiny objects for his trouble. Georgio heard of his plan and offered to chronicle his exploits and make him famous. The expedition, Speedicut, Georgio a few porters to carry trade goods to barter for food along the way and twenty tough looking young Ruga Ruga mercenaries, set off for the interior in the Spring.
The tribesmen of the interior practice dark magic

The native chief deploys his men

Georgio Snufalufigos chronicles adventure
Speedicut described how they found the site easily enough, using a map purchased from an Arab trader. They began exploring the site but found nothing of value among the ruins that looked to have been abandoned for a thousand years. The local natives were not taking the intrusion well. At first a few elders turned up at the site gesturing and complaining loudly in a language no one understood. Speedicut dismissed them roughly and the next morning they were replaced by warriors armed for battle with spears and shields. These were few in numbers and kept their distance, but they watched day by day as the exploration proceeded. After four days, an elaborate tomb was discovered a short distance from the main site. At this point the natives observing from a distance became agitated and sent one of their number away, presumably to raise the alarm. Undeterred, Speedicut and the Ruga Ruga forced the door of the tomb and emerged a short time later with a beautifully crafted and heavily jeweled mask. Dusk was coming on and the decision was made to return to camp for the night and leave for the coast the next morning.
The camp is surrounded before dawn
Just before dawn Speedicut was awakened by one of the Ruga Ruga standing guard. Armed tribesmen had surrounded the camp in the darkness. The word went around the camp to prepare to break through the ring to the South, the direction that would get them out of this tribes’ territory soonest. Placing the mask in his pouch, Speedicut gave the order to move out. The natives were ready and charged toward the camp from all sides. Half of the Ruga Ruga were engaged by the natives before they had a chance to clear the camp. They fought back fiercely but were all cut down. Speedicut led one group of the mercenaries down a path to the South, encountered a band of natives and dispersed them with a volley and a charge. Georgio was with another group of mercenaries not far behind. Speedicut’s path to the South was clear for the moment. He heard Georgio call out for help as the group of mercenaries he was with was swamped by native spearmen. More natives were rushing up the path toward the fight. Speedicut knew Georgio was as good as lost and made the snap decision to run to safety with his three surviving  Ruga Ruga while the tribesmen were busy mopping up Georgio and the others and looting the camp.
Speedicut fights through the ring of attackers
Snufalufigos is taken ....but does he live?
Speedicut and a few survivors head for the tall timber
I was horrified by the mans’ story and the coldness with which he told it. He noticed my reaction and a corner of his mouth turned up in what must have been a smile. “As good as dead, you see?” he said. “No point in joining them, eh? Still, sorry about your friend. Who will write the story of my discovery now, eh? Can’t very well write it myself. It just wouldn’t do.”
This was a game of Congo that Mike and I played recently. I was cast in the role of the amoral (or practical?) Speedicut, while Mike played the native chieftain whose name does not translate easily into English. Georgio was still alive and was being dragged away by the natives when Speedicut exited the scene. When we counted up the points to determine victory I got 10 for capturing the crown and 4 for destroying two groups of natives. That’s 14 total for you arithmetic fans. Mike got 6 points for wiping out three of my groups of brave and loyal Ruga Ruga, and another 8 for looting the camp. Also 14 points. Technically a tie, although Mike claims a culinary victory for capturing  Georgio, who he says was delicious. The Congo rules represent the early days of European exploration in the African interior. We do enjoy them. The rule concepts are simple enough but there are a lot of little ‘moving parts’ that the player has to bear in mind.

Another of Mike's creations