Saturday, 3 August 2019

Warband Historical Playtest: England vs Scotland

A few years ago I wrote and published a modest little fantasy wargame called Warband.    Since then I've been steadily developing other games that will hopefully one day get out into the wild, including what I'm currently calling "Warband Historical" (a better title will be sought!  I'm currently considering "Comitatus")  Anyway, its taken a lot of work so far, including design, playtesting, redesign, playtest, redesign, etc.

Last week we played a game between Alexander the Great and King Porus.

This week we decided to go with a high Medieval battle between the Kingdoms of England and Scotland, with two standard sized Warband armies, at 500pts apiece.  

The English were created from the list "Britain, English [1182-1337AD]", and consisted of:

Richard I (in command)
5 units of heavy knights (one with a sub-commander)
3 units of longbowmen
1 unit of archers
2 units of spearmen

The Scottish were created from the list "Britain, Scottish Medieval [1125-1513AD]", and consisted of:

William the Lion in schiltron (in command)
4 units of schiltron spears
2 units of archers
2 units of spearmen
2 units of knights (one with a sub-commander)
1 unit of light archers

(We forgot to bring baggage elements!)

We generated the terrain and on the western flank there was a small hill and a couple of areas of waterlogged ground; otherwise the eastern flank was a large open area of good ground.  Perfect for the heavy troops of both armies!

Then we generated the season and weather to find the battle being fought in spring, near a town somewhere in the northern marches.  As typical for this part of the world, it was raining and had been for a while and so another area of marshy ground terrain was randomly placed.  As it turned out it fell on the western flank too!

The two armies arrayed and ready for battle.
The mighty Scots schiltron; deep formations of spearmen.

The rest of the Scots line, formed up among the rough terrain,
Richard I himself, at the western end of the English line.  
The battle opened with the English longbowmen advancing into range of the Scots amid the sodden ground the west.  The Scottish light archers came out to cover the advancing schiltron formations.  And advance they did!  With the Scottish general among them, the heavy speanmen made sirprisingly good progress, moving to dominate the centre of the eastern battle.

In what would become a familiar action, the longbowmen shot the Scottish skirmishers to bits, routing them and forcing them to flee.

The schiltron
The Scottish schiltron was a dense array of heavy spearmen armed with a mix of long spears, pikes, and polearms.  They typically deployed in linear formations but could also take to the field in circular fashion.  they were particularly effective at defeating enemy mounted troops.

These heavy Scottish troops advanced into the English knights arrayed before them.  The knights, seeing the clattering spears, immediately turned and marched west, to try to avoid battle here.  In a typical display of feudal squabbling however, the move was uncoordinated and many of the straggling knights were caught in the open.

As the schiltrons closed into melee range, their formation broke up and the general's command capacity began to break down.  Although they did good work among the English knights, the schiltrons' inherent lack of mobility saw them struggle to manoeuver under their unit leader's commands.

The rest of the Scottish line stepped forwards to attamept to pin the English western line; but frankly all they did was make themselves targets for the lethal English longbows!

And the English longbows made hay among the Scots for sure.  Thelongbows and spearmen turned east to protect the retreat of their knights, and also to pour devastating volleys into the schiltrons.  

The schiltron formation breaks down and loses mobility,
although it massacres the English knights who couldn't get away.
Meanwhile the English archers and longbows begin to dominate the centre ground,
routing the Scottish pikes.

The knights beaten, the Scottish general now struggled to restore order or
get his schiltrons to move at all!  The Scottish advance grinds to a halt...
 The English knights that escaped had reorganised, linked up with their infantry, and now turned back to charge the schiltrons while they were in disarray.  This was still no small task as the Scottish pikes were a formidable opponent, but at least now the more mobile knights could pick their targets.

The tide of the battle starts to turn, as the English forces now smash into the schiltrons.  Knights and speamen mix it up in melee as the archers scatter and rout half the Scottish pikes.

The tide is turning...

..and the English take the centre ground.

But both armies have taken heavy losses in the bitter fighting and both are close to morale collapse.  Its still all to play for at this stage.  The surviving schiltrons, including the Scottish general, prove more than a match for the English, and start to get the upper hand, breaking the English spearmen and tearing the knights to shreds.

Richard I orders his longbowmen forwards into the western end of the Scottish lines, where for most of the day they'd hidden behind a hill to avoid the devastating English archery.

Both sides are now looking for those final few casualties that would break the opposing army and secure the win.

The English archery starts to tell and the Scots fall back in disarray.

Richard himself leads the charge, spurring on his archers, and as the two lines close, losses mount and in the same turn both armies break!

The result couldn't be closer and we tally the losses to see which side has scored the Pyrrhic victory...

And by about 25 points, the Scots drag out a bitter, attritional win!

All round it was an excellent battle with the fortunes of war swinging back and forth throughout the game.  The Scottish had the better of the early game with the schiltron winning the eastern flank.  The English recovered well and mounted a solid counter attack as the schiltron lost control and all but stopped moving.  And in the final phase, it was a stand-up, knock-down brawl with both sides giving no quarter.  It really could have gone both ways and it was all down to the losses inflicted in the final count.

Rules review I was pleased the way the various units interacted.  The schiltron clearly beat the knights, but the English longbowmen caused havoc among the schiltron in return, especially with King Richard personally taking command of them and inspriing their archery.

Both armies had their commanders on one flank (the opposite to each other as it happens), and both sides found this a significant difficulty as they couldn't spread their command points where they were needed effectively.  Sub-commanders were in play which helped a little.

Its fair to say that during the excitement and heat of battle, we all forgot and missed a variety of conditional modifiers and combat factors; the main effect of which was to extend the length of the game by about 3-4 turns.  Both armies would probably have broken earlier.

Next week - Mongol Golden Horde vs the Seljuk Turks.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Warband Historical Playtest: Alexander vs Porus

A few years ago I wrote and published a modest little fantasy wargame called Warband.    Since then I've been steadily developing other games that will hopefully one day get out into the wild, including what I'm currently calling "Warband Historical" (a better title will be sought!  I'm currently considering "Comitatus")  Anyway, its taken a lot of work so far, including design, playtesting, redesign, playtest, redesign, etc.

This week, after we struggled through a game of Impetus last week, using Alexander's Macedonians and Porus' Indians, my friend persuaded me to throw down Warband Historical to refight that battle.  I don't like to push my pet projects on my long-standing gaming "buddies" so I took a bit of persuading; but as it happens, we ran with it.  Here's the result.

Because the chaps at the table were only vaguely familiar (if that) with the way the game works, we stuck to the basics and didn't bother with the terrain placement and weather rules.  The armies deployed in sequence and I found it interesting that both sides followed closely the typical historical deployments of their respective armies.  The Alexandrian players in particular arrayed their force in almost textbook formation that Alexander himself would be proud of!

Alexander deployed behind his solid core of heavy pikemen.  His left flank was held by a mix of subject troops like elephants and Persian archers.

The phalanx

On his right flank, the skilled Companion cavalry stood ready to attack, their right protected by the Podromoi fast moving lancers.

Porus, the Indian king, resplendant upon his painted elephant took position in the centre of his battle line amid a mix of elephants and archers.  His elite infantry, skilled swordsmen and the fearsome, if somewhat bonkers gada-wielders flanked by some skirmishing light archers faced the weaker Alexandrian flank.

King Porus...possibly.  Isn't he splendid!?

The gada in all its glory!

On Porus' left flank he positioned his cavalry to try to blunt the Companions positioned across the field.

The opening battle array.

We've mocked up a few bases using our 15mm historical miniatures.  They'll do for the playtesting at least.  Basing is still in flux for the rules, and is likely to be along the lines of "whatever size you like as long as they're 2 wide and 1 deep".  We're going with 10x5cm because Warband is intended to use this size and it looks rather good with full units.

Anyway, the opening moves of the battle saw the Indians push their whole line forwards.  Porus successfully issued a whole army order and managed to get his archers into range, while maintaining his overall cohesion.  Units normally have to "motivate" (roll dice) to be able to move; the better the roll, the more they can do.  However, under certain conditions, the army commander can override this and take control of a number of units at the same time.  Its a risk, as you could have a large part of the army not moving, but if it works its a great way to make a coordinated action.

Alexander responded by opening his attack with his cavalry.  His plan was likely to try to break the Indian cavalry and open the Indian flank.

Porus managed to generate poor "Command Points" throughout the game, whereas Alexander did rather better (he is an "exceptional" commander after all!)  Command Points are a crucial part of the game, allowing you as player to add dice into any of the various movement, attack, and protection dice rolls that occur during the game; but also to perform other interventions such as rallying routed troops, improving your initiative, and so on.

Porus' archers were now in range, and they did their best to pepper the macedonian phalanx with arrows.  

The dense hedge of raised pikes, phalanx armour and overall battle experience of the Macedonians shrugged off this archery with little effect, much to the chagrin of the Indians.  Porus' Command Points were poor and so he couldn't provide enough command inspriation to increase the effect of his shooting.

As the centre hits stalemate, we have the first decisive action of the game on the cavalry flank.  Confident of their own superiority, the Companions charge into the Indian cavalry, but despite some success on the part of the Companions, the Indian numbers were too much.  

Companion cavalry

With the Podromoi unhelpfully failing their motivations and therefore unable to help (Alexander was too far away to use his Command Points to inspire the Podromoi to action), the Companions broke and routed.  The Indian cavalry were now in a position to flank the phalanx!

It's going well...and then it all goes wrong!

The phalanx advanced through the hail of Indian archery, and approached the mixed line full of confidence and with only minimal casualties.

At the crucial moment, despite Alexander himself frantically trying to inspire them (spending multiple Command Points to add extra motivation dice) the phalanx faltered and went in piecemeal!

Some units have special abilities that increase their chances of being able to move into the attack when up close, but the phalanx doesn't, and despite a good chance of being able to attack, some terrible dice rolls saw half the pikemen standing off as the charge went in!  As it happens it was the units facing the Indian elephants who managed to attack.

That said, phalanx attacking to the front are near unstoppable, particularly as these pikemen are "fierce" and were able to make direct charges.  This piled on the conditional combat bonuses and meant that their attacks on the charge were devastating!

In the swift but brutal melee, King Porus broke and routed, as did much of his army.

The battle was not over however, and the Alexandrians had suffered losses too.  At this stage, matters were still in the balance.

Add caption
 The Indian cavalry turned on the flank of the phalanx and managed to destroy one unit, but the sheer pressure of the Macedonian pikes up front did their terrible work.  In the final turn, the Indians could still pull out a draw, if they could break a couple more units.  

But with Porus off the field, and therefore having no command inspiration, they couldn't quite defeat enough to get the draw and the pikes mopped them up for a well deserved win!

Run Nelly run!
 The game finished in two hours and the chaps agreed that the game was easy to pick up.  With a couple of turns everyone knew what they were doing, and were "fighting the battle, not the rules".

My interest was in observing how the rules hung together and I was please to see that everything pretty much worked as intended, giving a smooth, intuitive game that didn't tax the player's brains; except of course to figure out what they were going to do to try to win the game.

Overall, I'm happy with where things are at the moment.  Now to stress test the hundreds of army lists!

Friday, 26 April 2019

Chain of Command - Germans vs Russians

Operation Barbarossa, August 1941, somewhere in Russia...

Narrative in white
Game talk in yellow

The might of the German Wermacht is rolling across the Russian steppe in a vast unstoppable blitzkrieg, and our attention turns to a small village somewhere in northern Ukraine.

The edge of the village...

The Germans had paused outside the town and for 6 hours their artillery had reduced the place to ruins.  The people had fled east, but the Red Army was still in their boltholes, ready to fight once the Germans came in.

And come in they did.  

The Russian jump off points (in Red) have been pushed into the village by some excellent German patrol work.
The Germans will be arriving along the blue arrow lines of advance.

Below you'll find the forces we were using.  We had four players, two per side, and I was playing on the Russian side.

We were playing Scenario 3: Attack & Defend, with the Russians on the defence.  In that scenario, the defenders set up their patrols first and the attackers (in this case the Germans) second.  The attackers then get 1d6 free patrol moves, and the Germans rolled '6', so from the off, they were able to get their patrol forward and confine the Russians to the town.  This wasn't too bad as we'd intended to use the buildings as defensive fortifications anyway, but we did set our patrols to try to give us options to counter German flanking moves.  Turns out we were patrolled into the town.  However, our initial positions meant that the Germans were forced to deploy at least one of their three Jumping Off Points on their base edge.

The first actions was on the south flank, as an Infantry section took up position in the woods.  Its MG34 team set up in the building, ready to surpise Ivan if he tried to put up a fight.

The arrow helps denote the facing of the unit where its not clear...

Spotting the Germans, the comrades took up position in the ruins, and immediately called down mortar fire on the Fascists.

Comrades!  the Fascists are here!  Open fire!!

The dear leader takes up a central commanding position.

Mortar fire will do some damage throughout the game.
The opening few phases of the game was an infantry exchange on the southern flank, with the Germans putting a unit on the table to try to push in towards the village.  We countered by deploying an infantry section into one of the buildings, supported by a mortar team.  The Germans had an artillery barrage in place which should have made it difficult for us to do this, but they rolled a "Turn End" result in their first phase so this barrage finished immediately!  the initial exchanges saw a few losses on both sides, but nothing serious or decisive.

It was a ruse!  With the Russians revealing their position, a StuG rumbled up and put a shell into the building.  

Cue ominous squeaky rumbling...

It shattered and began to collapse in flames!   The survivors tumbled out and sprinted forwards in blind panic to seek cover behind a stone wall.

This isn't going to end well...

This was the first big turning point of the game.  With its first shot, the StuG scored 3 sixes on its High Explosive attack (5 dice) which meant the building it hit became unstable!  It would collapse if a Turn End result happened.  We had to decamp the infantry out of there before that happened and had a choice to make; fall back into another building or storm forwards to the wall for cover.  I didn't want to block the deployment area around that Jump Off Point so I decided to head forwards.  I actually intended to try and iverrun one of the German Jump Off Points in the woodland there.  It turned out to be a bad move as the Germans countered the move effectively.

The Germans jumped forwards, and set up enfilade into the hapless Russians who were steadily cut to pieces by the vicious MG34 ("Hitler's Buzzsaw").

Told you...

Chopped to bits, pinned, and then broken, the Russians flee but are cut down to a man before they reach safety.

The Reds respond to the StuG by calling up their T26 armoured support.  The tank traded many shots with the StuG before finally the superior German armour's shells tore through the T26 and forced it to withdraw.

With the StuG on the board, we had to bring out our T26.  Its an uneven match-up as the StuG is overall better.  I think we used the T28 badly in going toe-to-toe, but to a cetain extent this was forced on us by the activation rolls we were getting.  Anyway, for most of the battle these two vehicles duelled with each other getting hits that forced them to respond to each other.  As the game was coming to a conclusion, the StuG finally got the decisive hit, damaging the T28 and forcing it to flee the field.

Meanwhile on the northern flank, the Germans brought a second section forwards through the woods, and the Russians countered again; they swarmed up into the outer ruins and give some serious fire into the Germans, stopping their advance.

They're on a mission...

The Russians get the best of the early exchange.
A German light howitzer rolled out of the southern wood and with a single shot, flattened the building!  

The Russians within were killed by the blast, the collapsing building, and as they staggered out shell-shocked and covered in brick dust, they were mown down by German machinegun fire.  The pattern on the southern flank was repeated on the north.

History repeated itself!  This time the German field howitzer rolled 4 sixes on its first shot!  The building collapsed immediately, killing several of the Russian troops within and, here's the killer thing, the Germans get to choose where the Russians exit the building!  Obviously they chose to have the Russians flee out the front into the open before the German firing line.  Devastating.  I think its unlikely to have one building suffer this effect during a game, but two was amazing!  These two single shots caused a lot of damage to the Russian "Force Morale".

As for building collapse rules, we we're sure what happened after that, so we assumed the buildings became piles of rubble.  We decided that these terrain areas were now impassable.  Asking on the forums afterwards, it seems you can reoccupy the ruins but the rules don't mention how.  The best idea I saw was that you can reoccupy the new collapsed rubble area at after a Turn End.  Makes sense!

Red Army morale was collapsing and the Germans were pushing hard; but they didn't have the field yet.

A second line of Russians jumped in and cut the southern German flank to pieces, including killing their platoon commander!  As that shocking news spread through the German lines, their morale became shakey!

The German southern flank is wiped out!
With the game slipping away from us, we brough more troops on and tried to concentrate fire onto German positions that were shaky.  We were looking for wipeouts that would hit the German "Force Morale" too.  If we could get them to below three pionts, the game would be drawn even if we were tactically beaten.  Killing off the troops and leader on the southern flank seemed the baest way to do this, and turn out that it was.

But they'd done enough and as they finished off the Russians ahead of them, the Red Army withdrew to find better ground to defend.

Phew!  An excellent battle, with a surprisingly close finish.  Two more points off the Germans and it would have forced a draw.

Russian morale collapses!
They started on 11
But it was a close run thing.
The Germans weren't far off breaking
They started on 10

The turning points in the battle were the German high explosive shells that amazingly flattened both the buildings they hit!  The chances of this happening are slim but sometimes the dice are with you.  With the Russian front line destroyed by those collapses it opened the battle for a German victory.  

We're loving Chain of Command at the moment and this will become a regular event on our table, for a while at least.

Our forces were constructed from the Operation Barbarossa supplement lists.

Force Rating: Regular +3 (5 Command dice)

Senior Leader (pistol) – Initiative 3
Senior Leader (SMG) – Initiative 3
50mm Mortar (3 crew with rifles) HE only (no smoke)

Squads 1 to 4
Junior Leader with SMG
Team 1: MG34 LMG (3 Crew)
Team 2: 6 Riflemen

Supports (11pts)
StuG III (D) with Junior leader (4pts)  
leIG18 (5 crew with rifles) with Junior Leader (4pts)
Adjutant (1pt)
Pre-game Barrage (2pts) (as it happens these were wasted points as the German's first activation roll ended the turn!)

Force Rating: Regular +4 (5 Command dice)

Senior Leader (pistol) – Initiative 3
Senior Leader (inferior, rifle) – Initiative 2
50mm Mortar (4 crew with rifles) HE only (no smoke)

Squads 1 to 4 (no Teams)
Junior Leader with rifle
DP28 LMG (2 Crew) – magazine LMG
9 Riflemen
1 Rifle grenadier (rifle & rifle grenades)

Supports (5pts)
T26 45mm gun with Junior Leader (4pts)
Minefield (1pt)  (this was the squard "field" by the wall and didn't really affect play)