Sunday, February 5, 2017

Viking attack up Falloden hill using Hail Caesar

So I had an urge to do some Dark Age combat with my newly based Norsemen and their Anglo-Saxon adversaries. I've always been infatuated with the Viking invasion of the British isles and I have recently been doing a good bit of reading on the subject. This battle is set in Northumbria in the mid-800's, some time after the raid on Lindisfarne. To be honest, and with apologies to any British readers, I selected Falloden hill as a fictitious place name.....I have no earthly idea if there is any steep hill even remotely close by the village of Falloden in what was the kingdom of Northumbria.

Although I have selected the SAGA rules system for Dark Age skirmishes in the 28mm scale, I have been using Hail Caesar and, recently, Impetus for larger battles in 15mm. Hail Caesar won out for this particular fight.


Furious action on top of the ridge.


The Scenario

Elof the Toothless and his warbands had been raiding the Northumbrian countryside for several months when a random prisoner mentioned the presence of gold in the monastery of Falloden (before the prisoner's throat was unceremoniously cut amid the laughter of the Danes). Gathering his warriors and placing a command under his brother Gudmund the Boar, the Vikings headed off towards the monastery under the guidance of another local Saxon prisoner, who was more than willing to comply with any Danish requests.

Unknown to the Norsemen, a local baron named Osbeorht was alerted to the approach of the invaders and was resolved to meet them in battle. Fully aware of the tactical superiority of the fierce Danes, Osbeorht decided to gather his troops in a strong defensive position and repel the attackers. Falloden hill would be where the Northumbrians would make their stand.

If unfamiliar with the Hail Caesar rules, please check out my earlier review and summary from February 2016.

The scenario is a simple assault up the slope of a moderately steep hill. The two commands of Danish Vikings consisted of 7 standard infantry units of mixed Hird/Bondi, 2 small units of Bondi archers, and one unit of Thrall skirmishers. These warriors were arrayed in a battle line at the foot of Falloden hill.

The Anglo-Saxons, on the other hand, consisted of a slightly smaller force of two commands under the overall command of Osbeorht. The force consisted of 6 standard units of mixed Thegn/Ceorl infantry, 1 small unit of skirmishers with bows, and 1 unit of skirmishers with javelins. In addition, there was one small unit of Thegn medium cavalry. This force was lined up on the ridge of the hill, awaiting the advance of the Norsemen.

All unit statistics are published in the Late Antiquity To Early Medieval Army Lists for Hail Caesar. As for special rules, I did allow all heavy/medium infantry on both sides to form Shieldwall (Close Order rule in Hail Caesar). I also added the Tough Fighters rule for the Viking Hird infantry. In addition, to give the Dane invaders some tactical edge, I added the Marauder rule for their 2 units of Bondi archers. As for the Northumbrian defenders, the position uphill of the attackers would give a bonus to their hit chances. The command base of Osbeorht would give a reroll capability to the Saxons as well (the Danes did not have a separate overall commander, so therefore would not receive a reroll capability).


The lines of battle are drawn. The Vikings are at the foot of the hill on the left of the picture.


A view from the other side of the field, with the Saxons on the left of the picture.


Elof the Toothless rallies his Vikings for the assault.

The Game

On the first turn, with the Vikings moving first, the command under Gudmond the Boar facing the Saxon left moved rapidly up the slope, with the Bondi archers causing some damage immediately. The Saxons on this flank (with the exception of the disordered unit due to the withering fire from the Viking bowmen) did succeed in forming Shieldwall. On the Saxon right, Elof's Thrall skirmishers succeeded in blundering and blocking the rest of the Danish infantry, resulting in a short movement up the hill.

During the following turn, both Viking commands advanced towards the Saxon shieldwalls, trading missile fire with their adversaries. Both battle lines were preparing to clash.

Gudmond's Danes made first contact on the Saxon left and a furious fight occurred as the Saxon shieldwall held and subsequently repelled the first Viking warriors (although the Saxon unit took a major beating and was shaken).  Elof's Danes inched closer up the ridge as the silent Saxon shieldwall awaited the charge.


Elof's troops in the foreground ready themselves for the final charge. Gudmond's warriors at the top of the picture close onto the Saxon shieldwall.


The Vikings of Elof's command (which made up the primary assault force) then launched themselves against the Saxon shieldwall. Using rear units as supporting units, the Danish warriors attempted to overwhelm the Saxons. The fighting at the top of the ridge was vicious and prolonged. On the Saxon left, Gudmond rebounded from the loss of his lead unit of warriors and personally led one of the rear units to rout the shieldwall (which was already shaken) at the top of the ridge. A hole in the Saxon line was formed.


Elof's warriors attempt to overrun the Saxon shieldwall at the top of the ridge.


Gudmond the Boar leads his warriors against the shaken Saxon shieldwall and ends up throwing it off of the ridge.


As the fighting on the Saxon right was typical back-and-forth fighting, the hole in the Saxon left was made worse when another Saxon unit in the center was routed off by a desparate Viking charge. Gudmond then moved to flank the extreme left of the Saxon line. This was a critical point in the battle. The Saxon commander, Osbeorht,  attached himself to the Thegn cavalry and attempted to lead it to the left flank. An ugly command roll reared its head and the cavalry barely inched its way to the threatened sector. As Gudmond charged the flank with his warriors, the shieldwall............stood ! The Saxon infantry was disordered but it stood (awesome dice rolls) unbelievably. The Thegn cavalry finally made it to the combat and the subsequent fight tipped the tide against the Vikings charging uphill. Gudmond's Danes routed, which caused his entire command to become broken, forcing any remaining units to retreat. The Saxon left held!


The fighting on the Saxon right flank was brutal.


Saxon archers defend the extreme right flank as the Viking Thralls fall back.


On the Saxon right flank, the Vikings were pushing the Northumbrians back. The fighting was tough and alternated between the Saxon shieldwall holding their position and the Vikings pushing ahead stubbornly. The numbers were beginning to tell and the Saxon infantry was bleeding. And finally, with one last Viking charge, led by Elof himself, the Saxons broke and routed.


With one last Viking push, the Saxon shieldwall on the right routed away

At this point, even with the Saxon left stabilized, the Vikings so outnumbered their foes in heavy infantry that the decision was made to end the game. Although the game was in question up until the last turn, the Vikings finally pulled out a victory. The Saxon troops while in Shieldwall and on a higher elevation certainly proved to be worthy adversaries and the Norsemen infantry struggled to take the ridge.

I felt, with the special rules added, that Hail Caesar proved to be an outstanding set of rules for a fast-paced, yet historically feasible, simulation of Dark Age warfare. It was a very balanced scenario that proved to be a lot of fun.

Looks like the monastery in Falloden was about to be looted !






Sunday, January 29, 2017

Napoleonic Spanish Troops

The Spanish troops throughout the Napoleonic Wars had a reputation of incompetence and cowardice with only a few successes versus the French. But in reality, although the Spanish leadership was often incredibly poor, Spanish soldiers fought as hard for their country as any other nationality. Spanish infantry, when led well, proved to be very courageous, while the artillery was particularly stubborn in holding a position. The Spanish cavalry proved pretty poor most of the time though.

The fact that the Spanish hung in there and continued to fight the French on the field, while waging a guerilla war at the same time proved to be a major factor in the ultimate defeat of Napoleon.

The Spanish often fought with their British allies as well as independently against the French. Although most of the time the French were victorious over the Spaniards, there were some bright moments. The Spanish victory at Bailen cannot be understated, while the Spanish troops that died where they stood on the ridge at Albuera allowed the British to counterattack and push the French from the field.


Spanish Dragoons


Spanish Heavy Cavalry


Spanish Light Cavalry


Spanish Artillery


Spanish 1st Brigade


Spanish 2nd Brigade


Spanish 3rd Brigade


Spanish 4th Brigade


Spanish 5th Brigade


Spanish Skirmishers


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Dark Age Anglo-Saxons

The Anglo-Saxons, after the raid on Lindisfarne in 793, were literally pushed all the way across England by the Viking hordes. But, Alfred the Great and his Kingdom of Wessex stiffened and fought valiantly against the Norsemen.

I based these second-hand figures for Impetus. They portray the Anglo-Saxons in the early years of the Viking invasion, from 793 until about 900 A.D. Sometimes, you just need some figures to bash around on the table, paint jobs be damned.


1st Anglo-Saxon command


2nd Anglo-Saxon command


3rd Anglo-Saxon command


Dark Age Vikings

I've always been obsessed with the Scandinavian raiders attacking Anglo-Saxon England, Scotland, and Ireland. From the first major attack on Lindisfarne monastery in 793, the Anglo-Saxons lost most of their kingdoms until Alfred the Great and the Anglo-Saxons of Wessex turned the tide.

Here are some second-hand Vikings that I picked up that I based for Impetus. The paint job isn't great but they will certainly do for some action-packed pick-up games.


1st Viking command

2nd Viking command

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Review and Summary of Impetus

I am admittedly a novice when it comes to Ancient and Medieval wargaming. An obsessive Napoleonic gamer for many years, I have only recently (about a year) crept into this black hole of the gaming world. Starting off with the Hail Caesar rules and being happy with them as an introductory set, I have tried a couple of other rules here and there. Impetus is the latest rules system that I have gravitated to.......and I have found myself playing it almost exclusively now.




Impetus originated in Italy and is published by Dadi and Piombo.   I started, as most gamers have done, by downloading the free rules Basic Impetus and trying them out before jumping into the more complex and comprehensive Impetus rules.  It wasn't long before I purchased the full rules and the Extra Impetus issues filled with army lists (all pdf downloads). Although Basic Impetus is a nice game for quick and dirty battles with a minimum of figures, Impetus contains rules for command and control, discipline tests, and army lists for much larger armies. As a plug, Basic Impetus 2 was just released and is highly recommended for anyone interested in the rules. As for this review, it will be focused on the full Impetus rules.


An Extra Impetus publication featuring a myriad of army lists for specific periods


Scale

Each unit represents hundreds of men. Specifically heavy infantry is made up of 600-1200 troops, light Infantry and most cavalry units are made up of 400-800 men, while skirmishers / light cavalry units symbolize 200-300 men. Basing for all figure scales are included in the rules. Since I have units at 15mm scale, each unit has a frontage of 8 cm and adjustable depth based on the type of unit.  As an example, an Anglo-Saxon unit of fyrd (heavy infantry) consists of 12 figures on 2 bases equaling 8cm of frontage and 2.5 cm of depth.


A typical unit of infantry


Units have point values and Impetus armies typically consist of 100, 300, or 500 points (for competition purposes -- I am primarily a scenario gamer).

Ground scale is based on a standard distance called "U," which equals 6-7 meters in real-life distance. For example, "U" for 25mm equals 2 cm on the table, while "U" equals 1 cm for 15mm scale figures.

Each turn simulates approximately 15-20 minutes of time.

Unit ratings

A unit is classified by type (for example heavy infantry, missile troops, light cavalry) and contains several statistics:  movement allowance, VBU (Basic Unit Value) which is a composite rating of typical unit strength and combat/fire capability, and an Impetus rating (dice added to the VBU when charging). Discipline Rating and Demoralization Value (VD -- units that have routed compare their VD to the army total VD to determine victory or defeat) are also present.


For example, the heavy infantry unit above may have the following statistics:

Move = 5U, VBU= 4, Impetus=4, Discipline=C, VD=3, Point value=12, Impetuous


In another example, the Light cavalry unit above has the following statistics:

Move=12U, VBU=3, Impetus=1, Discipline=B, VD=3, Point value=21, Short bow B


Turn Sequence

1. The first step is to decide Initiative, which is very different than most rules. An Impetus army consists of 1-4 commands consisting of multiple units each. To decide Initiative, each player designates one of their commands, adds any leadership bonus, and rolls 2d6. The command with the higher score moves.

2. The command with the initiative activates one unit at a time, either rallying off disorder, placed on opportunity (unit can react to the enemy), moved, fired, or charged into melee.

3. After all units complete their actions, the opposing commanders designate 2 more commands and roll for initiative again.

4. When all commands have been activated (on both sides), the turn is over and the next turn begins.


Command and Control

One of the biggest differences between Basic Impetus and Impetus, command and control is one of the primary aspects of the full rules system. Each army list contains a Command Structure (CS) rating of good, average, or poor. This command structure has a specific range in "U," which is the range that dictates a commander's bonus for rallying from disorder or a negative modifier (if outside this range) for discipline tests.

Each commander has a rating from Charismatic to Cowardly that also dictates how many rallying attempts can be conducted as well as the dice bonus for Initiative rolls.


Moving and Discipline Tests

Moving units, as opposed to rules like Hail Caesar, is pretty restricted. An oblique move or movement to the rear will result in disorder unless the troops are considered light. Multiple moves require a passed discipline test or disorder results. Broken or Difficult ground severely restricts movement as well.

The bottom line is that lighter infantry or cavalry are more flexible in movement, while more disciplined troops and a higher command structure are easier to move around the battlefield. This sounds pretty realistic to me. There is an additional rating for typically barbarian troops, called "Impetuous." Impetuous troops must advance within 30U of the enemy.....imagine hundreds of hairy Germans just itching to charge into those implacable Roman legionaries.

Disorder must be avoided as much as possible. Disorder affects movement, firing, combat-- pretty much everything in the game.

Although "free and easy" movement in other rules systems are fun and quicker to play, I have to say that the restrictive movement in Impetus adds flavor and a strategic subtlety to the game, but is not so complex that it is overwhelming.  As an admirer of realism in miniatures rules, I prefer this approach.


Impetus is especially popular as a tournament game


Opportunity

Placing a unit on opportunity allows the unit to react to the enemy in future phases. The unit on opportunity may fire, opportunity charge, or countercharge. Units within 5"U" of an enemy unit may also react without being placed on opportunity. This is a great way for the non-activated side to remain engaged and turn the game away from a strictly IGO-UGO system.

I need to spend a bit more time with the opportunity rules -- I find that this is one of the more complex concepts within the system.

Firing

Firing also makes up a major part of the system. Typically, lighter troops or skirmishers conduct firing (with the exception of a few heavy infantry units, most notably the Roman pila). Firing can cause disorder or actual casualties.

Firing is range and weapon dependent. Bonus dice are added to the VBU and rolled for hits. As in combat, 6's and double 5's result in hits. The number of hits are then rolled against the critical number (VBU rating plus or minus other modifiers) to determine actual casualties.

Firing can be damaging but is typically not as decisive as combat.

Charging and Combat

Units that charge receive a charge distance bonus (1d6 for cavalry, 1d6/2 for infantry). Only units with an Impetus rating of at least 1 may charge (most skirmishers for example have a rating of 0 and therefore cannot charge).

Charged units may attempt to countercharge or, if skirmishers or light cavalry, may evade. Charging units add their VBU and their Impetus rating to determine the number of combat dice to throw. Again, like firing, 6's and double 5's equal hits, and actual casualties are determined in the same way of rolling hits against the modified VBU.

A defeated unit must retreat (rolled dice) a certain distance. If the defeated unit's VBU reaches 0, then it is considered routed and removed from the battlefield.

Period-flavor rules

To add to the realism of the system, there are several special rules for specific armies. For example, the Roman practice of throwing pila either before charging or receiving a charge is covered. Another example is the Shieldwall rule for the Dark Ages. A unit forming a shield wall is restricted in its movement, but if receiving a charge cancels out the Impetus rating dice of the enemy.

Other rules like forming large units, scythed chariots, long spears, and pikes are contained in the rules. This adds considerable period flavor to the system.


Final thoughts

After only about a half-dozen games, I have found Impetus to be a very smooth playing game, but one loaded with subtlety and tactical challenge. After searching through various forum entries and other reviews, the prevailing wisdom is that it takes about 50 games to fully appreciate the "elegance" of the system. I don't know about that, but I can tell you that the more I play it, the more I'm hooked on it.

As for the jewels of the system, I think the command and control and discipline rules are the strengths of Impetus. VBU and the Impetus ratings truly demonstrate differences between different types of troops in an easy to understand format.

I have seen criticism of the system's portrayal of missile fire, which on the surface seems extremely detailed, versus that of combat, which seems simplified. I typically don't have an issue with this, as there is a great variety of missile weapons and artillery that were very range-dependent. When it comes to close combat, a sword kills as easily as a spear. I'm ok with this.

The addition of special rules (detailed above) provide the necessary historic flavor to a period that spans such a great period of years.

Although Hail Caesar, for example, looks great on the table, Impetus requires a smaller number of figures to field an army. It is therefore less expensive to field full armies for any game.

So, in summary, I feel that Impetus is a challenging, yet not overly complex, game that should satisfy any serious gamer. It firmly resides in the spectrum between DBA and rules like Hail Caesar. I'm hooked.....and I'm looking forward to posting more AAR's for Impetus games in the future.



Sunday, January 15, 2017

Napoleonic Portuguese Troops

Portugal was an important economic and military ally of Great Britain before and during the Napoleonic Wars. Militarily, the Portuguese combined with British forces right after the French occupation of Lisbon in 1808.  Suffering from poor morale and training in the early years, British officers (most notably Marshal Beresford) whipped the Portuguese into very solid troops over the years. The Portuguese almost always fought alongside their British allies during the Peninsular War and, by the end of the conflict, were regarded very highly by friend and foe alike.


Portuguese Dragoon brigade


Portuguese Artillery


1st Portuguese Infantry Brigade


2nd Portuguese Infantry Brigade


Portuguese formed Cacadores and skirmishers



Sunday, January 1, 2017

Napoleonic British Troops

The British during the Napoleonic Wars were the Emperor's most consistent opponent, either through the funding of the continental powers or by the power of the Royal Navy, if not always in land combat.

During the Peninsular War, the British under Arthur Wellesley landed in Portugal in 1808 and never left the continent until the Emperor Napoleon's eventual abdication in 1814. During the Hundred Days campaign of 1815, British troops fought alongside Prussians, Brunswickers, Nassauers, Hanoverians, Dutch and Belgians in order to defeat the French at Waterloo.

Either in Spain or in Belgium, British armies were small yet very professional. The British almost always had to be supported by allies in order to counter the larger French armies. But in the end, the British infantry and cavalry had earned the reputation of being among the most effective troops in the Napoleonic wars.


British Artillery


British Hussars


British Light Dragoons


British Dragoons


British 1st Infantry Brigade


British 2nd Infantry Brigade


British 3rd Infantry Brigade



British 4th Infantry Brigade


British 5th Infantry Brigade



British 6th Infantry Brigade



British Light Infantry Skirmishers and Riflemen



British leaders