Thursday, September 21, 2017

Edington, May 878 A.D. (Part two - The Game)

A Hail Caesar game set in the Dark Ages.


Saxons charge the heights


A battle between Saxon and Viking shield walls was documented as a brutally prolonged fight which could take an exceedingly long time for one side to give way. Meanwhile, men were gouged and maimed between the opposing shields in a bloody manner. In short, there was nothing very subtle or quick about shield wall combat. Two sides literally pounded, pushed, and butted up against each other until one side blinked. Our game was no different. With a couple of house rules added, Hail Caesar proved to be an excellent rules set for simulating Dark Ages combat.

The scenario, special rules, and orders of battle were detailed in part one of this post. You can find it here at:  http://madmacsattic.blogspot.com/2017/09/edington-may-878-ad-part-one-scenario.html

Deployment was relatively simple. The Vikings under Guthrum positioned themselves upon the heights with a wooded area anchoring the Danish left and the steepest part of the heights protecting the right flank (from mounted cavalry at least). The Saxons lined up directly opposite the Danish positions. 

View of the entire battlefield, Danes at the top


Opposing troops line up against each other

Alfred's general battle plan was to advance and attack both flanks and deliver the coup de grace with the center division. Guthrum's goal was to simply repulse the Saxons at every point and then pursue down the hill and beyond. On turn 1, the Saxons slowly advanced across the entire line. The only action saw the Saxon bowmen came under long range fire from Danish skirmishers hiding in the woods; the fire was ineffective at this long range. 

As the Saxons continued to advance, the front line of the Vikings all formed shield wall. Skirmishers on both flanks traded bow fire with little effect. 

On turn three, the front line units in the Saxon left and center divisions form shield walls, while the Saxon right blunders forward in confusion. Danish bowmen on both flanks begin to hit their mark as the Saxon skirmishers begin to take casualties. Turn four sees the Saxons beginning to advance up the heights while javelins fly. Casualties across the line are beginning to appear. One Saxon unit in the center is forced to retire from the missile casualties.


The Saxon center and left closes against the Danish shield walls, while the Saxon right lags just a bit


Another view of the closing of the ranks


An exchange of javelins causes a center unit of Saxons to retire


Turn 5 really saw the action as the Saxons from Hampshire under Dunstan charged up the hill and, as the shield walls clashed, both of the front line Danish units broke immediately and began running for the cover of the fort to the rear. This movement disordered and pushed back the supporting units in this sector. The entire left flank of Oscatel's Danes was in serious trouble from the start. 


The Danish left flank is beginning to crumble in the face of the large Saxon shield walls


The Saxon center and left divisions, seeing the Vikings break on their right flank, exchanged javelins again and then launched their slow, powerful, shield walls up the hill and into the awaiting Vikings. Unlike Oscatel's division, these Danish warriors did not budge and the combat ground into a swirling maelstrom of blood and bone. 


The action across the entire line is furious and brutal


By turn six, the results across the line are mixed. At some points, the Vikings were pushed backwards. At others, the Saxons were forced to retire. Instead of a continuous line of shield wall combat, the combat begins to fragment into isolated fights. Casualties on both sides were mounting and the exhaustion of the warriors was becoming very evident. 


The action begins to fragment into combat between individual units and their supports


Furious combat on the Danish right

By turn seven, the Viking left flank is in serious trouble and just barely holding on, pursued by the Saxon warriors. In this sector, the beleaguered Danish defenders did manage to break one Saxon unit. In the center and Viking right flank, the combats were winding down into grinding matches. The warriors were becoming exhausted. And just like that, the centermost Viking unit (with Guthrum's raven banner no less) broke and ran. 


The Danes begin to break in the center!  The raven banner is retiring !


The Saxons are pushing the Danes into the fortress, while Guthrum's Vikings in the center begin to bend

Turn 8 sees a flurry of action. Oscatel's division completely breaks as the Saxon mounted thegns begin to pursue (although the remaining shield wall stops the cavalry, not without losses though). Both Alfred and Guthrum sense that this is the pivotal point in the battle. Alfred leads a charge up the hill towards Anwend's division on the right and breaks two Danish units immediately. Guthrum attaches himself to the rearmost support unit in the center and launches a counterattack that throws  Orthun's Wiltshire fyrd back in the center. 

Turn 9 sees Guthrum continuing to countercharge, breaking another Saxon unit and forcing back another, but alas, the Viking chief was surrounded by 4 Saxons and speared. Guthrum died a Viking's death as he took out two of the opposing warriors on his way to Valhalla. 

Upon seeing their chief slain, panic begins to overtake the remaining Danes and the entire army begins to run. The game is over. The pagans were defeated and the exhausted Saxons were surveying the blood-red field in triumph. 


King Alfred the Great stands victorious on the field at Edington



Hail Caesar proved to simulate Dark Age warfare well. The shield walls typically held for several turns until finally one of the exhausted units broke. All across the line, it was critically important to use support units wisely and attach leaders for extra attacks when the situation called for it. As per the victory conditions, Guthrum's death counted as a broken division, and with the left flank division broken, the Saxons were victorious. The fight was back and forth for many turns, but by turn seven, it was evident that the Saxons were winning. Guthrum's counterattack put some doubt into that, but his death was the final blow for the Danes.