Thursday, 2 March 2017

Dark Age Sword and Spear

It was a chill morning that greeted the men from Wessex and Merica as they rose and readied their weapons and formations. Athelstan had pressed far to the north and York, his target, was visible in the distance. The men of the Danelaw, and those Northumbrians who stood for an independent northern kingdom, stood firmly in their path united by the fierce Eric Bloodaxe. He had sworn to stop this tyrant who threatened to gather all Britain under his sway by the point of his sword. Now nothing could prevent a collision that would force a new political reality upon all - English, British, Danish and Scot ... even the slavers of Dublin would be forced to pay heed to victor of this momentous day.

Part of the Viking line. 

The rules used were Sword and Spear and the armies were (roughly) 400 points. Both armies had a General and two captains. 

The Saxon force consisted of ... 
3 Lesser Fyrd 
6 Select Fyrd 
4 Thegns 
2 Javelinmen 

(I chose to reduce the points cost of all Thegns and Fyrd by ignoring the spear cost. In this battle no cavalry would be used and spear offers no benefit against foot troops.) 

The Viking army was ... 
3 Huscarls with Two Handed weapons (dane-axe) 
8 Warriors
2 Archers 

(Despite the image in the background of some photos the Viking stockade does not resemble a Fortified camp - even though it could. Maybe in a later game ... hmmm ... perhaps an attack by Mercians to retake Repton ... will need a saxon church though ...)  

The Saxons deployment with a double line of troops protecting their longhall camp. Athelstan stood proudly in the centre of his men. 

The Saxon right relied on this steep hill. It was difficult going which slowed all movement to a crawl and prevented units from generating impetus dice (which we only recalled near the end of the game.) 

The Viking centre pushed forward with Eric Bloodaxe leading the huscurls. These experienced warriors wore stout coats of mail and wielded large daneaxes - enough to splinter any shield. 

On the Viking left a strong force pushed toward the hill. Bloodaxe had little depth to his formation and spread his troops in a line trying to extend past the Saxons on both flanks. Lurking behind here can be seen the beserker unit which would play a bloody role later in the game. 

The first blow was struck by the Saxons as a unit broke ranks and tore down the hillside impacting heavily into one unit of huscarls. It took three hits in the initial combat. 

The Saxons strove to fit their large numbers into a confined space between steep hill and wood. 

Athelstan led the fyrd of Wessex against the Huscarls of the Danelaw. Theoretically this should have been a massacre but the farmers would stand their ground manfully. 

The Viking placed their troops in a near straight battle line across the field. 

Both sides paused before widespread conflict insued. Bloodaxe was struggling for good activation dice to press his advantage on the wings. This was slow in coming allowing the Saxons to advance in the centre.


Send them back south! 

Four 1's is no way to fight and in this dire roll the Viking unit advantage on their right side was lost. The Jarl commanding this flank was also cut down reducing command and rallying possibilities across the field. Odin, Thor and Loki were subsequently invoked by Bloodaxe to mend this disaster. 

Across the table now battle raged. The Vikings were hesitant to mount the hill without their flanking force in position. They relied on their two handed axe men in the centre of the table. 

Fatigue mounted on the Viking side but they clung in the battle. One fyrd unit fell sending a huscarl force barreling forward in pursuit. Here it fell afoul of the Saxon reserve force and it was forced to struggle against two Saxon units. At this stage the outcomes for the Northmen looked bleak. Despite a rush of initial command dice from the cup, two Huscarl units were each beaten in turn by a single Lesser Fyrd unit. 

Finally the Viking left plodded through the rough terrain. 

The Beserker were finally in position. 

The red numbers indicate the numerous points of damage/fatigue suffered by the Vikings who were clinging on. 

The archer unit turned the flank of the furthest Saxon unit and routed it in one turn. Their shieldwall did not protect against flank attack. The archers continued straight into the next Saxon force inflicting more wounds. 

The pursuing huscarl unit fell leaving a hole in the battle line. A thegn unit surged through. 

The beserker charge with impact smashing a Saxon unit. Now Bloodaxe furiously sent orders to the Viking units on their left to turn toward the centre. But the terrain slowed their relief march. 

The centre near the end. On the left the beserker were almost across the hill after breaking two units. With two huscarl units fallen Bloodaxe stood alone with the last remaining. It needed only a single hit to rout it. A unit of Saxon thegns has broken right through and would soon be in position to threaten the Viking camp. The archer unit's pursuit and destructive charge had finally stopped but it had inflicted many hits. All other Viking units had fallen in this area (3 alone in the final turn.) 

The other angle. Viking units were sparse but the Saxon army had fallen from 13 units of heavy foot to just four. Their army had broken. Bloodaxe had reached his demoralisation point and if he rolled a 1 for his huscarl unit these too would rout ensuring a mutual break. However this was not to be and Eric Bloodaxe's iron resolve held his men in place. 

It has been close ... very close. The initial combats and command dice favoured the Saxons but (as usual with sword and spear) momentum usually shifts. The Vikings steadily took units from the Saxons who sustained over 30 points of damage as 8 of their 13 heavy foot units were lost. The Vikings in turn lost six - three in the final turn almost routing their army. For the Vikings, finally turning both flanks won the day although the deeper formation of the Saxons certainly wore down the main Danish line. Athelstan did not try to bring his superior numbers to bear but instead used the terrrain to wedge his army in then funneled troops in from the back as the front line fell. For a game that essentially used only heavy foot units (about 24 in all) both players certainly had fun and felt it was a more tactically interesting game than it might appear on paper. 

The impossible had happened. Athelstan's grab for total power and widespread tyranny had been temporarily halted. Bloodaxe was triumphant. Sound the horns and prepare the meadhall! Danelaw and Northumbria remained free. But Eric would need to reorganise his forces as Athelstan would be sure to draw on his reserves of manpower and return for another attack. Time would tell. 

1 comment:

  1. Great write up. Nice job on your figures. Interesting to see how two lines fared against one wide line