Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Soldiers of God campaign, continued. Battle of the Orontes river.

In the year 1141, Lord Andrus de Renard, First Marshall of Tripoli, under pressure from the powerful Knights Hospitaller and other lords of Tripoli seeking to expand their lands, sanctioned a spring raid into the disputed border areas between his fiefdom and the Emirate of Homs. The initial surprise attack cornered a wealthy merchant convoy at Wadi Al Salah, slaughtering and plundering it. Their bloodlust and greed for more plunder now up, the raiders immediately continued to the reputedly wealthy temple at Holy Qadr. Defended by locals and brave muslim guards, the sacred shrine was none-the-less overrun, looted and burnt. These first raids had caught the Emir of Homs off guard and, seeing their chance, the invading crusaders pressed on north, towards Homs, first coming to the small desert town of Alhouz. Here, the Imam of Alhouz met the Crusaders in open battle, and, in a desperate engagement on the plains outside of town, defeated the Crusaders and forced them to retreat. This they did, but only into the Orontes river valley, with its plentiful water supply and further rich pickings for plunder. Lord Renard regrouped his army after the Alhouz reversal and appraised his next move. How would Homs react? Should he retreat now with his plunder or could he conqueror the fertile lands around the Orontes for Tripoli’s lords?

Unwilling to allow the crusaders to harry the Orontes valley, and still keen to avenge the infidel’s sacrilegious destruction at Qadr, Prince Hrab-Dhabala Al Qarib Ghara, brother of the Emir of Homs, completed mustering an army and marched out from the city to challenge the encamped invaders. Seeking only vengeance, he offered no parley, no terms and no mercy. The two forces clashed in the pitched Battle of the Orontes River in late May, 1141.

This would be the forth, perhaps pivotal, battle of the campaign. This was the army of Homs (my force), with the All Out Attack Battle Plan.

Centre (Charge!)
Al-Halqa Cavalry     4    60    3    Fearsome Rep
Ghulam        4    28    2
Ghulam        4    28    2
Ghulam        4    28    2
Horse Archers    3    15    1
Horse Archers    3    15    1
Horse Archers    3    15    1
Tribal Cavalry    3    12    1
Baggage Train       0    *    5+ for +1

Left Flank (March)
Sudan Infantry     4    17    2    + Naffatun team, Fearsome Rep
Sudan Infantry    4    12    2    Fearsome Rep
Infantry        4    12    1
Ahdath        4    4    1
Ahdath        4    4    1
Ahdath        4    4    1

Right Flank (March)
Horse Archers    3    15    1
Horse Archers    3    15    1
Horse Archers    3    15    1

299 pts, 24 Morale Value

My plan, as you can see from my chosen force, was a simple heavy cavalry attack in the centre. I had thought of attacking in a double envelopment, on both flanks, but then the attacking forces seemed rather weak on both flanks, so the choice between two weaker attacks and one stronger one was won by the later. My left would be a screening advance, to draw enemy’s in and prevent them from swinging into the centre to assist against the main cavalry assault. On the right, well, that would just be a thin screen of light cavalry to harass and delay, long enough for the centre heavy-hitters to win it. The plan wasn’t complex, but if the enemy was weak in his centre, then hopefully my cavalry would jump it in a rapid rush that would not give him time to react to save it. I was kind of banking on his main force being on one flank or the other. But it usually is, benefits of knowing your opponent well.

And after deployment so it was, the Crusaders had their cavalry on his right, opposite my infantry flank. Good, my infantry could draw them in, being a juicy target themselves, and hold long enough for my centre to overrun his men-at-arms, crossbows and single dismounted knight unit in his centre. His left was far stronger than my 3 units of horse archers, with Turcopoles, skirmishing infantry archers, two light war engines all with a Loose! card behind them. Better be careful there.

My All Out Attack plan had the initiative for the first turn, being the more aggressive to his right echelon attack. Sound the trumpets, time to start to blood-letting, 'Death to the Infidel!'.

I advanced all along the line, cavalry going forwards, angling towards his right, where I hoped to engage and overwhelm his Knights Hospitaller with greater numbers and a thumping charge from my own Al Halqa royal guard cavalry, a clash of the real heavy weights from both sides. Each of my Ghulam units had a singe horse archer unit behind it, for lob shooting extra arrows and to join the fighting when it got to melee, as support. Dedicated supporting horse archers to the heavier cavalry was a relatively common in ancient battles, and their support attacks might just swing the balance.

His right and centre all advanced as well, and by the end of turn 1 both sides were almost engaged, two aggressive plans about to meet in the centre of the table. His cavalry had swung to their left to better face up to my centre’s cavalry, with only a single knight unit on his extreme right left to face my infantry (which was admittedly mostly rubbish).

Turn 2, and my cards were good, Loose, another Charge, and a Rally. I could shoot, charge, fight, fight again and then rally off the Disorder gained. I started by loosing in the centre and a hail of arrows flew from my Ghulam and horse archers, building some Disorder before the Charge cards followed. His knights jumped the gun with an ‘Impetus Charge', digging in their spurs with a cry of ‘Deus Aix!’ to hurl themselves into my Ghulam through the incoming arrows. My next card was the first Charge! and my Al Halqa levelled their lances and plunged into the Knights of the Hospice. Ghulams also hit home against dismounted knight and men-at-arms, with horse archers following-in in support of each charge. Many dice were rolled, but with my lance impacts, I was well on top in Disorder dished out. The Crusader's lines wavered.  The Crusader's own Charge card saw more disorder added, one of his Knight units had reached 8 disorder already and would surely break - yes! The Al Halqa and Knights of the Hospital were very evenly matched though, but the horse archers gave me a tiny edge, if they just scored a few hits from the back row.

As the enormous cavalry scrum in the centre became the main focus of cards, the Crusaders also Marched forwards with their left flank, and suddenly my horse archers, happy to sit and watch for a bit, were in range and being hit by incoming Turcopole arrows… ouch. One unit broke and ran, making my right look very weak, if he pressed a new attack here, then I might not be able to hold for long. Got to win in the centre faster. Hence, I threw ever card I could at the that fight. Thinking one enemy knight unit would be routed I was thwarted by his (lucky) ‘God Wills It’ special card, which saved them and reduced his disarrayed knights back to 0 Disorder - ee-gods, all that hard work undone by a single special card play… now it would be an attritional slog to break them.

So, it was into turn 3 (only), the entire line was engaged, his knights had taken the bait and charged into my infantry as well, a mob three ranks deep of rubbish to tie them up for the rest of the game, although the Sudanese infantry suffered badly and didn’t stand long, the supporting levy Ahdath had to step in. Charges and Melee card flew, and the Disorder mounted, a held ‘Rally’ card kept my Al Halqa fighting and a Ghulam unit, but his Knights and Hospitallers were also creaking under the ferocious melee pressure. One man-at-arms unit broke and routed in the Crusader's centre. Desperate to block the gap he used his centre’s commander in a bold charge to rush in. They were carrying the true cross. Only then did the enemy realise its loss would cost them the game, regardless of Army Morale Values - oh dear. A big mistake!! His desperate charge had handed me a possible short cut to victory.

On my wavering right, the Turcopoles and archers pressed on, arrows flew and I lost a second horse archer unit, badly out shot, now the flank was crumbling… but mercifully he lacked the movement cards to exploit the advantage his archery was winning, but it wouldn’t stay that way. Those Turcopoles would soon be round behind me, after my baggage train or with rear charges… but in the centre I was holding my own and gradually winning it, but perhaps not fast enough. I had his Hospitallers ready to break, won a Challenge against them (clash of two mighty heroes there), only for a second ‘God Wills It’ special card to come up and save them too. Drat, that was very good luck twice to save his best units, and now I knew I wouldn’t win the melee against the Hospitallers anytime soon. The enemy line had held under my pressure. Capturing the True Cross was the best chance now as my army MV dwindled away (down to 8 now from a 24 starting point).

Then the cards deserted me… a terrible hand, no Melees, no Rallies, just useless bumpf I have to throw away to keep units in the fight. It didn’t help much though, I could feel it slipping. On the right, his Turcopoles mopped up, the commander of the flank was run down and shot through with arrows and the last horse archer units was broken as well (aided by a Deserters card - damn those untrustworthy mercenaries). That was my right flank utterly destroyed, their commander dead as well. In the centre, fighting as I could, the worm had also turned. A Ghulam unit broke in melee with his foot knights (tough guys those), and then my Al Halqa had a disastrous set of rolls in melee and were overwhelmed by the Hospitallers, they also routed, an elite unit gone! Some of the Ahdath levy also broke. It wasn’t all one-way, his knights also broke and his True Cross had gained 3 Disorder, they would also run (and win me the day anyway), except a Rally card saved 2 Disorder leaving them on just 1 (that was a tense all-or-nothing dice roll), not enough for them to run through. Drat, double drat. I had lost.

My army morale was decimated… finishing on -13 as my army fell apart, turned and fled for their lives in panic. The Crusaders had won the field. It had been an epic cavalry clash, which initially looked like the Saracen’s lightning cavalry assault would win, but those two timely ‘God Wills It’ cards had saved his best cavalry’s bacon and his line, after than, an even battle of attrition had seen me gradually getting the upper hand, until the cards and dice deserted me. My mistake was going toe-to-toe with his best cavalry, rather than distracting them and hitting other weaker units harder, but when you see the Knights Hospitaller coming, you feel like you have to have a go at them, especially if you have heavy cavalry that can match them. It almost worked.

I don’t think it would have been enough though, my weak right flank had been annihilated, the horse archers getting a taste of their own medicine from the Turcopoles… epic battle though.

So, the Crusaders have the advantage in the campaign and can now march on to the walls of Homs itself. The next game will see me having to defend the city’s walls against a siege assault. The Crusaders need a bit of time to get their siege equipment made (and painted), a siege tower, battering ram, some ladders, etc. The Emir of Homs (and his brother) will be waiting behind their walls… and I’ll get to use my castle walls in a game - for the first time in many years.

We've also decided that 5 battle isn;t quiet enough for the campaign, we want some more. So, beyond the siege, a relief army is also on the way from Aleppo to continue the campaign for a few more games.

Here are some snaps of the frantic action on the Orontes river.

 Saracen deployment, centre cavalry and left flank's infantry beyond

The enemy knights and line, from their right

The plains of battle, Crusaders left, Saracen's right, Orontes river at the top

 Screen of skirmishing horse archers on my right

Facing his skirmishing archers and Turcopoles

 My centre Ghulams and Al Halqa advance 
The Orontes divides my right flank, what to do about the ground on the far side of the river? 

 The cavalry scrum starts, Ghulam and horse archers vs knights, Al Halqa and Hospitallers behind.

 Ghulam and more horse archers (I have a lot), close in on his foot knights in the centre

 The glorious Al Halqa, first outing and they end up taking on the Hospitallers toe-to-toe.

 Ghulam and supporting Arab tribal light cavalry smash into his men-at-arms, routng them

 But the foot knights are tough veterans of this campaign and won't budge. 

 On the exterme left, his last Knights plunge in to my infantry, rout the front line Sudanese mercenaries and are into the ahdath levy behind.

 Beyond the Orontes, my shrinking right flank

 All-in, righting all down the lines. 

 The Al Halqa and Hospitallers, still slugging it out.

 The end of my right flank in hail of arrows, that is a lot of un-ralliable Disorder

 The True Cross command stand joins the fray, probably a mistake. It's loss is an instant win for the Saracens. 

 Beyond the Orontes its clear, his Turcopoles swing in, ready to cross the river (it was fordable) and be behind me. 

 Last of the long melees in the centre, his Knights had held out, somehow!

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Soldiers of God Campaign, the Battle of Alhouz

Game 3 of my ‘Holy War’ campaign using my SoG rules, with the Muslim’s forced to defend the desert town of Alhouz from the advance of the murderous Crusader intruders from the County of Tripoli. Flush with their earlier successes, this would be a small field battle, with my Saracens having to defend, using the ‘Hold and Harry’ battle plan. The Crusaders where attacking, echelon right, led by dismounted knights and dismounted Holy Order knights, their strike force. My plan, was, archery, archery and, hmm, more skirmishing archery… if I couldn’t stop them with bows, my melee power was weak… a few infantry units and single unit of dismounted Ghulam (the Imam of Alhouz's bodyguard).

I had both flanks covered by three small units of horse archers, with the centre of infantry, screened by dismounted skirmishing archers (three more units). It would be a real arrow storm. Could the crusaders weather it and press on to break my feeble lines?

On my right, in the rugged hills, my horse archers and his Turcopoles would fight-out an inconclusive stalemate skirmish, trading arrows and unable to break either side. The main battle was determined on the plains down towards town. His right (my left) faced off, with his dismounted knights, backed by a Charge! card, racing forwards, but they had a long way to go as heavy infantry in close order. My horse archers would harry them every step of the way, galloping forwards (worth it by giving them the distance to fallback into), and peppering them. But the tough knights (now with experience upgrade from the earlier battles) and Knights Hospitaller were taking it, using Rally cards and March cards to get to halfway as my horse archers rolled back before them. One unit deserted and fled… tshk! My archers came forwards as well, to get into range and added to the storm. His centre, bereft of cards, was still on the start lines.

I was becoming a bit worried that my massed bow-power wasn’t stopping him, as disorder built and was quickly shed on Rallies… until a final Loose! card from my centre’s archers scored a big round of hits and his Resolve dice desert him, 4 hits, all failed resolves and suddenly the foot knights routed, they could take it no longer. Then, to add insult to that injury, the armed peasants behind his holy orders (in support, all modeled as monks and priests) panicked, as levy, and broke as well. The Knights of the Hospital were suddenly all alone.

His attack now looked considerable weaker, but another March, then that Charge! saw them reach my archers… and his flank’s commander used Bold Champion to charge in as well “Deus Aix!!". Let the carnage begin… or not, my archers did well, took a beating but then a crafty ‘well drilled’ card saw them shed most of it. Yes, archers are usually militia and well-drilled is for trained or better troops, but due to campaign experience, these archers were now rated as trained… good lads, they had held up the charge, for a bit, hopefully it would be enough.

As that fight continued, with me slowly losing, the Crusader's centre got moving, under more archery fire (today we had a lot of arrows to use). His men-at-arms also charged in and another unit of skirmishing archers was engaged, against my will. That wasn’t in the plan… but in return another Levy Panic card saw a second unit of his peasants break without ever actually meeting the enemy… you just cant trust a peasant! Cheap, but useless...

My army morale had dipped to 8 (from 15 starting), his to only 10 (from 17 starting). I was still losing, just. I couldn’t afford to let my archers die and be massacred and a lot of cards had to be thrown away to keep them going. Then a stroke of luck went my way (for once), the bold champion leading on his right called another bold challenge, only to roll 3 dice for his attacks and get 1,1 and 2 - oops… my mere archer champion won the duel, and his flank's leader was dead, costing him army morale and, more hurtfully, an action card a turn - unlucky that, but he had been just too bold and got himself killed in the fray.

It was a turning point…  lacking a card and with the Saracens now having the initiative, my horse archers decided that saving the melee-ing archers from their own arrows was only prolonging their certain death, and began shooting into the combat anyway. A few turns of that and Hospitallers were in a bad way with disorder (as were my own archers), and both broke at the same time… costing me a mere 2 army morale and him 10, for an elite unit routed and a flank’s battle wiped out… his infantry attack had been broken and the day went to Allah! Alhouz was saved. Yes, a win, with 6 MV to spare!

The Campaign Victory Points are now 2... all even. The next battle, for the new year, will be as the Emir of Homs and the Count of Tripoli both unleash their full might in large field battle, somewhere on the disputed border. It’ll be an epic clash, I’m looking forward to it a lot, time for my own big cavalry charge I think. Not seen a mounted Ghulam in three battles. The Emir of Homs also has his Al Halqa royal guards too… a unit that I've painted but never yet used.

Here are the three pics I got, before my phone ran out memory space (rubbish phone, I think I need a word with Santa).

 My centre deployed, skirmishing archers screen the infantry and baggage. On the lft, my horse archers have raced forwards at the gallop to face down his foot knights

Those horse archers in action against the main attack on my left, passed the edge of town. I kept shooting, but on they came in determined fashion... worrying that they won't just die!  1 point of disorder each for galloping.

 The horse archers have fallen back to the start lines, as the archers move up a bit, risky, but it worked, those leading foot knights paid for their aggression, routed by archery.  This flank was the crux of the battle... and I won it, wiping out his attack. To be fair, he has some bad resolve tests... but I needed win in the campaign... all even now, and big battle next.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Soldiers of God - Winter Mini-Campaign

The past few months have seen both sides preparing their forces for the coming clash of Crusaders and Saracens, tensions have risen and, after a few false starts, we’re finally ready for the religiously inspired medieval blood-letting to begin.

Over the winter months I’ll be playing through the 5 game Soldiers of God mini-campaign (SoG is my card-driven Crusades rules). The war got started at the weekend. I shall be playing the Saracens, as the Emir of Homs, with the war beginning with the Christian Kingdom of the County of Tripoli as the aggressors, attacking a merchant and pilgrim convoy as it encamps in the Wadi Al Salah, en-route to the desert shrine at Qasr.

The first Raid scenario would be the ambush on the encampment, with a follow-up raid by the winner of that game.

Below are a few shots of the action, not many, as I find the games required a lot of engagement and concentration (as my opponent knows the system well, plays hard and any mistakes are punished). Time for photography was limited, but the action was intense and great fun with the cut-and-thrust of cards and counter-cards.

In the first game my pilgrim convoy’s encampment would be defended by a lot of Ahdath militia (standing in as the poorly armed pilgrims), local tribal Arabs (guides and guards) and the merchant’s hired help (crossbows and archers). It was a light-weight force, lacking any ‘top end’ armoured troops, but this war was only just starting, time for the real ‘army’ later.

The Crusader's raiders would be led by a fanatical band of Knights Hospitaller (on foot for these attacks - I imagine their horses weren’t far away, just off-table), keen to kill infidels, with their supporting men-at-arms, local Turcopole guides and a few bloodthirsty mercenary types just in for the plunder.

Game 1 - Ambush at Wadi Al Salah
I deployed my defenders to face the approaching raiders in the centre of the table, with the Crusaders attacking from both sides. The initial exchanges of fire were from the light cavalry (as per usual), harassing each other in a stalemate, neither side wishing to give the fast cavalry freedom of action. I was happy to cancel the Turcopoles out with my own Arab tribal horsemen.

The steady (slow) advance of foot knights and men-at-arms saw them under a lot of missile fire, which (due to my inability to roll a 4+) did very little disorder, and my best troops, the crossbowmen, decided that their pay just wasn’t worth it if they were actually going to have to fight, and spend the entire game sitting it out nursing their grievance! Humph! Like that’ll save you from the ensuing massacre if we lose. I never got a mercenary grievance resolved card to get them back into the action.

And steadily lose I did, as the Crusader’s advance pushed on and saw the first units get into melee. Some Ahdath levy (pilgrims) panicked and routed, my archers failed to hit some more in a display of awesome ineptitude (1 4+ in 12 dice!), and only my camelry, flinging javelins, did any damage. Beset from both sides, another unit of Ahdath broke rather than face dismounted knights and then a unit of archers fled as well. That was enough. The rest of my force surrendered, outmatched in the melees, no doubt to be all be robbed and then massacred.

This outrage must be avenged!

Game 2 - Plundering of Holy Qadr.
Happy with their ill-gotten gains, the plundering expedition then headed for the shrine itself, believing it to hold a treasury of gold and jewels. This time, in our second raid scenario of the day, I mustered a force of crossbows (please fight this time), archers and local horse archers to mount the defence. The horse archers would harass around the shrine and keep moving, whilst the archers and crossbows held it (with a Loose! card to make any attack painful).

The Crusaders were basically the same force, but a few more Turcopoles added, and a single large unit of dismounted knights ready to storm the shrine itself, instead of 2 smaller ones.

This was very close fight. It started badly for me, with one archer unit routing before the Knight's determined advance, but crossbows from the walls of the shrine made the Knights pay in turn. My horse archers did excellent early work, routing a men-at-arms block with their archery and a Turcopole unit. They also used their speed to sweep around and target 2 Crusader leaders, isolated and now fighting for their lives. But the Knights rallied, driven on by a “God Wills It’ card and Blood-lust (fittingly). Soon they were hacking at the shrine doors trying to break in. My last archers did some super-swift manoeuvring (benefits of multiple manoeuvre cards and being skirmishers) and added their arrows to the crossbow bolts from within the shrine. The Knights endured the storm, and rallied again - hell these guys were determined. Meanwhile, my horse archers proved that close combat isn’t their thing, and failed to deal with the two raid leaders, who fought back and started to get the upper hand! It was very close, down to 3 morale points left for the Crusaders to 2 to me… but try as I might I couldn’t get those Crusader leaders to break (many cards were played to keep them in the fight - so heroics from them). Meanwhile the Knights slowly got the upper hand breaking into the shrine, and a unit of crossbowmen within broke. That was it… with the Knights inside and running a-mock, the shrine was lost and my remaining forces withdrew - another outrage to be reported to the Emir. The Crusader’s Morale value was just 1… it can’t get any closer.

So, the first 2 games of 5 played, 2-0 on campaign VPs to the Crusaders. But back in Homs the bad news has now reached the Emir and he is mustering his army to extract Allah’s divine retribution. The Crusaders will press on their bloody raid towards the desert trading town of Alhouza. Here, the local Imam of Alhouza will try to stop them - that’ll be game 3, Crusaders attacking again, me defending in a small field battle this time. 

Two top games, two defeats, but the later battles are worth more VPs, so I’m far from out of it.

Wadi Al Salah... the encampment.

Table, ready for the coming fight.

Camelry and javelins hold up some foot knights.

Turcopole and Arabs in a close range exchange of missile fire and brief melee skirmish. 

The chief merchant watches on, no doubt in growing horror. 

Skirmishing archers lurking in rocks try (and fail) to pepper the advancing knights, as the Ahdath levy get ready (and panic). Despite numbers, they're unlikely to stand long.

The holy shrine at Qadr and its defenders.

The enemy arrive and eye the prize from the high ground. 

Arbalaster and archers arrayed to hold the shrine itself. Horse archers beyond. Ever man in this force had a bow or crossbow, and the battle plan cards to use them.

Friday, 2 November 2018

‘The table is set, the pieces are moving…’ War of the Ring, the epic board game

Sometimes you have a hankering to play something big, really big… to spend a day, or maybe 2 in a huge board wargame, pushing the little men around, besieging strongholds with hordes of Orcs, Trolls and evil Southrons.

Enter the rather excellent War of the Ring board game by Ares Games. This is the game that, once, when I was about 11 years old, would have had me saving every penny to buy from Games of Liverpool. I did once try to buy the first ‘War of the Ring’ board game there in about 1983, they didn’t have it in stock… much disappointment followed on the bus trip to my grandmas. The scars remain. Now, things have come full circle and this big-beast of a board game is just a click away. It ain’t cheap, but you get what you pay for, and it is, well super cool (in my world).

 Early moves in WotR... cheesy Wotsits of ultimate power not included...

So far we have only played it once, and I loved it (but it could have been written for me). Having done the hard-graft on the rules reading, it became obvious that for first time players the forces of the Free Peoples were going to be the tougher ask. The game is asymmetrical, in that the forces are not evenly matched. The free forces will not match up against Sauron’s hordes of darkness and win in a straight military sense. Theirs is a struggle for time, to help get the Fellowship of the Ring (or whoever happens to left in it) into Mordor and then up Mount Doom. Heroic lasts stands play big here… all to the good. Those sacrifices are not in vain, which is satisfying.

The game has many great elements, the sub-routine mini-game which is the fellowship’s secret journey adds a lot, it’s a race, for them and for the Dark Lord, as he’s unlikely to stop them getting to Mordor (although he can delay them, perhaps fatally in the end). Sauron might well have to commit to war and battle before he has had the chance to sit-back, build-up overwhelming forces and unleash his legions to sweep to victory. This give the men of Gondor, Rohan, the Elves, Dwarves and the ‘Men of the North’ a fighting chance. These are the five factions of the Free People. But, in a war of attrition, they lose, because their troops are removed from the game altogether, whilst the enemy’s can be recycled endlessly, as long as he uses the Muster actions needed to recoup them. The forces of freedom and light get a few small advantages, like they have more leaders and more special characters (called companions in the game), like Gandalf, Aragorn, et al to help out (but only if they leave the Fellowship). This is a neat (and hard) choice. They can stay with Frodo and Sam and go to Mordor and assist in the final ascent of Mount Doom, usually by taking corruption damage instead of the Ringbearer, which will kill them off (hey, it’s a suicide mission, Elrond probably didn’t mention that back in Rivendell), or they can leave Frodo and Sam to it and get involved in fighting the battles and sieges, and much aid they are (and direly needed).

In our game, the Fellowship initially struggled to get to Loth Lorien (they start at Rivendell), through hunting Nazgul and bad weather and balking at an attempt through Moria (the Balrog special card is a bit scary). It took me far too long and I had to rest up in Loth Lorien to recover some corruption, which was already building up. The time lost here saw Rohan fall (with something of a whimper) to Saruman’s rampant forces (the siege of Helms Deep was a low point for me, it fell with not a casualty inflicted on the enemy). Then Gondor was assaulted by a huge Southron army and corsairs from the sea. They overran Dol Amroth and the Pelagir and only Minas Tirith stood, and that’s when the host of Orcs attacked through Ithilien from Mordor. Eek, things looked very grim for me then.

There was little hope for the White City and Gondor without aid in the form of Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir etc., so they headed south at speed, before the siege closed around Minas Tirith, whilst all the Hobbits headed for the Black Gate. Legolas and Gimli stayed in Lorien, to aid its defence, because armies from Dol Guldur and Moria severely threaten it. That proved a good decision, as Loth Lorien was attacked several times, but held out. Getting into Mordor cost Merry and Pippin their lives, and Gollum was now leading Frodo and Sam on the final leg of the quest. Meanwhile, Boromir aided his fellow Gondorians in a huge battle for Osgiliath, before retreating back into Minas Tirith with his few survivors (the Orcs paid dearly for the crossing of the river - satisfying),  there to be reunites with Gandalf (now the White) and Aragorn. That siege would last most of the game, but (with some aid from the Eagles routing the Ringwraiths), the city remained unbreached. Hurrah!

Meanwhile, in the far north, the Dwarves had roused themselves to war and, mustering an army in Erebor, they marched on Mt Gundabad, laid siege and eventually captured it (the Free-People’s only offensive triumph of the game). Back at home, the Easterlings now had Erebor besieged, but it too held out, in a close run fight, with no help from the Men of Dale (thanks), because as yet they had not reached the ‘at war’ status required to get stuck in. The ‘Men of the North’ faction never did… and sat this war out! That mechanic, whilst frustrating because forces you need can’t act, attack or eevn reinforce, is a nice addition. Not all a player’s factions are equally as committed to the war, and for some, if largely left alone, they don’t feel any requirement to get involved. The allied factions are divided ('scattered, divided, leaderless'). The Dwarves risk this fate most, and could easily sit the war out, unless you use actions early to move them along the political track towards war they will just hide out in their lonely mountain and refuse to come out. Investment early can pay dividends later, another element I like. Forward think, not just reacting to attacks and events.

Our game reached a tight and very tense finale, with much shouting and laughing. With Minas Tirith saved my last Gondorian army went on the offensive, led by the main characters, sweeping to the gates of Minas Morgul through Osgiliath and Ithilien. Besieged, one attack would see the dark stronghold fall and the Free Peoples win a unlikely military victory (thanks to the Dwarves earlier hard work at Mt Gundabad). But Frodo was on the last steps to Mt Doom too, and each step was costing him more corruption points. 12 breaks the poor Ringbearer, and I was now on 11, with 1 counter to draw to make it to the Crack of Doom. Here is the rub… if he stays still, he gains +1 corruption automatically, so I had to move, he just couldn’t wait for a turn for Minas Morgul to fall. Try as I might with event cards etc, 5+ hours came down to that last chit draw. And Sauron (my eldest) pulled a 3… even Gollum’s special ability couldn’t save Frodo and at the last he failed and broke – I’d like to see the end of the movie where Frodo turns, but Gollum doesn’t fall into Mt Doom with the ring. In our game, Frodo pushes Gollum and Sam in and heads for Barad-Dur instead…

The game has a good feel for Middle-Earth, unsurprising given the authors, and was close enough to events of the book, without being slavish to them. The war plays out like ‘a’ possible War of the Ring, pleasingly close to the book, but without feeling like it was locked into it. In our game, the war came to Rohan before any further aid or extra musters of troops were allowed. That resulted in it collapsing, as per Saruman’s original plan (I imagine), thwarted by Gandalf et al in the book. In our game, Saruman’s plan obviously worked and Gandalf was not about to save Theoden.

It all played rather well, but it all took time. 5+ hours running time (first time though), so not for the feint-hearted (or the too busy). But, it’s half-term, so when else is there time for such happy diversions? All that is left is to re-read the rulebook and find all the things we did wrong, so next time we can forget all about them and start from scratch again. That the problem with these big games, you don’t play often enough to remember the (not uncomplex) rules and exceptions. So, how many units can you stack in a besieged city?? (We got that wrong).

For LotR fans, with the time to invest, this is top fun. I’ll look forward to our next crack at it, maybe at Christmas.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Donville and the Road to Baupte

Time to play a historical refight scenario, which makes a change from picking armies, to fight with what they had on the day. The weekend would see 17th SS Panzergrenadiers attack Carentan, with the scenario recreating the fight around the Donville Farm and the side road to the village of Baupte. Not played in Normandy for ages. Bring on those StuGs…

The scenario is in the Overlord book, and has the US paras holding with 2nd Armoured’s tanks on the way to rescue them (me) from the SS StuGs and Fallschirmjager’s strong attack.

The early game was just the 101st Paras and some off-table 105 guns holding… and they did this well. The Germans were rather cautious, holding back with lots of suppressing fire and shelling the farm itself with mortars and their 105s. Much pinning, and removing of pinning under German MG fire from the far hedges… my bazooka guys held tight on ambush fire waiting for the StuGs to advance. Only along the road did they push-on far, and my bazooka guys proved rather erratic and missed (1 hit bounced off the front glacis). A single StuG and its tank riders headed north of the farm on a lonely advance (hmmm!).

As my artillery hammered the far hedges and kept some German heads down, so my first 5 Shermans arrived. My plan was simple, reinforce the farm with some armoured infantry (when they showed up) to secure it, just hold the Germans on my right, north of the farm, and strike in force along the road. If I could take the small house to the south I’d have all 3 objectives and win it, regardless of the losses. Worth a lighting strike then, along the road to speed it up.

My first Sherman up the road was KO’d by StuG fire, but the others kept coming, under shifted German arty fire. Following up, the next wave of Shermans arrived as the main strike force to overwhelm his 2 StuGs on my left. It was 6 to 2 in AFVs. The armoured infantry arrived just behind the Shermans and weathered the incoming mortars (some pinning only), to be the final assault force once the house was heavily suppressed.

It panned out rather well, I lost another Sherman on my right to StuG fire, but return fire KO’d it. Long ranged fire from a StuG still back at the start-line hedge was ineffective (he empty his ammo bins without scoring a single hit) and the Marder did likewise, blazing at distant Shermans to no effect at all, then becoming just a machine gun in a tank fight- oops.

The Germans along the road were under pressure, another StuG KO’d by my charging Shermans and the other surrounded, Shermans left, right and behind! I switched my artillery to the target building and it scored a direct hit that wiped out the German Forward Observer - no more artillery fire. Things looked bad for the Hun. Even the surprise arrival of BF-109 bombing my tanks (but pinning them only) wasn’t enough. The last StuG guarding the road was hit and KO’d from the flank, and the other Shermans switched to HE on the building, hammering it to rubble. Within, the FJ were cowering. I pressed on, M3 half-tracks now on reserve move to rush the building then assault it in my turn.

So it went, like clockwork - for once. My infantry raced up and jumped out, to then assault the last defenders. They surrendered rather than fight on, and the last FJ panzerschreck team was wiped out by MG fire from the half-tracks. The building was empty and the objective was in the GIs hands. I had all three, the main farmhouse, the road junction and the southern cottage - so game over. The loss in BR was very close, with the Germans just having the edge (3 special counters helped). But the Germans fell back, having lost 3 StuGs from 6 and about a platoon of men. US losses were 3 Shermans from 10, and about a platoon of men, so also very even, but the Germans hadn’t attacked the main farm in any strength, and had not threaten the road junction objective either, so ultimately paid the price for not fighting for the objectives. Nice to win one after a bit of a loosing streak… nowt wrong with a Sherman tank, and don't believe anybody that says otherwise.

 Donville farm, the Carentan road and the road to Baupte. Germans attacking from the left, US from the right.

Main farm, and an objectives.

 First StuGs on the road. The air identification flag would probably be a bad idea in Normandy.

Pinned infantry in the hedges, with the farm under 105mm artillery fire.

Platoon CO StuG presses on up the road, bazookas be damned (they're pinned anyway). 

Back at the start line, StuH standing in (1 too few StuGs for this game in my collection), with US return arty landing. FJ not prepared to risk the open field ahead. 

 Hello 2nd Armoured. First 5 Shermans rolling on, one gets the road junction objective (marked by the cart).

The field(s) of battle. The house in top left is my target for my armoured assault. 

Hear those Detroit motors purr...  the Sherman waves arrive as 105 fire lands.

 Ouch! First Sherman gets a 75mm-sized hole in the turret front.

 The victory of that duel... but not for long.

 Close encounter in the woods by the road, the HQ StuG fails to spot, twice!. I missed, and rolled right on passed. Odd one that at 5" range. 

 GI armoured infantry reach the farm. Not required to defend it, they had an easy day.

 Pressing on into the teeth of the enemy, but overwhelming them.

Got him, StuG burning.

The StuG is surrounded and soon KO'd. The way to the objective is clear. Go! Go!

 Too little too late, a BF-109 bombs the Shermans, but can't hold the tide of US steel.

 StuG still back on the start line. Captain Miss. Fired 5, missed 5, now empty... gawling.

Captain Miss 2, an ammo-less Marder as well. Doubly gawling. Long-range shots at Shermans in cover probably was not the way to play it with so little ammo and no resupply available.