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.

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