This would be a large field battle, over the twin rugged desert hills, the ‘Horns of Hammad’, as the Saracens troops of the Ayyubid Caliphate lined up against the muster of the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Having selected our forces, both had gone for similar battle plans. The Saracens would 'Hold and Harass', with twin flanks of horse archers whilst the centre held the line, backed by archers, ghulam and ballista. The Crusaders would 'Harry and Harass', matching the mobile flanks with their own turcopoles horse archers on their right and skirmishing archers, with crossbowmen, war engines and men-at-arms on the left to repel the horse archer waves. Their centre was their strike force, two units of knights and a third of the Holy Order of the Hospital of St John. Once all were deployed, it looked like an even fight. The Marshal of Jerusalem was wary enough not to have weak flanks against the horse archer threat and to have plenty to shoot back with, both flanks would likely be fierce archery duels. In the centre, well the Saracen’s line of levy infantry screened their own archers and ghulam (all bow-armed). The heavy cavalry would charge and try to break them, a simple battle plan really, go hard and fast with the heavies straight up the centre whilst the flanks hold back the enemy light cavalry. Mine was the opposite, attack hard on both flanks, whilst the centre holds on and tries to shoots those knights to ruin. Let the bloodshed commence…
|Saracen right flank, horse archers in open order, reserve ghulam behind. |
|The lines in the centre, archers and dismounted ghulam behind a levy screen of 'expendables'. Mounted ghulam wait at the rear again. Each 'battle' had one of these units, a alst reserve to counter-attack. |
|Horse archers on the left, with arab light cavalry behind. I thought I might send these on a flank march, but never got the card. Instead, they joined the horse archer' advance. |
|Crusader right, skirmishing archer lines to match the horse archers and crossbowmen. |
Meet fire with fire...
And it did, from the first card play the knights advanced, and the horse archers on my left set out at a gallop for the enemy lines, eager to get the arrow storm underway. The knights followed with a fierce charge and clashed, at a gallop themselves, into the unit of horse archers, lances levelled. By fortune, I had a Skirmishers Move card and those horse archers immediately wheeled away from the melee and retreated, to then regroup and avoid being destroyed in the first clash. They’d recover and continue to harass those knights with arrows for turns to come. A lucky early escape.
On the left, the Crusader’s turcopoles also advanced and loosed the first arrow volley, and so it started, my horse archers returned fire and Disruption began to mount, but as yet neither side routed. This would a close, tit-for-tat exchange.
On the opposite end, with cards in demand elsewhere, the crusader’s skirmish archer line advanced, but the horse archers didn’t respond, they’d wait to counter when the cards suited them better. No messing around in turn 1 then. One unit knights was already almost upon my line, the others following on across the central valley’s floor.
Turn 2 continued it, the knights advanced again, closing in, moving faster in open order but they held onto a Manoeuvre card (from turn 1) for use later, when the charge card turned up, they’d be able to close-up and quickly spur-in. My archery was largely ineffective in the centre and, on the right, the turcopoles had a great turn, hammering my horse archers before withdrawing, and causing me to have to Rally them. Hmmm… my horse archers where getting their own medicine here, and losing so far. Still, rallied, they’d stand and behind them the supporting ghulam moved up, they’d charge if the card came up and see off the turcopoles with lance and scimitar. I had the that option, but the turcopoles didn’t.
Turn 3 saw the knights charge (they got the card), and all three units smashed into the front rank of my infantry line, an expendable screen of ahdath levy that would die, and I had no qualms about loosing all my archers into those melees as well. The ahdath just had to hold, a turn or two (all they can do really), and let me get more shots in. It would have worked if my archers could hit anything, a hail of short range arrows resulted in more damage to my units that to the enemy.
|Horse archer duel about to commence as the turcopoles advance to meet them. |
|Knights close in on the centre's front line. |
|Bit of skirmishing archery, back and forth on my right. |
|Combat all along the centre's front, as the levy infantry take a beating. |
On the right the horse archer duel continued and we traded shots, but a extra Loose card gave the turcopoles the edge and I had to expend a few cards to prevent losing a unit, and then a deserters card saw 1 stand flee anyway. Still, my counter-attack, of ghulam and supporting tribal arabs cavalry was in place, and I held a Charge card in hand. If I could get a March card, I could storm forwards, through the horse archers, and slam into line at full gallop. My plan was to destroy this flank, it was his weakest and I had the edge in troops (if not the rolls and cards, so far). If the centre held, I could win it here.
The left remained quite, a few skirmishing archers shots was all, so far I hadn’t committed to the advance. It would come, and the horse archers would inflict heavy damage on those pesky archers in return. But it is hard to be busy with all three ‘battles’ across the table, cards get sucked up elsewhere. Still, that is the ebb and flow of the battle, quiet here whilst all hell was breaking loose in the centre and on the left.
That centre was creaking, the knights keeping up the slaughter of levy, breaking one unit, the first lost so far. In return, a levy panic card saw the crusader’s armed pilgrims flee without a shot being fired at them… best try a pilgrimage to somewhere else. I send my ghulam storming forwards, but found his turcopoles quickly pulling back after another flurry of arrows, then another (he had an extra Advance, Loose and Retire card, and it hurt). My ghulam were shot to destruction, dying in a bloody massacre under the arrow storm. Arghh, best laid plans and all that… but that meant I wouldn’t win a melee battle so I had to out shoot him. This I did, the last play being my horse archers ripped off volleys into his turcopoles and two units broke as the laws of probability snapped back into place and they failed most of his resolves tests. The flank was in big trouble, only 1 unit left (and the command stand). Kill them, kill them all!
Whist his flank had cracked and could only now try and retreat and fight a last stand action, beset by horse archers and javelin throwing Arabs, his knights carved blood ruin into the centre, my ahdath were all routed and he had another Charge card (no!) in hand. The knights slammed into my line of archers next, they would not stand long. Only the ghulam , still shooting into the melees would be left. It was a race, flank against centre.
Except, now I launched the right flank forwards, time to give the crusaders new problems and extra pressure on their cards. In another missile duel his archer-skirmishers broke and fled as the horse archers pressed into range. Behind them, their own supporting ghulam turned and moved back towards the centre, they be needed as a emergency reinforcements. If only I got the cards to move them quickly enough. I didn’t, and they didn’t manage to intervene, but the threat was enough to turn some of his knights to face them, after breaking the archers and killing the centre’s command stand as well.
By now the victory points had really added up and, I was just 2 points from breaking. In return, the crusaders were also 2 points from breaking. It was close, so very close. This would the last turn surely. We dealt cards and pondered our options hard.
As it played out, more shooting on the right left his crossbowmen about to break, by 1 point and they could be saved by expending a card, but that card was a Challenge, that could allow the knights to break the dismounted ghulam in the centre. Was the loss worth the gain? A tight call again, given that his flanks command stand was also being defeated in combat, and could go out in the blaze of glory, taking the Arab cavalry with them. In the end, the knights issues a challenge, boldly going for the win in heroic 1-to-1 combat (saving the crossbowmen would have made it a draw, we worked it out). The knights then lost the final challenge as the ghulam champion rolled a lucky 6, and the extra Disruption broke the knights instead, a freakish result. That left the VPs total heavily in the Saracen’s favour, my force broken by 1 point, the Crusaders by 10… but the plaudits are for going for it and not taking the safe option of a draw for chance to win it. Very tight, tension on those dice rolls, a great game, so close to the end and the cards made for hard tactical choices through-out. I real fun wargame, hard fought down to the very last dice roll.
|The levy hang on, whilst being mercilessly shot by their own side. |
|The flank light cavalry swarms about to meet, who could out shoot the other? |
The crusader army is capable of matching horse archer firepower with their own, if they include these often over-looked troops.
|Dismounted ghulam's turn to hold the knights for a few turns, and die trying. |
|The crusader's right is turned, at a cost, but very costly in VPs. |
|The Arab cavalry finish off the crusaders right flank command stand. |
|The last reserve of the centre, ghulam about to face the relentless charge. |
|The old foes fight it out, with not much left in the Saracen's centre, slaughtered, |
but expended to buy the victory.