Sunday 17 September 2023

The Plains of Al Qa'lat, with Soldiers of God

This was a pick-up game, a one-off large field battle with 'Soldiers of God' rules. The terrain was randomly generated, and we got one piece, which was rocks - wow!. So a flat open plain, a few rocks, but nothing to impede either side's cavalry. The bare desert plains of Al Qa'lat.

The Crusaders had picked to 'Advance and Harry' as a battle plan, with his main strike force in the centre, Knights, Holy Order Knights and some supporting infantry (and armed monks). Their left was turocople horse archers, with foot archers and some armed peasants and a small catapult. It was largely deployed in skirmisher formation. Their right flank was men-at-arms, crossbows and a unit of dismounted knights (didn't spot them too late), a solid infantry block to hold the line here.

This would face my Saracens, having picked a left echelon attack plan. I had changed up my usual horse-archer heavy list and attack plan, using lots of skirmishers on the flanks to win the battle with archer, to go for a heavy cavalry attack from my left, four units of ghulam, led by the elite Al-Halqa guard cavalry and with single supporting unit of horse archers (that might try a sneaky flank ride). This was my strike force. The centre was a lot of infantry, nine units, ahdath levy screening out front (sacrificial), backed by better Sudanese mercenaries, mujahideen fanatics and the Al-Halqa infantry, with more cheap, poor infantry in support behind them. This would have to absorb the crusader's central attack, hopefully they had the depth to. My right flank was weak, archers and Arab tribal warriors, all skirmishing with javelins. They would hold and harass, take on those dangerous turcopoles in a missile duel. Still, I looked out-shot and out-manoeuvred, it would be tough here.

Deployment complete, my plan simple, smash in with the cavalry. Try to get his knights into the ‘swamp’ of my infantry and tie them up killing low value troops, whilst I hit hard and overrunning his right. After deployment, I slightly altered that, my Al-Halqa could easily intercept his Holy Order Knights, a mega-clash of elite heavy cavalry, which was my best chance of defeating these tough Christian fanatics. The cavalry would angle into the centre and go head to head - that would be epic. This would be the main point of attack, the other ghulam cavalry on the left would now by a diversion/holding force against his right, just stop them getting involved.

Time to go. ‘For Allah! Death to the Infidel’. Cards were dealt and the Saracens would play first.  

Both side's plans, and how it actually went, with some to-ing and fro-ing.

As the cards were played, the Crusaders made the first advances, the turcopoles charging forward at the gallop to get into range and start the archery duel. The centre also advanced. My right flank was instantly under pressure, as the turcopoles rode in, loosed and fell back – a strange reversal of usual form that (but turcopoles are very handy troops too often ignored by the crusaders). My mountain tribe infantry countered by rushing after them and unleashed a javelin volley. It had started, neither keen to get into melee, all being largely a bit rubbish at it.

This is the were the fight would be in the first turns, as my cavalry moved up and the crusaders largely stalled in the centre, lacking cards to get going. It wouldn’t be long until the fight was joined as my al-halqa cavalry closed in on the knights hospitaller.

They got the charge and battle was joined, and I swung another following ghulam unit round to come in from the flank, now the knightly order were pinned in the place, a gang-up of 3 unit against his 2 (the armed monks behind would support his knights, until, being mere levy, they panicked and broke on a 'levy panic'). Meanwhile, on my right, the incoming archery was hurting and had to rally, and expend cards to keep my archers in the fight. I couldn’t afford to go under quickly here, because the centre would need time to win their fight against the toughest opponents. On the far left, the ghulam moved up to threaten his static infantry, I wasn’t sure if I needed to charge in here, or just hold in place (out of crossbow range, obviously).

The melee between the big boys was even, I got a slight advantage, but a rally saw the hospitallers easily safe. It would require lots of work (and cards) here to force the win, or might just be a stalemate, in which case, I was in trouble.

Over the next turns, both sides inflicted some more pain, turcopoles routed an ahdath levy unit with a single volley and began peppering the Sudanese infantry behind. My archers returned fire and the after moving up, forced the horse archers to quickly withdraw back or risk being charged. The tribal infantry got another javelin volley in, but returning arrows broke one unit. I was losing on this flank.

No time to waste then, I had to get busy elsewhere. On the other far flank I decided to throw the ghulam in and they moved up and charged – what the hey, we came to fight. Things turned my way, inflicted a lot of damage on the crossbowmen and, with bad dice, the hospitallers were also in trouble. My al-hlaqa scored lots of hits and then won a challenge, slaying the order’s leader in single combat for 3 more disorder… and the hospitallers suddenly broke! Big swing, suddenly the crusader's centre was in trouble. But so was my right, as archers broke. In desperation I got a charge in with the last tribal warrior unit and they reached the turcopoles, holding them in melee would be one way of neutralising them. More archery broke my pin-cushioned Sudanese mercenaries as well, and the MV totals had plunged, with the crusaders now just in the lead, but by only 2 points.

The ghulam continued their onslaught, broke the crossbowmen, but found themselves stalled by arriving dismounted knights, who extracted revenge and broke one ghulam unit back. This was a side show, but an expensive one, because the enemy men-at-arms also broke... carnage. The centre saw his knights finally charge (after breaking another ahdath levy unit with their fearsome reputation alone), they’d been starved of the card they needed, but ran into my best infantry, the al-halqa infantry withstood it, and with a rally, held, now my numbers could be bought to bare. His knights were in deep trouble as my heavy cavalry closed on their flank as well. Next turn they would charge. My right had final buckled, my last archers fled leaving my brave tribal warriors struggling against turcopoles. In a lucky challenge (another one) they won it and the turcopoles, their leader cut down, fled as well.

The MV totals in the end phase were Saracens 1, Crusaders 2 left – so, so close. Next turn would be the last, who could do the most damage with the cards dealt?

The Saracens. The cavalry in the centre charged in, destroying his knights in a flank charge and a gory massacre, as well as mopping up some armed peasants, also caught in the flank and rolled up. The crusader centre had been wiped out, only the command stand remained. On my left I lost the last ghulam unit to the foot knights, a solid rock here that my attack had shattered on. And that was about it. Crusader's MV had been reduced from a starting 26 to -12. Saracens from a starting 29 to -4. What a fight? Both sides throwing everything at it, and its was close all the way through. Both executed their plan and had the other under severe pressure… but in the end, losing the entire centre, after the sudden collapse of the hospitallers turned it - you don’t win many battles if your centre is destroyed.

Great fun, 4.5 hours of a real blast, so many tough calls on card plays… I really enjoy that, when 1 card is useful in 3 ways and you are really on the spot. A memorable game.

Saracen cavalry strike force of ghulam and al-halqa cavalry, horse archers lurking at the back, out of shot, hoping for a gap to ride through, or a sneaky flank ride.

The turcopole horse archers close in and trade shots, as the Arab tribal infantry respond and rush up to launch javelins back.

Knights stall in front of the ahdath levy screen, but without a charge card, they use their fearsome reputation instead to break the panicking levy. Run-away!

The al-halqa cavalry close in on their target, and arch-nemesis, the holy order knights (and supporting armed monks).

Horse archers tried to rush through a gap (for the crusader's baggage train), but got intercept by their allied Armenian infantry, and that stalled them for the rest of the game.

Ghulam close in on the Crusader right, levelling lances and with the handy charge card to plow into those crossbowmen and break them.

The turcopoles are countered by the Arab tribes and also pinned in a melee. Behind, the archers continue to pepper the melee with arrows, bad for both sides.

Charge! The clash of the heavy weights beings in the centre.
Only the dismounted knights are left standing on the Crusader right, a empty space were my ghulam once were.

The centre, and the hospitallers have broken, the Saracen cavalry begin to roll up those left.

Still, by Allah's will, battling it out, having beaten the turcopoles, only the command stand left to kill.

The end in the centre as it is destroyed, the knights flanked by the al-halqa and massacred.
Glory to Allah today!