Dark Ages at the BHGS Challenge 2016
Feudal Spanish vs Tulunid Arab
Oxford, city of dreaming spires, historic universities who's names are written in the pages of history, golden sandstone buildings and genteel country living, nestled on the edge of the English Cotswolds. That was the theory anyway - the BHGS Challenge takes place in a redbrick upgraded technical college campus within earshot of the lorries and trucks hammering their way up and down the M40 to glamorous destinations such as Wolverhampton and Maidenhead. But anyway.....
The BHGS Challenge, into the second year of ADLG in UK competitions, was again a Dark Ages theme. Inspired by the opportunity to dust off some very old yet badly underused Two Dragons Norman knights who had sat in the box, along with most of my other Dark Ages stuff during the long Wolves from the Sea interregnum of the Field of Glory era. The army had knights, faster moving charging cavalry, a solid core of spearmen and a textbook rough terrain and shock trooper command of Almughavars, with supporting bowmen. It was all about the attack....
My first game was against a Tulunid Egyptian, a rather textbook proto-Mamluk army likely to have shooting horse and some old-school "BwX" type mixed infantry - as well as the handful of Dailami that most of these armies seem to get. With the terrain falling almost entirely on the opposition half I was both fairly confident where their proper foot would be, and where their mounted wing might sit and so I deployed accordingly, aiming to ram my spears into their foot and overwhelm their mounted on the right with both of my mounted commands whilst contesting the rough going on the left with the Almughavars.
With the terrain falling almost entirely on the opposition half I was both fairly confident where their proper foot would be, and where their mounted wing might sit and so I deployed accordingly, aiming to ram my spears into their foot and overwhelm their mounted on the right with both of my mounted commands whilst contesting the rough going on the left with the Almughavars.
This almost succeeded as planned, apart from the minor inconvenience that the Egyptians had refused to take a rough terrain command, and had caught my forces out with a cute deployment of Cavalry in the field on the left, leaving their mounted troops facing my "loose formation foot in the open"...
The lists for the Feudal Spanish and Tulunid Arab from this game, as well as all the other lists from the games at the BHGS Challenge can be seen here in the L'Art de la Guerre Wiki.
The right flank was a vast open space into which all of my mounted troops and many of my points were poured - the Egyptians were having none of this however and were instead skirmishing in front of the wall of 2 Dragons steel horsemen in a vague and indecisive fashion
L'Art de la Guerre hint - on re-reading the rules after the competition I did notice that camels cannot move together in a group with other non-camel mounted troops (Section on Groups, p10) and it looks like the light Camel unit here is with a normal horseman. Oh well..!
Almost immediately the lack of mounted skirmishers in my army was becoming apparent as a potential problem, as a handful more, potentially Elite Jinetes would have done wonders to clear away the enemy screen. As it was my Impetuous Knights (6) and Heavy Cavalry (4) moved forwards as fast as they could anyway.
Cairo - the Ahmad Ibn Tulun Mosque
On the opposite flank the Almughavars really didn't want to go anywhere in a hurry, as the Egyptian Cavalry deployed in the field opposite them were already practically out of it and into the open plains before the Almughavars had a chance to move. The potential counter to the horsemen was in the shape of the 2 Crossbow units and one Bow unit in the command, but whilst they were dangerous to the horsemen they would be rather squishy in close combat, probably forcing the Almughavars to inch forwards to protect them and the flank of the main spear block.
What's Going on Here Then?
The Egyptians have out-deployed the Spanish by some margin, neutralizing their powerful force of Knights on the right with skirmishers and catching what should be some of their best troops in deeply unfavourable circumstances on the left. With one potentially threatened flank, and no help imminent from the Knights on the right the Iberian centre is unsure whether to stick or twist.
With nothing meaningful in front of them and enough Egyptian infantry in the middle to threaten the flank of my line of Spears some of the Knights detached themselves from the main formation to go towards the middle as the rest of the line pressed on. Risky...
L'Art de la Guerre hint - - Impetuous troops, like both the Knights and the Cavalry, who are able to charge enemy must do so if they can, admittedly with the usual caveats about not charging elephants and going into bad terrain and stuff which you'll be familiar with from every other ruleset with impetuous troops. Doing any other manoeuvre costs 3 pips, which is quite a lot when you are rolling 1xD6, adding 0-3 to it depending on how good your general is, and halving the result for your pips each turn. The General also gets a pip, but even so, scoring 3 is not guaranteed.
With a near-inevitable mounted charge skittling the Almughavars the line of Spearmen had already decided to detach a unit of Spearmen to shuffle over to the flank and help out. Whether the Spear command would have enough pips to press its' attack and move this unit long term was however debatable... especially with an Ordinary General.
L'Art de la Guerre hint - Ordinary Generals command range is 4 MU (16cm). Moves outside of this distance cost each unit +1 pips. And they add nothing to the pip dice roll at all.
The Egyptian Cavalry were closing in on the Almughavars, who had been forced to step towards them by the twin imperatives of protecting their bowmen and more importantly the flanks of the advancing spearmen. The Egyptian mixed formations were opening up on the skirmish screen protecting the advancing spears, and some of my newly reformatted markers from Donnington (now on 25mm round MFD bases) were pressed into action.
The Almughavars were ready for heroics, and some of them had even managed to get close to the enemy Bow/Spear formation as well, threatening flanks in the huge gap between the Egyptian Cavalry and their central infantry command. Maybe there was hope and opportunity here after all?
The proximity with which the two armies can choose to start in ADLG was suddenly apparent, as the Spanish skirmishers fell back through their own spearmen leaving the two lines of infantry only a base width apart and ready for a decisive clash. In the pivot of the line a couple of Almughavar units were already in against the Tulunid Swordsmen, but, ominously, markers were starting to spring up amongst the Spanish ranks
In any ruleset, a wild dice swing can upset the best laid plan.... and ADLG is no different. The Egyptian Swordsmen took a mighty swing and carved their way through the Almughavars at a single stroke - what had been a very promising position for the Spanish suddenly was turned on its head and the remaining, already damaged Almughavar unit found itself now badly exposed rather than delicately poised to strike with a decisive flank attack.
What's Going on Here Then?
Some of the Almughavars had gotten into a potentially decisive position in a gap in the Egyptian lines, but heroics from the Tulunid infantry have put paid to this opportunity and now this flank looks in dire trouble. This looming disaster will soon spread to the centre, whilst the Spanish Knights are still at best peripheral figures on te extreme right, unable to influence the heart of the battle.
Emboldened by the power of their Swordsmen, the Tulunid bowmen nocked their arrows and drew their bows.... and leashed a deadly hail of arrows which blacked out the daytime sky indoors in the lecture hall in Oxford before falling like metaphor-rich sharp and pointy rain on the heads of the Spannish spearmen! Markers sprouted like desert flowers in a downpour and at a stroke the entire line of Spanish Spearmen found themselves at a -1 disadvantage in all future combats... Rallying this many units without taking any further hits was clearly impossible, so the Spearmen now faced a simple, yet unappealing choice of going into combat disadvantaged...
On the right the Arab forces were retreating in good order under a series of repeated charges from the Spanish knights, and their harassing mounted bowfire had already begun to chip away at the Feudal nobles. It was a full-on refused flank from the Egyptians, taking full advantage of the deeper depth of the 300 point game table size to trade space for the opportunity to avoid and disorder the onrushing knights.
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This however was where the battle would be decided, with the Spanish infantry wading into the wall of -in combat - inferior Arab Spearmen, carrying with them a series of hits which ran uniformly along their entire line. The Spaniards were better quality than the Egyptians, but the eroding fire had tipped the odds in favour of the Egyptians everywhere other than where the Spanish Religious Order Spearmen had additional armour.
L'Art de la Guerre hint - The odds in this combat were intriguing. Both sides are classed as Heavy Spearmen, so start on even factors. The Spanish are all carrying markers, taking them down by 1 on the initial dice roll, but the Egyptians are a mixed Bow/Spear formation and so count as "Inferior", and will therefore deduct 1 from any raw dice roll of 4,5 or 6. Some of the Spanish spearmen are also "Armoured" and will add +1 to any losing final combat total. The overall odds are slightly in favour of the Arabs, but the combination of Inferior status and Spanish armour makes it much more difficult for them to win each combat by a large margin - and so the Spanish should manage to cause more decisive hits (making the Arabs drop more than one level) with any "6-1"-type dice rolls in their favour.
Chasing the faster-moving evading Arab cavalry was starting to prove a source of major irritation for the Spanish Knights, although now the back of the table was in sight the Egyptian horsemen were increasingly reluctant to keep retreating. Either that, or the by-now fragmented nature of the Spanish formation was such that the Cavalry now felt they had a reasonable chance of success in a straight fight.
The initial round of combat for the two lines of spearmen goes very much in favour of the Arabs, with the Spanish upgrading some of their markers to a 2-hits yellow edged variety - the first time these yellow markers had been out of the box. In the near right, a lone Spanish Spearman has been taking a pummelling from Arab shooting and is now on a Red marker - one hit from destruction.
The Hidalgos and Caballeros are also suffering from muchos shootingios and are being whittled down gradually by a drip drip of bowfire - each time a base goes the Arabs take heart as they see the opportunity for overlaps and flank attacks increase exponentially
The two lines of Spearmen continued to poke away at each other, and the weight of markers was falling entirely on the Spanish side. The longer line of Arab foot gave them an advantage, but with only skirmishers to protect it the Spanish themselves spotted an opportunity for their bowmen to move up and start to threaten their flank.
But the Arabs were more than capable of threatening the Spanish flank in return - their cavalry had almost fully despatched the Almughavars and were already thinking of the damage they would do to the much beleaguered Spanish spearmen, who were moving up the colour scale with an increasingly vibrant collection of cohesion markers in bright Reds and Yellows
With 4 out of 6 units now on Red - one hit away from destruction - the Spanish centre was to all intents and purposes now toast, and were therefore only really fit to have chopped tomatoes or small slices of oily anchovies deposited on top of them for deployment as low-rent tapas items in the rest of the game.
What's Going on Here Then?
The Egyptians are rolling up the Spanish centre, with the Spanish left all but eliminated. The Spanish Knights are working hard to join the fray, but realistically they are a spent force and will do well to even arrive before the game is done.
Running out of table the Arab horse took a stand against the Hidalgos and Caballeros.
The Almughavars, in theory the cutting edge of the Spanish army, were utterly eliminated and the Arab horsemen looked around for other targets. A lone Spanish Spearman, long-becalmed as his General had concentrated on bolstering the line of engaged Spearmen, was all that realistically stood in between them and the Spanish flank and baggage. And to be honest, the idea of one unit standing in the way was not especially realistic at all....
...especially when they were too far away to have any influence on the direction of travel of the Mamluks, who ignored the pedestrian Spaniards and instead crashed into the flank of the Javelinmen protecting (in the loosest possible sense of the word) the end of the Spanish Spearman line!
The outcome was short and brutal and entirely expected, and now the once impressive Spanish formation was now a mere shadow of its former self, and a shadow in which almost every unit was just one hit away from destruction to boot..
The Knights and Caballeros were doing much better in upholding the martial values of Medieval Spain, and had even managed to get some previously unseen Arabian markers onto the table as they crashed into, over and in some cases through the Egyptian horsemen facing them.
The Pac-Man like Arab horse were steaming forwards and systematically removing the Spanish spearmen from play turn by turn
The Spanish Hidalgos and Caballeros were faring almost as well against the Egyptian horse on the other flank, as the additional factors of the Knights and the swift appearance of the Hidalgos on the flank, fresh from chasing away LH, was making fairly short work of the Mamluk warriors. Iberian mounted skirmishers flirted with the thought of chasing down the retreating Arab LH who watched nervously from a distance as their superiors were chewed up and spat out.
The line of spears was fast becoming a dot, with only the odd exceptional dice swing to give temporary succour to the Spanish and concern to the Tulunids
With the Spanish left flank evaporated, there even had been time - and pips - for a lone LH unit to sneak it's way past the tabletop detritus and align itself with the masking tape that defined the edge of the world, ready to have a heroic charge at the Spanish encampment and loot all they had which was not a pork-based product (no doubt leaving the Iberians with many days of supplies for their inevitable journey home in defeat)
Some of the Spanish finally decided, after much prompting (and timely rallying) from their General to start to put up something of a last stand, but with fast-moving (12cm) Arab medium foot behind their rear the possibility of devastating flank attacks was very, very real.
The Arab swordsmen crashed into the rear of the Spanish spear line, doing untold devastation whilst more Arab BwX types ploughed forwards towards the rear echelon dregs of combat-unready bowmen making up the soft underbelly of the Spanish centre. Things were almost finished here..
The Result is a substantial defeat!
Click here for the report of the next game in this competition, or read on for the post match summaries from the Generals involved, as well as another episode of legendary expert analysis from Hannibal
Post Match Summary from the Feudal Spanish Commander, El Sid
I once tried to talk peace with an Egyptian - but you can't trust them . . . one minute it was peace on, the next — peace off!
The problem here was a total lack of planning and practice on my part, not knowing what might happen if I tried the tactics I used. I think I need to go to pray for guidance in church. The Priest thinks its' time I went to church again anyway, even though I was there last Sunday and I took the collection. That's why he wants me to go again - he want's me to bring it back!
Getting mugged off by the old rope-a-dope Cavalry deployed in RGo trick was also painful to watch - I really should know that moving first in a pip-based game will not see me over half way against a determined enemy so reaching that terrain was never on the cards
After this I think I may change my coats of arms, to be two digits -rampant!
Hannibal's Post Match Analysis
I hope that this debacle has proved to be a stern lesson for you. The lesson in question is a familiar one - "this is what you normally do, and unsurprisingly it has had the same outcome".
This was an army which was eminently beatable, but your near-total lack of planning and practice - with just one game using this army - it is hard to see how you hoped to even begin to deploy it properly, never mind work out how to deal with such obvious opponents as these.
Other than attack what was in front of you, you really didn't have much of a plan here either did you? The Almughavars were hung out to dry by the most obvious counter ply known to mankind, and your best attacking troops the Hidalgos and Caballeros were entirely wasted in a pointless attack against a flimsy skirmish screen.
And what on gods earth were your Spearmen doing advancing unprotected by any screen intona wall of bowfire? If the boot was on the other foot I am sure anyone else would have either attacked with faster troops, retained the LF screen or just plain old rolled better dice. What on earth were you playing at? Now at least you have only a few points on the board. Perhaps you will be playing more at your own level next game.
Click here for the report of the next game in this competition