Author Topic: Trouble in the Welsh Marches  (Read 519 times)

Erpingham

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Trouble in the Welsh Marches
« on: August 14, 2019, 05:28:26 PM »
I’ve been experimenting with a new skirmish scenario set in the Welsh Marches.  An English force of men-at-arms and archers has stashed a McGuffin in a village in the woods.  Little did they know they were being watched by dastardly Welsh rebels!  The Welsh wish to capture the McGuffin, because it is symbolically important/worth a lot of money.  One night, Welsh forces surround the village.  When the English cavalry ride off McGuffin stealing in the morning, they prepare to launch an attack on the archers left to guard the village.  The English have only just finished breakfast when flights of arrows streak from the woods and gangs of spearmen emerge and charge through the mist.  There is just time to send a page on a swift horse to find the cavalry.

Forces
Welsh: Three units of spears, three units of longbows
English : 2 units of Men-at-arms, 2 units of longbows, 1 unit hobilars, camp followers

Set up
The Welsh set up in the woods(A&B) either side of the village (C )   The woods should come no closer than 1.5 moves from the village edge but less than a longbow shot.  The village can only be attacked or defended by one unit per side.  The cavalry will return at D.  The Welsh must exit with the Mcguffin at E.
The Welsh and the English garrison should be considered deployed at the start of the game (Having the English in disorder tips things too far toward the Welsh).
The English cavalry should return on a dice throw.  This is one which could be quite rule dependent.  What you are looking for is time for the Welsh side with luck to overrun the English in the village before the cavalry return.  Or, if unlucky, they will be in mid attack and find themselves fighting on two fronts.  I’d suggest 5-8 moves.  I used a count down method, throwing 1d6 and deducting from start total each move.  Multiply the number of moves you want by 3.5 to get the total (the average score on a d6). 
If the Welsh neutralise the garrison before the cavalry arrive, reward them with a free reorganisation phase where they can redeploy where they wish and place the Mcguffin ready to leave the village.  The Mcguffin must have at least one escort unit.  It will move down the road at half infantry speed.
I divided the English into two morale groups (garrison and cavalry) but kept the Welsh as one.

The play through
I divided the Welsh into equal groups either side of the village.  I set all the spearman to attack, supported by two archer units, the third archer unit being on roadwatch at the extreme tip of wood A.  The English archers took some long-range casualties from the longbows in the woods but brought down some of the Welsh spearmen.  The leading spears hit the village together and a melee broke out.  The Welsh, having better difficult terrain factors, had the better of it.  On move three, the third spear unit broke into an undefended side of the village and fell on the baggage teams.  These made a heroic stand and managed to win an initial round of melee.  Unfortunately, at that point, the two longbow units collapsed and the pursuing Welsh swept away the gallant servants.  By move 4 the Welsh had the village (quicker than expected – both English units put in a sub-par performance).  No sign of the cavalry, so the Welsh got their redeploy move.  The Welsh archers fell back to concealed shooting positions by the road near D.  One spear unit held the village, the other two set off with the Mcguffin transporter.  The English cavalry seeing the fleeing Welsh set of in pursuit, running a gauntlet of archery.  One MAA unit was very badly handled, partly because it had to manouever more to bypass the village.  The other unit was luckier and chased down the first escort unit, which turned to face it.  Lances couched, the cavalry ploughed into the Welsh and shattered them in one blow (they had been weakened in the fight for the village and, in an open field, they stood little chance).  Victory seemed certain for the English – the transporter was unguarded.  All it needed was for the cavalry to pull up and wheel left next move.  Instead, the cavalry pursued their erstwhile opponents off table.  But still it was looking like an English win.  Only the second escort stood in the way of the other men-at-arms and they were just as vulnerable.  But no!  The second unit of MAA had been badly shot up.  If they were unlucky and the Welsh very lucky, they’d break.  They broke.  The English had one final chance – the hobilars.  The hobilars were less than a charge move from the transporter and the transporter was one move from safety.  They could intercept.  But, being now the only English on the field, they needed to pass a morale check first.  They fled.
It only remained for the spearmen left in the village to burn it to the ground and everyone could march off home singing. 

Developing the idea
Probably the weak point was how quickly the village fell.  It wasn’t implausible – a dawn attack quickly swamping the defences sounds like an ideal raid outcome.  But it did mean that the game split into two, rather than allowing a heroic relief effort.  Potential stretches include boosting the garrison up to three English units (perhaps not all longbows) or making the Welsh cover more ground while being shot at.
Obviously, this could have been fought in other periods.  I thought of making it all Edward I and having crossbows garrison the village.  Another idea that struck me while playing through is that it could be Robin Hood v. the Sheriff’s men.  Doubtless there are more options.  I will return to this idea again.
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: Trouble in the Welsh Marches
« Reply #1 on: August 14, 2019, 07:37:15 PM »
This is a nice little scenario concept; something like this could make a worthwhile article for Slingshot.

The English seem to be seriously understrength given the division of force endemic to the scenario: all the Welsh really need to do is klotzen nicht kleckern, i.e. hit the English in the village with everything they have, and the game is theirs.

If using the forces given, I suggest the English cavalry return on turn 2 - both sides have seen them coming and know they will arrive: the Welsh player must decide whether to attempt a blitz seizure of the village or to show himself, stand off the English force and then go McGuffin-grabbing if and when he can get the English to drop back.

The English player will need to decide whether to try and hold the village against any Welsh attack or to move his archers out quickly, link up with the cavalry and hit the Welsh as they are retiring with the McGuffin.

Alternatively, give the English player a unit of spearmen (Edward I) or billmen (Tudor revolt) to help out in the village.  This should make it more challenging for the Welsh to clear the village before the cavalry arrive on turn 5-8.

I have a feeling that the play mechanism might be giving a bit too much randomness in combat (and maybe morale?) results; that is a judgement for the rules user to make. :)
  • Patrick Waterson
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Erpingham

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Re: Trouble in the Welsh Marches
« Reply #2 on: August 15, 2019, 08:48:36 AM »
Thanks for the comments.

I think the problem with your suggestion of bringing the English on early is two-fold.  The first is the capacity of the troops - the Welsh spearmen (despite one occurence we will return to) are very vulnerable in the open.  There is a concurrent discussion under rules systems section in which I ask whether the Welsh should have some transforming abilities to form close order spears in the open.  That was part of the preparatory thinking for this game.  The second is this is based on one of those Westerns where the stagecoach is trapped in the ranch - can the cavalry arrive in time?  There had to be some village action before rescue.

The unit of spearmen idea was along my line of thinking.  That should allow the English to cover three sides of the village and potentially slow the Welsh assault. 

In terms of morale tests, I'm unconvinced.  I had three move tests (all when the cavalry were running the gauntlet) all of which were passed.  I had one command morale test (on the 50% of command no longer on table basis), which was failed.  The only query is whether troops who pursue off table should be considered "lost" for command morale purposes.

Randomness is an interesting question.  I've replaced the original DuxB "buckets of dice" approach with 1d6 thrown per side per combat.  This does allow low probability events against the expected but its difficult to destroy any undamaged unit with a lucky throw (the exception are skirmishers)*.  I'm not sure whether the degree of randomness is right.  I think both sides having a chance to do damage in a fight is important, even if it is heavily slanted to the expected result. I've thought of trying throwing 2d6, and subtracting the lower from the higher to provide a random factor.  This would shift the balance toward lower random factors and isn't too many dice per unit.  But I suspect it will just make combat more attritional and risks the situation where a unit has virtually no chance of damaging, let alone beating, an opponent.

* The Mounted men-at-arms unit had suffered a lot of shooting hits, because it had a longer route and there were more archers on that side of the village

Add : After further thought and experiments, I think I'd add the following
 1. A proper infantry unit like billmen might be too powerful as an extra.  A levy or militia unit may be better, or some Welsh ally spearmen. 
2. Setting the run down score to 14 should ensure the chance of the cavalry re-appearing with some action in the village ongoing. If you prefer more chance of a game of two halves set it higher. 
3.  The critical vulnerability is that the village has four sides and three defending units.  I could always infilitrate archers into the open side, though tangling with the baggage handlers invariably prevented an attack on the rear of the garrison units.



« Last Edit: August 15, 2019, 03:59:00 PM by Erpingham »
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: Trouble in the Welsh Marches
« Reply #3 on: August 15, 2019, 07:37:39 PM »
Might the third English infantry unit even be another lot of archers?  Or would that skew the scenario?  If it would, some spearmen of Welsh or Marcher origin would seem worth trying, as per Addition No. 1.

Agreed that game turn 2 is a little early for the cavalry if you want two types of fight in the game as opposed to an ongoing rapid deployment scramble.  The run down score of 14 should bring in the English horse on about turn 4-5, which encourages the Welsh to get on with it without unduly cramping their style.

The village does need all-round defence if the defence is to be credible.  Two archer units would have to be in a circle or at a pinch back-to-back to avoid unpleasantness in their rear, so adding a spearman unit plus some form of scratch baggage defence makes a good all-round start (and encourages a bit of Welsh manoeuvre to hit the relatively defenceless baggage, defeat of which presumably entitles them to McGuffin ownership).

Welsh spearmen should perhaps have a fair chance to 'hedgehog' or at least present spears if caught in the open, giving them a more even chance against cavalry to the front.  This would presumably be a deliberate posture incompatible with movement much above a crawl, and perhaps still vulnerable if hit from more than one direction simultaneously.  This is of course a designer decision.

If morale seems about right, then let it stand as is.  Regarding off-table status, the men on the field know that those off the field a) are victorious* and b) will be back (even if they never actually get back during the time period of the game) and so I would be inclined to count them as not lost for command morale purposes.  It is the difference between Antigonus at Ipsus waiting for Demetrius ("We can win this as soon as he returns") and Crassus at Carrhae ("Publius will not be coming back - apart from his head.")

*Unless they have routed off-table, in which case nobody expects to see them back, so they would count as lost.
  • Patrick Waterson
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Erpingham

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Re: Trouble in the Welsh Marches
« Reply #4 on: August 16, 2019, 08:21:44 AM »
Firstly, thanks for the continuing feedback patrick.  This scenario may actually convert into a Slingshot piece (urged on by Steve's call for all good men to come to the aid of the editor).  So anyone else with comments, please feel free.  For example, how might it play in other less rigid battle systems out there?  I think I could see it working in Lion Rampant, for example.


Quote
If morale seems about right, then let it stand as is.  Regarding off-table status, the men on the field know that those off the field a) are victorious* and b) will be back (even if they never actually get back during the time period of the game) and so I would be inclined to count them as not lost for command morale purposes.

I think this is a complicated one.  In the situation described, it was a bit of a stretch.  The hobilars were a move behind the MAA.  That distance widened with the pursuit but in real life, the hobilars would have seen their comrades victoriously slaughtering those Welshmen who couldn't make it into the woods.  But there are plenty of medieval battles where part of the army hares off in pursuit and it won't have been clear where everybody has gone.  Nor will it be clear when or if they will return.  So overall I think the rule works more than it doesn't.  In this case, I could have used my solo advantage to agree between the two commanders and the umpire (i.e. me, me and me) to count the MAA still in play.  But the Welsh had worked so hard, I thought I had to give them a last chance for victory.
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: Trouble in the Welsh Marches
« Reply #5 on: August 16, 2019, 08:52:10 AM »
But there are plenty of medieval battles where part of the army hares off in pursuit and it won't have been clear where everybody has gone.  Nor will it be clear when or if they will return.

All perfectly true.  My thinking was that they are known not to be dead or fled, and their successful if impetuous example should inspire rather than demoralise even in their absence.

Quote
So overall I think the rule works more than it doesn't.  In this case, I could have used my solo advantage to agree between the two commanders and the umpire (i.e. me, me and me) to count the MAA still in play.  But the Welsh had worked so hard, I thought I had to give them a last chance for victory.

Well, that is of course a decision for the players and the umpire, and if they all agree then fair enough. ;)
  • Patrick Waterson
"Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened." - Winston Churchill

Erpingham

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Re: Trouble in the Welsh Marches
« Reply #6 on: August 16, 2019, 12:27:58 PM »
Ok, physical experiments finished for now - all the figures have returned to barracks and the terrain is packed away again.

I played a variant with an unfordable river to finish the sequence (see attached).  I thought this might strengthen the undefended side.  However, the need to create a ford to enter the village retained a weak point.  The archers posted to that side of the river therefore dashed for the ford when everyone else emerged on the other side.  The river and ford did slow them (they entered the village on move 3 instead of 2) but, unexpectedly, they couldn't pass the English holding the village edge nearest to them and had to charge them in the flank, rather than get amongst the baggage team.  This really doomed the English defence on that flank but it didn't fail immediately.  The other English archer unit was fighting a bloody but poised fight while the allied Welsh quickly smashed their own attackers (an ancient feud perhaps?).  Next move the English defence did collapse, though the Welsh had left the village to chase their opponents.  On move 4, the Welsh had the village but the English had an intact ally unit.   It was command morale test time - could the allies hold out till the cavalry came?  I wasn't playing out the whole thing so the question wasn't answered but it did ask the question.  In these circumstances though, I allowed for the idea of the survivors being heartened by the cavalry's arrival and returning to the fray.

The other thing I realised as I laid out the river was the ford now made the obvious rearguard position for the second half of the fight, especially if the Welsh got the redeployment period .  The ford wasn't the problem for the cavalry - it counts as good going - but it did mean they had to attack through the village if they pushed the defenders back, while subsequent units following up across the river had no space to break out either.  Overall, I think the river made for a different set of tactical options, especially for the Welsh.

To sum up the hands on experiment phase, I played the village attack 5 times in various configurations.  The fight took 4-6 moves.  The attackers won four times.    I didn't try all the defence options but generally the answer is three units plus baggage team for a garrison.  No more than 1 unit decent spears or Welsh.   As Patrick suggested, 3 longbows would be interesting.

The cavalry team are Ok as originally described, though mounted archers might replace hobilars, especially if using the river option.



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Patrick Waterson

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Re: Trouble in the Welsh Marches
« Reply #7 on: August 16, 2019, 09:45:28 PM »
This looks like the basis of a multi-variant Slingshot article. :)

The win distribution suggests play balance is probably a little in favour of the attackers, so i tmight indeed be worth including the third unit of defending longbows as an option.  The allied Welsh seemed to fight well enough, though.

The different layouts (river or no river) will make interesting variants for anyone wishing to run a game of this nature at their local club, although the key to the success or otherwise of the initial defence will be whether the defenders can form a circle (no flanks) under the rules used.

Thank you for airing this scenario, Anthony - I am sure it will spark ideas among those who read it here or in our Society publication.
  • Patrick Waterson
"Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened." - Winston Churchill

Erpingham

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Re: Trouble in the Welsh Marches
« Reply #8 on: August 17, 2019, 09:12:22 AM »
Enthused, I have pushed on and created a draft article.  There is still time for anyone to comment but I hope to have something for Justin over the weekend.

Further thinking about the river suggests that forcing the cavalry to go through the village may be too advantageous for the defence.  The cavalry would be pretty well confined to the road and, if stopped, would be ripe for an urban ambush from the flank.  Providing a second ford outside the village south of the village would give a longer route but one which, once crossed, would be in open country.  Two potential crossing points to cover would be more of a challenge to the Welsh.
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: Trouble in the Welsh Marches
« Reply #9 on: August 17, 2019, 09:45:28 AM »
Good thoughts.

If anyone else has any observations, now is the time.
  • Patrick Waterson
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Erpingham

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Re: Trouble in the Welsh Marches
« Reply #10 on: August 19, 2019, 12:39:47 PM »
By all means continue to comment, but the article is now with the editor.
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: Trouble in the Welsh Marches
« Reply #11 on: August 19, 2019, 10:10:28 PM »
That was done swiftly and, I would imagine, with style. :)
  • Patrick Waterson
"Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened." - Winston Churchill