Rearguard Action

“Always make it difficult for those that follow you” – this epigraph introduces the Table Top Teaser Fighting Rearguard by Charles S. Grant, published in issue 12 of Battlegames. Well, I tried my best and, to my great surprise, I succeeded for a change!

The game started with the Yorkist units hidden under blinds, a mechanism in Sharp Practice that allows you to conceal troops and mislead the enemy – there doesn’t have to be a unit under the blind, and units can also be hidden in terrain features. I decided to hide one unit of handgonners in the big house in the village, while billmen and archers were positioned at the ford. My Welsh skirmishers and Men-at-Arms formed a second line of defence in the back.

The set up.
The set up.
The village, deserted by its frightened inhabitants.
The village, deserted by its frightened inhabitants.

The Lancastarians’ aim was to get at least two of their units over the southern table edge. One unit would mean a draw, while none would be a Yorkist victory.

The Lancastarians, who had an advantage in numbers, deployed on both sides of the river. However, already in the first turn their troops west of the river headed towards the bridge, apparently intend on moving through the village. This surprised me somewhat as I had prepared a pretty strong defence at the ford. I tried to shift my troops eastward, but this proved difficult, as the number of Lancastarian Big Man cards in the deck made it improbable that my Blinds card would turn up so I could activate them.

Unperturbed, the Lancastarians crossed the bridge and entered the village which soon became crowded.

Lancastarians crossing the bridge...
Lancastarians crossing the bridge…
...and moving into the village.
…and moving into the village.

At this moment, I decided to uncover my handgonners and let loose with a salvo. Alas! A lot of noise and smoke was followed by – nothing. Not one single hit. My handgonners were delivering their usual performance. The Lancastarians ignored them completely and continued to funnel their troops through the village. After a second volley from the gunners was without effect, I decided to move them out of the house and into melee with their Lancastarian counterparts. Lo and behold! They did quite well in hand to hand combat and managed to push the enemy back.

Meanwhile, with an ease and elegance I could only watch with my mouth open, K. had formed a line with her archers between the bridge and the village. This formation, which was at the right moment at the right time, caused havoc among my troops moving over from their position at the ford. For the rest of the game my archers were stuck in the fields, only feebly shooting towards the Lancastarians while their Big Man was occupied with removing shock points to keep his men from running.

The fighting in the village was getting increasingly dense as some locals joined in the fray. I had drawn the Master Gisbourne card which meant that I got support from a unit of farmers. Those, however, were dealt with by the Scottish pikemen before they could do any damage – I would have loved to use them to attack the line of archers from behind!

Villagers joining the streetfight.
Villagers joining the streetfight.

Despite the fierce fighting, the first units of Lancastarians had finally managed to break through. Now everything rested on my second line of defence. My Men-at-Arms threw themselves at their enemy counterparts and, with some incredible dice-rolling, managed to rout them after one round of melee!

The second line of defence holds.
The second line of defence holds.

It has to be said that the Men-at-Arms, under their gallant commander Sir Nicholas Bradwardyne, carried the weight of the fighting and saved the day for me. After finishing the Lancastarian Men-at-Arms, they did away with their billmen and then threw themselves at the Lancastarian commander, who had abandoned his routing troops and stood all alone. He fought heroically and it took me two rounds of melees to subdue him, but in the end he succumed to the greater number of men attacking him.

'Watch out, Milord!'
‘Watch out, Milord!’

The game was now in its last turns. Ever more Lancastarians were pouring into the village, where a building had caught fire but my handgonners still held their ground. K. also started to slowly move her line of archers forward through the fields.

The roof is on fire!]
The roof is on fire!

However, it was clear that most of her troops were too far behind to make it to the southern side of the board in time. One lone unit of billmen managed to break through my defences and even made it into the woods, but they didn’t cross the table edge. Finally a Yorkist victory!

This was another game that brought out the best in the Sharp Practice rules: a challenging scenario that posed some interesting problems, lots of decisions to be made and some colourful random events that supported the narrative. K. again handled her troops in an admirable fashion – especially her use of the formation of archers (which she normally never uses) was a work of art. I was surprised by her decision to move all of her troops through the village and was glad that I had kept some reserves which could react fast enough to block her way. In the end, I would reckon that commiting everything to one route had cost her victory, but since she disagrees with me, we’ll have to play another game with sides exchanged – let’s see if I fare better as the attacker.

Medieval Artillery and Limber

By the time of the Wars of the Roses, artillery was a common sight in warfare. The big bombards were mainly used for sieges and were positioned on the ground, their barrel only adjustable for height. But there were also smaller guns mounted onto carriages which were used in the field. Historians tend to agree that they had not much effect on the outcome of battles. At a rate of about 10 shots per hour and a range of 2000-2500 paces, normally only one salvo was possible before melee began. One exception was before the battle of Barnet, when the Earl of Warwick’s artillery fired all night long only to overshoot the Yorkist position which was much nearer than he thought.

However, artillery was certainly deemed an important asset by the commanders. Men like John Judde, the master of ordnance to Henry VI., spent great amounts of money and effort to produce an impressively large number of guns – 26 serpentines alone in his first month of employment. Raids were undertaken to capture the enemy’s artillery, for example by Sir Richard Beauchamp, the governor of Gloucester, who seized some of the Lancastarian guns as they passed on their way to Tewkesbury.

Such a raid would, of course, make a great scenario for skirmishing, and that is one of the reasons why I decided to make some artillery for our Wars of the Roses games. I wanted to have a siege bombard, a field gun and a limber.

Bombard
Bombard

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The pavises for the bombard are from Magister Militium, but I exchanged the gun for one from Peter Pig – the latter is larger and more detailed. I mounted it onto a plastic base and added some barricades at the sides and some clutter (a barrel and cannonballs) to provide a good position for the artillery crew. I’ve already a scenario in mind for the bombard: A small group is to sally out of a castle and spike the besiegers’ gun.

The crew is a mixture of different manufacturers, mainly Peter Pig, Essex and Donnington. I also made some sappers, for which I used figures with axes or hatchets from ‘armed peasants’ sets, but they are not painted yet.

Preparing to fire the culverine.
Preparing to fire the culverine.
Fire!
Fire!

The culverine is also from Peter Pig.

Now as far as I know there is no manufacturer who makes a medieval limber. There are some illustrations in manuscripts and at least one wargamer has built one from scratch, namely the admirable Simon from the Je lay emprins Blog (he also has another blog well worth visiting). His Burgundian artillery limber is a work of art. However, he used parts from 28mm kits, so I couldn’t just copy his construction.

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I based my limber on the same illustration as Simon, an image from a German manuscript of about 1480. There are more contemporary illustrations, and all look a bit different, so there was probably no standard way to limber a gun (more images can be found in the Osprey on Medieval Siege Warfare by Christopher Gravett). I decided to make a simple conversion of a generic 15mm limber I got from Magister Militium. The wheels were too small, so I swapped them for some from a Peter Pig gun. I also changed the shaft to accomodate two horses instead of one. The gun can be put onto the limber to rest in a small notch – an easy way to signify the limbered as well as the unlimbered status of the gun on the table top.

The limbered culverine.
The limbered culverine.
Artillery train on the march.
Artillery train on the march.

Researching, building and painting the artillery was great fun. This is a fascinating topic which provides great inspiration for skirmish scenarios. Let’s see how the guns will fare on the gaming table.

Table Top Teasers

Our last Wars of the Roses game involved trying to take and hold a mountain pass. I’d prefer to draw the veil of oblivion over my performance; sufficient to say that the Yorkists were massacred. What I would rather like to do is talk a bit about where the scenario came from: Namely from the hands of the great Charles S. Grant.

The Lancastarians fending off a last desperate attack by the remaining Yorkists.
Lancastarians fending off a last desperate attack by the remaining Yorkists.

I first came across this scenario in issue 14 of Battlegames magazine, which I read after discovering the pdfs at the Ganesha Games shop. It is called ‘Reconnaissance in force, or “You can’t have your cake and eat it”’ (well, seems I choked on that cake!) and was written by Charles S. Grant. The nice thing about the scenario is that the author not just states the forces and the objectives. He also provides a short introduction into the subject matter, in this case reconnaissance, describing its function, possible tactics and problems. After describing the forces, the terrain, the objectives and some special rules, he includes a short after action report from a game fought against a friend. While this game was set in his own 18th century ImagiNations background, the scenario itself is not period specific and can easily be adapted – as we have done for medievals. The whole thing was part of a series that ran in Battlegames under the header ‘Table Top Teasers’.

Grant, who got into wargaming through his father (also a pioneer of the hobby), started writing Table Top Teasers in 1978 for the now defunct magazine Battle (later continued for some years in Military Modelling).

I want a neon sign of that!

Those Table Top Teasers were 2-page long outlines of scenarios which always revolved around one specific tactical problem, for example an advance guard grabbing an important objective, the demolition of a bridge, escorting a convoy or conducting a beach landing. Grant’s stated aim was to provides alternatives to the pitched symmetrical battle. He refrained from calling his scenarios ‘problems’, as he suggested that there might not be clear answers to them, and rather thought of them as ‘stage settings’ for a battle – a term I like very much as it implies the drama and narrative these scenarios can offer.

In 1981, Grant published a book of teasers with Wargames Research Group called Scenarios for Wargamers. It includes 52 scenarios – one for every week of the years, as the cover states – and covers a broad range of topics. Sorted by general categories such as Attack and Defense, Reinforcements, Convoy and Ambushes etc., the scenarios follow the same structure as the teasers, starting with an introduction that sets the problem, outlining the forces and objectives and including a map. Most of them can be adapted to many periods. A few are restricted to the 20th century because they deal with tactics that are only possible with modern technology, such as the helicopter raid.

Let's have a raid over the weekend!

This book was followed by another one entitled Programmed Wargames Scenarios. This was aimed at the solo wargamer who would like to have algorithms for moving the enemy forces. I’ve never played a solo wargame, so I don’t know how they would actually play out, but the algorithms seem general and lose enough to be adapted to different rule sets, and they would perhaps even provide the opportunity for some collaborative gaming (yes, I’d like to join the winning side for once!).

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The third book, Scenarios for all Ages, was published in 1996 together with Stuart A. Asquith and contains some material from the first book, but also a lot of new scenarios.

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After this book, there seems to have followed a break in the publication of teasers until Henry Hyde got Grant to restart his column for Battlegames in 2006, the place where I first encountered them (Battlegames also published a special issue with teasers). The series ran until 2010, when Grant decided to take a break to prevent becoming predictable, as he wrote in issue 24 of the magazine. He keeps on gaming though and occasionally publishes teasers in his Wargamer’s Annual.

Most of the scenarios published by Grant were originally written for the horse-and-musket period and for ‘old school’ rules. However, they do work very well for other periods and rule sets. Sharp Practice for example is excellent for scenarios, as would be most other rules that cover large skirmishes or battles. As the required forces are stated in very general terms, such as light or heavy cavalry, line infantry and artillery, one can easily build equivalent lists for specific periods. However, I guess there would be some difficulties using the scenarios for small skirmishes involving only a couple of individuals on each side because the tactical problems are different at this level.

Even if you normally don’t play scenarios, have a look at the Table Top Teasers! They provide great inspiration for setting up a game that is more than just a slugfest between symmetrical forces. As ‘stage settings’, they allow you to wrap your game into a story that draws you into the world on the tabletop, explains why you are fighting and motivates you to keep going even if your carefully laid plans are falling apart.

Edit: Thanks to the friendly and knowledgeable folks at The Loose Association of Wargamers, I found out that more than one Grant was involved in the Table Top Teasers. In fact, it seems that Charles Grant senior started them in Military Modelling, Charles Grant junior took over and published the books with WRG, while his son in turn contributed to the Teasers in Battlegames. What an amazing family!

Availability: Scans of the original Tabletop Teasers are available on the web, while old issues of Battlegames magazine as well as the Battlegames collection of Teasers are available as pdfs at Ganesha Games or Wargame Vault. The two books published by WRG can sometimes be found on ebay or at antiquarian booksellers, while Scenarios for All Ages is again in print thanks to the History of Wargaming Project by John Curry.

Kung Fu Fighting

If you read my progress report from days of yore, you might remember that I had started a side project: I wanted to give my nephew a couple of figures as a present. He’s 10 years old and made his first acquaintance with wargames this summer, when we played X-Wing and Flashing Steel.

Well, I finally finished the project, albeit later then I had planned. I painted 6 figures of 28mm martial artists from Reaper Miniatures and cobbled together some simple rules. Those were inspired by rules for a medieval tournament published in issue 363 of Miniatures Wargames, combined with a simple activation mechanic derived from Ganesha Games. I also added a mechanic for figures being hurled back when receiving blows. This allows to throw one figure into another and generates more tactical choices.

After making some markers and measuring sticks, I put the whole stuff into a nice box and handed it over last week. To my relief, the kid was happy and seemed to enjoy the present! He also, as is right and proper, won the first four games.

The figures in the box.
The figures in the box.

However, painting the figures was quite a chore. To my unpleasant surprise, I discovered that months of exclusively working in 15mm didn’t make me a better painter, but perhaps even a worse one when it comes to 28mm. The reason is that I have no real technique: I prime, paint the different surfaces, wash with an ink and drybrush. This works reasonably well for small figures, but large figures, especially if they don’t have many details, are really hard this way – they would need layering and shading and whatever all the fancy stuff is called. I have no real ambition to improve my painting skills, as I mainly paint for gaming purposes and I am happy to stay with 15mm for the time being, so no need to panic. It does bug me a bit that the figures don’t look like I would have imagined them, but the kid liked them, so it’s ok. And at least my basing technique has improved from the pirates.

Everybody is...
Everybody is…

Regarding projects: Having finished the Kung Fu figures and feeling as if the Wars of the Roses project is now well-rounded (apart from some minor additions for special scenarios), I have decided to start a new project. Rules and a couple of figures have already been ordered – stay tuned for more information! Meanwhile you may place your bets.