Haitian Revolution – First Game

I’ve finally painted up enough figures for a first game of our new Haitian Revolution project. We are using the Sharp Practice rules, which we have never before used for what they were intended – we’ve only played the Wars of the Roses variant so far. Naturally, we were quite apprehensive how we would manage.

I played the French (i.e. the Black Republicans under Toussaint L’Ouverture) and K. played the British expeditionary force that wanted to snatch the rich colony of St Domingue away from the French. In our scenario, the British had to blow up an ammunitions depot hidden in the jungle. Some of my militia guarded the depot while French reinforcements were on the way.

The set up.
The set up.

The British entered in column formation, consisting of two groups of eight line infantry and one of six Black Chasseurs. Another group of Chasseurs was advancing on their left flank. While the British were stepping lively, the French main force (eight line infantry and another group of six militia) dawdled. The maroons however rushed through the jungle to flank the British column. Those troops represent independent bands of guerillas, only lightly armed but good at melee, which in our games may move through jungle terrain without penalties.

K. initially wanted to change her line into column but was afraid the maroons would hit her in the flank, so she decided to manoeuvre her groups independently. This was a relief for my militia, which was advancing headlong towards the British and taking quite a lot of shock from their volleys. Unfortunately, my regulars still wouldn’t budge and kept behind. The militia at the hut was taking cover behind the building after exchanging some quick volleys with the British.

Under pressure.
Under pressure.

I knew I had to do something quick and decided to thrown the maroons at K.’s flank. Unfortunately, she had it guarded by her Black Chasseurs, which are not the weedy coves her disease-stricken regulars are.

Maroons getting ready to attack.
Maroons getting ready to attack.

The Chasseurs repulsed the first group of maroons with ease, making them flee back into the jungle. The second group however did better and threw the Chasseurs back, thereby opening up K.’s flank.

However, this was of no avail. At the hut, my militia was desperately making a stand but could not prevent the first group of British regular making contact with the building and preparing the fuse to blow it to smithereens.

Militia in a tight spot.
Militia in a tight spot.

At this moment, we ended the game as we had run out of time. I conceded victory to K. as she would only need one or two more turns to prepare the fuse and I don’t think I could have stopped her. Sure, the maroons were back in the game and threatening her flank. But her regulars were still fresh and keeping up a lively fire, which had worn down both my groups of militia. My regulars were advancing slowly, but then K. still had a second group of fresh Chasseurs, which could deal with any threat.

The end.
The end.

This was a fun game and an interesting experience. The tactical challenges are very different from the melee-dominated Wars of the Roses games and we both felt that we still had a lot to learn. Neither of us managed to form a line, which could have made the game more decisive, as line formations get a big bonus when firing. K. didn’t dare because of the threat my maroons posed to her flank (lines are more vulnerable to attacks into their flanks than groups), while I couldn’t activate my regulars to move. Shock points have more weight when there is constant shooting and it’s much more difficult to decided whether to activate groups or to just remove shock to keep them from running away.

We both agreed that we like the ‘proper’ version of Sharp Practice very much and are looking forward to trying other scenarios and experimenting with different tactics. Liberté, égalité, chance aux dés!

The Raft makes an Easter break and will be back on April 10. Have a nice time and hopefully get some games or painting in!

It’s a Jungle Sometimes…

… it makes you wonder, doesn’t it? The Haitian revolution project is coming along nicely. I’m making good progress with painting and I’m looking forward to playing a game some time soon. However, what I still need is terrain.

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For basic things such as roads, hills, river etc. I will use our Wars of the Roses stuff. To get a bit more of a caribbean feeling, I started working on new buildings. But the most important thing to convey the idea that we are no longer in York anymore is jungle. I’d really like to model the dense and heavy vegetation that was so central for the guerilla tactics of the insurgents.

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The easiest source for jungle terrain is a pet shop. You’ll find a great variety of plastic aquarium plants there, some of them in garish colours and strange shapes, but some that look quite ok. One thing to note is that they look better the more you put together. While a single aquarium plant can look rather cheesy, a group of them gives a nice impression of an exotic jungle.

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I decided to follow the advice of the indefatigable Diane Sutherland in Battlegames issue 17. She stuck the aquarium plants root and branch (that is, including the plastic sprue they come with) onto old CDs and covered the sprue with acrylic paint mixed with sand. As I wanted several sizes of jungle bases, I used not only CDs but also some smaller bases I had as well as an irregular shaped piece of plasticard. To fix the spare plants I bought on ebay some time ago and which came without a sprue, I glued small pieces of balsa wood and styrofoam to the bases. After covering the whole thing with filler and acrylic paint and flocking it, I drilled small holes in the wood and styrofoam and stuck the spare plants in.

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The result looks quite nice, if I say so myself. Let’s see if it will be enough. I’ve still got a couple of plant mats I bought on ebay which will be used to fill the edges of the playing table. If this still shouldn’t be enough, I’ll make some more of the bases, as they are quick and easy to produce.

A Welsh Warrior Woman

Logo_smallIn the first third of the 12th century, Britain was thrown into civil war when the daughter and nephew of the late king Henry I fought for the throne. This period is known as the ‘Anarchy’ as it saw a widespread breakdown of order. Local nobles used the opportunity to settle scores with their neighbours and gain power for themselves.

The Welsh Marches (borderlands) had been a volatile region since William the Conqueror invaded South Wales and established a series of castles to secure his gains. During the Anarchy, border skirmishes quickly led to a general uprising of Welsh nobles against the Norman lords. One of the Welsh leaders, Gruffyd app Rhys, the ruler of Deheubarth, decided to attack the Normans in force and drive them out of his province.

Gruffyd was married to Gwenllian, daughter of another Gruffydd. According to chronicles, Gwenllian, born in 1097, was a very warlike woman. Defying her father, who wanted to make peace with the Normans, she joined her husband in a campaign of guerilla warfare. From their hiding places in the woods, small bands would raid Norman patrols and settlements. When her husband left to get reinforcements, she led her troops in person against the enemy. However, the Normans fought back and she was forced to raise an army and meet them near Kidwelly castle in 1136. The ensuing battle saw the Welsh defeated and routed. Gwenllian was captured and beheaded. Yet her memory was not lost and generations of Welsh soldiers would issue the cry ‘Revenge for Gwenllian’ when going into battle.

Kidwelly castle today.
Kidwelly castle today.

Gwenllian is one of numerous early medieval warrior women. Historian Megan McLaughlin showed that up to the eleventh century, chroniclers noted the activities of female combatants with little comment. Especially noble women were expected to be able to defend themselves and their possessions from attack. As warriors were tied to a lord by bonds of personal loyalty, they wouldn’t find it inappropriate to obey the commands of his spouse, especially if the lord himself was absent. The ‘domestic’ organisation of warfare also meant that girls could have participated in the martial training of the boys.

Woman training swordfighting, from a 14th century manuscript.
Woman training swordfighting, from a 14th century manuscript.

Unfortunately, the chronicles don’t give us many details about those women and we have to contend ourselves with the basic facts. Still, the case of Gwenllian offers plenty of opportunity for wargamers. The guerilla warfare she conducted is well suited to scenario-based skirmishes and small scale actions. SAGA of course immediately springs to mind, where she would make a formidable Warlord for a Welsh warband. David Mersey’s Lion Rampant would also be very apt for those kinds of games.

But which figure to use as Gwenllian? Early medieval Welsh are often depicted as very lightly armoured and equipped. However, as the daughter and spouse of a local ruler, she would doubtlessly have access to the best gear, meaning chainmail and helmet as well as a sword.

In 28mm, Bronze Age Miniatures offer a Viking Female which could be pressed into service without any troubles. Thunderbolt Mountain Miniatures have a Human Female Warrior, which, although marketed as a fantasy miniature, would also work quite well. The same goes for Ylvfriodr of Ulfrstadt from Red Box Games.

In 15mm, Peter Pig offers female Vikings that could be used. Those are very nice figures with sensible dress and proportions, their only drawback being that they only come with spears or axe and not with a sword in the hand. On a pinch, one could also use one of the ‘Champions’ from the Warrior Women of Erin range by Trey Corbies figures, even if they are too lightly armoured.

Bibliography

Lloyd, John E.: A History of Wales. From the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest, London: Longmans, Green & Co 1948, vol. II.

McLaughlin, Megan: “The Woman Warrior: Gender, Warfare and Society in Medieval Europe,” Women’s Studies 17 (1990), 193-209 (available online).

Warner, Philip: Famous Welsh Battles, Glasgow: Fontana 1977.

 

A Broken Axle – WotR AAR

Last week, K.’s brother J. and his girlfriend L. visited us for a couple of day. They had a pretty intense program of sightseeing, but we nevertheless managed to squeeze a game in. L. had heard about the strange games we play but had no experience with wargaming. We gave her a short introduction to the Sharp Practice rules and she teamed up with J. against K., while I decided to play the role of umpire for a couple of turns.

The scenario revolved around a broken down cart with the Yorkist regimental cash box. The cart was guarded by a group of handgonners and skirmishers, who were eagerly awaiting reinforcements consisting of archers and men-at-arms. The Lancastrians attacked with archers, billmen and men-at-arms. To repair the cart, the Yorkist players (J. and L.) had to roll 2D6 each Tiffin and add up the pips. If the sum was 28, the cart was repaired and could move next turn.

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K. started her attack pretty straightforward, moving her billmen and men-at-arms through the pasture directly towards the defenders. J. and L. had two groups of archers on their right flank, which advanced leisurely, all the while shooting at K.’s group of archers and slowing it down considerably. The other reinforcements rushed through the fields to aid the handgonners and skirmishers. The handgonners got off a volley before being hit by K.’s men-at-arms. The predictable result was handgonners turning tail and running.

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Things were looking good for K. However, as I was tired of being umpire, I decided to join her side and help her a bit. Alas, my ‘help’ confounded the Lancastrian command structure and as our styles of playing are very different, our troops soon were following contradictory orders.

In the meantime, the Yorkists had brought up their reinforcements and now had a group of fresh men-at-arms at the cart, while their archers were marching in from the right flank. Another couple of melees near the cart saw the Yorkist skirmishers flee but unfortunately also finished off the Lancastrian men-at-arms.

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And then Goofus and Doofus repairing the cart announced they were finished and the cart took off, still in possession of the Yorkists. Our billmen were left standing in the rain, facing enemy men-at-arms, while the still fresh Yorkist archers were rushing towards the centre. A clear Lancastrian victory!

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The game was more exciting than I would have thought. At first, it looked like the Lancastrians were doing well and J. and L. were a bit annoyed that their archers were off at the far right, quite a distance from the melee in the middle. However, in the end this was a good decision: They took out one group of Lancastrian archers and then formed a handy reserve that could dominate the field after the tin cans had beaten each other to pieces. For the Lancastrians, speed was of essence and had they reached the cart before the Yorkist reinforcements arrived, the situation would have looked different.

Considering that Sharp Practice is not the simplest set of rules, especially for beginners, L. had the knack of it in no time. Only the number and variety of modifiers for shooting and melee caused some confusion. But she announced that she is looking forward to having another go!