I’ve long been fascinated by sieges and have thought about how to include them into our games. I guess that playing proper sieges isn’t really exciting: The long periods of waiting while your sappers dig a tunnel, your troops die of disease and your foragers struggle to organise enough supplies probably makes for a rather dull game – and this is already the part of the ‘active’ party, namely the besieger!
However, during many sieges, there were also dramatic events: Evacuating the surrounding villagers into the castle before the enemies’ scouts could get them, making sorties and, of course, the most dramatic of all, the direct assault of the walls. Some time ago I picked up a second-hand copy of the old Warhammer Historical supplement Siege & Conquest, written by Guy Bowers, who is now editor of Wargames Soldiers & Strategy magazine. The book is mainly a collection of scenarios that can be played single or as a short narrative campaign that doesn’t require any book-keeping, so this was a good start to think of some siege-related events that could make an exciting game.
During the Wars of the Roses, gunpowder artillery had come to dominate sieges, although besiegers were reluctant to shoot the castles to pieces as they might need them themselves later on. Still, it seems that sieges didn’t take too long: In December 1462, Warwick besieged Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh and Alnwick castles at the same time, and the first two had surrendered within the month. The last one was relieved by a small Scottish force that enabled the garrison to sally forth and get away. However, the castle still fell into Yorkist hands.
Such small episodes can easily be made into scenarios for Sharp Practice. But what about scenery? At last year’s CRISIS, I bought a castle layout by Kallistra. I’ve also painted up some artillery. What else would you see around a siege site?
The landscape around a besieged castle would have been ravaged. The retreating troops would have destroyed any buildings near the walls so as to deny the attackers any cover. The attackers would have done the rest by building camps, ditches, mines and sometimes even counter castles. Wooded areas would have been cleared to provide timber for the siege works.
Well, ruined buildings are easy:
So is an area of freshly cleared woodland. Especially as I was fortunate to get some cheap tree stumps at the local model railway shop’s sale:
For the camp, I got some Baueda tents for knights and officers. The smaller tents for the troops were bought at CRISIS, unfortunately I can’t remember the manufacturer:
One of the most common means of attacking a castle was to dig a mine. The aim was to get a tunnel underneath an important part of the wall or a tower and then bring it to collapse by burning the timber beams. Mine entrances were often disguised as small houses, so I decided to build one of those:
The hill is made of styrofoam and plaster, the hut is made from match sticks. The guy carrying the empty bucket is an Essex artilleryman. The poor sod with the heavy buckets is a conversion: Originally a figure from Museum Miniatures, I cut off his sword and bent his arms a bit so I could add the pole with the buckets. The buckets are small pieces of a wooden dowel, fastened with wire.
We are almost ready to play a siege scenario now. There is only the tiny problem of the castle. Unfortunately, it still isn’t painted. I made a start by undercoating it with a grey spray primer, which was unpleasant enough. But when I applied some ink to bring out the details, it seems that the undercoat wasn’t thick enough as the ink didn’t stick in the recesses of the structure. Now the raised parts are dark while the recesses are light. Urgh! The whole business reminded me why I hate resin and, not without a lot of swearing, I put everything away. I might give it another go when my anger has cooled down a bit. After all, I’d really like to see it in action!