Skirmish at Merrybridge

After having repaired the old wooden bridge at Merrybridge, the Yorkist commander ordered his man to put up camp. His scouts told him that there were no enemies nearby, so he didn’t take any special precautions apart from positioning one lonely sentry at the other side of the river. Alas, his scouts were wrong! The Lancastarians had, in fact, already dispatched a small force to attack the Yorkist camp at dawn.

This scenario was inspired by the skirmish at Ferrybridge in 1461, which was a prelude to the Battle of Towton. The Lancastarians had surprised a Yorkist detachment that had repaired the bridge and even managed to kill its commander, Lord FitzWalter. Only the quick response of Warwick and King Edward IV (then still allies), who mobilized reinforcements and sent a flanking force to cross a ford and attack the Lancastarians on the other side of the river, made it possible to retake the bridge.

For our scenario, I had the whole Yorkist force sleeping. As soon as the alarm was sounded, they could, on the Tiffin card, roll for each Big Man and unit to test if they would wake up (for most units, this was 5+). The alarm would be sounded as soon as the sentry had reached the camp – but before he could move, the sentry had to identify (uncover) at least one of the Lancastarian blinds. The Yorkists had one unit more (five against the Lancastarian four), but I was certain that it would be difficult enough to mobilise all their troops in time.

So, at the beginning of the game, the board looked quite peaceful. The lone sentry was watching the horizon while, in the camp, the eager cook already had started to prepare breakfast.

Do I see some movement over there?
Do I spot movement over there?
Gonna make a nice crispy bacon for the Lord!
Gonna make some nice crispy bacon for the Lord!

It wasn’t to stay that quiet. Due to some good dice rolling, the sentry uncovered the blinds pretty fast and hurried back to the camp. The Lancastarians rushed in column formation along the road to cross the bridge before the Yorkists would wake up. To their shock, one group of Lancastarian archers realised that they had forgot to pack their arrows in the excitement! (K. drew the ‘Out of Ammo’ card, which was only the start of a deplorable series of bad luck).

Hurry up men!
Step lively men!
Hey, someone forgot to pack the arrows!
Hey, someone forgot to pack the arrows!

Also, as soon as the sentry reached the camp and sounded the alarm, most of the Yorkist Big Men and groups came rushing out of their tents – another surprisingly good set of dice rolls by me. Only the men-at-arms and the second-in-command, Sir Percival Pillbeam, didn’t hear the trumpets and snored on.

I rushed my archers to the barricades to shoot at the approaching troops while leading the handgonners and the billmen out of the camp to confront the Lancastarians at the bridge.

Let's beat them back!
Let’s beat them back!

Unfortunately, my handgonners were a bit too eager and rushed headlong into the enemy’s billmen, who threw them back without difficulties. Meanwhile, the Lancastarian archers started to pick off my troops. They even hit and wounded poor James Merridew, my Big Man 3; fortunately he was able to continue fighting.

It's only a flesh wound!
It’s only a flesh wound!

The fighting around the bridge was very fierce. My archery took its toll, but finally the Lancastarian men-at-arms managed to break through and attack my bowmen at the barricades. However, my men-at-arms had also finally finished putting on their armour and were preparing to counterattack. Still no sign of Percy Pillbeam, however! A dreadful suspicion started to grow in my commander’s mind… Could it be treachery?

Well, I drew the ‘Treachery’ card, which meant that I had to retreat with the commander’s group for one turn. So a very angry Sir Nicholas Bradwardyn lead his men-at-arms to the tent of Percy Pillbeam only to discover that the treacherous son of a sloth had slunk off! However, this impulsive move allowed the Lancastarian men-at-arms to enter the camp, where they started to destroy the tents.

The end.
The end.

At this point, we decided to call it a day. With most of the Yorkist troops taking to their heals, Sir Bradwardyn on a personal vendetta against his second-in-command and Lancastarians in the camp, it looked like a Lancastarian victory. However, the Yorkist men-at-arms were still fresh and as soon as Sir Bradwardyn’s head would get a bit clearer he could cause havoc among the battered Lancastarians. So in the end, we agreed to declare it a draw.

This was another great game. As always, Sharp Practice delivered a cracking narrative – the whole story of the sleeping Percy Pillbeam, who turned out not be sleeping at all, provided a lot of colour to the carnage that went on at the bridge and at the barricades. However, when I designed the scenario, I didn’t think that the Yorkists would come out of their tents that fast – it would have been interesting if the Lancastarians had advanced further before I could organise my defence. But at the moment, I really seem to have a lucky streak when rolling the dice!

15mm Siege Scenery

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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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!

A Vital Bridgehead

Having finally painted up the medieval sappers – basically peasant figures with hammers and hatchets – we decided to use them for a game. Scenario 8 of Grant and Asquith’s Scenarios For All Ages seemed perfect: One side has to evacuate a village and then destroy the bridge behind it, while the other attacks in force and tries to stop the evacuation.

I played the defender, as I usually do – for some reasons, I prefer this role. K. was the attacker, fielding almost double the number of units I had. I set up my troops in the village, the archers securing the perimeter while the men-at-arms stood behind them ready for the onslaught. My skirmishers where hidden in the wood to my left while my handgonners covered my right flank. I also had a culverine which I positioned on the hill so it could cover the approaching enemy.

The set up.
The set up.

The enemy approached very cautiously. K. didn’t manage to activate most of her troops, so by the time all of her troops had arrived her side of the table was quite crowded. I used the respite to get the baggage train moving – I had to get eight pieces over to my edge of the table. However, when the Lancastarians finally got moving it was an imposing sight! Many a stout Yorkist warrior’s heart sank when men-at-arms, archers, pikemen and handgonners lumbered towards them.

Sappers waiting to destroy the bridge while the first carts leaves the village.
Sappers waiting to destroy the bridge while the first cart leaves the village.

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My culverine decided to take a shot at long range but didn’t hit anything. I pondered if I should reload it but, as this would take very long, decided to pack it in and get moving – retreating the culverine over the bridge would also get me victory points.

Culverine firing at the approaching Lancastarians.
Culverine firing at the approaching Lancastarians.

My handgonners went forward to take position behind a stone wall so as to try to slow down the advance. Everything was ready and I mentally prepared myself for the onslaught.

Handgonners in position.
Handgonners in position.
Here they come!
Here they come!

My handgonners fired and my billmen rushed out of the cover of the buildings to charge the Lancastarian flank and then mayhem ensued.

The fighting starts while the evacuation is in full progress.
The fighting starts while the evacuation is in full progress.

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K.’s first group of men-at-arms crashed into my archers which, to our mutual surprise, stood their ground. However, when the second group charged, they had enough and routed. Fortunately, my next line of defence, my own men-at-arms with my commander, held. Also, my billmen and the handgonners did quite well on the flanks, harassing the Lancastarians and slowing their advance.

Men-at-arms holding the village square while the last cart leaves.
Men-at-arms holding the village square while the last cart leaves.

The last card was now on its way. Earlier, I had retreated the skirmishers from the woods back to the bridge, something that now saved my neck. When the men-at-arms were pushed back, those brave Welsh warriors managed to hold their ground and buy the cart enough time to make it to the other side of the river.

The last cart has made it onto the bridge!
The last cart has made it onto the bridge!

When the cart had passed, the sappers, seeing masses of Lancastarians pouring into the village, lost their nerves and demolished the bridge. All my Big Men were trapped on the other side! Also, I hadn’t managed to evacuate the culverine. By the time it was limbered and ready to go, Lancastarians were already in the village and I had to move it off the road. Predictably, it got stuck and didn’t get far.

The situation at the end.
The situation at the end.

I had achieved a victory! However, it was a very costly one: Although I managed to evacuate all the baggage, I didn’t get any of my troops out. All of my Big Men are presumed captured, as is the culverine.

This was a very dramatic game. I was lucky that K. didn’t get moving for the first three turns while my evacuation progressed pretty well. Also, all of my troops performed outstandingly – even the handgonners! Going into the offensive on my right flank helped to take a bit of momentum out of the Lancastarian juggernaut. Having the skirmishers at the bridge at the right moment enabled my last cart to get away – although I have to admit that this was no tactical masterstroke but happened by accident: I retreated them because I wanted to get them out, not to use them as a last reserve. Still, I am quite pleased with the interplay of my troops. My only regret is the lost culverine: I should have either written it off and kept reloading and firing, forcing K. to deal with it, or limbered and moved it away immediately without firing at all – there was no time for both.

On a side note, this was also the game featuring the most figures we have ever played with. All in all, we had about 120 figures on the table – that’s quite a lot for us, who are more accustomed to skirmish games than to big battles. It looked really good though!

15mm Vignettes

I am still making stuff for the Wars of the Roses. Lately, I have tried my hand at making vignettes, as I think those really enliven the tabletop. The first one depicts two guys trying to repair a broken axle while their officer loses his nerves.

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The vignette will be useful for one of the random events from Sharp Practice, which is ‘A broken axle’ and means that your cart can’t move for 1D6 turns. However, I got the idea when I read my favorite wargaming book, Scenarios for all Ages by Grant and Asquith. There is one scenario which features a broken down railway engine and which sounds like fun. Now I don’t play any period that has railways, but why not make the objective a broken down cart?

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For the cart, I used a Magister Militium ammunitions cart I had lying around. The two lubbers trying to fix the wheel are Essex artillerists. The hot head is a disordered marker from Peter Pig’s Wars of the Roses range. I very much like this range, there are lots of original and expressive sculpts to be found.

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The other vignette is an addition to the farm stuff. I bought the small dunghill at TACTICA as it looked nice and I was certain to find a use for it. I had it lying around till now, as it looked kind of isolated and boring on its own. So I finally decided to stick it unto a base, add a pig and a peasant model and paint it up. Looks quite cute.

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Last but not least I stuck the beehives I got from Unit Models some time ago unto a bench made of matchsticks and painted them up. I thought about adding a bear that tries to steal the honey, but K. argued that this would be a little bit too much…

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Aaaah! Bees in my bonnet!