I’ve been working on Midgard – my heroic battle wargames rules – for some time now. Medieval Spain and the age of El Cid have long been popular in my gaming circle and it wasn’t long before Tom WD (king of the pun) started cracking jokes about ‘El Cidgard’. Therefore it was only a matter of time before I pulled my finger out and ran a game. The safe arrival of Scrivs and his collection of El Cid minis in the UK offered us the perfect opportunity, so here it is…
El Cid has fascinated me since I was a kid, so much so that I ended up writing a WAB book and several magazine articles about him back in the noughties. Recently, the release of the Caballero Miniatures 3d printed models (just amazing) and the Legend of El Cid series on Amazon Prime (rough in places but great Spanish locations and stirring battle shots) has rekindled my interest in the Iberian Peninsula.
The Battle of Graus was fought on May 8th, 1063 CE. The exact circumstances are unclear but the bare facts are that Prince Sancho ‘The Strong’ of Castile rode with his father’s Muslim tributary, the Emir of Zaragoza, to defend the town of Graus from the Aragonese. The Aragonese were defeated and King Ramiro I of Aragon, Sancho’s uncle, was killed. As Richard Fletcher wrote in The Quest for El Cid, ‘The Graus campaign is a fine example of the complexities which arose in the age of the taifa kings: a Castilian prince defeats and kills his Aragonese uncle in order to preserve the territorial integrity of a Muslim ally.’ It is also notable because, according to his chronicler, it is the first recorded battle in the life of Rodrigo Diaz, later known as El Cid, fighting in the service of Sancho of Castile.
In wargames terms, I decided that the most likely scenario would be the Castilians and Zaragozans trying to raise the siege of Graus. I therefore elected to have the Aragonese on a hill overlooking the town of Graus with the relief force trying to storm the camp before reinforcements arrive.
Armies were drawn up involving five heroes a side, obviously including Rodrigo Diaz at the side of Sancho of Castile. As this was near the start of his career, I didn’t make him too powerful, but added in several traits to make him dangerous in single combat (he had a reputation for this early in his career) and an inspiring leader of men. The Christian knights were the toughest units on the battlefield although I made sure to back them up with plenty of lighter cavalry.
Having lugged our metal armies out of storage (after a few years of playing with plastics, a box of metal 28mm cavalry is a full-on wargamer workout) we sorted the following forces out for the game. Although all my Midgard games to date have been played with units on a 12cm frontage, we mostly had pre-existing 16cm movement trays for our El Cid collections (based for WAB), so we used bigger units than usual. Midgard is measured in ‘Spear Throws’ (the width of a base) so that meant we also increased our basic measurement to 16cm for the game.
al-Muqtadir, Emir of Zaragoza (army general)
al-Mutamin, Prince of Zaragoza
Sancho ‘the Strong’, Prince of Castile
Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, Alferez to Sancho of Castile
al-Tariq, Captain of al-Muqtadir’s guard*
2 mixed spear/ bow units
1 spear unit
1 household caballeros hidalgos (knights)
3 units of caballeros
1 Andalusian heavy cavalry
4 skirmishers with bows and slings
King Ramiro I of Aragon
Sancho Ramirez, Prince of Aragon [started off-table with 1 x household knights and 2 x caballeros]
Fabien del Urgel*
Garcia de Pamplona*
(*these commanders were invented for the scenario)
2 household knights – caballeros hidalgos
4 mixed spear/ bow units
4 skirmishers with bows and slings
We were playing a version of my ‘Take The High Ground’ scenario for Midgard, whereby a force (the Aragonese in this case) has to hold a strategic hill against superior numbers (Zaragoza and Castile) until reinforcements arrive. Reputation (the measure of victory or defeat in Midgard) could be earned by holding on to the strategic salient points on the hill – marked by three tents – from Turn 3 onwards. Prince Sancho Ramirez of Aragon would arrive in Turn 4 with his knights, but at a randomised location on the Aragonese side of the board. As it turned out, these two elements gave a nail-biting conclusion to the game.
Tom WD and I took command of the Zaragoza/ Castile force and, predictably, ‘razzed them up the middle’ (our default tactic). In this scenario, it’s critical to get to the hill and contest it while the attacker has the advantage of numbers. Wary of archery, we opted to send al-Mutamin up front with the infantry while the Castilians formed the second wave with the more vulnerable caballeros. I’d chosen to have one end of the hill in the vineyard/ orchards to test out the rough terrain rules, which actually worked a treat (much to my frustration!) Al-Tariq, a low-level commander of the Zaragozans, was tasked with breaking through the Aragonese skirmishers, which he did before being repeatedly repulsed!
On the Aragonese left flank, Garcia of Pamplona sent a unit of knights to sort out the Zaragozan jinetes backed up against the foothills. In true jinete style, the Zaragozan light cavalry evaded the charge, then encircled the caballeros and shot them to pieces with javelins!
In the centre, full-on scrapping was breaking out as al-Mutamin of Zaragoza pressed his spearmen and archers forward into the Aragonese line.
The game was properly teetering at this point, as the Aragonese goblet of Reputation dropped to zero during Turn 3. However, hanging on to two of the three objectives put some Reputation back in the pot to stabilise their losses. Could they hold on?
At the start of turn 4, Sancho Ramirez arrived with the Aragonese reinforcements. There was a tense moment as Scrivs diced to see where they would arrive and they turned up on the Aragonese left flank – at the top of the table. The Zaragozan jinetes – placed there by Tom to counter that exact possibility – went into combat, fighting a rearguard action to delay the arrival of a wave of angry tooled-up caballeros. They did well, but both units were broken by turn 6.
In my enthusiasm to take the orchard (and hold the tent objective within it), I’d carelessly let Fabien of Urgell jump the wall and bring a spear unit into the main battle on the left flank of my Castilian knights. This went badly (units being hit in the flank have a short life expectancy) and they were dispatched in short order, losing yet more Reputation – knights are worth more than regular troops, so this was a faux pas on my part!
With the game near its end, al-Muqtadir’s guard crashed into Sancho Ramirez’s knights, and I got talked into issuing a challenge to single combat, which didn’t go as planned! Sancho Ramirez struck down the ruler of Zaragoza (four Reputation points lost in two minutes), but suffered a fatal wound himself as his knights were destroyed by the Andalusians.
Several other units also broke in the final turn, including the heroic Zaragozan jinetes, leaving both sides bloodied and battered. However, the loss of the Zaragozan Emir and the unit of Castilian knights charged in the flank by Fabien of Urgell meant that the Aragonese had snatched a bloody win. King Ramiro was wounded and his son killed, but he held the field and the town of Graus. Al-Mutamin (now the Emir of Zaragoza), Sancho of Castile and Rodrigo Diaz would have to retreat with their bloodied forces. Victory to Aragon!
Well, this was a corking game, and, I think, a successful first venture into ‘El Cidgard’. The single combat rules gave the right level of heroism for this battle and the Reputation mechanic meant that game swung from an impending Aragonese defeat in Turn 3 to a victory in Turn 6. I was also pleased with the rough terrain rules – despite the continued attacks by the Zaragozans into the orchard, the Aragonese skirmishers managed to hang on until the end of the game. There’s still a few minor tweaks to unit profiles that might happen but the game engine is doing its job.
Do I need to paint any more figures for this? Probably not – although the Caballero Minis 3d prints might see me getting a few command figures done! Do we need to play more El Cidgard? Hell, yes. It’s telling that we all had boxes of unused figures for this game and Tom’s Berber army didn’t even come out of the box.