Big Trouble in Little Mercia: Some 7th Century Gaming

Robbed by Covid of two games that I had fixed up this week with friends, I got my Saxon and Welsh armies out of the loft and set-to with a solo game. Once again, I’m still play testing my own Midgard rules. The game revolves around Reputation, represented by a pair of goblets full of tokens (one for each side). As heroic deeds are performed, Reputation is gained, but it can be lost by cowardly deeds and running from the battlefield. This time out, I was experimenting with a few extra ways to gain Reputation, with a special bonus for a hero leading the first charge of the battle. This would prove decisive in the game!

Having organised my venerable but beloved Saxon and Welsh armies onto suitable unit bases, I drew up a couple of forces for my favourite period, the 7th Century. (Midgard works on a standard 120mm frontage, although as long as both armies have roughly the same unit frontages, it doesn’t matter. Base depth is not relevant to the game.) The scenario was a raid into Mercia by Cadwaladr of Gwynedd with an attempted repulse by one of Penda’s thegns, Aethelwine, and his sidekicks, Osfrith and Ceonwulf.

The forces looked as follows:

GWYNEDD

3 x Heroes (Cadwaldr, Brochmael and Belyn of Lleyn)

2 x Teulu (Comitatus)

7 x Spearmen (lightly armoured but swift)

3 x Skirmishers with javelins and bows

Welsh (top) and Saxons (bottom) prepare for battle

MERCIA

3 x Heroes (Aelfwine, Ceonwulf and Osfrith)

2 x Gedriht (Comitatus)

8 x Spearmen

2 x Skirmishers with slings and bows

Having lined up both sides in a plausible battle formation (two units deep where possible as supporting units are critical in Midgard), the scenario started with a challenge to single combat. (You can turn these down in Midgard, but you lose Reputation – something neither of our warlords were ready to do, I decided.) Osfrith of Mercia and Belyn of Lleyn took up their mightiest spears and went at it hammer and tongs, blades clashing and splinters flying (well, they threw everything at it but their dice rolling was appalling! That’ll teach me to play solo.) Both heroes gained Reputation for their struggle as the armies watched eagerly.

Belyn and Osfrith play ‘who’s got the biggest spear’

The single combat ended with both heroes wounding each other on the third round. By this point, the commanders had had enough and Aethelwine ordered the impatient Saxons forward. Osfrith and Belyn were swept up in to their units and the battle was on!

Charge! Aethelwine orders the Saxons forward, although not everyone gets there!

The Saxons’ impetuousity was a disadvantage though, as poor Command tests held back the far left and right flanks. When Brochmael decided to push forward his Welsh warriors to force the issue, the Saxon left flank under Ceonwulf found itself stranded and unable to support Aethelwine in this centre. Although Brochmael himself would fall under Ceonwulf’s blade, the lack of support for the Saxon commander would later prove decisive.

Cadwaladr keeps the Welsh centre together

The Saxon advance is unintentionally wedge-shaped, as just one unit makes it through to attack the Welsh centre! This would lead to everything going pear-shaped later on…

In true heroic fashion, warlords Aethelwine and Cadwaldr clashed in the centre. This single combat turned out to be a lot more decisive than the one that opened the battle: Aethelwine just got the better of it, striking down the Welsh warlord on the third round. However, in a gripping turn of events, Cadwaldr got in a dying blow that mortally wounded the Saxon thegn. Both warlords dead on Turn Two!

Aelfwine and Cadwaladr clash in single combat in the press of shields

5s to hit, guys, Oh, well done, Saxons
Aethelwine’s Gedriht go it alone against the Welsh. Despite their inferior armour, the supporting units made the difference for the Cymric warriors in this fight.
Skirmishers failing to get out of the way in time get caught up in the melee

Gaps start to appear in the ranks as the blades bite

On the left flank, Ceonwulf’s luck had just run out. Despite putting up a good fight with his warriors, the wounded Saxon thegn took a stray blow in the scrum of shields as he rolled a 1. Fortunately he had saved a Might Point to reroll it, although he lost Reputation to do so (it’s bad for the warriors’ morale to show weakness) and promptly rolled another 1…exit Ceonwulf stage left. By this point, there were only two heroes (out of the original six) remaining – quite the bloodbath.

Saxon slingers get cheeky on the Welsh flank.

Osfrith and Belyn now found themselves facing each other once again on the Saxon right. Belyn’s men rolled some incredible dice and held off the Saxons, killing Osfrith in the process. By now, Saxon Reputation was teetering, with the loss of all three leaders.

The final countdown: Belyn of Lleyn finally fells Osfrith of Mercia with that massive spear!

Although Saxon units had broken through on both flanks, the advance was piecemeal. Finally, Ceonwulf’s Gedriht were destroyed – despite their resilience, they ended up fighting virtually alone against the Welsh centre. Strength in numbers, lads.

This was the end for the Saxons – despite taking a heavy toll on the Welsh leaders, their goblet of Reputation was empty and they fled back to Mercia. Clearly Penda will need to get involved!

Although the Welsh battle line is driven back on both flanks, the cohesion of the Saxons has been broken – victory is imminent.
End of turn 3: the Welsh Reputation (left) looks healthy but the Saxons (right) are teetering.
Sole surviving hero Belyn of Lleyn drives the Saxons back to the river bank!

5s to hit guys…no wonder the Welsh won!
Belyn fights on with the remains of his warriors.
The end: the Saxons break and run. Victory to the Welsh!

13 thoughts on “Big Trouble in Little Mercia: Some 7th Century Gaming

  1. Great-looking game, and I’m liking how you integrate the heroic actions / combats into the overall flow of the battle.

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    1. Thank you! The rules have been written around creating a heroic narrative. More to come later on this week, hopefully. We have a Saxon battle planned – Battle of the River Idle, 616 CE, based on Dan Mersey’s recent article in Wargames Illustrated.

      Like

  2. Fabulous stuff James. It of course reminds me of, dare I say it, the pushing miniatures around at the ye olde WAB weekends. Very evocative terrain too.

    It’s always great to see 7th CE armies on the table top. We need more of it really.

    Like

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