In a break from Midgard and everything else, I took a trip down to Bristol to celebrate my old chum Rob’s birthday. As part of the festivities, Rob had laid on a day of gaming at his club venue (Bristol Big ‘Uns at Iron Acton Village Hall) where I was due to participate in a large Battle of Hastings game using his own War and Conquest rules.
Now, two confessions: despite being a huge fan of the Early Medieval period, I’d never refought Hastings; and, despite having owned a copy since its release, I’d never actually played War and Conquest! I was hopeful that my knowledge of Warhammer Ancient Battles and a quick flick through the rule book would see me through. Fortunately, all my companions for the game had all played before – and the author of the rules was on hand. As it was, it was a pretty straightforward task and great fun.
I was joined by Jordan with his two boys on the Saxon side; we faced off against the very genial duo of Simon and Dave with their immaculately painted Normans. Although Rob had written the scenario and provided the Godwinsson brothers from his collection, we unfortunately had a last-minute drop out so had to cobble together the rest of the Saxons from Rob’s nearly-finished Vikings. This wasn’t too much of a problem but we lost track of the points values! In the end, we put the units out, the game looked right, and we got down to starting the battle.
It kicked off, as you’d imagine, with the Normans sending their archers and crossbowmen out to launch a hail of missiles against the Saxon line. We forgot about the shield wall rule for a couple of turns before Harold and his boys decided to form up to deflect the enemy arrows!
We had just three units of 12 skirmishers each, and the Normans had at least double that in archers and crossbowmen. After a few rounds of missile fire, the Saxons had lost the shooting match and a couple of the units in the shield wall were beginning to look very battered. However, there was nothing to be gained by moving off the hill – yet.
The Normans then started advancing across the line, sending several units of knights and cavalry up the hill to mount speculative ‘hit and run’ attacks against the Saxons. There is a rule in WAC called ‘Glancing Attack’ that is a special ability for troops in skirmish order, and it was absolutely tailor made for this situation. A Glancing Attack allows the skirmish unit to run in, attack with every model within 6″ (while only suffering half return attacks) and then scamper off d6″ (or 3d6″ in the case of this scenario).
Units suffering a Glancing Attack do not usually pursue, but we decided that it would be right for them to do so in this particular scenario (one of the commonly-held theories of the Battle of Hastings is, of course, that the Saxons broke ranks to pursue fleeing Normans in either a real or feigned flight). However, the discipline held until near the end of the game when one of Gyrth Godwinsson’s units on the left flank eventually chased les Normands down the hill.
In what was, appropriately, a day-long game, the combination of Norman missiles and hit and run cavalry attacks seriously weakened some of the Saxon units. Worse, the Saxon left flank was in danger of being outflanked by speculative Norman advances. To counter this, I decided to send Leofwine and the units on the Saxon right in a slow advance down the slope to put some pressure on the invaders. In WAC, shieldwalls can advance 2″ per turn, so it was a slow crawl forwards, but it had the desired effect of disrupting the Norman archers and giving the cavalry less space in which to operate.
When we got within 8″, the Saxons were able to return fire with javelins, which proved devastating. Like Warhammer Ancient Battles, javelins in WAC do not suffer a move and shoot penalty, and my dice were rolling hot for once! Little by little, the Saxons ground down the Norman left. Bishop Odo was busily running up and down the line, keeping the troops going, but his soldiers were gradually running out of space, and the cavalry units mounting the Glancing Attacks were losing men. A unit of Norman milites managed to flank charge a large body of Saxons, but the plucky English held on until help arrived.
Although much of its Warhammer heritage is clear, WAC has a number of differences. We had a number of SIPS (Strategic Initiative Points, I think) that we could spend to influence the course of the battle. This is a lovely mechanic, but I don’t feel I can comment further as every attempted use of SIPs by the Saxons went heavily ‘Pete Tong’! On critical turns of the game, where we wanted to move first, we would throw in 2 SIPs in order to add +2 to the d6 roll-off for initiative. Of course, when you roll three consecutive ones, what can you do? 🙂
Anyway, back to the battle. On the Saxon left, Jordan had managed to fend off the Normans with a combination of refusing the flank and chucking javelins. When Gyrth’s unit broke its discipline and charged off into what should have been the jaws of death, it got lucky and put a Norman unit to flight.
By 4:00 pm, the Normans were struggling to make a sustained impact anywhere along the line. William threw in a final attack all along the front with his remaining spear and cavalry units, but the Saxons soaked up the charges with a combination of thrusting spears, numbers and – surprisingly good dice rolling. Now Harold’s unit of 48 Huscarls marched down the hill and created a pile of bodies as they took vengeance on the weakened Norman units. Duke William was busy trying to rally his troops, but in this case, even the Bastard had to concede it was time to head back to the ships. Bishop Odo was last seen waving his club and cursing Leofwine in French!
It was a brilliant day out and I cannot speak highly enough of the friendliness of the chaps playing our game; if that’s any indicator of the club, it may well be worth an occasional two-and-a-half hour drive to visit the Bristol Big ‘Uns. I also enjoyed War & Conquest – enough of a WAB vibe but with many neat features and modifications that made for an enjoyable game. Some of the fiddliness of WAB is still there (individual figure removal leading to a large ‘dead pile’ to sort out at the end of the game, counting up exact figures in combat and calculating casualties from mixed units), but if you can cope with that, I can thoroughly recommend WAC.