or A Solo Wargamer Visits the Houses of Lancaster and York
By Chris Hahn
Inspired by John Graham Leigh’s report of his refight of St. Albans in the May/June 2013 issue of Slingshot, I interrupted a Seven Years War project and immediately started planning and preparing a Wars of the Roses battle for my 6×4-foot tabletop.
Before searching the Internet for basic and additional information, I checked my collection of Miniature Wargames and Wargames Illustrated magazines. Gary Mitchell’s informal report “To Bosworth and Beyond” was found in the January 2012 issue of MW. This would prove an excellent resource, as I intended to use “Hail Caesar” rules. The September 2012 issue of WI had The Wars of the Roses as its theme, so there were a few articles to read and re-read and more than a few stunning photos to admire. Page 10 of this interesting issue (aren’t they all though?) referenced Simon MacDowall’s “The Tree of Battles” rules, so I checked the Legio Wargames website and downloaded the free PDF for my reading pleasure and study. Various blogs and other sites were also visited. I quite enjoyed reading some well-written After Action Reports and looking at some very nice pictures of games in progress. I also skimmed the relevant sections of The Miniatures Page and looked at the Lance and Longbow Society website. In the course of this “work,” I was reminded to take yet another look at Impetvs, as well as tempted to purchase the “Extra Impetvs” supplement covering this specific period of history. For the present effort, however, I decided to imitate — and borrow heavily from — the Bosworth piece written by Gary Mitchell. The scenario would be loosely based on the St. Albans report previously mentioned. In addition to rule modifications adopted and adapted from other sources, I would add a couple of my own. My intent was not to refight a historical battle (though there certainly are plenty of these to choose from), but to set up and play a simple and hopefully fun tabletop engagement set in 15th-century England.
The simple landscape established for this fictional contest is depicted in Map 1. All of the hills were classed as gentle, so they did not interfere with movement but did confer a bonus in melee if one unit was at a higher elevation. The rules for woods (page 38 of “Hail Caesar”) applied for the heavy woods on the one short edge of the table. The patch of light woods on the other side of the battlefield was classed as rough ground. The small village of Glynndale was represented by a square piece of card, measuring 3.5 inches along each side. The roads leading into and from the village were categorized as unimproved.
Taking my cue from Simon MacDowall, I built two forces, each containing four divisions or commands. The Lancastrians were led by the following personalities: Northumberland, Somerset, Exeter, and Pembroke. The Yorkists were led by Warwick, Montague, Norfolk, and The Duke of York. On average, there were eight standard-size units in each division. These formations were composed of dismounted men-at-arms, Retinue infantry with 2-handed weapons, Retinue infantry with bows, Retinue infantry with a combination of weapons, Shire infantry organized along the same lines, several units of mercenary pikemen, and one unit of mercenary troops armed with crossbows. Each army also possessed a mounted contingent. The overall commander of each force was attached to a small unit of heavy cavalry. His division included a standard unit of heavy cavalry with lances supported by a unit of medium cavalry/lesser nobles.
Seven of the eight commands included a contingent of troops under the command of a “captain.” These were a part of the parent division and operated as such until or if they turned traitor. In that case, the contingent would not fall under the command of the nearest enemy leader but would do the most it could to fight with and break the formations of its former command.
The Rule Amendments and Additions
1. Division commands — Instead of representing the Lancastrian and Yorkist leaders as individual models, I attached them — as in Impetvs — to a small unit of heavy cavalry or heavy infantry (dismounted men-at-arms). Their ability to command other units in their division would not be impacted but they would not have the freedom or range of movement detailed in the rules-as-written. Additionally, just as with the Dark Ages scenario reported in “Hail Caesar” (see page 158), leaders participating in combat would run an increased risk of being listed as MIA, WIA, or even KIA.
2. Units in Buildings — The rules (on page 79 of “Hail Caesar”) pertaining to street fighting/urban combat are rather inflexible and quite advantageous to the defender. Instead of having to break/rout the defending unit in order to clear a village, town, large manor house, etc., I decided that I was going to allow any negative break test to apply to the defending unit(s). The garrison of a village could be forced to yield its position, to give ground.
3. Arrow Storm — On page 21 of his rules, Simon MacDowall details this “high volume and rate of fire” ability for archer units. I liked this rule and so adapted it for use. In “Hail Caesar” terms, each side was given an allowance of three arrow storm markers or chits. Each side was also allowed to roll a 1d6, adding the result to the overall number of arrow storm markers. These markers could be used/played by any unit (not crossbows though!) armed with bows. These markers could be used during offensive or defensive operations. Playing the arrow storm marker or chit allowed the shooting unit to roll double the number of dice. For example, a unit with 3 dice would be permitted to roll 6 dice. Once used, arrow storm markers are discarded.
4. Traitors to the Cause! — Mr. MacDowall outlines procedures for determining acts of treachery on the miniature battlefield on page 14 of his rules. Thinking that a Wars of the Roses battle without the possibility of treachery would be like a hot summer day without a cold glass of lemonade, I drafted some very simple rules to cover this event.
At the start of each turn, 2d6 are rolled. If the result is not a double score (two 4s, two 5s, etc.), then play proceeds as usual. If the result is a double score, then an additional 1d6 is rolled. The result of this roll corresponds to a previously assigned number for the contingents of the division commanders.
6 The Duke of York
If/when a double score results and the roll of a 1d6 indicates a contingent turns traitor, these troops immediately turn on the nearest enemy unit(s). Once their turn of movement and combat is complete, the normal game move sequence resumes.
Treachery may only occur once during a battle. Therefore, once a double score is rolled, there is no need to continue rolling 2d6 prior to every game turn.
Somerset versus Warwick: A Summary
Map 2 illustrates the deployment of the opposing armies. All of the Yorkist formations are on the table but only three of the four Lancastrian formations are deployed for battle. Pembroke’s command will arrive on Turn 4, on the left flank of the Yorkist line. This was determined by a pre-battle die roll. The number of “arrow storm” markers was also determined before the commencement of hostilities. In order to better utilize the space afforded by my 6×4-foot tabletop, I used 2/3rds scale rulers from Litko Aerosystems, Inc.
Turns 1-3: First blood of the day went to the Lancastrians when archers of Northumberland’s command scored hits against Montague’s troops. Volleys were directed at Norfolk’s lines, but there was little effect. As the men under Northumberland and Somerset continued to move slowly forward, archers in the ranks of Montague’s and Norfolk’s commands replied in kind.
There were no melees in their first few turns as the opposing formations were still quite removed from each other. The men under Exeter’s control showed great reluctance to move from their original positions.
On the second turn of the battle, it was determined that a portion of Pembroke’s command had turned traitor. This unexpected development presented something of a problem as Pembroke’s formation was off table and not expected to arrive until the start of Turn 4. Given that the traitors were outnumbered and outclassed, it was accepted that they would be defeated. What was not known was how long Pembroke would be delayed and how much damage his loyal units would suffer. I relied on the “all powerful” 1d6 to resolve the situation. It was determined that Pembroke’s battle would not arrive until Turn 10. It was further determined that three of his units had been involved in routing the traitors. While two units got away with light casualties, one of his better formations was shaken in the desperate off-table melee.
Turns 4-6: Exeter continued to have command and control issues as these turns were played out. The mercenary crossbow unit continued to exchange fire with Yorkist archers. At one point, the mercenaries were disordered and forced to retreat. Their pike-armed brothers would not let them through, so there was a bit of confusion for a few moments. As no Yorkist formation left the advantage of the hill, there was no real danger to Exeter’s command.
In the center, after exchanging more arrow volleys and depleting their supply of arrow storm markers, the first line of Somerset’s division advanced to within spitting distance of Norfolk’s men. Determined to push the Lancastrians off their property, the archers dropped their bows, drew their swords, and charged. They were supported by two units of dismounted men-at-arms and by Norfolk himself, who advanced into the melee alongside his bodyguard. Much blood was spilled on both sides in this first clash of the day. Somerset’s men were forced to yield and retreated in disorder with two out of the three formations involved being shaken from losses.
Minor success was achieved over on the Lancastrian right when Shire infantry under Northumberland closed with and pushed back a unit of Montague’s archers on the far side of the village. These bowmen proved rather stubborn, however, as they maintained their order and kept fighting instead of breaking and running.
By the end of Turn 6 (Map 3), both sides had exhausted their arrow storm markers. While these clouds of missiles did cause casualties among the targeted ranks, the impact was not as significant as hoped. In fact, both sides demonstrated a great degree of resiliency with the break test rolls, often throwing scores of 9, 10, 11, and even 12.
Turns 7-9: In the center of the field, Somerset withdrew his shaken first line and advanced his second line of fresh troops. The maneuver went smoothly; only one of Somerset’s formations was disordered by the passage of lines. As soon as the new units were in place, they were targeted by Yorkist archers. Arrows flew from one side to the other and then back again. While men fell dead or wounded, their units continued to hold their positions. Aggravated by the lack of effect of the arrow volleys, a unit from Norfolk’s command and one from Montague’s division advanced into contact with Somerset’s men. After a turn of melee, the situation was not much changed. Norfolk had success on the right while Montague’s infantry found themselves out-matched. This, unfortunately, would be a recurring theme for Montague during this phase of the battle. His men were routed from the village after a short, sharp fight. His left — the Yorkist left — was essentially compromised as two more units of Lancastrians made their way past the village and then executed a smart wheel, pivoting their line almost 90 degrees. The Lancastrians made every effort to capitalize on the now exposed left flank of the Yorkists, but could not quite get enough men into position. Units of Montague’s second line started to reorient themselves in order to brace for the expected attack. Warwick ordered his left-most unit to wheel and move over in support of the left.
The Duke of York moved his second line up to reinforce the first in anticipation of a charge by the mercenary pikes of Exeter’s command. While this maneuvering and preparation was being done, crossbow bolts and arrows continued to fly back and forth between the lines. And again, the targeted formations simply accepted the losses and stayed focused on their task, which was inflicting greater casualties on the enemy units within range.
Turns 10-12: The 10th turn of this fictional battle witnessed the arrival of Pembroke’s command. Fittingly as well as frustratingly, the first order given by Pembroke was a failed divisional order. On the next turn, he turned the air around him blue with curses while issuing more orders. These instructions were followed and his chastised formations made three moves, winding up near the now vacant village of Glynndale. Pembroke’s troops would not see action (except for the early struggle with traitors in their own ranks), but would play a part in deciding the battle.
The mercenary pikes of Exeter’s command did bloody battle against formations commanded by the Duke of York. Scores fell on each side until the “push of pike” succeeded in forcing the Yorkist line back in a state of disorder. Following up, the mercenaries showed no mercy. In a matter of minutes, the Duke of York’s men were routed and the Duke found himself on the wrong end of several pike points. Additional attacks by other elements of Exeter’s command proved irresistible. By the middle of the eleventh turn, the Duke of York’s division was well and truly broken; the right flank of the Yorkist army was well and truly compromised.
Too late, Warwick sent his heavy cavalry toward this flank. He followed with his own squadron but could not reverse the tide of battle. In fact, he never engaged the enemy as the loss of the Duke’s command prevented him from committing his troops. In the center of the field, Norfolk’s men still held their ground even though they continued to suffer losses from Lancastrian arrows. One unit in the defensive line finally succumbed to the attention of the enemy archers. Over on the Yorkist left, the wounded Montague worked desperately to hold back Northumberland’s confident troops. The melee went back and forth in this sector, with both sides becoming shaken by the prolonged effort. Warwick had sent some foot over to this embattled flank as well but these reinforcements found themselves hard pressed as well and nearly pinned back against the left side of the central hill.
The right flank was in tatters. The left flank was in serious trouble. The arrival and advance of Pembroke’s contingent meant even more Lancastrian pressure against already weakened units. The center still held, but was in danger of becoming enveloped. Thinking it better to get away so that he and his men could live to fight another day, Warwick issued orders for a general retreat, yielding the field of honor to Somerset and the hated Lancastrians. (Map 4)
Photos of this wargame would never make the cover (let alone pages) of any magazine catering to and covering our splendid hobby. The terrain set out on my table was simple to the point of being crude, but it was effective and completely functional. The same can be said of the troops used in this fictional engagement. My forces did not even begin to approach the appearance and obvious quality of the figures seen here http://www.fat-wally.com/Impet
Generally speaking, I think the rule adjustments worked fairly well and added a certain flavor to the proceedings. As always, there is room for improvement and further tweaking. With regard to the representation of division commanders and army leaders, I think I am going to go back to the original “Hail Caesar” method. Making them part of a small unit can result in movement problems as everyone has to come along for the rallying ride or follow me advance/charge. I am toying with the idea of increasing the combat value of divisional commanders for my next Wars of the Roses battle. These gentlemen will not have to dedicate all of their fighting ability when engaged in melee, however. I was thinking that it might be entertaining to roll a six-sided die and see how involved in the fighting a commander becomes. For example, on a roll of 1, the leader is there just to watch and does not add any dice to the melee. On rolls of 2 or 3, he contributes half of his attack dice (rounded up) to the melee. In so doing, he runs the risk of being wounded or killed. On rolls of 4 to 6, all of his attack dice are added to the melee combat.
The village of Glynndale was certainly not a focal point in this fictional battle. Montague’s men tried to defend it against Northumberland’s advances, but were ejected after a short fight. While advocates of RAW (rules as written) might howl and call for my head on a pike because of my tinkering with this process, I think the adjustment worked rather well. Given the fact that the opposing units were armed with bills and other two-handed weapons, I did not really envision the fighting taking place in houses. It seems to me that the contest would have been decided in the streets and alleys. I have not handled a bill or halberd, so I cannot comment with any authority on the amount of space required to wield it effectively, but it appears fairly obvious that using it indoors would prove quite problematic.
The rules governing the use of arrow storm markers worked rather well, in my humble opinion. Even though I had a good supply of these markers, as overall commander for each side, I debated whether I should use them on a certain turn or conserve them for use later in the battle. Again, some might object to my doubling the dice for this special shooting but the effectiveness of the arrow storms was, if the reader will pardon the word play, a hit or miss proposition.
I never imagined that a portion Pembroke’s men would turn traitor. If I have off-table movement in my next Wars of the Roses battle, I will be sure to draft some concrete rules for adjudicating off-table combat. The quick fix worked well enough, I suppose. Ironically, the only fighting that Pembroke did see took place well away from the actual battlefield. Again, this rule and the others are works in progress.
In all of the games of “Hail Caesar” that I have played (and the number is not great, perhaps approaching 24), there has never been a definitive winner. Instead, a point is reached in the tabletop battle where I will sit back and consider the status of the field and make a decision. I do suppose that I could have played another six turns and then made a judgment call based on the where things stood. Perhaps Norfolk might have gone on the offensive and attacked Somerset’s wounded division? If successful, he might have split the Lancastrians and forced them to abandon the field. Given the presence of two fresh and powerful units of Lancastrian horse in reserve, I doubt that this offensive move would have achieved great results. Moving into the center of the enemy when being threatened on each flank does not seem a prudent course of action. Norfolk and Warwick (if he came along) would have been risking everything. Given time, Pembroke’s men might have come up behind the Yorkist formations, and taken up defensive positions on the vacated hill.
During the course of the battle, especially early on when arrow storm markers were being played in rapid succession, I was surprised by the amount of punishment delivered by the archer units. I was more surprised by the apparent staying power of the targeted units. Even when shaken, both Yorkists and Lancastrians rolled very good dice when taking ranged break tests. In addition to tweaking the rule adjustments, I am thinking about limiting the supply of arrows (and bolts) for archers and or crossbow units. I am also thinking about drafting rules to distinguish between close order, open order, and skirmish order troops. It seems to me that archers would operate in open order as opposed to the close order of Retinue and Shire foot, and dismounted men-at-arms, or the very open/loose order of skirmishing javelin-armed troops.
In terms of lost units and casualties, the House of York suffered greatly at the battle of Glynndale Moor. The Duke of York was killed in the action and Montague was wounded. Not a single leader supporting the House of Lancaster was harmed during the fight. Nine units on the Yorkist side of the field were broken by missile fire or melee. In comparison, only two units of the Lancastrian side of the field were routed. Of the remaining formations left under the command of Warwick, Norfolk, and Montague, there were 32 casualty markers distributed across 9 units. In Somerset’s army, there were 80 casualty markers spread between 24 units. In Exeter’s division, his mercenary troops bore the brunt of the losses. The pike units were especially hard hit. In Somerset’s command, his Shire foot were decimated. In fact, three of his formations were shaken when the Yorkists decided to quit the field. Northumberland had a couple of shaken units as well, but the majority of his force was ready to continue the fight. As previously mentioned, the losses suffered in Pembroke’s command were self-inflicted. A final count of units on the field revealed that at the close of the battle, the Lancastrians held a 3-to-2 advantage.
Having stopped and smelled the Wars of the Roses, I am quite certain that I will return to this period of history. I am not certain, however, if I will draw up another fictional scenario (perhaps one where artillery and primitive firearms are involved), research an actual battle to refight, or make good on that promise to myself to look into “Impetvs” and its period-specific supplement.
Now then … Where was I with that SYW project?