Saturday, 19 January 2013

First Attempt at Hastings

On Tuesday we tried the scenario for Hastings.  In response to Mark's preferences, I designed it for four Norman players: one in the centre in charge of the infantry, one on each wing, and one being Duke William in person.  The Saxons were to operate by automatic rules.
 I intended to run the Saxons, so almost all of the photos are taken from behind their lines.  Above is the left, comprising three large units of Fyrd deployed deep.  The command stand at the rear of the line represents Gyrth, one of King Harold's brothers.
The second photo shows the centre of the Saxon army, with Harold and his household guards in the centre, flanked on both sides by a couple of smaller Fyrd units fronted by Huscarls.
Photo number three shows Leofwine's command on the Saxon right (Harold's other brother), in a mirror image of the left.  We had some debate about the ratio of Huscarls to Fyrd, and eventually settled on the mix I've described.  The other possibility was to make all of the Fyrd units smaller with Huscarls in the front ranks, but that would mean that the entire line would be covered by Huscarls.  I wasn't entirely convinced that there were that many Huscarls available after Stamford Bridge, and I also felt that some slight differences between the units would make the Saxon army a bit more interesting.  I also gave them a basic line of skirmish javelinmen, the intention being for them to absorb archery damage for as long as possible, before retiring behind the shieldwall and then chucking things at any advancing Normans.
Once the armies were set up, I took a couple of shots from the Norman perspective.  The best one (above) shows the right half of the Saxon array on their nice safe hill, and the woods that protect their flank.
An angled picture of the field as the Normans begin their advance, at the left of the shot.  Believe it or not, there is a shallow stream underneath all that mass.  The Normans have a command of three central infantry columns, and loads of horse on both wings.  They also have a decent number of archers out front.  I do know that crossbowmen were present, although maybe not in sufficient numbers to constitute a full unit.
 The scenario played out well overall, although the details were always going to be unpredictable.  This became especially evident when more players joined in than I had expected.  Simon wanted to try to make the Saxons more active, and did something I wasn't expecting - he threw the javelinmen forward.  They didn't do too well against the superior numbers of Norman archers.
Above, the Normans continue to close.  At the bottom left of the picture, you can just about see one unit being sent slightly wide by Mark, with the intention of swinging to face inwards later.  This is what I was expecting the Normans to do, since it would put a unit in an excellent position to flank any Saxons daft enough to leave their hill.
Above, the Normans have sent in a single cavalry column to test the resolve of the Saxons.  At the bottom left, the extra unit is now in position.
A purely gratuitous close-up of Saxon axemen playing cricket with Norman heads.  Maybe that's how the game was invented...
Said Norman unit has decided that discretion is the better part of facing axemen, and has retired to think about having another go.  The rest of the army goes in to try its luck.  I must admit that I was a little surprised by the aggression of the Norman infantry.  Originally, I had thought that they would hold off and wait for some damage to be done by the archers.  However, their commander (Gordon) has a Saxon army of his own, so maybe his anti-Norman tendencies were manifesting themselves.  The central unit of the three had an especially bad time against Harold and his personal guards.
A close-up showing axemen taunting the Norman unit that retired.  It also shows the height advantage from the Saxon perspective.
Various Normans have retired from their rather unpleasant experience at first contact.  In the foreground, some of the Saxons have already come off the hill - Gyrth's Fyrd unit has followed up ogainst Odo and his Normans - brother against brother!  The rest of the Normans are making no headway at all.
A closeup of another Saxon unit that has pursued off the hill, this time on the other side of the field.
An angled shot of the whole field at this point.  A large gap is appearing in the shieldwall at the top of the photo; two Fyrd units have now chased off the Normans, and their enthusiasm is getting the better of them.
A closeup of the continuing brotherly grudge match on the Saxon left.
The photo above shows the advance of the Saxon Fyrd on the right in some detail.  We ruled that once the front rank of those Fyrd with Huscarls had taken a certain amount of damage, they would have to roll for pursuit as well, which is what happened here.
The central Norman infantry are being cut down in waves.  To the left of the photo above you can see their commander joining in.  So also does Duke William with the reserves, to stop the Saxon counterassault becoming general.  This is the critical point of the battle.
A shot of the centre from behind Harold's guards.  They are beginning to suffer from Norman archery.  After seeing off the Norman foot (with a minor scare for Harold in the melee), the English King continues to survive against the missiles, being narrowly missed by arrows on three occasions.  Which is a bit of a shame, because I have the Old Glory tableau of Harold's death by arrow, which is waiting off table for the right moment.
However, William's charge has wiped out one of the Fyrd units and opened up a large gap at the Saxon right centre.
On the left, Mark's well positioned unit charges in, finishing off Gyrth and disordering the Fyrd on the hill.  The Saxon army is beginning to crumble.
William continues his wild ride in the centre.  Unleashed at last, the Norman Duke sweeps all before him and the Saxon army disintegrates.

Overall, the battle felt right.  The early commitment of the Norman infantry saw their total destruction, and one of the units of milites on the Norman right was whittled down by Saxon attrition, so the Norman army lost almost half its breakpoint before achieving victory.  Most of the rest of their cavalry was pretty beaten up as well, so the figure of roughly one-third Norman casualties that is usually quoted for this battle seems correct.  The Saxons were hard to shift, but once gaps started to appear it was really only a matter of time, barring something wild.  Duke William was almost wounded at one point in the melee, but that was his only brush with serious danger.

I had not been expecting so many players, and the post-battle discussion became about ways to turn it into a better game, as opposed to scenario.  We have come up with some ways to do this to give the Saxons some more possibilities for being active, although of course they start on hold orders.  I was surprised by Simon's use of the javelinmen, so I might just say that they have to stay in support of the shieldwall, as they did historically.  Apart from that, we're ready to go.  All I need to do now is paint up my newly arrived command stands, so we should be able to have another try in February.

The good thing about all of this is that it will provide plenty of information for a write-up for the Society of Ancients Hastings project, whatever form it takes.


  1. What a great amount of figures! And all very well painted! Thanks for sharing these pictures and battle report with us!


  2. Cor, a few minis there, Paul! Looks very impressive... maybe a bigger hill needed though? It's quite steep.

  3. Thanks guys. Simon is right about the hill - we couldn't get the little metal sods to stand up straight on a proper steep hill! If I had a sand table I'd do a long steep slope with a flat bit at the top for the Saxons, but that is still a dream at the moment...

  4. Thanks for sharing, great battle report and some excellent looking armies

  5. Oh wow! That is truely epic.

  6. Impressive quantities of lead there! Great to see :)

  7. Wow! All those figures. And it sounded like a great game too. Congrats.

  8. Cheers, everyone. I'm going to sort out the Norman infantry and then paint the various commanders (from scratch)for the next game: Saxons by Gripping Beast, and Crusader Miniatures Normans. Plus Little Big Men banners to make them stand out. Ultimately, I'd like to rejig all of the Norman cavalry with replaced spears and a painting refresh. But it will probably years before I get around to that!

  9. Truly magnificent and massive scaled game of a very famous battle. All of the figures look great. Best wishes on the SoA write up too. Best, Dean

  10. Great looking game! Are you still using Tactica?

  11. Hi Cory, we are indeed. The break-off rules we used were a variant of those in the original Tactica's supplement, I think.

  12. Fantastic looking game, nicely done.