1066 And All That Act 2: Field of Glory AAR14 Oct 2016 0
October 14th will mark the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings (seems like only yesterday) where Harold Godwinson contested the invasion of William II of Normandy, AKA “Billy the Bastard”. To commemorate this event, I played both sides against the AI using Field of Glory. The results are interesting although they may speak more to the strength of the system, not the battle.
This is the second article commemorating the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. To read Bill's table-top focused article, click here.
Stay on the Hill!
Harold rushed south after defeating the Norwegians at Stamford Bridge. Thus, his army, made up primarily of local fyrds built around a core of professional huscarls took up a position on Caldbec Hill near the Senlac stream. The position was closely packed with the motley-armed fyrds on the flanks and Harold with his huscarl personal troops in the middle. William tried three head-long attacks against the Saxon shield wall to no avail. Norman archers then tried indirect fire to whittle down the defenders but with little success. William’s supposed ace-in-the-hole, mounted knights, struggled up the slope in a prequel of Crecy and Agincourt. The Norman army wavered when William was rumored dead but rallied after he showed himself to the troops. Late in the day, William ordered his left flank to feign a retreat. The untrained fyrd pursued and was quickly slaughtered. The Normans quickly took advantage of the exposed side and surrounded the huscarls. They fought on but, when Harold supposedly took an arrow in the eye, the Anglo-Saxons left the field in a rout.
In the scenario, the Anglo-Saxons are packed the ranks deep on the hill. Unarmored foot are interspersed with the less numerous armored infantry of the English noblemen. The two leaders are Prince Leofwyn on the right, Prince Gyrthe on the left and Harold in the center. Oddly, half of the archers are in the rear. Since they were armed with short bows drawn to the chest, the position is not critical, just annoying. My strategy is no unit moves off the hill unless an easy kill presents itself. I have two problems: the Field of Glory systems allows pursuit of routed units and victory is a matter of losing more battle points than the starting number. The Normans may win by picking off pursuing units and nibbling at my front line to win by a count, not by breaking my position.
I need not have worried. The AI sends all of its units as far as it can toward me, meaning its vulnerable crossbowmen and light infantry will crash into my line unsupported. His initial archery does no real damage. My first turn consists of moving some un-commanded units toward the main line. Sure enough, the second turn sees those little light enemies disrupt themselves on my front line. Some of my light troops are disrupted also but they have sturdy buddies at their sides. I hit some disrupted foes with armored foot and they fragment. I then follow up with short jabs with disrupted units and a few enemies rout. The AI makes the fatal error by charging straight ahead and not filling the gaps. I exploit again with flank attacks on the following units that could have done real damage had their formation held. A typical medieval scrum ensues with the Anglo-Saxons making short down-slope thrusts at weakened and flanked Normans. The Norman cavalry threatens both my center and right but must break off leaving even more gaps. A number of my troops rout off the map but not nearly as many as the AI’s. I’m declared the decisive winner on the sixth turn.
Slow and Steady
The Norman army consisted of mercenary crossbowmen and archers, heavy foot contributed by William’s vassals and mounted knights. On the whole, they were better equipped than the Anglo-Saxons. The initial disposition of the foe was in six groups of six units each in three non-contiguous lines with the first made up of archers and light infantry with the heavy infantry three or four hexes behind. The cavalry was in the rear at the same distance from the second line. William was in the center with Bishop Otto commanding the right.
My first turn moves were to advance the first line only half as far as it could go and shift toward the center to attempt a solid line. In this manner, the archery could fire effectively with little risk. The heavy foot troops were moved up checker-board style to cover any gaps in the first line. The cavalry was simply moved up and the leaders moved toward the centers.
The AI was obliging, swarming en masse off the hill with its fast light units attacking a flank of two of my first line groups; one Norman unit evaded and the other held. These irritants were swatted away by heavy infantry in the second turn. The foe keeps on coming to impale themselves on my swords and weapons. I note some enemy units try to envelop both my flanks; great cavalry bait in the open! Three enemy units rout.
Actually, the AI knew something I didn’t. By swarming, my front line, it could disrupt my light units and leave them easy rout material for its many heavy foot units. My heavies were blocked by my own fragmented units and what little cavalry I could move up broke off. By turn six, the situation looked dire until I killed Harold in a lucky charge of knights. The game should have been over, right? Wrong! Those sturdy yeoman types kept pressing my ranks and routing troops. The lack of a commander didn’t affect the Anglo-Saxons at this late stage and Norman troops exiting the field gave the Anglo-Saxon’s a hard fought victory in turn seven.
Lessons learned are that attacking in solid lines only blocks stronger forces while defending in a block is a good idea. Having three commanders with one rallying routed troops is also a good advantage. The Field of Glory system makes feigned retreats hard to manage. The Field of Glory system does not lend itself to elegant tactics but rather melee scrums. Although most ancient battles followed this model, some did not. The ability for units to about face twice in a turn would allow feigned retreats and terrain should affect line of sight. Also, the death of a primary leader like Harold should stop all forward movement of his troops and give his opponents a boost. A better, serious, system for ancients and medieval tactical battled is needed. Nonetheless, had the system been used at the time, Brexit would have been unnecessary.
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