Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Trying Other People's Rules

One of the things about going to the WD conference ("COW") is that although you can't attend all the sessions eventually a fairly full report will turn up in "The Nugget", usually with any rules used and a description of the game. At the last COW Mike Elliot, a doyen of the Battlefields Trust, put on a talk and game about the fairly obscure Battle of St Fagans in 1648. All the Shedquarters crew missed the session so it was good to be able to recreate the event following the publication of the last Nugget.

What made this even more interesting was the promise that here was a set of rules that would enable the middling sized battles of the ECW to be re-fought. This battle had about 2,500 New Model Army up against 8,000 Royalists. The added bonus is that the rules all fit on one side of A4.

Mike used Hexon modular terrain to set the game up, so I was able to reproduce this with my off set square set up, but the rules use ruler measurement. The rules have quite long move distances (Mike's contention is that wargames rules underestimate how fast troops move), and big factor differences for Veteran and Raw troops. Shooting is relatively ineffective, and Melee seems to be the way to break an opponent.

This is the set up. The Royalists are near the camera. They have six units of clubmen (cobbled together with pike men from my other units), six of mixed pike/shot foot, and two small cavalry units. The New Model is on the hill, with two foot regiments, two cavalry regiments and four companies of dragoons.

The set up doesn't incentivise either side to attack. A quick background check indicated to me that the Royalists were the initial aggressors, driven probably be the fear that a detachment of the NMA lead by Cromwell was on its way so they needed to sort out this lot before the could unite with their comrades. Phil, with the NMA, announced he was sitting on the hill until Will got within a move or so of his position, so Will just moved his stuff up.

Soon the Royalists were arrayed at the foot of the hill, and Phil had to start making some decisions.

He started by launching a cavalry charge, whilst moving his dragoons into the woods. The cavalry charge was the more successful of these two moves, as he had not fully taken on the implications of the move distances and the dragoons would end up not making it before the Royalist foot got to them.

The cavalry drove back the Royalist horse, and Will formed a flank with a unit of foot whilst pressing elsewhere. Note that the cavalry have not inflicted enough hits to cause a break test.

On the other flank Phil was forced to try and disperse a unit of clubmen with his horse as Will was doing a fine job of cutting down his room to manoeuvre with his larger numbers. This charge drove back the clubmen (note the white rings) but didn't break them. This move had opened up the cavalry's flank to the Royalist horse. Alas for Will they were well nigh ineffective.

Over on the other side Will marched up on to the crest line, and Phil countered by rushing at them with his dismounted Dragoons. This drove the clubmen back.

In the centre the two Parliamentarian foot units await the onrushing hordes, having broken one of the opposing clubman units. At the top of the picture Phil has managed to turn to face Will's flanking horse and is giving them what for.

Will has just managed to get a 2:1 advantage on that red coat unit at the back. It saw off the Royalists to the front, but has been driven back by the flanking foot, and has taken hits.

There's a big sprawling mess in the middle, as Will screens off the centre from Phil's dragoons, gently shepherding them out of the way.

The Parliamentarians have been inflicting hits steadily, and Royalist units finally start to fail break tests. The army is wavering, but it still has enough to finish the Parliamentarians if things go well.

Alas for Will they don't and one of his Generals is killed, tipping his army over into rout. Win to the NMA, as historically.

Hmmm. Well it was an interesting evening's play. We had to improvise a few rules (eg stopping foot charging cavalry) to keep the game believable, and there were some head scratching moments about what was going on. However the rules do allow a vastly outnumbered force of veterans to prevail over raw troops, so that fits the bill for St Fagans.

Having played the game I am unconvinced by Mike's views on unit movement rates against weapon ranges, and in an I-go-You-go game structure it enables the players to do some amazing things whilst their opponent just stands there and watches them. Musketry is pretty much ineffective, - a standard unit is rolling 4d6 looking for 6s with no modifiers and will normally be lucky to get more than one volley away, - and whilst I do not expect Napoleonic levels of musket mayhem that doesn't feel right. I suspect a game with Mike running it is a different prospect.

In terms of the size of game we were playing there is a gap in my rules collection, and I think this may mean I'm still looking. I've also had another look at my one and only source for the battle, - Richard Brooks - and if I was to revisit this encounter I might set it up slightly differently. My reading is that it is more of a straggling, running, fight as the NMA steadily push the Royalists back from hedgerow to hedgerow but the sources aren't clear.

A more detailed critique of how the rules work and the issues we noted will be sent to Nugget as soon as I can get my act together.


  1. I would have put my money on the larger army to win the battle- just goes to show how good the 'Veterans' are against 'Raw' Troops. Thanks for posting- most interesting.

    1. Yes, you'd think they'd get overwhelmed. However, if you take hand to hand they're hitting on 4-6 with raw on a 6. Then on break tests they're breaking on 4 or less on 2d6, whilst raw break on 6. The rules are heavily stacked in the favour of veterans. It is hard to see how the NMA would lose unless you were trying to.

  2. My reading of St Fagans is similar to yours- hedge- fighting with musketry with Roland Laugharnes Royalists- many of them Parliamentarians a few months previously- being short of Horse. If musketry was ineffective - why then did the mumbers of pikes actually decrease durung the ECW ? Equally why were "commanded" musketeers so useful in supporting horse and often working on their own . A middle sized battles set is a fine idea still to be worked upon