Thursday, 20 October 2016

Wargames Soldiers & Strategy 87 (and me)

I've seen that the next issue of WSS includes a little article I've written for Old West shoot outs, based on the game concepts of BANG! If you've not tried BANG!, give it a go... you can find out more HERE.

This is what WSS is saying about my article:

"Bitesize battle: Dan Mersey, "A wild west shootout with a difference - Bang! you're dead". A small collection of Old West models is perhaps the most cost-effective ‘army’ a wargamer can own. Terrain and scenery is interchangeable – basically, once you have your cowboys painted and based, you’re good to go with any rules that hits the market."

And... if you've not had enough of me after reading that, there's a play through of The Men Who Would Be Kings; I don't know what it says, but I'm obviously hoping it gets a positive review:

"Let's play: Rossco Watkins, "Quick play colonial rules - The men who would be kings". Sunday afternoons were sacrosanct growing up in our house: a roast lunch followed by a movie that my father and grandfather were more than likely to fall asleep through. But these movies were ‘the stuff’ that would capture a young boy’s imagination forever. Films about brave, noble, and loyal Englishmen, or more interestingly, the odd ‘scoundrel’ serving king/queen and country. They bravely marched against the enemies of the Empire in far flung corners of the globe, generally being ‘jolly good chaps’."

And... if you've still not had enough... this is an English Civil War themed issue, and my co-author on The Pikeman's Lament - Dalauppror - has managed to find his Swedish connection to it. I'm looking forward to finding out more!

"Theme: Michael Leck, "The Swedish influence on the Battle of Newburn". 'Is he for real?’ you must think. ‘Does he really mean that the Swedes were involved in the prelude to the English Civil War?’ Finding a Swedish connection was hard but eventually I managed to find some interesting information regarding how Sweden influenced the start of the English Civil War."

And... it's not all about me. There's a write up about Gripping Beast's new Ancients & Medievals rules, Spearpoint, which I'm keen to find out more about. Looks like a jam packed issue of WSS, and it should be in the shops soon.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Line up...

Earlier this month I was delighted to give a talk at the "First Annual Walter Scott Roundtable on the Middle Ages and Popular Culture" about gaming and history.

This was organised by the University of Edinburgh but took place at Blackwell's bookshop. They very kindly had a table with most of my rulebooks and some other Osprey titles and games on display. It's not often I get to see so many of my book together, so I took a photo. The able was thankfully much depleted by the end of the evening.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

1066 And All That: Wargaming the 1066 battles using Scottorum Malleus IV

On their 950th anniversaries, I posted about the big three battles of 1066: Fulford, Stamford Bridge, and Hastings.

Now comes the materials to refight them with, using one of my very simple sets of rules.

In issue 387 of Miniature Wargames with Battlegames, back in the happy days when Henry Hyde captained the ship, I presented my simple medieval rules Scottorum Malleus IV, commemorating the 750th anniversary of the battle of Evesham. I’ve also used them to refight the 1066 battles, and include my scenarios and rules changes here.

The rules and troop types remain as written in the Evesham article, but a new 1066 Tactics Chart is used:


One area

One area

One unit


One area

One area


One area

One area

One area

One unit

The three armies – English, Norman, and Norse, each have compositions as shown on the battle maps; as noted above, troop types remain the same as for Evesham:

  •  Good cavalry: This troop type is reserved for the best of the Norman cavalry, acknowledged as better mounted warriors than anyone else in the campaign. Well armoured and equipped with spears, swords, and kite shields. Strength 5.
  • Average cavalry: All other cavalry, including Flemish, Breton, and English (shh!). Equipped in the same fashion as Norman knights, but a little less fighty. Strength 3.
  • Good infantry: English and Norse housecarls – well armoured, fearsome chaps with big Danish axes, spears, swords, and plenty of staying power. Strength 5.
  • Average infantry: All other infantry. Generally well armoured, and fighting with spears and shields. Strength 3.
  • Missiles: Mostly limited to groups of archers; they play a minor role in English and Norse armies, but are more prevalent in Norman armies. Even so, they will not win a battle by themselves, instead they are capable of chipping away at enemy units that don’t move into contact with them. Strength 2.
  • Leaders: Representing Edwin and Morcar, or Harold (English); Harald and Tostig (Norse); and William. William counts as Good Cavalry, the others as Good Infantry, but all have a Strength of 6.

Army Special Tactics

The 1066 armies have new Army Special Tactics; the English and Norse share the same ones (it is debatable whether the English used the Swine Array, but in game terms, it represents any tactic that might break a shieldwall), and the Normans get some all to themselves:

English and Norse
  • Shieldwall. Choose any 3 areas containing your units. Until the end of the turn, all Battle and Shoot actions in or into this area involving your units roll only half the normal number of dice (rounded down). Place markers to remind you.
  • Swine Array. Choose 1 area containing enemy Shieldwall marker and at least 1 of your Infantry units. Remove the enemy's Shieldwall marker plus 1 model from any 1 of you Infantry units in that area.
  • Short-range missiles. Choose any 1 area. Each of your Infantry units in that area may carry out a Shoot action against enemies in the same area, using 1 dice, regardless of Strength or Shieldwalls.
  • Feigned Flight. Choose 1 area containing your own Cavalry. They must all Move into 1 adjacent area to their rear containing no enemies. For each Cavalry unit moved, choose 1 of your opponent's units in the same starting area. Unless they roll over (not equal to) their Strength on 1 dice, they must follow your cavalry into the new space, and lose Shieldwall marker if they had one.
  • Unstoppable charge. Usable by Good Cavalry only, as medieval rules.
  • Additional Shoot action.

Scottorum Malleus IV Victory Points

  • KILL UNIT: Each army gains 1 VP for every enemy unit destroyed.
  • KILL LEADER: Each army gains 2 VPs for destroying the enemy’s Leader unit.

Stamford Bridge
  • KILL UNIT: Each army gains 1 VP for every enemy unit destroyed.
  • KILL LEADER: Each army gains 2 VPs for destroying the enemy’s Leader unit.

  • KILL UNIT: Each army gains 1 VP for every enemy unit destroyed.
  • KILL LEADER: Each army gains 2 VPs for destroying the enemy’s Leader unit.
  • TAKE THE VPS: The Norman army gains 1 VP if it has one or more units in their VP areas with no English units in the same area in a Turn’s End Phase. This VP is lost if the English arrive or all Norman units move out or are destroyed.

Battle Maps

Scottorum Malleus IV special rules

The following army holds the initiative in Turn 1 of each scenario:

·      Fulford: Norse
·      Stamford Bridge: English
·      Hastings: Normans

Terrain rules are as follows, for all three scenarios.

·      Unless an area contains a terrain marker, it is considered open and has no effect on the rules.
·      A terrain marker affects the whole area it is in:
o   Hills: Easier to defend against Battle attacks only, not Shooting. Norse units at Stamford Bridge on hills, and English at Hastings are only hit on a 5+; other units fight as normal.
o   Streams and marshes: Impedes movement.
o   Rivers: Impassable – no unit may enter this area.
o   Fords: count as open terrain.
·      If terrain impedes movement, to move out of (but not into) such an area, each individual unit must roll 1 die: it may Move out on 4+, but must stay put on a lower result.

Reinforcements may be selected as follows:

·      Fulford: Both the English and Norse may test for reinforcements, using the appropriate action on the Tactics Chart. It may only be tested once a player has at least 1 unit on the side of the stream furthest from their baseline – even if in a contested area. On a roll of 5 or 6 on one dice, the player receives 2 additional Average Infantry in the area shown. These reinforcements will only arrive once per side, but may be tested for multiple times.

·      Stamford Bridge: The Norse may test for reinforcements, using the appropriate action on the Tactics Chart. It may only be tested once the English have at least 1 unit crossed to the Norse side of the ford. On a roll of 6 on one dice, the player receives 1 Good Infantry in the area shown. This reinforcement will only arrive once, but may be tested for multiple times.

·      Hastings: The English may test for reinforcements, using the appropriate action on the Tactics Chart. It may only be tested at any time in the game. On a roll of 6 on one dice, the player receives 1 additional Average Infantry in the area shown; on a roll of 1, roll again… if a second 1 is rolled, the English must remove 1 Average Infantry on the tabletop from play.

Friday, 14 October 2016

1066 And All That: Hastings, 14 October 1066

The Norse threat ended, Harold had to immediately turn south once again – William had landed in Sussex! Without time to rest his force, but presumably collecting new, fresh forces as he travelled south from London (north of London, he’d raised an army to fight in Yorkshire, so further reinforcements north of London seems unlikely), Harold acted quickly to prevent William gaining too great a foothold on the south, and most likely had no idea whether extra warriors would be sailing from the continent to reinforce the Norman ‘vanguard’. Meanwhile, William’s army secured their landing point with forts, and proceeded to raid the local area.

On 14 October, Harold’s army arrived to the north of William’s landing area – the English were about to fight their third major battle in a month, and the Normans knew that this is probably their one chance to take down the English king before a larger, nationally-raised army arrived.

The longest prose account of the campaign around Hastings was written by William of Poitiers in The Deeds of William, duke of the Normans and King of the English (circa 1071), which is generally considered to be a reliable – although biased – record of the battle:

… So the Norman infantry [meaning those armed with crossbows and bows] advanced closer, provoking the English, and causing wounds and death with their missiles. The latter resisted bravely, each according to their means. They threw javelins and all sorts of darts, the most lethal of axes and stones fixed to pieces of wood. Under this deadly hail you might have thought that our men would be crushed. The mounted warriors came to the rescue, and those who had been in the rear found themselves in the front. Disdaining to fight from a distance, they rode into battle using their swords

…The English were greatly helped by the higher position which they held; they did not have to march to the attack, but remained tightly grouped. Their numbers and the strength of their army, as well as their weapons of attack, which penetrated without difficulty shields and other pieces of armour were also to their advantage. So they resisted vigorously or repulsed those who dared to attack them at close quarters with swords. They even wounded those who threw spears at them from a distance. So, frightened by such ferocity, the infantry and Breton mounted warriors both retreated, with all the auxiliary troops who formed the left wing. Almost the whole of the duke's army yielded.

…The Normans believed that their duke and Lord has been killed. The prince, seeing the greater part of the enemy camp setting out in pursuit of his men, hurled himself in front of the fugitives, and stopped them by striking them or menacing them with his lance. Then, having uncovered his head nod taken off his helmet, he shouted: 'Look at me! I am alive!’

...The English confidently resisted with all their strength, striving above all to prevent a breach in their line opening under the assault. Their extraordinarily tight formation meant that those who were killed hardly had room to fall. Even so, some breaches opened under the sword-blows of the most doughty fighters.

…Then an unusual kind of combat ensured, one side attacking in bursts and in a variety of movements, the other rooted in the ground, putting up with the assault, The English weakened, no, as if they admitted their wrongdoing by defeat self, the now undertook their punishment. The Normans shot arrows, wounded and transfixed men; the dead as they feel, moved more than the living. Even the lightly wounded could not escape, but perished under the dense heap of their companions. So fortune concurred in William's triumph by hastening it.

...At the close of the day, the English realised that they could no longer resist the Normans. They knew that they had been reduced in number of the death of many of their troops. The King himself, his brothers, and the leading men of the kingdom had been killed: those who remained were at the end of the struggle; and there was no hope in relief... So they fled, and left the field as quickly as they could, some seizing horses, others on foot, some by road, others across country... The Normans, although they did not know the countryside, pursued them eagerly, slaughtering the fleeing rebels, setting the seal on their victory. Admits the dead, the horses' hooves trampled all those who lay in their path.
(Quoted in Morillo, The Battle of Hastings, 1996)

The Norman army at Hastings was probably roughly equal in number to that of the English – perhaps 7,000 fighting men – but would have included all of the mounted troops that William could muster. In contrast, Harold’s hilltop force would have been split between the housecarls who had marched south with him after one or even both northern battles, the fyrd he raised en route, and yet more mercenaries, possibly included Danes sent by Sweyn of Denmark to help thwart William’s invasion. Sources give differing accounts of English numbers through the battle – some describe fyrdmen deserting early on in the day when they saw the Norman army (most likely later, pro-Norman propaganda), whilst others suggest that Harold’s ranks swelled through the day as more fyrdmen arrived to fight (possibly having been strung out in camp overnight on the route from London). Whatever the situation, Harold blocked William’s path inland, and on the morning of 14 October 1066, the rival armies faced one another.

Harold’s army was drawn up at the crest of Senlac ridge, flung across the road to London; his flanks were protected by terrain, and he was in a strong position. The day looked good for the English. Presumably he intended to fight a defensive battle, dismounting to counter the threat of the larger, superior Norman mounted arm. Housecarls filled the front line and centre, with the lesser – mere mortal – warriors filling the ranks behind. William, at the foot of the slope, deployed in three wings: Bretons on the left; his Normans in the centre; and Flemings and French on the right. To the fore were archers; followed by the foot spearmen; and the mounted troops sat at the rear. This demonstrated his intended order of attack – probably holding back his horsemen as they were the warriors he could least afford to lose (or replace). With William was the Papal Banner, a token of the Rome’s support for his cause.

Hastings was fought out in several phases, and was noted even at the time for the lengthy duration of fighting. The first phase, around 9am, began when William sent forward archers as a prelude to a foot assault. Neither archery nor spears made an impression on the English line, but it was also seen that the English lacked long-range missiles for their own, so could do little to damage the enemy unless they approached within javelin range. Time was not on William’s side – retreating back to harbour was not an option for him; therefore, he launched his best troops – his cavalry – in an uphill charge.  Cantering uphill at a solidly formed body of disciplined warriors was unlikely to succeed, and so it was.

This initial cavalry assault went so poorly for William that it led to his left wing – the Bretons – falling back in disorder. At the same moment, rumour spread that William was dead. William acted quickly upon the rumour by removing his helmet and making sure that his army saw he would fight on; the Breton retreat was more troubling… as they fell back down the hill, a portion of the English right flank facing them surged forward in triumphant pursuit.

No-one now knows if the Breton retreat was genuine or a feigned flight; the traditional tale is that the Bretons lured the English out of position, and with the assistance of Norman warriors, turned on their pursuers and hacked them to pieces on ground favourable for horsemen. Some of the English made a stand on a hillock in front of the main English line and died while their comrades watched on helpless; others made it back to the temporary safety of the ridge. This cost Harold dear – his line was thinned, his army demoralised by the slaughter on their right, and a great chance had been snatched way from him.

Over the course of the afternoon, William began to alternate assaults by his cavalry with archery from a distance. This gave his horsemen a chance to recover their strength and composure while all the time applying pressure and stress to the English line. Towards the end of the afternoon, the English had suffered enough losses that the whole of the ridge could not be defended. Shrinking their perimeter offered the Norman horsemen a foothold from which to launch further devastating attacks, and the English was battered until it broke late in the day. At some point during the late afternoon archery assaults, Harold was struck down with an arrow in his eye (there is some debate as to whether this is what the tapestry shows, but it seems clear to me that the large figure clutching at the arrow is intended to be Harold); whether this killed him outright or incapacitated him we no longer know, but with the king out of action and his brothers dead, English resistance collapsed.

Harold died beneath his Fighting Man banner and his army fled the field. Some turned to fight as they fell back, inflicting no small number of casualties on the ruthless pursuing cavalry at a ditch known later to the Normans as the Malfosse. But the field was William’s.

Coming soon… refighting the battle using my Scottorum Malleus IV rules.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Wargames Illustrated's video review of TMWWBK

This was originally available only to subscribers, but WI have now released this short 'flipthrough' of my rules. 

Some nice close ups of the pages that give a good feel of what you get. They seemed to like it!

Watch the review HERE.

Monday, 3 October 2016

TMWWBK downloadable rosters and quick reference sheets available

Osprey have made these available HERE.

At the same site, you'll also find rosters and reference sheets for my other Osprey rules.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

TMWWBK in Wargames Illustrated 348

The October issue of WI includes an article I've written about expanding the sample Field Forces for the Old West, as included in TMWWBK rulebook (where I just touched upon the possibility of doing so).

It should be in the shops now.

I've not seen the article yet, but finger's crossed, it also includes a short scenario I've developed straight from the cameras of Hollywood.

Here's what WI says:

Author Dan Mersey presents some thoughts, rules and army lists to take The Men Who Would Be Kings onto the plains of 19th Century America.

(And it just so happens that - I think - this is the first time I've had an article published that uses the name of a song by The Cult...)

Sunday, 25 September 2016

1066 And All That: Stamford Bridge, 25 September 1066

Having marched north with haste upon news of Harald’s landing, Harold arrived at York on 25 September with an army of 10,000 or more warriors. He discovered that Harald and Tostig had defeated Edwin and Morcar, and then commanded them to submit hostages to them at Stamford Bridge, to the east of the city.  The Norse were recovering from the hard fight at Fulford, and Harald pondered his next move – certainly without expecting that the English king had advanced so far north so promptly.

Without further ado, Harold’s army headed for the rendezvous, but not to surrender hostages. Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla saga once again recorded the action at Stamford Bridge, which happened five days after Fulford:

Now the battle began. The Englishmen made a hot assault upon the Northmen, who sustained it bravely. It was no easy matter for the English to ride against the Northmen on account of their spears; therefore they rode in a circle around them. And the fight at first was but loose and light, as long as the Northmen kept their order of battle; for although the English rode hard against the Northmen, they gave way again immediately, as they could do nothing against them. Now when the Northmen thought they perceived that the enemy were making but weak assaults, they set after them, and would drive them into flight; but when they had broken their shield-rampart the Englishmen rode up from all sides, and threw arrows and spears on them. Now when King Harald Sigurdson saw this, he went into the fray where the greatest crash of weapons was, and there was a sharp conflict, in which many people fell on both sides. King Harald then was in a rage, and ran out in front of the array, and hewed down with both hands; so that neither helmet nor armour could withstand him, and all who were nearest gave way before him. It was then very near with the English that they had taken to flight.

…King Harald Sigurdson was hit by an arrow in the windpipe, and that was his death-wound. He fell, and all who had advanced with him, except those who retired with the banner. There was afterwards the warmest conflict, and Earl Toste had taken charge of the king's banner. They began on both sides to form their array again, and for a long time there was a pause in fighting.

… Then each side set up a war-shout, and the battle began again.  So says Arnor, the earls' skald:

     "The king, whose name would ill-doers scare,
     The gold-tipped arrow would not spare.
     Unhelmed, unpanzered, without shield,
     He fell among us in the field.
     The gallant men who saw him fall
     Would take no quarter; one and all
     Resolved to die with their loved king,
     Around his corpse in a corpse-ring."

Eystein Orre came up at this moment from the ships with the men who followed him, and all were clad in armour. Then Eystein got King Harald's banner Land-ravager; and now was, for the third time, one of the sharpest of conflicts, in which many Englishmen fell, and they were near to taking flight. This conflict is called Orre's storm. Eystein and his men had hastened so fast from the ships that they were quite exhausted, and scarcely fit to fight before they came into the battle; but afterwards they became so furious, that they did not guard themselves with their shields as long as they could stand upright. At last they threw off their coats of ringmail, and then the Englishmen could easily lay their blows at them; and many fell from weariness, and died without a wound. Thus almost all the chief men fell among the Norway people. This happened towards evening; and then it went, as one might expect, that all had not the same fate, for many fled, and were lucky enough to escape in various ways; and darkness fell before the slaughter was altogether ended.
(from Project Gutenberg)

Harald and Tostig's force, which rose to around 9,000 men when reinforcements arrived later in the battle, waited at Stamford Bridge – meaning that despite the fame of the Battle of Hastings, Stamford Bridge was actually the largest battle fought on British soil in 1066. They had underestimated the speed with which Harold could arrive from the south, and the Norse army was encamped on either side of the River Derwent. The river was traversed by a bridge befitting the main road from York to the coast, but was otherwise impassable. Tradition tells us that many of the Norsemen did not wear their armour at the battle, either because it was a hot day, or because - expecting only hostages - they were not expecting to fight; whether this is true to not, it offers an option for pitting armoured warriors against entirely unarmoured opponents. The Norse army became aware that Harold's force was upon them only when scouts returned to announce the rapid advance of the English.

The Norse were seemingly caught unawares; the English battle line rapidly despatched the unorganised resistance on western side of the Derwent. It’s possible that this was actually a vanguard thrown out by Harald to buy time to organise his main force to the east of the bridge - if this is the case, the fighting on the western bank would have been much harder than is often anticipated.

Factual or not, a well-known story about Stamford Bridge is that a single Norse warrior held the bridge over the river long after his comrades and retreated or been slain. Eventually, a cunning plan was hatched by the English, who sent a warrior in a boat under the bridge to impale the Norseman with a spear. The lone warrior fell dead to the floor, and the English crossed the bridge to begin phase two of the battle.

As the battle on the western side of the Derwent ended, Harald gained enough time to organise his outnumbered army into a shieldwall on rising ground beyond the river; this is sometimes described as a circular shieldwall, or one with refused flanks, which if correct, suggests that Harald was worried about his flanks being turned by a larger enemy (or possibly a mounted force, as noted below). Harald stood at the centre of the line with his banner, the Landwaster; Tostig was close by with his own banner.

Snorri Sturluson's account describes a mounted assault by the English; this is often waved away as an error on his part (confusing the battle with Hastings, or anachronistically grafting on the tactics of his own day), but as discussed later, he may have been correct. The more common modern interpretation is the grinding of two shieldwalls against one another. Alongside the brutal hand-to-hand combat, missiles were hurled and shot into the closed ranks of both armies. Harald may have led a counter-attack against the English line, perhaps breaking his circular formation to do so and advancing down the slope he'd formed up on. Snorri's account sees the Norseman's claim to the English throne ending here, with an arrow through his throat fired by a nameless English bowman. With Harald's death, both sides stepped back to regroup.

Battle resumed, for the third and final phase of Stamford Bridge, with the arrival of Norse reinforcements from Riccall. Known as 'Orri's storm' on account of the leader of this group, a vicious assault was thrown at the English line by these fresh troops; but Harold's army ground them down, and cut their way through the Norse battle line to slay both Tostig and Orri.

By sunset, the Norse invasion had been cut apart. No more than twenty-four ships took the remnants of the Norse army and their allies home; meanwhile, Harold turned his exhausted army south once more: Tostig and Harald lay dead, but news reached only days after Stamford Bridge that William's Norman army had landed on the south coast.

Coming soon… refighting the battle using my Scottorum Malleus IV rules.