Tuesday 17 November 2020

The Promised Battle..

"Battle of the Cards".

OK.. It wasn't "the next post" - it took longer to sort the photos than I expected, plus I got sidetracked by some other writing, roof leaks and finishing my ("We're not model railway sheepdogs with Copydex ears*, honest") African Wild Dogs.

*Yes they are....

However, here we are at last.

The Scenario.

Encouraged by the dangerous talk from renegade friars (all this heretical nonsense about "the poverty of Christ" no doubt) the villeins of the Bishop of Hereford have risen. They have even had the temerity to set up an armed camp within his fief and defied his tithe collectors...

Worse than this; members of the armed peasantry, certain troublesome townsfolk and even a rebellious knight or two have joined them. They must be crushed before matters get out of hand.

Calling together his vassals and some volunteers from the local gentry, hiring a whole slew of mercenaries (those tithes are good for something) including some Irish and Welsh foot, crossbows and gunners, he marches to meet them...

I will "play" the bishop. My job - to crush the rebellion.

My centre is formed of retinue archers and billmen under the command of my vassal Roger de Tour. 

At right centre, are the guns. I will take station here.

On my right are bodies of Welsh light troops, mounted and dismounted knights and some crossbowmen; all under the command of the County Sheriff.

On my left the Irish mercenary kerns, mounted skirmishers and gallowglasses under their own commanders - the mercenary captain being kept with me in case I want to change their orders.

My plan: to use the mercenary skirmishers (I've paid for them; I might as well use 'em) to lure/provoke the enemy onto my archers and guns, before finishing the rebels off with my strong flanks.

The enemy seem to be formed in eight or so Wards.  

Two wards of orderly-looking, well appointed peasants and townsfolk with bills, pikes and bows form their right.

Their armed camp (divided into two Wards) seems to be garrisoned by bowmen and slingers, backed by mere villeins; in force but armed only with an assortment of improvised weapons.

The centre left and left wing right of the enemy army is made up of about three Wards of bowmen and well-armed peasants and townsmen, with a mass of villeins behind. 

The rebels are under the overall command of one of the Poyings family - who really ought to know better, 

In terms of quality their bowmen will be as good as mine as far as shooting goes and the peasants and townsmen will be expected to put up a good fight; these are, after all, the chaps required to have the equipment to turn up at a Muster of Arms, should a Royal Levy be required. Some will already have military experience. The pikes and bills will be an issue for any horsemen getting too close. Enemy units are generally slightly larger than mine.

(Note: I use my own movement trays, rather than the unit sizes expected in NFTB. Most of my movement trays/bases are of 16 figures each, plus a command figure. Most enemy trays are larger - 20 figures plus 2-3 command figures)

The enemy villeins (improvised weapons, farm implements, the odd old sword or club) will no doubt run interference, but I do not expect them to cause me too much concern if I keep my units under control and in good formation. 

The Procedures & Rules. 

A) "Manoeuvre Phase" 

I start off with a solo variant on the Never Mind the Billhooks "Manoeuvre Phase" concept (which I liked); basically no Activation checks to kick-off the game, just IgoUgo until the first shooting/clash) BUT I have to start/have risk exposing my units first. 

If any of my units at any time have come within Medium Range of enemy missiles the enemy will shoot at them without needing to be Activated by Leader Card. This, if it occurs, ends the Manoeuvre Phase. 

Once I have moved a unit, whether the Manoeuvre Phase has been ended by the above or not, the enemy commander then "tests" (1x6D dice check). 

On a throw of "6" their ARMY "activates" in their Manoeuvre Phase - and moves as per a randomly drawn Battle Plan. ALL enemy units needed to be moved in order to comply with that Battle Plan do so; proceeding a full move in accordance with that plan - that's potentially the whole enemy army, when I've only had a chance to move one unit.

IF neither the enemy Battle Plan has been invoked nor any shooting by them has taken place in their move I then move a unit according to normal Manoeuvre Phase protocols. 

The next enemy move they test again. 

Basically the same Manoeuvre Phase process proceeds until: 

1) My troops attack/shoot at an enemy unit in any way.

2) An enemy unit attacks/shoots at one of my units

3) The enemy Battle Plan is activated as above. 

This may seem as if I have an advantage - moving my units freely while the enemy just sits there - during the Manoeuvre Phase. But remember I can move only one unit per move. Once Activated for the first time by the above test the enemy might potentially chuck their whole force at me; possibly throwing all my plans askew or catching exposed units. This adds a degree of "real-life" tension to the Manoeuvre Phase.

B) Main Battle Phase:

Once any of 1-3 above takes place we enter the Main Battle Phase.

The Activation Deck is brought out and moves proceed as per any rules using Activation systems, leader abilities/PIPs etc.  

For this game I made some ad hoc, home-bashed cards and banners to help me identify the Wards. Each Leader/Ward Commander/certain specialist unit captain has a command card which activates him/his command. Enemy leaders MUST conform to their army's Battle Plan when moving (exception; targets of opportunity/priority, which are tested for). 

There is also an "Unforeseen"  card for Events (I used the NMTB cards for the actual Events) and an end of turn ("Truce of God" aka "Tiffin") card. The NMTB system avoids a Tiffin card and in their rules the move ends when there is a single unturned card left. My choice to have an end of move card is purely personal. Both methods work as well, and the NMTB makes for a quicker game, but the "Tiffin" card concept, I feel, adds more "friction" (aka frustration) in a solo exercise. 

The Battle.

This proceeded smoothly - in terms of process - but caused me a real headache at several points. 

As soon as I had deployed both sides I decided my cannon were too far away from the enemy camp, so began by moving up their ox teams and flinging out my skirmishers (Irish & Welsh) to screen. 

This was all going well enough, then the enemy "woke up" (dice thrown to test Battle Plan activation, as above) and drew a Battle Plan card. This was an "Echelon Right Attack" card. With so narrow a battlefield they were not able to swing round a flank (on a bigger field, esp. with 6mm bods, the options for a genuine flanking movement would be greater) , so their right flank units (three peasant levy units with a unit of bows) rushed towards mine, while two large units of villeins emerged from the camp and moved towards my centre. These would remain a potential threat for most of the game.

I had no desire to initiate the Main Battle Phase at this stage, but the enemy "had other ideas" and threw their right wing peasantry against my mounted skirmishers, who - incredibly frustratingly - failed to evade entirely (bad dice). No serious losses inflicted, but THIS meant that the Main Battle Phase at once came into play...

This happening so early in the game messed up my plans for moving the cannon - not yet "limbered" up, and now dependant on card activation in order to do anything. BUT - the Game Gods are kind - the Guns card comes up at once, allowing me to start MY game plan. 

The battle proceeds like any other card-activated battle (I'm not intending a blow-by-blow account, but a precis with occasional notes on technical issues. If there's something unclear please ask any questions about these by comments). 

Items of interest: 

When the enemy commander in chief is activated he tests - first to see if he has a "secret game plan" (i.e. on a "6" he draws a new Battle Plan card - he can only do this once), second to see if he has decided to ignore his plan altogether and throw in his personal command/the reserve. This, similarly, would require a throw of a "6". 

Otherwise enemy leaders conforming to the enemy Battle Plan will act in accordance with said plan UNLESS their own units' moral is such that they need to consider halting to recover from shock/disarray, dress ranks etc. Once a unit's shock total exceeds 5, or a Disarray Token is in play, the activated leader must test 1x6D: Throw 1-3; halt to recover from shock/disarray.  4; lose and any Leadership Bonus removing shock, half to continue with the Plan. 5-6; press on, ignoring morale/disarray considerations.  

Enemy leaders NOT being used as part of the Battle Plan AND out of Command radius of the Commander in Chief must also test when card activated. On a throw of "6" they will advance their command towards the nearest hostile force. On a throw of 3-5 they may, if desired/appropriate, reorganise their line to meet any hostile enemy within 18". If under enemy missile fire and taking shock/casualties add 1 to the tests. 

If an enemy leader activates as above, and, subsequently, a superior Leader (say a commander of a whole wing of the army) activates, tests, and gets a 1-2, then that superior leader MUST attempt to catch up with any unauthorised advance and halt it (I'm not the only one with Command and Control issues).  

MY Sub-Commanders in charge of wings of my army when outside the friendly C in C's command radius (The Sheriff of Herefordshire on my right and Sir Roger de la Tour the Captain of the Irish mercenaries) will test and behave like enemy commanders. My Individual retinue unit commanders do NOT so test. My mercenary unit commanders are not so predictable - as we shall see. 

Battle Continues:

On my left the enemy advance falters, thanks to arrows from the Irish mercenaries and interference from the Irish skirmishers. 

(Note: Wherever possible the bowmen on the enemy right shoot at any targets in range, as do the bowmen and slingers in the enemy camp. The enemy can afford to be profligate with their arrows at this stage - they have potential to resupply.)

The enemy centre, and my own, remain largely static. I slowly manage to get my guns moved and send the Irish commander to try to get his bows and gallowglasses moving. Meanwhile, my Irish skirmishers generally run interference and get peppered by missiles from the camp. 

However, about move four the enemy extreme left units go into an unauthorised advance. 

The enemy commander of that wing tests, and then tries to halt the unauthorised movement. 

The enemy right/my left reach a stalemate, stalemate due to lack of Activation cards coming up. There is missile skirmishing, but that is all for the moment.  

However, things start to move on my right. The Welsh mercenaries here start pushing forward without orders and the enemy sub-commander here seems to have a change of heart, and pushes his guys forward in return.. 

The two forces meet in fierce hand-to-hand combat.....

But the bills and their supporting pikes are too much for the spears and long knives of the Welsh footmen, and they are either killed or routed.

While the Welsh skirmishers make themselves a nuisance here my own commander on that side of the battle, the Sheriff, seems struck with indecision. Although he brings some crossbowmen across to keep the enemy at bay he makes no move to unleash the knights - mounted and unmounted, at his command.

Over on my left there is a lot of posturing and shooting, but still no actual hand-to-hand; the gallowglasses just will NOT get stuck in and the enemy here, likewise, seem not want to come to close quarters. The Irish archers are doing good work, whittling away the enemy - but at a cost in ammunition - only to see the enemy reforming ranks and their officers establishing order....

Despite their casualties, the enemy here seem undaunted..

Suddenly the enemy C in C is activated. He tests, both for an Battle Plan change and to see if he can deploy an Event Card he holds. 

He gets the opportunity for both. The "unauthorised advance" on his left is suddenly revealed as the "Real Plan". 

The Event Card he plays hampers my actions, his whole force outside the camp starts advancing on mine to "fix" it.

Also, thanks to more lucky Activation cards, he is also able to start moving spare arrows out to his bowmen.  

My own activation card draws are random. I occasionally get a good break, such as my guns firing at regular intervals, but what I wanted to do is blunt the enemy right, releasing the Irish to outflank the enemy centre . Unfortunately, when my Irish eventually get the chance to charge the enemy there the dice are against them, and their attack falters. 

My position is not critical - I still have good troops in the centre, but my wings are faltering - on the left due to bad cards, on the right due to a bit of enemy luck and the ineptitude of my wing commander, the Sheriff. In the centre there is general enemy advance. I can counter this (assuming lucky cards - but with my C-in-C in the centre, plus other leaders, issues here should be manageable. 

My Right:

My Left: 

My Centre

As the enemy in the centre get nearer heavy arrow storms start to slam into my centre, and are returned, but I soon realise that the proximity of enemy camp - and it's supply of arrows - means that I will soon be in the position of not being able to reply in kind (note to self; there really needs to be a "pick up arrows" protocol when archers are themselves coming under an arrow barrage - most arrows which miss a person are reclaimable).

The, the Law of Sod brings another enemy Event Card into play - it rains. A short, sharp shower, but enough to stop MY guys loosing at the advancing enemy in the centre. Meanwhile their arrow carriers are getting busy, scurrying around the field. 

Enemy bowmen are now dangerously near my centre and it is only a question of time before the enemy left strikes home hard. They do so, and the crossbows on my right are pushed back... 

On my left the enemy suddenly rush the Irish archers, forcing them back, but then "Hurrah" Irish heavy foot get a chance, and charge home - and not before time.....

Only to be pushed back !!!!! The levy peasantry are proving a harder nut to crack that I expected...

Despite my guns banging away I start fretting about the centre. It is clear that the enemy will strike here at some point, so I should be present to make decisions/move units if/when my Activation Card comes up, but I may also need to be on hand to shift my reserves to support whichever of my wings gives most trouble. Oh dear...

Just as well... A mass of villeins charge home in the centre, but as they do my archers change places with their billmen supports. Against the experienced retinue billmen the villeins are held, then pushed back.  

Meanwhile, on my right the enemy push forward, and what was left of the Welsh skirmishers are crushed between the enemy peasantry, levy and pikes and my own mounted knights. The Welsh, unsurprisingly, break....

With the panicked Welsh breaking through them, and faced with the line of pikes and bills, the mounted men falter.  There is a stand-off... The knights don't want to push onto the pikes. The pikes aren't keen to push onto the knights - not with another uncommitted body of my foot knights nearby on their flank. Stalemate again...

The villeins of the enemy centre are still threatening to throw themselves forward, supported by showers of arrows.  The situation is looking decidedly tricky....

My Left and Centre.

My Centre and Right

The way things stand my Left has stalled - the leading unit of Irish galloglasses have been a bit of a disappointment - but the part of the enemy army facing them is on its last legs, thanks to the Irish bowmen., who have done sterling service - and I still have the largest, and unblooded, galloglass unit in hand.... But unless I move my Commander in Chief over there - or dispatch my last Aide to order them forward - I will have to rely on the Luck of the Cards.

My Centre is holding, but weakening through the impact of the arrow storms and  effectively held by the sheer number of villeins waiting to swoop in. I am also well aware that our own arrows have nearly run out, which means I need to throw my centre billmen at the enemy centre in the hope of breaking it. But if I do that and LOSE - or even take high casualties - my centre will be in jeopardy and I will have lost my only effective reserve...

My Right seems paralysed by the caution of the Sheriff.  Should I move my C in C to my right - and risk not getting the cards I need to activate the Centre before the next arrow storm? Or send my last Aide to HIM - with the chance he will dig his heels in and STILL refuse to fight... 

As I ponder my options I can see the scurrying of the arrow suppliers behind the enemy lines... The enemy bows will soon be replenished. Things are looking dicey (no pun intended). At least my guns are still firing; the depleted crews sticking to their posts..

(Technical Note: If I sound as if there was an element of panic in my account I should make it clear; I do NOT "allow" myself to ponder too much during my games.
IF there is a lull, yes, I allow myself thinking time. During my "Commander Activation" yes, I allow myself a brief bit of thinking and "planning"- though I time myself with a stopwatch; sometimes giving the next enemy move extra movement allowance against units under my personal command or not giving my lads any "fighting bonus" for my presence if I've take too long (I'm not fighting or inspiring. I'm having a thunk). This is a battle, not chess....)

On my right the Sheriff actually decides to do something. Faced with lines of pikes and bills he dismounts his mounted knights and forms a defensive line. It may not be much, but it's something...

But suddenly luck smiles on me - and I get the chance to swing my Irish skirmishers alongside the enemy centre. They receive stones and arrows from the camp, but are undaunted - and potentially threaten the enemy commander and the scuttling arrow carriers...

But this isn't enough to deter the enemy centre. Their villeins charge in in the same old way again...

...and are again pushed back again, in the same old way. But they are whittling away my billmen and STILL do not break !!

The enemy gets to play another card on me.. Not good... 

But as my centre retinue bowmen loose their some of their last arrows, a success... The unit of villeins at right enemy centre, hit at close range by clothyard shafts, taking casualties, and upset by the repulse of friends AND the Irish skirmishers at their rear, break.... 

On my Right the sheriff activates - two moves in a row - but again hesitates. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE MAN !!!!! There is no doubt that he now holds the key to winning the battle; the two fresh bands of knights standing yards away from the enemy Left.. Is he asleep ? Is he going to "Do a Stanley" on me..??

In the enemy centre the enemy Commander, Poyings, will likely soon have to relocate to avoid my skirmishers, who  - despite arrows and stones from the camp - sweep around the rebels' rear. The pesky sutlers and suppliers are very close to the enemy bowmen now. Soon they will be fully loaded again - while my arrows are all but spent...

The Sheriff gets activated... He now holds the key to the fight. My Left is in stalemate. I have only one fresh unit in the centre - my reserve. With his knights he can make a real difference....

But no..... Seriously; this man is a menace.....

Then things go from bad to worse... One of the enemy Centre Wards gets activated. They charge the guns.....

And there go my gunners....

On my left the Irish are facing-off the enemy right, but nobody seems to want to get to grips - especially as the enemy bowmen have just been resupplied. 

The gallowglasses advance, but the enemy close combat troops pull back... Could be worse - but I need these Irish close-combat troops in the centre. Were they free they could smash the enemy centre from the flank...

In the centre I throw my reserve bills against the villeins around the guns, driving them back... 

...but then disaster; the replenished enemy bowmen in the centre rear shoot down my mounted skirmishers and rout the rest....

The threat to his rear dealt with, Poynings gets a grip on his depleted left and centre and pulls them back into an actual line of battle.  I think he realises that his men are outmatched here, but my own centre is depleted, arrow-less and weary. The key really lies with my flanks - the Irish and the Sheriff... The battle could still go either way....

Suddenly: the possible Game changer - the Sheriff awakes.... 

Phew... He throws his dismounted knights against the enemy bills and pikes. 

They go through these like a knife through butter, and into the sword and shield/buckler men behind. 

The supporting villeins, seeing the better equipped and trained units in front and to the left of them being slaughtered, panic - and run.

In an act of desperation the knightly commander of the enemy left, Sir Rougeblanc, charges the Sheriff, and they engage in single combat. 

They fight manfully, both taking wounds, but the damage has already been done to the enemy left and centre. They simply cannot stand up to the knights; and those not cut down are now streaming away in panic. Poynings, recognising defeat, joins them. 

The enemy right can withdraw in good order under cover of its accompanying bowmen, the camp can be abandoned - and I have not the capacity to pursue - my knights are on foot and my army is exhausted. All the remaining enemy get away....

Rougeblanc, wounded for the second time, with his leader and army heading for the hills, and himself now surrounded by enemy knights, yields honourably to the Sheriff. The battle is over.


That was FUN....!!  The uncertainties. The frustrations of personal command -  with no radios - and reluctant or hesitant (or even potentially disloyal) subordinates meant that I could never relax. 

The Manoeuvre Phase and "is it, isn't it" enemy Battle Plan process worked effectively. I was hesitant at times, just in case the enemy did something unexpected...

The Activation system worked well, as previously. The "out of command radius" decisions of sub-commanders could be tweaked to allow more modifiers, but worked in terms of the "friction" of real battle. The Event Cards, and the uncertainty of if/when the AI would play them added tension and chrome.
Altogether a most satisfying game...

In terms of the actual battle the knights proved key - they will cut though anything they can reach, but thinking about it, had they need unleashed earlier, and pushed too far, they could have been overwhelmed by numbers, or shot with arrows... Perhaps the Sherriff knew what he was doing all along... 

In thinking about whether the knights were "overpowered" in terms of their effectiveness on the Table I recalled the story of veteran warrior Andrew Trollope, being knighted after the 
Second Battle of St. Alban; who said that he did not deserve the honour, because he had managed to get a foot impaled on a calthrop during the street fighting, and so had only been able to kill fifteen of the enemy....

That he was seemingly in his sixties at the time gives one hope.... 

As always; questions and comments welcome...


  1. Wonderful commentry 🤣🤣🤣
    But a very plsusible battle and the outcome could have been very different .
    Excellent write up !!

    1. Many thanks. The processes worked well and it was an interesting game to play. Despite the superiority of my force in terms of training and gear at no time did I feel totally in control of events - or even be sure of my ability to cope with what "the enemy" might throw at me. As always, I'm left with a "this could be improved by tweaking" feeling, but this was a very satisfactory and fun exercise..

  2. Hope you had as much fun playing as I did reading, sounds as if the rules deliver the right sort of lack of control/uncertainty. Will investigate further.

    1. I did indeed. Thoroughly enjoyable.

      When my arrows ran out in the centre, while the enemy started to replenish their boys, and the Sheriff seemed to have gone to sleep (or worse), I thought I was in serious trouble..

      The "Solo-ising" systems (cards, tokens and ad hoc "decisions") are simple in themselves, there is no bookkeeping or looking up tables, and all in all I felt procedures were reasonably intuitive. There was certainly plenty of "friction" to mess up my own plans, things felt "real" rather than forced and the progress of the game worked as a narrative, with nothing too jarring...

      The rebels seemed to be "confident and well motivated" (well, going by their lucky morale tests right up till everything went pear-shaped for them). Even the Sheriff's "decision" to hold onto his knights in order to be able to deal the final hammer blow made sense in the end.. :)

      A really fun exercise..

  3. Crazy! The mix of makes and the numers of bods on the table..crazy and excellent :-)I even see some Monty Python converted bods or?

  4. It certainly is a right old mash-up of types (and periods) alright; but what the hey... :) But it was a fun old game..

    And yes; well spotted. My Monty Python Patsy and his fellow, hard-done-by (and overloaded) mates got pressed into service as "spare arrow carriers"... :)

  5. I finally got round to reading all this, wow! Great battle and now I am inspired by your posts here to break out my long put away 25 – 28 mm Medieval figures, (“Medieval” being for me “Late Dark Ages through the Outremer period, War of the Roses and up to the Ottoman conquest of Eastern Europe/Austria”).

    Alas being the dinosaur that I am, I have not upgraded myself with any rules set for the ‘period’ since my purchase of Chainmail back in the ‘70s!

    So my question for you sir is this; now that you’ve had some time to try out the NMTB game system how well do you think it would do to cover the broad historical range I’m looking for?
    Or would another system/rules set be better suited?
    (I’m doubtful that there is a ‘one size fits all’ solution)

    I thought about trying Dux Bellorum but I prefer a system of 1:1 figure/man ratios and I would also want to be able to implement the use of matchlocks and cannon/bombards.
    The ‘Outremer Faith and Blood’ rules set look tempting but seems to focus on more skirmish size battles done campaign style. (I’ll want to do about 100+ man sides)

    The few battles for the period that I’ve played over the years have mostly been house rules adapted from a rather simple Medieval Japanese warfare rules set (posted in the files section on the Solo WWM FB page) simple and fast but not very detailed with variants.
    Any opinions or recommendations would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you.

    1. Ha, ha... I must admit to not having the patience to trawl through rule sets these days ("More than five pages.. ???")

      I think the basics of NMTB could be easily adapted.

      Over the years I've come to the opinion that pre-mass gunpowder use C&C, training, military philosophy/practice and culture are the critical changes we need to look at...

      The mechanics of moving don't change until steam and the internal combustion engine.

      Hand-to-hand doesn't really change; so long as the great military traditions of "can I reach him before he reaches me" and "Rock, paper, Scissors" are acknowledged, where appropriate.

      Shooting is shooting (chance of hitting doesn't change except in special cases). Chance of survival - see below)

      Use of armour (or not)and hit/missile damage effect can be tweaked using saving throws.

      I'm afraid I have never found a medieval rule set that totally "did it" for me, so my pre. NMTB medieval (and, indeed, Roman) House Rules were a solo-ised Dux Brit. and Sharp Practice hybrid. I added my own artillery rules - similar to those in NMTB.

      Having done the old medieval reenactment for some time now, over the years I've found that while what you're wearing Vs what you're being hit by (and length of same) are big factors the training, "will to win" and the C&C are key. My rules try to reflect that.. :)


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