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.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Everyone likes pie...

...don't they?

Wargames Illustrated magazine ran a poll recently to find out what rules are popular at the moment, and what's being played.

I was having a casual browse, and my eyes opened a little wider when I saw one of my own sets of rules getting a chunk of pie action. See the colourful selection in the attached image.

I feel rather honoured that real, living people are playing my stuff. Thank you!

You can read more about WI's poll HERE.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

The Men Who Would Be Kings publishes today

Rejoice rejoice! Today is the official publication date of the awkwardly acronymed TMWWBK.

If you've not already ordered a copy, rush down to your local bookstore pushing people out of the way as you go should they slow you down, and make sure you buy a copy today (please!).

Failing that, it's available online too.

I'm extremely proud to have yet another set of rules published by Osprey; this is my fourth with a fifth on the way early next year. I have resisted suggestions to work on a bigger, hardback book as I like the 'blue book' size and style for wargame rules.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Greenskin Wars: Unofficial Dragon Rampant Kickstarter

The Greenskin Wars Kickstarter is up and running (already funded, in fact).

This is a campaign to get Kev Adams' Crooked Claw range of goblins and other green fellows back on the market, including plenty of new models too.

Diego, the chap behind it, has been in touch with me to ask about writing his own unofficial Dragon Rampant army lists and background for the range. This will be a freebie made available when the Kickstarter completes. Sounds good!

If you'd like to get behind the campaign, you can do so HERE.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

1066 And All That: Fulford, 20 September 1066

Harald’s invasion came first. After landing at Riccall in Yorkshire, Harald and Tostig marched for nearby York; just south of the city, the northern English army of earls Edwin and Morcar barred the way. Edwin commanded the army of Mercia (in the modern English midlands), and Morcar the army of Northumbria (the northern part of modern England, which had been governed by the unpopular Tostig before Morcar). They had taken up a strong position, flanked on the English right by the deep, impassable River Ouse, and flanked on the English left by the marshes of Heslington.

Fulford is without doubt the least well-known of the three major battles in Britain in 1066 (but as it happens, also the subject of one of my earliest wargaming articles, published back in 1997) – not only in the twenty-first century, but closer to the time, too: no detailed account of the battle has survived. The best we have is Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla saga; written around 1230, and of some dubious historical value, it describes the action as follows:

King Harald now went on the land, and drew up his men. The one arm of this line stood at the outer edge of the river, the other turned up towards the land along a ditch; and there was also a morass, deep, broad, and full of water. The earls let their army proceed slowly down along the river, with all their troops in line. The king's banner was next the river, where the line was thickest. It was thinnest at the ditch, where also the weakest of the men were. When the earls advanced downwards along the ditch, the arm of the Northmen’s line which was at the ditch gave way; and the Englishmen followed, thinking the Northmen would fly. The banner of Earl Morukare advanced then bravely.
(from Project Gutenberg)

The English formed up on the northern bank of dyke, the level of water in which may have risen and fallen during the battle. The size of the English army is not known, but the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes it was as 'great a force as they could get', and probably numbered around 5000 warriors mustered from Mercia and Northumbria. The English force would have been focussed on the housecarls of both earls (professional, household warriors), supported by the fyrd (regionally raised levies, though not inexperienced or untrained) and possibly by Welsh allies of Mercia.

Opposing them, the Norse force marching on York was probably larger, perhaps in the region of 6000-8000 warriors, as part of the army was left at Riccall to guard the ships. Among the ranks were presumably Tostig's Englishmen and Flemish mercenaries, warriors from the Orkneys, Scottish allies, Harald's housecarls, and the best of his leidang (a Norse equivalent to the fyrd, who served overseas only on expeditions as huge as Harald’s 1066 campaign).

Battle began early in the afternoon, with the two shieldwalls approaching into javelin range. Edwin's Mercians held the riverside half of the English battle line, with Morcar's Northumbrians closer to the marshland. Opposing them, Harald was by the river, so faced Edwin; and Tostig met Morcar's men. The shieldwalls fought across the dyke; most likely, the attacking Norsemen would have needed to cross the dyke so may have been at a disadvantage. The Northumbrians on the English left pushed back Tostig's command, probably crossing the dyke to do so. This success may have broken the solid line of the English shieldwall, but whether due to this, Norse reinforcements arriving, or a more general attrition further along the line, the English right buckled under a counterattack possibly led by Harald in person.

As the English right broke, the entire battle line broke; confused, panicked Englishmen fled to the temporary safety of York, or drowned trying to scare across the river or through the marshes. Harald's son Olaf pursued the English as far as the gates of York.

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

Monday, 19 September 2016

1066 And All That: Wargaming the 950th anniversary

September and October 2016 see the 950th anniversary of two of the most famous battles ever to be fought on British soil… and a mostly-forgotten prelude. 

Today, I’m posting the first part of a short series about the campaign and will post about each of the three battles on the relevant days… and yes, I have a new book out on this very subject in 2017!

I'm also going to add details for refighting the battles using my Scottorum Malleus IV rules, although that will happen after the final battle's anniversary (mid October), so please be patient!

Ready? Here goes...

1066 is one of those dates ingrained on British- and perhaps all English-speaking – minds. The end of the ‘Dark Ages’; the coming of the Normans; Harold; William; an arrow in the eye; a very lengthy piece of cross-stitch. Most people, whether interested in history or not, know the outcome…

The Norman Conquest was a Good Thing, as from this time onwards England stopped being conquered and thus was able to become a top nation.
(WC Sellar and RJ Yeatman, 1066 And All That, 1931)

There is a tendency to focus on Hastings, the third of the battles; but Fulford and Stamford Bridge are equally important to the eventual outcome: if the English did not win at Stamford Bridge, who knows what force would have met William’s Normans weeks later? And if the Norse did not beat the English at Fulford before Stamford Bridge, would the English king have marched north or remained in the south to counter the Normans sooner? Choice, choices!

In a nutshell, King Edward (the Confessor) died in January 1066 and was immediately succeeded by the English earl Harold Godwinson. In the spring, William of Normandy – who felt he had a good claim to the English throne – began to assemble an army of invasion; in April, Haley’s Comet was seen over the British Isles and considered an omen of bad tidings. This proved a shrewd bet… in the summer Harold’s exiled brother Tostig raided along the south coast with an army of Flemish troops, and then combined forces with Harald Hardrada of Norway (another fellow who felt he had a good claim on the English throne).

By the late summer, Harald and Tostig were poised to make a ship-borne landing in northern England with various Scottish, Flemish, and Scandinavian allies, opposed by the English earl Morcar of Northumbria and his brother Edwin (Tostig had previously been ousted by these siblings); William was poised to invade in another ship-borne landing, somewhere along the south coast, and Harold had called out his levy of fyrdmen to watch the coast. Tension rose, the weather cleared making sea travel more likely, and the armies gathered their strength.

Something had to give…

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Gaming With History: Gaming discussion event in Edinburgh, this October

I'm giving a presentation and generally talking games in Edinburgh this October. 

Here's some more info...

Interested? Sign up here.

Meet game developers and gamers, and then play games set in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Our team and the members of the South East Scotland Wargames Club will be on hand to explain all the games to you. 
  •       How does the games industry make use of history?
  •       What role does it play in shaping historical knowledge?
  •       How can it be interacted with?
Those questions will be discussed at a roundtable with Daniel Faulconbridge (editor of Wargames Illustrated), Daniel Mersey (author of games such as Lion Rampant and Dragon Rampant) and Gianluca Raccagni (Lecturer in Medieval History, University of Edinburgh).

After the roundtable there will be refreshments with canapés.

Then why not trying out some games! It will be possible to play with a selection of board games and in participatory displays of wargames such as Lion Rampant

This is the plan of the event:
  •      17.30-19.00 Roundtable
  •      19.00-19.30 Refreshments with canapés
  •      19.30-22.00 Games night

How does the games night work? It will be possible to sign up for games during the refreshments time. 

On your own? No problem! Just come along and we'll do our best to match you up. 
Contact us:

Tuesday, 4 October 2016 from 17:30 to 22:00 (BST)
Blackwell's Bookshop, 53-62 South Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1YS

First TMWWBK test game I've seen online

Aside from write ups by my brilliant group of playtesters, here's the first (independent) AAR for my new colonial rules... or at least the first I've seen online. Head over to the Shadowkings blog to read the report.

A nice looking game, and one that looks like it was in the balance for most of the game. The blog's author seems to give TMWWBK a thumbs up.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Dalauppror's back with a new Lion Rampant AAR... and a new publication date for The Pikeman's Lament

From Daluppror's blog...
It's good to see my old chum (and Pikeman's Lament co-author) Dalauppror posting a new Lion Rampant after action report - his battles are always a thing of beauty.

This I know because I've had the pleasure of travelling to Sweden to game with him - and well worth my time it was too! You can read his latest exploits here.

In other news, I've seen via Amazon that The Pikeman's Lament is now showing a January 2017 publication date, rather than the previously shown February date. That's good... creeping closer!

Monday, 5 September 2016

Armies included in The Men Who Would Be Kings

To give you some idea of the breadth of ‘Colonial’ warfare covered by TMWWBK, here’s a list of the sample Field Forces I include in the rulebook. Of course, you can use them as inspiration to create forces for any war you fancy, you're not limited to what's printed on those pages.

It’s not all about Africa, it’s not all about India, and it’s not even all about breech-loading rifles.

As with all of my rules, the lists I include are not set in stone – you should tinker to your heart’s content. 

I use army lists to show examples of how you can build an army for my rules, not how you must build it. That would go completely against the way I look at games. 

As always, it’s great if you can research your own units (even if your primary sources are movies or novels – it’s your game, play it in the style you wish). But if you can't, or just don't fancy it, you can use the off-the-shelf examples from the book.

So, in order of appearance (and with dates where this helps to avoid confusion – included are armies from approximately the 1840s to about 1900), we have:

Anglo-Egyptian War and The Sudan
1. Beja
2. British
3. Camel Corps 1884–85
4. Egyptian
5. River Arab

Anglo-Zulu War and the First Boer War
6. Boer
7. British
8. Zulu

Darkest Africa
9. Explorers
10. Naval Landing Party
11. Slavers
12. Tribesmen

French Africa
13. French Foreign Legion
14. French Armée d’Afrique
15. Arabic
16. Dahomey

Italian Invasion of Ethiopia, 1896
17. Italian
18. Ethiopian

North West Frontier and The Great Game
19. Honorable East India Company 1840s
20. Khalsa Army 1840s
21. Afghan Regulars 1879
22. British 1879
23. Pathan 1879
24. Great Game Theoretical Russians

The Old West
25. Apache
26. Plains Tribes
27. US Cavalry

The Pig War Gone Hot
28. American
29. British

And Finally…
30. Danny and Peachey’s Private (Kafiristani) Army