Monday, 24 August 2020

Not Agincourt?


Strange title! but for reasons explained below, I will be playing this with the French army being closer to their true military capability than they were on the day. 


This is another scenario taken from the Men-of-Iron Tri Pack, published by GMT. I know a few gamers bought this module following my Bosworth post (link below) and so I thought with that heavy weight of responsibility :-) I should do a follow-up post that explains the system a bit more, so that those buying or thinking about buying can use this partly as a primer.


I hope it's not too process heavy or wordy for those not so inclined, but there is still a tale of battle here that can be of interest.


This is the smallest map in the package, using just an A3 sized map ( 11” x 17” ). This is a bonus scenario in which the hexes are larger than the rest of the maps, as are the counters and it has a low unit density, which the developers say plays in around an hour, so it looks like the ideal intro scenario for anyone easing themselves into the system.


Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.



Although the Tri-Pack brings together the first three modules as a reprint, the Agincourt scenario actually hails from the C3i magazine (a sort of GMT house mag) and so is a bonus scenario to the reprint of the three original modules.


The battle is well known. The English are on the defence, flanked by woods to either side and with soft muddy ground to their front. Their force consists of Longbow archers behind stakes and dismounted Men-at-Arms between the archers. In contrast, the much stronger French force has mounted and dismounted Men-at-Arms and they face the punishing task of crossing the soft ground in the face of the English arrow storm. In reality, the ranks of the French nobility were decimated in this battle and I think it is generally a tough scenario for designers to give both players a good game ..... so how does our game fare.

Set-up, French are blue

Well - firstly the game as per the basic set up gives both sides a fighting chance, though the English side is in a strong position. To actually ‘move’ this game to more historical simulation, there are balancer rules that are tough on the French in which every unit starts off disordered and the French cannot rally retired units and then the combat outcomes are more punitive for them. As a result, the designer notes say that this becomes so one sided that the scenario is best played as a solitaire affair.


This is fine and I would usually prefer the historical rules, but the purpose of this post is to show something of the system and the balancing rules introduce too many special changes that would contaminate what I am trying to do ....... so today we are doing a not Agincourt! We will use the basic set-up and just play it as a normal Men-of-Iron scenario,


The concept of formations is important because units activate by formation, they then do everything that a ‘traditional turn’ might normally allow and then the player may attempt to activate another formation, failing to do so hands activations over to the other player and so it goes on back and forth. In this scenario, the English have three formations (coded with a coloured band) and the French have four.


The English have good activation numbers, with Henry's formation being very good and Henry himself will assist his other leaders to Activate. The French have weaker activation levels and so it is harder for them to get repeat activations before handing play back over to to the English.


We will use the opening moves of the game to get our insight into the general mechanics.


The battle opens.

[Special Rule - the French take the first Activation and the must activate Orléans first]. Charles II, Duke of Orléans is both in charge of this formation and in charge of the army. His command range is 4, so all of his formation (with a red band) are in 4 hex command range at the moment, except the one on the far right, however command ‘flows’ through a chain, so by connection of adjacent units, even the farthest unit at 5 hexes distance is also in command.


Obviously the French task is to get forward and into contact, but here they face immediate difficulties. The English archers are behind stakes, which offer a hefty -3 DRM protection against the dismounted Men-at-Arms attacks and mounted can't attack across stakes, so they are channelled towards the gaps between the stakes which are covered by English Men-at-Arms. They start close enough to make full contact on the first move, despite the extra movement costs of the mud.


However ...... to contact the enemy Men-at-Arms, the French will also put themselves adjacent to the English archers, who can reaction fire at a unit that moves adjacent to their front facing, so this initial contact will be fraught as they must survive the arrows at close range!


Arrows fly as each of the 6 French dismounted units move to contact. Out of those 6 M-A-A, 4 are shot at by the reacting longbow and 2 French units become disordered. The archers use the target ‘on foot’ part of the chart and use the ‘normal’ column, with normal meaning the target is in good order. They would normally have a 50/50 chance (on a D10) of causing disorder, but their shooting is modified by +2 for close range, so the French should consider themselves lucky today with getting just 2 disorders.


When a target is already disordered, further shooting moves over to the ‘disordered foot’ column and the results are more deadly.


The movement and reaction fire conclude the movement part of the activation and we now move onto the French Shock step.


French units currently having an enemy adjacent and in their frontal zone (two front hexes) can attack (called shock) ..... but note, importantly the cavalry can also charge to contact in this phase, even if they moved in the movement phase, though the charging unit gets a penalty if they also moved in the movement step.


Disordered units pay a penalty if they attack, but here, the French have little choice but to work with their disordered units and share the burden of attack with the ordered units. If we examine just one attack as being a typical example.

The French unit on the right will have to attack 2 units 


So here is the difficulty for the French, if you attack, then you must attack everything in your frontal zone (2 hexes), unless another friendly is attacking one of those units. So here, against the wall of English units, the French cannot ‘gang up’ against an English M-A-A because all of the English units must be attacked. We will now discuss the attack on King Henry’s hex (in the centre of the above photo), as killing the King would be an important result for the French army.


The good ordered French unit is marked with a Shock marker facing the King’s hex, but the French unit also has an English archer in its frontal zone and would normally have to attack that also, however, the ordered French unit next to (on the right) the attacker will attack that archer, leaving the attacker to concentrate on the King and his accompanying M-A-A unit.


We shall look at the dice roll modifiers first;

-3 for the defenders shock value (dismounted M-A-A are good)

No bonus for one side being stronger than the other (i.e. more units)

No bonus for unit types (as M-A-A Vs M-A-A is a zero difference)

No bonus for any defensive terrain (the King is in the open)

There are no other modifiers for things like flank attack or of having been counter-charged (by mounted) etc.


So we will roll our D10 and reduce the score by the -3 modifier. We roll a ‘1’ (Oh Merde! says the French Commander). This adjusts to an attack value of -2. Any score of zero or less disorders an attacker and has them retreat 1 hex.


The French dismounted M-A-A who attacked the archers across the stakes will suffer a -3 DRM for the stakes ...... but they do get some advantages, +1 for the defenders shock value (archers are not very good in close combat), +2 for being M-A-A Vs Archers, so the modifiers cancel out to a straight die roll and both sides will just hope that Lady Luck is with them. Note, those French units that are disordered will each suffer a -2 DRM when attacking for being disordered.


Overall, the French roll really badly and now most of their line has pulled back, with just two units staying in contact and having ‘engaged’ markers placed on them.


Rally Step - disordered units that have not done anything and are not next to an enemy can rally back to good order, but all of our French units have been fighting, so rally is not an option at the moment.


Continuation Phase - now that the Orléans formation have completed their activation, the French player can attempt to activate another formation by rolling against the formations activation value. They attempt to activate Rambures (yellow stripe) bow armed men, needing a 3 or less, but fail.


Failing means that activation flips across to the other player. When activations cross to the other player, the first activation is considered ‘free’, that is, it is automatic and does not need to be tested for. Generally you will choose a formation based on urgency of the situation, but you might pick a formation that has a tough activation number, just to ensure that you get to use them. You may want to activate the King's Standard as that will allow the retired units with it to attempt rally, but often the pressure is on to activate a formation instead.


The English choose to use Camoys on their left, simply because they can bring the most archers to shoot (note the large figure 3 on Camoys counter is his activation number). It appears it is not just the French who can roll badly, but they do manage to hit a disordered unit which further deteriorates to ‘Retire’ (it is marked in the photo).

Units with a blue band activate


A retired unit is simply picked up and placed next to the Kings Standard (at the rear of the army), where it can attempt to recover when / if The Standard is activated rather than a formation.


The English now attempt to activate another formation, this time York on the right ..... however, the French interrupt by playing their precious Seizure Chit. They only have one, but using it now will allow them to try and steal the initiative and get the Orléans formation undisrupted by rallying before they are decimated. According to the chit they hold they need to roll a 0 - 7 on a D10. This should be easy. But they roll ‘9’ (even more merde! says the commander).


The chit is spent and play reverts back to the English, but worse for the French, failure of Seizure means that the English can re-set their activation clock (for want of a better expression) and their activation will count as ‘free’, as though it is their first and they can even activate the formation that they last used immediately before the interrupt attempt (i.e. Camoys).


They do select Camoys and they disorder the adjacent French M-A-A and also get an ‘Unhorsed’ result against a mounted Men-at-Arms unit. This swaps the mounted unit out for an unhorsed foot unit and they cannot re-mount for the rest of the game (they have just lost too many horses).


Now the English attempt continuation by trying to activate York, over on the right and they pass that activation test and so this too and fro of activation, failed activation and passing activation across to the other player carries on and is at the heart of the game.


By the time the initiative goes back to the French, they have lost two M-A-A units, which together are worth 6 flight points. If the French lose 30 flight points, they will flee and lose the game, but ... the Flight assessment is always taken at the end of each free activation and a roll of a D10 is added to the flight points, giving a randomiser that will have players holding their breath as they roll once their casualties bring them within the randomised range of the flight number (in this particular scenario, the English do not add the D10, but their Flight number is a lowly 10 anyway - special rule).

Charging units select 1 target and can ignore the other


The first charge of the game goes in. French mounted M-A-A charge into York, but that manoeuvre also brings them into the frontal zone of an English archer, so even though they will not attack the archer, they must still first suffer the effects of reaction shooting. The result is that they are ‘unhorsed’. This stops the charge, but the attack carries on as a Shock Attack (Charge is like an enhanced Shock attack, so dropping back to a shock attack just reflects a poor charge and uses a different combat table). Their attack fails and they fall back 1 hex, disordered.


At last, the French manage to get Rambures' bow and crossbow units forward. Their initial shooting is rubbish, but shooting allows Longbow targets to immediately and freely reaction shoot back, fortunately for the French, the English dice are also rubbish!


Crossbow cannot reaction fire against an archer shooting at them in the way that longbows can. In an unequal action, the French Bow and Crossbow pull back out of harms way, lest they are pointlessly lost.

The French unit has to attack both units to its front

Alençon (the next French line) advances towards the English. One unit is left having to attack two enemy units because of that rule that if you attack, then everything in the frontal zone should be attacked. The system requires that an attack dice is rolled for EACH enemy and appropriate modifiers are applied independently to each die. Of course, the attacker could then suffer badly on each of those attacks! 


Mid game.

Orléans has pretty much broken itself

Rambures (archers and crossbow) are spent

Alençon are currently in the front line and getting roughly handled

Fauquembergue, the last French reserve, just can’t seem to get going!

Have the French cracked the English centre?

The French high point.

But all of a sudden, opportunity presents itself and Alençon has some success in disrupting the English line. The excellent unit with King Henry is disordered and they pull back. After rallying his men, Henry together with York successfully counter-attack and push the French back out of the breach in the defensive line, but in following up this attack, Henry has pushed forward too far and is a little isolated.

Isolated, King Henry is charged by two mounted units

Yet another French high point!

This happens just as Fauquembergue‘s formation passes through the gaps in the Alençon line and hits the English line, with two mounted M-A-A managing to charge at Henry and dismounted M-A-A attacking York in the flank through the stakes. At the same time, Camoys on Henry’s left had to pull back to re-order.


This is an alarming moment for the English and good game tension comes from the next few die rolls and manoeuvres.


Henry is assailed several times, each time the King risks death. Fighting desperately, the French are fought off and in the lull that followed, the English fully re-established themselves amongst their defensive position. This could have easily been the turning point for the French, but they have lost the moment of catching the English unsettled and disorganised.


End game.

And as though the game engine knew that all was lost for the French, when tested for Flight ..... they failed the test and so fled the field, leaving the English in victorious possession.

Retired units gather around the King's Standard

In failing the test, the French had suffered 18 flight points in losses (that is six dismounted M-A-A units). A further 6 points are added to that for those ‘retired’ units that still stand around the King’s Standard at the rear of the army, which as yet have not rallied, plus a result of 9 on a D10. The grand total of 33 exceeded the French Break Level of 30.

   

Conclusion.

Well a fun game and a tough one for the French, though they did manage to momentarily break into the English centre and later get a charge in against Henry, while he was exposed, plus the English left wing had to briefly make a tactical retreat. this did bring a moment of genuine game excitement for the French, who had been having a hard time of it.


Some luckier die rolls for the French could have made a big difference, especially if Henry could have been killed and the opportunities were there for that to happen.


I’m not sure that I will try the ‘balanced’ options that give better history, as I think anything tougher than this for the French, would be a purely academic exercise ..... and where is the fun in that :-)


Overall, this looks like it could be a good learning scenario because it is so small and compact, though it not to be confused with the ‘easiest’ as it draws upon many facets of the system, but then so do the other scenarios, but this is compact enough that the player can set it aside while dipping into the rule section to embed the various mechanics and processes. As an alternative something like 1st St. Albans is compact and it does not have mounted units, so the charge procedure does not need to be learned initially.


I hope this post helps those new to the system to get their copy to the table. I have obviously not covered everything, but the main features of the game engine are here. Thanks for sticking with a long post.


Resource Section.


My sister webspace COMMANDERS is a bit more snippet based than here. Link.

https://commanders.simdif.com


The previous post covering the Bosworth battle LINK

http://battlefieldswarriors.blogspot.com/2020/08/refighting-bosworth-1485.html


An earlier post dealing with 1st St. Albans LINK

http://battlefieldswarriors.blogspot.com/2020/08/1st-battle-of-st-albans-men-of-iron.html


29 comments:

  1. Great report as always. It has helped clarify a couple of the game mechanisms which makes the rule reading easier. My copy arrived yesterday and I'm hoping to find time later today to fight 1st St.Albans. I'm really looking forward to getting into this system

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    1. Thanks Graham, the system is not a difficult one, but handling all of the different interactions is something of a learning curve. For example in my first game, I totally lost the point that you can have movement and charge movement in the same activation and I couldn’t work out why there was a charge penalty for anything that moved - on a second reading it all became clear.

      I think 1st St. Albans is a good choice and is small enough to re-set and have a second go as the rules fall into place.

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    2. Norm,
      All good St.Albans refought, made a couple of small errors but everything fell into place. Next up Blore Heath
      Thanks for your help

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    3. Good to hear, The Blore Heath scenario looks interesting with Audley’s mounted formation and the Caltrops rule.

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  2. Great stuff Norm!
    As it’s bucketing down here and I have a few days off it’s hitting the table today. I will let you know.
    I really enjoy this system. I too found it a little cryptic at first but reading the rules slowly, and following this post will help anyone thinking about it. For me, it’s a purchase I am very happy with!
    Cheers
    Dave

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  3. Thanks Dave, being a board gamer of many years, I found it odd that that what amounts to a pretty straight-forward game, took a bit of time to click into place. But as you have found, once you get into it there is a lot to appreciate. Hopefully this post will be useful.

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  4. Thanks, Norm. This was a really interesting play-through of Agincourt. My copy of the game may be some time in coming. The vendor I typically order from has the game on backorder.

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  5. Hi Jonathan, I think I will find the post useful to use as a refresher for when I spend some time away from the game. Something I will take from this playing was that I though the French didn’t stand a chance and then suddenly, they had practically broken through the centre and then ended up charging The King ..... always worth fighting on until the system stops you!

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    1. Norm, you make a very good point. How many times has a gamer thrown in the towel too early and missed experiencing a really interesting finale to a game?

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    2. I have never really understood the gaming practice of retiring or conceding when you doubt you have a winning chance remaining. Having played a game for a few hours, it seems better to ‘see’ a conclusion and also allow your opponent who has worked hard for a result to at least get a glimpse of how a winning strategy plays out. Perhaps it is the difference of playing to win and playing to play.

      For the same reason, I don’t see the point of starting a game that takes more hours to play than you have available, it just robs both players of an important part of the game, as everything worked for is just starting to develop and then you turn the switch off.

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    3. As for your last thought on ending a contest before a decision can be reached, one of the joys of a dedicated wargaming space is having the luxury of leaving the game in situ to return later for another session.

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    4. Indeed and makes for a better balance of being able to choose from a wider range complexities and being able to experience the bigger meatier game.

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  6. A great review Norm! Agincourt is one of those battles that is so hard to make interesting for either player. It seems this does and at least gives the French an outside chance. Out of interest, can you play the original French plan of attacking through the woods to turn the English flank?

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  7. Hi Steve, that is an interesting proposition. In strict theory yes, because both mounted and foot can penetrate the woods, the movement costs are excessive unless using the woods. The mechanics that make it hard to do are;

    a) there is also a timing mechanism in the game, which is intended to make the attacker get a move on. From memory it starts at 12 and for every Free Activation that the English give up, they can take the timer chit 1 place down the track. If it reaches zero and the French have not won, then the ‘defenders’ get an auto victory. Several of the scenarios include this mechanic, but once play starts, if the attacker quickly closes, it is difficult to justify surrendering a Free Activation as there is always something that needs doing that takes primacy. But if the French took a long time penetrating the woods, I can see the English seeing this as a worthwhile thing to do. If the French used the road in the right woods, their travel would be significantly eased.

    B) The French would still need to demonstrate to the front of the English army and their problem is that once they get their Free Activation, they have to roll 3 or less to get continuation with another formation and that on balance is not a certain thing, so who do they give the Free Activation to, the larger demonstrating force or the smaller flanking force.

    Getting behind the stakes would be a huge benefit for the French and the flank movement would draw the English away from their defensive line, which would very much stretch them.

    I think it is a worthwhile strategy to try out and has the benefit that the ‘balancer’ rules could be dropped, because this would be a thinking and deliberate French army!

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  8. Excellent battle report, Norm. But did it happen on St Crispin's Day? :)

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    1. Thanks Steve, not quite, but I shall queue it so that a replay will be :-)

      Over the last couple of years I have matched playings of various games with historical dates and I can’t explain why, but it does add something to the desire to play. My biggest effort was a Battle of the Bulge game, with daily turns, so I played the game daily, on the appropriate turns. Daft but good fun.

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    2. Norm there is something satisfying about refighting historical battles on their anniversary. The best my group could do with schedules was to replay in the same month! :)

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    3. Daft but fun, indeed! I do the same.

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  9. Agincourt is a hard battle to make interesting for 2 players, but I immediately see how it’d be a fun solo game. There are several battles like that, though Agincourt is one of the most dramatic.
    I really liked the more in-depth look at a few units in action. This actually makes it easier for me to understand what is actually happening in the game and provides a more detailed look at the tactics involved and the decisions made. 😀

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    1. Thanks Stew, I certainly think that sort of thing helps with buying decisions and it also helps the writer as they are compelled to double check that they have everything right and so the it ensures a ‘proper’ playing.

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    2. Oh, I didn’t think about that but it’s a good point. I find that bloggers usually take extra care to get rules right whereas YouTube videos tend to have a lot of mistakes. 😀

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  10. First class introduction to this system. thanks.

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  11. Thanks for the thumbs up, it is appreciated and always helps motivate the next detailed write-up.

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  12. Hi Norm,

    An excellent post! As usual, you are now tempting me with yet another game and/or period!

    All the best

    Jay

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  13. Hi Jay, thanks, I just like spending other peoples money :-)

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  14. Your usual nice and clear explanation of a game system, it just wouldn't be right if the French won,so a historical result is good!
    Best Iain

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  15. Thanks Iain, The French had their moment, however briefly, but it felt very much an uphill struggle for them, so indeed yes, an outcome that worked.

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  16. Sorry for my late entry Norm. An extremely informative analysis (as you have us now accustomed to!) and a thouroughly enjoyable read. I find this gaming system very intriguing and am seriously toying with the idea of getting a copy. Thanks for sharing!

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  17. Hi Mike, thanks for the thumbs up. There are probably a few YouTube videos around that will help with a buying decision. The Agincourt scenario does quite well at invoking an emotional connection of French player despair and feeling up against it, but I am also glad that for a moment, it looked precarious for the English, otherwise it would be a bland scenario for the English player.

    I do like the idea of exploring Steve J’s comment of pushing some French through the woods to unhinge the English defence, though keeping those troops in command might be a challenge unless concentrating an entire French ‘battle’ (division).

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