Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Refighting Bosworth 1485

Furthering my post a couple of weeks ago covering the Battle of 1st St. Albans, today we are taking the Men-of-Iron system for a second outing and visiting the Bosworth battlefield. It is by happy coincidence that 22nd August is the anniversary of the battle.


This bigger battle may allow for more of the intricacies of the system to reveal themselves, but in any case, the bulk of the post will look at an AAR of this scenario, which has been updated since the first edition to reflect new thinking on the location of the battlefield and associated deployments.

Please use the ‘read more’ tab to continue.

In 1974 Leicestershire County Council, accepting the work of D.T. Williams in describing the location of the battlefield, built a visitor centre and a battlefield trail around Ambion Hill. In 1990 Peter Foss suggested, in his ‘The Field of Redmore’ book, that the battlefield actually lay almost a mile further south-west. Finally, in 2005, commissioned archaeologist Glenn Foard, excavated a wider area and by 2009, finds had suggested that the battle was fought even further west (2½ miles from the original site). 

This has now become the accepted location of the action that saw Henry Tudor (the future King Henry VII) defeat King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth and for the monarchy, the House of Plantagenet was supplanted by the Tudor dynasty.

All the more surprising that a whole battlefield can be lost in just a little over 500 years, but there we are! 

The new Tri-Pack version of the game has been updated to accord with the latest evidence. I am also reading Richard III and the Battle of Bosworth, by Mike Ingram, newly published by Helion & Company, with a view to his text underpinning a scenario that I want to do for a figures game. 

Interestingly, the two interpretations have William Stanley in slightly different starting positions. Ingram has him immediately to the rear of Henry’s position, whilst the game has him further over to right.

Until I read the Ingram book in full and get a measure of the various routes of march taken by each formation, I will not be sure which way to jump for the figures game, but anyway, it matters little and that is in the future - today we play the updated boardgame scenario as presented.                                  

Map and Opening Positions.

Richard’s three ‘battles’ (white counters below) are arrayed one behind the other with soft ground to his front. The Lancastrians have their main battle (under Oxford) arrayed against Richard’s front. This formation also contains his French allies and has the right flank protected by marsh. Henry and his entourage are behind them and then there are the two Stanley groups (brothers). William is the closest, out on Henry’s rear right and to the right of them is Lord Stanley.

Looking at the map, there seems to be a lot of marsh, but only Fenn Hole on Oxford’s right is actual marsh, the rest, which looks brown rather than blue, is classed as bog, which is more of a hindrance to movement than anything else and does not favour horses. (note Ambion Hill, part of the original battle site, is to the top right of the map)

One of the great intrigues about this battle is to what degree some of the nobles had already agreed to support Henry or at least had a lack of motivation in supporting Richard. Mike Ingram favours the view that the Stanleys had already agreed to support Henry, other views are that they sat on the fence until the last moment, before committing themselves (to Henry). 

Likewise, on Richard’s side we have Percy (Northumberland)  who does not appear to have become active, but rather left the field at an early opportunity. Mike Ingram has it that they left once Henry’s French contingents moved on the flank into a threatening positions, others, that Percy had no intention of assisting Richard and that Richard had already been ‘bought and sold’ before the armies even met.

I mention this because regardless of the pure fighting, there is a lot going on in this battle that a game designer needs to be mindful of. It certainly plays into the numbers game as alliances will change army strengths, but may also dynamically matter as to how a formations position on the battlefield and their true intention can drive the direction of the battle. Many books have been written on the subject, so we can’t do justice to the topic here, but we can see whether these factors feed into our game play.

Our scenario has some interesting ways to deal with these ‘side watchers’. Percy (Northumberland has a very low activation number, but if the Lancastrians take more casualties, Percy's chance of activation improves and once they start activating, they become further inclined to activate - it is just tough to get them going!

The Stanleys can be activated on a Lancastrian die roll if the die roll is equal or less than the value on any of the 5 Stanley Activation chits that are blindly drawn during play. Together, these mechanisms do give this fascinating battle some replayability. 

Note - the term 'battle' in the AAR is a reference to a named formation. In the period these were also called wards (i.e. Vanward), so the the troops with Percy are a 'battle' (or a ward) as are the troops with 'Lord Stanley'.

Opening moves.

Well, from the off, the battle moves in an unexpected direction. Norfolk (Yorkist) advances his front line to close with the Lancastrians, loosing an arrow storm at extreme range, while his artillery on his left fire. This causes some minor disruption to Oxford (Lancastrian). For their first activation, the Lancastrians attempt to draw the Stanleys into battle ..... and they succeed (wow!).

William Stanley moves up, note the marsh area
by the red counter, called Fenn Hole

William Stanley starts to move to support Oxford’s right, which obliges Richard to bring his battle out onto the Yorkist left, in what looks likely to be an inevitable face-off between himself and the Stanleys.

Norfolk's (Yorkist) battle, edging further forwards to get into closer arrow range, seem to be getting the better of the opening archery duel. [the system allows Longbow and Bow to make reaction shooting when they are attacked by missiles and so this simultaneous shooting can become a sting in the tail to the active shooting formation].

Richard pushes on towards the Stanleys and his speed of advance causes them some consternation as they try to shake out into line to receive the attack.

Though Richard has an advantage in mounted men-at-arms, he is aware that his battle is matched in numbers by the combined Stanley force of the two brothers and so he orders Percy (Northumberland) to move down and support him from behind - he is hugely relieved to see Percy obey, even though it is in a plodding fashion.  

Richard’s plan now is to deal the Stanleys an early deadly blow and then turn the whole army on Henry / Oxford.

Mid Game

Richard attacks the Stanleys

As the lines clash, Richard and his mounted entourage make directly for Lord Stanley’s banner. Perhaps caught unawares, Stanley’s company fail to counter-charge and Richard’s strike at the command position is highly successful, causing very heavy casualties and killing Lord Stanley!

The centre of gravity for this battle is now over on the Lancastrian right as Lord Stanley’s formation tries to hold out, while Richard’s battle presses on, not quite strong enough to overwhelm the Stanleys, but still slowly getting the upper hand. 

Richard (white) breaks into the Stanley Line (green)

With his brother struggling to his right, William Stanley advances to contact to try and pin part of Richard’s battle, while Henry Tudor (red counters above) move out to the right to give additional support to that wing. With Percy slowly making his way to support Richard, will the battle be decided here?

Critical moves

Richard can see Henry’s battle making over to support the Stanley’s, so he makes one big push against Lord Stanley’s battle, which is already widely disordered and smashes it, putting it to flight.

He is able to control his force and not pursue, allowing him to steady his line and prepare to deal with the combined forces of Henry and William Stanley. The momentum of battle is very much with the Yorkist army.

End game.

Henry has fresh mounted men-at-arms and Richard himself is fairly far forward, potentially exposed, but he is trying to push this Lancastrian army over the edge.

Richard leads a charge, but is he sticking his neck out!

At the end of the Yorkist activation, a flight test is taken. Each side calculates their number of losses and adds to that a die roll. If the number reaches the 'Flight number' for that army, then it is considered defeated and has gone into flight.

On this occasion, the Lancastrians, who have taken plenty of losses, roll too high, taking them above their flight number and they immediately lose the battle.

End positions


This is what the map looks like at the end of play. Oxford and Norfolk have barely moved. All the action has been on the right, with Richard pressing Henry on the flank and Percy starting to catch up to Richard for extra support. There are just a couple of Stanley units left, they are in the centre of the map, just to the right of Fenn Hole, holding back part of Richard's line.

Overall, I really enjoyed this and will re-set it to play again. The rule book is still in my hand during play to look up the nuances, but I have got familiar with the rules and know exactly where to look, so checking only takes moments and play this time around is much slicker.

A couple of mechanics are interesting, such as missile fire against missile troops allows them to reaction fire in a sort of simultaneous action. So when Norfolk's bow fired at the front ranks of Oxford's bow, those bow immediately responded and you do get that sense of both sides having arrows up in the air at the same time and I like that. It also stops you shooting just for the sake of it!

Also the Charge / Shock system for entering close combat has a nice interplay that helps the player get drawn down to a 'hex-by-hex' level of interest.

A couple of things I find a little questionable. Firstly the 'Flight' roll that can end the game. I like the idea that the flight number is fixed for each battle and that growing casualties and a randomiser (the die) are the way that you reach the respective flight numbers, once passed, the game immediately ends - however, in this game the flight number is fairly low (18 for Lancaster and 22 for York), but the system uses a D10 for everything, including this test and as a randomiser, that just seems like such a wild card, that some games might end seemingly and unjustly in favour of the 'the wrong side'.

I do wonder whether a D6 or even an Average Die may have been a kinder option for this mechanic. In our game Henry had taken the bulk of the losses and lost the entire Lord Stanley Battle. They were up to 15 loss points and rolled a 4 on the D10, which took them beyond 18. It didn't feel unfair in this instance as Richard was now definitely in the winning seat, though it did feel like the game was cut a little short, but perhaps it did stop unnecessary playing on. But had they rolled a 9 when they had just 10 loss points, I think the end of the game would have felt a little premature.

The other thing concerns an uneven spread of activity across the battlefield. Once the fight on the right developed, both sides pretty much used all of their activation activity to focus on that wing, with the result that Oxford and Norfolk pretty much didn't do anything after their initial opening.

Is that a problem? I'm not sure. It is more of an observation than a complaint. With the King (Richard) and the Challenger (Henry) taking the fight out to the right, then the command focus there did seem right, but the total lack of action by the two main battles, didn't.

Regardless, there is much about this that I do like and I can imagine a game in which Henry just can't get the Stanley's on-side and / or that Northumberland is very tardy in getting involved and so I look forward to a replay to see how a more traditional Oxford v Norfolk fight might turn out.

Plus, having now done 1st St. Albans and Bosworth, I find myself with 18 more Medieval battles to explore .... the reward of series rules.

Resource Section.

A little of the system was explained in the 1st St. Albans AAR LINK


  1. Great AAR and description of how the game mechanics work. Very well done and most interesting

  2. Thanks Mark, Bosworth alone is an interesting action and I think the layers of interaction in this system help keep it so.

  3. Norm, once again a quality game review and playthrough. I enjoyed this very much. It seems the game activation system accommodates the historical situation very well. Still, I ought to give my game in this series a try sometime. When who knows?

    As for using D10s, I think they offer to much variability along a uniform distribution. Depending upon the number of modifiers and such, a D6 or AvgD seems reasonable. D10s work in practice when the system reflects a lot of chaos or modifiers can offset the impact of an extreme D10 result.

    I see your thumbnail sketch is missing...

    1. Correction! Now it is visibile!

    2. OK, one last comment...

      Your mention of 'Vanward' as an alternative to and signifying 'battle' and its placement in line got me to thinking about work etymology. were these other 'battles' designated as 'toward', 'forward', 'rearward, or "backward?"

    3. Thanks Jonathan. I have some mixed feelings about D10’s in general. I think they can work in modern tactical settings quite well, when for example we want to say something has a 30% of a hit etc, but in two games in particular, I have been turned off the game because the result spread over the D10 rang +/- modifiers are just too extreme for the same situation and it starts to feel like a game of lucky (or unlucky) outcomes.

      In Men-of-Iron that issue is significantly dampened down because results largely stay within the 10 point range and there are relatively few outcomes or the differences between them are quite gentle. So for example when bow shoots at good order foot, 0 - 4 is no effect and 5 - 9 is disorder. When you shoot at disordered units you actually access a different results column, the same for mounted and unmounted. In close combat 1 and less is auto disorder, but 2 - 3 is Disorder OR retreat and 4 is no result, so the extremes and wide swings are not there, plus you really need to disorder something first before you can get the higher tariffs of harm.

      The thumbnail was missing, so I went to your HMTL post, looked at my HTML and my head exploded, so I went to an art package and produced an exact square and re-posted ..... that worked, but it seems to have taken a couple of hours for the system to pull it through.

      It seems that the armies were often divided into 3 bodies that could be described as divisions / battles / wards. In the Bosworth scenario, the two Stanley commands were physically separate (though likely existing to one beat) and so Henry in effect had 4 battles.

      ‘Wards’ are interesting, because we see the function and terminology repeated in much later wars, with Vanward giving us vanguard and van. The three main wards are van, main and rear. One might expect the mainward to be the bigger body, but that was not always the case and at Bosworth for example, Norfolks Vanward headed the advance, but apparently, he had all of the archers, making his ‘van’ a very hard hitting force.

    4. Norm, I apologize for the head explosion due to my instructions. If you want to email me the snippet of offending HTML code, I can show you what to replace for the next time. Once you figure out what to replace, the rest is easy.

    5. Hi Jonathan, I did take a look at the code, which looked different to yours and so it just seems easier to produce the square at the same time as I re-size all of the images, as the same piece of software is used. Thank You.

  4. A great AAR Norm and nice to know you have got to grips with the rules. The 'Flight' rules as it stands if for me, from what I can see, too random. I'm a big fan of the bell curve generated by a 2D6, which normally irons out the randomness of a single D10 roll.

    Now the action happening all on one flank is much more of an issue for me. It reminds me of a game/ruleset which I used to play which had the same issue, but I'm damned if i can remember what it was! I think this was the main reason for ditching the rules. When I play a game I want the action broadly speaking to be along the whole battleline.

    Well maybe this battle was a bit of a blip, so looking forward to more AAR's to see how things pan out.

    1. Thanks Steve, I am wondering how I would have handled the Yorkists had the Stanleys not become such an early threat. I am guessing that perhaps I would have had Richard support Norfolk in an attack directly forwards at Oxford And in that regard, it would have been quite a different game.

  5. Thanks again Norm!
    Glad you are a scenario ahead of me, it’s a good read before I play.
    Regarding the action being confined to one area, is that not player dependent? Sure pin your opponent down, say his strongest Battle, while you attack his weakest. If you concentrate on one Battle it loses effectiveness fairly quickly. Be interesting to see as the games are played. I have to play solo but am enjoying it so far.

  6. Hi Dave, it will be interesting to see how your Bosworth games plays out, as the variables of Stanley / Northumberland involvement played quite a part in my game. With Richard having himself and Percy on the flank and both needing to advance, I found this to pretty much expire the Yorkist activations, unless they were on a bit of a roll and worse for Henry as he had himself, plus the two stanleys to activate, so by time it got to Oxford, their good fortune for a straight run of activations had usually expired. I am liking this system.

  7. a lovely AAR, Norm. The map and counters look outstanding and I feel like I just have to say Boardgames have really come a long way since the Avalon Hill original printing of "Gettysburg" with the squares.

    This AAR reads just like I was reading a history book and I very much appreciate that. It speaks to the strength of the game system.

    1. Thanks Steve, I agree, the aesthetic and functionality of the boardgame has hugely improved. One has to be careful though as getting a game to look really nice is easy these days with computer art packages, but getting one that is a 'good game' is as tough as it has ever been.

      Secondly the range of choice seems huge, but it is still much less than the figure sector, for example, if as a boardgamer I want a series of medieval based games, the options are tight and it is unlikely that you will find your 'perfect' set, whilst in the figures world, there are a myriad of rules sets on the same subject or you can write your own and your ideal of the 'perfect' game is more likely to be satisfied.

      But having said that, boardgames offer the best solution in compact set up and play options. I kept Bosworth set up on a large pinboard with plexi on top and played the game in very short bursts across two days, moving the game off the table when the table was needed for stupid things like eating :-)

      I will likely do Agincourt next and that has a map that is exactly the same size as the box lid - ideal for vacation games or disability restrictions.

  8. Can’t believe no one has done the “my kingdom for a horse!” Line. Wasn’t that during bosworth? 😀
    Very nice write up Norm. You usual nice style of getting the game highlights and the important rules aspects. I was impressed how the game handles the shifting alliances that are always so hard to model for a one off game.

    This series is making me want to reread about the WoTR. It’s been awhile and I always get confused on who is who.

    I actually really enjoy the d10. I keep trying to write out why but my son keeps attacking me while I’m doing this and it’s taken forever already do I just give up...😀

    1. Thanks Stew, you will be pleased to know that as a play on words, one of the variants offers a 'His kingdom for a Stanley' optional rule, which allows the potential for the Stanleys to come cross to Richard.

      Your son sounds like he wants you to role play a 'my kingdom for a horse' scene and other 'sword fight' type games with him, I recognise the signs and have the sore knees to prove it. :-)

  9. An interesting account of a mysterious battle from an intriguing time. A few years ago I read Michael Jones's take on the reign of Richard III, the battle that ended it, and the characters of Richard and Henry Tudor.
    I have yet to read a review of that account.


  10. Thanks Ion, the period is fascinating and full of inter-family intrigue, a rich subject for researchers and authors to tap into. The latest research is particularly interesting in terms of the military aspects of this battle, as it is a watershed between traditional and revisionist accounts of the battle, but never-the-less, the family dynamics and politics across the whole period and that story are consistent fascination.

    I recall browsing the Michael Jones book and thinking it of being a very readable account. I will revisit that.

  11. Thouroughly enjoyable analysis Norm! Thanks! I would agree that a D10 in this instance seems a bit excessive - I would opt for an average die as you suggest or a D4 at best.

    Seems like the Men of Iron system is a good value option, worth looking into.......

  12. Hi Mike, looking at this a day later, I think an average dice is something that would work for me, especially as just an excuse to use one :-)

  13. Well you’ve gone and done it again, ordered the game. I love the WOTR but I can’t see me ever painting figures to play, this I think will fill the gap nicely.
    Great battle report and it certainly feels that there is a lot of replay value in this battle

    1. Graham, Norm's review had the same effect upon me. I ordered the game...

    2. Jonathan, I am spending your money again :-) There is plenty in this 'full' package to dip into and investigate.

  14. Thanks Graham, In the Tri-Pak you get WotR and crusades and early medieval, such as Bannockburn and Falkirk etc, plus a bonus game (from the C3i magazine) of Agincourt, so there is much to to like. I hope it meets expectations, cheers Norm.

  15. Great fun reading the AAR and interesting about the battlefield location. I feel I have to read more about wotr.

  16. Thanks Eric, of late, I have noticed a real resurgence of wargame interest in the period. In the next issue of Wargames Illustrated magazine, there will be a free set of WotR rules, so I am hoping that the magazine articles will be likewise themed.

    1. I’ll keep an eye on that. After my TYW-project is finished I have been thinking of doing late medieval/renaissance, and wotr could be what I’m looking for.

    2. Slingshot #330 had Bosworth replays using three different rules.

    3. I understand that The Ancients Society have a themed battle each year and that 2020 was to be Bosworth and that due to Covid, it has been postponed to 2021, so I am hoping that they will be putting a demo on at some of the shows on the wargame circuit .... when things get back to normal.

  17. I must confess to knowing little about this battle beyond it's historical significance so your write up was an interesting read.

    As an aside Norm, I must confess to having tears in my eyes when the body of Richard III was discovered in that car park.

  18. Hi Lee, those couple of years around 2009 of finding Richard’s body and the re-interpretation of thIs battlefield, are a significant period. When I think that how it transformed the thinking around the battlefield, which I first started walking in the mid eighties and just accepted the ‘old narrative’. Who knows what other surprise finds are in front of us that that will turn those things on their head that we currently hold as true.

  19. Another good write up, my nephew is getting this set too,I've got the Michael Jones book and thought it was a good/ interesting account, the Curry one I can't afford but her history of agincourt was spot on and I did her online course on it too,and did one on Bosworth too,quite fun ,free from future learn.
    Best Iain

  20. Thanks Iain. I got the new the new Ingram book from Hellion specifically because it put a lot of focus on the new battlefield with a lot of map support, so it seemed quite wargamer friendly. Yours is the second mention of Michael Jones, so I will look into that.

    I'm sure your Nephew will be pleased by this package, which includes an Agincourt scenario and I think I will be giving that one an early visit due to its very compact nature, the map is just A4 sized!

  21. Hi Norm,
    My Bosworth went pretty much the same as yours! Spectators watching battles just didn’t look right! I am enjoying this. It’s fun, and that’s the reason I play. Regarding the dice of doom ending the battles I am going to leave it a bit more before I change anything.
    Also, I like the way “return fire” works. Makes you think about things!

  22. Hi Dave, interesting to hear about your Bosworth game, I will be returning to it soon. Until the Yorkists get amongst the Lancastrians, Henry can afford spending early activations on trying to get the Stanleys on side and then takes the battle in another direction - I need to think a bit more about the strategy.

    In the meantime, I have an Agincourt game being written up which is intended to serve as a bit of a primer for anyone who needs a bit of help to get this to the table.

    Yes, I really like the return fire and Agincourt will show, the reaction fire, that just helps the significance of the English line set-up to come through.



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