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