Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Stamford Bridge 1066


With the anniversary of the battle just a week away, Invasion 1066: Stamford Bridge, of my own design and published by Revolution Games, hits the table.

The situation covers Harold’s fast response to the invasion in the north by the Viking army under King Harald Hardrada. The armies are facing each other on the mud flats near to the River Derwent.


This always gives a very different game to the hard grind of its sister design (Hastings) and is pretty much a hack’n slash affair, that generates early shocking losses by comparison.


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Invasion 1066 Stamford Bridge is a small format game with 140 counters and a 17” x 11” map. The historical set up has Harold’s Anglo-Danish army already on the far side of the River Derwent.


The Vikings have formed up on the mud flats, but being caught by surprise, many soldiers in this army had left their armour back on the longboats back at the village of Riccall on the River Ouse, downstream from York. This is represented by the Viking front line being filled by units that are face down, their true strength not known to either side. Some will have their armour and some won’t.


Around 2500 soldiers of the Viking army had been left back at Ricall, ten miles away and when they heard of Harold’s presence, they ran the distance to the Stamford Bridge battlefield. Led by Eystein Orri, these troops arrived fairly exhausted, but even so, the warriors literally burst onto the battlefield and for a moment, the battle hung in the balance due to their intervention.


This explosive arrival of reinforcements has become known as Orri’s Storm (or Gorcock’s Storm) and this originally was the title of the game in the early days, when I was putting self published (DTP) copies out. Happily, Revolution Games took the title and put out a professionalised version, which is what we will use today.


System wise, the only real things of note are; the Viking front line has ‘untried’ troops, some with armour, some without. Archers go ‘out of arrows’ and are removed from play whenever they roll a 1 or 2. When units are removed due to losses, all friendlies around them must take a morale test, this is adjusted for casualties suffered so far and a failed test causes a local rout.


This means as the game trundles on, ever higher losses result in increasing routs. Combat is not mandatory, but if you do attack and are successful, the attacker must advance into the vacant hex and keep their facing - this very often leaves their own flanks exposed and as line cohesion breaks down, casualties increase through a series of local flank attacks.


Anyway, with all that said .... here we go!


At start positions, Vikings are blue


Turn 1. The opening turns are adjusted to recognised that Harold had to get his army across a narrow bridge and then deploy on the far side. This built in delay means that on turn 1, the Anglo-Danish army can’t move .... except if they take up the option of swapping out 4 housecarl units for 4 mounted housecarl units, they can use that cavalry.


I included this option purely because of the reference of mounted men made in Snorri Sturluson's Heimskingla saga, but I am not inclined to have mounted units in this army, so I didn’t adopt the optional rule and so nothing happens on turn 1. The Vikings hold firm, steadfast in their shieldwall defence.


Turn 2. The housecarls and archers are released this turn (but not the Fyrd) and so the housecarl move up and engage all of those ‘inverted’ front line Viking units. As each attack is announced and executed, the strengths of the defenders are revealed and by pure chance, the units without armour (strength 4) are all grouped on the Viking right.


Housecarls advance to contact


The first attack goes in on the far left, 5 Combat Points Vs 4 Combat Points, so the Housecarl unit attacks the Hirdmenn unit with a +1 advantage (units cannot ‘gang up’ in this system), the die is rolled and both attacker and defender go ‘Disordered’.


Disordered units cannot attack and their movement is reduced to 2. Worse, their combat value drops to 3. They test to re-order, but cannot do this when in an enemy Zone of Control. As armies become disordered they become less effective and vulnerable. Pulling disordered units out of the line to recover and feeding fresh units in becomes part of good army management.


On the 4th attack, the housecarls roll a ‘1’. When this happens while attacking a good ordered hirdmenn unit, the play is momentarily suspended while the hirdmenn unit throws in a counter-attack with a +1 modifier, representing berserker attacks.


The revealed Hirdmenn unit counter-attacks!


In this first wave of attacks, the housecarls actually took very high casualties (4 units), which is enough to start to influence future morale tests as casualties are added to the morale die roll. Worse, gaps have opened in the Anglo-Danish line and the Vikings push into them, to attack the exposed flanks of individual units. This takes the housecarl losses up to 9, which is pretty horrendous even for this game.


Turn 3. The Vikings have now left the the discipline of their own shieldwall and are exposed in the open. Now it is their turn to suffer at the hands of housecarls exploiting gaps and flanks.

The front lines starts to inter-mix


The swirling confusion of battle has started. Viking levy and Anglo-Danish fyrd are having to come up and fill gaps in their respective front lines. The first housecarl unit routs!


The first housecarl unit routs


Turn 4. The two armies are in full contact, exploiting weakness wherever they can find it.


Turn 5. The Orri reinforcements arrive at Millsike Beck on the Viking left. This looks serious for the Anglo-Danish, as their own losses are increasing and now Orri might just tip the balance. Anglo-Danish leaders Gyrth and Waltheof throw themselves into battle with some ferocity and the Viking levy on their right start to rout.

Orri arrives at Millsike Beck on Viking left


Gyrth is in the thick of it and survives several personal attacks. Both sides are tiring .... can Harold cause enough harm to the original Viking force before Orri strikes?


Turn 6.  The entire original Viking line disengages and pulls back, heavily disordered and rally around their King (Hardrada), while Orri continues his advance on the Viking left. The Viking withdrawal has given the Anglo-Danish some breathing space and Harold shifts forces to his right, ready to meet Orri and to protect his escape route over the River Derwent (where the roads converge).

The original Viking force starts to pull back


Turn 7. Hardrada’s original army are under increasing pressure and routing in greater numbers, but the heavy losses amongst the housecarls means that the General Fyrd (strength 3) are now having to do more of the fighting and they are more likely to suffer disorder results in their attacks.


On turn 7, the Orri exhaustion rule kicks in. This recognises that the men have run for 10 miles on the hot day and are exhausted. From now on, Orri’s men will not be able to recover from disorder or rout results, this will slowly degraded their attack capability. They need to strike now.


Hardrada’s men are falling further back, while Orri is on a path to try and punch through Harold's right and reach the Derwent crossing, but Harolds forces on that flank are thickening.


Turn 8. Harold’s Fyrd on the right, rush forward to try and disrupt Orri’s advance. Orri’s attack is running out of steam and unlikely to penetrate through the thickening of the enemy line, but they may yet inflict enough casualties to win the day. 


The Fyrd are frustrating Orri's advance


Turn 9. With renewed energy King Hardrada attacks local housecarls, but as he drives into the Anglo-Danish line, he becomes surrounded and embroiled in his attack. Tostig moves to his support him. The distraction by Hardrada is coming too late as Orri is increasingly seeing the effects of exhaustion and even some of his men are routing.


Orri's force becoming increasingly disordered


Turn 10. As the fighting dies down, a band of housecarls press Orri in his flank, destroying the unit and with them, fighting to the last, Orri also dies.

End play - the Viking threat is seen off!


Victory - Neither side have managed to capture the escape route of the other, so determining a winner purely comes down to losses. The Anglo-Danish score the victory, gaining 85 victory points compared to 71 Viking VP’s.


In the real battle, the Vikings had invaded England using 300 longships, but they only needed 24 vessels to take the survivors home, perhaps this is what we have seen today!


There were plenty of moments of high drama and in truth, by the end of turn 2, going into 3, I was convinced that Harold had already lost and that there wasn't really a game left to report on ..... wrong and quite typical of the swings of fortune that the system allows.


The fact that in the opening rounds of battle, the right of the Viking front line was found to have all of the unarmoured troops, was probably the main cause of the Viking retreat mid game, despite the housecarls overall taking such heavy losses. This in turn allowed Harold to transfer much of his strength over to his right to stop Orri. 


The game hasn’t hit the table for a while, so the anniversary battle was a good excuse to lock swords again.


22 comments:

  1. Re. "In this first wave of attacks, the housecarls actually took very high casualties (4 units)" -- I find this often to be the case when I start with a mass Anglo attack on that Viking line; and since there aren't that many housecarls to begin with, it can be a deep hole for Harold Godwinson to dig out of.

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  2. Hi Tim, it is certainly a fraught proposition for Harold, especially as on the first turn of close combat, each Hirdmenn can only be attacked once, so there is no concentrating on the unarmoured elements. It is such a different game to the Hastings setting.

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  3. It’s a good game and a tough one I feel for both sides especially if the Saxons don’t mess up the first couple of bounds. I think you need to complete the trilogy though

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  4. Hi Graham, the original intention was to do a Gate Fulford, plus a crusader game to make up a quad, with the latter being intended to make fuller use of the cavalry rules. In the end, I just couldn’t see a big enough difference between the Gate Fulford and Stamford Bridge situations in terms of game play, compared to the very contrasting differences between Hastings and Stamford Bridge, not enough anyway to justify people spending their money.

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  5. Norm, this is a period and battle of which I have no knowledge. Well, very little knowledge, I guess. Why all of the untried Viking units in the front line and why assigned (and placed) randomly? I can see how this randomly placed front line would aid replayability and, perhaps, solitaire play. Looks like a close game, this time.

    GMT's Men of Iron tri-pack arrived in the p[oat this week. I plan to give the rules a quick read and set up and introductory game. Not sure which one. Having played a few scenarios, which do you recommend?

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  6. Hi Jonathan, the mechanic of ‘untried units’ is one of my favourite in boardgaming and the opportunity to use it was too good to pass up :-).

    Firstly, we don’t really know enough about our older battles to encompass the finer details, but certainly interesting things like where those without their armour were placed in the line, is not revealed to us. So a limited random placement is appropriate and as you say it does no harm to replayability (or game tension).

    If they were deployed face up, Harold’s men would cherry pick their targets in the game, rather than attacking ‘the line’, which would distort the historical situation.

    There is another brake on the system, on the first turn of close contact, each Viking unit can only be attacked once, so Harold is forced to spread the attack along the line and that prevents an unarmoured unit ‘accidentally being attacked twice, which might bring undeserved rewards to the initial attack.

    From the Viking perspective, an unarmoured unit (strength 4), attacking a housecarl (strength 5) would attack at an opening disadvantage of -1, something that the Viking player would want to avoid, so by having the strengths also hidden from the Viking player ‘encourages’ them to stand firm in their shieldwall and wait for the Anglo-Danish to reveal their true strengths and this preserves the historical situation for a little longer.

    Some of this of course is a timing balance between the initial fight and the arrival of Orri’s reinforcements and opening restrictions brings those two things closer together to give a tighter game.

    As for Men-of-Iron, I jumped straight into the Wars of the Roses, so cannot say which of the the other modules may have a ‘better’ starter battle, but as far as Blood & Roses is concerned, I would go for 1st St. Albans. It is small and it doesn’t use cavalry rules, so on your initial reading of the rules, you can ignore the cavalry rules and things related to the counter charge etc, which will be helpful in getting a faster hook into the system ... It is a weighty old thing isn’t it :-)

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  7. Nice report on what seems to have be a titanic struggle Norm - we have played both of the 1066 battles a couple of times using To the Strongest rules - we even had the lone Viking axeman on the bridge holding up the entire Saxon advance in one rerun of Stamford Bridge! The fact the Vikings were mostly unarmoured always makes it hard for them though....

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  8. Thanks, there are several interesting elements to the battle, which give it it’s own signature for the period. The man on the bridge incident is interesting because it begs the question whether there were any Anglo-Danish archers in the vanguard and by implication the question of how many archer types were present at al.

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  9. Hello Norm, having read a wargamers research account of this battle not too long ago (http://obscurebattles.blogspot.com/2020/05/stamford-bridge.html, great site by the way) I wonder if the second version of the battle on that site might be a good alternative scenario? And would it fit with your countermix?

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    1. Thanks for visiting and leaving that link, very interesting and a goodly amount of work by the blogger and good of him to share.

      The Snorri alternative should work, the map is the same and the order-of-battle is pretty much present. Snorri refers to cavalry and I did include 4 cavalry units in the game for conversion from the foot units supplied. The scenario would need more than that, but at least the unit values are set out and the rules do have cavalry rules, so some of the housecarl counters could just be marked as cavalry.

      For me, Snorri as the sole proponent of cavalry is simply interesting and not much more than that. I am not convinced that Harold deployed cavalry (I think horses were used for transport, but not for cavalry action) and my 4 counter counter optional rule is simply to provide a nod to those that think otherwise and their early release in the game is to represent them being in the vanguard, allowing them to move out and quickly try to get an advantage over the enemy in an unfolding battle. However, by time we come to the set piece battle, both sides were pretty much formed up or at least close to getting into position.

      There are some voices that think that Snorri’s reference to cavalry may be a confusion with the Norman horses used at Hastings 3 weeks later and that elements of the two battle are confused. It is interesting to note that at Hastings, there is no mention of Harold even having a cavalry reserve, so it is difficult to see how cavalry served a purpose in his army.

      The game has quite a lot of optional rules, which include Hardrada having more notice or more awareness of Harold’s approach, though I tend for my own games to keep it to the traditional account. Likewise, if Harold is allowed cavalry, it only gets a +1 in combat rather than the +2 that more cavalry centric forces (the Normans) can claim as they are trained in the ‘charge’ - though whether this was with the spear couched under-arm is still debated.

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  10. An interesting game. The photos of the game board as the game progresses certainly give the impression of a chaotic battle.

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  11. Thanks Peter, it is very chaotic, as gaps open, an attacker will strike for a flank to get a +2 attack bonus, which is a very effective attack ..... but if you cause the enemy to leave the game and their hex is empty, the attacker must advance after combat and keep the same facing. This often then puts the attacker in a position of having exposed flanks and so it goes on.

    The opening position of everything tightly in line doesn’t last for long :-)

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  12. A cracking game Norm and an AAR which I greatly enjoyed. I loved the first line counters upside down so niether side knows what they are, which is a neat mechanism.

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  13. Thanks Steve, the mechanism is generally called ‘untried’ units and it is one of my favourite game mechanics. `it is commonly used in WWII operation Barbarossa games, in which the Soviet side has all of their units untried. Many fall quickly, but now and then there can be a real surprise for the German attacker and it adds a good tension to the games.

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    1. the notion of "Untried" units was a staple of many of Richard Berg's ACW boardgames in the Great Battles of the American Civil War series. When a unit first needed to test morale, it rolled on the "Seeing the Elephant" table. Great fun and sometimes great tension.

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  14. Thanks Jonathan, not a series that I have ever looked at, though i note it is very much alive with a recent release and one in the pipe. i think it is the compexity rating on the box that has probably deterred me.

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  15. Gripping AAR Norm! I really thought Orri’s arrival had saved the day for Harald.

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  16. Thanks Mike, poor Orri, there were just too many enemy units for his attack to make any significant headway.

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  17. Cool! One of my favorite battles and a classic shieldwall slug fest. Though I do like to see the small local attacks penetrating and the counter attacks (and the counter counter attacks all along the lines as they disintegrate into local melees. This is a battle I’ve been meaning to put into a miniature game for a long time. 😀

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  18. Thanks Stew, I like The stage that has the local fights turning into local routs - the point just before routs become army wide, it just gives that sense of the cohesion ebbing away. I have some 12mm Viking / Anglo-Saxon in a stage of being part painted, but at the moment they are going nowhere fast!

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  19. Hit the mark yet again. Great dramatic AAR bringing out the hack and slash and wild swings of fortune that set this as so different from Hastings. Personally will always think of this as Orri's Storm which seems so much more the right atmospheric title for this bllodbath. Stamford Bridge just sounds too sedate!

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  20. Hi Mike, yes, I liked Orri’s Storm as the title and it put a bit of focus on his intervention.

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