Last year GMT reprinted the first three games from their Men of Iron series and bundled them together in a single box as a ‘deluxe’ edition. This gave us an amazing 20 different battles to play out using the same rules system, of which seven come specifically from the Wars of the Roses period.
In 2017, the C3i Magazine published issue number 31, which as part of the magazine supplements, included a fully stand alone playable Wakefield game as part of the same series, that had a new map, counters and charts to play the game. This scenario is the work of Ralph Shelton, who has done a huge amount of work to support the series originally designed by Richard H. Berg,
So for fans of the system, this is a chance to include an 8th battle to the series.
Please use the ‘read more’ tab to see the rest of this post which covers an AAR of the battle.
In a previous post, this blog covered the 1st Battle of St. Albans and explained the Men of Iron system there, so there is no need to repeat much of that a second time. I have included a link to the previous post in the Resource Section at the foot of this post for anyone interested.
Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, together with Salisbury and Neville, had moved north to deal with Lancastrian forces. He was in the area of his own castle (Sandal) when he was to discover that the Lancastrian forces were significantly stronger than he was.
Richard had commissioned Neville of Raby to recruit further forces from the area and to then make to him. In belief that those forces were on the way, Richard sallied against the enemy, hoping that they would be caught between himself and his reinforcements.
Unknown to him, Raby had already sided with the Lancastrians (a great shout of ‘Treachery’ I hear from the reader!). While it took some time for Raby to engage, once this did happen, Richard’s army was overwhelmed and he, together with Salisbury were killed.
There are various accounts of the battle, perhaps the most commonly told, was that Richard was ambushed from the local woods. The author has chosen a situation that dips into the various accounts to make a balanced game.
There is also an alternative scenario called ‘That rascal Raby’ that already has Raby on the battlefield with his two extra formations, thought by the author to be the most likely situation in the real battle, but obviously giving a very unbalanced game in the Lancastrian favour.
We are given a scenario that has Richard desperately trying to defeat Somerset and Northumberland before Wiltshire and Clifford make their presence felt, they are in effect reinforcements and their arrival is determined by an escalating die roll.
The important element to this game engine is that there are no strict turns or timescales, rather just an ongoing cycle of activations throughout the game.
Individual formations (called wards or battles) will attempt to activate and then move / fight. Once done another friendly formation will attempt to activate (die roll against an activation range) and if they fail, then play flips across to the other side, who get an automatic free activation for their first formation and then must likewise attempt subsequent activations on a die roll and so it goes on, until one side can put the other to flight.
Our special rule in this scenario is that York goes first and all three Yorkist formations can initially take a free activation, but if they choose this option, then none of their troops can shoot / shock etc as part of that activation.
York (white counters) has his army drawn up in three wards, one behind the other. The Lancastrians have two wards (the red counters of Somerset and Northumberland) setting up side by side.
Note the symbols in the woods to either side of the battlefield, these will be entry points for the Lancastrian reinforcements ..... spelling great danger for Richard.
Richard decides to activate the entire army and move it forwards.
Above, the activation then flips over to Lancastrians and Somerset moves out to start to envelop the Yorkist army and negate their attack in depth on a narrow front. They fail their next activation and so the Yorkists get to activate for free. This is a very important moment and Richard takes the risky choice of moving his own ward directly forward into contact with Northumberland. If he fails to retain the activations, Somerset will almost certainly crush his ward’s flank. This could get messy!
I don’t intend to cover the entire battle in detail, but as usual, I will take an exploded view of the opening action (Richard’s activation), as it will explain not only the nature of the mechanics, but highlight how this system manages to make a head on clash an exciting contest.
Above - Richard has foot infantry, two mounted Men-at-Arms and an archer in his front line. He advances his line to contact. His bow are allowed to move and then shoot, they do, without effect.
Next his infantry will advance to contact and be marked with shock counters, indicating which enemy unit(s) each will attack. However, his two mounted units are allowed to charge, so when they contact the enemy, they are given charge markers instead of shock markers.
The defenders get a chance to respond. Firstly, if they have mounted Men-at-Arms (which they don’t) they could counter-charge. Secondly, if they have any bowmen (they do), they can shoot into either or both of their front hexes. This means that two of Richard’s units must withstand an arrow shower on the way in from the same archer unit. One is a mounted Men-at-Arms unit and the other is an infantry unit.
Taking the mounted unit, which is charging, first. The bow get a die roll modifier of +1 (good) for their target being adjacent (range 1 hex), they also get +1 for shooting at mounted Men-at-Arms (big meaty target with unarmoured horse!). They roll a 4 (on a D10), adding the 2 bonus mods to get 6. The result is that mounted targets are unhorsed. The mounted counter is swapped out for a counter representing unhorsed Men-at-Arms (a good old Agincourt type result), this disadvantages this unit in combat. Only mounted units can charge, so now the unit is unhorsed, the Charge counter is replaced with a Shock counter (i.e. a less powerful strike).
Since the bow can shoot at anything in it’s front hexes, it can also have a go at the infantry on the Yorkist right and fairly effective shooting means they disorder the infantry (flip the counter to it’s disordered side).
With defensive actions done, the Yorkists are left with resolving 5 Shock attacks and 1 Charge. We do the Shock attacks and the results are a mixed bag, with 1 Yorkist infantry retreating, but importantly (for the archers as it turns out!) the Lancastrian archers retreat, rather than taking a disordered result.
There is only one space for them to retire into and that is behind them, on higher ground, where Northumberland’s Standard has been placed. Standards are very important in the game as they are rally points for ‘`Retired’ units.
Now let’s look at the charge. We have a mounted Men-at-Arms unit, with Richard present in person, attacking Lancastrian Infantry, who also have Northumberland with them. Richard attacks and gets +1 for his Charisma bonus and +1 for Mounted Men-at-Arms Vs Infantry. He gets a good die roll that not only disorders the enemy, but his cavalry also gets a Continue marker, allowing them to fight on, so another attack is made.
This time the attack bonuses will also count the fact that his target is now disordered, which is obviously bad for the enemy. The result is an ‘Elimination’ and Richard again scores high enough to get a Continuation marker. First, he must advance into the now vacant hex and Northumberland must take a leader test for loss (7+ on a D10), he is lucky to survive and moves to the safety of another unit.
Allowed another attack under the continuation status, Richard looks at options and there, right in front of him, is Northumberland’s Standard, to capture that would be a great result ....... but, the earlier retreating bowmen are now with the Standard and since Richard has again moved adjacent to the bow, they are allowed to reaction fire defensively.
Their shooting is effective and Richard’s men become unhorsed, this means that both of Richards mounted M-A-A are now fighting at a disadvantage of being unhorsed and will do for the rest of the game.
They are now fighting on foot, uphill and also suffer a penalty for repeat ‘Continued’ attacks - as his men hack their way up the slope to the Standard, they inflict a ‘Retreat or Disorder’ result on the bowmen, who cannot afford to abandon the Standard, so instead they stand and flip to their disordered (and more vulnerable) side, but they have saved the Standard!
Above - by the end of their activation, the Yorkists have broken into Northumberland’s position, but they are vulnerable to counter-attack. Richard hopes that as he rolls for a new activation, he will score low enough to be able to have Neville’s ward in the second line, move up and support him. He rolls ............ and fails! A free automatic activation passes across to the Lancastrians.
What should they do with it? Activate Somerset to fall on Richard’s flank or counter-attack with Northumberland and take the pressure away from the Standard?
Hopefully this example of play has shown just how dynamic and eventful this system can be.
On with the story!
The Lancastrians go fully onto the offensive (they get a successful second activation).
Above - The important aspect of this is that Somerset swings down and starts to envelop the Yorkist Army. Neville (the Yorkist 2nd ward) has been slow to react, but as Somerset approaches his wing he is stung into action and turns to meet Somerset, who’s front line then becomes disordered.
York’s plan had been to concentrate greater force quickly, before Lancastrian reinforcements could arrive, but here we are with the Lancastrians actually starting to overwhelm Richard’s army.
Northumberland continues to press Richard to his front, coming close to destroying Richard’s ward.
Casualties cause flight points. At the end of each players free activation, they must add a D10 result to their current flight score, if the total score is over 18, that army has lost the battle and will flee the field. The Yorkists are on 9 points, so are starting to feel things slip away from them.
What is surprising is that despite heavy fighting, none of the leaders have been lost.
Above - And then it happens ....... Wiltshire’s men emerge from the woods in the Yorkist rear, with their mounted men-at-Arms galloping forward to engage Sir Thomas (stupidly, I put Wiltshire with them even though he does not give a combat bonus - risky for no gain!).
They manage to hack their way through the infantry and then crash into the rear of unsuspecting enemy bow, dispersing them (retire to the Yorkist Standard). The situation now looks suitably historically dire!
Above - Then an important moment, Somerset’s men have worked around the rear of the Yorkist army and they push through (where the red arrow is) to capture the Yorkist standard (the Yorkist rally point).
Becoming surrounded, the Yorkists are forced into a cauldron, but Wiltshire (Lancastrian leader) gets isolated and is caught and killed.
The Lancastrians now have 8 Flight Points compared to the Yorkist 12, can Richard’s army tough it out? His own ward is destroyed and he makes a lucky escape from the field with his life.
Encircled, Salisbury and Sir. Thomas fight for their lives. Their strong resistance is bringing heavy casualties amongst the Lancastrians ....... and then! Northumberland falls in an arrow storm.
With Northumberland and Wiltshire replaced with less capable leaders, it became the case that the Yorkists were starting to ‘out activate’ the Lancastrian forces, leaving Somerset feeling that he was doing all of the work!
Sir Thomas’ mounted Men-at-Arms and archers were able to do much harm to the Lancastrians, picking off disordered infantry with ease.
Above - Perhaps rather too late in the day, Clifford’s men emerge from the right hand wood, but the Flight points of the two armies are now even at 16 and it is now the Lancastrian turn to test for flight.
Up until now, both sides have been rolling amazingly low for their flight tests, keeping them both in the game, but this time Lady Luck was not with the Lancastrians and they rolled a 9! They had lost their spirit, broken and fled.
That was a hugely enjoyable game, with much more nuance going on than was able to be shown here.
While the the end of game shot looks like a sea of red units and you wonder how York can claim victory, the activation numbers of Clifford and the replacements for Wiltshire and Northumberland were very low. I suppose these could be viewed as sort of hesitant forces, which was leaving Somerset to do all of the work.
In truth, the Yorkists had been very lucky, because for a number of the latter activations, they could have easily have roll high when testing Flight and that would have been the end of them and indeed in most games it most likely would be - but not today!
The Yorkist high point was clearly at the opening of the game, when Richard cut his way to the Lancastrian Standard and it was interested to see the system deliver a Bosworth type moment of a mounted charge carving their way through the line and then the unhorsing of the force happening.
In the mid game, the Yorkists did quite well because they elevated the Lancastrian casualty rate to match their own, making things equally precarious for Somerset’s army.
The final moments could have gone either way, but in some regards, it is good to see that the scenario can deliver a Yorkist victory in a battle in which the odds were stacked against them, this balance would also make for a much better 2 player experience.
The rulebook and play aid cards are very good and this is an ideal battle for keeping your hand in with the system. The Scenario designer Ralph Shelton has done a good job and he is also notable for the series game support that he gives at Consimworld and Boardgamegeek.
A look at the system via the 1st Battle of St. Albans game. LINK
The magazine issue is now 3 years old, so I am not sure how easy it is to get a copy, but I bought mine recently at a UK outlet and I know they still have copies. LINK
My sister webspace COMMANDERS has a collection of shorter AAR’s. Link.