The Fray at Mallens’ Farm

It is the beginning of yet another solo Dux Britannium campaign, set in south-east England around the ancient kingdom of Rhegin in 477 AD. The game was a raid on a British farm on a hillside with a forest to its rear. The Saxon warchief Penda was able to reach the farm and begin looting before the British rescue mission arrived. Knowing that the British would arrive from the west, Penda formed a battleline anchored firmly against the most western farm outhouse with his best troops, supported by his archers.

Sure enough, Tribune Titus Valerius arrived with his own companions and warriors and decided to rush forwards and fix the Saxons into combat until his levies could arrive, flank the raiders and destroy them with superior numbers. The plan almost worked, but the British rolled atrociously to charge forwards while maintaining their clunky shieldwall formation, which limited the number of valid Fate cards they could use to bolster their assault.

As it was, Valerius used a “Hero of the Age” card to double his own combat prowess, and inflicted several casualties, but took far more shock points in return. The British were forced to retire. British levies were trickling onto the field, and Valerius could certainly rally the shock off in a few turns. Seeing this, the Saxons decided to return the favour and charge themselves, to keep the British off-balance.

In a battleweary melee, both forces’ left flanks began to give way, splitting the massive battle formations apart into separate, disorganised blocs. Penda’s own bodyguard pursued Valerius’ companions so vigorously they ran past the British centre, who now made a battle-defining gamble.

A decurion rushed forwards, ordered the centre to break shield wall and about-face and hit Penda’s men in the rear. With only three or four inches of open field to cover, but only 1 movement die available, the manouevre could have left Penda in a world of hurt. Instead, the decurion rolled a 1 for movement, and left his men exposed, out in the open.

Now it was the Saxon centre’s turn to charge into the exposed rear of an enemy formation and they promptly scattered the entire British centre (two groups). In rushing forwards they themselves exposed their far left flank to British peasants, who tried to make a flank attack. Their charge exacted heavy casualties on the battered pagan warriors, wiping out one group. But there were Saxon companions present in the melee, and they were simply too good for the levies and blunted the attack.

In a final desperate effort, Valerius threw his decimated companions into the fray against Penda’s own companions, and failed to inflict enough casualties to kill them. In the following round, Penda himself was activated and chased Valerius’ companions off the field. This was enough to break British morale and win a fascinating battle for the Saxons.

Interestingly, the TooFatLardies’ iconic “shock” system (where combats are more likely to generate fear, confusion and friction rather than outright fatalities) mimicked historical ancient melees superbly, as groups of warriors advanced and withdrew to rally under the personal direction of their warlords. The British attack was too piecemeal, and hampered by several bad movement rolls. The Saxons had dedicated sufficient troops and leaders (but only just) to see off the British while a few groups pillaged the farm for loot.

The British lost 16 troops, and the Saxons lost 17, but maintained possession of the field, and consequentially, the loot. In campaign terms, they were even able to replenish their losses fast enough to recommence raids before Valerius was ready to meet them, and now have a very tidy loot stash; after a few more raids Penda may be able to afford an attempt at actual conquest of one British province!

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Manifest Destiny: Part 1

The War with the Etruscan League

This is my playthrough of Rome Total War 2, after the Power and Politics update, as the Romans on Legendary difficulty. I am playing as the Cornelli, who specialise at assimilating foreign cultures (and their auxiliaries) into the empire.

Starting off, Rome has two half-full army stacks filled mostly with hastati, which are one of Rome’s weakest infantry units. I also had a puny navy.

From what I can see, in the new update rival political parties’ attributes are randomly assigned at the start of the game, and I really drew the short straw here. Two of my three rival parties, the Julia and the Junia, were a swamp of negative attributes, with increased disloyalty for the presence of foreign cultures, and troops or even for just being at war with other nations. This made it much harder to retain the senate’s loyalty as the game progressed.

Rome starts off at war with the Etruscans, who possess two small towns to the north and the island of Corsica to the west. In previous games as Rome, I’ve noticed that it’s quite easy to take the Etruscans’ mainland towns, which seems to be the logical move. That’s where the enemy army is, and they are quite close to my army’s starting position. However that means that once you’re ready to take Corsica, it’s become something of a naval power, and that forces you into an extended amphibious operation against a strong enemy position rather than the mopping up operation you were expecting.

That’s quite frustrating, and I was keen to turn my attention to Carthage ASAP, so I decided on a different strategy. Leaving Italy to the protection of my southern army, I took the Legio I Italica to sea and stormed Alalia easily, while the Etruscan army retreated to Ariminum (the most distant mainland Etruscan township) and recruited frenetically. I then sailed Legio I back to the mainland. It was easy to take Velathri, but by then Ariminum had a full stack of Etruscan spearmen waiting for me and I had some difficulties coordinating my two full stacks to assault the town simultaneously.

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Notice what a couple of turns of using my spy to poison their water supplies had done to the Etruscan army. They were reduced by about a third, turning an easy victory into a walkover.

As it panned out, while my armies milled outside Ariminum the Etruscan AI decided to break out towards Rome. This allowed me to take Ariminum with ease and then chase the last Etruscan army down the mountain pass and destroy it on the plains (they had been distracted from taking the eternal city by destroying a small army I was foolishly force marching up the peninsula, allowing me time to catch them).

The Etruscans were now destroyed in ten turns, and I had possession of my first full province.2017-12-24 (7)

On the diplomatic front, I signed non-aggression pacts and/or trade agreements with Syracuse, Massilya, Liguria, the Veneti, Athens and Sparta. I also tried approaching the northern Balkan tribes but they were having nothing of it. In the north, I probably made a mess of things by trying to back all three major players, as they hated each other and resented me for having a foot in both camps. As it was, the Massilyans destroyed Liguria eventually without too much trouble.

Technologically, I mostly picked and chose technologies to unlock better infantry and ships, and all three types of agents. It wasn’t until later that I tried to unlock whole tiers systematically. I prioritised shipbuilding because of the upcoming war with Carthage, and rushed champions because you can assign them to an army and give your troops a passive bonus to experience gain.

Next update – The First Punic War! Civil War! A Diplomatic Misfire?

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The Battle of Illium

This is a part of my on-going solo DBA campaign, Under The Chariot Wheels, which you can read about here

The Battle of Illium occurred in a low-lying valley past the walls of Troy itself. On the Hittite side lay a small corpse of trees and a hill to the north, where they set up camp. The Mycenaeans had a small forest to their backs, with open countryside between the two armies.

The Hittites deployed skirmishers on either flank, with a long line of both heavy and light chariots to the north of the trees, where the auxiliaries were posted. South of them lay a band of heavy infantry (blades) and a squadron of light chariots in support. Running north to south, the Mycenaeans posted a squadron of light chariots, all four elements of pikemen (two elements deep), and then the rest of their chariots, with the Myrmidons and light infantry holding the southern flank ahead of their camp, facing the Hittite auxiliaries.

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The Hittites (Red) face off against the Mycenaean (blue) marauders

The battle commenced cautiously, as both sides attempted to find a way to engage the weakest part of the enemy battleline without leaving their own flank exposed. While the Mycenaean pikemen creeped forwards towards the Hittite chariots in the north, the Hittite axuiliaries rushed forwards to engage the weak infantry sitting in front of the Achaean camp to the south.

The Hittite auxiliaries were the first to engage the enemy, having left the safety of their woods. Unfortunately, the enemy light chariots made short work of one element, but the Greek skirmishers quickly collapsed under the pressure of Hittite heavy  infantry, leaving the far southern flank exposed. First the victorious light chariot element, then the Mymirdons were mowed down as the southern flank disintegrated into a rout.

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The battlelines engage…

However, while the Hittites were emerging victorious in the southern brawl, a swirling chariot battle was developing in the centre, as heavy and light chariots charged and counter-charged one another. Since the deadly Mycenaean pikemen lay to the north of this battle, the Hittites did not dare throw their entire chariot force into the melee, but kept them back away from the slow infantry. However, while all of the Hittite resources were dedicated to these battles, the Mycenaean general took a breather from the melee and ordered an infantry charge in the north, while the enemy was distracted.

With one light chariot element pressing their flank, and two elements of pikemen engaging them to the front, the Hittite chariot element quickly disintegrated. Then the Mycenaean general rallied the men around him and charged one of the Hittite light chariot elements in the centre, that had become separated from the rest of the battle line. It was quickly overwhelmed just as the Hittites destroyed the Mycenaean warband in the south and emptied the southern flank of enemies.

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The Mycenaean southern flank is under pressure

But that  victory was far too late; the Mycenaeans, who had kept the initiative for most of the battle, simply swamped the Hittite heavy infantry with chariots on the flanks and destroyed it, causing the Hittites’ final fourth loss for the battle, and the Hittites dutifully retired, badly mauled.

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Here you can see the Hittites’ complete discomfiture both to the north and in the centre, just prior to their final defeat when the Hittite Blades (Bd) were swamped by chariots. 

The Mycenaeans had lost two units (both on their southern flank) but the Hittites had lost three chariot elements and their elite heavy infantry; losses which will seriously hamstring them next turn.

The Mycenaeans made excellent use of the initiative, overlapping isolated enemy units and outflanking vulnerable troops in what proved to be quite a disjointed little fight The Hittite commander was hamstrung by constant low command rolls, meaning he could only move a few elements a turn during several crucial moments. I suppose you can chalk that up to getting carried away in the melee and failing to issue orders to the rest of the army!

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Under the Chariot Wheels- A Solo DBA Campaign

I’ve started a solo six-player DBA campaign, based on the events around the Hittite Empire, around 1280 BC. The six empires are the Hittites, Assyrians, Elamites, Midianites, Egyptians and Mycenaeans. Since I have no figures for this period, and I’m on holidays, I’ve elected to play the entire game electronically, using Paint to monitor the campaign map and Battle Chronicler to resolve the frequent battles.

I was really happy with the map actually; I went online and found a map of the ancient world with no political borders or labels, and then (using google again) marked three major cities for each empire on the map using Paint, which is such an easy program to use. Using the generic (and boring) 6-player map at the back of my DBA rulebook as a guide, I drew roads between the various cities, ensuring that each capital was only approachable through friendly territory, and that each smaller town was connected to their other cities, one enemy city and the central hub at Aleppo (which is under Hittite control). Good graphics can make online wargaming much more engaging.

DBA campaign Hittite Empire 1280 BC

The above map encapsulates the situation at the start of spring, 1280 BC. The Mycenaeans are poised to launch a thousand ships at fabled Illium, the Egyptians and Assyrians look ready to march on Hittite territory around Aleppo, where the main Hittite force is located, while Midianite raiders are mustering at Dedan to strike at Egypt’s Ethiopian underbelly. Meanwhile, the Elamites hold a relatively central location at Ur.

The First 3 Turns: Spring-Autumn 1280 BC

The Mycenaeans attacked Troy, and the Hittite army rushed to rescue the town, only to be convincingly defeated at the battle of Illium in a hilly valley where the Hittite battleline broke apart and was then demolished by the more mobile Mycenaean charioteers. Having lost twice as many men as the Achaeans, Mutuwallis withdrew to his capital at Hattusas to lick his wounds.

Seeing Mutuwallis’ discomfiture, the Assyrians laid siege to Aleppo, which is the central hub of my ancient world. Meanwhile the Egyptians launched an ambitious amphibious assault on Crete because they felt confident of overwhelming the battle-weary Mycenaean army. However, the Achaeans stayed at Troy, so Rameses laid siege to the town of Knossos and waited.

He only had to wait a few months before the Mycenaeans sailed south and disembarked at Crete’s northern tip. However, the ensuring battle was a complete disaster, with the entire Mycenaean infantry arm mowed down by the Egyptian infantry, although the Mycenaean general heroically repelled no less than three overwhelming assaults by the Egyptian chariot wings. Rameses pursued the Mycenaean army to their capital and stormed the city while the walls were weakly manned; capturing the city and reducing the Mycenaeans to a vassal state in less than in five months of campaigning. The entire Mycenaean army was lost during the siege, encouraging the Hittites to besiege Troy (unsuccessfully), hoping to retake it before the Mycenaeans could regain their full strength.

Meanwhile, Aleppo fell to the Assyrian army while the Elamites besieged Babylon (an Assyrian stronghold). The Assyrians chose to let them weaken outside the walls of the city until autumn, when they headed back to fend them off.

While armies were marching and counter-marching in the east, north and west, the Midianites headed south in the summer, laid siege to Abu Simnel in southern Egypt and captured in late autumn, forcing Pharaoh to withdraw to Memphis in northern Egypt in preparation for a new war at the opposite end of his expanded kingdom.

Still to play: Autumn, 1280 BC

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Doughty Defence, And An Airborne Troll

Feeling the drain after a tense week at university, I organised a Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game (I know, not the greatest name) with a few friends, using a scenario adapted from Charles Grant’s Programmed Wargames Scenarios.

The idea behind the game was that the Good Guys had to secure a river crossing and hold it against a larger evil army until reinforcements could reach them and beat the enemy off. I commanded the Forces of Evil, Darkness and Mondays and my two mates shared command of the Forces of Goodness. Our battlefield had a river running across it, with a bridge in the middle of the table, with a wooden hut next to the bridge. There were a few hills and copses of trees, but these had little impact on the battle.

doughty defence photo 1The game started with two columns of orcs approaching the bridge from two corners of the table, the Witch King in the lead of the larger column. This proved to be a terrible mistake because on the very first turn, he was targeted by the five Rangers, who wounded the Witch King with some nice die rolling. I had to spend ALL THREE Fate points to heal this wound, leaving my Witch King with absolutely no way to survive if he got wounded again. First turn of the game, and my strongest soldier was already at death’s door.

After that, I kept the Witch King carefully behind my Orcish archers, who hurried forwards  to get into range of the bridge, where the Rangers of Ithilien were pounding my troll to death (those rangers were good shots!). By the time the Orcs were in range, the Rangers retreated to the wooden hut, a defensive position which proved impossible to penetrate, no matter how I flooded the windows with arrows.

As the Uruks approached, Gimli left the hut and stood on the bridge, blocking their passage across the river. Here, I hatched a cunning plan. Keeping the Witch King hulking down behind suitable cannon fodder, I used his magical powers to compel Gimli to wander off the bridge and onto my side of the river, where he was promptly surrounded by two Uruks, two Uruk captains and a gigantic troll, and clobbered to death. Now, I could pour the minions of Evil, Darkness and Mondays across that accursed bridge!

As I tried to figure out how to storm that mini Rourke’s Drift of a wooden hut and get the rest of the Uruk-Hai across the river, first Legolas then Gandalf arrived on the good guys’ table edge. I foolishly hid the wounded Witch king behind my wounded troll to protect him from Legolas’ sniper fire. This backfired when Gandalf promptly gave the troll a huge sorcererous blast, sending him flying back 6 inches, knocking three Uruk Hai and my witch king to the ground with the impact. The troll was fine; the Uruks were fine, but the Witch king was killed as the blundering oaf of a troll crashed into him. Ding dong, the wicked witch was dead!

The battle at the Witch-King's death. The white mass is my unpainted troll; the victorious Gandalf is just to the right of frame. Most of the evil army's crossed the river, despite losing all their big guns.

The battle at the Witch-King’s death. The white mass is my unpainted troll; the victorious Gandalf is just to the right of frame. Most of the evil army’s crossed the river, despite losing all their big guns.

The next turn, Legolas killed the troll with a single arrow. At that point, we had to call it quits. Evil had lost the troll, the witch king and a few Uruk Hai (approximately 260 points, ~40% of the entire force) and killed Gimli, 2 rangers and 3 riders of Rohan (using my warg riders, in a side skirmish I haven’t mentioned), which was worth approximately 150 points (25% of their army). Yet the Uruks had crossed the river in force, and it would be hard to tell whether the later Good reinforcements, with Gandalf and Legolas in tow, could defeat so many Uruks or or not.

So we called it a Pyrrhic victory for a very battered Evil side, although if we kept playing I think the game would have been anyone’s guess.

It was a very amusing game; with my witch king and troll’s sufferings (and my annihilation of the stout Gimli) being perhaps the greatest highlights. I made the same mistake as the ‘real’ Witch-King- I assumed no man could kill me!

But a troll is no man…

The "Gondorian" infantry; actually press-ganged Late Roman infantry. The heraldry's not quite right, but it's much cheaper (and multi-purpose!) than buying over-priced GW figures.

The “Gondorian” infantry; actually press-ganged Late Roman infantry. The heraldry’s not quite right, but it’s much cheaper (and multi-purpose!) than buying over-priced GW figures.

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Drunks, Shattered Ranks and Final Stands

After their crushing victory in March, the Saxons returned to Ardentium in May, this time with the intent of conquering the area for the newly-crowned warlord, Aelfic the Impaler. Having only just replaced his losses from the last engagement, Alliminius scurried out to meet the heathen invader in open battle.

I completely forgot to take any photos because the game was incredibly enthralling. The battlefield was split by a small river running east-west, with open farmland to the south, and in the north, a hill with a forest lying on the far side to the river. The British deployed in the west, on top of this hill, while the Saxons deployed in the east, on the northern side of the river; ensuring that the battle would be fought for the clearing on the hillside between forest and river.

Before advancing against the British shieldwall, Aelfic attempted to enthuse his men by shouting them all a drink. The men became enthused alright, and a little drunk. Conversely, Alliminius ordered his entire army to pray to God; which also infused the men with great courage. Then Alliminius offered a duel between his champion and Aelfic’s; only for his man to be badly bloodied by a drunk barbarian with an axe. The champion survived, but he took no further part in the day’s fighting.

The Britons quickly seized the crest of the hill. Alliminius exploited the Saxons’ intoxicated state by playing two Bibamus cards from his hand, one to draw Aelfic’s right-most unit of hearthguard into charging the entire British shieldwall alone, and a second one to give his men an advantage in the following combat, which of course the British won, leaving three Saxon hearthguard and Aelfic’s victorious champion dead on the hilltop, the rest fleeing the field.

Realising that their entire left flank was on the verge of collapse, Wulfric outflanked the British levies on the Saxon right, and repulsed them violently with great loss of life. As devastating as Alliminus’ tactic was, it probably would have been better used on the weak British left, with the levies.

Meanwhile Alliminus was pursuing the fleeing hearthguard and Bosnius was grinding his way through the Saxon centre, eventually reducing it to a rump of hearthguard with Aelfric and Cyneheard sheltering in the centre., Bosnius was slain just before this rump collapsed under overwhelming numbers. Aelfric and Cyneheard fled to the Saxon right, where the last of their forces remained.

Declining to pursue ap Rhys’ fleeing forces, Aelfic turned his troops around and charged down on Alliminus’ disorganised centre. His Numeri were sent careening backwards while the Compulares were forced to retreat as the tribune desperately tried to rally them.
The Compulares defended themselves ferociously, but were being forced backwards when Alliminus finally had the luck run his way. At the start of his turn he drew a Carpe Diem card, allowing him to play a combination of card from his hand including a “Hero of the Age” card which doubled his impact in combat (and his chances of being wounded; which would have been the last straw for the flailing British morale). Alliminus gathered his men, and launched one last devastating charge against the Saxon onslaught, bringing in the remnants of Bosnius’ command against the Saxon flank.

The Britons’ desperate last charge was devastating; Wulfic was killed and the Saxons lost several men, while their ranks became frayed and disorientated. Just as they were about to break, ap Rhys appeared from behind Saxon lines (having escaped the wreckage of the British left) and joined the British centre, leading one final push against the Saxon ranks which routed one unit and killed the other. This ended the game, the Saxon morale breaking and the Britons too exhausted to pursue. The Britons had lost 23 men and a noble, the Saxons 25 and a noble.
Shortly afterwards, Alliminus was promoted by the king to Praefectus; Alliminus used this position over the coming months to erect watchtowers along the entire Ardentium coastline. He also recruited another unit of Numeri, which I’ll need to paint up and should give him a huge numerical advantage over the Saxon force.

It’ll take Aelfic eight months to replenish his losses; he will not trouble the Britons again until the following spring, when campaigning resumes after winter. He’s also broke, having had to pay taxes to his liegelord over the winter. If he can’t get any profits from raids or battles next year, then he will be declared an outlaw for tax avoidance, and his career as warlord will be over.

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A Patrol Gone Ill- Southern Britain, 477 AD

Last week was my penultimate exam week for university, so with no study on the following weekend, I decided to treat myself to a game of Dux Britanniarum, using as the first scenario in a new Dux Britanniarum campaign, The Defence of Rhegin.  

The scenario had Gaius Bosnius the Magnanimous leading a Romano-British patrol back home to a nearby watchtower, where the rest of the Romano-British army, under Tribune Marcius Alliminus The Powerful and Coalan ap Rlays, was deployed. Unfortunately for Bosnius, Aelfar the Impaler was out raiding, spotted the isolated British patrol, and decided to try and take him prisoner for ransom.

Seeing that Bosnius had a handy headstart, Aelfar decided to take some of his hearthguard in hot pursuit, leaving the rest of the battleline under the command of his heavy-drinking subordinate, Cyneheard.

Coalan ap Rlays rushed a unit of British levies ahead of the rest of the British forces to hold a position in front of a swamp, to give Alliminus space to deploy the rest of his forces. Unfortunately, the Saxons were far closer than Coalan realised, and he was soon swamped by a horde of pagan invaders, who slowly but surely pushed his men (who had forgotten to form a shieldwall) into the swamp. By the time Alliminus had arrived with the British army, Coalan’s troops were butchered and Coalan taken prisoner. Meanwhile, Aelfar’s hearthguard had caught up with Bosnius’ Numeri and were trying to break into the shieldwall. Bosnius doubted he could hold them off forever, but fleeing without his men never occurred to him.

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Meanwhile, realising that the aggressive Saxon assault in the swamp had advanced so far that it was behind the British battleline, Cyneheard detached some warriors to pin down the British shieldwall before they could redeploy and protect their flanks. However, in a most remarkable display of martial prowess/dice rolling, Alliminius’ Comanipulares (Companions), trained to fight in the Roman style, slaughtered all six Saxons in the first round of combat for no loss.

Encouraged, Alliminius took some levy around westward to face Cyneheard’s flanking threat, and managed to make some headway against these Saxons despite their advantage over the levy in combat, primarily by a truly heroic display of martial prowess from Alliminius himself, who led his troops from the front.

The Saxon reserve ignored his sally and turned eastwards into the exposed Romano-British centre. Terrified by the ferocity of this unexpected assault, the British troops evaded desperately, allowing the Saxons to overcome the Companions that had withdrawn from the fighting to rally.

Meanwhile, Bosnius himself was overcome by sheer numbers by the woods to the far east, and with two nobles captured and three of five units dismembered, the battle was lost. Alliminius’ forces fled in disarray, but were able to avoid most of the Saxon pursuers, who had not expected such a sudden British collapse.

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Alliminius withdrew, his army of 34 troops reduced to a measly 12. Aelfar’s losses were also heavy, losing 16 men out of his 34.

Packing up, I realised I had forgotten to deploy one of the British levy units, which is important because they should have three units of levy, two units of warriors, and one unit of Comanipulares to counter the Saxons three units of warriors and two elite Gedridht or hearthguard units. With even numbers the Saxons were able to use their qualitative edge and local superority of force to overwhelm the disorganised British defence. Ah well- c’est la guerre– I suppose the last unit of British levy failed to march onto the battlefield, a la Grouchy. Pity their poor centurion when Alliminius finds him!

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As for the campaign, despite the loss of almost half his army, Aelfar had achieved a decisive victory, and he recuperated all his losses within a month as new men flocked to follow this new successful leader. He also gained considerable wealth from the ransom of Bosnius and ap Rlays, and he can now raid the countryside with impunity for two months (raising yet more funds) while Alliminius scurries for reinforcements.  Soon, he will be able to shower his hearthguard with gifts, and they’ll declare him a great warlord (which will allow him to recruit more hearthguard and start capturing territory to rule for himself).

*Note: one of the advantages of playing solo is that you can change the rules as you see fit. Given I had disadvantaged the British from the start, I decided to give the Britons two months to refit their forces, instead of three to balance things out a bit. There was no Saxon player to persuade, because I was playing solo! Ah, the benefits of non-interaction.

Also, with a gaming mat, a scratchbuilt watchtower (see right), model trees, a road and properly based and flocked troops, this was the prettiest game I’ve ever played! I’m very happy to finally see my wargaming hobby starting to come together. 

 

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