Chris Hansen
United States
Riverton
UT
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If given the option, I would prefer to play with the green pieces, please.
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Game Summary

Stamford Bridge: End of the Viking Age is a light wargame covering the battle that is credited with ending the Viking age in 1066. The game is one of the first in the Shields and Swords series and introduced several concepts that would be used by later games. The game begins with the Anglo-Saxon player deployed on the west side of a bridge that crosses the River Derwent near the city of York. A few of the Viking invaders are also set up on the western side of the river but most are on the eastern side. The goal of the Anglo-Saxons is to repel the Viking invaders by eliminating at least 12 units. The Viking player is also trying to eliminate 12 of the Anglo Saxon units and secure Viking rule of England.

The game set up and ready for play.

Game Play

This game, like other games in the series, uses command markers to manage play. Each player will have a collection of command markers that allows them to move, form a shield wall, conduct combat, or retreat. Due to the nature of the units, the number of command markers is much more restrictive than in other games. There are no command markers for archers or horse movement because neither side had those units. On a player’s turn, he or she will choose up to two actions (the exact number is determined by the leader) and perform them. For example, the player might choose to use the Move counter combined with the Combat counter to get closer to the enemy and then engage them. The player will also have a special doubling counter which can take the place of a regular counter. This counter allows the player to either take an action twice or perform it once with a special bonus. For example, if a player doubles a combat marker, the strength of the combat units can be upgraded.

The movement rules in this game will be simple for most wargamers. Units move across hexsides up to a three hexes. There aren’t any rules about movement point modification due to terrain. (Other than the river in the center of the board, there is not any terrain variety in this game.) Even suppressed units can move the normal amount of hexes. The river is always impassible except at the bridge and at a ford on the north side of the map (although that is only passable to the Anglo-Saxon units).

The combat phase of this game is fairly unique. Instead of a numerical combat value, units are labeled with a letter ranging from AA to F. This is the unit’s “Combat Class”. When attacking another unit, players will roll a die and look up the value on a chart under their Combat Class heading to determine the combat result. Before conducting combat, the player should compare the types of units involved in the combat on the Unit Type Modifier Chart. Some unit types will receive an increase or decrease to their die roll, depending on what sort of unit they are fighting. For example, if a Viking infantry unit is conducting combat against an Anglo Saxon fyrd unit, the Viking will receive a -1 bonus to their die roll.

Anglo Saxons and Vikings face off over the bridge

While the chart itself is very simple, there are several modifiers that can alter the die roll, or the combat class of a unit. For example, a player can decrease their die roll by having multiple units join the combat. They can also increase their Combat Class by doubling their Combat Command Marker (i.e. a “C” unit will become a “B” unit), which gives them greater odds of scoring a hit on the Result Table. Once all the modifiers are calculated, the attacking player will roll a die and look up the results on the chart The combat results will be familiar to most wargamers with retreats, step losses, exchanges, and unit eliminations making up the possible outcomes.

Anglo-Saxon infantry secures the west side of the bridge but the Vikings on the East have blocked the path.

Quality of Components

I built the Print and Play version of the game so I can’t speak to the quality of the published game, but the graphic design for the game is very nice. The artwork is very attractive, with images the Bayeux Tapestry adorning the map. (This battle is not explicitly illustrated on the tapestry but the armor worn by the Anglo Saxon units would be represented.) The counters are a little difficult to read. Infantry units and Fyrd units are identical except for a small hat icon in the corner of the counter. It’s not terrible but not as clear as it could be. The Viking counters are easier to read since the the Viking units have very unique shields, although the Norwegian infantry and fyrd suffer from the same similar counter issue as the Anglo-Saxons. Apart from these minor concerns, the counters and markers are nicely illustrated and very playable.

Theme and History

Battles from the middle ages are fraught with uncertainty. Historians often do not know even basic details: how many soldiers fought or died in a battle; the exact numbers of infantry, cavalry, or archers; or sometimes even the location of the battlefield. Due to the lack of solid information, historians (and game designers) have to make some educated guesses about the details of the battle. Players can expect that there will be some significant differences between two games on the Battle of Stamford Bridge due to the many unknowns surrounding the nearly thousand year old battle. I feel that this game makes good use of the known history and speculates in a realistic fashion to create a playable game.

For being such an important battle, little is known for certain about the details. We know that both sides were composed mostly of infantry units and that Harold’s Anglo-Saxon forces caught the Vikings by surprise. Most importantly, we know that the Anglo-Saxon forces decisively won the battle and effectively ended the Viking age. Other details, such as how many men fought in the battle, the location, and length of the battle are much less certain.

Traditional accounts of the battle state that the Anglo-Saxons discovered the Vikings divided into two groups on either side of the river. There are stories of a fierce battle for control of the bridge with a lone Viking defeating anyone who came near until a group of Anglo Saxon warriors took a raft under the bridge and stabbed him from below. There are also stories of the Anglo-Saxons taking advantage of fords in the river or old Roman bridges to cross and attack the Vikings while avoiding the bridge entirely. It’s impossible to know which (if any) of these stories are true, however, designer Tom Russell does a great job incorporating elements of them into the game.

Anglo Saxon units were never able to cross the bridge but were able to destroy the Viking forces thanks to a ford in the river.

While leader counters are not present in the game, their effect is still felt. As certain numbers of Viking units are eliminated, the game assumes the leader died with them and a new leader takes command. After 8 Viking units are killed, Harald Hardrada dies and Tostig Godwinson takes command. At that point, the Viking player is only able to play one command marker each turn, representing his inferior leadership skills. When 4 more Vikings are eliminated, Eyestein Orri takes command and introduces three powerful berserker units in a last ditch effort to destroy the Anglo-Saxons. This representation of “Orri’s storm” allows the Viking player to take three uninterrupted turns (no Anglo-Saxon turns in between) to try and achieve the Viking victory conditions. If the Viking player can’t do that, the game ends in an Anglo-Saxon victory.

Print and Play Information

The game is available either as a printed folio game with die cut counters or a PDF file that you print and assemble yourself. As far as wargames go, this is relatively simple to build. The map prints nicely on a single sheet of tabloid/A3 paper (approx 11 inches by 17 inches). The game also includes an 88-counter sheet that includes counters for both Stamford Bridge: End of the Viking Age and Hill Near Hastings. The counters are double sided so you’ll need to glue the front and back together but this isn’t too difficult. Once my counters were glued, I cut them with an X-acto knife and straightedge.

How much ink is needed?

All of the components are in full color with very little white space. (The Tiny Battles edition of the game uses a white background instead of black for the Viking counters so it will save a small amount of ink.) However, there is only a single sheet of counters (front and back are on one page) and the map so the illustrations won’t be that taxing to your printer. The rulebook is not excessively illustrated and it is only four pages so there isn’t much cost to printing that either—although you could just keep it as a PDF and reference it on your computer if you wanted.

Final Comments and Rating

This game is part of a broader trend to wargaming to make easily accessible games with very short rulebooks. Large and detailed wargames are often hard to learn, cumbersome to set up, and difficult to play in a single evening. There is a demand for wargames that are fast to learn, fast to set up, and fast to play. This is the goal of Tiny Battle Publishing, which published this game in two different formats (as an in-magazine game and a slightly updated folio edition). Stamford Bridge contains only four pages of rules which are very easy to learn. You can open the game and easily play it through to completion the day you buy it.

The short rulebook necessarily requires the abstraction of many aspects of the battle - most notably leaders. The historical battle ended with the death of three Viking leaders (and likely would have similarly ended had Harold been killed). However, with no leaders in the game, the victory conditions are based on number of units killed. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since the more units that are killed the higher the probability that the leader was killed as well. I simply mention it as an interesting design choice made to facilitate a shorter rulebook.

The game certainly achieves its goal of a small footprint. There are only 88 counters and you don’t even use all of those to play. Stamford Bridge is sold in a two-pack with A Hill Near Hastings and many of the counters are only used in the Hastings game. The game is also a terrific value with two games being included in the package.

I purchased the package primarily to get the Hastings game. I find that to be the more interesting and historically significant of the two battles. However, I was surprised to discover that I greatly prefered the Stamford Bridge game. The Hastings game is an unbalanced playing experience with one side greatly favored over the other and unfortunately has few options for maneuvering units. Stamford Bridge makes much better use of the system mechanics and the entire map is open to you.

I bring up maneuvering units because it is such an important part of combat. If you can surround enemy units and combine the combat strength of your units, you can eliminate them much faster. This requires a lot of planning on both sides. For example, the Anglo-Saxon player might choose in the beginning of the game to send some of his or her units toward the ford to cross the river. The ford is several hexes away so the other player has time to see the crossing ahead of time and move some of the Vikings to intercept. There is plenty of room for both players to take advantage of the combat bonus for multiple units so the game is much more tense.

Anglo-Saxons open the game by crossing the ford in an attempt to engulf the Vikings.

Overall, this game is fun for a few plays but probably has limited long term appeal. The mechanics used to simulate the battle are good but very simple. That’s great for learning the game quickly but bad for discovering nuance and new strategies over multiple plays. I suspect most players will have experienced most of what the game has to offer after a few plays. Nonetheless, this is an affordable and fun representation of an important battle. If you’re interested in the battles of 1066, this game is worth picking up.
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