"If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."
One hallmark of a successful wargame design is the ability of the game system to mimic actual events without adding a truckload of special rules. During some experiments with 1066: Year of the Comet I decided to use the playtest version of the rules to illustrate the Battle of Fulford. Fought on September 20th, this was the first major clash (there had been a number of smaller engagements) in the struggle for the throne of England.
PLEASE NOTE: Nearly every historical detail presented in this article should be preceded by the phrase "according to one source" because the information we have about events that occurred nearly 1000 years ago is not always reliable.
1066: Year of the Comet uses a battle board divided into three sections -- Left/Center/Right -- that would be familiar to anybody who has played Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign, 1815 or other block wargames. This system is certainly acceptable for the Battle of Fulford so the next step was determining the forces involved.
The two English commanders were Edwin and Morcar. They had approximately 4500 men on the field. The invading "Vikings" brought about 9000 men to England but 3000 were left with the ships. This resulted in a maneuver element of 6000 men. Since there are a total of twelve Viking blocks we can assume that each block represents around 750 soldiers. Four blocks would remain near the fleet and eight blocks would advance on the city of York. Using that as a guide, the English defenders should have six blocks... and six blocks is exactly the number of units that can be activated by the Edwin-Morcar leadership team. Excellent.
Setting up the battle board presented no serious problems.
The right flank of the English army was protected by the River Ouse. Edwin placed his men on that wing while Morcar held the center; the weakest force was on the English left flank where a marsh screened any Viking advance. Duplicating this with six blocks and two commanders (using my optional leader rules) was quick and easy.
Harald was an experienced military commander. He placed strong formations along the river while concealing a powerful reserve force behind some high ground. His disillusioned English ally Tostig held the rest of the line. Eight blocks and two leaders provide a nice setup to match this deployment.
I was quite pleased with these results.
The opening phase of the battle in 1066 included a period of fighting with both armies struggling to gain an advantage. Tostig knew the local terrain and explained to Harald that as the tide went out the water level would fall; this event allowed the Vikings to turn the English right flank along the River Ouse and drive Edwin and Morcar into a disorganized withdrawal. The city of York promptly surrendered.
Of course, 1066: Year of the Comet doesn't include a rule for tidal fluctuations. In fact, most battles are typical "bucket of dice" affairs with few subtleties. My plan for additional rules to reflect medieval battlefield tactics will make a nice addition to the playtest version! The deployment shown here resulted in an orderly English retreat with heavy losses on both sides.
Owners of the playtest kit might notice that (along with the new leader rules) modified blocks with variable strengths have been included. These are both important changes and each rule (Leaders and Variable Strength) will be discussed in a separate article