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Battles for Prydain: Heroic Combat in Dark Age Britain 450-650 AD» Forums » Sessions

Subject: Aylesford 455 rss

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Chris
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According to Gildas, after the betrayal of the Saxon mercenaries by Vortigern, the Saxons ravaged the island of Britain. Evidently, Vortigern, with the help of his son Vortimer, eventually got a handle on the situation. Nennius tells us that Vortimer fought heroically and expelled the Saxons to the Island of Thanet. A few years later, these “Saxons”(archeological evidence suggests that the tribe Vortimer faced in Kent were actually Jutes; the term “Saxon” was often used as a blanket term) were on the move again, and Vortimer met them in three battles. While both sides claimed victory in these battles, each engagement was successively farther westward, suggesting some degree of success on the part of the Jutes.

Ayelsford was the frst of these three engagements, and was probably representative. Both Horsa, one of the Saxon leaders, and (according to Nennius) Catigern, another of Vortigern’s sons, were killed at the battle. Vortigern is not mentioned as necessarily being present at the battle, although this means little. However, the fact that Nennius states explicitly that it was Vortimer who battled vigorously and expelled the Saxons, rather than Vortigern, suggests that Vortimer was acting as leader of battles by this time. Even had Vortigern been present, he may have been supernumerary.

~ Battles for Prydain Scenario Book

Prologue – Shieldwall on a Ridge
Being poised with initial setup on a battlefield that proves detrimental to whichever side attempts to cross the ford first, the British with their reactive cavalry force opted for a defensive stance far from the river on top of the ridge. A long line of shields firmly locked welcomed the Jutish force to cross the ford seemingly unopposed, while the cavalry could strike javelin attacks on the advancing barbarians with enough room to manoeuvre and withdraw if necessary.

The Jutes, while having a ridge of their own from which to defend, were in far better shape for an unformed hand-to-hand combat, as their defensive staying power is rather minimal as compared to a trained shieldwall. Thusly the force was split into two divisions: one wing composed of five barbarians and one comitatus under the control of Horsa, the other – an equal force – commanded by Hengist.

It would soon become apparent a numerically inferior cavalry force could rip apart a strong barbarian host, although neither Horsa nor Hengist would be able to learn from the lesson taught.

For the sake of clarity all directions will be noted from the Jutish perspective, e.g. “left flank” or “left” always refers to the left from a Jutish perspective, to go hand in hand with the images.



Turn 1 – Crossing Aylesford
The Jutish force began its march towards the British ridge, wading through the ford. With only four movement points per unit, an immediate crossing was impossible, and a stand-off against the British cavalry seemed undesirable.

The British cavalry reacted quickly to the barbarian advance and moved into position for a volley of javelins to complicate the Jutish crossing of the ford. While not overly successful with their ranged attacks, the British managed to disarray the comitatus of Horsa.



Attacking the barbarians in field combat proved much more effective for the British cavalry. The single mounted comitatus and a support cavalry managed to rout the first barbarian on the Jutish left, while three more cavalries disrupted a Jutish unit on the right.

Whichever resistance was left from those barbarians was swiftly broken in a heroic charge into the ford. The comitatus ran down the fleeing enemy for a short pursuit, and the disrupted barbarians on the right yielded quickly to the panic of battle.



The initial onslaught was already a discouraging development for the Jutes under Horsa and Hengist. With 8 Jutish to -6 British panic points, breaking the shieldwall could turn into an inadvertently self-destructive exercise. The British comitatus returned to the battlefield quickly in relatively good order, ready for another fight.

Turn 2 – A Heroic Death (Or Two)
The objective for the Jutes was rather clear: disperse and dispatch the cavalry, and then move onto the ridge and defeat the British spears man to man. The barbarians continued their advance through the ford, surrounding the cavalry on the right and creating a superior position on the left, while a single unit guarded the centre from a possible enemy advance from the ridge.



The British comitatus moved away from the fight, rather waiting for a chance to strike the weak flanks of the enemy. The surrounded cavalry on the right refaced in reaction to the enemy movement, minimizing the exposure of their weak flanks. A reaction move that turned out to be decisive for the British.

Play Note wrote:
Initially the Jutes had each cavalry threatened through a different flank. Refacing the cavalry allowed to refuse one of these flanks entirely, forcing the Jutish player to decide which of the two units to flank with the remaining threat.



With the cavalry refaced, the Jutes could still deliver some damage to the British formations, but none of them would break away from the fight, instead standing their ground, forcing the Jutes to press the attack in heroic combat.

On the left the advanced barbarian engaged the left-most cavalry, failing to defeat them and inadvertently opening the retreat route to the second cavalry, which simply refused heroic combat with Horsa’s comitatus.

The right flank saw a heroic charge by Hengist and his guard, a decision he would soon regret. Watching the Jutish warlord stumbling through the deep ford, a young British cavalryman named Arthmail spurred his horse and drove his spear through Hengist’s heart. The disheartened guard fought bravely but was eventually defeated by the cavalry. A few metres further north another barbarian unit fell to the British, albeit engaging an already disrupted enemy. It became apparent that even if the Jutes would eventually win the battle against the cavalry, breaking a shieldwall on a ridge with whatever men were left would be impossible.



Encouraged by the unexpected success of his cavalry, Vortimer decided to set a warning example for future Jutish aggression and began an orderly march of his shieldwall down the ridge to force a concentrated enemy rout in the centre. The cavalry, all the while, began to outmanoeuvre the confused and leaderless barbarians on the right.



Arthmail impelled his fellow warriors to mow down another barbarian unit, while the ongoing melee on the left, once again, turned out in favour of the British cavalry.

Seeing his forces crumble under the weight of the relentless British attacks and the looming doom of a fresh force of infantry approaching from the ridge, Horsa saw a last chance to lead his men to glory, challenging the British mounted comitatus to a heroic combat to settle the private score between Jutes and British cavalry. The British, in high spirits, complied. In retrospect Horsa should have fled the battlefield, but he and his men fought bravely to their death, ending the game in a decisive British victory with 39 Jutish to -3 British panic points.



Epilogue – Who Moves First?
This is the second time within two days that I played this scenario. The first attempt was called early due to some confusion with panic points. This initial play had both sides setup within two hexes of the ford, and the British attempting to cross first against an already deployed barbarian force on the banks of the river. The game was initially moving towards a clear Jutish victory, but the begin of heroic combat in turn 2 and especially turn 3 balanced the scenario quickly and left both forces in a position to potentially claim victory at the fate of the die.

This second attempt was much more concerned with the conundrum of “who should attempt to cross the ford?” Formed British spear has to stop movement when entering the ford, weakening their potential for a defensive line if trying to move through the river swiftly. The barbarians have enough troops to guard the entire bank, even being able to call in a small reserve in case of gaps. For the barbarians on the other hand the ford is as deadly as for the British. In open combat the barbarians are vastly superior with their higher attack rating and the ability to potentially strike twice in heroic combat. If facing a shieldwall while having to cross a ford, the barbarians stand little chance.

The defensive British setup is a form of reaction to this problem. Allowing the Jutes to cross the river with nothing but the cavalry as a threat creates a much more compelling situation for the barbarians, although, as this session demonstrated, it can already be enough to completely annihilate the Jutes. Whether this was a result of actual composition of forces or simply ‘bad luck’ in the form of poor die rolls is somewhat difficult to answer. The barbarians certainly had little luck with their heroic combat rolls, but from a tactical standpoint, the only other option would have been to not cross the ford at all but remain on their own side until the British player feels forced to break the lull.

Insofar, and with limited experience, I’d argue that there seems to be an incentive missing for either side to cross the river, such as a special rule that subtracts panic points for having a foothold on the enemy side of the river. In solo play this is of course a minor issue, and it was interesting to see how differently the scenario develops depending on the setup of the forces. I might make it a third playthrough to see how the barbarian attack through the ford and into a shieldwall will actually go.

All in all, a very enjoyable first foray into Battles for Prydain.
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Paul C
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Thanks Chris for such an entertaining and detailed report. It's some consolation for me today having had to pack up my own session of this scenario as other members of the household have a claim on the table for a while (I really should clear out my den so I can actually use my own table instead ).

It was interesting that some of the cavalry made attacks in all 3 combat phases of a turn (Javelin, Field & Heroic)- that's how I've been playing it but I wasn't sure I hadn't missed a rule preventing that.
I was wondering about the incentive needed to make the crossing, though playing solo my initial objective is to try out as much of the functions as possible, so I had no qualms about one side marching in to the ford.
Did any of the Barbarians get an opportunity for a second ("ferocity") Heroic Combat roll?
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Chris
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Thanks for the comment, Paul!

I am lucky enough to have permanent table space. I made sure my partner understood the importance before we moved in together. I dread the day we'll receive an addition to our family, however. whistle

I agree, in soloplay the ford situation doesn't bother too much, and it was interesting to see how differently the two armies behaved when having to fight their way through the ford. The British took a lot of damage in my first playthrough, but were able to recover. The barbarians in this session just completely fell apart. But it might cause some awkwardness in opposed play.

And only one ferocious attack, which was between a barbarian and a cavalry on the left (the combat that took two phases). In that instance both attacks failed. All other heroic combats were decided before the barbarians could make use of their special rule. In retrospect the amount of 7s I rolled for barbarian heroic attacks was frustrating.
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Eleazar Lawson
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Thanks for the awesome write-up! The narrative with Arthmail rising to the challenge is stirring!

It's interesting that you bring up the incentive for crossing the ford. In an early version of Camlann (version 1, at the ford), there was actually a rule that Arthur had to get a certain number of units across the ford before his army panicked or they automatically lost. The idea was that Arthur was leading a punitive raid, therefore the onus of attack was on him. Ultimately, I discarded it, because it was complex, and didn't seem to add much to the game. The play testers were generally blood thirsty enough that someone was going to risk the ford! I will admit that in play testing we really got into the epic nature of these battles, and true to form, often chose inspired actions over tactically sound ones.

If you experiment with something like you were proposing (say a panic point penalty for every turn that nobody enters the ford), please let me know how it works.

I will offer a few comments (which you may have already worked out on your own). The barbarians have enough movement points to cross the ford, if they start the turn close enough. So even if they don't enter the ford on turn one, they can move adjacent, then charge across on the following turn, or whenever it seems right.

In general, in this scenario, the barbarians will always do better on the attack, even if that means attacking out of the ford. If they can penetrate the shield wall or trap some cavalry, then move out of the ford in heroic combat, it can be a game changer. As you noticed, once things start unravelling (for which ever side), it can be difficult to recover. Blow out victories are not uncommon, although in playtesting we had a number of closely contested battles as well (particularly in the larger scenarios like Deorham and Degsastan).

Another alternative would be to alter the set up instructions to allow one side or the other, or both, to set up next to the ford.

You are spot on about cavalry. They can potentially attack three times in a turn; the downside is that they could be pinned by "cavalry engaged" markers, and in general, should be at a disadvantage in heroic combat, particularly against barbarians. But you are playing the game correctly; there is no statutory restriction on cavalry attacking in every phase.

I'm glad you're enjoying the game! If any questions or anything come up, please reach out.
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Eleazar Lawson
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Another quick note (I know, I tend to be long winded):

Compare and contrast Aylesford with Camlann (version 1) and Alclud Ford. All three battles have the same problem of "How do I deal with the ford?" but in Camlann both sides have cavalry so they have a few more options, whereas at Alclud Ford (130 years after Aylesford) the Angles have their own shield wall, which is much more resilient against cavalry (provided the cavalry doesn't get around the flanks). Trying each of these scenarios, which are similar in size but differ quite a bit in force composition, gives you a different set of tools in each case to tackle the problem. In addition, version 2 of Camlann can be played on the ford section of the map, which I can tell you is a real hoot (at least is was to us). When we played tested, tactical thinking tended to break down pretty early and you ended up with a massive brawl in the ford.

Anyway, see what you think.
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Chris
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clarkcramer wrote:
When we played tested, tactical thinking tended to break down pretty early and you ended up with a massive brawl in the ford.

I think in regard to competitive play there are some possible exploits, but this is highly critical thinking. I generally enjoy games that ask you to get into a certain "mindset", and I can already see how my gameplay completely changed in my playthrough of Badon yesterday. I was much more willing to break open my British shieldwall to charge weakened Anglo-Saxon units. It is neat how well the system demonstrates the difference between a defensive shieldwall and just a "mob" of warriors. A barbarian can bang his head at a long line of shields all day with only barely an edge, while the shieldwall is in a much more comfortable position to play it safe or open up for heroic combat at will. I can't wait to see two shieldwalls facing each other.
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Avedis Yaacoubian
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Could the Barbarians have started 1 hex closer? Scenario rules say at least 2 hexes from any ford or river hex, which I thought meant count to two from a ford/river and be able to setup on the second hex. Hex and counter games, being my weakness, always confuse me when it comes to distance.
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mawrocks wrote:
Could the Barbarians have started 1 hex closer? Scenario rules say at least 2 hexes from any ford or river hex, which I thought meant count to two from a ford/river and be able to setup on the second hex. Hex and counter games, being my weakness, always confuse me when it comes to distance.

You’re absolutely correct. I don’t know why I didn’t catch this. I could have just as easily said “anywhere but not adjacent to ford hexes” which essentially means the same thing and is less ambiguous. Honestly, I don’t remember what exactly was going through my mind when I wrote this, but I’m pretty sure the point was just that people couldn’t set up adjacent to the ford.
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Chris
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Ha, I just went with the (kind of) wargaming convention of "exclusive" when counting ranges!

In that case the Barbarians indeed can just cross the entire ford on turn 1, without a chance for the British to react to the crossing.

I need to revisit the scenario now... whistle
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Paul C
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Having reclaimed my table, I've now had another solo go at this scenario. The British stayed on the ridge and the Jutes broke while trying to take it (14 v 32 Panic Points), but it looked closer earlier on with some unlucky rolling for current attackers.

I do think that, particularly for competitive play, the scenario would benefit from more incentive to take the battle to the opponent, perhaps some -ve Panic Points for each Jute unit gaining the ridge (I appreciate that the in-game and end-game implications of that would need careful consideration to avoid gamey/unrealistic consequences).
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capracaligo wrote:
I do think that, particularly for competitive play, the scenario would benefit from more incentive to take the battle to the opponent, perhaps some -ve Panic Points for each Jute unit gaining the ridge (I appreciate that the in-game and end-game implications of that would need careful consideration to avoid gamey/unrealistic consequences).

It's an interesting problem, I admit. I'm just throwing out ideas, but at first blush I think I would give an incentive for crossing the ford rather than gaining the ridge. I wouldn't want to give artificial significance to the ridge; it's a good defensive position, and gives the cavalry room to maneuver, but the Britons don't have to set up there. If you changed the set up and let the Brits set up adjacent to the ford, then that could be an excellent defensive position as well.

Another option would be a bid method, sort of like Great Battles of History, where you secretly bid panic points, and the winner gets to set up first, anywhere on their side of the river, even adjacent. Or just roll a die.

Anyway, I'm interested to hear other ideas.
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Paul C
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clarkcramer wrote:


It's an interesting problem, I admit. I'm just throwing out ideas, but at first blush I think I would give an incentive for crossing the ford rather than gaining the ridge. I wouldn't want to give artificial significance to the ridge; it's a good defensive position, and gives the cavalry room to maneuver, but the Britons don't have to set up there. If you changed the set up and let the Brits set up adjacent to the ford, then that could be an excellent defensive position as well.

Another option would be a bid method, sort of like Great Battles of History, where you secretly bid panic points, and the winner gets to set up first, anywhere on their side of the river, even adjacent. Or just roll a die.

Anyway, I'm interested to hear other ideas.
I must agree that crossing the ford does seem a much more significant military achievement than gaining the ridge. If one side were allowed to set up next to it, the other would need an incentive to fight from ford hexes.

The bid method sounds like an easy and balanced solution for experienced players. Another simple alternative would be to not make the Jutes break while they had X units across the ford (apologies that I'm again offering ideas without taking enough time to properly consider the undesirable consequences)

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Chris
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I personally think the issue desolves at least a bit with the ”one hex between the ford“ setup, which I got wrong in my session. Being able to cross the ford and get into contact with the British on Turn 1 there is practically no downside for the Jutes to do just that. Assuming an aggressive and ”heroic-happy“ British player (a playstyle I kind of adapted to in my Madon session) the ford has a lot less defensive value to the open barbarians.
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