Monday, 5 August 2013

The dawn of a new era and a new place, Scandinavian Scotland.

This is it then. The last battle we report* in the endeavour for domination of the north sea and access to trade routes to Europe. In the early stages of our campaign, the scottish feudal lords, trying to expand their influence, sought to end the constant viking threat and massed their levies around the eastern coastlines of Scotland. While the scots were planning their invasion to Norway however, the vikings had similar plans. They managed to reach Scotland first, triggering the short but bloody series of battles fought on scottish soil. Our three battles till now have been exciting and sort of gritty, coherent with our imagination of the the times and places where they were fought. During cloudy, rainy afternoons, men, mostly on foot, march on the mud and swing axes and swords or poise spears against each other. Both sides' determination has been remarkable, the scots' to defend their land, the vikings' to set a foothold there, and the dead have been piling up. Let's see how this one played out, concluding our campaign of the north.

*Unfortunately we had technical difficulties during the next and last battle (no camera, just old cellphones :P). It was a rather similar affair and didn't change the whole campaign much. We will still try to post a few pics that we salvaged.

Along the scottish coast, not far from where the last battle took place, the troops amass once more. Once again the sea breeze cools the sweat off the heavily clad soldiers. For a brief moment everybody shares such a relief, before they are pitted against each other by their lords. It's the end of summer and the air is still warm and humid, making everyone impatient, eager to gain a decisive victory. The vikings set camp in front of an abandoned cottage, close to some woods on the right. Across the beach, the scottish pikemen have 'anchored' themselves to the forest on their right, protecting a cottage of their own holding their provisions.

The armies are approaching each other, looking for weaknesses and openings. The left flank of the vikings opens up and a unit of bowmen moves to fill the gap, having seen that the scottish knights are maneuvering to that side. On the other side, the schiltrons are marching forward, flanked by more knights on their left (allowed due to our custom campaign rules). Today the scottish elite has gathered to push the raiders back to Norway, with many landed knights mixed with the high lords of the land.

Behind the left scottish flank, two warband units move forward. They are comprising highlanders and lowlanders alike, who have put aside any sorts of differences, united against their common enemy. The pikes in the army's centre are gleaming impressively under the sun and the scottish battalions seem unstoppable. 

A raven flies behind the trees and gets a short glimpse of the coming drama on the beach.

The scottish lord shouts his last commands hurriedly before the battle is joined. Both armies are laid out in clearly formed lines. The scottish left is supported by the two warbands and the right by a unit of armoured knights. Eight battalions of pikemen are comprising a solid line in the centre. The vikings have arrayed their swordsmen almost evenly, while their berserkers are in the forest on their right together with another unit of blades. The third unit from the viking's left are their bowmen.

The scots are starting to use their higher mobility. Their knights break off from the main formation and move to the right in what looks like a flanking maneuver. These horsemen can be deadly against swordsmen and the bows of the vikings are too far to be effective. The pikemen on the right spread out to match the longer line of the norsemen.

What a sight! Almost the whole viking army is arrayed in a single line, and all the norsemen are thirsty for their share in the coming struggle. On their right flank their general and his retainers can be seen, wearing their red capes. On the scottish side the lord and his knights are moving to support the weaker right flank. The viking bows are slowly moving to their left flank as well.

Almost there... The men can see each other's faces now, picking their opponent from the distance. The armies are roused by their generals, and several thousands of men scream their warcries!

Right next to the water arrows are whistling, finding their targets on horses and men. The cream of the scottish aristocracy is being shot down before it can do its own task of killing and maiming. In this always risky 'duel' the viking archers come out alive and triumphant having weakened the scottish army significantly. At the same time, the viking blades attack only the left flank, ignoring the centre of double-lined pikes, pushing back a unit.


After losing their advantage on the right flank, the Scots charge with their left flank, their two ululating warbands, against the viking berserkers and swordsmen. The vikings get lucky and, despite their disadvantage of fighting in the woods, they rout the highlanders! Things are looking grim for the Scots.

The viking blades encircle the isolated second warband of the scots and the beserkers go on a frenzy and murder everyone in their wake (including more than a few of their own comrades). This is the bloody conclusion of the battle and of the whole campaign.
Ah, archers... This brings back some memories. Back in our cross and crescent campaign, the bows were often decisive in how battles played out. With the scots and vikings they are almost useless. Until of course there are horses around, and knights for that matter. It was risky business for both sides, pitting a sole knight against a sole bow. The scots exploited their advanced mobility and moved to the flank, but they would have to go through the bowmen. Things could and would have been very different if the knight had won.

And then the vikings did not attack on the whole front but went for the two single-lined pikemen, which didn't pay off. That is when it became tricky for the scots as always. Should they attack with all their schiltrons for a couple of advantageous combats (+6 vs +5) or be more selective and defensive? In fact they went for the exposed vikings in the forest where they could have indeed opened a gap with their warband vs the blades (+3 vs +3 and the blades die with one less). But as usual one of the two players (the lucky author) rolled higher and saved the day :) Hence, down went the warband as well and then it was easy to encircle one more unit and end the game (due to our custom casualty system - explained on Tuesday, 12 July 2011 in post "II. Pinios"). 

This has been an unusual campaign for us. All our previous armies had combined arms (more or less) but these armies have been quite mono-dimensional, especially the vikings. Playing the vikings has been a rather simple affair, just find the space to put them in single lines, somewhat protect their flanks and try to keep one or two in backup in case there opens a gap somewhere. Dear M., the player who is not the author, had to deal with the complexity of using pikemen against blades: do you double them and attack, running the danger of being flanked, or spread them out defensively and try to focus on few places where there is advantage?

During the very first battle, the pikes were fighting doubled-up against unsupported blades and could win most often than not. The scots took advantage of the river, defended its banks and dealt with one viking unit at a time. And they were efficient. The battle became very messy thought, with lots of dead men, showing how tough blades can be even when isolated. Against an army of foot, blades seem simpler to handle and killing even one of them is quite a task. The scots had to take advantage of the terrain, they 'anchored' their flank to the river and waited for the vikings to cross.

During the next battle, in Aberdeen, the Scots were struggling to gain an advantage while the vikings had it easy; they had higher numbers and their enemy was with their back to the sea. In the end, the norsemen won by taking the camp and the battle had minimal losses for both sides. It was in the battle after that however when the match-up was balanced and the Scots almost won. Their mounted general (Kn) flanked the vikings and if he had more time, he could have overrun the vikings one by one. In the end though the additional loss of the scottish psiloi gave victory to the vikings.

Thanks again for reading and I hope we can post some maps with the moves next time.