Saturday, 25 September 2021

A Stream Runs Through It. A solo game using TtS. Battle Report.

This is the battle report of a solo game. The simple scenario notes can be found here. But, in short, The Franks are raiding two prosperous Saracen villages. The Saracens have got wind of the plan and are set to oppose them. The village boxes are worth 3 victory medals each (they are camps), so if the Franks can carry them they will almost assuredly win the game: if they hang about, they'll probably get shot to pieces.

It will be fought using To the Strongest with a few period specific add on rules of my own. I have decided to do the report, as I have once before for a TtS game, as a detailed blow by blow account with words, photos and positional diagrams to help you follow the action. I'll also detail some of my amendments where I can.

This report might go some way to convince the sceptics that grid based miniatures games are proper wargames, worthy of the same respect as any other - if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc. Far less people are sceptical these days, especially amongst those who have put their prejudice aside and given them a go but, I guess that some people will never be happy without a tape measure in hand and the possibility of wangling an angle (often deeming the latter the height of good generalship).

My terrain has very obviously been designed to embrace the grid but, don't be fooled into thinking that all TtS games must look like this because they don't. Terrain doesn't need to be 'squared off at the edges', or precisely fit into the grid squares to be used: Providing the limits of terrain pieces (what boxes contain what) is defined at the start of the game any shape of terrain can be used. I have chosen to go the 'squared off' route because I wanted something with as much style as substance: Absolute clarity, rather than realism, was my aim. It also aids drawing stuff in MS paint!

The Set Up

Initial Dispositions

Turn 1.
The Franks were the first to move and began a steady measured advance towards their goal, intending that no command should overstretch and find itself out on a limb and vulnerable to the attentions of the numerous Saracen horse archers.

However, the order was not fully understood by all and Hubert failed to advance (aced his first group move - note the red 1 activation chit), forcing Gilbert on his right (last command to move) to advance even more carefully than originally intended.

It is also worth noting that 75% of the Franks' light cavalry failed to activate as well, bloody natives!
The slow advance of the Franks suited the Saracens somewhat. 

Whilst Nezzah advanced his whole command to put himself somewhat on the flank of Gilbert, and Tarrifa advanced his body of Turcomans out onto the more open flank of Geoffrey, Cortaz aggressively moved into a central position and began to loose arrows into the oncoming Hospitallers (with an impressive series of activation chits - units can have multiple activations a turn in TtS) but without any visible result (he missed).

Note: The double sized Turcoman unit in the foreground (with the two rear outer stands facing backwards) are in my special Whirling Mass formation, specifically designed to represent the massed horse archer tactics of these particular troops, as described by David Nicholle in his second volume of Crusader Warfare. See Syrian QRS in the previous post for my special rules.

Positions at the end of turn 1.

Turn 2.
The Franks make a general advance to the stream. Geoffrey is the first to cross.

Note: I'm using activation chits rather than playing cards. They are smaller, less visually obtrusive, and easier to use because you don't have to shuffle two decks of cards together at the start of every player's turn - you simply drop them back into a draw string bag and give it a shake. Recommended. (At some point I'll upgrade to the ones in colour - they look fantastic and wish I'd had some for this report so you could see them better).

On the right, Gilbert advances his Turcopoles onto the scrubby knoll and turns them to protect his flank and snipe at the encircling Turcoman horse archers but without causing casualties worth noting.

In the centre more ineffective skirmishing takes place and the Hospitaller's Turcopoles advance to a position where they can charge into the flank of the Saracens shooting at The Master. Unfortunately, their movement chit is a 10 and (failing their next activation) they don't have time to charge.

At the start of the game I decided to declare all Turcomans, as was their want, to be 'Impetuous'. 

Note: Impetuous is one of my special rules that comes in handy for the Crusades period. It temporarily causes units to become battle mad, and it is a particularly useful for representing the volatile nature of certain troop types (Turcomans, 1st Crusade knights, Pilgrims, etc.). In short, if a troop type is designated as impetuous and it draws a 10 to activate, and it has a target within reach, it will become impetuous and charge it. It will hit on a 6 plus in the first round of combat (1st round only) regardless of troop type or condition; impetuous troops save at -1 whilst  impetuous. After charging, a unit remains impetuous until the start of the player's next turn (turn, not activation); whilst impetuous it cannot evade and it saves at -1. 

Allukoblin's Turcoman cavalry both draw a 10 chit to activate this turn and the Turcomans in whirling mass (automatically changing formation to tribal mass but which I forgot to do before the picture was taken) charge across the stream and rout the Turcopoles which had moved up to the opposite bank of the stream. The other unit of Torcomans, which would dearly like to charge into the flank of The Master, fails to become impetuous because the stream limits their movement to one box, which is insufficient to carry them in: So they carry out their intended order to shoot instead, and miss.

On the Saracen left, Cortaz is happy to hold position and Nezzah fails to activate, drawing a 1 first up, for a Turcoman unit to shoot at the Turcopoles on the knoll (in TtS, if a unit fails to activate, that's it for its whole command group for that turn).

First blood to the Saracens and things are hotting up.

Positions at the end of turn 2.

Turn 3
Although the diagrams accurately show the game position of the units, I don't want you to lose out on what I'm seeing, so three shots of the real action at the start of turn 3 - looking toward the Saracen left, centre, right. To my mind, even with the squared off terrain, this doesn't look very much different to most miniatures wargames.

The movements of the enemy, combined with the measured movements of the Franks up to now, dictate what the Franks do next.

The Master orders his contingent to turn to face Allukoblin so he can protect the right flank of Geoffrey as he attacks the village. In this he succeeds (on an 8 chit) before he attempts to cross the stream diagonally (for which he requires nothing short of a 10) and he succeeds again but, even having replaced his activation chit (with a 6), fails to charge home (with a 5). Still, well done The Master; by force of will he has brought his troops into a good position: Geoffrey can proceed.

Geoffrey, with his right protected by The Master, orders his men to attack with all haste. 

First his infantry advance to clear room for his cavalry to come out from behind them (on the diagonal) and charge Tarriffa and his Ghulam bodyguards in true knightly fashion. 

Geoffrey's charge clatters home; he spends a hero (loses his shield marker) to change a 6+ miss into a 6+ hit, for two lance hits in total. The Ghulams make the first save, fail the second and are disordered (tuft marker). The save is made for Tarriffa who is heroic and saves on a 3+: Oh no, a 1; Tarriffa draws for wound effect and is killed outright; the head of the snake is lopped off (the yellow bead for general and red bead for his heroism are removed from his bodyguard unit)

Note: I don't feel a need to do special general figures or heroes but they must be marked somehow. I use beads to mark generals, heroic status and upgrades, counters to mark heroes (with Roman scutum shields until I find something more appropriate), disorder, impetuous, out of ammunition and broken lances.

Note: I will still refer to this command group as 'Tarriffa' for narrative purposes.

The Ghulams fight back requiring 8+ and get it. The knights fail to save and are disordered; Geoffrey saves. They activate to rally and succeed but fail their rally save; the activation chit chit is terribly high (9). Geoffrey uses his generalship to change the (9) chit for something lower, then succeeds in activating and rallying on the second attempt.  

Worried about his flank, Geoffrey orders his Armenians to cover it, which they can only partially succeed in doing, whilst his foot sergeants unsuccessfully try to break into the village before his turn is ended by a bad activation chit. 

As is so often the case in TtS, successful chits are followed by bad ones; partially of course, because if you've had a lot of good chits there tend to be less of them left in your bag.

This is exactly what happens for the rest of the activations for the Franks. 

On the other side of the field, plans go astray as a couple of '1' activation chits (auto-fail) soon breaks up what was an organised attack into something looking awfully piecemeal and half hearted. The turn is soon over.

However, overall the Franks are happy with their turn. They have brought one of the villages under direct attack and killed its defending general, which will make that particular command group harder to activate from now on.

Positions at the end of the Frank's move, turn 3.
Note: Units marked yellow have been disordered by combat.

Saracen action starts on the right as the troops of Tarriffa's command seek revenge for his death. 

After the leaderless Turkish Ghulams successfully withdraw into a position from which they might find it easier to rally, the Syrian cavalry on the right flank turns inward and charges into the flank of Geoffrey's knights, disordering them but breaking their lances (on a 10 'to hit' chit, indicated by a broken wheel marker) in the process. Attempting to finish the job, the Syrians fail to activate for a third time. Small revenge, perhaps.

In the centre things might go better as Allukoblin's bodyguard veteran Kurdish cavalry activate to charge the Brother Knights of The Master twice (see the photo of the positions above, it's the same). However, the Brothers are saving on a 5+ and all the Kurds manage to do is break their lances on the shields of the warrior monks and expend their hero token. Fortunately for the Kurds, the Brothers fail to retaliate to any effect and receive the usual Saracen jibes of "Yo, Bro. High fives!" (that's a joke for the Crusading TtS 'in crowd'; not a particularly good one, and not for a particularly big crowd). Not a single hit for either side: They are fighting in the valley, close to the stream, so perhaps the ground is boggier than it looks?

The Turcomans also shoot a few times but without effect, as is so often the case. However, the large unit goes partially out of ammunition by drawing a 10 to hit chit. I don't use ammunition chits for this period because there are just too many of them to cart about the place, and they look awful. See QRS for my rules on this.

On the Saracen left, little is achieved except for some positional moves to counter any threat against the larger of the two villages. 

However, as Baden Powell was oft to say, "softly, softly catchee monkey", and if the Franks are not careful they could find any advance under threat of being swamped by Saracen flanking movements.

The pictures shows the heavy cavalry under Nezzah's command. Veteran lance bow armed Ghulams backed by lance armed Syrian cavalry (great figures by Perry). 

In the background, his Turcoman horse archers are moving up into flanking positions. Directly to their front, on the knoll, stand Gilbert's guarding Turcopoles.

Note: I think, being a solo game, this affair might be a little cagier than some TtS battles I've played against live opponents. TtS is quite well suited to solo play because game plans are subject to successful activations being made. With TtS it's never a simple case of I-Go-I-Know-I-Go: In short, all solo games benefit from mechanisms that allow the wheels to suddenly fall off, and TtS provides the mechanism nicely.

The positions at the end of turn 3.

Turn 4
The Franks again start with Geoffrey who, if you remember, we left having been flanked by Syrian cavalry.

First, to cover himself from possible attack by the Ghulams which have temporarily retreated, he advances a unit of foot sergeants. Then he turns to face the threat from the Syrian cavalry and successfully rallies from disorder. 

Seeking a conclusion on this flank his Armenians charge the massed Turcomans who choose not to evade versus a small unit of light cavalry, lance armed or not. This decision isn't the best because they inflict casualties and disorder the Turcomans, breaking their lances in the charge.

Meanwhile, the sergeants at the village at last make some progress and disorder the defending Adhath unit.

As his final act, Geoffrey replaces his high activation chit with a 3 before drawing a 1 to end his activation - nothing new there then, eh lads.

Down in the boggy valley the Brothers charge three times and three times, even expending a hero and using the Master's heroic status, their attacks are almost completely repelled. At the end of the attack, one glorious save after another, the Kurdish cavalry have only suffered a disorder. 

However, this will be hard to rally because later in the turn Hubert and his knights will move to within striking distance in the Kurds rear. Hubert's Turcopoles will not be as lucky. They launch a fruitless charge against the large body of Turcomans on the other side of the river and are destroyed when the Turcomans hit back.

Seeing this, Hubert's light infantry (armoured crossbowmen) use their only activation (a 10) to turn to face a possible attack by the rampaging Turcomen.

Meanwhile Hubert's and Gilbert's foot sergeants, supported by Gilbert's knights gamble on surviving a possible flank attack and make a dash for the village.

It's Gilbert's Turcopoles who have the strangest time. They charge the Turcomens facing them three times only to see them evade away until finally they are chased off table.

Positions at the end of the Frank's move, turn 4.

Before I report on the movements and actions of the Saracens this turn, let me just say they are shocking. I can only suspect that news of Tarriffa's fall have spread.

Tarriffa's men are losing heart. The Syrian cavalry again charges Geoffrey but only succeed in disordering themselves in the process, in a very short move.

Allukoblin achieves absolutely nothing except the resupply his large unit of Turcomans with new arrows.

Cortaz launches an attack against the foot sergeants moving against 'his' village and disorders them but fails to do anything else except shift the position of his Syrrian cavalry into the rough ground to their left so they have a chance to advance at some point in the future. [Pictured]

Nezzah advances his units a box or two before drawing a 1 chit trying to activate his Turcomans to shoot.

The Saracens are in trouble an I suspect they are about to get kicked in the teeth!

Positions at the end of turn 4.

Turn 5
Geoffrey acts first, charging the Syrian cavalry before him, only routing them with difficulty and a protracted fight. [Note something is also happening in the village whilst I relate this].

Then, on a whim, he ordered his Armenians to see off the Turcoman horde that still threatened this flank. They threw javelins to no effect, charged and Turcomans evaded, then charged again and the turcomans were caught, hit, failed to save and were gone.

But the plaudits go to Geoffrey's foot sereants who have battled their way into the village evicting a unit of light infantry archers and the unit of disordered Adhath, which sacrificed the archers before falling in its turn. The sergeants earned 6 victory medals for this feat of arms and the Saracens are rocking.
The next Saracen unit to go down, Allukoblin's small Turcoman unit, goes down with a whimper. Surrounded on all sides it cannot escape [evade] and throws down its arms on the arrival of Hubert's knights.

The Saracens are down to one victory medal. The end is nigh!

But, the Franks have run out of steam and fear an immanent crisis about to erupt on their right flank. To buy time for victory to be achieved they reposition to hold against the onslaught that may be about to engulf them.

The positions after the Frank's move, turn 5

At the large village the onslaught is fierce. 

Nezzah's and his bodyguard crash into the flank of the foot sergeants at the outskirts of the village, scattering two units one after the other before miraculously turning (on a 10 chit) to face Gilbert's knights. 

This inspires the town's defenders to send volley after volley of arrows into the last remaining unit of foot sergeants making their way through the farmland at the edge of the edge, disordering them.

Elsewhere, the unit of Turcomans that evaded off table has returned, and Tarriffa's bodyguard has rallied.

The Saracens are hanging on by their fingernails. It's only by holding the villages, which supplied an extra victory medal per section, that has kept the Saracen's in the fight this long. I doubt they can win but, you never know.

The Franks will dictate what will happen next. There is a chance by throwing all caution to the wind that they can win in the next turn but nothing looks nailed on for it to happen: probably multiple combat activations, some of which are doubly difficult, and in one case triply so. But, they only have 4 victory medals left themselves. If they don't pull it off, could the Saracens snatch a victory from a position where all seemed lost at the start of their last turn. Tense stuff.

Hmmm. A break and time to think. Cheers.

The positions at the end of turn 5.

Turn 6

Attack! Attack! Attack!

After some positional moves by Geoffrey and Hubert, including a parting hit on Allukoblin's Turcomans by the light infantry crossbowmen on the grassy knoll, The Master and Gilbert settle the matter by routing Nezzah's Ghulams. 

After moving into a position from which they could deliver a charge, the Brothers hit the Ghulams in the flank and disordered them, being disordered themselves in the process, then Gilbert's charge finished them off. 

Gilbert's charge was the last possible attack that could have been made, and a 7 activation chit to do it made a possible second attack much less likely. The gamble paid off, just: Victory to the Franks.

So there you go, a fairly typical TtS battle. In more open terrain the Saracens tend to do better so for this battle I think I probably got the terrain just about right. It was all going well for the Franks until the Saracens hit home.

Note: One adjustment to my lists that I might make, is to allow Turcoman horse archers to be upgraded to melee / missilery light cavalry. The upgrade will read something like "Upgrade to light cavalry, javelin, composite bow: save on 7+; +1 point. I'm beginning to think this might be a generally more suitable class for them because they were known to have a penchant for getting stuck in when the opportunity arose. At the moment they are particularly vulnerable to light lance armed light cavalry such as Turcopoles, Armenians and even Bedouin because of the two attack lance rule and their better save: To mis-quote Chris Sutton "Come on Turcomans, you're better than that".


Joseph.Cade said...

Just a superb article. I totally agree with your comments about using squares over inches and rulers, so much easier. The battle was a tense one (like TtS games often are) and as always your figures are spectacular! Loved the whole thing.

I use many of your modifications to the rules with my own Crusades collection/games, one of my favorite periods.

Thanks for the great read and eye candy!


Too kind, thank you.


Codsticker said...

Everything you want in a report: beautiful figures, terrain and an engaging retelling of the battle. Very enjoyable with my morning coffee.

ColCampbell50 said...

Great game! I will definitely 'borrow' some of your rules ideas for my future games.


Steve J. said...

That's a cracking looking game James! I agree that grid based games are just as good as 'traditional' ones. I really must get some chits as I find the cards to big and cumbersome for my 10mm games.


Thanks Steve, trying to blag some new counters from The Big Red Bat, so the promise of sales on the back of my advertising is all grist to the mill.

Keep those promises coming, folks. Simon's a pussy and bound to cave. Otherwise he's an ungrateful.........


Shaun Travers said...

Hello James,

A great looking game and lots of action. Years ago I used to be on the fence regarding grids but I now love grids!

Chris Hahn said...

Splendid, simply splendid.
Spectacular too.
Certainly sets the standard.

TomV said...

Really nice AAR. I've always hesitated to try square based games as I use Cigarbox mats on my table and I don't have a great way to define the squares. :(

Colin Ashton said...

Beautiful looking game!

BigRedBat said...

What a terrific looking game and AAR! I've just seen this- i'll drop you a line re counters.

James Fisher said...

What a marvellous looking game (even with a grid... just stirring!) and a fabulous, detailed report.
Your figures are droolingly beautiful James.

Chris Hahn said...

At the risk of double-dipping,

Just took another look while skimming the latest on TMP . . .

Second and reinforce all the previous compliments. Very well done.

I am envious and curious as to the mapping software or program that you use.
Care to let less capable historical wargamers know the name and etc.?

Cheers & looking forward to your next masterpiece,



Hi Chris, it's not exactly mapping software. The maps were done using MS Paint. I did a master gridded table map, saved it. Did terrain and unit templates. Added them. Then just did cut and paste to move stuff about. All rather time consuming but, the results are pretty good.

Chris Hahn said...

Cheers James & thanks for the clarification.

I will check out MS Paint or similar to see if I might be able to use them.

Agreed, developing maps for posts can be time consuming. Also agree that the results can be, as in your case, pretty darn good.

Thanks again,