The Dark Ages, Dux Britanniarum, 28mm
This week we visited the north-eastern suburbs of Glasgow, some 1200 years before the area became a commuter suburb to the big brash city. No, our Muileann Dhaidh (now Milngavie) was just a small hamlet, in a pleasant-looking fertile valley near a small river – now called the Kelvin. A raiding party from Fortriu, the Pictish kingdom to the north had crossed into Alt Clut, and were now standing on the edge of the river, ready to cross it and head towards the seemingly undefended settlement. Well it was undefended, but the raiders had been spotted, and a British war party had been sent from the fortress of Alt Clut (Dumbarton Rock) to intercept them.The Brotons, led by Bryannus had circled round Muileann Dhaidh to cut off the raiders, and were now approaching the village from the north. The Picts splashed across the ford, and trotted up the road leading to the settlement. In fact, thanks to some lucky pre-game die rolling the Picts (played by Joe and I) had a three move start, so we actually began the game within striking range of the village. The Britons of Alt Clut were less fortunate – with their roll only one unit formed their advanced guard – the rest of their war band would appear on Turn 2. The scene was set for the first raid of out new Dark Age campaign.
The British (Sean and Gyles) decided to lead with their elite group, which was commanded by Vortigern. He and his hearthguard raced towards the village, but two groups of Picts had got there first, and were already looting the buildings. One Pictish unit was in a hut when the Britons stormed into the village, the other was moving from one hut to the other. As it was in the open this was the one Vortigern decided to charge. He smashed into it, and caused casualties, pushing the Picts back. He didn’t follow up though, thanks to a mix-up with the rules, and the next turn the Picts in the hut led by another noble – Bridei – charged out of the building and into the back of the British hearthguard.This coincided with another assault from the battered Pictish unit in the front, and the appearance of the Pictish leader Aongus, accompanied by his champion. The Picts even managed to play a “Carpe Diem” card, which meant their assault was even more effective. The result was that after a brief melee the three remaining members of the hearthguard broke and ran, fleeing away to the west, in the direction of Alt Clut fortress. By now though, the rest of the Britions had arrived on the table, and were moving fast to cut the raiders off from their friendly table edge – just beyond the river.The thing about raiding is that it only works when you can make it off the table with your plunder. The Picts had now fulfilled the first part of their victory conditions – collect two hauls of plunder from the village. They now had to escape with it. Fortunately for them the two Pictish groups in the village weren’t alone. Another two lined the gap between the village and a small wood, halfway to the river. inside the wood were Pictish archers, while to the south a small unit of four cavalry lurked, waiting to cause mischief.The British leader Bryannus led two groups of warriors directly at the waiting raiders, while another unit of levies skirted round the wood to face off the cavalry. They were supported by a small unit of British slingers. Meanwhile the third British noble – Caractacus – was leading two units of levies forward, to fall on the left flank of the Pictish line. While all this was going on the raiders in the village were beginning to down the road towards – and victory. All the Picts had to do was hold the Britons for a turn or two, then retreat as fast as they could.The Pictish cavalry could act as skirmishers or as shock cavalry, so they decided to skirmish, harassing the levy unit with javelins. The Pictish archers joined in, causing casualties. However, the archers charged the cavalry, and played a Carpe Diem card to prevent them from evading. We did something else wrong here. We dispersed the cavalry, as we treated them as skirmishers. However, on re-reading the rules it turns out they should have fought back – in which case they might well have broken the levies. In fact it made little difference – the levies broke and ran a turn later, thanks to Pictish archery. this though, was just a side show. the main event was the clash between the two lines of spearmen, on the far side of the little wood.The British warriors charged home, led by Bryannus. The Picts weathered the storm, but took casualties, and a bunch of shock markers. Too many of them and the unit breaks and runs. It actually turned out to be a fairly scrappy melee. The Picts held, but the melee resumed the following turn, by which time Aongus had turned up to bolster the Pictish defenders. In the next round of fighting one unit on each side was pushed back, and then a round later the two sides disengaged a few yards, to lick their wounds. Both Pictish units were now dangerously laden with shock points (we use little stones as markers). It was then that Caractacus made his move. He charged in, with both his levy units taking on a base of Pictish raiders. Although the Picts caused more casualties, they now had more than twice as many shock markers as people, so both units broke and ran. While the Britons had ultimately won their melee, they were now badly battered, and were slow to give chase. Meanwhile the rest of the Pcitish raiders were making off with their loot.The game now became a chase. The two Pictish groups who had looted the village headed towards the river, led by Bridei. Aongus made his way over the table to join them, after disengaging himself from the routing half of the Picitish warband. meanwhile Bryannus spent a couple of turns entering the woods, and dispersing the Picitish archers. this was something of a wasted move, as victory now hung on getting the two loot tokens off the table. It meant that only Caractacus was now in a position to catch the Picts. He and that unit of British slingers, which was now standing close to the ford, lobbing stones at the Picts as they splashed back across the river.That though wasn’t enough. As Caractacus reached the ford, the two Pictish units moved off the table edge, taking their plunder with them. the game was over, but this being a mini campaign we had some book-keeping to sort out. The Picts held more Retreat cards than the Pursuit cards held by the British, and they had won the game. Despite the mayhem both sides had taken surprisingly few casualties – around a dozen figures a side – but the Britons would now take two turns to recover their losses, while the Picts would be back in the game the following turn. All in all it was a reasonable start to the Pictish raiding season – and the start of the Pictish campaign to subjugate Alt Clut.