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The Caern Lath Watchtower, Rheged, 520AD


The Dark Ages, Dux Britanniarum, 28mm

I hadn’t played Dux Britanniarum for a while, so we decided to give the Saxons and Britons another outing. I’m glad we did – it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played this year! Although the rules contain a very tempting campaign system we’ve never actually got round to using it. This was merely a one-off battle – actually a raid – from a scenario in the book called “The watchtower”. The idea was that a British force is camped around a watchtower overlooking Saxon territory. A patrol has gone out looking for a Saxon raiding party known to be in the area. When the game begins the patrol is on its way back from the far end of the table, with the watchtower at the other end. Inevitably the Saxons appear somewhere in the middle – in this case emerging from behind a small wooded hill, next to a small village. The Saxon objective was to capture one of the British nobles. All the British had to do was to avoid this, while both sides tried to hack the other guys to pieces.The Saxons moved towards the returning patrol – two groups – each of a six-figure base, commanded by a noble called Vortigen. For their part they veered away across the small wooded valley, heading for the cover of the trees on its far side. One group of the patrol consisted of warriors, the other of levies. The Saxon Leader Athelwald led two groups of elite hearthguard to intercept them, supported by a small body of archers. The rest of the Saxon raiding party – three groups of warriors led by Healfwulf and Wyrmwalch-  moved forward to stop the rest of the Britons from interfering.That was a vital part of the plan, because when the Britons around the watch tower saw what was happening they marched out to do battle. This force consisted of the warlord Bryannus, his small group of elite companions, and a force of three groups – one warrior and two levy, led by the subordinate lord Caractacus. A small band of four teenage slingers completed the line-up. The scene was set for a bloody, bitty scrap that had all the hallmarks of the Dark Ages.Alan and Joe commanded the Britons, while “new boy” Gyles and I took charge of the Saxons. The first real scrap came when Vortigen (played by Joe) reached the small wood, and turned to give battle. They formed a shieldwall and waited for the Saxon onslaught. When it came the Saxons made little progress – at least at first. In fact Joes group of levies proved far more effective than his more experienced warriors, killing an elite Saxon hearthguard in every round of combat. That’s them in the photo above, with the crimson shields. The empty slots in the base represent casualties to the six-figure “group” , while the dice reflect the number of shock points the group has taken. If you get twice as many shock points as you have remaining figures then you’re deemed to have “misplaced your amphorae” (lost your bottle, and flee the field! In the end the Saxons held on, but the group facing the levies was forced to retire to regroup, as its shock points surpassed the number of remaining figures.By then the other groups had clashed over in the centre of the valley. The British companions made short work of the single Saxon group of warriors facing them, but elsewhere the mixed bag of British warriors and levies were pushed back by the Saxons. Meanwhile the slingers and archers shot away at each other with little effect. That’s when the battle reached its final phase. A group of levies led by Caractacus swung round the back of Athwelwald’s hearthguard, and tried to charge them in the back. The Saxons were no slouches though, and not only saw off the levies (who were forced to retire), but they also broke Vortigen’s troops in front of them, and captured the British lord. The only surviving unit was the group of hard-arsed levies, who were down to three men, and pulled back into the trees to regroup.Athelwald then charged and broke the levies, and for good measure scattered and dispersed the small unit of British slingers. In Dux Britanniarum both sides have an army morale, which goers down when bad things happen, like units routing, leaders getting killed, captured or wounded, and other nasty setbacks. By this stage the British were down to one point, and the Saxons two. Both sides had suffered prohibitively high casualties, and if this was part of a campaign one or other army would have broken off the fight by now. This though, was a fight to the finish. The Saxons still had more troops on the field, but all their units were badly battered. The strongest group on the field remained Bryannus and his companions. On what proved to be the final turn they launched a charge acrsoss the table and slammed into a badly depleted group of Saxon hearthguard – the guys who’d taken all those casualties from the hard-arsed levies. The Saxons were defeated and broke, and this cost two morale points. As a result the Britons won the game – but only just. It really was a case of last man standing by the time we’d finished! All four of us enthused about the rules, and the fact that we’d thoroughly enjoyed the hard-fought and well-balanced game. In fact we even talked about starting that campaign, which mean’s we’ll certainly be playing Dux Britanniarum again soon.

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