Vincent Tsao and I have been playing around with a version of Twilight of the Sun King for the early medieval period in Britain. I started with a rewrite of my original 2001 version of Twilight of the Sun King and incorporated ideas from Vincent’s Battle of Hastings variant. The result is called “Twilight of the Britons: Fast play rules for the English invasion of Britain”. I got Adam and Chris to give an early draft a go. So early I’d only written the rules that day, so isn’t wasn’t so good.
Summary: Too much dark age shield wall stodge. Not enough heroics. But a glimmer of hope for the rules.
This was a play test, knocked up as the guys walked through the door, so I didn’t invest anything in the armies. Adam had Army A and Chris has Army C. The two armies were identical.
- 1 x Epic (+2) Hero (Warlord)
- 2 x Brave (+1) Hero
- 2 x Epic (+2) Heavy Cavalry, Armoured, Aggressive, Undisciplined
- 2 x Epic (+2) Heavy Infantry, Aggressive, Undisciplined
- 10 x Brave (+2) Heavy Infantry, Undisciplined
- 2 x Brave (+1) Light Infantry
Although the armies included the same troops, Chris and Adam got to organise their armies into warbands under the heroes. The armies came out pretty similar however there were a few minor differences. Adam elected to have a bigger main shieldwall (1) and smaller flanking shieldwall (2), but Chris had his two shieldwalls matching. Both players put their heavy cavalry on the flank; the same flank. Adam had his light infantry on that flank. Chris split his light infantry to each side of this heavy infantry.
I don’t have hero stands for this game system, so we just used blank bases. 40mm square for the warlords and 40mm round for the other heroes.
Both armies started with a shieldwall on a hill. I’d deliberated tempted Adam with a Senlac hill shaped rise. He couldn’t resist and placed his main shieldwall on the long crest.
Chris also had a hill, but he wasn’t planning to stay on it.
I’ve split the report into left flank and right flank to aid the narrative. In reality these happened in simultaneously.
Right flank battle
Adam immediately realised he had a problem on his left (Chris’s right). He advanced only half of his small shieldwall, to create a small echelon.
Adam also spun a couple of units of heavy infantry to head towards his left (Chris’s right).
In contrast, Chris just advanced straight ahead. All along the line. That was a theme in the battle. Chris had a simple plan that required little manoeuvre. In contrast, Adam kept having to adjust his positions. This was both reliant on action tests and slow to execute.
Chris charged straight ahead. Well, two units succeeded in their charge action, one unit failed to charge, and then he moved troops around to compensate.
Chris quickly got the advantage and started inflicting hits.
As the infantry battle raged, Chris moved a unit of light infantry out on the flank.
However, we quickly realised this melee would last a very, very long time. We were playing that a hero could rally an attached unit and remove a hit and that meant that all Chris’s hard work to inflict hits were instant wiped away by a rally.
The shieldwalls clashed for the rest of the game.
But without conclusion.
Left Flank Battle
On the left flank Adam tried to bring his right flank (Chris’s left) force to bear on Chris’s advancing shieldwall. The heavy cavalry had started the game pointed in towards the centre, possible as a result of a flank march. They headed straight in-table.
Adam’s light infantry also advanced out of the woods.
The opposing light infantry quickly approached to shooting range. Chris’s archers moved into range first, and so it was Adam’s who took the first hit.
Adam brought some heavy infantry off the hill to threaten the flank of Chris’s shieldwall.
The warriors charged the skirmishers.
But the skirmishers evaded.
Further out on the flank the heavy cavalry started lining up.
Chris piled in some reinforcements.
But Chris’s reinforcements were thrown back.
So Chris used them to threaten Adam’s light infantry.
Chris had also responded to the Adam’s heavy infantry and countered with his own. More action tests (successful) and awkward manoeuvring.
Adam’s light infantry pulled out and he brought in his spare cavalry.
At that point we called it a day. Inconclusive battle and the two opposing armies withdrew to their camps to plot a rematch.
Observations and conclusions
I’ve split into the good, the bad and the ugly.
Big stodgy armies slugging it out. Tick.
Big bases. Tick.
We used 2d6 for both morale tests and actions, as I like consistency and having different rule mechanisms was unnecessary. Worked fine for us. Tick.
I really like the flavour added by the optional attributes of heavy units: armoured, aggressive, undisciplined, and well drilled. This was something from Vincent’s Battle of Hastings variant. Tick. (I might disentangle aggressive and undisciplined which overlap too much.)
I also liked Vincent’s addition of a recoil. 1 BW for infantry and 2 BW for cavalry. Ditto for evade for light troops. I just need to tidy up the sequence of play to make them fit.
The cavalry threat on the light infantry was a nice touch. Thanks to Andrew Coleby who introduced that concept to Twilight of the Sun King.
The draft didn’t have rules for deployment. So we made some up. I’ll include rules in the final version.
The left flank battle, featuring cavalry and light infantry, had the right kind of feel. But it should have come to a conclusion quicker. Cavalry battles should be short and sharp. This one lasted the entire game.
Opinions vary on the “morale test”. Chris said, “I love the fact the game is all about morale.” Adam said, “But I want to roll to hit.” This – including to hit inside the morale test – is of course a key abstraction of Twilight of the Sun King. Without it is it not the same. So I’ll keep it.
Sadly, the infantry battle would never have finished. Dark age battles should be stodgy but this draft set of rules was just too slow. The shieldwalls would never have broken. Infantry battles in Twilight of the Sun King are slow to begin with but the draft rally rule made it worse. Much worse. Chris had an advantage on the right flank but couldn’t make it count as Adam just rallied away the hits. So the players asked that the next incarnation of the rules be “more heroic”. I’ll think about replacing rally with something that allows heroes to kill faster.
Adam also asked that the armies not be identical next time. So I’ll try to get some more national flavour into them for next time. Actually I’ll write army lists for Romano-British, English (Anglo-Saxons and Jutes), Briton (post Roman), Picts, Scots-Irish, Scots (after merger of Picts with Scots-Irish colonies), Norse-Irish (after invaders got friendly with the locals), and Northmen (Norse and Danes whether viking or settled).
I have already revised the draft rules heavily to address the problems revealed in this play test. Expect to see another game soon.