Battle of Mount Badon . part 1

a scenario for the board wargame Battles for Prydain: Heroic Combat in Dark Age Britain 450-650 AD

We called it over at the end of turn 3.

It may seem like too short a game but it is not, more so if you combine having to teach the game basics along with the sidetrack talk and rules checking.

But let’s start where it all begins. The why, the whom and what…

King Arthur (2004) has some good looking Saxon warband, as opposed to the complete bonkers Arthur and Britons

There are several different hypothesis of how the battle developed and how the forces operated but all these should be taken into account as a whole and cross referenced, which makes it all more difficult for the hobby enthusiast, and Eleazar decided to write the scenario with the most direct approach – what may be true with what could be just myth but is cool.

Part of the Britons force is pushed back and makes a stand near a location, a fort or a settlement, which sat atop a hill called Badon, in roman form Mons Badonicus. This is the last phase of the mini battles campaign that might have occurred in reality, as it is also a possibility that as opposed to a single day battle the entire engagement spread across three days, at least, with the Britons force being split and Arthur’s cavalry operating loose and being a constant menace to the Saxon force, attacking them constantly and eventually making the decisive attack.

The game scenario allows for Britons to deploy within the hill area. This is somewhat important as it will directly influence the Saxon force deployment as they must be 9 spaces away from the Briton force while retaining position within 11 spaces from the North edge of the battle map.

My opponent chose a very conservative deployment that did play into his overall battle plan. While the Saxon force deploys entirely full force the Britons have the infantry small force trying to survive until the cavalry force arrives. The Briton player secretly decides what entry map edge and according to which was selected it will show up in turn 2 or turn 4. This seemingly small detail will be important later on.

Initial situation as seen from the Britons overhead. The visuals give a distorted sense of odds as the Briton spears can be stacked while the Saxon barbarian units cannot.

The sequence of play requires both players to be active but shifts initiative of action. Saxons are First and Britons are Second and this means Saxons act, Britons react; then it shifts with Britons acting and Saxons reacting. Add all the Combat phases ( there’s three distinct types of combat ) and Morale, Rally and one full turn can last a while, especially when there’s lot of combats to resolve.

Game started and, as expected, the Saxon force surged forward as it was imperative that the Briton contingent atop the hill is destroyed before the reinforcements arrive as the odds will change dramatically and while cavalry during this era is not the shock arm one imagines, it is more akin to ancients Numidian light cavalry, it is able to fight close quarters and quickly change the balance.

The Briton force unfolds and extends the line to avoid being outflanked by the superior numbers. Some groups keeping locked shields while others adopting a more flexible open formation.

Cavalry can harass with fast movement, unleash javelin attacks, may feign retreats, and especially exploit gaps in the enemy lines. I like that “zones of control” do not exist. Well they do exist but are not a rock wall that magically stop units in their tracks. The game requires planning and commitment once the shields clash and, for me, that approach is what it makes the experience of a battle during the dark ages Britain being played in the game a very genuine proposal. Actually there’s quite a dynamic from it that could be used in other titles that deal with this kind of warfare, but let’s not get side tracked.

illustration from the Osprey collection of books about late roman / dark ages

The battle plan for the Britons, as already said was to hold as long as possible. The Saxon plan, to smash the Briton infantry in a furious charge and through heroic deeds before the reinforcements show up.

The Saxons feature two Leaders, them should have been Aelle and Octha but none is referred in the chronicles or poems as being present in the battle; Aelle had been elected as the bretwalda, leader of the tribes, head of council, nominally the leader of the Saxon alliance; and as such in game scenario the usage of two generic Leaders is well justified.

The Britons is even more complicated simply because Arthur has become such an everlasting presence as to dilute truth from myth, and not in our time but exactly when and after the battle happened, give or take half a century. There’s a possibility, also with no firm ground support by any of the songs and chronicles, that the professional foot troops might have been commanded by Ambrosius Aurelianus and that Arthur wasn’t even present in the battle ( if he existed at all! ). As such there’s a generic Leader assigned to the holding Briton force and Arthur is assigned to the relief cavalry force.

As a scenario option, by the designer, I’d say it is a good one to include. It doesn’t really remove any of the possibilities out and adds that spice of legend and cinematic drama that is undeniably – Arthur at the head of cavalry riding in to save the day.

The only quirk I had with the presence of Arthur, albeit embracing it as a fan of narrative wargaming, is the devastating effect that it has, indirectly, in the battle. While the Britons can Rout ( if they hit the points ) and Panic normally, once Arthur enters the battle there’s the impossibility of Panic. This knowledge does change things a lot and forces the Saxon side player to commit to nothing short than a decisive victory, and before Arthur arrives.
That fact is balanced by the fact that the Saxons do not have a Panic level themselves and need to be Routed – which isn’t that hard IF the shieldwall holds.

On the reverse side of things there’s the Arthur death rule. It is a great touch by Eleazar and does sell into the soul of the game – Search for the enemy hero and cut off his head !

( continues in Part 2 )

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