Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life; currently concentrating on a re-fight of the entire English Civil War, but with numerous discursions into battles from many different periods. The focus is on battle reports using a wide variety of rules, with the occasional rules review, book review and odd musing about the gaming and history. Most of the battles use 6mm-sized figures and vehicles, but occasionally 15mm and 28mm figures appear too.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The Battle of Sempach 1386: A DBA Re-Fight

Inspired by Wally Hearl's article in Miniature Wargames 14 about the Battle of Semlach, I had a go at re-creating it in miniature using the DBA rules. 

It is quite an interesting battle, pitching the infantry-based Swiss force against a more typical Imperial Austrian force; most unusually, it was a genuine encounter battle, with both armies deploying and fighing off the line of march.

The article doesn't provide a map, so I scoured the internet for something appropriate.  This one was the best:

From this interesting site. It had to be supplemented with some aerial reconnaissance from Google.

For the orders of battle, I used the DBA lists, with one important modification:

Austrians (Medieval German IV/13b):
3 x Knights (3Kn), 2 x Blades (Dismounted Knights) (4Bd), 1 x Crossbowmen (4Cb), 2 x Militia Spearmen (Sp), 2 x Mercenaries (4Bd), 2 x Archers (Ps)

Swiss (Early Swiss IV/41):
9 x Halberdiers (4Bd), 3 x Crossbowmen (Ps)

Those familiar with the lists will note the changes to the Austrian list.  There isn't usually an option to use dismounted knights, but this is reportedly what was done at Sempach.  The article's author seemed to indicate that the intention was to use the dismounted knights as pikemen (!) but Blades is the usual choice for dismounted knights.  However, Spearmen might have also been a good choice.

The engagement involved both sides' vanguards clashing before the respective main bodies arrived.  To simulate this, all troops were considered to start off-table and had to be moved using PIPs onto the road.  For the first four turns only the vanguards could be used, as follows:

Austrians: 2 x Dismounted Knights (4Bd), 2 x Archers (Ps)
Swiss: 1 x Crossbowmen (Ps), 3 x Halberdiers (4Bd)

The Battle:

The view on the road to Sempach from Hildisrieden.  The Swiss approach from Sempach, the Austrians from Hildisrieden.

a different angle

The Swiss, handicapped by low PIP rolls, are still in column on the road as the Austrian archers approach.

Another angle

The Swiss halberdiers deploy, preparing to charge.  The Austrian dismounted knights approach

The Austrian skirmishers delay the Swiss advance

Austrian crossbowmen flee from the blades of the advancing Swiss...

The Austrian knights engage the flank of the Swiss first line; the Swiss main body is just coming up

A close-up of the clash of lines

Surprisingly, the Halberdiers win and push forward

But the Austrian knights are able to turn the tables and destroy the purusing Halberdiers

The dismounted Austrian knights push forward (top left); Duke Leopold himself leads his knights into the charge (bottom-centre)

The Austrian knights crush the Swiss, whilst the second line engages the dismounted knights

The leading knights move up to support their dismounted brethren; more knights engage the remnants of the Swiss first line, supported by some Austrian skirmishing crossbowmen

The knights crush the remainder of the Halberdiers in the Swiss vanguard...

The Swiss second line in a large clash - Swiss skirmishers are now working along the edge of the forest...

Duke Leopold leads his knights to victory once again!  The Swiss army collapses...

A closer view of the hero of the hour, leading his knights to victory!

Game Notes:

A complete reversal of the historical outcome, in which the Swiss main body was able to flank and destroy the Austrian vanguard and its supporting knights, with Leopold falling in the midst of his men!  The keys to the Austrian victory here were:

Very poor initial PIP rolls on the Swiss side - they were never able to control the pace of the battle
The flanking Swiss halberdiers in the first line advancing after forcing a recoil into a more difficult situation where they were outflanked on both sides and destroyed
As the line wasn't properly formed, there were continuously flanks left for the mounted knights to exploit.
The quick kill ability of the knights against blades (blades without bow support are a much better proposition for mounted knights).

I do wonder if the game might play very differently using Neil Thomas' Ancient & Medieval rules, with their emphasis on attrition.  This might give less force to the impetus-based quick kills of the Austrian mounted knights.

The game was interesting and exciting, and took little time to set up and play.  The board was 3'x2'.  Again, I used my 6mm Baccus Wars of the Roses figures as suitable proxies for both sides.


  1. Interesting situation and I enjoy seeing you replay these scenarios from old wargaming mags. I would enjoy seeing it replayed using Thomas' rules.

    Good job!

  2. Thanks very much Jonathan. It seems a pity to let perfectly servicable old scenarios fade away and be forgotten. This one is probably ripe for a couple more replays, with different rules and also possibly some more broken ground (to hinder the Austrian cavalry more).

  3. Interesting and nice report, great looking mass effect...

  4. Thanks very much Phil, I appreciate it.

    All the best