Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life; currently concentrating on a re-fight of the entire Peninsular War, but with the odd foray into ancient, medieval and WW2 battles.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Battle of Benburb 1646 Redux - A Wargaming:An Introduction Refight

I gave the Benburb scenario published in MW085 from the last game another go, but used a different set of rules: this time, the Pike and Shot rules from Neil Thomas' Wargaming: An Introduction:

Orders of Battle:

Confederate Irish:

5 x Foot units (3 bases of Pike, 3 bases of Shot, all light armour, Average morale)
1 x Horse unit (4 bases of Reiters, light armour, Levy morale)

Ulster Protestant:

5 x Foot units (4 bases of Pike, 2 bases of Shot, all light armour, Average morale)
1 x Foot unit (6 bases of Shot, light armour, Average morale)
1 x Artillery unit - 1 base of light artillery, half-range of fire, may move upto 6cm per turn)
2 x Horse units (4 bases of Reiters, light armour, Levy morale)
To simulate their fatigue, the Protestant would count as one morale class lower from the second round of any melee onwards 

The Battle:

Straight into the action this time: O'Neill advances and starts taking fire from the Protestant musketeers and artillery

Losses mount for the advancing Confederates

A slightly wider shot

The Confederate Irish make contact; unfortunately the losses have mounted already and the attack doesn't seem to go in with the required force

The battle develops; the Confederacy still hasn't pushed the Protestants off the brow of the hill but losses have been high amongst the leading units

A wider shot; note the Protestant cavalry is outflanking (on the right); whereas on the opposite flank, the Protestant Horse has used the marsh to keep away from their Confederate opponents

The central melee rages unabated!  The Protestant cavalry has surrounded most of the attacking Irish infantry however

The Confederates in deep trouble: their left-flank infantry have been destroyed and they have been outflanked, but have not managed to achieve a breakthrough on the right

At last a little success!  The Irish capture the Protestant guns; unfortunately no picture, but they have also beaten off one of the Protestant Horse units with heavy losses

The Confederates in deep trouble; with their left flank caved in and outnumbered, there was little chance of success, and O'Neill threw in the towel at this point.
 Game Notes: For the second game, a reversal of fortune compared to real life and also one where the luck of the Irish seemed to desert them!  However, an interesting contrast with the Polemos rules.  Attrition and numbers count for a great deal in these rules, whereas in the Polemos rules, fire is generally ineffective so shock counts for a lot.  On the other hand, combat power exponentially declines for units in the Neil Thomas rules, so melee/close combat can continue for a long time; without very significant advantages, it is very difficult to achieve quick and decisive results.  This is staggeringly unlikely in the Polemos rules; most close combats are over in two phases (i.e. between 5-10 minutes).   The huge differences don't end there: the Horse vs Foot dynamic in the two rulesets is hugely different.  In Neil Thomas, cavalry are likely to have a very short and exciting life against infantry pikemen; in Polemos, equal numbers of Horse should finish off infantry pretty quickly, given a fair rub of the dice.  In Polemos, I think the "Dutch" style of cavalry tactics is better; in Neil Thomas, the "Swedish" style is definitely stronger (not a factor in this particular game though).  And of course, Polemos has its "marmite" tempo points command mechanic, whereas Neil Thomas has pretty much no command rules at all (I use the general can re-roll a failed morale check if present with a unit).

What do I make of all this?  I'm still not sure.  For the little that it's worth, since I don't think I have sufficient knowledge of the period:

Polemos seems absolutely correct on the duration of close combat

It is a matter of degree, but fire combat in Neil Thomas' is a little too effective, fire combat in Polemos marginally too ineffective

The cavalry effect...maybe slightly closer to  Neil Thomas?  I have mentioned it before, but the number of cavalry bases in Polemos has a synergy with the overlap rules - it is quite easy to get an overlap since there are so many cavalry bases as compared with infantry bases and that normally gives the advantage to the cavalry.  So in Neil Thomas the thing to do if you can get away with it is lock the infantry to the front then use the horse to hit the flanks.  Obviously you can do that in Polemos too, but you don't have to do it; don't be hit with pikemen in the frontal arc in Neil Thomas.

I think Polemos is the cleverer ruleset in dealing with the virtues of the difference in cavalry types - but I do wonder if the calibration is slightly wrong against Swedish tactics; Neil Thomas is straightforward, but perhaps slightly too much in favour of the Royalists.

There is also the generic difference between Neil Thomas' and Polemos rules: the first is easy on the brain, but probably allows too much freedom and you end up throwing a lot of dice (and having to remember scores because much close combat is simultaneous); the second is more taxing since you have the tempo points (i.e. command points/PIPs) to deal with, but they do seem to realistically limit activity.

However, I am very happy to hear the contrary arguments on any or all of these points!  (Except the first - that attritional close combat mechanic just can't be right...)  :-)

Figures by Baccus 6mm.  I used a single base to represent an entire foot unit and recorded loss with markers (pink for losses, red for lost bases); for the horse units, I simply used four bases.


  1. Thanks for a very interesting comparison. there is a part of me that feels that any set of moderately complex rules should give a more nuanced and satisfactory game that the rather 'uncomplicated' NT rules, but there is a greater part of me that admires what NT set out to achieve with his minimalism.

    Ultimately I am left feeling that one could cry out 'is there a third set of rules in the room that could sit somewhere between these two sets'.

  2. Thanks very much Norm.

    "is there a third set of rules in the room that could sit somewhere between these two sets?"

    Yes, quite. Neil Thomas is good but two A5 pages too short. Polemos is very good, but has slightly too many processes and factors to make it an "easy" game.

    IMHO, neither ruleset has understood why Phil Barker spends so much time thinking about alignment of bases/units and base/unit interactions in DBx.