Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life, featuring small skirmishes and big battles from many historical periods (and some in the mythic past or the far future too). 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.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Battle of Ashdown 871AD

I've just returned from a pressing work commitment and I thought I'd ease myself back into gaming with a quick DBA battle.  This one, the Battle of Ashdown 871AD, was based on a scenario published in Miniature Wargames 005, written by Ian Greenwood.  The terrain and the forces are simple: the Vikings defending a hill with a tree on it from an Anglo-Saxon army.  As is typical for this era and region, the forces present are a matter of speculation.  I followed the suggestions in the article and made the Anglo-Saxons a little stronger, choosing a 12-base Anglo-Saxon army and a 10-base Viking army from the appropriate army lists in DBAv3.  I don't have a specifically Viking army.  I could have used Anglo-Saxons for both sides, but to differentiate the armies more easily, I used Ancient Britons.  This is heretical gaming, after all...I used DBA v3, although with some misgivings: I wasn't sure that the mechanisms would give an appropriate flavour for "Dark Age" combat.

Anglo-Saxon Army (III/24b):
1 x General (Blades), 2 x Hird (Blades), 8 x Fyrd (Spearmen), 1 x Archers (Psiloi)

Viking Army (III/40b):
1 General & Huscarls (Blades), 8 x Hird (Blades), 1 x Archers (Psiloi)

The key tactical factors in the real battle were the hill which the Vikings defended and the surprise that Alfred achieved by attacking early.  For each scenario I gave Alfred's troops (but not Ethelred's) a free move.  For the second scenario, I gave Alfred's troops an extra +1 in their first round of close combat.

The First Battle:

Anglo-Saxons deployed on the flat, Vikings on the hill.  As in the historical battle, both sides are divided into two contingents.

Close-up of the Vikings

The armies engage.  Alfred's contingent (on the left) attacked first, trying to outflank the opposing Vikings.  Ethelred's contingent (on the right) then attacked.

Basically the armies clashed and pushed each other back-and-forth, trying to create a gap to exploit...

A similar back-and-forth struggle on the other side of the hill...

Every time the Anglo-Saxons thought they were about to breakthrough or outflank, the Vikings manage to plug the gap.

Alfred's forces pushed back off the slopes of the hill...

The Vikings push back the Saxon shieldwalls...

The detail of the Saxon right: Saxon thegns try and stem the advance

The Anglo-Saxon left collapses, leading to the break of the army
 The Second Battle:
Reset with a slightly different deployment on both sides.  There wasn't a useable photo of the other flank, unfortunately.  Very few photos came out of this second battle.

In this re-fight, the Anglo-Saxons concentrated their efforts on the left flank, Ethelred's troops merely demonstrating on the right

At the right moment, the Anglo-Saxons increase the pressure on both flanks.  The Vikings fight fiercely and Alfred finds it difficult to push them back

The Vikings finally collapse as they are flanked on both sides
 Game Notes: Both games were quite exciting, despite my initial misgivings that the games might be boring.  Neither army really supports much manoeuvre.  The Anglo-Saxon spearmen have a tough time against the Viking blades: the extra +1 for surprise made a big difference in the second game as it enabled the Anglo-Saxon army to achieve a couple of quick kills, which then enabled them to get more overlaps later on.  Without it, they never really got much purchase on the Viking army in the first battle.  The other mistake I made in the first game was to keep the Anglo-Saxon general in reserve: the extra +1 is vital to increasing the chances of that all-important first break through.  The interest in the game was mainly where to push and how hard - with a couple of small but important bits of manoeuvre mixed in.


  1. I always have trouble accepting the DB? classification of Viking Hird as blades! They were not armed especially with double handed axes!

  2. You are probably right, it is definitely an arguable point. I think that the DBx series make a reasonable stab at troop classifications simple enough but comprehensive enough to cover a vast period of history, but I'm sure it is by no means the last word. However, I don't feel confident enough in my own reading of this period yet to propose better alternatives.

  3. The term "blades" in DBA does not necessarily mean that they must have swords in their hands. It's a bit of a misnomer if you take it literally. The DBA troop type "Blades" is more accurately close order foot, armed with shorter weapons than spears or pikes. Halberdiers, billmen, galloglaich are all usually blades. The specific weapon type if moot; it is how they behaved on the battlefield that determines their classification in DBA.

    Vikings as blades seems to work quite well in my opinion, especially in DBA 3 now that blades follow up a successful combat.

    On another note mention quick kills during your refight? Errr....neither army has any troops that can quick kill.

  4. Thanks Tony. By "quick kills" I only mean "were able, early in this game, to achieve a 'destroyed' result". From what you say, I am guessing that "quick kills" is normally used by the cognoscenti to mean "can achieve a kill by just having a higher score than its opponents".

  5. Did you remember the additional flank support factor for solid spear in DBA3?

  6. I did, yes. I'm away from my rulebook at the moment but I have a slightly longer (and hopefully better!) comment to make about that in a few days.

  7. I think the relevant game factors go as follows:
    Blades +5 vs Foot in close combat, Spears +4 vs Foot
    +1 to Spears supported by Spears or (solid) Blades
    +1 if the General's element
    +1 if in close combat and uphill
    -1 for each enemy overlapping or contacting flank

    So to get any kind of advantage over the Viking "blades" defending the hill, the Anglo-Saxons must use their blade elements or flank-supported spearmen and try and achieve an overlap on each flank, or an overlap plus use the general's base. The extra +1 I gave to the Anglo-Saxon initial attack on Alfred's Wing effectively negated the "uphill" advantage briefly and gives them at least a better chance of achieving some success early on against the Vikings.