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.

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Battle of Flodden (II) - Polemos Wars of the Counter-Reformation refight



For my second go at Flodden (the first refight is here), then I decided to give another set of rules a go: this time Polemos Wars of the Counter-Reformation, available for free on Polemos author David Heading's blog, Polemarch.  They are very much in skeleton draft format at the moment (more of which later) but most experienced gamers should be able to get them to work, more or less.

The Forces:

The WotCR set uses many of the basic assumptions of DBR and DB in terms of troop types.  For this battle, I used the following order of battle:

Scots Common Army: 12 x Pk, 1 x Bows, 1 x Art, 3 x Militia (n.b. I accidentally transmogrified this during the game into 6 x Tribal Foot, which had some 'interesting' consequences); depending upon how you feel, 3 x Tribal Foot might have been okay.

The pike were organized into 3 'battalia', as were the militia/tribal foot.

English Tudor  (Wars of the Roses) Army: 6 x Bills, 1 x Light Horse, 4 x Bows, 3 x Art
I chinned off the baggage requirement since this seems not to have been a feature of the battle, but one could/should use 4 baggage elements behind each army.

The terrain notes are as in the first battle, more or less. Troops move at half-speed through the marshy ground, and take one turn to cross the stream.

The Set-Up:
The Scots Army is on Branxton Hill to the South (top); The English Army is on Piper's Hill to the North (bottom), i.e. between the Scottish Army and home!
The Scottish Army: it has three main contingents of pikes, with some "Highland Rabble" (according to the Army List in DBA! - although in this battle I made them very numerous and ferocious by accident) in the Right-Rear (top-left).  A few Border Horse are on the Left Flank (right) and a few bowmen are on the Right (left).

The English Army's right wing

and its left.

A closer look at the Scottish pikemen


The Battle:

The Scots' Left makes more rapid initial progress than the Right, which is facing more English artillery fire

King James' command appears to be making up some ground, but really the other pike formation is just slowing to take the stream.

The Scottish Left splashes through the bog to get to grips with the English billmen and bowmen...

A closer look

The arrows begin to fly from and to the English left flank as the Scots approach...

English cannon balls slow the Scottish advance

Once again, it is the Scottish Left which comes to grips first, bending the English line.

Luckily for the English, they quickly seize the initiative and get back into the fight before the Scottish pike can exploit the situation; whilst the dismounted Men-at-Arms attack the pike block in the flank

Now it is the Scots' turn to retire

Then the combat ebbs and flows again!

However, the Scottish pikemen are becoming increasingly wearied and disordered, fighting on two sides whilst trying to slog up the hill

Bow and ball have slowed the progress of the Scottish Right Wing and Highlanders

The Scottish Left has begun to break, half its men are running away...

Skillfully handled English billmen make life very awkward, and in some cases downright impossible, for the Scottish pikemen who cannot make progress

And soon enough, they too join their fellow in rout

A wider view of the battle: the Scottish Left has been defeated, but the Scottish Centre, Right and Reserve are still undefeated

Stanley springs his surprise, arriving on the right flank of the advancing Highlanders

However, the Highlanders, upgrading themselves in an instant from pressed poor peasantry to ferocious clan warriors, turn with rapidity to face the threat

Their agility putting the main Scottish force to shame somewhat, as they splodge through the mud without making rapid progress

Surrey orders the English Right Wing to sort itself out, masking the Scots' Reserve and providing extra troops to the centre.  It is hard to sort out C16 troops though, so the move begins in desultory fashion.

A wider view

The Highlanders charge home against the English bowmen!

The bowmen are put to knife, sword and axe by the ferocious Highlanders...

And they quickly start running for their lives (right)! However, the English billmen are about to mirror this on their comrades (centre)

The Scottish main body finally starts to leave the mud behind it

Where the English set about them from two sides

The melee in the English left-centre become general and ferocious*

And although one of the English groups of billmen is pushed back with heavy losses, the Scottish left-front corner caves in, the King goes down in the melee and the Scots quickly collapse (centre-left)!

The surviving Scottish pikemen are in full rout, discouraging the rest of the Army.  The English billmen (left) of Stanley's detachment are already in an awkward position for the Scottish survivors, in a position to hack and slay at the defenceless running troops...

The Scots stream back up Flodden Hill...

The position at the end of the battle

 Game Notes: As a relatively experienced player of Polemos rules, in particular the Polemos: ECW and Polemos: SPQR sets by the same author, these rules had many familiar concepts in them so I could get a very decent game out of them.  Again, in many ways it followed the events of the historical battle, which I suppose argues that the rules (and the scenario) aren't all bad! Anway, I will divide my comments into the good, the interesting and the confusing:

The Good:

The factors generally seemed sensible and are fewer in number than in ECW and SPQR. 

The rules are streamlined, faster to play and generally easier to understand.

The rules have clarified some things about what happens to supporting units in certain circumstances.

The army morale system is the best and most intuitive of the iterations I have seen through Polemos WSS, ECW and SPQR.  The rallying system is simplified and effective too.

The tempo system is simplified but still very effective but has an interesting quirk, below), as is the command system, which deals with a lot of the criticisms players have had over the years of both the Polemos and DBx family of games.

The Interesting:

The 'tempo' is still present as it is through all the Polemos family of rules.  However, it proposes a very low tempo environment (the maximum number of points a side can have would be 5, and this would be vanishingly rare).  Basically each side gets D6 points/turn, and the bid has to come out of that, as well as any activity. So the number of tempo points you play with is low, so very little activity can be done really, and this declines as the battle goes on (you can't order whole wings, only units and individual battalia).

The combat system has become much more reminiscent of DBx, where it is rating + roll + tactical factors, and the ratio of the numbers, not the difference as in previous Polemos games, becomes important.  The calibration looked generally okay, but it makes combat a lot slower than the vicious fighting in SPQR and decisive charges in ECW: troops can pound away not achieving anything very much for a while here.  Okay, they can do it in the other rules as well, but that is an unusual result in those, but common here.  So you need to be able to multiply by 3/2 (or 2/3 to taste) in your head quickly.

The Confusing:

There is no turn sequence AFAIK apart from tempo player then non-tempo player.  This actually worked fine and was quite refreshing, but was unclear that this was what was intended.

As in all Polemos-system games, there are times when it is simply a bit unclear as to what outcome moves (recoils and so on) should happen, when many bases are fighting next to each other in different directions.  What happens when bases hit at oblique angles, contact two bases in the flank simultaneously whilst another unit is attacking the front, that kind of thing.  Even flank attacks aren't really defined.  Obviously as a solo player you can always just say "I know one when I see it" but you will inevitably hit marginal cases even playing solo quite quickly. 

(* as in this picture above)

I wasn't sure if troops should 'follow-up' recoiling enemies automatically.  The rules give a combat factor for this, but it isn't obvious to me if that factor should be applied if the winner moves forward and renews the combat in the next turn, or it happens automatically.  And in the latter case, which if any supports should go with it?  Since the rules didn't indicate anything (unless I missed them, which is very possible), I decided to not make following up automatic, so if the other side won the tempo in the next turn, it could negate that advantage if it deliberately moved back into combat.

Anyway, overall I was pretty impressed and I am looking forward to giving these another go soon.

Figures by Baccus 6mm.


  1. Thank you, but very much a work in progress. Most of the rules are still in my head!
    Following up: bases which charge and win must follow up. Others may follow up. Similarly with pursuit.
    Turn sequence: in my head....
    Recoiling etc: rather difficult to cover every possibility. Be sensible, but any contact of bases, even corner to front counts as CC.
    Flanks: draw an imaginary line extending the target bases edge. If the moving base is largely behind that, it is a flank attack...

    1. Thanks very much for clarifying those points, I will incorporate next time I play. I reckon that I will be back again about flank attacks though...