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.

Sunday 18 February 2024

Stratton: A Polemos ECW Refight

The Battle of Stratton took place in Cornwall in 1643, and was a significant victory for the Royalist cause in the South-West of England. It was written up as a scenario in a very early issue of Miniature Wargames, number 13. 

The issue is quite an interesting one historically, as it contains Paddy Griffith's The Case Against Toy Soldiers, which seems to have caused quite a stir at the time. It also contained this Battle of Stratton article, by Paul Eaglestone. This in turn was paired - and in the pdf scan I have, which seems to have reflected the genuine published magazine, it got jumbled up with - an ECW terrain article, which was written by Ian Weekley, a long-time contributor to Miniature Wargames. Was he the first regular 'terrain guru' in a wargames magazine? It felt like that to me reading magazines in retrospective, although of course that impression could be very wrong. In any case, he did sometimes include a scenario with his terrain piece, so one might have confused the authors quite easily here!

Anyway, back to the scenario. The set-up is tactically very interesting: a larger army on a hill and partly entrenched is surrounded by a smaller army. In most rules, that is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome so it is quite a good test to see by how much troop quality, leadership and good tactics can overcome some of the worst tactical modifiers troops are likely to incur. I played it with Polemos: ECW.

The Forces:

C-in-C: Hopton (Decisive)
1 base of Musketeers (Shot only, Trained-Elite)
5 bases of Foot (Pike Heavy, Trained-Elite) 
4 bases of Artillery

C-in-C: Stamford (Poor)
11 bases of Foot (Shot Heavy, Raw)
5 bases of Artillery (Raw)

Obviously a lot of this is very arguable! In this scenario, I trialled an authorial suggestion to revise the artillery to make it somewhat more effective than in the book - more on this in the game notes.

The Set-Up:

The Parliamentary forces on the hill, the Royalist forces surrounding it. The Royalist musketeers are in the woods. The entrenchments were not particularly extensive or effective, so are only considered a '-1' piece of linear terrain, rather than proper earthworks.  The slope to the East (i.e. right) is steep, the other slopes are gentle.

A closer look at the bottom of the hill: Hopton looks on (bottom-left)

And from a bird's eye, from the West looking East. Note the blue flag of the Royalist Musketeers' in the woods (top)
The Battle:
Apart from an artillery exchange, in which one of the Royalist units suffered some losses (top-left), the main action was with the musketeers at the edge of the wood (right); after wearing down their Parliamentary opponents, the musketmen see them wavering and charge in

A closer look - can the musketeers take advantage of the Parliamentary Foot's discomfiture?

One of the Royalist regiment's endures more casualties from the Parliamentary guns on the hill

The Parliamentary pikemen reform and send back the Royalist musketeers - the musketry exchange resumes.

Feeling that he must get a move on before the Parliamentary artillery fire hurts too much, Hopton orders two more columns forward...

Elan carries the Royalists up the slope, despite the intensity of Parliamentary fire

Meanwhile, the Royalist musketeers are causing more losses on the right

Parliamentary foot moves into a better position to resist the advancing Cornishmen...

The Royalist musketters make another rush forward, after seeing the Parliamentary regiment wavering once again

The main Royalist column has struggled to get forward for a while, held back by the intensity of the fire, which was ferocious without ultimately being that damaging - but eventually the Cornishmen get moving again

The Royalist Foot on the other side of the hill manage to carry out a neat simultaneous attacak which leaves the Parliamentary Foot somewhat flat-footed, and then the Royalists are on them!

Eventually, the Parliamentary Foot at the South of the hill gives way, both flanks more or less simultaneously - on the crowded position, two more regiments immediately joint the flight!

Although the Parliamentary Foot on the other side of the hill managed to hold off one attack, the flank attack proved decisive, and the regiment breaks...

Very shortly, regiment after regiment breaks and runs for the gap in the ring to the North-East, abandoning guns and equipment as they flee

Organized resistance collapses

Game Notes:

Quite a fun, neat game. Given the more-or-less historical result, perhaps my judgements about troop qualities weren't so far off. The behaviour of closely packed troops in the Polemos ECW rules does allow for the kinds of collapse which seem to have happened in reality, which is good.
The artillery did actually become a little too effective perhaps. The original rule is that artillery fire incurs a -1 for each base width of range beyond the first. The problem here is that artillery basically becomes entirely useless, since the best it can hope for is maybe a single maybe-effective shot. Incidentally, it is a lot more effective against pike-armed troops than musketeers, which is interesting! So David Heading suggested not introducing the penalty until after 4BW. But this then allowed plenty of fire against attackers. I had retained the generic +1 to all musket fire, since otherwise pikes are just too much better than muskets to be credible.
This stable of Polemos rules (ECW, SPQR, Counter-Reformation) I think is one level harder to play than the other stable (General de Division, Marechal de l'Empire, Ruse de Guerre, WSS). It is hard to work out why exactly but I suspect it is partly that the modifiers and attack sub-routines just seem a little bit harder too manage - perhaps there are just a few more factor to deal with. But noticeable nonetheless, especially compared to Ruse de Guerre, which is a lot smoother. But that said, a fun game and a convincing result, in both senses of that.

Figures by Baccus 6mm, earthworks from Irregular.


  1. Stamford’s Last Stand? Not a position I would envy attacking. Roundhead position looks formidable but, I suppose, looks can be deceiving. I remember this issue of MW. Good stuff!

    1. Thanks Jonathan. It does look very formidable...but I guess it did on the day too!

  2. An excellent game and I think I've read about this battle before somewhere. Lansdown Hill is near to us and when you are on the initial Parliamentarian positions, any canon or troops would not have seen the Royalist attackers until almost at the last moment, allowing for one quick volley only I would imagine. At another small engagemnent in Wiltshire, the canon were placed on the forward slope which was too steep, causing the balls to simply roll out, so were unable to fire! Maybe something akin to these examples happened in this battle?

    1. Thanks Steve. There seems to definitely be something in what you say, the original article makes somewhat similar speculations. It helped me to go for 'Raw' parliamentary artillery especially, as a way to reflect these possibilities.

  3. Wow! I remember buying this edition of MW way back in the mists of time. At the time I had little interest in pike and shot games so I have never played the scenario. As an aside a few years later when I joined the Sealed Knot I was introduced to my regiment's CO, the very same Paul Eaglestone. I still recall the look on his face when I asked if he was the same Paul Eaglestone who had written this article. I don't think he thought anyone had read it!

    1. Thanks for sharing that, definitely made me smile - glad the post took you down memory lane!

  4. MW#13 was the first copy I came across - it was the best magazine I had ever read at that time so I quickly subscribed and got the back issues. It seems now that it was Duncan MacFarlane's vision of what a magazine should be that I found irresistable. I got rid of my magazine collections some years ago as I find today's magazines uninspired but I kept everything that Duncan put out. I even managed to acquire some of the ECW figures heading the gatehouse article (yes mixed up in print as well as the pdf) - these veteran casting also featured in the TTTV Battleground episode on Edgehill. Happy days.

    1. Thanks Rob. And I think you are right about Duncan MacFarlane, he did have a really compelling vision and published some great magazines.