Tactical Warfare In The Fantasy Genre: An Exploration Of Battlesystem [Part Three]

July 31, 2017 by oriskany

Good afternoon, Beasts of War, and welcome back to our continuing series on tactical wargaming in the fantasy genre. In these articles, we’ve been looking at my recent explorations into fantasy, when I travelled to Canada to dip my toe back into the genre at a game (TSR’s Battlesystem 1st Edition) run by my friend Craig (BoW: @cpauls1).

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If you’re just joining us, in Part One we looked at TSR’s Battlesystem, introduced this campaign’s world (Craig’s novel The Sun and the Saber), and briefly surveyed fantasy wargaming in general. In Part Two we’ve set up the table, compared both armies and the strategies of both players, and kicked off the battle proper.

Now it’s time to return to table, were huge armies of beautifully-painted miniatures are already on the march and about to collide.

Now Where Were We?

Oriskany Reviews the Battle’s Opening

At the end of part two we looked at the opening of the battle, where (after a quick council of war with my team), we decided on a fast, high-firepower punch around the right side. If we could get through that gap between the castle ruins and the wooded edge of the table, we just might be able to collapse Craig’s left wing against his centre.

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This is a glorious thing about Battlesystem – it allows a smaller, faster army to use the very size of the opposing army against them. If you can rout an enemy unit, it doesn’t just vanish like in other games. It actually turns around and flees, and if it hits another enemy unit, it can actually cause that unit to rout, which can rout another unit, and so on.

Craig Adds the Legion’s Perspective

A timely ice wall and dragon fire has temporarily stuffed the attack on my left…hopefully long enough for me to anchor a refused flank on the corner of the ruin and deploy down the road behind the trees. Regardless of the outcome, however, Orik Shano’s flank attack has already succeeded in that he has effectively pinned my left brigade.

This is because I will have to leave at least some units here to protect my wing, which will limit my push up the central road (no unit in this brigade can venture beyond my brigade commander’s 13.5” command radius). Yes, orc commanders suck.

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The dragon had trouble staying aloft with the paladin’s lance dangling from its forehead and went down in front of the bottled up cavalry, but all is not lost. It’s still alive, and if I can win the next initiative it will be able to roast another twenty barbarians before getting stuck full of pointy things.

I would have rather used the beastie to soften up the enemy centre prior to a troll charge, but I’m not entirely unhappy with its sacrifice. But, the dragon finally dies, the ice wall goes down, and enemy cavalry is soon pouring through the breach in my left wing.

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No plan crosses the start line intact. Ergo, new plan: delay with skirmish and ice walls in the centre while the archers trundle into position on the hill, and then push with the right brigade. Orik Shano is pouring a lot of troops into his right hook, which should weaken his left.

Although the enemy isn’t doing too bad on my left, there’s been some trepidation in the enemy centre, perhaps due to inexperience, and so far I’m happy to have come away without a bloody nose.

Oriskany Falters in the Centre

So far, I was pretty happy with the situation on my right, where a fast and high-powered force had hooked around the enemy flank and now threatened his wing. In the centre and the left, however, the picture didn’t look so rosy.

One, the orcs hadn’t really committed to a big frontal smash up the centre. It looked like they were going to, but now that they haven’t, that big flank attack might not be as juicy as I once hoped. Also, if we didn’t launch our own big frontal attack in the centre, and NOW, our prized flanking force on the right could well be cut off and destroyed.

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So I had no choice. In went the frontal attack. Fortunately, I had the right units for it, namely the heavy cavalry and triple-ranked pike men. They were well-supported by my longbows on high ground behind them, and they had plenty of Vinmarck infantry bracing their left wing.

Unfortunately, the enemy wasn’t accommodating my plans. Most of Craig’s infantry was being protected by more and more of those damned ice walls. Front companies of orcs had “set spears” (holding in place against expected cavalry charge), and the marsh trolls stood on high ground by the castle ruins, which meant I couldn’t charge them.

I’ll fully admit, Craig’s defensive posture in the centre really tossed me a curve ball. Furthermore, my lack of experience as a fantasy or magical player REALLY showed here, I didn’t realise for at least three turns that my Priests of Anthos could dispel those ice walls, or launch devastating spiritual hammers or flame strikes of their own.

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Finally the heavy cavalry attacked the marsh trolls. This part of the battle was hardly a blitz, however, since neither of us could charge the other. Instead it degenerated into a gruelling grind, a terrible waste of one of my prime assault units. But at least Craig couldn’t divert too many units against that all-important right hook.

Craig Holds The Centre

The troll charge into the heavy cavalry won’t end well, but I’ll take that trade. Having the cavalry engaged, even for a turn or two, gives me greater freedom of movement. The archers are moving into position unhindered and will soon be able to cover my refused left, while supporting the advance on my right.

The ice devil, left to its own devices, called a friend. Between it and the barbed devils, I’ve managed to pounce on isolated spell casters to keep them from affecting the larger battle. They should have been travelling within the ranks of a unit, or with a powerful fighter, given the devils’ ability to teleport without error and get in their face.

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My centre has become bunged up with skirmish and ice walls, and I can sense the frustration mounting across the table, where the honey whiskey now flows like blood. I actually didn’t expect the ice barriers to last long, as each brigade has a cleric whose load-out includes ‘dispel magic’ scrolls.

Having said that, the ice wall on my left flank has been vaporised by the druid, and the forces behind it are on the move again. I made the mistake of charging his cavalry with one of my pike companies and got ‘entangled’ by more druidic magic; the spell immobilized them.

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I tried to send over an orc shaman with a scroll but he got picked off by the paladin…should have taken my own advice about moving alone in the open. Damn you, enemy ‘air cover!’

Meanwhile, back at the ruin, I’ve been forced to plug my brigade command group into the gap left by my charging pike men, while nearby a battle is raging for control of the route through the ruins and into the trolls’ flank. There the heroes are dismantling everything I can throw at them: a pair of ettins and five barbed devils thus far.

All this aside, I’m satisfied with my overall position.

Oriskany Takes Stock

As the battle continues to develop, it becomes more and more apparent the game will end in stalemate. Near the castle, our heavy cavalry is locked in mutual annihilation with the marsh trolls. Player characters are bogged down in fights against barbed devils. The left wing is in a woodland slaughter against hundreds of orcs and going nowhere.

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The biggest heartbreak comes on the right. Apparently I got confused about how I was allowed to set up my brigades, and those medium cavalry were assigned to the wrong command group. When my error comes to light, they’re out of command, and must withdraw four feet back the way they came, then three feet to the left wing.

There goes the “right hook,” and thus the game.

Still, there are local successes in the centre. Once I finally figure out what my Priests of Anthos can do, the ice walls start coming down and I manage some “inside” flank attacks against orc units where their line is starting to angle and buckle. I finally start inflicting some casualties, but never actually break a unit.

However, it’s getting very late by this time and we have to call the game. There are at least seven or eight players here, after all, and people have jobs and other commitments in the morning.

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Craig has called the game a draw, but I think he’s being generous. While we both lost about the same number of units, the Sun Empire fielded the smaller force and our units were more expensive. Our one bright spot was our hook around the right, which I managed to screw up on a rule technicality six turns previously.

Still, the game was a tremendous amount of fun and an immense learning experience. I hadn’t spent any time in the fantasy genre in at least twenty years (and even then, very little time), so I fully admit I was “out-generaled” at this table. My team certainly did their best and inflicted tremendous damage. And yes, we held our end of the field.

What did you think of this battle? Do you have any stratagems you might have used against either Legion or the Sun Empire? Drop your comments below, and let us know what you might have done differently in the Battle of the Bonefields!

By @oriskany@cpauls1

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"The dragon had trouble staying aloft with the paladin’s lance dangling from its forehead..."

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