Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Arrowstorm: The Attack on St. Jean

I've catapulted myself back into my Hundred Years War mania. This is my one true period of hobby sickness. I only game the period in 28mm, but I have two separate projects going-one that uses singly mounted figures, another that has multiple figures mounted on 50mm square bases. It's by far my largest collection of painted and unpainted figures. I admit it, I love the historical period, and I think there is fun stuff I can do with small actions as well as large battles. For the big battles I'll use the Crusader Rules or Medieval Warfare, though I am far from being able to play either at this time. I probably have close to 400 singly mounted figures at this time, and I do plan a few more, but I can run most skirmishy sorts of games that interest me. The rules I use are called Arrowstorm, but they are really just a knock-off of the Tactica Medieval Siege rules, with additions for this period. They're intended to be easy and fun, and by and large they are.

One of the actions that's intrigued me for some time is the battle for St. Jean in 1346. It's really just historical footnote to Edward III's Crecy campaign, but it is covered in chapter of Livingstone and Witzel's wonderful The Road to Crecy which covers the entire Crecy campaign. Their account of the sack of the suburbs of Caen on Ile St. Jean had the makings of an interesting game. The battle for these suburbs was an accident, really. The island community was the home of wealthy burghers, who persuaded the Count Eu, in command of Caen's defenses, to commit some of his forces to the defense of the town. Eu fortified the St. Pierre Bridge with barricades and towers commanded the span. He brought some 30 boats up the Odon River and filled them with Genoese crossbowmen. Despite his preparations, Eu's situation was desperate. The tidal river was low, and he was outnumbered by four to one.

The vanguard of the Edward III's army was the young Prince of Wales who, two centuries later would be known as The Black Prince. He was still a wet-behind-the-ears 16-year old who had yet to win his spurs (literally, he was knighted by his father on the eve of Crecy.) His troops were engaged in pillaging the church of St. Pierre, when their attention was drawn to the French defenses. It is quite possible that the Genoese on the boats drew the short straw when they began sniping at them. In any case English troops under the Earl of Warwick rushed to the fight on the bridge and the battle was joined. It was a difficult struggle, and the French fought well. Their end was sealed, however, when Sir Thomas Holland led a flanking force across the marshes at on the Odon and flanked the defenders at the bridge. Though aided by citizens from the town, the situation became hopeless and Eu surrendered. He and his knights were ransomed. The wealthy burghers and their possessions were not so lucky as 2,000 perished and the town was thoroughly ransacked.

I tried to create a fairly balanced scenario to refight a semblance of the St. Jean action using the figures I had available. It was an opportunity for me to paint up some figures I've had for a while-and actually get to play with them, which made it even better. Further, it was excuse to paint up my Merrimac cogs and drag out my Miniature Building Authority buildings, which I love to have an excuse for.

Those who volunteered for this mid-week game were Adrian Nelson, David Sullivan and Tim Barela. Tim and Adrian were the Prince of Wales and Earl of Warwick knocking on the door of the fortification guarding the St. Pierre Bridge and David was the clever Sir Thomas Holland trying to capture the town from the back door.

The defenders of the doomed town were Wes Rogers and his son-in-law John, commanding the town militia types, and Dave Schueler as the Count of Eu. Their mission was to hold the the bridge crossing until turn 10 when Edward III would arrive, get pissed off at his adolescent genius and order a halt to this risky venture.

The game began with Tim doing his best Thomas Erpingham impression, massing his archers to devastate one cog by Arrowstorm. Throwing his baton and thirty die rolls in the air, it came down pierced by errant shafts. Only two hits, and the archers never quite recovered their indignity. Loaded with crossbowmen and light bolt throwers, the Genoese never really stood still for the rain of arrows by the English, and after a couple of turn one of the lonbow units broke. Hampered by supply restrictions, the English began to run out of arrows, reducing their rate of fire considerably. Even so, the dice couldn't remain ridiculously bad forever, and the cogs began to suffer considerably.

On the same front, Adrian began massing his knights for an assault across the bridge. Sadly only one of the scaling ladders was tall enough to top the barbican walls. As the armored troops began to slowly move to the point of assault, Adrian's Welsh troops took a chance on being able to cross the Odon. Moving cautiously, lest his entire command be swept downstream, the lightly equipped Welsh made their way across the river at half speed. Unfortunately, the town defenders quickly slipped troops over to meet them. The Welsh quickly found themselves far away from friends and they were dispatched after a valiant defense.

David found it fairly easy going approaching the town. He maneuvered his two units of longbows from the north board edge around the town and prepared to rain longbow death on its defenders. Out gunned by the English, Wes effectively used barricades and houses to slow down the English advance. David's Breton skirmishers got a little too close and were dispatched by some townie crossbowmen. Nevertheless, when the English longbowmen were finally in place on the south edge of the town, they used their huge missile advantage to slaughter the light infantry at the barricades, as well as driving the defenders on the roof of the barbican below. Though Daveshoe and Wes's troops were able to resist Holland's efforts to capture the fortification, they could not prevent the assault across the bridge.

Adrian marched his knights across the St. Pierre bridge and made a ladder assault that was largely unopposed. When the last handful of crossbowmen were driven below, that was all she wrote. Though the English had taken their time to achieve their victory conditions, they did indeed achieve them.

Overall I was pleased with the result. It was a tight battle, with victory achieved on the tenth and last turn of the game. The English won, but not in a walk. I made some dopey mistakes too. I left the two towers that went with the barbican at home. That should make the fortification at the bridge even stronger. I would allow the French to put troops in the houses even earlier. I'd also allow them to position their light bolt shooters on the barbican rather than just the cogs. I would also allow some space between the bridge and fortification, requiring the French to use some of their barricades to contain that area of advance. I'd also allow them to put barricades on the bridge itself. Next run is at Drumbeat on the 9th.

1 comment:

DeanM said...

Beautiful looking game there. So that's what you guys do when everyone else is working. What am I doing wrong here :)! Dean