Yesterday, I had the pleasure of playing a 28mm Crusader game in our annual Summer Extravaganza to North Devon hosted by my old friend and fellow Devon Wargames member Charles "Chas" Carter.
Chas has regularly hosted this event in our calender, with last years game portraying the Battle of Balaclava. This year's game was based loosely of the Battle of Hattin 1187 when the Crusader army under Guy of Lusignan of about 20,000 men was destroyed by the Muslim army of Saladin numbering about 30,000 men.
Our game assumed the Crusader army had discovered a suitable watering place en route and was marching determinedly to the relief of the fortress at Tiberius; the Saracen army are equally determined to see that that would not happen
Battle of Hattin
The table shows the initial set up with the Crusader army in column of Battles with the Cross of the True Believer carried in the centre proceeded by my own Battle commanded by the "Bonking" Bishop of Acre, a fearsome warrior knight of the cloth, with a bounty on his head due to his terrible reputation for not offering quarter (We commanders, each had to draw a secret trait of our character that revealed positive and/or negative attributes, with my leader worth double the trophy points for any Saracen commander who should cause his early demise).
Chas led the briefing for the day explaining the objectives for both sides and setting up the card deck that decided the order each pair of opposing commanders would activate and fight their commands, with the initiative being decided at the beginning of each turn by a die roll from the overall commanders. The basic objectives were for the Crusaders to get their army and their holy cross off the table en route to the fort at Tiberius, whilst the Saracens would attempt to prevent either or both of them. In addition trophy points could be assessed for various personal objectives achieved and opposing units destroyed.
|The Vanguard of the Christian Forces|
This was to be my first game playing Deus Vult and having seen the guys at club playing warm up games prior to this, the big one, I was very keen to see how they played.
|The King's Battle surround the Cross of the True Believer|
Having completed the briefings, the opposing senior commanders diced off to see who would have the initiative and having secretly composed their own deck of cards, each with the name of a player in their army, in order of play, began to draw out the names to start the game; with the Saracens winning the initiative but allowing the Crusaders to move off, not knowing exactly where the threat lay.
|My character, the Bishop of Acre, directs his battle to cover the exits in the hills|
This first move led to some confusion in Crusader ranks as we had all been given orders to move out from the column to protect various approach routes to the Cross, that remained moving forward in the centre. The Bishops orders were to move towards the high ground and rough going to prevent any surprise attack from that quarter. It was only after the positioning of Saracen entry point markers that we could see that that area was not threatened and an about face order would be required.
|Unsure of where the threat lay, the Crusader forces turned outwards to protect the cross|
The first attacks when they came were from Saracen forces deployed to the rear of the Crusader column. As the Saracen cavalry advanced they and their archers peppered the Crusader ranks with flights of arrows causing casualties and disorders along the serried ranks of spear men and armoured horsemen.
|The Vanguard pushes forward|
Undeterred by the arrow fire, the Crusader forces advanced outwards towards their respective table edges, deploying their forces into battle formations and prepared to face the threat in their area.
|The Crusaders attempt to form a protected corridor for the Cross|
|The Bishop of Acre's Order of Knights flank the ranks of Volunteer Pilgrims|
|Spear men, Sergeants at Arms and Knights form a solid block|
Unknown to the Crusader commanders, was a ploy by the Saracens to draw off the centre Battles towards their columns right flank. The Saracen units were attempting to deploy closer to the rear areas and thus leave the Crusader battles of the King and the Bishop of Acre facing empty ground. The required 50/50 die roll frustrated this plan, and the Saracen force was finally deployed in front of two powerful Crusader formations. With no alternative the Saracens prepared to give battle and tie up the King's and Bishops forces for as long as possible by selling their lives dearly.
|The Bishop of Acre encourages his men|
The Crusader plan was almost the exact opposite in that it was decided to use the King's and Bishop's forces to aggressively destroy any Saracen forces on their right flank so as to free themselves to support the Vanguard or Rearguard as required whilst also protecting the passage of the cross creeping slowly forward at four inches per turn.
|Saracens move forward to stop the advance|
As the two armies gradually deployed and the initial skirmish fire attacks were concluded, the first close combats started, as both forces came to grips. Having never played these rules before I was very interested to see how the capabilities compared with what I understood of this period of warfare.
Quite clearly the Saracen forces were highly mobile, very often more lightly armoured, and practically everyone carried a bow. Thus the predictable tactics of shoot to kill and disorder the more heavily armoured Christian troops, preceding a furious charge by the more fanatical or better armoured elements of the Saracen forces, in an attempt to capitalise on the earlier shooting. The combat system works, using a fairly standard approach, of trying to get as many 4, 5, or 6's on as many d6's as you can muster; with the 6's likely to cause figure losses to the unit affected and the 4 and 5's adding to the number of potential disorder checks needed to be avoided.
|Saracens, "fousands of em"|
The two big "no no's" to avoid are being hit by a charge, i.e. you want to be the charger, and if you are hit, try not to be disordered when it happens. Both these situations increase the risk of you having a horrible day. If your opponent happens to be riding a big horse with all his mates going in the same direction and they are covered, head to foot, in the latest all metal battle suits from their favourite gentleman's outfitters for "everything you need to wear on the Crusades" and also happen to be carrying a large wooden pole with a sharp pointy bit on the end, then your horrible day is about to get a lot worse.
|The battle lines are drawn up|
Obviously the best ways to avoid these no no's of playing Deus Vult is to try and get your force into a position to charge your opponent and hope that your commander is able to give you the option to charge first. Better still, try to make sure the target of your charge is disordered and try to avoid tackling men on horses covered in armour with big pointy sticks unless there are not many of them and they too are disordered, and even then be careful. The last point really applies to Saracen commanders.
With these few pointers, quickly mastered and absorbed, I waded into battle.
|Saracens attack the rear guard|
The two forces came to grips first at either end of the Crusader column and with the arrow fire coming in from the Saracens and the often more effective killing power in hand to hand of the Crusaders, the fighting became a close run affair with gaps appearing in both ranks. The initiative gained by the opposing senior commanders took on an ever more important decision as sub commanders along the column vied for getting the drop on their opposite number. It was interesting to see that very often matching sub commanders were selected by their commanders without any prior knowledge of the order of choice.
|Lots of spears and bows. With all the arrows flying about, many Crusaders developed a feather allergy|
The Crusader forces in the Rearguard quickly established a partial control, although poor old Nathan was having a mare of a day with the dice gods.
|The Saracen bows "darken the sky" with their volleys of arrows|
The Vanguard forces were facing a very serious threat with large numbers of bow armed armoured Saracen cavalry supported by Ghazi infantry and spear men. The Crusaders at the head of the column would have to hold their ground for as long as possible until the centre was secured.
|Crusader allied skirmish cavalry take up the challenge|
|The Saracen commander leading the attacks on the rear of the column - Nice work Nick|
|The view with all but one of the Saracen Battles deployed, with a large gap in the centre left. The Bishop's troops, close by the Cross, have about faced to join the King facing that potential area of threat.|
|The same view from the Saracen lines, with a large attack building on the rear of the Crusader column|
|More troops advance on to threaten the front of the column, with fanatical Ghazis closest to camera|
|The Saracens fire arrows into the head of the column with the Crusader spear men getting good service from their shields|
|Saracen spear men support hoards of bow armed light cavalry|
|Saracen spear men and archers make best use of the broken ground on the Crusader flank|
|More cavalry move to assist the Crusader vanguard in holding off the initial attacks|
With both ends of the column heavily engaged, the focus on the centre became more pronounced. The Saracens were keen to tie up the heavily armed centre battles, under the King and the Bishop of Acre, for as long as possible, whilst striving for a breakthrough at the other points. For the Crusaders the exact opposite applied, and a quick resolution of the Saracen threat with as little cost as possible would free up powerful forces to assist elsewhere.
|And then they appeared. The final Saracen force with the King and the Bishop of Acre's Battles ready to attack|
As the Bishop, I had a front row seat in this part of the battle, and only just having counter marched my force to move alongside that of the King, the Saracen force deployed to our front.
This deployment was problematic as the counter march had separated the mounted sergeants from my direct control, and thus a powerful mounted formation would not be available to me at the start of our fight. In addition, as part of my attempt to gather all my troops under my direct command, I had left the Bishop nearer to the mounted sergeants in the hope of getting them under command in the next turn. This had left my spear men out of control, and it was they who bore the brunt of the first Saracen charge of fanatical Ghazi infantry.
|Meanwhile the combat develops at the rear as knights prepare to settle matters|
|And the Cross advances inspiring all those who believe and see its progress through the ranks|
The Ghazis bellowed out their war cry and crashed into the ranks of spear men who braced themselves for the shock. They were on their own and the Bishop could only watch and hope they could hold their ground until support from the Bishop's Order of Knights could lend a hand. Ever watchful, the Saracens deployed spear men to guard the flank of the Ghazi charge, and to counter this threat the Bishop thinned their ranks with crossbow fire from the Naval Volunteers.
|The Bishops spear men, top centre, absorb the first Saracen charge by the Ghazis, as the Naval Volunteers armed with Crossbows peeper the support unit preparing the ground for the Bishops knights to attack. The Volunteer Pilgrims |
The spear men fought gallantly and though pushed back by the shock of the charge only lost two of their number and avoided becoming disrupted. More importantly they had held the Ghazis in combat and drawn them closer to friendly support.
|The opposing cavalry clash as the spear men prepare to engage at the rear of the Crusader column|
|Surprise! The Bishop's Knights charge the flak of the Ghazis, as the Mounted Sergeants cover their flank. The Bishop oversees the battle amid his infantry|
With the Bishops men to have their move, the spear men fought back inflicting a couple of casualties on the Ghazis and pushing them back. The mounted sergeants finally rejoined the Bishop's command and, moving forward, covered the Knights who, instead of charging the spear men, charged into the flank of the Ghazis destroying over a quarter of the unit and disordering them in the process. This time the Bishop very carefully positioned himself to keep all his forces well under command.
|The fighting was fierce and close up at the front of the column as the Saracens attempted to create a gap towards the Cross|
|The Saracen reserve waited to see the outcome of their first attacks on the Crusader Vanguard|
As the fight for the centre was in full sway, the rear was becoming gradually more secure as further Saracen units were either destroyed or in the case of their archers driven from the table, keen to evade men with sharp pointy sticks.
|The battle of attrition was drawing in reserves from both sides as they attempted to achieve a breakthrough|
The battle for the Vanguard was a more desperate affair as despite stiff resistance, gaps were appearing in Crusader ranks and some Saracen units had a clear view of the Cross. Both sides had uncommitted heavy cavalry units and with the need for a breakthrough growing, the next few moves would probably decide the fate of the front of the Crusader column.
|The fighting against the rearguard was also unremitting|
The fight for the centre was still in full sway and this time the Bishops cavalry gained the initiative. The mounted sergeants charged forward into the ranks of Saracen spear men pinning the unit in combat but not strong enough to defeat them in one charge. However they had done their job and given the knights and Crusader spear men the opportunity to destroy the Ghazis. In the return match the Saracen spear men destroyed the mounted sergeants and opened up the Bishops force of Pilgrims who were marching parallel to the Cross to a surprise flank charge from newly arrived Saracen cavalry. If that wasn't bad enough the spear men were now able to charge into the flank of the Bishops knights!
|Halfway through the game and both sides are locked in battle along the length of the table with no decisive outcome and all to play for|
|With battle this intense, the Crusaders refresh their troops, with a few of Saladin's boys grabbing a beer as well|
|Units around the table were displaying large gaps in their ranks|
|And still the Saracens kept coming|
|The last reserves are fed into the battle|
The battle for the centre hung in the balance as the Bishops forces braced themselves for two flank attacks. The knights struck in the flank suffered a casualty but managed to break off disordered. The Saracen cavalry then charged into the flank of the Volunteer Pilgrims destroying half the unit in the first combat, but miraculously, they held their ground. It was only the Pilgrims between the Saracen cavalry and the Cross. Something had to be done and quickly.
|The Bishops knights find themselves flanked having destroyed the Ghazi infantry. The King's Battle turns in support.|
The new Saracen cavalry unit top left is about to charge the Pilgrims in the flank.
We were now into the final moves of the game and the day, and it was now that the battle turned for the last time. In the rearguard, we had a dual between opposing commanders which went the way of the Saracens. This was inconsequential as the fighting was over with Crusader units in control of the situation.
|The battle of the Vanguard reaches it's crescendo|
In the centre the King got the drop on the Saracens and before they knew what had hit them, the last unit of spear men and the cavalry in combat with the pilgrims were charged in the rear by the King's men and destroyed in situ. The Cross was secure.
|Frankish spear men at bay with Ghazis to their front and cavalry on their flank|
|The Volunteer Pilgrims are decimated by a Saracen cavalry charge on their flank as the King's troops close in to support the Bishop's forces and protect the Cross|
|The Kings forces close in ready to destroy the Saracen force to their front. The Pilgrims fight desperately to hold their ground.|
The final hurrah came from the Crusader force in the Vanguard as both sides committed their remaining heavy cavalry forces to decide events in their area. After all the dust had settled two Saracen cavalry units were destroyed and the balance in the area had swung back to the forces of Christendom.
|The Saracen attacks on the rearguard start to fall apart|
|Crusader knights take control at the rear of the column|
|The front of the column is still heavily contested as Saracen attacks fall away elsewhere|
|The King's knights with the aid of the Bishop's infantry remove the threat to the Cross in the centre|
With dinner ready to be served we called it a day. We had been playing from 10.30am and finished at 7.45pm. We had on the table, for the Crusaders, 150 cavalry, 300 infantry and for the Saracens, 200 cavalry and 350 infantry. The game had progressed along at a good pace and there was as usual plenty of good humoured banter and lots of laughs.
I really enjoyed my first game of Deus Vult, it is obvious that they were written with a passion for this period in history and seem to capture that very well. I don't think the rule book is the easiest to follow, set of rules I have read, but that is the only small issue I could point to.
This kind of game takes a lot of planning and preparation and I would like to thank Chas for pulling the day together and to my fellow gamers, Steve H, Steve M, Nick, Mike, Clive, John, Vince, Andy and Nathan for an excellent weekend. Good Times.