Pig Wars – Viking raiders repulsed
As I noted in the last post, our group has recently been smitten by the Viking bug and has started to paint figures and explore rules for some Dark Ages skirmish gaming with a bit of Heroic Saga thrown in. A couple of weeks ago, Mik and Bob tried out a game using Bob’s Clans and Companies rules and last week a few of us got together to play Tod Kershner’s Pig Wars. I had played Pig Wars a good bit back in Texas, where my good friend Mike used the rules to do scenarios between the Picts and Romans around Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. So I tracked down a copy of the rules (now available as a PDF directly from the author) and wrote up a quick scenario.
I added a few tweaks to the rules to suit our group’s tastes (mainly increasing movement and shooting ranges to reflect the big tables we enjoy) and devised a set of cards that would provide our Heroic Saga element by giving some models extra bonuses such as a combat bonus for an heirloom weapon or a morale bonus for a purportedly magical standard and by providing for special events during the game such as extra morale checks due to bad omens or a particularly gruesome death.
The scenario started with a couple of Viking bands (20 man units of mixed experience and weaponry) entering the table from the north in pursuit of a small group of 5 monks fleeing from the nearby monastery. Two of the monks were carrying a chest full of the monastery’s gold and silver plate and one of them also had a small box containing the Holy Toe Bone of St. Cuthbert. In the center was a small farmstead and a number of cattle were spread about the center of the table, tended by a small group of villagers. The Saxons had received reports of Viking ships moving up the coast and had called out some of the local troops. A group of Saxon Fyrd started near the south end of the table and a group of mounted Saxon Huscarls was riding to the scene. The Vikings mission was to gather as much booty as possible while the Saxons were trying to shepard their cattle and valuables (including the Holy Relic) south to safety.
The game opened with the monks fleeing before the Vikings and the villagers moving to round up their herd (abandoning those animals too close to the onrushing Northmen). The Vikings were able to get within range for some arrow shots and both of the monks carrying the chest were pincushioned. However, the other three, along with the villagers, continued to draw a favorable move sequence that allowed them to stay out ahead of the Vikings. They withdrew behind the Fyrd as they moved up into the center of the table and formed two lines of shield walls on either side of a small wooded area. After a desultory exchange of archery, Bob’s Viking band closed on the Saxon shield wall closest to town, led by the berserkers. However, his band (as well as my own) had gotten somewhat strung out, with the less armored troops moving faster and so he hit the Saxon wall piecemeal. The Fyrd were able to kill off the berserkers and a couple of more Vikings and when one of their numbered died in a most horrifying and spectacular fashion, the rest of Bob’s group turned and ran (i.e. Tom played a Gruesome Death Saga card at the death of one of Bob’s Vikings, forcing a morale test which Bob failed). Bob was able to rally the troops, but Tom had been given room to regroup and reform his line.
On the other side of the small wooded area my own band of Vikings was approaching the other half of the Fyrd. Having learned a lesson from Bob, I waited for some of my band to catch up, although some of my better armored troops still lagged behind. However, when my force hit the Fyrd shield wall it contained a couple of enraged berserkers and a couple of veterans wielding double-handed axes and I was able to inflict some casualties. I had a couple of militia grade raw recruits in my band and dispatched those to round up some loot and they moved to lay claim to the treasure chest and a cow and started dragging those toward the north edge.
While these infantry fights were going on, Tom’s mounted Huscarls had arrived and were riding toward the fighting. He split these into two groups, sending some into the hamlet to take on Bob’s Vikings and some around to the east side of the table to aid the Fyrd against me. On village side the Huscarls eventually charged into Bob’s mail armored veterans who held off the initial charge. On my side the horsemen arrived as my archers were attempting to outflank the line of Fyrd. Faced with the option of getting off a last bow shot or dropping the bow and unslinging my shield, I chose to try and bring them down with the bows. Bad, bad idea. The horsemen’s armor easily defeated the only bowshot that hit and in the ensuing melee the archers were caught without their shields or side weapons and were all three killed easily. Tom them turned the horsemen into the side of my troops fighting the Fyrd, but I luckily escaped with minimal casualties. The same was not true when the straggling remnants of my band hit his engaged horsemen on the flanks and killed off three of them. The Huscarls failed a morale test and were forced to fall back (including the ones facing Bob).
At this point, things were looking bad for the Northmen. I had destroyed many of the Fyrd on my side, but had lost many of my men as well and was down to only a handful. Bob’s force was stronger, but had also not made much of a dent in the Anglo-Saxon ranks. I decided to pull back, hoping to get off the table with at least some loot. I abandoned the cow to speed up movement of the treasure chest and tried to make a get away. However, Tom’s cavalry rallied and reofrmed to charge after my fleeing Vikings. A lost standard and a failed morale test resulted in my two raw recruits dropping the chest and fleeing the scene. There will be no place in Vahalla for them! With our time at an end, the Saxons were declared overwhelming victors, having saved most of their cattle, the Holy Toe Bone of St. Cuthbert, and killed off many Vikings.
The game was great fun and we all really enjoyed the Pig Wars rules. The combat and morale mechanisms use a deck of playing cards instead of the usual dice and once you get the hang of the relatively few modifiers, you can rapidly cycle through combats even though they are conducted on a figure by figure basis. The Saga cards worked well too, offering an element of the Heroic to the game and adding those little events (such as the Gruesome Death or one of Bob’s archers running out of ammo) that add the story telling aspect that I personally find important for the feel of skirmish gaming. We were definitely ready to declare Pig Wars a keeper and stop searching about for Dark Ages rules although these are probably best for raids, blood feuds, and such scenarios – we’d likely use a different set of rules to do a set piece battle (although you can use Pig Wars for such games). Of course we’ll need to get the input of the other Viking participants in the group.