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AMW test drive : Two Shieldwalls

In this post I examine the first of three battles involving dark age shieldwalls using my latest 1/72 plastics armies

The Anglo-Saxon list in AMW offers the following

Nobles – Dark Age Infantry – medium armour, Elite between 1-3 units

Peasants – Dark Age Infantry – light armour, Average between 4-6 units

Archers – Light Infantry (bow) – light armour, Levy between 0-1 units

Special rules

Shieldwall can be adopted by both Nobles and Peasants. This formation imposes movement limits while providing enhanced saving rolls equivalent to the best you can get.

Integral Archers gives extra firepower to a unit just in the first turn of combat

Cavalry – one unit of nobles can be reclassed as

Cavalry – Heavy Cavalry – light armour, Elite

The warband option only applies to armies before 600AD and is mandatory before that date. I was interested in the shieldwall so my armies were post 600AD and in fact more like 900AD, what’s a few hundred years in dark age time………..

The Gloom of morning catches the scene – Rebels in the foreground with the Kings men approaching in the distance

I opted for two identical armies conveniently named Wessex 1 (Kings Earl) and Wessex 2 (Rebel Earl). Nothing like some internal dissention.

The 8-unit armies were both the same.

2 units of Nobles

4 units of Peasants

Shieldwall capability applied to the above 6 units

1 unit of Archers

1 unit of Cavalry

I had intended to give the rebels the integral archery option but forgot to do that in the actual game. So much for testing!

The core of each army were peasants and noble units forming shieldwall

The six infantry units squared up against each other while the light infantry supported the right wing in each case with the Cavalry withdrawn on the left.

The Rebel Earl stood with his men in the Shieldwall
These Kings men look like interlopers both mounted and on foot, hmmmmm

The nobles were in the centre of each line and both lines matched each other so as the battle got underway it was noble against noble and peasant against peasant. I did not pitch each leader’s unit against each other though. Remember that the leader confers no extra benefit or disadvantage if lost.

At the centre of both lines the leaders fought adjacent to each other, something which would affect the battle outcome in an unexpected way.

The Kings men expected to make short work of these insolent rebels.

The sun began to shine although the glare did not seem to affect the rebels on the left flank

In the early stages, it was the rebels who made rapid gains on both flanks racking up hits before everything hit a stalemate or rather a slower rate of hits, now being equally inflicted.

The Kings men of the left flank take an early barrage of hits omniously.
On the rebel left the Kings men were just taking a bit more punishment than they handed out. Maybe these rebels were no pushover after all

Finally, the left flank peasant unit of the Kings army fled the field after some hard fighting. And even the Cavalry behind them were no support to keep them in line.

The left flank peasant shieldwall dark age infantry reduced to a yellow ring indicating two bases left had already incurred 3 of the 4 available hits left to them on this ring. Three hits (yellow dice) were incurred while no saving throws made the cut (orange, 3,1,2 versus required 6) so with one base lost a nasty twist in AMW rules is triggered – throw for morale due to a base loss. Here the Kings men needed 4-6 and threw a measly 2. Already down to one base that went as well.
The left wing of the Kings men leave the field in full view of the cavalry reserve
The Kings men cavalry reserve approaches the shieldwall which was now reforming. As they came up to the line the levy archers poured a few arrows into the hapless cavalry

These Kings horsemen rode into the fray. They crashed into the victorious rebel peasant unit who held them. The battle now continued until the rebels centre crumpled and a noble unit turned tail. The triumphant Kings Army Leader drove forward into the gap and turned onto the Rebel Leaders flank to deliver the killer blow. However, the rebel cavalry charged into the centre and took the Kings Noble Leader unit in the rear.

A rebel nobles unit on a yellow ring and with 2 hits remaining repeats the same trick of losing a base to combat (yellow 4,6 versus orange saving throws of 1,2) and then their remaining base to morale (green 2 when a 3-6 would have done the job)
The rebel nobles unit retires leaving the Kings men with the opportunity to exploit the collapse of the rebel centre.
The rebel leader and the right flank are dangerously weak with 2 red rings and one yellow
the kings men leader attacks the rebel leader while the rebel cavalry reserve come to the rescue of their leader
Now the tables are turned as the Kingsmen leader unit is caught in the rear by the Rebel cavalry

Meanwhile the Kings own cavalry unit gave up its fight with the rebel peasants and left the field. And in the centre the Kings Leading Nobles also succumbed, failing to destroy the Rebel nobles and unable to deal with the Rebel Cavalry attacking their rear.

On the Kings men left flank their own cavalry have had enough and retire
The kingsmen leader unit routs and the adjacent peasant shieldwall joins them.

A Kings Army peasant unit also abandoned the fight at this point.

Th Kings Army had now been reduced to just 1 noble unit, 1 peasant unit and 1 unit of archers. All three of these units were quickly attacked by the Rebels. The result was no longer in doubt. And the first to flee were the nobles!

The remaining Kings men shieldwall is now outflanked while the archers on the right flank can do little but watch their army disperse and look to their own survival.
The end of resistance by the Kings men as the last noble unit abandons the field

With just two Kings Army units remaining the Rebels had the field and could celebrate a great victory.

The Kings Army had melted away and now the Rebels could enjoy their freedom for a while.

in this game I used rings and dice. You could use coloured dice to achieve the same result although I think the combination is quite neat.
The battle turned on situations where the combat losses forced a morale test which when you fail it can be devastating – here a unit goes from blue (4 bases) through green (3 bases) and onto yellow (2 bases). Yes I know its really pale blue in the photo but the middle ring looks green in real life – ok thats sea green!

The casualty method I adopted here was to show nothing where a unit had all 4 bases intact with no losses. When the first hits were incurred the unit acquired a dark blue ring and a die showing hits received. A pale blue/green ring showed a unit was now on three bases. No die meant all 4 hits were intact. More casualties took units through yellow rings for just two bases remaining before the last remaining base was indicated by a red ring. You could use coloured dice of course.

The game uses saving throws which is something of a regression for some rule writers. In a way you get no more dice rounds than DBA – one for one against. What you do get more of is the number of die thrown for a unit in a fight. That’s the buckets of dice syndrome. That means you throw 4 dice at full strength instead of always just one in DBA per base/unit. On the upside even DBA has the dreaded list of “plus or minus factors” and AMW only uses this approach in the optional rules per army which add some flavour.

With no push backs the line remains static or rather you don’t see the push and shove and gradual break down of the line: It is not played out physically by the gamer, so you have to imagine it happening. This is a greater abstraction than DBA where the push back is required to be seen and of course gives combat benefits being integral to the next or adjacent base combat. DBA push back also alerts both players to outcomes allowing helicopter management: Appropriate for tournament play maybe. Of course, “transparency” is a competition issue and “imagination” has no place in tournament play.

During the slogging match the rebels were losing and at times it looked like the king’s men would make the decisive shieldwall breakthroughs. In fact, it was the Cavalry that made the difference. The king’s cavalry filled a gap in the line but were then quickly seen off by the shield wall peasants. The rebel cavalry was far more useful when the kings leading nobles exposed their rear in attacking the rebel leaders.

The moves I made were all logical – in the heat of battle why would you not descend on your enemy leader’s rear to finish him off and Leaders wheeling to expose a flank or rear – so what – those cavalry in the distance might not move our way……but they did.

For both armies I sent in the cavalry in response to an adverse situation that would be seen by the cavalry sat patiently to the nearby.

The combats were close such that on another day it might be the rebels fleeing from the field.

History Note: If you accept that Anglo-Saxons rode to war, which I do, then the army list is fine. The two situations in the battle (allowed under the rules) suggest why their use may have been more restricted and why the rules could be amended.

The Kings Cavalry charged a Shieldwall that had just defeated another Shieldwall. If we allow for the defeated men to drift away the cavalry will have been faced with a tired but formed body of men experiencing euphoria and relief. It is possible to conceive that the cavalry leader believed they were so tired that he could drive them off. In the event the Shieldwall reformed and defeated the cavalry. That seems reasonable as well.

In the other situation the cavalry reserve could see their own centre begin to collapse and after they own men had streamed away, they could see the “backs” of enemy troops. That assumes they could tell the difference at a distance. It seems reasonable to make that assumption because their own men had just left a gap in the Shieldwall line. With the backs of the enemy in sight why not charge into the fray.

In both cases it is about the morale and the decision to move rather than the outcome of the subsequent fight. And AMW allows you freedom to move. No pips, no movement decisions testing and no morale tests prior to moving.

AMW Rules note

On the face of just one playtest the temptation is to put in some control. AMW is attractive because it lacks the rule quantity of other sets. Restricting decisions to move or rather introducing wide ranging controls feels wrong here. Can we solve this problem another way? I think so and the answer lies in AMW having optional rules.

The Anglo-Saxon cavalry was an optional rule itself.

AMW House Rule No1

Anglo-Saxon Cavalry are permitted in battle and may advance into combat areas. They may charge into contact. After one turn of fighting they withdraw one full move unless they have at least one more base advantage than the unit they attacked.

So, the thinking here is that unless they make some rapid impact, turning the fight in their favour, they will use their mobility to withdraw before being destroyed.

This is not such a punishing rule as it seems. The withdrawn cavalry remains a threat and effectively may pin the opposition or at least make them think twice about their next moves. And they remain one of the three units required by the whole army to stay in the fight.

I think this rule reflects the likelihood of Anglo-Saxon cavalry being opportunists and pursuers in battles where the victory tide has turned one way or another.


The game was enjoyable and the result fine. I must admit allowing either army to fight with 3 units always looks a bit odd. Yet if you think in terms of abstraction – there are other men on the field all retiring or surrendering and not modelled. The few units left on the field show where the remaining core of resistance still exists. I can live with that.

One final thought is that shieldwalls are strong. How strong are they against a concerted cavalry attack though?

In my next post I will explore the classic dark ages infantry versus cavalry conflict.

By lorenzoseventh

Wargaming in an erratic style

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