Newbury I 00

By sheer coincidence, our host Steve had picked the 1643 battle of Newbury for the Gentlemen Pensioners AGM big battle.

So, in  prep for COW, I got to refight Newbury II 1644 (with Armati II), compact 15mm, on Tuesday, and Newbury I 1643 (with 1644), sprawling 25mm, on Sunday.   It is a pleasure to indulge both approaches back-to-back.

First Newbury was fought south of the town in the fields and common east of Skinner’s Green.   The northern sector was fought amongst heavily hedged enclosures along Darke Lane, the centre for possession of the dominant feature of Round Hill which commanded the key road, the southern sector was fought over the plateau of Wash Common.

Newbury 1643 001(Chris Scott’s map with our table superimposed in white outline)

Or, as we wargamers prefer …

Newbury I 01

The table is, I think, 24 x 6 … and the game had 8 principal players (Royalist: King/Astley/Byron; Rupert; Wilmot; Vavasour … Parliament: Essex; Skippon; Robartes; Stapleton) … I took command of Skippon’s central infantry force holding Round Hill and providing the army’s reserve.

The game allowed the players to determine their own objectives, so although the great cavalry battle on Wash Common took place, possession of Round Hill was not set as an objective and Byron declined to contest it.

Newbury I 02

By mid battle, with command of the centre assured from Round hill, this force pressed across, taking the battle to the Royalists at some cost, though no units were lost, and, together with the left wing, restricting the King’s army to a toe-hold in the Darke Lane enclosures.

Newbury I 03(Newbury I: regiments of foot in action)

On the left, indeed, Robartes took the battle to Vavasour who was pretty much pinned to the first line of hedges, and had some of his first line broken …

Newbury I 04(Newbury I: the battle for Darke Lane)

On the southern flank, Stapleton attacked vigorously but enjoyed none of the initial success he had on the day.  Historically, of course, Rupert enjoyed a huge advantage in cavalry, and just as in 1643, this preponderance drove Stapleton back (though the 1644 rules in use seemed to reward Rupert sitting on his backside in the opening phases, contrary to events on the day) …

Newbury I 05(Newbury I: the huge cavalry scrap for Wash Common – viewed from the North, so Stapleton on your right, Rupert on your left)

The battle for the Southern sector soon became one of destroying Stapleton in detail and setting about Essex’s infantry.   This was governed by some very odd rulings on visibility on the plateau (it was a plateau with a crest, apparently, allowing horse to bully foot frontally without being able to be shot at … a quirky mix of odd terrain interpretations with 1644’s dodgy take on ECW military realities, I suspect …) …

Newbury I 06(Newbury I: Essex pushes across Wash Common)

Historically, of course, Essex was largely pushed off Wash Common, and retired to defend the hedge lines that bordered it (and protected the Parliamentarian rear) … as no such defensive line existed, the Parliamentarian players had to be careful to keep Rupert’s wing in check, losing some troops to envelopment (with no cavalry or terrain to secure them) – however, across the Northern half of the Common, Essex had taken all of the ground, had driven Wilmot’s cavalry off and was engaging Byron and the King.

Newbury I 07(Newbury I: Parliamentarian cavalry have managed to corner and rout some Royalist foot in the fields adjacent to Darke Lane)

And after about 5 hours or so of pushing lead around, we had reached a point where people were needing to organise their journeys and nothing decisive looked to be likely if another few turns were played so the battle concluded (indecisively – which, of course, was what happened historically … although that was a result for Parliament in 1643 as, short of powder, the King’s army withdrew).

At this point, the Royalists declared their victory as they still held Wash Lane (the road to Newbury and so to London) …   Hmmm … well, a ‘score draw’ if ever there was one: at the end of our battle Parliament held more of the field than they did historically, and our miniature opponents did not even attempt the main Royalist objective of the day!

Newbury I 08(Newbury I: end phase – Skippon and Essex driving the Royalists off the northern sector of Wash Common)

I do enjoy these occasional big battles with old friends, and in this case it was a good, day long, opportunity to get a real feel for ‘1644’  – a game which I have seen from time to time at shows (and which always looks good even if the mechanism seem unlikely to work very well).

Drawbacks … this is ‘unreformed’ wargaming … no concession is really made to the demands of depicting a big battle with lots of toys and lots of players on a big table: it is still a small scope game just given more toys and more time.   Inevitably it sort of peters out rather than finishes (as sprawling games often do).  I would also say that 1644 is clearly not particularly good either for ECW or for big games (so isn’t going to help make a ‘big ECW’ game work well).

Positives … games like this do make you think about both the military and reconstructional challenges of a battle like Newbury (undulating plateaus, fighting for hedge lines and enclosures, the importance of objectives and dominant ground) … the importance of historical orders and defining player objectives clearly in game briefings ..) …


1644:  there is little to be gained by pulling 1644 apart line by line: it is a glorified skirmish game with a lot of content that has more to do with toy soldier battles with individual figures than with real ECW regiments in historical battles.   The systems are quite clumsy and have a 1960s ‘last man standing’ effect that doesn’t seem to involve men being driven back in the way accounts of 17th century battle seem to suggest.   That said, they don’t really give you the big picture either.

Of the ECW games I have played recently, they vie for last place with Pike and Shotte … Currently I would still favour Advanced Armati (but as modified on the ECW Armati page here) but if you want more detail, Treb’s ‘Victory Without Squares’ (VWS) combines quite a lot of period detail with a big picture plausible game.  RFCM’s Regiment of Foote has some good points.  FoG-R seems to do a good job, and although they are far too gamey for my liking DBR still gives you the ability to fight big battles.   DBA-RRR is probably what I would go with were not Armati available and better.   Neil Thomas’s rules for this period get infantry combat entirely wrong, and File Leader has no real ‘big picture’.    I think 1644 probably edges in ahead of Pike and Shotte because at least it doesn’t have separated shot running around all over the place like Napoleonic battalions.  Then again, Pike and Shotte has multiple moves so you can, at least, get on with it …

So I think that is where we might end up (with 10 possible rules options in order of suitability for depicting ECW Battles): 1. Armati;  2. VWS;  3. Regiment of Foote;  4. FoG-R;  5. DBA-RRR;  6.  Neil Thomas;  7. DBR;  8.  File Leader;   9. Pike and Shotte;  10. 1644 …  Most, of course, are toy soldier games rather than historical wargames.

In this period, figure/base removal (combined with component rather than ‘whole regiment’ combat mechanisms)  is a disaster as you will always have to resolve whether to take of a musketeer or a pikeman, and military history will provide you with no guide as to which, or as to what the consequences of either might be (i.e. as soon as you select a game format that has individual components and figure or base removal you have reduced the game to guesswork and toy soldier logic).  Thankfully there is no need to do that.

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4 Comments on “FIRST BATTLE OF NEWBURY 1643”

  1. David Span Says:

    You say that Neil Thomas’s rules “get infantry combat entirely wrong”. Neil might see this as quite an accusation! Could you elaborate what you see is wrong?

    • yesthatphil Says:

      Thanks for responding to the post, David …

      The comment is a criticism, not an accusation. Neil knows I like his rules but that have some differences with them – and he has encouraged discussion and criticism.

      As an example of ‘getting it wrong’: when I discussed Neil’s Reformation rules here (18th July, last year), I pointed out how the promising idea of losing musketeers first in firefights, and pikemen first in close combat (so a ‘task orientated’ risk) results in regiments of foot losing all their pikes first, finishing had-to-hand with a last stand of shot. The feel of this is ‘entirely wrong’ and does not give that ‘wall of brasse’ effect we find in accounts of contemporary battle. So, a good idea, but an entirely wrong outcome.

      I think you can’t really replicate historical battles without correcting something as fundamental as this (especially where you have ‘last man standing’ combats as you do in NT wargames).

      As an aside, you can take this as yet another example of how wargames attempting to cover this period but modelling pike and shot components separately fail the simplest of historical tests.

  2. Says:

    No mention of Forlorn Hope as a ECW rules set? I have completed a Edgehill Battle with the rules above and it plays Ok.

    • yesthatphil Says:

      Indeed – Forlorn Hope is another option, and plays well enough … my comment, of course, was not meant to be exhaustive but re games I have played ‘recently’ – so I listed the most recent 10 games I have played in this period and put them in order of preference.

      Funny you should mention Edgehill …

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