Gloucester – a Pike and Shotte what if.
Saturday’s Phalanx show was followed by the now customary Gentlemen Pensioners big game on the Sunday: this time an English Civil War ‘what if’ based on the relief of Gloucester in 1643.
The background is explained in this extract from The Battlefields Trust resources …
Despite few troops and poor provisions the parliamentarian Governor of Gloucester, Colonel Massey, refused to surrender. Unwilling to repeat the heavy losses that had resulted from the storming of Bristol, Charles besieged the city.
The fate of Gloucester was seen as a key factor likely to determine the outcome of the war. The parliamentarians in response were busily equipping and raising troops for Essex’s army in London. At the end of August the Earl of Essex, with an army some 15,000 strong, set out from London the relief of Gloucester. On learning of Essex’s approach Charles raised the siege on the 5th September and withdrew southward. Gloucester had been relieved and re-supplied.
(campaign map reproduced from BCW-project.org)
Our game explored the other option: an attempt by the King to prevent Essex’s army getting to Gloucester. In the game, Parliament had to reach the security of the hedges and enclosures of the Severn valley. They were heavily defended, but losing them would signal that the King’s attempt to prevent the relief of Gloucester would fail.
The rules used were Pike & Shotte from the Black Powder stable. On previous occasions I have not found them to be at all reflective of Civil War battle – but for this game Steve had made some significant changes and it and the parent game are familiar to me (which helps get your head round a big game) so I was keen to give it a go.
The main changes were (a) to depict Regiments of Foot as single, mixed weapons, bodies (rather than brigaded units of pike and shot) … (b) to enable disorder to be removed on a die roll before activations, and allowing disordered troops to withdraw (both to limit the tendency to stall in front of the enemy) and (c) to soften the effects of failed activations (to allow players to get on with the game – especially as it was an 8 player game). All good changes.
I was asked to take the role of the Earl of Essex and command of the army. I gave strong cavalry commands to Will and Dave on the flanks, and Chris and I shared the infantry in the centre. I allocated the main punch to my subordinate figure, Philip Skippon. And we wasted no time setting about the task.
The attack was a little lop-sided … all the troops under my own command pressed forward enthusiastically (low rolls on the activation giving them multiple moves) while the other brigades in the centre failed to move off. This set a pattern.
On the flanks I expected the generally harder charging Royalists to barrel forward and put us under pressure. But on both wings we managed to box them in and take the battle to them. It still should have been tough but we were clearly getting the better of it.
Initially Skippon’s attack in the centre went well – the good activations got to the hedge lines quickly and some vigorous charges and good saving rolls carried the position. Unfortunately the defenders ran off through their supporting reserves who unleashed a withering fire which drove the assault back*.
This formula repeated several times, and although the defensive lines were breached repeatedly, we never really threw the enemy completely from the positions.
I fed a second wave of foot into the assault, and by this stage the whole centre was on the move. Attrition was building up on both sides but we were now in a general engagement and news from the cavalry wings continued to be positive (indeed, I had held some troops back in case of disaster and these could now be fed in also) …
Even so, resistance remained stubborn and frustrating and the matter was eventually resolved by the collapse of both Royalist cavalry wings (in pure game terms breaking their army; in our gentlemanly assessment, requiring their foot to retire at nightfall).
We had, there or thereabouts, achieved our objective, though in a surprising way (I had expected we would likely have cleared at least some of the closes with out foot but that we might be stripped of our horse – actually the foot had made the barest of progress and it was the horse that carried the day … the Earl was indeed very pleased with his commanders) …
This was by far the best game of Pike & Shotte so far: not without a lot of issues but a far better feel and much easier to play ‘in character’ (i.e. to make role-based rather than game-based decisions). Homogeneous pike and shot units transform the game, giving it the tactical (and play) simplicity of Civil War battle but the whole musket-disorder thing still strikes me as very 18th century/Napoleonic. It was tamed in this game, but the withering fire itself doesn’t really ring true. Same goes for artillery … still cracking away in the latter phases of the game (indeed I even had a regiment of foot broken by a lone gun after the infantry it had seemed to be attached to had themselves run off) … Hmmm.
I was less aware of what was going on the flanks but I gather that the Royalists found it hard to get their cavalry charging (activation failures) so in the majority of cases the Parliamentarians charged in with the Royalists counter-charging. We beat them in combat (luck) which allowed sweeping advances to repeat the discomfiture. A lot of that is die-rolling of course.
Despite all that, this was a very enjoyable game engaged in good spirit by all the players. And that’s what really counts. I hope Steve continues to improve the basic game, and I’ll look again at the statistics for firepower effects, artillery and officer incidents to see what light these shed.
On a separate note, the game also confirmed the King’s historical decision to raise the siege and retreat rather than confront Essex’s relief force.
*indeed, a misreading of the ‘large unit’ break point saw test these troops too soon, much to their disadvantage (they failed horribly) but such is the fog of war.
Will’s blog of the game
Wargame Amateur’s blog of the game