Wargame appendix

The death of king Harold II - detail from the Bayeux Tapestry

Appendix for wargame versions of the battle of Hastings

After much experience, here are some suggestions on how to successfully refight a wargame version of the battle of Hastings. By "successfully," I do not infer that your refights should produce historical results every time, or even a majority of the time. From the original narratives, it is obvious that the duke, the king and his two brothers were in great danger throughout the battle: the Godwinsons all died -- certainly an unlikely thing -- and William could have easily also, at any time his horses were killed under him. Should the English win outright, usually it is because too many of the duke's troops run away at a crucial moment and the English pursue vigorously; or, duke William is killed. Even if the English are beaten from the field, having just one of the Godwinsons survive to fight another day produces, in effect, a Norman failure. Sometimes the dice will favor one side: this is the result of using probability and outcome. You should know the mathematical odds beforehand, and can tell when the dice are "behaving" strangely. Over the long run, results even out. But if your refights of Hastings consistently favor one side more often than the other, then perhaps it is time to take a closer look at the rules you use. (See the mathematical model using our rules, below.)

First off, the terrain need not be elaborate. A sizeable hill some 60" long -- at a scale of 1" equals ten yards -- will represent the 250' contour. You can consider the entire hill area as rough terrain, prohibiting cavalry from charging. In the extreme rear, the slope prohibits cavalry from passage at all. The flanks below the 250' contour are wooded, further restricting heavy cavalry from entry. Spearmen also cannot enter such wooded ground. And a scattering of broken woods in front of the English right will make the Breton attack difficult. Infantry can run downhill, or along the top of Battle hill where the slope is gentlest. While infantry units are uphill they are benefitted by gravity (see note 73).

Next, the missile fire element is vitally important. The wargame rules you use should never allow the invaders to sit off safely and shaft the English into oblivion. Two factors will realistically limit duke William's marksmen: ammo supply and the relatively low effectiveness of the weapons employed.

Although there is good reason to call the bows of the 11th century "longbows," based on their evident length, still we would be wrong to assume a level of effectiveness equal to the bows later employed by the English armies in the Hundred Year's War. The reason is largely because of the way they were used. Duke William gathered up archers from the duchy and every other source he could pull together. By far the majority of these marksmen were not warriors, or even militia, but peasant hunters. They lacked the training in dense order and volley fire that the archers of later-England trained for weekly from their youth. The bows themselves were very similar to longbows, but to keep the problem of reloading quivers workable they would have had to draw a standard weight of around 50 pounds: the hand-picked longbow-men of the Hundred Year's War were the best of the best, pulling a bow of 70 pounds or even more. William of Normandy had no luxury of recruiting his marksmen from such a large pool of trained militia.

In shield-wall, the English are hard to bring down. Those without armor, but bearing shields (light infantry), can only begin to be effected by bow fire within c. 150 yards; troops wearing some form of body armor and head protection (medium infantry) are harder still, and can only be effected by bow fire within 100 yards; while heavy troops, such as the best thegns and the housecarles, when they are locked up in a tight shield-wall cannot be appreciably effected by bow fire outside of 50 yards. Crossbows can be considered a whole "range band" more effective than the bows, and within 50 yards are truly deadly. But they may not move and shoot at the same time like bows can. (In our rules, crossbows that are walking fire every-other turn, while bows can walk and fire on every turn.)

The gaming range of massed hand missile fire is 50 yards. But this is only possible if the throwing unit is moving forward -- at a walk or run for infantry, and at a trot or run for cavalry. If the unit throws without moving toward the target, the range is reduced to 30 yards and the effectiveness is reduced as well. Thus, if the invader marksmen try to get close for real effective shooting, they will be within range of all those English hand missiles. This was the problem in the actual battle, and William of Poitiers graphically describes the return English fire as a "deadly hail." There was no way the invaders could match it with their own javelineers, who were far less numerous. Where duke William was superior in his long range weapons to the English, they were superior employers of the old Teutonic tactics of hand missile fire. The knights too can throw their javelin or lance/javelin: but horses cannot pack tightly like infantry do, and in the majority of cases where mounted knights attempt a duel with the English using javelins the knights will get the worst of it. Finally, although the spears and lances used in hand-to-hand combat are capable of being thrown, they can only be used this way if the unit has not already engaged in hand-to-hand combat. If the unit has used their spears/lances in the melee, then too many of them are broken or otherwise lost for the unit to have them later as missiles.

The effect of heavier English troops being in front of the lesser armed is to raise them one armor class: thus, for example, if light geneats are standing behind medium or heavy thegns and housecarles, the geneats receive incoming missile fire as thought they were mediums.

As for ammo supply, yes, William had brought along reloads for his marksmen's quivers. But such needed to be brought up and distributed; or else the marksmen retired and then returned to the front after rearming. To run out of ammo, a unit will spend three turns shooting, then each turn of shooting after this roll 2d6: a roll of 2 after the fourth turn of shooting will run the unit out of ammo: the fifth turn of shooting will do the same if a 2-3 is rolled: six turns of shooting and 2-4 will empty the quivers of the unit. You get the idea. When the unit is out, it retires to the rear edge of the table. (You, the invading duke, may not order your marksmen into hand-to-hand combat. They may defend with side arms if attacked, but that is all.)

Rearming would take time, which the invaders had little enough of to spare. Sundown was around 4 p. m. in late October (the battle was actually fought on the 20th, according to our current, corrected, calendar). The invader missiles should, therefore, only be replenished twice, and then it will be too late to do so again before it gets too dark to keep fighting. So the game can be fought in a maximum of three phases. The first phase takes us up to noon or a little later. The second phase represents mid afternoon to evening. The final, third phase (if there is one) will go for ten turns; and each turn thereafter roll 1d6: a 5-6 brings on darkness and an end to hostilities. (Some fighting continued "when the stars came out," but it was not anything more than a slogging match and very desultory with no command control.) At the beginning of the second or third phase, the missiles of both armies are replenished, and both get back 60% of their losses from the last phase: any troops who routed last phase -- and did not recover -- will also count as losses and only 60% of them will come back.

During each phase enough time has elapsed to allow the possibility of late arriving English fyrd. A roll of 1d6 = 5-6 will allow 500 fyrdmen to reinforce the English phalanx for the next phase: they should be three-fourths light geneats and one-fourth medium (or even light) thegns.

If the armies never disengage at all, then the battle will be ended in a matter of minutes, well under an hour. This almost happened historically, and only the English main force stubbornly remaining on their hill saved William's army from destruction. To reflect this, a strictly historical setup works best if you put all the active players on the Norman side. The English army is on "autopilot." That is, they will stay on their hill, in their phalanx, unless routing troops -- or feigned routing cavalry -- tempt them to pursue. This is handled by making a morale test (see endnote 72). If the English being tempted by fleeing -- or apparently fleeing -- enemies fail their test they pursue. They may test each turn to stop their pursuit. While pursuing, they will do so at full speed, and therefore their formation will fall into open order.

If the knights perform a feigned flight (rout) it must be done by prior arrangement. Historically -- according to the Carmen, at least -- it was the French knights of the right wing which executed the feigned flight. If any other feigned flight is attempted, all invader units which can see it must test their morale as though they were witnessing a real rout!

Should the Norman army break through any part of the English line, they will certainly face in all directions they are being threatened to keep their phalanx as intact as possible. But they will not move aggressively. They are allowed -- if given enough time -- to move toward Harold's center to maintain cohesion: otherwise, separated elements of the English army will stand where they are and "form square." However, units which are already engaged in hand-to-hand combat cannot form square; until such time as they find themselves unengaged, i. e. they eliminate or drive off their enemies.

Historically, statistically, units rout from suffering casualties anywhere between c. 17 to 25 percent (inclusive of dead, sorely wounded and routing). If they don't break by then, then suffering more losses seems to rarely make any further difference. In our rules we tend to give units the benefit of the doubt, and require a casualty morale check once at 25 percent losses (routed members count toward total casualties). The only other thing which will likely rout a unit is seeing friendlies running away. Test each time this occurs, but not for each individual case of a routing unit: i. e. if two or more units are seen to rout, still only one test is made for seeing friendlies routing this turn. The sole exception is the marksmen who, when they rout, are not doing anything less than is perhaps expected of them: spearmen and knights witnessing this will not check. If a marksmen unit routs, only other marksmen units which can see it will check morale. (Arguably, housecarles could be immune from checking when any other English units rout. Personally, I think housecarle morale is good enough that this will rarely happen, so I make no distinctions.) A unit can check to recover good morale if they find themselves not pursued and outside of charge range of an enemy unit which could pursue; and also, outside of effective enemy missile range. In our rules, a routing unit that can check to recover their morale is allowed three turns of testing -- if it doesn't leave the gaming table before then. After three checks, if the unit is still running away, it is now too dispersed to recover command control and the remaining figures are removed from the table.

Once units are engaged in hand-to-hand combat they are stuck there, unless routing away gets them safely out of reach. The only other exception is cavalry, which can withdraw from an ongoing combat.

If any of the figurines designated as duke William or the three Godwinsons are eliminated in battle, only William has a saving roll: Harold, Gyrth and Leofwin are all "unlucky" today: William's saving roll is 1d6 = 3-6. If he lives, then it was his horse which was killed. Remove a proximate cavalry figure instead of duke William's.

The matter of fatigue is frequently mentioned, and nearly always applied more heavily to the English side than the Norman. The reasons given are: the knights shared the fatigue between horse and man; the housecarles bore the brunt of the fighting all day and therefore grew tired faster; the Norman infantry were mercenaries and could rotate their attacks, giving units a chance to catch a breather. But I think fatigue was equal across the field and should therefore be largely ignored. Surely, horses and men grew so weary that by the end of the day they could barely place one foot before another or wield their weapons. The English had withstood numerous attacks, but had not had to move at all. The Normans had been compelled to trudge up the hill each time they attacked. This wore on the infantrymen and unmounted knights, and of course the horses. As the housecarles only shared the front ranks with thegns and the better geneats, the whole English army was equally stressed. Although the effectiveness of the warriors diminished, to reflect this is unnecessary since it was universal.

A mathematical model for a wargame of Hastings:

The wargame rules you use should create probability that is collectively quite even. If you look at the diagram of the two armies -- with the individual bases shown to create the order of battle given on page 17 -- you will see how losses are removed according to the mean; there are no variables, such as dice rolls, considered.

A: After one turn of receiving bow and crossbow fire from a range of c. 80 yds, the English, in shield-wall, suffer c. 1.3% casualties; or two bases = 128 men per turn. (Remember, that by "casualties" we mean the dead as well as those wounded out of the fight and routed individuals.) If they stay in their shield-wall -- unhistorically -- they will suffer a total of 11 to 12% casualties by the time the marksmen run out of missiles. Naturally, with such accumulated damage occurring in their midst, it is now easy to see why they stepped forward and threw the "deadly hail" of their own hand missiles. (In this model I assumed the English stood and "took it" for three turns before they advanced and threw one round of hand missiles. An experienced player of Hastings won't waste any time getting shot up, knowing full well that he can destroy the invader marksmen as a fighting force with anything like average dice rolls.)

B: One round of exchanged missile fire -- the English are no longer in shield-wall when they advance and throw -- producing c. 5% casualties amongst the English; but the marksmen suffer a whopping 114% casualties. This positively drives them off the field with something like 29% permanent losses after they regroup. The total English casualties at this point are c. 9%.

C: The heavy infantry advance and throw. The English reply. In one turn, the attackers suffer 19% casualties: the English 11% (they are more numerous but vary in armor from unarmored to heavy: while all the invader spearmen are considered as heavies).

D: One round of hand-to-hand combat produces enough casualties to cause three-fourths of the attacking heavy infantry to check morale (at 25%); while one of the two English wings must now check morale for casualties -- probably the right, but possibly the left: the center is too heavily-armed to have suffered 25% losses as yet, but they are getting close.

E: The odds say the Breton heavy infantry will rout at this point. But we are not playing with morale here, just the effects of combat. (The game is won or lost by the morale rolls most of the time: and the maxim is, "he who causes his enemy to make morale checks first and most often will win the battle.") For our purposes we wish to see how the effect of combat will resolve the battle by pure mechanics alone; to test whether or not our rules are producing the right effects. It can be seen that if the invaders continue to attack with their heavy infantry, they will be worsted in short order: their flanks are all exposed to heavy counter attack; and especially in the center they have little or no advantage.

F: The cavalry go in, and so swift is their advance -- even limited to a trot -- that they cannot likely be targeted for a round of javelins before they reach melee range. If there are relics of the heavy infantry attack going on, then the cavalry will not be fully engaged. But for the purposes of comparison, I removed all the heavy infantry and made a cavalry-only assault: even duke William's "reserve" was thrown in -- a maximum effort. The results imply pure carnage: If the English are set and ready -- and no missiles are exchanged -- then in a single turn of combat they suffer c. 10% casualties, whilst inflicting 15%: but now the rest of the English army must check morale for losses. This slogging match can only result in very uncertain outcomes for either side: but because of the rather better quality of the invader cavalry, and their ability to withdraw and maneuver to those places where the English line is weakest -- or even to perform a feigned rout or two, perhaps successfully drawing down a portion of the English line to the low ground where they can be butchered -- the odds slightly favor the French.

G: If the English manage to throw a round of javelins before the cavalry reach them, the odds swing back in their favor. But if they fail there, but manage to use their hand missiles in the initial round of melee (we call this in our rules "missile-in-melee" and the units attempting it must make a performance test before they can utilize it, so it is anything but a done deal), then a maximum of 14% casualties are done to the English (they are at a disadvantage for the first round in the melee because of the close timing required to throw and then deploy their hand-to-hand combat weapons: statistically, the armored troops can depend on a higher percentage of survival); and they inflict 28% losses upon the incoming knights, requiring morale checks across their whole front. As "F" favors the invaders -- causing the rest of the English army to check morale before the cavalry must -- it is apparent that "G" is a better way to go. The English should try and throw as many hand missiles as possible as the cavalry close, no matter what.

From this mathematical model it is obvious that Hastings, playing by our current rules, -- assuming average morale rolls -- will produce a stressful situation slightly favoring the duke's army: The Breton cavalry will run most of the time, and over a third of the Norman cavalry c. half of the time, causing c. half of any remaining infantry to run: while by the odds 2/3 of either English wing and 1/10 of the center will run: the thegns and especially the housecarles will stand, probably. If the English are required to stay on their hill -- except for impulsive pursuits -- the invaders, making full use of their more flexible tactics and mobility, should win somewhat better than half of the time.

However, you may wish to play out variations of Hastings, allowing the players a free hand. The English commands are: right wing, left wing, and center: with the housecarle units rolling separate morale tests and being allowed to muster apart from the fyrd if the player-commander desires. The Norman army allows a Breton-left and a French-right player, and up to three Norman-center players. The respective players should be required to worst the section of the English army in front of their historical starting positions: otherwise, the players have a free hand in how they will conduct their own attacks. (You could require the auxiliary players to follow "William's" orders, whatever those might be. But insubordination is not punishable by anything worse than possible acrimony!)

As an example of how such a game might turn out, I will narrate briefly one of the multi-player refights we played years ago, in which the English came off handily as the victors:

There were six players, divided evenly -- or possibly four on the Norman side, I don't recall for certain. Anyway, the three English players separated their four housecarle units and had them waiting as a reserve behind their fyrd line. The Norman side advanced up the hill in historical order of battle, marksmen to the front. The local peasant levies took most of them out with a round of hand missiles. Then the most advanced English units -- now well down the face of the hill -- were engaged by the knights of the Norman center. Unusually high casualties were suffered by the knights from hand missile fire; and in the melee which followed, the Norman players further covered themselves in ignominy by getting worsted by the peasants. (A certain "priest" figure, bearing a huge cross, and touted by the owner as some sort of talisman of good luck -- "you lost because you attacked my priest again" -- was the assumed cause of the defeat and victory.) To make it as bad as possible, the Norman knights routed at that point: which snowballed into a rout of three-fourths of the duke's whole army. (Yours truly managed to save the French right wing, more or less intact, by prudently leaving the stricken field before being overwhelmed by the attacking English.) The battle was as good as ended in less than five game-time minutes, and the housecarles never even moved.