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The King is Dead-A Great New Game by Osprey

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on October 31, 2015

The King is Dead: Struggles for Power in King Arthur’s Court by Peer Sylvester and illustrated by Peter Dennis ($24.95)

Two weeks ago, I received a copy of a new game by Osprey Games, a division of Osprey Publishing, known for their series of military history books. Osprey Games seeks to bring the reputation of the publisher to the world of tabletop and miniature gaming, which is growing in popularity (if the game Twilight Struggle on the Cold War is any indication). The game is called The King is Dead and if it is any indication of what Osprey is hoping to create for historical and fantasy games, future products should prove to be quite good.

The game is set in early medieval Britain, in the wake of Arthur’s death. Players assume the role of a member of his court seeking to gain influence over three factions in Britain: the Welsh, Scots, and Romano-British, all of which are vying for control of the various regions of the island. In the background is the constant threat of a Saxon invasion. While some of the game is wrapped up in the legends of Arthur, the historical aspect comes from the very real conflicts between Britons and the Anglo-Saxon forces during the late 5th and early 6th centuries A.D. According to Osprey’s page dedicated to the game:

The King is Dead is a board game of politics and power struggles in the dark Arthurian Britain for 2 to 4 players.

King Arthur is dead. The nation is divided. The Saxons are coming.

Now, more than ever, Britain needs a ruler who can unite the kingdom, but who will take the crown? Players work behind the scenes, marshalling their limited resources to give power to competing factions and gain influence within their ranks. Players owe loyalty only to themselves, however, are free to shift their allegiances as they see fit. Whoever has the most influence over the most powerful faction will rule Britain from the shadows. But be careful – too much infighting will give the Saxons an opening and put the entire nation at risk.

Its rules and mechanics are quite simple, but with a degree of strategy to keep it quite interesting. I test-played it with a co-worker Friday afternoon and we both found it enjoyable and fun. The length of play is between 30-45 minutes, making it great for players seeking a quick game that is still fun. The game board is very nice and mounted on cardboard, containing a map of Britain divided into eight regions.

The action is driven by cards, with each player having eight action cards they can play. There are also eight region cards that are shuffled and then placed next to each section on the board edge, numbered 1-8. Players then engage in power struggles related to that region, where they attempt to have more followers from one of the three factions (represented by colored cubes) than the other two in a region to gain control of that region for their faction. At the same time, players are removing a follower from the board and inviting them to their court. Power struggles for the regions end when both players consecutively pass and are decided by the number of followers in the region.

The action cards allow a player to move followers, settle followers, or garrison a region with followers. When a region falls under a faction’s control, the followers are moved into the common pool in the corner of the board and are no longer contested. If no faction has a majority when the power struggle ends, it comes under the control of the invading Saxons. This is something the players do not want to happen.

When all eight regions have fallen under a faction’s control, the game ends and whichever faction holds more regions and whichever player has more of that faction’s influence by the number of its followers in their court becomes the next King of Britain. However, if the Saxons control enough territory, the winner becomes the leader of the resistance.

Overall, this game is similar to another board game I have played with historical themes Tammany Hall, which I also enjoyed. The game is easy to play, requires a degree of cunning and strategy to both sway favor with the factions, while also preventing your opponent from gaining an advantage, or letting the Saxons invade. It can be played with 2-4 players and also has an advanced option for King Mordred’s followers.

With a nice board, a great theme, nice components, and a clever box with storage for the components, The King is Dead is definitely a great game and well worth its price of $24.95. It’s short playing time make it great for a lunchtime game with friends, and its relative simplicity makes it accessible to younger players too, as while the recommended age is 12 and up, I think with the right explanation of the rules and some patience, slightly younger kids could even play this game. If you are looking for a good gift for that gamer in your family, or someone that is interested in medieval Britain this holiday season, definitely add The King is Dead to your shopping list.

Download the game rules here.

Check out its Board Game Geek page too.

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Posted in Game Review, Medieval Military History, Other military history | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

They shoot horses, don’t they?

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on April 2, 2013

They shoot horses, don’t they?

By Dan Wilson

There is a battle scene in the movie “Braveheart” in which a mounted English soldier is charging Mel Gibson’s character, William Wallace, sword in hand, with the clear intent of delivering a killing blow to Wallace when we see Wallace duck, swing his broadsword parallel to the ground, unhorsing his antagonist who is quickly killed by Wallace.

What we are spared from seeing by the careful editing is the amputation of the foreleg of the charging horse which allowed horse and rider to be brought to the ground. The scene allows the viewer to interpret the event without the graphic image of the amputation, this, in a movie in which the viewer is treated to dozens of images of human decapitation and loss of body parts.

As a kid growing up the in the fifties and sixties I had a steady diet of cowboy movies and there is one staple of most of those movies—a group of menacing Indians on horseback circling a fortification, group of settlers, a wagon train or dismounted cavalry, and we see many of the Indians falling neatly from their horses as they are picked off by their besiegers. The horses of course, run off, riderless.

This is the image that perhaps most, if not all people, have of mounted warfare. But at some point, logic must intervene. In actual battle, it was the horse more often than the rider, that got shot, not only because of their much larger mass, hence providing a much larger target, but the kind of marksmanship required to hit the much smaller rider would be beyond the skill level of the average soldier.

But, that doesn’t make for good cinema and moreover, viewers would avoid any movie that showed carnage to animals.

I would argue that squeamishness has distorted our view of history as well, especially the history of mounted warfare. I would venture a guess that I could ask any number of historians how many soldiers were killed in the American Civil War and they would all provide the answer of 650,00 to 700,000 but if I would to ask how many horses and mules were killed they would probably draw a blank (1 million or so.)  Or try WWI (about 8 million).

Horses are treated as collateral damage. Even the death of a horse is regarded in dismissive terminology. “He had his horse shot out from under him”  is the common phrase. Napoleon for example, during the course of his military career had numerous “horses shot out from under him.” The very term implies that someone aimed too low and oops, the horse got killed even though that horse acted as a shield and took the bullet, arrow, or projectile instead of its rider.

In reality, horses make for a better target, and unhorsing the rider is just as effective in removing the  threat as killing the rider. Warriors made no distinction between horse and rider in combat. War is brutal and animals suffered from that same brutality.

At the Battle of Agincourt (1415) the English defeated a much larger French force consisting largely of mounted knights. The English longbowmen unleashed volleys of arrows at the knights, who were armored. But their horses were not.

“As always the horses suffered most from the arrows, becoming unmanageable, bolting, while those that did reach English lines were impaled on the six-foot stakes that were at a horse’s breast-high.”[1]

Historians agree that at Agincourt the panicking and injured horses threw their armored riders who, virtually helpless on the ground, were then easy prey for English troops armed with maces and axes. Some accounts describe the horses looking like pincushions from the arrows.

Some historians have raised questions about historical accounts of mounted warfare. J. Edward Chamberlin studied the tactics of ancient war chariots.

“The standard account has it that battle engagement involved chariot charges. But a big question mark  is in order here. As historians who know about horses have pointed out, the clashes that would have been an inevitable—and indeed intentional—part of any chariot (or cavalry) charge would have been devastating for the horses. So why would any serious warrior, unless absolutely required, indulge in them? Horses were too valuable to but put at such risk, and given the number of horses used to pull chariots, the losses would have been catastrophic.”[2]

Chamberlin posits that chariots were most likely used to transport warriors quickly to needed trouble spots to fight as a mobile strike force from a stationary position rather than the images left us in bas relief of an archer firing arrows at an enemy from a moving chariot.

“For the soldier riding “shotgun” with the driver able to fire an arrow or throw a javelin with any accuracy during a charge, the chariots would have to be going at one of two speeds: a full gallop or a slow cantor…Going flat out at a full gallop, a chariot could not turn quickly and avoid a collision. And at a slow canter, it would become an easy target.”[3]

Horses could also sustain more damage and give their riders a greater chance of escaping harm.

Ann Hyland cites numerous graphic examples of horses’ sufferings in medieval warfare among those the Bayeaux Tapestry, the artistic depiction of the Battle of Hastings (1066).

The tapestry “shows three horses being violently overturned. One has an empty saddle as his rider pitches off, another no saddle at all, and the rider of the third has been thrown forward on to his horse’s neck obviously injured, while an Englishman wields a lance against him and at the same time jerks the horses girth loose. Yet another horse, still upright, has his skull cloven by an axe. In the border below two riderless horses gallop away from the conflict. Grouped together, this scene shows more of violence and its costs than the rest of the tapestry, indicates that horse losses were heavy, and illustrates the type of wounds suffered by the animals..”[4]

She describes this engagement from the Crusades.

“In an encounter with a Frank his horse was hit beside the throat-latch and its head skewed to one side, the lance coming out of the lower end of the neck (near the withers) and piercing Kamil al-Mashtub’s thigh. Both horse and rider survived; the horse was again injured severely in a later engagement by a lance thrust into the frontal bone (of the forehead) which forced it inward. Even when healed, the hole was big enough for man’s fist…Other horses suffered mortal wounds. One had its heart pierced in combat at Hims, and while arterial blood was pumping out still carried Usamah out of danger before collapsing and dying.”[5]

She describes another mount in the same action “even with its entrails spilling out, and strapped up by a surcingle to stop it treading on them, it stayed on its feet through the battle.”[6]

The Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War (1854) is illustrative. With the invention of gunpowder cavalry tactics had to adapt, often timing a head-on charge while infantry troops were reloading. But these attacks became more infrequent as the firepower increased. The ill-fated charge of the brigade on an artillery emplacement at Balaclava shows the effect projectiles have on mounted horses.

Thanks to Tennyson’s poem the common belief is that the majority of “The 600” were wiped out, but that was true of the horses, not the riders. Out of 673 men, 113 were killed and about 180 were wounded. However, 460 horses were killed outright or had to be dispatched due to wounds. About one-sixth of the men were lost compared to two-thirds of the horses.

So were horses targeted? We know that it was common knowledge that horse-drawn artillery were always a target, especially the horses, because disabling one horse was enough to disable the team.

But as to battle tactics the historical record is scant.

Robert Watt’s treatise on the Ninth U.S. Cavalry’s campaign against the Apache Indians from 1879 to 1881 reveals horses became the targets as the Apaches, fighting on foot learned that by killing or disabling the cavalry’s horses they could achieve a tactical advantage. Horses were harder to replace than the men.

“The Apaches wrought the most extensive damage by deliberately targeting the regiment’s horses and mules in ambushes. They also led the Ninth Cavalry on long, grueling pursuits across difficult terrain that eventually wore down or killed the unit’s mounts.[7]

Watt writes, “By June 1880, the Apaches had effectively dismounted the Ninth Cavalry.”[8]

Watt was able to utilize the army’s records of animal losses to show the devastating effects of the Apache tactics.

“Approximately 271 of the 395 horses lost by the Ninth Cavalry from 1879 to 1880 can be directly or indirectly credited to hostile Apache action…Indeed, of the 42 horses lost in August 1881, 33 were shot dead by Apaches.”[9]

As a result, the campaign against the Apaches was a failure.

“The regiment faced opponents whose principals of war struck consistently at its weakest point: the ability to supply its companies with sufficient horses and mules and to keep those animals alive in the field.”[10]

Admittedly the historical record on animal casualties is meager and more research needs to be conducted. However, we should not think of horses as bystanders who sometimes get killed by chance. The outcome of battles was measured in human casualties. Although horses were participants and their casualties mattered as to the outcome as well, they are not included in that calculus. They were targeted more often than we care to think because they were instruments of war and those instruments had to be destroyed.

 


[1]    Desmond Seward, “The Hundred Years War”, 1978. P. 166.

[2]    J. Edward Chamberlin, “How the Horse Has Shaped Civilization..” 2006. Pp 151-152.

[3]    Chamberlin, P. 152.

[4]    Ann Hyland, “Medieval Warhorse from Byzantium to the Crusades.” 1996. P. 97.

[5]    Hyland, P. 165.

[6]    Hyland, P. 165

[7]    Robert N. Watt, “Horses worn to mere shadows”, The Ninth U.S. Cavalry’s Campaign Against the Apaches in New Mexico Territory, 1879-1881. The New Mexico Historical Review, Spring 2011. P. 197.

[8]    Watt, p. 201.

[9]    Watt, p. 205.

[10]  Watt., p. 218

Posted in Conflict, Medieval Military History, Other military history, World Military History (1500-1700), World Military History (1700-1900) | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Book Review of The Great Chevauchée: John of Gaunt’s Raid on France 1373

Posted by William Young on December 11, 2012

International History

David Nicolle. The Great Chevauchée: John of Gaunt’s Raid on France 1373. Illustrated by Peter Dennis. Raid series. Botley, England: Osprey, 2011. ISBN 978-1-84908-247-1. Illustrations. Maps. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 80. $18.95 (paperback).

The Caroline War (1369-1389/96) has received little attention outside of general studies of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453).  “This interesting conflict,” so writes Dr David Nicolle, “has been largely ignored by English historians, and has been misunderstood by some of those who did refer to it” (p.12).  As such, Nicolle’s brief study The Great Chevauchée in the Osprey Raid series is a valuable contribution to the literature.  The author is well-known for his many studies in the Osprey military history series, including French Armies of the Hundred Years War (2000), Crécy 1346: Triumph of the Longbow (2000), Poitiers 1356: The Capture of a King (2004), Orléans 1429: France Turns the Tide (2005), and The Fall of English France…

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Book Review of Edward III and the War at Sea: The English Navy, 1327-1377

Posted by William Young on November 16, 2012

International History

Graham Cushway. Edward III and the War at Sea: The English Navy, 1327-1377. Warfare in History series. Woodbridge, England: Boydell Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-84383-621-6. Notes. Illustrations. Maps. Appendices. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xxii, 265. $99.00 (hardcover).

The English navy played a key role in the Hundred Years War.  Dr Graham Cushway, a maritime historian and Associate Analyst for the United Nations, explores the English navy and the war at sea from the accession of Edward II (ruled 1307-1327) to the death of  Edward III (1327-1377).  The author examines the organization and structure of the navy, along discussing political events, naval innovation, and naval campaigns.  The author argues that Edward III “would command the most potent English navy prior to the modern age” (p.1).

Cushway sets the political, strategic, and military scene for English naval operations.  This allows the author to explain naval developments and fleet movements in context to English wars. …

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Book Review of In the Steps of the Black Prince: The Road to Poitiers, 1355-1356

Posted by William Young on November 15, 2012

International History

Peter Hoskins. In the Steps of the Black Prince: The Road to Poitiers, 1355-1356. Warfare in History series. Woodbridge, England: Boydell Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-84383-611-7. Plates. Figures. Maps. Appendices. Notes. Bibliography. Pp. xviii, 246. $90.00 (hardcover).

Peter Hoskins, a medieval military historian and former British Royal Air Force pilot, writes a fascinating study of Prince Edward’s (the Black Prince) chevauchées (mounted military expeditions) in 1355 and 1356.  The Black Prince was Edward III of England’s eldest son, heir to the throne, and his lieutenant in Gascony.  In preparing this study, the author walked over 1,300 miles retracing the steps (as much as possible) of the Black Prince and his Anglo-Gascon army.

Hoskins provides a brief discussion of the origins of the Hundred Years War and the first phase (Edwardian War) from 1337 to 1355.  The Black Prince accompanied his father, Edward III, on the chevauchée from Normandy to Flanders in…

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