Saturday 18 November 2023

Curlew Hills

‘Donal, Donal, wake up.’

‘What is the matter Dougal? It is still dark.’

‘I’m worried Donal.’

‘What about this time?’

‘Well, like, we fought a battle against the English right?’

‘Yes, and we captured Limerick.’

‘But then the Spanish who did the fighting went home.’

‘Can’t blame them for that, Dougal. The weather’s better in Spain.’

‘Yes, but now the English are advancing on Limerick.’

‘Well, we’re going to stop them, Dougal.’

‘But how. The Spanish took all their pointy sticks and bang sticks away with them’

‘Their pike and arquebuses, you mean. Yes, they did. But Dougal, we are going to fight the English the old way, by jumping out at them from bogs and woods. The old way, Dougal. The one you prefer, remember?’

‘Well, yes, Donal. But I’d prefer to be jumping out at them with bang-sticks rather than javelins.’


Those of you with very long memories might recall a sub-plot to the Armada Abbeys campaign which featured two cousins, Donal and Dougal, and an errant ship from the Armada unexpected beating the English in battle. If you are really bored, you can catch up using the Armada Abbeys Campaign link on the right.

Be that as it may, I was looking for a game to test out some more reconnaissance and ambush-type rules, and thought the Irish-English clashes might be interesting in this context. A quick look at Wesencraft’s With Pike and Musket refreshed my memory and I set on something that was akin to the Action in the Curlieu Hills from that book, slightly adjusted.

The aim of the English was to transport a siege gun across the board, while that of the Irish was to prevent that. The Spanish, having run out of wine, have sailed back to Spain, unwilling to drink Irish beer any longer. They also seem to have taken their arquebuses and pike with them, so our slightly hapless Irish pair are reverting to proper warfare.

Each side consisted of twelve bases. For the Irish, a spade was allocated for each base. Ace to 4 for the kern, 5-7 for bonnachts, 8-10 for gallowglass, and Jack and Queen for light cavalry. A king indicated two cards were drawn from the deck and troops were allocated according to their value, ignoring the suit.

The English were a standard army from my lists: 2 border horse, one demi-lancer, three shot, three pike, two bows and two polearms. They also had a siege gun to escort across the table, as noted.

For this sort of wargame, you need a fair bit of terrain. The original scenario had a variety of hills, bogs, and woods, and I sort of followed that and added bits as I could I landed up with a fair number of hiding places for the Irish although, not 52, so I was unsure if all of them would turn up.

The English would spot Irish hiding in terrain items at 3 base widths away, while those in open terrain, such as behind hills, would be spotted 6 base widths away.

The photograph shows the game a number of moves in. The English have deployed their border horse against some Irish light cavalry who jumped out from behind a hill (actually, a dip where the wood is) and also managed to deploy some infantry against some kern who were hiding behind the far right wood. As you can see the Irish horse has been driven back.

A few moves later things are starting to heat up. More Irish have appeared, but the English convoy is moving forward mostly unperturbed.

The Irish horse routing to the bottom right of the picture actually had a go at the siege gun but failed to make any impression, and have just been charged by the English demi-lancers who routed them with almost insulting ease. In the background you can see the English redcoats have driven back the kern – actually, they routed one base with which they managed to get into contact. On the left in the centre you can see the border horse; they are actually engaging a gallowglass base in the bog at the extreme left. Other Irish bases are converging on the pass, through which the English will have to move. Another couple of bases of English foot have been deployed against these, but the leading bonnacht base, together with the general, is beginning to appear to be a bit of a threat, especially as they are uphill of the convoy.

The crunch came when the bonnachts charged the lead English pike who had just deployed against them. Decent English tempo rolls meant that other foot and some borderers were lurking ominously. The Irish were, by this time, in a little difficulty, having lost two bases and had their morale slump to ‘waver’, which removes all the orders. Thus, only the bonnachts are moving under direct orders. Poor tempo rolling means that the rest of the Irish are admiring the bravery of their boys.

It nearly worked. The English pike, despite their initial support, were driven back, but the English had sufficient tempo to bring in the heavy mob and practically surround them, and their general, next bound. While the bonnachts fought bravely and nearly pulled off an astonishing victory, the odds wewre too great and they were recoiled. However, with bases in contact to the flank, that result became a lot worse and they routed, taking the general with them. At that point, Donal and Dougal called stumps. Although Irish morale was still OK-ish (withdraw), without a general there was little chance of coordinating any attacks at all.

It was a nice battle, and the mcguffin of the siege gun did its job. The English had to stick to it, and the Irish had to try to overrun it. A problem with these sorts of ambush games is that the attack is uncoordinated and the pressure on the defenders can be rather feeble, or at least not as intense as it could have been. On the other hand, the card system raises lots of questions in the mind of the solo wargamer and encourages the use of light troops for scouting places where the enemy might hide.

So, will Donal and Dougal survive? Will they make their peace with Queen Elizabeth or retreat back to their family home and pass their time eating roast chicken? Only time will tell...

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