Saga: Battle of Brunanburh

This Saturday we played a nice Saga Meg-battle, a recreation of the historic Battle Of Brunanburh, one of the most important battles of Medieval England. In 937 AD, King Aethelstan of England lead a coalition of English against a force of Welsh, Vikings, and Norse-Gaels. He won, cementing the idea of ‘England’ as a unified nation. It was “the moment when Englishness came of age.”

We refought this with 11 points per side. We could have gone bigger, but we didn’t want the game to go on forever.  I tried to keep track of when and where key events on our game went, but I might be misremembering or placing events out of order (one always remembers notes and proper photos too late). Here’s a best-remembered report on the battle. We had a good time, and the mostly painted forces looked great on the table. The back and forth chaos of the battle really made the game enjoyable.

My side were Anglo-Saxons, Anglo-Danes, Bretons, and Viking mercenaries. I fielded Aethelstan as my Warlord, along with 2 units of 12 Saxon Warriors, on the left-center flank. The Bretons were a Warlord and 8 Mounted Hearthguard, positioned on a rise to move to where neeeded. The same player also fielded a Viking Warlord and a bodyguard of 4 Hearthguard on the right flank. The Danes had a Warlord, a unit of 8 Warriors, and 2 6-man Hearthguard units (one with Dane Axes) in the center.

The other side were Norse-Gaels, Strathclyde Welsh, and Vikings. The Welsh had Owen as the Warlord, plus 2 4-man units of mounted Hearthguard, as well as 2 8-man units of mounted Warriors, positioned on  their right flank. The Norse-Gael had a Warlord and 2 8-man Warriors units, one equipped with double-handed axes, in the center-right. The Vikings were divided up to 2 players, with each having a Warlord. One Warlord brought a 6-man Warrior unit and 4-man Berserkers, on the left flank, while the other Warlord brought 2 units of 6 Hearthguard and a unit of 6 Warriors, center-left.

We played with an alternate activation, with a roll for initiative every turn, then moving down the line from the winner from left to right (our teams’ left and right). Activate a player’s force, then the next across from them on the opposing side.

Turn 1- The first turn was largely uneventful. Most movement, with some javelin fire on the Vikings left that did no damage from the Bretons. The Danes pushed forward in the center, closing with the Norse-Gael and Vikings who did the same. The Welsh initially held back, due to the Danes’ Intimidation, but still advanced. A unit Hearthguard advanced to midfield. The Saxons advanced and used Aethelstan’s special rule that allowed 1 unit to have javelins. The Warriors let loose at the Welsh Hearguard, killing 3. The remaining horseman played no more part in the battle aside from supplying a Saga die.

Turn 2- Things began to get interesting. The Danes closed with the Norse-Gaels, with some pushing back and forth. They beat back the Norse-Gael Warlord with a two-punch attack by Warriors and Hearthguard, but couldn’t kill him. The Danish Warriors were then wiped out by Vikings in the forest where they had retreated. The Bretons continued to pelt the Vikings on the flank with javelins, while the Viking mercs came up to taunt the Berserkers into combat. This combat was a slaughter, with both the Vikings mercs and the Berserkers all killed.  On the left flank, an 8-man unit of Welsh Warriors went in for a charge on the Danes; the combat only cost a Welsh Warrior and a Danish Hearthguard.  Aethelstan and a unit of Saxons charged the Welsh mounted Warriors; with copious board abilities, they killed the Welsh horsemen to a man.

Turn 3- The combat got messy at this point. The Vikings, Norse-Gaels, and Danes in the center mostly rested, with the Danish Warlord and another unit of Hearthguard advancing. On the right flank, the Bretons pounced on the Viking Warlord. They couldn’t kill him, but they cost him some Hearthguard in combat. He retreated, but was forced by his pride to attack the mercenary (traitor?) Warlord. In that duel the English-friendly Warlord prevailed. First dead Warlord of the battle! On the left flank things were bloody. Welsh Warriors charged the weakened Saxon unit, killing them all. The Welsh were then counter-charged by the other unit of Saxons, losing a few members. A unit of Norse-Gaels charged Aethelstan, but he held them off, forcing them back.

Turn 4- The big turn. The Welsh took their opportunity on the exposed Aethelstan. Their Hearthguard charged him, and with their board abilities he had no chance (and I decided to not use the nearby Dane unit to soak up his wounds, as he took ~10). With his death, the Saxon line wavered, but held. In response, the remaining Saxon Warriors cut them down with vengeance in their hearts. I didn’t take photos of most of this turn, but it was mostly some movement in the center by Norse-Gaels (including a unit that fled entirely due to the English Vikings’ Loki board ability) and Danes. Dane Heathgaurd attacked the Norse-Gael Warlord, forcing him back for a loss. The Bretons cut down the last Viking unit on the right flank to 1 man, who fled into the woods to block their path for future turns.

Turn 5- The end. The center became a bloodbath (noticing a trend?). The Danes charged into the Vikings in the wood. The fights were pretty even at first. However, the Viking counter-offensive resulted in the death of the Anglo-Dane Warlord. Another dead Warlord! The Bretons pulled more sneaky hit and run tactics by killing off the last Viking on the right flank, then pursuing the Norse-Gael Warlord skulking behind his line. They pushed him away from his retainers, riding him down. With his death, we ran out of time.

Conclusion- The VP total was 43 to 38, a win for Aethelstan’s forces! Not strictly historically accurate (seeing how Aethelstan and his brother Edmond both survived the actual battle…). Perhaps they were merely ‘knocked out’ and lived on… For England!

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