Monday, January 26, 2009

Short session report: BattleLore Agincourt

My 9-year-old has been asking about playing some "real" wargames for a while. In addition to the usual family fare, we've been playing abstract strategy games and skirmish-level wargames, which are two types of strategy games that seem to be more accessible to smart people who aren't well-versed in gaming conventions. In the case of abstracts, their uncluttered rules are pretty easy to grasp for a kid, even if the deeper strategic implications are not. Fortunately for the pedagogical experience, I'm not a serious player of chess or other abstracts so there's much less of a gap between me and him than our ages might suggest. Skirmish-level games, while often fairly complex, have the advantage of dealing with a subject that people can easily relate to. Crouching, shooting, running, aiming etc. are all activities people can imagine doing and so even when the rules system is detailed the player can relate to it much easier than the more abstract situation in higher-level command.

Last year we had dabbled with Battlelore but it was a tad too difficult for him then so we move don to other games. A year later and I though maybe he'd grown into the game more so we started over again with the first Battlelore scenario, Agincourt.

We even played a match, switching sides.

For those unfamiliar with the BattleLore scenario here is the map:

The English are at the top of the map. The green units are archers, the blue units are medium swordsmen and the red unit is a heavy swordsman.

The French are at the bottom of the map. The red units are heavy horse, and there is a single unit of medium horse at the center rear of the French line. There is a single green archer unit and the rest of the French army is medium swordsmen in blue.

The victory conditions are straightforward, whoever loses four units first is defeated. While the French army is slightly larger, it is handicapped by having just a four-card hand with command cards. The English, on the other hand, are well-led with a command card hand of six cards.

I started with the French for our first game and it actually went rather well because I had excellent luck in the draw. I started with a Mounted Charge card and so I spent a couple of turns with minor maneuvering to get the horse units in position. While doing so I drew a second Mounted Charge unit. Meanwhile the English had contented themselves with some long range missile fire which did manage to reduce one French heavy horse to a single figure.

Still, when everyone was in position, I unleashed all three horse units with consecutive Mounted Charge orders which, when combined with pursuits, were able to run roughshod over the English archers and soon the score was 4 - 0.

Undaunted. the younger general was willing to switch sides and try his hand with the French. This turned into a long-drawn, knock-down drag-out fight that lasted 11 or 12 turns. My English again had good luck in the card draw, drawing Darken the Skies and building up a 3-1 lead in flags before long. The French finally got their Mounted Charge in and soon evened the score at 3 each. I had one single-figure archer unit in the front that I scooted off to safety behind Agincourt wood. Seeing this our young French commander recognized a good idea when he saw one and did the same with his single-figure heavy cavalry, which took refuge behind Tramecourt wood.

All semblance of organized order had by now disappeared in both camps and both armies were reduced to isolated and unsupported bands wandering around the battlefield. Finally a critical mass of troops clumped together at the edge of Agincourt woods where a couple of English medium foot supported by the single-figure archer were finally able to prevail in a duel with three French mediums and their archer, winning the fourth flag, although not before being saved by the dice when the single-figure archer survived a 4d attack.

This close 4-3 battle seemed to provide evidence that young general could certainly hope for victory next time.

Battlelore has a lot of tools to make teaching and learning a fairly involved little wargame easier. In particular, I found that the rule summary cards very helpful and providing ready reference for the young general. Combined with the command cards, which also are mostly self-explanatory, there was remarkably little flipping through rule books or even questions about play.

Next up will be First Chevauchee.

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