By Robert DeMaio
Edward (II of England) came to Scotland in the high summer of 1314 with the preliminary aim of relieving Stirling Castle: the real purpose, of course, was to find and destroy the Scottish army in the field, and thus end the war. England, for once, was largely united in this ambition, although some of Edward’sgreatest magnates and former enemies, headed by his cousin, Thomas of Lancaster, did not attend in person, sending the minimum number of troops they were required to by feudal law.
Even so, the force that left “Berwick-upon-Tweed” on 17 June 1314 was impressive: it comprised between 2,000–3,000 horse and 16,000 foot. The precise size relative to the Scottish forces is unclear but estimates range from ….. at least two or three times the size of the army Bruce had been able to gather, to as little as only 50% larger…This was a grand feudal army, one of the last of its kind to leave England in the Middle Ages.
King Robert awaited its arrival south of Stirling near the Bannock Burn in Scotland.” -Wikipedia
Hear ye! Hear ye all commoners! Behold the finding of Bannockburn 1314 and three other medieval games designed by Wojciech Zalewski and published by Taktyka I Strategia from Poland. Quench your thirst and feast on any finger food you can find whilst the battlefield rages!
For many years I’ve played all kinds of historical games on-and-off, but I’ve found this series has renewed my excitement for wargaming. Bannockburn 1314 simply is a hex-and-counter game with a lot of playability and replayable.
Of course, the original rules and charts are in Polish, but the games are sold with easy-to-read and to-the-point English translations. Although, they also come with a few minor problems. For example, things like having the word ‘shoot’ spelled as ‘shot’ (which can cause a hiccup while reading.) or seeing ‘step reduction’ (when flipping a unit to its lower value) appear as the word ‘cell’. Plus, something called “Wolf Pits” are hidden and only revealed when enemy units enter the hex. Unfortunately, the rules do not specify how the “Wolf Pits” are hidden or how many there are or who controls them. But we found that these minor annoyances do not really effect game play.
Now, some gamers cringe at rule books over eight pages long and the English translations to these run between 28 – 32 pages. But as the translation is printed with wide margins and large fonts, its really only about nine pages in length and that includes the designer’s comments and notes.
More importantly, the maps are gorgeous, with nice clear artwork and are printed in a glossy finish. While the map tables do come in Polish, once you’ve checked the English translation, either chart can be utilized.
The battle counters are die cut, but only half as thick as what is produced here in the states. They do, however, have a high gloss coating on both sides. In addition, I’d recommend being extra careful when opening the box as some counters could fall out in the process. In compensation, the artwork on the counters is gorgeous! Plus, most of the information you’ll need is on them, including the battle, movement and ranged values involved. In addition, a counter indicates which type of armor is being carried (light or heavy) and whether we are dealing with infantry or cavalry.
Although the accessory counters are not pre-cut or two-sided, they do come with a high gloss topside finish on card stock. (As these counters are frequently used, I took the time to mount them on another card stock to give them more stiffness and thickness).
Bannockburn 1314 comes with four historical scenarios: Stirling 1297, Falkirk 1298, Prelude to Bannockburn and Bannockburn 1314 itself. The game play is fantastic and, for the most part, plays easily. However, this is not a tactical game as each counter represents a group of over 100 fighters. As with any game, questions arise but I found they can easily be settled with some logic and good will.
In this game the Zones of Control only extend into the three frontal hexes and cavalry has a unique charge procedure: cavalry combat values start at zero (yes, zero), but for every hex they charge forward into their combat value goes up by a factor of “1,” as long as they do not turn. Normally, when units move across hexsides they must move into the forward hex; but when they turn within a hex they consume one extra movement point per hexisde turned. However, if they need to turn during a charge, their combat value also drops to zero and then must be rebuilt by additional forward momentum. Apparently, the designer felt a warhorse would have to slow down considerably when making a turn and then build up speed all over again if their charge was to be effective. (Cavalry can also charge through enemy ZOC’s by spending extra movement points.) But, beware of enemy cavalry within range of your charge as they can counter-charge you at any time.
Retreats and Scattering:
If, however, the enemy retreats, there isn’t any moon walking withdrawal in this game. Units simply turn tail and expose their rear to the enemy. A 1d6 die roll in battle then determines if an advance-after-combat is mandatory in order to follow these units, which could be hazardous both to their health and yours.
Combat is determined by an odds ratio table and 2d6. It is a rather large table and both sides may sustain casualties, whatever odds column is used..
Units may also scatter in battles on a 1d6 die roll table, with each unit individually rolling. Any scattered units then are placed in a holding box on the map until a player is able to rally them back into play with a die roll of 4 + per unit in his movement phase.
In this game, you can’t tell how handsome the Leaders are as they’re wearing armored head gear and some are wielding a sword. But there also are beautiful banner counters that are stacked with your units. Both the handsome and the common, however, have an impact on the forces fighting around them, so you’d want to protect them in either case.
There is also a Morale Track on the map that is adjusted for every unit, banner or leader lost during battles. This will affect your the combat modifiers each turn.
In addition, we found that its important for players to maneuver their forces with a battle plan in mind as units will intermingle quickly. And having a reserve close behind the front line is necessary as well.
Each game in the series indicates which player has the initiative and moves first. Here is a condensed series turn sequence:
Phase 1: Player “A’s” cavalry moves. If they are ranged horsemen, they may fire on player “B’s” units.
Player “B’s” ranged units may shoot at player “A’s” units.
Player “B’s” cavalry may counter-charge player “A’s” cavalry.
Phase 2: Player “A’s” cavalry may attack.
Phase 3: Player “A’s” infantry moves..
Phase 4: Player “A’s” infantry attacks.
Phase 5: Player “B’s” cavalry moves. If player “A’s” ranged horsemen are involved, they may fire on player “B” units.
Player “A’s” ranged units may shoot at player “B’s” units.
Player “A’s” cavalry may counter-charge player “B’s” cavalry.
Phase 6: Player “B” cavalry may attack.
Phase 7: Player “B’s” infantry moves.
Phase 8: Player “B” infantry may attack..
Phase 9: Morale check. Any new morale values sustained effect Phases 1 through 8 during the next turn.
Note: Shiltrons (a wall of steel) was a very effective defensive formation used by the Scottish infantry that gave them an edge over the English cavalry. However, an infantry unit has to use all its movement points to build a Shiltron.
I did not see any English errata on well known gaming websites so I went to the Polish website of Taktyka I Strategia (presumably “Tactics and Strategy” in Polish) , used the Google translation option and found an errata file but I couldn’t translate it. That was unfortunate, as it could have settled some issues. (Although, none of the other series games had files associated with them.)
So, if you are in want of medieval battles, try these!