Sunday, February 14, 2010

Retrospective: 17 July 2009 Historicon WAB Medievals (Intro)

Events had conspired to make it impossible for me to attend the annual historical miniature gamer geekfest known as Historicon for several years, and I had been itching to get back into Warhammer Ancient Battles for a while. I had also been putting the ‘finishing touches’ on an army of Medieval Burgundy for over half-a-dozen years, and this looked like the perfect opportunity to finally finish painting the last few units of my force.

Medieval Burgundy was, at the height of its power in the 1400’s AD, basically the northeastern part of what is now France (Bourgogne and Alsace-Lorraine), plus most of Belgium, Luxemburg, and the Netherlands (and a sliver of what is now the western part of Germany). It was in effect a powerful independent nation that came into regular conflict with France (to whom it was technically a vassal), and even allied with England against France during the Hundred Years’ War.

Like many of the hundreds of small nations of Europe that vanished from the pages of history during and after the Renaissance, it collapsed and was absorbed into other victor-nations (which we know now as “the countries of modern Europe”). In the case of Burgundy, the collapse was largely due to the military failures of its last Duke, Charles the Rash, who bit off quite a lot more than he could chew, and was smashed in several successive battles by the Swiss.

Burgundy was torn apart after Charles’ death in 1477, and the territory remained a source of violent dispute between France and the Hapsburgs (later Prussia and Germany), all the way into the twentieth century, with particularly exciting flare-ups such as the Thirty Years’ War, the Franco-Prussian War, and World War Two.

I’ve been fascinated by medieval Burgundy since I read Mary Gentle’s “The Book of Ash” series back in 2001, and although the series took a very odd turn (to say the least) into some speculative Sci-Fi, the core characters and stories, about the lives of a mercenary company employed by Burgundy, were extremely compelling. The army list for Burgundy in Warhammer Ancients is an excellent way to capture this story – the last duke of Burgundy hired the best military units available in Europe to form his army, which as a result is a combination of some of the most effective and elite units in the medieval period.

Over several years of playing the Burgundians, I have optimized them as much as I can, both for points values and for my own play style. The army list in the “Armies of Chivalry” book is packed with many elite (= expensive) units, and there is always plenty of temptation to be wildly inefficient with one’s points. My own list is centered around a fairly static gunline concept, anchored by as much light artillery as I can field and supported by a number of “shooty” units, specifically crossbows with pavises for protection, and skirmishing longbowmen. Ironically, although Burgundy did use handgunners, and they were some of the first models I painted, the WAB rules are very hard on handgunners, and as a result I use crossbowmen instead.

To ensure that the “gunline” hangs around and keeps shooting, I field a relatively immobile general and army standard, which I’ve stuck into a unit of cut-rate pikemen (possibly the only low-cost unit in the army list!) for protection. And to provide a hard punch and threaten opponents that can outshoot me (a few do exist!), I’ve units of very ‘punchy’ Knights with warhorses, full plate, lances, and the First Charge special rule, bulked up relatively cheaply with the addition of “sergeant” models in the second rank. To protect their flanks, as well as the flanks of my relatively immobile infantry, I also field a small unit of Light Cavalry.

All of this is very characterful, in my mind anyway, and has seen a fair amount of success on the tabletop. For this tournament, I was to bring three different point values, which I’ve outlined below: my 1500-point ‘core’ has the bare essentials only, while the 2000-point list has a second unit of Knights, and a ‘fun’ unit that actually has relatively little benefit in most games apart from terrifying overly cautious opponents (the Multi-Barrel Artillery unit). Finally, for the 2250-point list, I added some handgunners – some of the first units I painted for this army list, but some of the most superfluous in most situations, as in the WAB rules crossbows are more effective in virtually every situation. That said, I didn’t have more crossbows, and I DID have a lot of nicely painted and very characterful handgunners – so in they went!

What did I bring?

1500 points:
  • General and ASB on foot, both with Full Plate
  • 5 Knights (with Full Plate, Lance, First Charge, and Warhorse with Plate Barding, + 3-man Unit Command upgrade) & 5 Coustilliers (Heavy Armor, Thrusting Spear) in back rank
  • 10 Light Cavalry (Light Armor, Light Crossbow)
  • 22 Lowland Pikemen (Heavy Armor, Pike, + 3-man Unit Command upgrade)
  • 10 Ordnance Longbows (Light Armor, Longbow, Skirmishers)
  • 2x10 Crossbowmen (Light Armor, Crossbow, Pavise)
  • 3xLight Artillery (3 crewmen each plus 1x Master Gunner upgrade)
2000 points:
  • General gains Double-Handed Weapon
  • 5 Ordnance Gendarmes (WS5 unit with Full Plate, Lance, First Charge, and Warhorse with Plate Barding, + 3-man Unit Command upgrade) & 5 Coustilliers (Heavy Armor, Thrusting Spear) in back rank
  • 10 Ordnance Longbows (Light Armor, Longbow, Skirmishers)
  • Multi-Barreled Artillery (plus 2 additional crewmen)
2250 points:
  • 2x10 Handgunners (Light Armor, Handgun, Pavise)
  • Unit Champion upgrade for Light Cavalry
My core strategy is always the same: hold the pikemen back, with a screen of “shooty” units protecting it, and with artillery and crossbows (and handgunners) near enough to the general to take advantage of his leadership. The cavalry go on the wings – either all three on one wing, or split between each wing as the situation and opportunity allows. They either sit back in a defensive posture (against a more dangerous cavalry foe) or ride out very aggressively (against a less dangerous cavalry or infantry foe).

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