I was asked by a friend on the back of a recent Ribble Rumble Cross and Crescent tournament why I took Early Russian.
Basically because it ticked many of the various boxes for an army I’d have an interest in,
- Unlikely to be used by anyone else
- Would look pretty on the table
- Has the capacity to challenge my opponent, regardless of the army they use, and make it an interesting game for us both even if I dont win.
The Cross and Crescent was a themed competition, armies from 1000AD to 1149AD, full list at the bottom of this article. I spent a lot of time looking through the lists, looking for a suitable army but also to gauge what the likely field would be. This is usually an exercise in delusion as my prediction of the likely field usually runs to ‘it will be massed horse archer armies’, and everyone brings wall to wall foot….
But there were obvious themes for this one
- Many of the armies could have large numbers of shieldwall close order foot with short spear. With variations of 2HCT or LTS and supported by high quality mounted or skirmishing horse
- Plenty of horse archer types backed by either Mamluk style heavy horse or hard charging knight types.
- Then the Muscle armies, predominantly Norman style knights with a strictly supporting cast of defensive close order foot, includes Byzantine armies though they have a significant manoeuvre advantage.
- Finally the outliers like Cuman, Pecheneg, Tuareg and the Eastern European lists which were a mix bag of troops.
So with all that flowing round my head I looked at the Early Russian and promptly discarded it from my possible list, why? Because it was either, in essence, a poor man’s Turkish horse archery type army, a mob of superior cavalry covered by a swarm of Turk/Pecheneg exp or skilled flexible horse archers but with an instinctive command structure and cavalry that couldn’t run away. Its alternative version was a shieldwall heavy army with supporting good quality cavalry but again capable of being done far better in many other lists in the theme. It was a shame though as I thought it would look very pretty.
I moved on with my list reading and I came to the Hungarian army list and much like the Early Russian it was structurally an army that was a poor man to something else. The list however had several noticeable attractions, it was allowed a unit of Fully armoured Knights, with all the trimmings, rare in the event dates and probably should have been excluded. In fact the Hungarian list subsequently has an official errata making them post 1150AD. It was also allowed flexible protected horse archers, hardly a super weapon but I’ll explain why they drew themselves to me a little later. After much faffing I couldn’t get a list I was comfortable with but remembered that Early Russian could take a Hungarian ally so back to the Russians.
The combination of an Early Russian with a Hungarian ally immediately presented a style of army that I thought would work well. I had the building blocks for a very top heavy superior combat army with good command structure and manoeuvre possibilities. There were a few practise games and trial runs to nail down the concept but what came out of that was this,
The basic concept for facing shieldwall and muscle type armies was going to be pin a portion, ideally a large portion, of the opposing army in place with the Poles (unit 6) and the Hungarians horse archers (unit 9) and throw all the Noble cavalry, the Hungarian Knights and Hospitallers at the remaining part of the enemy army. Destroy it by overwhelming numbers and breach and swing inwards.
For Horse archery type armies we are instead into broad, hard and fast charges to drive them back onto the table edge, force their limited high quality troops into combat and generally deny them the ability to turn it into a prolonged shooting match. Here I surmised being very top heavy in superior troops would help significantly as skilled shooters lose the edge against superiors being a white+ rather than a green. I take away the Skull possibility and improve my survival odds.
Why this specific, rather small at that, list
Let’s start with the dregs, the 4 internal Hungarians (skirmisher 2), downgraded to poor and unskilled shooters. I’m pretty convinced they’d deserve to take a self KAB if required to actually shoot at anyone. However, they had an important function, they pushed my scouting cards up from 4 to 5 and knowledge is power. Worst case the extra card might limit my being out scouted to a smaller proportion.
The Polk Spearmen (unit 4) compulsory and so no qualms about downgrading it to poor and giving it integral shooters. Its sole role was to sit in front of the camp and frankly if the opponent had reached them, I was probably close to losing anyway. Integral shooters because that bump might make them survive for one turn longer and allow me a chance of extra points elsewhere 😊
Three units of 6 Noble cavalry, these were the joy of this list, Superior, short spear and melee expert. Brutality on four legs. What they don’t have is any shatter characteristics, what they do have is self-control, none of this 3 BW go loopy command and control nightmare. They also fight as well as or better in rough terrain than most close order foot units, particularly telling shieldwall doesn’t work in rough so Cavalry melee expert counts in melee… Even in the open though a shieldwall will suffer to these guys especially if they haven’t gone three deep as the cavalry have a good chance of wearing them down. As soon as that shieldwall characteristic is lost due to thinning ranks it goes down hill fast. Another thing to consider, if I’m facing knights, I’ll look to fight them in rough, their lances don’t function too well and ok they still get dev charger but they need to be in two ranks for that and I really don’t.
The Hungarian Ally command,
Knights and the Hospitaller knights (units 7 and 8) their job is to provide the flank security, pivot point for the Noble cavalry attack wing and basically engage anything that the Noble cavalry probably don’t want a stand up fights with, so basically any high end stuff. If I’m lucky I can reverse the roles and stick the two blocks of knights into something squishy while the Nobles run cover and exploit a hole. Rarely works like that though.
Hungarian protected horse archers (unit 9) and Hungarian skirmishers (skirmisher 1), these work together, usually in the centre of the table. Their sole aim stand as close to the enemy battle line as is safe and stop him manoeuvring easily or double marching. Basically, it’s the spanner in the works to allow the strike wing to make its mess. I mentioned earlier my keenness for the protected horse archer, why? Because as a delaying unit it has a certain resilience. For example, You charge it with a an average short spear shieldwall, if I’m keen to keep a delaying influence for the upcoming movement phase. I’ll stand and take the charge especially if I know I have the cards to break off at the end of the turn. In the charge phase and the melee its green V green. Strong chance I’ll not be too dented and can continue to delay for many happy turns to come. The accompanying skirmishers just add a few more dice to the mix to slow and confuse.
Back to the main Russian troops and the Polish cavalry and the Turks, units 5 and 6, I’m mentioning these together as they work together. This is the second of my delaying blocks, it operates under one of the mediocre sub generals and is all he commands. Its purpose is to deploy at the extreme of my deployment, essentially as far away from strike group as possible. It has two possible remits, if in the unlikely event the Hungarians go unreliable, they are to immediately cut diagonally across the enemy battle line to the centre of the table and replace them as the central delayer. More likely though they just delay the extreme of the enemy line but also offer a not insignificant threat to any unit looking to outflank the Hungarian delayers in the centre. Superior short spears are not to be ignored. It also deters a lot of the archer/crossbow units that often occupy flanking roles in armies. Players are justifiable cautious of being to care free around free floating superior cavalry. The Turks, though unarmoured are flexible so can also whip out to the side, reform into a TUG and deliver a messy flank charge. Both these units are expendable, eventually, and I’ll happily commit them to a slow fatal encounter if it stalls out the enemy wing from getting to the mess I am, hopefully, creating on their other flank.
That’s it in essence, command structure is static, Mediocre sub takes Turks and Poles. 2nd Sub commands a single block of Nobles and adds his combat factor as needed to help create the breach. CInc commands the two nobles and the camp guards. Hungarian AG has his two knight units and the flexible horse archers and the skirmishers.
It is here where I found the army worked really well, in its command and control. Essentially the Hungarian AG had the most to move and control and yet his knights were pretty much point and charge. His flex horse archers operated on greens for most things and pulled their skirmishers along. Both Mediocre Subs , as soon as they got a yellow or higher , hoarded it and dribbled along with the whatever their 2nd card dealt was. Why? For the delayer block the yellow is a 180 turn with a wheel and retreat or a back pedal and still be facing forward. Key to survival and annoyance factor. For the combat mediocre that yellow is a wound removal or a complex manoeuvre. The army commander has the easiest time of it ,4 cards for two noble units. It makes it very rare for him not to be able to double move immediately in turn one or to not have the cards for more complex manoeuvres.
The army suffers against bulk double ranked LTS or shieldwall with integral shooters as its makes attrition odds too unpleasant. That said those are expensive and likely mean there will be a weak spot to concentrate on. Massed superior knightly types that can pile on the pressure are a struggle, they can overwhelm the delayers quickly, or at least force them back fast and enable their lines to react.
The army prefers to attack, in fast, pin the opponent, go to work creating a hole. It does work if forced to defend but your opponent is already countering the threat. Its hard to hide 5 units of superiors lined up to have a go. That said ambushes though flagging the intent do throw your troops up further and faster.
Of course no plan survives contact with the opponent and they’ll be doing their own thing and throwing mine out of whack. It just comes down to which one of us is playing chess and which one Baccara.
In conclusion I really liked the army, surprisingly so in fact, I’d almost be tempted to use it in an open competition but now we’re adding pikes, power bows into the mix and maybe it’s a stretch too far but who knows, there is after all the LGT to find out 😀
Armies 1000 AD to 1149 AD
THE STEPPES AND EASTERN EUROPE
Cuman or Kipchak
Later Nikephorian Byzantine
Early Medieval Danish
Post Viking Scandinavian
KINGS IN THE NORTH
Jarls of Orkney
Kingdom of the Isles
Later post Roman British
Middle Anglo Saxon
North Africa Dynasties
Early Fatamid Eygptian
Great Seljuk Empire
Later Fatamid Cilician
Eastern Seljuk Turk
Early Turcomen Beyliks
County of Edessa
Early Outremer States
Sultanate of Rum
HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE
Early Communal Italian
Early Imperial German
Early Catalan or Aragon
Feudal Castile, Leon or Portuguese
Tarifa of Murcia
Early Feudal French
Holy Roman Empire