Friday, 22 March 2019

The Toenail of San Sebastian Part Two

With day two of the game here I set off for Nidderdale in pretty awful conditions. A howling gale, horizontal driving rain and numerous small local floods as the rain poured off the fields. But once inside Chris's games room we were transported to the summer heat of late 11th century Spain for a battle of epic proportions.

Initially there were planned to be 10 players across a 14 foot table and over 120 units. With two needing to pull out I had 7 less units of Berbers and so pulled a division of Christians from the original listtoo  leaving us with 8 players and around 103 units on the table. So still a pretty big game.

The scenario revolved around a holy relic and a prophecy. On Thursday we had played a three way game with the Count of Asturias attempting to fight his way through with the Toenail of San Sebastian. He was successful and our game starts with a small force of cavalry escorting the Toenail towards the Monastery of San Sebastian wherein resides the holy Gonfallon of San Sebastian. Local legend has it that unfurling the Gonfallon in the presence of the Toenail will lead an army of Christians to victory over the invaders and the Count is throwing everything into getting the Toe nail through the ineffective Moorish siege lines and into the monastery.

The King of Leon has used this to mobilise an alliance of mainly christian forces and the Count will be fighting alongside the Bishop of San Sebastian, the Count of Barcelona and the famous mercenary leader El Cid.

Meanwhile the Berber leader Ben Yusuf sees an opportunity to force a major engagement with the Christian forces, he has taken the precaution of hiring a force of Flemish mercenaries and their mailed fist of armoured knights, he also has allied forces commanded by the Emirs of Zaragossa and Cordoba.
Our rules of choice are Hail Caesar and we find they work really well for these very large battles, there is an ebb and flow to the games. We play them with very few amendments. We have a divisional break test once a division has lost half its units rather than an automatic break. We also allow (sometimes) commanders to give an order to parts of a division even after the leader has failed to order his first unit. This is done on a -1 for each failure. This is to keep the game moving and other than that no real changes.
The troops come from a number of players with Jerry Miller providing the largest contingent and both Mark, Chris Charlton, Simon and I providing other forces.
On the Christian side I pulled the forces of the King out to even things up (No doubt busy knocking off inconvenient relatives on his way to the battle) that left 4 players and 4 commands.

Simon played the Count of Asturias. Including a unit of light cavalry and 2 units of knights escorting the Toenail he had:
2 Armoured foot
3 unarmoured foot
1 crossbows
1 slingers
3 light horse with marauder rule
5 mounted Knights with lance special rule

Next to him Richard was the Count Berenger of Barcelona commanding a force of:
3 armoured foot
2 unarmoured foot
1 slingers
1 archers
2 light horse with marauder rule
5 Mounted Knights with lance rule

Defending the monastery Jerry as the Bishop of San Sebastian  had:
3 armoured foot
2 slingers
1 archers
1 crossbows
2 Mounted Knights with lance rule

And finally the Cid himself played by Steve led into battle:
3 armoured foot
2 unarmoured foot
1 crossbows
1 slingers
1 mercenary horse archers with parthian shot rule
4 Mounted Knights with Lance
4 Berber Light horse with marauder rule

54 Units in total.

Opposing this coalition was Chris Charlton's Ben Yusuf and his Black Guard Division consisting of:
6 Medium Black Guard foot with Long Spear special rule
2 Berber archers
5 Black Guard medium horse
2 Camel Mounted troops

Next to Ben Yusuf and commanding the small besieging force I was the Emir of Zaragossa with:
4 units of Berber medium foot
3 units of Berber light Horse
2 units of Berber archers.

Next in Line the mercenary force of the Bastard of Guyes played by Mark had:
3 armoured foot
2 Berber medium foot with long spears
1 crossbows
5 mounted knights with lance
1 mercenary horse archers with parthian shot

And last but by no means least Chris Flowers as the Emir of Cordoba had:
2 Andalusian armoured foot
2 Crossbows
2 Mounted Militia Crossbows
3 Andalusian armoured Horse
2 Light Horse
2 horse archers with Parthian shot

49 units in total so a slight in balance in numbers for the Christians who also had the advantage of the majority of Knights. On the other hand the Moors had slightly more missile troops and the majority of the horse archers.

As well as a list of forces each division has its own little objectives to add a little spice. El Cid and Berenger of Barcelona hated each guts historically so this is reflected in their orders.
The camp was mainly from Adrian's Walls and the collections of Jerry and Chris C.
The Christians went first and with the fate of Spain on their shoulders the troops of Asturias failed to move at all whilst the rest of the Christians barely moved either (Simon took it in good humour with a wry smile). Other than the Horse Archers of Cordoba the Moors failed to take advantage of this and trundled forward in an equally lack lustre fashion. First blood went to the Horse Archers.
Move 2 and the Toenail again remains stationary, however Simon rolls well for the rest of the Asturian forces who swarm forward to protect the Toenail and its escort from Chris's Cordoban's, the horse archers being forced to evade behind the lines of their own troops by a couple of well timed charges. Jerry's skirmishers move forward from the Monastery to harass the camp and everyone else bumbles about for another turn creeping nearer to their opposite numbers.
The Camel troops are a new one to me and Jerry provided the stats, they started furthest away from the enemy and I was interested to see how they would perform, we will come back to these chaps later.
Mark starts to make his presence felt in the next move with the Mercenary Knights and Richards Catalans charging each other in the centre of the table, Marks dice are pretty awesome and he gets the better of the engagements. To my left Chris's Black Guard cavalry and Steve's own Berbers also clash inconclusively at first but after a couple of turns the Black Guard are pushed back into the camp. The Camel troops fail to move at all. I have been pushing archers forward to long range skirmish with Jerry's own skirmishers and the Cavalry on the right flank are furiously charging each other with mixed results for Si and Chris F.

The impressive monastery dominated the terrain, a wonderful piece belonging to Jerry. The Berber camp and siege weapon (Jerry and Chris C's models) also added some real flavour.

The Cavalry from both sides was now engaged right across the board, charging and counter charging, it was difficult to see who was getting the upper hand as the battle ebbed and flowed and the blocks of foot marched towards each other. Meanwhile the Holy toenail had finally reached the monastery and it would soon be the moment of truth.

It was noted by the superstitious amongst us that as the toenail passed each unit in turn its luck changed, bizarrely for the worse and both Si's Asturians and Richards Catalan's took a beating as the holy relic passed on its way to the monastery.

Things were not going well for the Christians on the left flank of the monastery and El Cid on the right was struggling to contain the Black Guard, although the Camels were still meandering about behind everyone else, it was time to unfurl the holy Gonfallon.

I added a bit of drama with a die roll for effect, there would also have been benefits to the Moors had they succeded in capturing the toenail on its way to the monastery.

The Bishop of San Sebastian (Jerry) rolled a D6 The potential results were:


Jerry rolled a 5. The Christians were unimpressed by the extra bonus's, as it turned out though they would be a deciding factor.

Richard had taken something of a beating from Marks Mercenary Knights only his good saving throws and morale throws had really kept him in the game. However at 2pm Mark had to leave coinciding with the unfurling of the Gonfallon and Richards luck began to turn. He was able to see off two units of the Mercenary Knights and the remainder were now pretty badly mauled, this had come a little late for Si who's cavalry was almost destroyed now and a divisional break test saw the remainder break and flee leaving his foot to be flanked by the hordes of Cordoban light cavalry. My Berber foot along with the Mercenary foot were pressing forward and the Black Guard were slowly pushing El Cid back too.

It was looking like the Moors might do it, but with the banner unfurled a new confidence inspired the Bishops troops and the neighbouring Catalan foot and they marched forward to the fray.

It was at this point I think that the tide turned. A further charge by Richards Knights broke another units of Mercenary Knights forcing a divisional break test, the mercenaries promptly failed and two thirds of the Moors armoured horse promptly left the table. Chris's hordes of light cavalry failed to plug the gap, he was content to swarm around Si's Asturian foot who were pulling back towards a wood to try protect their flanks, Chris was playing his character as the duplicitous Emir of Cordoba to the hilt.

Jerry and Richards armoured foot stormed into my foot, Jerry's Knights charging the armoured mercenary foot in the centre. A fierce set of melees ensued for the next two rounds whilst the Black Guard foot and El Cid's forces engaged on my flank. Initially the the Berber foot had the upper hand but the re-rolls afforded by the Gonfallon were decisive and the Berbers and Mercenary foot began to be pushed back.

The Black Guard were steadily pushing back El Cid's forces, but were suffering severe casualties them selves, the Camel troops continued to hover around the rear of all the fighting.

The Moorish foot in the centre were now being gradually forced back and their right flank was wide open as the few remaining Christian horse began to sort them selves out.

The Camel troops finally pounced on badly mauled unit of El Cid's troops that was already engaged with Black Guard foot and saw them destroyed but it was a little late in the day for them to make any impression on the final outcome.

The Moors were still a force to be reckoned with right across the table, but the momentum had been lost, the casualties were mounting and despite the severe mauling taken by the Christians the Moors could neither break them or capture the Gonfallon.

At this point the Moors admitted a narrow defeat and their tired army began to pull back with the Christians licking their wounds and in no shape to follow up their narrow victory.
The game played out as I had imagined with a few curve balls here and there. It remained balanced on a knife edge right till the end with the failure of divisional break tests for the mercenaries probably being the pivotal moment.

A great game with a lot of laughs along the way. We are discussing re-fighting a slightly larger version of this on a slightly bigger table at Partizan in August, that should be fun.

I hope you enjoyed our fun encounter, our next game looks to be a Jazz Age Imperialism encounter on the North West Frontier so I will see you very soon.


  1. Looks beautiful and intense, lovely armies and camps...Great report!

  2. Very impressive game and report. Will look forward to Partizan if it goes ahead. Well done.

  3. What a great game, great read too, nice one Roger.

  4. That was a (toe) nail biting finish! ;-)

    Lovely pictures and a great battle report. Partizan would be a great location to show case these forces. We've also found that the Black Powder / Hail Caesar stable of rule are great at giving these ebbs and flows to games - very entertaining.

    1. Cheers, hopefully get to see it in the flesh

  5. Brilliant, hard fought game. Best in ages!!

  6. Just as well i was there as no one else godly enough to play the Bishop. Great report and pic Roger