Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Battle of Heavenfield

Xmas is usually a quiet time on the gaming front for obvious reasons, but this year with the family away in Los Angeles (a long story) I was able to meet up with my friend Keith for a game or two of Dux Bellorum (he fancied something a bit different for once). I got everything set for when he arrived and so after the usual chat about wargaming etc, we sat down to play the 'River Battle' scenario straight from the book.

This turned into a bit of a slugging match over the ford as I had only made it wide enough for one unit to cross at a time, so wasn't a very challenging game to be honest. We both agreed that the ford needed to be wider in future and also that having the odd cavalry unit would help due to their greater mobility. Time was still on our side so we proceeded to play a straight 'Annals Battle' which was much more fun and challenging. Again we both agreed that the odd cavalry unit here and there would add another level to the game, so my partially painted cavalry for my Saxons have been bumped up the painting ladder as it were.

The following day I went to WH Smiths and bought the latest issue of Miniature Wargames magazine, which I thoroughly enjoy reading. By chance it had a scenario from Dux Bellorum author Dan Mersey in it based upon the historical 'Battle for Heavenfield', between Cadwallon and Oswald. I had left the table out from the previous night with the intention of playing a solo game or two from the book, but decided there and then to game the Heavenfield scenario as I had enough units for both forces from my collection of Pendraken figures.

Dan had also come up with a nice little pre-game idea where both players can bid secretly for certain terrain, re-inforcements etc. As I was playing solo I ignored this but am keen to try it out in future games. To my mind it looks a lot of fun and will add something extra to the game which is always a bonus in my book. 

I won't go into the detail of the background of the battle here, but recommend that you buy the magazine instead. However I will give the forces for both sides to help understand the units on the table.

Oswald's Army - Repeller
1 x Saxon Shieldwall Companions (with Oswald)
3 x Saxon Noble Shieldwall
2 x Ordinary Irish Warriors
2 x Saxon Foot Skirmishers (I opted to equip them with bows)
2 Extra Leadership Points

Cadwallon's Army - Agressor
1 x Welsh Shieldwall Companions (with Cadwallon)
7 x Ordinary Welsh Shieldwall
2 x Saxon Ordinary Warriors

Oswald's forces deployed on the hill as per the historical battle, in a strong defensive position, facing the numerically larger force of Cadwallon.
The shieldwall units deployed in the centre with the Irish Warriors and skirmishers on the right flank.
Cadwallon deployed his Shieldwall units into two blocks, with the aim of the centre tying down Oswald's forces on the hill while the right flank attempted to move round and attack the left flank of Oswald. The Saxon Warriors deployed on the left flank facing the Irish Warriors of Oswald.

How the game played out.

Cadwallon's line advanced en masse whilst the Irish Warriors and Saxon skirmishers of Oswald's army advanced to threaten Cadwallon's left flank.
Cadwallon's army continues to advance, but the central Shieldwall units fail to move. The Saxon skirmishers shoot into the Saxon Warriors, causing a hit, before combat is joined. The Irish push back one Saxon unit and elect to follow up.
Cadwallon's army advance in unison this turn whilst the Warriors and Skirmishers continue to battle it out, with the Irish gaining the upper hand.
Only Oswald's centre manages to advance with the Warriors continuing to fight it out.
Cadwallon's right flank fails again leaving the centre to charge uphill into Oswald's Noble Shieldwall, who unsuprisingly come off worse. The Saxon skirmishers shoot and charge into support on the right flank with the Saxon Warriors under severe pressure from the Irish.
With the loss of a Saxon Warrior unit, Cadwallon's left flank is starting to look vulnerable. The centre gamely continues to attack Oswald's Nobles, but to no effect. Finally Cadwallon's right flank starts to move up into support.
The remaining Saxon warrior unit is assailed from all sides, but somehow manages to draw the combat! Cadwallon's units start to really threaten Oswald's left flank, forcing him to move back slightly. The centre continues to slug it out with Oswald's Nobles, who show the mettle.
The Irish Warriors see off the last Saxon Warrior unit, leaving Cadwallon's left flank rather exposed. On the hill Oswald's left flank comes under attack but grimly holds on depsite being assailed on two sides.
Cadwallon's Army attempts to envelope Oswald's Nobles, but is attacked in the rear by Irish Warriors.
Multiple attacks from front and rear see the loss of two off Cadwallon's sheidwall units, which he can't afford to lose. To add insult to injury his right flank fails to move into the attack. Cadwallon is now down to 2 LP's and 1 off his break point. Oswald still has 7 LP's tp play with.
The battle descends into a confused melee, but Cadwallon's forces are under severe pressure, but crucially do not lose any units this turn.
The inevitable happens and Cadwallon loses enough units to force a break test, which results in other units fleeing the battle, thereby taking him over 75% and thus 'losing' the game.

As this was essentially an 'End of Reign' battle, it was a draw as neither side had succeeded in killing their opposite number. However Cadwallon's forces had lost 6 units to Oswald's 2, even before rolling for break tests. So in my mind a victory to Oswald and the death of Cadwallon, cut down near the stream as happened at the end of the real battle.

Post Game Thoughts
I found this a thoroughly entertaining game, made all the better by the background detail provided by Dan in his article. So here are a few thoughts on the game:
  • Shieldwall units on a hill are damned hard to shift.
  • The lack of skirmishers for Cadwallon told in the end as they helped Oswald's Irish Warriors win the flank battle. Also they are very useful at attacking shieldwall units with their hit on 5+.
  •  With the loss of the left flank, Cadwallon's army was always going to be in a tricky situation.
  • If Cadwallon's force had made a unified attack on Oswald's Noble shieldwall from the front and side, this would have helped. In the end I was too hasty and commited the troops to soon and in a piecemeal fashion. Lesson hopefully learnt!
  • Cavalry would have helped Cadwallon's army as their mobility might have been enough to un-lock Oswald's shieldwall. Dan does mention the option of this in his article.
So having had a few games in quick succession, I'm going to order a few more units from Pendraken to flesh out my existing armies. Broadly speaking these will be a mix of cavalry and foot, to allow me to field a Late Roman army as well as Irish and Pict allies. With Pendraken due to release some new Ancients ranges next year, these should be ideal for the latter.


  1. Good report Steve, thanks for taking the time to write it up etc. I'm tempted to try Dux Bellorum myself seeing as one of my friends has recently invested in a copy and a 15mm army for it. It would certainly make a change from painting 6mm WWII/Moderns.


  2. That sounded like Fun Steve, it's onmy list to try for 2014.
    So my periods so little time.
    Happy New Year.

  3. Nice write up. After years of planning I just got myself into Romano brit wargames and dux bell was my choice. Think I might give this one a try solo over the weekend. You can see my efforts on my shiny new blog at

    1. Glad this has inspired you Robert. Your Blog looks nice BTW and I will follow this with interest.

  4. Thanks for the interesting write up. I am not a war gamer, but found this blog while researching the battle of Heavenfield for my second novel set in the seventh century.

    One question: Does the magazine article make no mention of Hadrian's Wall in the tactics of the battle? The accounts speak of Oswald's inferior numbers setting up a defensive position facing east with Hadrian's Wall on their right, effectively preventing Cadwallon's force from outflanking them.

    1. If you're interested, just found this, that seems to discard much of the older historical accounts.

  5. Hi Matthew,
    I'm glad you liked the write up.The article does mention Hadrian's Wall, but only insofar that we know that the battle was fought near there. I think the Battlesfield Trust gives more detail than the article, but then that is to be expected. As for tactics We can make an educated guess and as for deployment, I think we can only make a stab at this.

    It would be worth contacting Dan Mersey in person as I'm sure he would be happy to help you if he can. Certainly his article has some other info there that might be of use for your novel.