Thursday, 11 May 2017

Crusader Warfare

The forces used by the Christian or Latin leaders in Syria were formed from a conglomeration of sources. Both the feudal system and changing conditions throughout the crusades made this necessary. The knights as discussed in the topic page on chivalry composed one portion of the army. It is important, however, to realize that while their influence remained important in the military tactics of the crusader states, their numbers dwindled towards the end of the crusades as the idea of the knight became increasingly associated with nobility and heredity of the title. When the influence of the knights was the weakest, other sources were found to supplement the knight in the army.
Besides feudal vassals, recruits for the army were taken from three other sources. In emergencies there was a standing obligation for all free men to serve when required. Mercenaries were increasingly hired to supplement the army, and the religious Orders of the Knights Templar and Hospitallars became increasingly important in the war effort. In addition, people who could not be counted in the main standing army, but who often helped in specific battles, were the religious pilgrims who were traveling to the Holy places.

This composition of forces made the Crusader's armies weak in a number of ways. "In the first generation of Frankish conquest their princes achieved success in war mainly by use of their feudal resources. The Orders of the Hospital and Temple were not yet militarized, and less was heard of mercenaries than in later years. Knightly vassals were available in numbers sufficient to protect and to extend Latin territories; they were generally loyal and obedient; their service was not subject to the limitations common in the West, but they were required to serve for the whole year if need be. During the course of the century the military problems of the Syrian Franks became more difficult. Earlier successes had been made possible by the divisions and political weakness of Islam. As Muslim Syria was first reunited and then joined with Egypt, the Franks needed increased military strength even to maintain the conquests of their predecessors; but the feudal servitium debitum certainly never expanded enough, and may even have contracted. The rulers were therefore obliged to rely more upon mercenaries, whose cost imposed an intolerable strain on their always insufficient financial resources, and upon the military Orders, whom they could not fully control"(Smail, 98).

The Crusader's main offensive military weapon was the mounted knight. As a large force, the charge of this heavy cavalry was a serious threat in any confrontation. The shock tactics that were used was dependent on the heavily armed knight with lance and sword on horse-back bearing down on an opponent at full speed. such a charge could inflict heavy damage on an enemy, however it requires great control over ones army to keep them under control in the face of mounted archers who would ride in and out of distance leaving arrows and dead horses in their wake. The Crusader's military tactics have been said to come from both common sense and a knowledge of Byzantine and Roman military tactics. Wherever their ideas came from, "it is clear, that to the Franks, an indispensable preliminary to any engagement was to subdivide the army into a number of smaller units and to marshal them in the field in a prearranged order"(Smail, 124). This tactic of starting in a regimented order was necessary as a battle began, to help facilitate the control that a commander would have over the army for as long as possible after the battle had begun. Turkish tactics of using archery against the Crusaders before the actual battle began, in order to unsettle the army, was difficult for European commanders to overcome. When the Islamic tactics worked, the main offensive threat of the Latin states, the charge of the Heavy Cavalry, was effectively removed. (Hurley, 39-41)
Final mention should be made of a problem that the European forces encountered in the Holy Lands. The problem of numerical weakness leading to the hiring of mercenaries has already been mentioned. Leading from this recruitment problem is one of tactics. There was a dual nature in the holdings of the Latin armies in Syria. The crusaders found themselves numerically inferior to the Islamic forces; especially toward the end of the Crusades. The armies were forced to both defeat field armies that the Muslims would have ravaging the countryside, as well as defend the strong places and castles. Often the numerical inferiority that the Crusaders would face allowed them to only choose one or the other. Defeating an Islamic field army meant that there would be no garrison left in a castle. The Crusaders could effectively loose their stronghold in an area when they were forced to face a field army or watch their livelihood be ruined and maintain a starving castle. (Smail, 106,117-119) 

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Soldiers of God Wargame Rules

Soldiers of God is designed for playing tabletop battles during the period of the Crusades. The book is in A5 format, is printed on high quality, glossy paper and comes complete with a deck of action cards to play the game – so the first thing to say is that the book looks great. It contains photographs of nicely painted miniatures, both to illustrate rules and as eye candy. 
The game is designed as an element based wargame, with each unit consisting of between two and four stands. All stands, whether infantry or cavalry, should be the same size. 40mm or 50mm bases are recommended when playing with 28mm figures, with an infantry base having four or five figures on it, whilst a cavalry base should have two mounted figures. The game, however, will cater for any scale of miniature and any size of base (though it is recommended that bases not be too large). Distances are measured in ‘paces’ in the game and a ‘pace’ has a different length, depending on scale. With 10mm figures, 1 pace = 1cm, with 15mm figures 1 pace = ½ inch and with 28mm figures 1 pace = 1 inch. The action cards, are used to determine the turn sequence. There are four basic types of action cards: Movement, Missile, Melee and Morale. 

At the start of the game, each army chooses a battle plan, which gives that army three pre-determined action cards. Four random action cards are added to this, which means that at the start of the turn, each player has a hand of seven action cards to choose from. A player’s army is divided into a number of ‘Battles’, usually three (left, centre and right). When a player uses an action card, he specifies one of his Battles, and any or all units within that Battle may use that card as an order. Each card, as well as having an action, also has a special event. The card can be played either for its action, or for its special event, not both. Also of note is that the three cards given to a player dependent upon his battle plan can only be used as action cards, and never as special events. 
At the start of the turn, each player is dealt four random action cards. These are held in the player’s hand, whilst the three cards allocated to the army by its battle plan are placed face down behind their respective Battles. Initiative for the turn is then determined – usually it passes to the army with highest morale at that point in the game. The player with the initiative then has the first play. He can play an action card for its action, for its special event, he may pass and discard a card (and thus reduce disorder on one of his units by 1), he may choose to hold a card for a future turn, or he may trade in two of his cards for a new card, drawn from the action card deck.  After the player with initiative has played a card, then the player without initiative may do likewise. The turn progresses with the players alternating playing a card until all the cards have been played. Once all the cards have been played, the turn ends. Players check to see if units have been routed, adjust their army morale and check to ensure that the army morale has not been reduced to zero. If this should happen, that army loses the game.

Each basic type of action card is further subdivided into different types. For example, Movement action cards are further subdivided into March (move directly forward), Manoeuvre (change formation, facing, dismount etc.) or Skirmishers Move (which orders a unit if skirmishers to move). The types of cards exist in different quantities; for example, there are more March cards than Skirmishers Move cards.  When units move, they do so by moving a number of paces – this is determined by the type of unit and also whether they are in close or open order. Typically, troops in open order can move more quickly than troops in close order. When moving or firing, no pre-measurement of distance is allowed. Player must estimate whether a unit is in charge range, or bow-shot, and then order his units accordingly. Only after the order is given can distances be measured. Most missile weapons have quite a short range. For example, the standard bow has a range of 12". However, it is interesting to note that most bows and war engines can use the ‘Archery’ rule, which means that they can lob arrows over the heads of an intervening unit (friendly or enemy) onto their target – very useful, and not something that many sets of ancients rules allow you to do.

Units may only move into melee using the Charge action card. When doing so, units move their full movement rate until they contact an enemy unit, and then may make a free wheel movement until the unit base aligns with the target it has just struck. Combat, whether with missile weapons or in melee, is performed in the same way. The player rolls 1D6 for each stand in the unit (so if a unit consists of three stands, you would roll 3D6 in combat). Every weapon the unit is armed with has a stat – for example, dismounted knights have swords at 3+. This stat is the number that is needed on a D6 to score a hit. Modifiers in combat affect the number of dice that are rolled. For each hit, the target unit must make a resolve check – suffering a disorder marker for each check that is failed. (Disorder represents a mixture of casualties, confusion and failing morale).

Should a unit suffer more Disorder than it has stands, it is routed at the end of the turn. It’s worth noting that in melee, both attackers and defenders roll dice simultaneously, and thus both can inflict damage. Units that flee the battlefield affect the morale of the army. At the start of the game, players determine the Morale Value of their army, based on the number and quality of the units in their force. If this is reduced to zero during the game, the army is routed from the battlefield. This covers the essentials of the rules (although I have missed out several things, such as challenges in melee combat) that you can find in the first 37 pages of the rulebook. The rest of the book describes battle plans and their formations, describes all the special events that can happen when cards are played, gives an extended example of play, provides a terrain generator for the table top, proposes scenarios (a Field Battle, a Raid or a Siege Assault), has army lists for Saracens and Crusaders, contains rules for siege warfare and castle assaults (as sieges were a major factor in the wars of the Crusades) and finally outlines a mini-campaign system in which a campaign is fought over five battles, with units potentially gaining upgrades through experience.

The final pages of the rules provide a unit summary, a Quick Reference Sheet and a full index. Soldiers of God is a well-produced, well designed game. Some medieval warfare wargames can get quite complex – especially when controlling movement. SoG attempts to keep things as simple as possible. Things can get more complex when the inevitable multi-unit combat occurs, but the book provides several worked examples of combat including both close and open order troops, so everything is explained well. The action card system works well, and the fact that every card in a player’s hand may be played in a turn – which may well result in units being ordered multiple times in the same turn – keeps the gaming moving along apace. Combat is kept relatively simple. Some gamers may object to the fact that the only combat modifiers are those based on troop quality, formation or position (open order, flank attack etc.) and a unit’s combat effectiveness is not affected by casualties - I must admit that it didn't particularly trouble me. Continuing to use a unit that is badly affected by Disorder carries certain risks – the unit may still be combat effective, but is ultimately quite brittle and may well rout in combat and adversely affect the morale of the army.

Overall I really enjoyed Soldiers of God. A lot of work has been put into making it a fast-paced, fun game with a lot of depth and re-playability, given the number of scenarios and the campaign system included in the rules. The army lists are well put together, and although somewhat generic, give a good feel for the forces of the period. The action card system works really well, and gives each player a good number of decisions to make each turn. 

Review reference:

Compared to other medieval rule-sets, I feel these rules give you a good flavour for the Crusades period.  

Friday, 28 April 2017

Major Events of the 3rd Crusade

List of Major Events of the Period (Battle or Siege Date Notes)
  • Baldwin IV Crowned King of Jerusalem 1174
  • Saladin becomes Sultan of Egypt 1174 This was the beginning of the Ayyubid dynasty.
  • Hama 1175 - Hama was taken from the Zengids by Saladin. 
  • Siege of Harim, Syria 1177 - Raymond III of Tripoli and Bohemund III of Antioch joined with Philip of Alsace and laid siege against Harim castle in Syria.
  • Mount Gisard November 25th 1177 - Saladin was marching his army towards Jerusalem. Thinking he was safe, he allowed his army to spread out. Baldwin IV attacked and defeated the surprised Muslim Army.
  • Tell Jezer, Ramla 1177 - 375 Templers surprised Saladin commanding a small force. Saladin tried to form his men up but the Templers moved to swiftly and routed the Muslims. Saladin was lucky to escape after mounting a camel.
  • Hims 1178 - Saladin was camped beneath the walls of Hims. Here he skirmished with the crusaders for a few days without any major encounter.
  • Hama 1178 - At Hama Saladin won a victory and captured many prisoners. All the prisoners were executed.
  • Marj'Ayyun June 10th 1178 - An Ayyubid army commanded by Saladin defeated a Crusader army led by King Baldwin IV.
  • Banias 1179 - While leading a cattle raid, Baldwin IV was surprised by Farrukh Shah (Saladin’s Nephew). The Christian forces were routed.
  • Latani River 1179 - Responding to cavalry raids, Baldwin IV led a force to remove the threat. This he did but then ran in to Saladin’s main army and was routed.
  • Siege at Jacobs Ford August 23rd 117 - 1179 Baldwin IV was trying to build a castle at the strategic river crossing, Jacobs ford 100 miles north of Jerusalem. Saladin lay siege to the part built castle. Baldwin IV set out from Jerusalem with reinforcements but arrived too late and turned around. 1500 Christian soldiers were lost and the castle destroyed.
  • Quneitra 1179 - Baldwin led a force to Quneitra, east of the Golan Heights. Expecting to raid cattle, he was surprised by an Ayyubid army led by Farrukh-Shah and soundly beaten.
  • Naval raid by Reynald de Chatillon to Red sea. 1182 - He attacks coastal towns and villages but achieves no long term goals.
  • Siege of Christian Habis Jaldak in the Latin Principality of Galilee 1182 - Saladin's nephew, Farrukh Shah raided Galilee. Before his return to Damascus he captured the Frankish castle and the few Franks defending it
  • Conquest of Mesopotamian hinterland May 1182 - Saladin takes half the Ayyubid army and conquers Mesopotamia including Aleppo and Edessa. This campaign was fought by the Ayyubids against a mix of people including Mamlukes, Abbasids, Almohads and Bedouins.
  • Siege of Christian Kerak 1183 - The siege failed. Ayyubids raid in force attacking Zir’in, Forbelet, Mount Tabor 1183 The Muslim army was too big to stop, but these raids led to the battle of Al-Fule.
  • Al-Fule 1183 - A week long battle ends in the retreat of Saladin’s army.
  • Siege of Christian Kerak 1184 - The siege failed
  • Death of Baldwin IV 16th March 1185 
  • Baldwin V King of Jerusalem 1185 - Although crowned as co-ruler in November 1183, he became King in 1185. He was the son of Sibylla and died of leprosy soon after becoming sole Regent.
  • Reynald de Chattlion attacks several Muslim caravans. 1185 - Legend says Saladin’s sister was on one of the caravans. There is conflicting evidence to show she wasn't there.
  • Sibylla and Guy de Lusignan Crowned Queen and King of Jerusalem. 1186 - Guy and Sibylla had married in 1180, both were then crowned together in 1186. Sibylla died in October 1190. Guy retained the title King of Jerusalem .
  • Cresson Springs May 1st 1187 - Crusaders from Kerak are ambushed and killed
  • Battle of the Horns of Hattin July 4th 1187 - Army of Jerusalem destroyed, King Guy captured and Raynald captured then executed.
  • Siege of Christian Jerusalem 1187 - Jerusalem surrenders to Saladin after successful negotiations by Balian of Ibelin.
  • Saladin lays siege and captures all the remaining Christian land except Tyre 1187 - With Jerusalem’s army destroyed, most cities and castles surrendered without a fight as there are no soldiers to defend them.
  • Siege of Christian Tyre 1187 - Saladin failed to successfully siege Tyre.
  • Pope Gregory dies 1187 - He died of a broken heart after hearing about the loss of Jerusalem.
  • Frederick Barbarossa starts Crusade 1189 - He sets out from Germany with a huge army, Saladin is worried on hearing the news.
  • Siege of Muslim Acre 1189 - Guy de Lusignan raises a new army and tries to re-capture Acre.
  • Great battle of Acre 1189 - Saladin beats Guy, but fails to break the siege.
  • Barbarossa dies crossing a river 1190 - His death is a huge blow. His army breaks up, most going home but part of the army continues on the Acre.
  • Acre 1190 - Saladin beats Guy, but fails to break the siege.
  • Sack of Massina 1190 - Richard I sacks Massina, Sicily. owned by Tancred.
  • Battle of Cyprus May 6th 1191 - Richard captures Cyprus on his way to Outremer.
  • Richard I and Philip II Reach Outremer, landing at Acre. May & June 1191 - Philip arrived May 20th before Richard as Richard sailed to Cyprus first. Richard Landed on the 8th June.
  • Siege of Muslim Acre 1189-1191 - Acre surrenders after Guy receives help from Richard I and Philip II of France. Acre becomes the new Capital of Jerusalem.
  • Leopold V leaves for home 1191 - At Acre Leopold's flag was thrown from the city walls at Richard I request, Leopold enraged went home. Richard I would regret this action at a later date.
  • Philip II of France sails home 31st July 1191 - Quarrels with Richard I led to Philip II sailing back home to France, Leaving Richard as sole commander of all Crusader forces.
  • Arsouf September 7th 1191 - Richard beats Saladin in an epic battle on the coast road to Jaffa.
  • Siege of Muslim Ascalon 1191 - Richards takes Ascalon instead of heading straight for Jerusalem.
  • Skirmish at Muslim Darum 1192 - Richard I rescues 12,000 Christians being taken to Darum castle.
  • Siege of Muslim Darum 1192 - Without the French, Richard I lay siege and captured the castle. The banner of Stephen de Longchamp was the first raised above the walls, second belonging to the Earl of Leicester.
  • Skirmish near Jerusalem 1192 - A Frankish supply caravan was ambushed coming from Jaffa. After a hard fight the 200 Muslim cavalry were beaten off after the Earl of Leicester came to the rescue.
  • Battle for the caravans 1192 - While at Betenoble deciding on attacking Jerusalem, Richard is informed about a huge Muslim supply caravan coming from Babylon. With 500 Knights and sergeants and 1000 infantry they attacked and captured the caravan, killing over 1700 Muslim cavalry and many more infantry. Their prize included 4700 camels.
  • Siege of Christian Jaffa July 1192 - Saladin lays siege and captures most of the city. Richard being at Acre gathers a small force of about 2200 men and sails down the coast to successfully relieve the city.
  • Jaffa August 1192 - Richard being heavily outnumbered, fights off numerous Muslim attacks after camping outside the walls of Jaffa. Forming a shield wall, the crusaders fought off wave after wave of cavalry charges. Richards crossbows played a pivotal role from behind the spearmen.
  • Peace agreed between Richard I and Saladin September 1192 - Richard sets sail for England in October 1192. He's captures and imprisoned at Durnstein in Austria until a large ransom is paid in 1194. End of 3rd Crusade.
  • Death of Saladin March 4th 1193 - Died of a fever and is buried in a mausoleum in Damascus Syria.
  • Death of Richard I April 6th 1199 - Richard died after fighting in France. He was shot with a crossbow between his neck and shoulder on 25th March. He died of gangrene 2 weeks later.
  • Philip II dies peacefully July 14th 1223