Deep in the heart of Malvern Hills along the Herefordshire/Worcestershire border lies Witches Wood. An area of ill-repute, ancient stones and treacherous undergrowth, Witches Wood is shunned by the superstitious locals who say it is the haunt of ghosts, devils and more recently, the abode of King Twiggy and his legion of living scarecrows.
The militia of the Malvern Hills Conservators have learned that a consignment of arms, bound for the Royalists in Hereford, has gone missing in the area, and rumour has it that it is being stored in Witches Wood by persons unknown. Being a practical bunch, the MHC have been asked to retrieve the crates, ghosts be damned!
|Missing weapons cache|
For the first time in ages I was able to invite Giles over for a skirmish game using the Brink of Battle rules – once again with a 500 points force apiece. For a change I decided to field a ‘horde’ of Twiggy Mommet rural protesters, who, fed up with the civil war raging through the countryside, have captured the aforementioned arms cache.
|My horde of protesters|
Fielding a horde gives you larger numbers of low-quality troops, which is useful when casualties start to mount up and rout checks need to be taken, but they are less handy in combat. Plus you need enough action tokens to make full use of them all. With this in mind I gave their commander almost legendary stats, and the ‘Master Tactician’ trait, which gave me extra action tokens each round, alongside the mandatory ‘Commander’ trait. I could thus activate almost all of the models without having figures standing idle. He had obviously been rummaging through the arms cache as he had an SMG and extra ammo in case of those pesky weapon jams.
I also had a veteran with decent stats and the ‘Commander’ trait, allowing me some flexibility in command and giving me a backup leader should the commander get wounded. The rest of the horde had lower level stats and were armed with a mix of rifles, shotguns and improvised weapons. Being dressed as spooky scarecrows, I gave each figure the ‘Savage Aspect’ trait, which gave them a much-needed advantage when charging into close combat (something the scythe wielding protesters would have to do to avoid being shot up).
|Witches Wood and environs|
My daughter helped me to dress the table to represent the edge of Witches Wood (designated ‘area terrain’ and thus providing concealment but also difficult terrain). Her assistance did come at a cost, for, lacking any livestock models, she insisted I rectify this with some of her toy rabbits – giant bunnies obviously being a speciality of Malvern Hills farmers!
And so the game began, with Giles’ usual team of MHC militia – well armed, well trained but at a numerical disadvantage – splitting up into three teams and bravely advancing into Witches Wood.
|MHC militia advance...|
My scarecrow horde also split into three, with the commander and chums making straight for the crates while the others advanced on the flanks. The going was slow due to the undergrowth, but both sides benefited from the concealment this offered.
|...as do the scarecrows|
Both sides exchanged fire. A scarecrow was wounded on my left flank, causing his mate to fail a panic test. After seeing his pal fall, he turned tail and fled. However the situation was quickly redressed, with MHC militiamen also succumbing to blasts from the scarecrow’s shotguns both on the flanks and in the centre.
|Fighting on the flank - note the use of old pennies as action tokens!|
With the woodland reducing visibility, the MHC were unable to make use of their longer range rifles and with smaller numbers, they soon hit the 25% casualties required to force a rout check. Alas the dice weren’t in Giles’ favour and the roll failed, causing the MHC to withdraw rather than take any more casualties in the close confines of Witches Wood.
|One more victim for the scarecrows!|
Plenty of time then for another game! We left the table pretty much the same as before (giant rabbits and all) but this time opened up the wood a little bit with an elevated clearing in the middle. We also changed the axis of advance from the wide edges of the table to moving along the length.
|Same table, but with a more open wood|
This time we both elected to split our forces in two – one team making for the wood while the other took to the open flank. My commander and those scarecrows with firearms headed for the hill on this flank, while those armed only with improvised weapons, supported by the second in command, sought the cover of the wood.
|Mayhem on the flank|
As the flanking party reached the hill they received fire from the MHC, similarly advancing along the flank and taking cover in some rough ground beyond the
|Scarecrows begin their flanking move|
While the other MHC chap withdrew, this team descended the hill and into the woodland to outflank the MHC there, who with numbers once again beginning to count against them, lay in wait for the other scarecrows to emerge into the clearing.
|Scarecrows come under fire|
Despite the cover afforded by the undergrowth, these scarecrows had to reveal themselves sometime, and with the field a little more open, were soon succumbing to MHC rifle fire. A series of poor panic tests saw some scarecrows fleeing from their fallen comrades, leaving only a small number to grapple with the MHC.
|Flanking manoeuvre fails thanks to some long-range shooting|
With the advance in the wood contained, the MHC were free to turn their fire onto the flanking party, who duly took casualties, including the scarecrow commander, felled by a long-range shot from the remaining MHC militiaman who had withdrawn from the flank earlier and was skulking behind the 'cattle' enclosure. The commander's loss was keenly felt, as his high CMD (command) rating was of great advantage during rout tests and the like. His surviving companion wobbled before bravely continuing to advance, but was soon dispatched by more long range MHC fire (through a gap in a hedge!)
|Casualties mount and scarecrows flee|
In the clearing the remaining scarecrows struggled to get within pitchfork-thrusting distance of the MHC firing line, but eventually close combat was achieved. Initially the scary-looking but poorly trained and poorly armed scarecrows had the better of it, but they were no match for the MHC with their rifles and bayonets.
By now both sides had taken over 25% casualties but this time it was I who failed – my poor dice roll compounded by the large modifier Giles was able to add to his opposing roll due to the number of wounded in the scarecrow ranks. The scarecrows threw in the towel and withdrew, with honours even after two great games!
The battles from the Malvern Hills Conservators' perspective can be found here and here.