The fourth Table Battles expansion will be one that a surprising number of folks have been clamoring for since the release of the base game - the English Civil Wars. The delay in getting to it isn't due to any lack of interest on my part - quite the contrary, it's a subject I find fascinating - but because the base set drew very heavily from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and I wanted the first few expansions to show the range of the series, going back into the high middle ages (Wars of the Roses) and antiquity (Age of Alexander), and then fast-forwarding to the nineteenth century (Gettysburg). Having extended the boundaries of the series well enough for my liking, I was quite content to return to the seventeenth century, and began working on the ECW expansion with the first major battle of that conflict, Edgehill.
The back of the napkin version: both sides fielded their foot soldiers in the center, with their horse protecting the flanks. At first the battle seemed to be leaning toward a decisive Royalist victory. The cavalier cavalry routed both of their Parliamentarian counterparts. Royalist infantry made some headway as well, putting to flight the brigade of Charles Essex (no relation to the Earl who commanded his army). But the remaining roundheads put up stiffer resistance. More disastrously, when the royalist cavalry had routed their opposite number, they had given chase, vacating the field and leaving their own infantry unsupported. This vulnerability was exploited when reserve cavalry under Balfour and Stapleton poured in through the very holes the royalists had punched into the infantry, scattering the King's center before it could secure victory. Nightfall prevented either side from achieving a decisive result.
The first things I look for when I'm doing a Table Battles scenario are narrative beats, and Edgehill has quite a few. There's the early success of the Royalist cavalry under Rupert and Wilmot, as well as their unfortunate habit of chasing after the enemy horse. So, I wanted to make Rupert and Wilmot much more capable than their Parliamentary opposites, and of course they would have the Pursuit function. Charles Essex's men crumpled up fairly easily, so I wanted to make that formation a juicy weak point in the roundhead line. Finally, there is the sudden reversal of fortune when Balfour and Stapleton attack the unsupported Royalist infantry. These would need to be powerful, flexible formations that could attack the enemy infantry quickly and with impunity.
Fight for the standard at Edgehill.
There were other story beats that the history nerd in me wanted to include - like the sudden defection of Faithful Fortescue, or the dramatic capture and rescue of the royal standard. However, neither of these were really appropriate for the scale, and even if they were, it would make the whole thing too baroque. People have on occasion shown me their own Table Battles scenarios, and while some of them are very good, there are other times where it seems like every card has its own bells and whistles, and that makes it very difficult to parse. I've done this myself, and it's only after paring the thing down to a couple of key story beats that the scenario becomes playable.
It's common in the series for Infantry attacks to be resolved on the basis of "one hit per die, one self per action", whereas cavalry are more likely to inflict a single hit without penalty. Likewise, infantry is more likely to have a counterattack reaction and cavalry, a screen. So in figuring out my Royalist cavalry (Rupert and Wilmot) and their opposites (Ramsay and Lord Fielding), that's where I began, with all these formations having four sticks. To make my cavaliers a bit more dynamic, I upped it to two hits. This means that after two attacks, Rupert could rout Ramsay, while Ramsay would need four attacks to send Rupert back to the Rhine.
At first blush, this might make the contest on the wings appear trivially easy and quite lopsided; how are the poor Parliamentarians ever to stand a chance? The reactions are key here. Each side's mandatory screen reaction is triggered by an attack by a nearby enemy infantry formation - that's why you put cavalry on your wings, after all, to protect your flanks. If Rupert seems likely to push Ramsay off the field, an attack by Essex against Gerard will grant Ramsay a temporary stay of execution, and Parliament control of the tempo.
Prince Rupert's calvary charging.
Just to give them a little more of a push, I made it easier for Rupert or Wilmot to get the dice they needed, with both of these units accepting doubles. Ramsay and Lord Fielding, on the other hand, were assigned 5/6 and 3/4 respectively. They only need one die to take their action, but would need a pair in order to react themselves.
Chuck Essex was next on my hitlist. And just as the strength of the Royalist horse is depicted relative to their Parliamentarian rivals, and just as the cavalry of both sides exists in an ecosystem that has relationships with friendly and enemy infantry, Essex's weakness could only be depicted in relation to the other infantry units. Because Parliament had more infantry, and because they were deployed in three brigades compared to the King's five, I gave each Parliamentary infantry formation six sticks and each Royalist four. (This actually gives the Royalists slightly more sticks, but they have less staying power; sticks are less about a system of exact numerical formulae and more about duration, resiliency, and how the thing feels.) Even Essex gets six sticks - I wanted him to look imposing, but be made of paper. Giving him fewer sticks wouldn't give that same impression.
All the infantry formations on both sides I gave two numbers - 3/4, 5/6, etc. Additionally these units could accept multiple dice in a single turn - if you roll three sixes, it can take all three of them. Essex, on the other hand, is a "(5)/(6)" - he can only accept one die per turn. This makes him much less effective, and makes it harder for him to build up dice in order to make a really effective attack. (Though with even just one die loaded he can make a spoiling attack that will force Rupert to screen.)
But I also needed to make Essex easier to beat up on. Gerard - the primary enemy formation that's going to be attacking Essex at the outset - has the standard "one hit per die, one self per action", modified by "plus one extra hit when attacking Essex". If it was a case where Gerard was some super-duper extra-elite unit, I might have used the "one hit plus one hit per die" formation you sometimes see in the series, but this rule isn't representing Gerard's strength - only Essex's relative weakness.
Gerard is helped along by Fielding's Brigade at the center of the infantry front line. This is not Lord Basil Fielding, the Parliamentarian, but his Royalist father William, the first Earl of Denbigh. I considered "cutting" Fielding senior altogether precisely because it's going to be confusing to have two cards with the name "Fielding" in the same battle. If I had gone this route, I would have "added" Fielding's men to Gerard's on the right and Wentworth's on the left, and renamed the formations "Royalist Right" and "Royalist Left". But I liked the poignancy of father and son on opposite sides of the battlefield. I made Fielding an "absorbing" formation - one that doesn't attack, but can react to absorb hits against the brigades on either side, emphasizing the importance of a strong line in a defensive context. Ever since the Age of Alexander expansion and c3i magazine insert, I've also been doing this thing where certain attacking formations can "borrow" dice from the guys next to them, which emphasizes the importance of a strong line in an offensive context. This is what I did with Fielding the elder here, and his lending of dice to Gerard and Wentworth makes it easier to push against Essex and Meldrum.
The Royalists and the Roundheads do battle at Edgehill.
Now, the main event is the entry of that roundhead cavalry reserve, and the way it rapidly shifts things from "probably a Royalist victory" to "could go either way". And one way I tried to emphasize this shift and give it weight was with the distribution of die numbers before the shift. The Royalist frontline has two cards that can take doubles (the cavalry), and a full spread among its three infantry brigades - 1/2, 3/4, 5/6. Given enough dice, the Royalists will always be able to place something, and chances are there will be dice that are useful for its infantry and separate dice that are useful for its cavalry. This is a very flexible distribution, because basically any roll is a good roll.
Now, this position can and does worsen if one of those Infantry brigades are routed or retired, and this is because the reserve units that replace them duplicate the numbers of the remaining brigade. For example, if Wentworth (1/2) goes, Byron comes into play, but Byron accepts fives and sixes - the same as Gerard. And if Gerard goes, Belasyse moves up to the frontline - and Belasyse, like Wentworth, only accepts ones and twos.
The Parliamentarian position on the other hand begins weak. Two of the four frontline cards can accept fives or sixes (and one of those, Essex, can only accept one die per turn), and the other two can only accept threes or fours. Ones and twos are useless, and when you do roll the numbers you want, you have to choose which of the cards will get them. This isn't because the Parliamentarian infantry was appreciably worse than the Royalists, but is merely another way the scenario represents the momentum possessed by the Royalists before the hammer drops.
That hammer of course is Balfour and Stapleton. Each of these cards accept three dice (1/2/3 and 4/5/6), accept multiple dice on a single roll, and inflict one hit per die. There is no card that can attack them, and they suffer no penalty when they attack. Suddenly every Parliamentarian roll is a very good roll, and the Royalist infantry - probably starting to fray a bit after prolonged contact with the enemy line - is very quickly falling apart.
Royalist attack on the Parliamentary train that fatally stalls Royalist momentum.
The trigger that brings Balfour and Stapleton out of reserve is the removal - either via rout or pursuit - of the cavalry on the wings. This could create an incentive for the Royalists to act ahistorically, purposefully not attacking the roundhead horse, so as to keep Balfour and Stapleton out of the game. But because the Parliamentarian player is incentivized to bring them in, they're more likely to keep whittling away at the cavaliers, and the threat of giving up morale cubes is sufficient to keep Rupert and Wilmot on the attack: if it's going to happen anyway, might as well make it happen on your own terms. As always in Table Battles, timing is everything.
And all that sounds great in theory, but the real question of course is how does it play? Early testing was very promising: the players were incentivized to take historical actions and to respond to historical pressures. The general structure of Royalist momentum suddenly collapsing was there, and when it wasn't - when the scenario diverged from the historical results - it did so in interesting ways.
But there was a problem. Historically, the structure of Royalists beating up on Parliament - boom, boom, boom - only to have Parliament beat up on the Royalists - boom, boom, boom - left the thing a toss-up. But in the language of Table Battles, that same sequence of events sees the Royalists taking a bunch of morale cubes from Parliament - boom, boom, boom - and then sees Parliament taking a bunch from the Royalists - boom, boom, boom - securing a decisive Parliamentarian victory. It doesn't feel like a toss-up or a near-run thing, and that's because the system doesn't really have a "memory" - all those Royalist achievements aren't accounted for in the final calculus, because each passing of a morale cube is a zero-sum transaction.Basically, I needed some way to "count" what the Royalists accomplished before the big pivot: a way to keep score as it were that was separate from the morale cubes. And, well, there's a big pile of eliminated enemy sticks sitting right there. So I gave the Royalists an alternate victory condition - get enough of those sticks, win the game. Now, when Parliament's reserve cavalry comes bounding onto the field, it's not a foregone conclusion, but a race - a near-run thing - an indecisive battle that might come down to the wire. And this little trick might even come in handy for simulating other near-run things… even, perhaps, the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life…