Stuart Asquith “Big Wars” Memorial Game: Battle of the Sisters

I never had the good fortune to meet Stuart Asquith, but his contribution to the hobby of wargaming was immense, and I was saddened to learn of his recent passing.

It was suggested, in comments over on Man of Tin, that a way to honor Stuart’s memory would be to play a wargame on or around November 18th, the day he is being put to rest.

I loved that idea, and immediately set to work thinking about a suitable game for Stuart.

I had been inspired several years back by an absolutely epic 54mm game played by Brian Carrick using Mr. Asquith’s “Big Wars” rules (so much so in fact, I had asked for, and received, an electronic copy of said out-of-print rules).

The forces of the Kingdom of Torend mass for battle…

For a scenario, not having any of Stuart’s scenario books to hand, I picked one from One Hour Wargames inspired by/based off one of Stuart’s “Scenarios for the War of 1812” (#24, “Bottleneck” for anyone else who has the book). All that was needed was a little bit of background for the battle (using my imagi-nation setting of Pelia) and the marching drums began to sound…

The Battle of the Sisters

The Battle of the Sisters is considered the initial major engagement of the First War of Markic Unification and, for those not versed in the history of the fractious Markand Republics, may require some context.

World of Pelia
Markand and Torend are on the southwestern edge of the Corican Sea (click to see full-size)

In 897 A.C., the Kingdom of Torend, a major island off the coast of the Markand Peninsula, and which claims kinship with the various Markic peoples through blood and ethnicity, invaded the Peninsula with the design of uniting all of Markand under the Torendi banner.

Arco de Garilo, the famous Ormandi mercenary general, had for years warned of the danger of the Torendi King Eppo Torre’s dreams of a single, unified Markic state. But for years his concerns fell on deaf ears, and he became a pariah of sorts in the various courts and legislatures of the republics and small kingdoms of Markand.

It wasn’t until the formal alliance between Torend and Dunsterland was announced that de Garilo began to be taken seriously by the other Markic leaders. As a mercenary veteran of the war between Rezel and Dunsterland he already had some cache among a Markic population notoriously anti-Dunster, and he leveraged his reputation to convince a core of Markic nations to enter a loose alliance. Nominally headed by his own home city of Ormand, this “League of Ormand” pledged mutual defense of any member nation.

De Garilo also managed to extract a secret agreement with the government of Veltland to supply the Markand patriots with arms and munitions in the event of an invasion. Shipments of Veltish rifles began arriving in Ormand even before the ink was dry, and de Garilo’s Gray Volunteers became one of the best-armed forces on the entire peninsula.

By early 897 King Torre announced the formation of the Noble Alliance, having pressured two small Markic states (the island duchy of Boldallis and the Nesmarnic Republic), into joining the original agreement between Torend and Dunsterland.

1st war of markic unification
Torend, Markand, and Dunsterland (click for full-size)

Invasion soon followed.

One night in late spring, 897 A.C., scores of commandeered merchantmen, riding low in the water with their heavy and overloaded cargo of men, guns, and horses, set sail and crossed the narrow strait between Torend and the Markic republic of Lemand. That same night two columns of Dunstermen crossed the borders into Markand, one moving swiftly to seize Sauvog in the south, and the other striking northwest, deep into Lemandi territory.

The Torendi forces landed some miles east of the Lemandi Republic’s port city of Strend. Local fishermen, however, spotted the invasion fleet and raised the alarm.

De Garilo’s agents in Strend sent couriers to warn him in Ormand, and as soon as news of the invasion reached him the mercenary general made all haste. Taking a small unit of men and a fast packet boat across the Bay of Ormand, he ordered the rest of his gray-clad Volunteers to leave overland from the city to Nestaden, and then to march north and meet him in Strend.

When he arrived at Strend, however, and heard the size of the enemy army arrayed against him, he ordered an immediate evacuation of the city. Strend, in its little bay, was vulnerable to Torendi blockade and had few natural defenses.

Despite vigorous protest from the city’s political and military leaders, most of the garrison (including some Veltish marines in port) were eventually prevailed upon to follow de Garilo into the hilly country to the south. He soon reached “The Little Sisters,” two promontories on either side of the road south that commanded a view of the whole coastal plane. Here he halted his little army and made the position as defensible as possible to await the arrival of his main force.

De Garilo’s army dug in along the road and the heights of the Little Sisters.

It was imperative to King Torre’s plans that de Garilo’s forces be brushed aside as quickly as possible so the army of Torend could move swiftly south, seize Lemand and link up with the invading army of Dunsterland from the east.

De Garilo desperately needed to buy time, not just for his Volunteers to arrive, but for his agents to spread word of the invasion to the rest of the Markand republics and raise an army capable of defeating the combined might of Torend and Dunsterland.

The Game

De Garilo starts the battle with three units of infantry dug in behind heavy cover along the two ridges of the Little Sisters and across the road between them. He must hold on long enough for his Gray Volunteers, hurrying along the road north from Nestaden, to arrive.

Reinforcements: To represent this, starting on Turn 2, and each turn thereafter, the defenders roll a dice and on a 4+, D3 units of their choice arrive on the southern table edge on the road. On Turn 5 any remaining reinforcements automatically arrive.

The League of Ormand’s army numbers:

  • 3 brigades of 10 infantry each (Veltish marines, de Garilo’s Volunteers, and Strend city militia)
  • De Garilo and his 2 aide de camps
  • (Off table) 3 brigades of 10 infantry each (de Garilo’s Volunteers)
  • (Off table) 1 battery of artillery

King Torre’s army consists of:

  • 7 brigades of 10 infantry each (Torendi regulars)
  • 1 troop of 5 dragoons (medium cavalry capable of fighting dismounted)
  • 1 heavy gun battery
  • King Torre and his aide de camp

All Torendi units are deployed along the northern table edge at the start of the game.

The Torendi advance.

King Torre’s army begins an advance on a broad front, with four infantry brigades and the artillery battery marching forward to trade fire at long range with the League’s dug-in defenders while two more brigades swing around the right flank, and one brigade and the cavalry marches wide on the left (infantry in column moves 2″ faster than in line, and infantry that wishes to both move and fire can only go 4″).

The defenders pour fire from behind their barricades.

By the end of Turn 2 casualties on both sides have been light; the shelling of the Torendi artillery produces no effect, and the defenses of de Garilo’s troops protect them from the worst of the Kingdom’s musketry. But Torre’s army is swinging around both flanks, and de Garilo scans the road south, looking in vain for his reinforcements.

Dragoons sweep along the left flank.

The steep slopes of the the Sisters slow the Torendi advance in the center, but their artillery finally find their mark, blowing a section of defenses (and the hapless defenders behind them) to smithereens. And the flanking forces continue to move unhampered, positioning themselves to strike de Garilo’s men from their undefended rear. Yet still the reinforcements do not come!

This is the high-water mark for the Torendi artillery’s effectiveness all game.

At the beginning of Turn 4 everything is balanced on a knife edge. Per the “Big Wars” rules (and “Charge!” I might add), an army must concede defeat and quit the field if it falls below half its original strength, and de Garilo’s small force is dangerously close to that point, even as the Torendi troops are poised to rush forward with the bayonet.

De Garilo watches nervously from his headquarters in a commandeered farm house.

Still, the Gray Volunteers do not come!

Veltish marines stand their ground.

The Torendi assaults slam home. On the right of de Garilo’s line the Strend militia fire off a volley that stops the Torendi regulars to their front cold, but the brigade at their flank pours in such a murderous fire that the militia in turn break and flood to the rear.

The militia flee after deadly fire into their flank.

In the center the Torendi brigade reaches the defenders and vicious hand-to-hand ensues, but the Gray-clad Ormandis get the better of their opponents and send them running back from the barricade.

Carnage in the center.

And on the League’s left, two Torendi brigades charge home against the Veltish marines, who fail to hit any of them in their final volley before they are beset.

In the brutal fighting that follows two Velts are felled, but three of Torre’s men die to Veltish bayonets and the first brigade breaks and flees back down the slopes.

But the second brigade crashes into the Veltish defenses, and here is where it all may be decided.

If but two more marines fall, de Garilo’s army will have hit its breaking point and be forced to retreat.

The sabers flash, rifle butts and bayonets raise and sink again and again. One marine bests his opponent, then another, and finally a third pushes a lifeless Torendi body off the top of the barricade, and the second enemy brigade turns and flees in panic from these devils in red.

Veltland: bloody but unbowed.

Watching from the attic of his makeshift command post, de Garilo is said to have exclaimed, “Give me a thousand devils like those Veltish marines and their Captain Asquith, and I could conquer hell itself!”

“Asquith’s Devils,” as they have been called ever since, still hold the ridge at the end of the turn, and behind them they can hear the sound of tramping feet, and an Ormandi marching song…

At last! The reinforcements arrive!

It’s Turn 5, and the long delayed Gray Volunteers have finally arrived to bring succor to their fellows.

Their captain sees de Garilo watching from the window, salutes him, and shouts, “Heard you were having a little difficulty, sir?”

De Garilo replies, “Now you’re here I expect it’ll clear up directly.”

The Gray Volunteers deploy.

The three units of Ormandi infantry deploy to cover the flanks, with one occupying the bottom floor of de Garilo’s headquarters and punching out loopholes in the old brick. The artillery unlimbers in front of the house to cover the ridge line to the left.

Torendi dragoons gun down fleeing militiamen.

On the League’s right flank, the dismounted Torendi dragoons are cut down to a man after they open fire on retreating Strend militia, while in the forested hill to the north the two Ormandi brigades pour withering fire into the sole Torendi unit remaining.

And are in turn gunned down by fire from the house.

Too late, King Torre orders his heavy gun forward to occupy the barricades and hit the newcomers at short range, but they only manage to get off a single shot before massed fire from a brigade of Gray Volunteers and the Ormandi gun sweep the ridge on the left clean of Torendi infantry.

The breaking point for Torend.

These casualties are the final straw, and the King’s army breaks, men rushing back over the fallen bodies of their fellows to get away from the murderous volleys of the Volunteers.

King Torre sees the writing on the wall and orders a general retreat. He’ll have to await the second wave of landings from Torend before continuing his invasion campaign.

King Torre looks on in dismay as his army is shattered.

Concluding Thoughts

I really enjoyed Stuart Asquith’s “Big Wars” rules. In addition to being one of the few sets designed explicitly for use with 54mm (or “army men scale”) toy soldiers, they were very easy to pick up and I was able to play this game to completion (including setup) in 7 turns over a couple hours on a leisurely afternoon.

While the rules are simple and easy to pick up, I did have questions on a couple things (that I just house-ruled as they came up). Specifically turn-order and timing. The copy I have gives no indication of how turns work, so I assumed it uses an “i-go-u-go” system with each side moving, shooting, and meleeing with all their troops before the other side goes.

I also wasn’t sure when during a turn certain events occur. For instance, with a unit breaking from being reduced to half-minus-one its starting strength; if this happens in the middle of a melee does it break and retreat immediately, or do you fight all the combats through? (I chose to do the latter, for the record).

Utter carnage on the field of battle at the end of the day.

These are the types of questions any simple (but not simplistic) ruleset is sure to engender, and it’s a credit to Stuart that this one produced such a fun game with a lot of memorable encounters and events even while being so easy to understand. “Big Wars” seems to share a lot of DNA with “Charge!” (which I played recently) while streamlining and simplifying a lot of the fiddlyness of even the Elementary version of that game.

I’ll definitely be using these rules again in future, though I anticipate adding some “crunchyness” to them with something like:

  • Adding Elite and Green troop types to differentiate from the Regulars (possibly with morale or shooting modifiers).
  • Giving a role for generals like “rallying” D3 casualties back to a routed unit.

As far as evaluating the battle itself, I think despite still outnumbering de Garilo’s troops even after the arrival of his reinforcements, the assault had left Torre’s army too spread out to strike the Ormandis all at once, and the decision to advance the artillery to support the gains already made by the infantry came too late to do any good.

This meant that the Gray Volunteers were able to hit the unsupported Torendi infantry with massed volleys and close range artillery fire and pick apart each wing piecemeal. That, plus the valiant defense by Captain Asquith’s Veltish marines (who alone accounted for the rout of two full enemy units) held up the Torendi center long enough that it couldn’t come to the aid of the right flank before it was torn apart by fire.

Thanks for reading, and I hope this serves as at least a small tribute to Mr. Asquith and his impact on our hobby.

Published in: on November 18, 2019 at 1:00 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Thanks for the mention or link to the Man of TIN blog. Managed to get my 15mm tribute game in

    An impressive looking game that you laid on in Stuart’s memory, proving the point in the recent Little Wars Revisited 54mm forum discussion that massed unpainted figures do look good and capture that straight out of the box feel from childhood.

    Cheers, Mark Man of TIN

    • Thanks Mark! And I quite enjoyed reading of your game as well.

  2. That was a stirring account with an intriguing background story. (I would have loved to see the figures painted in fictitious uniforms).

    • Thanks James!

      I’ve given some thought to painting, but that’s just not a part of the hobby I enjoy that much, so if I do, it will likely be when I have enough money to pay someone else to paint them for me 🙂

      I am considering designing fictitious flags, however, and already bought some 3″ plastic cocktail sticks shaped like spears that should hold a printed flag nicely, so I’ll update on here when I do.

  3. Looked and read like a fun (and Practical) wargame.

    I have a copy of the rules and can answer at least some of your questions.

    The rules specify that play is simultaneous with both sides moving, then bith sides shooting, then finally both sides resolving Melee.

    The rules don’t say how to work having both sides move at the same time. With an opponent I would suggest following Charge! And having each side jot down their intentions and eork out any interactions but playing solo I just drew a card with one side being red, the other black with the colour drawn going first.

    During the shooting phase both sides artillery fires at the same time and the casualties removed then both sides resolve all shooting.

    In Charge combat all of the figure vs figure dice offs are resolved then the winner is decided.

    It doesn’t say when morale is assessed but it looks to me like after artillery fire, then after small arms fire then after melee.

    The rules seem pretty robust and I’m sure that a little tinkering and personalizing would be in the spirit.

    • Ah, that does clear up a lot! For some reason my copy didn’t have that level of detail on the turn structure.

      Thank you Ross.

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