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The Raid on Inchcolm, 996 AD


The Dark Ages, Hail Caesar, 28mm

I don’t often get over to Hugh Wilson’s house for his fortnightly Wednesday night games. I made it this time though, and was impressed by the table he’d layed out. It turns out the game was based on a Viking raid on Inchcolm Island in the Firth of Forth – an island within sight of Edinburgh. As you can see from the picture below this small dog-bone shaped island consists of two ends of high ground, separated by a low flat bit of beach and meadow in the middle. Just to one side of this flat ground is the abbey – built in the 12th century. Hugh merely brought the building of the abbey forward a few centuries.The aim of the game for the Vikings was to land, make your way to the abbey and plunder it. One of the key objects was the shinbone of St. Andrew, the island’s most holy relic. Not only did the Vikings want it for some obscure reason, but the locals – Northumbrians to the south of the Forth, Scots to the north – both wanted it back. Essentially this was a grab the goodies game. There would only be one winner – the player who took the shinbone safely off the island – and both sides were prepared to fight rival groups from their own side to secure the prize. The rules were Hail Caesar – probably not the best for what was essentially a 1:1 skirmish, but they worked reasonably well. Better still, all of the eight players knew them fairly well.My Viking faction (from Orkney of course) got off to a good start, landing at the bottom of a path up the cliff not far from the abbey. The other two Viking bands landed on the central beach – dangerously close to the abbey – and on the rocky headland on the eastern end of the island. They were the first in action, as a large party of Northumbrians appeared on the same little corner of the place. A hearty melee followed, with the Vikings being pushed back almost to their boats before rallying and gaining a foothold. Eventually the Vikings won, but before they could do anything more Northumbrians arrived, and the battle started all over again.My guys raced to the abbey, and were first into the church. However, a band of Scots had landed on the north-western corner of the island, and were trying to cut me off from my landing place. I formed up to meet them, while the mall group carrying the plunder and the relic followed on behind. That was when I blundered. I made a bad judgement call – sending four of my five units against the closest of the Scots. They had divided in two, and my plan was to pick off the smaller group before dealing with the rest. Unfortunately that’s where my bad tactics bit me on the backside. I turned to deal with that smaller unit, without protecting my rear from the others. After all, what was the chance the Scots would be able to reach me? What could possibly go wrong?I failed to move the next turn, and then Bart rolled to activate his three units behind me. He rolled a “2”, and promptly charged me in the rear. Meanwhile the rest of his warband charged me from the front. My leader went down amid a welter of blows, and the two supporting units were trapped. Unable to retreat they simply vanished. The following turn my next unit went down, outnumbered five to one. I pulled my last unit back in line with the next lot of Vikings – who promptly charged me, wiped me out and stole the plunder! I should have known! Actually, I planned to run away and steal their boat, but I failed to activate my unit at the critical moment. So – Martin had the shinbone – but not for long.Bart’s Scots charged downhill and rolled up the Vikings, capturing the relic in the process. The nearest other unit was on the far eastern side of the island, so all Bart had to do was to take his trophy to his boat. That of course was when the Viking reinforcements arrived. Another hum-dinger of a skirmish followed, with the Vikings actually recapturing the shinbone for a turn or two, before being attacked again. Bart recaptured the relic, and the game ended with him stealing away towards his boat.So, Bart was declared the overall winner, and the holy shinbone was taken to grace a nearby Scottish church. All in all the game played well, and it certainly produced some tense moments. Perhaps if I hadn’t been so willing to tempt fate then the shinbone might have been taken back to Orkney .. probably to be thrown to the dogs in the Earl’s feasting hall!

 

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