Counterus Hex

Hex and Counter games reviewed and discussed by an old Grognard.

I bought Invasion 1066: the Battle of Hastings a couple years ago on a whim.  Like all war gamers I generally need little help in parting with my money when something different comes across my path, so when a sale was announced at Revolution Games I jumped. I was looking to expand not only my knowledge of a period of history that I had not studied in depth, but also to add a different publisher to the collection.  One minute these thoughts were running through my head and the next I was blinking at the order screen, credit card in hand, and hitting confirm shipment.

Someone needs to stop me from doing that one of these days.

Anyway, Invasion 1066 was designed by Norm Smith and Published by Revolution Games in 2014.
As the title suggests, the game focuses on the battle of Hastings on  October the 14th in the year of our Lord???? that’s right 1066. One of the most pivotal and important battles in England’s long and storied history.

Components: The game comes with a 11×17 map that represents the battlefield and is printed on some pretty durable card stock. You will probably want to place it under a sheet of plastic  to keep it flat during game play. A counter sheet with 140 counters,  a player aid which is on the back of the cover sheet, a player chart with all the various tables for game play on it and a 12 page rule book.  All this comes in a large Zip Lock bag. I very much prefer boxes by the way, but it is what is in the bag that matters. A good game always trumps packaging. Though a nice sturdy box to store everything in is always nice too.

Initial set up

The map is dominated by Senlac Hill and all terrain hexes are clearly defined. A road bisects the map from South East to North West but is only for historical purposes  as it gives no bonus to movement in game, there are a few brooks and swamps/morass areas as well. Outside of those terrain features, everything else is considered level ground. The map also contains some additional printed information on its eastern edge. A box for eliminated units, another for missile units that are “out of Arrows”, a Zone of Control example and a Terrain Key.

The counters are very small but colorful with a picture representing what type of unit it is i.e. Saxon Housecarl ,Norman Cavalry, Archer, etc. And each counter has but a single clearly visible number printed on its face which is the base strength of the unit. As I was weaned on  strategic Avalon Hill war games the small unit counters and  various status markers  were not of consequence until the game was all set up to play. Then due to the congested nature of the board and number of units on the field, I found moving things around, adding disordered and rout markers etc, to be very “fiddly”. I recommend tweezers for oldsters like me or folks with large fingers.

Rules: The rule book is 12 pages in all but 3 of them are Historical notes on the actual battle and Designer notes. These are worth the read as some real good information can be gleaned from them. So all told there are 9 pages of actual rules to go over. The rule book is clear and concise, I rarely had to reference it while playing as the game itself is easily learned with a quick read.

Each player completes fives phases per turn in the following order with the Normans always going first.

1.  Missile Phase- Offensive  (fire with archers at targets in LoS)
2. Movement Phase (Move) Cavalry charges resolved
3. Missile Phase Defensive (Defender can fire missiles at targets in LoS if he/she wishes)
4. Combat (Melee attacks resolved)
5. Reorganization ( i.e. rally disrupted units.)

After  the Normans complete all the steps then the Saxon player does the same, once both players have done this the turn marker advances one on the track and the sequence begins anew.

Automatic victory is achieved if either William (Norman) or Harold (Saxon) leaders are killed. If both die then the game is a draw. If neither “gets an arrow in the eye” then at the end of the last turn Victory points are given to each side for, opposing units eliminated and for controlling certain hexes on the board. Games are anywhere between 10 to 12 turns in all. If the Norman player scores 10 points more than the Saxon then that player wins, otherwise the Saxons are the Victors.

I’m not going to break down all the rules of play as they really are self explanatory but, dig into the rather interesting ones that give this little title some of its depth.

First off, ZoC (zones of control) are extremely narrow compared to most other hex and counter games . As you can see below in the image, units must be facing a vertex of a hex rather than a side. This is because the ZoC of all units only encompass the front two hexes. The remaining four are considered flank and rear. If a unit is attacked from any hex other than the front two the attacker gets a +2 DRM (die roll modifier) This makes it important for players to pay very close attention to which way their troops are facing. It also forces you to think about maintaining good lines to help avoid flanking attacks. Units cannot attack outside of their ZoC.

Missile units i.e. Archers. Missile fire appears twice in the sequence of play both as offensive and defensive actions. A missile unit can only fire once per game turn but the owning player decides in which phase they wish to do so, if at all. When a missile unit fires it can shoot up to two hexes away but, it must have Line of Sight (LoS) to its target and then be flipped over to its “Fired” side so to avoid mistakenly using the same unit twice. Fired units can still move during the movement phase of their turn.

Archers cannot fire over the heads of friendly or opposing units thus LoS is blocked if any are in the Missile units ZoC. To hit you roll a six sided die and consult the Missile table on the Player Chart. On a  5 or 6 a hit occurs against Fyrd (lower strength Saxons) or other archers, all other targets require a 6. If a missile unit hits its target then a Disordered marker is placed on the target which I’ll get to next.  Missile units can only get a disordered result never elimination. Norman Archer units have the added possibility of running out of arrows, which means if they roll either a 1 or 2 on their attack they are removed from the board and placed in the out of arrows box. Saxons never run out of arrows in this game. The Norman archers in the box can only return to play later if the Norman player initiates a Lull in play which is a once per game mechanic.

A Lull turn essentially allows both sides to reorganize and attempt to reposition.

The Saxons have a once per game mechanic as well which is called “Saxon Hand Missiles”;  during one of their defensive missile phases the player can select two enemy units that are in the ZoC of two friendly non archer units and attack using the Saxon Hand Missile row on the table. Two Javelin counters are placed on the firing units to help keep track, they then roll a d6. The enemy unit is “Disrupted” on a roll of a 4, 5, or 6. This rule is deadly and should be used carefully by the Saxon player. Time this right and you just might halt an assault, time it poorly and you have wasted a strong asset.

Combat is straight forward, the attacker compares the strength of the attacking unit to the strength of the defender,  the difference is the differential. The attacker then rolls a die and adds or subtracts the differential to the outcome and consults the close combat table. Of course there are modifiers that can change the differential such as terrain, flank attacks, and Cavalry charges. There are only two possible outcomes to close combat.

1. Disordered: When a unit suffers a Disordered result  a marker is placed on top of it. The strength value of the marker replaces the original strength of the unit until it either reorganizes i.e. rally, or is eliminated. Disordered units may NOT attack, their movement allowance is set at 2 and their strength at 3. Archer units can never be disordered they are eliminated instead.

2. Eliminated: either attacker, defender, or both are removed from the board. The attacking unit MUST advance into the vacated hex. Elimination also triggers a morale check which is one of the most important mechanics in the game.

Morale: as stated above a Morale check must be made when a unit is eliminated the player taking the loss must make a morale check  for each friendly class of unit adjacent to the eliminated unit. Classes break down to Normans, Bretons, Flemish, and Housecarl, and Fyrd. The player rolls a die adds the number of similar units already eliminated including the one just taken out as well any leaders to the roll and consults the Morale Check Table. If the check fails all units of the same friendly class must Rout. This is bad. Routing units must turn and run expending 4 mps in total, if they cannot expend those points they are eliminated instead. This doesn’t trigger another morale check. They also remain routed until a leader can rally them. If routed units exit the board, because they keep running every turn until reorganized they are eliminated and count towards victory points.

The last really interesting rule/mechanic I am going to mention is called “Impetuous Saxons”: When a Norman unit routs there is a chance that any Saxon Fyrd unit that just had the routed unit in their ZoC will break ranks and pursue the fleeing enemy. The Saxon player rolls a die for each such unit including disordered Fyrd that meet the ZoC /Rout criteria. On a roll of 4,5, or 6. the Saxons pursue, their movement allowance is increased to 4 so to keep pace with the routed enemy, and they ignore enemy ZoC rules. Once it has moved as far as it can the Saxon should face his units towards a routed enemy or if that is not possible the nearest enemy unit available. Then they MUST attack with a +1 combat modifier even if such an attack is at unfavorable odds. Once all attacks are resolved the impetuous Saxons become disordered.

There are other fun mechanics and rules but I chose these as they give example of what I find so very interesting about this game. Archers can disorder units, i.e. weaken them, then followed up with close combat attacks units can become eliminated, which in turn can trigger a rout and so too an Impetuous Saxon attack. These all work together with one another in their own way. It is an interesting dynamic that I personally find helps keep the tension of the game heightened, especially in the later turns when the possibility of routing becomes more likely.

Game play can be rather frustrating the first few turns as the Normans probe and the Saxons try to repell.

The Norman Archers can only hit the Saxons on the hill with a die roll of 6. As they have a 33% chance to run out of arrows without effecting the Saxon line, the Norman player finds himself simply hoping for a lucky 6 or two praying to disorder a couple of spots. He/she will then focus all of their attention on the right and left flanks i.e. the Bretons and Flemish units.  This is not easy as the Saxons get a +1 modifier for defending from on top of the hill. The Saxon in turn should simply “Hold the line” and stay up on the hill at all costs.

It really is a bit of a slugfest in the beginning and as there is very little room to maneuver, disordered and eliminated units on both sides become the norm. By turn 4 the field opens up a bit which allows players to be a little more free in their play. It is at about this stage of the game both players are acutely aware of the need to move Disordered units out of the ZoC of the enemy and attempt to rally as many as possible, because losses will begin to pile up otherwise. Then slowly, as units are removed and the chance of a rout increases the tension heightens. The Normans know that they have to get a foothold on the hill to remove the slope defense advantage, and possibly to get their heavy horse up top to grind down the Saxons.

Bad ending for Duke william.

Overall I really like this little game, the lack of any hidden information makes Invasion 1066 very solo friendly. It’s physical size causes me some issues due to how overly crowded the board is at first. Coupled with the small counters and markers keeping a proper facing of units gets a bit messy at times. But what looks like a simple straight forward medieval clash and smash at first, becomes something a bit different as things play out.

The easy to understand rules and the way they all fit well together make the game dynamic and interesting. There are plenty of decisions to be made by both sides throughout the entire match, as well as enough randomness to keep a player on his/her toes.  A match can be hammered out in 90 minutes or so and set up is relatively quick.

This makes it a great title for a lazy Sunday morning over coffee session.

So yes Invasion 1066: The Battle of Hastings is worth giving a look see if you get the chance. I know it hits my table whenever I need a little medieval hex and counter fun.

Cheers
AL

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