William the Conqueror- 1066 was designed by John Clemente and James McMillan and published by TSR in 1976. Both scenarios are meant to be played by 2 players, and take about 90 minutes.
What You Get
The box is small and sturdy, and carries one of the most striking covers in my collection. Taken from a famous mediaeval manuscript it perfectly houses the game, and it is well worth just studying the drawing for its own sake. Inside is a double sided, colorful map on very thick paper depicting the terrain for the Battles of Senlac Hill and Stamford Bridge. There are three sets of large, round markers depicting the units and leaders with background colors of red, blue, or yellow, and a set of small square counters of various types for information use. Unfortunately, TSR seemed to use a poor-quality glue in this era. My Divine Right had separated counters as did Lankhmar, and this game was not an exception, where the colored paper layer with the illustration detaches from the brown cardboard backing. The final component is the combat adjustment sliderule. This determines the outcome of battle by comparing the relative facing of units and the terrain they occupy. It is a two part object, with a housing with holes in it and a slide card that can be adjusted to match the correct conditions, and the results may be read through the holes. Quite unique.
In summary, it is quite an attractive package, with one of the best boxes ever, a very sturdy, fine looking map and nifty combat sliderule. The counters are nice and large and decently illustrated, but not of great quality.
What You Do
The game attempts to recreate one of the two battles determining the fate of Mediaeval Britain. Each player chooses one side and sets up units as depicted on the map. Each unit is rated for movement, ranged combat and melee strength. Leaders are rated for movement and leadership ability. The game plays over a number of turns (for example, 10 turns for Senlac Hill), each turn consisting of two player-turns. Points are scored for eliminating enemy units and leaders and, in the case of Senlac Hill, exiting Norman units from the far edge of the board (as they move on London).
A player turn consists of five phases. First, all attacking units may fire. Range is 1 or 2 hexes, and within the front arc of the firer. There are quite a few (fairly confusing) rules about line-of-sight that have to be considered. After firing, all attacking units may move. Terrain effects movement, as do enemy ‘zones of control’. After movement, defenders that are correctly positioned my return fire with their ranged units.
Now comes the unique aspect of the game. It is a game of maneuver: no dice or cards are used for combat resolution, just combat strengths and relative positions. After movement, every unit in contact with an enemy unit will undergo ‘combat movement’. This involves placing two chits: one to move the figure one space in any direction (regardless of terrain) and one chit to indicate the facing of the unit. Both attacker and defender place these chits for each unit that is contacting an enemy unit. When complete, the chits are revealed, and the unit’s positions and facings are altered. Then, combat may occur between units still in contact.
Using the slide rule, the relative position of the attacker(s) is compared to that of the defender, and cross-referenced to the terrain each occupies. This will result in a multiplier factor to adjust the combat strength of the attacker. For example, a knight in the clear attacking through a flank hex at the direct rear side of a defender up a hill will double its combat value, while the same knight attacking from his front flank to the direct front of the defender up the same hill will have his combat value halved. The total factors derived from the slide rule are added together for all attacking units, and compared to the combat value of the defending unit. If the ratio is 1:1 or less, there is no effect: attack repulsed. If the value is 2:1 or 3:1, the defender is marker with a ‘rout 1’ or ‘rout 2’ marker. This means they may not move or attack for one or two rounds, respectively, as they try to reorganize. Attacks at 4:1 or greater result in the elimination of the enemy unit. Leaders can influence the combat value of the unit they are with, and lessen the impact of rout. The death of some leaders (like William) can result in the fleeing of all units of one type from the field: essentially, you’re dead meat.
This ends a player-turn. The same sequence is followed by the other player, who becomes the ‘attacker’. At the completion of the same set of actions, the game turn ends. This repeats until the final turn is finished, and the score is tallied. You score one point per combat value of the enemy unit defeated, and leaders score extra. Scores are compared to determi9ne the winner: the Normans generally have to score some 10 points or better than the English to win.
There is a method to link the two scenarios, where the results of the first battle influence that of the second. Also, there are a number of optional rules that add a level of ‘realism’ (dwindling arrow supply, for example) at the cost of extra bookkeeping and complexity.
What I Think
This is quite a different wargame than I have played before. The maneuver deciding the battle outcome is quite unique in my experience, and in a way, I quite like it. However, given the rather static nature of the defender in these set-piece battles of the era, it makes playing the defender a little lackluster. There are a lot of small chits to place, and it is sometimes easy to make a mistake calculating the relative facing of your unit and to deploy incorrect position/motion chits. The slide chart is easy to use once you get the hang of it, but it took me fifteen minutes to get it all figured out the first time. The rules are rather loosely written, and even the examples could have been made a bit clearer. We found a few loopholes not very well covered in the rules, particularly whether you can pass through your own troops. However, I am certainly glad to have rescued this game from unpunched status after 34 years of waiting to be played on someone’s shelf. It is an interesting early attempt of a historical battle depiction, and it stands pretty well after all this time. I would recommend it for the experienced wargamer looking for a short battle with some unique maneuvering aspects, if they are willing to struggle a bit through the rules the first go. I don’t see it being played too often, but I’m glad to have a copy (especially with the beautiful box) in my collection.
This is one of my keep-forever games. The Battle of Hastings/Senlac Hill is a special fascination of mine, and the game re-creates the grinding nature of the battle very well.
I've often wondered how the system would hold up if representing a more freewheeling medieval battle.
I'm glad you've given it some exposure. Doubtful it will ever see a reprint, but there might be merit in revisiting the mechanics in a new design, perhaps some of the Sicilian battles featuring Normans.
If 1066 is your cup of tea, I highly recommend the historical novel "The Golden Warrior" by Hope Munz. Incredibly detailed and vivid. Somebody should make it into an epic film or miniseries.