Saturday, March 10, 2012

From the Archives: 'Black Powder' First Play: Rearguard Action on the Minho

(originally posted on the Home Page, Dec. 19 2010)
This is a repost from a report I did for The Fawcett Ave Conscripts that I wanted to put on this blog to bookend with my upcoming 'Republic to Empire' first-play report.

This past November Dan, John and Sylvain came over to my place to try out a small Napoleonic scenario using my unblooded copy of the 'Black Powder' rules. The scenario I came up with is a fusion of Clarence Harrison's starter scenario and a series of historical rearguard actions that the British conducted during their retreat to Corunna in January of 1809. During the retreat it was not uncommon for the British to attempt to forestall the French by fighting a delaying action at a river crossing, fall back and then demo the bridge. Accordingly, the scenario has a small British force trying to buy time for the engineers to rig the bridge to blow while a large force of French press on in an attempt to push the rearguard aside, force the bridge crossing before it is destroyed and carry on to threaten the main British force up the road.

In this action the British have two infantry battalions as their mainstay. One is the solid 28th which historically fought in many of these rearguard engagements. They are solid regulars. The other is a composite battalion made up of bits and scraps of several battalions that have largely disintegrated during  the retreat. I classed them as 'Untested' which means that once they take their first casualty they test to see how they react for the rest of the battle. This can range from near-collapse to raising-up to fight like heroes. The British line infantry is also aided by two companies from the 95th Rifles. These specialized skirmishers can either fight on their own or be attached to any battalions to reinforce their own light companies. The British infantry is also supported by two sections (4 guns - basically a half battery) of Royal Horse Artillery, one section of 6-pound canons and the other of 5.5 inch howitzers.

The French vanguard has a full brigade of infantry composed of four line battalions (roughly 2400 men). One battalion is considered large in size and all are classed as Regulars. In addition the French force benefits from being supported by two squadrons of Dragoons (around 160 troopers). The French commander, a General of Division, knows that the Emperor wants the British 'brought to ground' so I've rated him as a bit of a fire-eater to help keep the French moving forward aggressively.

We rolled for sides with John taking the British while Sylvain and Dan having joint command of the French.

Though this scenario could easily be played on a 4x6, or smaller, we played down the length of a 5x8 table with the bridge about 2 feet away from one end. The British (John) set-up first with one battalion, the 28th, a bit forward of the bridge with a 6 pound section of guns from the Royal Horse Artillery in support. The 28th also benefited by having the both companies of 95th Rifles in skirmish order to their front. John chose to make the 95th as in integral part of the battalion so they would benefit from the rules of 'mixed order' but risk the same fate if things went bad. The RHA howitzer section was deployed behind the river on the British right flank. The remaining British composite battalion was also back behind the river, arrayed in line next to the bridge.

The 28th positioned in front of the bridge with the 95th Rifles acting as skirmish screen and a section of 6pdrs as artillery support.

The untried British composite battalion arrayed in line near the bridge awaiting orders. Note the local monks cajoling the heretics and helping the engineering party with the powder kegs. Better the devil you know...
The French deployed 12" in from the opposing narrow edge. They chose to place the majority of their battalions in attack columns so they would benefit in the better command roll modifier (the rationale being that the compressed nature of an attack column makes it easier to manage as opposed to the more fragile and disjointed battleline formation). I believe the Dragoons also started in column as well to facilitate greater mobility.

The base mechanics for Black Powder are reminiscent of Warmaster but perhaps a little more streamlined and sophisticated. Basically each unit only gets one chance with a command roll but if the roll is especially good (i.e. low) they can benefit with up to 3 actions (moving, formation change, charging). Alternatively if the roll is pooched then that unit does nothing and the commander is done for the turn. This mechanic makes the command phase entertaining as there is much arguing of who should 'lead off', general nail biting, groans and cheers. It also makes movement and charging interesting as a lucky unit can potentially take the bit by the teeth and streak across the table to engage the enemy while other poor souls can have an unlucky streak and flounder.

The French roll forward to attempt to push back the lead British battalion and gain access to the bridge.

The French moved first and decided to keep their formation as tight as possible for maximum impact. The British opened up with long range artillery fire causing a bit of disruption in the French ranks but nothing that a few bawling sergeants couldn't handle. The rifles tried a shot at the cavalry but were just short of their maximum range. The Dragoons arched their collective eyebrows at the rifles' longer range and knew they had to get these fellows sorted quickly.

In the next turn the French managed their initial moves but did not get the rolls to allow them to charge home. John 'held his bottle' a bit longer to give the approaching cavalry and march columns some more galling fire, all the while risking the coming charge. Next turn, the French used their initiative moves to declare a series of charges from both the infantry and cavalry. The fact that the cavalry were threatening caused the British battalion to automatically recall the Rifle skirmish screen and attempt to form square. The Brits made their roll and formed a solid square to repulse the cavalry. BUT the wily French, knowing the English were vulnerable in this compressed formation have also sent in their infantry to take advantage of the situation. The Brits gave a good account of themselves but were forced to fall back from the combined arms threat. But here was the rub: The bridge hampered their retrograde movement in square and with nowhere else to go the men panicked. The 28th's square broke and its men were swept aside by the French assault columns (the Rifles sharing their fate). The now isolated British horse artillery section fired canister at short range and scampered back to redeploy at the river's edge. The remaining British battalion gaped at the slaughter in front of it while its commander screamed ineffectively at his men to move to the bridge to thwart the French. The Brits needed to hold for three more turns to have the bridge ready to be blown.

The golden moment had arrived for the French. The screening British battalion had been shattered, its supporting artillery pushed aside and the bridge was wide open. To make matters worse for the British their isolated battery was assaulted on its flank and silenced by a French regiment using its own initiative. Dan duly picked up the dice to send in the first column across the bridge - and uttered something unmentionable as (of course) his roll failed. John breathed a sigh of relief as he knew he had just been given a new lease on life. (Note: Particularly astute BP players will notice that the entire British force should have been 'broken' at this point as half or more of it's numbers were now out-of-action. I pointedly ignored this as the scenario was so small and I wanted to have as long a game as possible. I also reasoned that both combatants knew that the 'stakes were high' and would have greater resiliency for this action. Besides, why let a petty truth get in the way of a good story!)

In his turn, John rolled for a 'follow me' order and moved his command stand to join the British battalion (they used three actions to change formation, move to the bridge and shake-out into line). The howitzer section had a perfect target with the French battalion that had just silenced their brother unit. They fired canister which caused the battalion to fall back in disorder, out of the action. Two turns left.

Dan rolled for the French Brigadier and he led the leading column across the bridge to assault the British on the other side. The Brits fired a closing volley and prepared for the assault. As the French were on a very narrow frontage in order to cross the bridge they could only bring a limited amount of men to the fight whereas the British were arrayed in full battle order. The result was that the French battalion was shattered on the British line. Nonetheless they did cause enough casualties for the British to have to test their mettle as they were a composite battalion. If John rolled poorly they could route leaving the bridge entirely undefended. John's luck held and so did the British. John then redeployed the howitzers to enable them to give enfilading fire on a French column marching to the bridge. In a spectacular roll the artillery tore the guts out of the French formation making it combat ineffective. The French were running out of troops and they had only one turn left before the British could see if they could demo the bridge.

The 1st Neuchatel assault the bridge while the British prepare to give close range volley fire.

Sylvain suggested trying to soften the British up with musketry but Dan was chomping at the bit wanting to force the issue with the bayonet (watching the two 'debating' was as entertaining as the game itself). Dan won out and another French battalion was sent in, but alas it too was sent back reeling from the steady British volley fire. In his turn, John had the British stay put, give harassing fire and basically waited for the turn to end. The engineers completed their preparations and John rolled to see if the bridge would go up. The roll was too high so he girded himself to hold for at least another turn to try again (at this point we speculated that during the assault some French rear-rank fusilier had dropped his trousers while on the bridge and put out the fuse).

Things were getting desperate for the French. Dan and Sylvain decided to move the commander to the two squadrons of Dragoons to entice them with medals and easy women and then led them in a pell mell charge across the bridge to see if the British would fail in forming square. They did not. The square was formed and the cavalry were compelled to recoil. John rolled the dice for the bridge and was relieved to see it finally blast apart ending the French pursuit for that day.

The French Dragoons try to force the issue with the British. Note the Engineer by the bridge lighting the fuse with his cheroot...

We had a load of fun with the game with the result going right down to the last turn. The rule's mechanics were very easy to pick-up with us basically using the single quick-reference playsheet after only a few turns. Later I noticed I made a few slips here and there but I attribute that to the natural learning curve on any new ruleset and it did nothing to hamper the enjoyment of the game. I think they would be great for a large group of players as the command rules are quite streamlined promoting quick resolution of turns. On our part I think I can safely say that we'll be giving them another try.

In a couple weeks we'll give "Republic to Empire" a run through using the same scenario. We'll let you know our thoughts.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Napoleonic Scenario: Vandamme's Assault on the Stare Vinohrady, Austerlitz December 2nd, 1805

(Originally posted on the Home Page Feb 13, 2012)
Last weekend Greg and his lovely wife, Linda, came for a holiday weekend visit to which we all ate and drank to excess and caught up on our sleep. Greg and I also took the requisite time to game like men possessed. On top of a suitably bloody game of SAGA, and reacquainting ourselves with 'Conflict of Heroes' we also played a cataclysmic 'Spearhead' scenario set in the opening hours of Kursk. These were all great fun, but undoubtedly the main event was our Napoleonic scenario based on the French attack on the Allied center at Austerlitz in December 1805.

Historically, Vandame's assault on the Stare Vinohrady was virtually a non-contest. The remnants of the mauled Allied IV Column, composed of six battalions of the IR#23, five severely reduced Russian battalions and their attached artillery, tried to hold the heights, but the French had both the numbers and the quality to quickly overwhelm them. Nevertheless, in reading the numerous accounts of the engagement I thought there were a few 'what-ifs' that  if cobbled together could make a viable, if somewhat asymmetrical scenario. The following is what piqued my interest:
  • Scott Bowden's 'Napoleon and Austerlitz' describes the Austrian and Russian contingents as separate actions even though they occurred very close to one another on the Pratzen Heights. I think much of this had to do with both the difficulty of communication between the Austrian and Russian partners along with the fact that the Allies wanted to cover-off as much of the heights as possible. Nonetheless, what if the Allies had drawn themselves closer together to better support one another, would it have helped?
  • Bowden further describes that the two Allied contingents did not make good use of the available ground, which had several vineyards below the summit (thus the name 'Vinohrady'). These would have slowed down infantry attacks and pretty much nullified threats from cavalry. Historically the Allies deployed well back from the vineyards, surrendering their advantages to the French light infantry. So what if the Allies had positioned their forces to take better advantage of the available ground, could it have aided their defence of the heights?
  • In David Chandler's 'Austerlitz, 1805' he obliquely mentions another unit of Kolowrat's command, Infantry Regiment #24, being in support of IR#23. Reportedly this was a depot battalion of around 400 conscripts, but I reasoned that every man would have helped to spread out the line on the Heights and so included them in my Order of Battle. I also added cavalry support to both sides. The French had access to Boye's Dragoon brigade (which was historically on-hand) and the Allies now have two regiments (Dragoons and Hussars) originally from Liechtenstein's V Column of cavalry and Wodiansky's Advance Guard. So, finally, what if the Allied High Command had released more cavalry assets to the defence of the Heights?
So for our scenario I incorporated the above conjectures and worked with the hypothesis that Kolowrat and Miloradovich have decided to concentrate and coordinate their efforts thereby bringing their forces together - forcing Vandamme to engage them as a combined force on the summit, on advantageous ground of their choosing. 

A map of the rough dispositions of the two armies as seen at the start of the action. 
For our game we used our home-grown rules, 'Food for Powder', which do a very good job of reflecting unbalanced engagements. This battle was actually fairly large for a battalion-level game (24 battalions, 4 regiments of cavalry and 3 batteries of guns) so we played it on a 6x10 surface to give us enough room to maneuver. Some may notice that I did not model the Heights on the tabletop - in my reading it seemed to suggest that the path Vandamme took on his assault was along a very gradual slope and therefore would not have granted much tactical superiority to the Allies so I decided to leave out modeling the Heights for sake of clarity.

The Stare Vinohrady today as seen from Vandamme's initial positions.
For our battle we had John and Dan on the French side, while Greg and Sylvain ran the Austrians and Russians respectively.

Here the French commanders, Dan and John, look on with Stacy (on the right) assisting as umpire.
Greg and Sylvain commanded the Austro-Russian force.
The first turn was fairly quiet, seeing the French move towards the heights along their entire front, including their guns. For the Allies, they stayed in place but were very lucky in their reinforcement roll and an composite brigade of cavalry (Austrian Hussars and Dragoons) arrived on their right flank. Greg formed them up in column of squadrons, with the Hussars leading and the Dragoons in support.

In the second Turn the French brought in their own cavalry in the form of Boye's bigade of Dragoons (under Dan). They deployed on the French right flank, in extended column of squadrons, diagonal to the Austrian cavalry. This choice of deployment had a critical impact in the following turns for both sides as the cavalry had free reign in each of their sectors. Eyebrows were duly raised with this heap of snorting cavalry showing up on the tabletop all at once.

Boye's Dragoon Brigade heading towards the Russian line.
Amongst our group, Sylvain is legendary for his caution so you can imagine the hoots of derision when he began to retrograde his Russians in response to the arrival of the French Dragoons. (As you will see Sylvain had the last laugh as his refusal of the left flank probably saved the Allied line.)

Shown here are three of the five understrength and exhausted Russian battalions that held the Allied left flank.
The third turn was a corker. First thing you have to understand that Dan is the antithesis of Sylvain. I like to think of Dan as the General Haig of miniature wargaming. To Dan's way of thinking 'If the first assault does not break them then the twelfth will certainly do the trick...' As such Dan's French Dragoons duly charged the Russian left flank as soon as they got the chance. Since the charge began from a long distance away (practically in Vienna) the Russian battalions had enough time to form squares. Undeterred, Dan noted that most of the Russian squares were not well-formed (our rules differentiate between 'solid' and 'hasty' squares) and so sent in the leading regiment of Dragoons to see if the Russians would loose their bottle. It was not meant to be. The Russians held their position and repulsed the Dragoons, but not without suffering some casualties and disorder in their ranks.

The nervous Austrian line, jammed full of conscripts and raw troops.
Meanwhile in the center, one French battalion decided to take the bit by the teeth and move ahead of the advance in line formation... While up the slope the two Allied artillery batteries hammered away at the approaching French columns, who inexplicably neglected to shake-out into less target-rich line formations and so consequently paid the price.

Back to the Allied left, Greg noted the impetuous advance of the solitary French battalion with an arched eyebrow, and thought it was too good of an opportunity for his Austrian Hussars to pass up. Greg knew he'd have to 'roll Vegas' to get the requisite moves in order to close, but he rolled the dice hoping they'd be kind to him. Well, the dice gods were smiling on Austria and Greg managed change formation, sound the charge and head for the French battalion.

The Austrian Hussars receive their order to charge...
Several French squares watch apprehensively as the Austrian Hussars begin to move across their front...
Again, as the charge originated from so far away the French battalion had a very good chance to form square. In 'Food for Powder' there are Impetus Dice (good mojo) and Friction Dice (bad mojo). Both Impetus and Friction are drawn from unit quality, officer rating and environmental conditions. Both are rolled simultaneously and you literally have to take the good with the bad (or vis a vis). Well, John rolled well enough with his Impetus dice, but the Friction roll was completely off the register - to the extent that the French battalion continued to trudge along, wondering why the ground was shaking, trumpets were blaring and their comrades to the rear were waving their arms and shouting...

'Ah! Zee target is in sight - Sound ze Charge!!'
A French ADC tries to warn the battalion of its imminent danger...
As John would say later, his battalion 'had the distinct misfortune of being ridden down by the 'flyboys' of the Horse & Musket era'. The only thing that saved the French battalion from complete annihilation was that the Austrian Hussars were at the end of their tether and very fatigued, so the mauled survivors were able to make their escape.

... but too late - the Hussars are upon them!
Turn four saw the French grind forward, closing with the Allied positions while the Russian and Allied guns gutted a French column. Nonetheless, the 1st of the 57th 'Le Terribles' got into action against the Russians and quickly broke a battalion that had been forced into square by the nearby French Dragoons. The French guns were dragged forward 'by bricole' and unlimbered in preparation to punish the tightly packed Russian formations. I'm sure there were many muttered prayers in those formations...

The unlimbered French artillery ranging in on the Russian squares. 
In the center Greg knew his victorious Hussars were desperately exposed and winded so he committed his remaining cavalry, the Dragoons to try to cover their retreat.  This turned out to be a little Pyrrhic as the Dragoons were shot to pieces by every French battalion's voltigeurs on their 'Death Ride' to the Hussars' support. Nonetheless, the exhausted 'flyboys' of the game managed to get extricated and began their ride back to Austrian high command to present the French colours they had captured.

Kolowrat receiving the news of the capture of a French eagle.
I'm sorry I cannot give a final account of the scenario as this is where we decided to break for the evening (we spent a lot of time laughing, eating and drinking.) Nonetheless, we looked over the field at 'halftime' and surmised that while the French had certainly been rebuffed in a few areas they were still in an excellent position on the Allied left flank to start an envelopment with combined arms. The fragile Allied line composed of reduced battalions and conscripts had not yet been truly tested and it would be touch-and-go to tell how it would turn out for them. It was really anybody's game.

Looking from the French left across the battlefield.
It was great fun, and all of it due to an excellent bunch of guys to game with. I extend my thanks to them all for making the night so entertaining. A special thank you goes to Greg and John who both travelled great distances to attend and brought many beautiful toys from their own collections in order to make the game that much more colourful - bravo! 

I had such a good time that I'm already planning for the next Napoleonic weekend...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Napoleonic Battle Report: Poland, 1806 or 'Ney On Ice' (using 'Food for Powder': a Black Powder variant)

(Originally posted on Tuesday, June 14th 2011)
I hosted a Napoleonics game for the guys this past weekend that was another one of my hypothetical 'what-if' scenarios - as JohnB was kind enough to bring down his beautiful Russian collection from Saskatoon, this game was set in Poland around Christmas 1806.  

First, the 'true-to-history' bit:  
October 1806 had seen the French crush the Prussian army at the twin battles of Jena-Auerstaedt and by December Napoleon his Grande Armee was encamped in Poland, preparing to bring the Russians at bay in the upcoming spring campaign.

Wanting to catch the French unprepared while they were scattered in their cantonments, the Russians decided to initiate a surprise winter offensive. Nonetheless, by pure coincidence, at that same time Marshal Ney unilaterally decided to move his corps forward into a better foraging area. So the two forces began to move very near to one another, close to the Baltic coast.

In London, with the defeat of the Prussians and the subsequent advance of the French army into the Baltic region, the British were becoming very concerned that Denmark, with its significant navy, was at risk of being annexed by France or worse, would be convinced into a French alliance. Accordingly, discussions had been going on between Britain and Denmark with the British 'offering' to quarantine the Danish navy until the end of hostilities with Napoleon. Not surprisingly the Danes were not interested. 

Now, my hypothetical premise (i.e. 'made-up tosh'):

Battle Report: 'Ney on Ice' - Part II (using 'Food for Powder': a Black Powder variant)

(Originally posted on the Main Page on Sunday, June 19, 2011)
As described in my last post, this scenario set an 'allied army' of Russians and British against a French division commanded by Marshal Ney. 

The game started with the British deployed in one corner of the table to which they had to move across the long length and exit the other side. They were composed of four highly trained infantry battalions, a battery of Royal Horse Artillery, two sections of rocket artillery and two squadrons of Light Dragoons.

The Russians...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

When Things Go Boom - The Conclusion

"Soldiering is easy, Jean-Louis. You see, we just follow these big red arrows..."
When we last left the village of Boom, its defenders (The 23rd Royal 'Welch' Fusiliers) were  girding their loins, preparing to be attacked by three battalions of French infantry, supported with all the possible trimmings (a frothing Marshal Ney, two generals of brigade, three battalion commanders, two pioneer companies and Yvette from the Divisional Brothel).

After the charges had been declared the attackers next needed to determine if their resolve would hold in order to allow them to follow through with the charge. The two battalions from Sylvain's brigade passed with aplomb, their drummers taking up the 'pas de charge' and his columns moving forward at the quick step. 

My lone battalion, on the other hand, completely sh*t the bed and sat around like a bunch of striking Parisian transit workers, smoking Gitanes and reading 'LeMond'. As you can imagine I was not impressed.

Anyway, the Brits, watching the French come up held their bottle and let them have a dose  of musketry and canister at close range.  The French took the casualties, gritted their teeth and stormed the village. The ensuing first round of combat was a pitched battle with handfuls of dice being thrown. The British had the advantage of defending the village but they knew that they could not trade casualties with the more numerous French. The dice did not come through to give the British the definitive victory and so the result was a draw. Casualties were suffered on both sides and a second bound was set to be fought. 

The French immediately storm Boom again with the two battalions that they have at hand. The combat in the streets is furious but the British get the definitive upper hand and Ney is forced out of the village.

A bird's eye view of the second assault.

The French spend time to regroup and bring up a third battalion with its assault pioneers to add weight to the assault. Charge checks are passed and Ney goes in again! 

Ney taking reserves up to support the assault and to meet his fate...
Over the next two bounds, the increase in French numbers and the incessant whittling down of the British garrison begins to tell. Finally the defense, harried beyond measure, entirely collapses under the weight of the assault.  Ironically, in the final turn Ney is killed in the last spasms of vicious street fighting. 

The victory points are tallied and it is determined that while Louis and his royal court has escaped, a significant number of British are still trapped on the wrong side of the River Rupel. It is a hard won French victory and Ney can rest assured that his death will be remembered as a glorious one!

As a footnote, we played this scenario once again using a modified version of Black Powder. The big difference in this replay is that the British were provided with a small detachment (two squadrons) of KGL Light Dragoons which created havoc with the French advance, ultimately destroying an artillery battery before they were brought to ground by a regiment of Dragoons. Nevertheless, the French finally forced their way past the British defense screen and  began their assault Boom en force.

The French enter the Belgian flood plain on their approach to Boom.
KGL Light Dragoons crest a hill and charge a battery of French artillery - and survive!
The Rifles hunker behind a stone wall and harass the French with long-range fire.

To make a long story short, the assault lasted for four turns, but the telling lack of a preparatory artillery bombardment and the stalwart British defense in the plain, had a significant impact on the final assault. Though the combat was protracted and bloody the British held long enough for the army to evacuate (along with Louis' royal court) and the guts were finally ripped out of the French assault with Ney and the survivors being thrown back. As a twist of fate, it is the British commander, Frederickson, who is killed in the last turn - right at the point of his victory. How apropos considering the result of the last scenario!

Following are a few shots of the assault.


Thanks to all the guys that came out to make these games such great fun - I look forward to our next bash!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Battle Report: 'When Things Go Boom' - The Great Retreat from Waterloo

Last week we played a game based on a hypothetical scenario I dreamt up which is based around the premise that the British had been defeated at Waterloo and were in the midst of falling back to Antwerp in order to be evacuated by the Royal Navy. The retreat has hit a bottleneck at a pontoon crossing of the River Rupel, just below the village of Boom (yes, that's its real name). To stave off the pursuing French the British have prepared the village for defense by tasking a composite brigade to hold as long as possible. For further details on the scenario feel free to check it out here in the 'Past Games' section.

A few weeks previous I had put on an earlier edition of the same scenario for friends up in Saskatoon using 'Black Powder' which turned out to be good fun. You can read Tim's excellent report of that game here on his blog. To change things up I decided that for this replay we were going to us 'Republic to Empire' as several of the guys here have copies of the rules and wanted to get a better sense of them.

Dan took on the defense of Boom by the British while Sylvain and Stacy each took a reinforced French brigade each. Stacy had an attached regiment of Dragoons while Sylvain commanded the Divisional Artillery Battery (8pdrs plus howitzers).

This was the battlefield as seen from the French entry position.
...from the British perspective ('Boom' is in the foreground).
...and finally an overhead image.
I gave the option to Sylvain and Stacy to deploy the French guns forward along with a single infantry brigade in order to conduct a preparatory bombardment of the village. The downside of this would be that the British would get some extra time to evacuate the army, the French guns would be at greater risk of counterbattery/skirmishing fire and the second French brigade would have to follow on later. After some deliberation they decided against this in favour of entering the table as a cohesive force and assaulting the village as soon as possible. 

Wanting to see if he could force the French to waste time in deploying early Dan positioned the 95th Rifles in open order far ahead of Boom in a stone-enclosed field. The 28th Foot were arrayed in a large wood near the village's flank with the idea that it could provide support if needed. Between the 28th and Boom Dan deployed two sections of Royal Horse Artillery (6pdrs and howitzers) to cover the main approach to the village. The 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers along with a section of Foot Artillery (9pdrs) were given the honour of holding Boom to the 'furthest extremity.'

Here we see the 'Royal Welch' deployed in Boom with a couple sections of RHA on the outskirts and the 28th in the woods.
Sylvain and Stacy knowing they were 'on the clock' set up both of their French brigades in attack columns with the artillery limbered up and moving forward.  Ney  took a central position just  in case he needed to shivvy any of the new conscripts along.  All in all the French were arrayed to roll ahead with as much force as possible.

Initiative went to the French for the first turn and both brigades ground forward. As they had extra Maneuver Points (MPs) to spend Sylvain decided to use an Exploitation Move in order to move his guns further forward and get them unlimbered for action (at medium range to the village). Stacy was completely unflapped on  seeing the Rifles to his front and ordered his columns forward, intending to pin the 95th down and destroy it by sheer weight of numbers. 

The French columns deploy voltigeurs and advance on the British
Dan's (British) seemed satisfied with his situation and so let his side of the turn lapse. (Dan forgot that his Rifles had the range to fire at the advancing French and so missed an opportunity to deal out some damage early.) 

The initiative for the second turn went to the British and Dan again held his his position and his fire - nerves of steel indeed! 

Stacy's French brigade begin to close in on the 95th. The dragoons are a bit bottled-up to the brigade's rear...
Stacy's French duly continued their advance.  His voltigeurs were arrayed forward and began to give harassing fire on the partly concealed 95th. Sylvain fired his battery at the Rifles in support but the stone enclosure shielded them from most of the roundshot. Sylvain made sure to keep his infantry roughly in line with Stacy's so as not to get separated and to provide support if needed. He also didn't want to allow it to get too far forward and mask the guns which would start bombarding the village.

Voltigeurs cover the advance of their compatriots in the columns. The Rifles are beginning to sweat a bit at this point...
The French took the initiative in the next turn and Stacy's brigade began to close in, preparing for an assault on the Rifles' position behind the stone wall. The 95th bagan to take telling casualties from the combined skirmish fire of the three French battalions. Dan has the Rifles fall back to the rear of the enclosed field thinking he may have a forlorn hope on his hands. On the other flank Sylvain acknowledges that the situation with the Rifles is being addressed and so has his gunners re-lay their cannon on the village of Boom.
The 95th forms square hoping to make a dash for the trees in order to escape the French advance (the treeline is just off camera, about 8 inches away)
In the next turn Stacy's voltigeurs cross the stone fence and push into the field to better close with the Rifles. The French 2e Dragoons, which are finally provided a clear path to the front, are now frustrated by having to maneuver so close to the stone field. As they don't have a clear charge-line to the 95th's line they move instead trying to get into a better position.

The French battery switches target and starts to pound the village in preparation of the assault.
Dan realizes that with three battalions of infantry and a regiment of cavalry bearing down  that the jig is up for the Rifles. He decides that they must try to leg-it back to a woodline several hundred yards to his rear. He knows he can't make it in one move so hopes he can roll well enough for his command to get halfway and then form square. He will then pray to get the initiative for next turn so he can attempt to sprint the rest of the way to safety. Its a long shot but he really has little options open to him. He rolls well enough to get out in the open and to form square - half way there!

Now comes a very important roll for initiative. If the French seize the initiative they can simply pin  down the Rifles in their square with the dragoons while blasting it apart with the three advancing battalions of infantry. Lady Luck holds out for Dan and the British get the initiative! Its not over as Dan needs to get a good command roll for the British so the Rifles can not only break out of their square but also make a mad dash for the woods. Again, he rolls exceedingly well and manages to extract the 95th out of a very sticky wicket. 

With Stacy's French now advancing closer to the village the British artillery opens fire on the 51er Ligne causing it to fall back from the galling canister fire.  On top of this  growing chaos, rockets now begin to arc into the battlefield from a Royal Horse Rocket Battery that has deployed opposite of the river, offboard. (Note: To reflect the extreme inaccuracy of these weapons both sides get to pick targets each turn, rolling for deviation.)

The French brigades soak up the casualties with great aplomb and continue their advance. The dragoons see the British horse artillery deployed outside the village and decide to initiate a charge. Upon hearing the sound of the cavalry trumpets the artillerists see the danger, realize that their position is compromised, and so decide that their expertise would be best served on the other side of the river (i.e. they kick up their heels, abandon their guns and run like hell). The cavalry take some fire from the defenders in the village but pull up from their charge quite satisfied with themselves. This leaves just the one section of foot artillery defending the village.

Sylvain continues to bombard the village but realizes that at this range his guns will probably not reduce it quick enough to assist the first assault. (Note: In hindsight Sylvain realized that if he had unlimbered his battery at close range he would have had a much better chance of discomforting the defenders more with his artillery fire. Good to know for next time.) He then shakes out his brigade into line, diverting one to pin down the 28th Foot which is deployed outside of Boom while the others start their final advance on the village. Stacy tasks the 19e Ligne to winkle out the Rifles while its second battalion angles towards the village.

The British hold tight with all battalions firing measured volleys at the French inflicting some casualties. The dragoons come under canister fire from the foot section in the village and they decide to retreat to the rear.

The 19e charge the Rifles and a furious close combat occurs along the wood's edge. It goes to three successive bounds due to their being no clear initial victor, but finally the 95th preservers by forcing the 19e to pull back. Nonetheless, both battalions are so mauled in the action that they are now basically combat ineffective.

The 19e and the 95th clash in the woods.
The British continue their harassing fire on the massing French, waiting what they know must come. By this time in the game the British have evacuated 67 'factors' of refugees plus one 'factor' of Louis Royal court. They will have to hold out for at least a few more turns  and/or maul some French battalions to claim victory. Its going to be tight...

For the French the moment of decision has arrived. Sylvain wisely orders his two French battalions that have been tasked with the assault to form attack columns, compressing their frontage in order to allow as many into the attack as possible. Stacy's remaining battalion also moves itself into position. Both French brigades bring up their respective assault pioneers for their help in the attack. And if this wasn't enough, Marshal Ney, plus the two French brigadier generals move to each of the columns to inspire the men with their direct leadership in the assault.

The British fix bayonets and the artillery load up double-canister...

One can just hear the drums and fifers sending the French forward into their desperate assault on the village!

Good Golly! Will the French succeed in storming the village? Or will we see the British repel the attack and hold out long enough for their comrades to escape? The suspense is thick in the air! You've paid for the whole seat but you only need the edge! Tune in later this week for the exciting conclusion of "When Things Go Boom"! 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Game Scenario: After Waterloo - The French Pursuit (Alternate History)

I've always been fascinated by the historical accounts of the Napoleonic actions which occurred in urban or 'built up' areas. The names of Hougomont, Fuentes de Onoro, Aspern-Essling  immediately come to mind as a  few of the many pitched battles where the combatants furiously struggled for control of streets, buildings and fortifications. I have aspirations to do some of these larger engagements but my present collection is still too modest in size so I wanted to find something smaller to work with. I also wanted an action which I could more easily test the various rulesets that I have to see how they each handle combats in built up areas.

During my reading of the Waterloo campaign I came across a reference to a letter Wellington wrote to King Louis XVIII on the eve of Waterloo. In this note the Duke cautioned Louis to be ready to retreat to Antwerp if the decision (at Waterloo) went against the Allies. (Louis and his court were in exile at Ghent - awaiting 'in the wings'  to be reinstalled on the French throne.) Fearing the loss of the army if the campaign went poorly Wellington had always been prepared to fall back upon Antwerp for a sealift evacuation, if the situation warranted it.

So my interest was quite piqued by this and I began to investigate further in order to better understand the mechanics behind this little-known 'contingency plan'. What I found was quite interesting and  this gave me the idea to create a hypothetical scenario that focuses on a rearguard action where a lone British brigade holds a critical village in which to buy time for their retreating army.  

"When Things go Boom"
The Great Retreat from Waterloo - 19th of June, 1815


In broad terms Napoleon's objective at the start of the 1815 campaign was to launch a preemptive attack on the allies situated in the Low Countries in an effort to separate, isolate and destroy both the Anglo-Allied army led by Wellington, and the Prussian army led by the 72 year-old Gebhardt von Blucher. Once this was achieved Bonaparte would consolidate upon Brussels and pivot to face the Austrians and Russians who were still mobilizing. 

Napoleon's initial advance across the Sambre caught Wellington off-guard and the Anglo-Allied forces were forced to scramble from their dispersed billets in a desperate effort to consolidate and respond to the threat. Whether by accident or design this situation had Wellington promise the Prussians his support in their efforts in facing Napoleonic at Ligny when in reality none could realistically be provided. 

At the Battle of Ligny the Prussians were defeated, but not shattered. Nearing the end of the battle Blucher's horse was killed from underneath him and he was trapped under the corpse for several hours. He was later rescued and after a short time recuperated to take command of the withdrawl.

In the Ligny's aftermath, Blucher's Chief of Staff, August Neidhardt von Gneisnau strongly advocated falling back east on the Prussian lines of communication, but Blucher decided to take a great gamble, move north-west to risk his army again in supporting Wellington at Waterloo. Messages were sent to the Duke telling him of Blucher's intentions.

Meanwhile Napoleon decided to give Marshal Grouchy approximately a third of the French army in order to pursue and harass the Prussians as they fell back. Grouchy was to ensure the separation of the two allied armies and then rejoin Napoleon on his advance to Brussels. 

Ok, this is where I have history take a twist... 

During the night of the 16th Blucher dies of internal hemorrhaging suffered from his injuries during the previous day's battle. Command of the Prussian army falls upon Gneisenau, who, after hard consideration, decides to countermand Blucher's orders to go to Wellington's aid and instead instructs the army to fall back on its lines of communication. He sends several couriers carrying notice of his intentions to Wellington and begins to move the Prussian army east. Nonetheless, these messengers are either lost in the torrential rain, killed or captured in the French pursuit and Wellington does not get word of the Prussian's change of orders.

Wellington duly fights at Waterloo, but instead of Blucher's Prussians linking-up on his left flank it is Vandamme's French corps from Grouchy's pursuit which smashes into the weakened Anglo-Allied line. Wellington is killed just before nightfall, during the Guard's shattering assault upon the Allied center. The wounded Uxbridge takes command and follows Wellington's contingency plan to fall back upon Antwerp in order to save the army. Chaos ensues but the drawing night allows the Allied army to disengage and begin its retreat.

Previous to Waterloo Wellington had ordered a large pontoon bridge to be built over the River Rupel at the village of Boom. He also notified King Louis of this and suggested that he, along with his royalist court, be ready to flee to Antwerp if the Allies were defeated.

The action depicted in the scenario begins in the late-afternoon of the 19th. Earlier that morning a composite British brigade had been sacrificed on the outskirts of Brussels  to buy time for the army to prepare Boom for defense and to allow the army to begin its retreat across the Rupel. A rearguard has been formed to invest and hold the village as the French pursuit makes all effort to cut the British from their seaborne escape. Stung from Napoleon's criticisms of his command at both Quatre Bras and Waterloo, Marshal Ney has personally taken control of the pursuit in order to reconstitute his reputation.

For both forces the stakes are incredibly high. If the British position collapses they risk losing their army and if this were to happen it is conceivable that London could seek a separate armistice with Napoleon. Alternately if the French loose too many men in this endeavour they may critically weaken themselves for the upcoming struggle against the Russians and Austrians.

The Opposing Forces

The French are commanded by Ney who has personally taken control of the pursuit.
In terms of 'Republic to Empire' Ney is classed as Skillful (+2) plus 2 Dav (1 for each brigade).
For 'Black Powder' rate Ney as an 8 Commander with High Aggression (+1 to his Command value when giving orders to charge) and +1 Combat rating.

For infantry, the French will have six to eight battalions. These will be organized into two brigades of three to four battalions each (we played with three). Within each brigade we classed the first battalion as Veteran, the second as Drilled and the last as Conscripts. If you have four battalions per brigade I'd suggest a Drilled classification for the additional battalion.

The French will also benefit from having a full battery of medium Foot Artillery and a regiment of Light Cavalry. We organized the two brigades so one would have the artillery attached while the other controlled the cavalry.

The British are commanded by Major General Frederick Adam.
For 'Republic to Empire' Adam is classed a Competent (+1), plus 1 Dav (1 for the Rearguard Brigade).
For 'Black Powder' rate Adam as an 8 and has a +1 Combat rating. 

The British will have three battalions. I suggest making them all of high quality as they will be quite hard-pressed straight from the beginning.

The British will also have a composite battery of guns, survivors of the retreat from Waterloo. One section of the battery (1 model) should be 9pdr field artillery whereas the rest should be 6pdr Royal Horse Artillery.

Victory Conditions

If the British accrue a total of 100 victory points the holding action can be considered a success. 80 points is a marginal victory. Anything less less is a defeat. (see below for victory point allocation)

At the end of each turn the British player (or umpire) rolls 2D6 to see how many ‘factors’ of refugees/units have managed to move across the pontoon bridges to safety.

The French Royal court is composed of 4 'factors'.  Each time a ‘6’ is rolled from the above a royal court factor has managed to escape across the Rupel.  Louis is represented as a 1 on a D4 otherwise he is the last of the royal court to go across the pontoon bridge.

Game Length: 12 Turns (4 hours) then the action subsides as night falls.

Victory Points

+1 for each refugee/unit factor that escapes
+2 for each refugee/unit factor that is part of Louis' royal court
+5 if Louis escapes
+5 for each French battalion destroyed/routed
+1 for each section of French Artillery destroyed/routed
-10 if Louis is captured at the end of the game
-5 for each British battalion destroyed/routed
-7 if the Rifles are destroyed/routed 
-1 for each section of British artillery destroyed/routed
-10 if Boom falls

If the French take Boom a general panic will ensue amongst the remaining refugees. Throw 3 last D6 for the final rush across the pontoon bridge (and those who are strong swimmers) but the remainder surrenders to the French.

The Table

I haven't wrapped my head around how to do online maps yet so bear with me - I took some pictures of the set-up I used of our game. 

This is a 8x5 surface though I'm sure that this game could fit just fine onto a 6x4. The scenario runs down the length. The village of Boom is at the extreme end, along one of the short edges. The French will basically start from the opposing end and advance on Boom. The River Rupel (along with the fugitive British army and refugees) is beyond the village, off board.

I strongly suggest placing a few terrain features (i.e. stone enclosed fields, hedgerows, etc) in intervals along the length of the board. This will allow the British some cover if they wish to try a fighting withdrawal back to the village. I placed the village of Boom on a slope as many rulesets give a benefit to the defender if they are uphill.

Game Setup

Before the game stars determine if the French players wish to sacrifice time for a perparatory bombardment of the village. This reflects Ney rushing the guns to the front of the pursuit column and deploying them in advance of the rest of his force.

If the French decided to proceed with a bombardment the French will  be able to set up their guns plus one brigade up to 60” away from the rear of the village (or so that the village is at medium range to the guns). The remaining French brigade enters on turn one from their table edge. The French will get D6 turns of bombardment. In order to reflect British counter battery and skirmishing fire for every turn of French bombardment the British player rolls a D6 -  on a 1 a wound is caused on the French battery (randomly allocated). Also the British player rolls 2D6 for each turn of preparatory bombardment PLUS two turns to determine number of escaped refugees. (The extra two turns reflect the advance and deployment of the guns.)

If no preparatory bombardment is chosen then the British can deploy their troops as far as 30" from the French side of the table. The French can deploy their troops 12" from their table edge.

Rules particular to the Village of Boom

Republic to Empire: Fighting in Built-Up Areas (p.107)
Size: 3 (small village)
Style: B (sturdy stone and wood construction)

Min-Max Defending Garrison (in Combat Groups/Bases): 6-12
Maximum Number of Assaulting Combat Groups/bases: 36

9” Zone of Control extends around the village.

Boom has a base of 36 Structural Points:
(defenders gain +50% dice, always at a minimum +2, also +2 Resolve modifier)

If structure reduced to 18 points:
(+25% dice, always at a minimum +1, also +1 Resolve)

If structure reduced to 9 points:
(+15% dice, round down, also 50% chance of +1 Resolve)

3 Consecutive Combat Victories are required to secure the village.

Black Powder: Fighting in Buildings (p.77)
Village can accommodate 1 normal-sized battalion (8 bases) along with a section of guns (1 base).

A unit in a built up area has a shooting value of 2 per facing up to a total maximum equal to the unit’s shooting value.

A unit in a built up area has a combat value of 2 per facing up to a maximum equal to the unit’s combat value.

A unit in a built up area has a +2 moral bonus for shooting a fighting.

 A unit in a built up area has a +3 Hand to hand fighting bonus if it is a large unit or standard sized unit, +2 if it is if small and +1 if tiny. Artillery gain no bonus.

A unit in a built up area ignores results that oblige it to retire and will hold their ground without becoming disordered instead.

9” Zone of Control extends around the village

Special Events

To me, battalion-level games often feel as if they are happening in a vacuum where in reality the tabletop action is usually just a small segment of a larger battle going on around it. With this in mind I like to use 'Special Events' to add a little off-board 'friction' to the game. Below are few ideas I used for special event cards specific to this scenario. There is a 50% chance that a card is drawn at the beginning of each player's turn (once a card is used it is then discarded):

French Special Event #1
The speed of the pursuit has caused your force to outstrip the Army's cavalry support. Reports of a large body of Allied cavalry on your flank compels you to form square with some of your infantry.

Roll to see which flank and then roll to determine which two battalions are forced to form square. 

French Special Event #2
"The woods to our flank are thick with enemy skirmishers!"

One battalion (randomly selected) is pulled away from the pursuit to move offboard to secure a flank. The battalion does not count as a casualty loss in regards to the scenario.

Once offboard for 2 turns it will return on a 5-6 rolled at the beginning of the French turn. It will arrive 3D6" from its original departure point (French player's choice).

French Special Event #3
Ney receives an order from the Emperor who reminds him of his recent failures at  both Quatre Bras and Waterloo and so hectors him to attack. 

Ney will join the nearest brigade to the village to lead an assault on it immediately. If an assault is already underway Ney will wade-in as part of the attack. Ney will have a +2 MP (or Command) modifier which he will use to 'motivate' the attack.

French Special Event #4
"The gun teams have brought up extra caissons!"

For this turn all your artillery can fire twice but if any three dice come up as 1's a gun section is lost due to bursting a breach.

British Special Event #1
The section commander of the Foot artillery section recognizes the pennant of the French dragoons as belonging to the regiment that over-ran his batter during the withdrawal from Waterloo. 

The Foot section will make every effort to make the Dragoons the priority target over any other. Each time they are required to target any enemy unit other than the Dragoons they will need to roll a 4+ on a D6, otherwise they will continue to target the Dragoons. They will also receive a +1 firing die when firing at the Dragoons.

British Special Event #2
The pioneers that were tasked with the construction of the pontoon bridges have been released to assist int the defense of the village.

The pioneers can either improve the village by 2D6 or assist in the defense as a fighting group.

British Special Event #3
Rockets from a RHA battery deployed on the opposite bank of the Rupel plunge onto the battlefield.

From this turn forward on every artillery step each side will select a single target point. Use targeting dice to determine any deviation. A hit causes 1D4 casualties and an immediate resolve/moral check to that unit (cavalry check at a -2 penalty).

British Special Event #4
"Louis' carriage has overturned and is blocking the bridge!"

Panic ensues. Roll for each of your units. On a 1-2 the unit takes 1D4 'hits' as men begin to panic and fall back to try to cross the river.