Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life; currently concentrating on a re-fight of the entire Peninsular War, but with the odd foray into ancient, medieval and WW2 battles.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Polemos General de Division AAR: Action at the Saltanovka Crags

This small battle is in the style of a Grant-esque "Tabletop Teaser" published in the latest issue of Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy (issue 88): a scenario capable of being adapted to whichever size and era of forces that a particular gamer possesses in his or her collection.  As it happened however, I had the units to recreate the action in the same period as the author, Adrian McWalter - French against Russians in the Napoleonic Wars.

The Terrain:
Interestingly, the scenario did not actually come with a map.  My mind rebelled against this slightly but I did my best to set it up in accordance with the description given in the text:

"The main feature of this battlefield is a large area of high ground that is covered by broken or rough ground known as the Saltanovka Crags. The crags culminate in a significant crest on the defender’s side of the table, which is the objective for attacking forces. To make matters more complex for the attackers, the crags are flanked on either side by marshland. However, a substantial roadway runs from the centre of the attacker’s board edge through the defender’s, bisecting the crags. There is a village in the middle of the board adjacent to the roadway, at the start of the heights. There are also a few other lower hills on the plain beneath the crags."

The article then detailed the particular rules covering the effects of this terrain, such as the reduced movement rate going up the slopes and the fact that the village is dilapidated and isn't really a proper strong point.

The Orders of Battle:

The Imperial Russian Army
Gen Husin (Capable)
1st Brigade: 4 bases of Trained SK1 infantry
2nd Brigade: 2 bases of Veteran SK1 infantry (Grenadiers)
3rd Brigade: 2 bases of Trained SK2 infantry (Light Infantry)
Cavalry: 2 bases of Trained Light Cavalry
Artillery: 1 base of 12lb Foot Artillery, 1 base of 6lb Horse Artillery (*used as a Foot Bty in this game; in the Polemos rules, Horse Btys can't normally be used for long-range bombardment)

The Imperial French Army
C-in-C Gen Deschamps (Capable)
1st Division: Gen Lefort (Capable)
1st Brigade: 2 bases of Trained SK2 Infantry (Light Infantry); 4 bases of Trained SK1 Infantry
2nd Brigade: 4 bases of Trained SK1 Infantry
3rd Brigade: 4 bases of Veteran SK1 Infantry (converged Elite Coys.)
1 x 6lb Foot Bty

Cavalry Brigade: 2 bases of Trained Light Cavalry, 1 base of 6lb Horse Artillery

The French C-in-C was forbidden from committing his elite brigade until the village was cleared.

The Set-Up

The French approach along the road from the left; the Russians in defensive positions along the crags and in the village in the centre.  The Russian grenadiers remain in reserve (right)

View from behind the advancing French columns

And the view from behind the Russian defenders.  Note that the artillery is placed on the crags on each flank

The Battle

The French columns advance swiftly.  Accurate Russian artillery fire causes some delay on the French left-hand column (top)

The French columns begin to break out into formations deplyoed for attack!  The Russians bring up their Grenadiers to supprt the light infantrymen defending the village

A textbook French light infantry attack takes the village and throws out the Russians!  The left-hand French infantry find advancing much tougher because of the continuous accurate Russian artillery fire

Same position, different perspective.  Note the single figure by the Russian column just above the village, indicating its disorder
Same position again, but showing the wider context.  Note the Russian cavalry moving to support the infantry defending the crags to the south of the road (bottom-centre), facing the French line.  However, the Russian Grenadiers' morale collapsed as a result of the village battle and they withdrew from the field!  This appeared to leave the morale of the entire Russian Army quite shaky...
The Russian Jaegers deliver a superbly executed "volley-and-charge" reminiscent of British guardsmen, and knock an attacking French column down the slopes.

The French prepare an attack from the village to try and force the pass

Before the next French attack gets going however, the Russian light infantrymen launch a second, devastating charge!  The leading French battalion routs in tatters, the supporting battalion is distinctly wavering, despite the presence of the French general...
The Russian counterattacks continue to devastate! Note that the Russian light infantry has continued its attack and routed the second French battalion, whilst the infantry brigade on the southern crag has matched this with an attack of its own, which has devastated two more French battalions.  A pity for the French, as their attack from the village has started to be successful and pushed the Russian defenders back.

Different perspective

And from a bit further out

The end of the battle as the French force's morale collapsed, two of the three infantry brigades being now spent.  The Russian light infantrymen maintained their discipline and this kept the Russian force from facing a similar collapse.
 Game Notes:
A fast, interesting, enjoyable game, played out as usual for me using the Polemos General de Division rules. 

As ever, hills are very considerable obstacles in this ruleset and I continue to internally debate the case for reducing the defensive modifiers somewhat.  The Russians did get a bit luckier generally on the key dice rolls too!  The formation and force morale rolls also played a typically big part in the game.  The early collapse of the Russian grenadier brigade (a 1-in-6 chance) left the Russians within one more broken formation of a possible army collapse for the rest of the game - fortunately for them, they rolled well (low) after this disaster.  The French on the other hand failed four key morale rolls in a row which led to the collapse of two infantyr brigades and then the whole army's morale.  In retrospect, the French were slightly drawn into an attack on too wide a front and would have done better to mask the slopes and force the pass until the leading Russian high positions were bypassed. Better luck next time!
The table was a 4'x3' board.  Figures Baccus 6mm Napoleonics, with buildings by Timecast.  The game took just over an hour of playing time, with the game lasting 11 turns (c.55 minutes of game time). This scenario was very well designed and gave a good game.  I am still in two minds about the lack of a map though.  A part of me thinks "a picture is worth 1000 words" but a part of me thinks that it is a good way of ensuring players just use the closest thing they have to hand, rather than stressing too much about trying to match an imaginary map.  I suppose much will depend on wether the scenario requires very precisely laid terrain to make it work.


Friday, 30 December 2016

Review of Bruce Quarrie's Napoleon's Campaigns in Miniature

Napoleon'sCampaigns in Miniature by Bruce Quarrie was subtitled "A Wargamers' Guide to the Napoleonic Wars 1796 - 1815" and was designed to give a wargamer all the information needed to replay battles and campaigns set in the Napoleonic period. It really does try and give information on everything. There is a potted history of the wars, with a little extra detail on some of the more famous battles (with very good maps). There is a discussion of which size figures to use, which figure: man ratio to use, how to paint and base figures, and so on. There is a brief introduction to the organization of the units belonging to the various armies, with particular emphasis on the most common units in the biggest armies of the period. It all looks okay as a (very) basic introduction. There is a slightly more detailed guide to logistics and the medical services and attrition and sieges and so on, to enable these aspects of Napoleonic warfare to be incorporated into campaigns. Although the explanations can be lengthy - prices for pairs of shoes and loaves of bread, my goodness! - Quarrie typically resolves it all into a single figure for cost or a single formula for working out attrition or returned PoWs or whatever.
There is a quite lengthy chapter on the generals of the period, who are then rated in four categories: orders (how quickly the general reacts to/issues new orders; control (how well the general keeps units doing what he wants them to do); attack morale and defence morale. I had trouble with this, not because of my disagreements with the ratings (although I do, in many cases) but partly because I struggle to see how one could arrive at them, partly because I think they are badly miscalibrated and partly because I don't think that the explanation of exactly how to use them is very clear. This is exacerbated by a scaling issue with the game. The rules are designed for "divisional-level" actions with 10 - 20 units per side (or possibly, per player). However, the campaign rules and the potted battle histories indicate that the author intends them to be used for big battles, but for these battles to be "bath-tubbed" i.e. a notional regiment to represent a brigade or division and so on. It isn't clear in these cases how commanders should be represented. Should each brigade have one? Or each division? Or only the C-in-C.
There are chapters on firepower and tactics which (loosely) give the author's thinking on these subjects and indicates the broad approach the rules will take. They also serve as a useful introduction to the weapons and tactics of the period for a newcomer.  Quarrie does indicate that there are "gaps in the knowledge" of how to square the effectiveness of the weapons under test conditions with battlefield results.
There is a chapter on how to set-up a campaign. It is all okay, with reasonably simple rules (although there is a good deal of record keeping to do). I felt that the lack of a lengthy, detailed play example was a big omission here.
The book also contains a full set of tactical Napoleonic rules. The units represented are battalions, regiments and batteries. The rules require written orders and movemement and combat is calculated simultaneously. All troops are rated in several different areas: firing ability, melée ability (both charging and not), morale level, discipline, movement. There are a number of marginal differences between troop types between nations - the so-called "national characteristics", so Italian infantrymen in the Austrian army move distinctly more slowly than those in the Italian Army itself, for example. In many situations, the turn has to be broken down into fractions when calculating attacks and formation changes and so on. Casualties from fire and melée are given in numbers of men rather than figures. Combat seems quite bloody, artillery in particular is pretty devastating. There are a lot of factors incorporated in combat calculations, as there are for testing morale and discipline. This makes the rules play somewhat slow. The rules aren't that long though, as they are quite tersely written, in comparison to some more modern sets.  All of this was fairly typical of rules written at the time, although I think this set may have been the first published to use "national characteristics" in this way.
I do think that the actual playing of the rules isn't particularly well-explained however, especially as multi-unit attacks can end up having complicated cross-effects on each other. Again, worked examples would have really helped. I don't think of this as a modern phenomenon: Charge!

was full of such things (and made understanding the rules really simple). On an historical note, I am very suspicious of rules which state that squares couldn't move and that line infantrymen couldn't skirmish, despite lots of examples to the contrary for both.  
So how does this book look from 40 years on? It is well-written and engaging. It does cover the basics of gaming, although other books, like Henry Hyde's Wargaming Compendium 

does this kind of thing much better. The rules are very clunky and very questionable in many ways. If an author is going to a "detailed" set of rules that includes lots of processes, then the rules will be less good the more they depart from history. As a lot of that history isn't particularly well understood, detailed rules for combat casualties and morale create a lot of hostages to fortune. Although I am too young to remember most of the following directly (and am thus very happy to be corrected) I think that their main interest is historical: I think that these rules were the inspiration of computer-moderated rules like Eaglebearer 

and Carnage and Glory, which attempt to make a better game from somewhat similar assumptions and aims by using the calculating power of a computer to manage what in Quarrie's day had to be done manually.  Possibly Empire  

was the last published manual evolution of Quarrie's thinking. I couldn't bring myself to play a full game to accompany this review, which tells its own story! I actually think that the excesses of these rules proved inspiring in the end, partly in ensuring that "old school rules" were still used by those who preferred something simpler,  partly inspiring the first attempts (like Bob Coggins' Napoleon's Battles and Arty Conliffe's Shako)

to design elegant games which could actually deal with big battles in a reasonable amount of time.  I think it also kept Peter Gilder's In The Grand Manner 

going as a more playable alternative (which directly led to General de Brigade)...
Recommended as an interesting part of wargaming's history, but not otherwise.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Polemos General de Division AAR: Action at El Bodon, 25th Spetember 1811

This morning I had a go at refighting the Peninsular War Action at El Bodon on the tabletop.  I used the scenario from Miniature Wargames 005, written by wargaming legend Terry Wise.

El Bodon is quite an interesting scenario, because it features British infantry attacking French cavalry and then conducting a fighting withdrawal against constant attacks from that same cavalry.  It requires more space than troops, as the forces involved were small but the retreat was carried out over a considerable distance.

Imperial French Forces:

C-in-C Montbrun (Capable)

1st Dragoon Bde: 2 x Veteran Dragoon bases
2nd Dragoon Bde: 2 x Veteran Dragoon bases
Lamotte's Light Cavalry Bde: 3 x Trained Light Cavalry bases
Fournier's Light Cavalry Bde: 3 x Trained Light Cavalry bases
Artillery: 1 x 4lb Horse Artillery base

Allied Forces:

C-in-C Wellington (Decisive)

3rd Division: Picton (Decisive)
Wallace's Bde: 2 x Veteran SK1 Infantry bases
Colville's Bde: 2 x Veteran SK1 Infantry bases
Div Artillery: 2 x Trained Portuguese 6lb Foot Artillery bases

Alten's Cavalry Brigade: 1 x Veteran Light Cavalry base, 1 x Trained Light Cavalry base

The troop ratings are very speculative.  There is a good argument for making all the troops Veteran (or all Trained).  As the Polemos rules work on opposed rolls, there is literally no difference.

Objectives: The objective for the Allies is to withdraw via the road on the left-hand side of the table or break the Imperial force.  The objective for the French is to prevent this or break the Allied force.

The Terrain:

This is Terry Wise's suggested terrain:

Used with permission

And here is the Google Earth view (for comparison with the terrain on the table)

 The Battle:

The Allied force is on the near side of thestream, the French on the far bank.  The Allies have veteran KGL Hussars on the left, the Portuguese artillery in the front supported by British infantry, British Light Dragoons on the right.

The French have the light cavalry on their right (left as seen), the dragoons on their left (right of shot)

View from behind Wellington's command post

Bold French moves to start the battle.  French Hussars have advanced across the stream to attack their German counterparts (I'm in mid-move here, the other Frenhc Hussars were just about to come across the stream!); French Chasseurs à Cheval attack the 1/5th Foot over the stream, led by General Montbrun in person.

The French Hussars enjoy some success in the initial melée, disordering the KGL horsemen on the left (note single figure denoting shakenn status); however the 5th, although showing some signs of nervousness (see the single figure by the infantry adjacent to the bridge), delivered a textbook, crushing volley at pointblank range, devastating the leading French Chasseur squadrons and disordering their supports.

A closer view

Picton arrives with elements from Wallace's brigade

The French 2nd Light Cavalry brigade fails its morale check and is spent, out of the battle

The ebb-and-flow of the cavalry melée on the Allied left now moves in favour of the KGL Hussars - the French become shaken in their turn and are pushed back

The combat is over: the French retire over the stream to reform

The direct assault having failed, Montbrun leads one of his brigades of Dragoons round the Allied right flank; the Light Dragoons advance to counter this move

A couple of missing pictures before this one unfortunately: on the Allied left, the KGL Hussars have more decisively defeated another French attack.  The French brigadier has therefore pushed a regiment further round the flank to try and force the KGL into retreat by manoeuvre.  On the Allied right, the French Dragoons have defeated the Light Dragoons and Picton hastily moves a battalion to the right to protect against this.

On the right, one can see more clearly the progress of the French Dragoons and the routing British cavalry (bottom right); note bottom centre-left that the British infantry reinforcements are about to reach the junction

The position on the left flank - the KGL Hussars have forced their opponents across the stream, whilst one French Hussar regiment has broken

Fearing the double-envelopment, Wellington orders his forward infantry and artillery to retire; the KGL Hussars on the left retire slightly and the French Hussars gingerly follow

The Allied column has retreated a fair distance (just over 1km) but now the French Dragoons are ready to charge; French Hussars are trying to outflank and stretch the Allies (top-right)

The 1/5th Foot sees off the French attack with another pointblank volley!  Both sides are somewhat shaken and need to reform.  Wellington was lucky to survive an encounter with a French Dragoon!

The British foot changed positions so the 77th faced the French Dragoons (to take advantage of first volley); however, Montbrun lead his Dragoons into success and the 77th have broken (top-left)!  The Dragoons are about to hit the Portuguese guns...
The French Dragoons overrun a Portuguese battery, but the 1/5th again succeed in blunting the French Dragoon attack - this time the French sustain enough casualties that their courage fails them and they fail their morale check

The Allied position: the 77th rout, but the remaining British troops hold on

Position from the second French Dragoon brigade: at this point, the Imperials failed their army morale and the battle was over!

Same position at the end of the battle

Game Result and Notes:
A very exciting game! More exciting than I expected perhaps, but a tribute to the scenario that it provided such a tense conflict.  The Polemos General de Division rules performed admirably - I know a lot of rules would struggle with this action, because they wouldn't allow the British to move in square but would make them very vulnerable to cavalry otherwise.  This would make the long retreat almost impossible.  Because Polemos makes troop morale and support the key tactical factors and doesn't fuss at all about formations, it doesn't suffer from the same problems.  More of an issue is that cavalry combat is quite deadly in Polemos GdD, whereas the real action apparently witnessed "forty French charges".  One assumes (following Rory  Muir) that many of these charges were feints, and thus are represented in the rules by some of the movements of the French Hussars in the game, which forced Allied reactions without actually being attacks.
Overall, the game reflected history quite closely, although with slightly higher casualties on each side.  This was partly as a result of my (bad) initial tactics as the French, although I was considering that a quick success would really help the French cause, before the British infantry reinforcements could take effect.

The game used the Polemos General de Division rules and was played on a 5'x3' table with a home-made mat.  In retrospect I think I used the wrong mat: I have a greener felt cloth which I think looks a little less good but being softer, would probably have contoured better along the steep hills.  My homemade cloth with the caulk base was maybe a little too stiff!  Figures from Baccus 6mm's Napoleonic range.
This scenario would be a good one for starting players, as sufficient forces to play are very cheap.  It could be played from the forces contained in a Baccus starter army, for example.