Monday, 16 March 2015

Waterloo 200 Practice game - the Prussians are coming...(eventually)

Yesterday, for a change of venue, we held our penultimate Waterloo 200 practice game at the Hall of Heroes Penrith, better known to the old and bold as The Tin Soldier. This had the added bonus of exposing our project, and large scale Black Powder wargaming to a wider audience.  

No Sir! - its not **#@!** Warhammer ***#!#@* Historical!

Our express aim for the game was to experiment and rehearse with the Prussian side of the Waterloo equation. At what point in the battle should they come on, how should they be allowed to deploy, how do we stop the French establishing a prepared defence on the exits from the Lasne defile, and what on earth do we do with the Prussian players before they get to move their toys onto the table?
On the commemorative weekend itself, our 20+ players will be playing across five 12foot x 6 foot tables, but this practice game concentrated on the Eastern-most table. Controversially, perhaps, we have omitted the village of Plancenoit itself! We feel that if the Prussian IV Corps manages to fight off the Western Edge of table 5 (the grey table), the French can pretty much consider themselves outflanked! It was also a trial run for Philip's command cards, which allocate senior Staff Ratings to certain key Marshals and Generals, so that we can keep the default Staff Rating at an easy to remember 8 all round. It was also a good opportunity for new and recent players to get some practice within a relatively small game, and get their models out on the table. 

Jim P's Chevaux Leger Lanciers - with a few Dragoons to make up the numbers - we tend to go for large units!

The boards were laboriously moved from the Campbelltown store under the good offices of Matt and Terry, and were the first opportunity to showcase Bryan's purpose built roads, both in 'hard' and 'soft' versions, all the better to ride the contours of our hills.  
Mein Kinder! No more shall ye struggle through bog and mud - these roads are fit for Prussian heroes!
The scenario initially experimented with having the first elements of Bulow's IV corps debouching form the Bois de Paris on move 7 (which we calculate would make it about 16:30). 
The leading elements were represented as historically as possible, so that von Losthin's 16th Brigade was allowed to arrive on table arrayed in battle order after having taken the time to shake out after crossing the Lasne defile (which is off table). As von Bulow described it:
It was half past four in the afternoon, when the head of our column advanced out of the Frichermont wood. The 15th Bde uner General von Losthin deployed quickly into battalion columns, throwing out skirmishers...the Brigade cavalry, led by the 2nd Silesian Hussar Regiment, covered this movement.
Peter Hofschroer 1815 The Waterloo Campaign, Vol 2, p. 116.
As our Hussars are provided by Troy, currently serving in Adelaide, 
3rd Brandenburg Landwehr Uhlans
a Brigade of Uhlans stood in.
The French were allowed to deploy halfway across the table, which with hindsight, and knowing Vic and Terry as I do, was a big mistake! 

Vic (l) and Terry (r) rubbing their hands with glee...Newbie Jim is wondering what he's gotten into....
Since we have adopted the Albion Triumphant Vol2 'Pas de Charge' rules for French Infantry to get an additional order bonus for being in Column, the French Infantry crossed the table in record time!
More to the point, the French divisional 6 pounder batteries were able to take the Prussian columns under medium range fires - 2 batteries at medium range - 4 dice needing 3's - Schiess!
Indeed the first few salvoes scored more than their fair share of 6's, resulting in disordered, and therefore stalled, Prussian columns. First scenario hiccup! Historically the only opposition the Prussians faced at this juncture were a few light cavalry units....The Prussian team racked their brains, whilst the French team tried not to laugh.....and continued an aggressive and active forward defence, continuing to close the noose around the exit from the Bois de Paris.

And calling forward their Light Cavalry Brigade to administer the coup de gras...

The Eagles closed on the Prussian columns...

It was not looking good - so the Prussians attempted to regain the initiative by charging with with their only undisrupted formation on table - the Uhlan brigade...

Meanwhile the Landsers were holding on, despite the odds - just...

The opposing Light Cavalry brigades closed in a resounding clash of steel - Lance against Sabre!

This would be a critical roll....

And the French Hussars evaporated - leaving their own Lancers to stem the tide of jubilant Uhlans!

At this point the Prussian medium cavalry, led by the 1st Queen's Dragoons, arrived on the field to stabilise the Prussian right flank.

However, yours truly, as the umpire allowed the French to commit a Dragoon brigade of their own, and with some masterly deployment they managed to achieve the holy trinity against an isolated Uhlan unit - support to both flanks and the rear!

So at this point, move 11, despite some stolid defence the Prussian IV Corps was really struggling to seize the initiative, and the next Prussian corps, von Zieten's I Corps was not due on for another 3 moves. Perhaps a hint of what might have been had Lobau moved forward to defend the Lasne defile.

Anyway, my scenario had pretty much stalled, so we duly wound on the clock to bring on Ziethen, further North, aligned to the Anglo-Netherlands line.

This opened up the battle a bit, if only Bulow's Corps could hang on...

By this time the Prussian Dragoons were making their presence felt, and acting a link between the two corps, first rebuffing the French lights....

Then the mediums...

And some Uhlans even caught a French line out of square, with predictable results!

But all was to no avail - from the South East the French pushed hard and aggressively to block the exit from the Bois de Paris...

So hardly a balanced or historical scenario - but a gripping game where both teams played out of their socks - thrilling to watch. Lessons learnt for the big game? Most certainly: Roads and Command Cards - good; original Prussian deployment model - bad! Back to the drawing board!

Btw, most of the Prussian models used in this game were from the wonderful Calpe Models, whose one man designer/sculpter/caster's love for his subject and outstanding attention to detail make these figures just wonderful. Also fleshed out with several battalions of the Perry hard plastic Prussian Infantry, surely a boon to any Prussian collector with a touch of megalomania!

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Blucher - Quatre Bras 1815

The Napoleonic wargaming world has been celebrating the long awaited release of Sam Mustafa's Blucher rules - now even the cheapest and meanest grognard has the means to stage the biggest of battles! 
The Wollongong uni wargamers have had a small part to play in the exhaustive play testing process, and as a result, Sam Mustafa generously sent us each not only a complementary copy not just of the rules, but also of the first accompanying expansion set, The Hundred Days - well it had to be that theme in this bicentennial year of 1815, didn't it! 
Blucher is a set of rules designed to operate at the grand-tactical level - commanding entire armies, with the basic unit representing a Brigade of 2-3,000 infantry or 1-2 cavalry. Artillery is either parcelled out to the brigades, or represented in its own right as concentrations of 2-4 batteries. With the elegant and quick movement and combat mechanisms, it really is a simple matter to refight a 'small' battle - Fuentes d' Onoro, or Eckmuhl, say, in an evening, or the really epic battles, Waterloo or Borodino, in a day, with all units down to brigade level present.
The expansion set contains 216 beautifully printed cards, so that each brigade of the French, Prussian and Anglo-Netherlands armies of that campaign can be represented on the table top. So above, for example, we have Soye's 2nd Brigade of the 6th Infantry Division, part of Reille's II Corps. The schematics show an overhead view of 4 battalions of infantry deployed behined a skirmish screen, and the symbols denote that it is an over
strength unit, adept at skirmishing and presently does not have an artillery battery attached. It is still fresh, having an elan value of 7. With the use of dry wipe markers some of this information will be adjusted throughout the battle if and when the brigade becomes engaged. Of course its not necessary to use these cards, existing collections of whatever scale can be pressed into service, with some method of denoting the brigade's status, such as Mark Rabucks' great work shown here. Personally, I intend to start off using the expansion cards and gradually introducing modelled units side by side, giving me time to very slowly and gradually build up a collection in yet another scale, probably in 10mil or possibly 6 mil.... 
Ensign Christie, commissioned from the Ranks, defends the Regimental Colour.

The Prince of Saxe-Weimar takes it upon his tiny
brigade to hold off the Grande Armee single handed!
So why Quatre Bras for our first non-play testing game? Well, as mentioned above, it was a relatively small engagement, at least in Blucher terms, only featuring a the equivalent of a Corps a side. But it is an interesting and exciting battle in its own right - one of these scenarios were an initially outnumbered force gets steadily reinforced until it might be able to turn the tables. - The pressure is on the French to attack early and hard, expending valuable strategic assets they might not otherwise open the running with. And the battle had its fair share of thrills and spills, and is strategically significant - if a couple of Dutch and Nassau General Officers hadn't gone out on a limb and disobeyed the Peer's orders the campaign might all have been over
The Prince rallying the 5th Miliia
without a Waterloo...Also, recent scholarship has placed the traditional villain of the piece, the Prince of Orange, in a new and far more positive light. Yes, he overrode the Colonel of the 69th's wise decision to form square, thus causing the ensuing massacre. But its become clear that, in supporting General Perponcher and Colonel Prince Saxe-Weimar's decisions to hold out early on the 16th, and in subsequently leading the defence until Wellington was able to take over, he was an effective commander. His personal courage, and inspired leadership of his Dutch-Belgian troops, has never been in doubt.


An extract from the scenario sets the scene:

This historical scenario is based on the actions of the left wing of the Armee du Nord against the Anglo Netherlands army attempting to defend the Charleroi – Brussels highroad on the 16th June 1815. A precursor to Waterloo!

The Armee du Nord had been divided into two wings and a reserve, and Marshal Ney has just unexpectedly been given command of the left wing – entirely without staff and headquarters resources other than his faithful aide Colonel Heymes! Napoleon’s aim is to drive a wedge between the Anglo Allied army to his North West, and the Prussians to his North East. Both of these armies are dispersed to ease feeding and watering. Anticipating that whereas an unprepared Wellington would react to any attack by drawing off NW to his lines of communications, he correctly assessed that Blucher – Marshal Vorwarts - could be relied on to respond impetuously and attack without waiting to concentrate.  Napoleon thus initially expected the Left wing to have a lightly opposed advance and intended his main effort to be with the Right wing against the sole Prussian advanced Corps. Certainly the pace of concentration of the Left Wing had been decidedly relaxed…

 As events unfold, it becomes clear that on the Right Wing there are actually several Prussian Corps within reach, and that the Left Wing, by dint of hard marching, could very easily seal their fate by striking their rear down the Namur road, simply by turning left at the Quatre Bras crossroads. Three quarters of the Prussian army could be trapped and destroyed. It only requires the tiny Netherlands garrison at Quatre Bras to be brushed away by Ney’s two Infantry Corps and Reserve Cavalry for the campaign to be over….

The game takes the form of an attack/defence game, with the Anglo-Netherlands initially outnumbered, but steadily receiving reinforcements. The onus is on the French player to attack early and with gusto!

Having set the terrain out, we commenced mustering our forces - much quicker than the large 28mm games I'm used to! We also set up the player aids, namely Gneisnau, the sheet that enables the players to keep track of time as status, which can be downloaded from the Honour site along with dummy cards etc.

The ever useful Gneisenau

So how did the game play? Fast and furious is the short answer - the combat mechanics are quick and easy to pick up. So that, as the Prince of Orange/Wellington, I only had my own initial deployment to blame for subsequent events...Clearly this was a situation that called for an active, forward defence...

Whereas I opted for garrisoning Quatre Bras with the Nassau Brigade and immobilising Bijlandt's brigade in the nearby Bois du Bossu to lend supporting fire. The French duly took advantage of the generous reserve movement allowances to close up in short order, and to cut the Namur road with their Cuirassier Brigade - they had taken one of the two objectives in the first two moves!

This made deploying the steady stream of Anglo-Allied reinforcements problematic - particulary as I had forgotten to represent, and so forgot to use, the North South track in the Bois de Bossu, which would have presented problems to the French advance and eased Allied mobility.

Despite repeated shelling and storming of Quatre Bras itself by the French, it remained firmly in Allied hands - with a bottleneck in getting out from the village it at least had no shortage of reinforcements! Thus holding one objective each, we called it a draw - not entirely unhistorical.

So what do I think of Blucher? Well since I've invested much of my precious wargaming time into its play testing - albeit towards the end of what was already an exhaustive process - of course I'm biased! But as we've come to expect from Sam Mustafa, its an innovative, elegant and well written set of rules that deliver what they set out to - the means to recreate the table-top grand-tactical thrills and spills of commanding a Napoleonic army - all of it!

The scenario used in this game can be downloaded from the Blucher Scenario bucket on Sam's site linked below - make sure you grab the second (pdf) one at the bottom of  the page, that one corrects all the errors that emerged after playtesting it!