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!

Monday, 9 February 2015

Waterloo 200 - Hougomont game - and some violets...

As related in my previous post yesterday, on Sunday the Hall of Heroes Waterloo 200 project team held another practice game in preparation for our weekend mega-game in June to commemorate the bicentennial of this most famous of battles.

Actually we were playing for more than simply Hougomont, as we laid out 2 of the planned 5 tables, concentrating on the Western half of the field. Although we have already played this out, this sector of the field was where Wellington had the bulk of his poly-glot army initially posted, so it would test our force marshalling the most.

However, just as Jerome did on the day, the French team succumbed to the gravitational pull of that iconic chateau, lovingly laid out for us with Philip's model. Actually, much of this model's components have been sacrificed on the altar of ground scale!

The 30th Foot standing in for the Nassau defenders of the orchard garden - well at least they had yellow facings! Still 4 more months to paint up the gallant Nassauers!
I was standing in as French C-in-C, and my intention was for only Jerome's division, led by Mick, to get stuck into Hougomont, with Foy's division in the middle of II Corps acting as link to Bachelu over on the right table. Bachelu - Vic - would make the initial running between Hougomont and the Brussels high road, taking advantage of any gaps forced by our heavy cav, and then Foy - Richard - would come up as the reserve.  

However, rather than stand idly by, Richard decided to help Mick out by occupying the Eastern side of the Chateau's defences. And he did pretty well. In fact, he felt he was on the verge of a breakthrough - just a few more battalions should do it...

Meanwhile Kellerman - Caesar - and L'Heritier - Chris - were charging the Anglo Allied lines with the massed horse of III Cavalry Corps, and forcing them into square, opening up, briefly, a gap in the thin red line...although not entirely without mishap - charging a deployed battery of guns is ever a chancy affair:

But Richard was determined to take Hougomont - just one more push... And it has to be said he and Mick were certainly drawing the Allied reserves down....

Foot Guards reinforcing Hougomont, impersonated by the Royal Irish - that's a chargeable offence! Fear not, each Guards Battalion will be lovingly recreated for the great game itself!
And eventually their efforts were rewarded, with a break in from both East and West. A virtuoso duet performance of how to take a large garrison in Black Powder!

But the opportunity to break through to Brussels was gone - the Allied team had scrambled to present an unassailable defence!

In any case, Vic had run into troubles of his own - a command blunder had withdrawn his dedicated cavalry support, and Somerset - Terry - leading the Household Cavalry brigade lost no time in taking advantage, manoeuvring to take the hapless division from the rear - you've got to watch those Guardsmen you know!

I had blundered in another way of course, completely failing to capture this blog's signature shot of Philip quaffing tea. For this report, your humble correspondent can only provide one of Terry knocking one back (blue shirt, left rear):

And so adieu, perhaps until the violets bloom again - Soldiers of my Imperial Guard! Though I love you all, I cannot kiss you all. I will kiss your flag, for it represents all of you. But know that I shall return to France when the violets will bloom.”
Look closely at the upper right of this posey...

Waterloo 200 Project - Progress so far...

Fun! You lot aren't here to have fun - You're Grognards - so start Grumblin!
Long time followers of my little blog - and if there are any such types out there I'm profoundly grateful - will know that I have been heavily involved for over 18 months in our FLGS's (the Hall of Heroes Campbelltown) Waterloo 200 mega game project....

We have been replaying the major battles of the Napoleonic Wars, on or about their 200th anniversary, with our first really big game being Borodino, which we played in a single day, 'bathtubbed' at 50% of the units present on 240 square feet of terrain, using approximately 5,000 model soldiers - the blog reports can be found in Sept 2012's archive!
Following through these battles on their anniversaries gives one the same sense of perspective that the contemporaries might have gained - although of course in this time scale Napoleon is still kicking his heels quietly on Elba....
Minifgs 25mm British Light Dragoons - will they get a last run out?
So for 18 months or so, most of the 20 odd project members have been busily painting up 28mm 1815 era armies, made much easier by the advent of cheap plastic figures from the likes of Perry and Victrix, and the good offices of generous sponsors like Fons Libert of the Mabuhay Miniatures Painting Service. Although we will still be pressing the odd old Minifigs type 25mm figure into service - particularly if the Perrys don't get their plastic British light dragoons out sharpish!
Minifigs 25mm 23rd Regiment of Foot (The Royal Welch Fuzileers) - I can't quite bear to throw these out!
But actually, figure wise, all that early planning and cajoling has paid off - we have all the figures we need, for a 75% orbat by unit, each unit at a 1:20 figure scale. Indeed its a shame that we have to tell latecomers to the project that we don't need their figures, barring accidents and acts of God!

In fact one of the biggest challenges for many of us is actually carting the little chaps around - thankfully most of our collections are now plastic - or I daresay there'd be a few hernias around!
Of course the main strength of a project is its people - and we are now pretty much recruited fully up to strength! However, perhaps like the Anglo Allied army in 1815, many of the players are making up for lack of experience with our Black Powder rules with enthusiasm and commitment!
And of course, in Australia, there's the tyranny of distance - several of our keenest members live, or have been posted, hundreds of miles away, and will only be able to make it up for the Waterloo weekend itself. Still, it will make for a lively social life at the motel on the Saturday night! And I daresay a few local hostelries....

Terrain remains the biggest challenge, and our star terrain meister Terry has been flogging himself renovating and producing enough purpose built terrain to cover 5 12 x 6 foot tables - a major engineering and logistical effort in a busy shop!

The idea is to split the battlefield up into 5 slices, each of which will be a separate table, made up of five or six 2 x 6 boards, which together will represent the battlefield on a playing area of 360 square feet. Each table will have a gap of 3 or 4 foot to allow player access. So for example you can see below that the ridge line to the right rear of Hougomont on the near table continues exactly onto the far table as if the gap wasn't there:

Measuring ranges and movement across from one table to another has been one challenge, but something we are learning to cope with - just as most battle take place on the junction of 4 maps, so the action always seems hottest on our table edges - its too easy to forget about your flanks!

So that's how we're going so far - lots to do, but lots done! I've got lots more photos of yesterday's practice to show you, but its getting late and its time for a comfy armchair, a small malt and my daily peruse of Adkin's 'Waterloo Companion' - more to follow soon...

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Bibracte 58 BC


Today at the Hall of Heroes we played Philip's Bibracte 58BC scenario, as a training game for our forthcoming Alesia megagame at the end of the year.

Caesar and his Legions were set up and encamped at the top of steep hill, and seemed to have a good deal of bowmen and light artillery, as well as the dreaded Legions...

Whereas we Gauls, the Helvetii to be precise, had some bowmen, lots of warbands, but nack all artillery. This would have to be done with cold steel - lucky we had the 'wild fighters' attribute...To be precise, we had 4 'divisions', led by Terry, Jim, myself and Philip from left to right, each of 4 large warbands and a couple of skirmish units...

Our objective was to seize the Roman camp...

Whilst theirs was to seize ours...

I like an uncomplicated scenario, so without further ado, I charged all my warbands at the Roman camp, as I thought that was the whole idea....

However it seems I was alone in that interpretation, as 3/4 of the Helvetii just crossed their arms and watched my warbands go it alone...

There was some sort of cunning fancy manoeuvring going on over on the far left flank - very pretty I'm sure, but not much use to my lads...

Eventually, Jim's warbands came up on my left and relieved the pressure just as my warbands were reaching their stamina limit...

Next it was Caesar's turn to try some fancy manoeuvring around our right flank to try and sneak around to our camp. However owing to some political skulduggery of some sort or another - Romans Eh! - the Legate's sister ended up running that operation with a command value of 7, so Philip pretty much locked down that flank with a couple of skirmish units...

Meantime back at the foot of the Roman camp Jim and I were doing the heavy lifting....

Whilst Terry and Philip on the flanks provided moral support:
(Yeah, thanks for turning up Terry and Philip!)

They obviously had bad memories of what its like to face Roman Legion!

'Pilum! - Lift! - Aim! RELEASE!
 And together with the state of my units it looked like our last, best hope to seize the Roman camp, and victory, lay with Jim's warbands - and he fought his way to the point where the last line of Roman defence was a unit of raw Legion - if he broke these we would win the game!

Alas it was not to be - the young Legionnaires held, and the game was a draw...