Monday, 11 April 2011

Chasing the Bear! An 1812 scenario...

Russian Cuirassiers - Front Rank figures.
This game was an informal break from the master plan of fighting Napoleonic battles on, or near, their 200th anniversary. The main purpose was to introduce a possible new recruit, Jason, to the group and to Black Powder rules, and to demonstrate to him the way that they can handle a large game quite quickly. It was also a way of checking how we stood in force terms for replaying the Russian battles in 2012...Unfortunately a couple of blokes couldn't make it, thus increasing the command burden on the remainder. I felt bad about asking Jason to command the Russians on his own in his first game with us, but in the event he did rather well...

The engagement was a fictional rear guard action set at the end of July 1812, loosely based on the Battle of Jakobovo or Kliastity on the 29th July 1812. Once again Napoleon is attempting to encircle the Russian armies in the vast plains of Western Byelorussia, whilst the Russians are steadily falling back. The French II Corps advanced guard are attacking Wittgenstein’s 1st Corps at a large clearing in the densely forested area in the Northern area of the offensive. A small Russian rearguard has been dropped off at a bottleneck where the forest narrows the French line of advance somewhat, thus securing the rearguards' flanks against the pursuing French cavalry.

Russian Commander's View.

An ancient burial mound, or Kurgan, affords two Russian heavy batteries an opportunity to deploy and fire closing fire over the heads of the infantry in what they hope will be a killing ground.

As well as the Heavy Artillery Bde, the Russian forces originally amounted to a large Musketeer Bde, a small Grenadier Bde, a light cavalry Bde and a small Heavy Cav brigade which originally consisted of a single Cuirassier Regiment and a Dragoon Regiment. However Mark, the French Cavalry Commander, rather generously brought along an extra pair of Russian heavy cavalry regiments for his opponent. Clearly Mark relishes a challenge!
Russian Musketeer Bde - 7 Bn's of stubborn and determined infantry...(All Minifigs.)
I felt, as umpire, that this changed the balances of forces somewhat, and so a generous Emperor sent forward the Empress Dragoons and Horse Grenadiers from his Guard to bolster the French II Corps advanced guard. Unfortunately for the French, what amounted to a very powerful additional heavy cavalry Bde was not supplemented by a Bde Commander or accompanying Guard horse artillery as I had originally not thought they would be required to feature in one of our games for at least another year...D’oh! I explained to the French team that the Brigadier in question has not yet finished his toilette for the day and might turn up when he felt the requirements of fashion in terms of meeting ‘Messieurs les russes’ had been satisfied...With hindsight, the addition of a hard riding, hard fighting Imperial Guard Cavalry Brigadier might have assisted the French team with the command difficulties that were to plague them throughout the game...

Fr Light Cavalry.
As well as the Imperial Guard Cavalry Bde, the French Cavalry consisted of a Light Bde of a unit of Vistula Lancers and French Hussars, supported by a horse battery opf 6 Pdrs. There was also a Heavy Cavalry Brigade of 2 large and elite regiments of Cuirassiers and Carabiniers, and 2 Dragoon Regiments, one of which was large.

The French Infantry division consisted of 21 Battalions, with 3 Brigades of 6 Bns and one Bavarian Bde of 3 Bns. These had the integral Divisional foot battery of 6 Pdrs and had attached a Corps battery of 12 Pdr heavy guns.

French Infantry closing up in March Columns. L to R Crusader with Victrix Colonel, Victrix, Perry plastic, and Minifigs.
Victory Conditions.

The French had to pass 2 Infantry Bdes off the Northern End of the table before nightfall in 10 moves. Getting one through would be a draw; failure to get any through would mean a Russian Victory.

Troop stats and characteristics.

Normally a boring part of any BATREP, but for those who play Black Powder, please read on and learn from my mistakes! Inexperienced in fielding BP Russians, I was anxious to reflect their stubborn qualities and the experiences reported by the French that not only did one have to kill the Russians, you then had to knock them down as well. I therefore gave all Russian Infantry stamina of 4, morale saves on 3+, steady, reliable and stubborn. Steady means they ignore their first break test, reliable that they pass orders with a +1 one to the die roll, and stubborn means a reroll of one failed die for morale saves. This became quite controversial during the game, whereas the objections I had expected to giving the Russians a low firepower rating of 2 instead of the normal 3, owing to poor gunpowder and weapons training, never materialised

Shifting the Russians was a hard slog! Not too sure who's outflanking who, but BP handles this kind of stoush very well.
It quickly became apparent in the first infantry clash that the Russian Infantry were well nigh unbeatable in melee, which of course was not quite the case historically, and I had badly over played their characteristics. Jason, the Russian player, generously offered to downgrade the Russian Musketeers to morale saves on 4+, which seemed a much better reflection of their qualities of being able to cope with heavy casualties, rather than of shrugging them off in the first place. With hindsight, I should also have reduced their stamina to 3.

Since the French infantry had the quality of ‘Steady in Column’, the Infantry slogs became long and protracted, with the French advantage in numbers, manifested through greater ‘support points’, only gradually forcing the Russians to give ground. In retrospect this felt quite historical, though at the time I was aware that the French Infantry commander, John, was gritting his teeth and finding that breaking through the Russian infantry was ‘hard yakka’!

Hindsight is always a wonderful thing, but I think John as the French commander now has an understanding of why Napoleon re-introduced regimental artillery for this campaign!

As is usual in my games, the French had consistently higher command values than their opponents, and in this case, the Russian commander values averaged at a decidedly sluggish 6, compared to the French average of 8.5. However command values cannot legislate for consistently unlucky dice throwing!

Opening Moves.

Jason as the Russian Commander felt that a passive approach was best and waited for the French to advance into the killing ground formed by his large deployed Musketeer bde of 7 battalions, overlooked by two heavy position batteries, and with Jaegers lining the woods to the flank.
The French II Corps advanced guard attempts to deploy...
I was not privy to the French master plan, and the French players did disappear off into a command huddle, so I assume a cunning plan was hatched. However, the seemingly sensible initial pre game deployments I had made for them, bearing in mind their time constraints, of light cavalry in the lead, followed by the Heavy Cavalry division, followed by the Infantry division were soon thrown into chaos. Poor command die throwing soon meant that the French advance somehow ended up with the infantry in the vanguard, with the dashing light cavalry following bravely and the heavy cavalry, which I had hoped to see making gallant breakthrough charges, bringing up the rear escorting the sick, the lame, and the lazy!

The French Heavy Cavalry leading aggressively - from the rear!
French deployment difficulties were compounded by the funnelling effect of the woods to either flank, and an apparent reluctance by the Bavarian Bde charged with clearing the Jaegers from the woods to engage. No Legion of Honour for them! 

The Crisis of Battle
The Vistual Lancer create an opening...

Eventually the French team unravelled their deployment difficulties and started making some piecemeal and somewhat uncoordinated attacks on the Russian musketeer brigade, and found that the fire from the Russian Heavy batteries was not actually too galling. However, as described above, their initial attacks soon brought my ‘characteristics’ faux pas to light. Discussion ensued, and Jason made his magnanimous gesture to remove the Russian flak jackets as related.

By this time the French Light Cavalry, or actually the Vistula Lancers, had forced a gap in the Russian line and the French infantry  took the opportunity to regroup and mount a coordinated infantry attack. As recounted above, this assault gradually and painfully forced the Russian line back, but by the time the Russian brigade had reluctantly started to retreat, the French were running out of time as the sun was setting low on the horizon!

The Russian line eventually starts to give way...

At this stage a desperate attack by the French Old Guard Cavalry, the French commander successfully issuing a ‘Follow Me!’ order to the Empress Dragoons, broke the lead Russian Dragoon regiment, and seemed to offer a way to outflank the Russian central position...

The Empress Dragoons charge in a bid to outflank the crumbling Russian position as dusk falls.
However the wily Russians had moved the reserve Grenadier Bde to the flank of any such advance, and as dusk fell the French were still a long way from meeting their victory conditions.

All in all a frustrating game for me as the umpire, since a game which results in a cliff hanging finish is evidence of a well balanced scenario, whereas here it was quite clear that the French were not going to succeed from halfway through the game, although to their credit they persevered right through to the end in what was some hard and close combat.

I imagine the French team also found the game to be hard work, and of course as related that was partially due to my making the Russians very difficult to beat. This was compounded by some unfortunate command die throwing. However, I think a wholly unGallic concern for not taking too many casualties from the Russian guns led to a steady and deliberate approach, whereas the situation might have been better dealt with by an all out attack ‘a l’outrance’! That said, its easy to critcise with the benefit of hindsight, and as a professional soldier John is not one to rush in where fools fear to tread. If we were to revisit this scenario I think an additional couple of light cavalry units, and the time to make a quick recconaisance, would add to the complexity and interest of the scenario...

I hope Jason as the Russian player had a more enjoyable game; he certainly played the hand dealt him masterfully and very quickly showed a grasp of the rules. He is happy to take part in our next major game, Albuera, so must have had a pretty good time.

For myself, I have learnt a lesson about thinking more carefully about setting up scenarios and allocating troop characteristics. I am looking forward to an eventual Black Powder Napoleonic’s supplement to set default characteristics for all nationalities! Perhaps also getting the scenario description and orders out to the players beforehand might have given the French team more time to plan and grasp the urgency of getting forward more quickly. 


  1. nice Sparker,

    the cavalry looks impressive massed!


  2. what is the date of the Aluera refight? hope it doesn't clash with the Bring and buy Carboot sale..

  3. Wow! Great looking game. What's the scale; 1/20 or a bit larger?

    Looks like fun. I've got the BP rules but have only played one game. might be time for another go soon.

  4. Thanks Gents. The cav may have looked good, but they were a complete waste of rations on the day!

    Cardinal, its looking like the 14th May so won't interfere with the great Marulan car boot sale!

    Yes the figure scale is 1/20, so the medium infantry Bns are of 36 figures.

  5. Very nice and instructive to me on a personal level. The troops look great.


  6. Was a great game and i thoroughly enjoyed myself. I shall be there for Albuera!


  7. Thouroughly enjoyed the battle report and great looking troops. The Victrix figures paint up well. I think everyone is taking stock of what they have painted up for 1812-2012 refights around now.

  8. Great stoush, great AAR and great figures. Good to see someone use masses of old Minifigs - which still look good on the tabletop.