Sunday, 5 February 2012

Massed Cavalry!

1812-2012 Borodino Project – Our Second practice game.
Yesterday around a dozen hardened wargamers gathered at the Hall of Heroes, our FLGS in Campbelltown NSW for the second of our regular Black Powder practice games, held monthly every 1st Sunday with the view of raising our awareness of the rules and play for our huge Borodino 200th commemoration game in September.
We are all very much aware that this Borodino refight game, starting to assume the proportions of a mega game with media interest in proportion, may well be the biggest wargame we ever participate in. So we want to be sure we know what we are doing….
The purpose of Sunday’s game was to take a long and critical look at the way Black Powder handles large cavalry actions, the interaction between cavalry and infantry, and to get the players used to handling large cavalry formations.
A second objective was to give the Russian team a rare opportunity to go on the offensive, an opportunity which they made full use of!
The entirely hypothetical scenario was set during the encirclement and rearguard actions of the early part of the 1812 campaign, when the French were trying to isolate and destroy either the First or Second Western Armies before they linked up.
Troy's Regiment Joseph Napoleon - Perry's.
In our game, the movements of the respective armies have somehow generated a distinct local advantage in numbers to the Russians for once, and they have the opportunity to inflict some hurt on the weaker French on table force before it gets steadily reinforced.  (The reinforcements would arrive purely at the whim of the umpire, to try and generate an interesting and balanced game…)
The two opposing Cavalry Corps were placed at opposite corners of the large table, to maximise the manoeuvring required of the cavalry commanders, with the Russians having II Cavalry Corps entirely present on table, whilst the French only had a light cavalry Bde at first.
The French got the first move, and with some impressive command throws and command values of 8 across the board, their infantry and cavalry made some deep inroads across the table, allowing them to meet the inevitable Russian cavalry onslaught with a good solid bridgehead behind them for the reinforcements to arrive on. Surprisingly, however, they did not immediately form square as I had expected. The reasons they did not feel the need to would form the crux of our post game discussion about the rules…

A single French square halts an entire Russian Cav Corps - More of Troy's Perrys....
With the Russian first move, the infantry commanders advanced aggressively and in good order, but the Cavalry Corps advanced rather more sedately, much to my disappointment. As punishment I granted the French some heavy cavalry reinforcement earlier than I had planned, but in hindsight I appreciate now that this caution was not timidity but the wise actions of players inexperienced with manoeuvring large masses of cavalry…
So, contrary to the original concept of the game, it was to be the French cavalry which launched itself gallantly at the Russian infantry, but these doughty fighters, benefitting from the ‘must form square’ rule, managed to hold the line, or rather succession of squares. Nevertheless, in tactical terms, the French Cavalry had succeeded in pinning an entire Russian Infantry Corps.
On the far flank, where the Russian cavalry was massed, it was the other way around, and here a handful of French Infantry in square effectively hamstrung an entire Russian Cavalry Corps, Dragoons, Lancer, Cuirassiers, the lot!
However eventually some of the Russian cavalry worked its way through and some thrilling cavalry charges and melees swirled around, with honours working out pretty even overall!
Mick's Front Rank Wurtemburgers face down a column of my Warlord Games Russians...
It was in the center  that all the dramatic breakthrough action might occur. Mark, who normally likes to play the role of a cavalry commander, was commanding a division of Russian infantry and I think must have thought he was still a dashing cavalry leader the way he drove his troops straight down the road at the French, coming within a hairsbreadth of cutting off the French from their reinforcements and thus winning eternal glory!
However a small Brigade of steadfast Wurtemburgers just about managed to hold the line for the Emperor!

In the post game discussion, reaction to the way Black Powder handles Cavalry and Squares was pretty evenly mixed between those who liked the mechanisms and those who thought we should revise them for our big game.
It seemed to come back to the reasons the French infantry didn’t feel the need to form squares when looking down the barrel at an entire Russian Cavalry Corps. Having the ‘must form squares’ rule, they knew they would get the opportunity to form square if charged, and that the cavalry charge would have to pull up short at 3” unless they were unlucky enough to roll snake eyes or boxcars…
As Troy, our French Infantry Commander put it, in reality, of course, they would have gone into square ‘the moment they got so much as a sniff of horses’…
In other words, the must form square rule means that infantry formations are far less respectful of the threat of enemy cavalry than they were historically…


  1. Great looking game there, Sparker! It's amazing how things can turn out completely differently to the expected result.

    BTW do you have any detailed OBs for the French for Borodino? I can only find references to regiments involved, but not battalion strengths. Any pointers would be appreciated.

    1. I think the best and most detail Bn level orbats are by George Nafziger. He kindly turned them over to public use:

    2. And thankyou for the kind thoughts...

  2. Great photos and report Sparker. The Borodino refight game is going to be massive!

  3. So what was the concensus about squares should emergency squares be harde to form and should cavalry get one round of melee to try and break it including lancers continually melee a square?

    1. No consensus as yet. I hope to confer with the rest of the umpiring team, come up with a few alternatives, and try them out in the future to see how they go. My initial thoughts though are to increase the liklihood of 'must form square' action resulting in a FUBAR by causing a disorder square on say a score of 5 or less on the double die roll, and failure to go to square, and subsequent massacre, on a roll of 3 or less, rather than on the very rare snake eyes in the rules... But I do like your idea of allowing one round of melee or more for lancers...

  4. Some really excellent photos, of what looks like a great game.

    1. Cheers Ray, it was indeed a great game but I'm not sure my photos did it justice - I don't have the multi tasking skills to umpire and take proper snaps!

  5. I quite like the way the rules handle cavalry as it forces the commander to use combined arms tactics. I guess it is a question of game speed. Obviously making it easier for cavalry to break infantry will make the game play faster, and in a battle the size of Borodino this may be an advantage - and perhaps allow the cavalry commanders to be more involved in the game a little sooner.