Sunday, 29 September 2013

Dennewitz 200th - Problems with Scenario design...

Last week, we held our postphoned Dennewitz 1813 game to mark the 200th anniversary of that Battle. Now given adequate resources, and time, this confused encounter battle should be one of the easier 1813 games to stage on the wargames table, since the various formations were committed in piecemeal fashion.

I would recommend that anyone thinking of replaying this in 28mm await my mate Kawe's groups' notes on this battle which will be linked on the Westfalia miniatures website:

However for our purposes I wanted to come up with a 'Dennewitz Lite' scenario that would adequately give a taste of the see-saw, ad-hoc and confused nature of that fighting. And, if I'm honest, cram as many of our 28mm miniatures on as large a table as possible!

The French lead Brigades...

However, not being utterly divorced from reality, I did realise that our main constraint would be time - we play on a Thursday evening from 7:00pm and so would only have about 3 hours playing time.

Now being a keen, if  inexperienced, Longstreet player, I thought we could hasten play by having victory conditions that simply reflected that, once the armies clashed, the one first to recieve an unacceptable level of casualties - the break point - would withdraw in order to regroup...this surely would allow us to have a visually impressive game without too much time being taken up with full scale deployment - a short sharp battle of attrition to resulting in a few hit and run raids, perhaps a concentrated Artillery barrage or two, perhaps one or two Battalion bayonet charges - then we could all pack up and go home.

Opening Cav clashes - so far so good!
Essentially, once each side had destroyed 4-5 units of the enemy, in any command phase they could make a Victory roll, and with a D6 score plus the number of destroyed units equalling 10, claim victory - so the last half of the game should have had an aspect of 'sudden death' tension!

Instead, what we got, as faithfully recorded on Alan's excellent blog was a massed scrimmage reminiscent of our Borodino refight at the height of that sanguinary epic! So what went wrong?

Well, lets start with the planning - here is my scenario that was sent out to the players:

Dennewitz Meeting Engagement – Black Powder Scenario

This scenario is loosely based on the confused fighting between Crown Prince Bernadotte’s Coalition Army of the North, made up of Russians, Prussians and Swedes, and Marshal Ney’s French-Polish-Saxon Army of Berlin in the sandy woodlands in the Potsdam heathland and forest in September 1813.

Gardes d'Honneur painted by MMPS -
Their pretty uniforms didn't impress the enemy!
 Ney is attempting to take Berlin, but with a smaller army than the Coalition. Having just replaced Oudinot, who was sacked by Napoleon for lack of aggression, he is determined to attack despite the odds. However slavishly following Napoleon’s detailed orders that arrive every day, but which are invariably 24-48 hours out of date, his manoeuvring baffles Bernadotte, and von Bulow, leading to several confused confrontations…

In this tactical scenario, both armies meet head on along a forested road, with little scope for flanking manoeuver. A battle of attrition ensues…
Victory Conditions.

The game ends when an army exceeds its break point of 10. Each Bn, Regiment or Battery destroyed or driven off the table contributes 1 break point. On destroying an enemy unit, any player may announce a Break Point check, and roll a D6 for additional break points. Or the game will end after 12 moves, with the side with the least number of break points winning.


The battle will be played along an 18 foot long table, 6 foot wide, with a metalled road running down the middle. Dense pine woods line the long table edges, occasionally protruding into the table to shorten its width. Some undulations are present, which provide dead ground and the opportunity for overhead artillery fire.

French Heavy artillery only rocked up late on...

Each sides lead Light Cavalry Brigade will start on table, the French 3 feet into the table, the Coalition 2 feet in. A cavalry general from each nationality will be on table for this first move. Divisional Generals will automatically rock up on the second move. Each side will know their own order of march, but subsequent brigades will arrive on table, per march order, only if there is space for them to arrive. They will be placed by the umpire deployed in Assault Column on either side of the road, guns on the road.
Orders of march will be posted to each side separately. The +2 orders modifier will apply to Brigades in Assault Columns who remain echeloned parallel and against the road edges, with their guns of the road, as if they were in March column.

The Heavy Cav Bdes were the last to arrive in the scenario - here is the Franco Saxon one with the remnants of the Light Bde regrouping in the background.
However, the game did not develop as the scenario intended, whilst the ‘sudden death’ victory conditions were designed to develop a pell-mell encounter battle, they just seemed to cause a scrum with everyone reluctant to engage…

The French attempt to pick off a Landwher unit -
thats the idea!
And I don’t blame anyone for not reading the scenario and studying the orbats, which meant that players spent several moves deploying carefully for an all-out engagement, rather than picking off easier bite sized nibbles to attrit the enemy. Time is precious, and I have to recognise that we all have different priorities, but I do value team games with players who are not dedicated Nap nuts like myself!

And in the weekday eveinging club wargame setting, a more comprehensive pre-game brief to repeat the scenario would not have helped either as players tend to rock up in dribs and drabs, and only a couple of the players were only present at the start of the game. I think the reality is that the game was far too ambitious for an evening game.

However, its not all doom and gloom - every one had a good time, including 2 newcomers to Black Powder, and this of course is the main aim! But in future, I think the 28mm forays will be confined to the weekends - now where are my 15mm troops..... 


  1. I can understand what you were trying to achieve, but have to say I'm not immediately sure how to achieve it.

    The problem is illustrated by my actions with the light cavalry. I did what I suspect you expected us to do - attacked and tried to pick off units. I then chose to withdraw rather than attack the exposed enemy flanks. And that was due to the victory conditions. Sure I could have taken out an enemy unit, but if I lost units doing it then I was helping the enemy to their conditions as well. So a desire to take out enemy units was balanced by caution.

    To some extent once we realised how the conditions worked a massed assault wasn't entirely what we went for; we did concentrate on part of the enemy line on the basis that we only had to take out a fixed number of enemy, not a proportion of their massive numbers. Our caution was caused by the fact that we couldn't afford to trade unit for unit.

    Maybe the way to encourage the pell-mell battle is to come up with some way of encouraging, or rewarding, a precipitous rush towards the enemy end of the table. So, keep teh break point roll, but apply a penalty if your furthest advanced unit is too close to your own baseline, and a bonus if your furthest advanced unit is close to the enemy baseline. That was there's an encouragement to push something further down the table, even if it's isolated and unsupported. And there's an encouragement for the enemy to chase and defeat it.

  2. Yes thats definitely a possible way around it - but it wouldn't overcome the 'road-block' scenario where the Coaltition had sufficient Battalions to form a solid wall. Just too many units and not enough time I think...

    But hey - you finished a game with more live cavalry than cat-food - that has to be a result!

  3. An large game like this is definitely difficult to squeeze into an evening, well done for trying. A fine bat rep and top troops!

  4. "The Heavy Cav Bdes were the last to arrive in the scenario - here is the Franco Saxon one with the remnants of the Light Bde regrouping in the background"

    'Regrouping' as in 'Routed and placed there as casualties' :)

  5. Good report. Big game for a club evening.
    You can have the best scenario design, with full briefing notes issued well in advance but the players rarely read them and do their own thing. As for remembering the objectives!

  6. Mate even a Dennewitz 'lite' in a three-hour club-night session is a huge ask. You all deserve a medal (or counselling) for having even attempted it!

  7. Thanks Gents. Yes, I agree, far too ambitious!

  8. I like the idea of meeting engagements, slowly feeding troops into an enlarging battle or in this case forcing the opening of a route of march. Great bat rep and honest appraisal, good stuff.