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
|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!
|The Prince rallying the 5th Miliia|
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!