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!


  1. Thanks for the shout-out to my troops! I had vowed to play my fist scenario of Blucher with them, expecting the rules to arrive in late February or March. Well, the rules arrived on time, and I am painting furiously to finish. So close...

    The Quatre Bras scenario looks like a good learning game. In many rules systems, that bottleneck that developed would have been a disaster, as the French would have been able to double the British firepower. But from what I have seen of Blucher, it is very important to keep an unbloodied reserve as the first units into the fight get ground down. So instead of "bottleneck," let's call it a "strong central position."

  2. A fitting wrap up of our first "public" game of Blücher. It is a streamlined set of army-level rules, to be sure, whilst remaining a tactically challenging game. I particularly enjoy the interplay of the three arms in true Napoleonic style, yet am relieved I don't have my head down arranging skirmish formations. Thanks for organising a truly enjoyable evening and engaging battle report.


  3. Sensational Sparker ! I'm seriously impressed so far with these.... what can I say but inspiring. This is the scale I want to play Napoleonic's and have been patiently waiting for these to come out. Nice work on the play testing had no idea you were involved mate....awesome.

  4. Thanks guys! Yes I think Blucher is going to be huge!

  5. Thanks for the report Sparker. Ihave just ordered my set from Nic so am keen to see what the game is like for a Wednesday nights wargaming at the NWS. Similar to yourself I am thinking that a 10mm represenattion may be fun though AB's would be beautiful as well.

  6. Yes mate with these rules, once you get into them a medium sized battle should be no trouble for an evening club game - and quick to set up when you're just using the cards! No argument from me about AB's, though - masterpieces of sculpting!

  7. I'm keen on the campaign system, but one step at a time. Will be trying the Danube scenario with 15mm figures this Wednesday at the NWS - Carlo can watch. He might even spot an AB figure or two.

  8. Am really keen on these rules, it puts in some of the elements that slightly soured GA, and the campaign system is excellent. Planning on writing a series of scenarios for the 1814 campaign, because that is what I have with me here in India, that and 1796 and Rivoli

  9. I have ordered these cards after a test game last night. Can i ask - Where did you get the card sleeves from?

  10. Very interesting my dear Sparkles.

    I understand their utility and immediacy but the use of unit cards removes one of the joys of gaming for me - the figures and the spectacle.

    Perhaps Blücher is the answer for my long dormant 15mm Napoleonic project (which started out as a 10mm Napoleonic project!). Who knows, certainly not me at the moment!! ��

    von Peter himself

  11. I’ve been I’ve been playing Age of Eagles, Solo, since around 204/5. The Quatre Bras scenario was in the rule book.
    Prior to that I was playin Kevin Zucker’s game 1814 and trying toofight the battles on a table with 15mm figures and using the corps rosters on hardboard with 1/16” holes drilled using nails as markers and a set of 1980’s miniatures rules. I still use the peg board idea and movement trays.
    As most of my games are played over a period of weeks probably a Blücher game would suite for very large games. I wrote a roster counter for the Amiga years ago for men not figures, but I suppose I could change it to strength points.
    So with Blücher can you make all or download all that is in the rules or expansion packs or is there something in the expansion packs that you cannot get from the web site?