Sunday, 27 September 2015

Chicken Marengo?



Do forgive the title - we dined at Sydney's latest 'undiscovered gem - must be experienced' French restaurant last night, and I was torn between ordering the Chicken Chasseur or the Joue de Bouef. The beef cheeks won, and were as delicious as I'd thought, but the saute'd chicken wafted by our table on what was surely an unnecessarily regular basis has preyed on my mind...(Actually its probably the half dozen bottles of claret we scuppered that's been preying on my mind and body.)



In any case, the obvious title for this post has already been taken by another protagonist at Thursday's very enjoyable Maurice game, Freiherr Kaptain Kobold, he of the Austrian Imperial Yellow cardigan shown above, in his excellent write up of the game which can be found here: Maurice-Marengo


Something that should be made clear at the very outset, with no obfuscation or attempts to deceive whatsoever,  is that most of the model soldiers you are about to see are shockingly out of uniform for 1800.


Rather than point out the most egregious offences against Grognard sensibility in the military tailoring department, it would be quicker, easier, and frankly less unsettling to those of us whose innards are a little queasy this morning after, to point out those few units which were not 'improperly dressed and accoutred in accordance with Part IV Orders', to whit; a smattering of Austro Hungarian Grenzer, Jaeger, Fusilier and Grenadier Regiments, and, of the entire French orbat, a handful of gunners.

Pretty rare for gunners to manage to turn up at the right place and the right time and in the right rig - anyone would think their CinC was an artilleryman himself...

Speaking of which, Marengo was the battle of which Napoleon was said to have claimed he had lost the battle by four o' clock and won it again by 7!



Of all of Napoleon's extensive rewriting of his battles, in which he rarely accepted blame for anything except the victories, Marengo is the one he changed the most; reworking the official history not once but twice - clearly it was a watershed moment for him and posterity had to tell the right story.

The finger pointing begins...'The point of decision is on our left flank!'
Of course it would be unfair to say that the original account contained any untruths - but there were some significant omissions - particularly Napoleon's plea to Desaix at 1100 to "Return, for God's sake"

'Or perhaps on the right...'
In any case, the historic record is somewhat, shall we say, 'dynamic' about the battle of Marengo of 14 June 1800, which of course is always a good thing when devising a wargames scenario - particularly if you are having to fudge the model troops on a heroic scale and are experimenting with applying a ruleset designed to replicate 18th Century warfare to the Napoleonic era, albeit with a nod to the French Revolutionary Wars.



It was Caesar - pictured in the Revolutionary French Blue jumper - who devised the scenario and orders of battle to enable this intriguing experiment, and the ever industrious Rittmeister und Kaptain von Kobold has replicated his work here: Maurice-french-revolutionary-and-early



As this is now the third blog post about this particular game, I shan't trouble you with a blow by blow battle report of the evening's events, even were my brain cells not more than usually eaten away by too many bottles of  Sainte-Emilion's finest.

There's more than a passing resemblance between the good Colonel here and your balding and rotund bloggist...
Instead, I will crave your indulgence to make a few brief observations about Maurice, and the broader aspects of the differences between 18th Century warfare and Napoleonic warfare, at least as pointed up by using a ruleset designed for one era to play another.



I trust that amongst educated gentlemen of the right sort, it is now generally accepted that Maurice as a ruleset provides an elegant framework to recreate 18th Century linear warfare - the regular exchange of volleys by infantry in line forming an almost automatic and unconscious backdrop to the real gaming challenges of assembling and concentrating a puissant force at the point of decision without overtaxing the limited command and control mechanisms, all the while satisfying the needs of courtiers and the conventions of the time.



Cavalry is of little use against anything but other cavalry, and so does seem to have no other function but to add a little tone to what would otherwise been an unseemly brawl...


And irregular warfare forms a distinct, if exciting, sideshow to the main event.



The first thing that emerged from the experience concerns the scale of the battle. Whilst Maurice lends itself easily and quickly to scaling the size of the battle being refought up or down, with each 4 base unit able to represent anything from a battalion to a brigade, the game works best with no more than 2 players and an upper limit of about two dozen units within the 100 point constraint on paying for an army. That's not to say you can't restage the larger battles of the 18th Century, and indeed we have done so regularly, and I have commented often that, to my surprise, I have gotten that 'big battle' feeling from playing Maurice. 


But for Napoleonics, I am nothing if not an megalomaniac - the bigger the better, and if there are not at least three players to a side, each commanding a division, if not a Corps, then its really not a Napoleonic experience! My default rules for such games are Black Powder for 28mm, and, latterly, Blucher for 15mm.


However, history is never clear cut, and the epic clashes of massed nations in arms which so quicken my blood - at a safe remove over the tabletop - didn't just happen from 1792 onwards. Marengo, a decisive and significant Napoleonic battle, had a total of just over 60,000 combatants, much smaller than the combined armies approaching 200,000 present under arms at Oudenaarde in 1708. So whilst the mid and later period of Napoleonic warfare featured armies the size of which would have shocked Marlborough, there was an early period where armies were on 18th Century scale, and where of course at least one of the protagonists clung to 18th Century linear tactics and organisation.


 
Size alone then is no reason for not extending Maurice into the early Napoleonic era, particularly with Caesar's thoughtful use of National Advantages and troop stats to reflect where changes in tactics and theory had taken place - most obviously of course as provided for by the A la Baionnette, Skirmishers, and Professional train attributes.
 


 
However, after what was a most enjoyable and exciting game, I begin to realise that for me, Napoleonic warfare is not only characterised by the size of the armies, more mobile artillery, the use of skirmishers and columns, and increased shock effect of battle cavalry.


 
Regressively, perhaps, Napoleonic warfare seems to be a distinct step on the road to massed, total warfare - fast paced, aggressive with few lulls in the blood letting, even more so than some of Frederick the Great's bloodier affairs. The very ebb and flow of 18th Century warfare, with frequent lulls, so well recreated by Maurice; with the need, just when great opportunities are presented, to 'pass' and replenish on action cards; seem to be the antithesis of the speed, prioritisation and brutal blowtorching towards the objective so necessary when playing Blucher or Black Powder. This was a great and enjoyable game, and, like Sam in the movie, I'd 'play it again', but, for me, it wasn't Marengo...

19 comments:

  1. My delightful siblings describe that cardigan as 'baby-puke yellow'. I think they're jealous ;)

    Great photos and a thoughtful writeup.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Kaptain - it just goes to show that colour is a subjective concept...

      Delete
  2. My delightful siblings describe that cardigan as 'baby-puke yellow'. I think they're jealous ;)

    Great photos and a thoughtful writeup.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes thank you again my dear Freiherr von Kaptain, I think you;ve made your point....

      (God these Germans do bash on....)

      Delete
  3. Splendid uniforms and gorgeous close-up...Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Fabulous looking game with marvelously painted troops (love the gaiter buttons!). But I have to say your intro made me hungry for fine cuisine too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Dean - yes it was dining at its best - sorry to bang on but if I could have ordered two mains in polite company I would have done so!

      Delete
  5. Lovely pictures of a fine looking game. It's perhaps a good thing that even modified Maurice doesn't quite feel "Napoleonic", I'd venture.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks mate! Yes, I take your point.

      Delete
  6. An excellent and enlightening critique, Sparker, and thanks to you, Alan and David for being such good sports and giving one of my mad projects a go. It was a fun game indeed but you raise some very good points about the pace of Napoleonic warfare when compared with the 18th Century. One of the other things I think is hard to port across is the flexible use of skirmishers by Napoleonic line infantry.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No not mad at all, very entertaining and thought provoking...

      Delete
  7. Looks excellent! My gaming circle is pretty heavily into Maurice at the moment and I'm about to make the splash on some Russians, Its a fantastic set of rules.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes agreed Matt, we are huge fans too, and this exercise has pointed up how well they reflect the pace of 18th Century warfare so well.

      Delete
  8. Great-looking game, and that French restaurant sounded good. I happened to get to two in the space of three days myself just the week before last. The first was in Melbourne next to the Botanical Gardens and had a choice of four entrees, four desserts, but only steak (albeit beautifully cooked and in a terrific sauce), chips and salad for the main. Very good, but very strange.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks Lawrence. Ah yes, 'Steak-frites' - nice!

    ReplyDelete
  10. A very interesting post. I first saw a review of this game on the Freiherr's blog and loved the figures and the look of the table. Quite lovely.
    I have played the Maurice rules a few time and might try them with my 6mm Naps figures, though for that there is, of course, SB's Blucher rules.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks Michael. Well if you're into large scale stuff with 6mil, then yes, you can't go wrong with Blucher!

    ReplyDelete