Friday, 26 August 2016

Black Powder – Ligny 1815 – The Eagle’s Last Victory?

Yesterday at the Uni Gary organised a Black Powder game set around the battle of Ligny in 1815.

Ligny in many ways is a fascinating and apocalyptic battle, unfairly overshadowed by Waterloo. An epically tough fought battle, replete with Wagnerian drama – house to house combat in all the burning villages along the Ligny brook, desperate cavalry charges, the Old Guard committed in the full implacable force of its final triumph, on the last stretch of their glorious march into history  under thunderously dark skies, an Army Commander in Chief within an ace of being captured on the field, furious massed cannonades. It has it all, including perhaps the greatest what-if question of the entire era...

What if D’Erlon, Napoleon’s linch-pin reserve Corps Commander, marching onto the field into the flank and rear of the breaking Prussians, had ignored the recall order from Ney, over at Quatre Bras, and continued on to encircle the Prussian army, sealing its doom? Surely Wellington would have had to consider re-embarking the British Army, leaving Napoleon once more the unquestioned Emperor of Battles?

Even with Black Powder rules, it would be a stretch to stage all of this drama in an evening!

But Gary’s scenario cleverly focussed on the key parts of the action, and manipulated geography as well as time to straighten out the Ligny Brook somewhat to allow the battlefield to better fit our 8 x 4 foot table.

The Prussians deployed first, along and within the Ligny Brook.

To speed things up, the 3 first players to turn up after Gary had set the table up were enrolled in the Prussian Army: Caesar took a Brigade to cover Ligny itself and the left flank, I took a Brigade and the Artillery Reserve to hold the centre and the heights of Brye, and Daniel took another Brigade to cover the Prussian right flank. Our Cavalry Reserve would arrive the move after the French deployed their reserves.

The next 2 players to roll in joined Gary under the Eagles; Bryan took an infantry division and the artillery reserve, Alan had no choice but to accept command of the French Cavalry, when it came on, something of a tradition with us now! Gary also had an infantry division and the Guard.

The Cavalry would come on after 2 moves, the Emperor would only commit the Guard after the Ligny brook had been forced.

There would be 10 turns.

PRUSSIAN objectives:
St Armand township (Combat Modifier +1)
1 VP
St Armand La-Haye township (Combat Modifier +1)
2 VP
Ligny township:
Block 1 south of Ligny Stream (Combat Modifier +2)
2 VP
Block 2 north of Ligny Stream (Combat Modifier +2)
3 VP
Moulin de Bussy
3 VP
11 VP
If Prussians ever control less than 6 VP equals instant French Victory
FRENCH objectives:
Moulin Naveau, Fleurus
If Prussians ever control the Fleurus windmill equals instant Prussian victory

Gary also adjusted the defence combat values of the built up areas, instead of the usual +3, as shown above. This worked well to encourage the French team, packed to the gills with the sort of players who like to drive scenario designers insane by playing ahistorically, to actually assault the villages. Which they did, with a vengeance!

We Prussians deployed fairly conservatively, garrisoning all the villages and cramming as much artillery on the heights of Brye as would fit,

and spreading our remaining infantry between them, keeping such light cavalry as we had out on the deep right flank or in central reserve.

There was much debate about whether to deploy our infantry that was in the open in Assault Column or Line. I figured that if column was good enough for Blucher, it was good enough for me, but both Caesar and Daniel adopted a combination within their brigades – well that would have pleased the Emperor!

But overall, looking at our defences and the formidable task presented to the French attackers, I was quietly confident…

Then the French deployed, and were anything but predictable! They packed their left flank, their right flank, opposite the VP rich Ligny town, left completely empty…

Was it simply a case of not having read the scenario, or was there something cunning afoot? From past experience we assumed the former, so accordingly spent our first few moves shifting some of our weight to our right, but leaving Ligny adequately defended in case the Guard should come knocking!

The French came on in the old style, but with a tactical flair which was very pleasing – skirmish screens to the front and columns to the rear.

Our attempts to discomfort their precision with pinpoint cavalry attacks were nixed by unlucky command dice, but some well-placed artillery fire caused sufficient disorder amongst their ranks to delay their advance for a few moves.

However the French Army’s morale received a fillip when their Cavalry was committed – once again on their extreme left flank? Well the sight of magnificent regiments of Hussars, Chasseurs, Dragoons and Cuirassiers trotting past your ranks would, wouldn’t they?

But we Prussians were not afeared, and we duly deployed our cavalry to face them, under Caesar’s command, since his infantry command around Ligny was looking distinctly underemployed! He was given the rather challenging order:

– hold off the French Cavalry – but remain capable of then interrupting the advance of the Old Guard in due course! Yes I like to have my cakes and eat them too! (As anyone who knows me in the [rather ample] flesh will testify!)

By this stage, despite our toiling gunners, the massive French columns had set themselves up in good order for synchronised and well supported attacks on St Armand and La Haye, and duly attacked across the disordering Ligny brook.

Our closing fire was disappointing in both cases, and our Fusiliers and Musketeers, despite fierce fighting, also came second in both melees.

However, both garrisons passed their break tests to stand their ground, but would now not receive the combat bonus in subsequent rounds of combat…

not good…

Over on our right flank, the cavalry action was developing, with our gallant, honourable Prussian Hussars charging the foppish, prancing French Hussars, a swirl of horse and dust, blade and bugle, and – another draw!

At this point, we had played 5 turns, and I was in danger of turning back into a pumpkin, so had to bid adieu to my comrades in arms. I gather there were a few more fierce assaults and cavalry charges, for a further hour, but insufficient to settle the issue.

Kaptain Kobold of the French Cavalry remained with the colours until the bitter end, and his account will be posted on his blog here: The Stronghold Rebuilt
A great scenario of an interesting battle, I hope we revisit Ligny again before too long!


  1. Thanks, I really enjoyed the spectacle and the whole story. It has actually helped me formulate some thoughts about my own Napoleonic gaming - so thanks again. Norm.

    1. Thanks for the kind comments Norm - thrilled to be able to inspire, as I have taken from other blogs!

  2. This looks terrific, and I love how you break down the game. Given the illustrations, I hesitate to ask, but are the figs 1/72? If so, from where are you getting all the march poses.

    1. Thanks FMB! No I just had to fill out a few themes so thought the old Airfix box art might do the trick! As pointed out below, we played with Gary's lovely 18mm AB figures.

  3. Very nice game, and pictures. What scale are these figures?

    1. Hi Alejandro - and thank you! These are actually 18mm figures, so not usually my thing - but the battle still looked good!

  4. Lovely looking game as usual Sparker - made even better as you've used lovely AB Miniatures instead of the usual 25mm stuff!

    What scale are the units by the way - is each infantry one a regiment?

    1. Thanks Iain! Each infantry unit was played as a battalion, but yes, since each 'Brigade' was actually a Corps, it did probably represent a brigade.

  5. Great report and photos and very nice looking armies. I've only tried Ligny once and we got the size of the brook wrong (in our game it was the width of a significant river), I much prefer how you have depicted the stream.

    1. Thanks so much SOY. Yes Ligny is well worth revisiting if you have the figures...

  6. Great photos and report. It was a lot of fun taking part and all credit to Gary for a terrific scenario, minis and terrain (the mat is well worth the investment). I was disappointed we couldn't pull off a counter attack with our cavalry but those French were certainly cunning in their attack and kept us guessing where to concentrate. Black Powder definitely worked well with 15-18mm figures and centimetre distances.

    Cheers, Caesar

    1. Thanks Caesar. Yes a top effort by Gary!

  7. My dearest Sparkles

    The pictures seem to tell tales of some bitter fighting along Ligny Brook and the villages which is as it should be. I've never played a Ligny refight ... but then I haven't played that many refights. 8O) I imagine any such game would be quite a meat grinding affair.

    Nice looking figures/'units on display.

    von Peter himself

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