Moises has asked what became of my planned Bolt Action British force that I was building in 2016. I have collected pretty much everybody I need for a reinforced platoon. I like to play them as regulars, with three full ten-man sections. The MMG appears in most games along with the PIAT, although I have not so much as dented a German tank with one yet. I also tend to take one or both mortars, which rarely kill many enemy but do oblige them to change position, which is useful against a well placed team weapon. I also picked up the Warlord sniper in a gilly suit, mainly because it is such a lovely model. Also, while I like the 6 pdr, I don’t field it too often as unless I am expecting to defend against armour, it is rather too easy to ignore. I have used the Bren carrier to carry weapons teams, which adds some mobility. The Cromwell has come out from time to time but represents a big investment in the size of game we mostly play.
The current army looks like this
Officer plus two men 95 (first lieutenant)
3 x ten man infantry sections 369
(each with lmg and smg)
MMG team 50
PIAT team 40
Sniper team 50
Light mortar team 35
Medium mortar team 50
QF 6pdr antitank gun 75
Bren carrier 60
Cromwell tank 205
In a mad moment I bought the TankWar starter set so also have three Shermans painted as Guards Armoured Division. They have only seen action in a few Tank War games but I like to know they’re there.
I don’t have ambitions to add to the army at present, except to get some new Bren teams if I find some I like by another manufacturer. I just can’t get excited about the plastic Warlord Bren teams: they are too hard to distinguish from the other plastics. I’d like some Bren teams firing prone or something similar. I have also got an M10 Achilles waiting for assembly. I don’t exactly need it but I’ve liked the Achilles since I had a Minitank model of one many years ago.
I like to build both sides for a period so have a late War German force, that again is about at its limit I think. As Matt, my most frequent current opponent, runs Americans, I have tended to play the Germans more often than the Brits for some time now. But after getting these lads out of the toy cupboard, I’m thinking they need another outing soon.
Over the Christmas break, my son Nick and I managed a nostalgic game of 40K. It was great fun to be back in the grim darkness of the far future. Between 1997 and about 2010, we played every Games Workshop game on the market, picking up each new edition and army as it came out. After a few years Nick’s younger brother Will joined in, becoming a very fine painter over time.
We drifted away from GW around the release of Age of Sigmar. I greatly regretted the destruction of the Warhammer world, which had been such a rich environment for campaign games and fiction. I just couldn’t get excited about the Age of Sigmar storyline or rules. But we didn’t consciously decide to stop playing GW: we just found ourselves playing fewer wargames and when we did, we played more historical rules.
We have played the odd game in recent years, particularly enjoying a multiplayer Epic 40k game in 2017. But this Christmas was our first return to GW since then. Although we do have every edition up to the sixth, we decided to play fifth edition, as we remembered this set best and our figure collection stopped growing at that time. I took Ultramarines and Nick chose Imperial Guard. We chose the Blitz scenario from the third edition rules, which required me to break through Nick’s line in an attack down the length of the table. We played this a few times in the old days and it was especially fun with Imperial Guard on the defensive.
We had 1,500 points apiece. I took a unit of terminators thinking they would deep strike, but in the 5th edition Space Marine codex this isn’t possible so instead of landing in the enemy’s rear, they had to shlep up from my base line (believe me, I searched the codex from cover to cover). I also took some scouts and scout bikers because I love the models, but the bikes in particular were a poor choice against a solid defence line. My vindicator was a more sensible selection, along with a razorback and a rhino. Nick meanwhile took a solid force with lots of lascannons, a Leman Rus and some Kasrkrin who could (of course) deep strike.
I sent my main force up the left, hoping to pin Nick’s left with the terminators. They sort of did their job and when they closed with the enemy line they were unstoppable. However, while they trundled forward, slowly losing men, Nick managed to rip my main assault apart. In particular he dropped his Kasrkrin at the right time and point to destroy my command squad with their fire. In the same turn he took out my vindicator with a lascannon-armed sentinel. I decided to debus my tactical squad to deal with the Kasrkrin and shot them up pretty effectively but at the cost of my only chance to get into the enemy rear area. The game ended after turn five with Nick’s centre dented but still in a coherent line and my objective categorically not achieved.
We really enjoyed our return to the grim darkness. We both love the back story of the Imperial Guard, pitting their unaugmented strength against supermen and aliens. This game showed how a good position, investment in heavy weapons and wisely used counterattack capability can spoil the Ultramarines’ day.
I am sure we will return to 40K from time to time but I don’t feel a need to upgrade to the latest rules. Although... it might be fun using an edition that allows terminators to deep strike.
I had a gaming-heavy weekend last week, starting with the annual trip to Warfare in Reading. This continues to be my favourite show on the circuit. The stalls seemed pretty busy and I hope the traders made enough to come back next year. I picked up some 20mm AFVs and scenery bits for Battlegroup, a copy of the Lardies’ What a Tanker! rules and a lot more MDF 6mm Napoleonics from Commission Figures. I bought my first Commission figures at Warfare 2017 and am really impressed with them. At playing distance they are indistinguishable from metals and at £2 for 96 infantry, they are fantastic value.
My friend Keith came up to Warfare from Devon and stayed overnight. We played a game of Blücher when we got back from the show. I’d written a scenario for Möckern, the northern battle on the first day of the battle of Leipzig, 16 October 1813. I had first planned to use 15mm figures but realised I had enough 6mm figures to play it at that scale, provided I paint up a couple more French units. I wanted to see how 6mm units affected the feel of the game so after a couple of evenings with the paintbrush I had the full order of battle. The two extra units were of the French Naval Artillery, who wore blue greatcoats with red epaulettes and were mistaken by their opponents for sailors of the Guard.
The scenario is on the Napoleonic scenarios page here. The background to the battle is as follows. On 16 October 1813 Napoleon’s army stood at bay in the city of Leipzig, surrounded by advancing Allied armies. Napoleon’s plan for the day was to strip his northern flank to reinforce an attack by his troops facing Schwarzenberg’s Army of Bohemia to the South. He ordered Marmont to take his VI Corps out of its entrenchments north of Leipzig and set off southward. However, after Marmont had abandoned his position and was approaching Leipzig, Blücher’s Army of Silesia appeared from the North. On his own authority Marmont halted his retreat and took up a defensive position before the city, with his left flank resting on the village of Möckern. Thanks to Blücher’s aggressive advance, Napoleon would now have fewer troops at his disposal against Schwarzenberg. Moreover, his northern flank was significantly at risk from Blücher’s advancing army. Fortunately for Napoleon, Blücher did not take full advantage of his opportunity on 16 October. Blücher believed that significant French forces were approaching from the North East and he feared an assault on his left flank. He spent most of the battle on that side of the field and he held back much of his army in anticipation of an enemy attack that didn’t happen. The burden of the day’s fighting consequently fell most heavily on Yorck’s First Corps.
The scenario gives the Allies only those forces that were committed early enough to affect the outcome. By doing this, what would otherwise be a walkover becomes a tense contest.
As the Allied commander, Keith began the game with an attack by Prussian Grenadiers on the village of Möckern, which was held by a Naval artillery brigade. The Grenadiers were his best troops but the odds were still against them. Even so they kicked my troops straight out of the village. My reserve brigade pushed the Prussians out in my next turn but Keith’s second brigade was on hand to bundle out my troops again. By this time his main body had come up and assaulted my centre. Now that more of my units had been pinned by this advance, I had no more reserves to retake Möckern. Before long I reached my morale limit and the day was lost.
The game followed the events of the historical battle pretty well. I might have hoped to hang on to Möckern for a bit longer at the outset, as the dice were firmly in my favour. But it was fitting that Prussian Grenadiers should roll the best possible result. I particularly like the way Blücher handles fighting for built up areas. Victory goes to the side with the last formed reserve. If you want to hang on to a town it is vital to have fresh troops in support within a Charge move away. The new occupants will be easier to evict if you don’t give them the time to form town order.
In hindsight I made two important mistakes. One was to open fire with my artillery at too long a range and against the wrong targets, thereby wasting shots. The other was to advance cavalry to engage the enemy near his baseline. Thinking about it after the game, I should have held all my force back to wait for the enemy assault. A cavalry unit is if anything more dangerous when uncommitted. I was already outnumbered and there was no merit in reducing my strength still further.
How did it feel using 6mm figures? Very satisfying. We liked the impression of distance and the look of the table was more convincing than with my 8-man-per-brigade 20mm armies. I had to make do with some unfinished movement trays that weren’t quite the right shape but I was still happy. I am now waiting for pay day to order a new batch of proper-sized trays.
I love this hobby!
I have had another go at the house rules for adapting FK&P to Eastern Europe. For now we are just looking at the troops needed to refight the battle of Berestechko in 1651, so involving the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth, Zaporozhian Cossacks and Tatars. When we are happy with these I’ll have a look at Muscovy. The current house rules are here . This is a lot of fun to do. Poor Matt is going to find himself in the gaming equivalent of Groundhog Day before we are satisfied.
In a recent blog comment, Neil Burton asked if I could provide some sources for warfare in 17th Century Eastern Europe. I’m afraid most of my detailed sources are in Polish but there are some useful Ospreys and a growing collection of material in English on the Intranet.
Polish Armies 1569-1696, by Richard Brzezinski, is published in two volumes by Osprey (numbers 184 and 188 in the Men-at-Arms series). Volume one concerns the ‘national’ Polish formations and volume two is about the ‘foreign’ section. The illustrations by Angus McBride are particularly good. These books only suffer from the limitations of the format: while a great introduction, they barely scratch the surface of the wars of this period. Richard Brzezinski wrote another useful book for Osprey in the Warrior series, published in 2006, called Polish Winged Hussar 1576-1775.
Another really helpful source of information are the rules With Fire and Sword, by the Polish company The Wargamer. They provide lots of information about the different troop types as well as campaign backgrounds and tailored orders of battle. I am not attracted to the rules themselves but they are still worth getting for the background material and illustrations.
On the Internet, there is a lot of English language material on Wikipedia. The following links are good starting points and each will take you to several other useful pages, especially about battles.
The following site is dedicated to Polish renaissance warfare.
The last site to recommend is the home page of a re-enactment society, which contains a varied mix of useful articles, from dress and equipment to discussions about tactics. I have spent a lot of time on this site and really enjoy searching it.
In case you speak Polish, these are books I have picked up for myself in recent years. New titles appear regularly and it is worth entering the name of a battle on Amazon to see what comes up. I found the two books about Cudnów (1660) that way.
i wish this period and theatre was easier to access, since I find it so fascinating. But by looking here and there across the Internet, you will find a great deal of interest.
On 15 September, Keith, Matt and I spent more money than was good for us at Colours in Newbury. I like this venue, especially the light upstairs floors that are a much more pleasant environment than some Show venues. On the second floor, messrs Miller and Brentnall were demonstrating a beautiful 28mm game of For King and Parliament.
Having left the dog home alone, I prevailed upon Keith and Matt to leave Colours at lunchtime and come back to play a game. We agreed to try the new stats I have been brewing for using For King and Parliament in Eastern Europe.
I set out the table using the battlefield of Berestechko, but as it was our first play test the army sizes were considerablyreduced.
Matt, as King Jan Kazimierz, had two sub generals: Jeremi Wiśniowiecki, commander of the left; and Stanisław Lanckoroński, commander of the right. His army contained:
1 unit of Hussars
5 units of Pancerni
1 unit of Reiters
1 unit of Dragoons
1 unit of Hajduk infantry
2 units of German infantry
2 units of field artillery.
Keith, as Bohdan Khmelnytsky, also had two generals: Ivan Bohun, commander of the Cossack right and Islam Giray, Tatar commander on the left. His OOB was:
3 units of registered Cossacks
2 units of Zaporozhian Cossacks
1 unit of Cossack horse
A fortified camp, 3 squares wide and 2 deep, with its front on the 3rd row of squares
2 light Artillery pieces for attachment to Cossack units
1 unit of noble Tatar lancers
3 units of Tatar lancers
3 units of Tatar light cavalry bowmen
In line with historical deployment, Keith set up his cossack foot on his right, inside the Tabor, with their horse outside and immediately to its left. He set up his Tatars on the left, with the bowmen on the far flank and lancers closest to the centre.
Matt deployed a small command of two Pancerni and the Dragoons on his left; his infantry, artillery and Reiters in the centre and the rest of his Horse on the right.
As this was a play test, the point was not to try and win but to test different aspects of the rules. Both players took a few decisions to see what would happen, possibly against their better judgement. Keith in particular wanted to gauge the flexibility of his Tatar troops and they saw the most action of the game.
The battle began with Matt advancing his right and centre, while his left observed the Tabor from a safe distance. Keith kept his Cossacks tucked up in the Tabor and advanced his Tatars, with his bowmen looping around on the far left. The bowmen were charged by Pancerni but evaded, falling back on the woods to their rear. Keith then decided to see what happened when lancers charged the front of a Pike and shot batallia. Reassuringly, they slid off. Never one to learn from a mistake, he repeated the experiment with another lancer unit, with the same result. The second melee was closer run however, as the Foot had picked up a disorder in the first combat, but the odds were still in their favour.
In another combat, Matt’s Pancerni destroyed a Tatar lancer unit in one round. At this point I realised I hadn’t thought about the applicability of the FKaP pursuit rules to Eastern Europe. Uncontrolled pursuit by mounted units was not a significant feature of the dozen or so battles I have read about, although I’m sure it must have happened. We need to think about this but I am tempted to tone down the pursuit rules for games in the East in some way.
The battle ended with the collapse of Keith’s Tatar force and death of Islam Giray. As I say, however, this wasn’t really a competitive game but a first chance to try our adaptation. So everybody was a winner, or at least, everybody certainly enjoyed the game.
How did the rule adaptations work?
First, as we expected, the basic mechanisms of FKaP worked very well for activating and manoeuvring the armies. The Pancerni and Tatar lancers performed as we thought they ought. I was particularly pleased with the way the light cavalry bowmen worked: they were a flexible irritant that kept dancing out of danger but collapsed when cornered.
This game didn’t give us a chance to test the resilience of the Tabor as Matt didn’t assault it. In the real battle Wiśniowiecki charged it with his cavalry and was repulsed. We will have to set up a few assaults to see how it fares.
Of course we’ll need to play several more test games to get a reliable feel for the whole set of changes. But after one outing, I am very encouraged, especially by the way light cavalry work.
One more thing. For King and Parliament is a cracking set of rules: fast, tense and great fun. The next few months are going to be fun.
I have set out to adapt Andrew Brentnall and Simon Miller’s ECW rules, ‘For King and Parliament ‘, to cover Eastern Europe and specifically, the Battle of Berestechko, 30 June 1651. Although some east European troop types are not covered by these rules, most of them are either directly covered or can be represented by equivalent unit stats. The myth seems to linger (in Western Europe that is) that warfare in the East was more ‘primitive’ than in the West, with armies full of lassoo-wielding savages on steppe ponies. It’s true that some specific troop types existed and that in general, the cavalry arm was a bigger proportion of eastern armies than in the West. But most of the troop types present in the Commonwealth armies of the 1650s would be recognisable in a west European force (indeed, many of the troops were recruited from Western Europe) and in wargaming terms, the mechanics and many unit stats in For King and Parliament are applicable with little or no adjustment.
The following are my first thoughts about adapting the rules to the East. I will revisit them after a few games.
Hussars count as well-mounted, veteran Swedish-style Horse, armed with a lance (conferring a one-off extra to-hit card). This is fitting, given that Gustavus Adolphus had based his new cavalry tactics on those of his fast-charging Polish opponents.
Pancerni count as seasoned Swedish-style horse. Petyhorcy count the same, with an added lance.
Reiters could be Dutch, or increasingly Swedish as the century progressed. As accounts of Berestechko describe the Reiters as providing fire support in the Centre rather than in the cavalry wings, I am inclined to make them still Dutch in 1651.
‘German’ foot are standard pike and shot units at a 1:2 ratio.
Haiduk infantry have the same stats as commanded shot. These troops operated in smaller units than German foot so the original stats can stand. Most were seasoned troops.
Dragoons also read across directly, although the Commonwealth used them in great numbers and they were among the most hard-worked troops in the borderlands given their ability to keep up with the cavalry. Some dragoon units had pikemen as well as shot and they could hold their own in the main battle line. There may be an argument to treat some Dragoons as veterans and/or to give them pikes but I amleaving them as standard for now.
Artillery also reads across without change.
Pospolite Ruszenie are the Polish ‘noble’ levy, summoned by the King in hour of need. These troops were famously unmanageable and of mixed quality. The practice of calling the noble levy would die out over the rest of the century. I have shown them as Swedish style but raw, although they could also be untried. A small number of units, mainly from South and Eastern Poland, were battle experienced and fought well, so these will be seasoned.
‘Registered’ Cossack units represent experienced troops who left Commonwealth service to join the rebellion. They were regarded as some of the best infantry in Europe by contemporaries. I have made them the same size as German Foot but they lack pikes.
The Zaporozhian Cossacks are less experienced than Registered Cossacks and so raw, although they do have short pikes.
Cossack horse are equivalent to raw Swedish horse. The Zaporozhians were overwhelmingly an infantry army and their cavalry was indifferent.
The Tabor is making me think. Cossack armies used their wagons to form temporary fortresses and the Tabor was a key part of their position at Berestechko. We are not talking about a fortified camp behind the lines, but a serious and deep defensive line protecting the front of the army. There were some engagements where the Tabor was attacked on the move. In such a case I would place wagon units on the table with their own factors. I have looked at the rules in To the Strongest for War wagons and have created Cossack unit stats based on them. But the approach I plan for Berestechko is to use the fortifications rule from FKaP. I’ll still place wagon models on the table but this time they won’t have intrinsic fighting powers, as these will go to the infantry units behind them. I will also give Cossack units a cover advantage in all squares enclosed by the Tabor as they drew up further lines of wagons behind the first. I will also hinder movement within this area.
The Tatar Horde
The Tatars have three troop types: noble lancers; standard lancers and bowmen.
I have snaffled some rules from To the Strongest to cover Tatar troop types and tactics.
Light cavalry: All light cavalry activations are considered easy. Light bow armed cavalry may fire and retire one box facing the enemy (as well as the existing movement possibilities in FKaP). Infantry can charge light cavalry (this represents the light cavalry falling back before a steady advance of formed foot. Foot may not charge any other types of horse). Light cavalry receive a +1 save modifier against shooting, to reflect their dispersed formation.
Light cavalry and Tatar lancers have the evade ability.
Cavalry with the evade ability may evade charging infantry on a 3+ and cavalry on a 5+. If successful they retreat one box facing the charger. (The Tatars were highly versatile horsemen who used the feigned retreat to lure enemy troops out of formation. I decided to give lancers the evade ability despite them not being light cavalry).
These stats are set out in the table below. The points values may be a bit off here and there but I hope they broadly fit.
On 15 September, fresh from a trip to Colours at Newbury race course, where we had seen a great game of For King and Parliament in full swing, Keith, Matt and I had a first play test of FKaP in the East. Stay tuned for the after action report in the next blog post
Back to the 17th Century
As soon as you scratch one itch, another one starts to bother you. As I was putting away my 1815 Napoleonics the other day my eyes fell on a box of 15mm winged Hussars. It must be 18 months since these lads had an outing. That is far too long a break.
The last eastern renaissance game we played was the 1651 battle of Loyev during the Cossack rebellion. My plan at the time was to move on to Berestechko, the largest set piece battle of that year (in fact one of the largest in the 17th Century). So it’s time to pick up where I left off.
The Battle of Berestechko 30 June 1651
I picked up two recently published histories of the 1651 campaign when we were in Kraków in 2016. There is also quite a good English account on Wikipedia and a longer Wikipedia piece in Polish. I won’t rehash the whole story but the main elements I found interesting were
Which rules to use?
We have used two rule sets so far for this period, Pike and Shotte by Warlord and Tercios by el Kraken. Both have given good games, especially Tercios, but the mechanics are a bit cumbersome for a bigger battle. As Berestechko was such a large engagement I would like to use rules with more of a big battle feel. Enter ‘For King and Parliament’.
These rules, by Simon Miller and Andrew Brentnall, are an adaptation of Simon’s Ancient rules, To the Strongest, which I like a lot. They are unusual in their use of a map grid and playing cards. I picked up a copy of FKaP at Salute in April and have yet to play them. They will need a few additions to cover Eastern Europe but fewer than you might expect. I will detail these in my next post.
On 18 August we played a day-long refight of the battle of Ligny, using Honour Games’ Blücher rules and 20mm plastic figures. We began around 10 and finished at 6, with the French just meeting their victory conditions. Oddly, the Prussian players seemed happier at the end of the day than the French.
Rules, figures and scales
Blücher is a grand tactical rules set where each unit represents roughly a Brigade. It focuses on the level of detail that would interest an army commander rather than a brigadier or battalion commander. It’s pedigree is excellent. Sam Mustafa’s first grand tactical set was called Grande Armée, which came out some years ago. He then produced the simplified Fast Play Grande Armée, which dropped a lot of detail. Finally came Blücher, which stripped back the detail even more. At each stage the rules have become more elegant but they keep a period feel and are a subtle challenge to master.
Blücher’s ground scale is adaptable but I use 1” to 100 yards, the scale of Grande Armée, Volley & Bayonet and Napoleon’s Battles. This produces 3” Square unit bases. The figures are all plastics by various makers, collected over many years, with quite small unit sizes. This was a deliberate choice, partly to save cost and partly to encourage my sons who were young at the start of the project. Most of my Napoleonics are 15mm but I have never collected figures for the Waterloo campaign in the smaller scale.
Keeping the players guessing
Three of the players know the Waterloo campaign very well so I had to set up a way for them genuinely not to know whether either side would be reinforced from Quatre Bras, where Marshal Ney faced Wellington’s steadily reinforcing army. I wrote a decision tree for the events off table, which could have ended in a range of outcomes, broadly: French reinforcements, Allied reinforcements or nobody, at least in time to affect the game.
Huw took the role of Napoleon, supported by Tim (Gérard) and Ian (Vandamme). Keith was Blücher, with Matt (von Zieten) and Nick (von Pirch). I like each player to have a characteristic so made Tim inspiring, Ian vigorous, Matt steadfast and Nick heroic. If you don’t know these rules, these traits translate as good on the attack, good at getting troops moving, good on the defensive and capable of rallying lost combat power. Napoleon was a legend but not on his usual energetic form; Blücher was also a legend and mobile, which made it easier for him to send in the troops than a standard C in C. Being a legend improves your army’s break point.
For orders of battle I used a few histories, mainly volume 1 of Peter Hofschroer’s Waterloo Campaign and a French language history of Ligny by Alain Arq and others. For starting strengths and general organising I used the 100 Days unit cards, released by Honour at the same time as Blücher. These cards make sorting out and deploying the army very easy.
The Prussians were obliged to deploy 1 Corps first, strung along the river Ligne. The French were then to deploy 3 and 4 Corps and their three cavalry corps anywhere on the field up to 4 base widths from a Prussian unit. Finally the Prussians deployed 2 and 3 Corps then the French had the first turn.
How it went
The game began with Tim/Gérard attacking the Prussian right, while Ian/Vandamme screened Ligny along with the three cavalry corps. Evidently the French didn’t want to get bogged down fighting for this village. However the screening force was much the biggest French formation and while it sat watching Ligny, Tim bled his Corps dry on the French left. The Prussians meanwhile made several counter attacks against Tim, then Keith sent Nick/Pirch over the Ligne on the Prussian left to put pressure on Ian. This worked well as it constricted the French position and put their right wing on the back foot.
As the elan of Tim’s units ran down trying to dislodge Matt and Ian’s wing faced off against Nick, Huw was reinforced by the Guard and, not long after, by 6 Corps. We learned after the game that Huw had ambitions to use the reserve rule to deliver a wide flanking attack with these reinforcements, but felt thwarted by his narrow deployment zone and after a couple of turns’ delay, he launched an attack up the Prussian centre.
Meanwhile, off the table...
Each French turn after turn 11, I rolled on the decision tree. Every roll went in favour of reinforcements arriving with Napoleon. In summary, the story grew as follows. Ney began his assault on Quatre Bras early. He kept his whole command together (meaning no enthusiastic ADC gave D’Erlon verbal orders to march eastwards) and used both 1 and 2 Corps to overwhelm the Netherlands contingent before it could be sufficiently reinforced. He then carried out his original instructions from Napoleon and directed D’Erlon towards the Ligny battlefield. Rolling for losses and delays, I concluded that in the end two divisions and the Light cavalry of D’Erlon’s Corps would arrive at Ligny, late in the afternoon but in time to influence the outcome.
News reached Huw that Ney had taken the crossroads at Quatre Bras and despatched D’Erlon towards the Ligny battlefield. When these arrived on the table he gave their command to Tim, who found the fresh troops a great boost.
With the revelation that he would not be reinforced by Wellington as expected, Keith took stock. His left was doing well against the French right, which continued to retire before 2 Corps. But the right was now paper-thin, facing fresh troops, while the centre was buckling under the punch of the Imperial Guard. Keith ordered his army to withdraw, under the cover of 2 Corps.
When we reached the last turn of the gaming day, the Prussian line had started to contract from the right and rotate clockwise, as it withdrew on Sombreffe. The French meanwhile had finally cracked the Prussian centre and were advancing to cut off the Prussian right. The Prussians were close to their break point and the day went to Napoleon.
Hail the happy losers
And here is the curious thing. The French victors seemed to feel a bit flat as the day ended, whereas the Prussian team was brimming with good humour and pleased with its performance. Why was this? Well, I think the players on the side that lost in history may feel less pressure to win the game: the Prussians did very well and cooperated effectively, with messages flying in all directions throughout the day. They didn’t win but were well placed to fight another battle.
The French on the other hand came close to a bigger victory than they achieved: an earlier assault by the Guard could have cut off half the Prussian army. Also, I fear that Huw felt thwarted, not by the performance of his side but by the scenario and rules. His first hope was to send the Guard on a sweeping reserve move to fall upon a Prussian flank, but the field was constricted by the table edge and he couldn’t calculate a ‘legal’ route that would deliver his units unobserved on the enemy flank. I do sympathise and can’t change the fact that the table was 4 feet wide so he did not have space at the rear to flank March. That said, the French right could have deployed much further forward than they did and on top of that they were then soon retreating from their starting positions.
When the umpire’s happy, everybody is happy
Overall I was very pleased with the day. I think the game was well balanced and both teams played in good spirit. The decision tree for events at Quatre Bras gave a plausible result and I will use the idea again. I think the Blücher rules are perfect for a multiplayer game like this. Between 1030 and 6pm with a break for lunch, we played the full 28 turns and had very few rules quibbles. We had all played the rules before but not for some time and they came back easily.
My note to self for future games is that I should check in with Commanders in Chief a few times during play, to check if they feel able to do what they wish. It hadn’t occurred to me until he said it at the end that Huw felt unable to act because of the table size. Had he told me his outflanking plan I could have worked out a way to make it possible or to explain why it wasn’t. When the game isn’t a tournament, I think the umpire should show a bit of flexibility if this helps the story to flow.
I was grateful to all six players for giving up a summer Saturday and pitching in with such good humour. Multiplayer Wargames are a rare event but they have to be my favourite part of the hobby.
Getting the figures together
Three years after we replayed Waterloo using Honour Games’ Blücher, I will be hosting a multiplayer refight of Ligny later in August. I have started organising the units, which has been nice and straightforward using the 100 Days unit cards. The figures are soft plastics from Airfix, Revell, Italieri, Esci, Zvezda and Hät. Some of them are 40 years old or more, since my friend Keith presented me with his boyhood Airfix Waterloo collection.
My original plan at the start of the 1815 project had been to make a separate figure base for every Brigade in the campaign. To be able to refight Ligny, this would have required me to paint up the Prussian III Corps and French III and IV Corps in their entirety. That makes a lot of work and I don’t have that much time to prepare. Also, while there might be satisfaction in completing the whole Orbat, when would I actually play using every unit that took part in the campaign? So I decided to recycle some existing units. First I decided to relabel the French II Corps to cover most of the 3rd and 4th Corps, since one habit veste is pretty much like another. For the Prussians I already had II Corps from the Waterloo game, along with a few I Corps units. If I repurpose my IV Corps units I can make most of III Corps and a fair chunk of I Corps.
However. Ever since I bought David Nash’s Prussian Army 1808-15, published by Almark, back in about 1970, I have loved the varied uniforms of the post-1812 army. I am proud of the fact that every Prussian unit painted to date has the right uniform for the regiment represented. Could I bring myself to relabel Silesian Landwehr as Westphalian, without overpainting the facing colour? Who besides me would notice, still less care if the uniforms didn’t fit? As it turns out, I realised I couldn’t do it. Even if others didn’t notice, I would know that the Prussian uniforms are wrong. I have therefore started a programme of repainting, adapting and adding to my Prussian collection so that every unit is properly dressed.
And there are some great uniforms to recreate. I started with the 28th and 29th Line in I Corps, who until 1814 had been regiments in the Duchy of Berg and still wore their white Rhine Confederation uniforms. I used some of the old Airfix French that Keith had passed on. Next comes the 30th and 31st regiments in III Corps, which had previously formed the Russo German Legion and wore Russian uniform. I have ordered a box of Zvezda Russian infantry to cover these units. For the rest, I am repainting facing colours where this is easy and painting more demanding colour combinations from scratch. I also need to add more Prussian horse so have painted the West Prussian Dragoons and am about to start some Landwehr lancers.
If this sounds like amazing dedication, bear in mind that I represent foot units with only 8 to 10 figures and cavalry with 4 or 5 horsemen. So I can complete a unit in an evening as long as I don’t have distractions. The clock is ticking however and I can’t afford to slack.
Meanwhile, I am thinking about aspects for inclusion in the scenario. There are two main what-ifs: D’Erlon’s I Corps movements and the arrival of Lobau’s VI Corps. D’Erlon barely contributed to the day because of countermanded orders, while Lobau only arrived from Charleroi as the battle ended. Both could have arrived earlier and contributed to the action.
To help decide what, if anything, I do about these absent formations, I have been rereading Colonel Charles Chesney’s Waterloo Lectures, first published in 1868 and reprinted in the 1990s by Greenhill. Chesney is fascinating. His book is not a conventional narrative history of the campaign and in fact he presumes the reader already knows the main events. Chesney’s purpose is to analyse the various myths and assertions about the battle that were already manifold by the mid 19th century. His main target are those historians who placed blame for the French defeat on everybody else but Napoleon.
It is striking how much of the mythology is still current, including in some modern histories of the campaign, not to mention in the entertaining hogwash that is De Laurentis’ film of Waterloo. I suppose two world wars didn’t help the British to give due credit to Blücher and his army, or indeed the Germans under Wellington’s command, for their contribution to victory. In this Chesney is scrupulous: he stresses the immense achievements of the German-speaking troops and places Wellington’s personal relationship with Blücher at the heart of the success. He also argues persuasively that neither Ney nor Grouchy were to blame for the alleged errors of judgement and action that were later used by Napoleon to explain away his defeat.
Where is D’Erlon?
In the case of Ligny and Quatre Bras, Chesney points out that Napoleon’s order to Ney on the 16th was only to detach a Force towards Ligny once he had taken Quatre Bras with both Corps. It may have been unfortunate that due to countermanded orders D’Erlon was unable in the end to contribute on either field, but Napoleon was not counting on his arrival at Ligny, at least for some hours. Indeed, when the head of D’Erlon’s column first appeared in the distance, Napoleon was surprised to see it and delayed an attack on the Prussians until he found out who it was. Given this interpretation, I am not inclined to make D’Erlon’s arrival a particularly significant factor in the scenario.
Lobau’s VI Corps spent most of the 16th in reserve a short distance from the Ligny battlefield and came up too late in the day to contribute to the outcome. In his case I think the French should be able to use him if they wish, since he had not been given a competing task for the day.
Another ‘what if’ is whether Bülow’s IV Corps could have been present at Ligny if he had shown more energy or his orders had been clearer. I think the answer is ‘probably not’. He had the furthest to travel from his cantonments and his orders did not tell him to come to Ligny. It seems to me that the only circumstances in which he could have been present on the field would have been if the army had been ordered to concentrate sooner than it actually was. This takes the ‘What If’ so far into alternative events that we could at that point change any number of factors and end up fighting a different battle altogether. Fine if we were to refight the campaign but we will only be looking at the battle of Ligny.
So in summary, Bülow is out, Lobau can arrive early and D’Erlon might appear but he also might be recalled and/or arrive late, having stayed with Ney until Quatre Bras was taken. I’ll try to turn these possibilities into a series of dice rolls, to keep our generals guessing.
I will be painting hard over the next several days and must then think what we need for the battlefield. There must at least be a windmill for Napoleon’s use....