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....
Gaming the Metaurus
My previous blog post explained how we created an ADLG scenario for the battle of the Metaurus. This post tells you how the game went.
Ben took the role of Hamilcar and Matt commanded the Romans. Ben followed Hamilcar’s deployment, putting his Gauls on the high ground protected by a strip of difficult terrain. He put his elephants in the centre, with Spanish and African foot behind them, and his cavalry on the right, supported by two more stands of Spanish foot.
Matt deployed one infantry command on his left, the other in the centre and his cavalry on his right.
Phase one of the game saw Ben’s elephants crash into Matt ‘s centre and pretty much slide off. We had expected them to be destroyed while disrupting the Roman centre but they barely made a dent. Matt’s dice rolling was consistently luckier than Ben’s, setting the pattern for the evening. On the Carthaginian left the Gauls and Roman cavalry looked at each other, while by the river, Ben’s cavalry advanced on Matt’s infantry but wisely chose not to attack.
In Phase two the two centres came to blows. Ben’s troops fought rather better than their elephants had done and the fight was quite balanced. Meanwhile a couple of stands of Gauls came off the high ground, to be mauled by Matt’s cavalry. Then, Ben decided to launch his cavalry at Matt’s unruffled left wing. Matt again rolled some lucky dice but he also had the edge in modifiers all along this combat. Ben lost several stands in one combat phase, taking him perilously close to break point.
In the final phase the rest of Ben’s Gauls came down from the high ground, too late to have an effect on the battle. His cavalry nearly all routed and his centre started to crumble, mainly because his Spanish MI were less resilient. The game then ended as Ben’s morale losses hit 26. At that point Matt’s losses were only 9 points, of which only 4 were due to units routing.
Measuring up to the history
According to the generally accepted account of the battle the Carthaginians deployed pretty much as Ben did in our game. The Romans on the other hand placed their cavalry by the river, Salinator in the centre and Nero on the right. Phase one of the battle saw the Carthaginian elephants attacking in the centre, with similar unimpressive results to what happened in the game. On the left the cavalry wings clashed and the Romans began to push the Carthaginians back. The infantry in the centre then closed, with neither side gaining the advantage. On the right Nero soon abandoned any intention to charge the Gauls, who were too well positioned on the high ground. He then marched his wing around the rear of the Roman line to the left and assaulted the Carthaginian centre in its right flank. With this, Hamilcar’s army collapsed and he spurred his horse into the melee. The first Hannibal knew of the defeat was when his brother’s severed head was catapulted into his camp.
The big difference in our game was of course Matt ‘s deployment of infantry on his left and cavalry on the right. This made Nero’s manoeuvre impossible. I could, I guess, have imposed historical deployment on both sides but would argue that the more restrictive the setup, the less satisfying the game. To be frank, I was surprised by Matt ‘s deployment and wondered at the outset if he was squandering his cavalry by placing it facing the Gallic Hill. As things turned out, I couldn’t argue with his emphatic victory so what do I know? Nevertheless his cavalry played only a bit part in that victory. I think he was helped by Ben’s decision to charge Roman heavy swordsmen with medium cavalry, rather perhaps than to shift this cavalry to face the Roman horse.
In the last turn Ben had to take a survival roll for his C in C when the unit he was with routed. He passed it, so at least our Hamilcar kept his head
We played a 200 Point game of ADLG last night. I always enjoy a game more if it is linked to a real battle (however fuzzily) and I wanted to see if I could fit a historical scenario into a ‘legal’ ADLG format. I chose the Battle of the Metaurus, 207BC, fought between Hamilcar Barca and a consular tag team of Salinator and Nero.
This post is about turning a historical battle into a scenario. The next one will report how the game played.
The Metaurus campaign was perhaps the last chance for Carthage to defeat Rome in Italy. After years of stalemate on the peninsular, Hamilcar had crossed the Alps with an army to reinforce Hannibal. Rome was determined to prevent the Barca brothers from joining forces and a lucky piece of intelligence revealed Hamilcar’s planned route. Nero, commanding the consular army facing Hannibal, took a picked force and rushed to join his colleague Salinator in front of Hamilcar. From being outnumbered, the Romans now had at least parity with Hamilcar and for once, seemed to have an advantage in cavalry. The Romans tried to hide the arrival of Nero and bring on a battle but Hamilcar realised that he was facing two consuls, supposedly because his scouts heard two trumpet calls in the Roman camp. Hamilcar withdrew along the river Metaurus, looking for a crossing point. However he was unable to cross and as the Roman pursuers came closer, he resolved to offer battle.
There are different versions of this story in the sources and the debate goes on about the location of the battle, nature of the field and forces involved. I chose what seems to be the current majority view, which results in the following elements:
Because he has turned to face his pursuers, Hamilcar deploys his whole army first. The river Metaurus runs down one flank of the table. It is impassable. Hamilcar deploys with his right wing on the river. Next to the river is a strip of open ground. Hamilcar’s left deploys on high ground, with a steep defile in front that will seriously disadvantage an attacker. The Roman side of the field has a low hill towards the rear, opposite the high ground. Otherwise it is featureless. After Hamilcar has deployed, the Romans deploy using the standard deployment rules, except that there is no ‘dead zone’ next to the river so troops may deploy adjacent to it.
I created two 200 Point ADLG armies, using army lists 53 and 55. All troop types were picked straight from the lists except the Gallic foot. Hamilcar’s Gauls were recently recruited. Some stories say they were drunk at the battle but it is also possible that they were just disaffected and shaky. Either way they fought badly and Hamilcar deployed them on the high ground to make the best of a poor contingent. I decided they would be mediocre heavy swordsmen and not impetuous, reducing their points cost accordingly.
Hamilcar’s army contained 6 stands of the mediocre Gallic Heavy swordsmen; 4 of Spanish medium swordsmen; 2 of African spearmen; 2 of Spanish medium cavalry; 3 of Gallic medium cavalry; 3 elephants; 3 Libyan light infantry with javelins; and 3 of slingers. Hamilcar was brilliant and his two subordinates were competent. Break point 26.
Nero and Salinator commanded 10 stands of hastati/princeps heavy swordsmen; 5 of light infantry velites; 2 of Allied light infantry; 2 of triarii elite heavy spearmen; 4 of Roman medium cavalry and 2 of Allied heavy cavalry. Nero was brilliant and Salinator and Licinius were competent. Break point 25.
Ben and Matt faced off on Wednesday evening. Their exploits are reported in my next post.
There is a charity bookshop in our High Street, run by the Woking Hospice, that carries a particularly good history section. I have picked up some great books there over the years. Recently they started selling second hand games as well. This week I picked up Waddington’s Campaign, in excellent condition but for a slightly tatty box. I had no choice: my memory made me do it.
As a teenager I loved this game. It came out in 1971 and I was given a copy soon after. It was a good time for a newcomer to Napoleon, thanks to the film Waterloo, Airfix’s range of Waterloo figures and Bruce Quarrie’s Napoleonic Wargame rules. Waddingtons gave the game a Napoleonic flavour, suggesting players could refight the conquest of Europe.
In fact the game is pretty abstract and could as easily have been linked to another period. It is a great game nevertheless. Each player begins in their capital with an army of infantry and cavalry pieces plus a general. Their aim is to capture cities (some of which are recruitment centres), defeat the enemy’s armies and occupy their capital. The mechanisms borrow a little from chess and a bit from Diplomacy. In order to remove an enemy piece a player must neutralise all adjacent enemy pieces and still have two pieces attacking the target. No dice are involved. Clever deployment can block invasion routes and make it very hard for the enemy to pick off your pieces.
I suppose I should persuade somebody to play it with me to see whether it is as fun to play as I remember. But to be honest, just owning the game again after a break of 40 odd years is pleasure enough.
Matt and I played a 100 Point game of Art de la Guerre on Wednesday. Matt commanded Republican Romans while I had a Gallic army. This was the first time we have played with impetuous troops and with light chariots. I had hoped to field enough Gauls for 200 points but was 30 odd points off. I need to get my last bare metal Gauls onto the painting table.
Matt won the initiative roll and chose to attack. The field had two gentle hills and a field, all spread around the table edges. The middle of the table was completely flat. Matt placed his cavalry on his right and rested his left on hills. I put my medium cavalry on the right and light chariots and scouts (javelin armed light cavalry) on my left.
My plan was to hold back the centre at the start and send my mounted troops forward. The chariots were to attack the Roman horse on my left. On the other flank my Medium cavalry were to go deep right, to discomfort the Roman centre but wait for the Gallic foot to advance and then join the attack. I reckoned that the first turn disadvantage against Roman swordsmen needed offsetting with some combined arms combat.
My right wing cavalry galloped down the field and onto the first hill. I faced them at about 1 o’clock and then turned my attention to advancing the left and centre. Matt meanwhile peeled a base of hastati off his centre, turned them to face my cavalry and began to advance. I had a turn to react but chose not to. On his next turn Matt charged my cavalry in the flank. I elected to evade, in the expectation that I could travel deeper towards the Roman rear. However, the rules revealed that evading troops must make a 90 or 180 degree turn before scampering off. Instead of going down the table, I had to face the side. Even had I rolled a 1or 2 I’d have still left the table. Idiot.
I deserved that three times over. First, I should have chosen my position and facing more carefully. Then, I had time to respond to Matt’s threat but didn’t. Finally, I chose to evade without knowing what that means in the rules. Accepting the flank attack would have been expensive but at least I might have done some good. As it was, the hastati had time to rejoin the main line having done their job of chasing away the threat. I won’t do that again. Probably.
Anyway. On the Gallic left my chariots attacked and got the better of the Roman cavalry while my centre advanced. In the event, the first clash of the heavy infantry went the Gauls’ way almost everywhere. Despite the Gauls losing impetus against the Roman swordsmen, the Gallic dice just rolled higher. The luck evened out in following rounds but my first round advantage held and the Romans broke three points before mine did.
The last few turns were tense and Matt’s victory point tally nearly overtook mine. But if I won the game, he got bragging rights for chasing off 14 points of cavalry with a base of hastati.
I like ADLG. The rules are clear and I find them a lot more enduring than the entry level DBA. I do however wonder about the wide range of outcomes possible in a combat round. This victory felt unjust. Matt‘s swordsmen should have had the edge over my Gauls but the dice rolled well for me and poorly for him. Perhaps this was more noticeable because we were playing a 100 Point game: my luck probably wouldn’t have been so great with more combats to resolve in the centre. Perhaps we should focus on 200 Point Battles in future. So I’d better get all my Gauls painted.
I have been rattling through my 20mm German figures this past week, trying to create enough points for a platoon sized game of Battlegroup. Latest to finish are a Stuh and three Stugs. My painting skills aren’t great but I think they’ll do for gaming. I am trying various weathering powders, mud textures and washes. I could probably add a lot more weathering but don’t want to go overboard and regret it later.
I have three Panzer IVs undercoated but will finish them after I paint a Sherman tank troop and 6pdr with tow. The models are a mix of Combat miniatures, Airfix, PSC, Armourfast and a rather hefty diecast Tiger made by Lord knows whom. The model houses are a box of card models I picked up in a Bring and Buy at Valhalla a couple of years ago. I wish I could remember the manufacturer. They were top of the range in the 80s and still look good to me.
I have recently picked up a project that I had abandoned a good four years ago. The year that Warhammer Historical folded, I had picked up a cut price copy of Kampfgruppe Normandy by Warwick Kinrade. It is one of the best rulebooks I have ever read, packed full of historical information, scenarios, Army lists and photographs. I bought the makings of two 20mm forces, one British and one German. I painted a platoon of British and assembled some vehicles, but then stopped. The main reason was the gift of some 28mm Germans and a Warlord King Tiger, followed closely by a group decision to start up some forces for Bolt Action. We have been steadily building our Bolt Action armies and I especially enjoyed creating a stock of terrain pieces.
Bolt Action is great fun but with my table size, it will only ever permit platoon sized games. Tank War in particular is frustrating since the action all occurs at such close ranges. I hanker after something bigger, if only company or battalion level. Last summer I picked up the new printing of Battlegroup, which is pretty much the exact replica of Kampfgruppe Normandy. Another well-written rulebook, although less full of goodies than KgN, it has got me back into playing with smaller models. The 20mm project is back on track.
Several times in recent years I came close to selling my unfinished 20mm collection to fund new projects. I am relieved I didn’t. I have now painted two platoons of German Grenadiers, various support vehicles and an Assault gun. Several models are rejuvenated plastics that my friend Keith used to play with in the 70s. He donated them to me when a house move finally compelled him to thin out his collection. I have also picked up some new kits and am mid way through painting 3 panzer 4s and a troop of Stugs. 4 Shermans and two 6pdrs are on the production lines.
I now have to persuade poor long-suffering Matt to give Battlegroup a try. I swear he thinks this is my way of stopping him from developing his skills. Every time he masters one set of rules I hit him with a new one. In this case, I know he will thank me for the introduction.
I played the Markkleeberg scenario twice over last week, first with Matt and then with Keith. This was Matt’s first game with Lasalle and he picked up the rules very quickly. This was more of a training exercise than a full game and we played a reduced scenario, without Russian or French reinforcements. As Kleist, Matt broke into Markkleeberg and duffed up several of my Polish units. For a newcomer to the rules, he did very well and got the hang of the challenges of combined arms combat. Matt successfully evicted my Poles from the village and took out enough units to break my morale.
I played the Poles again in the next game against Keith. This time we used a bigger table and all the reinforcements. Keith set up his artillery to bombard the town and advanced his infantry on their right, to leave a clear field of fire for the guns. The Prussians prepared to assault the town from the east with two battalions while with the rest of their infantry they advanced on the Polish left. In two turns I lost 3 battalions: one in the town and two ridden down by Prussian cavalry, working in close partnership with their infantry. The Polish cavalry rode across the field one turn too late to save the infantry but destroyed the Prussian Horse. Keith’s occupation of Markkleeberg triggered the arrival of his reinforcements, followed shortly on my side by Semelé’s French Brigade. The game ended with the Prussians still in Markkleeberg and sending two battalions past the town down the Polish flank. While a draw under Lasalle’s rules, I conceded as I had both taken more losses and my flank was turned.
These were two entertaining games and I was pleased with the way the story unfolded. I did tweak the scenario between the first and second games to delay the arrival of Prussian reinforcements. On the day, the bulk of 12th Brigade was held in reserve until Markkleeberg was occupied. Allowing the whole command to be on table from the start did weight the first game in Prussia’s favour. Of course the Poles lost both times but the second game was a lot closer.
I am inclined to change the victory conditions for future Lasalle scenarios. The rules as written are complicated and, because the victory test requires a comparison with the turn number, only work within a limited range of game lengths. The main problem for me is that both sides can hit their break point and each continue to take the victory test for a few turns and regardless of further losses, the loser will be the first to fail their dice roll. I think later rules by Sam Mustafa provide cleaner victory conditions. So taking a leaf from Longstreet, I might just set a higher break point and just say that the first to reach their break point has lost.
Every so often, we return to gaming the Napoleonic period. Recently, I was reading Digby Smith’s history of Leipzig and got taken right back to an obsession that had lasted for most of the 1990s. Back then our rules of choice were Napoleon’s Battles, then published by Avalon Hill. One of the supplements for these rules included several scenarios for refighting Leipzig. My friend Keith and I agreed to collect the whole Leipzig Orbat in 15mm between us. We managed to paint all the units present on 16 October 1813 (admittedly at a scale of 1 figure to 120 men), but we didn’t get around to the Army of the North or other latecomers, so alas, no Swedes. Over five years or so we played several good games based on the events of the first day of the battle.
After rereading Digby Smith, I felt the urge to give Leipzig another go. I decided to start with the attack on Markkleeberg, which was made by a Russo-Prussian column under Kleist, mostly against Poniatowki’s VIII Corps, supported by Semelé’s division of Augereau’s Corps. I pulled together the other sources in my bookcase, which included Scott Bowden’s Grande Armee of 1813, the Osprey Campaign Book of Leipzig by Peter Hofschroer, Lorraine Petrie’s 1813 and two Polish language histories, one of the battle and the other about Poniatowski’s Poles throughout 1813.
I had three options for the rules: Napoleon’s Battles of course; Honour Games’ Blucher; or their older, tactical set, Lasalle. Plan A was to adapt the Napoleon’s Battles Orbat for Blucher and I do hope to do this at some stage. But having read about the exciting exploits of individual battalions and cavalry regiments around Markkleeberg, I decided to start with Lasalle, using my small collection of 6mm figures.
It proved tricky to work out the detailed order of battle and decide on deployments and reinforcement schedules. The accounts differ widely about exactly who was where and what happened on the day. No two books agreed on the troops involved. On the Allied side, some books just list the formal order of battle, which places Kleist at the head of the whole 2nd Prussian Corps, whereas Smith and Lorraine Petrie explain that at Leipzig, Kleist’s Brigades were shared out among the four Allied attack columns, to bolster their numerically depleted Russian allies. According to these sources, all Kleist had with him was the 12th Brigade, alongside Helfreich’s tiny Russian division. I decided to go with this version as it makes sense of the accounts in all of the books about how the engagement fought out. Had Kleist been in control of his full Prussian Corps, I suspect he would have overrun Poniatowski in no time at all.
On the Polish side, again, every book has a different Orbat. Bowden, whose research into French returns is exhaustive, touches only lightly on the Poles and his returns for them don’t match with any other source I could find. I think the trouble here is that several theoretical orders of battle that were decreed for VIII Corps were never implemented because events moved too fast. Mariusz Łukasiewicz, in his book “Armia Księcia Józefa 1813”, carefully examines the true shape of VIII Corps throughout that year. I therefore decided to go with his list.
As for the sequence of events, all sources agree that Kleist initially succeeded in taking Markkleeberg, was counterattacked in the course of the day and that by nightfall, he had been pushed back to his start line except he still had a toehold in the village.
The resulting scenario is here.
We have played it twice and a report and some photos are in my next post.