I have uploaded a Blucher scenario for the fighting at Laichling on 21 April 1809, between Marshals Davout and Lefebvre and the Austrian IV Corps under Rosenberg. In a foretaste of Aspern-Essling later in the campaign, this encounter really showed the quality of the Austrian soldier in a stand-up fight.
I first wrote a scenario for Laichling in the mid 1990s, for use with the Napoleon's Battles rules by Avalon Hill. I believe it translates well to Sam Mustafa's Blucher. However, thanks to the Covid lockdown I have not yet played the scenario against a live opponent, I don't normally upload scenarios that we haven't played but I do plan to play it once we can meet up for gaming later this month. I will report on how the game goes and make any tweaks to the scenario after that.
The scenario is posted here
Over the Easter weekend I was able to play two socially distanced wargames with my son Nick, using the To the Strongest rules (TtS) by Simon Miller.
We play TtS with 25mm figures on a 6” grid. The figures are a mix of ages and manufacturers, some of them dating back to 1981 when, aged 21, I started collecting Classical Greeks by Minifigs and by the long-defunct Rospaks. I have added to the collection over the years, with both modern sculpts by First Corps and Newline Designs and older models picked up through eBay or gifted by a friend who has downsized to 15s. I now have Greeks, Macedonians, Gauls, Iberians, Carthaginians and Republican Romans. The Romans are an entire army of very early Minifigs from the collection of a gamer who had passed away. I felt honoured to re-home them. Their spears are like telegraph poles and sculpting definition can be fuzzy but they have great character. And unlike so many ‘heroic’ scale figures, their proportions are realistic. To my eye, too many 28s today look like Space Marines in togas. But I digress!
The death of Leonidas
Our first game was a battle between my Athenians and Nick’s Spartans. His hoplites had the qualitative edge while I had more lights. While the two flanks bickered, our centres got stuck in, with Nick’s lads doing marginally better. We both had success with our left flank forces, so as the fight developed, each of our right flanks had to deal with the danger of being rolled up. I was losing victory medals faster than Nick but then had the good fortune to kill his heroic general, which brought our losses into balance. The cards went my way next turn, destroying one more Spartan hoplite unit and the battle was mine. The whole thing was very close however and at game’s end I had only one victory medal surviving. Still, a win is a win!
The game felt very satisfying as a clash between two hoplite armies, with no fancy manoeuvres and no detached generals. Our lights kept busy fighting each other but the game’s outcome was decided by the hoplites.
Hannibal ad portas
Game two was between Nick’s Carthaginians and my Romans. I was seriously outnumbered and Nick set out to envelop my army. On the other hand my infantry were rock hard and their pila gave them an edge on the first turn of combat. I set out to demolish Nick’s centre while I refused both of my flanks and kept my triarii back to act as a fire brigade. Nick placed all his cavalry on his right flank and two units of elephants on his left, along with some high quality Iberian Scutarii.
My centre started well, doing serious damage to some Gauls and wiping out a unit of citizen spearmen. However, the general in command of my centre then missed a turn at a key moment when he drew two aces in succession on his first activation. This allowed Nick time to patch up his centre while his left wing trundled down as far as my baseline and turned to face inwards. I squandered my next turn in a bout of tunnel vision, trying multiple activations on one unit so it could destroy a double-disordered unit of Gauls. Of course I failed the third activation on my unit and so ended the turn without activating a single other unit in the Command. I know, I know! Basic mistake and I should never be so dumb, except I was so fixated on the opportunity to destroy the single enemy unit I was attacking that I completely forgot my own advice.
Meanwhile Nick’s left wing started grinding down the troops defending my right rear, as well as threatening my front line from the side. At this point our lines were in an ‘L’ shape, with particular pressure on my units in the angle. Then in one turn, a flurry of high card hits by Nick, met with low card failed saves by me, took him comfortably over the victory line. To his only slight disappointment, he had won without his elephants actually fighting anybody. But we agreed that they had done great work forcing me to conform to their advance.
How (not) to play Republican Romans
That didn’t go well for me, but as we played we agreed some resolutions for the next time the Romans fight. Ideally, we would seek to use terrain to negate the enemy’s numerical advantage. In this game, it was Nick who exploited rough ground to shelter his advance down his left flank. Next, the Roman shouldn’t wait around to be outflanked by a bigger force: the heavy infantry should get stuck in quickly and try to eat up the enemy centre before the flanks and rear are threatened. Once engaged, the first priority each turn must be to use the Romans’ special line exchange rule for every unit that is disordered (representing the fresh principes replacing the tired hastati in the front line). This is a really powerful advantage but I lacked the discipline to sort out the line before other activations. At least twice, my command’s turn ended before I had attempted a line exchange. Finally, we decided that if possible, every command should have just one main function. My centre command Included both front line units and my reserve. Besides making it a very big command, I was trying to deploy the triarii to face Nick’s flank attack and to fight his centre to the front. Too often, the command’s turn ended before one group or the other had completed its tasks.
It is of course one thing to draw conclusions after a game but entirely another to remember them next time I play. And in case I haven’t made it clear: I didn’t ‘throw’ the game. Nick conclusively won it, making great use of his army’s strengths and obliging me to respond to his movements. A classy win for Carthage.
Out of lockdown with To the Strongest
The second game was much more fluid than the hoplite encounter had been and it felt a bigger challenge for both of us. The card activation system in To the Strongest is inspired. A sensible player can minimise the risk of their turn ending prematurely but very occasionally, as when I drew two aces in succession at the start of one turn, bad luck just happens. Fair enough. On the other hand, it is all too easy for an idiot like me to get drawn into the drama of a single combat and completely forget that I should be taking care of other activations before trying again with the critical combat. I reckon a game that draws me in so completely is doing something right.
I remember that when I first read the TtS rules, I wondered if units had enough hits/lives to sustain a good game. I also worried that a squared grid might be too restrictive on movement. Neither concern survived contact with actual play. I very soon concluded that these rules are perfectly gauged to give an exciting and rewarding game, with the strong sense of what I would expect from an ancient battle. They are also so easy to learn and (crucial at my age!) to remember during play.
After months and months without a face to face game, it was wonderful to be playing again. Fingers crossed, if the road map out of lockdown stays on track, we can soon play a great many more.
This post completes the story of our refight of Waterloo, played in 2015.
Special house rule: garrisons for strongpoints
I have a lot of skirmisher bases from Volley & Bayonet days, mounted on 1.5" squares. The Allies were allowed to use these to garrison La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont if they wished. A small base began with up to 3 élan points, subtracted from a parent unit. It would benefit from the attributes of its parent brigade as well as the usual urban area benefits (+2 for it, -1 for the attacker). In the Allied turn, a friendly brigade within 3" and unengaged may reinforce the garrison by transferring élan points to it, reducing its own élan accordingly. However the most élan points that may garrison either strongpoint at any one time is 3. I prepared similar markers for the French in case they took either strongpoint and wished to garrison it.
Each side had three players. They selected cards to determine side and whether CinC or subordinate. The briefing notes for Napoleon and Wellington are below.
Your army is all present on table. You will set up second, on the ridge of La Belle Alliance including, if you wish, the spur east of La Haye Sainte. Your objective is to open the road to Brussels and knock Wellington out of the war. You have two subordinate players, to each of whom you should allocate an infantry corps. You may also allocate other formations to these players although you may retain as many of these formations under direct control as you wish. Each of you should deploy your forces in accordance with your instructions as CinC. During the battle you may devolve control of any formation to a subordinate, but with a one turn delay: they may only move the added formation the turn after you allocate it to them. On the other hand, you may take direct control of any units of any formation yourself, immediately and without consulting your colleagues.
In the early hours you heard from Grouchy that he is before Wavre. This means he is unlikely to reinforce you today, as to do so he would have to pass through the Prussians. However if he presses his advance this morning as you have ordered him to, he should at least prevent the Prussians from reinforcing Wellington."
You will set up first. Your objective is to stop the French from advancing on Brussels and to hold on until help arrives from Blucher. Your army may deploy anywhere on table, no further South than the two strongpoints. You have two subordinates, to whom you should allocate at least two infantry divisions apiece and as many as you wish. You may also retain direct control of a reserve.
During the battle you may devolve control of any formation to a subordinate, but with a one turn delay: they may only move the added formation the turn after you allocate it to them. On the other hand, you may take direct control of any units of any formation yourself, immediately and without consulting your colleagues."
I admit the instructions on allocating troops to subordinates don't match the historical command structure but this is a game after all and I wanted everyone to have a satisfying command.
Keith, our eighth participant and seventh player agreed to help as umpire from the start and to take on the role of any reinforcing commander (of either nationality) if and when they arrived on the field. He was reconciled to the possibility that he might not arrive at all but he is a natural umpire who genuinely enjoys the job. He was also the only other person who had played Blucher before.
How it played out
The Allied deployment broadly followed history, except with more troops on the West flank. The strongpoints of La Haie Sainte and Hougoumont were garrisoned, as were Papelotte and Frischermont on the Eastern flank. We used the 100 Days cards to place units, replacing them with figures when they were revealed to the enemy.
The French set up with only the Guard facing the Allied centre; I Corps was to the South and West of Hougoumont and II Corps set up opposite Papelotte. VI Corps was in reserve behind II Corps.
The fight began with a determined left hook by D'Erlon, supported by IV Cavalry Corps. In the East, Reille became engaged with the enemy in Papelotte and Frischermont. The centre stayed mostly inactive at the start, apart from some bombarding by Napoleon's heavy guns.
The Allied defence on both flanks was spirited but Napoleon pressed his generals to keep up the early momentum. The Allied Right started to crumble under the pressure but a series of hard-hitting counterattacks by British and Brunswick cavalry brigades bought some breathing space. On the opposite flank, the French stalled outside Papelotte. News then reached both sides of a force approaching from the East. It soon became clear that Blucher, not Grouchy was on his way to the battlefield.
Aware that time was running out, Napoleon launched the Guard in the centre, in the first serious action of the day in this sector. At the same time, the French Left resumed its assaults and a series of Allied brigades were eliminated in quick succession.
At this point, Blucher arrived with 15 and 16 brigades from Bulow's Corps, increasing the Allied morale total and staving off collapse. Napoleon sent VI Corps to face the new threat but also reinforced his centre with the Guard Cavalry. By this point, his only reserve on the table was the Red Lancers of the Guard. One more turn of hammering pushed the Allies over even their adjusted morale level. The Anglo-Allies began their retreat; the Prussians, realising that the field was already lost, halted their advance and moved onto the defensive. They had come too late to save Wellington from defeat. The day was Napoleon's.
Post Match Analysis
The game had lasted from 11am to 5pm, with a break for lunch. In game turns, working to the broad rule of 45 minutes per pair of player turns, the battle ended around 7pm. The early turns had dragged a little as the players learned the rules, but it soon picked up speed. It was a great feeling to reach a firm conclusion inside one day's gaming.
The players seemed to enjoy the day and certainly picked up the principles of the game quickly. Most of the rules made sense to them, although there were inevitably a few concerns about bits and pieces. The main wish was that infantry could fire in more situations, for example after changing facing. There was also a suggestion that if prepared units took a difficult move, they might retain their prepared status. On the other hand, some thought that prepared units should not be permitted to skirmish, presuming that part of being prepared would involve drawing in the brigade's skirmishers.
The feel of play was smoother than Napoleon's Battles or Volley & Bayonet. I think we would have been hard put to reach a conclusion with either set in the same time span. It is also interesting to follow Sam Mustafa's journey from Grande Armee, through Fast Play Grande Armee, to this. Blucher is stripped of all but the key game mechanics, yet retains a convincing period feel. The use of momentum dice puts real pressure on the players to move the important formations first. The reserve rule, which allows a one-off burst of speed to units that are still concealed, is an entertaining mechanic that both encourages the players to keep reserves and creates tension when these are finally committed.
The game was a joy to umpire and I found answers to all the rules questions that arose. From where I stood, the French deserved their victory, having chosen a good plan and stuck tenaciously to it. The Allies tried hard to hold them, especially Chris on the beleaguered Right who handled his cavalry particularly well. But it wasn't to be and when the line started to unzip, it gave way decisively.
This and the next blog post contain the first battle report I wrote when I created this web page. New to the whole blogging business, I put it on a standard web page where it didn't really belong. I am now tidying up the site but didn't want to lose the report so here it is again.
The 20 year Waterloo project
In 2015 we played a refight of the Battle of Waterloo, using Honour Games’ Blücher and a figure collection that started in 1995.
Back in 1995, I had just picked up Frank Chadwick's Napoleon Returns, his 100 Days Campaign book for Volley & Bayonet. At the time all our Napoleonic armies were in 15mm and I didn't have any Anglo-Allied figures at all. I thought it would be quicker and cheaper to create the Order of Battle for 1815 using plastic 20mm figures. My older son was showing interest in toy soldiers and the slightly larger figures appealed to him more than the 15s.
To spread the budget, I based only 8 foot or 4 horse on each 3" square base, with a bare strip at the back for an information sticker. I set out to paint in a toy soldier style and was helped in the early stages by my sons.
The project got off to a good start but was mothballed as my sons and I fell heavily for Warhammer and WH40K. We spent many happy years building and fighting with Games Workshop armies while the 20mm project gathered dust in the attic. Then in 2009 I chanced upon Sam Mustafa's Fast Play Grande Armee and dug the plastics out of the roof space. There were now many more plastic figures on the market than in the mid 90s and some were very fine sculpts. By summer 2010 I had painted the Order of Battle for Quatre Bras, which my friend Mark and I played to test the rules. A few months later four of us played a refight of D'Erlon's attack at Waterloo. There followed breaks for the 17th Century, then the War of Spanish Succession, tactical Napoleonics and the ACW, but in between other periods, I kept adding to the Napoleonic collection.
With the bicentennial looming I decided it was time I finally put all the figures on the table and so I invited my regular opponents to a Waterloo multiplayer refight on 12 July 2015.
The first options for a whole battle refight were Napoleon's Battles, Volley & Bayonet and Grande Armee. We still play Napoleon's Battles occasionally but they don't please everyone and can play a bit slowly unless the players know the rules really well. Both Volley& Bayonet and Grande Armee give a faster game. But a new rules book had just been published that settled the decision for me.
In early 2015 I acquired Sam Mustafa's new Big Battle rules set, Blücher. We have already played a lot of Sam's rules, especially Longstreet and Lasalle as well of course as Grande Armée. Blücher has not disappointed. For our first game We played a Franco-Austrian 1809 fight for a group of friends who game regularly but didn't know historical Wargames. It worked a treat: four complete beginners fought a large battle very happily inside one day. Keith (my longest-serving opponent) and I then played Plancenoit twice, using Sam Mustafa's 100 Days unit cards. Both games were tense and rewarding. So Blücher it was.
A unit in Blucher mostly represents a brigade although some French Cavalry units represented whole understrength divisions. Each unit starts with a number of élan points (typically 6) that reflect its fighting quality. These determine how many dice to roll in fire and hand to hand combat. The dice can also be affected by attributes such as a good skirmish ability; attached artillery; shock power in the attack and so on. Élan is lost through combat and when reduced to 1 élan point, a unit dissolves. Blucher rewards the side that keeps fresh troops to throw in when the enemy is wearing down. The mechanics of the whole game are simple but subtle.
Blücher is relaxed about figure and ground scales, encouraging players to adapt to the battle in question and the size of their collection and games table. In this case, I went for one inch to represent 100 yards and one unit to be a brigade. This scale, is already used in Napoleons Battles, Volley & Bayonet and Grande Armee.
Fortunately, the 3" square units I have been collecting over two decades fit well with Blucher's scale so I didn't face a rebasing challenge. The Frank Chadwick Order of Battle for 1815 also reads across well, although his rules required many more commander figures and skirmisher bases. I'll have to find a use for all my surplus generals!
The main task was to repaint the rear strip of the unit bases from green to earth brown. This was the third colour change since the project began but Earth brown bases seem to be the least intrusive so far. I also bought a lot of mdf dice cells from Warbases and glued one to the back left corner of every unit. The dice would show the number of elan points remaining, while their colour would show what special attributes each unit had. For example, white would be skirmish only; black skirmish and attached artillery; green for conscripts etc. I also wrote these attributes on the unit labels.
Preparing the table
My usual gaming table is 8' by 4'. For this game I added an extension, which took the table breadth to 10'.
I thought the map would be easy to translate to the table, but was surprised to find several variations between the maps I looked at. You might expect this battlefield to be so well known that all maps would be identical. I went with the maps in Mark Adkin's Waterloo Companion where there was confusion.
With such a large ground scale and 20mm figures, it is a challenge to represent villages. I made a lot of square bases of cobbles, cut from moulded plastic card for model railways. I stuck some low walls around the edges of each base and placed buildings from my 15mm collection on them. Not that impressive to look at but at least the troops are now defending something. I also considered making La Haie Sainte and Hougoumont bigger to accomodate larger bases but decided the space in the Centre of the battlefield was cramped enough as it was, so the chateau and farm's footprints are to scale. This made it impossible to garrison either the farm or chateau with a standard Blucher unit. I created a scenario-specific house rule to handle this, discussed below.
As for contours, I wanted to create reverse slopes but not overdo the sharpness of the crest line. I used flat contour shapes, mostly cut from plywood and MDF, to make sure the battlefield has the right rolling feel. My polystyrene hill models are too steep and high for the job. The only penalty the contours conferred would be on line of sight and incoming artillery fire. I wanted to create space to East and West of the field, to allow for possible developments on either flank. For the sunken road, I relied on the distances provided by Adkin. To represent it, I lined the road with a hedge made of cut up pan scourers. This is confined to a few inches eastward from the Mont St Jean crossroads. I kept the oval sandpit from a refight of I Corps' attack a couple of years ago.
The day was set to run from turn 9 to 36, using the high summer game length in the advanced rules. The French were first side and each side had 3 Momentum (MO) dice per turn. I decided to use the multiplayer rules from the book, where every player on a side keeps a tally of MO use and the turn ends when the first player reaches the MO limit.
I decided that the Anglo Allies would mobilise by division and not by Corps. The Corps in Wellington's army of 1815 was more an administrative designation than operational, and it felt wrong to treat it in a way comparable to a French Corps. However, I did allow the Allies to pay only 1MO per unit in an activated division. (If you don't know the rules I've probably lost you. Basically, this meant that an Allied player could not activate more than one division in a round, so mostly in smaller packets than the French).
Morale levels were set at one third of army totals, so 17 for the French and 11 for the Allies. Reinforcements to either side would increase this limit, which meant the Prussians would not have their own morale level. I did not give the French a higher level for The Napoleon effect: while hard-hitting, the French army of 1815 was brittle.
The Orders of battle we used are on the Napoleonic scenarios page here.
For the order of battle, I decided not to tamper with the troops on table on the morning of the 18th. After all, this wouldn't be a Waterloo refight without D'Erlon, Reille and the rest. I did however leave the players to choose their deployment. Also, I wanted to create some uncertainty for both sides over who might appear in the distance and when. I wrote a decision tree which required a dice roll every few turns. The decisions were, broadly in sequence:
Will Blucher commit to reinforce Wellington?
Will Grouchy begin to move earlier in the day than he did historically?
Will Grouchy try to drive through Wavre; seek to reinforce Napoleon directly via a side route or a mix of both?
If Grouchy assaults Wavre will his pressure on Thielmann be heavy and if so, will this affect the pace or quantity of Prussian reinforcements arriving at Waterloo?
How fast will reinforcements (of either nationality) march towards the sound of the guns?
I won't go further into the mechanics but the probabilities varied according to my preconceptions. For example, I wanted there to be a possibility that Blucher would not commit to move to Waterloo, but the chances of rolling this result were very small. The outcomes therefore ranged from the Prussians arriving pretty much as they did, all the way to no Prussians arriving or even a small French reinforcement. But to be frank, the chances were stacked in favour of history repeating itself.
The player briefings and battle report are in the next post.
.As a fan of most games made by Sam Mustafa/Honour Games and a keen player of his Lasalle rules for Napoleonic Division level combat, I bought Lasalle 2 on release day earlier this month. I had already pored over the pre-release downloads so had a general idea what to expect, and was not disappointed by the full rules.
Others have described the changed mechanics in detail but in summary, the biggest innovation is a totally new play sequence, in which the clear phases common to most miniature rules have disappeared and the initiative shifts back and forth between the two sides until both have used up their momentum. This approach reminds me a bit of John Hill's board game of Stalingrad, published by SPI back in the 1980s. It is certainly original and looks interesting, but I suspect it will take a few games to get to grips with the subtleties. I hope people give the rules a chance before passing judgement.
I have adapted a scenario from the original rules to cover Lasalle 2. It is quite straightforward to do. The scenario is here
I have been asked if I would upload the player briefings that we used for the Shenandoah Campaign that we played twice during the Spring and summer lockdown. I have added these at American Civil War scenarios.
In November we started another campaign, based on the activities of a unit of French Maquis in the run-up to D Day. As we are still unable to meet up, I tried to make this more of a narrative story, without the tabletop encounters that feature in most wargame campaigns. Inspiration for the storylines came from the excellent book, "Forgotten Voices of the Secret War". The spirit of the game is intended to be a little tongue in cheek and neither side is allowed to contemplate atrocities. Not as silly as the UK TV comedy 'Allo, 'Allo but not far off.
The campaign started well, with a clever German player intercepting an arms drop in the first phase. One maquis player kidnapped a collaborationist mayor's dog (Fritzy), which became the new mascot of his group. A group of escaped Allied airmen was spirited out of the region under the noses of the Germans and a radio interception unit was shot up in an ambush. After the chance discovery of an arms cache, the Germans laid a trap which wiped out a maquis section. So far, so satisfying.
Unfortunately real life then intervened and I had to suspend the campaign, as my father had fallen seriously ill. The players were very understanding. Sadly, my dad passed away shortly before Christmas and there is a lot of administration associated with his estate. I am not sure when I will have the head space to get back to the campaign and when I do, the players may decide that the moment has passed. I would quite understand. But the exercise has been fun and if this game is abandoned, I'd like to try again in a few months. The map and campaign rules are at WW2 Maquis campaign.
When the lockdown began, a few jokes did the rounds that wargamers would barely notice the difference since we already spend so much time alone with our hobby. Of course, the same joke has been applied to online gaming, model railways, stamp collecting and other indoor pass times. And to some extent, I do think those of us with hobbies like these might have had some advantages compared to people whose leisure involves, say, team sports or ballroom dancing. But the past few months have brought home to me that interacting with other gamers is central both to my enjoyment of wargaming and to my motivation. It has been a challenge to make up for the absence of face to face gaming.
Although we haven’t met to play since mid-March, I have found our little wargaming WhatsApp group to be a source of entertainment and solace over the past several months. We range in age from mid 20s to 60 and have diverse interests but I greatly enjoy our chats and following other gamers’ projects.
Our first attempt to fill the gaming void was a play-by-email ACW campaign. Players supplied their instructions each turn and I resolved the moves on a master map. I played out larger battles solo, using plans submitted by the players, and worked out lesser encounters with a simple combat results table combined with some free kriegspiel. The most fun for me was inventing a bit of incidental narrative, such as the nighttime escapade of a federal cavalry unit passing through rebel lines, aided by a local school mistress who supported the union cause. This incident had very little impact on the big picture but added some flavour to my next report to General Frémont.
I ran the ACW campaign with two groups of players and I think it went quite well. I hope the players enjoyed it too: I was given a rather fine bottle of Black Dog gin by one group after their campaign ended.
I wish I could have played more socially distanced games once the lockdown eased but have only managed one, with my son Nick, which was a knockabout ‘Middlehammer’ game between Orcs and Empire. I suspect our choice of an old Games Workshop System was influenced in part by the desire to play a familiar game from happier days. Or is that a bit deep I wonder?
For the rest of my hobby time I’ve been rebasing old figures, painting models that I’ve had for years and writing scenarios for when face to face gaming comes back. I’ve also ordered my first 15mm Napoleonics for at least twenty years, mostly in the form of gun limbers but also an entirely new army: I’ve always loved Bavarian uniforms and am delighted to have added them to my collection.
This afternoon new measures were announced by Boris Johnson to tackle the resurgence of Covid cases in the UK. Maybe it’s time I started looking at another email campaign...
Recently, Nick and I played our first game of Speed Freeks, the Games Workshop game of warring Orks on buggies, bikes and improbable dragsters.
He and Will bought me the game last year, mainly for reasons of nostalgia, since this game is a descendant of the old GW classic, Gorkamorka.
Gorkamorka was our entry game into the GW universe. One day in 1997 we came across a demo of this brand new game in the Games Workshop branch in Staines. We left the shop with the boxed game and that was it. We collected most of the metal figures and later picked up Digganob, which added human, grot and mutie mobs. We loved the random silliness, both of the background and of the rules themselves.
When GW released the 3rd edition of 40K, our Gorkamorka figures became the nucleus of an Ork army. We still have all of our original models, although the plastic boyz on narrow bases were pensioned off when GW released Brian Nelson’s (still) excellent plastics. We played Gorkamorka for a good while before it slowly gave way to 40k.
Anyway. Fast forward to 2018 and we were intrigued to learn about the release of Speed Freeks. I might have dropped a hint or two, so on my next birthday I received the new boxed game.
The Speed Freeks box is packed full of models, markers and even a reversible playing board. The models are exquisite and the markers very solid. In comparison, Gorkamorka also had everything we needed to start playing, except for a surface. Of course, the buildings were a mix of coloured card and plastic bulwarks and the models, though quite serviceable, were less elaborate than nowadays. But unlike Speed Freeks, Gorkamorka had figures and rules for dismounted figures and the wartrukk was designed to carry individual foot models. There were even specially designed narrow bases to allow players to cram more figures onto the vehicle. Speed Freeks has no rules or models for figures on foot: in today’s version, every Ork or grot is on a bike or buggy.
The most striking difference I suppose is that Gorkamorka provided an extensive back story and campaign system which was further elaborated in the supplement, Digganob, with several additional mobs and models. The Speed Freeks box provides a bit of backstory for atmosphere and a sort of campaign. It is also possible to buy a few more models to supplement the box contents, but the new game is more of a stand alone game that does not draw the players into its world to the extent that Gorkamorka did.
Nick and I played our first game using the buggies from the Speed Freeks boxed set, four old 40k bikes and the two wartraks from the Gorkamorka box. At this point we noticed another great difference between the two games: while Gorkamorka’s mechanics were rooted in 2nd edition 40k, Speed Freeks has totally different rules, including special combat dice, which the players distribute in secret at the start of each turn. The rules are quick to learn and give an unpredictable and very enjoyable game. The mechanics owe a lot to X Wing, and even to Wings of War (or Wings of Glory, depending on how old your set is). Movement uses a set of measurement sticks, some of them distinctly curvy. In a challenging twist, there are limits to the number of times the more interesting sticks can be used. This means that a player really has to plan his mob’s actions as a team, since that useful curvy stick might only be usable once in the turn. There is also a good chance that a vehicle will spin at the end of its move, ending up facing completely the wrong way.
Unpredictable Speed Freeks may be, but the players still shape the play, both by the allocation of dice at the start of each turn and the selection of movement sticks.
The rules add up to an unpredictable and atmospheric game, in which buggies and bikes careen around the field, colliding, firing wildly and blowing bits off each other. We had a fine time. Speed Freeks plays fast too and is ideal for filling a free hour. I even think a non-wargamer would enjoy it, although I need to test this theory on some unsuspecting family members.
We will certainly be playing and enjoying this game again, but I doubt we will be starting a campaign. For that, I don’t think Gorkamorka can be beaten.
Our second Valley Campaign of lockdown ended today, with victory for Stonewall Jackson and Baldy Ewell. This campaign lasted for ten turns (taking about that number of weeks) and ended with a decisive victory for the rebels. I’m glad to report that all four players put their all into the campaign, right up to the final turn.
Below, I am recording the Richmond Times report that went to the players today. Afterwards, I have supplied a post campaign analysis, again shared with the players.
This is a different form of report from previously as you are all receiving the same document.
The campaign has ended with a victory for the Confederacy. Jackson and Ewell are in possession of Winchester. Banks is at Charlestown and Frémont at Martinburg, excepting a force at Wardensville. The Federals have lost a great many men and materiel and are not in a position to continue the fight for now.
The last turn proved decisive. I pass on the following report, some of it eye witness, by Monty Breeches, a correspondent of the Richmond Times, travelling with General Jackson.
“The past few days have seen a dramatic series of events, the consequence of which has seen the retirement of Union forces towards the Potomac.
It began a while back with a reconnaissance ordered by General Jackson, to explore the passes into the valley from the Allegheny mountains. His cavalry reported that the road to Winchester across Cacopon River Crossing had been left unguarded. Jackson responded immediately, summoning all available troops to follow this route into the heart of Federal territory. The Federal commanders, Frémont and Banks, reacted to this movement by pulling back their forces from further up* the Valley, but Jackson got the drop on his opponents and, after some struggle, took Winchester from Banks, in so doing dividing the latter’s Command. Meanwhile General Ewell followed the Federals northwards, keeping in close touch with their outposts.
The final stage in the campaign began with Jackson established in Winchester with almost his entire command; Banks divided between Charlestown and Middleton; Frémont between Strasburg and Wardensville; and Ewell between Front Royal and Mount Jackson.
Banks and Frémont agreed that their top priority must be to regain Winchester and so reopen communications with Harper’s Ferry. To do this, Frémont would recall his forces from Wardensville and march northwards down* the Valley Pike. Banks would wait for his approach and then the two would attack Winchester simultaneously from Kernstown, Middleton and Charlestown. This plan, however, depended for success upon the inactivity, or at least sluggishness, of General Ewell. A dangerous calculation indeed! For General Ewell, aware also that a crucial challenge had arrived, chose this moment to unleash a bold assault on Strasburg from the South and East.
In one of those occasions when bad luck bites the bottom of the bold, Frémont, in his haste to move north, marched out of the entrenchments at Strasburg before his troops in Wardensville reached the town, leaving the defences unoccupied. At just this moment, Ewell’s cavalry, reinforced by half of Jackson’s cavalry, arrived in the town, followed closely by hard marching infantry. Frémont, who by chance was riding through en route from Wardensville, ordered his accompanying cavalry to restabilise the situation while his infantry forged ahead to Winchester. It was a brave decision not to recall any infantry from the march. Alas for Frémont, his cavalry although it fought bravely, could not stem the confederate tide. Ewell’s troopers smashed through the federal horse. Ewell detailed some troops to hold Strasburg against the Wardensville road and, fully aware of the need for haste, spurred his main body onwards down the pike.
With Ewell coming up fast behind him, Frémont was forced to turn his forces around or face being taken from behind while on the march. The messy running fight that ensued favoured Ewell, whose cavalry was superior in both numbers and quality. Try as Frémont might to send at least one brigade to attack Winchester, his whole command became embroiled in the battle. Frémont’s men fought stubbornly but by nightfall, his line had ruptured. Frémont himself was wounded and made off northwards with a knot of troopers. Various small bodies of men made their escape in the darkness, but a great many Federals were taken prisoner. Skirting around to the west of Winchester, the remnants of his command began to reassemble at Martinburg.
Meanwhile the Federal troops following on from Wardensville were surprised to find their way blocked at Strasburg by Confederates who were themselves now manning the town’s entrenchments. After a half-hearted exploratory attack was repulsed, they retired on Wardensville, guessing that Federal fortunes had taken a dark turn.
While Frémont and Ewell fought their running battle between Strasburg and Kernstown, Banks launched his assault on Winchester. However Jackson, well served by his aggressive scouts, had good warning of both advances and met each of them with resolution. The attack from Middleton, led by Banks himself, made initial headway and at one point broke in to the rebel earthworks. It was then thrown out by a counterattack by the Stonewall brigade. Banks was hampered by falling ammunition supplies, having been unable to restock since the first attack on Winchester in the previous turn.
Determined not to be cut off from Harper’s Ferry or ground between Jackson and Ewell, Banks was able to retire cross country towards the east, eventually linking up with the rest of his command at Charlestown. His losses in men and materiel, however, were considerable.
At the end of this eventful turn, Ewell marched into Winchester to meet Jackson in person for the first time since the start of the campaign. The two men celebrated with a pot of coffee and a tray of grits. (Well, what did you expect? Jackson weren’t no party animal and Ewell could hardly get pissed on his own).
Post Campaign Analysis
The first moves of the campaign saw the Federals take and hold the central position, while Jackson went West and Ewell held the eastern fringes of the valley. Jackson displayed an admirably focussed maintenance of aim. He set himself the campaign objective of a left hook through the Alleghenies, first to cut Fremont from his supply line and then to get in behind the federal line. All the while, there was scope for the Union to overwhelm one or other rebel wing and for most of the campaign, they were able to bring superior numbers to each confrontation. The transport capacity of the Valley turnpike was also a great help. For much of the game there was the thinnest rebel screen in the centre, which was fortunate not to be overwhelmed. But the rebels evidently calculated, rightly as it turns out, that if Jackson kept pushing northwards, the enemy would have to conform to his movements. Sure enough, the Federals kept a nervous eye to both east and west and were made cautious by the prospect of Jackson or Ewell falling on their flanks.
Jackson’s repulse at Strasburg was a surprise blow to the rebel commander, who had not expected both Frémont and Banks to be present in force. After Strasburg, I thought the campaign was about to be won for the Union. The victors even agreed on a march south that would, I am convinced, have ripped the Confederate defences to shreds and at the very least, have brought Jackson tearing back down the valley to protect Staunton. Yet over the course of their exchanges they persuaded themselves that a more cautious advance was preferable, since they feared a threat from Ewell in the East. At the time, the Pike in front of them was weakly defended and there was in fact no threat from the east beyond an aggressive rebel cavalry regiment. Looking back, I think the federal decision to go cautious after Strasburg was the turning point in the campaign. From then on, the initiative passed to and stayed with the Confederates.
In the final stage of the campaign, the rebels got into the midst of the Federal position, seizing the central position that had benefited the Federals until then. First Banks and then Frémont had their commands split by enemy action. Moreover, Jackson and Ewell were now close enough to one another to combine their efforts to defeat their enemy.
Winners and Placed
I have been awarding VPs to all players throughout the campaign, both for physical achievements (battles won, supply centres captured) and for actions or behaviours that impressed me. The table above is entirely subjective of course, but I added points each turn, based on the outcomes and orders submitted at the time.
While the rebels are overall winners, there are areas where every player performed well. In the end, the totals levelled out pretty evenly, with the exception of Jackson, who received extra points for taking one supply source, blocking another supply line and demonstrating a single-minded capacity to keep his eyes on the prize. Of course, he couldn’t have done this without Ewell’s readiness to keep Federal attention in the Valley.
Jackson’s tour of the Alleghenies left Ewell constantly facing superior enemy numbers. He was prepared to give ground where the odds looked too dangerous but he was quick to move northwards again when the chance arose. Crucially, in the final stages, he was close enough to the action to act in concert with Jackson and thwart the federal attempt to reopen their supply lines through Winchester. Ewell showed plenty of aggression when it was needed and without him, Jackson would very likely have been ejected from Winchester.
Banks and Frémont started the campaign very well, reaching quite far south and causing Ewell in particular some uneasy moments. Throughout the campaign their cooperation was excellent, sharing all information and acting almost as one command. This allowed them to respond to the threat to Strasburg with a nasty surprise for Jackson when he found both Frémont and Banks to be present with large portions of their armies. Their plan and execution of the battle of Strasburg was first rate.
For ruses, Frémont showed particular ingenuity. He mined (and blew) bridges; indulged in a bit of Beau Geste posturing behind earthworks, crept a cavalry regiment past a sleeping garrison and hid whole brigades in ambush.
Everybody participated with complete focus and exemplary sportsmanship throughout the campaign, accepting bad news with good grace and never questioning the umpire’s reports. This is especially impressive considering that the restrictions of lockdown prevented players from playing out the battles that occurred. If the defeated secretly thought that had they been rolling the dice in person, the outcome could have been different, they did not share such thoughts with me.
I hope you enjoyed the campaign. I am very grateful to you all for taking part. My lockdown has certainly been more bearable thanks to you. I hope to meet and perhaps play a face to face game with you before too long.
(Note the photos with this post are of figures in my collection but are not ‘action shots’ of the final turn, as I played this out using unphotogenic counters and maps).
* I am indebted to George Mangano from Winchester for explaining that troops moving northwards are travelling ‘down’ the valley, and vice versa. It’s always good to get these things right!
Last week we got out the Warhammer rulebook again. Back in January Nick and I had played our first game of Warhammer 7th edition for a few years. It had been so long that we were both rusty and made mistakes, me more than Nick of course. But the game was great fun and we agreed to play again soon to help us get back on top of the subtleties. Covid 19 put the refight back several months but we finally got together for a socially distanced game last Wednesday.
We kept the same races and 2500 point armies, but agreed we could tweak the lists in the light of the first game. Nick dispensed with his giant, added some boarboys and reduced the size of his night goblin horde while I swapped out an engineer for a warrior priest and created more detachments for my spearmen. I brought Luther Huss to lead my army while Nick’s general was a Warboss on foot. As before, the Empire was heavily outnumbered, having sunk points into two great cannon and a steam tank. Nick also invested in a doom diver, partly for the fun of the model.
There were some lovely old metal models on the table, including Ricco’s republican Guard, my favourite regiment of renown, though counting this time as spearmen (their ‘pikes’ really aren’t worthy of the name anyway). The metal steam tank weighs a ton.
I set up on a central hill with a unit of ten knights on each flank, plus some pistoliers on the left and the steam tank on the right. Nick put all his night goblins on his right, his orc boys in the centre and his boar boys and wolf riders on his left.
What just happened?
First, the good news for Empire fans. I wasn’t steamrollered. But I still lost. We both had rather more success on our right flank in the opening moves. My right flank knights chased the wolf riders off the table and the steam tank beat the boar boys, although they rallied later in the game. The steam tank turned in behind the Orc centre, which looked a very promising move. Over on Nick’s right, however, his two night goblin fanatics sent my pistoliers packing, one of whom had an even bigger part to play later on. Meanwhile his centre advanced on mine. Of course, one of my cannon misfired and lost two turns of firing, during which its crew would be flattened by squig hoppers. My firearms and the other cannon did kill orcs but never enough to trouble an Orc unit.
As the centres prepared to collide, my left flank, Inner Circle knights led by Luther Huss himself, were stalled immediately in front of one of Nick’s fanatics. I had made a silly decision placing my army commander on the far left as he was out of touch with the centre just as the crunch approached. I reckoned that if I waited for the fanatic to spin himself out of the way it’d be too late, so trusting to luck, I declared a charge on a goblin regiment and moved my knights right through him. And he rolled 5 hits. And he killed 4 knights. And the knights panicked, running off the table with Luther Huss in tow. Which pretty much wrapped up the day for the Empire.
In truth the Empire did have some further successes before the end. The most heartening was the defeat and elimination of 20 Black orcs by ‘Ricco’s’ spearmen, led by Warren the warrior priest. Warren’s hate attribute helped the spears to weather the fury of the first assault, while their halberdier detachment stripped the black orcs of their rank bonus. This fight showed what can be achieved when Empire soldiers and their detachments are used properly.
Elsewhere my centre mostly came off worse. I still had high hopes for the terror-causing steam tank behind the Orc left centre, but Nick assaulted it with a Squig herd that inflicted 5 wounds in a round. In my next turn, needing enough steam points to grind or boil the pesky squigs, I rolled too high and spent the turn doing nothing. From unstoppable monster to busted tractor in two turns. Them’s the breaks.
At game’s end, our lines had rotated around our right wings, with the armies now facing each other perpendicular to the original line. But while I retained a line in being, it was distinctly ropey and Nick’s orcs were still present in dangerous numbers. Having lost general, battle standard and several regiments, I admitted defeat. But I like to think that Warren the warrior priest was able to march off the field, leading Ricco’s and his lads to safety.
We both enjoyed the game enormously and agreed we should play again soon. We both played better than last time and our guessing skills for artillery fire are nearly back to scratch. For our next bash, I may take only one cannon, since while effective against giants, the great cannon really isn’t so deadly against a horde of orcs. I also want to work on the Empire detachments as we did see how effective they can be if used properly. And I may, alas, drop one or both units of knights, since the points they take up don’t justify the chasing off of a gang of wolf riders. That, or I deploy them smack bang in the Empire centre next time and let them loose.
Having twice won as an Orc, Nick is angling to play the Empire to test some theories about how to neutralise greenskins. So next game, we may change sides. However, having improved on my performance between games one and two, I am sorely tempted to have one more go. After all, as they say, the third time is the charm.
I have played wargames for five decades. Recently retired, I have even more time to devote to it. More about me here.