Two refights and a post-mortem
I have recently hosted two games set in Eastern Europe, using For King and Parliament (FKaP) by Simon Miller and Anthony Brentnall. In both games we fought the historical scenario for the Battle of Lubar, which is on the 17th Century scenarios page here.
Background to the battle of Lubar
The battle of Lubar (or Lyubar) was fought between a Muscovite-Cossack army and a Polish-Tatar force. It was the first engagement in the 1660 Ukrainian campaign, which took place during the Thirteen Years War between Muscovy and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Lubar was actually an engagement over many days, most of which consisted of minor actions during an extended blockade. The action on 16 September 1660 was the only occasion when the full complement of both armies went toe to toe.
We have played games based on Lubar several times in the past few years, first using Warlord Games’ Pike and Shotte, once with Maurice, then with Tercios by el Kraken and now using FKaP. All of them were interesting games but for my taste, FKaP gave the most satisfying game.
Each of the rules we have used so far required a little tweaking to cover the troop types present at Lubar. The one set that we could have played without any amendment is ‘With Fire and Sword/Ogniem i Mieczem’ by Polish company, Wargamer. These rules and the fantastic figures and terrain released for them have opened up this period to non-Polish gamers and I have hundreds of their figures in my collection. The only thing is, I cannot get on with the rules themselves. As the saying goes, I am sure it’s not Them, it’s Me. A couple of weeks ago, Wargamer announced that they are to replace With Fire and Sword with a quite different version. I will pick these up and perhaps WFaS Reloaded will hit the spot.
Adapting FKaP to Eastern Europe
17th century warfare in Eastern Europe had more in common with the West European experience than some might presume, especially as the century progressed. So the bones of FKaP work very well as they stand. There were however some troop types, weapons and tactics that were unknown in the West and I wrote a small set of rule adaptations to cover them. Most of these were rules brought forward from Simon Miller’s Ancients rules, To the Strongest, so fitted in comfortably. I’ve adjusted them a few times after playtesting and the current version is on the scenarios page here.
Lubar refight: Take 1
Earlier this month I hosted the first refight, with Chris playing Muscovy and Paul leading the Poles and Tatars. Chris deployed his Cossacks in his main camp with a regiment in the forward trench on his right. He put Muscovite infantry with light guns in the redoubt on the left, with some cavalry behind them. The rest of the cavalry joined the infantry in his main camp. Paul placed his foot and artillery in his centre, with his cavalry divided between Potocki on the right and Lubomirski on the left. Paul left space on the left for his Tatar Allies to arrive (-and leave: the scenario makes their presence unreliable at best).
The battle began with a spirited assault by the Tatars on the Cossack trenches, while the Polish infantry advanced on the hilltop redoubt. Chris responded to the hilltop assault by sending cavalry around the eastern side of the hill to threaten the Polish flank. Paul challenged this assault with pancerni and a unit of hussars, which blotted its copybook early on by failing to activate to charge, drawing the dreaded two 1s in succession. Paul was admirably calm about this and the hussars redeemed themselves on their next activation, smacking up some Muscovite Reiters and blocking Chris’ outflanking attempt. On the left the Tatar command steadily drained away, as units left the field in search of easier plunder, but not before they had caused impressive damage to the Cossacks in the trenches. Paul even managed to break into the main enemy camp, if only temporarily. The game ended with Chris handing over his last victory medal but he was still well established in his main camp and as Paul’s medals were also running low, we agreed this was more a winning draw than a walkover.
In our after-action discussion, we agreed the game’s outcome was remarkably similar to the history: the Poles and Tatars had the advantage in the open with their superior cavalry, while the Muscovite and Cossack infantry were a tough challenge for the outnumbered Polish foot to beat. Both players attacked the scenario with gusto and picked up the rules easily.
Refight Take 2
After the first game I adjusted two aspects of the scenario. First, I moved the Muscovite camp one square westwards to make the land around the Muscovite hill more open to a flanking manoeuvre. I also changed the scenario special rules for the Tatar forces to make them last a little longer on the table.
Game 2 saw Rupert’s Muscovites and Cossacks facing Kevin’s Poles and Tatars. Both sides deployed rather differently from the players in game 1. Rupert put his infantry in the hilltop redoubt, the trenches in the forest and his main camp, then deployed his cavalry in a line in front of the camp. He placed his field artillery in the trenches, initially facing forward but later rotating to enfilade the advancing Poles. Kevin drew up with his cavalry commands on the left and centre and his infantry on the right, facing the hilltop redoubt. On his first turn Kevin started an outflanking attempt with two infantry units and some dragoons, aiming to get around the eastern end of the Muscovite redoubt. Unfortunately, this manoeuvre was plagued by poor activation attempts throughout the day and by game’s end was still slogging up the table, without ever coming to grips. At the same time the Polish foot in front of the hilltop redoubt spent the day waiting for the outflanking force to get into position and so the entire Polish infantry complement was basically uncommitted throughout the game.
The Polish cavalry and the Tatars, by contrast, were heavily engaged from the start. The Muscovite cavalry launched a spoiling attack as the enemy advanced, which considerably disrupted the Polish front line. However this attack then exposed the Muscovite horse, now variously out of pistols or spears and low on dash, to the still-fresh Polish second and third lines. The result was to be expected and in one turn, several Muscovite victory medals were handed over to the enemy. But with the Muscovite and Cossack infantry in the main camp now able to fire on the enemy cavalry, the balance of damage was nearly restored. It was clear that the Polish cavalry would not make headway against the entrenched Muscovite and Cossack foot and, with real time running low, we agreed that the Poles would not press home their attack and the battle ended.
This was an interesting game, in which the deployment of both sides was unexpected. The Poles, already outnumbered in infantry, effectively left their Foot out of the battle by stacking them on their right and attempting the outflanking manoeuvre. Even if they had had more success with activation draws, the Polish ‘right hook’ would still have spent a lot of time getting into position before engaging. Kevin commented that if he had assigned the task to cavalry, the result could have been very different. On the other side, the screen of Muscovite cavalry across the centre delayed the Polish advance, but it was both outnumbered and outclassed by the cavalry facing it and it blocked the fire of its own infantry behind it. Once that infantry was given a free field of fire the prospects for the Polish horse became less rosy. Perhaps the Muscovite Horse could have withdrawn sooner once it inflicted the first reverse?
All of this is easy for me to say, but I wasn’t playing the game. Both players showed considerable aggression and the cavalry confrontation in the centre was particularly hard-fought. Kevin certainly made the most of his flakey Tatar units, which did stay on table for longer than in the first game but were still sloping off the field at inconvenient moments.
The game versus history: how credible were the results?
I was frankly delighted by the way FKaP played out in both games. On a general level, the results were reassuringly similar to what happened in history, especially in the first game. The way cavalry performs is particularly satisfying. The clash between the Muscovite and Polish horse in the second game felt just right: the Muscovites were slightly, but not hopelessly outclassed in the initial combats but the Poles had the advantage of fresh units ready to challenge the increasingly tired Russians. As the saying goes, numbers have a quality all of their own..
The Tatars also behaved as I would expect. They are primarily a nuisance and with only one hit are brittle, but they can be devastating against an enemy that is already disordered and tired. Also, their sheer numbers can help them to overwhelm a superior opponent. The evade rule, adapted from To the Strongest, works fine.
As for the infantry, pike and shot are suitably ponderous while the smaller Haiduk and Streltsi units are a little easier to move. Finally, artillery can occasionally do damage but isn’t a battle winner, which is appropriate for this period. In short, I think after these games that the Eastern Europe adaptations for FKaP are about right.
Earthworks were an important feature of the battle of Lubar and I was impressed by the way they work in FKaP. Based on accounts of battles in this period, they should give an advantage to troops defending them but ought not to be impregnable: during the battle of Lubar, attackers did break in, both to the hilltop position and the main Cossack/Muscovite camp.
I am increasingly impressed by FKaP: these rules are easy to learn and deceptively straightforward. New players pick up the mechanics very quickly but they face multiple choices and challenges each turn.
The next battle I’d like to try is Polonka (great name!), the battle between Muscovites and Lithuanians fought earlier in the same year of 1660. This was an encounter battle without prepared positions and I’ll be interested to see how it plays with these rules.
Figures and game aids
The figures in our games were 15mm by Wargamer, Essex Miniatures, Lancashire Games (both from today and the 1980s) and a superb Spanish producer who had a stand at Salute some years ago, but whose figures I haven’t seen again. The game mat is by Deep Cut Studios, bought from Simon Miller’s Big Red Bat Shop. We used Simon’s ‘chits of war’ for activations, also available from his shop, and used ten-sided dice to resolve combats.
A bit of August Lard
I’ve always liked the look of rules by the Two Fat Lardies but until recently I’d only played Chain of Command, What a Tanker and Pickett’s Charge (which while excellent isn’t exactly a full Lard experience). Lately I have started visiting Staines Wargames Club on a Friday evening, where Lard games are popular. So in the space of a fortnight I had my first taste of Infamy! Infamy! and of Sharp Practice. Both games were great fun.
Arresting the Chief’s son
In my first game of Infamy! I was required to take my Roman patrol to a Gaulish village to arrest the chief’s son for unspecified anti-Roman activities. The men of the village were out hunting at the time my force arrived. Chris had set up an atmospheric village with huts, vegetable patches, sundry rubbish and a palisade wall, surrounded on three sides by forest. I had to check each hut for the presence of the chief’s son, as quickly as possible because Ian’s hunting party was due back at any moment.
The patrol found the suspect in the hut furthest from the village entrance, protected by a group of elite Gallic warriors. Luckily the search party were veteran legionaries and after a tough fight, the chief’s son was in custody. Meanwhile the hunting party had started to arrive. Fortunately for the Romans, no Gauls arrived between the patrol and its line of retreat. The patrol started to retire from the village, pressed by a growing band of angry Gauls. Had the chits been drawn differently, the captive would have been freed but I was fortunate to get enough distance between the patrol and its pursuers that we concluded the arrest had been carried out successfully.
This was a tense and engaging game which really benefited from the storyline. Alas, I was too busy searching huts to take photos but the pretty table and lovely figures were a big contributory factor.
Crossing the Niagara
The following week Chris hosted a game of Sharp Practice, set in the War of 1812. Paul commanded his own British force while I had Chris’ Americans. The scenario was Crossing the Niagara from the War of 1812 Sharp Practice supplement, which involved a US force landing on the Canadian bank against British/Canadian opposition. Again the table was very fine, with some particularly lovely buildings (and this time I have the photos to prove it).
The US forces landed by boat in two waves, One group of British regulars were on the scene at the start while Canadian militia and an artillery piece arrived during the game to reinforce them. The challenge for both sides was to get their troops organised and firing before the opposition managed it. In our game, my US troops were able to form a firing line first and forced the forward-most British unit to retire. The US force maintained this edge for the rest of the game but did not dislodge the British entirely from its positions at the end of the table. Nevertheless the umpire concluded that the US beachhead was secure and so awarded the US a winning draw.
I come late to Sharp Practice and there is nothing original I can add to the reviews already out there. I will say that I enjoyed it very much. The movement and firing mechanisms couldn’t be more straightforward. I love the random sequence of play, which gives suspense to every chit draw. I particularly like the rule that made it difficult to stop my militia from blazing away once they started firing. These rules are great for narrative play and Chris managed the story very well.
On the strength of these games I have bought a pdf of Sharp Practice and some movement trays to use with my 15mm Napoleonics. I have a lot of individually based skirmishers on 20mm round bases and just need to add more command figures. I did briefly consider a 28mm contingent but my investment in 15mm is too big, both in figures and scenery. I have a lot of surplus skirmishers since changing rules from Lasalle to Lasalle 2. Plus, I should be ready to game with them months earlier than if I started on 28s. Being an impatient Wargamer, that is a big advantage!
Building our experience with Lasalle 2
The other day Chris, Paul and I played a game of Lasalle, using the scenario for Unter Laichling in April 1809, "Bristling with Guns", on the scenarios page here. Chris took the Austrians of Rosenberg’s IV Corps while Paul led the French (St Hilaire) and Bavarians (Deroi). Most of Paul’s troops began on table while fully half of Chris’s command were in Reserve. There were two objectives, one each in the villages of Schierling and Unter Laichling.
The Austrians deployed with the Bellegarde Regiment on the left, two battalions of Grenzers in the centre and the Vincent Chevaulegers on the right. They did not garrison the village of Unter Laichling at this stage. St Hilaire deployed in the French centre and Deroi’s Bavarians began on the right. Paul left the wooded area on the French left unoccupied. The French and Bavarian artillery deployed in the hinge between the two commands.
The Franco-Bavarians advanced briskly on the Austrian positions, although the left of the French advance was slowed somewhat by the threat from the Austrian cavalry. An artillery duel began, in which the Franco-Bavarians gained an edge, twice disrupting an Austrian battery.
Where the hell are my reinforcements?
Both sides were awaiting reinforcements and the French 57th Line and Austrian Czartoryski regiments appeared relatively early. The Czartoryski arrived just in time to occupy Unter Laichling before Paul’s battalions attacked. Had the Austrian cavalry not been slowing the French advance down, the village might have been taken without a fight. The cavalry also had the effect of channeling the French advance into the centre, which prevented Paul from attacking the village from three sides.
Although the Austrian right was holding its own, in their centre and left Franco-Bavarian weight of numbers was starting to tell. Chris’s final reinforcements kept refusing to appear and in their absence, his Grenz regiments in particular started to crumble in the unequal struggle.
In the final turn, Austria was reduced to her morale break point. The French had still not taken Unter Laichling, although Paul had lots of fresh units and with more time he could have taken the village, However the last turn represented nightfall and moreover the foot-dragging Austrian reinforcements had finally arrived on the table. We agreed therefore that the French would have to withdraw to their side of the valley and renew their attacks in the morning. Nevertheless, for bringing the Austrians to their break point and holding one of the two objective villages, the French secured a minor victory.
Honours about even
With hindsight, I reckon both players performed better on their right. Paul had the advantage with his Bavarians from the outset, maintaining pressure on the Bellegarde regiment facing them (Neutral I may be but I was secretly pleased for the Bavarian figures: this was their first ever game!). Chris, meanwhile, used his solitary cavalry unit well to slow down and constrict the French advance. He slipped a battalion into the village just in time and his right was still secure by the end of the game.
This was Paul’s first and Chris’s second game of Lasalle 2. They were soon on top of the rules and the game flowed well. They both seemed to have fun and are ready to play again so next time I’ll add some advanced rules. I’m keen to try the advanced skirmisher rules in particular.
Unter Laichling as history and game
So how did the scenario play against the history? Pretty well I think, although of course there are conflicting accounts of exactly what happened on the day. One memoir claims the French took the village of Unter Laichling but doesn’t explain why they didn’t end the day in possession. It seems likely they either never got in or did so, only to withdraw under Austrian pressure. Whatever, as in the real encounter, the Austrians in our game ended the day still in possession of the village and the hilltop position, where they would be when the battle of Eckmühl began the next day.
And how did the scenario play as a game? Again, I think pretty well. The points values equate neatly to an attack-defence scenario in the rulebook and while both sides seemed to feel under pressure, neither complained of being unfairly disadvantaged. I do regret that Chris just couldn’t roll the dice to get his final reinforcements onto the table, despite the odds of succeeding improving every turn. This did limit his options and I was grateful for his philosophical acceptance of his bad luck. That said, Austrian accounts of the battle report that the Archduke Charles’ sole contribution to the day’s fighting was to redeploy certain units without informing their Corps commander, and so handicapping the performance of his own army. Perhaps Chris’s misfortune with his reinforcement dice was a fitting echo of Charles’ meddling on the day!
What next? While the fight for Unter Laichling was going on in the South, the rest of Davout’s Command was advancing through the hilly woodland to the north, trying to find and envelop the Austrian right flank. I am working on a scenario for this fight and will be interested to see how Lasalle plays in dense terrain.
We and Games Workshop got history
Between 1997 and about 2015, Games Workshop was a central part of our family life. We played every system they released between Gorkamorka and 40K 7th edition, with the exception of Inquisitor. Nick, our older son, was (and still is) a gamer above all while his younger brother, Will, enjoyed the modelling and painting, even selling his skills to raise cash while at university. I both played, but not as well as Nick, and painted, though not a patch on Will.
The boys have grown up and moved out and our gaming opportunities have become rarer. Wargames still have a pull: I started playing historical games again and Nick has been happy to join in, while Will still enjoys picking up obscure modelling materials at wargame shows. At most, we now play a couple of GW games a year. I stopped buying White Dwarf soon after Age of Sigmar was released, not in protest exactly, but the new universe just didn’t interest me. 40K 8th edition also passed us by, though I did enjoy the one brief game that Ian Barber ran to introduce the new system. In short, for no particular reason, my 40K knowledge ended with 7th.
My Firstborn: beaten by my first born
Until autumn 2020 that is, when Nick bought me the Indomitus boxed set as a surprise lockdown gift. We had both been curious about 9th edition and he couldn’t resist the bargain of large new forces for two of our favourite 40K armies. A small test game between Orks and Cadians went well (for the Orks), Christmas brought the Space Marine and Necron codices and we were back in the thick of it. Nick came over on Father’s Day and we played our first biggish game with the new rules.
Nick took Necrons and I led the Ultramarines. Nick had some of the new Necron models but my army was a continuation of my 7th edition force. Who knew when I originally collected them that I would be fielding ‘Firstborn’ Space Marines? Honestly, I turn my back for a moment and the lore changes everything!
We fought over a ruined Imperial settlement, which allowed a lot of cover to both sides. This favoured the close combat specialists who could close the range without exposing themselves to too much firepower. I was happy with my deployment, including landing a drop pod and some terminators behind Nick’s line, so for a short time Ultramar seemed ascendant. Then Nick’s warriors shot up my Assault Marines, his scarabs ate up my dropped squad and his destroyers destroyed my razorback squad. That basically put the lid on my efforts and by game’s end he held all but one objective. It was an exciting game that moved fast despite us both having to refer often to our faction rules.
My mistakes included focussing overmuch on Nick’s Monolith, which I did nearly destroy but only after pounding it with my Vindicator for most of the game. Those shots could have been more successful thinning out Nick’s Necron warrior horde. I also failed to appreciate that under 9th edition Ultramarines can fall back from close combat and still fire. Had I done that instead of staying engaged, I might not have suffered the humiliation of a whole squad succumbing to a tide of tin cockroaches. My ‘gun line’ on the other side of the table might also have lasted longer by keeping more distance between itself and the Skorpeth destroyers. Just wait until next time!
As ever, it was a pleasure to be across the table from Nick, adding another chapter to the story of our games since the late 90s. That’s a lot of happy memories, for which I will always be grateful to Games Workshop.
Good to be back?
So how does it feel to jump straight from 7th edition into 9th? I can’t deny it’s confusing. I suppose vehicles have changed the most and they strike me as more resilient than before. Right up to 7th edition, a couple of lucky dice rolls could wipe out a very expensive piece of kit. Things can still go wrong for vehicles but they generally hang around for longer, no doubt making them a less risky investment. The stripped back rules themselves are appealing and I especially like the way morale is now treated. I love the extra involvement provided by command points, which give a nod to Chain of Command, one of the best World War 2 rules on the market.
Anything I don’t like? Nope. I even like the Primaris Marines, who seem more like the superhuman giants encountered in 40K literature. The ‘Firstborn’ plot twist is a clever bit of reverse lore engineering.
I would, however, observe that 9th edition seems no less complex than older editions. The basic rules are now wonderfully simple but the complexity has transferred over to army and faction rules, the range and detail of which is bewildering. I had expected today’s 40K to be more accessible for new, casual or ageing players like me, but I don’t think it is. If I am to play my next game half-way effectively, I’m going to have to revise, remember and apply all the subtleties required to get the most out of an Ultramarine force. I really look forward to our next game but will timetable in some serious pre-fight preparation first.
Last month Chris and I played a game of Lasalle 2, the tactical Napoleonic game by Sam Mustafa of Honour Games. Chris was new to the rules and picked them up very quickly. We replayed the Markkleeberg 1813 scenario that I had first tried on Spencer and Dan, described here.
After the first game of Markkleeberg I had changed the victory conditions by removing the sudden death victory provision, which allows a player to win by ignoring geographical objectives and simply killing enough enemy units. In our first game Spencer had bunched all his forces into his right wing and tried to overwhelm Dan’s left, while leaving Markkleeberg with its objective marker alone. A valid approach in a stand-alone game (and it nearly succeeded) but it meant the battle played out very differently from the actual events of 1813. With sudden death removed, victory now depends on who holds real estate in two locations: the village on the Polish right and the hill in their centre. I also modified the arrival of some Prussian reinforcements, after rereading the sources and producing a ‘best guess’ sequence of events drawn from the five different accounts that I have of the action. The current version of the scenario is here.
I am happy with these tweaks as the game with Chris played out more closely to the actual battle. My Prussians tried and failed to kick Chris’s Polish garrison out of Markkleeberg while the Russians attacked the central hill. To cut a long story short, after a bitter struggle the Russians briefly reached the objective on the hill but couldn’t consolidate their hold and the Poles retook it in the final turn. Victory therefore went to Chris, with my troops back near their starting positions in the valley.
The game moved quickly and we both enjoyed the rules. The fluid turn sequence keeps both sides fully involved and presents the players with tricky choices about how to use their scarce momentum points. There was only one incident when our experience of ‘conventional’ rules made us question whether what happened was right. Namely, a regiment of cavalry charged and overthrew an enemy battery, without that battery being able to fire canister as the cavalry closed. This did feel tough on the guns but chewing it over afterwards, I concluded the issue was of our perception rather than a failing in the rules. In most circumstances, Lasalle would allow a battery facing cavalry to its front the chance to fire before that cavalry charged. It just happened in our game that the battery had already fired at a different target earlier in the same turn, so it is plausible that the cavalry could have closed while the battery was reloading. Also, even without firing, there was a slim chance that the battery could have won the combat against the charging cavalry, which, had this happened, might have been rationalised as the gunners successfully loading and firing canister in the nick of time.
Try these rules!
It’s interesting to see how fashions in wargame rules evolve. When I started playing Napoleonics in 1974 or thereabouts, the fashion was for simultaneous turns, highly differentiated national characteristics, detailed casualty calculations, quirky game aids (anybody remember the bounce stick??) and almost no command friction. In recent years there has been a shift to IGO-UGO turn sequences, more abstraction of the mechanics of combat, and greater focus on the options and limitations placed on command control. All welcome developments as far as I can see. The combination of MO points and totally fluid turn sequence in Lasalle 2 takes us into yet new territory. This approach may sound odd to some, but I would urge every Napoleonic gamer to give it a try. I suspect that with Lasalle 2, Sam Mustafa has set a new standard for tactical Napoleonic games that other rules writers will be emulating for some time to come.
The revised version of Sam Mustafa’s tactical Napoleonic rules, Lasalle, has been some time coming. If I recall rightly, it was first trailed in mid-2019 with the aim of landing in 2020. The release timeline then went vague, presumably in part due to Covid, and it finally appeared in February this year. As he usually does with new rules, Sam put various teasers and extracts on the Honour website in advance, including two quick reference sheets: one over several pages and a single-sider for hardcore players. I bought the new rules in pdf and print. As is now the Honour standard, they are well laid out, clearly written and nicely illustrated. There are also several opportunities to find out why a rule was written as it was and generally to understand the author’s design philosophy.
If you haven’t read the rules yet, I’d say their most important feature is the lack of a fixed player turn or sequence of play. Both players begin each turn with a variable number of momentum points, with which they can pay for various actions. The initiative can pass between the two sides several times until both run out of momentum, when the turn ends. The order in which a force might move, fire, change formation, charge or rally is entirely up to the player. It makes for some tough choices, careful timing and steady nerves.
After a read-through of the rules and some solo moves I thought Lasalle 2 looked promising, but I was finally able to test it with live opponents last Friday, in our first face to face game since March last year. Now, I suppose I should aim off a bit for the excitement of live gaming after such a long break, but I had a fantastic time and was absolutely delighted with these rules.
A brief battle report
We used the Markkleeberg scenario from the first day of the battle of Leipzig, on the scenarios page here. Dan took Poniatowski and his Poles, reinforced later by French from Augereau’s Corps. Spencer took the role of Kleist, assaulting the village and the high ground to its north east with the Prussian 12th Brigade and 14th Russian Division.
Dan deployed the Vistula regiment in Markkleeberg and the rest of his infantry behind the stream, with artillery on the hill behind. He divided Uminski’s Cavalry Division, putting the cuirassiers on the eastern flank and the Krakus and horse artillery behind Markkleeberg in the West. Spencer masked off the village with three artillery batteries and massed the rest of his force on the eastern half of the table, with the Prussians in front of the Russians.
Spencer advanced on the Polish line behind the stream, halting to exchange fire while his landwehr lancers sent Dan’s cuirassiers packing in an upset victory (I bear some responsibility for this: I encouraged Dan to come forward, assuring him he wasn’t running a big risk. I was wrong. All things considered, he was remarkably good about it!). Dan’s artillery did some impressive damage early on, destroying a Russian battery and disrupting several battalions. Spencer’s troops were initially packed in a small area so suffered a fair bit from bounce through, although they rallied most of this off. The Polish Infantry in line had the better of the firefight with the Prussian columns, as one would expect. Dan then decided to exploit the disruption of the left hand Prussian column by crossing the stream and attacking it. This was a great success and the Prussian unit was destroyed. Dan used the ‘huzzah’ counter to then bowl into the flank of the next unit along, in which the odds were stacked in his favour. However, Spencer achieved his second upset victory of the game, which stopped Dan’s attack and saved Spencer’s bacon. The attack had been so well conceived that Spencer actually apologised for defeating it.
On the western flank, the artillery duel didn’t do much damage, except when Dan took it into his head to send the Krakus skittling South past Markkleeberg, where they took a pasting from Spencer’s cannon and scuttled back to their starting position with several empty saddles. It appears that Dan had heard of the Charge of the Light Brigade but didn’t know how it turned out.... It was his only misstep in an otherwise masterful game.
Back East, reinforcements arrived for both sides, in the nick of time for Dan as Spencer was just swinging around his flank and racking up kills. The landwehr lancers wiped out a French battery soon after it entered the table and two Prussian columns destroyed Dan’s eastern-most Polish battalion. The French reinforcements managed to plug the gap in the line but Spencer was one unit away from inflicting sudden death on the Polish side.
In the final stage, Dan sent his three surviving Polish battalions over the stream and into the Prussians with whom they had been engaged for most of the game. The Poles had inflicted more losses in the preceding firefight and so were in better shape, but even so we were not expecting quite the success they enjoyed. First one, then a second Prussian battalion was destroyed, pushing Spencer past his sudden death limit.
“What do you think of the rules so far?” “Brilliant!”
We thoroughly enjoyed the game and were greatly impressed by the rules. The momentum rules at their heart work smoothly and keep both sides involved throughout the turn. The concepts are easier to play than they are to explain and the fluid sequence of play makes for a tense and exciting game. The simple movement rules spared us the fiddling and bickering that accompanies some tactical rules I know. The rules don’t impose a straitjacket on the players but they reward ‘historical’ deployment and formations and punish rash actions, as Dan’s cavalry found out!
As ever, Spencer and Dan threw themselves into the game with good humour and sportsmanship. Although his victory was snatched from him, Spencer was so impressed by Dan’s game-winning attack that he was genuinely pleased it succeeded. It is always a pleasure to play with such people.
I’d like to play Markkleeberg again but our next outing with Lasalle will see French and Bavarians facing off against Austrians. Lots of Austrians.
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.
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.
I have played wargames for five decades. Recently retired, I have even more time to devote to it. More about me here.