Our ACW campaign has come to a close, with victory for Jackson.
The last two turns of our campaign saw Jackson, played by Matt, gaining a significant advantage over Banks’ forces led by Spencer. In the west, Banks’ attempt to outflank the rebels in the valley, which had been so promising after the battle of Franklin, was thwarted when he withdrew a third of the outflanking force just as Jackson was reinforced. The outflanking force was repulsed at the battle of Harrisonburg and then trapped and nearly annihilated between Jackson’s force and General Johnson’s brigades advancing from McDowell.
Meanwhile, in the valley, Banks drew in his forces and advanced to Mount Jackson along the Valley Pike, leaving the Luray valley road in the east uncovered. At just this time, Jackson sent two brigades and a strong cavalry reconnaissance through Luray and Front Royal, to find the federal supply line back to Harper’s Ferry exposed. On turn 5 of the campaign, rebel cavalry occupied Strasburg behind the main federal army and captured rear area troops, ammunition and grain supplies. Before he cut the telegraph, Ashby, commander of the 7th Virginia Cavalry, wired the following message to Banks from Strasburg:
“From the officer commanding the Confederate garrison of Strasburg to the General commanding, federal forces. Thank you for provisions and ammunition. There is no need to send more as we now have a proficiency of both. Respectfully, Ashby, Lieutenant, 7th Virginia Cavalry.” (I stole this idea from a French bonapartist pamphlet of 1815, in which Napoleon thanks Louis XVIII for the troops he has sent and says he doesn’t need any more).
The closing positions of the active game therefore had Banks at Mount Jackson with his supply line cut, and Jackson, reinforced by Ewell, with forces to the south, east and north of the federal army. Banks was still formidable but Spencer decided at this point that he had been outmanoeuvred and conceded to Matt.
I played out the following turn myself, presuming Banks would try to escape encirclement while Jackson would attempt to catch him. The only way Banks could get clear was to retreat all the way back to Winchester, while Jackson ended at Kernstown and Middleton. The Federals were back where they had started the campaign, with one very badly mauled division, the other virtually unbloodied and a great many supplies now equipping the rebels.
So Banks is still in the valley and will no doubt be ordered to resume hostilities very soon but our small part of the campaign has ended.
Post campaign analysis: a game of two halves
The campaign divided quite starkly into two phases. Spencer started well, with the idea of getting one division around behind the rebel army from the west, while advancing steadily down the Valley Pike with the other division. At this point Matt seemed to lack a plan, for example, sending a brigade westwards only to recall it the next turn. He very nearly lost this brigade between Spencer’s two divisions. The high water mark for Spencer was the Battle of Franklin, ably generalled by Dan as General Shields.
Then it seemed the initiative shifted the other way. Spencer recalled one of Shields’ brigades despite ordering him onwards into the rebel left rear. The recalled brigade spent the rest of the campaign marching through the Alleghenies when it could have been critical in helping Shields to deal with Jackson’s reinforced army at Harrisonburg. At the same time, the other federal division stopped its southward march and dug in at Strasburg. This allowed Matt to put greater numbers into the battle at Harrisonburg, while observing Banks with a much smaller force.
It is always too easy for an umpire to pronounce on who should have done what. Both players were working with limited knowledge of enemy whereabouts. But I believe that if Spencer had continued to advance his central Division down the valley as the victorious Shields came east from Franklin, Matt would very likely have been doubly defeated. It was the easing of pressure in the centre that allowed Matt to defeat Shields in detail.
I also think Matt handled his scouting more effectively, probing for gaps and exploiting the opportunities. Cutting Banks’ supply line was a fine move and, while I made clear that this was not a disastrous development as long as Banks reopened the line, it did mean that Spencer was now having to respond to Matt’s moves. I agree with Spencer that his only real option now would be to retire northwards, staying ahead of the jaws of Matt’s pursuit, and to regroup ready for future operations.
I hope the players enjoyed the campaign: I certainly did. While there was no final showdown between two grand armies, we had several encounters between scouts, a running fight through the mountains and two division-sized tabletop games, the first won by the Federals and the second by the Confederates. Given the constraints of lockdown, we couldn’t meet to play these games. I greatly appreciated Dan’s contribution of written orders as proxy commander on both occasions. Dan even responded in real time to an in-game development, allowing me to reflect his instructions for a rearguard action.
All players participated in good spirits and we kept to a pattern of at least one turn a week.
Lessons for the future
I was happy with the basic game engine. The map is quite simple but it still posed challenges to both players. Submitting orders for three impulses in a turn worked well, as did the limit on how many units may use a road at a time. This slowed the Federals down somewhat while the smaller rebel forces were more agile.
In retrospect I should have provided strength points for the fighting units. As the campaign wore on I developed a system of putting minus signs against damaged brigades and the letter F for fatigued units. By the last turn, a couple of brigades were marked ‘- - F F’. I knew what this meant but it could have been clearer for the players. Next time (!) a brigade will begin at, say, strength 4. Permanent losses will reduce that number. Fatigue will continue to be marked by one or more letter F, which will reduce the strength until the unit can rest and recover.
So that is that. In case anybody is curious, I have put the campaign rules and map on the ACW scenarios page here.
Congratulations to Matt on his win and thanks to him, Spencer and Dan for engaging so readily and cheerfully in this piece of silliness.
For the past few weeks Matt, Spencer, Dan and I have been playing a campaign based on Jackson’s Valley campaign in 1862. Matt is playing the man himself, Spencer is Federal General Banks, Dan is supplying instructions for devolved commands and I am umpiring and playing battles out where necessary on the tabletop. So far Banks has had the numbers and Jackson the speed.
The map and play mechanics are explained in previous blog posts. To keep a bit of pace, each ‘turn’ the players provide orders for three impulses at a time. I then play these out, interrupting the turn to resolve clashes, either with simple dice rolls or, as has now happened twice, to fight a figure wargame. If a player’s character is ‘present’ at the battle I ask them for instructions. If they are absent, Dan steps into the role of the detached commander.
The story so far
I am having to delay these reports a little to keep the opposing generals in an appropriate state of ignorance. But the bones of the campaign so far are as follows. Banks began the campaign by sending half his army westwards out of the valley into the Allegheny mountains, then southwards to try to get around and behind Jackson’s army. The road net outside the valley is not good and so this movement took some time, during which the other half of the federal army sat tight at Strasburg. Jackson was alerted to the movement and in turn warned General Johnson, commanding the tiny Army of the North West in the Alleghenies, to block the Federal advance. Meanwhile Jackson withdrew his own small army southwards and took a portion with him to support Johnson. There followed the battle of Franklin, at which the Federal force, ably led by Dan, broke the rebel left and pushed them back on Harrisonburg and McDowell.
The momentum then swung Jackson’s way. Unknown to Banks, Jackson was reinforced by Ewell’s division arriving from the east. While still outnumbered in the Valley overall, Jackson now had local superiority as well as the benefit of surprise. His odds further improved when Banks recalled part of his detached command to Strasburg, leaving the victors of Franklin only two brigades to continue their advance against Jackson’s left rear. In the next eventful turn, there occurred two significant combats, in both of which the rebels began with a marked advantage. Had the time come for Jackson to show his mettle?
The Battle of Harrisonburg
Following up on his victory at Franklin, Federal general Shields advanced eastwards into the valley. He caught up with Jackson at Harrisonburg, where he saw the rebels deployed on a line of three low hills west of the town. Shields’ role was once again taken by Dan, who planned to attack first on the right, then to close with his centre and left once his right wing had taken the leftmost rebel hilltop. This plan saved him from total destruction. His right wing advanced on the enemy hill, which was occupied only by dismounted cavalry. The rebel horse mounted and charged down from the hill into Shields’ cavalry, the combat continuing for a couple of turns on the far Southern flank of the table. As Shields’ leading regiment neared the crest of the seemingly empty hill, a line of Louisianans charged into view and bowled the federals back down the slope. It was Trimble’s brigade of Ewell’s division, freshly arrived to reinforce Jackson. At the same time Taylor’s brigade from the same division appeared round the side of the hill and charged towards the federal centre.
The federal right was all but destroyed. Fortunately for Dan, his centre and left were still some distance from the rebel positions and so avoided being caught in the flank. They were able to withdraw, but the rebels pursued vigorously, obliging the Federals to detach a regiment of infantry, their last unrouted cavalry regiment and a section of smoothbore as a rearguard. Under the protection of this rearguard, the rest of the command fled westwards back to the Alleghenies. The brave rearguard was eaten up however and four cannon were lost.
I played Harrisonburg using Honour Games’ Longstreet. It was at the limit of the rules’ applicability: a couple more brigades and I’d have used On to Richmond. The mixture of random cards and orders from absent players worked well again. I felt sorry for Dan that he was walking into a trap but on reflection, that is the appeal of a campaign: surprise attacks are harder to set up in a one-off encounter. It was also an advantage that Dan wasn’t there in person. When a player gives up their time to play a face to face game, one wants to give them a fair chance of winning. In this case, the only question was how badly Dan would be beaten up. As it happened, his plan probably gave him the least bad outcome, since his initial attack revealed the rebel reinforcements before the rest of his army had advanced too far. When I sent him the news of the trap in mid-game, he supplied the orders for the rearguard defence, which again helped save men (at the cost of the rearguard and 4 cannon). He also didn’t seem to mind having been set up!
While Shields was retreating in the south of the valley, a lone federal brigade at Front Royal was manoeuvred out of its position by superior rebel numbers. This brigade withdrew to Middleton in good order, to cover the road to Winchester. But it seemed at turn’s end that Banks’ position in Strasburg was at risk of encirclement.
Remove me from this hell!
I would say that fully half of the campaigns I’ve played in over the years have ended through a trailing off of interest rather than the achievement of a set objective. I don’t want this campaign to go that way. I have included the following text in the latest situation reports for both sides:
“Many wargame campaigns don’t so much finish as fizzle out. They continue without a clear end point, until eventually one or both players lose interest. That will not be our fate! The historical campaign ended when troops in the valley were called away to take part in a major operation in Virginia. In game terms, I am now checking each turn whether that moment has arrived, at which point I will adjudicate the effect of the campaign on your personalities’ reputations.
I want to be sensitive also to your ‘real world’ wishes. In submitting your orders you may express your preferences for continuing the fight in the valley or for requesting to join the impending operations in Virginia. These will affect the dice roll for campaign’s end.”
I must say this small campaign has been fascinating, watching the player’s shadow box with limited knowledge of each other’s dispositions. I think both have several reasons to be pleased with their performance. I also think the campaign can still go either way, but the next turn or two should produce a decisive result.
Last weekend we had the first figure wargame within the framework of our Shenandoah Valley campaign. It took place at Franklin in West Virginia, between Shields’ Federal division of Banks’ army and Johnson’s Army of the Northwest, reinforced by Jackson and a brigade of his foot cavalry. Shields had been sent in an outflanking manoeuvre by Banks, played by Spencer.
The mechanics of the game: playing with a split personality
I played the game using Sam Mustafa’s Longstreet rules and my 12mm Kallistra figures. The 72 x 48 BW map came from a Google satellite map of Franklin WV. I drew on the historical orders of battle for the troops present.
Matt, who is Jackson, was present and so gave me his instructions for the battle direct. As Banks/Spencer was not present on the field in person, I recruited Dan to provide orders for the Federal force. Each had a scenario briefing as if for a face to face game. Matt supplied general instructions for the Confederate side while Dan really went to town, with full instructions and four maps showing his intended dispositions and movements.
Between them, the instructions from the players supplied all I needed to play the game in accordance with their wishes. The use of an action deck in Longstreet adds a random quality to solo play. I decided that the federals would hoard/play cards favouring attack and the rebels would use those with a more defensive benefit, - although I made sure to keep Rebel Yell cards for counterattacks. At the start of each turn, I checked what interrupt cards were in the passive player’s hand and rolled a die to see if they would be played this turn. This worked very well, - almost spookily in the case of the so-called “couldn’t hit an elephant” card which represents the enemy general being hit. The union side played this card at a key moment with devastating results, which was a parallel with the wounding of general Johnson at the battle of McDowell in the historical campaign.
A brief account of the battle
The rebels deployed along the south bank of Friends Run, which flows from west to east above the town of Franklin. Two batteries were entrenched on high ground to the left and certain infantry units were also behind light earthworks along the run. Johnson’s brigades were in the left and centre while Fulkerson was in reserve on the right. Most of Johnson’s Command were recruits while Fulkerson commanded two regiments of veterans.
The Federals deployed their artillery on a ridge at the right of their position. Next to them was 2 brigade, in depth to the west of Petersburg Pike. Then came 1 brigade to the east of the pike, with cavalry at the far left, by the south branch of the Potomac. Each federal brigade was much bigger than a rebel equivalent and overall the Federals had significant numerical superiority, although they had no veteran units.
The federal attack consisted of an advance in the centre by a line intended to engage the rebels with fire but not to assault. Meanwhile two assaults were made against the rebel wings, each containing two regiments, one behind another. Their cavalry was to try and get around behind the rebel right if the chance arose. In the event it failed in the face of cavalry on the rebel right.
Overall, the rebel right and centre held and even counterattacked successfully against the left hand federal assault. On the rebel left however, the union assault rolled right over the front line, helped by the supporting fire from their artillery, which both reduced the Confederate infantry and made some successful counter battery fire. Just at the point when the rebel second line were poised to counter attack, general Johnson was severely wounded. (If you don’t know these rules, the ‘elephant’ card involves removing action cards from the victim’s hand. On this occasion the rebels lost 5 cards out of their hand of 6, which seriously restricted their options at this crucial juncture). This allowed the Federals to press their advantage and push their whole right wing over Friends Run while the rebels were off balance. The rebels could not restore their line and soon found their position unhinged by a federal force deep behind their left and in a position to roll up their position.
One of Matt’s instructions was to preserve his troops as a force in being and as the federal position was now so favourable, I decided the rebels should withdraw now or face major losses. Fulkerson was still in good shape, so his brigade formed a screen behind which Johnson’s brigades retreated. The Federals tried to catch as many rebel units as possible and nearly cut off their retreat along the Pike but the rebels left the field in reasonable order.
So the first battle has gone the Federals’ way. The players have received their status reports and I am waiting for their orders for the next turn. Dan has won his place as go-to surrogate for future games in the campaign. For my part, I spent two very happy days in the shed, remembering just how much I love these rules. I also realised you can never have too much split rail fencing, so have started work on some new lengths in preparation for the next round in the campaign.
I think the time lag is enough to report on the opening moves in our Lockdown campaign, based on the Shenandoah campaign in 1862. We began with Union General Banks in Winchester and Stonewall Jackson a bit further down the valley at Mount Jackson. The federals began with a big numerical advantage but the rebels had a significant edge in cavalry, which combined with a local population that is mostly friendly means the rebels had good intelligence on the Federal forces.
Matt and Spencer know each other’s playing style well and they went in for some interesting second-guessing. With two divisions, each significantly larger than the whole rebel force, Spencer sent the forward-most one (Shields) westwards from Winchester into the Allegheny mountains, intending to outflank Matt and enter the Valley from the South West. Meanwhile his second division (Williams) advanced down the Valley Pike, in order to locate and fix Jackson in place.
Matt on the other hand suspected Spencer would try a flanking move and sent one of his brigades westwards along a parallel road into the Alleghenies. Meanwhile he withdrew with another brigade to Newmarket where his troops began to dig in.
In the first turn both commanders tried to make contact with their sister commands in the Alleghenies, who were Frémont, commanding Federal forces and Johnson leading the rebels. I ran both as non player characters, drawing on a bit of chance combined with their historic performances. The upshot was ready agreement from Johnson to cooperate with Jackson, whereas Frémont declared his readiness to work together with Banks but was very slow mobilising his force. At the end of the turn Jackson received news that General Early was expected in the valley within a couple of turns.
Turn 2 saw Matt changing his mind about his move westwards and recalling his flanking brigade. This about face nearly lost him the brigade as Spencer had ordered Williams to march south and take Strasburg. Williams vey nearly caught the returning rebels on the road and would have done so, had it not been for the presence of rebel cavalry to slow down the Federal advance. Fortunately for Mattt, Williams’ force had no cavalry of its own in the vanguard, which added to the efficacy of the rebel rearguard. The returning brigade squeaked through and out of Strasburg while Williams was still held up north of the town.
Meanwhile out west, Shields advanced down the Alleghenies towards Franklin, where Johnson was digging in with his small army. Frémont, bless him, made no move to support Shields. The dice were helping the wargame Frémont to behave much as the real man did: with the energy of a slug. So the second turn/sixth campaign day ended with an apparent stand off in the valley and a battle imminent in the Alleghenies.
Umpiring the campaign
In a few cases so far I have had to establish who got the better of a skirmish or whether a brigade could escape the jaws of a trap. For simplicity, I have rolled competing dice on behalf of the two sides and the result has gone the way of the higher scorer. The bigger the margin, the more emphatic the success. For even chances I have compared the rolls of two D6. If one side has an advantage, such as superior numbers, better training or a proactive leader, that side rolls a D8, D10 or even D12, depending on how many advantages affect the matter. I also use a competing die roll to see if a non player character complies with a player’s request. So far this approach has worked ok.
For the impending battle of Franklin, I will fight it this weekend using Sam Mustafa’s Longstreet rules. One player’ character is present on the battlefield so he has given me his orders for the battle. As the other is absent, I have recruited Dan to act as the detached general and he has submitted a full set of instructions complete with maps. We shall see how it all pans out.
The other evening Dan and Spencer played their first game of Lasalle, leading a Liberation era force of Prussians and Russians in an attack on my French defenders. Little did we know that this is likely to be our last face to face game for some time.
Spencer’s Russians consisted of solid infantry and a position battery, while Dan had a mix of good Prussian regulars and unpredictable Landwehr, a foot battery and some Landwehr cavalry. My infantry was half Marine Infantry (Experienced/reliable) and half conscripts (the army list suggests they be Amateur/reliable but I’d made them Amateur/shaky by mistake. That’ll teach me not to check the lists!). I also had a foot and a horse battery and two regiments of mediocre Württemberg chevauxlegers.
My position consisted of a central hill with a two-base town to its left. My centre and right were covered by a stream, over which a road ran from the Allied position. Fans of the Battle of Leipzig may notice the broad similarity of troops and terrain with the combat at Mockern on 16 October 1813. I plan to run a multi-player LaSalle refight of Mockern later in the summer and would like the players to be familiar with the rules.
I deployed first, putting conscripts in the two town bases with a battalion behind; a battalion of Marines to their right; the two batteries and two more Marine battalions on the hill; and the cavalry on the right covering the bridge. Dan placed his battery on his base line, his regulars and cavalry on his extreme right and his Landwehr on his left. Spencer formed a compact block in march column, above the bridge.
I thought from their opening turns that the Allied plan was to mask my centre and assault the town on one flank and the bridge on the other. To stop me from leaving the hill, the two Landwehr battalions were sent to threaten it. Both Dan and Spencer advanced in march column, bringing several battalions within range of my artillery, which received double dice against such juicy targets. The Russians had the benefit of a stone wall to their front which negated this advantage, but the Prussian Landwehr advancing in the centre were seriously disrupted. Meanwhile Dan bombarded my conscripts in the town as his right wing came down the flank to assault them. Spencer crossed the bridge and formed line on my side of the stream with his lead battalion. But he also started siphoning his rear battalions off towards the centre, which now looked like a serious advance on the hill. I’m not sure if this had always been the plan or it was a decision on the hoof. It certainly glued my central battalions to their position.
After a couple of checks, the Prussian assault on the town made good progress, taking full possession by the end of the game. Dan’s Landwehr cavalry snuck in past a battalion square and charged my foot battery in front. The guns’ point blank canister emptied too few saddles and in the ensuing combat, the cavalry wiped them out. On the right, we had an interesting test of Russian nerve that paid off handsomely. I declared a cavalry charge against the battalion in line and Spencer elected to give fire as a reaction rather than form square. He inflicted 2 disruptions by fire and then in the ensuing combat, I only achieved an inconclusive victory despite my advantage in dice, which required me to fall back. A bit miffed, I charged with the other cavalry regiment and Spencer again stayed in line. This time the cavalry wiped him out. That’ll teach him! Or will it? He promptly marched another battalion forward to fill the gap. I declared another cavalry charge and, you guessed it, they met me in line. You also guessed it again: I lost the combat and my cavalry broke.
It was getting late by this stage and the loss of the cavalry took me to my break point. Although under the rules this does not automatically end a game, we agreed to stop there.
The game flowed very well considering two players were new to the rules. It would have gone even faster had we not digressed at various points to discuss everything from NapoleonTotal War to Zulu, my favourite film of all time. But what would be the fun in that? A wargame is at heart a social occasion and Spencer is irrepressible!
As for the game narrative, we agreed that mostly, the rules produced plausible outcomes and we did not feel they imposed unreasonable constraints. The successful Russian decision to receive cavalry in line did make me wonder if the rules are too favourable to this gambit succeeding. The issue hasn’t arisen before: in my previous games of Lasalle, players have tried to form square because they knew that this is what the infantry would have done. But Spencer has long experience of assessing rules and is willing to test their limits. He looked at the odds and decided he liked his chances of shooting my cavalry away without forming square.. This worked for him two times out of three. Now, the recorded cases when unsupported Napoleonic infantry in line successfully repelled cavalry are very few. A battalion commander threatened by cavalry would not check his chances in the rule book: he would follow protocol and try to form square. Nor would his division commander be involved in that decision.
I don’t like it when rules are too strict but I also don’t like it when a unit can perform outside the character of the period. I need to ask my statistician son to check how flukey the Russians were in this game but if the standard odds of the infantry in line succeeding against cavalry are good, then I fear we have a problem. I would see two possible options: either infantry in line charged by cavalry must always attempt to form square, or its firepower against enemy cavalry in contact should be reduced, for example hitting on 5s to reflect its nervousness about the impending clash.
My third option of course is to wait for version 2 of Lasalle, which Sam Mustafa has promised will appear in 2020. I look forward to that release very much.
Since we have been deprived of the chance to meet again for the time being, I am going to crack on with painting more figures for the refight of the battle for Möckern. With luck, we can hold this before the end of the summer!
Matt and I played an impromptu game of Blücher last Wednesday, having established that this really would be our last chance for a wargame before he moves away. I already had units based and labelled for the Waterloo campaign, so we played a game loosely based on the first Prussian attack against Plancenoit. Matt commanded two brigades of the Prussian IV Corps plus Corps cavalry, while I had the French VI Corps, plus Domon and Subervie’s cavalry brigades. Matt’s IV Corps artillery and the French Young Guard would enter as reinforcements. We had two MO dice each.
The terrain was impressionistic but not too far off the real geography. Matt’s Prussians emerged from the Bois de Paris on the Eastern table edge, to find VI Corps deployed on high ground to the north east of Plancenoit. The Lasnes stream bounded the southern table edge. The village of Plancenoit was an objective for both sides and victory would go, either to the side occupying it at game end, or to whichever broke enemy morale first. The village was unoccupied at the start.
I realised before the first turn that I had already broken the scenario, as the Blücher reserves rule meant that Matt could bypass VI Corps and walk his whole force into and around Plancenoit on his first turn. He is too canny a player to miss an open goal like that. As we were trying to recreate at least the flavour of the historical encounter, we agreed that Matt should treat the village as notionally occupied by the French, meaning that no unit on reserve movement could approach closer than 4BW away.
Matt began the game by advancing on Plancenoit on his left with one brigade while screening my French on the high ground with the other. In response, I shifted some of VI Corps to my right, sending one unit into Plancenoit. This had time to form garrison but would soon be ejected by a combined attack by two Prussian units. Meanwhile Matt tried to cut the village off from the rest of the French force by sending cavalry against my centre. The results there came out about even but I was left with a dent in the line. The French Young Guard then arrived and assaulted Plancenoit, failing to break in on the first attempt but kicking the Prussians out with the second attack.
Matt’s IV Corps artillery arrived and I started to pull back my left hand infantry unit, which had started to look shaky due to Prussian gunnery. On reflection this was a mistake as the unit soon found itself caught between enemy infantry and cavalry, with no support within reach.
By now the turns were running down and Matt concluded he couldn’t eject the Young Guard with his depleted left wing units. Instead he drew back his left and focussed on reducing my morale before the turns ran out. I would have been wise to move back my own command and play for time, since Plancenoit was firmly mine. All I needed to do was hang on for a couple more turns. However we were both one morale point away from defeat and I thought I might break Matt as well as holding the village. What a glorious victory that would be! Of course it went wrong and Matt broke my morale first. Gamer, Know your limits!
So the game ended with Matt victorious. VI Corps was badly battered and the Young Guard held Plancenoit, while the Prussians were stood off from the village, with one brigade nearly used up but the other still in goodish shape. Historically the Prussians would soon be reinforced and retake Plancenoit, only to be ejected again by French Old Guard, before the weight of Prussian numbers, combined with the failure of the Middle Guard to break Wellington’s centre, would oblige the French to give up the village for good and join the general retreat.
This was an exciting and absorbing fight, despite its last minute arrangement and the small number of units. Rarely for me, I still haven’t felt the temptation to fiddle with the rules, as they continue to give plausible outcomes and to be great fun to play. With time for preparation I would have checked the map more carefully and given the scenario a dry run, which would have highlighted the risk that the reserves rule could be used to change the nature of the encounter. I could address this by changing French deployment to allow them to occupy Plancenoit at the start, even though this wasn’t actually how VI Corps initially deployed. Alternatively, we could decide that the Prussians cannot take a reserve move because they have been force marching all day from Wavre.
The figures we used are a mix of 1/72 scale plastics, which I have collected over many years to create the whole 1815 order of battle, originally based for Volley & Bayonet and Grande Armée. The number of figures per base is a bit sparse but I started this project on a budget. For games set in other campaigns besides 1815, I do prefer 6 or 15/18mm.
All in all, our impromptu game was great fun and I’m glad we were able to fit it in.
On 16 August we played a 6 player game using Sam Mustafa’s Blucher rules and 6mm figures, mostly produced by Commission Figurines. The battle was Montmirail, 11 February 1814, using the small scale variant in the rules.
Montmirail is an encounter battle in which the French are heavily outnumbered at the start, while the Russians are present in their entirety from turn 1. It is a chance to use the French Guard, who actually constitute the majority of units, and to pit smaller numbers of high quality troops against a numerically superior opponent. But the Russians are no pushover: all their infantry count as steadfast and so are tough on the defensive.
Scenario and Setup
The scenario, now in its third version, can be found here. The original was a two player scenario at ‘normal’ scale, so one base per brigade. I expanded this to ‘small’ scale, roughly doubling the number of units, but then after a dry run I added a few more, based on a new guesstimate between the different sources. I stuck with the original decision to leave the Young Guard out because only Allied accounts said they were present and Allied witnesses were not great at recognising enemy units (cf mistaking naval artillery for marines of the guard at Leipzig). French accounts were clear that while the Young Guard’s then commander, Ney, was present, he had left his troops behind. If they did reach the field at all, I believe they will have done so after the battle was over.
The battlefield was mostly easy to depict. As accounts of the battle say the roads were bad due to heavy rain, I only showed the two main roads: the East-West Little Paris road and the road going north to Chateau-Thierry. I also struggled over how to depict the waterlogged low ground on the Russian right/French left. After first trying to work out a way of modelling the contours here, I concluded I didn’t need to: the issue that affected the battle was the state of the ground, not line of sight. In the end I cut out several irregular pieces from a clear plastic wallet and placed these on the table to represent the area of low marshy ground. It looked quite effective and had the desired effect on play, making the fight in this area an infantry-only affair.
How it Played
Matt took the role of General Sacken, while Chris was Von Lieven, commanding XI Corps. Keith played Napoleon, Spencer was Ney and Nick was Nansouty. I umpired at the start and came on in the last quarter as General Yorck.
At game’s start, the whole Russian army was on the field, facing (count them) four French units. Matt and Chris used the first turn to advance as far forward as possible and close down French options. Chris on the right assaulted the village of Marchais, a struggle that would last all game. Matt advanced his left almost as far as the French baseline, thereby threatening Nick’s flank. Nick slipped a brigade of conscripts into Marchais and tried to look brave with his cavalry. One of these units was almost crippled by Chris’s artillery, which had a couple of high rolling turns. Luckily for the French, Keith and Spencer then arrived with the Old Guard and some more cavalry. Spencer’s Old Guard expanded his room for manoeuvre by assaulting Matt’s cavalry on the Russian left. He pushed Matt back but with heavy losses. Infantry pay a high price for attacking cavalry, although if it is worth the gamble with anybody, the Old Guard is probably the best formation to try. Matt’s cavalry still being potent, Spencer now formed square with two Guard units and sent the other two against the left wing Russian infantry. At this point Napoleon himself joined one of these units and disappeared into the smoke, presumably ignoring the pleas of his aides to move himself out of danger.
So what happened next? The French Left and Russian Right fought stoutly over Marchais, which changed hands twice before ending the day in disputed possession (one town base occupied by French and the other by Russians). This denied either side victory points for the town. At the other flank, the French assault chewed up several Russian units but used themselves up in the process. Yorck arrived late but in time to eliminate an exhausted Old Guard unit and to fill gaps in the Allied line. In the Centre, Chris launched an attack on La Motte which was only thinly held by the French, but just too late in the day. Darkness fell with the Russians nearing their break point but still hanging on. With possession of Marchais still in dispute, and to my private disappointment as I dislike a hung result, the day ended in a draw.
What might have been
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. The Russian Left did well to take territory and let the French try to dislodge them. On their Right, Chris handled the assault on Marchais well but Nick made good use of his conscripts and the arrival of the Middle Guard allowed him to deny Chris undisputed occupation of the town on almost the last turn. I think, had Chris attacked La Motte sooner, Nick would have been stretched too thin and the outcome at Marchais could have been different. Between the two commanders in chief, Matt stayed in control of his battle while Keith got too involved in the assault by two Old Guard units and lost his overall grasp. Although a drawn battle according to the rules, I consider Matt was the better CinC on the day. By general agreement, Nick made good use of his meagre numbers.
Twice in the last turn of the game, the Russians were within an unlucky dice roll of reaching break point. Fortunately for them, they didn’t. This was also fortunate for me, as after the game ended I realised I had made an umpiring mistake. Around a quarter of the way through the game, I had allowed Nick to send a cavalry unit into the rear of a Russian artillery unit, wiping it out. When I checked the photographs and reread the rules the next day, I found that this charge had been illegal, since the artillery’s rear had been protected by the 1BW zone of control of a neighbouring infantry unit. If it charged anybody, the cavalry should have charged this unit. So I apologise to Matt and Chris for my error: you were two units away from breaking at nightfall, not one.
I hope the team enjoyed the game. There’s more to be explored in this scenario and I have kept the stickers on the units, in case we can have another go at it some time. It’s curious that wargamers don’t often replay the same battle with miniatures, whereas it is common to play the same board game several times over.
I try to arrange a couple of multi player wargames a year and have started thinking about a theme for the next one.
Choice of period mostly depends on what I have read most recently. This time I have gone Napoleonic, as I am thoroughly enjoying John R Elting’s Swords Around a Throne. This period is also a reliable choice for most other players.
Sam Mustafa’s Blücher rules have proved a good set for our multi player games, being easy to learn yet still atmospheric and satsisfying to play.
Choosing a Battle
I have selected Montmirail, 11 February 1814, the middle and largest engagement of the 6 Day campaign. We played and enjoyed it in the 1990s using Napoleon’s Battles. It is a three way battle with the French heavily outnumbered at the start, with numbers increasing through the day. It is also notable for the preponderance of Guard units in the French army so actually gives you a chance to use all those guard units in anger.
I started with F Loraine Petrie’s Napoleon at Bay, a clear and balanced analysis of the campaign. I also have the French language Napoleon, 1814 by Jean Tranié and JC Carmigniani. On line, I found an excellent source called les batailles, website address http://www.lesbatailles.com/page9/page9.html. This has a detailed and careful account with extensive orders of battle and clear maps. The Wikipedia article on Montmirail is ok but this includes some mistakes about the units present and its account of the battle is less clear.
Creating the scenario
At the standard Blücher game size, Montmirail comes out as a small engagement with few manoeuvre units on either side. But using the option for small scale scenarios, it becomes more interesting.
Sam Mustafa is not worried by the constraints of fixed ground and time scales in Blücher but I still want a framework for scenario planning. Fortunately his previous grand tactical set, Grande Armée, was clearer on these issues so when Blücher is unclear I refer back to them. Since this is a small scale battle I settled for 1BW to equate to 150 yards. For time, I decided one hour would be represented by 4 game turns each. This is important for planning the arrival of reinforcements.
The playing surface came out as follows on an 8x4 feet table, with 1BW of 150 yards being 3”. The Allies deploy at the top of the table and the French reinforcements arrive at the bottom. The grid is read as lettered columns and numbered rows (thus, Fontenelle is in box G1). The darker areas to the left are lower than their surroundings although the only time this matters is when units cross the contour line.
Creating a reliable OOB is difficult at the best of times but even more so for 1814, when some Allied strengths had fallen drastically and bookkeeping for all armies, but especially the hastily assembled French forces, was sketchy. Accounts differ radically but I decided to trust the Batailles website as this seems very well sourced and argued. It also, to be frank, produces a game OOB that seems nicely balanced, which is important for player satisfaction. I accepted the seemingly majority view that there was no Young Guard at the battle. Marshal Ney, commander of the Young Guard, was present on his own and led Friant’s division with distinction, but his young guardsmen were several kilometres short of the battlefield.
In the next post I will discuss choice of figures, summarise the events of the real battle and upload the final scenario.
While in Devon last weekend I played a game laid on by Keith, my ancient and constant wargaming opponent. He had set up a scenario for Longstreet, adapted from Warlord Games’ Glory, Hallelujah! ACW supplement, in which a Federal force of two divisions has the job of capturing a Confederate-held riverside fort, itself supported by two field brigades. I think the original scenario is called Wright’s Farm.
I took the Confederates and Keith the Federals. Both of our break points, based on my outnumbered force, was 44. If Keith captured the fort, it would be worth an additional die towards rolling for my demoralisation. Keith had the option of bringing a steamer down stream to bombard the fort, although this would bring it in range of my heavy guns.
Keith set up on a chain of hills overlooking the fort. I put a regiment in garrison with four heavy rifled artillery pieces in the fort on my left. The valley between the fort and the hill in my centre was filled with an entrenched regiment, then I placed one brigade in the centre and the last on high ground on my right. The frontages of our two forces were therefore about equal at the start, although Keith was deployed in more depth.
In summary, the game began with Keith marching out all along his line, with a little more pace on his two flanks. His right wing assaulted the fort three times and each attack was repulsed. On his left, shortly before his line came within small arms range, I withdrew my right hand brigade and started moving them to reinforce my centre and left. I wanted the Union left flank to land its punch into mid-air and then be too far away to affect the fight for the fort. This nearly worked perfectly except Keith played a Confusion card on my rearmost regiment, which allowed him to catch and maul it. Apart from this I was pleased with the timing and execution of the withdrawal. In the centre, Keith’s initial intention had been to screen but he attacked four of my regiments at the same time as his last assault on the fort. This turn increased my losses but my line held. Shortly after, a very successful round of Confederate shooting pushed Keith over his morale limit and the game ended. The steamer never arrived to bombard the Confederate shore.
This was a tense and fun game. I didn’t fancy my chances at the start since I was so heavily outnumbered but the fort was tough and I was able to inflict a lot of damage on the assaulting troops as they closed.
As ever, the Longstreet cards dealt some memorable incidents that few other rule sets can allow unless they have an umpire. Foremost was the catching of my retreating right wing, which I would not have allowed to happen without the interference of an Interrupt card. Keith also inflicted a ‘couldn’t hit an elephant’ card (ie general hit by enemy fire) that removed 5 cards from my hand in one terrible turn. The Longstreet cards are a finely balanced device, keeping uncertainty high but never overwhelming the mechanics with too much arbitrary luck. Throughout a game, you still play your opponent rather than the system. I have said this before and it is still true: Longstreet is my favourite rules set, for any period. These simple, taut and flavour-filled rules are just masterful.
Longstreet is quite hard to come by these days, at least in the UK. That said, the introductory rules and cards are still available to download for free on the Honour Games website. The combat rules are only slightly less comprehensive than the main rules, although they lack the campaign system. But the free rules and cards are still a great starting point.
The figures were from Keith’s 15/18mm collection, mostly by Peter Pig. Buildings by Timecast and cloth by Cigar Box Battles.
I had a gaming-heavy weekend last week, starting with the annual trip to Warfare in Reading. This continues to be my favourite show on the circuit. The stalls seemed pretty busy and I hope the traders made enough to come back next year. I picked up some 20mm AFVs and scenery bits for Battlegroup, a copy of the Lardies’ What a Tanker! rules and a lot more MDF 6mm Napoleonics from Commission Figures. I bought my first Commission figures at Warfare 2017 and am really impressed with them. At playing distance they are indistinguishable from metals and at £2 for 96 infantry, they are fantastic value.
My friend Keith came up to Warfare from Devon and stayed overnight. We played a game of Blücher when we got back from the show. I’d written a scenario for Möckern, the northern battle on the first day of the battle of Leipzig, 16 October 1813. I had first planned to use 15mm figures but realised I had enough 6mm figures to play it at that scale, provided I paint up a couple more French units. I wanted to see how 6mm units affected the feel of the game so after a couple of evenings with the paintbrush I had the full order of battle. The two extra units were of the French Naval Artillery, who wore blue greatcoats with red epaulettes and were mistaken by their opponents for sailors of the Guard.
The scenario is on the Napoleonic scenarios page here. The background to the battle is as follows. On 16 October 1813 Napoleon’s army stood at bay in the city of Leipzig, surrounded by advancing Allied armies. Napoleon’s plan for the day was to strip his northern flank to reinforce an attack by his troops facing Schwarzenberg’s Army of Bohemia to the South. He ordered Marmont to take his VI Corps out of its entrenchments north of Leipzig and set off southward. However, after Marmont had abandoned his position and was approaching Leipzig, Blücher’s Army of Silesia appeared from the North. On his own authority Marmont halted his retreat and took up a defensive position before the city, with his left flank resting on the village of Möckern. Thanks to Blücher’s aggressive advance, Napoleon would now have fewer troops at his disposal against Schwarzenberg. Moreover, his northern flank was significantly at risk from Blücher’s advancing army. Fortunately for Napoleon, Blücher did not take full advantage of his opportunity on 16 October. Blücher believed that significant French forces were approaching from the North East and he feared an assault on his left flank. He spent most of the battle on that side of the field and he held back much of his army in anticipation of an enemy attack that didn’t happen. The burden of the day’s fighting consequently fell most heavily on Yorck’s First Corps.
The scenario gives the Allies only those forces that were committed early enough to affect the outcome. By doing this, what would otherwise be a walkover becomes a tense contest.
As the Allied commander, Keith began the game with an attack by Prussian Grenadiers on the village of Möckern, which was held by a Naval artillery brigade. The Grenadiers were his best troops but the odds were still against them. Even so they kicked my troops straight out of the village. My reserve brigade pushed the Prussians out in my next turn but Keith’s second brigade was on hand to bundle out my troops again. By this time his main body had come up and assaulted my centre. Now that more of my units had been pinned by this advance, I had no more reserves to retake Möckern. Before long I reached my morale limit and the day was lost.
The game followed the events of the historical battle pretty well. I might have hoped to hang on to Möckern for a bit longer at the outset, as the dice were firmly in my favour. But it was fitting that Prussian Grenadiers should roll the best possible result. I particularly like the way Blücher handles fighting for built up areas. Victory goes to the side with the last formed reserve. If you want to hang on to a town it is vital to have fresh troops in support within a Charge move away. The new occupants will be easier to evict if you don’t give them the time to form town order.
In hindsight I made two important mistakes. One was to open fire with my artillery at too long a range and against the wrong targets, thereby wasting shots. The other was to advance cavalry to engage the enemy near his baseline. Thinking about it after the game, I should have held all my force back to wait for the enemy assault. A cavalry unit is if anything more dangerous when uncommitted. I was already outnumbered and there was no merit in reducing my strength still further.
How did it feel using 6mm figures? Very satisfying. We liked the impression of distance and the look of the table was more convincing than with my 8-man-per-brigade 20mm armies. I had to make do with some unfinished movement trays that weren’t quite the right shape but I was still happy. I am now waiting for pay day to order a new batch of proper-sized trays.
I love this hobby!
I have played wargames for five decades. Recently retired, I have even more time to devote to it. More about me here.