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.
When the lockdown began, a few jokes did the rounds that wargamers would barely notice the difference since we already spend so much time alone with our hobby. Of course, the same joke has been applied to online gaming, model railways, stamp collecting and other indoor pass times. And to some extent, I do think those of us with hobbies like these might have had some advantages compared to people whose leisure involves, say, team sports or ballroom dancing. But the past few months have brought home to me that interacting with other gamers is central both to my enjoyment of wargaming and to my motivation. It has been a challenge to make up for the absence of face to face gaming.
Although we haven’t met to play since mid-March, I have found our little wargaming WhatsApp group to be a source of entertainment and solace over the past several months. We range in age from mid 20s to 60 and have diverse interests but I greatly enjoy our chats and following other gamers’ projects.
Our first attempt to fill the gaming void was a play-by-email ACW campaign. Players supplied their instructions each turn and I resolved the moves on a master map. I played out larger battles solo, using plans submitted by the players, and worked out lesser encounters with a simple combat results table combined with some free kriegspiel. The most fun for me was inventing a bit of incidental narrative, such as the nighttime escapade of a federal cavalry unit passing through rebel lines, aided by a local school mistress who supported the union cause. This incident had very little impact on the big picture but added some flavour to my next report to General Frémont.
I ran the ACW campaign with two groups of players and I think it went quite well. I hope the players enjoyed it too: I was given a rather fine bottle of Black Dog gin by one group after their campaign ended.
I wish I could have played more socially distanced games once the lockdown eased but have only managed one, with my son Nick, which was a knockabout ‘Middlehammer’ game between Orcs and Empire. I suspect our choice of an old Games Workshop System was influenced in part by the desire to play a familiar game from happier days. Or is that a bit deep I wonder?
For the rest of my hobby time I’ve been rebasing old figures, painting models that I’ve had for years and writing scenarios for when face to face gaming comes back. I’ve also ordered my first 15mm Napoleonics for at least twenty years, mostly in the form of gun limbers but also an entirely new army: I’ve always loved Bavarian uniforms and am delighted to have added them to my collection.
This afternoon new measures were announced by Boris Johnson to tackle the resurgence of Covid cases in the UK. Maybe it’s time I started looking at another email campaign...
A few weeks ago I responded to an invitation from Per Broden, 6mm gamer and blogger, to join in a project to build two 6mm armies that will be auctioned for charity. Per had agreed with Baccus Miniatures that the company would send each participant a unit of troops to paint up and contribute to one of two ‘Imagi-nations’ for battles using the Twilight of the Sun King rules, set at the close of the seventeenth century. Per introduces the project on his blog, RollaOne, here. Once collected and based, the armies will be auctioned, with proceeds going to the Combat Stress Charity. Baccus is providing the miniatures for free.
I was lucky enough to get in before all the units went and was allocated a regiment of dragoons in the Slavic-themed Army of Siarus. My instructions for painting the Simmutov Dragoons was to give them red jackets and Purple facings. The figures arrived last week and slotted in between two units of 15mm Napoleonic Bavarians.
My first non-Airfix wargaming figures were 6mm Heroics and Ros Napoleonics, bought in the mid 1970s when the rangę was very small. I also have two old Heroics and Ros armies for the War of Spanish Succession, which I still theoretically play with, although the last game was Blenheim in 2014. I have added to the Napoleonics in recent years with MDF figures by Commission Figurines. I have bought model buildings and 6mm standards from Baccus as well as a couple of their rule sets, but never tried their figures. I was very interested to see what my dragoons would look like.
I was impressed. The figures are chunkier than Heroics, with lots of raised detail and bags of character. I especially liked their little faces! They painted up very easily and responded well to washes. Per provided some useful painting tutorials on his website. I decided to give my dragoons yellow hat- and saddlecloth lace and chose a light purple for the facings which I thought went better against the red jackets than dark purple.
The finished unit went in the post on Saturday. I look forward to seeing the completed armies, based and ready for battle. This has been a really fun project that deserves to earn a healthy sum for Combat Stress. When wargame shows resume, I will be tracking down Per Broden to shake his hand and if he’ll let me, buy him a coffee or better still, a beer.
We played a 200 point game of Art de la Guerre last Saturday. Spencer having confessed a weakness for elephants, I revisited the lists for the battle of the Metaurus that we used a year or so ago. Spencer took the part of Hasdrubal, arriving in Italy to reinforce his brother Hannibal, while Matt led the combined consular armies of Nero and Salinator.
The army lists were adapted in two ways to reflect the scenario. First, the Gauls in Hasdrubal‘s army were made mediocre and not impetuous, to reflect their poor quality (Roman accounts say they were drunk, but more likely they were just disaffected and wobbly). The Romans were not told about this drop in quality until the Gauls’ first combat. Second, the cavalry limit for the Romans was increased as Nero’s highly irregular decision to join Salinator had given the Romans cavalry superiority, an unusual situation in the Punic wars.
The battlefield was flanked by the river Metaurus on the Carthaginian right, with open plain in the centre and rising ground on the Carthaginian left/Roman right. A hill with a steep ravine at its base ran in front of the Carthaginian left while a more gentle hill faced it on the Roman side of the table.
To reflect the fact that Hasdrubal had been retreating and turned at bay when his pursuers got too close, Spencer was obliged to set up his entire army first. He placed his cavalry on his right, his Gauls in the centre and his Spanish and elephants on his left, including on the hill protected by the steep ravine.
Matt set up with Nero’s infantry on the left, his combined cavalry in the centre and Salinator’s infantry (his largest command) on his right. However, instead of matching Spencer’s frontage, Matt deployed in some depth and his extreme right set up opposite Spencer’s centre. This left the Spanish on the hill with no opposition to their front. Matt’s plan was to grind down the Carthaginian right and centre before Hasdrubal’s left could engage. As the need arose, he was ready to peel off troops from behind Salinator’s front line to hold off Hasdrubal’s left wing if and when it did reach his flank.
On seeing the Roman deployment, Spencer began racing his cavalry to the left behind his front line, in an attempt to get around the Roman right flank. However the gap behind his line was narrow and Matt charged this horse as they tried to pass. The horse managed to evade but now found themselves penned in behind the Carthaginian centre. Thwarted in their plan, Spencer’s cavalry then returned almost to their starting position on the right flank and got stuck in. It was a valiant attempt to seize the initiative but Matt had neutralised it by maintaining his objective, ploughing forwards and restricting Spencer’s room for manoeuvre.
Unusually for a game of ADLG, we ran out of time before a clear victory was won. A points count gave a draw, although we agreed that the moral victory was Matt’s. Certainly for most of the game, the Romans chewed up their opposition and caused much more serious losses than they incurred. However in the later stages, when Spencer’s cavalry stopped manoeuvring and started fighting and his left wing engaged Matt’s right, Roman losses rose quite fast. The outcome seemed much less certain at the point when we finished than it would have, had we stopped three or four turns earlier. Even so, I think Matt would have carried the day as he still had more hitting power in a position to do damage.
It’s always interesting to see how players interpret their brief. Matt took a risk by deploying on a narrow but deep front. At first it looked like he was inviting a Cannae-style envelopment. Had the terrain been more open he would have been in serious trouble. But the ravine-fronted hill on Spencer’s left, while strong defensively, would also impede a Carthaginian advance to envelop the Roman right. It was probably this fact that prompted Spencer to try to send his cavalry around Matt’s right. He nearly succeeded but Matt fended off the attempt with his steadily advancing legionaries. When Spencer did advance his left and it eventually made contact, it did a lot of damage but too late in the game to swing the balance.
It was fun playing a scenario as opposed to a straight points battle. At least, I found the narrative more compelling for knowing who the players were supposed to represent. As usual, the players were great company and courteous to a fault: maybe next time we should play something from the Lace Wars so each can invite the other to shoot first...
Figures are a combination of 25mm Minifigs, Garrison, Newline, Black Tree and First Corps. The Roman army in their entirety are very old Minifigs and they really can’t combine with other ranges, but I am very fond of them, telegraph pole spears notwithstanding.
Moises has asked what became of my planned Bolt Action British force that I was building in 2016. I have collected pretty much everybody I need for a reinforced platoon. I like to play them as regulars, with three full ten-man sections. The MMG appears in most games along with the PIAT, although I have not so much as dented a German tank with one yet. I also tend to take one or both mortars, which rarely kill many enemy but do oblige them to change position, which is useful against a well placed team weapon. I also picked up the Warlord sniper in a gilly suit, mainly because it is such a lovely model. Also, while I like the 6 pdr, I don’t field it too often as unless I am expecting to defend against armour, it is rather too easy to ignore. I have used the Bren carrier to carry weapons teams, which adds some mobility. The Cromwell has come out from time to time but represents a big investment in the size of game we mostly play.
The current army looks like this
Officer plus two men 95 (first lieutenant)
3 x ten man infantry sections 369
(each with lmg and smg)
MMG team 50
PIAT team 40
Sniper team 50
Light mortar team 35
Medium mortar team 50
QF 6pdr antitank gun 75
Bren carrier 60
Cromwell tank 205
In a mad moment I bought the TankWar starter set so also have three Shermans painted as Guards Armoured Division. They have only seen action in a few Tank War games but I like to know they’re there.
I don’t have ambitions to add to the army at present, except to get some new Bren teams if I find some I like by another manufacturer. I just can’t get excited about the plastic Warlord Bren teams: they are too hard to distinguish from the other plastics. I’d like some Bren teams firing prone or something similar. I have also got an M10 Achilles waiting for assembly. I don’t exactly need it but I’ve liked the Achilles since I had a Minitank model of one many years ago.
I like to build both sides for a period so have a late War German force, that again is about at its limit I think. As Matt, my most frequent current opponent, runs Americans, I have tended to play the Germans more often than the Brits for some time now. But after getting these lads out of the toy cupboard, I’m thinking they need another outing soon.
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!
On 18 August we played a day-long refight of the battle of Ligny, using Honour Games’ Blücher rules and 20mm plastic figures. We began around 10 and finished at 6, with the French just meeting their victory conditions. Oddly, the Prussian players seemed happier at the end of the day than the French.
Rules, figures and scales
Blücher is a grand tactical rules set where each unit represents roughly a Brigade. It focuses on the level of detail that would interest an army commander rather than a brigadier or battalion commander. It’s pedigree is excellent. Sam Mustafa’s first grand tactical set was called Grande Armée, which came out some years ago. He then produced the simplified Fast Play Grande Armée, which dropped a lot of detail. Finally came Blücher, which stripped back the detail even more. At each stage the rules have become more elegant but they keep a period feel and are a subtle challenge to master.
Blücher’s ground scale is adaptable but I use 1” to 100 yards, the scale of Grande Armée, Volley & Bayonet and Napoleon’s Battles. This produces 3” Square unit bases. The figures are all plastics by various makers, collected over many years, with quite small unit sizes. This was a deliberate choice, partly to save cost and partly to encourage my sons who were young at the start of the project. Most of my Napoleonics are 15mm but I have never collected figures for the Waterloo campaign in the smaller scale.
Keeping the players guessing
Three of the players know the Waterloo campaign very well so I had to set up a way for them genuinely not to know whether either side would be reinforced from Quatre Bras, where Marshal Ney faced Wellington’s steadily reinforcing army. I wrote a decision tree for the events off table, which could have ended in a range of outcomes, broadly: French reinforcements, Allied reinforcements or nobody, at least in time to affect the game.
Huw took the role of Napoleon, supported by Tim (Gérard) and Ian (Vandamme). Keith was Blücher, with Matt (von Zieten) and Nick (von Pirch). I like each player to have a characteristic so made Tim inspiring, Ian vigorous, Matt steadfast and Nick heroic. If you don’t know these rules, these traits translate as good on the attack, good at getting troops moving, good on the defensive and capable of rallying lost combat power. Napoleon was a legend but not on his usual energetic form; Blücher was also a legend and mobile, which made it easier for him to send in the troops than a standard C in C. Being a legend improves your army’s break point.
For orders of battle I used a few histories, mainly volume 1 of Peter Hofschroer’s Waterloo Campaign and a French language history of Ligny by Alain Arq and others. For starting strengths and general organising I used the 100 Days unit cards, released by Honour at the same time as Blücher. These cards make sorting out and deploying the army very easy.
The Prussians were obliged to deploy 1 Corps first, strung along the river Ligne. The French were then to deploy 3 and 4 Corps and their three cavalry corps anywhere on the field up to 4 base widths from a Prussian unit. Finally the Prussians deployed 2 and 3 Corps then the French had the first turn.
How it went
The game began with Tim/Gérard attacking the Prussian right, while Ian/Vandamme screened Ligny along with the three cavalry corps. Evidently the French didn’t want to get bogged down fighting for this village. However the screening force was much the biggest French formation and while it sat watching Ligny, Tim bled his Corps dry on the French left. The Prussians meanwhile made several counter attacks against Tim, then Keith sent Nick/Pirch over the Ligne on the Prussian left to put pressure on Ian. This worked well as it constricted the French position and put their right wing on the back foot.
As the elan of Tim’s units ran down trying to dislodge Matt and Ian’s wing faced off against Nick, Huw was reinforced by the Guard and, not long after, by 6 Corps. We learned after the game that Huw had ambitions to use the reserve rule to deliver a wide flanking attack with these reinforcements, but felt thwarted by his narrow deployment zone and after a couple of turns’ delay, he launched an attack up the Prussian centre.
Meanwhile, off the table...
Each French turn after turn 11, I rolled on the decision tree. Every roll went in favour of reinforcements arriving with Napoleon. In summary, the story grew as follows. Ney began his assault on Quatre Bras early. He kept his whole command together (meaning no enthusiastic ADC gave D’Erlon verbal orders to march eastwards) and used both 1 and 2 Corps to overwhelm the Netherlands contingent before it could be sufficiently reinforced. He then carried out his original instructions from Napoleon and directed D’Erlon towards the Ligny battlefield. Rolling for losses and delays, I concluded that in the end two divisions and the Light cavalry of D’Erlon’s Corps would arrive at Ligny, late in the afternoon but in time to influence the outcome.
News reached Huw that Ney had taken the crossroads at Quatre Bras and despatched D’Erlon towards the Ligny battlefield. When these arrived on the table he gave their command to Tim, who found the fresh troops a great boost.
With the revelation that he would not be reinforced by Wellington as expected, Keith took stock. His left was doing well against the French right, which continued to retire before 2 Corps. But the right was now paper-thin, facing fresh troops, while the centre was buckling under the punch of the Imperial Guard. Keith ordered his army to withdraw, under the cover of 2 Corps.
When we reached the last turn of the gaming day, the Prussian line had started to contract from the right and rotate clockwise, as it withdrew on Sombreffe. The French meanwhile had finally cracked the Prussian centre and were advancing to cut off the Prussian right. The Prussians were close to their break point and the day went to Napoleon.
Hail the happy losers
And here is the curious thing. The French victors seemed to feel a bit flat as the day ended, whereas the Prussian team was brimming with good humour and pleased with its performance. Why was this? Well, I think the players on the side that lost in history may feel less pressure to win the game: the Prussians did very well and cooperated effectively, with messages flying in all directions throughout the day. They didn’t win but were well placed to fight another battle.
The French on the other hand came close to a bigger victory than they achieved: an earlier assault by the Guard could have cut off half the Prussian army. Also, I fear that Huw felt thwarted, not by the performance of his side but by the scenario and rules. His first hope was to send the Guard on a sweeping reserve move to fall upon a Prussian flank, but the field was constricted by the table edge and he couldn’t calculate a ‘legal’ route that would deliver his units unobserved on the enemy flank. I do sympathise and can’t change the fact that the table was 4 feet wide so he did not have space at the rear to flank March. That said, the French right could have deployed much further forward than they did and on top of that they were then soon retreating from their starting positions.
When the umpire’s happy, everybody is happy
Overall I was very pleased with the day. I think the game was well balanced and both teams played in good spirit. The decision tree for events at Quatre Bras gave a plausible result and I will use the idea again. I think the Blücher rules are perfect for a multiplayer game like this. Between 1030 and 6pm with a break for lunch, we played the full 28 turns and had very few rules quibbles. We had all played the rules before but not for some time and they came back easily.
My note to self for future games is that I should check in with Commanders in Chief a few times during play, to check if they feel able to do what they wish. It hadn’t occurred to me until he said it at the end that Huw felt unable to act because of the table size. Had he told me his outflanking plan I could have worked out a way to make it possible or to explain why it wasn’t. When the game isn’t a tournament, I think the umpire should show a bit of flexibility if this helps the story to flow.
I was grateful to all six players for giving up a summer Saturday and pitching in with such good humour. Multiplayer Wargames are a rare event but they have to be my favourite part of the hobby.
Getting the figures together
Three years after we replayed Waterloo using Honour Games’ Blücher, I will be hosting a multiplayer refight of Ligny later in August. I have started organising the units, which has been nice and straightforward using the 100 Days unit cards. The figures are soft plastics from Airfix, Revell, Italieri, Esci, Zvezda and Hät. Some of them are 40 years old or more, since my friend Keith presented me with his boyhood Airfix Waterloo collection.
My original plan at the start of the 1815 project had been to make a separate figure base for every Brigade in the campaign. To be able to refight Ligny, this would have required me to paint up the Prussian III Corps and French III and IV Corps in their entirety. That makes a lot of work and I don’t have that much time to prepare. Also, while there might be satisfaction in completing the whole Orbat, when would I actually play using every unit that took part in the campaign? So I decided to recycle some existing units. First I decided to relabel the French II Corps to cover most of the 3rd and 4th Corps, since one habit veste is pretty much like another. For the Prussians I already had II Corps from the Waterloo game, along with a few I Corps units. If I repurpose my IV Corps units I can make most of III Corps and a fair chunk of I Corps.
However. Ever since I bought David Nash’s Prussian Army 1808-15, published by Almark, back in about 1970, I have loved the varied uniforms of the post-1812 army. I am proud of the fact that every Prussian unit painted to date has the right uniform for the regiment represented. Could I bring myself to relabel Silesian Landwehr as Westphalian, without overpainting the facing colour? Who besides me would notice, still less care if the uniforms didn’t fit? As it turns out, I realised I couldn’t do it. Even if others didn’t notice, I would know that the Prussian uniforms are wrong. I have therefore started a programme of repainting, adapting and adding to my Prussian collection so that every unit is properly dressed.
And there are some great uniforms to recreate. I started with the 28th and 29th Line in I Corps, who until 1814 had been regiments in the Duchy of Berg and still wore their white Rhine Confederation uniforms. I used some of the old Airfix French that Keith had passed on. Next comes the 30th and 31st regiments in III Corps, which had previously formed the Russo German Legion and wore Russian uniform. I have ordered a box of Zvezda Russian infantry to cover these units. For the rest, I am repainting facing colours where this is easy and painting more demanding colour combinations from scratch. I also need to add more Prussian horse so have painted the West Prussian Dragoons and am about to start some Landwehr lancers.
If this sounds like amazing dedication, bear in mind that I represent foot units with only 8 to 10 figures and cavalry with 4 or 5 horsemen. So I can complete a unit in an evening as long as I don’t have distractions. The clock is ticking however and I can’t afford to slack.
Meanwhile, I am thinking about aspects for inclusion in the scenario. There are two main what-ifs: D’Erlon’s I Corps movements and the arrival of Lobau’s VI Corps. D’Erlon barely contributed to the day because of countermanded orders, while Lobau only arrived from Charleroi as the battle ended. Both could have arrived earlier and contributed to the action.
To help decide what, if anything, I do about these absent formations, I have been rereading Colonel Charles Chesney’s Waterloo Lectures, first published in 1868 and reprinted in the 1990s by Greenhill. Chesney is fascinating. His book is not a conventional narrative history of the campaign and in fact he presumes the reader already knows the main events. Chesney’s purpose is to analyse the various myths and assertions about the battle that were already manifold by the mid 19th century. His main target are those historians who placed blame for the French defeat on everybody else but Napoleon.
It is striking how much of the mythology is still current, including in some modern histories of the campaign, not to mention in the entertaining hogwash that is De Laurentis’ film of Waterloo. I suppose two world wars didn’t help the British to give due credit to Blücher and his army, or indeed the Germans under Wellington’s command, for their contribution to victory. In this Chesney is scrupulous: he stresses the immense achievements of the German-speaking troops and places Wellington’s personal relationship with Blücher at the heart of the success. He also argues persuasively that neither Ney nor Grouchy were to blame for the alleged errors of judgement and action that were later used by Napoleon to explain away his defeat.
Where is D’Erlon?
In the case of Ligny and Quatre Bras, Chesney points out that Napoleon’s order to Ney on the 16th was only to detach a Force towards Ligny once he had taken Quatre Bras with both Corps. It may have been unfortunate that due to countermanded orders D’Erlon was unable in the end to contribute on either field, but Napoleon was not counting on his arrival at Ligny, at least for some hours. Indeed, when the head of D’Erlon’s column first appeared in the distance, Napoleon was surprised to see it and delayed an attack on the Prussians until he found out who it was. Given this interpretation, I am not inclined to make D’Erlon’s arrival a particularly significant factor in the scenario.
Lobau’s VI Corps spent most of the 16th in reserve a short distance from the Ligny battlefield and came up too late in the day to contribute to the outcome. In his case I think the French should be able to use him if they wish, since he had not been given a competing task for the day.
Another ‘what if’ is whether Bülow’s IV Corps could have been present at Ligny if he had shown more energy or his orders had been clearer. I think the answer is ‘probably not’. He had the furthest to travel from his cantonments and his orders did not tell him to come to Ligny. It seems to me that the only circumstances in which he could have been present on the field would have been if the army had been ordered to concentrate sooner than it actually was. This takes the ‘What If’ so far into alternative events that we could at that point change any number of factors and end up fighting a different battle altogether. Fine if we were to refight the campaign but we will only be looking at the battle of Ligny.
So in summary, Bülow is out, Lobau can arrive early and D’Erlon might appear but he also might be recalled and/or arrive late, having stayed with Ney until Quatre Bras was taken. I’ll try to turn these possibilities into a series of dice rolls, to keep our generals guessing.
I will be painting hard over the next several days and must then think what we need for the battlefield. There must at least be a windmill for Napoleon’s use....
Gaming the Metaurus
My previous blog post explained how we created an ADLG scenario for the battle of the Metaurus. This post tells you how the game went.
Ben took the role of Hamilcar and Matt commanded the Romans. Ben followed Hamilcar’s deployment, putting his Gauls on the high ground protected by a strip of difficult terrain. He put his elephants in the centre, with Spanish and African foot behind them, and his cavalry on the right, supported by two more stands of Spanish foot.
Matt deployed one infantry command on his left, the other in the centre and his cavalry on his right.
Phase one of the game saw Ben’s elephants crash into Matt ‘s centre and pretty much slide off. We had expected them to be destroyed while disrupting the Roman centre but they barely made a dent. Matt’s dice rolling was consistently luckier than Ben’s, setting the pattern for the evening. On the Carthaginian left the Gauls and Roman cavalry looked at each other, while by the river, Ben’s cavalry advanced on Matt’s infantry but wisely chose not to attack.
In Phase two the two centres came to blows. Ben’s troops fought rather better than their elephants had done and the fight was quite balanced. Meanwhile a couple of stands of Gauls came off the high ground, to be mauled by Matt’s cavalry. Then, Ben decided to launch his cavalry at Matt’s unruffled left wing. Matt again rolled some lucky dice but he also had the edge in modifiers all along this combat. Ben lost several stands in one combat phase, taking him perilously close to break point.
In the final phase the rest of Ben’s Gauls came down from the high ground, too late to have an effect on the battle. His cavalry nearly all routed and his centre started to crumble, mainly because his Spanish MI were less resilient. The game then ended as Ben’s morale losses hit 26. At that point Matt’s losses were only 9 points, of which only 4 were due to units routing.
Measuring up to the history
According to the generally accepted account of the battle the Carthaginians deployed pretty much as Ben did in our game. The Romans on the other hand placed their cavalry by the river, Salinator in the centre and Nero on the right. Phase one of the battle saw the Carthaginian elephants attacking in the centre, with similar unimpressive results to what happened in the game. On the left the cavalry wings clashed and the Romans began to push the Carthaginians back. The infantry in the centre then closed, with neither side gaining the advantage. On the right Nero soon abandoned any intention to charge the Gauls, who were too well positioned on the high ground. He then marched his wing around the rear of the Roman line to the left and assaulted the Carthaginian centre in its right flank. With this, Hamilcar’s army collapsed and he spurred his horse into the melee. The first Hannibal knew of the defeat was when his brother’s severed head was catapulted into his camp.
The big difference in our game was of course Matt ‘s deployment of infantry on his left and cavalry on the right. This made Nero’s manoeuvre impossible. I could, I guess, have imposed historical deployment on both sides but would argue that the more restrictive the setup, the less satisfying the game. To be frank, I was surprised by Matt ‘s deployment and wondered at the outset if he was squandering his cavalry by placing it facing the Gallic Hill. As things turned out, I couldn’t argue with his emphatic victory so what do I know? Nevertheless his cavalry played only a bit part in that victory. I think he was helped by Ben’s decision to charge Roman heavy swordsmen with medium cavalry, rather perhaps than to shift this cavalry to face the Roman horse.
In the last turn Ben had to take a survival roll for his C in C when the unit he was with routed. He passed it, so at least our Hamilcar kept his head
Matt and I played a 100 Point game of Art de la Guerre on Wednesday. Matt commanded Republican Romans while I had a Gallic army. This was the first time we have played with impetuous troops and with light chariots. I had hoped to field enough Gauls for 200 points but was 30 odd points off. I need to get my last bare metal Gauls onto the painting table.
Matt won the initiative roll and chose to attack. The field had two gentle hills and a field, all spread around the table edges. The middle of the table was completely flat. Matt placed his cavalry on his right and rested his left on hills. I put my medium cavalry on the right and light chariots and scouts (javelin armed light cavalry) on my left.
My plan was to hold back the centre at the start and send my mounted troops forward. The chariots were to attack the Roman horse on my left. On the other flank my Medium cavalry were to go deep right, to discomfort the Roman centre but wait for the Gallic foot to advance and then join the attack. I reckoned that the first turn disadvantage against Roman swordsmen needed offsetting with some combined arms combat.
My right wing cavalry galloped down the field and onto the first hill. I faced them at about 1 o’clock and then turned my attention to advancing the left and centre. Matt meanwhile peeled a base of hastati off his centre, turned them to face my cavalry and began to advance. I had a turn to react but chose not to. On his next turn Matt charged my cavalry in the flank. I elected to evade, in the expectation that I could travel deeper towards the Roman rear. However, the rules revealed that evading troops must make a 90 or 180 degree turn before scampering off. Instead of going down the table, I had to face the side. Even had I rolled a 1or 2 I’d have still left the table. Idiot.
I deserved that three times over. First, I should have chosen my position and facing more carefully. Then, I had time to respond to Matt’s threat but didn’t. Finally, I chose to evade without knowing what that means in the rules. Accepting the flank attack would have been expensive but at least I might have done some good. As it was, the hastati had time to rejoin the main line having done their job of chasing away the threat. I won’t do that again. Probably.
Anyway. On the Gallic left my chariots attacked and got the better of the Roman cavalry while my centre advanced. In the event, the first clash of the heavy infantry went the Gauls’ way almost everywhere. Despite the Gauls losing impetus against the Roman swordsmen, the Gallic dice just rolled higher. The luck evened out in following rounds but my first round advantage held and the Romans broke three points before mine did.
The last few turns were tense and Matt’s victory point tally nearly overtook mine. But if I won the game, he got bragging rights for chasing off 14 points of cavalry with a base of hastati.
I like ADLG. The rules are clear and I find them a lot more enduring than the entry level DBA. I do however wonder about the wide range of outcomes possible in a combat round. This victory felt unjust. Matt‘s swordsmen should have had the edge over my Gauls but the dice rolled well for me and poorly for him. Perhaps this was more noticeable because we were playing a 100 Point game: my luck probably wouldn’t have been so great with more combats to resolve in the centre. Perhaps we should focus on 200 Point Battles in future. So I’d better get all my Gauls painted.
I have played wargames for five decades. Recently retired, I have even more time to devote to it. More about me here.