In my last post I said I had written a new scenario for the first day of the Battle of Kulm, 29 August 1813, using Sam Mustafa’s Blücher rules. It is on the Blucher Scenario Page. We have now played the scenario three times, with two wins for the Russians and one for the French. All three games were close and the players seemed to enjoy them.
We played the first game at my local club with two players a side and me as umpire. One player had played the rules before but the others were all new to them. They picked them up quickly, all being experienced with the period and with various other Napoleonic rules. The second game was between me and my son Nick, who has played Blücher several times. I umpired the third game for Harry and Dan, both new to Blücher and still quite new to Napoleonics. Over the three games and between these eight people, I believe the rules passed the tests for accessibility, plausibility and fun. Hats off to Sam Mustafa and his play testers for such a polished product. He does make exceedingly good rules!
The figures we used are 6mm on 80mm x 40mm movement trays. Most are MDF Commission Figurines, with a few metal Heroics figures.
The scenario held up well but I tweaked it between the first and second games, mainly to simplify the map. I had got out of the habit of making maps for Blücher’s scale and on the first version I included secondary tracks and altogether too many building bases. The table was cleaner for games two and three. The orders of battle and reinforcement schedules remained the same for all three games. For game three I added traits to the two commanders, because it seems to encourage player engagement if their model general plays a distinct role in the battle. I made Vandamme inspiring (+1 die in combat) and Ostermann-Sacken heroic (has the Rally ability).
From time to time when we play Blücher, somebody proposes a House rule, normally regarding the (in)ability of infantry to fire into or out of a built up area. Another recurring suggestion is to allow prepared infantry to fire a proportion of their elan out to their flanks. I’ve been happy to make house rules for various sets, especially Napoleon’s Battles, which acquired a mass of add-on rules over the decade or more that we played it. However, I still resist adding house rules to Blücher because it flows so well and the justification for most rules decisions is provided by the author. For example, his argument against firing into/out of BUAs is that this rule doesn’t mean musketry didn’t take place, just that at the concentration it occurred, neither garrison nor troops in the open would have suffered an appreciable drop in combat effectiveness. Infantry cannot shoot a garrison out of a town: it has to kick them out. And of course, combat in Blücher represents everything involved in an assault, including close range musketry. So anyway, as yet we have no house rules and I doubt we will ever add them.
How the games played
I’m never sure how interested people are by blow-by-blow battle reports. But the differences between how the three games played were interesting. The first, which was a French victory, saw the French concentrating on the right wing and pouring a lot of effective skirmish fire into the Russians, who were all deployed forward along the stream between the two villages. The Russians had almost no units in reserve, which meant the French, with superior skirmishing ability, were able to grind them down before closing. When the French attacked across the stream, the already depleted Russians were easier to defeat.
In game two, a Russian win, the Russians deployed some way back from the stream line (except for garrisoning the two villages) and kept a big reserve that they sent forward sparingly. In this game the French ran out of time to take their objectives and found that the fresh units they needed to assault the villages were too far away to affect the final phase.
The third game saw the French take both Straden and Priesten, but they were kicked out of both by Russian counter-attacks. Straden changed hands four times, ending up n Russian possession. I really like Blücher’s mechanics for fighting for BUAs. The initial fight to eject a garrison is tough but if/when it succeeds, a seesaw fight can follow as each side sends in fresh units to try to retake the BUA before the enemy occupying it can form into garrison. This chimes with accounts of village fighting being far more fluid than some rules make it, and where final possession often went to the side with the last formed reserves to send in.
All three games were close. My notes to self after playing them include: don’t put all your units up front; reinforce when you have to but don’t expose units unnecessarily; cavalry can affect more enemy units when it is a threat than once it has charged a target; and remember that even winners take a loss in combat, so you can grind a strong enemy down by sending in a succession of assaults.
Overall, this has been a fun scenario and I’d like to reuse it in a year or so.
I have uploaded a new scenario for Blücher on the Napoleonic Scenarios Page, based on the first day of the battle of Kulm. It is a chance to deploy the Russian Guard who, while used in combat more frequently than the French Old Guard, are not often seen slogging it out in the front line. We are playing this scenario on 12 December with 6mm figures and a scale of 1BW to 2”. I will report on how it plays.
On 10 September, my friend Keith came up from Devon to attend Colours at Newbury and then play a game of Soldiers of Napoleon. We played the Ligny scenario mentioned in my last blog post, on the Napoleonic scenarios page here. On 26 September, Dan, Spencer and I played the scenario again. They were both cracking games.
Skip this bit if you already play SoN
As Soldiers of Napoleon (SoN) is still a new set, it might be worth summarising the way the rules work. The USP is the deck of cards, which regulate various aspects of play. The players start the turn with a hand of cards each, which they play alternately until both run out and the turn finishes. Each card can be played for one of three purposes: to issue orders to a variable number of units in one brigade; to rally all eligible units in a brigade; or to launch a special event. Of course, you can’t use a card for more than one purpose at a time so there are always tough choices to be made.
Movement and shooting are both straightforward processes, in much the same mould as other Napoleonic rules. There are a couple of unusual orders that we really like: light cavalry can ‘harass’ enemy skirmishers, with the possible result that the skirmishers will fall back to rejoin their parent battalions. Heavy cavalry, meanwhile, can intimidate enemy by their very presence. I like it that your cavalry can influence the battle in more subtle ways than charging at the first target.
The rally and stand removal mechanic is highly original and takes some getting used to. An important point to remember is that while every card has a Rally function, you can only rally troops of the quality levels specified on that card. Pretty much every card lets you rally elite and professional troops but very few cards allow you to rally militia. So if, like the Prussians in 1815, you have a lot of Landwehr militia in your army, make every card that can be used to rally militia count. Sadly, this will mean forgoing some neat special events and high digit orders, but your army will dissolve if you don’t rally your militia when you can.
The Rally process involves different steps that it is important to follow in sequence. You can soak off disruption points in different ways including stand removal. While stand removal is seemingly voluntary, it is better to lose a stand or two in a rally action than to lose the whole unit at turn’s end because it had more disruption points than stands remaining.
Anyway, we were both set up and ready to go.
The First Game begins
In game 1, Keith took Girard’s 7th Division, holding St Amand La Haye, while I led the Prussians, tasked with expelling Girard from the village. In Turn 1, the Prussians began with two special events, both to boost their artillery: one round of off-table grand battery fire and a card that allowed all on-table artillery to fire. Neither made much difference, to my deep annoyance. The Prussians advanced on both wings, towards St Amand La Haye in the East and through Wagnelée towards Le Hameau in the West. In front of Le Hameau, the French focussed artillery and skirmish fire on one Landwehr battalion, nearly bringing it to break point in one turn but fortunately, I had a rally card that included militia so avoided a rout, at the cost of a lost stand. In the East, the Prussian advance got off to a slow start but by turn 2 I was ready to charge St Amand La Haye. Or not. The 28th Line, ordered into the village, declined to advance so fired an ineffectual volley instead. I hate/love the Charge mechanic! In retrospect, that might have been the time to use a Command Point for a discipline test reroll. So turn 2 ended with no serious combat in the East and some enterprising French skirmishing and artillery bombardment in the West. At this point, we called time for food and drink.
Phase 2 of the game saw a change to solo play as Keith was sent back to Devon. The two sides were now in striking range and each made aggressive moves on their left. In the West, helped by the arrival of their reserves, the French stopped the Prussian right dead and pushed it onto the defensive. In the East, the Prussians tried again to assaut St Amand La Haye and this time, at least they managed to charge home. However, the first combat went against them. The Prussians regrouped and the second assault pushed one French battalion out of the village. The French lacked reserves on the right so transferred two battalions from the left to try and retake the lost sector of St Amand la Haye, which they successfully did. All the while, victory points were accumulating as both sides had to shore up crumbling units. At the end of turn 4, French VPs exceeded the Prussian morale total so Girard won the day. I don’t play solo games that often but enjoyed playing this through to a conclusion.
The Second Game
In the second game, Spencer took the French while Dan and I shared the Prussians (Dan on the left, me on the right). To cut a long story short, the Prussians attacked St Amand La Haye from two sides and after shooting up a seasoned French Line battalion, they got a battalion into St Amand La Haye and managed to hold on there. The French left came out swinging to try and disrupt the Prussians right, but rolled some very unlucky dice and stalled in the Standing crops. On the French right, a lone battalion charged and roughed up some Landwehr and French skirmishers caused a ot of disruption, but when it mattered, French dice rolls were particularly unlucky. Dan meanwhile ground steadily forward, his men watched by Blücher himself. French morale broke at the end of turn 4. At this point French reinforcements were just arriving on the table, too late, alas, to alter the outcome.
These were two very entertaining games. The rules flow easily and both battles ‘felt right’. We especially like the skirmishing rules, which, for me, are way better than the bucket of dice palaver used in Lasalle 2. The choices players face are constantly challenging: is this card more valuable for its order value, for its special event or for the troop qualities it can rally? It will take a few more games to be sure but my evolving feeling is that special events should be used sparingly, however much fun they seem. This is particularly true for the attacking side. By all means play a special bombardment event before charging in but every card played for its special event is one card fewer for moving units towards the enemy. Also, make sure you hang on to the rally card that covers the troop qualities in your army. The Prussians in this scenario have 4 Landwehr units who can quickly get into trouble if you don’t have a rally card that covers their militia quality.
In the Facebook Soldiers of… Group, somebody wondered if small units would survive for long on the table against much larger opponents. This scenario has a number of 3-stand French battalions and overall, the Prussian battalions are significantly larger than their French opponents. We certainly found that the smaller French units held their own well. Unit size is of course a factor, but so are troop quality, skirmish ability and formation.
I was impressed in the second battle by how quickly the game played. We had all got our heads around the mechanics by then so we rattled through each turn. In truth, the movement, firing and melee mechanics are very straightforward and logical. The challenges in these rules derive from the card play, not from long lists of dice modifiers. This is as it should be.
I have no niggles with these rules. There are however a couple of unit stats in the rulebook that I am not sure about. For example, in the Army lists Prussian Foot artillery is only allowed to be 12 pounders, whereas in reality the majority of Prussian field foot batteries were 6 pounders. This might even be a typo I guess, and it’s no hardship to ignore the lists and give the Prussian foot batteries 6 pounders. I am also tempted to revisit the stats for Prussian Landwehr, some of whom were, by 1815, veteran units with fearsome reputations. We needn’t go overboard here but it may be fitting to increase the quality of Landwehr from the older Prussian provinces (and hence recruited first) from Militia to Trained. This small shift would make quite a difference to the staying power of a Silesian Landwehr battalion.
Finally, the scenario worked well, though I tweaked the objectives for Prussia between games 1 and 2 to make St Amand la Haye more important (they were given the Take a Strongpoint objective, but only redeemable in that village).
Overall, I am delighted with these rules and I look forward to the first supplement.
I have uploaded a new scenario here for Soldiers of Napoleon (Scenario SoN 3), covering Girard’s 7th Division’s defence of St Amand La Haye during the Battle of Ligny on 16 June 1815. I started with the Lasalle scenario that I had already written for the same action, but was soon moved to revisit the sources because of an interesting difference in approach between the two rule sets.
Lasalle 2 makes all units a standard size (Russian artillery excepted). Lasalle 1 did have an option for large battalions, but even then there were only two sizes. Sam Mustafa is an accomplished designer who tests his rules extensively before releasing them. Lasalle 2 works very well indeed and there is no doubt that standard unit sizes (and hence frontages) makes for smooth play. The argument for standard sizes generally runs that it is hard to know exactly how many men were present at any given point and that on average, most battalions were around 500 men strong after a few months campaigning. If an army’s battalions were seriously understrength, as the Russians often were in 1813, the player is free to represent two actual battalions with one model battalion. Fair enough. I didn’t give much thought to this approach until reading through Soldiers of Napoleon.
The approach to unit creation in Soldiers of Napoleon is more fluid than in Lasalle 1 or 2. A battalion can be any starting size from 2 to 6 ‘stands’ and the rules for firing, melee and morale management are geared for this. Looking at the orders of battle n the 1815 campaign, I was struck by the wide variation of battalion strengths between the French and Prussian armies. On the whole, Prussian battalions are significantly larger than the French. Now, at the scale of a divisional fight, the difference in battalion sizes could have a significant impact on play. So in adapting the Girard scenario to SoN, I have tried to reflect actual unit sizes in the order of battle (using the ratio of 132 infantry or 100 cavalry to a stand). Consequently, the largest unit is a Prussian Line battalion of 6 stands and the smallest is a 3-stand French battalion. I look forward to testing the effect this has on scenario balance when we play it on 11 September. I have a feeling that Girard is going to have a tough time hanging on to his real estate!
Soldiers of Napoleon provides a fast-moving and entertaining game. The cards pose tricky choices and have bags of period flavour. Our historical scenario gave moments of high excitement and a plausible outcome. Highly Recommended.
I recently bought Soldiers of Napoleon, the new card-moderated tactical rules by Warwick Kinrade, author of Battlegroup (and more besides). Five of us played our first game last week, using a scenario based on the fight for Markkleeberg during the Battle of Leipzig. This clash between Poles, French, Prussians and Russians seemed a good testing ground for the rules.
The mechanics for movement, fire and melee are intuitive, straightforward and easy to learn. They hang together well, give good period flavour and on their own could have been the basis for a respectable IGO-YOUGO game. The card deck, however, takes things to another level. Every turn, each side receives a hand of cards linked to the number of Brigade or higher commanders on the table and players alternate card play until both run out. A card has three possible uses: to issue orders to a given number of units within a brigade; to rally units; or to play the special event that is described on the card. I’ve seen a couple of reviews that describe the rules at length so rather than repeat it all again, I’ll try to show how they affected our battle.
I have put the Markkleeberg scenario here. I created it by following the game preparation procedure in the rules. The main Tactical Orders for both sides were chosen for them (Coalition attacking, Franco-Poles defending). The Order of Battle was fun to write because SoN doesn’t have standard unit sizes. A battalion or cavalry regiment can have between 2 and 6 stands, or roughly between 250 and 800 men. This suits the OoB for Markkleeberg well, as Helfreich’s 14th Corps was seriously understrength (so 3 stands per battalion), the Polish Cuirassiers only consisted of 2 squadrons/bases and the Prussian Landwehr battalions were numerous (but inexperienced).
How the game played
We played the scenario with two players per side. The Poles deployed their three brigades first, then the Allies set up in left echelon. Both sides had reserves off the table. The Russian 14th Corps advanced on the right; Coalition artillery in the centre bombarded the Polish hilltop position and the Prussian Foot screened Markkleeberg on the left. The Poles played a special event early on that allowed the Krakus lancers to advance far down the table and catch and destroy a Russian battalion in column (an incident that was only made possible by the special event: without it, the Russians would have had time to form square and fire at the threatening cavalry). This dislocated the Russian assault and bought time for the defenders, while the rest of Helfreich’s Corps formed square until the Krakusi retired. The Poles used another special event to bring in fire from the Grand Battery to their left rear. Phase 1 therefore gave the advantage to the defenders.
In phase 2 the Russian assault got going again. A counter battery exchange in the centre went badly for the Poles and the Coalition artillery then whittled down the Vistula Regiment in the Polish centre as 14th Corps closed, supported by the Loubny Hussars. The French Reserve brigade arrived on the right and this, together with the Polish garrison of Markkleeberg, went forward to relieve pressure on the centre. Two Polish battalions chewed up a Prussian Landwehr battalion near the village and the Coalition left was now looking shaky. In response the Coalition played a special event to change the arrival location of their reserves to the Markkleeberg sector, which helped stabilise their left. In the final phase, the Coalition managed to shoot the Polish Division commander by playing a special event. The Russians then closed with the Polish centre and duffed it up enough to win the victory.
The Love Child of Battlegroup and Longstreet?
I love these rules! They do remind me of Longstreet, my (so far?) favourite rules for any period, which are also card-moderated and have a similar mixture of simple mechanisms and really challenging choices. Like Longstreet, SoN makes events possible that just don’t happen in many wargames, such as surprise attacks, missing ADCs, incoming damage from off-table batteries and stray bullets taking down senior officers. The sense of narrative and of history is really strong, which shouldn’t be a surprise from the author of Battlegroup.
All involved in this game want to play again and we all took away some thoughts on how better to play the cards next time.
I have written a new scenario for Sam Mustafa’s Lasalle, based on the actions of Girard’s 7th Division at the battle of Ligny. Separated from II Corps, Girard was attached to Vandamme’s III Corps for the assault on the Prussian right flank, anchored on a string of villages along the Ligne brook. At the height of the fighting Girard was mortally wounded. The scenario covers the episode where Girard, having taken the village of Saint Amand La Haye, was counterattacked from the front and left flank. I chose this point in the action because the points values of the two sides at this point almost exactly match the standard weighted scenario in the rules, so 300 points of Prussians attacking 240 points of French. We havent played it yet so I can’t vouch for how it plays, but hope to do so in a month or so. The scenario can be found on the Napoleonic scenarios page here.
The other evening I laid on a game of Absolute Emperor at the Staines Wargames Club. I put together a scenario based on the Allied attack on the morning of the first day of the battle of Leipzig, 16 October 1813. It was deliberately a smallish game, as two players were new and the rest of us are still learning the rules. Ian and Paul led the Allies against Nick and Chris commanding the French. We used the house rules/clarifications that Chris and I had pulled together after our first two games. These don’t so much replace any published rules as clarify situations that the rules don’t directly address.
I have uploaded the scenario here. The standard victory conditions were slightly modified by giving the Allies a bonus elan point for every town they take from the French during the game.
How it played and some more thoughts about AE
To cut a long story short, the Allies won, with the French line still intact at the end but withdrawn to near their baseline.
These are my thoughts after our club night christening:
What next? Well, we could find another bit of Leipzig to refight but even I am feeling the need for a change from the Battle of Nations. I am thinking of an 1809 game, perhaps the Wagram scenario in the AE rulebook. I do have a soft spot for Austrians. I am also wondering about doubling the size of infantry and cavalry units, to reinforce the message that these are big formations.
A quick game to sort out rules queries
This week, Chris and I met to work through some of the questions that arose during our multiplayer Leipzig game on 23 January. As I mentioned in the report of that game in my previous blog post, the limited format of Osprey’s blue books means that cases will arise that the published rules don't cover. Easy to sort out in a one to one game but as we intend to play Absolute Emperor again with two or more players a side, we wanted to clarify how we will deal with them in future. So we sat down with our notes from the 23rd and played a game through as a workshop.
Möckern: a tough little fight
To give us an interesting situation I adapted a Blucher scenario for the combat at Möckern on 16 October 1813 for AE. This didn’t give that many more units per side than the introductory scenarios in the AE rulebook, though it did give an interesting asymmetry where the French had cavalry advantage while the Coalition had more infantry. Plus, I find a game based on a real engagement more, erm, ‘engaging’ than one that’s been made up. Chris took the role of Marshal Marmont, defending Möckern and the high ground beside it against my army of Yorck’s Prussians and Langeron’s Russians. See the scenario here. Although the aim was to create some situations where we could test or agree house rules, we actually had a tricky and challenging game.
How the game played
Chris set up his main line from Möckern in the west to beyond Klein Widderitzsch in the east. He had infantry on his left and mostly cavalry on the right. My Prussians advanced down the road from Wahren to Möckern and the advance guard, which was classified veteran as it included Grenadier battalions, assaulted the village. In the east, my Russians arrived between Breitenfeld and Lindenthal, to find that Chris had pushed his cavalry forward to threaten any advance beyond these villages. Meanwhile my further Prussian reinforcements started extending the Prussian line eastwards.
The mid-game saw a steady grind in the fight for Möckern, in which I pulled back the advance guard as its strength nearly gave out, and fed in a fresh brigade to assault Chris’ unit in the village. Further east, my intended assault on his hilltop position was held up by effective artillery and infantry fire, which twice inflicted a Halt or worse result on the same Prussian unit. In retrospect I could have/should have spend some of Yorck’s elan to restore this unit’s forward momentum. At the point where two of my units were disordered by enemy fire, Chris launched a spoiling attack that swept one unit away and sent the other reeling backwards. In the same turn my assaut on Möckern village finally succeeded, but I had an embarrassing hole in my centre. Next turn, having more than done its job, Chris withdrew his army along the whole front, reasoning that his elan was now dangerously low and his cavalry in particular was close to breaking. We agreed that his aggressive forward defence had held up the Coalition advance sufficiently to give him the win.
Some rules clarifications/amplifications
We agreed various fiddly clarifications but these were our main house rules:
When we played AE with 15mm units, an infantry unit in line was 160mm wide so we used the standard AE movement and shooting distances. For this game, we used 6mm units which were 120mm wide in line. As this distance is 3/4 of the width of our 15s, we reduced all standard distances by a quarter. Thus, Infantry fire up to 3” instead of 4”, cavalry charge is 6” not 8” and so on.
I am running a game at our club next Friday to try to attract more players. No doubt more questions will arise that we haven’t thought of yet!
On 23 January eight of us gathered in the shed for a refight of Leipzig, 1813 - or rather, of the key confrontation on the first day of the battle. The catalyst was Ian, who was back on a short break from South Korea. We were also able to tempt Matt back from Shrewsbury, less epic than coming from Seoul but still an achievement.
The rules we used were Absolute Emperor by Boyd Bruce, published in the Osprey blue wargames series. The basic unit in these rules is the division, which makes sense for recreating a battle as big as Leipzig. More on these rules later but the headline message is that the players picked them up quickly and enjoyed playing them, which gets them a big tick at the outset.
Setting up the game
You can find the scenario here. I’ve been playing games based on the battles around Leipzig since the mid-90s when I bought the first scenario book for Napoleon’s Battles, published at the time by Avalon Hill. I based the collection of my 15mm armies on the Leipzig order of battle and picked up as many histories of 1813 as I coud find. My German friend Clemens and I worked our way around the Leipzig compass, playing every scenario in the Avalon Hill book. Scott Bowden and George Nafziger both released books about the armies of 1813 and these led us to amend the Avalon Hill OOBs. After a break of a few years, in about 2010 I came back to Napoleonics and of course to Leipzig. In recent years we’ve played scenarios for Blücher and Lasalle and now, for Absolute Emperor.
Writing the Orders of Battle for AE was quite straightforward. The main challenge was to decide how to represent the historical Russian formations, which had shrunk drastically over months of campaigning. I decided to focus on overall strength rather than formal organisation. For example, one of the Russian ‘‘Corps’ is represented by only one infantry unit. So apart from the 5th Guards and 3rd Grenadier Corps, the Russians in this scenario are quite thin on the ground.
I also decided to start the game around the middle of 16 October, when several units on the table had already been fighting since the morning. I wanted to focus on the crucial struggle between Napoleon’s elite formations and the Coalition reserves, in which the French tried and failed to break the enemy centre. You’ll see that the scenario requires certain units to reduce their starting strength by 1 or 2 points, to reflect the losses they had suffered in the morning’s fighting. This wrinkle worked well and gave added punch to the fresh units on both sides that arrived from reserve.
The 15mm figures are all mine, mostly Old Glory, Battle Honours, Essex and Minifigs painted in the late 90s with an injection of new models in 2020-22. They are based for Lasalle but I use movement trays for Blucher and now Absolute Emperor. You might notice the infantry stands are one rank deep. Old habits die hard: having started out on Napoleonics with Bruce Quarrie’s rules, I still have an aversion to two deep stands as to my eye, they make a line formation look too deep when playing units as battalions. I know this is not the majority view nowadays (and my 6mm Napoleonics are based two deep..).
The strip at the back of each unit has a sticker with its ID; a coloured sticker to show its starting quality; a dice cell to track losses and, where necessary, other stickers to show specific traits like heavy cavalry. The quality colours are orange (elite), red (veteran), blue (seasoned), green (conscript), yellow (exhausted conscript). A fresh unit with no losses begins with a die of the appropriate colour, showing 4 life points. When these run out, a die of the ‘exhausted’
colour is substituted. We found this a great help in play.
I added a few house rules, partly to give the players more choices. Army and Wing commanders were given elan points that they could use, either directly to support fighting units, or to top up the elan of subordinate commanders. I also decided not to use the written order counters, instead telling players that they must obey the orders of the player in command. In our experience, a multi-player game brings enough of its own command friction. I’ll certainly use order counters for one-to-one games in future.
What happened in the game
The French side had 4 players and the Coalition 3. Matt was Napoleon; Paul took II, V and VIII Corps; Nick was Murat with the reserve cavalry and Harry led XI and II Cavalry Corps. For the Coalition, Chris as Schwarzenberg took columns 1 and 2 and the Austrian reserves; Ian led columns 3 and 4; and Dan was Constantine with the Russian and Prussian reserves. This led to Harry and Ian locking horns on the Eastern flank; Paul and Chris in the West; and Matt facing Dan in the centre. Nick, meanwhile, seemed to have horsemen in every sector of the field at one point or another. He had no difficulty channeling his inner Murat!
The first stage of the game looked good for Napoleon and saw Harry push Ian back from his starting positions, while Paul headed down the river Pleisse. The Coalition lost several units in the east and the 3rd column was wiped out before the French had lost a single division. However, when the Coalition reinforcements arrived the confrontation became more equal. The Coalition were ready to give ground where necessary as all they needed to do was survive, whereas the French could only win by pressing their attack. The losses evened out somewhat when the Austrian reserves and 2nd Cavalry Corps took on Paul’s Poles and French in the west. In the centre the French Guard cavalry, V Corps and the Young Guard attacked the Prussian guard infantry who were, understandably, very tough to crack. In the west a minor disaster struck the French as Prussian heavy cavalry destroyed a French cavalry division and charged on into a march column of… Old Guard infantry! This division had been sent to bolster VIII Corps (as indeed happened in history) but was caught en route and in the worst possible formation.
Soon after, we agreed that the French were not going to achieve the breakthrough they needed and that Napoleon would decide, as he did on the day, to call off the attack to avoid further losses. We totalled the remaining elan and found that the French had 3 more points than the Coalition. Technically this meant a marginal win for Napoleon but by such a small margin that we agreed it was at best a winning draw. Our day had run from 11.30 to about 4.30 with a break for lunch and we had got through 8 turns.
Post match Analysis
At the point we stopped playing, I asked the players to leave the units in place. I’m glad I did. I had spent the game at the eastern end of the table, so could only see the centre and eastern sectors from a distance. My general impression was that apart from some cavalry charges, the French centre and right had not gained much ground. But after the game, when I walked round the table, it was clear that the French centre had advanced further forward than I’d realised. There was admittedly a solid wall of Russian Grenadiers and Guards in front of it but the French, in turn, still had a force of Young Guard and heavy cavalry capable of engaging them. In short, the French came closer to breaking through the Coalition lines than I had thought.
Could the French players have done better than their historical counterparts? It’s hard to see how, unless the Coalition reserves had been delayed in reaching the field (a possibility in the scenario, but an unlikely one). There wasn’t space for clever outflanking manoeuvres and the French attacks down the centre ran into too much tough opposition. There were some satisfying examples of game imitating history, for example when the Austrian reserves arrived to forestall the French right, while the Russian Guard Light Cavalry gave the French cavalry a bloody nose under the eyes of the Coalition monarchs. The biggest divergence from history was the retreat of Ian/Klenau’s troops in the east, effectively falling back on the big University Wood to form a refused flank. Ian did well in the face of a determined advance by Harry, supported by a couple of Nick’s cavalry divisions.
The players picked up the important elements of the rules quickly and soon got stuck into the game. As always, they played with good humour and tolerance. From the noise levels and general chatter, I think they enjoyed themselves. I certainly did!
Absolute Emperor: post-game rules review
A multi-player wargame can really test a rules set. As mentioned above, the players picked up the basics of AE quickly and were soon struggling with each other rather than with the rules. The mechanics made sense and there were no outcomes that seemed illogical or ahistorical. A couple of situations arose for which we couldn’t find a rule, but we agreed a way forward and made a note to clarify the picture afterwards. We also agreed that we would happily play with these rules again. So on the general level, I am very impressed.
If you are used to complete, watertight rules with extensive explanations and provisions for every possible situation, you may be surprised by Absolute Emperor. The full mechanics of some advanced rules are not explained. I have in mind particularly the rules for the Grand Battery and for elite formations. This shouldn’t put you off however. The Osprey rule book format is too restrictive to allow full explanations of every rules wrinkle, - but as these rules cost around a third of most available rule sets, I don’t mind joining some of the dots myself. The author runs a Facebook page for Absolute Emperor where he answers queries promptly. Also (and I love this!) he encourages players to adapt the rules to suit their interpretation of history. I admire a writer who is sufficiently confident in the core mechanics of his rules to be relaxed about individuals tinkering at the edges for their own satisfaction.
There are subtleties behind Absolute Emperor that might not be apparent from just reading the rulebook. An example is the Built Up Area, where I had wondered before our game if a garrison might be ejected too easily. In practice, we discovered that the BUA rules make it difficult to evict a garrison that has not been softened up or is not outnumbered, but neither is a garrison impossible to crack (as is the case with some rules). I reckon Boyd Bruce has got the balance here right. In short, I would encourage anybody who has a copy of the rules to play them before forming a judgement on them, since so much more makes sense when you work things through on the tabletop.
So AE will be back on the table again for more big battles. The only question now is which battle to choose.
Building our experience with Lasalle 2
The other day Chris, Paul and I played a game of Lasalle, using the scenario for Unter Laichling in April 1809, "Bristling with Guns", on the scenarios page here. Chris took the Austrians of Rosenberg’s IV Corps while Paul led the French (St Hilaire) and Bavarians (Deroi). Most of Paul’s troops began on table while fully half of Chris’s command were in Reserve. There were two objectives, one each in the villages of Schierling and Unter Laichling.
The Austrians deployed with the Bellegarde Regiment on the left, two battalions of Grenzers in the centre and the Vincent Chevaulegers on the right. They did not garrison the village of Unter Laichling at this stage. St Hilaire deployed in the French centre and Deroi’s Bavarians began on the right. Paul left the wooded area on the French left unoccupied. The French and Bavarian artillery deployed in the hinge between the two commands.
The Franco-Bavarians advanced briskly on the Austrian positions, although the left of the French advance was slowed somewhat by the threat from the Austrian cavalry. An artillery duel began, in which the Franco-Bavarians gained an edge, twice disrupting an Austrian battery.
Where the hell are my reinforcements?
Both sides were awaiting reinforcements and the French 57th Line and Austrian Czartoryski regiments appeared relatively early. The Czartoryski arrived just in time to occupy Unter Laichling before Paul’s battalions attacked. Had the Austrian cavalry not been slowing the French advance down, the village might have been taken without a fight. The cavalry also had the effect of channeling the French advance into the centre, which prevented Paul from attacking the village from three sides.
Although the Austrian right was holding its own, in their centre and left Franco-Bavarian weight of numbers was starting to tell. Chris’s final reinforcements kept refusing to appear and in their absence, his Grenz regiments in particular started to crumble in the unequal struggle.
In the final turn, Austria was reduced to her morale break point. The French had still not taken Unter Laichling, although Paul had lots of fresh units and with more time he could have taken the village, However the last turn represented nightfall and moreover the foot-dragging Austrian reinforcements had finally arrived on the table. We agreed therefore that the French would have to withdraw to their side of the valley and renew their attacks in the morning. Nevertheless, for bringing the Austrians to their break point and holding one of the two objective villages, the French secured a minor victory.
Honours about even
With hindsight, I reckon both players performed better on their right. Paul had the advantage with his Bavarians from the outset, maintaining pressure on the Bellegarde regiment facing them (Neutral I may be but I was secretly pleased for the Bavarian figures: this was their first ever game!). Chris, meanwhile, used his solitary cavalry unit well to slow down and constrict the French advance. He slipped a battalion into the village just in time and his right was still secure by the end of the game.
This was Paul’s first and Chris’s second game of Lasalle 2. They were soon on top of the rules and the game flowed well. They both seemed to have fun and are ready to play again so next time I’ll add some advanced rules. I’m keen to try the advanced skirmisher rules in particular.
Unter Laichling as history and game
So how did the scenario play against the history? Pretty well I think, although of course there are conflicting accounts of exactly what happened on the day. One memoir claims the French took the village of Unter Laichling but doesn’t explain why they didn’t end the day in possession. It seems likely they either never got in or did so, only to withdraw under Austrian pressure. Whatever, as in the real encounter, the Austrians in our game ended the day still in possession of the village and the hilltop position, where they would be when the battle of Eckmühl began the next day.
And how did the scenario play as a game? Again, I think pretty well. The points values equate neatly to an attack-defence scenario in the rulebook and while both sides seemed to feel under pressure, neither complained of being unfairly disadvantaged. I do regret that Chris just couldn’t roll the dice to get his final reinforcements onto the table, despite the odds of succeeding improving every turn. This did limit his options and I was grateful for his philosophical acceptance of his bad luck. That said, Austrian accounts of the battle report that the Archduke Charles’ sole contribution to the day’s fighting was to redeploy certain units without informing their Corps commander, and so handicapping the performance of his own army. Perhaps Chris’s misfortune with his reinforcement dice was a fitting echo of Charles’ meddling on the day!
What next? While the fight for Unter Laichling was going on in the South, the rest of Davout’s Command was advancing through the hilly woodland to the north, trying to find and envelop the Austrian right flank. I am working on a scenario for this fight and will be interested to see how Lasalle plays in dense terrain.