The revised version of Sam Mustafa’s tactical Napoleonic rules, Lasalle, has been some time coming. If I recall rightly, it was first trailed in mid-2019 with the aim of landing in 2020. The release timeline then went vague, presumably in part due to Covid, and it finally appeared in February this year. As he usually does with new rules, Sam put various teasers and extracts on the Honour website in advance, including two quick reference sheets: one over several pages and a single-sider for hardcore players. I bought the new rules in pdf and print. As is now the Honour standard, they are well laid out, clearly written and nicely illustrated. There are also several opportunities to find out why a rule was written as it was and generally to understand the author’s design philosophy.
If you haven’t read the rules yet, I’d say their most important feature is the lack of a fixed player turn or sequence of play. Both players begin each turn with a variable number of momentum points, with which they can pay for various actions. The initiative can pass between the two sides several times until both run out of momentum, when the turn ends. The order in which a force might move, fire, change formation, charge or rally is entirely up to the player. It makes for some tough choices, careful timing and steady nerves.
After a read-through of the rules and some solo moves I thought Lasalle 2 looked promising, but I was finally able to test it with live opponents last Friday, in our first face to face game since March last year. Now, I suppose I should aim off a bit for the excitement of live gaming after such a long break, but I had a fantastic time and was absolutely delighted with these rules.
A brief battle report
We used the Markkleeberg scenario from the first day of the battle of Leipzig, on the scenarios page here. Dan took Poniatowski and his Poles, reinforced later by French from Augereau’s Corps. Spencer took the role of Kleist, assaulting the village and the high ground to its north east with the Prussian 12th Brigade and 14th Russian Division.
Dan deployed the Vistula regiment in Markkleeberg and the rest of his infantry behind the stream, with artillery on the hill behind. He divided Uminski’s Cavalry Division, putting the cuirassiers on the eastern flank and the Krakus and horse artillery behind Markkleeberg in the West. Spencer masked off the village with three artillery batteries and massed the rest of his force on the eastern half of the table, with the Prussians in front of the Russians.
Spencer advanced on the Polish line behind the stream, halting to exchange fire while his landwehr lancers sent Dan’s cuirassiers packing in an upset victory (I bear some responsibility for this: I encouraged Dan to come forward, assuring him he wasn’t running a big risk. I was wrong. All things considered, he was remarkably good about it!). Dan’s artillery did some impressive damage early on, destroying a Russian battery and disrupting several battalions. Spencer’s troops were initially packed in a small area so suffered a fair bit from bounce through, although they rallied most of this off. The Polish Infantry in line had the better of the firefight with the Prussian columns, as one would expect. Dan then decided to exploit the disruption of the left hand Prussian column by crossing the stream and attacking it. This was a great success and the Prussian unit was destroyed. Dan used the ‘huzzah’ counter to then bowl into the flank of the next unit along, in which the odds were stacked in his favour. However, Spencer achieved his second upset victory of the game, which stopped Dan’s attack and saved Spencer’s bacon. The attack had been so well conceived that Spencer actually apologised for defeating it.
On the western flank, the artillery duel didn’t do much damage, except when Dan took it into his head to send the Krakus skittling South past Markkleeberg, where they took a pasting from Spencer’s cannon and scuttled back to their starting position with several empty saddles. It appears that Dan had heard of the Charge of the Light Brigade but didn’t know how it turned out.... It was his only misstep in an otherwise masterful game.
Back East, reinforcements arrived for both sides, in the nick of time for Dan as Spencer was just swinging around his flank and racking up kills. The landwehr lancers wiped out a French battery soon after it entered the table and two Prussian columns destroyed Dan’s eastern-most Polish battalion. The French reinforcements managed to plug the gap in the line but Spencer was one unit away from inflicting sudden death on the Polish side.
In the final stage, Dan sent his three surviving Polish battalions over the stream and into the Prussians with whom they had been engaged for most of the game. The Poles had inflicted more losses in the preceding firefight and so were in better shape, but even so we were not expecting quite the success they enjoyed. First one, then a second Prussian battalion was destroyed, pushing Spencer past his sudden death limit.
“What do you think of the rules so far?” “Brilliant!”
We thoroughly enjoyed the game and were greatly impressed by the rules. The momentum rules at their heart work smoothly and keep both sides involved throughout the turn. The concepts are easier to play than they are to explain and the fluid sequence of play makes for a tense and exciting game. The simple movement rules spared us the fiddling and bickering that accompanies some tactical rules I know. The rules don’t impose a straitjacket on the players but they reward ‘historical’ deployment and formations and punish rash actions, as Dan’s cavalry found out!
As ever, Spencer and Dan threw themselves into the game with good humour and sportsmanship. Although his victory was snatched from him, Spencer was so impressed by Dan’s game-winning attack that he was genuinely pleased it succeeded. It is always a pleasure to play with such people.
I’d like to play Markkleeberg again but our next outing with Lasalle will see French and Bavarians facing off against Austrians. Lots of Austrians.
Over the Easter weekend I was able to play two socially distanced wargames with my son Nick, using the To the Strongest rules (TtS) by Simon Miller.
We play TtS with 25mm figures on a 6” grid. The figures are a mix of ages and manufacturers, some of them dating back to 1981 when, aged 21, I started collecting Classical Greeks by Minifigs and by the long-defunct Rospaks. I have added to the collection over the years, with both modern sculpts by First Corps and Newline Designs and older models picked up through eBay or gifted by a friend who has downsized to 15s. I now have Greeks, Macedonians, Gauls, Iberians, Carthaginians and Republican Romans. The Romans are an entire army of very early Minifigs from the collection of a gamer who had passed away. I felt honoured to re-home them. Their spears are like telegraph poles and sculpting definition can be fuzzy but they have great character. And unlike so many ‘heroic’ scale figures, their proportions are realistic. To my eye, too many 28s today look like Space Marines in togas. But I digress!
The death of Leonidas
Our first game was a battle between my Athenians and Nick’s Spartans. His hoplites had the qualitative edge while I had more lights. While the two flanks bickered, our centres got stuck in, with Nick’s lads doing marginally better. We both had success with our left flank forces, so as the fight developed, each of our right flanks had to deal with the danger of being rolled up. I was losing victory medals faster than Nick but then had the good fortune to kill his heroic general, which brought our losses into balance. The cards went my way next turn, destroying one more Spartan hoplite unit and the battle was mine. The whole thing was very close however and at game’s end I had only one victory medal surviving. Still, a win is a win!
The game felt very satisfying as a clash between two hoplite armies, with no fancy manoeuvres and no detached generals. Our lights kept busy fighting each other but the game’s outcome was decided by the hoplites.
Hannibal ad portas
Game two was between Nick’s Carthaginians and my Romans. I was seriously outnumbered and Nick set out to envelop my army. On the other hand my infantry were rock hard and their pila gave them an edge on the first turn of combat. I set out to demolish Nick’s centre while I refused both of my flanks and kept my triarii back to act as a fire brigade. Nick placed all his cavalry on his right flank and two units of elephants on his left, along with some high quality Iberian Scutarii.
My centre started well, doing serious damage to some Gauls and wiping out a unit of citizen spearmen. However, the general in command of my centre then missed a turn at a key moment when he drew two aces in succession on his first activation. This allowed Nick time to patch up his centre while his left wing trundled down as far as my baseline and turned to face inwards. I squandered my next turn in a bout of tunnel vision, trying multiple activations on one unit so it could destroy a double-disordered unit of Gauls. Of course I failed the third activation on my unit and so ended the turn without activating a single other unit in the Command. I know, I know! Basic mistake and I should never be so dumb, except I was so fixated on the opportunity to destroy the single enemy unit I was attacking that I completely forgot my own advice.
Meanwhile Nick’s left wing started grinding down the troops defending my right rear, as well as threatening my front line from the side. At this point our lines were in an ‘L’ shape, with particular pressure on my units in the angle. Then in one turn, a flurry of high card hits by Nick, met with low card failed saves by me, took him comfortably over the victory line. To his only slight disappointment, he had won without his elephants actually fighting anybody. But we agreed that they had done great work forcing me to conform to their advance.
How (not) to play Republican Romans
That didn’t go well for me, but as we played we agreed some resolutions for the next time the Romans fight. Ideally, we would seek to use terrain to negate the enemy’s numerical advantage. In this game, it was Nick who exploited rough ground to shelter his advance down his left flank. Next, the Roman shouldn’t wait around to be outflanked by a bigger force: the heavy infantry should get stuck in quickly and try to eat up the enemy centre before the flanks and rear are threatened. Once engaged, the first priority each turn must be to use the Romans’ special line exchange rule for every unit that is disordered (representing the fresh principes replacing the tired hastati in the front line). This is a really powerful advantage but I lacked the discipline to sort out the line before other activations. At least twice, my command’s turn ended before I had attempted a line exchange. Finally, we decided that if possible, every command should have just one main function. My centre command Included both front line units and my reserve. Besides making it a very big command, I was trying to deploy the triarii to face Nick’s flank attack and to fight his centre to the front. Too often, the command’s turn ended before one group or the other had completed its tasks.
It is of course one thing to draw conclusions after a game but entirely another to remember them next time I play. And in case I haven’t made it clear: I didn’t ‘throw’ the game. Nick conclusively won it, making great use of his army’s strengths and obliging me to respond to his movements. A classy win for Carthage.
Out of lockdown with To the Strongest
The second game was much more fluid than the hoplite encounter had been and it felt a bigger challenge for both of us. The card activation system in To the Strongest is inspired. A sensible player can minimise the risk of their turn ending prematurely but very occasionally, as when I drew two aces in succession at the start of one turn, bad luck just happens. Fair enough. On the other hand, it is all too easy for an idiot like me to get drawn into the drama of a single combat and completely forget that I should be taking care of other activations before trying again with the critical combat. I reckon a game that draws me in so completely is doing something right.
I remember that when I first read the TtS rules, I wondered if units had enough hits/lives to sustain a good game. I also worried that a squared grid might be too restrictive on movement. Neither concern survived contact with actual play. I very soon concluded that these rules are perfectly gauged to give an exciting and rewarding game, with the strong sense of what I would expect from an ancient battle. They are also so easy to learn and (crucial at my age!) to remember during play.
After months and months without a face to face game, it was wonderful to be playing again. Fingers crossed, if the road map out of lockdown stays on track, we can soon play a great many more.
This post completes the story of our refight of Waterloo, played in 2015.
Special house rule: garrisons for strongpoints
I have a lot of skirmisher bases from Volley & Bayonet days, mounted on 1.5" squares. The Allies were allowed to use these to garrison La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont if they wished. A small base began with up to 3 élan points, subtracted from a parent unit. It would benefit from the attributes of its parent brigade as well as the usual urban area benefits (+2 for it, -1 for the attacker). In the Allied turn, a friendly brigade within 3" and unengaged may reinforce the garrison by transferring élan points to it, reducing its own élan accordingly. However the most élan points that may garrison either strongpoint at any one time is 3. I prepared similar markers for the French in case they took either strongpoint and wished to garrison it.
Each side had three players. They selected cards to determine side and whether CinC or subordinate. The briefing notes for Napoleon and Wellington are below.
Your army is all present on table. You will set up second, on the ridge of La Belle Alliance including, if you wish, the spur east of La Haye Sainte. Your objective is to open the road to Brussels and knock Wellington out of the war. You have two subordinate players, to each of whom you should allocate an infantry corps. You may also allocate other formations to these players although you may retain as many of these formations under direct control as you wish. Each of you should deploy your forces in accordance with your instructions as CinC. During the battle you may devolve control of any formation to a subordinate, but with a one turn delay: they may only move the added formation the turn after you allocate it to them. On the other hand, you may take direct control of any units of any formation yourself, immediately and without consulting your colleagues.
In the early hours you heard from Grouchy that he is before Wavre. This means he is unlikely to reinforce you today, as to do so he would have to pass through the Prussians. However if he presses his advance this morning as you have ordered him to, he should at least prevent the Prussians from reinforcing Wellington."
You will set up first. Your objective is to stop the French from advancing on Brussels and to hold on until help arrives from Blucher. Your army may deploy anywhere on table, no further South than the two strongpoints. You have two subordinates, to whom you should allocate at least two infantry divisions apiece and as many as you wish. You may also retain direct control of a reserve.
During the battle you may devolve control of any formation to a subordinate, but with a one turn delay: they may only move the added formation the turn after you allocate it to them. On the other hand, you may take direct control of any units of any formation yourself, immediately and without consulting your colleagues."
I admit the instructions on allocating troops to subordinates don't match the historical command structure but this is a game after all and I wanted everyone to have a satisfying command.
Keith, our eighth participant and seventh player agreed to help as umpire from the start and to take on the role of any reinforcing commander (of either nationality) if and when they arrived on the field. He was reconciled to the possibility that he might not arrive at all but he is a natural umpire who genuinely enjoys the job. He was also the only other person who had played Blucher before.
How it played out
The Allied deployment broadly followed history, except with more troops on the West flank. The strongpoints of La Haie Sainte and Hougoumont were garrisoned, as were Papelotte and Frischermont on the Eastern flank. We used the 100 Days cards to place units, replacing them with figures when they were revealed to the enemy.
The French set up with only the Guard facing the Allied centre; I Corps was to the South and West of Hougoumont and II Corps set up opposite Papelotte. VI Corps was in reserve behind II Corps.
The fight began with a determined left hook by D'Erlon, supported by IV Cavalry Corps. In the East, Reille became engaged with the enemy in Papelotte and Frischermont. The centre stayed mostly inactive at the start, apart from some bombarding by Napoleon's heavy guns.
The Allied defence on both flanks was spirited but Napoleon pressed his generals to keep up the early momentum. The Allied Right started to crumble under the pressure but a series of hard-hitting counterattacks by British and Brunswick cavalry brigades bought some breathing space. On the opposite flank, the French stalled outside Papelotte. News then reached both sides of a force approaching from the East. It soon became clear that Blucher, not Grouchy was on his way to the battlefield.
Aware that time was running out, Napoleon launched the Guard in the centre, in the first serious action of the day in this sector. At the same time, the French Left resumed its assaults and a series of Allied brigades were eliminated in quick succession.
At this point, Blucher arrived with 15 and 16 brigades from Bulow's Corps, increasing the Allied morale total and staving off collapse. Napoleon sent VI Corps to face the new threat but also reinforced his centre with the Guard Cavalry. By this point, his only reserve on the table was the Red Lancers of the Guard. One more turn of hammering pushed the Allies over even their adjusted morale level. The Anglo-Allies began their retreat; the Prussians, realising that the field was already lost, halted their advance and moved onto the defensive. They had come too late to save Wellington from defeat. The day was Napoleon's.
Post Match Analysis
The game had lasted from 11am to 5pm, with a break for lunch. In game turns, working to the broad rule of 45 minutes per pair of player turns, the battle ended around 7pm. The early turns had dragged a little as the players learned the rules, but it soon picked up speed. It was a great feeling to reach a firm conclusion inside one day's gaming.
The players seemed to enjoy the day and certainly picked up the principles of the game quickly. Most of the rules made sense to them, although there were inevitably a few concerns about bits and pieces. The main wish was that infantry could fire in more situations, for example after changing facing. There was also a suggestion that if prepared units took a difficult move, they might retain their prepared status. On the other hand, some thought that prepared units should not be permitted to skirmish, presuming that part of being prepared would involve drawing in the brigade's skirmishers.
The feel of play was smoother than Napoleon's Battles or Volley & Bayonet. I think we would have been hard put to reach a conclusion with either set in the same time span. It is also interesting to follow Sam Mustafa's journey from Grande Armee, through Fast Play Grande Armee, to this. Blucher is stripped of all but the key game mechanics, yet retains a convincing period feel. The use of momentum dice puts real pressure on the players to move the important formations first. The reserve rule, which allows a one-off burst of speed to units that are still concealed, is an entertaining mechanic that both encourages the players to keep reserves and creates tension when these are finally committed.
The game was a joy to umpire and I found answers to all the rules questions that arose. From where I stood, the French deserved their victory, having chosen a good plan and stuck tenaciously to it. The Allies tried hard to hold them, especially Chris on the beleaguered Right who handled his cavalry particularly well. But it wasn't to be and when the line started to unzip, it gave way decisively.
Recently, Nick and I played our first game of Speed Freeks, the Games Workshop game of warring Orks on buggies, bikes and improbable dragsters.
He and Will bought me the game last year, mainly for reasons of nostalgia, since this game is a descendant of the old GW classic, Gorkamorka.
Gorkamorka was our entry game into the GW universe. One day in 1997 we came across a demo of this brand new game in the Games Workshop branch in Staines. We left the shop with the boxed game and that was it. We collected most of the metal figures and later picked up Digganob, which added human, grot and mutie mobs. We loved the random silliness, both of the background and of the rules themselves.
When GW released the 3rd edition of 40K, our Gorkamorka figures became the nucleus of an Ork army. We still have all of our original models, although the plastic boyz on narrow bases were pensioned off when GW released Brian Nelson’s (still) excellent plastics. We played Gorkamorka for a good while before it slowly gave way to 40k.
Anyway. Fast forward to 2018 and we were intrigued to learn about the release of Speed Freeks. I might have dropped a hint or two, so on my next birthday I received the new boxed game.
The Speed Freeks box is packed full of models, markers and even a reversible playing board. The models are exquisite and the markers very solid. In comparison, Gorkamorka also had everything we needed to start playing, except for a surface. Of course, the buildings were a mix of coloured card and plastic bulwarks and the models, though quite serviceable, were less elaborate than nowadays. But unlike Speed Freeks, Gorkamorka had figures and rules for dismounted figures and the wartrukk was designed to carry individual foot models. There were even specially designed narrow bases to allow players to cram more figures onto the vehicle. Speed Freeks has no rules or models for figures on foot: in today’s version, every Ork or grot is on a bike or buggy.
The most striking difference I suppose is that Gorkamorka provided an extensive back story and campaign system which was further elaborated in the supplement, Digganob, with several additional mobs and models. The Speed Freeks box provides a bit of backstory for atmosphere and a sort of campaign. It is also possible to buy a few more models to supplement the box contents, but the new game is more of a stand alone game that does not draw the players into its world to the extent that Gorkamorka did.
Nick and I played our first game using the buggies from the Speed Freeks boxed set, four old 40k bikes and the two wartraks from the Gorkamorka box. At this point we noticed another great difference between the two games: while Gorkamorka’s mechanics were rooted in 2nd edition 40k, Speed Freeks has totally different rules, including special combat dice, which the players distribute in secret at the start of each turn. The rules are quick to learn and give an unpredictable and very enjoyable game. The mechanics owe a lot to X Wing, and even to Wings of War (or Wings of Glory, depending on how old your set is). Movement uses a set of measurement sticks, some of them distinctly curvy. In a challenging twist, there are limits to the number of times the more interesting sticks can be used. This means that a player really has to plan his mob’s actions as a team, since that useful curvy stick might only be usable once in the turn. There is also a good chance that a vehicle will spin at the end of its move, ending up facing completely the wrong way.
Unpredictable Speed Freeks may be, but the players still shape the play, both by the allocation of dice at the start of each turn and the selection of movement sticks.
The rules add up to an unpredictable and atmospheric game, in which buggies and bikes careen around the field, colliding, firing wildly and blowing bits off each other. We had a fine time. Speed Freeks plays fast too and is ideal for filling a free hour. I even think a non-wargamer would enjoy it, although I need to test this theory on some unsuspecting family members.
We will certainly be playing and enjoying this game again, but I doubt we will be starting a campaign. For that, I don’t think Gorkamorka can be beaten.
I have been running a second Shenandoah Valley wargame campaign, this time with four new players, two rebels and two Federals. We are using the map and rules from the first campaign (here) but set later in 1862, with more forces and four separate commanders: Frémont and Banks versus Jackson and Ewell. To cater for four players I made one basic change from the historical situation: Ewell is not subordinated to Jackson. Otherwise the troops are based on those present in the historical campaign.
The first five turns have seen various skirmishes and one or two bigger actions that I have resolved with weighted dice rolls, using a board game-style combat results table. But this turn we had our first big battle at which both sides were determined to slog it out, so I played this on the table with instructions from the three players whose characters were on the field. The location is Strasburg, on the Valley Pike, where Jackson, played by John, attacks Frémont (Keith) and Banks (Dave) from the West. Jackson had earlier bundled two federal brigades out of Moorefield and then Wardensville. In response the Federals, who had been moving southwards down the Valley, concentrated on Strasburg ready to protect their main supply line.
Rules and figures
I used the On to Richmond rules published by the Courier in the 1980s. These rules got me into ACW gaming and although I haven’t played them for several years I had fond memories of them. My usual rules, Longstreet or Pickett’s Charge, were too small scale for the numbers involved while OTR uses brigades as units and a scale of 1” to 50 yards. OTR uses a card-activated sequence of play, stand removal and D10 and D100 dice rolls. Figures were 12mm Kallistra figures on 1” frontage bases, two of which counted as one OTR stand.
I created a map using Google Maps and historic maps of Cedar Run and Fishers Hill, the two battles that took place historically, one north and one south of Strasburg. I sent briefings to the players that I won’t post yet as the campaign is still happening. The players sent back their dispositions and plans for the battle. I set up the table on Thursday and played the game the next day.
3rd West Virginia Cavalry
Two artillery battalions
One artillery battalion
Three artillery battalions
The Federals deployed Cluseret and Schenck in entrenchments along the railway embankment around Strasburg. These were the brigades that Jackson had previously ejected from Moorefield and Wardensville. Artillery was placed in the fort northeast of the town. Other troops were deployed in hiding, some within Strasburg town and some behind woodland in the northeast corner of the table. 3 West Virginia cavalry deployed to the west of the position on Fishers Hill, the high ground south of Tumblers Run. The federal plan was to hide its strength until the rebels had fully committed to an assault.
Jackson started with two large brigades on table: Garnett and Fulkerston, each comprising two formations in OTR, plus an artillery battalion. Connor’s brigade arrived from Wardensville soon after with further artillery.
Jackson began his attack against the enemy’s left flank, ignoring the federal centre and right. Frémont’s cavalry, defending Fishers Hill, tried to slow Jackson’s advance. The cavalry successfully held up Garnett, the leading Confederate brigade, while Milroy’s brigade, previously out of sight, formed up behind the railway line to complete the federal defensive line facing west northwest. It’s job done and now under great pressure, the cavalry mounted and retired behind the federal earthworks.
To Garnett’s left, Fulkerston’s Confederate Brigade advanced in line on the Federal earthworks. Its first volley so disrupted Cluseret’s brigade that the latter abandoned their position. Fortunately for Frémont, as Fulkerston advanced his left wing had come under fire for the first time from federal artillery in the fort and was forced to pause to regroup. This gave time for Bohlen’s Federal brigade, waiting in reserve, to reoccupy the abandoned earthworks before the rebels could reach them. The right wing of Fulkerston ‘s brigade however managed to close with the federal artillery that was now alone behind the earthworks and overran it. Before more rebels could join Fulkerston’s left, it was counterattacked by Bohlen and Cluseret, who had regrouped and returned to the combat. Fulkerston’s whole Brigade now settled into a firefight with the Federals and declined to advance again.
Jackson’s reinforcements, Connor’s brigade, now arrived on the table and started moving towards the right flank. At that point two fresh federal Brigades broke cover from the woods in the north-east and marched hard towards the rebel left rear. Brought to a halt in front of the earthworks and now clearly outnumbered, Jackson redirected Connor to face the advancing federal reinforcements and he recalled the troops assaulting the federal left.
Under the cover of Garnet’s Brigade, which had only just become meaningfully engaged in the attack, Jackson successfully extracted his right wing. Two of Frémont’s brigades followed up initially but having fought hard all day, they rested on the field, while the two brigades previously defeated by Jackson remained in the entrenchments before Strasburg. Banks took over the pursuit with Kimball’s Brigade and the 3rd West Virginia cavalry, which had passed through the town and moved north to support Banks. Jackson instructed Connor and his supporting artillery to cover the retreat of the other brigades and while this Brigade was mauled by Banks, it gained time for the rest of the rebel army to get clear.
As the battle ended Tyler’s brigade arrived to reinforce Banks from Kernstown.
Overall Jacksons army had faced odds of over 2 to1 and was fortunate not to suffer more serious losses. His decision to attack the federal left saved him from a much more serious defeat. Banks, hidden in the north-east woodland, had been ready to take Jackson in the left rear once he had become engaged against Frémont. Once it became clear that Jackson would not come round to the north, Banks left hiding in a dash to cut Jackson’s retreat route.
Banks and Frémont dined in Strasburg that evening, satisfied with their success but a little disappointed that Jackson had not been caught completely in their trap.
The Federal battle honours for the engagement went to Milroy’s brigade and to Cluseret who, after first running from the enemy, recovered and then helped repulse them from the union position. In Jackson’s army the most resolute troops were Fulkerston’s brigade which made it into the earthworks despite heavy small arms and artillery fire. Garnett was less impressive, allowing himself to be slowed down by a small but determined Federal cavalry regiment. He nevertheless fought a solid fighting retreat and suffered very few losses from the engagement. Connor fought splendidly against superior numbers but paid for his stubbornness.
I now have to roll these results into the outturn report. I very much appreciate the readiness of all four players to devote their minds to this campaign and to allow me to determine their fate on the table. It must be frustrating, especially for the side that comes second!
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.
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!
The other day, Dan and I played our first game of To the Strongest, the card-driven Ancients game by Simon Miller. I had picked up the rules at Salute the year they were published and liked the look of them but hadn’t got around to playing them. In recent years our group started using L’Art de la Guerre for Ancients games and it seemed better not to confuse things with a different set. However when I later bought, played and greatly enjoyed Simon’s and Anthony Brentnall’s ECW set For King and Parliament, I was keen to give TtS a go. As Dan is a committed classicist but new to Ancient wargaming, he was the ideal partner for the first game.
TtS already has a loyal following but deserves to be better known. The designer’s notes explain that it was designed to be learnt easily and to play smoothly and quickly. With these aims in mind it uses a square grid and normal playing cards, which are used to regulate all actions and outcomes. It achieves its objectives beautifully. That said, I have read that both the grid and playing cards have put some people off trying it. If so, that is a shame: to my mind, the square grid helps constrain the players to a more plausible range of tactical choices than the fast and loose manoeuvres one sometimes sees with other rules sets. As for the cards, if they are a problem, they can be replaced by ten-sided dice without changing the mechanics at all. Using playing cards does however allow spectators to see what is going on and I am quite happy to stick with them.
We kept things simple with a 100 point battle pitching Peloponnesian War Athenians against Spartans. I hoped the limited range of troop types involved would ease us into the game, without too many special rules to remember. Of course, we did need to assimilate the key Hoplite rule (no diagonal left movement; diagonal right counts as a simple move). I also lacked the quantities of javelin-armed light infantry required for two Hoplite armies, so over the two days preceding our game I frantically completed three new 8-figure units. Not the prettiest paint jobs but serviceable. One of these units, 8 plastic peltasts by Rospaks, had been waiting unpainted in my projects box since (can it be true?) 1982. Proof that the incentive of a looming game can unblock the tightest of painting jams.
Dan took Athens while I led Sparta. In general, I had a better quality phalanx while Dan’s light troops were mostly superior to mine. We each placed our single cavalry unit on our right, with light infantry shared between the flanks. In the opening phases, the lights sparred on the wings while our hoplite lines approached each other. Dan’s cavalry overran the light javelins on my left and went deep, capturing my camp, destroying its ammunition reserves and losing me 3 victory medals. At about the same time the centres clashed. Obviously the memo about Spartan quality hadn’t reached the card deck as for a good two turns, I drew high when I wanted low and low when I needed high. Fortunately hoplites need three disorders to die and I did start landing blows before disappearing, although a disordered unit has a much reduced chance of hitting in melee (8+ instead of 6+).
Dan chose to take his cavalry out of my camp to attack my centre from behind and I was able to retake it. I took back the 3 victory medals but not the ammunition supply, as it seemed likely that this would have been lost in the plundering. I did get a breathing space from my recovered medals and then, when I was fortunate enough to kill one of his generals, it seemed for a moment like I might retake the lead. But then I lost an allied hoplite unit in my centre, which allowed Dan to break into my line and take all my victory medals. It was a deserved win.
We enjoyed the game thoroughly and agreed that the rules are very quickly absorbed. The battle also felt right for a clash of two hoplite armies. Our light troops were all a bit crap, as they should have been, apart from Dan’s Cretan archers. The Hoplites had the resilience one would expect to see, combined with a satisfying lack of manoeuvrability. Fond as I am of L’Art de la Guerre, I do not think ADLG gives either the look or the feel of a hoplite encounter: too many gaps appear in the line and too many mini-units zip around into enemy flanks and manage other moves that are way too complex for this period. TtS felt more convincing, but still gave the choices and challenges that make a wargame enjoyable.
The figures used are a mixture of old plastic Rospaks and Minifigs. The oldest were painted in 1982, when I was more frivolous about accuracy (if you look carefully you will spot both Snoopy and Charlie Brown on the Athenian shields). I am so happy that during the many years I spent away from Ancients, I didn’t find these armies a new home.
Since our game I have been painting more Gauls, with a view to seeing how they play with TtS, against either a later Greek army or Republican Romans. Poor Dan is in for some more Ancients gaming very sooon.
Last Sunday, my son Nick and I played a game of Warhammer for the first time in around eight years. His Orc horde faced off against the men of Hochland, in a 2500 point battle using Warhammer 7th edition rules and army lists.
For a good twelve years from about 1999, Nick, his brother Will and I were obsessed with the worlds of Warhammer and 40K. Like GW’s new releases, we tended to alternate our games between Old World and Far Future. I had a soft spot for the Empire and Imperial Guard and Nick and Will both liked the Orcs - and Orks.
After about 2010 our GW games trailed off as the boys grew up and Nick began to share my interest in historical gaming. When we have occasionally returned to GW, we played 40K or Epic as these seemed easier to pick up after a break. This Christmas, however, we decided it would be fun to revisit the Old World. We agreed to revise the rules and army books and met up for the game last weekend.
We had started Warhammer with the 5th edition and played through to the 8th. While we must have played more games of 6th edition than any other, Number 7 was our favourite, especially for magic. 8th edition made changes that favoured immense, unwieldy units and created new terrain rules that just felt silly to us. It also had fewer possible combinations in magic and other items than the earlier editions.
I’m not sure how the GW player community would classify 7th edition. From what I read, I don’t think it, or any of the editions we played, are early enough to qualify as ‘Oldhammer’. Whatever the label, 7th was our choice for the reunion bash.
And bash is the word. Nick chose numbers and filled his centre with black orcs and boys, with goblins on both flanks, a giant on his far left and wolf riders, spider riders and a squig herd on his right. I had a smaller force, with 20 knights and two spear blocks on the right, a steam tank, pistoliers and 20 swordsmen on the left and two great cannon in the centre with handgunners between them. My plan was to hold him on the left and centre and swing my right around to roll up his line. Nick’s plan was to break my centre and skirmish on the right, while blocking on the left with 40 night goblins and the giant. He had two shamans, while I had one wizard and Luther Huss, who I took as my army general.
The game started well for me. Early on my cannon dealt some serious damage to the black orcs and actually broke them. But they rallied quickly and got back into the action. I then misfired both of my great cannon, with each losing two rounds of fire at a crucial stage of the orc advance. Nick had his share of bad luck too, when his goblin fanatics failed to wound a single human but caused spectacular damage to their own unit and then knocked three wounds off his giant. How we laughed.
To cut to the chase, Nick’s boys completely crushed my centre. My right had some success against the night goblins but this performance was frankly a poor return on the points invested in my units. Nick’s right didn’t get going until late in the game, partly due to animosity. I conceded after turn five, having no troops at all in my centre, only a couple of units on my right and the steam tank soldiering on alone on the left. There was no coming back from the Orc sledgehammer.
That was such fun. We had forgotten the humour in Warhammer: fanatics, squig riders and squabbling orcs add up to some memorable moments. We agreed that we had both forgotten how to make best use of our troops and our army lists (especially mine) could have been more thoughtful. For example, I forgot to buy a dispel scroll for my wizard, which is an item I used never to leave home without. I also invested a lot of points in the two units of knights that I then kept out of the main action. That, frankly, was a waste. I was a bit unlucky with my two cannon misfires but that wasn’t why my centre folded: I had been daft to place so few troops there.
We agreed afterwards that we will play a few more games with the same rules and the same two races this year, so we can relearn how to use our armies. It was challenging and even more fun than I had expected to be back in the Old World.
On 16 January Spencer and I played a game of Chain of Command. I am still learning the ropes but Spencer did a great job helping me to address the subtleties of the game.
The scenario was loosely based on a German counter attack during Market Garden, with Spencer’s elite US airborne in a built up area responding to an assault by my reinforced platoon of regular grenadiers, with Panther support. His morale should by rights have been much higher than mine but the dice rolls left him with 9 and me with 8.
The 6x4 foot table had a street going lengthways down the middle, with houses and ruins on either side and a T junction at one end. Most of the scenery was mine but Spencer brought a lovely lot of rubble, some home made but most from Charlie Foxtrot.
The patrol phase saw each of us trying to gain ground around the other’s right. I was quite happy with the outcome as I think I finally realised how important it is to get patrol markers out in front of the desired jump off points.
On the first turn, Spencer deployed a squad and senior leader on his right. He placed an MMG in rubble and the balance of GIs going tactical in the open, in an early bid to take my left-hand Jump-off Point which was behind his right rear. In my turn I deployed a grenadier squad on this JoP and fired at the Airborne in the open. Some very lucky rolls put a lot of shock on the paras and Spencer decided to pull his squad back behind a wall. Unfortunately for him, he rolled low for movement which meant his squad could only retreat to the wall and had to stay on the German side of it for another turn. I brought on an MG42 and a Panther to lay down concentric fire on the Airborne squad. The Yanks shook off the resulting shock, got over the wall and returned fire. The duel between my regulars and the smaller number of Spencer’s elites was surprisingly balanced, but my original squad’s losses rose and it became pinned, with its junior leader first wounded,then killed. My morale by now had dropped to 5. However, Spencer’s losses also gradually rose and he decided he wouldn’t be able to break the pinned squad before his own losses went critical. Concluding this could only end badly, Spencer withdrew his squad out of sight behind the central building
Meanwhile, in the centre, I brought in my other two squads, placing one in a ruin facing forward and the other behind them and facing right. Spencer deployed a sniper who started nibbling away at the first of these squads, then he brought in another Airborne squad and senior leader on my right flank. As these troops advanced, Spencer brought his original squad round from behind the building to provide supporting fire.
Thus far, the game had been going Spencer’s way, with his morale still intact and mine down by 3 points. But I had been rolling lots of 5s and found myself with two Chain of Command dice. Spencer sent his left hand squad to assault my right flank, which I interrupted with a CoC die. Spencer rolled low for movement and failed to make it into cover. I laid more fire into the advancing Paras, who lost men and some morale points to bad stuff but were still grinding forward. I used the other CoC die to interrupt them again but they still kept coming. Then, I rolled three 6s and was finally able to break Spencer’s left and bring his morale to zero. Game over.
That was fun. Really fun. I cannot gloat as Spencer was most generous in helping me to work out my options and reminding me of the significance of the end of turn. The game had a strong narrative feel and I came across some new and interesting rules wrinkles that didn’t crop up in my first two games.
I was happyish with the table but have decided to buy an urban game mat, as the green high street just looked wrong! I am thinking I would then add green spaces back by making some back gardens and placing these as necessary. I also need more rubble and more walls. Time for another chat with Mr Foxtrot.
I have played wargames for five decades. Recently retired, I have even more time to devote to it. More about me here.