Portable Napoleonic Battle of Lauerritz

I decided to give the battalion level rules in Robert Cordery’s new book Portable Napoleonic Wargame (Eglinton Books, 2018) a try. After I played a game with the Divisional rules from the book I was disappointed by rule shortcomings and strange combat modifiers. Shooting seemed very effective while melee wasn’t. Two units sharing the same grid space posed quite a few rules questions. The battalion scale rules field a maximum of one unit per grid space which alleviates one problem I had.

The Scenario

Somewhere in Germany during the Befreiungskriege. Two French brigades are sent to the village of Lauerritz to secure the army’s flank. The allies have Russian and Austrian troops on the move against the French. They have more men but leadership is not unified between the allies.

To represent the situation I opted for more strength points for the allies and the use of command decks. The turn sequence is still IGOUGO but sides draw from a deck of playing cards to see how many units they can act with each turn (much like DBA’s pips).

French Army

The French command deck consists of cards with the values 3, 4 and 5.

1st Brigade
General d’Brigade Jeunet (6 SP)
3 battalions of line infantry (each 4 SP average)
1 artillery (2 SP average

2nd Brigade
General d’Brigade Foire (6 SP)
2 battalions of grenadiers (both 4 SP elite)
2 battalions of line infantry (both 4 SP average)

Austro-Russian Army

The allied command deck consists of cards with the values 2, 3 and 4.

Austrian Avant-Garde Brigade
General Tannhaus (6 SP)
2 Battalions of Grenzer (both 5 SP average)
2 Regiments of Hussars (both 3 SP average)

Russian Brigade
General Fedorovitch (6 SP)
3 battalions of line infantry (5 SP poor)

The Battle

The battlefield with fields in the center and Lauerritz to the east of them. French will enter via the road from the south (bottom). The Russians will enter from the west, also using the road. Finally the Austrians will arrive from the center of the northern map edge.
The little green dots are painted 1 Euro cent coins to depict the square grid. I put coins down on every second grid point to reduce the clutter on the battlefield.
The allies arrive and fan out their troops. Austrians farther away to the top.
The french position their artillery behind the fields which stop movement when entering (my own rule) and grab Lauerritz.
Austrian Hussars dash forwards. In the back the other unit of Hussars move around Lauerritz in a flanking maneuver. Both units are shot to pieces without achieving anything in the coming turns.
Firefights erupt west of Lauerritz. Units are constantly pushing and advancing.
After several turns the french finally manage to charge but melee is actually quite harmless compared to shooting in these rules.
The end of the game. Russians manage to flank the french but melee stays indecisive for several turns. Meanwhile another Russian unit flanks around this combat zone and destroys the french artillery. A win for the allies who forced the French to retreat.

Thoughts about the rules

Given how many lightweight rules alternatives there are on the market and for free the portable rules are lacking too much to be played in my opinion.

The above depicted melee was what broke it for me. The way modifiers work, the Russian flanking unit is less susceptible to lose men when flanking. So far so good. But is the French unit in dire straights for being flanked and in combat against two enemies? No, it isn’t. In fact the rather slim chances of losing men are further reduced to a 1 in 6 by the general supporting the French. They can literally fight for a dozen turns without effect while on other parts of the battlefield a unit can be shot to pieces quickly. Not to say that the artillery and musketry modifiers are more to my liking.

Adding to that, I can pretty much play many rules systems with a 1-2 page rules overview (QRS) but the rules layout of this book is standing in the way of clarity in my opinion. Said modifiers are formulated in lists of whole sentences which have to re-read quite a few times to find the ones that apply. A QRS is not included. There are good parts though. The decisions to suffer casualties vs push back tied to unit experience is a clever mechanic forcing the players to make though choices. In the end, though, I will rather move on to other rules that work in my opinion.

7 Replies to “Portable Napoleonic Battle of Lauerritz”

  1. Thank you for your honest review of my rules.

    There is no QRS because feedback from the playtesters was that it was not necessary, as they picked up the way the rules worked in a matter of a couple of turns.

    I’m not sure why having the modifiers explained in sentences caused problems, as I chose that style to make things as clear as possible. I’m sorry if that was not helpful, but feedback from other users has been very positive.

    The Close Combats should have been more decisive, and I would have expected the flanked unit to suffer far more than it appeared to in your battle. I’m not sure why it wasn’t.

    I hope that you find a set of rules that are more to your liking, but I’d urge you to give them another tryout and to change the things that you don’t like to suit them to you particular requirements.

    All the best,

    Bob Cordery

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    1. Thank for your input Bob. I’m as much a collector of rules and rulebooks as of miniatures, maybe even more so. Many successful titles lay out their rules in a concentrated format in a QRS. Hail Caesar even as a abbreviated form of the rules in the back with is excellent in my opinion. Of course your set aims to be much more light weight and you don’t need that much but a single page where unit stats, turn order or modifiers etc. are concentrated is an absolute standard for modern rulebooks in my opinion. A sentence like

      “Increase the D6 die roll score by 1 if a friendly commander is
      in the same grid area as the unit for which the D6 die is being
      rolled.”

      Can easily be cut down to:

      “+1 if a friendly commander is in the grid”

      if you preface the whole section of modifiers with “Modifiers for your unit”. Again, such wording is standard in many rulebooks I read. The following example is from Lion Rampant:

      COURAGE TEST
      • -1 for each casualty the unit has suffered in the game so far.
      • -1 if your retinue has had half or more points of units removed from play.
      • +1 to your total if your Leader’s model is within 12”.

      I just think that there are proven ways for more transparent rules writing.

      Regarding the melee situation:
      A French unit in column with a leader in the same grid hits a Russian unit which is in line. Initially the French add +1 for column on line and +1 for the leader while the Russians are at +0. The French can roll between 3 and 8 on 1d6+2. Assuming 1 is always a hit (which I’m not sure it is the case) the French have a 1 in 6 chance to get it. The Russians have a 1 in 3 chance to be hit.

      Now another Russian unit flanks the French. The French are not initiating combat and are hit in the flank for -1. However they still have a leader (+1) so they are at +/-0 and have a 1 in 3 chance of being hit. If the French fight back in their own turn, they get the +1 bonus for being in column vs line again. So the chances decrease to 1 in 6 again. Unless I understand something wrong here this seems to be a very mild chance to receive hits while being on a 1:2 numerical disadvantage and being flanked.

      If you compare the odds to musketry, melee seems even less deadly. A unit in column shooting on enemy infantry hits in 1 of 3 cases. An infantry unit in line shooting hits 2 of 3 times.

      As English is not my native language I just want to make sure: I write all this in hopes of a fruitful discussion. I intend by no means disrespect to you or your work. If I understood something wrong about the melee rules please correct me.

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  2. I’m not absolutely sure, but I think that you might not have been using the Close Combat system in quite the way in which it was designed to work.

    Using the example you give …

    French have the initiative and a French unit in Column (and with a Commander present) attacks a Russian unit that is in Line. Both side throw a D6 die and modify their scores. The French have +1 for being in Column and +1 for their Commander being present. It is therefore impossible for them to be hit as they have to score 2 to be hit and the lowest modified D6 die score they can throw is 3. The Russians get no bonuses or penalties and therefore have a 1 in 3 chance of being hit (i.e a D6 die score of 1 or 2).

    The Russians now have the initiative and the second Russian unit attacks the French in the flank. Both sides throw a D6 die and modify their scores. The French have +1 for their Commander being present and -1 for being attacked in the flank. They therefore have a 1 in 3 chance of being hit (i.e a D6 die score of 1 or 2). The Russian unit has a +1 for attacking the French in the flank, and therefore has a 1 in 6 chance of being hit (i.e a D6 die score of 1 because the bonus will increase the modified D6 die score to 2 … and units are hit on modified D6 die scores of 2 or less).

    The first Russian unit can then join in the fighting, and both sides throw a D6 die. The Russians have no bonuses or penalties, and have a 1 in 3 chance of being hit (i.e a D6 die score of 1 or 2). The French have +1 for their Commander being present, and therefore have a 1 in 6 chance of being hit (i.e a D6 die score of 1 because the bonus will increase the modified D6 die score to 2 … and units are hit on modified D6 die scores of 2 or less).

    I have played this through several times this evening, and the French do well in their initial attack and generally inflict casualties on the Russian unit that is in Line, but when attacked in the flank, they suffer usually suffer casualties and the Russians don’t.(In one instance the French were hit and then lost their Commander … which really did change the results of the overall Close Combat.) When the French are attacked by the unit they initially attacked, the results tend to be in their favour but I felt that if I was their commander, I’d pull them back out of combat as quickly as possible before the casualties began to mount up.

    I hope that helps you to better understand how I designed the Close Combat system to work.

    All the best,

    Bob

    PS. No need to worry about thinking that I might not like having my game design and mechanisms questioned. You make some good points, but I hope that I have clarified them for you.

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    1. Taking your example which goes hand in hand with mine, we have the following odds in the 2 vs 1 + leader scenario:

      Russian Line: 1 in 3 chance to get hit every Russian and French phase of a turn.
      Russian Line flanking: 1 in 6 chance to get hit in the Russian phase. No chance to get hit in the French phase of a turn.
      French unit in column with leader: No chance of getting hit in the French phase. 1 in 6 chance plus 1 in 3 chance to get hit during the Russian phase of a turn.

      for the sake of simplicity lets say that all units have 4 SP and average and always decide to take the hit instead of retreating. Let us also assume that the leader is invincible. Not to much of an assumption, as his chance to survive three hits (he doesn’t have to survive the fourth) is 91.8%.

      Russian Line would die in 6 turns.
      Russian Line flanking would die in 12 turns.
      French in column with leader would die in 8 turns.

      The impact of the leader is huge. Without the leader the French unit would die in 4 turns. With the luck factor of single dice this may easily lead to situations where the French survive fro quite some turns despite the precarious situation.

      By contrast let us look at the odds when using ranged combat with units that don’t move (+1 modifier)

      Russian Line: Hits the French 5 in 6 times per turn
      Russian Line shooting into the flank: Hits the French every turn.
      French Line (column makes no sense here) with leader: Hits the Russian every turn.

      Can you see how incredibly deadly musketry is compared to melee. The French would be dead by the end of turn 2 or 3. Of course push back out of range and such would make a real combat more likely to last longer but I’m pretty sure the French would die way before turn 8.

      Given the technology involved, long ranged combat in the Napoleonic age shouldn’t be more lethal than any combination of melee and point blank range musketry.

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  3. Re-reading your battle report, I’m not sure why you have rated some units as Elite and others as Poor, but not changed their relative SPs. I would have used the following:

    French Army

    1st Brigade
    General d’Brigade Jeunet (6 SP)
    3 battalions of line infantry (each 4 SP, rated Average)
    1 artillery (2 SP, rated Average)

    2nd Brigade
    General d’Brigade Foire (6 SP)
    2 battalions of grenadiers (both 5 SP, rated Elite)
    2 battalions of line infantry (both 4 SP, rated Average)

    Force totals: 44 SPs; Exhaustion Point: 15 SPs

    Austro-Russian Army

    Austrian Avant-Garde Brigade
    General Tannhaus (6 SP)
    2 Battalions of Grenzer (both 4 SP, rated Average)
    2 Regiments of Hussars (both 3 SP, rated Average)

    Russian Brigade
    General Fedorovitch (6 SP)
    3 battalions of line infantry (3 SP, rated Poor)

    Force totals: 35 SPs; Exhaustion Point: 12 SPs

    This would have changed the balance of forces very much in favour of the French, and would probably have affected the outcome of the battle.

    Something for you to think about if you ever re-fight this battle.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  4. By analysing the individual mechanisms, I think that you are losing track of the fact that these rules were written to produce a fun, fast-to-play, tabletop battle where Leadership was important and making the correct tactical decisions should produce a reasonable result. Therefore, I would expect an Infantry unit to move towards the enemy, give them a volley to weaken them, and then move into Close Combat (which would take at least two activations, during which time they could be subject to enemy fire) or to move relatively rapidly up to an enemy unit in Column and engage them in Close Combat (which might take two activations, during which time they would also be subject to enemy fire).

    The increased lethality of musketry is included in the rules to try to force the players to get their troops into Close Combat as quickly as possible or to manoeuvre them so that they keep out of range until they can be used decisively. If the two sides line up opposite each other and do nothing but shoot at each other, the battle will be more reminiscent of the tactics used in an earlier age when armies were composed of professionals rather than a mixture of veterans and often poorly-trained conscripts.

    In support of my thinking regard the relative lethality of musketry over Close Combat, may I use the following:

    ‘Until the Napoleonic wars the proportion of casualties, killed and wounded, to total effective forces under the system of linear tactics had steadily declined … to about 9 and 16 percent respectively during the wars of the French Revolution. Napoleon’s use of column tactics forced him to reduce the dispersion of forces in the face of increased killing power of musketry and artillery. The result was an increase in Napoleon’s casualty rates to 15 and 20 percent.’
    (Taken from A SHORT HISTORY OF WAR, US Air University website)

    In 1807 during the war between France and Russia and Prussia, Dominique Jean Larrey – a French surgeon in Napoleon’s Grande Armée – studied the wounds caused on one battlefield and found most were caused by artillery and muskets. Only 2 % of all wounds were caused by bayonets. He also found that the damage inflicted during an attack was most often caused by musket balls. In particular, Larrey studied one vicious close combat between the Russians and the French, and found that out of 124 wounds, 119 were caused by musket balls and 5 from bayonets

    I’ve really enjoyed this discussion, and your challenges to my thinking have me look again I my rules and the reasoning behind their design. I suspect that we are not going to agree as to their accuracy (or otherwise) but so far, all the other feedback I have had has indicated that the 300+ people who have bought and used the rules enjoy fighting battles with them. I’m sorry that you did not … but it is – after all – just a hobby that should exercise our minds and our imaginations … and it certainly has.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  5. In the Portable Wargame the shooting rules for infantry are the same in both the late 19th century/colonial rules as well as the rules suitable for WW2. Are the same rules that are used to represent WW2 bolt action rifles being used to resolve smooth bore muskets? Same modifiers and same target numbers?

    I just took a look at the Ancients rules in Developing the Portable Wargame. Exact same modifiers and target number for archers as the bolt action rifles in WW2. Sitting still, commander in the space +1 modifiers, target in cover -1 and a 5+ being a hit.

    I have only ever used the rules for Colonials so I just never noticed this before. I’m actually a little shocked that the ranged weapons are all modeled exactly the same down to the same modifiers and target numbers regardless of whether it is a thrown javelin or a lee-enfield.

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