Almost immediately after playing the Plancenoit scenario from the Bataille Empire rulebook (link), I converted the same scenario to 2×2 Napoleonics. The terrain remained the same but crammed into a 2 foot by 2 foot area. The armies were downscaled a bit without changing the ratios between both forces.
The Prussian divisions are deployed at the top from left to right: Prinz Wilhelm (cavalry), Losthin, Hiller. The French are similarly arrayed as in the prior report from left to right: with Domon and Subervie (Cavalry), Simmer, Jeanin.
The view from Plancenoit.
Some turns into the battle the infantry of Simmer and Jeanin try to hold off the Prussians. In the background Prussian divisions of Hacke and Ryssel arrive. French artillery has to keep the center together as a regiment retreats (lower left).
Left of this picture French hussars and lancers have trashed Prinz Wilhelm’s cavalry.
Roughly halftime in the scenario. Not much has changed which is by itself remarkeable. Two French infantry regiments and an artillery battery manage to hold of the bulk of the Prussian forces. Ryssel had to shift his forces to the open flank though to cover the hole left by Prinz Wilhelm.
The Guard arrives at Plancenoit. Other than in my last battle it is needed in this game.
With the last light of the day fading Tippelskirch’s infantry division arrives (upper left). The blue line denotes the imaginary front line. Observant generals will notice how the French position is held together by artillery batteries. Hardly a stable position. To the far right guards have charged the Prussians and stabilized at least the right a bit. Desperately needed as the right road is the only real avenue for the Prussians into Plancenoit.
At the end of the battle the Guard retired to defensive positions in Plancenoit. The two remaining units holding out against the Prussians will soon be surrounded and overrun.
After the battle I removed the French troops that would realistically be surrounded and straightened the Prussian lines. The French have precious little troops left for a defense. A French victory as they still hold the village but only a minor one as Prussians have free range of movement and enough troops to take Plancenoit. Only nightfall prevents them from exploiting the situation.
A very quick and interesting game as always with the 2×2 rules. There were some fortuitous rolls for the French. For example as a Prussian line regiment charged artillery in the open and the French won even with a hefty -3 modifier on their melee roll, keeping the line from buckling. As I classed all Landwehr as militia I finally discovered why they are so cheap. Militia costs half the points of a line regiment with next to no difference. The only difference is a negative rally modifier. This game showed how big the impact of this modifier is, as Disrupted Landwehr is notoriously difficult to rally (6 on 1d6 but only if an HQ is attached). The Landwehr was basically stuck in place and with so many of them needing the attention of both HQ’s.
With a less severe turn limit and a less congested battlefield the scenario seemed more fair than the original one. The French won again but this time it was way closer and there were some lucky rolls for the French.
One thing I noticed again, is the brutal effectiveness of ranged fire against cavalry. This is well balance with infantry and close range artillery fire. The problem is long range artillery fire which makes it easy to protect one’s flanks from cavalry with just an artillery unit.
As with several other modifiers that seem strange in 2×2 Napoleonics at first, there is usually some deeper thought or implication behind it.
Although I played Warhammer related tabletops in my childhood and adolescence my very first tabletop foray into Napoleonics was pretty late. In 2014 I played a Plancenoit scenario with Field of Glory: Napoleonics and a lot of paper counters and terrain. Here is the link, but be warned, its rather basic stuff.
I played countless battles since then but rarely historical scenarios. Their attention to detail and specific requirements of troops is not that interesting to me but for the sake of good old times I decided to revisit Plancenoit.
Bataille Empire (BE) has a scenario about the battle in the rulebook so I settled for it. This would give BE another chance to win me over.
The scenario begins at 6pm with several reinforcements still on their way. The deployment areas are relatively fixed but I decided that the French try to fend of the Prussians well before Plancenoit. With the reinforcement scheduled, a defense in depth might be possible.
The Prussians decided to lead with their Landwehr on the whole front to soften the enemy up. It would be up to the reinforcements to deliver the final blow. As the Prussians are the attackers the action is mainly depicted from their view.
Losthin’s and Hiller’s Assault columns are carefully advancing. French skirmishers and artillery take their toll. Red dice are hits. Infantry can suffer 4, cavalry 3 before they are packed into the box. Green/blue dice are half hits. BE calls these attrition but they are essentially half hits and an added layer of bookkeeping I find mostly unnecessary. I think attrition can be replaced by rolling a die roll. Even causes a hit, odd is ignored. This would add another roll to the procedure but it would declutter bookkeeping from attrition markers. The additional die could be of another color and rolled with the firing dice if attrition is scored which would not take too much time.
Some turns later Prinz Wilhelm’s attack on the Prussian right flank has been checked by far inferior (in numbers) enemy cavalry. Even worse, Jacquinot arrives with more cavalry (upper right) and supports Domon in holding up the Prussians. The two units with skattered base placement at the bottom are disordered Prussian units which retired from melee.
Hacke’s divison arrives on the far left on the march to Plancenoit. I don’t have enough Prussians so Hacke’s troops look suspiciously like Russians. Meanwhile the real Prussians are pushed back on the entire front.
Combined musketry and artillery ripped a hole in the Prussian center. This is not something the French can exploit as Hacke and Ryssel, who arrived with another infantry disivion, have more than enough troops to fill the gaps. But battlefield chaos and retreating troops keep them from doing so for a while. The French are content with redressing their lines and keeping the enemy at bay which is all they need to achieve at the end of this fateful day.
On the French side about halfway through the allotted turns Duhesme’s Young Guard arrives in Plancenoit. The enemy is still far from their objective.
Prinz Wilhelm’s cavalry has been pushed back to the edge of the map and Prussian reinforcements have no space to enter the battlefield. The entire Prussian right flank is up in the air for a turn but shortly after this picture opportunistic French Chasseurs are send packing by solid infantry formations.
It is the beginning of turn 6 of 7 in the scenario. I decided to end the battle here. Prussian losses are high (62% of of cohesion lost) while the French forces are still quite intact (33% of cohesion lost). What’s more is that the Prussians are still far away from Plancenoit, which is worth a big lump of victory points at the end of the game. There is no realistic chance they can win the scenario. This is partly due to the congested battlefield. About half the troops never saw battle and with the tight turn limit it is difficult to change that.
Part of the problem was the abysmal performance of Prinz Wilhelm’s cavalry on the Prussian right flank. They rolled badly turn after turn and a real threat to the French flank never materialized despite superior numbers. Subervie’s cavalry on the French side even stayed in reserve for the entire time as they were not needed.
French Guard reinforcements marching through Plancenoit as the day draws to a close. Waterloo is lost but the French retreat path has been secured.
The battle felt very one sided. Although Simmer and Jeanin had to give ground slowly at the end they still had more than enough fight in them to hold of the Prussians. Not a single Prussian unit ever advanced past their half of the battlefield! I don’t know exactly how much of this is down to scenario design or my unfamiliarity with the rules. In a previous scenario from the book (Jakubowo) I encountered the same problem though. Attacking is difficult and even more so with conscript level troops. This is neither a surprise nor unrealistic, but on both occasions I wondered about the very tight turn limit for the attacking force.
This is not a big issue as I’m not a fan of historical scenarios anyway. The rules are much more of a problem. Well, at least for what I want from them. Some parts are fiddly and long lists of detailed modifiers are time consuming, although they are all quite logical and easy to check. Add to that the reliance of 1d6 for almost every roll. Whether it is firing, melee, morale or maneuver tests. The high variance of 1d6 feels too random even with the ton of modifiers to add or subtract, yet the results are rather predictable as the casualty tables are designed that way.
The results still seem believable and detailed but the system does not feel fun to play for me. Especially as the turn sequence is geared towards individual divisions rather than IGOYOUGO which is more difficult to play solo.
If you like a bit more detailed rules that are still playable and you are not a solo player BE is probably way more interesting for you than it is for me. The very detailed army lists are a nice bonus. They go way deeper than the usual early-late distinction for the major powers and can be used for other rule systems easily.
With my recent interest in the “Allure of Simple Wargaming” I decided to give Neil Thomas’ rules Simplicity in Practice (SIP) from Battlegames Issue 23 a spin (available at Wargame Vault). The rules are 1 page long and probably the most simple ones I ever played Napoleonics with.
I also recently purchased the Adjutant Introuvable (AI). The author Nic Birt describes AI as an “auto strategy system for miniature wargames” (available at Wargame Vault as well). He has two videos (12) to explain the system and I liked what I saw, although the system is a bit limited. But more on that later.
As SIP has no command or friction mechanics whatsoever, I combined SIP with AI. Here are my findings.
As I’m currently reading about the early Italian campaigns I decided on French vs Austrians. In a new twist for me I actually had to choose sides so I took the Austrians. As AI always attacks and I heard attacking is quite difficult in SIP I gave the French a slight edge in forces.
French Army of Italy 10 Close Order Infantry 2 Light Infantry 3 Artillery 1 Heavy Cavalry 2 Dragoons
Austrian Army 9 Close Order Infantry 2 Light Infantry 2 Artillery 2 Heavy Cavalry 2 Light Cavalry
There is only one thing I changed regarding SIP. In the rules Light Cavalry and Dragoons can shoot. I don’t find this to be particularly realistic but kept it in as a kind of morale attack. Therefore I allowed heavy cavalry to shoot as well. What is modeled by this are cavalry skirmishes and the stress of infantrymen being close to enemy cavalry for an extended period of time. I thought about a mechanic like this for some time now, so here was a way to test it.
I deployed my forces first and designed a battle plan as per AI instructions.
Here is my deployment. What is difficult to see in this image is the hilly nature of the battlefield. I deployed one brigade with light cavalry support on each flank, two brigades in the center and my heavy cavalry is in reserve between the left flank and center.
A hasty battle plan. Here you can see the relevant hills as well. The Left flank had a commanding position for my artillery so I decided to defend the hill while light cavalry is ordered to probe. On the right flank the village and fordable river formed a strong defensive position. I decided to defend here as well.
My main thrust would be in the center, where I ordered one brigade to develop a strong position with artillery on the hill. The second brigade was ordered to use the road for a quick advance towards the central village. The force was relatively small but had artillery support from two sides and heavy cavalry in reserve.
I drew three of the nine available attack plans for AI and gave them points as per the rules to rank them in the order of validity. With two villages and very hilly terrain the scores were low but AI eventually decided to try a center attack. This means that the center would try to advance up into my deployment area while both flanks would advance as well but less aggressive and not as far. Given that the other two plans were involving aggressive attacks on the French left flank (French are top so right side in the image), this made sense. The flank was easy to defend for me, which AI noticed.
After rolling for troop assignments to each sector AI ended up with only 1 unit on its left flank (upper right in the image), basically denying the flank. This happened randomly but with my strong defenses again a good outcome for AI. Two artillery ended up on the French right flank which was a bit unfortunate but the angles should work out. In the center a balanced force of 3 infantry, 1 light infantry and 2 Dragoons would be available for the first push with a large reserve for the breakthrough.
French won initiative and would go first every turn. AI checks the tactics used in each sector (flanks and center) every turn and is at times careful and aggressive. There are guidelines how to interpret the rolled results but overall these are very careful. Even in the most aggressive setting “charge” units should only attack if their chance of success would be at least even. This is problematic as a real generals sometimes ordered costly attacks in the hopes to gain a better position in the long run. I tried to stay true to AI’s recommendations though melee attackers in SIP is rarely at advantage.
As I’m effectively playing as the Austrians the battle will be told from my perspective only.
Left flank: My artillery deployed in a way to reach up to the village in the center (upper left).
Center: My brigade on attack order in the foreground using the road to advance. To the left next to the heavy cavalry reserve you can see a lone rider. That’s me!
Right flank: This flank was easy defend even before AI deployed. To the left you can see light infantry holding a wooded area which connects my flank to the center.
Turn 3 left flank: The enemy steadily advances while my artillery bombards enemy Dragoons.
Turn 3 center: On the right my brigade has reached its designated position on the hill and artillery is about to unlimber. My other brigade is checked early by enemy Dragoons. Overall my deployment was a bit shoddy and gave the French time to close quickly. The speed of Dragoons certainly helped. This turn the French also released a limited amount of reserves to support the push. With AI you have to roll every turn if reserves are released and to what amount.
Turn 4 center: A view from the central hill. My artillery deployed and help to disperse light infantry in front of it. The French struggle to redress the lines.
Turn 5 left flank: By turn 5 the battle is in full swing. The enemy deployed his artillery in support and blasts my left flank. I don’t have enough forces to push aggressively.
Turn 5 between left flank and center: The quick push by enemy Dragoons is checked in turn by my infantry and artillery. The French cannot charge as the odds would be bad in a frontal charge.
Turn 5 center: Thick clouds of smoke envelop the center as the attritional firefight begins. The situation looks stable for me but my frontline troops are suffering and my line will be stretched thin soon if I can’t do anything about it. Meanwhile the French still have reserve forces in the back.
Turn 5 right flank: After initial defense my forces are ordered forward in a flanking move. A lone enemy line infantry unit holds the woods.
Turn 8 left flank: This flank gives under constant artillery fire and a bold infantry charge. I’m scrambling to reform my line around my cavalry reserve (just right out of the image).
Turn 8 a general’s view: The brigade once ordered to capture the central village has lost another unit. The center is beginning to look thin. In the distance you can catch a glimpse of enemy Dragoons retiring. They have taken too many hits and are relegated to a support role.
Turn 8 center: Both sides are losing units but the French keep coming (from reserve).
Turn 8 right flank: The French have retired behind the river and reinforced this sector with their last reserve. Both sides are maneuvering into firing positions.
Turn 10 left flank viewed from general: The game ended on turn 10. Here you can see my reformed line with reserve cavalry. The Cuirassiers charged this turn but were beaten back by canister fire.
Turn 10 center: The remnants of my center brigade turn and run. This is the reason I ended the game. With a collapsed center the Austrian position becomes untenable. As you can see there are still more than enough French soldiers behind the wall of smoke.
Turn 10 right flank: Here I am still in a good position. My troops in the foreground are fresh and most enemy units are worn down and close to breaking. Though with a broken center both flanks will be isolated and defeated in detail.
Both sides lost 4 units out of 15 (without artillery) and had multiple units low on hits. As the Austrian cavalry reserve is still fresh I judged this battle to be a clean French victory but not one that is strategically decisive.
Thoughts on Simplicity in Practice
I think, the system does what it sets out to do. After a few turns I memorized the important stats and the game flowed quickly. Melee takes more looking up as it has a list of modifiers you have to read carefully. It may be due to the larger number of units I deployed but melee seems almost suicidal for the attack in most situations. Modifiers have a massive impact on the result and the outcome is massive as well. In part this does reflect my reading but it is too hard to pull off. You would need a entire line of light infantry to soften up the enemy and then coordinate a fall back of the light infantry and an advance into melee with line infantry along the entire line. Even then your chances seem about even at best. All in all the game felt more 18th century than Napoleonic. I think at the battalion/regiment level formations and skirmishing are almost necessary to model in your rules in order to see Napoleonic tactics employed on the battlefield.
This criticism should not detract from the fact that SIP is a good and elegant set of rules in my opinion. Movement works is dead simple but works very well. It takes some time playing to see that it is actually difficult to extricate units from firefights. All because the movement rules make sense and not because added mechanics like disruption are used. The rules have several such gems of design. Together with the scenarios presented in the surrounding issues of the Battlegames magazine and the article in volume 22 about the genesis and use of simple rule sets you get quite a bit of material.
Thoughts on Adjutant Introuvable
An interesting system albeit limited. It emphasizes the general plan and deployment much more than actual gameplay. It gave a weighted and believable plan of attack but only if you play accordingly and give the system some leeway. It also can only attack. A defending enemy can easily played without AI of course but that’s not what I meant. Almost all its strategies are rather strong attacks and the tactical strategies cannot switch to retiring if an attack fails. With the terrain set up as is the better strategy would have been to use the central village as strongpoint.
Again, this critique should not detract from AI’s value. It delivered a good simulation of the command of an army where not everything goes like planned and troops are at times rather plodding, at other time surprisingly quick. I have a feeling that much hinges on the amount of troops, the battlefield terrain and especially the rules used. I will definitely give AI another try with another set of rules.
Thoughts on the Combination
During the game I was in the commander’s mindset of how and where to use my forces and saw with desperation how my situation got progressively worse. I was a bit dismayed by the tactical limitations of SIP in regards to attacking. In hindsight I see this battle in a different light. It was in essence quite Napoleonic in that two plans clashed with each other and all the commanders could do is use reserves to sway the battle in their favor. The French one was larger and released at the right time, mine was not.