Elchingen 1805 – Polemos Ruse de Guerre

Inspired by Heretical Gaming‘s many refights of historical battles with the Polemos rules, I gave the rule set another try. On the aforementioned blog you can read a progression from the Napoleonic Polemos General de Division rules towards Polemos Ruse de Guerre. The latter is intended for “the North American Wars from 1754 to 1815” but seems to hold up for Napoleonics as well. I chose the Elchingen scenario from the Bataille Empire rulebook and transferred it to Ruse de Guerre. The set does not distinguish cavalry types so I simply represented heavy cavalry as more experienced troops. I also gave the French a major edge in training as this seems historically accurate to represent better tactical initiative, skirmishing and morale.

Forces

Forces were easy to transfer for the most part. Infantry units represent Battalions and so on. Note that I forgot to field a unit of cavalry under Ney’s command. Let’s say they were on a scouting mission, not that I forgot them or anything like that…

French

C-in-C
Ney (Tempo 2+1d12, Army Cohesion 8)

Ney’s forces (Ney, decisive, Force Cohesion None)
1 Trained Cavalry (combined unit of Hussars and Chasseurs a cheval) Not fielded
1 Trained 8pdr Foot Artillery

Roguet’s Brigade (Competent, Force Cohesion 5)
1 Well Trained Skirmish Infantry
4 Well Trained Infantry

Villatte’s Brigade (Competent, Force Cohesion 6)
1 Well Trained Skirmish Infantry
4 Well Trained Infantry
1 Trained 8pdr Foot Artillery

Laplanche’s Brigade (Competent, Force Cohesion 3)
3 Trained Cavalry (Dragoons)

Austrian

C-in-C
Riesch (Tempo 1+1d8, Army Cohesion 8)

Laudon’s Division (Plodding, Force Cohesion 11)
7 Trained Infantry
1 Well Trained Infantry (Grenadiers)
1 Well Trained Cavalry (Cuirassiers)
1 Trained Cavalry (combined unit of Hussars and Uhlans)
1 Trained 6pdr Horse Artillery

Hessen-Homburg’s Division (Plodding, Force Cohesion 8)
6 Trained Infantry
1 Well Trained Infantry (Grenadiers)
1 Well Trained Cavalry (Cuirassiers)

Deployment

Ney has been tasked to secure Danube crossings and finds himself at odds with an Austrian blocking force at Elchingen. Under cover of his artillery the damaged bridge can be repaired and a bridgehead has to be established. Control of Unter-Elchingen is considered to be the main objective of this battle. The Austrian forces, slow as ever, are not allowed to move voluntarily during turn 1.

Although the Austrians have a good defensive position they lack artillery and Hessen-Homburgs command is divided among both flanks and the center. French troops will arrive in the order of Villatte, Roguet and Laplanche on the bottom road as space permits.

The view from Ney’s position with the Austrian blocking force guarding the bridge. Note that the Danube is a big impassible river but I rather used my small river terrain than using my old felt terrain which is bigger but ugly.

Opening Moves

Villatte’s infantry has no problems to disperse the Austrian blocking force in two consecutive charges. Shortly after this picture the Austrians will be captured as well. Meanwhile the artillery weakens the Austrian center.

On turn 4 Villatte shakes out his infantry to the right. His orders are to pin the Austrians in position. Roguet’s infantry crossed the Danube and advances in a tight formation of assault columns towards Unter-Elchingen on the left. Note that the rules do not use formations but Roguet’s soldiers definitely used them. Ney, ever the hothead also decides that there is no time for caution and reserves. Laplanche’s Dragoons are sent to the left in a wide flanking maneuver to cut off Unter-Elchingen. This makes artillery operations from across the Danube unfeasible and the guns are brought forward.

The Assault

A view from Ney’s position towards his right and Villatte’s Division. After some turns of musketry both sides lines are showing holes. The Austrians also finally got some command points to counterattack Villatte’s flank (to the right of the image) with some of Hessen-Homburgs troops.

As we shift the viewpoint to Ney’s left we can see Roguet’s infantry. The Austrians initially repulsed the French but losses were light and Roguet’s soldiers managed to capture two thirds of Unter-Elchingen.

Side Note – Command and Control

Polemos Ruse de Guerre uses command points and a bidding mechanic between opposing commanders. This reflects the change of initiative and can be very important. Winning the bid means that many moves can be done with a cost of 0 command points instead of 1 which is very important to maintain the attack. Especially maneuvers like the assault on Unter-Elchingen which is very expensive in terms of command points in other ways than movement.

Although interesting and challenging, this mechanic has its problems in solo play. In the initial stage of defending, the Austrians could bid many command points, as they were passive and did not need them for movement. An entirely passive force winning the initiative to hinder the attackers advance seems odd. The rule mechanic and the board state were telling completely different stories at this point. As said I set myself up for this by choosing a passive defender and playing solo. When playing against an opponent I can see this tempo bidding come into its own as really tricky decision making game. As Glenn Pearce, the author, confirmed, it can get pretty tense in his multiplayer games.

The other problem, although mostly for me personally, is the difficulty of bidding in solo games. I mostly just winged it instead of thinking about this beforehand. This was a bad idea and lead to aforementioned problems. It did not take away from the enjoyment of the battle though. Upon reflection I should have represented Austrian passiveness by determining their bid with a weighted die roll. Their bid would be generally low but could occasionally be higher, to keep me as Ney on my toes.

Left Hook

While the fighting going on in the center, Laplanche’s Dragoons swept away some Austrian light cavalry and have performed their outflanking maneuver. On the other side of Unter-Elchingen, as the image shows, Laudon managed to bring his Cuirassiers into position to prevent the French knockout blow. Shortly after this image viscous cavalry melees will erupt with Laplanche and Laudon both joining the fight. During the melee Austrian infantry briefly also evicts the French from a building in Unter-Elchingen but it is swiftly re-captured.

Right Hook

After some initial success the Austrian counterattack on the French right flank seems to have stalled. The French formed a solid line and finally get their artillery back into the fight.

Oh my! The situation was much more volatile than it seemed. Telling close range musketry eroded Villatte’s Division enough for a divisional morale test. It failed and the entire division quits the field. Ney’s right flank is hanging in the air.

Side Note – Morale

Polemos Ruse de Guerre is rather deadly. Units are easy to shake and hard to rally from this state. Another shaken effect and they are broken forever. I modified this a bit as it seemed too quick for me. After all I’m a solo player who wants to see a story play out. In a timely manner of course, but I need not to rush the affair by brittle units. I therefore allowed broken troops to be rallied. As command points and commander presence can be used to make rallying easier this forced some interesting decisions. Should I focus my efforts on rallying shaken troops in the battle line or rally broken troops further back before they leave the table and are irretrievably lost.

The End

A turn later an zooming out, the Austrians now faced a divisional morale test and failed as well. Laudon’s division quits the field. Although Hessen-Homburg’s infantry still defends parts of Unter-Elchingen (left), their situation is hopeless. French Dragoons have the village surrounded even after Laplanche was killed in the cavalry melee. I therefore judged the battle to be over. Tactically the battle is a draw as neither side suffered and neither got a clear advantage on the field. Strategically Ney won, as the French are at least in a position to defend their bridgehead but cannot do much else.

Conclusion

Polemos Ruse de Guerre plays well. There are many interesting decisions to make, although quite a few revolve around the bidding for initiative mechanic, which can lead to problems in solo play if one is not prepared (as explained above).

I had to look up quite a bit as this was another learning game. I can see the game flowing quickly with more experience as there is not much to learn or remember. The lists of modifiers are manageable and logical. If it were to become a staple for Napoleonics, I would personally tone down the deadliness of ranged combat but this comes down to personal preference. Apart from that a solo friendly answer to the bidding mechanic has to be found. All these are not difficult to achieve. In fact, the game could probably handle bigger battles quite well as divisional and army morale are well represented already. Then the deadly combat could turn to a boon to keep the game flowing.

The scenario was interesting and quite solo friendly. I deliberately simplified the terrain somewhat to reduce complexity. Playing with a rule set that makes sure units can move is important for Elchingen. Otherwise the top of the column fails to move on a command roll or something else and the entire French army is stuck. This can be alleviated by giving the French a hefty bonus and the Austrians a negative modifier in equal measure during the first few turns. +2/-2 for example for Black Powder or any Fire and Fury like set with +1/-1 in the next turn.

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