Simplicity in Practice and Adjutant Introuvable

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 (1 2) 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.

The Set-Up

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.

The Battle

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.


The Battle of Anselm – Project Paradigm

One of the reasons I posted less in 2020 was my ongoing work on a simple rule set for space combat. I made quite a bit of progress. Most of the rules are written down and several iterations have been tested. I got stuck with some mechanics and took a long break. With the last test game I think I got some major problems ironed out.

Project Paradigm is a working title. The game aims to give a system generic enough to use with any known science fiction background material or without any. It puts emphasis on maneuver and tactics instead of detailed ship systems. So many space combat games I played focus heavily on ship construction and detailed damage but are surprisingly light on tactical gameplay. You mostly line the fleets up and shoot everything at one enemy with some maneuvering in between.

Of course there is vector movement to make things more interesting or the tons of depth of Starfleet Battles. The latter and its cousin Federation Commander are very much about interesting tactical decisions but still way to complicated for me. This is partly because I play mostly solo and you always have to control double the forces when doing so.

After years of Napoleonic gaming I saw that it is possible to develop simple mechanics which are about the interplay of units and tactics rather detailed ship status sheets or complex rules. My rules lose the details much like a high level historical wargame loses detail. You are the Admiral in charge of a small task force and it is not your job to target individual weapons in different firing modes. It is your job to maneuver your assets and determine where firepower should be concentrated.

The battle of Anselm

I used some counters I drew to try out Battlefleet Gothic (which I still have to do). The stats for each ship are the generic test stats used to design the rules and are based on strong frontal weapons rather than broadsides like the source material. Explanations are under each picture:

The Imperial fleet has two battleships in the center flanked by two groups. Two frigate groups (left) and a column of three cruisers (right).

The Chaos fleet has the same composition but chose a different formation. All their firepower is concentrated in a deathball with the battleships in the rear. Frigates flank the force.

This is the left part of the 3’x3′ mat with the planet Anselm in the center (impassable terrain in the basic rules). Both fleets chose to set up on one half of the mat.

After turn two Chaos threw their cruisers forward and concentrated their firepower on the enemy battleships. The Imperials are setting up flanking fire and already stripped the Chaos cruiser Styx of its shields (upper center). Blue dice are remaining shields, red dice are remaining hull points. No dice means the hull/shields is undamaged.

Close up one turn later. The Styx in the center regenerated some of their shields. This is an important aspect in the rules. It means that getting your ships out of the action to regenerate shields is a valid tactic. With the help of the cruiser Murder and long range battleship fire the Imperial battleship Retribution (between the Chaos ships) loses shields and takes three points of damage. This is dangerous as the ship will be counted as crippled on 6 hull points remaining and will have weaker weapons, shield regeneration and maneuvering thereafter.

After turn 4 the Retribution managed to thrust past most of the enemy ships reducing incoming fire (top left). It has some shields again but the mighty enemy battleships Acheron and Desolator are are still in arc and range. These battleships have a turn rate of 45° but can only turn once every two turns. The turning cool down is marked by the white dice. As you can see the big lumbering battleships are on cool down and will pass each other unleashing their less powerful but still formidable broadside weapons.

Meanwhile Imperial cruisers Dictator and Dauntless bring down the Styx (left with all the red dice as explosions) with concentrated fire. The Gothic, another cruiser swings wide around the planet (right).

Some time later: Imperial battleships passed the enemy on their starboard and received withering fire. The Retribution is crippled but not dead thanks to good maneuvering. The enemy cannot concentrate on it and shield regeneration keeps it alive. The firepower the Retribution was spared by is now hitting its sister ship the Overlord. It and the Chaos battleship Desolator are beginning to take hull damage.

The battle has been split in two. In a smaller engagement close to the Imperial set up area the Dauntless and Dictator are working in tandem to take out the cruiser Murder. As you can see Chaos has more ships present but the Imperials maneuvered better and the Murder could not bring to bear its powerful frontal weapons.

About halfway through the battle (15 turn limit), Chaos scores their first kill. A group of Firestorm frigates are destroyed. The fact that Chaos used their battleships for this kill helps the Imperial battleships to gain distance and regenerate shields. The Gothic completed its circle around the planet and pours fire into the nearly crippled Desolator (lower left).

The overall situation one turn later. Both Imperial battleships are crippled (top) as well as a cruiser (lower right). Chaos is worse off though. The Desolator is crippled and two cruisers are lost in contrast to only one frigate group. In the bottom left you can see Chaos Idolator frigates chasing the crippled cruiser. As cruiser and battleship stats I am using have no rear weapons it is a valid tactic to harass bigger ships with nimble frigates from the rear.

The second half of the battle begins with the Imperials concentrating all their firepower on the Desolator. It buckles under the massive barrage and breaks in half. Chaos is now seriously outgunned.

Concentrating firepower is a valid and necessary tactic in the rules but it also comes with a disadvantage. The first ship can fire normally in a turn but subsequent attacks on the same enemy are increasingly more difficult. Huge swathes of space are ablaze with nuclear explosions, laser fire and counter measures which makes it harder and harder to detect and hit the enemy effectively. The rules for this are dead simple but the effect is great. You have to make the difficult decision whether to bring down an enemy but wasting a lot of firepower or to split firepower damaging many vessels only a bit but dealing more damage overall.

In revenge for the Desolator the Chaos cruiser Slaughter maneuvers into the rear of the Overlord and finally penetrates all shields and armor of the damaged giant. With a big explosion the battleship rips apart, all hands lost.

The Slaughter is not finished though. Near the end of the battle it pushes its engines and lays into the crippled Dauntless coming around Anselm. The cruiser stands no chance and it wreck will continue to drift in orbit for month before finally slipping into the atmosphere and burning up.

Although the Slaughter managed to correct the tally somewhat the overall battle is a clear victory for the Imperial fleet. They inflicted more losses and would be in a good position to destroy the remaining Chaos forces. As you can see the Retribution, one of the first ships taking damage is still around crippled with 8 out of 12 shields regenerated.

Verdict

I am satisfied with the result. It was fun, easy to play and had many interesting decisions. Even without a particular scenario or lots of terrain the rules delivered what I hoped for, although the new mechanics I tested are rather dice heavy. I rolled upwards of 40 dice in one side’s turn which takes time. But it also evens the odds quite a bit which is necessary to make tactical decisions meaningful.

There is still a lot of work to do with testing, balancing and scenario design. I tried a scenario generator this year but it failed to deliver interesting narratives so I will probably hand craft them.

The Allure of Simple Wargaming – Black Powder

I recently read an entry on SOUND OFFICERS CALL! blog about simple wargames. I really liked the reflections on why and how simple wargames appeal to people. The author goes on and plays some of the simple rule sets and gives his feedback. An approach which I and others have done several times as well and which I find fascinating to read about.

I’m leaning to simpler rules more and more albeit for different reasons so I thought I chime in with one or two battle reports myself. Now, what is a simple rule set? We will probably all agree that One-Hour Wargames are simple rules but when it comes to Black Powder some would not agree.

I played the same scenario with different rules several times and Black Powder was competing against Bataille Empire and General d’Armee among others. Napoleonic Black Powder always did it for me. Other rule sets took longer because of more realistic rules but the results weren’t more realistic or more satisfying.

That said I put quite a bit of work into Black Powder house rules which make it play that way. Out of the box the rules have some serious problems which is the sole reason some people hat them. Sadly the 2nd Edition was an utter disappointment in that direction as next to nothing was changed.

My theory here is that with careful preparation and tweaking you can mold Black Powder Napoleonic into a rule set that is simple to play (after getting used to it), quick and feels believable. A big part of the latter is the simple but elegant command and control mechanism which is lacking in some many (simple) rules. It has actually become difficult for me to play any Napoleonic set without some friction modeled nowadays.

Preparations

To see if I can mirror a simple wargaming battle report we have to look at the scenario and rules before the battle commences.

I decided on the One-Hour Wargame scenario Pitched Battle (2) like the Simple Wargame #4 report. This will give me the same army sizes and I also decided to field the exact same composition without any national special rules. This makes possible balance problems less severe. The Austrians are the red army, the French take the blue side. Both armies consist of 3 line infantry, 1 light infantry, 1 medium cavalry (Dragoons), 1 foot artillery and one General SR 8.

Concerning the troops I decided to combine different approaches. The Hail Whoever house rules from Camp Cromwell simplify the troop stats by (mostly) getting rid of morale saves and adding more stamina points across the board. This shaves off another set of dice rolls in combat which will saves time as well. Artillery is less deadly with these modifications due to the save modifiers it normally has. This is actually a good thing as artillery was too strong in vanilla Black Powder.

I also took a page from the Blücher rules regarding skirmishing. Instead of one value for shooting which is used for close and long range, infantry now has volley (close) and skirmishing (long) values. Many extra rules regarding skirmishing (mixed formations, sharpshooters, etc.) are thrown out of the window, making the game simpler but actually not less detailed.

Here are the stat lines I’m using for 6mm figures with a unit width of 8cm (in line). Measurements are roughly 6″ to 4 cm. I use a measuring stick with 4 cm segemnts to further speed up gameplay. Infantry units are probably regiments in this scale:

Line/Light Infantry
Move 8 cm
H-t-H 4
Shoot 4/4 (cm/dice volley) 8/2 (cm/dice skirmish) +1 to skirmish dice if light
Morale – (a positive modifier like assault column will still result in a 6+ save)
Stamina 6
Light Infantry may use skirmish formation

Cavalry
Move 12 cm
H-t-H 5, 6 or 7 for light, medium or heavy cavalry
Shoot –
Morale –
Stamina 6

Foot Artillery
Move 8 cm
H-t-H 0
Shoot 4/3 – 16/2 – 32/1
Morale –
Stamina 2

Commander
Move 32 cm

I have more stats drafted for other troops like conscripts, horse artillery and elites but this will do. With this out of the way let us focus on other areas of Black Powder I changed.

The sequence of play has been simply reordered to address the problem that infantry can move up to defenders and shoot at them before they receive return fire:
1. Shooting
2. Command
3. Hand-to-Hand

Command is tweaked to even out the statistical odds. Rolls of command or 1 less gives one move, rolls of 2 or 3 less gives two moves and anything less gives three moves. Follow me orders from commanders are not used as these are highly unrealistic and silly.

Firing modifiers are based on the 2nd Edition. So no positive modifier for skirmishers. I also got rid of all range modifiers as these are already factored into the dice. Another modifier table cut in half.

When it comes to formations the rules have to be revised to reflect two different shooting values:
Attack Column: 2 volley / 2 skirmish (3 if light)
Square: 1 volley per face / 0 skirmish
Buildings: 2 volley per face / 1 skirmish per face

Note that attack columns retain their skirmish value. This makes it actually possible to use them historically by softening up the enemy with the skirmisher cloud before charging.

Scenario Modifications

The movement and shooting ranges above are tried and tested but are vastly different from the original rules / scenario conditions as I play on a small table with small unit footprints. Therefore I have to scale everything accordingly.

In the Horse and Musket rules of One-Hour Wargames the slowest unit can cross the entire table in 6 moves. Due to command rolls units in Black Powder have a variable move. With a command rating of 8 and ignoring any blunders this gives us 1.3 moves on average. Multiplied with the movement distance of the slowest unit (see above) and again multiplied by the number of turns a One-Hour-Wargame unit needs to cross gives us the table size we need.

8 cm x 1.3 x 6 = 62.4 cm rounded to 63 cm

For terrain scaling this gives me a factor of 1″ to 1.75 cm. I only need 6″ and 12″ measurements for terrain and deployment which translates to 10.5 and 21 cm respectively.

To check if this is valid we cross check with the army width. If I would deploy 6 infantry corner to corner I would field a formation 8 cm x 6 = 48 cm. This give me an army frontage that roughly fits with the average of the original rules.

The turn limit of 15 stays in effect. The scenario does not put much more time pressure on one side or the other so even if the number is wrong it won’t affect the outcome too much.

Battle Report 1

The battlefield and set-up. Austrians to the north, French to the south. Images will generally be takes from the French side. This should be known as my trademark already 😉 Yellow markers are for disruptions, red dice are for hits lost and red markers are for shaken units.

Austrians took the hill (far back) and try to march a flanking force around to the crossroads (right) covered by their Dragoons. The French advanced steadily, deployed into assault columns and blasted the Dragoons with artillery. Austrian artillery had managed to throw the light infantry into disarray though, which would hamper the assault on the hill.

More problems for the French. Early assaults were beaten back and French Dragoons are apparently not what they once were. They charged their disrupted counterparts and broke on first contact. The Austrians further complicated the situation by continuing the on board flank march to the crossroads (far right).

The attack on the hill was stuck.

Note the absence of French troops near the crossroads. With flanking fire/charges the Austrians absolutely obliterated their enemy. After a mere 6 turns the French had to retreat. With their cavalry lost early in the battle the Austrian cavalry was free to roam and the battle ended in a complete and utter French defeat. Cannons, eagles and prisoners were captured a plenty.

The Questions 1

How long did it take to play: 1 hour. I did consult the rules for post melee movement once and looked up a modifier or two.

What was the scenario: Scenario #2 Pitched Battle from One-Hour Wargames.

What happened, who won: The French neglected the crossroads while the Austrians performed a battlefield flank march towards it. This brought the French into a precarious position early on. After their Dragoons broke, one unit after another tumbled. With no chance to win, the battle ended on turn 6 with a major Austrian victory. A good example of two battle plans clashing with one being superior.

Extraordinary Events: The bad morale roll of the Dragoons was unfortunate but as mentioned this was a battle of two plans. To see this in such a small game was unexpected and quite nice. The on table flank march was also quite a cool thing to see. It confirmed my good scaling efforts.

Did you enjoy the game: I watched in horror as one of the two armies simply fell apart! It was very unexpected but felt realistic and fun. Some problems with the rules presented themselves but I decided that I needed more data before meddling.

Battle Report 2

I played the same scenario with the same troops again but changed the battle plans.

French forces in a dense formation that can swing to either flank or stay center. Dragoons in reserve (concerned about their morale ;).

Austrians deploy similar to game one but in lines and with their artillery in a more central position. I made a judgement call to at least use some period tactic constraints so the French favored assault columns and the Austrians lines.

Austrians had marvelous command rolls and took the opportunity to advance far with one of their columns. The French were lucky as well and began to surround the column. The image shows what I like about Black Powder. Some games are slow, some are basically all action from turn 1 on.

Austrians managed to support their column with a regiment from the hill (left). They also formed a line in the center. The French decided to ignore the Austrian skirmishers as the Dragoons could counter them effectively. Instead they tried to shift their central infantry to the sides. On the right the French commander rolled a blunder and the assault column awkwardly wedged in between skirmishers and the enemy.

After failed Austrian command rolls the French disrupted the Austrian lines with musketry and double charged on both flanks. The images show the moment of contact. This looked very grim for the overextending Austrians and like textbook for the French.

And here is the result. On the left closing fire was telling but then the Austrians lost heart and fled the field. On the right their brothers in arms not only held but broke one French column entirely. Disaster averted for the soldiers in white.

After the intense combat of the first turns the battle entered a lull. Both commanders tried to organize their mauled troops but only minor moves were made. Meanwhile the artillery of both sides blasted away turn after turn.

After the central Austrian light regiment quit the field the Austrian commander unleashed the cavalry reserve. French Dragoons counter-charged. This proved to be another pivotal moment and the Austrians won. This split the French in half which made command of the light infantry on the right almost impossible. What is it with French Dragoons these days?

The French commander rode to the right flank after a couple of uneventful turns but the Austrian commander had already rallied his forces. He would rally his Dragoons as well and overwhelm the French at the crossroads on the last turn of the game.

Meanwhile artillery dispersed one infantry regiment on each side. The only possibility to thwart an Austrian victory would be to throw the last French assault column up the hill to contest it. The roll needed to be a 6 or less on 2d6, it was a 7. A hard fought last minute win by the Austrians.

The Questions 2

How long did it take to play: 1 hour and 20 minutes. The game felt much longer and tense then the one before but was only 20 minutes longer in time. This is a good sign in my book. I looked up more post melee movement stuff. I need to put reminders on the QRS sheet to speed up gameplay.

What was the scenario: Scenario #2 Pitched Battle from One-Hour Wargames.

What happened, who won: Both forces started with very good command rolls which led to the Austrians advancing too far and the French encircling them. Both forces fought tooth and nail for every bit of real estate. Even though the Austrians saw a couple of turns with no action at all due to failed command rolls, their cavalry reserve was more successful. They eventually split the French in two forces making French unified command difficult. The French needed 1 less on their last command roll to contest the hill in turn 15. A close and bloody Austrian victory. Both sides lost three units.

Extraordinary Events: Due to command rolls the battle dynamic was great. An intense early game with sweeping maneuvers, a lull in the middle and small desperate actions in the end. French command produced 3 blunders which hindered them to develop their right flank.

Did you enjoy the game: There were many turns where tactical challenges had to be solved. We also saw the use of period tactics multiple times like softening up the enemy line and charging in with assault columns. This game also proved that I have to iron out some kinks. Overall a fun and insightful game.

Final Thoughts

With two games in about 2 and a half hours I think my quick and simple Black Powder experiment was a success. Games will obviously last longer with more units per side. But my thesis holds true, that good preparation can speed up gameplay and make it more satisfying.

I will address squares, post melee movement, artillery, shooting modifiers and initiative movement with what I have learned from these two battles. I sketched out some subtle national differences that I have to test as well.

3x2x2 Napoleonics Battle Reports

Quite some time ago I gave the free rule set 2×2 Napolenoics a try. It is a set geared towards corps battles in 2mm on a 2′ by 2′ table. Perfect for my table size constraints and preferences. It also features the most restrictive pinning and disruption rules I have seen in rules for the period. If your infantry fires it is basically stuck in place unless there is no enemy around and it manages to rally (difficult). The authors call this the glue of war and it makes you think twice where and when to commit. It also makes reinforcements more important as you cannot simply shift some units to redress the line.

I can understand that such concepts are less strict in commercial rules as I think many players don’t like to lose control over their troops. When playing 2×2 it takes quite a bit getting used to it. My previous test where positive but the rules were unclear in some cases. The current version of the rules is much better though.

In fact I enjoyed the battles, the learning experience and different take on the period so much, I played three battles in an evening.

Armies

As these were test games and I didn’t want to label my troops again, I used C&C Napoleonics blocks as troops. The armies stayed the same for all three games:

French Army
1 HQ
1 Light infantry
9 Infantry
2 Light cavalry
2 Heavy cavalry
1 Foot artillery

Austrian Army
1 HQ
1 Light Infantry
6 Large infantry
4 Large light Cavalry
1 Horse artillery
1 Foot artillery

First game

Th first table was deliberately plain in order to get acquainted with the rules again. Austrians were the attackers and brought light cavalry in via the flank.

The French weighted their right flank with heavy cavalry. Due to the lack of distinct terrain features the battle needed some time to find its frontlines and focal points

Every green marker shows a pinned unit (can pivot but not move otherwise). Every green marker with a yellow stripe shos a disrupted unit (immobile and weakened). As you can see the entire conflict bogged down to lines of troops stuck in. Only reserves and cavalry can move freely at this point and they decided the game. Combined infantry and cavalry attacks on the right flank secured a French victory.

Second battle

Unfortunately, I didn’t take pictures of the second battle. It featured a good central position the Austrians managed to secure. Woods on one side where the Jägers and Grenz infantry shined and a village on a hill on the other side of the main road. The French committed their forces piecemeal while their cavalry tied up some forces on the flank. An Austrian counterattack in the center broke the French.

Third Battle

With every battle I added more terrain to the table. The rules suggest that you might want to go overboard as the scale of the game is quite large. The Field of Glory: Napoleonics terrain generator was used for every table.

In this battle the Austrians had an advantage in forces early on, as their reinforcement rolls were better. The French quickly managed to secure the village and hill as perfect defensive position though. The Austrians made the judgement call to challenge the position before more enemies arrive.

The French managed to hold on and began flanking maneuvers on both flanks while the center was pinned in place.

The end of the game with another French victory. While the Austrians could stem the bleeding to their right, French Cuirassiers and punched through from the left and scored the final blows.

Verdict

I had a blast. This rule set is a hidden gem! I still made some mistakes and I’m still learning how to play strategically. For these quite simple rules, there is a lot to unpack. Some modifiers seem to make no sense at all at first but when you play the game they facilitate a game that makes sense.

There is no direct command and control friction, only rally rolls tied to your HQ. Rallying didn’t have that much impact on my games but what strategic decision making did matter. More so than in many other games. Where it might be costly to order a concentrated attack in Black Powder, Blücher or Bloody Big Battles, it can outright cost you the game in 2×2 Napoleonics because your infantry will get pinned and cannot retreat at will for a long time.

This glue of war, as the authors call it makes the game very interesting for me. I can see that it would cause problems with rulesets that have a long playing time (2×2 Napleonics plays very fast). No turn limit or geographic victory conditions can also cause problems of very static games against another human opponent.

Outlook

I still have a bunch of 2mm stuff from Irregular Miniatures which now have a new purpose. I’m basing them for 2×2 Napoleonics to play some quicker battles with.

Rules wise I think most things make sense. Light infantry and artillery is very weak in melee to the point that they seem too much trouble to field in an army. I can live with cutting lights as units are brigades and skirmishing is beyond the scale and complexity of the game. This would mean that woods are basically impassible terrain though. Artillery could get a better melee modifier if assaulted frontally.

I will draft some house rules and test some out in the next battle.

Big Bloody Scharnhorst – Day 4 Battle of Bolkhov

While the Russians suffered a major defeat at Inask (orange frame) there was also an even larger battle raging to the north at the same time. This is the story of the battle of Bolkhov (blue frame).

The six sectors translated to the following tabletop after additional terrain placements and deployment. Note, the battlefield is rotated 90° counter clockwise. North is to the left in the image below. Every unit shown on the map is a division. Prussians are dark blue, French are light blue, Russians are green.

I have been tinkering with these maps. They are just a rough draft. Tell me if you find these helpful to follow the battle.

Both sides faced several challenges on this battlefield. The French had fewer numbers but a good defensive position if they managed to block all three bridges over the Msta river (impassible). As the Prussian contingent started on the wrong side of the river and the French center was only occupied by the cavalry reserve, it was not a given to achieve.

The Russians could just sit on their side of the river and defend as well. Their position would probably be even stronger but they had superior numbers and limited time before their flank at Inask would be rolled up towards Bolkhov. Their strategic position felt a tad like Waterloo from Napoleon’s perspective here. A strong force to attack with on a battlefield with limited space and the clock is against you.

Initial Orders

I wrote two sets of orders, one offensive, one defensive for both sides divisions and let the dice decide. These orders could be changed during the game but the basic mindset (offensive/defensive) would be a principle factor for order changes.

The French and their allies decided on defensive orders:
-Von Steuben (left flank): Cross the Msta and defend south of it.
-Collin (center, cavalry only): Stay in reserve.
-Merle (right flank): Defend the hill in the southwest.
-Lessard (right flank): Defend the central bridge.

The Russians decided to attack:
-Koltsov & Vorodnin (right flank): Attack the enemy in front of you.
-Medhorovsky (center): Stay in reserve.
-Nosov (center): Advance and cross the Msta.
-Davydov: Cross the Msta and take the hill in the southwest.

So the Russians plan to cross a river with superior forces to crush the French. Suddenly I get a whiff of Friedland…

Early Morning

The stage is set. French have the initiative but let us watch the action from the Russian side first, as they are the attackers.

Davydov arrays his men to cross the Msta near Bolkhov. Their crossing will be unopposed as Merle on the other side has orders to hold its position. Merle doesn’t even have artillery to harass the Russians.

In the center, Nosov sends his Cossacks in first to scout and is slow to reorganize his men for the crossing. On the far side you can see the bulk of Lessard’s division marching up to the river to oppose Nosov.

On the Russian right flank the battle starts in earnest. Koltsov sends swarms of Hussars to harass the Prussians. Zimin is repulsed by Hülse’s Prussian Cuirassiers while Polunin sneaks around the flank to attack infantry in march column. He is repulsed as well. This wouldn’t be a believable result in small scale games, where cavalry will eat march columns for breakfast but here it is. ~3000 bayonets won’t be ridden down by light cavalry in just one attack. Hasty squares will be formed, everything gets in terrible disarray (disordered) and men will die but eventually the Hussars don’t have the numbers or stamina for a prolonged attack and retire. Yellow markers are disorder markers.

Vorodnin brings up his infantry but is slow to do so. Even with the Hussar attack going on von Steuben might have enough time to cross the Msta to the save side.

Lessard gets his men to the center quickly and Plante starts to engage with artillery support. Enemy Cossacks and infantry are held in check on the far side of the river.

Von Steuben (center of the image) gets his infantry over the Msta while Hülse’s cavalry beats back repeated charges from Hussars. This is only possible by emergency unlimbering his substantial artillery assets to canister the Russian cavalrymen. Ammo reserves are further up the column and which turns out to be problematic.

Morning

Concerned about the huge number of Russian infantry crossing near Bolkhov on the French right flank, the French activate Courcelle’s heavy cavalry from the reserve to offer flanking support.

Meanwhile Merle’s infantry opens up with telling volleys. Return fire is effective as well, as the Russians have heavy artillery support from across the river.

A similar situation develops in the center with Lessard’s troops stopping the Russian advance with help from horse artillery of Collin’s reserve.

Pressure on the French allies mounts on the right flank. Hülse’s Cuirassiers are beating back enemy Hussars for hours now.

Midday

By midday von Steuben already received a slew of confusing orders from the French commander. As the C-in-C of the whole theatre is not present, the French commander is rash and micro managing. Luckily the bad orders don’t arrive in time and the good orders do. Meanwhile an order from the Russian command reaches Nosov with some delay. He is ordered to cease his advance in the center and hold his side of the river bank.

After the first unsuccessful attempt to cross the Msta he is happy to oblige and arrays his troops at the river bank. This is a strong defensive position but his men are bad shots and lack artillery support. They are quickly out of ammunition as well.

Merle and Davydov are fighting over the hill on the French right. French cavalry from the reserve is held in check by Pugin’s infantry in square (further back center in the image). Abramov and Bychkov have trouble to advance against thick clouds of French skirmishers.

Hülse is pressured to retire and Prussian artillery unlimbers again in an desperate attempt to keep the advancing Russians in check. At least von Steuben’s infantry forces are now in position to defend the bridge.

Early Afternoon

by now the frontlines are mostly drawn and the battle gets into its attritional phase.

Davydov’s brigades charge uphill but are repulsed.

Nosov and Lessard fight along the river bank. The French are gaining the upper hand.

Hülse rallies his men and sends them forward again to repel the enemy. Under the cover of his cavalry von Steuben can finally get his artillery over the Msta. The Russians are hampered by traffic jams and poor command.

Another attack goes in near Bolkhov and this time the losses are horrendous on both sides. Russian morale is still high though. Coudert’s brigade lining the hill becomes spent. Is this the end of the French right flank? French command thinks so and orders Lessard to extend his line to link up with Merle.

The order arrives but fighting troops are difficult to shift. Combat ebbs though, as the Russians retire with mounting losses. Behind Nosov (right side in the image), Medhorovsky is ordered to leave his reserve positions and prepare for a road march towards the Russian left flank. The intention is to support Davydov but the lead column is slow to move.

Von Steuben finally gets all his forces safely to the French side of the Msta. His infantry lines the river banks. A strong defensive position but he is outnumbered quite a bit.

Afternoon

As the line infantry retires on the French right flank, the entire Russian reserve is ordered to support Davydov.

Here is Medhorovsky whipping his march columns into shape. Nosov retired further back as telling artillery fire dispersed his cossacks. Farther in the back on the left you can see Plante’s brigade from Lessard’s division moving to support Merle.

Vorodin and Koltsov throw their forces into the fray as an order arrives to be aggressive. Casualties begin to mount on both sides.

Late Afternoon

Once moving Plante wedges his brigade efficiently between the other French forces and begins to push the Russians back. Pugin’s men face severe ammo shortages which makes it difficult to hold the ground.

Just as Lessard sent his biggest brigade away to support Merle another order arrives: Counterattack! With artillery reshuffling and nearly half his infantry not in place he launches the attack. For what its worth it is well executed and leaves Bogdanov’s brigade spent and bloodied. Nosov manages to threaten the flank with Kravchuk.

The tragedy about this can’t be seen in this picture. Just right of the image Medhorovsky’s reserve troops are still on orders to march away. The order to turn and support Nosov are late! Half of Medhorovsky’s men march away from the failing center while one of his brigades bumbles about, unsure which way to turn.

What started as a running battle for the Prussians now becomes a painful grind. At least Hülse’s Helden (heroes), as they are already called, have been pulled back in reserve and can get some desperately needed rest.

As darkness begins to fall a hodgepodge of troops from three French divisions shore up the French right flank against Davydov. The Russians are finished though. Losses, low supplies and constant threat from cavalry makes it impossible to take the hill before nightfall.

In the center Saindon and Verieur of Lessard’s division have crossed the Msta in a counter attack. Saindon managed to advance as far as the road and clashed with Modhorovsky’s bumbling brigade but they held the advance in check. With the Russian reserve streaming back the counter attack would probably be beaten back in time but French achieved their goal to cause losses and confusion.

Primakov breaks and Essen suffered heavy losses against concentrated Prussian artillery from across the Msta. Vorodnin and Koltsov still have more men but a breakthrough before nightfall is not possible.

Final positions after turn 10.

Aftermath

After ten hours of fighting the battle of Bolkhov ends. It is time to rally the survivors, tally the losses and decide the winner.

The French and Prussians rallied one infantry stand and chalk up 5 infantry lost. I was quite surprised as the Russians mounted so much pressure that losses felt higher.

The Russians rallied several stand back but still lost 11 infantry, 2 cavalry and one artillery is reduced.

Looking at the battlefield the French achieved their goals while the Russians didn’t. Both flanks are secure, albeit with a lot of help for Merle. The center delivered a successful counterattack. It is not complete success though. The Russians can retreat in an orderly fashion. Only Davydov at the left flank is a bit isolated but he has heavy artillery support which makes retreat of the Msta possible. In conclusion this is a French victory.

How did it play?

To be honest, the battle was a slog to play to completion. I wanted to have a variable turn number and roll if the battle continues after turn 10 but couldn’t encourage myself to play another turn.

So what happened? Basically I tripped over myself. I placed an impassible river at the center of the campaign map, I decided to battle there and I set it up as the map told me to do it. So I ended up with a table where I essentially fought three bridge crossing mini battles (to put it negatively). Take a look at the start and end position of all forces to see how static the whole affair was.

What I probably should have done was to combine both campaign battles into one and shift the battlefield around a bit or make the river fordable. BBB and its scale lends itself well maneuvering and that’s what I limited, funneling the Russians down three lanes.

Of course this is always a risk when playing campaigns where the battleground can be chosen by the commanders. It is a powerful reminder, of an aspect that is missing in most pickup battles. A good battle ground does not necessarily make a entertaining battlefield. The same holds true with troops arriving piecemeal and at sectors you don’t want them to be. From a period flavor perspective everything worked like a charm. Many things felt like I read them somewhere. Late and confusing orders lead to decisions a general might have taken but a wargamer wouldn’t. Counterattacks, attrition, the importance of artillery support, it went the whole mile.

From a rules perspective it also was a success. All these historical aspects of the period were achieved by Blücher’s Scharnhorst system, the order system and Big Bloody Battles with Napoleonic amendments. The French are responsive in command and have powerful skirmisher screens. The Russians are tough to crack, bad at musketry but a tad better in melee. They are slow to get into gears but then they roll towards you with numbers and relentlessness.

So overall I’m happy with the result. I learned a lot for future battles and campaigns and added BBB+period amendments to my top tier rule sets. Looking back at the battle I think I will have fond memories for these parts that worked. This is why I was more thorough in this battle report 🙂

The campaign

I will address the campaign implications of this battle in another post.

Big Bloody Scharnhorst – Day 4 Battle of Inask

After a long hiatus I finished the write up of the first campaign battle. It has been fought quite a while back but it has been a tumultuous year to say the least. See my prior posts to read about the days leading up to this battle fought with the Big Bloody Battles rule and Napoleonic amendments.

The battle of Inask (a small village not depicted) is happening in the lower (orange frame) of both battles fought at day 4 of the campaign:

These six sectors translated to the following map after additional terrain placement. The river in the upper right sector is impassable except by the bridge. Further down it becomes a stream and is passable.

Reinforcements will arrive in turn 3 at the earliest but usually later and sometimes never.

Zimin deployed his Guard Cavalry on the center hill. His orders are to buy time for reinforcements to arrive. Past the stream Ménard’s Division has deployed.

Another view from Zimin to the south. Pirot’s Guard Division in the distance has been ordered to attack the hill aggressively.

At first Zimin’s Cavalry keeps the French at bay by defending the river banks.

But the extremely aggressive Pirot soon pushes back Zimin before Ilyin’s Infantry and artillery is in place. The ensuing fight at the foot of the hill is chaotic. On the lower left French Cuirassiers of Penterre fall back from a long sweeping advance that began with routing Grishkin’s Cossacks.

A view of the western front. Glazkovsky’s Guards hold back Ménard’s entire Division but they won’t hold forever.

Beretschov arrives at the earliest possible moment but has to cross the bridge to get into the fight.

The Russians barely stabilize their lines at the foot of the hill as Glazkovsky’s Guards fall back (right). More French will soon cross the river.

Faltenbach arrives in the early afternoon with his massive, unwieldy columns. This photo and the next two are shot from left to right.

On the other side of the bridge. The Russians already suffered some losses and now Kirilov’s flank is threatened by the large Austrian Division.

Ménard sends Jetté’s Lt. Dragoons into combat again and again, making the Russian reinforcement road a dangerous place. Here is Frolov’s Brigade in square. By the end of the battle Jetté charged 4-5 times. Half of those charges against superior numbers or positions.

Russian reinforcements make slow progress due to bad command and French cavalry in the vicinity.

Kirilov and Katzbach falter. Kirilov is in square but after this photo has been taken, a massed cavalry attack from Penterre’s Cuirassier Guards and Beyen’s Hussars sweep away the disordered square and exploit into Kalzbach. During all this Ilyin got wounded and Zimin got killed by a French Cavalry squadron.

Remember Frolov’s brigade defending the reinforcement road in square? It’s gone. Aggressive French skirmishers harassed the square at will. As a shot hit Frolov, the tall commander fell down dead like a tree. His men routed immediately. With this gap threatening the reinforcement route and turn after turn of devastating cavalry assaults, partly into the flank of march columns, the Russians break and quit the field.

The Aftermath

Inask was a disaster for the Russians. Their initial position seemed to be well laid out for a defensive action but the French and Austrian forces attacked too soon and too well coordinated. The Russian reinforcement corridor was quickly contested as well. Boxed into a small area with cavalry roaming around the losses were high.

Zimin fell during the battle. His Division lost the Cossacks and Popov’s Guards lost too many men to be fielded again in this campaign. Though Popov stepped up to command the Division.

Ilyin lost one heavy artillery battery and Frolov’s Infantry is way too weak to be fielded again. Katzbach and Kirilov recovered some men in their retreat but are both at 50% strength. Ilyin himself was wounded, captured then freed and wounded again. He will continue to command his troops against the hated French. As Beretschov received the blame for Inask, Ilyin is already celebrated as a hero of Russia preventing an even worse outcome.

Beretschov was lightly wounded as well and had Rechensky lose a base. The campaign forces 7 and 8 are now both under 50% strength.

On the French side losses were surprisingly light due to several rally rolls during and after battle. Only Ménard’s Division suffered permanent losses. Both Routhier and Jetté lost a base each. Corbin’s Division didn’t even show up in time to influence the battle. In terms of bases lost this battle ended with a lopsided 2 French to 12 Russian. Several Russian standards and guns have been captured as well.

Invasion of Cylene 3 (Alpha Strike)

As news from the battle at Ghetra stream in it looks grim for FedCom. Their supply depot at Ghetra is in enemy hands, the surviving Mechs are still on the retreat and not available for the final stand. Combine forces have advanced far and are now on the other side of the New Rhine river. It marks the last defense line FedCom can maintain. Their forces are mainly light machines but for the force commanders Warhammer heavy Mech.

The Combine smashed through everything FedCom could field within mere days. It has precious little to make the final push. Even the Dragon from the battle of Ghetra is joining with most of its armor gone.

Assault over the New Rhine

Said Dragon (bottom) and a Locust advance around the large woods on the right flank to be safe from enemy fire.

On the left flank the Wolverine (bottom) and a Jenner hug the hills.

FedCom makes use of the large central hills to utilize its Warhammer (center). It is the slowest, most powerful Mech that has to be protected from light Mechs flanking it.

The FedCom Wasp pushes on aggressively but receives precise fire that strips its armor.

With the Wasp damaged Combine forces make a push for the central hill. The Dragon with damage from the battle prior hangs back and fires missiles into the fray.

The tag team of Jenner and Locust outmaneuver FedCom forces. In order to protect the Warhammer Fedcom pushes its light machines into close combat only to get smacked to the ground by the Combine Jenner. The FedCom Wasp laying down wont stand up after this, ever.

Some hundred meters away the other FedCom Wasp jumped to different positions turn after turn making the Combine Wolverine’s position untenable. With long range support from the Warhammer armor and internal structure breaks, tears and burns. The Wolverine is too damaged to stay around and is about to retreat.

After this pivot turn passed several turns of high maneuver warfare commenced. FedCom’s Firestarted broke away to go after the already damaged Crusader. Moments after this hsot the Crusader closed and cored the tiny Mech from point blank range. The pilot had no time to eject.

This left FedCom with only two Mechs but the Wasp lost all its weapons and retreated. The FedCom commander in his mighty Warhammer was all that stood between teh Combine forces and total victory.

But the machine and its pilot were simply no match for three enemy Mechs. It took out an enemy Locust but crumbled into a pile of molted metal and torn myomer muscles shortly after. The Combine managed to pull through and achieve victory even with inferior forces. One day later the black and red flag of the Draconis Combine was raised at Cylene’s military base and all FedCom forces formally surrendered.

Thoughts on Alpha Strike

During play I tried many different advanced rules and house rules and always came back to the base rules with the exception of variable damage. In Alpha Strike damage is deterministc, only the hit roll is up for chance. This makes for a very deadly game where there is not much chance for unit damage and critical hits. At the rather low unit count I’m playing with this robs me of the epic feel of these large lumbering machines. Variable damage makes you roll 1d6 for every point of damage. On a roll of 3+ it is scored as damage with a minimum of one damage. Especially the last scenario showed me that this is a good rule but even the minimum one damage is too powerful. Small Mechs can survive extremely well with high movement modfiers while chipping away at larger targets. They only deal 1-2 points anyway so the variable damage with minimum of one damage is not that relevant for their shooting. It rather helps them, as large Mechs will hit only few shots but with high damage. Damage that is potentially reduced by the variable damage rule.

The movement modifier system makes light Mechs very hard to hit but also at no downside for them. In classic Battletech light Mechs are a bit weak while here they seem a bit strong.

Apart from that the game flows quickly and gives interesting decisions. It is reliant on the Battletech flavor (universe and single mechs) or I would not play it I fear. What is lost by summarizing all the weapons into a statline of four numbers can only be won by knowing what weapons the Mech actually fires.

As the Combine won all three scenarios there was no chance to test the repair and resupply rules but the scenarios and their limitations produced intersting games and dilemmas. I had to fudge it a little here and there as the campaign rules are unclear here and seem unbalanced there. In the obove scenario for example the defender deploys all terrain without restrictions and then chooses his home edge. There is not much to prevent the defender from stacking the terrain into a killzone. FedCom could have sat in forests behind Level one hills for a whopping +4 to hit while Combine charged at them for 2-3 turns without any cover.

It was a fun experiment and I found several, more intricate scenarios I might try in the future or write my own rules.

Invasion of Cylene 2 (Alpha Strike)

After smashing through enemy forces at Valley Pond the Combine commander sees a chance to exploit the hole in FedCom lines. The recon and assault lances are brought forward to break through enemy positions and wreak havok. FedCom has their heaviest assets in the are but these lumbering beasts will have problems catching the lightning fast Combine recon Mechs.

Breakthrough at Ghetra

A kilometre in front of the town of Ghetra, where FedCom has a supply depot, the opponents clash in a hilly area. Combine outnumbers the enemy 2:1 but they need to exit 4 Mechs through the opposing table edge to win. FedCom needs to prevent that.

The FedCom commander knows that the center of the board is too open for trying a breakthrough, so he positions his Mechs to the flanks where the enemy light Mechs are expected.

The Combine hols back its heavy machines as fire support while the light machines are split to the left and right. They race off from turn one to make the breakthrough.

Although Combine pilots push their engines into the red, heavy fire occasionally connects with the lightning fast Mechs and a Combine Hermes III (top) receives too much damage. Its pilot turns around to get back to safety as a severely damaged Mech behind enemy lines would do no good. Shortly after the other light Mech successfully breaks through. 3 more Mechs and the Combine wins.

On the other flank FedCom has more problems. The enemy can advance in cover of the hills and heavy Combine Mechs are closing in on the flank to give their fellow Mechwarriors some breathing space.

Some turns later Combine forces put up so much pressure that FedCom had to retreat into the forest. The Jenner (bottom left) could have broke through to Ghetra easily but turned around to surround the enemy completely.

Back on the right. With the retreating Hermes II down and the Locust through, Combine heavy assets advance to put pressure on FedCom Mechs. Their goal is to keep FedCom occupied here so they cannot help on the other side of the battlefield. The FedCom commander sees no way to extricate his forces securely so he pushes his Hunchback (right) forward aggressively to at least score a kill on the Awesome (left), a slow Assault Mech.

The Hunchback cannot close fast enough, however. It melts in a spectacular fireball before bringing its heavy autocannon to bear. Meanwhile the FedCom Longbow churns out swarms of long range missiles that damage the Awesome badly. It has to crawl back to safety.

The attrition battle on the right is costly for both sides but FedCom at least has the upper hand. On the left side, however, a Dervish succumbs to enemy fire and the Marauder nearly lost a leg and is overheated. Combine Mechs push into the enemy without abandon and even forget their mission goals. It has become costly for them as well, as their Battlemaster (middle) is badly damaged and has to retreat.

A FedCom Valkyrie manages to peel off from the right flank and help the struggling Marauder. It will finish off the enemy Battlemaster but the Marauder will be destroyed soon after and another Combine Mech breaks through, with a third into position to make a dash.

Meanwhile the FedCom Longbow has become the MVP on the field. It beat back the Awesome, stripped a Dragon heavy Mech of its armor and now goes toe to toe with a Combine Crusader. Missiles slam into the surprisingly fast Crusader. As it gets obvious that Combine forces elected it to break though, the remaining FedCom assets pour everything they have into the mech but it withers the fire and breaks through together with a Blackjack on the other end of the battlefield, completing the mission.

Aftermath

Another victory for the Combine forces but at atrocious costs. Only after I read the next scenario I come to realize that I just witnessed a pyrrhic victory. Draconis’ heavy machines are all damaged beyond battlefield readiness. Repairs and resupply are still not available and so Combine forces can field precious little to go into the potentially last scenario. It doesn’t look good for FedCom either but in contrast they seem to be in good shape with a pristine Warhammer to field.

Invasion of Cylene 1 (Alpha Strike)

I bought Alpha Strike, Battletech’s quick play rules, some years back but never got around playing it for real. Partly due the lack of Mechs and partly due to lacklustre test games.

I decided to give it another try and generally stock up on some Battlemechs. Together with my existing miniatures and the new recruits I’m about to field a company of Draconis Combine and a company of Federated Suns each, with about two stars of Clan Mechs as well.

I decided to play the campaign outlined in the core rulebook which is basically a branching and winding scenario tree with basic supply management later on. The Combine invades the border planet Cylene in the 3rd Succession War. They have a recon lance, a battle lance and an assault lance. Their commander has the Disrupt Communications special rules which limits enemy movement on a roll of 6 on 1d6 at the start of the turn.

The Federated Suns field a light battle lance and two normal battle lances. The command ability is Forcing the initiative, which grands initiative bonuses for destroyed Mechs the turn prior. Pilots on both sides start as veterans.

Meeting Engagement at Valley Pond

After Combine forces made planetfall the battle lance starts an aggressive patrol to deny defensible areas to FedCom forces. One of such areas is the aptly named Valley Pond where a FedCom battle lance was about to go in defensive position. Battle is joined shortly after.

Disclaimer: Miniatures and Mechs they represent differ. If you are a purist who only plays with the Mechs the miniatures reperesent that’s Ok. But I don’t.

The start of the battle has both sides in good positions for a long range battle but neither side is really equipped for these ranges.

In an aggressive move the FedCom lance pushes out to get their close range Mech, the Victor, into range (bottom). They also want to park the Crusader in the water to cool it down for more firepower (the Warhammer in the pond).

Initially the plan goes well. After several turns of concentrated firepower the Combine Whitworth slides down the hill, completely destroyed.

On the other side of the table, heavy Combine Mechs overheat and bring down the Victor before just before it can deal serious damage.

With the threat to their firing line gone, Combine forces concentrate on the Crusader in the pond, while their light Mech flanks around to be a general nuisance. With the mighty Victor lost FedCom cannot match the firepower and the Crusader goes down while retreating. This secures the win for Combine forces.

Aftermath

FedCom losses are heavy after this first clash but several Combine Mechs are already stripped of armor. Neither side can repair or recruit after this scenario so these damaged assets are of no use right now and are shifted behind the front line as emergency reserve.

Big Bloody Scharnhorst – Days 3 & 4

This is the situation at the beginning of Day 3:

The campaign already rewards me with an interesting strategic situation. French commander Ramille has I Corps in Bolkhov (C9) but his back is against the river and he is outnumbered 3:2 by the Russians around Ozyorsk (B11). II Corps is relatively free to move but if the Russians gain the initiative and act quickly, they can cut off the Prussians from I Corp’s flank or II Corps from supporting I Corps in a battle. Ramille writes three sets of orders. One for moving II corps up, one for moving the Prussians down and II Corps moving to Yartsevo (E11) and one where I Corps move back into a better position while II Corps moves up to give flank support.

The Russians have another problem. Although they have a better concentration of force, they have no idea where half of the French forces are. Nevertheless B9 and E9 seem to be strong blocking positions. Two alternative order sets will be about priority of blocking force movements while the bulk of the army advances to Bolkhov. The third option will be a passive one, where only the flanks advance.

French Orders of the Day

I Corps (A, B, C): Fall back to (north)west of Bolkhov.

II Corps (E, D, F): Move towards south of Bolkhov and secure the crossing at E9 as well as I Corp’s flank.

von Steuen (G): Fall back to A8 in support of I Corps.

Faltenbach (H): Swing east of Corps II towards Yartsevo (E11) but don’t overextend.

Russian Orders of the Day

Medhorovcky (3): Move between enemy G and Bolkhov into a blocking position.

Column Zimin (8, 5): Move into a blocking position so that enemies cannot advance north from E8-E9.

Column Koltsov (1, 2, 4, 6, 7): move southwest into battle positons for an attack against the forces in and around Bolkhov.

Day 3 Begins

Ramille’s orders for von Steuben get intercepted by enemy skirmishers and are lost. Corbin (D) receives orders after spending 4 pips, Faltenbach (H) after 2 and Pirot at the end of the day.

Vorodnin (1) and Koltsov (4) will receive orders after 5 pips. All other orders get through quickly, as the Russians are more condensed. Initiative goes to the Russians.

The Russians quickly achieve their blocking positions north and south of Bolkhov. While moving, they also spot some missing French forces. Meawhile the French slowly fall back behind the river. As Davydov withnesses the French leaving Bolkhov he uses the opportunity and takes the city (rolled for either passive or aggressive move, got the latter).

Note: Situations like these open up opportunities for skirmish wargames. Fighting at the outskirts of the city for example. If the Russians win Davydov advances. As I don’t like skirmish games I went with dice. But for anyone interested in such campaigns this tip might be helpful.

As Ménard’s Division (E) gets into gears his scouts report strong Russian forces on the other side of the bridge. With the bulk of II Corps behind him, he decides to don’t wait in position but to flank west to stay linked up with I Corps.

Up north Koltsov and Vorodnin stay in position for most of the day. As orders arrive they don’t agree how to read and act upon them this late in the day. While Koltsov moves west to stay in contact with force G, Vorodnin moves south towards the rear of other Russian forces.

The rest of II Corps and the Austrians split farther apart due to lost or late orders. Faltenbach was well on his way to I11 when he got new orders and is now in position to move into the opponent’s rear area.

This is the situation at the end of day 3. For the first time, both sides have battle options for day 4. The French foresaw strong Russian flanking moves but failed to counteract them. Still, they have managed to keep their forces at least somewhat connected, thanks to the fall back move and Ménard’s (E) own initiative. Russian aggressiveness came at a prize. Enemy forces suddenly appeared near the rear. The area should have been protected by Column Zimin (8, 5) but they moved west. What’s more, is that the Russians have not spotted D approaching and still don’t know where F is. In contrast the French only lost sight of force 4.

The French gain initiative to declare battles for the next day and do so twice! The upper one has been declared to keep Russian forces in place. Terrain and positioning is rather bad for both sides but the French want to keep the enemy from supporting the battle to the south.

The southern battle is what the French really want. They have only E committed and three forces in reach within a wide flanking arc.

Day 4

As the forces array for battle commanders hastily dictate their orders for the not yet engaged formations. The French orders all revolve around setting up the southern battle. Either they flank heavily or they set up a traditional battleline with only Falkenbach flanking or they block battlespaces early to constrict Russian battle spaces and moves.

The Russians have the opportunity to concentrate on the northern battle and only send a token force to the lower one. They can also try to block battlespaces in the southern battle early to have a strong initial presence on the field, albeit with many French flank marching troops. Or they deliberately concentrate their forces in the southern battle into a small area to prevent being outflanked.

French Orders of the Day

Corbin (D): Move to F10 to block enemy flanking movement

Pirot (F): Enter battle at F9.

Faltenbach (H): Try to flank from E10 or move towards F 9 if not possible.

Russian Orders of the Day

Vorodnin (1) and Koltsov (4) enter the battle at A9.

Ilyin (7): Enter the battle at E9 if possible, else at D9.

Nosov (6) and Beretschov (5): Enter the battle at B/C9.

Day 4 Pre-Battle Maneuvers

All orders went through. The Russians successfully hampered Faltenbach’s flanking maneuver by moving late. This had unforeseen consequences, however. Beretschov, slated to tip the northern battle in even more numerical favor was hindered by French forces moving to his flank and couldn’t reach the upper battle. In the end neither side got what they wanted.

This is the situation before the battles begin. 5, D and H will be supports for the southern battle.

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