Plancenoit 1815 – 2×2 Napoleonics

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.

Setup

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.

Battle

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.

Thoughts

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.

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.

The 2020 To Do List

After my review of 2019 I will now look into my plans for 2020:

Modelling & Painting

Still more terrain to finish. Especially woods and painting houses. Town bases to but said houses onto are also on the list. There are two terrain types I haven’t covered in a satisfactory manner: Swamps and rocky terrain. I have concepts how to build them easily, though.

The packing chips I use as smoke markers lately are not the best looking solution but they are very practical to use and stow away (space is at a premium). Maybe cutting some shapes will make them look better.

Still lots of painting to do on my Sword & Sorcery dungeon crawling games. It progresses nicely but will need many month before completion at my speed.

The look of the 2mm figures from Irregular Miniatures is not what I was looking for in Napoleonics. I need to use some different period paint schemes to see if I can salvage them. American and English Civil Wars come to mind.

The movement trays I sometimes use for Blücher are really barebones. Something nicer with re-useable unit labels is on the list. Tests were disappointing so far.

I did some experimentation with a Kriegspiel-look DBA set. It did turn out Ok but is only a side project. Even if I don’t continue I should probably write a blog post about it.

Campaigns

The For King & Parliament ECW campaign will continue. If I can make good progress I will be able to finish it this year.

I have a new, smaller Napoleonic campaign in the wings. Several posts are already written up.

There is also an Ancients campaign with DBA 3.0 campaign I started but packed away for Napoleonics quickly. Not sure if i’m motivated enough to finish this.

Battles

Playing games is of course the main focus every year. I mostly play fictional battles or campaign games but I’m interested in trying out scenarios. There are several good Blücher scenarios here. As I like Big Bloody Battles I would like to give the Aspern-Esslingen scenario a spin. I have enough forces to field the armies but need more road crossings and bendy river sections to set it up.

Then there is 2 Hour Wargames. I quite like the scenarios of the book but I have one or two new ideas to represent encircling and interior lines. Another idea of mine was to randomly combine two scenarios into one larger battle. Some groundwork has been done but a test has yet to be conducted.

I have a large collection of starship miniatures begging me to use them. Maybe this year. Talking of maybe’s, Hordes of the Things arrived over Christmas…

Rules

Over the past years I have tried out a wide array of rule sets for Napoleonics and other periods. Lately I am more and more jaded about most of them. To a point where I’m thinking about getting rid of some. For a self proclaimed rules collector a sacrilegious thing to say! I will think more about this but so far here are my categories for Napoleonics alone:

Rule sets I currently play and like:

  • Blücher: It simply works.
  • Big Bloody Battles: With modifications that are not set in stone yet.
  • Black Powder: I’m using a fair bit of house rules. But this set is easily adaptable.
  • C&C Napoleonics: With the rule that a block can absorb two hits before it is removed.

On the fence:

  • 2×2 Napoleonics: I only played one game which I liked but the rules are all over the place. I started a re-write for my own purposes but it is not finished or tested.
  • General d’Armee: The rules are nice and give a good game but they simply seem less elegant and slower than Black Powder. If I had to replace Black Powder, this set would probably be it. The ADC system is a big draw towards General d’Armee but in order to really get it going you need sizeable forces on the table which is difficult for me figure- and spacewise.
  • Bataille Empire: Again, great rule set for people who want the detail and slower gaming speed. I still think I prefer Black Powder. The move away from YGO IGO will probably much more interesting for people who play this head to head. For solo play the sequencing is actually difficult to game through. Maybe I give it another try with a more traditional turn order, because most of the other rules are quite good.

Rule sets I tried and didn’t like:

  • Field of Glory: Napoleonics: The terrain generation and pre-battle rules are slick but the main rules are too complicated for me, given that it is a tournament set. I want to like them, but I cant.
  • Portable Napoleonic Wargame: Didn’t give me the period feel I’m looking for.
  • Polemos: Neither the small nor the large scale set convinced me. The rules are not written clearly and don’t give a satisfying period feel in my opinion. To be blunt, Polemos is probably the worst on the list.
  • DBN: It feels too much like DBA for me.
  • Age of Eagles: More detailed in scale and rules than Big Bloody Battles. It needs an absurd amount of bases and has some fiddly stuff that is thankfully abstracted away in Big Bloody Battles.
  • Twilight of the Sun King: Not Napoleonic but I tested them in order to modify them for the period. The concepts are great but the writing is quite vague and some details could have been omitted for my taste.
  • Several variants of 2 Hour Wargames Horse and Musket: All the variants I tried added more chrome to the rules but the game still felt very basic and too attritional in a sense that you nearly always inflict some damage to the enemy. Compare this with Blücher or Black Powder where fights can be over quick or last a long time with some regularity. There is no disruption or disorder of any kind which is key for the period in my opinion.
  • Shako: To be fair, I only started one game and it was Shako I not II. The order system is very good and has been nicked immediately for other games. All the other stuff… Somehow too fiddly for me. Hard to put a finger on though. It somehow felt too old school.

Rule sets I want to try:

  • Napoleon’s battles: Brigade scale and they don’t seem too complicated. Hard to obtain the rules or information about them, though.
  • Grande Armee: I already heard that it is very time consuming so I’m going into this to find new mechanics and ideas, not a new rule set.
  • Volley & Bayonet: Command & Control seems underdeveloped from what I read but it has a scenario system I ‘m interested in and maybe I like the combat mechanics.

Rules I want to write:

I developed my own starship combat rules quite often in the past. I even came up with something remarkably similar to early Starmada in the time of dial-up internet. I refrained from doing so for historical periods though, as my grasp on them wasn’t good enough and design space seemed less open. You can do crazy thinks in science fiction which are hard to explain in historical periods. Lately there are some ideas froming for a Horse & Musket rule set of my own:

  • Strong command system that makes it necessary to have a plan in advance. Some form of (written) orders which can be changed at a delay or lost in transmission or misunderstood.
  • A turn order that rewards the battle plan, not good initiative dice and moving unit X before unit Y to get into the building first. I have no solid idea for this yet.
  • A simple, free flowing movement system that is constricted by command and control and not by measuring degrees of wheeling.
  • A combat system a bit like Twilight of the Sun King but even more radical. There is no musketry, there are no charges! The driving concept is the proximity of units and the intensity of their orders and will. For example: My cavalry on attack orders, barely an inch away from your infantry is really hurting your infantry’s morale. Whether they fight or threaten each other is abstracted away in Brigade scale. This idea goes back to a quote I read about French infantry breaking next to Prussian cavalry (which didn’t charge).
  • A pre battle system for stratagems and terrain selection. My working idea is that one player has to offer battle at a battlefield but the enemy can decline, going to another battlefield.
  • Mechanics which allow strong period flavor and national differences.

2×2 Napoleonics Test Game

The free ruleset 2×2 Napoleonics piqued my interest for a couple of reasons. It uses a small scale battlefield of 2 foot by 2 foot (hence the name) and a brigade scale with just the right amount of details omitted. But it also features very interesting pinning mechanics which makes it different from other rule sets.

As soon as a infantry unit fires, it becomes pinned and may not move until rallied. As rallying is virtually impossible when close to an enemy, units get stuck in firing lines slugging it out until one side wavers and breaks. This seems more realistic than the maneuverability of troops in combat in other rules. With the combat units pinned it also makes management of reinforcements more important. Gone are the days where I can micromanage some units to broaden my lines and plug gaps. The only units that can plug gaps are reinforcements now.

Deployment also handles differently. Most of the army starts as said reinforcements and the battle evolves over many turns as fresh troops arrive. Aimed at corps level engagements, maybe as part of a larger battle, this is another interesting approach. Though, I can see breaking this rule from time to time or when playing larger battles.

But first of all I played a test game to see how everything plays out.

The Battle of Lützenhagen

The battlefield after set-up. French in the south with both their reinforcement points at the road. They have an artillery unit on the eastern hill, light cavalry to screen their advance and some infantry marching on the road.

The Prussians are coming in from the north as attackers. One reinforcement point is on the road as well but the other one is on the eastern map edge in order to flank the French. The force compositions are the same for both armies.

A couple turns in. The Prussians (farther away) took the central village (unit on the green plate center is occupying it). They are shaking out the battle line. The French brought up their units and are building a strong cavalry presence on their right wing (left center of the picture).

The French right wing swings around the village. Lancers beat back Prussian Hussars and advance far into the Prussian rear.

Meanwhile the infantry clash around Lützenhagen. French gain the upper hand due to effective supporting artillery. The village remains a though nut to be cracked, though. The French cavalry advance gets beaten back to the start by Prussian reinforcements arriving in the nick of time.

Situation at the end of the game. The French poured reinforcements in much quicker and effectively pushed back the Prussians from the village. The Prussian lines are in disarray. They lost 5 units compared to the French 2 losses.

Given that French losses are cavalry units I judged that the battle was a French victory but not a major one. They took command of the battlefield and inflicted losses but are not able to pursue the retreating Prussians effectively.

Thoughts on 2×2 Napoleonics

The rules worked reasonably well. Detail is not only omitted from the game, though. The rules lack clarifications on many things, making judgement calls necessary on many occasions.

As I expected the pinning rules work quite well and generate interesting board states and decision points. The reinforcement rules made the battle feel skirmishy and piecemeal at times, offered a dynamic change at other times.

In hindsight the way the battle evolved looks believable to me but it wasn’t as much fun as with other rules. The rules need clarifications, some tightening and rewriting for me to use again. Given that 2×2 Napoleonics is entirely free and has been worked on by three people that is neither surprising nor detrimental. It is a nice framework with some fresh concepts.