This is the second battle happening on day 3 of the campaign and the biggest one. Several French and Austrian Corps as well as both C-in-Cs are converging on the village of Sägwell and the nearby crossroads.
At 0800 in the morning Darche’s French III Corps is arrayed in defensive positions on a small hill. Sägwell is to the left while the strategically important crossroads are to the right. Darche knows that C-in-C Gérard will arrive with the Guard later in the day to his right. He also knows that another enemy Armeekorps is on the move against him.
In the distance II Armeekorps of Austrian general Brandauer marches to battle positions. Kress will arrive with reinforcements soon to his left (which is upper right int he image). Rumors of French reinforcements are unconfirmed.
The small wooded area lining the road will be a point of conflict all day.
0900 to 1100
The French moved to occupy the woods and Sägwell. Excellent defensive positions buffered by extensive skirmishers screens. The Austrians start probing attacks.
Both side use artillery to soften up the enemy
Thick clouds of smoke billow up from the woods. Although the French are outnumbered and outgunned, skirmishers and cover seem to be enough to even the odds.
C-in-C Stroheim arrives on the field with Kress’ I Armeekorps in tow. The long line of troops make their way to the crossroads to pressure the French flank.
Having the upper hand in troops on the field Brandauer orders to take the woods and pressure the enemy. Soon Austrians are streaming through the woods with Frenchmen in flight. With his forces stretched thin Darche opts to reform his left flank on the hill but keep one regiment in Sägwell. This proves to be a vital decision, as the Austrians have to deal with the village before they can roll up the flank.
Meanwhile reports of dust clouds on the horizon arrive Stroheim. It seems that the French have more forces in the area after all and he will not have time to defeat the Freench one after another.
C-in-C Gérard and the French Guard under Daucourt arrive. They too have the crossroads in sight as a way to connect to Darche but as they aproach, Austrian troops are already deploying along the road.
The situation as seen from the French table edge. Darche is out of image to the left, Daucourt’s small but formidable reserve to the right. The Austrian road column scrambles to wheel to their left to deal with the new threat.
After hours of preparatory fire and losing the woods Darche sees Austrian columns coming in along the entire front. Fortunately, his artillery is still intact and the attackers are raked with canister fire and musket volleys. The Austrians run before they can even reach the hill and are in dire shape.
Daucourt urges his Guards forward through the screens of Austrian Grenzers. Heavy cavalry also attacks against enemy light horse with surprisingly mixed results. Still, Stroheim feels the initiative slipping as Brandauer reports mounting casualties and Kress is under pressure.
1400 and later
Gérard sees the opportunity and orders a general counter offense. Darche is quick to react and pushes his troops forward. Morale is high and the Austrians are seen retiring. Near the woods the Austrians face difficulty maneuvering and are dispersed.
Kress has to shift his forces as he sees Brandauer retiring. Meanwhile the Guard presses on like clockwork. A mere three hours after arriving Stroheim orders a general retreat.
This image has been take some time later at around 1600. The Austrian committed their last fresh troops to cover the general retreat but it is not going well. Darche’s discipline in holding back his cavalry paid off as the dragoons are now advancing next to the Guard to sweep everything in their path.
The rearguard action goes on for two more hours before it end an uncoordinated retreat. Stroheim’s army has been severely beaten.
I played out several turns of the retreat and it was brutal. We often read about commanders fighting a brilliant rearguard action and saving the army. This was not the time and place. I don’t know how close a game of Volley & Bayonet can come to reality (I suspect not that close) but I definitely experienced the challenges of extricating a broken army from the field and the effect fresh cavalry can have in this phase of the battle.
The casualty rules of the campaign were harsh after Sägwell. Maybe a bit too harsh:
French: 1.000 Austrians: 13.000 (>30% casualties)
Several flags, battalion guns and horse artillery pieces were captured by the French as well. I will deal with the campaign implications in another post.
After Andris’ forces received a thorough beating at Neuben another French attack puts pressure on the Austrians at Stautz. This battle begins relatively late in the day and will only last a couple of turns but what the Austrians don’t know is that the French have a flanking force on the march.
Two Austrian Armeekorps in defensive position at 1500. Stautz is in the upper right wedged between a stream and a ploughed fields which makes it easier to defend. Therefore the job falls to the battered III Armeekorps of Andris. Meanwhile Sandmeier deployed on and around the hill. In the distance Philidor arrives.
The forces arrayed for battle.
Dust clouds on the horizon mark the arrival of further forces as Philidor moves his forces forward to pin the Austrians in place. A heavy skirmisher screen is thrown forward to navigate the rough ground near Stautz.
On Philidor’s right Barnier arrives at 1600 with his Corps and immediately rushes his cavalry forward to bring disorder into the Austrian formations. Meanwhile his infantry traverses the stream and artillery is send down the road to support Philidor as it cannot cross the stream.
The defenders react by shifting the reserves towards Stautz and form some battalions in masse.
The First Attack
The French commit to the center while keeping away from the enemy on the hill. Artillery is brought forward and begins to wreak havoc among the Austrian defenders.
Barnier brings the full weight of his assault columns to bear but is beaten back in the first attack. The Austrians have successfully formed a defensive line on their left flank but these are the already weakened forces of Andris and they are missing artillery support.
The overall situation at 1800. Sandmeier had to retire somewhat on the right under mounting pressure. But Philidor’s men are tired and casualties are mounting. They don’t have another attack in them.
On the left the next attack is clearly aimed at Stautz which has been shelled by artillery for nearly 2 hours while French and Austrian troops battle at the outskirts of the town.
The Second Attack
The second French thrust easily dislodges the enemy from Stautz and supporting attacks along the defensive line makes any attempt to recapture the town already impossible.
As this goes on Sandmeier counter attacks Philidor’s troops with some success.
End of the Battle
After 2 hours of quick but intense attack maneuvers the Austrian forces retire from the left flank.
Word arrives Sandmeier while his forces are advancing against Philidor. He has no choice to pull back. The French hold Stautz and broke Andris’ foce again while narrowly avoiding Philidor’s Corps breaking. On the field of battle this would count as a tactical victory but in the strategical rules it is counted as a draw as neither side’s will to fight was completely broken. Casualties confirm this:
French losses: 1.500 Austrian losses: 4.000
But within the campaign this is not a good result for the Austrians. Andris III Armeekorps is barely holding together, nearly half in size after two battles and unknown to them there is another French Corps on the way.
Late in the second day of the campaign the French and Austrian forces meet for the first time on the field of battle. Volley and Bayonet will be used for all battles of the campaign. Deployment and reinforcements is influenced by the campaign movement of troops. The Road to Glory system from the rules is not used. There is a turn limit and formation breakpoints to govern victory in campaign turns.
The Austrians arrived at Porthaus roughly at 1400 and proceeded to seek good ground to block the French. The village of Neuben (center) some kilometres away from Porthaus was where the forces met.
French II Corps of Marshal Philidor in the foreground with Rochette’s cavalry to the left, Couvreur’s veteran infantry in the center, surrounded by thick skirmishers screens (not depicted). To the right Beaumanoir’s conscript infantry and Corps heavy artillery.
The Austrian III Armeekorps of General Andris consists of Boltzmann’s cavalry to the left. Faymann and Burger field an infantry division each in the center and to the right respectively. The Austrians also have heavy artillery.
The Austrians press on and take Neuben and have a strong central position with artillery on both flanks. Philidor reacts by moving his right wing forward to engage the enemy while the conscripts on the left advance more carefully.
Heavy fighting erupts at Neuben. French skirmishers seem to have the upper hand, though.
On the other side of Neuben long range artillery shells the maneuvering troops.
Around 17 o’clock Austrian cavalry made a move to threaten French infantry. General Rochette reacted promptly by charging the Austrians although he had only light cavalry at his disposal. As one might expect Austrian Cuirassiers routed the Frenchmen and put Rochette’s division into disorder. The French hussars fared better however and dispersed their enemy. A costly action but the danger to the infantry line has been averted.
Just right of the cavalry encounter the firefight showed mixed results. One French regiment broke (lower left) while the other charged (center) and broke their enemy which brought Faymann’s division close to collapse.
On the other side of Neuben, firefights began with the Austrians suffering. Both forces are close to their morale break point as determined by the campaign rules.
Fighting in the outskirts of Neuben continue. Although the Austrians are holding the village the supporting troops nearby are suffering heavily.
In a desperate gamble Andris orders Burger to send his men forward from the protected position on the hill to break the enemy conscripts. The French defend well and then counter attack which sends two regiments routing (top left). The ensuing losses are more than enough to break III Armeekorps and win the day. Although General Philidor’s force needed only two more hits to be broken as well.
General Andris retreats back to Stautz. During the battle I noticed that morale scores of 35 are rather low to start with and changed the starting value to 40. This means a force that loses 40% or more of hits of all their units is considered to be broken.
The situation after post battle moves, stamina and morale adjustments.
Casualty rolls were made for both forces and the Austrians suffered 8.000 losses out of 21.500 men. Boltzmann’s cavalry division has been nearly wiped out. II Corps only sustained 1.500 losses. The disparity is in part due to the pursuit of the losing force which generates additional losses on the losers side.
In the next post I will continue with the strategic side of things.
Almost immediately after playing the Plancenoit scenario from the Bataille Empire rulebook (link), I converted the same scenario to 2×2 Napoleonics. The terrain remained the same but crammed into a 2 foot by 2 foot area. The armies were downscaled a bit without changing the ratios between both forces.
The Prussian divisions are deployed at the top from left to right: Prinz Wilhelm (cavalry), Losthin, Hiller. The French are similarly arrayed as in the prior report from left to right: with Domon and Subervie (Cavalry), Simmer, Jeanin.
The view from Plancenoit.
Some turns into the battle the infantry of Simmer and Jeanin try to hold off the Prussians. In the background Prussian divisions of Hacke and Ryssel arrive. French artillery has to keep the center together as a regiment retreats (lower left).
Left of this picture French hussars and lancers have trashed Prinz Wilhelm’s cavalry.
Roughly halftime in the scenario. Not much has changed which is by itself remarkeable. Two French infantry regiments and an artillery battery manage to hold of the bulk of the Prussian forces. Ryssel had to shift his forces to the open flank though to cover the hole left by Prinz Wilhelm.
The Guard arrives at Plancenoit. Other than in my last battle it is needed in this game.
With the last light of the day fading Tippelskirch’s infantry division arrives (upper left). The blue line denotes the imaginary front line. Observant generals will notice how the French position is held together by artillery batteries. Hardly a stable position. To the far right guards have charged the Prussians and stabilized at least the right a bit. Desperately needed as the right road is the only real avenue for the Prussians into Plancenoit.
At the end of the battle the Guard retired to defensive positions in Plancenoit. The two remaining units holding out against the Prussians will soon be surrounded and overrun.
After the battle I removed the French troops that would realistically be surrounded and straightened the Prussian lines. The French have precious little troops left for a defense. A French victory as they still hold the village but only a minor one as Prussians have free range of movement and enough troops to take Plancenoit. Only nightfall prevents them from exploiting the situation.
A very quick and interesting game as always with the 2×2 rules. There were some fortuitous rolls for the French. For example as a Prussian line regiment charged artillery in the open and the French won even with a hefty -3 modifier on their melee roll, keeping the line from buckling. As I classed all Landwehr as militia I finally discovered why they are so cheap. Militia costs half the points of a line regiment with next to no difference. The only difference is a negative rally modifier. This game showed how big the impact of this modifier is, as Disrupted Landwehr is notoriously difficult to rally (6 on 1d6 but only if an HQ is attached). The Landwehr was basically stuck in place and with so many of them needing the attention of both HQ’s.
With a less severe turn limit and a less congested battlefield the scenario seemed more fair than the original one. The French won again but this time it was way closer and there were some lucky rolls for the French.
One thing I noticed again, is the brutal effectiveness of ranged fire against cavalry. This is well balance with infantry and close range artillery fire. The problem is long range artillery fire which makes it easy to protect one’s flanks from cavalry with just an artillery unit.
As with several other modifiers that seem strange in 2×2 Napoleonics at first, there is usually some deeper thought or implication behind it.
Although I played Warhammer related tabletops in my childhood and adolescence my very first tabletop foray into Napoleonics was pretty late. In 2014 I played a Plancenoit scenario with Field of Glory: Napoleonics and a lot of paper counters and terrain. Here is the link, but be warned, its rather basic stuff.
I played countless battles since then but rarely historical scenarios. Their attention to detail and specific requirements of troops is not that interesting to me but for the sake of good old times I decided to revisit Plancenoit.
Bataille Empire (BE) has a scenario about the battle in the rulebook so I settled for it. This would give BE another chance to win me over.
The scenario begins at 6pm with several reinforcements still on their way. The deployment areas are relatively fixed but I decided that the French try to fend of the Prussians well before Plancenoit. With the reinforcement scheduled, a defense in depth might be possible.
The Prussians decided to lead with their Landwehr on the whole front to soften the enemy up. It would be up to the reinforcements to deliver the final blow. As the Prussians are the attackers the action is mainly depicted from their view.
Losthin’s and Hiller’s Assault columns are carefully advancing. French skirmishers and artillery take their toll. Red dice are hits. Infantry can suffer 4, cavalry 3 before they are packed into the box. Green/blue dice are half hits. BE calls these attrition but they are essentially half hits and an added layer of bookkeeping I find mostly unnecessary. I think attrition can be replaced by rolling a die roll. Even causes a hit, odd is ignored. This would add another roll to the procedure but it would declutter bookkeeping from attrition markers. The additional die could be of another color and rolled with the firing dice if attrition is scored which would not take too much time.
Some turns later Prinz Wilhelm’s attack on the Prussian right flank has been checked by far inferior (in numbers) enemy cavalry. Even worse, Jacquinot arrives with more cavalry (upper right) and supports Domon in holding up the Prussians. The two units with skattered base placement at the bottom are disordered Prussian units which retired from melee.
Hacke’s divison arrives on the far left on the march to Plancenoit. I don’t have enough Prussians so Hacke’s troops look suspiciously like Russians. Meanwhile the real Prussians are pushed back on the entire front.
Combined musketry and artillery ripped a hole in the Prussian center. This is not something the French can exploit as Hacke and Ryssel, who arrived with another infantry disivion, have more than enough troops to fill the gaps. But battlefield chaos and retreating troops keep them from doing so for a while. The French are content with redressing their lines and keeping the enemy at bay which is all they need to achieve at the end of this fateful day.
On the French side about halfway through the allotted turns Duhesme’s Young Guard arrives in Plancenoit. The enemy is still far from their objective.
Prinz Wilhelm’s cavalry has been pushed back to the edge of the map and Prussian reinforcements have no space to enter the battlefield. The entire Prussian right flank is up in the air for a turn but shortly after this picture opportunistic French Chasseurs are send packing by solid infantry formations.
It is the beginning of turn 6 of 7 in the scenario. I decided to end the battle here. Prussian losses are high (62% of of cohesion lost) while the French forces are still quite intact (33% of cohesion lost). What’s more is that the Prussians are still far away from Plancenoit, which is worth a big lump of victory points at the end of the game. There is no realistic chance they can win the scenario. This is partly due to the congested battlefield. About half the troops never saw battle and with the tight turn limit it is difficult to change that.
Part of the problem was the abysmal performance of Prinz Wilhelm’s cavalry on the Prussian right flank. They rolled badly turn after turn and a real threat to the French flank never materialized despite superior numbers. Subervie’s cavalry on the French side even stayed in reserve for the entire time as they were not needed.
French Guard reinforcements marching through Plancenoit as the day draws to a close. Waterloo is lost but the French retreat path has been secured.
The battle felt very one sided. Although Simmer and Jeanin had to give ground slowly at the end they still had more than enough fight in them to hold of the Prussians. Not a single Prussian unit ever advanced past their half of the battlefield! I don’t know exactly how much of this is down to scenario design or my unfamiliarity with the rules. In a previous scenario from the book (Jakubowo) I encountered the same problem though. Attacking is difficult and even more so with conscript level troops. This is neither a surprise nor unrealistic, but on both occasions I wondered about the very tight turn limit for the attacking force.
This is not a big issue as I’m not a fan of historical scenarios anyway. The rules are much more of a problem. Well, at least for what I want from them. Some parts are fiddly and long lists of detailed modifiers are time consuming, although they are all quite logical and easy to check. Add to that the reliance of 1d6 for almost every roll. Whether it is firing, melee, morale or maneuver tests. The high variance of 1d6 feels too random even with the ton of modifiers to add or subtract, yet the results are rather predictable as the casualty tables are designed that way.
The results still seem believable and detailed but the system does not feel fun to play for me. Especially as the turn sequence is geared towards individual divisions rather than IGOYOUGO which is more difficult to play solo.
If you like a bit more detailed rules that are still playable and you are not a solo player BE is probably way more interesting for you than it is for me. The very detailed army lists are a nice bonus. They go way deeper than the usual early-late distinction for the major powers and can be used for other rule systems easily.
With my recent interest in the “Allure of Simple Wargaming” I decided to give Neil Thomas’ rules Simplicity in Practice (SIP) from Battlegames Issue 23 a spin (available at Wargame Vault). The rules are 1 page long and probably the most simple ones I ever played Napoleonics with.
I also recently purchased the Adjutant Introuvable (AI). The author Nic Birt describes AI as an “auto strategy system for miniature wargames” (available at Wargame Vault as well). He has two videos (12) to explain the system and I liked what I saw, although the system is a bit limited. But more on that later.
As SIP has no command or friction mechanics whatsoever, I combined SIP with AI. Here are my findings.
As I’m currently reading about the early Italian campaigns I decided on French vs Austrians. In a new twist for me I actually had to choose sides so I took the Austrians. As AI always attacks and I heard attacking is quite difficult in SIP I gave the French a slight edge in forces.
French Army of Italy 10 Close Order Infantry 2 Light Infantry 3 Artillery 1 Heavy Cavalry 2 Dragoons
Austrian Army 9 Close Order Infantry 2 Light Infantry 2 Artillery 2 Heavy Cavalry 2 Light Cavalry
There is only one thing I changed regarding SIP. In the rules Light Cavalry and Dragoons can shoot. I don’t find this to be particularly realistic but kept it in as a kind of morale attack. Therefore I allowed heavy cavalry to shoot as well. What is modeled by this are cavalry skirmishes and the stress of infantrymen being close to enemy cavalry for an extended period of time. I thought about a mechanic like this for some time now, so here was a way to test it.
I deployed my forces first and designed a battle plan as per AI instructions.
Here is my deployment. What is difficult to see in this image is the hilly nature of the battlefield. I deployed one brigade with light cavalry support on each flank, two brigades in the center and my heavy cavalry is in reserve between the left flank and center.
A hasty battle plan. Here you can see the relevant hills as well. The Left flank had a commanding position for my artillery so I decided to defend the hill while light cavalry is ordered to probe. On the right flank the village and fordable river formed a strong defensive position. I decided to defend here as well.
My main thrust would be in the center, where I ordered one brigade to develop a strong position with artillery on the hill. The second brigade was ordered to use the road for a quick advance towards the central village. The force was relatively small but had artillery support from two sides and heavy cavalry in reserve.
I drew three of the nine available attack plans for AI and gave them points as per the rules to rank them in the order of validity. With two villages and very hilly terrain the scores were low but AI eventually decided to try a center attack. This means that the center would try to advance up into my deployment area while both flanks would advance as well but less aggressive and not as far. Given that the other two plans were involving aggressive attacks on the French left flank (French are top so right side in the image), this made sense. The flank was easy to defend for me, which AI noticed.
After rolling for troop assignments to each sector AI ended up with only 1 unit on its left flank (upper right in the image), basically denying the flank. This happened randomly but with my strong defenses again a good outcome for AI. Two artillery ended up on the French right flank which was a bit unfortunate but the angles should work out. In the center a balanced force of 3 infantry, 1 light infantry and 2 Dragoons would be available for the first push with a large reserve for the breakthrough.
French won initiative and would go first every turn. AI checks the tactics used in each sector (flanks and center) every turn and is at times careful and aggressive. There are guidelines how to interpret the rolled results but overall these are very careful. Even in the most aggressive setting “charge” units should only attack if their chance of success would be at least even. This is problematic as a real generals sometimes ordered costly attacks in the hopes to gain a better position in the long run. I tried to stay true to AI’s recommendations though melee attackers in SIP is rarely at advantage.
As I’m effectively playing as the Austrians the battle will be told from my perspective only.
Left flank: My artillery deployed in a way to reach up to the village in the center (upper left).
Center: My brigade on attack order in the foreground using the road to advance. To the left next to the heavy cavalry reserve you can see a lone rider. That’s me!
Right flank: This flank was easy defend even before AI deployed. To the left you can see light infantry holding a wooded area which connects my flank to the center.
Turn 3 left flank: The enemy steadily advances while my artillery bombards enemy Dragoons.
Turn 3 center: On the right my brigade has reached its designated position on the hill and artillery is about to unlimber. My other brigade is checked early by enemy Dragoons. Overall my deployment was a bit shoddy and gave the French time to close quickly. The speed of Dragoons certainly helped. This turn the French also released a limited amount of reserves to support the push. With AI you have to roll every turn if reserves are released and to what amount.
Turn 4 center: A view from the central hill. My artillery deployed and help to disperse light infantry in front of it. The French struggle to redress the lines.
Turn 5 left flank: By turn 5 the battle is in full swing. The enemy deployed his artillery in support and blasts my left flank. I don’t have enough forces to push aggressively.
Turn 5 between left flank and center: The quick push by enemy Dragoons is checked in turn by my infantry and artillery. The French cannot charge as the odds would be bad in a frontal charge.
Turn 5 center: Thick clouds of smoke envelop the center as the attritional firefight begins. The situation looks stable for me but my frontline troops are suffering and my line will be stretched thin soon if I can’t do anything about it. Meanwhile the French still have reserve forces in the back.
Turn 5 right flank: After initial defense my forces are ordered forward in a flanking move. A lone enemy line infantry unit holds the woods.
Turn 8 left flank: This flank gives under constant artillery fire and a bold infantry charge. I’m scrambling to reform my line around my cavalry reserve (just right out of the image).
Turn 8 a general’s view: The brigade once ordered to capture the central village has lost another unit. The center is beginning to look thin. In the distance you can catch a glimpse of enemy Dragoons retiring. They have taken too many hits and are relegated to a support role.
Turn 8 center: Both sides are losing units but the French keep coming (from reserve).
Turn 8 right flank: The French have retired behind the river and reinforced this sector with their last reserve. Both sides are maneuvering into firing positions.
Turn 10 left flank viewed from general: The game ended on turn 10. Here you can see my reformed line with reserve cavalry. The Cuirassiers charged this turn but were beaten back by canister fire.
Turn 10 center: The remnants of my center brigade turn and run. This is the reason I ended the game. With a collapsed center the Austrian position becomes untenable. As you can see there are still more than enough French soldiers behind the wall of smoke.
Turn 10 right flank: Here I am still in a good position. My troops in the foreground are fresh and most enemy units are worn down and close to breaking. Though with a broken center both flanks will be isolated and defeated in detail.
Both sides lost 4 units out of 15 (without artillery) and had multiple units low on hits. As the Austrian cavalry reserve is still fresh I judged this battle to be a clean French victory but not one that is strategically decisive.
Thoughts on Simplicity in Practice
I think, the system does what it sets out to do. After a few turns I memorized the important stats and the game flowed quickly. Melee takes more looking up as it has a list of modifiers you have to read carefully. It may be due to the larger number of units I deployed but melee seems almost suicidal for the attack in most situations. Modifiers have a massive impact on the result and the outcome is massive as well. In part this does reflect my reading but it is too hard to pull off. You would need a entire line of light infantry to soften up the enemy and then coordinate a fall back of the light infantry and an advance into melee with line infantry along the entire line. Even then your chances seem about even at best. All in all the game felt more 18th century than Napoleonic. I think at the battalion/regiment level formations and skirmishing are almost necessary to model in your rules in order to see Napoleonic tactics employed on the battlefield.
This criticism should not detract from the fact that SIP is a good and elegant set of rules in my opinion. Movement works is dead simple but works very well. It takes some time playing to see that it is actually difficult to extricate units from firefights. All because the movement rules make sense and not because added mechanics like disruption are used. The rules have several such gems of design. Together with the scenarios presented in the surrounding issues of the Battlegames magazine and the article in volume 22 about the genesis and use of simple rule sets you get quite a bit of material.
Thoughts on Adjutant Introuvable
An interesting system albeit limited. It emphasizes the general plan and deployment much more than actual gameplay. It gave a weighted and believable plan of attack but only if you play accordingly and give the system some leeway. It also can only attack. A defending enemy can easily played without AI of course but that’s not what I meant. Almost all its strategies are rather strong attacks and the tactical strategies cannot switch to retiring if an attack fails. With the terrain set up as is the better strategy would have been to use the central village as strongpoint.
Again, this critique should not detract from AI’s value. It delivered a good simulation of the command of an army where not everything goes like planned and troops are at times rather plodding, at other time surprisingly quick. I have a feeling that much hinges on the amount of troops, the battlefield terrain and especially the rules used. I will definitely give AI another try with another set of rules.
Thoughts on the Combination
During the game I was in the commander’s mindset of how and where to use my forces and saw with desperation how my situation got progressively worse. I was a bit dismayed by the tactical limitations of SIP in regards to attacking. In hindsight I see this battle in a different light. It was in essence quite Napoleonic in that two plans clashed with each other and all the commanders could do is use reserves to sway the battle in their favor. The French one was larger and released at the right time, mine was not.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
I will address the campaign implications of this battle in another post.
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.
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.
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.