Eylau 1807 – Absolute Emperor

I recently bought Absolute Emperor, the new Napoleonic big battle rule set from Osprey Publishing. Every unit presents and entire division in order to be able to field big battles with moderate figure collections. After a small test battle I decided to tackle the Eylau scenario (day 2) from the rulebook.

Set Up

The French goal is to capture and hold the river crossing in the Russian Center zone for two turns. This has to be achieved within 20 turns or the Russians win.

This is a winter battlefield with occasional heavy snowfall impacting visibility. Although in the following battle the lowered visibility was rarely an issue for either side.

The scenario, like the others in the book, are rather high level approaches of the battles they portray. The terrain is simplified, Benningsen is present the whole day instead of meeting with L’Estroq. The Prussians and Ney are also not part of the battle, though Ney wasn’t really in reality.

The entire battle will be viewed from the French side. Napoleon orders a straightforward general attack on paper. But there is a bit more to it. Augereau has to attack into the center and will probably receive heavy casualties. He is not expected to break through. Soult and Davout (arriving later) will attack as well to keep enough heat from Augereau. This will hopefully weaken the Russian center enough to break through with the huge reserves Napoleon has at his disposal.

Absolute Emperor advanced rules model the differences between Napoleons C&C and the early allies. The French use the Corps system where each Corps commander can give orders to his troops. Order changes are costly but can be put into effect quickly.

In contrast Benningsen has only Tolstoi as independent commander. All other troops have to be commanded personally and his command radius is rather small. This necessitates a lot of travelling around the battlefield to issue commands and therefore a more sluggish behavior.

There are further advanced rules to distinguish Nationalities which I didn’t use in order to not burden myself with too many rules in this first large scale outing of Absolute Emperor.

Battle

The battle starts with Soult and Augereau advancing their infantry past Eylau in assault columns.

After taking light artillery fire Soult engages his Corps into a prolonged firefight. To his right Augereau advanced as far as to the crossroads but will soon take deadly crossfire from all sides.

Davout joins the battle some time later on the French far right flank. His orders are to keep the enemy from reinforcing the center.

Soult’s infantry breaks the enemy and advances to their objective.

As Napoleon expected, Augereau’s Corps in the center took the blunt of enemy fire and has to retire. But Murat’s cavalry is already advancing even before Augereau gives the order. Just out of the image the Imperial Guard deploys in front of Eylau.

There are still a lot of units in the Russian center but most are close to breaking. Benningsen has shifted his attention to the center and activates his only reserve infantry division to cross the bridge and defend it.

As the battle hangs in the balance in the center, Davout keeps the Russians occupied on the right. In the background you can see the Russian reserve area, a huge empty space.

It has come to the final push. Murat’s cavalry, supported by Soult’s infantry and artillery prepares for the charge. The last Russian defenders are running for their lives as they see the French heavy horse charge.

With no other defenders present and Benningsen low on command points the French will have no trouble of capturing and holding the river crossing. The entire Russian right is gone while French casualties are manageable. A resounding victory for the French, although everything came down to timing as precious few turn were left to achieve the goal.

This view from Eylau towards the Russian center at the height of the battle shows Murat’s cavalry attack.

Thoughts

For the most part, Absolute Emperor is a good rule set. It’s goal is similar to sets like Blücher. Get big battles on the table without insane amounts of figures and finishing the battle in an acceptable time. This will be at the cost of details in the depiction of Napoleonic warfare, units or scenarios.

Most mechanics are easy and quickly executed during play. Command rules are deeply ingrained into the rules which is important for battles at this scale. Advanced rules add a lot of flavor.

The scale is a problem, though. In battle it feels like units are regiments or brigades at most. Divisions of about 5,000 men seem like a stretch. Bloody Big Battles and Age of Eagles are also dealing with higher tier units but these have a more distinct footprint on the table and feel big.

Footprint is only one issue. The other is durability. Combat in Absolute Emperor is attritional but entire division can still vanish far too quickly for my taste. It quickens gameplay but again, fells like a Regimental or brigade level game. Again, some rule sets make those big units more durable.

As the overall combat mechanics seem solid otherwise it might help to just increase the number of “hit points” each unit has. Otherwise I feel there is not enough time for maneuver warfare before the line buckles.

There is nothing standing in your way to simply downscale the game though. The command system should handle it fine as well.

The real problem I had was movement. At a glance it is very simple. But when you read the rules cover to cover you are left with surprisingly vague movement rules and an astonishing amount of movement rates for all different kinds of unit types, formations and terrain. Instead of establishing standard rates and adding global modifiers like half movement in difficult terrain, I have to look up everything all the time. Infantry in line moves 4 in open, 2 in cover, cannot move in difficult and 4 on the road. In attack column the rates are 6, 4, 2, 6. In march column the rates are 8, 8, 4, 12. There is no easy rule or modifier to remember here. All of this has to be extracted from paragraphs of text, that sometimes doesn’t mention particular terrain types. This was part of the reason I chose Eylau, as it was light on terrain effects.

There are other parts of the rules which could benefit from more clarity as well and a QRS would go a long way to alleviate some of these problems. That we still have to remind rules writers about Quick Rules Sheets in 2021 is baffling me, to be honest.

All in all an interesting set which needs some interpretation and tweaking for me.

Weil Campaign – Day 4

If you are new to the campaign, here are the prior posts:
Weil Campaign – Day 1 and 2
Weil Campaign – Day 2 Battle of Neuben
Weil Campaign – Day 3
Weil Campaign – Day 3 Battle of Stautz
Weil Campaign – Day 3 Battle of Sägwell

After the draw at Stautz and the French win at Sägwell I updated the map and forces. One wrinkle of the current campaign rules is, that you cannot retreat into a location with two forces already present. This means that Austrian II Armeekorps has been effectively dispersed in the retreat.

The Austrians could have avoided this but I simply forgot. Maybe I have to address this, as it does feel very forced to move in such a way to avoid it. It also seems not historical to split up retreating forces into different locations.

With the French now at 7 victory points and the Austrians at -3 I decided to stop the campaign here. Even with a fresh force still at Weil the losses have been too severe and the strategic position is untenable. The Austrians have to retreat and the French have won a major victory.

The overall losses are heavily weighted in favor of the French after the battle of Sägwell:
French: 4000
Austrians: 25000

Thoughts on the Campaign Rules

For the first playtest the rules worked fine. Some of the mechanics to keep the armies on a broad footing strategically seem a little bit artificial. A more open map might help here to force armies to spread in order to cover ally approaches.

Thoughts on Volley and Bayonet

The more I play the rules the more I like them. Although I usually prefer more restrictive command and control rules the campaign did its part to come up with interesting scenarios that were challenges to commanding a force in itself.

Only artillery seems a tad too strong, especially on defense. But this can easily mitigated by fielding less dedicated artillery.

Weil Campaign – Day 3 Battle of Sägwell

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.

Deployment

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.

1100

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.

1200

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.

1300

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.

Aftermath

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.

Weil Campaign – Day 3 Battle of Stautz

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.

Deployment

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.

Barnier arrives

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.

Weil Campaign – Day 3

After the first battle of the campaign near Porthaus the French are in a good position with far less casualties and better scouting. The have received 2 victory points for the battle versus the Austrain 1 victory point for holding the Weil node. I raised the morale value of all forces by +5 as these were too low.

Strategic Plans

The Austrian C-in-C Stroheim received reports of the costly defeat at Neuben on April 12. He decides to defend at Stautz in the south and use his three corps in the north for an attack towards Kreuznach. This would bottle up the French in the south somewhat.

The problem is that the exact location of three French Corps are still in doubt.

The French C-in-C Gérard tries to do the reverse. His successful II Corps will soon be reinforced and can attack Stautz while III Corps at Sägwell needs to hold the enemy while this happens.

Early April 13

At midday the situation clarified greatly for the French. The Austrians are attacking at Sägwell and another Armeekorps has been revealed at Weil. and Stautz. This brings the number up to five and all Dummy forces are therefore revealed.

Again the Austrians on their scouting. This time it is crucial, as French force D at Grinn gives them trouble. As long as it is not revealed it is far too dangerous to move V Armeekorps into battle at Sägwell.

Late April 13

Gérard saw no choice but to reinforce III Corps with the Reserve as Sägwell. Meanwhile I and II Corps attack at Stautz.

Finally force D has been uncovered as a dummy but this happens only after all moves for the turn so the V Armeekorps stayed at Weil. Whats more is that the reinforcing counters at Sägwell and Stautz have not been revealed. This means that the Austrians will neither know if more forces are on the way or where they will arrive.

Battles

The battles of Stautz and Sägwell are about to follow in separate posts.

Weil Campaign – Day 2 Battle of Neuben

Prior campaign posts:
Day 1 and 2

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.

Deployment

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.

1500

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.

1600

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.

1700

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.

1800

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.

Aftermath

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.

Weil Campaign – Day 1 and 2

While reading about Napoleon on his campaigns i noticed that almost all the campaign systems I know are quite symmetrical. Armies are pitted against each other that may behave differently in the field but the campaign rules, as a battle generator of sorts assume that there are no differences on the strategical side of things. The systems Napoleon employed in his early campaigns before his enemies caught on would lead to a much less symmetrical campaign, though.

Advantages in scouting and screening, force concentration and a flexible approach about where the own center is situated are things that come to mind. Living off the land as opposed to long and slow supply trains is another difference that will influence how forces move.

I decided to work on a campaign system (code named Project Icarus) to model such differences in a simple way without a ton of bookkeeping. Nothing will be very detailed but in sum I hope to bring more realism to the campaign layer.

Setup

I set up a short and rather symmetrical campaign in order to test the systems in place first. Namely my rules for scouting, screening (preventing enemy scouting), morale, exhaustion and setting up field battles.

The map below is fictional but very loosely based on the Eckmühl campaign during the 5th Coalition in 1809. The French C-in-C Gérard has 4 regular Corps and one Guard Reserve Corps starting west. The Austrian C-in-C Stroheim has 5 Armeekorps at his disposal staring from the east.

This is essentially a map of nodes or locations armies can travel between and a rate of one move per turn. It is essentially a test map and not very realistic in regards to the river. More on movement later.

Scouting and screening is modeled by 5 dummy forces (the lighter blue/yellow) on each side. At a distance of two locations scouting rolls can be made to uncover various bits of information depending on the roll.

There is also a stacking rule of 2 per side in place which is very work in progress at the moment.

Stamina and Morale are tracked per force counter. Each move and battle costs stamina and depending on winning or losing the morale is changed. Morale is simply the percentage of losses a force can take during a battle before it is considered broken.

My aim with this test campaign is to iron out quirks in the rules first before applying them to asymmetrical scenarios. It will be quite easy to give one side more dummy forces, better scouting modifiers, stamina or morale. Marching speed itself is more difficult to change but stamina is a good start.

April 11

The campaign begins with a day of maneuvers on standing orders. As no contact was possible on day one I gave all forces a march order and just executed it instead of moving one force at a time.

At the end of the day the French look like they can project quite a few forces towards Weil. In reality they have their center around Kreuznach and are ready to shift their forces south. Gérard is ready to retire his Corps from Weil to lure the Austrians in. Scouting has been bad this turn as the enemy forces B and H at Rabenhaus are not revealed. A and G stay unrevealed as well. Gérard suspects 2-3 Armeekorps in total in the area.

The Austrian perspective shows the wall of possible French troops closing in on Weil. The Austrians indeed have two Armeekorps there but Stroheim’s other forces are too stretched out to support each other. At least their scouting has confirmed that the enemy at Weil is not a dummy but in fact III Corps of General Darche.

Early April 12

This day begins with the standard campaign sequence. Players roll for initiative and the winner decides who moves one force first. After that it is alternating between the two sides. There are two of these movement phases each turn, hence the early/late distinction of the day. Battles might start early in the day but are only fought after all moves have been completed to give reinforcements time to march to the sound of guns.

The situation for Gérard around midday. He drew his dummy forces closer to Weil in order to keep the enemy from launching an attack. It worked and French scouts also identified one dummy (which is discarded) and the names of two real forces around Weil. Unfortunately enemy force C at Porthaus has not been identified. The plan is to shift more forces to the south for a left hook while keeping the enemy at Weil busy with guessing Gérard’s real dispositions.

The Austrians failed at scouting as well and enemy force I remains veiled. So far the French could be anywhere. As III Corps stayed at Weil Stroheim believes that there are definitely enemy reinforcements on route to Weil. He probably should have attacked while he had the chance but hesitated.

Late April 12

The second movement phase begins with French initiative and Gérard decides to pull III Corps out of Weil due to increasing reports of enemy formations in the area. The Austrians don’t waste time and move in with their two Korps and possibly another one behind it. Force J up at Korik has to be dealt with in a day or two as well.

Meanwhile the southern column marches on and II Corps under Philidor discover a dummy at Porthaus before engaging a real enemy.

After said dummy has been discovered Stroheim decides to engage the enemy at Porthaus before forces can be concentrated. As enemy maneuvers around Weil become erratic Stroheim judges that his intel must be wrong and three Korps will be sufficient for the Weil area. He sends Sandmeier with the IV Armeekorps towards Stautz to help in the south and stays at Offen himself to keep both fronts in view.

Battles

Around midday two opposing forces clash somewhere in the area of Porthaus. As the encounter happened in the late part of the turn and both forces rolled high on their time to march, it will be a short battle. Andris’ III Armeekorps arrives first. This gives him choice of table edge but he also has to set up first. The battle will start on turn 10 of 15 for the day.

The battle will be subject of the next campaign post. Volley and Bayonet will make its debut on my blog as the rule set for the battlefield side of things.

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.

Plancenoit 1815 – Bataille Empire

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.

Set-Up

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.

The Battle

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.

Thoughts

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.

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.


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