Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life; currently concentrating on a re-fight of the entire Peninsular War, but with the odd foray into ancient, medieval and WW2 battles.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Using Polemos and DBx for Solo Wargames

Having been asked about the solo mechanisms I used in various forums and in the Comments section from time-to-time, I thought it might be helpful if I wrote a blogpost to describe how the mechanism works, particularly for those who have one of the Polemos rulesets and are thinking of using them for solitaire games.

I'll use Polemos Marechal d'Empire as an example, but all the other rulesets in the Polemos series that I have played (Polemos General de Division, which is the other Napoloeonics set, Polemos WSS, Polemos ECW and Polemos SPQR) use broadly similar systems.

In a face-to-face game, at the start of each move each player (CinC) generates tempo points by throwing 1D6 and adding one for every corps, division or brigade commander directly subordinate to the CinC.  The C-in-C then decides (in secret) how many of these points to bid to gain the 'tempo': the right to go first in the turn and also, in some rules, reduced costs for the actions of the CinC's units.  The highest bidder gets to go first and is given a couple of additional points for winning, too.  The remaining points are used to allow the CinC's units to perform actions: moving, rallying, reordering formations, that kind of thing.  Some of the Corps commanders also generate their own points, so their units can always do (some) things, whereas poorer commanders need direct supervision to make things happen.

What I do in a solitaire game is reverse this process, slightly.  I assume that the initial 1D6 roll is a constant, to reflect a commander's quality.  The best commanders are assumed to roll '6' every time, competent commanders '5', poor commanders '4'.  This system could be refined further, but I have found this spread works fine.  Then I randomize the tempo bid, using the highest possible dice that can't bid equal to or more than the number of points generated.  So Napoleon with an army of 5 corps would have 11 points (6 for him, 5 for the subordinate commanders) would roll a D10 for his tempo bid.  Mack with an army of 3 corps would have 7 points (4 for him, 3 for the subordinate commanders) would roll D6 for his tempo bid.  I find that this allocates command effort in a nuanced way and also constrains the actions of me as the solo player enough to give an interesting game.

There are other ways of using the Polemos rules to give a good solitaire play: there are some interesting rules on the Yahoo group for playing one side actively against a more enemy-controlled side.

The DBx series of rules (I play DBA and Horse, Foot & Guns) is more straightforward (but less nuanced): each side in turn rolls a D6 for its activity points and does stuff with them.  I think that the constraints generated for each side by this dice roll create a perfectly adequate solo game.

Philosophically, I try and create insoluble problems for the other side as my basic way of playing solitaire games, rather than trying to 'trick' one side or another.  For example, in my recent Waterloo game, as the French player I was trying to create a series of no-win situations for the Allied player: one example would be Hougoumont, where the French player is trying to commit enough troops so the Allied player feels obliged to match, or even better overmatch, to secure the position.  Whichever side does this best in the solitaire games tends - but only tends - to win.


Monday, 22 June 2015

Polemos Waterloo: A Marechal d'Empire Battle Report


The Battle of Waterloo

Scenario Notes: I used the Waterloo scenario from the Polemos Napoleonic Companion with a couple of variations.  I have always thought that the best way to re-fight the main portion of the Battle of Waterloo is to eliminate the Prussians and the French that fought them from the scenario, instead treating the Prussians as a force of nature and changing the victory conditions to reflect this.  Therefore the Imperials need to break the Allied army by 21:00, otherwise it is a Prussian victory.  The French lose half their Guard infantry, Lobau's Corps and a light cavalry brigade, so they have to win with the forces they used against the Allies during the day.

The scenario started at 11:00.  The ground was muddy until 13:00 (which reduces artillery fire effect), with an extra rule that artillery moves at half-speed until noon.

Forces:

Imperial French Army:

Imperial Guard: 3 Infantry bases, 4 Cavalry bases, 4 Foot Artillery bases, 1 Horse Artillery base

I Corps: 10 Infantry bases, 2 Cavalry bases, 2 Foot Artillery bases

II Corps: 11 Infantry bases, 3 Cavalry bases, 2 Foot Artillery bases

III Cavalry Corps: 4 Cavalry bases, 1 Horse Artillery base

IV Cavalry Corps: 4 Cavalry bases, 1 Horse Artillery base

Domon's Division: 1 Cavalry base

Subervie's Division: 2 Cavalry bases

Allied Army:

Cavalry Reserve (Uxbridge): 16 Cavalry bases, 2 Horse Artillery bases

I Corps (Prince of Orange): 13 Infantry bases

II Corps (Hill): 8 Infantry bases

Reserve Corps (Picton): 9 Infantry bases

Artillery: 6 Foot Artillery bases

Deployment:

The French Left: Reille's Corps facing Hougoumont, with Kellermann's Cavalry Corps behind (bottom of picture)

The French Right: D'Erlon's Corps facing the gap between La Haye Sainte and Papelotte, resting on the edge of Plancenoit.  Milhaud's Cavalry Corps are behind, along with elements of the Imperial Guard around La Belle Alliance (bottom left)

French extreme right: French light cavalry and lancers to right of Plancenoit.
The Centre: The road up towards Mont St. Jean, going past La Haye Sainte.  Napoloeon views the position along the road, surrounded by his guardsmen.

A full view of the terrain and initial deployment.

Same, but moved slightly to the right to encompasses the French light cavalry units on the far right.

The Allied Right: British Guards defend Hougoumont, whilst Allied infantry occupy the ridge and the cavalry are dispersed behind it. 

The Allied Centre, based around La Haye Sainte, the sand pit and the crossroads.

The Allied Left: Picton and Perponcher's troops defend the hedgeline.
The Battle:



The battle begins! Very inauspiciously for the French as it turns out, rolling a double 1 on the very first throw of the game, as their massed artillery tries to create a gap in the Allied line.

French light cavalry advance boldly (extreme right).



Meanwhile, Reille's troops advance into the trees around Hougoumont

An inconclusive struggle briefly leaves Hougoumont open!  Brunswicker infantry restores the Allied position.

The artillery duel continues.  Somewhat surprisingly, the Allied gunners prove more than a match for their Imperial opponents in the opening stages.
The struggle intensifies around Hougoumont as Reille throws in more trooops.

Alten boldly advance to drive the French back and gain some time to restore the situation around Hougoumont.
 La Haye Sainte
D'Erlon attacks up the main road.


D'Erlon's troops briefly looked as if they would secure La Haye Sainte as they defeat the KGL troops holding it.  Wellington quickly brings up some Hanoverian militaimen to restore the situation.

Wider shot:  one Allied brigade has been destroyed in the fighting around LHS, but the leading French troops have retreated to recover (see red shaken marker).

Close up.

Meanwhile, the French renew the struggle in the orchards.  Alten, having briefly seized the initiative, retreats back up the slope.
D'Erlons' Assault

D'Erlon reorganizes his infantry to renew the attack upon LHS.  Meanwhile, his infantry move up close the Allied ridge ready to exploit any gaps made by the artillery bombardment.

Hougoumont
Reille continues to advance troops against Hougoumont, trying to force the Prince of Orange to commut further infantry brigades to its defence.
La Haye Sainte
Napoleon adds units of his Guard to the attack, led byguard commander Drouot in person.

Dutch infantry and cavalry throw the French back down the road with loss.  The Imperial Guardsmen however have thrown the Hanoverians from LHS.

Same position, different shot.
The Dutch (supported by Brunswicker Hussars) are forced back: the Imperial Guard are in firm possession of LHS!


D'Erlon's Assault


Marcognet's  infantry wait for the right moment then punch a whole through the Allied line. Dutch-Belgian infantry see off the supporting units though, so Marcognet is left very isolated on the ridge.
The Allied troops quickly reform to face the threat.  Can the French reinforce in time?

Marcognet heroically throws back the attacks upon him.  He is reinforced by Domon's Chasseurs, who are then set upon by the Household Cavalry.  Picton launches his first charge of the day to drive off the French infantry and cuirassiers attempting to support the French lead units.

Milhaud manages to get one of his cuirassier divisions through the hedge.  Marcognet is thrown back, but immediately recovers and counter-attacks.  The Allied left-centre is in serious danger of collapse!

Same position, wider shot.

Kellermann's Charge

Kellermann's Corps completes a march around the Allied right and routs the light cavalry sent to oppose them!


A wider shot: Kellermann's second division is on the extreme left facing Chasse's infantry.
D'Erlon's Assault

View from the Grand Battery: Allied infantry and cavalry struggle to close the penetration of the French infantry and cuirassiers.

The cuirassiers destroy the first set of Allied cavalry (British and Dutch) sent to evict them.  The Household Cavalry, fresh from destroying the French light cavalry, prepare to engage them.  The supporting Frenhc infantry have retreated in the face of the Dutch advance (left).
La Haye Sainte
Perponcher's infantry hold the crossroads...

After an attempt by d'Erlon and the Imperial Guard to punch through to widen the gap in the Allied lines.  The guardsmen reform in LHS, whilst D'Erlon's shaken troops retire to their starting positions to regroup.

The line stabilizies as the French artillery forces the Dutch-Belgian troops back to the crossroads.
 Hougoumount and Kellermann
Reille tries to advance to either side of Hougoumont now he deems enough Allied troops have been "sucked in".  The Brunswickers are vigiliant against such tactics.

Kellermann's advance is halted by a quickly improvised wall of Hanoverian infantry and hussars. The raw Hanoverian infantry hold on very creditably and Kellermann's cuirassiers retire in disorder.
Picton's Second Charge

Having sat (largely) on the defensive all day, Wellington unleashes Picton, supported by Uxbridge's uncommitted cavalry brigades.

The combination of Allied infantry and cavalry proves too much for the French cavalry.  D'Erlon desperately tries to get his infantry into some form of order to resist the attack, but for the French cavalry, it is largely "sauve quit peut!"

Another shot showing the Allied advance off the ridge.
Imperial Guard Attack
Knowing that he must now defeat the Allied Army in the centre or on the left, Napoleon orders his Guard forward whilst D'Erlon gathers together some brigades to support.

Imperial Guard infantry, cavalry and artillery approach the Allied right-centre...
Reille's Attack
Reille launches his Corps in support of the Imperial Guard and Kellermann's attacks: Reille's infantry push the Brunswickers out of the orchard around Hougoumont.

Reille's infantry and cavalry attack Hill's units with great success: some have routed, some have retreated, badly shaken but the remaining units are just hanging on...

Kellermann and Reille's troops make that last effort...

Chasse's troops can't hold Reille's infantry, whilst other units surrender to Kellermann's Carabiniers. 

 Imperial Guard Attack

The Imperial Guard (with D'Erlon's infantry supporting on the right) prepare to assault the Allied centre-right.

Imperial Guard Horse Grenadiers clash with British Foot Guards...

Imperial Guard infantry and D'Erlon's troops attack a mixed group of Hanoverian and Dutch-Belgian infantry with artillery and cavalry support.

The Allied line quivers (note the gap in the centre of the Allied line where a Hanoverian brigade routed)...and holds!  Imperial Guard units recoil, shaken or routed.
Reille's Attacks

Hill's Corps has collapsed, but the Hanoverians of I Corps are still holding on.  Kellermann's units have collapsed after failing to break through.  Reille's infantry have also failed to support their most advanced elements.
 The British Advance


Picton and Uxbridge drive D'Erlon's infantry before them...

The combination of the British infantry and household cavalry is irresistible...

The British Hussars overrun French artillery and drive back the remnants of the French infantry.  Imperial Guard cavalry advances to try and stem the tide.

The Imperial Guard has retired...

And the French right is no more.


Conclusion:
At this point, French army morale collapsed, not unexpectedly.  This was the longest game of Polemos I have played: it took between four and five hours of playing time and it felt the most intense solitaire game I have ever had.  I'm not quite sure why - perhaps it being the 200th aniversary made me more involved in the whole process, really trying to make the best moves I could think of for both sides (within the constraints of the Polemos command and control system).  As ever the rules gave a very good game, although I felt that the lack of a "strongpoint" rule, as compared to Horse, Foot and Guns and IIRC Grande Armee, meant that the fighting around Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte took on a more ebb-and-flow feel, which I associate with town fighting in this period rather than desperate defences of strong farm buildings.  I felt that there were quite a few rogue results too, a quirk of the Polemos "combat outcome mechanic", whereby after all the fighting has happened, you roll to see who "won".  Onbiously doing more damage increases your chances of winning, but doesn't guarantee it.  It can hurt when one sides units have carried out a brilliant attack, shake up the enemy...then retreat, because they failed to realize they were winning.

Figures as ever by Baccus 6mm, some Baccus and Total Battle Miniatures scenery on a 5' x 3' table.