Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life, featuring small skirmishes and big battles from many historical periods (and some in the mythic past or the far future too). The focus is on battle reports using a wide variety of rules, with the occasional rules review, book review and odd musing about the gaming and history. Most of the battles use 6mm-sized figures and vehicles, but occasionally 15mm and 28mm figures appear too.

Friday, 18 September 2020

The Battle of Brienne 1814 - A Polemos General de Division Refight

 The Battle of Brienne

As I am an honorary member of the Napoleonic Miniatures Wargames Society of Toronto, Glenn Pearce sends me scenarios from time-to-time to have a go at more-or-less simultaneously with their own game.  As they put on quite big multi-player games and I put on small-board solo games it does make for an interesting contrast.  Typically I would use the same rules as they use - the Polemos Ruse de Guerre rules - but on this occasion, for reasons I will come to at the end, I used the rules that are in some senses their direct ancestor, the Polemos General de Division set.


The actual 1814 campaign is fascinating and the Brienne and La Rothiere battles particularly so. In essence, Napoleon was trying to defeat Blucher and drive his troops into the Aube before they could be succourred: a difficult task, since Napoleon's forces were not substantially larger than Blucher's.

The Forces:

 Imperial French:

C-in-C: Napoleon (Decisive)
Cavalry Commander: Grouchy (Decisive)
Milhaud's (Decisive) Division: 5 bases Trained Dragoons, 2 bases Trained Light Cavalry, 1 base Trained 6lb Horse Arty

Desnouettes' (Decisive) Division: 2 bases Veteran/Elite Heavy Cavalry, 2 bases Trained/Elite Lancers, 2 bases Veteran/Elite 6lb Horse Arty

Imperial Guard Reserve Corps: Ney (Decisive)
1st Division: 6 bases Trained/Elite Infantry SK1
2nd Division: 4 bases Trained/Elite Infantry SK1
Artillery: 1 base Trained/Elite 6lb Foot Arty
II Corps: Victor (Decisive)
Duhesme's Division: 3 bases Trained Infantry SK1, 1 base Trained Infantry SK2, 2 bases Trained 6lb Foot Arty
Dufour's Division: 3 bases Trained Infantry SK1, 2 bases Trained Infantry SK2
Ricard's Division: 4 bases Trained Infantry SK1
Gerard's (Capable) Division: 
1st Brigade: 3 bases Raw Infantry SK1
2nd Brigade: 2 bases Raw Infantry SK1
Cavalry Brigade: 2 bases Trained Light Cavalry

C-in-C: Blucher (Capable)
Advance Guard: Pahlen (Decisive)
Rudinger's Brigade: 3 bases Trained Light Cavalry
Tschningev's Brigade: 2 bases Trained Lancers
Heinrich's Brigade: 3 bases Trained Infantry SK2, 1 base 6lb Trained Foot Arty
Cavalry Corps: Vassilchikov (Capable)
Landskoi's Brigade: 3 bases Trained Light Cavalry
Pantchalidzev's Brigade: 2 bases Trained Dragoons
Karpov's Brigade: 2 bases Raw Irregular Cavalry
Lukovsin's Brigade: 2 bases Raw Irregular Cavalry
Artillery: 1 bases 6lb Trained Horse Arty
IX Corps: Olsufiev (Capable)

Udom's Division: 3 bases Trained Infantry SK1, 1 base Trained Infantry SK2, 1 base Trained 12lb Foot Arty
Karnielov's Division: 3 bases Trained Infantry SK1, 1 base Trained Infantry SK2, 1 base Trained 6lb Foot Arty
VI Corps: Scherbatov (Capable)
Tallisin's Division: 3 bases Trained Infantry SK1, 1 base Trained Infantry SK2, 1 base Trained 12lb Foot Arty
Bernodossov's Division: 3 bases Trained Infantry SK1, 1 base Trained Infantry SK2, 1 base Trained 6lb Foot Arty
Scenario Notes:  
The action starts at 1500.  Each turn is 20 minutes.  Night falls at 1700, at which point maximum move, firing distance and no penalty command radius all becomes 2BW only.  Ney's troops arrive from 1700.  Victor's troops apart from Duhesme start just off-board but can be brought onto the board using moves as normal from the beginning of the game.  Blucher starts in the chateau and cannot leave until it is attacked by the French.  The roads were too muddy to provide any benefits to movement.

At this point, some units and formations were very small, so in some cases divisions are treated as brigades and corps are treated as divisions.  If I have emboldened the name of the formation above, then it is basically treated as a division, regardless of its name.  Grouchy does not command anything directly, but can act as a 'link' for Napoleon (i.e. effectively doubling his command radius) and can still rally and lead troops in combat etc.

 The Set-Up:

The battlefield of Brienne: Allied troops (i.e. Russians!)  have Olsufiev's Corps around the town (centre) and chateau (centre-left); Napoleon's Cavalry and Victor's infantry approach from the top.

Reversed, so Brienne and the Chateau are in the foreground.

And a closer look at the same

The French Cavalry

And Duhesme's Division and Victor's artillery

The Battle:

Seeing the gap between Brienne and its chateau as key to the battle, Blucher hurries up more Russian infantry in support

Meanwhile Victor is putting his troops in order ready to attack the Chateau and the gap between it and the town - his infantry threatens Brienne itself but declines to attack

Pahlen advances slowly, leading with his infantry, daring the French cavalry to charge it

Victor's assault goes into the Russian defences

But the Russians stand firm, losing only a few casualties to French skirmish fire, whilst the French infantry have taken severe casualties and retreated

Olsufiev and the leading elements of Scherbatov's infantry launch a counter-attack against the disordered French

Another shot

The weakened and disordered French take more casualties, but just manage to retain some form of cohesion despite being forced further back

However the Russians have the initiative now and are not going to let it go: another assault is launched

And this time it is all over very quickly - the central French units break, their guns are overrun, and the flanking infantry retires in its turn after the defeat of its main attack

There was some minor additional action as night fell but nothing of any great importance happened, so I didn't bother to record it.  Essentially Grouchy demonstrated against Pahlen but didn't attack; Ney arrived and demonstrated against Olsufiev who retired to his starting positions, but both sides declined to attack.

Game Notes: Quite short and sweet this one, since Blucher (or more properly, Olsufiev and Scherbatov) could do - or at least roll - no wrong and Victor's attack entirely miscarried...this left Napoleon too weak to attack again with much hope of success, but every chance of being utterly destroyed.  Since this is a 'one-off' game I maybe should have tried but I don't typically play it like that, it somehow feels a bit game-y and destroys the immersion - I probably should re-think this! 

Anyway, this was also partly the reason I wanted to give this a try with Polemos General de Division first: I suspected that it might struggle to replicate the real battle...and it did a bit: this is because attritional offenisve strategies can rarely work in Polemos GdD - fire is just too indecisive and really struggles against defenders in buildings, but close assault is risky and difficult too.  I suspect it will be a bit easier for the French in Polemos Ruse de Guerre to get a decent assault going.

In comparing the two rulesets, there is only one thing which is perhaps more tricky in RdG than GdD, especially for the solo player: it has many more 'dials' for influencing the initiative (i.e. tempo).  Individual brigadiers are rated for competence, as are divisional commanders and corps commanders in this type of battle.  There is also an extra stage in the tempo process.  As a solo player, that can be quite a lot of extra stuff to record and remember although for the multi-player games that some of these scenarios are designed for, it isn't a problem at all.  Anyway, I am looking forward to giving this a try with RdG soon.

More importantly than any of that though it was just good to get a game back on the table.  I have sorted out my stuff and hopefully this will enable a few more games to be played, although I will have to approach things in a different way: I will struggle to leave things set up the way I have in the past, so I will have to be more disciplined and prepare games like I was going to a club - set-up, play, take down and put away.

Figures by Baccus 6mm, buildings mainly by Leven in this one.

And just to round off, here is a picture of the Toronto club's game:

Saturday, 12 September 2020

A Frustrating Period...

 Having just finished a long-running educational commitment, I had been looking forward to resuming gaming with gusto at the beginning of September, getting the next battle of my Gallic War campaign fought and bringing some of my new toys to the table. Life has not worked out like that!  The demands of my growing family for space have meant that I am again without a viable gaming space currently, until I can swap things around sufficiently to make one.  I may end up back in the garage, although it is pretty much a storeroom currently and does get pretty chilly in winter.  I can start playing on the kitchen table, although that never really works as well as it might: my house is just too busy a place and crucially there is nowhere to store my toys close to it.  Storage space generally is becoming tight, even for my primarily 6mm-focused collection. So what to do?

One possibility would be to concentrate on a few low model-count and low terrain-count games.  Another would be to concentrate on playing boardgames more and leaving miniatures games for my rare face-to-face encounters.  Both these courses of action might imply big changes to my gaming plans and although I do like smaller games and boardgames, I do like to play the bigger actions in a wide variety of periods too.  But my home gaming seems to be hitting some kind of physical limits at the moment, and I am not quite sure how to overcome them.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, 6 August 2020

God's Own Scale Podcast - Interview

 A little while ago, Sean from God's Own Scale podcast asked to interview me for one of his shows.  I was happy to oblige and Sean has now released the results - please check it out here.

We talk about 6mm figures, Polemos and WRG rules, solo gaming, campaign games and much else...

Very many thanks to Sean for inviting me on and putting the show together.

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Hobby Update 01 August 2020

I have been adding to my 15mm Cold War Gone Hot forces recently, with some more models from Battlefront.  This time, it is the Brits!

A reduced Mechanized Infantry platoon (I have kept a few figures back for some conversions).

And an FV432, a Chieftain and a Scimitar

I am doing some renovating of some badly painted and slightly damaged 15mm WW2 Germans - a mixture of PSC, Peter Pig, Battlefront and QRF...

And the Mech Platoon finished off and based

Another shot

The Chieftain and the Scimitar

And the FV432 on the left
I really enjoyed making and painting these, although my painting doesn't really do them full justice.  But they will look nice enough at table distance.  I hope I won't be too long in getting them to the table, although these were done during breaks in dissertation writing, which may prevent much gaming over the next week or so.

I am not sure what will be next, but probably WW2 Soviets or 15mm Afrika Korps.  I was quite excited to see that Baccus are queing up their new releases, and 6mm Desert War would be a very strong temptation for me...

Thursday, 30 July 2020

The Gallic War: The Battle of the Porta Silva Carbonaria (Battle 2)

Late Autumn 58BC:  Caesar's left wing had advanced up the line of the Rhone and the Moselle after Caesar's victory over the Helvetii, using a potent combination of force and persuasion.  Converting the Mandubi tribe to the Roman cause, they used their proxies in a joint attack on the lands of the Treveri.  As it happened, the Treveri had been seizing the territory of the Leuci and were reliant on their German allies to defend against the Romans.  Fearing his bands being defeated whilst isolated, Ariovistus personally crossed the Rhine to try and reach his German followers and Gaulish allies and inflict a defeat on the Romans...

The Scenario: A complicated little scenario this for the second battle in the campaign.  Initially, the Mandubi will attack the Germans.  A Roman force of two legions plus a cavalry force are force marching to reach the battlefield, whilst Ariovistus and more Germans, plus the Treveri warbands, are trying to reach the Germans defending against the Gaulish advance.  The shape of the battle will therefore be strongly determined by which reinforcements arrive first...

The Romans:

The Mandubi:
Two tribes, each of 4 bases of Raw Tribal Foot and 2 bases of Trained-Elite Cavalry
Their leader Biuito (Average, Rash) and an officer Rigant (Poor, Steady)

VIII Legion: 
Commander: Decius (Poor, Steady)
4 bases Trained Legionaries (Armoured)
2 bases Trained Cavalry
1 base Artillery

IX Legion:
Commander: Geta (Inspiring, Steady)
4 bases Trained Legionaries (Armoured)
2 bases Trained Cavalry
1 base Artillery

Roman Cavalry:
Commander: Publius (Average, Steady)
4 bases Trained Cavalry

When/if the Romans arrive, Geta will assume command of the whole force.

The Germans:

German Infantry:
Commander: Adalgard (Average, Cautious)
4 bases Trained Tribal Foot
2 bases Trained Cavalry

German Cavalry:
Commander: Widald (Average, Rash)
4 bases Trained Cavalry

Treveri Tribe 1:
Commander: Casso (Average, Cautious)
4 bases Raw Tribal Foot
2 bases Trained-Elite Cavalry

Treveri Tribe 2:
Commander:Sano (Average, Cautious)
2 bases Raw Tribal Foot
2 bases Trained-Elite Cavalry

Ariovistus' Personal Warband:
Commander: Ariovistus (Inspiring, Steady)
4 bases Trained Tribal Foot
2 bases Trained Cavalry 

German Infantry:
 Commander: Adalgard (Average, Cautious)
4 bases Trained Tribal Foot
2 bases Trained Cavalry

If Ariovistus arrives, he will take over the force; until then Widald will command.

The arrival of reinforcing contingents is controlled by the dice.  At the end of each turn a die is rolled and a '6' means that the contingent arrives on the next phase of the relevant player.   The Romans will arrive behind the Mandubi, and Ariovistus behind the Germans; if the Treveri should arrive, it will be on the Romans' right flank.

The Set-Up:

The terrain generator made a slightly hilly but very open area around a stream in current North-Eastern France/South Belgium.

The Gauls approach from the South-west (bottom), with the Germans defending the line of the stream; however, some of the Gallic cavalry had crossed upstream and is now on the same bank as the German defenders (bottom-right)

The Mandubi foot warriors

A contingent of the Germanic cavalry

Gallic and German foot warriors face each other over the stream (left); whilst the cavalry face-off on the far bank (right)

A wider shot: the Gallic commander Biuito has positioned himself with his bodyguard in the centre of his forces (bottom-left)
The Battle:

The battle begins with Widald himself leading a charge of the German horseman against their Mandubi opponents - the Mandubi are looking distinctly shaky...

And are routed in short order!  The Germanic cavalry becomes disorganized as it starts to pursue.

The Mandubi infantry (left) shake-out to present a better front to the now numerically superior Germans on this flank

The Romans arrive first! IX Legion advances and its commander assumes command of the whole force

VIII Legion appears on the left flank

A wider shot, as the Romans arrive

The Gallic foot attack the Germanic cavalry in the flank, as they try to reform after pursuit.

Some of the German horsemen rout, before Widald gets the remainder of his men in some kind of order.

To ease the pressure and take advantage of the divided Mandubi foot, the German foot warriors advance over the stream

The outnumbered Gauls fall back from the bank of the stream

Meanwhile, the Roman cavalry are charged by a contingent of German cavalry, who cause some damage to the Romans!

The Romans just manage to hang on in the fight, with their commander amongst them

The Treveri arrive to support their German allies

Quickly entering the fight, some of the Treveri horsemen charge into the Mandubi Foot!

Another shot - note that the remaining Mandubi foot have managed to push back their German foes around the stream (bottom-left)

The Mandubi push on into the stream (left), although their main body is routing (bottom-centre)

As more Romans come up, the German cavalry in the centre are beaten and routed

Biuito at the head of his bdyguard assist the remaining foot warriors, who have eliminated most of the German tribal foot to their front

A wider shot of the situation around the stream

And a wider shot of the centre and right flank of the Gallo-Roman force as a whole

Meanwhile, the Roman outflanking movement is progressing well (left)

The Roman reserve cavalry moves in to the gap left by the defeated Mandubi

More Roman cavalry get involved, and the Treveri horsemen start to break (right)!

VIII Legion crossed unopposed and is now beginning its wheel (left)

IX Legion is also across, and hastily reforming before it can be attacked by the remaining Treveri horsemen, who are being blocked by the routing German foot warriors (centre-right)

The Roman Cavalry victorious against the Treveri (bottom)

The position at the end of the battle, as the Germans and their Gallic allies start to flee the battlefield, with the Romans and remaining Mandubi advancing across the field
Game Notes:
One of the delights of campaigning is that it generates types of battles that don't come up so often in one-off battles.  This was reminiscent of one of the campaign 'warm-up' games I played, except this time it was the Romans who arrived first, and Ariovistus who didn't show up at all.  Naturally this determined the overall flow of the battle.  The only thing I think I need to change is one of my campaign-wargame translations: basically each force in the campaign rules has a number of strength points, which I have made equivalent to two Polemos:SPQR bases.  Except for the specified cavalry units, all of the units are made predominantly of infantry but one strength point can be divided between cavalry and skirmishers.  However, it is so obviously better in these rules in most circumstances to take the cavalry rather than the skirmishers, I am going to amend this in future to a point must be taken as 1 base cavalry, 1 base skirmishers.   Since all sides were affected equally in this battle, I don't feel any need to replay the action, it is just a note for going forward.
However, in the longer-term, I am not quite sure about how I feel about the effectiveness of cavalry in this game.  The author in his design notes seems to feel it possible that players will find cavalry underrated: I find this...surprising.
We'll go through an example: 2 Trained Cavalry bases attack 2 Trained Tribal Foot bases, each supported by another Trained Tribal Foot base behind.  So, first, the Cavalry will charge:

Cavalry charging = 4; Tribal Foot defending = 2 (i.e. a +2 advantage)
If the cavalry is elite, has a general close by, is armoured or charging flank or rear, or if the defender is overlapped, this advantage will be greater
If the foot is in cover or in fortifications, the advantage will be lower
Either side can gain an advantage by being uphill, or the other side beig shaken.

On an even roll, the Cavalry will charge home.  If it gets a single additional point of advantage by a better die roll or by having a general around or similar, the Foot will also become shaken.

Assuming the cavalry charge home, the fight goes into the combat sub-routine:
Cavalry attacking foot = 3; Tribal foot defending against mounted = 1 (i.e. a +2 advantage)
The cavalry will then get a +2 advantage for charging (total +4)
The foot get a +1 advantage for having the extra rank (total +3)
Both sides get +1 for being unformed unshaken in the first round
On an even roll, the cavalry will cause a +1 recoil shaken result; this is typically the beginning of the 'death spiral', since the combination of cavalry following up and the foot being shaken will mean that this level of advantage continues throughout the combat: any additional factor in favour of the cavalry will increase the effect. (n.b. if the Cavalry is Roman, they are slightly less likely to damage in the first round, more likely in subsequent rounds - this is usually a disadvantage, since you want to do more damage in the first round and increase the chances of the death spiral...). If the foot were Roman Legionaries instead, the 'charge' sub-routine is exactly the same.  In the combat sub-routine:
Cavalry attacking foot = 3; Legionaries defending against mounted = 3 (no advantage)
The cavalry will then get a +2 advantage for charging (total +2)
The foot get a +1 advantage for having the extra rank (total +1)
Cavalry get +1 for being unformed unshaken in the first round (total +2)
The difference here is in the second round (assuming no damage to either side, but Legionaries pushed back), the difference will be '0'.  Cavalry ideally need one or two advantages against Legionaries (although one of a general present, overlap or Elite is often in play).

Compare the same combat with DBA:
Cavalry 3 vs Warband 2 = a +1 advantage; the most likely outcome is a 'recoil' result for the foot, although it needs only a 1 point swing to make it a cavalry recoil instead (cavalry recoil on drawn combats).

So overall, I don't think it is obvious that cavalry are under-powered in Polemos: SPQR.  Whether they are over-powered is a different question... 

Rules used were (obviously!) Polemos: SPQR, figures by Baccus 6mm.