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.

Thursday 28 May 2015

Quatre Bras Reloaded - A Polemos Marechal d'Empire AAR

Following yesterday's refight of Quatre Bras using Phil Barker's Horse, Foot and Guns, I decided to replay the action using Polemos Marechal d'Empire.  I'm more familiar with the latter set, Polemos having been the Napoleonic rules I've played the most over the last 7 years.  I'll describe the scenario and how the battle played out, then make a few comments about the two rulesets.

Quatre Bras - A Scenario for Marechal d'Empire*:

The Allied Army

C-in-C: Wellington (Decisive)

I Corps: Prince of Orange (Plodding) acts as C-in-C until Wellington’s arrival, then as a roaming leader without TPs.

2 NL Div: 3 x Tra SK1, 1 x Raw SK1, 1 x Ft Art
NL Cav Bde: 1 x Tra LC
5 Div: 3 x Tra SK1, 1 x Vet SK2, 1 x Raw SK1, 1 x Ft Art
Brunswick “Corps”: 1 x Tra SK2, 2 x Tra SK1, 1 x Tra LC, 1 x Tra SK1, 1 x Ft Art (arrive later)
3 Div: 1 x Tra SK2, 2 x Tra SK1, 1 x Ft Art
1 Div: 2 x Tra/El SK1, 1 x Ft Art
Br Cav Reserve: 1 x Tra LC

The French Army

C-in-C: Ney (Capable)

II Corps: Reille (Capable)
6 x Tra SK1, 2 x Tra LC, 1 x Ft Art
3 x Tra SK1, 1 x Ft Art (Jerome’s Div)

II Cav Corps: Kellermann (Capable)
1 x Tra Cuirassier, 1 x Tra Dragoons, 1 x Hs Art

Imperial Gd Cav:
1 x Vet/El LC
1 x Vet/El Lancers

Initial Set-Up: Reille’s Corps less Jerome’s Div; 2 NL Div
Turn 4 (1500): Wellington + 5 Br Inf Div arrive
Turn 5 (1520): NL Cav Bde arrives
Turn 7 (1600): Brunswick Corps arrives less detachment; Jerome’s Div arrives
Turn 8 (1620): Cavalry Corps arrives
Turn 10 (1700): 3 Br Inf Div arrives
Turn 13 (1800): 1 Br Inf Div arrives
Turn 16 (1900): Remaining Brunswickers and IG Cav arrive
Turn 19 (2000): British Cav arrives
Turn 22 (2100): Darkness falls


The battlefield: Quatre Bras is the crossroads at the top (North), Bois de Bossu to the left. 

The initial deployment, as seen from behind Reille's II Corps: two French infantry divisions (Foy's and Bachelu's) flanked by Pire's brigades (lancers to the left, chasseurs to the right).  Facing them are Dutch-Belgians around the farm and in the Bois de Bossu, artillery on the road and some militia in reserve.
   The Opening Stages

Reille brings up Bachelu's division to attack Gemincourt farm, whilst Pire's chasseurs start a flanking move to the right.  Bachelu's attack was severely delayed by a mixture of command problems and some unerringly accurate Duth-Belgian artillery fire flying down the causeway, forcing the French to recoil repeatedly!  An hour has passed with the French not achieving very much, and the first reinforcements (Picton's Division) can be seen in the distance behind Quatre Bras.

A panoramic of the initial French success: Bachelu's infantry have cleared the farm and forced the Dutch-Belgians back.  However, Picton's troops are rushing to reinforce them and to stabilize the Allied left flank from the threat of Pire's cavalry.  Jerome Bonaparte's Division has arrived (bottom), as has the main body of the Brunswickers (behind Quatre Bras).  The time is about 1600, two hours of the battle have passed (7 turns).

Same position, close-up shot of the situation around Gemincourt farm.

Half of Picton's Division has destroyed Pire's Chasseurs and is entering the edge of Piraumont.  Foy is rushing from the left to try and contest this.

Wellington's Attack:

Picton's infantry and artillery fight Bachelu's infantry and artillery for possession of Gemincourt: Reille adds his leader's presence to the contest.

Same position showing the wider context.

Whilst the farm is being contested, Brunswick's troops charge down the causeway and rout Pire's lancers.  Ney prepares to  move forward with Jerome's Division to restore the situation.

Both sides try to frantically reorganize.  Bachelu's troops have been repulsed and Picton's leading brigade is in sole possession of Gemincourt...for the present.  Reille has been severely injured and Ney has been forced to appoint Jerome Bonaparte as corps commander in his place.  Some of Picton's troops are regrouping around the stream.

Kellermann's cavalry push some British infantry back into the woods, but are then repusled themselves.  Foy still contests Piraumont with Allied infantry.

Ney advances against the Brunswickers and Dutch-Belgians on the left, whilst the remainder of the French troops reorganize.

Ney now focuses his attention on the centre and attacks the leading British troops - he is about to gain a spectacular success, routing the British infantry and forcing Welllington himself to scurry for the rear along with Merlen's Dutch-Belgian cavalry.

The Culmination

The Imperials make a last gasp attempt to gain the victory on their right flank: a determined attack forces the British infantry back onto the Namur Road.

Foy cannot sustain his attack, however.  Approaching Anglo-Hanoverian troops force Foy to protect his left wing, which gives the other Allied troops time to regroup and organize another assault on Piraumont, which is successful and routs one of Foy's brigades, splitting the Imperial line.

A further British assault on Gemincourt, ably assissted by the Nassauers, repulse Bachelu's Division, led by Marshal Ney in person and this time II Corps' morale collapses.  A charge of the Imperial Guard light cavalry fails to dislodge the Brunswickers from the road.  Ney concedes defeat, his still powerful cavalry able to dissuade the Allies from too close a pursuit and at least certain that the Allies do not have enough time to march to Ligny and interfere in his master's battle with Bucher.
Foy and Kellermann evade the flank attack.
 Game Comments:

Another very exciting game, although again the French had little chance of success after a stronger than expected initial resistance severely limited the French ability to inflict great damage early on.  This was compounded by some terrible dice rolls for the initiative (Polemos MdE uses a bidding/activation point command and control system), so it took over an hour of game time (3 turns) for the French to organize even their initial attack, and were unable to organize simultaneous flanking moves.  This was compounded by a terrible scenario choice by myself: in most Polemos MdE games, formations do not have any tempo points (i.e. activation points) assigned, and big formations (say 4 infantry bases and an artillery base) need a few turns to organize.  But this standing start meant that the French took an hour longer to attack than they did in real life, and when added to the need to re-organize after the Dutch artillery bombardment, it took the French until 1600 to clear Gemincourt - about an hour longer than it took in reality, by which time the leading Allied troops (some of Picton's brigades) were about ready to mount their own attack.  In this way, the French-dominated phase of the historical battle never really happened.  Some lucky/unlucky dice rolling spelt an early end for Pire's light cavalry too.  However, Polemos MdE rarely fails to give a good game, rewarding aggressive play, and this was no different.  It was unclear whether the Allies could actually defeat the French before nightfall - they managed it by 3 turns (an hour).

Comparison of HFG and Polemos MdE:

I think HFG scores in speed of play, more streamlined systems and more organized, tighter-written rules (especially in how bases interact with each other and the environment).  I think Polemos scores in being an easier read, its more nuanced activation point system allows slightly more command options - at the cost of more calculations and more use of counters. It feels that there is a little less luck involved in combats i.e. it is slightly easier to stack up enough advantages to make a positive outcome more likely.  HFG felt more chancy, in this regard.    It allows more nuanced grading of troops, although I am open to argument about whether this is more realistic or not.  Both rules need troops to be given "command attention" to do anything (i.e. no lasting orders) and I know many gamers hate this (there is a slight exception to this in HFG).  Both firmly - and successfully - focus on the big picture, with little option for tactical micro-managment; in my opinion, an unalloyed good thing.  I don't think either deal with infantry skirmishing entirely successfully, but on the other hand I don't know of any rules which deal with this better.

In case you were wondering about the game time in both games, HFG specifies that a turn last 10 minutes, Polemos MdE that a turn lasts 30-40 minutes.  Experimentation and calculation based on infantry move distances with the latter has led me to believe that each turn should be about 20 minutes.  There is little need for a "friction factor" in MdE, because the tempo points/order system provides this in spades already: your units will be sitting round whilst their commanders get organized!  The march move system in HFG makes it hard to work out a suitable time for a turn, because it appears to allow the possiblity of marching units moving very fast indeed, if the general tells them to.

If you have any queries about the two games, please just leave a comment and I will do my best to answer.

*Some of you may know that there is a Quatre Bras scenario for General de Division (the Polemos ruleset in which a base is a battalion rather than a brigade) rather than Marechal d'Empire in the Polemos rulebook.  I generally prefer to have fewer units on the table, for solitaire games in particular, so I went for less-is-more and used the higher-level set.  I still feel that this gives a better game as you have to occupy less command levels simultaneously.

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