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 30 December 2016

Review of Bruce Quarrie's Napoleon's Campaigns in Miniature

Napoleon'sCampaigns in Miniature by Bruce Quarrie was subtitled "A Wargamers' Guide to the Napoleonic Wars 1796 - 1815" and was designed to give a wargamer all the information needed to replay battles and campaigns set in the Napoleonic period. It really does try and give information on everything. There is a potted history of the wars, with a little extra detail on some of the more famous battles (with very good maps). There is a discussion of which size figures to use, which figure: man ratio to use, how to paint and base figures, and so on. There is a brief introduction to the organization of the units belonging to the various armies, with particular emphasis on the most common units in the biggest armies of the period. It all looks okay as a (very) basic introduction. There is a slightly more detailed guide to logistics and the medical services and attrition and sieges and so on, to enable these aspects of Napoleonic warfare to be incorporated into campaigns. Although the explanations can be lengthy - prices for pairs of shoes and loaves of bread, my goodness! - Quarrie typically resolves it all into a single figure for cost or a single formula for working out attrition or returned PoWs or whatever.
There is a quite lengthy chapter on the generals of the period, who are then rated in four categories: orders (how quickly the general reacts to/issues new orders; control (how well the general keeps units doing what he wants them to do); attack morale and defence morale. I had trouble with this, not because of my disagreements with the ratings (although I do, in many cases) but partly because I struggle to see how one could arrive at them, partly because I think they are badly miscalibrated and partly because I don't think that the explanation of exactly how to use them is very clear. This is exacerbated by a scaling issue with the game. The rules are designed for "divisional-level" actions with 10 - 20 units per side (or possibly, per player). However, the campaign rules and the potted battle histories indicate that the author intends them to be used for big battles, but for these battles to be "bath-tubbed" i.e. a notional regiment to represent a brigade or division and so on. It isn't clear in these cases how commanders should be represented. Should each brigade have one? Or each division? Or only the C-in-C.
There are chapters on firepower and tactics which (loosely) give the author's thinking on these subjects and indicates the broad approach the rules will take. They also serve as a useful introduction to the weapons and tactics of the period for a newcomer.  Quarrie does indicate that there are "gaps in the knowledge" of how to square the effectiveness of the weapons under test conditions with battlefield results.
There is a chapter on how to set-up a campaign. It is all okay, with reasonably simple rules (although there is a good deal of record keeping to do). I felt that the lack of a lengthy, detailed play example was a big omission here.
The book also contains a full set of tactical Napoleonic rules. The units represented are battalions, regiments and batteries. The rules require written orders and movemement and combat is calculated simultaneously. All troops are rated in several different areas: firing ability, melée ability (both charging and not), morale level, discipline, movement. There are a number of marginal differences between troop types between nations - the so-called "national characteristics", so Italian infantrymen in the Austrian army move distinctly more slowly than those in the Italian Army itself, for example. In many situations, the turn has to be broken down into fractions when calculating attacks and formation changes and so on. Casualties from fire and melée are given in numbers of men rather than figures. Combat seems quite bloody, artillery in particular is pretty devastating. There are a lot of factors incorporated in combat calculations, as there are for testing morale and discipline. This makes the rules play somewhat slow. The rules aren't that long though, as they are quite tersely written, in comparison to some more modern sets.  All of this was fairly typical of rules written at the time, although I think this set may have been the first published to use "national characteristics" in this way.
I do think that the actual playing of the rules isn't particularly well-explained however, especially as multi-unit attacks can end up having complicated cross-effects on each other. Again, worked examples would have really helped. I don't think of this as a modern phenomenon: Charge!

was full of such things (and made understanding the rules really simple). On an historical note, I am very suspicious of rules which state that squares couldn't move and that line infantrymen couldn't skirmish, despite lots of examples to the contrary for both.  
So how does this book look from 40 years on? It is well-written and engaging. It does cover the basics of gaming, although other books, like Henry Hyde's Wargaming Compendium 

does this kind of thing much better. The rules are very clunky and very questionable in many ways. If an author is going to a "detailed" set of rules that includes lots of processes, then the rules will be less good the more they depart from history. As a lot of that history isn't particularly well understood, detailed rules for combat casualties and morale create a lot of hostages to fortune. Although I am too young to remember most of the following directly (and am thus very happy to be corrected) I think that their main interest is historical: I think that these rules were the inspiration of computer-moderated rules like Eaglebearer 

and Carnage and Glory, which attempt to make a better game from somewhat similar assumptions and aims by using the calculating power of a computer to manage what in Quarrie's day had to be done manually.  Possibly Empire  

was the last published manual evolution of Quarrie's thinking. I couldn't bring myself to play a full game to accompany this review, which tells its own story! I actually think that the excesses of these rules proved inspiring in the end, partly in ensuring that "old school rules" were still used by those who preferred something simpler,  partly inspiring the first attempts (like Bob Coggins' Napoleon's Battles and Arty Conliffe's Shako)

to design elegant games which could actually deal with big battles in a reasonable amount of time.  I think it also kept Peter Gilder's In The Grand Manner 

going as a more playable alternative (which directly led to General de Brigade)...
Recommended as an interesting part of wargaming's history, but not otherwise.

Monday 26 December 2016

Polemos General de Division AAR: Action at El Bodon, 25th Spetember 1811

This morning I had a go at refighting the Peninsular War Action at El Bodon on the tabletop.  I used the scenario from Miniature Wargames 005, written by wargaming legend Terry Wise.

El Bodon is quite an interesting scenario, because it features British infantry attacking French cavalry and then conducting a fighting withdrawal against constant attacks from that same cavalry.  It requires more space than troops, as the forces involved were small but the retreat was carried out over a considerable distance.

Imperial French Forces:

C-in-C Montbrun (Capable)

1st Dragoon Bde: 2 x Veteran Dragoon bases
2nd Dragoon Bde: 2 x Veteran Dragoon bases
Lamotte's Light Cavalry Bde: 3 x Trained Light Cavalry bases
Fournier's Light Cavalry Bde: 3 x Trained Light Cavalry bases
Artillery: 1 x 4lb Horse Artillery base

Allied Forces:

C-in-C Wellington (Decisive)

3rd Division: Picton (Decisive)
Wallace's Bde: 2 x Veteran SK1 Infantry bases
Colville's Bde: 2 x Veteran SK1 Infantry bases
Div Artillery: 2 x Trained Portuguese 6lb Foot Artillery bases

Alten's Cavalry Brigade: 1 x Veteran Light Cavalry base, 1 x Trained Light Cavalry base

The troop ratings are very speculative.  There is a good argument for making all the troops Veteran (or all Trained).  As the Polemos rules work on opposed rolls, there is literally no difference.

Objectives: The objective for the Allies is to withdraw via the road on the left-hand side of the table or break the Imperial force.  The objective for the French is to prevent this or break the Allied force.

The Terrain:

This is Terry Wise's suggested terrain:

Used with permission

And here is the Google Earth view (for comparison with the terrain on the table)

 The Battle:

The Allied force is on the near side of thestream, the French on the far bank.  The Allies have veteran KGL Hussars on the left, the Portuguese artillery in the front supported by British infantry, British Light Dragoons on the right.

The French have the light cavalry on their right (left as seen), the dragoons on their left (right of shot)

View from behind Wellington's command post

Bold French moves to start the battle.  French Hussars have advanced across the stream to attack their German counterparts (I'm in mid-move here, the other Frenhc Hussars were just about to come across the stream!); French Chasseurs à Cheval attack the 1/5th Foot over the stream, led by General Montbrun in person.

The French Hussars enjoy some success in the initial melée, disordering the KGL horsemen on the left (note single figure denoting shakenn status); however the 5th, although showing some signs of nervousness (see the single figure by the infantry adjacent to the bridge), delivered a textbook, crushing volley at pointblank range, devastating the leading French Chasseur squadrons and disordering their supports.

A closer view

Picton arrives with elements from Wallace's brigade

The French 2nd Light Cavalry brigade fails its morale check and is spent, out of the battle

The ebb-and-flow of the cavalry melée on the Allied left now moves in favour of the KGL Hussars - the French become shaken in their turn and are pushed back

The combat is over: the French retire over the stream to reform

The direct assault having failed, Montbrun leads one of his brigades of Dragoons round the Allied right flank; the Light Dragoons advance to counter this move

A couple of missing pictures before this one unfortunately: on the Allied left, the KGL Hussars have more decisively defeated another French attack.  The French brigadier has therefore pushed a regiment further round the flank to try and force the KGL into retreat by manoeuvre.  On the Allied right, the French Dragoons have defeated the Light Dragoons and Picton hastily moves a battalion to the right to protect against this.

On the right, one can see more clearly the progress of the French Dragoons and the routing British cavalry (bottom right); note bottom centre-left that the British infantry reinforcements are about to reach the junction

The position on the left flank - the KGL Hussars have forced their opponents across the stream, whilst one French Hussar regiment has broken

Fearing the double-envelopment, Wellington orders his forward infantry and artillery to retire; the KGL Hussars on the left retire slightly and the French Hussars gingerly follow

The Allied column has retreated a fair distance (just over 1km) but now the French Dragoons are ready to charge; French Hussars are trying to outflank and stretch the Allies (top-right)

The 1/5th Foot sees off the French attack with another pointblank volley!  Both sides are somewhat shaken and need to reform.  Wellington was lucky to survive an encounter with a French Dragoon!

The British foot changed positions so the 77th faced the French Dragoons (to take advantage of first volley); however, Montbrun lead his Dragoons into success and the 77th have broken (top-left)!  The Dragoons are about to hit the Portuguese guns...
The French Dragoons overrun a Portuguese battery, but the 1/5th again succeed in blunting the French Dragoon attack - this time the French sustain enough casualties that their courage fails them and they fail their morale check

The Allied position: the 77th rout, but the remaining British troops hold on

Position from the second French Dragoon brigade: at this point, the Imperials failed their army morale and the battle was over!

Same position at the end of the battle

Game Result and Notes:
A very exciting game! More exciting than I expected perhaps, but a tribute to the scenario that it provided such a tense conflict.  The Polemos General de Division rules performed admirably - I know a lot of rules would struggle with this action, because they wouldn't allow the British to move in square but would make them very vulnerable to cavalry otherwise.  This would make the long retreat almost impossible.  Because Polemos makes troop morale and support the key tactical factors and doesn't fuss at all about formations, it doesn't suffer from the same problems.  More of an issue is that cavalry combat is quite deadly in Polemos GdD, whereas the real action apparently witnessed "forty French charges".  One assumes (following Rory  Muir) that many of these charges were feints, and thus are represented in the rules by some of the movements of the French Hussars in the game, which forced Allied reactions without actually being attacks.
Overall, the game reflected history quite closely, although with slightly higher casualties on each side.  This was partly as a result of my (bad) initial tactics as the French, although I was considering that a quick success would really help the French cause, before the British infantry reinforcements could take effect.

The game used the Polemos General de Division rules and was played on a 5'x3' table with a home-made mat.  In retrospect I think I used the wrong mat: I have a greener felt cloth which I think looks a little less good but being softer, would probably have contoured better along the steep hills.  My homemade cloth with the caulk base was maybe a little too stiff!  Figures from Baccus 6mm's Napoleonic range.
This scenario would be a good one for starting players, as sufficient forces to play are very cheap.  It could be played from the forces contained in a Baccus starter army, for example.

Friday 23 December 2016

Neil Thomas' Wargaming C19 Europe: The Battle of Bulganak

For a quick, light game I decided to have a go at recreating the Battle of Bulganak Crimean War scenario written by R. Robinson and published in Miniature Wargames 004.

The forces involved were:

The Russian Army:
4 Cavalry units (average cavalry)
4 Cossack units (rabble, dragoons, smoothbore muskets)
1 Artillery unit (smoothbore)

The cavalry and the artillery to arrive on turn 3.

Russian leadership is rated as 'Poor'

The British Army
2 Cavalry units (elite cavalry)
5 Infantry units (elite, close order, rifled musket)
3 Artillery units (smoothbore)

The infantry and two of the artillery units to arrive on turn 3.

British leadership is rated as 'Average'

The Battle:

British to the left, Russians to the right.  The objective of both sides is to control the valley without losing more than 2 units.

British Hussars observe the valley

As do Russian cossacks from the opposite slopes

A few turns in, the main body of the British turn up.  In this scenario, the infantry is not allowed to advance past the slope into the valley.  It is really there just to protect the guns

A vigorous skirmish continues in the valley.  The British artillery is doing some damage but although the Hussars have had the better of the hand-to-hand fighting, they have been seriously attritted by the fire from the cossacks.

A  few photos just didn't turn out properly here.  But in essence, the British hussars and a unit of cossacks have both been eliminated here.  Russian cavalry attempt to charge the British guns.

British light dragoons (extreme left-centre) have elminiated a unit of cossacks and are attempting to eliminate a unit of Russian cavalry to win the game.  The Russians have been able to replace their damaged units in the front line, however.

Stalemate!  The light dragoons have succumbed to the Russian cavalry (top) but the British artillery (supported by the guns on the slope) have eliminated the cavalry attempting to capture them.

Both sides have lost two units and must withdraw to their respective start lines.
 Game Notes:
Neil Thomas just can't help writing great, simple sets - this one being Wargaming Nineteenth Century Europe.

They are written in his 'standard' format, so players of his other rulesets will find much that is very familiar here. The mechanisms are so simple that a player can use them fluently in the first game, but the interplay can be quite subtle.  In the real action, there was plenty of (ineffective) fire from the cavalry of both sides, so perhaps all mounted troops should have been allowed to fire as dragoons.  The only other thing to change would be either the smoothbore artillery range or the set-up of the terrain.  In the game, the British artillery couldn't quite reach the opposite slope, whereas in reality it could - this distinctly changed how the sides had to approach the scenario.  But as ever, Thomas' mechanisms are so simple that they are very easy to modify.

Played on a 3'x2' table, using Baccus 6mm Napoleonics as proxies for Crimean War troops.

Thursday 22 December 2016

Polemos General de Division AAR: The Battle of Hagelberg

I decided to play a quick game this morning, partly to get myself back "in the mood", partly to get my new Napoleonic Prussian army on the table.  I used the Battle of Hagelberg scenario from the Polemos Napoleonic Companion.

Order of Battle:

The Imperial French Army

C-in-C: Gen Girard (Capable)

1st Brigade: 3 x infantry bases (Trained SK1)
2nd Brigade: 3 x infantry bases (Trained SK1)
3rd Brigade: 3 x infantry bases (Trained SK1)
4th Brigade: 3 x infantry bases (Trained SK1)
Cavalry Brigade: 1 x light cavalry base (Raw), 1 x cuirassier base (Raw)
Artillery: 2 bases of 8lb foot arty

The Prussian Army

C-in-C: Gen-Maj von Hirschfeld

Cavalry Brigade: 3 x light cavalry bases (Raw)
Advance Guard: 1 x infantry base (Raw SK2), 2 x infantry bases (Raw SK1), 3 x infantry bases (Raw SK0) 
1st Brigade: 5 x infantry bases (Raw SK0)
2nd Brigade: 1 x infantry base (Trained SK1), 2 x infantry bases (Raw SK0)
3rd Brigade: 4 x infantry bases (Raw SK0)
Cossacks: 5 x irregular cavalry bases (Trained), 2 x 6lb horse artillery bases

The Battle:

The battlefield from the bottom: the French are in all-round defence around the town of Hagelberg and the steep hill above it.  The Prussian advance guard and cavalry are just arriving (top), as are the cossacks (bottom-right)

View along the length of the battlefield: the dominating central hill may be clearly seen

View along the length of the battlefield from the opposite side

A closer shot of the French on the hill opposing the Prussian advance

The Prussians attempt a quick direct attack before Girard has got all of his troops into position.  French canister fire sees off these attacks with heavy Prussian casualties.

The remainder of the Prussian Army follows up (top), whilst the cossacks approach from the east (right)

The Prussian infantry can make little progress in the face of the intense French artillery fire.  The Prussians prepare to throw more infantry brigades into the fray.  However, Girard's troops are mostly in solid defensive lines now.
Cossack cavalry approach, but the cavalry cannot attack successfully up the slope of the steep hill
The French artillery continues to defeat all Prussian attempts to attack up the road - some of the Prussian infantry rout in the face of such intense, effective fire.
Shades of Bussaco?  The French left-hand brigade defeats the Prussians in front of it with a ferocious volley then charge.  The next Prussian brigade was under strong pressure too, but the Prussian regular infantry battalion in the van returns the compliment and routs a French battalion (note the gap in the French line on the hill).  This then caused the whole French brigade to fail its morale test...

A closer view.  The French infantry unit bottom-centre is the one routed by the Prussian fire.  Note the red shaken markers, in particular the French infantry climbing the slopes.  The disorder caused by the hill makes steep slopes extremely difficult obstacles in Polemos.

Further French attacks cause additional Prussian losses.  Girard has quickly deployed his reserved to shore up the line and protect his artillery.  The Prussians have made a further desultory attack, which has failed.

Although the Prussian army morale remained intact, I called off the action at this point, feeling the Prussians simply had no chance of getting up that hill!
Game Notes:
A solid French victory over the Prussians.  The game was okay, but I didn't think that the Prussians really had that much chance.  The basic reason for this is the calibration of the modifiers in Polemos General de Division.  So...

The average roll of a D6 is 3.5.
Being "raw" is -2.
Being "shaken" is -2 per level (max. of 2)
Being "uphill" is +2
Advantage in skirmishing level is +1 or +2
Advantage to defending infantry is +1 for each secure flank

Thus raw Prussian infantry (Landwehr and Reserve infantry) is in for a thin time attacking trained French infantry uphill.  The French, on an opposed D6 roll, are likely to be at least +5 up...The Prussians don't have any artillery capable of bombarding the French either.  So all in all, a pretty difficult task!  The only way to marginally reduce the French advantage is to attack with a line of infantry with a line of cavalry behind.  However, doing this is very hungry for tempo points, hard to coordinate and has to be "advertised" so heavily that it is pretty unlikely to work either.
Interestingly, the modifiers in the companion set "Marechal d'Empire" are much flatter: a "+2" in GdD is likely to be a "+1" in MdE.  This reduces greatly the number of "sure thing" attacks.  In addition, the +1 modifier for attacking in MdE enocurages boldness, whereas taking those risks in GdD is likely to get a force wiped out quite quickly.
I'd be interested in knowing people's views about the modifiers in GdD: are they too extreme?  How much of an advantage do people think that things like experience levels and being uphill should matter?

The game took 70 minutes, played on a home-made mat on a 5'x3' table.  Figures were mainly from Baccus 6mm, with a base from Commission Figurines (the Prussian regular infantry).  Buildings from Total Battle Miniatures. Rules used were Polemos General de Division:

And I must make some unobtrusive shaken markers!!