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 11 January 2019

The Portable Napoleonic Wargame - Battle of Helmstedt (the Division game)

The Battle of Helmstedt: For the last of my playtests of the rules within The Portable Napoleonic Wargame I took on the Battle of Helmstedt.

This is the example battle for the rules for Divisional combat, featuring a Prussian force attempting to stop the advance of a French division.  These Divisional rules are very similar to the rules designed for Brigade-level battles but one base represents a couple of battalions, a regiment or a small brigade. 

The Prussian Detachment:

Commander: Gen von Klucke
2 Regts of Infantry (Average)
2 Regts of Infantry (Poor) (I used Landwehr)
1 Regt of Light Cavalry (Poor)
1 Bn of Artillery (Average)

The French Division:

Commander: Gen Janvier
2 Regts of Infantry (Elite)
2 Regts of Infantry (Average)
1 Regt of Light Cavalry (Average)
1 Regt of Cuirassiers (Average)
1 Bn of Artillery (Average)

The Set-Up:
The village of Helmstedt occupies the centre of the battlefield.  The rest of the battlefield contains some scattered woods and a couple of hills (on the left and right edges)

Another shot

Another shot

And a closer look at the buildings (from the Leven range)
 The Battle:

The French arrived first and advance boldly (rashly?) straight down the road, light cavalry in the lead.

The view from the other side of the column.

The Prussians arrived more tardily, so the French Chasseurs a Cheval launched an immediate attack on the Prussian artillery!

The French Cuirassiers moved up the road to support then face to the left flank against the Prussian Hussars (left)

French infantry has rushed up to support the cavalry; the Prussian infantry launch a flank attack to try and disrupt them.  The French Cavalry has worked around the flank of the Prussian artillery (top).

The Prussian Hussars have evaded the French Cuirassiers (top-left) and are joining the attack on the leading French infantry brigade

A wider shot of the same

The Prussian Artillery desperately trying to hold off the French light cavalry (top)

...and fails!  The Prussian artillery is overrun (top).  The French infantry has been pushed off the road but has not been seriously damaged by the Prussian attack

The French Cuirassiers crush a brigade of raw Prussian infantry (top-left)!  Prussian morale collapses...

The position at the end of the battle
Game Notes: Another good, fun game that rattled along at a fair old pace.  The mechanisms are quite similar to those in the Brigade game.  Two different systems of activation are proposed: one card-based, one dice-based (i.e. copy DBx!), although the option is also given to ignore activation (as in the brigade game).  The main apparent difference is that two infantry units can share a sqaure and adopt some formations specific to regiments/brigades: mixed order, double columns and double squares.  There are also some more subtle changes: units are relatively slower and less flexible: they can move or fire or change formation, and so on.  Personally I feel that these make more of a difference to the game play, because they make cavalry much more useful relative to the other arms compared to the brigade game, especially in a meeting engagement.  I don't think that my refight was entirely a fair test: I used the DBA system and the French were much more fortunate in their rolls early on, so as well as being the stronger force, with the stronger cavalry, they were already putting the pressure on the Prussians from practically the beginning and the they could never get themselves organized.  That said, I don't think that I am wrong about the power of the cavalry: their powers are largely intact whilst the powers of the other arms are reduced.  Of course, as mentioned in other reports and by the author himself, the rules are very, very easy to tweak to taste; and the tactical usefulness of cavalry in the Napoleonic era has been disputed ever since the actual wars themselves...

Figures by Baccus 6mm, buildings by Leven.

Thursday 10 January 2019

The Portable Wargame - Battle of Porter's Ridge (Brigade Game Test)

The Battle of Porter's Ridge:
The Battle of Porter's Ridge is the example battle for the brigade game (i.e. each side consists of roughly a brigade in strength) in Bob Cordery's Portable Napoleonic Wargame

It is set during the War of 1812, and features a small British force defending a ridge being attacked by a slightly larger US force moving in a march column up from the South.  The British will be reinforced during the game to bring their strength up to rough parity.

British Forces:

Commander: General Badger
3 Infantry battalions (Average)
1 Rifle battalion (Elite)
1 Artillery company (Average)
1 Light Dragoon Regiment (Average)

United States Forces:

Commander: General Halsey
4 Infantry battalions (Average)
1 Artillery company (Average)
1 Light Dragoon Regiment (Average)

Note that I use 6mm figures with a single unit on one base on a "Polemos standard size" of 60mm x 30mm, whereas the rules are designed for infantry and cavalry units to be represented by two bases to show columns, lines and squares and so forth.  However, this is the Heretical Gaming blog and I am inspired by the wise words of Welington's best subordinate, Lord Rowland 'Daddy' Hill, who said "Damn their basing! Let them play anyhow!" Or words to that effect...

In practice, playing solo with only six units per side, I don't find it difficult to remember what formation a unit is supposed to be in.  For a bigger game, I would just have used markers to indicate formations.

The Set-Up:

General Badger, his artillery and an infantry battalion occupy the eastern end of Porter's ridge (top), whilst his riflemen occupy the woods (bottom-left).  His reinforcements will enter on the road (top-right), the US forces will enter on the other end of the road (bottom-right)

A slightly closer look

The detachment of the 95th Rifles, hiding in the woods

General Badger and his detachment on the ridge (the areas of high ground are denoted by the additional bases on top of the board, hopefully they are clear enough)
The Battle:
The US Forces have entered.  The leading unit (the Light Dragoons, top right) being to take casualties from artillery fire (top-left) from the ridge

A wider view

General Halsey aims to gain a quick advantage, boldly moving forward to attack the British artillery from the flank

The British artillery is forced back with loss (left) but the US cavalry is taking casualties from British musketry...the British boldly remain in line to ensure that their firing takes effect

The wider situation: note that the British Light Dragoons have arrived (top-right) so the leading US infantry battalion is now in square on the road (right) to protect the US flank.

Combined artillery and musketry fire combine to make life difficult (and in many cases, impossible) for the US Cavalry

The US Cavalry charges the British Line (top-left), whilst the US infantry advances in support (centre) and towards the riflemen (bottom); the US artillery is in position ready to give support now too

The US cavalry is driven back by the fire of the square...

...and is then eliminated by converging fire.  The British cavalry has moved off the road to support the British detachment on the hill (top); whilst the riflemen begin to fire (ineffectively) at the US troops advancing against them (bottom)

The US advances further, beginning to take some casualties (centre)

The US column mounts a flank attack on the British artillery, having pushed on through the storm of fire.  General Halsey is again leading from the front...

The 95th falls back in the face of the US advance into the woods (bottom-left)

The British reinforcements (top-right) and cavalry (top-left) menace the US right flank...

The US flank attack (right) is unsuccessful - more casualties are taken and the General himself is wounded.  The US forces become exhausted and are unable to advance further

General Badger unleashes his cavalry and charges the US guns!

The attacking US infantry (left) has been destroyed.  The US gunners are losing to the British sabres (right), and the flanking infantry is starting to lose heavily to British musketry too

Gen Halsey admits defeat and retires from the field!
Game Notes:
Another good game, fun but quite engrossing.  Again, the system was so simple that I could pick it up in a few turns without making many egregious errors.  The scenario is quite finely balanced too, so although the US forces took a bit of a battering here, the affair turned on a couple of bits of fortune and couple of slightly better or worse moves, which is as it should be.

Mechanically the brigade game is quite similar in many respects to the army-level game.  There are some differences however.  The brigade game discards the order/activation mechanic of the army-level game, retaining only a dice throw to see which side moves first, but introduces unit formations (column, line, square and dispersed; limbered and unlimbered).  It is all done simply but effectively however and can be picked up straight away.  There are some lovely subtle effects produced by the mechanic and the calibration of when to use which formation as you weigh up the extra movement and flexibility of being in column versus the extra firepower of a line (being in line almost guarantees damaging the enemy with musketry) but it is vulnerable to being out manoeuvred.  The same unusual combat mechanic of each side rolling to see if it is damaged is retained, although there is a separate musketry firing mechanism to see if a hit is obtained which precedes it.  The modifiers work in a similar fashion to the army-level game, with troop quality functioning primarily to reduce the chance of taking casualties.  These casualties reduce strength points and if enough points are lost, the suffering units are removed (typically 4).  The artillery mechanism is similar to the army-level game, as is the close combat mechanic.  Cavalry has the chance of being particularly effective against an infantry line, using a separate damage table which can result in the line being swept away in an instant.  There is an army exhaustion point which functions in a similar fashion to those in DBx, Neil Thomas or Polemos: once an army has lost a third of its strength points (whether or not those are in eliminated units), it can no longer take offensive action.  In the sample game above, the US army had an exhaustion point of 9, which was reached by losing a cavalry unit (4 points), 3 points from an infantry unit and 2 points from a wounded General.  The latter creates an interesting risk/reward choice, since attached generals make units more effective but can cause the quickest loss of strength points - 6 for a killed general.

I don't think I encountered any rules which I didn't understand and they were internalized very quickly.  There were some things I found a bit quirky, however.  The most effective formation in woods is line, since that gets a firing bonus and 'dispersed' doesn't but they move at the same rate.  Conversely, dispersed infantry in the open are just as safe from cavalry as they would be if in column.  Cavalry gets an attack bonus when charging infantry in line or deployed artillery, which is fine, but only infantry in line must roll on the 'instant death' table, whereas the deployed artillery doesn't, which seems odd.  I have my doubts as to whether these advantages should still accrue to cavalry attacking infantry in line in woods, built-up areas and fortifications, which they currently do. Perhaps most importantly, there seems to me to be an exploit in the rules regarding facing.  Although movement is orthogonal, so is facing, so although therefore attacks along the diagonal axis are slower, a unit can effectively minimize its chance of being hit by artillery fire by straddling this line, especially if its' side loses the initiative and moves second each turn (by continually moving out of the artillery's arc of fire).  I think it may be better to permit artillery to turn through 90 degrees before firing to avoid this.

All that said, the author makes clear his intent that the rules should be modified according to the beliefs and prejudices of the player and these rules are very easy to modify.

This is a very interesting, playable game which I recommend to all those gamers looking for a quick game at this level.  This level of game has often been neglected historically, although since in fact it deals in battalions and regiments rather than companies, squadrons and troops, it is mechanically more similar to what other writers would consider to be a divisional-level game.  It feels quite close in spirit and execution to the Neil Thomas's Napoleonic Wargaming set.

Figures again by Baccus 6mm.

Monday 7 January 2019

Battle of Freeman's Farm (1812) - A Polemos Ruse de Guerre AAR

The Battle of Freeman's Farm: One of the scenarios included in the Polemos Ruse de Guerre rulebook is the Battle of Freeman's Farm.  Although in reality one of the battle around Saratoga in the American Revolution/American War of Independence, I set my refight in the War of 1812 instead, as that is what I have (small) armies for.  Gen Burgoyne was trying to outflank the American positions to their left and the American force is trying to stop, or at least, delay, him.
Although Freeman's Farm was a small action in the general scheme of things, the scenario in Polemos Ruse de Guerre is quite big: 36 British bases face 32 American.  But this is using a scale where one base represents 100 men: using Polemos basing, a figure-man ratio of 1:5  For my refight, to fit in with the size of my armies, I re-jigged the scenario for one base represents c.300 men.  This is quite within the scale of the rules, it just makes for a smaller overall game.

The Forces:

United States:

C-in-C: Gen Arnold

Right Wing: Gen Morgan (Decisive)
1 base of Well-trained Riflemen
1 base of Trained Light Infantry

Centre: Gen Poor (Capable)
3 bases of Trained Infantry
1 base of Poorly-Trained Infantry

Left Wing: Gen Learned (Capable)
4 bases of Trained Infantry
1 base of Well-Trained Infantry

Great Britain:

C-in-C: Gen Burgoyne

Left Column: Hamilton (Capable)
2 bases of Trained Infantry
1 base of Trained 6lb Artillery
2 bases of Trained 3lb Artillery

Centre Column: Fraser (Decisive)

3 bases of Well-Trained Light Infantry
2 bases of Trained Infantry
1 base of Trained 6lb Artillery

Right Column: Breymann (Decisive)
2 bases of Well-Trained Infantry
1 base of Trained Infantry
1 base of Trained Native Americans (i.e. This unit is an amalgamation of the Queen's Rangers and de Lacorne's Native American contingent, hence the unusual rating for these rules)

 Note: This order of battle is correct in terms of numbers but has been heavily adjusted to simplify the actual initial British deployment.  The much more detailed scenario in the book has units from all of the different columns intermingled along the line of battle.  I was pretty sure I would lose track of this, so for my refight I decided to simplify the order of battle to reflect more closely the physical deployment.  I still made a couple of (non-serious) errors during the game, mind!  I worked it out okay but I think I may have accidentally given the British an extra unit of trained infantry.

I have used some of the unit designations from the original scenario.  There were some Canadians fighting on the patriot side and so here there is a unit which is fighting on the US side.  They play quite a prominent role in the re-fight, so don't be confused...

The Set-Up:

The heavily-wooded battlefield.  British are towards the top, Americans towards the bottom.  Freeman's Farm is at the centre-right of the US position, Coulter's farm on the left.

Another shot.  The armies start quite close together in this scenario!

The British Right Wing

The British Centre (centre) facing the American Centre (bottom) throught the woods

The British Left Wing

The American Left Wing around Coulter's Farm

The American Centre and Right Wing, based around Freeman's Farm (right)

A view from the centre towards the British Left, along the stream and woods
 The Battle:

The battle begins, with the British attacking in the centre

And rather slowly advancing through the woods towards the American right.  Guns and woods don't mix well!

The first British attack miscarried but without serious loss, so Burgoyne just orders a repeat of the attack in the centre

The British clear part of the woods, but the New York regiment holds their position (centre-right)

The New Hampshires launch a counter-attack, forcing some of the British back through the woods (left)

In order to take the pressure off the centre, Gen Learned orders some of his units to move forward from the woods to start firing upon the British (centre-right)

Gen Poor reforms the New Hampshires in front of the Connecticut Militia, preparing for another counter-attack

A British infantry unit pushes around the American right (right)

The Americans and British trade volleys, with the British coming off worse and incurring serious casualties (centre)

The Americans follow this up with a bayonet charge, urged on by the hat-waving General Learned (right)!  The 1st Canadians push forward to assist (left)

General Poor's counter-attack goes in in the centre

Morgan's Rifles have been pushed back out of the woods and are now outflanked by the British!

Some of Gen Learned's Massacusetts' soldiers retire back to the shelter of the woods

Gen Poor's counter-attack in the centre is successful, throwing the British light infantry back to their start line!!

On the American right however, the British volley...

...and charge!

Burgoyne orders his centre to reform and resume the attack...

On the American left, Gen Learned joins the Canadians (left) and launches his second bayonet charge of the day

Which is crowned with complete success!  The British Grenadiers (centre) have retired with loss, whilst the neighbouring unit has been broken by the fire of the Massachussets men!!

In the centre however, Gen Poor's New Hampshiremen have been thrown back again; his New Yorkers just cannot be pushed out of their patch of wood however (centre)! 

On the American right, Morgan's riflemen have been routed (left), although the farm is still held

Gen Learned attacks once again with the bayonet, charging into the British Grenadiers (Centre); one of his Massachusetts' battalions has ushed across the stream in support (right)

Gen Poor under severe pressure in the centre

And is pushed back to the far side of the road

His New Yorkers hold off the British for the fourth time today!

But Gen Poor's command is under severe strain now: a New Hampshire regiment has finally been routed (bottom)

The British press forward again...

On the American right, the British form up ready to attack Freeman's Farm...

The British Right under pressure!  They try to outflank the attackers by bringing the mixed unit of Rangers and Native Americans around the flank...

...not in time to save the British Grenadiers though, who are finally overwhelmed and routed!

However, the American centre is in equally bad spirits: the remaining New Hampshiremen are broken and the supporting Conneticut militiamen are shaken...

The American centre collapses!

The unstoppable Canadians, under the inspired leadership of Gen Learned, beats off the flank attack and the Rangers and Native Americans retire into the woods (left)

Which causes the whole British Right to panic and retire!

However, whislt this was happening, the British have taken Freeman's Farm and its defenders have been killed or surrendered

The victorious American Left at the end of the battle

The American Centre and Right have been destroyed or driven off
 Game Notes: I had great fun with this one, in part perhaps because it was so new to me: I don't really know too much about the individual actions of the AWI.  It really came down to the wire, because although the American centre broke, the army as a whole held on.  Luckily for the British, they broke Morgan's command just at the same time as Breymann's troops were running away, since the British army's morale broke from a single roll.  Since the American army morale failed at the same time, and they had lost more units, the British were the winners (just!). Anyway, the game worked pretty smoothly considering it has been a while since I played these rules.  They really are the smoothest of the Polemos family, with many of the elements that create little bits of difficulty edited or removed.  You can tell that the author is a very experienced Polemos player, since at heart these rules are like the Polemos Napoleonic set, but simplified and - I want to use that word again - smoothed.  The only query that I had which I couldn't answer on re-reading the rules was the effect of enemy action on a 'force'.  If a force of either side becomes physically separated due to enemy action - say two bases are pushed back and two aren't - how is tempo then assigned?  Do they have to physically reform or not?  There do not appear to be any pursuits or follow-ups in these rules either, which I suppose I found a little surprising (since it means that troops don't 'take' a position - they force the enemy out of it and then occupy it next turn, but if the enemy is quick, they can sometimes re-occupy it first without a fight).

Anyway, I heartily recommend players interested in the FIW, AWI or War of 1812 to at least have a game with these rules.  As in all the Polemos series, the use of single-base units rules out dealing with the minutiae of unit and sub-unit tactics and gets one to concentrate at a more appropriate command level so the games really rattle along.

Figures and buildings are from the Baccus 6mm range, other buildings from Leven.

Lastly I must push Steve Jones exquisite AWI set-up in 28mm, including his version of Freeman's Farm for those looking for some proper AWI eye-candy!