I had never played any of the Portable Wargame series before although I have followed the progress of the project with interest and I have looked at his Colonial Wars rules too, which look pretty good. I have also always wanted to give his SCW rules which were published years ago in Wargames Illustrated a go at some point There are four distinct games within the book, but the only one that suits my existing set-up without at least a little modification was the final game: the Big Battle rules, since that used a board of roughly 8-9x8-9 squares or hexes and single base units. There is an example battle in the book, "The Battle of Twee Heuvels", which features an Allied Corps facing a French Corps in Belgium 1815 and since I have all the becessary forces, I selected that for my first test.
The French Corps:
C-in-C: Marshal Gerard
3 x Infantry Divisions each of 3 Brigades (2 divisions are of 'Average' quality the other is 'Poor')
1 x Cavalry Division of 2 Brigades
1 x Artillery unit
The Allied Corps:
C-in-C: Gen Harman
1 x Infantry Division (1 x Veteran brigade, 2 x Average brigades)
1 x Infantry Divsion (1 x Veteran brigade, 2 x Poor brigades)
1 x Infantry Division (3 x Average brigades)
1 x Cavalry Bde (Poor)
1 x Artillery unit
|The hills are the two-square offset tiles in the centre, with the farm in between them.|
|Another view. The Allies are to enter from the North (top), the French from the South (bottom).|
|Gen Harman and some Hanoverian cavalry enter.|
|Bourgogne's Cavalry Division enters, with Marshal Gerard looking on (bottom)|
|The first French infantry division arrives|
|Bourgogne's French cavalry has pushed on through the farm (centre) and is facing the Hanoverian cavalry plus Crook's Allied infantry division (top)|
|The Hanoverian cavalry put in a flank attack on the French cuirassiers (centre)|
|Having been forced back, the French Cavalry are then able to put in a flank attack on the Hanoverian cavalry on the high ground, which destroys them|
|The French guns are arriving (bottom-right); but Crook's Division has secured the farm and the high ground (centre & centre-left) whilst von Gow has secured the high ground on the other side of the farm (centre-right)|
|The French cavalry charge up the hill to attack a Hanoverian infantry brigade; the Allied artillery has finally arrived (top)|
|The French foot and guns move up to support the French cavalry attack|
|The French artillery is now deployed and has commenced its bombardment of von Gow's position (right); Crook's Division has had to relieve its brigade of Guards with Hanoverian militiamen around the farm and hill|
|French infantry force the Hanoverians out of the farm (right); Kemp's Dutch brigade have moved closer to support Crook's hard-pressed infantry (left)|
|The Allies re-occupy the farm, whilst the combat still ranges along the line...|
|Not put off, Marbot's infantry storm the farm again and once again its Hanoverian defenders are destroyed in the process...|
|Continuous French bombardment has also destroyed the leading Brunswick Bde in von Gow's division...|
|Coignet's Division has moved up and launched an attack on the Allied left! However, Marbot has lost two brigades to Allied counter-attacks around the farmhouse...|
|Position at the end of the battle|
Command problems are simulated by using orders (a simple written instruction or a counter) and a die roll to simulate whether the formation or individual base acts upon that order, with the chances of doing so reducing the further away from the commander. Movement is very simple and quick - the prime benefit of using a gridded system. Combat is based on a single modified D6 roll per side, which is mercifully fast. Interestingly these rolls are not opposed but are independent: each side is rolling to see if it suffers casualties. The modifiers are certainly arguable and in practice having immediate support and a general present were sufficient to ward off most disadvantageous circumstances. Controversially (unless I am missing something) the most effective way of attacking entrenched infantry is with massed cavalry (!). Whilst a clever mechanism, I am not sure how far I agree with it. Troop quality is mainly reflected in how much punishment troops can take: poorer quality troops suffer heavier losses more easily and become hors de combat sooner. There is very little other 'chrome' in the basic rules: no light infantry, no 'classes' of cavalry or artillery, no differentiation of 'quality' for generals, although the author positively encourages tinkering and adaptation.
There were a couple of situations where I didn't understand the rules. It wasn't clear to me what to do if a base moved adjacent to enemies occupying two or more different squares. I didn't understand if a unit 'initiated' combat each turn it fought, or only in the first turn of combat (combats typically last more than a single round). Did units have to fight in subsequent turns where they remained adjacent? Can units retreat to a flank? Can cavalry units withdraw from a combat then attack the same unit in the flank in the same turn? If a commander is with a unit that is destroyed but is himself uninjured, what happens - can he be fought or shot at? It wasn't always clear to me in the rules when they were referring to the commanding general and when to all of the generals.
The rules are easy to read and generally clear. I wish I had had access to a ruleset like this when I was starting out: they show a satisfying way to do big battles without needing lots of resources. On first look, they appeal to me more than Neil Thomas' similar offerings, since the author really tries to capture, in very simple but effective and playable form, the kind of things that Napoleonic generals might think about it at a defined level of play. Neil Thomas, in my opinion, is by contrast an author in the Charles Grant tradition: he creates a refined small-scale model in which 5 battalions do the work of 15, so the tabletop general is a kind of hybrid between an army, a corps/wing and a division commander at once. I am looking forward to exploring these rules further. The author makes clear his debt to the late Paddy Griffith's Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun rules and although the debt is clear, I think Bob Cordery's rules are actually better, at least in terms of playability and logic.
Figures by Baccus 6mm, buildings by Leven.