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, 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.


  1. Thanks again for such a fair review of these rules.

    The basic concept behind all the Portable Wargame rules is the 'plug in, unplug' nature of its mechanisms so that players can adapt them to suit their requirements. Therefore it would be quite feasible for players to use the order system from the corps-level game with the brigade-level rules if they want to. Likewise bonuses and penalties can be changed without the whole things falling apart.

    One of the biggest complaints that I receive is from players who want every possible (and sometimes improbable) contingency covered in the rules. My usual answer is to quote Fred Jane (‘Nothing can be done contrary to what could or would be done in actual war') and suggest that they use common sense to decide when something happens that is not covered by the rules ... or to use Joseph Morchauser's 'Let the dice decide!'.

    All the best,


    1. No worries Bob. I found the rules pretty solid and great fun, and you make clear your approval for tinkering to the taste of the players throughout all your books.

      What I hadn't really appreciated until I finished, and I will mention in my next review, is that one actually needs to read through all the rules and examples as sometimes your conceptual thinking on a subject is located in the rules or eaxmple of play of a different set. For example, you refer to the discrepancy in the treatment of a cavalry attack on artillery from on infantry in the playtest of the divisional rules, for example (which I hadn't read when I had played the brigade-level game).

  2. nice review - looking forward to trying out the rules, which I have read on loan from a friend. The telescoping of scale is especially nice.

    1. Thanks very much, I hope it proves enjoyable. I would very much think of this as a simple but solid framework for Napoleonic gaming.