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, 20 March 2020

Horse, Foot & Guns AAR - Battle of Sacile 1809

Next up in my fitful series of refights of Napoleonic battles from the scenario books of Michael Hopper is the Battle of Sacile.  This features a Franco-Italian Army under Prince Eugene attacking an Austrian Army led by Archduke John and is one of the scenarios in Duel of the Princes 1809.

Although the scenarios in this book are rules-agnostic, they are done with Shako II in mind and are more generally designed for 1 wargames unit = 1 battalion / regiment scale games.  Sacile was quite a large battle though, and for my resources, in particular my table space, I went for a 1 wargames unit = 1 brigade / large regiment scale rules, in this case, Horse, Foot and Guns by Phil Barker.

The Scenario:

In a somewhat surprising move, Prince Eugene has elected to attack the Austrian position to the south-east of Sacile.  The French army is aiming to destroy and/or turn the Austrian forward positions to force a retreat before the Austrian reserves are in place.

The Forces:

1 x CP (Prince Eugene)
Left Wing:
1 x CP (Grenier), 2 x Field Arty, 9 x Bayonets, 3 x Inferior Bayonets, 3 x Light Cavalry
Right Wing:
1 x CP (Seras), 1 x Field Arty, 1 x Light Infantry, 3 x Bayonets, 3 x Inferior Bayonets, 5 x Italian Bayonets, 1 x Light Cavalry

1 x Inert CP (Archduke John)
Right Wing:
1 x CP (I. Gyulai), 2 x Light Infantry, 3 x Bayonets, 1 x Light Cav
Left Wing:
1 x CP (A. Gyulai), 2 x Light Infantry, 3 x Bayonets, 2 x Light Cav
(Left Wing): 2 x Elite Bayonets, 2 x Light Infantry, 4 x Bayonets, 1 x Heavy Artillery, 1 x Field Artillery

(Right Wing): 1 x Light Cav, 1 x Light Infantry, 4 x Bayonets, 1 x Field Arty

Some of the Austrian reserves have to dice to arrive.

The Set-Up:

Austrians to the East (top) face the Franco-Italians coming from the West (bottom); note the numerous valleys breaking up the ground to the right; the game starts with the French left having reached the plateau (centre and left)

Grenier's Wing with its left on Vigonovo

Seras' Wing behind and around Palse (centre-right)

Another view

The Austrian Right (top and top-left) and Centre (top-right); note that the units on the top-right actually belong to the other wing.

And A.Gyulai's wing, deployed in and around Porcia (centre)
The Battle:
Seras' Italian troops begin moving forwards towards Porcia (top-left)

Whilst the French Left deploys ready for action

The French Left and Centre attack; note that some of the Austrian reserves have arrived to thicken the defence (top-left)

The French attack on the Left Flank (top-left) has gained some ground but has not achieved any decisive results

One of the Italian columns has been driven back by artillery fire from the approaches to Porcia, but the second column (centre-right) continues its scramble forward into musketry range

The overall position - the French are attacking on the Left Flank (top-right) to try and turn the Austrian position where there are no strong defences, whilst also trying to unhinge the Austrian Left by taking Porcia

The Austrians launch a lively counter-attack (left)

Units from both sides are locked in combat, except Dessaix's cavalry has been repulsed by the Austrian infantry (bottom-left)

French infantry casualties also mount on the Left and the remaining troops fall back (left); the remainder of the attack goes in however (top-centre)

Resistance thickens in the Austrian centre

Casualties mount on both sides, but particularly amongst the French, as their attack stalls after gaining a little ground

Intense musketry fire from the defending Grenzers in Porcia causes high casualties amongst the intrepid Italian attackers (centre)

A view of the progress as a whole, except the extreme French left - nowhere have the French been as succesful as they needed, despite gaining some ground; the Italians have lost 60% of their effectives in attacking Porcia

The French renew the assault on the Austrian Right, despite the balance of numbers having swung against them

French troops on their extreme Right manage to force their way across the stream, pushing the Austrian cavalry back - A.Gyulai has rushed up a strong contingent of Grenzers (centre) to stabilise the situation

More and more Frenchmen become casualties trying to break through on the left...

Whilst Austrian counter-attacks continue to push the extreme French left backwards towards Vigonovo

The Fench Artillery is proving very effective at holding back the Austrian centre

Fighting intensifies on the French Right, as the Austrians try and push them back into the stream

The French are forced to give more ground on their left

Some superb fighting by Seras' infantry secures their lodgement, forcing back the Austrian cavalry and destroying the leading formation of Grenzers (left)

Relentless Austrian pressure against the French left pushes Grenier's men back towards Vigonova, although thankfully the reinforcements are coming up

They paid for it and now they collect!  The Italian infantry successfully storm Porcia and force a gap in the Austrian Left!

Another view

The Austrians restore the situation on their Left somewhat, as one of the French infatry brigades is destroyed

The battlefield: the situation has reversed since the beginning of the game and now the French Left is grimly hanging on, hoping that the Franco-Italian attacks on the other flank can unhinge the Austrian position

Reinforcements have now stabilized the situation somewhat on the French Left

Artillery fire from both sides has largely prevented effective attacks from being delivered in the centre

Fighting continues around the weakest spot in the Austrian line - its Left Wing

Another Austrian attack goes in on the French Left

The French are pushed back yet further, and their light cavalry is spent

The relentless French artillery fire has protected its centre all day

A determined counter-attack clears Porcia for the Austrians

The Franco-Italians make a last push to turn the Austrian Left

The French Left can no longer hold

French cavalry rides through the Austrians and over the stream, whilst the French infatntry (top) have routed the remaining Grenzers (top-left), turning the flank

But the Italians are too weak to hold in front of Porcia (top)

Relentless Austrian pressure is breaking the French Left...

A wider shot: apart from on the extreme French Right (right), the Franco-Italians are desperately just trying to restore their lines

The French hold Vigonova (bottom-left) but large forces prepare to destroy the exposed French Division (centre)

The French centre begins to give ground, outnumbered and outgunned as it is...

Order is somewhat restored on the French Right, although meaningful offensive action is now out of the question
Game Notes:
The game was played in pretty odd circumstances, in that it was probably a two-hour game played over about five hours as I was getting constantly interrupted!  Not a problem in itself, but I think I lost my place a couple of times, so there may have been the odd move which was against the rules - nothing that would have effected the grand sweep of the game, I don't think.  Horse, Foot and Guns gives a pretty decent game for this kind of affair, although I appreciate it isn't to everyone's taste.  More of a concern though is whether one can have a truly satisfying horse-and-musket game without attrition, since that seems to have been a reasonably strong feature of the period, whereas units tend to be removed as more of a surprise in HFG (and all the DBx games); suddenly one side rolls high, the other low and boom! a base is removed and there is a gap.  On the other hand, formations in the Napoleonic Wars could and did take actions to stop casualties getting out of hand by giving some ground and what to do?  Anyway, as a game it was fine and not noticeably less realistic than anything else...the scenario worked fine too, making a perfectly satisfactory small board game out of something originally deisgned for a, 11'x5' board!  In fact, my game allowed more depth than the original scenario because of the scale change, so all the Franco-Italian forces could start on the board.

Unusually for me, I made some custom terrain for this game!  I carved out a hill to lie under the mat, because otherwise the relief and valleys was to hard for my stand-alone hills to cope with.  It seemed to work quite well, I was pleased.  Some of the bases of stones that you can see in the game are there just to help visually and 'pin' the cloth to the relief of the hill.

Figures by Baccus 6mm, buildings mainly by Total Battle Miniatures.

There was an interesting Peter Heath article back in MW036 but it was very much of its time: without a lot of improvisation then it can't actually be played as a scenario because the mechanics of troops, terrain, objectives and so on are just not there, although the history and the write-up is good.


  1. Thanks, really enjoyed that and will share your post with someone who I know is really interested in the rules.

    1. Thanks very much Norm, your comments and encouragement are always much appreciated.

  2. A nice little game and gaming the Italian terrain can be tricky with all of those valleys and waterways etc. Interesting to read you comments on 'interruptions' as I find I can lose my thread when making notes for AAR's, talk less of 'phone calls etc. The search for the right set of rules is tricky, but I have settled on Black Powder II, which give a good game and while not perfect work for me. Also the command and control system is similar across other rules I use which makes it easy to move from one to another.

    1. Thanks very much Steve. Making incremental terrain improvements will I become more important to my hobby in the next few years, I imagine to make Italian terrain more distinctly 'Italian', if you know what I mean?

  3. John,

    Great fight, thanks for posting! Horse, Foot, and Guns, eh? I must admit to being shocked at you moving away from Polemos, I'm so accustomed to those that I did a double take ;)

    An interesting point about the lack of casualty removal/attrition, though I will admit it was pretty cool how the French division in the center found itself suddenly alone; you read about that occurring (every now and again, it shouldn't happen too frequently, I suppose), but don't really see it in most games, though perhaps the same thing could occur from the adjacent units simply being pushed back, rather than eliminated?

    Also interesting about you making the terrain, due to all the fingers/draws. Do you feel like they were tactically significant, had a real impact on how troops were handled on the table? I have a habit of just sort of hand wave it, add in extra movement points for going upslope, for instance, figuring its exceedingly steep or that there are actually multiple changes in elevation, and not all up!

    Anyway, hats off to you, my friend, you've had quite a run of productivity! I'm doing my best to get back in it and keep up ;)


    1. Hi Jack,

      Many thanks for that. Horse, Foot and Guns does get a run out occasionally when I feel like a slightly different flavour of game. It works with exactly the same basing as Polemos which helps, whereas if I was doing something like Black Powder I have to make more changes/compromises. In the end it isn't *so* different...
      As you mention, it is quite a rare event for that sudden destruction result to occur (especially to Imperial Guards!) and simple push-backs are much more common, but it does happen from time-to-time and happened a couple of times in this game.
      The fingers and draws definitely had an impact on this game, primarily on the Italians attakcing Porcia, who were forced to spend much longer on the approach and were being hammered by the supporting Austrian artillery (and why as a contingent they suffered so heavily). But your point is well made, there was probably a neater way of simulating this by extra areas of rocky ground or similar, perhaps mixed with some small water features. I will give this some thought!
      The run of productivity is a bit of an illusion, some of the games were played a while ago and it was just me catching up with write-ups: I have been pretty flat out since Christmas really. There are some more on the blocks as well - air wargames, mainly. I need to e-mail you about them actually...

      All the best

    2. Hiya John! I know what you mean about running out new/different rules, it hits me every now and again as well. I'm a fan of Black Powder, but no way would I re-base all those beautiful Napoleonics you've already got finished and are having a great time with!

      I gotcha, I didn't put 2 and 2 together in terms of the Italian attack having such a rough time, so I'd say don't listen to me about simplifying terrain, it sounds like it went off perfectly! I'm just too lazy and impatient to make new terrain like that, but then I don't have your talent for it, neither!

      I see! Cheater! Just kidding, I've played a bunch of games too, just haven't written them up. Hell, the Midway fights I'm posting were played before Christmas...

      If you need to email me, please do, I'd love to hear from you.


    3. Thanks very much Jack. I am pretty lazy about making new terrain, carving out custom hills was a last resort hahaha! I am going to use your suggestion for this next battle I am working on, which I have thought about doing for years but have always put off because the terrain is such a total pig. Your suggestion...unlocks some possibilities.

    4. You lazy? I don't think anyone agrees with that! I'm still wishing I had your wherewithal in order to make such a handsome mat! In terms of my suggestion(s), you can count on me for quick and easy! Though not necessarily aesthetically pleasing ;)


    5. You are (far) too kind. Bespoke terrain is normally just too much effort to be really worth it! But it has really helped for one of the upcoming battles, which I have been struggling over how to approach for ages.

  4. I like your observation about the importance of attrition.

    Quickest and easiest way for a more Italian look would be to add more vegetation, wouldn't it? (Vineyards, orchards, gardens, small enclosed fields etc.) Though your layout looks very nice as it is - the figure bases, the terrain features and the cloth all in harmony. (Maybe not the tarmac roads!)


    Bloody Big BATTLES!

    1. Thanks a lot Chris, I appreciate that very much, those are good ideas.

  5. Thanks for this inspiring report. Are you certain about austrian cavalry force ? Wikipedia Sacile post says the austrian cavalry was twice that of bonapartists.Kind regards

    1. Thanks John, I appreciate it. Not sure on the Austrian cavalry, you could well be correct - as usual for these types of games, I just used the scenario as written. A 'quick' check of Wiki has the French at c.3100 Horse, the Austrians at a maximum of 4600, so perhaps one of the French Light Cavalry elements should be deleted.