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, 27 March 2020

Polemos Ruse de Guerre AAR - (not) Battle of Buena Vista

Battle of Buena Vista:

Since I couldn't refight Montmirail with Polemos Ruse de Guerre for logistical reasons (i.e. couldn't get it to fit on my table) I thought I would have a go at something else that would work.

 It is a bit of a departure for me but back in Miniature Wargames 7 there was an article about the Battle of Buena Vista which has been vaguely on my "to-do" list for a few years. 

There were however quite a few problems to overcome:  the article is mainly potted history, with only a few bits about actual gaming (although unlike in some of the author's articles, I believe he may have actually played this one); the map isn't quite useless, but it is not brilliant for setting up terrain or understanding the action.  The orders of battle are cursory (excepting the artillery), especially on the Mexican side, although a few more details can be sifted from the text. 

Finding proxies for the figures was relatively simple.  My 1812 United States army would do nicely for the Americans, whilst the Mexicans were represented by my Napoleonic Spanish (I guess in this alternative history Mexico must still be a Spanish colony at this date (!)...).  True, the Mexican Army in the 1840s had lancers, but since Polemos Ruse de Guerre doesn't worry about this sort of thing, it spared me from worrying about it either.  Rating the armies was a bit more difficult.  Typical at the time of writing, the author declares "everyone is 'C' class" without saying what that means, or even which rules he is referring to.  Anyway, my modified order of battle was as follows:

The United States Army:

C-in-C: General Taylor (Decisive)

1st Brigade: Brigadier (Capable)
3 bases of Poor Infantry
1 base of Well-trained 6lb Artillery
1 base of Trained Cavalry

2nd Brigade: Brigadier (Capable)
3 bases of Poor Infantry
1 base of Trained Infantry (Skirmishers, Rifles)
1 base of Well-trained 6lb Artillery

3rd Brigade: Brigadier (Capable)
2 bases of Poor Cavalry

The Mexican Army:

C-in-C: Santa Anna (Capable)
2 bases of Trained Cavalry

1st Division: Gen Blanco (Capable)
6 bases of Poor Infantry
1 base of Trained 12lb Artillery

2nd Division: Gen Pacheco (Capable)
6 bases of Poor Infantry
1 base of Trained 12lb Artillery

3rd Division: Gen Lombardini (Capable)
6 bases of Poor Infantry
1 base of Trained 8lb Artillery 

4th Brigade: Col Ampudis (Capable)
3 bases of Poor Infantry

1st Cavalry Brigade: Col Terrajon (Capable)
3 bases Trained Cavalry

2nd Cavalry Brigade: Col Juvora (Capable)
3 bases Trained Cavalry

All the internal organization is made up by me (the Mexican formation structure is historical, but not necessarily the contents) and any reasonable alternative could be used.  If a very gentle game was desired, then all of the Mexican commanders could be made plodding, and all of the American commanders could be removed (there is no evidence I know of that Taylor had any subordinate officers between himself and the battalion commanders, although the number of troops involved would have justified it).

The Mexicans have been slightly short-changed in terms of troops, although I don't think Santa Anna actually engaged all his forces before stopping his attack.  If desired, add the following:
6 bases of Poor Infantry
2 bases of Trained Cavalry
The terrain was the hardest part of all.  The terrain at Buena Vista was difficult, full of ravines and gullies and such like, some of which were very steep.  The mountains at the edge loom.  I tried various configurations with my desert mat, but the mat just could not cope very well, even with the much simplified relief I ended up using.  So I decided to just play it on the green mat since that went better with my stand-alone hills. 

The slopes are all counted as steep.  The tops of the hills are counted as rough.  The little piles of stones are just for atmosphere, but the strips of stones indicate lines which infantry must spend an entire turn to cross, but are entirely impassable to artillery and cavalry.  If so desired the US player can move artillery and cavalry over the strips at the northern (top) edge of the board only.

The objective for Santa Anna is to either defeat the US Army or to march an entire infantry division off the road at the North edge of the board.  Taylor wins by preventing this.

The Set-Up:
The Mexicans are approaching from the south (bottom), the US army is defending a line roughly North-West to South-East (top-left to bottom right)
The Mexican 1st Division (centre-left) and 2nd Division (centre-right), supported by the Mexican cavalry
The Mexican 3rd Division (bottom-left) and 4th Brigade (bottom) face the edge of the US line; a battalion of riflemen (right), supported by the cavalry brigade (on the flat) and infantry (on the hill, top)
The US cavalry and most of the US 2nd Brigade
The remainder of the US position, with the 1st Brigade covering the road, and its flank protected by the artillery of the 2nd Brigade (right)
The main position of the US 2nd Brigade
 The Battle: 
Santa Anna advances the 1st Division forward towards the US defensive position, supported by most of the Mexican cavalry

The rest of the Mexican Army lumbers forward, hoping to punch a hole through the weaker US left flank
In an early statement of intent, the US artillery routs the leading Mexican battalion in short order, which shakes up the rest of the left-hand column!
The 4th Brigade tries to comes to grips with the Mississippi riflemen, but they incur heavy casualties...
So the riflemen boldly charge the discomfited Mexican infantry!
Always good bayonet men*, the Mexicans push the American riflemen back where they came from
The American artillery continues to prove absolutely devastating, causing a further battalion on the Mexican Left (left) to rout!  The American artillery also causes serious casualties to the right-hand deployed battalion too (centre-right)

An ineffectual skirmish continues on the Mexican right between the Mexicans and Americans
The Mexican brigadier spends all his time keeping his lead battalion in the firefight...
So the Mississippi riflemen charge again!

The US Dragoons spot their moment too, and charge the wavering Mexican battalion on the other flank...

The Mexican 4th Brigade is in trouble, with its lead battalion routed and its remaining units wavering...

Meanwhile on the other flank, the Mexican infantry do not break in the face of the American cavalry, but do pull back in some disorder.

Santa Anna restores order in his wavering battalion, whilst the American cavalry retires (top-right), but that American artillery continues its devastating peformance, routing another battalion! (bottom), which discourages the cavalry in front of it.

At last, some Mexican revenge!  The central American battalion is routed by Santa Anna's 12lb guns...

Meanwhile, Santa Anna unleashes a cavalry brigade which he had switched wings

...and they charge home

But the American cavalry hold on and gain the ascendancy over their Mexican opponents; the Mexican colonel is about to be wounded and captured

A wider view of the attack on the Mexican right, where Santa Anna obviously wants to turn the main American position and then assault it from the flank and front simultaneously

The Mexican 1st Division on the left has been absolutely ravaged by the American artillery; the independent cavalry brigade has suffered casualties too (bottom-left); the 2nd Division is acting in very dilatory fashion (right)

The Mexican artillery is destoyed by counter-battery fire from the US battery on the hill (top-left)

Fierce fighting continues on the Mexican right; the Mexican infantry manages to inflict heavy casualties on the American riflemen

The Mexican cavalry fight back!  The US cavalry recoils back

The loss of their artillery has finally finished off the Mexican 1st Division, which starts running for the rear

The cavalry engagement resumes before either side has really reformed - General Lombardini rushes up some of his infantry in support

And it works!  One of the American cavalry regiments flees to the rear (top-right)

A closer look

However, the American artillery simply will not stop its execution on the Mexican left! Some cavalry squadrons are sent scurrying to the rear

...and they are quickly joined by some of the 2nd Division's infantry!

At last the Mexicans are in a position to administer the same poison to the Americans, who begin to fall in large numbers to the Mexican guns

Why wait? Gen Pacheco seizes the moment and throws in his infantry!

The Mexican 4th Brigade is still trying to clear away the American riflemen, whilst the remaining American cavalry puts in a charge against the disordered Mexican cavalry (top-left)...

Which achieves outstanding success! The entire Mexican cavalry brigade is routed and flees to the rear...

A disaster only partly mitigated by the 4th Brigade finally finishing off the Mississippi riflemen (right)

A wider view as the battle comes to the crux - the American line is battered but still holding,  but the Mexicans have suffered dreadful losses and surely cannot continue this for much longer...
An even wider view - note that the American artillery has pretty much destroyed the opposition on the Mexican Left

...but it isn't stopping - more Mexican cavalry run from the American artillery

However, the battle intensifies - Mexican artillery and musketry routs an American infantry unit (right)

The successful gunners look on (bottom)

Not waiting to be charged, the Mexican infantry charge themselves

Gen Lombardini tries to push back the remaining American cavalry with a judicious mixture of gunpowder and bayonet...

But the American cavalry resists well with carbine and sabre, and the Mexican infantry retire!

The mad Mexican charge up the hill achieves unexpected succss and throws back the American infantry!!! Can they break the position after all?!?

However, the Mexican cavalry has been absolutely decimated in the course of this battle

Lombardini's infantry have learnt their lesson and instead rely on musketry against the American troopers - with good effect, as saddle after saddle is emptied

The US infantry launches another bayonet charge to try and sweep away the Mexican 2nd Divison, which is stuck in a weak position, with its leading units having suffered heavily from American musketry...
And yet again, Mexican courage and bayonet work has defied the odds and pushed the Americans back! Can this be the moment?
Just at the moment however, the Mexican cavalry decides en masse that it can take no more of the devastation of the US artillery

And they ride for the rear, pell-mell

And this triggers the flight of the entire Mexican Army!!

Just at the point of victory, Santa Anna's men become demoralized and run back

Position at the end of the battle
Game Notes: I was really pleased with how that went.  It was close enough to the historical outcome to make me feel that the scenario was not too far off, but the details of the game gave it its own special flavour.  The American artillery really was absolutely devastating, although the Mexicans did (sort of) achieve their aim in pinning the Americans in their existing position long enough to mount a genuinely threatening assault against the American Left.  The Mexican infantry performed pretty heroically in many of the encounters, and almost pulled off a very unlikely victory.
Gamers not familiar with Polemos might wonder why there were many pauses in the action: quite simply, the Mexican command effort was required too much on the Left and Right early on and there was just no spare effort to get the 2nd and 3rd Divisions on early.  Conversely, when their attacks got going, there was no spare command effort available to Santa Anna to get the 1st Division and their supporting cavalry out of their predicament.  This didn't just affect the Mexicans: there were moments when a bayonet charge by the US 2nd Brigade or by the cavalry might have had great results, but all General Taylor's efforts had to be expended in rallying wavering troops or organizing the one key attack.  Which I think the games designer would think is as it should be...
I had a couple of minor queries about the rules in this game.  The game has the concept of "elan", which is basically "freshness".  This is lost when troops fight.  The rules as written don't make it clear however whether troops who do not fight but become shaken from artillery or musketry fire retain their elan or not?  The description seems to indicate they should not, but I don't think the rules explicitly say so.  I also don't think that the rules on initiating close combat when bases are in corner-to-corner contact are quite clear.  They are:
If the attacker only contacts with a corner of his base then at least half of the defender's base would have been contacted if the attacker had wheeled towards him from the point of contact.
I have been trying, but can't quite get this arranged properly in my head.  I think it means that if the attacker could have got into position to contact half or more of the defender's base if the wheel continued, then the base can enter into close combat; if not, not.
So all-in-all, a very enjoyable game of Polemos Ruse de Guerre.  I don't have much to add to my previous comments about this ruleset: they really rattle along because most of the marginal stuff has been ruthlessly eliminated.

Figures are Baccus 6mm Napoleonics, and the rules were Polemos Ruse de Guerre.


  1. Very enjoyable thanks. I don't know much about this battle, but your birds eye view of the table in 6mm helped everything come together - the pile of stones is a great idea and I can see that being useful in some ACW games.

    1. Many thanks Norm. I am hoping to create some more similar terrain items to add both character and functionality to some of the set ups. Almost like small items of terrain as terrain markers...

  2. A great AAR and nice to see a lesser known campaign gamed. The Mexicans came close and I thought they might do it, but 'twas not to be. I think your reading of the edge contact cum flank attack is right for what it's worth.

    1. Thanks Steve, appreciated. It did get very tense towards the end, when one good go could have sealed it for either side.

  3. That was really well done. Very enjoyable.