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.

Monday, 28 September 2020

The Battle of Brienne 1814 (II) - A Polemos Ruse de Guerre Refight

 The Battle of Brienne (II):
I won't repeat the basic details of the set-up since I covered that in the previous post, the Polemos General de Division refight write-up here.  This time however, I was using the Polemos: Ruse de Guerre rules instead.

I had to modify the scenario from the one I had been sent a little bit, to account for my smaller table.  This basically was to reduce the number of bases and assume an approximate infantry strength of 700 for each infantry base, compared to maybe 450-500 in the original scenario.  This led to the following order of battle:

Imperial French:
C-in-C: Napoleon
Cavalry Reserve: (Grouchy)
V Corps (Mihaud): 7 bases Trained Cavalry, 1 base 6lb Trained Horse Artillery
3rd Guard Cavalry Division (Desnouettes): 4 bases Well-Trained Cavalry, 2 bases Well-Trained 6lb Horse Artillery
Imperial Guard Reserve: (Ney)
1st Division (Meunier): 6 bases Trained Infantry
2nd Division (Decouz): 4 bases Trained Infantry, 1 base Well-Trained 6lb Foot Artillery
II Corps: (Victor)
1st Division (Duhesme): 1 base Trained Light Infantry, 3 bases Trained Infantry, 2 bases Trained 6lb Foot Artillery
2nd Division (Dufour): 2 bases Trained Light Infantry, 4 bases Trained Infantry
3rd Division (Ricard): 4 bases Trained Infantry
4th Division (Gerard): 5 bases Poor Infantry, 2 bases Trained Cavalry
The scenario as written makes all the Imperial Guard infantry and all the light infantry well-trained, and the cavalry attached to Gerard's division well-trained too.  I felt that this was too generous to the average member of the Young Guard and Light Infantry regiments of 1814 but anyone trying this scenario might feel the same as the scenario author and bump up the French a little!
Allies (i.e. Imperial Russia!):
C-in-C: Blucher
Advanced Guard: (Pahlen)
5 bases Trained Cavalry,  3 bases Trained Light Infantry, 1 base Trained 6lb Foot Artillery
Cavalry Corps: (Vassilchikov)
5 bases Trained Cavalry, 4 bases Poor Cavalry, 1 base Trained 6lb Horse Artillery
IX Corps: (Olsufiev)
9th Division (Udom): 1 base Trained Light Infantry, 3 bases Trained Infantry, 1 base Trained 12lb Foot Artillery
15th Division (Karnielov):  1 base Trained Light Infantry, 3 bases Trained Infantry, 1 base Trained 6lb Foot Artillery
Vi Corps: (Scherbatov)
7th Division (Tallisin): 1 base Trained Light Infantry, 3 bases Trained Infantry, 1 base Trained 12lb Foot Artillery
18th Division (Bernodossov):  1 base Trained Light Infantry, 3 bases Trained Infantry, 1 base Trained 6lb Foot Artillery

I made fewer changes to this order of battle, except to reduce the Russian cavalry to 'Trained' instead of 'Well-Trained): the scenario had all of Pahlen's cavalry and 3 bases of Vassilchikov's as the better class.
The Set-Up:

Brienne (centre) garrisoned by Olsufiev's infantry, as is the chateau to the left.

The advancing French: Napoleon ahead of his Guard cavalry (right), whilst Victor leads on elements of II Corps.

The French Left: Milhaud's Cavalry Corps

Olsufiev's reserves behind Brienne

The entire battlefield from above and behind the French position, with the French (bottom) approaching Brienne (centre) and the chateau (centre-right), guarded by Olsufiev's Coprs

Pahlen's Advance Guard followed by Vassilchikov's Cavalry Corps

Scherbatov's Corps

The Battle:

The battle underway: Dufour's division of Victor's Corps begins to move to outflank the Russian Left (top-left); Duhesme's division (bottom-right) moves past St Leger towards Brienne

A wider shot; Napoleon gets the Guard Horse Artillery to start pounding the defenders of Brienne (centre)

The Russian reserves start moving up in support

Artillery fire is exchanged, as well as musketry from and into the town of Brienne

Pahlen's Advance Guard and Milhaud's Cavalry Corps face each other on the plain outside Brienne: Pahlen has moved his infantry to the front, telegraphing his defensive mindset.

Russian artillery fire has caused heavy casualties amongst Duhesme's advancing infantry and temporarily halted his attack.

Losses mount up on Duhesme, but concentrated French artillery and musketry fire has eliminated the defenders at the outskirts of Brienne (centre-right)

Olsufiev reshuffles his troops to maintain the defence

A wider shot, showing the progress of Dufour's flanking movement (top-left)

The French renew their attack on the outskirts of Brienne

Russian artillery fire causes havoc amongst the French cavalry (centre)

Duhesme renews his assault on the defences between chateau and town (centre), but suffers heavy casualties in the assault

Grouchy reinforces his line with Guard Lancers

Scherbatov's troops move to strengthen the left flank against Dufour's flanking movement

French fire yet again clears the outskirts of Brienne (centre)

The Russian artillery continues to cut swathes through the French horsemen...

French troops approach Brienne but are reluctant to advance into and lose that artillery support advantage

Tallisin's Division of Scherbatov's Corps tries to stop Dufour's advance

Pahlen advances to put more pressure onto the French cavalry

Attack and counter-attack between Dufour's troops and Tallisin's.

Further French attacks made on the chateau and the environs of Brienne - the Russians take casualties but hold firm

After both sides have suffered heavy casualties, neither side shows much inclination to renew the struggle in Brienne.

Fairly ineffective Russian musketry and fairly deadly Russian artillery has persuaded Grouchy that he much charge home!

The French horsemen push back the Russian centre, who are shaken but hold on; the Russians on the flanks have done rather better and driven back the French attack

French fortitude cannot best Russian firepower, and more of their units break

However, the French light infantry have made short work of Tallisin's lead battalion - Tallisin regroups his men to try and form a defensive line (centre)

But more Russian musketeers join in the rout!!!

Tschningev's Uhlans (right) have eliminiated the Dragoons opposing them, who run for the rear (top)

Another attack between Brienne and Le Chateau fails, with heavy casualties, although French counter-battery fire is causing some casualties amongst the Russian gunners

Tallisin's gunners help restore his situation by causing huge casualties amongst Dufour's rear brigade (note gap in French line, left)

Duhesme's hard-pressed infantry finally break, leaving the Russians still in possession of the chateau and its grounds

The clash between Grouchy and Pahlen is renewed - the Imperial Guard lancers are thrown back, unable to cope with the accurate musketry of the Russian Jaegers (centre-left)

Pahlen's centre buckles, but does not break; however, the French Horsr Artillery gunners have poured shot into the Russian lancers (right) who break in dismay

They are quickly joined by the remainder of the Uhlan brigade

Somehow the Russian Jaegers fight on, unbroken!  Russian firepower has dealt hard with the Imperial Guard cavalry on the right of the French attack (note gap in centre of picture)

Dufour's flank attack has developed: Tallisin has had to reform his line at right-angles to the chateau, but the musketry exchange has seen casualtes on both sides...

...the French troops break first!

The lead elements of Milhaud's cavalry have been routed by converging Russian fire

Gerard's infantry (centre) tried to renew the attack but although they threw the Russian infantry back with the bayonet (bottom) they have taken huge losses from the Russian guns (bottom-right)

Tallisin's infantry have seen off Dufour's flak attack (top-left)

With attacks on both the flanks failing after promising starts, Ney's Young Guardsmen renew the struggle for Brienne itself.

The remainder of Gerard's leading brigade (centre) have been routed by Russian counter-attacks; Ney's guardsmen are supporting here too, but French morale is looking decidely shaky...

A wider shot: the Russians are still holding Brienne and it looks like their flanks have held

French morale collapses, before Ney's attack can really develop.

Game Notes: A very enjoyable and interesting game, which made up for the slightly one-sided game with General de Division.  The French were a bit unlucky, especially in their army morale collapsing relatively early through a series of high army morale loss rolls (every time a 'force' - i.e. brigade in this size of battle collapses, a d10 is rolled for how much army morale is lost).  The French could reasonably have expected to collapse after losing 7-8 forces, but collapsed instead at after 5 or 6.  Losses had been relatively easily until the last third of the game, in which French luck seemed to desert them: they could reasonably have expected to do more damage to Pahlen, whereas Dufour's troops were incredibly unlucky after getting into a good position against the Russian left.  C'est la guerre!  Probably my changes to troop quality made a difference here too: the additional bonuses for more of the French being well-trained might have changed the course of the battle just enough for them to crack the Brienne position.  I think I made some specific mistakes for the French too: getting too drawn into lethal attacks before Ney's arrival (although the temptation to attack straight in before Blucher can get all his troops into position is strong!) and dividing the effort of Gerard's Division between supporting the attack on Brienne and supporting Grouchy.
How did the rules compare when dealing with this battle?  Now I have played over a dozen games of Ruse de Guerre (although I still do make the odd mistake) I feel in a reasonable position to offer an opinion.

Command & Control & Organization
The tempo bidding mechanic is pretty similar: each side has a number of points, some of which it bids to 'gain the tempo', and the remainder allows formations to do stuff.  Gaining the tempo allows first move, and more efficient movement (the player with the tempo uses less points to move and attack and so on).  Both rules, also have a 'stealing' mechanic, where the player without the tempo can jump in to do something straight away, but paying lots of points to do so.  In essence, GdD uses the division and independent brigade as the conduits for tempo points (i.e. the tempo points are given to those formations to do stuff), whereas RdG uses the brigade/regiment/battalion, depending on the scenario, as the basic processor of tempo points.  In RdG these formation and unit commanders also have their own tempo points, so most formations can always do 'something' each turn.  Additionally in RdG, the players roll for whether the turn will be a high tempo turn (where points are plentiful) or a low tempo turn (the opposite).
As an experience then, the mechanics in this area are somewhat similar, but RdG has three additional levels of complexity (some of which are taken from GdD's sister set, Marechal de l'Empire which was designed for Army games).  It has more 'dials' for players and the scenario writer to manipulate at a cost in time and complexity.  RdG is a game for players who really like the tempo mechanic, and/or would like to really differentiate between relatively lowly commanders, and/or who like PIP-games but hate the 'roll a 1, do absolutely nothing' risk inherent in some such games.  GdD is a compromise between this and the stark simplicity of DBx. 
RdG armies are organized in a similar fashion to GdD armies, although simplified.  All cavalry is just 'cavalry'. Infantry is either light or it isn't.  You might think this takes the flavour away but in practice I didn't find it so.  Troop quality is much less dominant overall than in GdD.  On the other hand, it is possible that rating brigade/unit commanders may lead to halo effects by over-rating their commanders.
The combat mechanics might superficially seem similar but they are really pretty different.  Fire combat is generally much more effective in RdG, partly in how the combat results are calibrated, partly in that every unit fires for itself rather than gives additional supporting factors to another unit.  Units are also a step weaker (i.e. units are broken on the second shaken level in RdG rather than the third in GdD, in which no unit can lose more than two in a single round unless a direct rout result is achieved).  Ranges are slightly longer too.  Combat is d10 based rather than d6 based, so modifiers which look nearly the same (e.g. -2 for long range) are 50% less important.  All of this makes attrition a viable strategy in a way which is simply impossible in GdD.  Overall, I think I prefer the RdG mechanics, as GdD is a bit too padded sumo except in close combat, with two caveats: firstly, musketry ranges are shorter than the move of an advancing infantry unit, so it is perfectly possible to assault an unshaken infantry unit in a defensive position and not face any defensive fire on the way in - GdD avoids this, although its own mechanic has some problems too.  Secondly, I am not sure of the relatively high chance that infantry will recoil but not break from cavalry attack - I preferred GdD's more all-or-nothing approach here.  The odds for survival for generals participating in combat in RdG seem quite low, much lower than in GdD, where participation is the proverbial 'no-brainer'.

This is all win for RdG - the movement mechanics are simpler and cause less confusion.  It is surprising but clear when you see in contrast, that pursuit and follow-up moves etc. can be quite hard to manage since they dynamically create very unpredictable and multiple-interacting new situations.  RdG just has retreats and breaks, basically.  The disadvantage of this is that it means that the Scots Greys at Waterloo have to charge the Grand Battery not as a reaction, but as a choice.  On the other hand, reserves become incredibly useful to follow up success and more importantly, mitigate local defeats.  Even the basic movement factors and penalties for woods and hills and so on work better.

RdG introduces a rally roll rather than the entirely deterministic tempo point spend / General's presence to rally in GdD.  This is more fun, especially since the roll a '1', automatic rout, gives some useful unpredictability to the process.  The formation and army morale mechanics are basically the same although RdG tries to smooth some of the edges away by making small formation immune to morale and making the morale ranges slightly less swingy.  I am not altogether a fan of this, because it arbitrarily makes small formations much more resilient per unit than big ones.  In general though, I really like the morale rules in both games since they do give that element of unpredictability.

Table was 5'x3', figures by Baccus 6mm, most of the buildings were by Leven.