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 18 September 2020

The Battle of Brienne 1814 - A Polemos General de Division Refight

 The Battle of Brienne

As I am an honorary member of the Napoleonic Miniatures Wargames Society of Toronto, Glenn Pearce sends me scenarios from time-to-time to have a go at more-or-less simultaneously with their own game.  As they put on quite big multi-player games and I put on small-board solo games it does make for an interesting contrast.  Typically I would use the same rules as they use - the Polemos Ruse de Guerre rules - but on this occasion, for reasons I will come to at the end, I used the rules that are in some senses their direct ancestor, the Polemos General de Division set.


The actual 1814 campaign is fascinating and the Brienne and La Rothiere battles particularly so. In essence, Napoleon was trying to defeat Blucher and drive his troops into the Aube before they could be succourred: a difficult task, since Napoleon's forces were not substantially larger than Blucher's.

The Forces:

 Imperial French:

C-in-C: Napoleon (Decisive)
Cavalry Commander: Grouchy (Decisive)
Milhaud's (Decisive) Division: 5 bases Trained Dragoons, 2 bases Trained Light Cavalry, 1 base Trained 6lb Horse Arty

Desnouettes' (Decisive) Division: 2 bases Veteran/Elite Heavy Cavalry, 2 bases Trained/Elite Lancers, 2 bases Veteran/Elite 6lb Horse Arty

Imperial Guard Reserve Corps: Ney (Decisive)
1st Division: 6 bases Trained/Elite Infantry SK1
2nd Division: 4 bases Trained/Elite Infantry SK1
Artillery: 1 base Trained/Elite 6lb Foot Arty
II Corps: Victor (Decisive)
Duhesme's Division: 3 bases Trained Infantry SK1, 1 base Trained Infantry SK2, 2 bases Trained 6lb Foot Arty
Dufour's Division: 3 bases Trained Infantry SK1, 2 bases Trained Infantry SK2
Ricard's Division: 4 bases Trained Infantry SK1
Gerard's (Capable) Division: 
1st Brigade: 3 bases Raw Infantry SK1
2nd Brigade: 2 bases Raw Infantry SK1
Cavalry Brigade: 2 bases Trained Light Cavalry

C-in-C: Blucher (Capable)
Advance Guard: Pahlen (Decisive)
Rudinger's Brigade: 3 bases Trained Light Cavalry
Tschningev's Brigade: 2 bases Trained Lancers
Heinrich's Brigade: 3 bases Trained Infantry SK2, 1 base 6lb Trained Foot Arty
Cavalry Corps: Vassilchikov (Capable)
Landskoi's Brigade: 3 bases Trained Light Cavalry
Pantchalidzev's Brigade: 2 bases Trained Dragoons
Karpov's Brigade: 2 bases Raw Irregular Cavalry
Lukovsin's Brigade: 2 bases Raw Irregular Cavalry
Artillery: 1 bases 6lb Trained Horse Arty
IX Corps: Olsufiev (Capable)

Udom's Division: 3 bases Trained Infantry SK1, 1 base Trained Infantry SK2, 1 base Trained 12lb Foot Arty
Karnielov's Division: 3 bases Trained Infantry SK1, 1 base Trained Infantry SK2, 1 base Trained 6lb Foot Arty
VI Corps: Scherbatov (Capable)
Tallisin's Division: 3 bases Trained Infantry SK1, 1 base Trained Infantry SK2, 1 base Trained 12lb Foot Arty
Bernodossov's Division: 3 bases Trained Infantry SK1, 1 base Trained Infantry SK2, 1 base Trained 6lb Foot Arty
Scenario Notes:  
The action starts at 1500.  Each turn is 20 minutes.  Night falls at 1700, at which point maximum move, firing distance and no penalty command radius all becomes 2BW only.  Ney's troops arrive from 1700.  Victor's troops apart from Duhesme start just off-board but can be brought onto the board using moves as normal from the beginning of the game.  Blucher starts in the chateau and cannot leave until it is attacked by the French.  The roads were too muddy to provide any benefits to movement.

At this point, some units and formations were very small, so in some cases divisions are treated as brigades and corps are treated as divisions.  If I have emboldened the name of the formation above, then it is basically treated as a division, regardless of its name.  Grouchy does not command anything directly, but can act as a 'link' for Napoleon (i.e. effectively doubling his command radius) and can still rally and lead troops in combat etc.

 The Set-Up:

The battlefield of Brienne: Allied troops (i.e. Russians!)  have Olsufiev's Corps around the town (centre) and chateau (centre-left); Napoleon's Cavalry and Victor's infantry approach from the top.

Reversed, so Brienne and the Chateau are in the foreground.

And a closer look at the same

The French Cavalry

And Duhesme's Division and Victor's artillery

The Battle:

Seeing the gap between Brienne and its chateau as key to the battle, Blucher hurries up more Russian infantry in support

Meanwhile Victor is putting his troops in order ready to attack the Chateau and the gap between it and the town - his infantry threatens Brienne itself but declines to attack

Pahlen advances slowly, leading with his infantry, daring the French cavalry to charge it

Victor's assault goes into the Russian defences

But the Russians stand firm, losing only a few casualties to French skirmish fire, whilst the French infantry have taken severe casualties and retreated

Olsufiev and the leading elements of Scherbatov's infantry launch a counter-attack against the disordered French

Another shot

The weakened and disordered French take more casualties, but just manage to retain some form of cohesion despite being forced further back

However the Russians have the initiative now and are not going to let it go: another assault is launched

And this time it is all over very quickly - the central French units break, their guns are overrun, and the flanking infantry retires in its turn after the defeat of its main attack

There was some minor additional action as night fell but nothing of any great importance happened, so I didn't bother to record it.  Essentially Grouchy demonstrated against Pahlen but didn't attack; Ney arrived and demonstrated against Olsufiev who retired to his starting positions, but both sides declined to attack.

Game Notes: Quite short and sweet this one, since Blucher (or more properly, Olsufiev and Scherbatov) could do - or at least roll - no wrong and Victor's attack entirely miscarried...this left Napoleon too weak to attack again with much hope of success, but every chance of being utterly destroyed.  Since this is a 'one-off' game I maybe should have tried but I don't typically play it like that, it somehow feels a bit game-y and destroys the immersion - I probably should re-think this! 

Anyway, this was also partly the reason I wanted to give this a try with Polemos General de Division first: I suspected that it might struggle to replicate the real battle...and it did a bit: this is because attritional offenisve strategies can rarely work in Polemos GdD - fire is just too indecisive and really struggles against defenders in buildings, but close assault is risky and difficult too.  I suspect it will be a bit easier for the French in Polemos Ruse de Guerre to get a decent assault going.

In comparing the two rulesets, there is only one thing which is perhaps more tricky in RdG than GdD, especially for the solo player: it has many more 'dials' for influencing the initiative (i.e. tempo).  Individual brigadiers are rated for competence, as are divisional commanders and corps commanders in this type of battle.  There is also an extra stage in the tempo process.  As a solo player, that can be quite a lot of extra stuff to record and remember although for the multi-player games that some of these scenarios are designed for, it isn't a problem at all.  Anyway, I am looking forward to giving this a try with RdG soon.

More importantly than any of that though it was just good to get a game back on the table.  I have sorted out my stuff and hopefully this will enable a few more games to be played, although I will have to approach things in a different way: I will struggle to leave things set up the way I have in the past, so I will have to be more disciplined and prepare games like I was going to a club - set-up, play, take down and put away.

Figures by Baccus 6mm, buildings mainly by Leven in this one.

And just to round off, here is a picture of the Toronto club's game:


  1. The engagement looks good on your table. It’s funny how rule set differences can make Differing emphasis on such things as buildings. I find that in Black Powder as written, buildings are too strong and that the defensive modifier needs dampening down.

    1. Thanks Norm. How rulesets treat things like buildings really have a big influence on how the game plays out and are one of the good tests of the the historicity of any given set.

  2. A nice looking game and as Norm has said, small differences in rules can have a big impact on a game. The Toronto club games looks good too.