Monday, 25 May 2015

Wargaming Waterloo 1815 : 2015 (7) Waterloo 200 Set-up (Part 2)

A quick post about progress with our table/terrain for our Waterloo 200 game, scheduled to commence at the end of next month.

Mark and I had another good day of preparation on the weekend. We moved the table to make the ’T’ (described previously) and cut, sanded, painted and flocked the remainder of ridge-sections that are needed for our simplified terrain. They were still wet in the early arvo', so we decided to call it a day, let them dry properly and then do the rest of the terrain when we all catch up in a couple of weeks.


Our table for Waterloo, very much a 'work in progress'.

Each foam board is 1 200 mm long. The square ones are 1 200 mm wide, while the rectangular ones are 800 mm wide. The sections of the ridges are 'plonked' down so that they will dry. Some buildings, woods and orchard representing Hougoumont are more or less in the correct position as is the building representing La Haie Sainte further over and those representing Plancenoit at the right-rear.

Next steps: clean the bits of foam off from the boards, lay out the ridges, roads and buildings and then put some troops on the table--yippee!

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Rules Play-test: Et Sans Résultat

We are not looking for another set of rules for Napoleonic Wargaming, so, when asked by the author of these rules if we’d be prepared to do a play-test and review of them, we thought long and hard before agreeing.

Cover of Et Sans Résultat. They are an attractive looking set of rules.

Reviewing and play-testing several sets of rules has lead us to settle on our adaptation of Shako, which we somewhat quaintly refer to as Shako-ANF. This has freed us to focus on the games, tactics and enjoyment, rather than struggling with rules concepts. It was clear to us that Et Sans Résultat was not going to challenge this mantle.

Being divisional/brigade scale, they are at a level of operation above where we like to wargame. As we have the ability to play a game out in a ‘leisurely’ manner, leaving it set up if necessary, we like to have more detail than such a set allows, e.g. basic unit formations, separate small arms fire and actual representation of skirmishers. All that said, we decided to give them a go!

The reason was that a read of the rules suggested these were not yet another “new” set that is merely a tweak of existing ideas and mechanisms masquerading as something new, but rather a genuine attempt to contribute to the long list of rules for Napoleonic wargaming with a novel combination of scale and mechanics. It is apparent from the rules that the author, David Ensteness, has taken some of his inspiration from the better aspects of Empire, but has made a new, innovative set of rules that appeared to be eminently more playable.

As we had it setup, and it seemed to suit, we decided to use Quatre Bras as our play-test of Et Sans Résultat. The difference in the density of figures on the table reinforced that these were never gonna be for us, whatever the outcome of the play-test.
(Click here to see the same photo from part one of our game shown as a comparison)
Please note: The default ground scale in Et Sans Résultat is 1” to 75 yards, or ~1 mm to 3 yards. We use a ground scale of 1 mm to 1–2 yards (adjusted according to the battle that we are trying to recreate). For our game of Quatre Bras we used 1 mm to 1.5 yards. We did not adjust our terrain for this game, so the figures in the photos are more sparsely distributed than they should be according to the rules.

The rules are well laid out and easy to read. Sections are colour-coded and ‘call-outs’ dotted throughout explain the rationale behind key concepts. This apparent clarity, combined with some interesting looking mechanics suggested that, while we were not going to adopt them, it would be an interesting and enjoyable game.

Unfortunately we were greatly disappointed.

Prior to the game I expected that we’d play a couple of turns to give the rules a go and then work on our preparation for our Waterloo 200 game or, if we were enjoying it sufficiently, we’d play out the game in full. In the end we played two turns that were, frankly, hard work and had no time for Waterloo.

The introduction to Et Sans Résultat states that it is:
“…designed to play out large battles and replicate particular facets of Napoleonic warfare… [showing] …the grand display of armies on large tables while focusing on the friction points of the Napoleonic Age: the timing of commitment and coordination of command. Players will act as senior commanders and direct the actions of large formations of troops”.
We expected a fairly free-flowing game, while in no way ‘fast-play’, in which battalions were represented, but divisions were the minimum level of commitment by commanders and around which action and victory/defeat would be determined.

These elements are definitely in the rules, but the combination of an overly onerous command phase, too many tests and too many unnecessary factors in tables lead to a stop-start system in which the numerous good points are lost in irrelevant detail.

The turn sequence of Et Sans Résultat seems logical, simple and sensible. In the command phase, players send orders, commit leaders to lead formations and rally troops. This is followed by movement of troops according to their orders, skirmish combat, artillery fire, combat resolution and the morale of divisions (termed ‘combat assessment’). Finally there is checking the fate of leaders. However, it became immediately evident that the reality did to match the positive impression.

A long list of command actions as the first phase of each turn meant that a significant amount of time had elapsed before we touched a figure. This was over one hour for us as novices to the rules in our first game, particularly since the rules’ anomalies generated much discussion, checking and re-checking, while making notes for this review. We’d expect this time to be reduced to around 10-20 minutes per turn once one is au fait with the rules. Nevertheless this is a significant amount of time to spend on sorting out various command aspects rather than moving the figures, which I think is what most wargamers enjoy doing more!

The explanation of the command phase does not clearly specify how it should be done. There is a list of leader actions that may be undertaken, “until one fails”. Makes sense. What is not clear is, does the order of the list indicate the order in which these command actions must be attempted? Given that it commences with 'issue orders', I assumed that it was hierarchical, but the statement in the rules that “Players should consider the order in which they attempt Leader Action Tests as a failed Leader Action prevents further attempts until the following turn” seems to indicate that they are not. It is not entirely clear.

A greater problem is the mechanism of issuing orders. In a throw back to Empire, players dice to see if an order is transmitted, with failure being either outright or a delay in delivery. That’s not too bad, but the nuances are a little strange. If the commander is committed to the division orders are not automatically transmitted, but rather his ‘influence’ modifier is added to the die roll. This seems a little strange—the leader is beside the divisional commander, but the latter is still potentially ignoring him. What is more bizarre is that the roll for the other divisions in his command are reduced by the commander’s influence rating. So, committing a better commander to a division in his command has a greater negative effect on the command of the other divisions than if a poor commander does?!

This phase was made more difficult to work through since the tables of modifiers and results for the Leader Actions are not printed in the rulebook. They are on the quick reference sheet, but it would make sense to have them in the rules as well, particular since players refer to the rulebook often when first using a set of rules. This is a simple enough oversight that I’m sure will be easily rectified, but it added to our overall frustration with this phase of the rules.

Our final beef with the command section is the use of a set of objective and movement cards to define the order. Never fans of having cards and counters on the table, we ignored this entirely and opted for the command arrow drawn on a map that we use in Shako. This simply and pictorially represents the path, extent and limit of an attack (or manoeuvre or support in the case of these rules) and obviates the need for more ‘stuff’ on the table.

Having managed to transmit an order to two of the French commands, Piré's cavalry and Bachelu’s infantry who were both on a support order, the remainder having either failed outright or been delayed**, we moved those troops and then proceeded to the next phase.
(**We discussed whether to enact our scenario rule, whereby the formations have initial orders, but decided that it was a better test of the rules not to do so).

In our case, skirmish combat was irrelevant, as no formations had come close enough, so we moved to artillery fire. This lead to a most bizarre situation. In a set of rules where infantry divisions move a max. of 15" cross-country and cavalry 18", maximum artillery fire is 12". A maximum effective artillery range of 900 yards does not seems too bad, but the relativities with movement seemed all out of wack.

Two views of the table at the end of the first turn. Piré’s light cavalry (centre of the first photo) and Bachelu’s infantry (foreground of the second photo) were the only troops to have moved on the French side. Both being on support orders, they did not progress far. The die with a ‘1’ beside the French infantry at the left of the top photo is to indicate that they, Jérôme’s division, had a delay of one turn in receiving their orders.
(Regular readers will note that I had used Tabitha’s pink dice to increase the likelihood of good luck!!)

That ended turn 1, since there was no combat either and nothing for commanders to be at risk from. A turn does only represent around 20 minutes, but in that time we had failed a heap of orders, moved a few cavalry and infantry a short distance, fired no guns and precious little else. This, in a battle where historically, by our start time, the troops present had begun to come to grips—perhaps we should have had initial orders?

We had a few more formations moving in turn 2.

Jérôme’s division received its delayed order, so was able to move into contact with Perponcher’s troops in the Bossu Wood and Piré’s cavalry charged the Nassau and Dutch troops to the east of the wood. The problem of the relativity of movement and artillery range meant that the Dutch guns did not have a chance to fire before being charged by the fast-moving cavalry. Their chance would come in the artillery phase.

Contact! While Jérôme’s lead units attack Saxe-Weimar’s Nassauers (Perponcher’s division), Piré’s lead cavalry regiments charge in against their countrymen and the Dutch battery outside the wood.

This second movement phase raised further questions for which we could not find answers in the rules.

The first was regarding reserves. As the allied side had reserves arriving, whose orders did not arrive, we wondered how far they were able to come onto the table? The rules once again being silent, we resorted to what we normally do.

The second regarded the movement of artillery. To prevent artillery ‘free-wheeling’ around the table, it is necessary to test to commit artillery or to have previously committed artillery move. This is another Leader Action, taking a full turn, in the former case, if successful. What happens to artillery in a division that did not receive its orders? Do these really apply to horse artillery, as the rules seem to indicate?

We now had our first skirmish phase. This is a stylised system that Mr Ensteness explains as being about gaining “skirmish superiority under the notion that it will allow for various tactical advantages as the formed units come to contact”. The opposing commanders determine their level of commitment of troops to skirmish combat and then roll a number of D6, based on this commitment, to determine who wins the combat. A further roll, modified according to the level of commitment and whether the side won or lost the skirmish combat determines losses to each side. I was not enamoured with this system when I read the rules and this did not change upon playing them. It seemed to be a lot of effort, at this level for a result that impacted on the division as a whole. Why not simply have a skirmish factor and wrap it up in the overall combat?

Next, we had our first artillery fire. The Dutch guns fired using two D6, requiring 5s and 6s to hit at point blank range. They missed. So, having spent a turn looking at the French, they were charged from over 900 yards and did no damage to the attacking units! Perhaps we had done this incorrectly, but we could not see that we had.

Having failed to inflict any casualties on the cavalry as they charged in, the Dutch artillery were forced to retire in the ensuing mêlée.

When I read the rules I thought that the combat resolution system looked to be well thought out. Here, at least, I was not disappointed. It is intuitive, simple and produced sensible results. That said, even here there was a key concept that we were unable to resolve and another example of too many factors in these rules.

The Nassau infantry repulsed the charge of the French chasseurs à cheval. At this scale, forming squares is included in the combat resolution.

Foy’s lead units attacked the Belgian militia in Gemioncourt. The latter’s losses took them beyond their ‘break point’, so they were removed form the table.

In a neat mechanic, the presence of supporting units (within 3” of the unit in combat) is used as a combat result. Units suffering some form of ‘push back’ retire behind the supports. The only problems are, what is the definition of ‘behind’ (regarding moving behind) and what happens if a unit does not have supports? Our search for answers in the rules proving fruitless, we determined that units without supports should move back to what is termed the ‘engagement zone’. Such a key concept should be easy to find.

In another throw back to Empire, units in combat may suffer both hits and fatigue. This requires tracking of two factors for each unit and division. Is this really necessary for a game that is operating predominantly at the brigade/division level? Surely, the use of a single factor would make accounting easier without losing any feel or compromising the mechanics?

We ended the game at this point.

View of the table at the end of turn 2 and end of our play-test. The seeming order of this photo belies the frustrating experience that it had been.

The two turns had taken us over four hours to complete. Admittedly this was in part driven by our long discussions regarding the mechanics, how they related to other rules and in making notes for this review, but it was also due to needing to paw over the rules trying to find clarification to our many questions.

We did not get a clear sense of the scale at which the rules were trying to operate. We expected a brigade/division level set of rules with relatively simple but elegant mechanics that integrated lower-level aspects (such as units and formations). As mentioned above, there are some excellent mechanics in these rules, but, from our play-test, they appeared somewhat confused as to the level at which they are trying to operate. This, combined with gaps in the writing regarding fundamental aspects of the rules lead to a less than satisfactory experience.

Footnote
We were using a pre-publication, penultimate version of the rules, so perhaps some of the things that we found have been rectified. We have sent a list of our suggestions and the problems that we encountered to Mr Ensteness for possible incorporation, along with those of other play-testers, into the published first edition. I am hopeful that our comments will be useful in revising the rules and am confident that, with some more clarification of what is intended and revision of some of the specific mechanics, the promise of a novel and genuinely innovative set of rules will emerge so as to warrant "yet another set of rules for Napoleonics”.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Guest blogger (6): La Brienne 29th January 1814

Our e-friend and guest blogger Phil from York, UK has sent another report of one of his marvellous bicentennial games. This time the subject of his attention was The Battle of Brienne, 29th January 1814.

Over to you Phil.


Almost a year late with this one but I was determined to get at least one 1814 battle in—La Rothiere will have to wait for another time!

I used a ready made scenario from the Volley and Bayonet website informed by background reading; chiefly Uffindell and Petre with reference to the Histoire & Collections book.

Turn 1, 3 pm
Blücher is ensconced in the Chateau of La Brienne and Udom’s Corps are in positions in and around the village. Grouchy has turned up with the Guard Cavalry and Milhaud’s Dragoons.

At the start of the turn he is joined by the Emperor himself with Duhesme’s Div. of II Corps.

The Russians immediately rush Scherbatov’s VI Corps up to support (meaning the bottom half of the table will get no use in this game and I’m going to fighting at the least accessible end – drat! – should have thought of that!). The Russian artillery opens up an immediate bombardment on the approaching columns.


Turn 2, 4 pm
The French continue to arrive and move into position while the Russian fire their artillery and hurry their reinforcements into action.

Turn 3, 5 pm
“The Hammer”
Ney arrives with the Young Guard on Maizers Road to attempt to flank the Russian position. French Skirmishers force Blucher to flee the Chateau and destroy one of the Russian forward batteries.

A cavalry mêlée ensues and one of Milhaud’s veteran Dragoon Regiments is beaten off.

Turn 4, 6 pm
The French attack on Brienne itself is beaten off with heavy losses but Grouchy’s charge in the centre pushes back the Russian cavalry allowing the Young Guard to deploy and advance of the flank of Brienne.

Kristischiknikov’s Brigade (VI Corps) attacks the flank of Brigade Voirol but is beaten off and suffers a permanent disorder.

Meanwhile the Russian cavalry counter attack and destroy Piré’s division but their dragoons and associated Cossacks are pushed back – honours are even!


Turn 5, 7 pm
Sometimes it works! (According to my reading more batteries were destroyed by assault than by counter-battery fire) the Paris Reserves overrun a Russian Battery – another one bites the dust!

The Young Guard advances exposing its flank to the Russian cavalry but they are rallying from their exertions in the previous turn so miss their opportunity. However the French attack on Brienne is thrown back again.


Turn 6, 8 pm
The Doughty Russian defenders of Brienne throw back the Guard’s assault on their flank but finally succumb to a frontal assault by Gerard’s Paris Reserves who enter the village at last.

In order to consolidate their position the Russians withdraw from Bienne and reorganise behind the village. This also allows them to follow up on their success against the Young Guard and press their advantage.

Turn 7, 9 pm 
In the darkness the French finally take possession of Brienne and the Russian continue their retreat. Marauding Cossacks surround and destroy the remnants of Baste’s Voltiguer Brigade (first time they have destroyed a unit in any game as far as I can recall!).

“The Hammer misses the anvil”

Turn 8, 10 pm
Repositioning

Turn 9, 11 pm
It is now the dead of night and things look pretty grim for the French – their quarry has escaped the trap but the Emperor orders a final attack and on his left the Young Guard destroys a Russian Brigade and another succumbs to artillery fire.(The units have got a bit mixed up by this stage and I no longer put stickers underneath the bases to identify the units so they will have to remain anonymous…).


In return the Russian Artillery destroys another YG unit and the Russian cavalry on the right overwhelm the last Dragoon division allowing the rest of the army to withdraw unmolested.

The battle peters out and although Napoleon is in control of La Brienne (and Blucher’s supper) he is in no state to pursue. In fact all of his divisions are disordered and must be considered exhausted. His trap has failed so this is an allied victory.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Wargaming Waterloo 1815 : 2015 (6) Waterloo 200 Set-up (Part 1)

Having completed our bicentennial game of Quatre Bras, our attention is now fixed on plans for Waterloo 200. The orders of battle were compiled some time ago and painting of specific units for the game has been stepped up over the past few months, so we now turn to preparing the tabletop. This began last weekend.

We initially thought that we would use a ground scale of 1 mm to 1.5 m with an L-shaped table. We got so far as to create a map and laying out the main features on the table, but fortunately Mark, worried at the area that we had available for deployment, suggested that we try out a few troops on the table. Sure enough it was not going to work, so it was back to the drawing board!

Rough plan of the battlefield at 1 mm :1.5 m. At first looked okay, but we had insufficient area for our figures.

A ground scale of 1:1 was going to be needed, but could we do that and fit all of the necessary sections of the battlefield, the two ridges and Plancenoit, onto the table? We made a template of our available table at 1:1 and moved it around the map. It did not seem to work—damn!

Hang-on, the section of our table making the arm of the ‘L’ is moveable, so what if we changed from an L-shaped table to a T-shaped one (either regular or irregular)?

We moved the template of the table around the map, now in two sections of a rough ’T’ and it worked. In fact, a regular ’T’ was the best configuration so as to be able to fit the maximum amount of French and Anglo-Allied troops while leaving a suitable area for Plancenoit and to the east of that town.

Revise map at a ground scale of 1 mm :1 m. A millimetre on the map represents 30 mm on our table.


This weekend we’ll make the additional hill sections that we need for the ridges and start to layout those and other terrain features.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Wargaming Waterloo 1815 : 2015 (5) Battle of Quatre Bras circa 1994

I credit and thank my father (Ralph) with introducing me to wargaming. In fact, perhaps I should ‘blame’ him, given the ‘beautifully obsessive’ nature of the hobby? (haha!!) Without his influence I may well have remained as a modeller and diorama-maker, something that I now consider a bit of a waste of figures as they are not actively used!

While greatly limited in the number of painted figures that we had, as this relied on my slow output around school and then university studies, we were always most interested in re-fighting historical battles or conducting historically-based campaigns. A few years after he retired in 1985, Ralph tried his hand at painting the 1/72nd figures and discovered that he could in fact do it (and really well too, I thought). This lead to a rapid increase in the forces that we had available. Around that time he met a ‘fellow-traveller’, Tony, who lived nearby to them. They switched to 5 mm figures, thereby making available reasonable forces in two figure scales. Since we lived, then and now, on opposite sides of the country (~4 000 km apart) opportunities for wargaming were limited to visits one way or the other.

During one of my visits to them over a summer holiday in 1994, Ralph and I decided to set-up and play a game in the loft area. We chose to do one based on Quatre Bras and decided that it was best done using the 5 mm figures deployed on the moulded, foam Waterloo terrain that Tony had given to Ralph.

I recently ‘re-discovered’ Ralph’s summary of the game and, in this bicentennial year, and with our own recent bicentennial game of the Quatre Bras still fresh in mind, it seems a good time to post it here for interest and comparison. Back in ’94 we used Empire rules with its figure scale of around 1:60.

I’ll hand over to Ralph (Dad) to tell the story of the game. We did not take many photos, but I have included scans of those that Maude took for us.
_______________________________________________________________________
Photo 1: Overview of the battlefield early in the game. You can see the French columns in coming from the south, approaching the Dutch-Belgian troops on the low ridge, with more allied troops coming through Quatre Bras.
(I loved those colourful trackies, wore them to death!)

The hostilities opened with the first hourly phase starting at 1400. At this time the Prince of Orange, as commander of the 1st Corps of the Anglo-Allied Army, was with the 2nd Netherlands Division deployed to the south of Quatre Bras. With the limited numbers at his disposal Baron de Perponcher had attempted to cover all approaches to the cross roads from the south in accordance with his orders. The 1st battalion of the first brigade was on the left flank, while the 2nd battalion was in reserve near the farm of Gemioncourt. The two battalions of 2nd brigade were deployed on the right centre and right flank. Each brigade was supported by a battery of foot artillery.

The French 2nd Corps under Reille opened operations with Bachelu’s 5th Division attacking Gemioncourt, the 9th Division under Foy was directed against the Netherlanders’ left flank, while the 2nd Cavalry division swept to the right of Foy to outflank the Dutch left.

Photo 2: Close-up of the developing battle before Quatre Bras.

For two hours the struggle continued south of the cross roads while reinforcements arrived for both sides and were deployed as they arrived on the scene of the battle.

By 1700 the two Dutch-Belgian infantry brigades had been driven from the field and their guns lost to the French. Van Merlen’s cavalry with their horse artillery battery and the Prince of Orange were on what was now the right flank of the army without visible opposition. The 1st and 2nd Brigades of Picton’s Division were defending Quatre Bras with the 3rd Brigade occupying the chateau on the left flank. The two brigades at the cross roads were hotly engaged by Foy and Bachelu’s divisions while Jérôme’s 6th Division was moving to join the fray. Meanwhile Piré’s 2nd Cavalry Brigade had crossed the Namur road on Picton’s left flank and was engaged with the brigade defending the chateau and with Alten’s Division approaching on the road from Brussels.

Photo 3: Overview of the battlefield as things hot up (units around the centre of the board)

At the commencement of the 1800 hour phase the dragoons which comprised the leading element of Uxbridge’s division, drove Piré’s lancers back over the Namur road, enabling Alten’s division to resume its march to support Picton. At the same time Kellermann’s cavalry division was moving round on the French right flank and advance elements were approaching the Namur road. All through this hourly phase the attacks on Picton’s brigades at Quatre Bras were pressed fiercely by Foy and Bachelu’s divisions, supported now by a grand battery sited on a hill dominating the field of battle. But the British line held firm and, leading one of the attacks, General Foy was killed.

The 1900 phase saw the French breakthrough. Uxbridge’s division suffered heavily from bombardment by the grand battery and repeated charges and countercharges by Kellermann’s division. One of l’Heritier’s dragoon regiments charged Picton’s left flank, dispersed the Netherlands cavalry and swept on to be halted by Alten’s division which was deploying on Picton’s right flank. At the same time Bachelu was killed as his division pressed an attack on the leading regiment of Alten’s division.

Photo 4: Towards the end of the game the French are pressing the attack. Kellermann’s cavalry and the artillery at the centre left of the photo with Bachelu and Foy’s infantry attacking the allied troops around the cross roads.

With the French cavalry menacing the Anglo-Allied left flank and Jérôme’s division poised to join the attack on Picton’s position, the only course open to Wellington was to make a fighting withdrawal along the road to Brussels. It was therefore decided that this gave the result of an effective French victory.


Epilogue

Dad is 90 in July this year and I’m looking forward immensely to a planned visit in August when they will see our set-up at ‘ANF HQ’ and meet Julian, Mark, Stephen and Mark. A game of Napoleonic naval is already planned for that day!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Aside: The Mugs of War

Not a comment on the futility of the human endeavour that is the stimulus for our hobby, but a brief, light post that is largely off-topic from our 2015 : 1815 theme.

I have a selection of mugs with a wargaming/military history theme that are my favoured containers for warm beverages—especially when painting!!

Two of them are related to the Life of Caesar podcast that I have mentioned on this blog previously. Cam and Ray’s history podcast with plenty of information, loads of humour and the occasional rant is a must listen for any broad-minded history buff.

It has yielded several in-joke taglines, of which “Don’t make me pulla Sulla” is the most well known (and enjoyed) by listeners of the show, along with the more recently coined “Veni, vidi vici vastatio!”

Photos 1–3: Mugs inspired by the Life of Caesar podcast

A well placed mug with either of these on them is sure to intimidate a wargaming opponent. As we all know, wargames are won off the table…!

Another of the mugs was a present from my father and is appropriate to our theme for this year. It features the uniforms of the middle guard in the final attack at Waterloo. These prints, from Tim Reese’s Art of Wars, are available from Plymouth Military Gifts.

Photos 4–5: Attack of the middle guard at Waterloo by Tim Reese.

The pièce de résistance is a mug featuring the great man that is a memento from the Napoleon Exhibition of 2012.

Photos 6–7: A memento from the Napoleon Exhibition in Melbourne.

Photo 8: All mugs fall in.


I’m sure that I’m not alone in this. What is your favourite wargaming/history-related mug, or other everyday piece, that is a must-have accompaniment when wargaming, painting or researching the history?