After our trip to Froeschwiller, I wanted to try out Belle Epoch again, albeit with a few mods. I added in some tried and tested things from our other regular rules (rallying, reserved fire for activated units) and had a fiddle around with the movement modes and rates so you didn't have silly things like cavalry marching 5km and then conducting a charge at the end of it. Units now had a march move which was fast, but involved no combat at all, and a tactical move, which was slower, but allowed for some combat activity. I also reduced the brutality of the activation system so that units could fire with a single dice if they failed to activate, and made the close combat system use the same combat resolution as firing instead of the slightly odd crap shoot it currently is.
Battlefield from the south. The river Mincio is on the left, with Peschiera at the top where the river empties into Lake Garda. Valaggio and Villafranca are in the south, Sommacompagna in the north east and Custoza is perched on a saddle between two mountain ranges. The brown topped hills are mountains (really big mountains which rear up from the valley floor - I've flown over them en route to Venice, and they were quite impressive).
The Austrian left wing coming on from the northeast, including Von Pfulz's cavalry division. Tim commanded the entire Austrian Army (three Corps worth) as we were short of players. After their defeat in 1859, the Austrians had adopted French style assault tactics, and their column formations gave the otherwise rather inert Austrian units an activation bonus, at the expense of making rather good targets. This would prove to a be a bit of a problem in Bohemia when faced with Prussians armed with breech loading rifles. But not so much against the Italians armed with muzzle loading rifles.
The Austrian right wing due east from Peschiera. I had to slightly fudge the Austrians, each stand is half a Corps ie a division equivalent, whereas irl each Corps had three (big) brigades. Archduke Albrecht has established his HQ in the centre. The Archduke was one of Austrias better generals, and he showed it in the game by rolling amazing numbers of command points each turn.
Prince Umbertos Savoyards hurriedly rushing north to deal with the unexpected Austrian flank attack. Umbertos Corps will all come on the vicinity of Villafranca on the Italian right. John played the Prince, mightly pleased to be Savoy Royalty. The Italian troops were all rated as poor due to their lack of divisional cohesion (the Austrians were all poor too!).
La Marmora slums it in Valeggio while a couple of his divisions wander northeastwards through the mountains. La Marmora was was the Italian CinC and was played by Simon. Historically he was a fairly awful commander who had already frittered away the massive numerical advantage enjoyed by the Italians in side operations. He was rated as poor, and never rolled more than five command points the entire game.
Over in the east, Prince Umbertos leading division met Von Pfulz's cavalry, who launched an inffective charge against the marching Italians. The Austrian cavalry were rated as 'bold, dashing and dense', which caused a degree of hilarity. The dense bit referred to their tactical posture, as the Austrians were all charging around in assault columns, but hey ho.
In the west, both sides scrambled up their respective mountain ranges and exchanged some cannon fire. The Austrians had nice new rifled guns and the Italians came off worst. In the real battle hundreds of soldiers died of heat stroke climbing these mountains in the wool uniforms under the blazing Italian summer sun.
An Austrian infantry assault northwest of Sommacompagna was repulsed, so Von Pfulz launched another cavalry charge to cover the town. Unfortunately in his haste, he hadn't noticed that the Italians hadn't activated yet...
Prince Umberto piled in command points and the Italians activated to pour a withering volley into the dense Austrian cavalry. They fell back behind the town to lick their wounds. Their sacrifice had at least stopped the Italians as they'd used their activation to shoot instead of moving. Irl Von Pfulz routed the leading Italian division and the rest of Umbertos Corps formed square and hunkered down for the rest of the battle!
Things were looking a bit sticky at Sommacompagna as the Italians pushed along the mountains.
But Albrecht used his wealth of command points to march another Austrian division into the town before the Italians could get there. I do like the command system in these rules, they work really well.
Over in the west, the gunnery duel continued. The Italians used their positional advantage against the Austrians in the valley (the mountains negated cover lower down, and the Austrians were also dense targets - ouch). The problem the Italians had was getting their units to activate to fire effectively.
By request, the mountain hat background. I picked this hat up in a fancy dress shop, but I do rather look like Tancredi in 'The Leopard' while wearing it. The hat is pretty much where the bottom of Lake Garda is irl.
Now it is the turn of the Italians to be pushed back from Sommacompagna. Pretty well all the units on both sides have taken one or more hits now. The only fresh unit is the Italian reserve cavalry division. Von Pfluz is busy trying to rally but keeps failing his activation rolls, and Albrecht has too much other stuff going on to waste command points on it.
The Italians roll forward in the east again. It is becoming a real bloodbath around here.
However another Austrian Corps has turned up in the centre and is threatening Custoza. Weight of numbers in the west has finally managed to eliminate one of the mountain top Italian divisions, at some cost to the Austrians. The Italian numerical advantage has been negated, both sides have eight (bad) divisions each, Albrecht is the better commander, but the Italians still hold the mountain chain.
The Italian left wing is looking a bit thin! One division against three, but one of the Savoyard divisions is heading towards Custoza.
The real slugging match is the east. The Austrians are slowly gaining the upper hand here as Albrecht has spent most of his command points in this sector, but all the Austrian units are weak now.
The Italians form a line at Custoza as the Austrians try to combine artillery fire and infantry assaults.
While on the plain to the east, both cavalry divisions meet once more. Von Pfulz is a brigade down however....
The Austrians however pour artillery fire into the Austrian cavalry from the heights, and before they can respond, Von Pfulz charges and the Italians are routed! What a shabby trick.
Von Pfulz pursues to the outskirts of Villafranca. Cavalry aren't very good in towns.
Things aren't looking too good at Custoza for the Italians either as the Austrians finally storm the mountain northeast of the town, while pinning the other Savoyard divisions in place. Hits abound on both sides.
The Italian left has vanished and two Austrian divisions head for the supply base at Valeggio. But what is this? A sneaky Italian division appears over the Mincio.
Von Pfulz occupies Villafranca, and now has a clear run down the valley into the Austrian rear.
The Italians are hemmed in at Custoza and pounded from all sides.
And the Italian right has now vanished.
Custoza falls under a hail of artillery fire.
The Mincio bridghead however repulses the Austrian right. At least the Italian survivors have a retreat route. And with that we called it a day as the Italian Army had been thoroughly beaten.
Pleasure cruises resume on Lake Garda from the port at Peschiera (this is actually one of my Euphrates gunboats).
That all went pretty well, although irl it was the Italian centre which crumbled while Umberto cowered around Villafranca. The rules mods seemed to work alright, although I'm not convinced about the close combat revisions, I need to have a think about those. The players all made positive noises, which is encouraging, and we got through eight turns in two and a quarter hours, which isn't bad. There is quite a lot of stuff for the umpire to keep track of, so I think eight or nine units a side is about the limit of what it is feasible to umpire remotely. It may well play faster f2f, but there are quite a few decision points which have fairly serious consequences, I can imagine some of my regulars having analysis-paralysis in a f2f setting.
Anyway, I'm happy enough with it for now, and as is my usual habit, now I've found something that works, I will instantly lose interest in it and do something else.