Friday, 24 February 2023

Napoleons Last Battles - Quatre Bras

 My Napoleonic rules writing has been parked for a bit as I try to drum up some enthusiam. I had a go at reworking Neil Thomas's Napoleonic rules for hexes in a similar manner to his ACW set, but his focus is really too tactical for me. Do I actually care what formation the battalions are in if the manouvre units are Corps? 

Anyway, I've been back and forth with this for a bit and thought I'd give some boardgames a go for inspiration. Warerloo a la Carte didn't really cut it for me, nor all the super simple stuff like Waterloo 1815  as it is very hard to design new historical scenarios in such a staged setup. I've still got a few Napoleonic boardgames left over from my days of intensive gaming back in the day (Waterloo, Dresden, War and Peace etc) but one game I own but never got around to playing was the old Napoleons Last Battles Quad.

Well, why not give it a go. The individual scenarios are pretty small and as I'd developed an interest in Ligny, it was worth a look.

The rules are short and deceptively simply. A lot of it is standard SPI stuff explaining in great detail that each player takes it in turn, you can't move enemy units etc. They read much like those for an AH classic, although in the basic game there were some special rules for Chateaux and some optional rules for combined arms attacks. Might as well use those I thought, as otherwise the arms aren't really differentiated, although this game has the novelty of ranged artillery fire, and cavalry have various restrictions in woods which I should have paid more attention to. It all seemed a bit vanilla with standard MP type movement and a very ordinary Terrain Effects Chart. The CRT was very unbloody, mainly AR or DR results.

The other bit I should have paid more attention to was stacking and ZOCs. A maximum of two units can stack and are treated as a single unit, so no AH style multiple soak off attacks from one hex, and the key bit about ZOC is that the only way to leave a ZOC is is a result of combat (winning or losing a battle), although Chateux are exempt. ZOC extend through friendly units for retreat determination, but not command determination.

I didn't quite appreciate the impact of that before I started playing.

Map from the south. Quatre Bras is top centre between the two long woods lines. Reille and Kellermans Corps at the top, D'Erlon straggling up from the bottom. D'Erlon is optional in this scenario but I put the counters on anyway. 

Each side gets 1VP per enemy SP destroyed, 1 VP for each turn they control Quatre Bras and 5VP if they hold it at the end. So Quatre Bras is pretty important. The French also lose if their army becomes demoralised, which happens at 10SP lost in the first two turns, 25SP thereafter.

Quatre Bras is held by Perponchers Netherlands Division. Two brigades and an artillery battery. Each hex is 480 yards (a quarter of a mile) and the units are generally infantry brigades, cavalry divisions and massed Corps artillery batteries. The Anglo-Dutch formations are divisions, whereas the French formations are Corps. 

The maps and counters were obviously designed for people with keener eyesight than mine, and unlike many other games, there is no scenario specific counter location manifest, just what is printed on the map. That is fine for open hexes, less good trying to read tine blue print on a thick woods hex. I spent ages trying to locate the hex for Merlens Dutch cavalry brigade, only to find it five miles west of Quatre Bras!

Reille and Kellermans Corps. The Leaders are only used in the campaign game, but I like the extra colour they add so put them on. I was completely unable to locate the counter for the Prince of Orange however, perhaps Sharpe has locked him in a barn. Both these Corps are powerful, and Kellerman seems to have an extra division of Guard cavalry as well.The tracks (dotted lines) negate terrain penalties but don't give any move bonus, whereas the highway is only 1/2 MP to enter each hex, so key to rapid movement. The woods are serious obstacles to movement, which is why the French cavalry are on tracks. 

Reilles Corps has some hefty units, and the Corps artillery is a whopping six batteries (6-4). Under Kellerman is a very useful 2-6 Horse Artillery battalion. With two artillery pieces and the great mass of cavalry in attendance, the French can mount two combined arms attacks per turn, which get a column shift.

There was an optional rule about cavalry delay (ie they can retreat before combat if attacked by infantry) but I had enough to remember so ignored that. 

D'Erlons Corps. Weaker divisions than Reille, but still a powerful force.  His Corps has four infantry divisions, the Corps artillery and a Cavalry Division. That is the kind of force mix I'm aiming at for my game, albeit with half mile hexes, not quarter mile. I really want to include the Corps cavalry as it makes them into a genuine combined arms force. 

Reinforcements. Brunswickers, three British infantry divisions (Picton, Cooke and Alten) and the balance of D'Erlons Corps.

The Dutch position looks weak but is actually very strong. Their ZOCs prevent them being outflanked as the rest on woods, the ridges prevent ranged artillery fire through them and they have plenty of room to retreat. They should be able to hold up Ney for some time.

If using the leaders, the Army commanders can use their command rating to activate subordinate formations and units. A 3 commander (like Napoleon) can activate three formations AND three individual units within their five hex command range. Units and formations out of command can move but not engage in combat. 

Both Ney and Orange (I found a counter manifest on the interweb), the Army commanders in this scenario, have command ratings of 1.... So, in the campaign game, Ney can only attack with Reille plus one of Kellermans units, or vice versa.

In the standard game however, there are no command limits however. I can see this posing a few problems given the huge map and preponderance of French cavalry. I've also played a lot of hex and ZOC type games over the decades, so by cunning move sequencing and use of the various types of road available, I manage to get almost all of Reille and Kellermans Corps into contact with the lead Dutch infantry on the first turn!

The attack on the 4-4 atb the top will just be infantry and cavalry, but the attack on the 5-4 is combined arms. The limited stacking required a certain degree of thought to achieve this, which was interesting, and I only just manged to get he bottom cavalry in contact by marching through the woods. I guess they are lights as they are 4-7. After all that manouvering, the modified odds against each are 5:1

D'Erlons Corps comes marching on. Perahaps I'm not as good at hex games as I thought as I've ended up with a gap in the column. The wording of the text on how to pro rate movement for entering units wasn't very clear. ie I couldn't work out if units were allowed to enter stacked. I suspect not, which was how I did these units.

I resolved the southern attack first, and rolled an Exchange! Up to 3:1 the only results possible are AR/DR, at 4:1 there is a single Ex, and at 5:1 and 6:1 are a number of DE and Ex results. Interesting.

Anyway, the Dutch infantry rout and my surviving infantry brigade advance into the hex. You are only allowed to advance one unit after combat (unless using the optional leader rules), and I had plans for the Corps cavalry.

The northern attack went in at 5:1 and rolled a DE, so I pushed another brigade forwards into the hex, next to Perponchers counter. Also interesting. So in theory he has mount an attack next turn as he isn't allowed to move out of a ZOC.

The French are all on the reverse slope from the Dutch artillery by the stream now. Ridges have no other terrain effect, which is very different to eg Waterloo a la Carte where they act as a sort of mini Maginot Line!

The dead pile, neither side is anywhere close to becoming demoralised, although I realised afterwards that if I'd rolled two EX results, the French would have lost at this point. Oops. Anyway they didn't, and fortune favours the brave etc. That is also presumably why you can voluntarily attack at a lower odds ratio if you wish (to avoid EX results).

So far, apart from the unit shuffling to get the combined arms bonus, it felt a bit like playing D-Day or something.

The first Allied reinforcements roll up, Picton and Brunswick. I briefly glanced at the optional leader rules and decided Perponcher just needed to make a risk roll. He survived and rode away. 

The Allied infantry could just make it to the outskirts of QB, and the Brunswick cavalry could go further. I think I made a critical mistake at this point. I didn't want to lose the Dutch artillery, so they fell back from the village behind the stream and I stacked them with the Brunswick cavalry. This left the approaches to QB open. I also moved up the Dutch cavalry to cover the paths through the woods.

There was therefore nothing to stop both French Corps from simply piling straight down the road and attacking the Dutch/Brunswick guns and horsemen. The French put one cavalry division in the chateau on the left to guard against the Dutch cavalry, and Reilles light cavalry went off on a foray to the right around the woods.

The cavalry in the Chateau didn't get the same defensive benefits as an infantry unit would, but they were still tripled on defence. I assume dismounted with their carbines.

D'Erlon now set off in the direction of Ligny over to the right.

The restricted front and stream stopped the French guns getting into the fight, they were in range but the Allies were hidden by the ridge. They still pushed enough infantry and cavalry forwards to mount a devastating attack as the defenders only had a combat strength of three.

The Dutch guns and Brunswick cavalry were duly routed and removed, and that big 7-4 infantry brigade tramped forwards. I had now lost one of the only two Allied cavalry units available, which was a bit silly of me. The French had also succeeded in putting their 7-4 next to the two leading British infantry brigades who would be forced to attack next turn. Very interesting indeed. There is a lot more to this game than meets they eye,

I attempted to return the favour and mount an Allied combined arms attack while occupying QB. The unengaged Brunswick infantry moved into the town, all the Allied guns move up in support firing at range 2, and my last remaining cavalry the Dutch 1-7, moved into the wood in support. It was the only place I could put it. 

The pinned British infantry would have to make a 1:1 attack on the 7-4, but that is actually quite safe as the worst result is AR and it is a 50% chance of a DR. I put the unengaged 3-4 out to cover the flank, and moved the leader counters out of the way.

This was an interesting situation and I began to understand the design intent of some of the ZOC and stacking rules.

The Brunswick combined arms attack was 3:1 and duly rolled DR and pushed the French back. They declined to advance out of Quatre Bras. Pictons British Infantry attacked the 7-4 at 1:1 and rolled AR, which was great as although stacked units fight and defend as one, they can retreat into seperate hexes, so I spread them out into a line.

That is looking a bit better, and the French 7-4 is now stuck in a ZOC next to QB so forced to attack next turn and a distinctinctly unattractive 7:16 (as the Brunswickers are doubled in the town).

I did seriously think about letting the 7-4 attack at 1:3. There was a 16% chance of a DR and the worst adverse result was Ex. That is also an interesting consequence of the structure of the CRT.

That wouldn't be very Ney like though would it? And I hadn't spent all that time working the 4-7 cavalry around the flank for nothing either.

Instead I lightly reinforced the 7-4 so the attack was a more surviveable 1:2  and otherwise concentrated on the weak flanking units. The 1-7 Dutch cavalry were hideously vulnerable on their own as cavalry in woods is halved, so even a single 5-4 infantry brigade was enough for a 10:1 attack(!). What a stupid mistake.

Over with Pictons boys, it was time for a DBA style 'buttocks of death' using the 4-7 cavalry to cut off their retreat. As ZOCs do extend through friendly units for retreats, all I had to do was pushed back the 3-4 to kill it. I mounted a 2:1 soakoff attack on the adjacent 5-4 so I could cut the retreat from that direction too. I'm starting to feel like I'm getting the hang of this.

The Dutch cavalry were duly wiped out, although I rolled an EX and had ot remove an entire French 5-4 as well. Ouch.

The British 3-4 was also enveloped and destroyed, while the soakoff attack rolled a DR (66% chance) and pushed back the British 5-4. The diversionary attack on QB failed and retreated back behind the ridge.

Eagle eyed readers will note that Kellermans 4-6 cavalry division has pushed through the woods to the north as well.

10 French SP lost to 16 Allied. The Allies still hold QB though.

Cookes division comes marching on. I have a horrible feeling it is a bit too late. I'm doing this as one unit per road hex. It just feels better as road columns take up a lot of space.

The Allies try to buy time. They aren't really strong enough to counterattack and have now lost all their cavalry (doh) to mount combined arms attacks. The British infantry are unengaged however and take the opportunity to occupy QB with both brigades. The Brunswickers fan out to provide flank support, each brigade supported by artillery.

That is the best I can do, but even so, QB is vulnerable to being surrounded, but the restricted front makes it quite a tricky proposition.

Which the French duly do. As before, they focus on the weaker supporting units and mount a (safe) 1:2 diversionary attack on QB itself.  The unfortunate Brunswickers are completey surround by marauding French cavalry, assailed frontally by infantry and I even manage to work the French artillery into range to get the column shifts for combined arms. At this stage I don't care about the potential for EX results, as this is a chance to crush the Allies piecemeal. 

The Brunswickers are duly obliterated, and in a pleasant bonus, 9SP of British infantry are left in contact and completely surrounded in QB by 17SP of French. They have a chance of breaking out, but not a huge one.

Altens 1st Division makes an appearance.

Cooke masses against the French cavalry cordon. As they are basically in road column at the limit of their movement, they just mass both infantry brigades forward, supported by the artillery.

The French 4-6 is forced to retreat but Cooke declines to advance, it is just putting his head in the noose. Pictons boys mount their desperate counterattack at 1:2, roll an AR and are removed, leaving the General alone in Quatre Bras.

The Allies have now lost enough stuff to become demoralised, so they can't advance after combat any more. They won't break until they reach their disintegration level.

QB is occupied by Reilles Corps artillery, and poor old Cooke s literally overwhelmed by Reille and Kellerman. The French infantry pile up the road, Kellermans cavalry around the flanks and horse artillery moves up in support. Cooke is surrounded.

And utterly wiped out under attack from all sides. At this point the Allies have reached their disintegration level and their remaining forces withdraw. 

The final tally, a pretty shattering French victory.

That was a decent first run through, although I made more mistakes as the Allies than as the French, it is always easier to attack than defend. That is part of the learning experience I guess, and at first I put it down to lack of the (campaign) command rules, but in retrospect it was more about not understanding the full ramifications of the bloodless CRT and the way that ZOCs worked. I was too nervous of low odds attacks (remembering too many AE results playing AHGC games!) and I wasn't careful enough about flanks.

I'm still a bit dubious about cavalry wandering off miles to the flanks irl, but actually if the Allies had played better, they would have been very vulnerable. 

I really liked the sticky ZOCs and forced attacks, I thought that worked really well and it reminded me how good the same approach was in Richard Brooks 'Terrible Swift Rules'. I also found I learned to ignore the ease of movement, as what actually mattered was which combinations of units you could get into contact. Many Napoleonic rules make a great faff of just moving units around the battlefield, but it never seemed to bother Napoleon that much, more about who attacked or defended, where and with how much. Army Commander, not Division Commander.

I did find I ended doing a lot of SP  and MP counting and odds calculations, which perhaps isn't very Napoleonic, however unit strengths can be abstracted (Phil Sabins 'Kartenspiel' just counts 'divisions' in each engagement). 

So, lots of food for thought there and worth a replay now I've got a better idea of what I'm doing. Ligny is a much bigger battle and I'd rather get the basics down first before tackling that. 


Wednesday, 22 February 2023

6mm Napoleonic Russians

 Last batch of re-based 6mm stuff and the last 'pocket army', this time the Russians. Unlike the French, British and Prussians these aren't veterans of WRG but more recent third hand acquisitions vis John A. Their battle pedigree isn't as long as the other 6mm Napoleonic stuff, but they have managed to fight at both Borodino and The Alma. These are all H & R figures.

The Infantry in their end of the box. None of these figures needed any re-painting as they were already exquisitely done when I got them, I just needed to sort them into units. The Russian infantry are bit more straightforward than their French, British and French counterparts, with tons of infantry and a few seperate (and quite rare) skirmisher units.

There are several bases of Russian Guard infantry, with huge hat plumes and these white flags. Originally they were  on thin marine plywood in strips of six, and by and large I just cut the strips up and re-did them as two ranks of close order infantry. 

The line types are very similar, minus the big plume things. I realised when sorting the figures out that the original painter had careful done different coloured hat poms poms for the different regiments, so I did my best to ensure they were grouped correctly. Like the Guards, just two ranks in close order for each of these bases.

There were also piles of Jagers, so I based them a bit more generously than the French, Prussian and British equivalents. Enough for two Neil Thomas type four stand Jager units. As they are skirmishers in dark uniforms, they will do as other types of jaeger as well as 95th Rifles etc. 

The Russians are not exactly short of artillery! They are all stunningly painted, and the reason I realised I needed to re-do all my other guns. They've got green gun carriages so will do for other armies too.

Most of them are various types of field gun like this one.

Plus a couple of large position guns with more crew figures around them.

The Russians aren't short of cavalry either.... you can see why I'm not too worried about a lack of British and Prussian cavalry figures. I'm very glad not to have painted all these horses myself. 

First up are all these lovely Lancers.

Then lots of dashing Hussars brandishing curvy sabres.

And finally quite a few bases of Heavy Cavalry, who will do for any nationality.

I had to fiddle around with the figure numbers on each base a bit to get these units to work but got there in the end and there is no great shortage of horsemen.

If all that lot weren't enough, there are also all these Cossacks. I based these more sparsely than the regulars as they are supposed to be irregular horsemen, and managed to stretch them out to make enough bases for two Neil Thomas style four base Cossack units.

Finally there were ten leader figures in various uniform permutations, so I based them up in pairs to match the Irregular command bases.

With that little lot, plus my nineteenth century Austrians and Italians, that should cover me for most things I'm interested in (well, maybe not Spanish or Portuguese). Now I just need to find some rules I'm happy with, and I won't be painting any more Napoleonic stuff until I do. 

Saturday, 18 February 2023

Doodlebuggers again

 Tim planned to run Doodlebuggers at VCOW and wanted to do a test run to get up to speed with the rules again. He'd dug out the player briefings etc from the archives and circulated these beforehand.

As a brief reminder, the game covers RAF fighter pilots trying to shoot down V1s aimed at London.

The dodgy Doodlebug starts off flying up the Thames Estuary on this rather lovely gridded 1940s map. The players have to shoot down as many as possible in 5 minutes.

John, Simon and I took on the roles of plucky pilots. We'd all got our best hats on, although I seem to be in the Army Air Corps.

Players have a choice of planes, Spitfire IX or Tempest. The V1 meanders across the map and the plane pursues, attempting to shoot it up or if feeling lucky, tip it over with your wingtip. There is of course some risk to shooting at a huge flying cylinder packed with high explosive...

We all had one run through. This particular V1 has made it all the way to West London, but they generally either were shot down (or landed) in East London, Esseex, Kent and South London. One unfortunately hit the Gravesend ferry.

Final scores were Simon with two shot down (20 points), John with two shot down and a moustache (25) points, and myself with three shot down and a living relative who was in the RAF (my father). A whopping 35 points to me. Both Simon and I managed to tip V1s, and Johns plane was destroyed by a V1 exploding, but he managed to parachute to safety.

The mechanisms are tried and tested and that was a very thorough run through. I'm sure the players at VCOW will enjoy it.

Wednesday, 15 February 2023

6mm Napoleonic Prussians

 Next pocket army is the Prussians. Like the British, this lot were bought as an Irregular Army Pack from Gamers in Exile back in the mid 1980s and originally based for WRG. As they are blokes in dark blue uniforms, they have often been used as French Allies, or even French infantry or stood in for Dutch-Belgians etc on occasion. Like the British, these guys are veterans of Waterloo, twice!

This is their end of the infantry box, the guns and leaders are in the other box.

The Prussians have four artillery peices and four limbers. As with the British, they are generic enough to use for anyone who doesn't have green (French/Russian) or bright ochre (Austrian) gun carriages.

These were largely repainted completely (horses, limbers, guns) although the gunners just needed a bit of tarting up.

While we are on logistic elements, these are my venerable HR French horse carts from the mid 1970s. I've already got plenty of wagons in my nineteenth century armies but as I've got these I repainted them to go with the Napoleonic stuff. They were originally a very odd blue/green shade so I've done them in mid Olive Green with an ink wash and repainted the horse teams completely as they were in various odd matt Humbrol Enamel camouflage colours (field grey and khaki mostly!).

The leader stands which are obviously Prussian. The others are more generic apart from the two 'British' ones and Napoleon. 

The figures just had their hands and faces redone, along with the various peripherals (hats, saddle cloths). They guy with the powdered wig is Blucher. I redid the horses completely.

The Prussian infantry permutations are a bit more complex than the British as they have Line infantry, Fusiliers, Jagers and I also need some way to represent the later Landwehr if I need to.

I did the usual tarting up on the figures (flesh, weapons, hats, cuffs and pack straps). The biggest problem with these figures is that the Line figures all have very badly painted single white cross-straps off their haversacks. I can't even find in my old painting guides where I got the idea this was an actual thing.

In the end I did my best to tidy them up, but I couldn't face repainting hundreds of infantry tunics, so I'll just have to live with it.

Infantry basing permutation one is two ranks in close order. I'll use this for Landwehr in 1815 etc. Like the British, these were originally in six figure strips, but I cut them down to four figures for WRG 40 years ago, so easy enough to do them in two ranks of four. 

Basing permutation option two is rear rank in close order, and a front rank of Fusiliers (the green jackets are very obvious) in open order at the front. I'll use this for Line infantry types, maybe mixed in with some close order bases too,

Basing permutation number three is bases of all Fusiliers. Rear rank in close order, front rank in open order, but all in green jackets and black webbing. I'll use this option as Line usually, but for those rules which insist on having seperate Light Infantry type units I can use it for those.

Like the British, the Cavalry is fairly sparse, just six bases, but I have loads of cavalry generally. In fact I wonder if I just had twelve bases of British cavalry originally? I can't recall what was in those Army Packs now.

The riders just needed a bit of touching up, but the horses were awful so I repainted them from scratch.

And some Jagers. Useful as extra stands, or for rules (like Neil Thomas) which have specific Jager type units. Like the British riflemen, I had to repaint these from scratch as the originals were in some sort of wierd mid green colour.

They can also stand together in one of NTs 2x2 formations, as well as pretending to be 95th Rifles or Brunswickers if they need to.

So, that is the Prussians, although tbh they've spent more time pretending to be French infantry or German minor states than Prussian.