Saturday, June 2, 2018

After Action Report: Hypothetical Campaign in England, 1806 (second playing)

We reset the board for the hypothetical campaign in England, and played it a second time.  The group was smaller, which made for quicker play, and we were able to finish the entire scenario in about four hours.  The game ran 9-10 turns, depending upon the number of times Napoleon tossed in his entire hand (discard eight, draw eight) rather than playing cards (play four, draw four).

Like the first play-through, this one too ended in a French victory.  However, this session was actually much, much closer on points than the first.

CB and I played the Anglo-Russian force (CB played the two British commands and I took the Russian command.)  While there were moments where it felt like we were close to a narrow victory, we never seemed to have quite enough command or cards or luck to quite pull it off.  Had we just been able to destroy a few more high-point French brigades, or take a couple more of the objectives, it woulda coulda shoulda been .....

The final tally for the Anglo-Russians:

French Losses
       6 Artillery batteries (66 pts)
 5,220 Cavalry (48 pts)
14,800 Infantry (180 pts)

Total = 294 pts from destroying enemy formations
Objectives held = 1 (50 pts)

French losses just were not that heavy, and even where they did take losses, they did not tend to lose entire formations.  The Anglo-Russians held only a single objective, and so the final tally was 344 points.  That more than doubled the total from the first session where the Anglo-Russians only managed 165 points, and British losses amongst their Guard units were extremely light.

The French played a good game, and had a good plan.  Hold in the center, pull back on the left (against the Russians) to minimize combat but protect objectives, and hit hard on their right.  The French dice rolling was totally unreal.  Here is an all-too-common example where four French batteries rolling 10 dice each vaporized an 8-stand British Infantry Unit in a single turn:

1st battery : 10d6 = 2 hits (1 Fatigue marker, 1 stand lost, 7 left)
2nd battery : 10d6 = 4 hits (1 Fatigue marker, 3 more stands lost, 4 left)
3rd battery : 10d6 = 2 hits (1 Fatigue marker, 1 more stand lost, 3 left)
4th battery : 10d6 = 4 hits (1 Fatigue marker, 3 more stands lost, cue funereal music)

The French also made good use of timely card play and combined arms to savage the Russian army.  Of the four divisions, two were annihilated, one damaged, and one left largely intact.  The intact division was the elite Guards division (yay!), but the Officer (Constantine) was killed in service to his brother, Alexander, Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias.  The only good news for our side was that as the French were clearing huge numbers of Russian infantry from the tabletop, their poor value accrued few points.

The final tally for the French:

British Losses
       4 Artillery batteries (40 pts)
   540 Cavalry (0 pts)
19,600 Infantry (84 pts)

Russian Losses
       12 Artillery batteries (84)
     180 Cavalry (0 pts)
28,000 Infantry (190 pts)

Total = 403 pts from destroying enemy formations
Objectives held = 5 (250 pts)

Grand total for the French = 653 points

This results was a tiny bit better than the French total from the first outing (623 points).

Even if the French luck was a little less hot, my sense is that the Anglo-Russians still are likely to lose this one without some change to the location of the objectives.  If the French are forced to be the attacker across the entire line that spread their forces more thin, and make it easier for the other side to engage en masse.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

After Action Report: Hypothetical Campaign in England, 1806

We started a hypothetical campaign this spring where Napoleon invaded England, and through diplomacy, recruited legions from both Scotland and Ireland to help with his intended conquest.  For their part, the English convinced the Russian Tsar to send a small army to support the Crown. An initial scenario set in 1805 was bloody but inconclusive.

The next session was set in 1806, and imagined a follow-up engagement with forces largely similar to the 1805 scenario.  Pictures of the initial battlefield and the ending positions are below.

This battle ended after only four turns when the British-Russian side conceded defeat, and left the field to the French and their Scottish-Irish-Bavarian allies.  The British losses were very high, and if not for six (!) one-stand units left on the tabletop, the disparity in victory points would have been much higher.

Russian losses
1,800 cavalry
0 infantry
5 artillery batteries

English losses
3,420 cavalry
24,000 infantry
4 artillery batteries

French losses
3,600 cavalry
14,400 infantry (including 1,200 Irish)
3 artillery batteries

Total victory points for the Anglo-Russian side: 0 for objectives + 165 for destroying enemy units = 165 points

Total victory points for the French and French-Allied side: 300 for objectives + 323 for destroying enemy units = 623 points

The French were organized into three large corps commanded by Ney, Davout and Lannes.  The French also had a cavalry reserve corps under Murat and a small guard corps under Bessieres.  This side featured ease of movement -- the number of activations available each turn was equal to the number of formations.

The weakest French corps - the one on their far left under Ney - conducted a tactical withdrawal, moving slowly to the rear and center.  On the far right a strong corps under Lannes, augmented with a division of dragoons fought a heavy engagement against Moore's Light Division, also augmented with two British cavalry divisions.  The British elected to cede this flank to the French, and the main result was a great loss of cavalry on both sides and relatively few casualties otherwise.  The French were able to collect all of the objectives available on this flank too.

The main French blow fell in the center.  Napoleon was able to launch Davout, Murat, and elements of the guard against a relatively thin British line.  Because the British also advanced aggressively in the center before their Russian allies could engage, the French could apply nearly their entire effort on a small number of British divisions each turn, tearing them apart with both musket and artillery fire.

The British and Russian commands were all unwieldy.  Each commander could activate only two formations each turn, and the Russians had four formations, and the British had 10 (but two commanders).  The command situation limited what this side could do, leaving them in a position best suited for localized counterpunching v. broad movements and mass action.  The best situation might have been a steady advance on the British far fight by Kutusov and his four divisions while focusing both British commanders in the center so that four British divisions could be moved freely each turn (along with four brigades or batteries).

The (fictional) aftermath of this drubbing is that the British sue for peace.  Napoleon accepts, ending the blockade of the Continental System, and creating French client states in Scotland and England.  The Spanish continue to ally themselves with the French.  Everything is looking very rosy for the Emperor.  However, their are storm clouds to the east where Austria and Germany are concerned about growing French power.  And they may be able to find a willing partner to take action in Russia...

Battlefield view. Anglo-Russian force is on the left and the French and French-Allied force is on the right.

French Cavalry Reserve under Murat.

French Guard Corps.

Extreme French left.  Corps of French-Allied troops under Ney.  Bavarians, Scots, and Irish!
Extreme French right under Lannes.  His corps was joined by a French dragoon division before play began. 
Extreme British left.  Dundas is in the bottom left corner.  The British Light Division under Moore suffered few casualties, but also caused few.  The supporting infantry division in the center-right counter-marched the first few turns, and saw little action.  Two British cavalry divisions joined this flank prior to the start of the battle.  

The British center under the Duke of York.  This entire force was nearly destroyed by Davout and the French guard.  One player called it the English Jena-Auerstedt.

The Anglo-Russian far right.  Kutusov has four large divisions.  One is green, and one is elite, but the other two are regular line.  Unfortunately for the British, the Russians were not able to engage before the battle was lost.  Only the Russian Guard Cavalry fought, and then were destroyed by two French heavy cavalry brigades (which were also destroyed in the process).

Saturday, June 3, 2017

After action report: Hypothetical 1807 scrum in Poland

After action report for a hypothetical 1807 battle in Poland

The group fought a large battle the other night using the latest rev of the rules.  Recent changes make the game a bit bloodier, and remove a lot of extra die rolling from the game.  I think this made it play a bit more quickly.

The scenario also had eight commands (four French, four Russian), and each command had its own Leader and deck of cards.  Leaders could only activate Officers and Units within their own starting forces, and could only play cards on those same troops, or enemy troops within 12".  This made for faster gameplay since it eliminated "defensive action by committee" decisions each turn.  I think we'll keep working the system this way.

The scenario featured a single major road running the length of the table.  At one end was a division of militia (Russian 2nd) holding a town protecting a river crossing.  Approaching the town were a pair of good quality French corps (I and II).  Flanking the French for a pincer movement were a large Russian division on one side (4th), and two large Russian divisions (3rd and 5th) on the other side.  The French started with a 3-star Leader for the I and II Corps.  The Russians started with a 2-star leader for the 3rd and 5th Divisions, and a second 2-star leader for the 4th Division.

A view from one corner of the table.  The Russians 2nd Division (militia) guard a river crossing the French are trying to seize.

Birds'-eye view of the Russian 2nd Division. 
The Russian 4th Division.  Hidden by a thick morning mist and a field of wheat.  The French I and II Corps are in the distance on the upper left.  This is one of two of the at-start Russian commands with a Leader.

The Russian 5th Division.  Very green.  This is one half of the second Russian at-start commands with a Leader.  This command is across the table from the other Russian command, forming a pincer to crush the French I and II Corps. 
The Russian 3rd Division.  The other half of the command.

Birds'-eye view of the soon-to-be beleaguered at-start French command.

At the start of the game I told the Russian players (privately) that the Russian 1st (Guards) Division would appear on turn 2 next to the Russian 2nd Division.  A Leader who also appear, commanding both the 1st and 2nd Divisions.  This would give the Russians a 3-to-1 advantage in Leaders for a short time.  I also told the Russians that a strong 4th command would appear a the far end of the table to attempt a complete envelopment of the French.  The Russians also knew that the French would have four commands, but only one started on the table.

Separately and privately I told the French players that they would receive some additional troops (previously hidden by fog) near the on-table forces, adding about 33% extra forces, and surprising the Russians.  I also told them that they'd have a substantial force on the table, but closer to the far-end, and then two final commands entering from the far-end.

The Results

Reports were pretty positive, both on the most recent rules changes (reflect in v0.9) and on the scenario.  In general I think hypotheticals often work better than historical scenarios since there isn't any historical baggage, and the GM can leave things unknown to the players, just as real world commanders would lack complete knowledge.

French Losses

Command #1:  I and II Corps
24,000 infantry
1,980 cavalry
8 batteries
1 officer
1 leader

The I and II Corps faced almost total annihilation.  Only one corps commander (officer) and four batteries survived.  This was not totally unexpected since this command started in a precarious position and was outmanned and outgunned considerably.

501 victory points awarded to the Russians

Command #2: Reserve Corps and Cavalry Reserve Corps
2,340 cavalry
2 batteries

The Reserve Corps consisted of converged grenadiers, and the Cavalry Reserve was a mix of medium and heavy cavalry.  Moderate losses.  These were placed near the middle of the tabletop on turn 2.

46 victory points awarded to the Russians

Command #3: Guard Corps and Polish Corps
6,800 infantry
2,520 cavalry

This was a mix of excellent troops and plain regulars.  Moderate losses.  This was one of two commands that entered from one of the two roads at the far end of the table.

30 victory points awarded to the Russians

Command #4: III Corps and Heavy Cavalry Division
1,600 infantry
1,620 cavalry

This was a regular French corps plus two heavy cavalry brigades.  Light losses, no units destroyed. This was one of two commands that entered from one of the two roads at the far end of the table.

0 victory points awarded to the Russians

33,000 infantry
8,640 cavalry
10 batteries
1 officer
1 leader

Total Russian victory points: 577

Russian Losses

Command #1: 1st and 2nd Divisions
1,200 infantry
1,440 cavalry
4 batteries
1 officer (1st Division CO)

The 2nd Division (Militia) started on the table, but the 1st Division (Guard) was placed on turn 2.  This small command played a key role in the destruction of the French I and II Corps.  But they did lose a Guard HC brigade in the process.

80 victory points awarded to the French

Command #2: 3rd and 5th Divisions
25,600 infantry
900 cavalry
6 batteries

This was the hammer of the Russian onslaught on the French I and II Corps.  This command inflicted heavy casualties, but was severely mauled in the process.  In the end only a line of artillery was there to hold off the French RES and CR.

234 victory points awarded to the French

Command #3: 4th Division
400 infantry
1,260 cavalry
2 batteries

This was the anvil.  Light casualties.  Other than an early ill-advised charge that destroyed a cavalry brigade, was spared most of the carnage of the battle.

33 victory points awarded to the French

Command #4: 7th, 8th, and 9th Divisions
33,600 infantry
3,960 cavalry
4 batteries
1 officer

This command was placed on turn 3 and faced a difficult decision: engage the newly placed French RES and CR formations to keep them from helping I and II Corps, or to organize a defense for the expected (rightfully so) French commands entering behind them?  In the end the command had little choice but to face the arriving French formations.  While the command had numbers, it lacked overall quality and the single two-star Leader was overmatched by two three-star French Leaders.  This unhappy command was nearly destroyed.

473 victory points awarded to the French

60,800 infantry
7,560 cavalry
16 batteries
2 officers

Total French victory points: 820

This was a victory.... for someone.  Grim Death?

The French win on points, but lost two entire Corps that were trapped, and relief could not get to them in time.  The Russians succeeded in pinching off the French salient in Poland, but the cost was too high.

Monday, May 29, 2017

After action report - Battle of Toulouse

24 April, 1814 - Evening Edition

TOULOUSE - A great battle was fought on the day of 10 April of this year between the forces of his Majesty and his allies, and those of that Corsican ogre.  Your faithful reporter was present at the battle and files the following report from the great Occitanie city of Toulouse.

The battle just after dawn with the forces of Lord Wellington drawn up north of the city.  Marshal William Beresford's corps was on the left, Spanish forces under that dandy General Freire formed the center, and Wellington's own corp formed the right.  Furthermore, Lieutenant General Sir Rowland Hill joined in the battle, assaulting the western suburbs of Toulouse, just across the great Garonne river.

Lord Wellington took ill that morning and left the bulk of the planning to his young protege, Colonel Northrup.  Northrup's plan called for a bold cavalry assault of the French redoubts across the Canal de Garonne.  The generals told him he was mad, but Northrop insisted the battle would be fought his way or not at all.  They say he had the fevers that day.

True to his word the young colonel directed the cream of his cavalry command - the Life Guards, the Dragoon Guards, and the KGL Dragoons - toward the canal and into the fury of the French redoubts.  The case shot and canister tore great holes in the cavalry ranks, but the greater the casualties, the brighter the gleam in the eye of Northrup.  By some calculations a new widow was made every thirty seconds, yet the colonel drove the men and horses forward.

Meanwhile in the center, Freire -- known as El Martillo (the Hammer) to his men -- drove his Spanish legions forward.  The attack soon became uncoordinated with some brigades halting with others driving forward.  The generals sought El Martillo for guidance, but could not find him.  Later, allegations were leveled that El Martillo was sampling different snuffs, but no proof could be found.

And on the left, the good Marshal Beresford moved his forces to support El Martillo.  As he and his troops closed on the French positions, there were reports of a wild look on the face of Beresford as he seemed to transform into a wholly different personality, and referred to himself only as Billy War Monger.

As War Monger moved to support his fellows, four French divisions fell upon him.  Strangely the French generals commanding those divisions had all been school teachers before the revolution, and only entered military service after becoming disenchanted with public education in France, and more to the point, because they came to despise their students. Their names do not translate well into English, but the closest approximation for the one that translates best is simply, Cheatin' Bob.  A wild melee ensured between the former teachers and WM leaving both sides almost completely destroyed.

El Matrillo and his Spanish divisions suffered lighter losses, but were never able to seriously threaten the French positions.

And so the main weight on the battle fell to the right and Northrup.  Against him stood two French divisions under the command of an enigmatic figure known only as "Double-D."  Time and again Northrup pressed his cavalry into the guns and canals and redoubts of the French, inflicting some casualties, but always being driven back with even higher casualties.  And while the colonel did eventually manage to seize a narrow bridgehead across the canal, he did not have the support to hold it.

As a final footnote this reporter should include a report on the results produced by Lt General Hill.  The general was in poor health this day, suffering from an infection which limited his ability to be in the field.  His young aide-de-camp, one Bloody Jim, served his general well, clearing the suburbs west of Toulouse with a relatively low loss of life.  To celebrate the tactical victory on the banks of the Garonne, Bloody Jim drank a toast to Lt Gen Hill, and then took his saber to the physician of General Hill, a young practitioner who had studied at the medical school of the university located in central Europe.  Opposing Hill was a single division of regulars, and a large provisional division of militia.  Unusual for this period, the two divisions were commanded by a father-son team.

The final casualty totals from the battle were:

4,680 cavalry
10,800 infantry
7 brigades annihilated, including all British heavy and elite cavalry

1,600 infantry

5,200 infantry
2 brigades annihilated

1,620 cavalry
13,600 infantry
4 artillery batteries
3 brigades annihilated

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Battle of Toulouse

The Battle of Toulouse (1814) is scheduled for next weekend.

We'll be using the order of battle from Wikipedia, which draws from many of the usual sources for battles during the Napoleonic Wars.

I've based the tabletop on this map, also found on Wikipedia

Source: Gregory Fremont-Barnes (main editor) - The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, page 996. Adapted from Fremont-Barnes 2002A, 83.

It is a little smaller than some battles, but is interesting because in this case the Anglo-Porto-Spanish army is on the offensive, and outnumbers the French side by 2-to-1.  The French do benefit from interior lines and several fortifications.

Here are some photos of the battlefield after deployment, but before the game has started:

Allied far left.  In the foreground are Beresford's Corps:  the 4th and 6th Divisions.  Two brigades of Hussars are behind (right in this photograph), and are also part of Beresford's Corps. 
Allied Center with Freire's Corps.  The 4th and 5th Divisions make up this corps along with two batteries of Portuguese (not Spanish) foot guns.

Wellington's Corps is on the Allied right, and includes Alten's Light Division, and.... 
... a considerable number of brigades of cavalry of generally high quality, and the 3rd Division at the top of the photograph, just to the right of the Light Division.

Rounding out the Allied side is Daddy Hill's Corps, isolated from the rest of the Allied army by the swollen Garonne.  Hill has a quality Spanish division, and a Portuguese division, and ....

... Stewart's 2nd Division.

On the French side, the younger Soult commands a cavalry division on the far south of the battlefield.  The main job of this unit is to keep the road open to Carcassonne is the Allies manage to break through the defenses. 
The Heights of Calvinet are on the eastern side of the battlefield (French right), and are covered with redoubts with batteries of French artillery.  Three French infantry divisions are also guarding this approach to Toulouse.

To the north of the battlefield lies the French center, guarded by two French infantry divisions and more redoubts.

Birds'-eye view of Toulouse (right of the river) and St Cyprien (left of the river).  A provisional division of militia hold the town.

Facing Hill's Corps is a single French division, but the approaches also include fortifications and an impassable marsh.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Rules v0.7 are available

I've posted version 0.7 of the rules on the blog.

Battle of Albuera after action report

The group played the Battle of Albuera last night. The French were led by Double D, Ben, and Johnny War Monger.  The Allied forces were split between four players:  Cheatin' Bob and Brian played the main Anglo-Portuguese command, John played a small Anglo-Portuguese command in Albuera, and the Hammer commanded Blake and the Spanish.

 It was a close-run game throughout -- at different times all players felt like they would have no chance at victory. In the end, much like the historical battle, both sides suffered heavy losses.

This sums it up pretty well:
Reviewing Beresford's after action report, Wellington was unhappy with its despondent tone and commented to a staff officer "This won't do. It will drive the people in England mad. Write me down a victory." The report was duly rewritten, although Wellington privately acknowledged that another such battle would ruin his army. Soult, on the basis of higher allied casualties, also claimed "a signal victory". He generously paid tribute to the steadfastness of the allied troops, writing "There is no beating these troops, in spite of their generals. I always thought they were bad soldiers, now I am sure of it. I had turned their right, pierced their centre and everywhere victory was mine – but they did not know how to run!"

The above is from the Wikipedia page on Albuera.

The game ended after about 10-11 turns when the French side felt they could no longer press the attack, and decided to withdraw.  The French were very beat up, but had ample artillery and one or two solid brigades in reserve to cover a retreat without it becoming a route.  Further, the Allied armies suffered very heavy losses, and were in no condition to pursue the French.

French losses were 2,880 cavalry and 12,400 infantry, giving up 44 victory points (VPs) to the Allies.  The French were also unable to secure either section of Albuera, and so gave up 100 VPs for terrain, for a final total of 144 points for the Allies.

Portuguese losses were 2,800 infantry worth 28 VPs.

Spanish losses were 1,620 cavalry, 10,400 infantry, and an artillery battery.  The combined VP value was 72, for a running French total of 100 VPs (28 + 72).

And British losses were 1,260 cavalry, 5,200 infantry, and an artillery battery.  The VP total for the British forces was 105 VPs, and so the French grand total was 205 VPs.

In terms of rules it felt like most things were working well.  It can sometimes be confusing to know which side is the Active side if the turn has a lot of react moves and combat; we fixed this with a marker to keep track of the Active side.  May also tweak the Artillery rules a bit to address a few things noted by the players, and some things I've noticed that don't seem to match up with the historical records.

A pictorial tour of the AAR:
The remnants of Godinot's skirmishers.  The British ran a cavalry regiment across the river to threaten them, so they squared.  The British then pounded the square with artillery for hours. Albuera is in the distance.

The French center.  The divisions of Girard and Gazan burned themselves out against the British and Spanish. 
The French left. Soult surveys the field.

The French far left.  The 3rd brigade of Latour-Mauborg's cavalry division is one of the few French units in pretty good shape.

The Allied right. You can see why Beresford would have written such a glum report.  The remnants of several Allied units gather on a hill.  Each one is pretty close to the breaking point.

Blake looks over the Spanish positions.  Again, there isn't much left.

The Spanish left, and the overall Allied center.  Only a few small units remain.

Albuera and the Allied far left.  This is the command that took the fight out of the French at the end.  The French felt that even if they could have swept the remaining units on the Allied center and right out of the way, they would not have enough left to deal with this.  There is a small light cavalry unit, two small light infantry units (including the KGL), and Hamilton's Portuguese division.

A bird's-eye view of the battlefield.  French are on the right.  The no-man's land between the two battered armies consists mostly of artillery batteries.  Counter-battery fire is largely ineffective at destroying enemy batteries in this system (which feels right to me, and matches the historical records I have found), and without more fresh infantry or cavalry, there isn't much either side can do to advance.