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.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Battle of Buçaco after action report

We gamed the Battle of Buçaco last night.  We finished 8 of 14 turns.  (We called it a night after the 1pm turn.)  The Anglo-Portuguese were ahead on points when we stopped, but the players felt like this would have swung in the French favor had we kept playing, and finished the last six turns.

Initial deployments:

French side looking to the southwest.  The ridges with the British and Portuguese deployed in "reverse slope" are in the distance.

French side looking northwest.

The French artillery reserve near a primary west-to-east road.

The French VIII Corps under Junot.  They would not see action in this battle. 

Extreme north (left) of the British line.  Cole's 4th Division.

British center.  Craufurd's Light Division is in the background on the reverse slope of the ridge (yellow tags). Four independent Portuguese brigades and three independent batteries are in the foreground.  

British center-right.  Spencer's 1st Division. 

British right.  Picton's 3rd Division. 
British right.  Leith's 5th Division.  Or at least this is where early recon thought they were!  As the battle started, Leith's division was actually on the left side of the British line.

British extreme right.  Hill's 2nd Division. 
Looking south to north along the ridge line.

Looking north to south along the ridge line.

The French were led by Brad and John.  Brad played Masséna, and also Ney's VI Corps.  John played Reynier's II Corps and Montbrun's Reserve Cavalry Corps.  Junot's VIII Corps saw little action, but some of the individual brigades were ordered towards the front.

The Anglo-Portuguese were led by Johnny Warmonger, Cheatin' Bob, and the Hammer.  The Hammer anchored the British left, and both inflicted and received the most casualties.  This is where the main force of the French attack fell.  Johnny Warmonger played Wellington and the British center.  And Cheatin' Bob played the British right, which was a relatively quite sector.

The French led their attack with Ney's VI Corps assaulting the British left flank.  This was a hard-fought sector with both sides taking heavy casualties, but with the outright destruction of only a single unit (a French infantry brigade), not counting artillery batteries.

In the center the French pushed forward with Reynier's II Corps, grinding down the British in the hopes of pushing some of the French cavalry through the gaps in the ridge.  (The French had a massive edge in cavalry, but were not able to use it in the battle since the Allies tended to stay on the safety of the rough-terrain ridge.)

Final positions:

At their new extreme right the British plug a gap in the ridge line with an Infantry brigade.  The rest of the right prepares for a possible assault by the French cavalry. 
The French have seized the ridge on the right, and have nearly captured the one on the left too.  A sole British infantry brigade contests that ridge.

The extreme British left.  The ridge on the right is contested.  The ridge on the left had been the scene of much hard fighting, but both sides have been so bloodied that no one dares to climb it now. 
The French right.  Ney has lost a good portion of his artillery, and many of his units to the near side of the road are pretty beat-up.  He is still strong in the center of this scene, and some of Junot's VIII Corps is starting to arrive.

The French left.  Montbrun's cavalry is ready to race through one of the gaps in the ridge line.  Reynier's light infantry have seized the ridge to the right.  Three batteries of the reserve artillery screen the cavalry reserve.

Points at the end of play (end of turn 8 of 14):

The French held 75 points for objectives (three villages), and scored 58 points for casualties, for a total of 133 points.

The Anglo-Portuguese held 150 points for objectives (five villages and the convent), and scored 78 points for casualties, for a total of 228 points.

The Anglo-Portuguese side believed, and this was likely, that had we continued play, the points for objectives would have shifted in favor of the French, AND the French would have also fed in fresh troops.  The fresh troops would have likely routed or destroyed more of the Anglo-Portuguese formations than they would have lost, further moving the needle in favor of the French.


Portuguese:  7,600 infantry, 0 cavalry, and 2 batteries.

British: 8,000 infantry, 180 cavalry, and 4 batteries.

British-Portuguese total: 15,600 infantry, 180 cavalry, 6 batteries.

French: 12,400 infantry, 180 cavalry, 4 batteries.

Monday Morning Analysis:

The French attacked en masse all along the line, making the most of their two powerful corps under Ney and Reynier.  This was a much better plan and showing than historical.  The French had very hot dice, destroying a significant amount of the Allied artillery in just the first few turns.

The Allies made the most of their terrain, keeping the cavalry out of the game.  They were also able to counter-punch in select places to inflict timely losses on batteries and isolated brigades.  They may have needed to accept more risk - maybe too much - to shift more troops to their left and left-center to achieve local superiority in firepower.  The Allied luck also ran hot and cold, alternating between highly effective rolls that would wipe out an entire brigade, but punctuated with long periods of totally ineffective firing and combat.

With such uneven luck, chance favored the big battalions, and a probably French victory.

Here is a link to a Google Sheet with the OOB and a turn record chart.