Background image is Les Dernières Cartouches (The Last Cartridges) by Alphonse de Neuville

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas at the Cardboard Caserne


We had a very festive Christmas at the Cardboard Caserne. Though I didn't get any wargames as gifts, I did receive a copy of Richard Bassett's For God and Kaiser: The Imperial Austrian Army 1619-1918, which will certainly be fuelling many of my expeditions into my wargame library in the future. I also got for myself a "player's copy" of the SPI classic monster game Wellington's Victory: [the] Battle of Waterloo (WV), first published in 1976.

I was an avid Napoleonicist from an early age, so I bought WV when it came out (or shortly thereafter, I forget), only to sell it many years later when I simply didn't have many chances to play it. I was sad, though, not to have it in my library, so when a copy was advertised online for only $20, I jumped at the chance. The seller was very frank about its condition; the maps had been trimmed extensively (not the terrain-bearing parts, just the "white space"), the counters clipped, and the rulebook heavily marked up. There's no way that this could be considered in good condition, but he made sure I knew what I was getting, and for what I paid, it is fine. It's usable, and that's all I need.

Reading over the designer's notes more carefully than I did when I was a teenager, I can see that what many people have viewed as a design flaw (the extensive emphasis placed on skirmishers) is actually quite intentional on the designer's part and reflects a rather unorthodox interpretation on his part of how combat units operated. That is, he seems to believe that armies with extensive light infantry forces really did dissolve large parts of their best units into clouds of skirmishers that generated most of the firepower of infantry in combat, that the only time formed infantry resorted to firepower was in defense. There are certainly military historians who have postulated that, but it isn't the consensus, as far as I know.

As for Bassett's work, I'm very excited. As a teenager, I was infatuated with the French Grande Armée of du Premier Empire. Of course, with its amazing uniforms and gallant heroism, it was a natural subject of fascination. And as a born-and-raised Anglophile, of course the redcoats of the British Army have always had a special place in my heart. But the Austrian army? Like their infantry's coats, they always seemed a bit colourless. Defeated time and time again by the rising power of France, treated like a poor relation by the other Allied powers, always something of a confused mess by nature of its dual monarchy and dozens of nationalities, the kaiserlich und königlich armee just didn't grab the attention.

But the older I've grown and the more Austro-Hungarian history I've read, the more I appreciate the poor old k-u-k. Upholders of grand traditions that went back to the days of Carolus Magnus, the Imperial armies did their best to contain and defend a sprawling realm. In 1804, in a bid to match the consolidation of France's conquests into Napoleon's empire, Kaiser Franz II merged his familial and elective title as Holy Roman Emperor with his personal titles of King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemmia and Archduke of Austria to create the new Empire of Austria. It covered nearly 700,000 square kilometers, included twelve major territories (kingdoms, principalities, archduchies, duchies, counties, even a voivodeship) and included as many as fifteen nationalities (Germans, Italians, Magyars, Czechs, Slovaks, Ruthenians, Poles, Romanians, Wallachians, and others).

The hussars that had become the darling of every European army in the 18th century were Hungary's mad, bad, "so crazy no one wants to mess with them" light cavalry reinterpretation of the old Polish heavy cavalry husar. The light lancers that the were adopted first by France and then by most other nations appeared first as uhlans in the Austrian army, another reinterpretation of the heavy horsemen of the old Polish armies. Austria, like other German states, embodied corps of jaegers as specialist light infantry; but Austria often employed their frontier troops (grenzers, often also known as pandours or Croats, though they included Bosnians and Serbs as well) as excellent light infantry akin to the early Highland Scots regiments of the British army (before, like the British, they made the mistake of turning their "wild hillmen" into regular line infantry regiments with fancy costumes). The Austrian artillery arm had been famous for its steadiness and gun quality since at least the 18th century, and its brown-coated gunners remained, as they always had been, unflashy, stolid, but tough and dependable, serving their well-made guns bravely. Austria was not as famous for its generals as some nations, but it was full of brave, capable, and occasionally brilliant officers. Erherzohg Karl, Duke of Teschen, deserves a place with Wellington and Napoleon among the leading generals of the age. Napoleon admired Karl Philipp, Fürst zu Schwarzenberg, so much that he specifically requested that the prince command the Austrian portion of the Grand Army of 1812. Austria itself also contributed the stolid von Kienmayer; Bohemia, von Kollowrat and the dashing von Klenau; Hungary, the brothers Albert and Ignac Gyulay; and Croatia, the dauntless Baron Vukassovich, who fought Napoleon from his Italian campaign of 1796 to the baron's death in 1809 at Wagram.

Austria went on to become overshadowed by Prussia, defeated by her in the wars of the later 19th century, and eventually nothing better than a sidekick in the disastrous Great War of 1914-1918 that began with an attempt by Austrian revanchists to regain their former Balkan empire and ended with the death of the entire realm. Wargaming these later conflicts and reading about the internal and external politics of the Dual Monarchy have left me with far more interest in it than I would have expected, as well as a sort of lingering sadness for the loss, nearly a century ago, of such an impossible, impractical, confused, and complicated player from the world stage. United Germany has been rebuilt from the ashes of the Cold War; one can only speculate what the world might be like if Austria-Hungary, which ruled parts of what today are a dozen different countries, were still a power in the world.

Finally...

In a follow-up to my last post, I realized that of course I was forgetting one important Christmas battle! So if I have any spare time over the remaining holidays, I'll be setting up the opening scenario for 1777: the Year of the Hangman. Yes, in all the excitement about snowy maps, I had forgotten "The Ten Crucial Days"--the campaign that started off with Washington's bold (though not at all surprise) offensive across the near-frozen Delaware River against the Hessian garrison of Trenton, New Jersey, that also led to the battles of  Assunpink Creek and of Princeton. Though I didn't live long there, I *was* born in New Jersey, and my sister's been there (in the Princeton-Trenton-Assunpink area, even) for the better part of the last 30 years, so shame on me for forgetting about it! After all, we have this awesome meme on social media every year to remind us...



Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve: Best Wishes and Battles


The bitter battle of Lund, 1757.
I was idly speculating about what game I might pull out if I had some spare time to do a little solitaire play over the holiday. I had gone a fair way down this road until I realised that, as I'm not taking any time off work for Christmas (other than the Christmas Day I am kindly granted by my employer), and since family will be in town after The Day for a visit, the chances that I'll have any such time are minimal. Still, since I'd thought about it, the brainpower might aw well not go to waste, so I thought a blog post might be in order.

The whole idea had been sparked off by a fellow wargamer asked a group devoted to games from the late, great Simulations Publications Inc. which SPI title on the Battle of the Bulge (a famous Christmas battle) had been their favourite. I started wondering about the different Bulge games that I have, which include GMT's Ardennes '44 and Tigers in the Mist, SPI's Wacht am Rhein, Avalon Hill's Bitter Woods, and the ASL modules Wacht am Rhein (Lone Canuck), Baraque de Fraiture (Front Line Productions), Battle of the Bulge (Time on Target) and Kampfgruppe Peiper I and KGP II (Avalon Hill). I could have sworn I owned 3W's Race to the Meuse, but perhaps I sold that years ago when I foolishly thinned out my collection a bit; it doesn't seem by the ratings to have been that good, so perhaps I'm not missing anything.

But what about other winter battles? There have been plenty, surely. What other titles in my collection would be suitable? (And, given the horrendously unseasonable weather we're having here in the Washington, DC, region, maybe give me a little illusory chill?)

Lund, 1676: The cold radiates off the map.
Of course, go early enough in history, and everyone had enough sense not to go out and fight when it was bloody cold and snowing. I think the battle of Lund between Sweden and Denmark was the first I could find in my collection (in GMT's Nothing To Gain But Glory) that features a frosty battlefield, the engagement taking place over the course of a very long December 4th, 1676. The map itself does a grand job of showing how miserable and cold the men must have been during what was one of Europe's most lethal battles.

Clash of Arms Leuthn: Frederick's Greatest Victory
Spin ahead eighty years, and in the midst of the Seven Years War, one finds the battle of Leuthen, fought in Silesia on 5 December 1757. At one point almost dramatically won by the Prussians' skillful pre-battle maneuvering, Leuthen eventually ground to a deadlock, as the Austrian army refused to accept that it had been defeated. I have two ways of trying out this game, either in COA's Leuthen: Frederick's Greatest Victory (a debateable title, in my opinion) or in GMT's Prussia's Glory, which includes Leuthen with Zorndorff, Torgau, and Rossbach, the latter easily beating out Leuthen for title of Frederick's greatest victory.

Move ahead to the Napoleonic era and there are two snowy battlefields that stand out boldly. One is a confused, messy, filled with glorious exploits, but overall a picture of bloody devastation, not unlike the battle of Lund on a larger scale. This was the battle of Preussisch-Eylau, fought on the 7th and 8th of February 1807. In it, two armies each of about 75,00 men traded hammerblows for two days in snow and freezing cold, each eventually losing as much as a third of their army in killed, wounded, or missing.On one side of the battle, the Russian army under Count von Bennigsen gathered together a huge battery of over 70 artillery guns to smash a French assault on his center, riposted with a massive column of infantry, and broke the center of Napoleon's army. In return, the French emperor called on the flamboyant Gascon cavalry commander Joachim Murat and flung him and a massive cavalry force of 11,000 men into the flank and center of the Russian counterattack, crushing it and scattering its men far and wide. Both French and Russian armies paused, like a boxer battered nearly into insensibility, and then, reinforced (Napoleon by more French under Marshal Michel Ney, von Bennigsen by a corps of Prussians under A.W. von L'Estocq) pounded each other for several more hours, until nearly midnight. When he surveyed the battlefield the next day, Ney said, Quel massacre! Et sans résultat ("What a massacre! And without result").

Napoleon and his Garde Imperiale in LBdP-E
Preussich-Eylau has been covered by several designers and publishers. Probably the grandest is Mattson, Spors, and Wimble's La Bataille de Preussisch-Eylau from Clash of Arm's Games. A chapter in the grand La Bataille system, it covers the battle down to the individual companies and battalions. A massive undertaking, it's detail is unmatched.

Another storied series that has covered the battle is Fréderic Bey's Eylau 1807, part of his Jours de Gloire system published by the French wargaming magazine Vae Victis: no less glorious, but somewhat more manageable than La Bataille.

The third entry in my library for this battle is Avalanche Press's Eagles of the Empire: Preussisch-Eylau. Characterized by an innovative area-movement system, this game can be played in a mere three hours, compared with Bey's four and the optimistic six predicted for La Bataille.

Napoleon at the Berezina
The other great battle in the snow from the Napoleonic period is the even more depressing and awful battle of the Berezina, where a French Grande Armée, limping shredded and starving out of Russia, turned at the last great river obstacle and fought to keep itself from being overwhlemed by the (equally battered and starving ) Russian armies that pursued it. This is depicted byt the veteran game designer Rob Markham in his Napoleon at the Berezina. That unusual of beasts, a solitaire wargame, NaB challenges the player to find a way for the French to cross the river to (relative) safety before being mauled to death by three converging Russian armies. Fréderic Bey has also covered the Berezina battle in his JdG series, but I do not have a copy of that title (yet).

Of course, World War One is most famous for its Christmas Truce of 1914. I do not, I regret, have any games that depict the famous football match that took place before Germans and British were ordered back to their lines.

World War Two, besides the Bulge, has two other theatres where winter fighting was endemic. Since I'd like to finish this post and get to Christmas Eve festivities, I'll just quickly list some of the relevant titles from the famous Finnish Winter War and from the grim battles of the Eastern Front.

Finland: The earliest game I recall playing on this theatre was James Goff's excellent Winter War (SPI, 1972). Another great title is David Ritchie's Arctic Storm (GMT, 1992). A modern classic on a smaller scale is Mark Mokszycki's Red Winter: The Soviet Attack at Tolvajärvi, Finland, December 8-12, 1939 (GMT, 2012). And, of course, Advanced Squad Leader is represented by (inter alia) MMP's Hakkaa Paalle! module and Critical Hit's Jatkosota: Finland's Continuation War.

Frosty fighting in the streets of Cholm.
Russia: A quick trip to the Ostfront here for me, as my collection of Russian winter battles consists largely of White Death: Velikiye Luki, the Stalingrad of the North and a newer one, ATO's Wintergewitter, about the attempt to break out of the Stalingrad kessel. ASL is represented here by the package Kampfgruppe Scherer: the Shield of Cholm by the talented team at Le Franc Tireur.
a great older title, GDW's

I'll close with one that still has not made it to my table, but that I'm interested to try one day. Into a Bear Trap: the Battle for Grozny 1995 is the brainchild of the prolific designer Perry Moore. This well-rated game from ATO depicts the modern urban combat waged over the capital of Chechnya by the Russian army and the irregular forces of the Chechen resistance.

As a wrap up, this blogpost by someone much more dedicated than I to the topic lists more than a dozen different battles (or battle-like events) that took place on or around Christmas, for your extended Christmas warfare pleasure.

Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates it, and happy holidays to all!


Monday, December 21, 2015

So, here's a quick one

Mr Invisible and I are trying to decide what to play next. We've put together three lists: games we've not played yet, games we'd like to play again, and games we think the other chap isn't likely to pick.

Here are our lists, combined. You readers get to bid on what we should play next! When I went to Blogger Help to see if I could make this a poll, all the articles on polls seemed to be questions about why the polling tool doesn't work. So I'm going to skip using that and ask you to post suggestions in the comments section.

New (to us) games:


Played it once, let's play it again:

Really? You want to play that?

Rebel Raiders on the High Seas: A Test Game

USN Vice Adm. David Glasgow Farragut
My friend Eric "Mr Invisible" and I started off our inaugural monthly weeknight gaming session with a trial of GMT Games' Rebel Raiders on the High Seas. We have both recently read James McPherson's War on the Waters: The Union & Confederate Navies, 1861–1865 and were looking forward to exploring the naval portion of the American Civil War with this (relatively) new game on the subject.

We started off with dinner and some chat about work, and we had neither of us read the rules exhaustively beforehand, so we did not have time to play through the whole game at our first trial. Instead, we played the first three turns, trying out different gambits and exploring the ways that different rules provisions work. I think we'll be better prepared to  play a full game now that we've had a training session.

And play a full game I think we certainly will, as we both enjoyed the game a great deal. It has fairly simple mechanics and achieves detail through varying them in different circumstances. The same basic mechanic is used for ships trying to locate enemy ships in order to attack them, for instance; but CSA commerce raiders and be searched for in all sea and coastal areas, whereas the faster and more maneuverable blockade runners can only be found when they are in a "blockade station"--the approaches to a specific port--or in a port itself. Blockade runners being designed entirely for speed, however, are captured/destroyed if they are found, whereas the sturdier commerce raiders can give Union ships a fight for their money.

The land combat aspect of the war is highly abstracted; as the chiefs of naval operation, the players are most concerned with two main theatres: the maritime war of Southern commerce raiders and blockade runners and the Union attempt to gradually choke off their access to the sea, and the riverine warfare on the Mississippi and its tributaries. The armies appear in the form of assaults, which the Union can launch 2-4 times per turn (turns represent four months), and some supplemental card effects. The Confederates get a counterattack every so often, which can retake ground lost to the USA but cannot conquer any Union territory. Union assaults in the first year of the war are feeble stuff; over time they become more effective, as the wartime economy gears up and the ineffective generals are slowly weeded out.

U.S.S. St. Louis, Eads-built ironclad gunboat
Despite the preponderance of Union forces (as its increasingly capable armies capture more Confederate territory, the Union strips more and more of the resources the South needs to build more ships), the Confederacy wins the vast majority of games, according to player reports. This is not to say that the Confederacy wins the war and survives, but that players better the record of their historical counterparts. Though we played just the truncated year of 1861, I was certainly (as the Union player) feeling the frustration that McPherson describes as filling the Navy Department at the number of fast ships rushing in and out of Southern ports to pick up contraband in Europe and Cuba and bringing it back to Confederate shores with the Union Navy little able to respond due its woefully small numbers.

I tried an early assault on Norfolk, hoping to capture back the Navy Yard there and enable a two-track land
campaign against Richmond (hope of one of the CSA's major foundries and a big deal for naval support). But I fell at the first hurdle, as the Confederate defenses proved too much for my tiny armada. I did capture a few blockade runners and sank at least one commerce raider in the Gulf of Mexico.

Vicksburg, MS, levee and steamboats
But I also had little joy of attempts to push south in the riverine war; my attacks on Island Number 10 and on Forts Henry and Donelson achieved no progress but cost me a number of gunboats. Eric began fortifying Key West, clearly planning to use it as the base of a host of fast ships to run back and forth to Havana. I could see I'd have to turn my attention to reducing that soon, too. The early Union game feels entirely too much like a game of whack-a-mole.

Back east, things got worse, as Robert E. Lee came on the scene and prevented any land attacks in the Eastern Theatre, as the Army was too occupied defending against his wily thrusts to launch any of their own.

We stopped after the December 1861 turn for lack of time, and since it was a learning game we didn't even consider noting down all the locations of pieces for a later resumption. But I think we will get this back on the table soon. Especially if one doesn't interject any of the more specialized optional rules, RRotHS is a fast, fun, simple game that, at first glance seems to give a good impression of the naval aspects of the Civil War.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Boardgame: The Napoleonic Wars

My gaming opportunities have been unusually numerous of late, for which I am very grateful. Last Sunday, two friends and I managed to squeeze in a learning game of GMT's The Napoleonic Wars. The game has a well-deserved 7.06 rating on BGG; my own rating for it is higher, as it seems a very enjoyable game, with a lot of replayability, a lot of historical authenticity, and a high but not outrageous level of complexity. ADG's Empires in Arms will probably remain my all-time favourite Napoleonic game at the strategic level, but this comes a close second based on the most recent playing and rather vague memories of my first time through the game, several years ago.

TNW is another in GMT's stable of card-driven games (CDGs). Each of these titles has its own unique design elements, but they share a general mechanic: the meat of a turn's action consists of players alternating plays from hands of cards, each of which either results in a historical event taking place (with specific game-defined effects) or the player receiving a certain number of generic command points to conduct various operations. At the end of the turn, players refill their hands from the common deck based on some limit, sometimes being allowed to retain one or more cards from their old hand.

Events are often one-off (a given event can occur only once in the play of a given game), and players are often required to play a card for its event effect under a certain set of circumstances. Playing a card for event effect often puts it out of play for the remainder of the game (especially if the even effect is very powerful), whereas other cards are continually recycled. The more beneficial the event effect, the larger the number of operational resources allotted if the card is not played as an event, thus creating tension for the player in choosing between the two options, particularly when playing the event will remove the card from play. And the number of cards players receive is never sufficient for them to achieve all the tasks they would like to, presenting an excellent example of the quandary of resource allocation.

Some CDG innovations include splitting the deck into segments to represent different phases of the conflict, splitting the deck into opposing sides (so no cards are shared), varying the effect of event cards based on which player puts them into play, requiring  that Card A must have been played as an event before Card B can be played as an event, the opposite effect in which playing a particular event prevents another event from being played in the future, and giving players some "home" cards with event effects specific to their faction that they can play every turn.

My gaming comrade Eric (aka Mr Invisible) and I have played several of GMT's CDGs, including Paths of Glory, Here I Stand, and Stalin's War. Other CDG favourites of mine include Thirty Years War, Twilight Struggle, Wilderness War, and We The People/Washington's War (which I think started the whole CDG genre). TNW is a worthy entrant into that field.

Phil (Britain/Austria) contemplates his capture of Madrid, as Eric (Prussia/Russia) deplores the loss of Berlin.



We realized we would not be able to learn and play the entire TNW five-turn campaign scenario in the time we had for gaming Sunday (roughly six hours). We tried to shorten the learning process by reading ahead in the rules (the "living" version of the rules and the playbook are available on GMT's website), but no one ever has as much time as they hope to for read-aheads (as I can attest from many a professional conference). So we picked the one-turn scenario for the 1813 campaign as our test piece. And we finished the game handily within about five hours, allowing time for the standard wargamer "social conversation" periods in and around actual game learning and game play.

We took sides more or less by default after setting up: Phil got Britain, its minor ally Spain, and Austria, which begins the scenario neutral but enters after one complete round of play by the other powers. Eric got Prussia and Russia and their minor ally Sweden (ruled by the turncoat French Marshal Bernadotte), and I rather uncharacteristically played France and its tiny ally Denmark.

France starts out with a large hand of cards, which give it several advantages. First of all, it gives France lots of options and a better shot at getting the high-value cards. Second, it makes France the preempting player at the start of the scenario. This role is a TNW special feature; it allows the power with the largest hand (when players control more than one power, they must keep their cards separate) to interrupt a power before it plays its card. The interrupting power plays a card of its own, then the interrupted power may take its turn. Various details prevent the interrupting power from completely dominating play, and the more times a power interrupts, the fewer cards it has and thus the sooner it lose the ability to interrupt.

Joseph Bonaparte: Bro, can't you spare a general?
France starts with a moderate-sized army in Spain, but one that is spread out and has no army commanders to unify it and get it moving. The largest French armies are in Germany, with a few garrisons in Poland and Ruthenia and leaders in Paris and Naples ready to raise new armies and move them toward the theatres of war.

Britain has its classic small but powerful army in Spain; per the 1813 scenario rules, it cannot attack elsewhere until it has conquered Spain (naval action and diplomacy, two big British occupations historically, are not used in 1813; the Ottoman Turks are also omitted).

Russia and Prussia start with various armies scattered across north and eastern Germany, Poland, and Russia. Their greatest problem is coordinating their efforts; apart from Blucher, they don't have any leaders capable of commanding large armies to start with, so they have to subsist on army groups, which take more resources to move. Also, none of their generals are as good as Napoleon in battle, so they have to exhaust him with numbers. And the Russian numbers take time to build and move west to where the fighting is.

Austria sits quietly for the first set of impulses, but once they enter, Schwartzenberg is a capable army leader and the access of forces Austria brings to the Allies will stretch the French ability to react in all theatres at once. If the French don't keep multiple forces operating in central Europe, the Prussians or Swedes can squirt past and start liberating north Germany. If they don't keep armies operating in Italy, Austria will burst across the Alps and start liberating its former possessions. And if the French don't send a serious army commander south to Spain, Wellington will roll right through the garrisons they've left around and start eating up southern France (which will also allow them to land troops elsewhere on the Continent).

Unless France manages to drive one of the Allies out of the war at the end of the scenario (an uncertain thing at best), players decide victory by comparing how many keys each possesses. The map is made up of linked points, representing regions, cities, or major formations. Some points are considered crucial to victory and are referred to as keys: national capitols (e.g., Paris, Vienna, Berlin), major cities (e.g., York, Orleans, Zagreb, Warsaw), or strategic locations (e.g., Gibraltar). Essentially, whoever had captured more of the others' keys by the time we ran out of cards would be the winner.

I rather rashly took a chance, gathering up a large force under Marshal Davout and attacking the main Allied army in Germany. What I failed to consider is that armies can either attempt to evade (flee to an adjacent space when attacked) or intercept (reach out and attack an enemy army moving into an adjacent space). The Allies attempted to flee, failed, then called on nearby armies to "intercept" and join them. I won the resulting engagement, doing some damage to the Allies, but lost some troops myself, as I had fought more of the enemy than I intended.

The Prussians, feeling their oats after battle with Davout, moved west and liberated Hannover. This was a bit of a blow, and it left them crouching like a black vulture over the Low Countries and northern France, but I had Soult and an army in Paris that could be reinforced if need be, so I looked at what they had left behind--an open path straight to the under-garrisoned Berlin!

Graf von Kleist
Napoleon sprang into action, picking up several corps, including the doughty Davout, and racing towards Kleist and his band of defenders. After a brief thrashing, we drove the Prussians out of their capitol! It was at that point that I realised that possession of the capitol only allowed a *roll* for conquest, it didn't mandate it. And that the roll comes at the end of the turn (in this case, the entire scenario) rather than immediately. Curses! If only I had read fully, instead of skimming. Still, I held another Prussian key, knocking them down to three (Davout had captured Leipzig from Blucher).

The Russians struck France with a corn shortage, but it had little effect. Spain tried to bleed my armies with guerrillas, but Joseph must have been ruling well that month, as no losses resulted. Clearly Jupiter and Mars were on my side!

Wellington advanced on Madrid and was beaten back by its small garrison. But he rounded up more of the British expeditionary force and attacked again, steamrollering the garrison and liberating the Spanish capitol. Well, the gods are fickle.

I brought Murat up from his Naples vacation to command a new Army of Italy. I moved Soult south to face off against Wellington, while building up the Paris National Guard.

But doom was coming. My memory of the next few impulses is sketchy (it was so painful!), but I think it went like this.

Phil and Eric spent some time discussing what the best way of combining *all* the Russian and Prussian forces so as to generate a kill stack that could take on Napoleon. A Russian army group joined up with Kleist, and the next step would be for Blucher to gather them up and descend on Napoleon. So Napoleon decided to preempt that attack and intercept Kleist and his Russian friends before Blucher could join them.

The problem with this plan was ... luck. Although the French went into the battle with good odds, they completely whiffed. Napoleon had the second-worst day of his career. The French Army of Germany melted like early snow on a warm day. Napoleon, Davout, and a few scattered divisions fell back on Leipzig while the Prussians and Russians celebrated.

Then Blucher gathered up his forces, swung through Berlin to pick up the recently victorious armies of Kleist and Tormassov, and descended on Leipzig. Napoleon had quite definitely the worst day of his career; only he, Davout, and a few thousand troops escaped this battle. And, at that point, I decided to concede.

I had, if I recall correctly, three cards left, which would have been enough to rebuild one army and bring it back into combat with Blucher. But I had lost Hannover and Madrid and was about (as soon as Austria moved) to lose both Munich and Milan, and there was no way I could recoup those losses with the hand of cards remaining before the end of the turn. I'd gotten tossed out of Berlin, so I wouldn't be able to Conquer Prussia at the end of the turn; ditto with Spain.

We agreed that the game was challenging and enjoyable, one we would like to play again. Not only does the full scenario beckon (starting in 1805 and running as many as five two-year turns, though capable of ending sooner), but there is also an aftermarket 1792 scenario that I'd really like to explore. My rating for this game is 8 out of 10.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

La Grande Guerre: Testing a New Game

Prussian Leibgarde in action.
R.J. "Rocky" Rockefeller is a prolific wargame author. Among his many titles are Fortunes of War, Champs des Batailles, Bushi, Virtues in the Fields, Blows Must Decide, and his latest project, La Grande Guerre, rules for battles of the Seven Years War. Last weekend, I and two other members of the Army of Central Maryland game club got to help him playtest this new game.

La Grande Guerre depicts battles at a fairly high level of abstraction for a miniatures wargame. Units, consisting of large single stands of many figures, represent brigades of infantry (4-6 battalions) or cavalry (8-12 squadrons) or batteries of a dozen or so guns. Each is rated for strength/training, morale/ferocity (infantry and artillery also get firepower), and movement, with some infantry units getting an extra bonus for including skirmish troops and/or grenadiers.

Prinz Heinrich, the Prussian commander
Brigades operate in divisional groups, each of which has a commander with greater or lesser ability to inspire the men in combat and to keep them organized and moving towards their objectives. A small number of brigades may also have an especially inspiring leader who conveys an extra bonus in combat. Superior to all the divisional officers is each army's commander in chief, whose ability rating can help his side gain initiative each turn and who can issue new orders to the divisional commanders, superseding the directions that they start the game with and redirecting the efforts of their commands.

In each turn, players determine which army will have the initiative and what previously dispatched orders have been received and understood. Then the side with the initiative moves, fires, and executes combat;  the opposing side follows suit. Because the scale of the game is so great, only artillery gets long-range fire; infantry fire and any cavalry skirmishing is abstracted into the overall combat system. Units can become "nonplussed" (disordered, shaken, or disrupted) from artillery fire, from combat, or from having friendly units retreat through them or break and rout nearby. Only by stopping to reorganize under the direct guidance of a general can a unit recover from being nonplussed.

Charles, le Prince de Soubise
In Sunday's scenario, a Prussian army under Prinz Heinrich von Preussen attacked a French army commanded by Charles, the Prince of Soubise near the Hesse-Darmstadt town of Kempfeld* in 1758. The Prussians and French were both attempting a show of force, so each army was focused on defeating the enemy decisively while preserving their own force and maintaining their lines of communication.

The Prussians had a smaller but much more effective army, with an outstanding commanding general, three outstanding divisional generals, and four outstanding brigade commanders. There were three divisions of infantry and two of cavalry, with significant numbers of accompanying artillery. The French had a larger force but a much less impressive one, with no outstanding officers, no grenadiers or tirailleurs, and one division of good infantry among five and one division of good cavalry among three.

The French sought to envelop the Prussians, attacking both on their right with their best cavalry and on their left with a mixed force of horse and foot that sought to march around the flank of the Prussian army, somewhat impeded by woods and streams. The Prussians, in turn, determined to attack directly and with as much vigour as possible, so as to fight a portion of the French army with most of their own, while leaving only a thin screen of light horse to delay the French flanking move.

This choice largely paid off for the blue-coats, as their cuirassiers (and even their dragoons) made short work of most of the French regiment de cheval. Even the French guard cavalry received rough handling from the North Germans, especially the brigade that included the Prussian Garde du Corps, commanded by an able brigadier and urged on by a divisional commander who was Seydlitz or his equal. The French had held their foot guards in reserve, but now these were moved to reinforce the infantry of their right wing who were being pummeled by their opposing Prussian infantry and could clearly soon expect to feel the weight of the Prussian horse as well.

Rossbach, a battle that the Prince de Soubise would like to forget

One brigade of French guard cavalry finally realised the black disgrace that was overcoming the whole body and won a series of combats against Prussian horse, putting several heavily worn brigades to flight before being repulsed themselves. The foot guards had driven strongly into the left wing of the Prussian infantry, and the French left wing was finally bringing itself to bear on the Prussian right and rear. We had both done considerable damage to each other's armies, but neither army was ready to break yet when the game ended.

 Rocky has already made some revisions to the rules based on our first game, and I'm looking forward to our next go at them.

I do hope to have somephotos up soon, both of this game and of the previous weekend's BCW game.



*Rocky actually specified the generic town of Kampffeld, or "battlefield", but I found to my amusement that there actually is a town of Kempfeld in the Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt in the 1750s, now part of Rhineland-Palatinate.

DC Area Gaming Opportunities Upcoming

I decided a few weeks ago to post all notices of upcoming wargaming events here instead of advertising by email. It turns out the next will be sooner than I anticipated. This Sunday a couple of us are getting together in Wheaton for some board wargaming. Comment here or drop me a line and I can give you the details.

Likewise, my friend Mr Invisible and I are still planning a weeknight gaming session next Thursday. Same provisions apply.

At the same time, there are a couple of local gaming groups and shops that are worth checking out:

The Army of Central Maryland has a Yahoo group and a Facebook page.They can be found at the friendly and well-stocked Games and Stuff in Glen Burnie on most Sundays.

The Riverdale Gaming Conclave and the Non-Traditional Board Games groups can be found on Meet-up and on the Maryland side of DC.

The Washington Area DBA Gamers (WADBAG) and the DC Conscripts ASL group are still around but pretty quiet these days.

It's been a while since I talked to them, but the far side of the Potomac has the Northern Virginia Gamers (NOVAG), the Dulles Area Historical Gamers (DAHGS) and some other groups that hang out at the excellent Huzzah Hobbies in Ashburn.

And no local list would be comeplete without mentioning DC Game Night and the Games Club of Maryland or DC's own Labyrinth game store and College Parks's Board and Brew.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Battle of Montgomery (again...)

The locale of the battle
I recently had occasion to run a Carnage & Glory game at Games and Stuff in Glen Burnie for the Army of Central Maryland (AOCM).

I had originally thought to continue the British Civil War (BCW) adventures of Sir William Brererton by putting on a recreation of the Battle of Hopton Heath (also discussed briefly here), but I had second thoughts. Hopton Heath is not one of the larger battles of the war (less than 3,000 combatants total), and I was afraid that I might end up with more players than commands, so I moved to a slightly larger action. I picked the 1644 Battle of Montgomery, which was much larger (over 5,000 combatants). Alas, I chose Montgomery without knowing that not just one but two other GMs had portrayed this battle at AOCM in recent years.

Montgomery is in some ways a challenging action to make a fun game out of. For wargamers, fun battles are those where both sides feel as if they have a good chance to win. This may come from both armies having roughly comparable numbers of troops; or if the armies are unequal in numbers, the smaller side has better training or morale, or a terrain advantage, or better weapons and equipment. At Montgomery, the main difference seemed to be that the smaller side (Parliament) had some stellar leaders (Sir John Meldrum, an experienced professional Scots military officer, and my buddy Sir William Brereton, an experienced officer who had held Cheshire for Parliament) who managed to rally their force when things looked black and turn a defeat into a resounding victory.

I hoped to give Parliament the chance of creating this same event by giving their commanders, especially their CinC, Meldrum, and their infantry commander, Sir William Fairfax, top ratings. Sir William Brereton and  Maj Gen Lothian also got highly rated. The Royalists under Sir John Byron got good officers, but not outstanding ones.
Sir John Meldrum

On the day, after some tiresome delays with getting things printed, I got to the shop and started getting set up. I briefed the Royalist players, then watched them set up while the Parliamentarian players did some shopping, then the Royalists stepped away while I briefed their opponents and they set up.

Mission

The Parliamentary forces that had been gathered to relieve the Royalist siege of Montgomery Castle consisted of about 2,000 foot, men of Yorkshire and Cheshire, along with 1,500 horse under Sir Thomas Myddleton, men from Denbigh and Cheshire. Their intent had been to chase off the Royalist army and to restore the town and castle of Montgomery to Parliament. But the Royalists had also assembled a large force (2,800 foot, 300 dragoons, 1,400 horse), considerably outnumbering Parliament's troops. So while their goal remainded to defeat the enemy, Parliament's back-up plan was to fall back across the river Camladd and towards Welshpool. In order to do so, they would need to hold Salt Bridge, the one crossing point accessible to their army.

The Royalists, rather more simply, needed to attack and disperse the enemy force. Historically, Sir John Byron took the opportunity of attacking on the day that a large body of enemy horse had been sent out to forage, thus accentuating his advantage in numbers.

Troops

The Royalists deployed first, along a ridge overlooking the Camladd river, with a road (I think what is now the B4388 Welshpool-Montgomery road) running perpendicular to their front along their left flank, towards Salt Bridge.

They arrayed their infantry to the left--with dismounted dragoons screening the flank and heading towards some rough country, perfect terrain for them--and their horse on their right, massed to make a single strike force.

Sir William Brereton
The Parliamentary players decided on a more traditional formation: infantry in the center, with horse on both flanks. They had another force of mounted troops off-board, the foragers under Sir William Brereton, due to return shortly after the beginning of the battle.

Terrain

West of the road and south of the river there was an area of bad ground--shrubberies, swamps, and broken terrain--which the Royalist dragoons hoped to make their own. East of the ridge along which the Royalists deployed there was an area of many small hills, but the battle never reached that area. Most of the combat took place up and down a rolling hillside, not terribly steep, and quite open. Looking at satellite imagery of the area on Google Maps and assuming that at the time it was not as enclosed as similar landmight be in central England, this looks like perfect cavalry terrain.

Execution

In our battle, Sir John Meldrum and Parliament had the initiative at the outset, and they lost no time in attacking on their left with two units of horse. On the right, one unit of horse surged forward, hoping to overthrow the Royalist dragoons, which were dismounted and holding a line along the Royalist flank.In the center, the Parliament's foot held its ground.

The attacks on both flanks went poorly. The horse vs. horse action on the eastern flank was very evenly matched, but Parliament lost both of the initial encounters. On the west, the dragoons levelled and gave a devastating opening volley, putting the brakes on the enemy's cavalry charge. Parliament's cavalry on this side of the battle remained in a confused and disordered state, unable to advance and unwilling to go backwards. Once the foragers arrived, these horse had just decided to retire and turned the tricky operation of deploying a force in march column across a defile into an unfortunate traffic jam.

On the east, several squadrons of Royalist horse pursued their defeated foes far into the rear of the Parliamentary lines. More engagements went much the way of the first, with the one Parly horse unit that defeated an enemy troop quickly hit by another Royalist cavalry unit and forced to retire.

The Parliamentary foragers did return quite speedily and might have turned the tide against the King's men. Unfortunately, I had misread the historical course of events and had them enter from Parliament's rear area rather than from their left flank. As a result, the horse were held up for some time crossing over Salt Bridge and trying to deploy while the rest of Parliament's forces were being pushed back towards them.

In the center, the Royalists had taken the initiative in the foot battle, with their more numerous pike and shot pressing the Parliamentary center so hard that they took to flight. True to history, these footmen fell back toward the river and then (most of them) rallied and faced the enemy again. As in 1644, the men of Cheshire refused to be defeated.

By that point, however, the Parliamentary commanders had failed their personal morale checks and conceded the battle.

Aftermath

I think the scenario is still a viable one, but I think it needs some retouching. For one thing, the Parliament's foragers need to come on in the right place! Having three additional units of horse on the flank where the cavalry battle is taking place would make the chances that Parliament could historically defeat the Royalist horse much higher.

For another thing, deployment should probably be set, not free form. Our Parliament players split their horse in half, even after seeing the Royalist deployment with all its horse on one wing, and one of those Parliament halves accomplished essentially nothing in the ensuing battle, as it was left unused after its initial repulse by the Royalist dragoons.

Both sides should have a slightly higher number of officers; this is a judgement call, as there is nothing comparable to the historical unit structure to say how many officers should be represented in a C&G order of battle. But given the importance of officers in the combat and morale system of C&G, the scenario should probably represent all the major officers, not just most of them.

Finally, while chance delivered something like the remarkable rally of the Cheshire foot that took place historically, it would behoove the moderator to award the Parliament player a few "resets" of troop morale for their foot to represent what took place at the original battle. This would allow the OB to keep most of them as trained, rather than veteran troops, which giving them a chance to repeat the dogged determination of their historical forebears.

Photos

I do have some photos to add, but I didn't want to wait to post this any longer. I'll have a follow-up post with photos. 

Other References

Wikipedia article on the relief of Montgomery Castle

Cromwell Association page on Montgomery

Photos of a Montgomery game using a different set of rules