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

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Black Powder: A Trip Down the Nile

The lads having enjoyed our last go at Black Powder, and the schedule allowing for another game soon
thereafter, we set up a big battle. As several of us have troops for the British campaigns in the Sudan, we selected that as our next topic. Mr Invisible provided a table with a small village sheltering beside a low ridge, and we deployed the bulk of his and my Mahdist forces alogn the ridge, then brough on an expeditionary force of British and Imperial Indian troops.

The Dervishes had three banners: one largely Beja spearman and skirmishers, one with other Ansar troops with rifles, spears, and artillery, and a third that had a small cavalry force in addition.

The Sudanese forces deployed with the Beja banner on their left and the force with cavalry on their right. They held the ridgeline and the village.
Mahdist forces deploy.
The Imperial force had one brigade with sepoys and British Rifle Brigade troops and a small detachment of dismounted Camel Corps infantry. Two more brigades consisted largely of British infantry; one included two battalions of the dreaded Highlanders. Each brigade had a battery of field artillery, but no Gatling guns or cavalry were in attendance.
First Brigade
The British entered slowly, with 2nd Brigade (the one with the Scots in it) delayed for the first and second turns. We had intended that 1st Brigade would be our central reserve, but it ended up marching forwards while the Scots dithered on the left. The Indian brigade moved forward confidently on our right.

Third Brigade
Once the British appeared, their foe surged forward, seemingly in echelon with their left leading and their center and right hanging back.

The Beja advance.
The Hadendowa warriors were ready to get well stuck in and attacked a battalion of Rifles on the left of 3rd Brigade.

Two Beja rubs attack the green-clad Rifles.
Meanwhile, on the left, the 2nd Brigade had made an appearance and were immediately assailed by enemy cavalry and infantry. The Black Watch was forced by the ferocity of the Sudanese onslaught to fall back behind the Gordons.

The general officer commanding, travelling in company with the bullock carts carrying the mess silver and the all-important gin, sent an encouraging message.

The Dervish commander is clearly wishing he were allowed the comforts of gin...
This seems to have bucked up the Highlanders, as the Gordons, with support from the Royal Artillery, fired several devastating vollies that drove a mass of the enemy from the field.

The York and Lancaster Regiment then proved that they were the equal of their northern neighbours, devastating another enemy force with well-aimed riflery.

These developments were welcome, as the Rifles and one of the sepoy regiments had been overrun by Fuzzies.

And a massive attack in the center crashed on the ranks of the Royal Irish Fusiliers.

The British right-hand brigade was broken and falling back, as was the Mahdist right-flank banner. Could the British center hold? Could either army's advancing left seal the victory?

First the shaken (literally) Royal Irish held off a second wave of Dervishes, sending them fleeing in terror of the Irish spunk.

Then the Royal Warwickshires drive off the advancing Beja.

More shooting, and the Mahdist center goes from five units to four... three. The British are victorious!

And, having helped seal the victory, the Highlanders go off to dinner. :-)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Montmirail: Two Battles

The Battle of Montmirail by Vernet (National Gallery, London)

So, last weekend I staged my partial pseudo-Montmirail scenario using Black Powder rules. Because of the varying schedules of available players, we ran through the scenario twice, with somewhat differing results.

I was especially glad of the opportunity to game because it brought together three of my friends who I don't see as often as I would like. Though one gets the moniker "Mr Invisible" because of his frequent absence due to travel on the service of his country, all three are deserving of the title, as the others' late work hours (on the one hand) and high school teaching duties (on the other) keep them almost as busy. So we got a shot of The Invisibles which was, appropriately enough, shadowy and hard to see due to the (lack of) light in the room.

The (Shadowy) Invisibles
With catching-up conversations well in hand, we started into learning and experimenting with the rules. Some of us had played a game or two, but we found as we went along that we kept finding, remembering, or forgetting various bits, so the end of the game was as much a hot wash of what rules we had forgotten as how the battle had been fought.

Game 1: Both sides deploy.
In our first game we used the game's basic measurements in inches with my 15mm figure collection, most infantry units being between 12 figures (small) and 24 figures (large) in size. This lead to a very swift engagement, even though both armies entered from off board. The French deployed quickly, with one of their two divisions all in line on their right in mostly open ground and the second division advancing on their left through a vineyard and leafless orchard. The Prussians stacked their forces, with the landwehr in front, preceded by skirmishing jaegers, and the grenadiers behind. The cavalry (landwehr lancers and mounted jaegers) stalled repeatedly in attempting an encircling move from their right flank.

Game 1: French outflanking the landwehr.
The Prussians had difficulty getting the landwehr into a coordinated assault, and when they tried to push their grenadiers around to the left of the line through some woods, they also lagged. The French left turned landwehr's flank while holding up the grenadiers as they slowly emerged from the trees. Even though the Prussian cavalry finally got behind the French lines, the French infantry had more or less secured the win by that point, knocking out several landwehr battalions and all of the Prussian artillery.

Game 2: Prussian grenadiers advance.
For the second game, I reset the terrain, increased the amount of artillery on each side, and tried to make the landwehr contingent more effective by giving them more troops and a brigadier of their own. The new Prussian commander advanced those troops on his right (where they proceeded to stall), while bringing in the grenadiers in his center with the cavalry to their left. The cavalry was much more responsive than in the first game, but not much more effective. The grenadiers deployed more quickly, at the same time the French formed into attack columns with skirmisher cover and advanced. The two sides fenced there for a while, while on the French left their infantry deployed into line, looking to hold while their right attacked.

The Prussian right obligingly stalled, but with the Prussian cavalry making it hard to bring the full force of their
right wing against the enemy, the French threw their left into the attack. Meeting the landwehr, they began a see-saw battle across a series of frozen fields.The landwehr, more numerous in both numbers of units and size of battalions, ground the French Middle Guard down while the grenadiers held on on the left. Eventually the French conceded, though if we had had more time they would have gotten the historical "Michel calls on the Emperor for help" reinforcements that I had standing by.

Game 2: Prussian landwehr outnumber the Middle Guard.
Overall, I think everyone enjoyed the games. After two full battles, I was beginning to get a bit tired of rolling dice, perhaps a symptom of my long exposure to the diceless Carnage and Glory. Black Powder is accessible and fairly easy to learn and play; its only complexity is in the number of special rules that are used to add colour and character to different units and which require one to keep track of them and remember to apply them. I think that well designed order of battle sheets with all the special rules applicable to a force listed on them will help with that, as will playing with a  fairly consistent set of units often enough to remember that "oh,yes, these fellows always have X ability." Also, a few standard modifiers were getting overlooked often (the morale bonus for attack column being one, I think), but doubtless that too can be overcome with familiarity and a methodical look at the charts for a few games until they are more familiar. Using cm instead of inches in the second game slowed down the speed with which the battle came on, which allowed both sides to deploy from march in a more measured, somewhat more historical manner.

One is spoilt for choice these days, with all sorts of wargame rules available for every period and region imaginable. One advantage of Black Powder is that the basic rules are the same for every period; one can find or devise specific cases for particular conflicts, but in most cases even the special rules that give colour and character to units are fairly consistent across periods. So BP is a great set to keep in one's back pocket; learn it once, use it repeatedly. I'm a big proponent of Carnage & Glory, which uses a similar engine for several different periods, but the underlying rules that players need to know (how fast units move and change formation, how they interact on charges, etc.) are different enough that one needs to learn each period's special rules separately. Added to that is the time one needs to invest in building orders of battle; in C&G, this is somewhat of a major time investment, as computer files have to be carefully built through a form-based graphic-user-interface. With BP, one can do a bit of pencil-and-paper work and have a rough OB set up in an hour or two. So BP is an easy choice for a quick pick-up game, while C&G is likely to be my preference when I have time to design a scenario in detail, as it cleaves more closely to the historical tactics (and limitations) that battlefield commanders encountered.

Even if one fields slightly smaller units than the authors use, Black Powder (like C&G) requires a fairly large number of figures. As a result, I'm more likely when playing it to use my existing 15mm armies than I am to build new 28mm ones for BP. I do have a fair number of 28mm Napoleonics, but I think I'll save them for games with a somewhat lower figure density. I recently acquired the Chosen Men Napoleonic skirmish rules just published by Osprey and written by Mark Latham (another member of the Games Workshop fraternity), and although I've only dipped into them so far, they definitely look worth trying out.

I'm collecting votes from my fellow gamers as to the subject of our next tabletop foray. In the meantime, I have work awaiting me on the painting table and the blog drawing board, as the commencement of Project 1777 edges ever closer.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2017: A Year for Goals

And I'm not talking about football. :-)

While I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions, I do have a list of things that I want to do in gaming this year, and I'd like to compare that list at the end of the year with what I've been able to accomplish.

Cliveden under siege during the battle of Germantown.
To start with, of course, this is the year that my Project 1777 should really start producing. As the 240th year since the campaign, 2017 will be the best time to carry out this project until 2027, and I don't want to wait that long! I have five more blog posts sketched out to cover the Continental Army of 1777, and then we have the Crown Forces to look to. They might take as many as nine posts (one for each brigade, one for the elite battalions, and one for the army assets), but we'll see how much I find to say.

Then we'll have the replays of the starting battles (Bound Brook, Short Hills, Staten Island, Couch's Bridge), the incidentals and hypotheticals (Paoli, Whitehorse Tavern, Matson's Ford, Whitemarsh, maybe even a storming of Redbank game), and the main combats of the campaign (Brandywine and Germantown). The latter probably deserve several posts, maybe even several replays each, as we look at the different sections of the battles.

And I'll have a lot to do to bring the miniature armies into readiness, so we'll definitely have some WIP posts there.

Napoleon in the snows of early 1814.
The new 1814 project will also be seeing some work, though that will be less historical blogging (at least as far as my current plans go) and more painting. My counterpart has a good start on Prussian landwehr infantry, and he has youthful enthusiasm on his side. I have age, guile, and a deep backstock of unpainted figures on mine, so we may be even.

Of course, the wicked thing about 1814 is that it tempts a French player to build the Garde units that are normally left in reserve in most other engagements, as they often fought on the front line during this campaign. If we can tempt Mr Sherwood into the larger scale, perhaps we can even replay the incident at Brienne where Napoleon's duty squadron had to defend him from a Cossack patrol!

My poor, neglected Great War blog deserves a similar set of resolutions. There, I may have as many goals for reading as for playing, but we'll see what turns up!