Friday 22 May 2015

The Battle for Holzdorf - A 'Black Powder' SYW game

Having finally finished our Dux Bellorum campaign last week, it was time for some 'Black Powder' period gaming, kicking things off with the Seven Years War as planned. Dave provided the scenario, reference sheets and figures, so all I had to do was set the table up. As I'd only dabbled in this period with my gaming chum Keith Flint, we used this first game as a bit of a training exercise in the rules.

Scenario Details
The scenario was quite simple really. The main battle was taking place off table and a small Austrian force was tasked with protecting the baggage train in the village of Holzdorf. The Prussians had sent a flanking force that deployed quickly from the march, with the task of capturing said baggage train. Simples!

The Austrians had two Battalions of regular infantry and one of Hungarians, who were 'Freshly Raised' plus a unit of Croat skirmishers. In support they had two Battlion guns. Off table they had a unit of Cuirassiers and one of Hussars, that would arrive from the start of Turn 2 on a roll of 6+, on Turn 3 on one of 5+ etc.

The Prussians had a mix of Regulars, Grenadiers and Freikorps, with Battalion guns and two units of cavalry, Cuirassiers and Dragoons. The Prussians outnumbered the Austrians by at least 2:1

The Austrians chose to deploy their main units on the hill, with the Battalion guns in the centre and with one unit in reserve. The Croats deployed in the woods on the left flank.

As Dave knew the scenario, he kindly chose to randomly deploy his troops by die roll, to represent a hasty forming up from the line of march. This didn't work out too badly for him, except that the Grenadiers were teamed up with the Freikorps!

The Battle
I didn't make any notes of how the game went, so annotated pictures of the game will hopefully suffice.

Both sides deployed for battle. The Prussian cavalry are on their left flank, with the main Prussian force on the right flank. The Austrians are on the ridge line of the hill, with their cavalry still off table.
The Prussians advance quickly on both flanks, but the centre is somewhat reluctant to move. Seeing the Prussian cavalry advance, the Austrian right wing redeploys to meet the threat with the reserve moving up in support.
The view from the Austrian right flank.
The view from the Austrian left flank, with the Croats clearly visible in the wood.
Once again the Prussian centre stubbornly refuse to budge, whilst the right flank shakes out into two lines in preparation to assault the Austrian positions.
The Croats are involved with Prussian regulars in a firefight from the woods.
Fed up with waiting for the Prussian centre to move, Dave moved his C-in-C to command them, promptly getting three moves anfdsuddenly the Prussians had formed a formidable battle line. With the Prussian cavalry threatening their right flank, the Austrian reserves moved to anchor their line, preventing the Prussian cavalry from being able to charge them in the flank.
The Croats still held out in the wood, trading shots with the Prussians, whilst both sides artillery shot away, but too little effect.
With the Austrian right flank pinned by Prussian cavalry, the Prussina moved forward en masse. The Austrian cavalry had still failed to arrive and their presence on the battle field was keenly anticipated.
The Prussians attack the Croats, forcing them back through the woods.
Huzzah! The Austrian cavalry finally arrive, randomly appearing on the left flank. The Prussians remorsely move forward, with the Croats somehow still standing toe-to-toe with the Prussians. The Prussian cavalry move to look to get around the Austrian flank and attack the baggage train.
The Austrians appear to be hopelessly outnumbered, but will stiff upper lips and waxed moustaches may be enough to carry the day...?
The Prussian cavalry are preventing a third of the Austrian line from joining the battle, leaving the freshly raised Hungarians to face the Prussian Freikorps (not too bad) and the Grenadiers (very bad).
The Prussian command rolls have been pretty good so far, with a CV of 9 helped by some excellent die rolling by Dave. However he surpassed himself this Turn with two double ones in a row!!!
The Austrian position in danger of being swamped by sheer weight of numbers. By some miracle the Croats are still holding out against the Prussians, thus securing the left flank. The Austrian cavalry move towards the baggage train to try and prevent its capture by the Prussians.
The Austrians still hold out despite overwhelming odds.
The Austrian cavalry charge to try and save the situation...
... as their right flank has collapsed. The Croats, undefeated, were forced off the battlefield whilst the Austrian line infantry on the hill finally fell to the sheer weight of firepower directed at them. The Austrian Hussars try to protect the flank, but the way to the baggage train is open to the Prussians.
The Prussians surge up the hill whilst the cavalry battle it out.
The Austrian cavalry charge forward, beating back their opponents, but are too late to affect the outcome of the battle.

The End
With the Austrian right flank gone, the battle was over. However, the Austrians had managed to hold on just long enough for the Prussian victory to be a Pyrrhic one. In the original scenario, developed for Dave's club, the Prussians had to win by 22:15 hours and I had held on until 22:30 hours. So in the distance could be heard the main Austrian force arriving to save the day, or something along those lines.

Post Game Thoughts
Well another cracking game, which is not bad two weeks in a row. So as always a few musings on the game etc:
  • Initially the scenario looks very one sided, with the Austrians facing a large and well led Prussian force. However the scenario is nicely balanced as long as the Austrian player remembers that he must protect the baggage train. In the scenario briefing there is a little sentence along the lines of: "If you lose the baggage train you're a Muppet!" This helps focus the mind as one wouldn't want to be Kermit at the end of the night. Despite this at one point I was tempted to use my newly arrived cavalry to charge into the Prussians, but managed to remind myself of my primary (and only) objective.
  • The Croats were the absolute stars of the show. Their dogged defence in the wake of repeated Prussian attacks allowed the Austrians to hold on long enough for them to deny the Prussians an overwhelming victory. Hopefully they will be mentioned in dispatches and upgraded to a better quality unit for future games. They deserve it.
  • The rules played out nicely and despite few games, I managed to remember enough stuff for it all to flow quite nicely. We had recourse to check the rulebook a few times, but nothing major, which is fairly normal for most games.
  • The 'Last Argument of Kings' supplement was used to make sure that the it felt like a SYW battle. I know there has been a lot of criticism of this supplement by SYW players in the past, some of it justified, but it makes a good starting point for this period IMHO. In fact I have just ordered for use with this period and also the Great Northern War. 
  • During the game we both felt that the Battalion guns didn't feel right, moving too freely around the battlefield like Napoleonic horse artillery and packing too much punch. In future games these will most likely be left out and replaced with Medium games that have greater range but are less manouvreable. I know that this has been an issue with the forthcoming 'Honours of War' rules from Osprey, but won't comment on the solution as you will have to wait until they are published.
  • All the figures used are from the Pendraken and are really, really lovely sculpts. Sadly there are no images on their website at present, but they will definitely be a purchase in the future as they have so much character.
  • Even though the game was played on a 4'x4' table, with 10mm figures on 40mm x 20mm bases, there was still plenty of room for manouevre and it looked like a big battle. This is a pretty much perfect size for an evenings gaming that can be fought to a conclusion, still leaving time for a good chat. 
  • The 'Black Powder' rules do provide fun games, whilst allowing for units to be tweaked with the various extra rules to reflect certain periods, battalions etc. They are not to everyones liking (are any rules) but it speaks volumes that the game was played with just the QRS and stat sheet, with us barely needing to check out the book. For me this is what a ruleset should be like, allowing me to concentrate on the game, rather than the rules.
So what next? Well we hope to play a linked scenario next week that carries on from where we left of, but I will have to wait to see what Dave comes up with. We may even try out the same scenario, but with 'Maurice' by Sam Mustafa. Which ever route we take I'm sure it will produce another challenging, fun scenario and game, which is what it is all about at the end of the day.

Friday 15 May 2015

The Bard's Tale - Campaign Game 4

After an enforced break, Dave and I were finally able to meet up to complete our mini Dux Bellorum campaign. With the Welsh having been dominant in all the previous games, we felt that a final showdown as per 'The Bard's Tale' fitted the bill nicely. We decided to do away with any advantages that the Welsh had accrued so far, plus neither side taking any Strategies & Tactics. A 'vanilla' game maybe, but we thought it would work out rather nicely.....

Turn 1 Welsh - 6 LPs Irish 6 - LPs
The Welsh were the Agressors for the final game and after both sides had deployed, and more importantly decided which units their Bards were attached to, things got off to a brisk start. The Welsh cavalry advanced to the hill, not expecting the Irish to be within charge range, which they were. Dave had put his Bard with said cavalry, who in the combat lost one point of cohesion, but gained one victory point! I on the other hand had not put my Bard with my cavalry and so gained no points at all.

Both sides deployed for action, with the Welsh having to use an Irish Bard on loan. Oh the shame of it.
Both sides advance, with the Irish cavalry charging home. The Welsh prevailed in the combat but fail to gain any victory points due to poor positioning of the Bard.

Turn 2 Welsh - 6 LPs Irish 5 - LPs
At the start of the turn we experienced a power cut, leading to accusations of cheating on my part with my loaded die and metal table overloading the circuit. I couldn't possibly comment but no die rolling took place until the power had come back on...

Having learnt my lesson, the Welsh placed their Bard with the cavalry, which saw the loss of one Irish cavalry unit, but both sides gained victory points for this. A blunder saw a Welsh unit move forward, but only at half-pace. The Irish skirmishers burst out of the wood, attacking the Welsh skirmishers in the bog, who lost one point of cohesion. Luckily the skirmishers managing to hold on helped to secure the Welsh right flank for the moment.

Fighting takes place on both flanks as the centres come close to uncontrolled charge range.

Turn 3 Welsh - 6 LPs Irish 5 - LPs
In a bid to gain maximum victory points, the cavalry fought each other to complete destruction, whilst in the centre combat was joined.

The Welsh keep a reserve as the centres clash.
Both battle lines fragment, leading to some interesting choices next turn.

Turn 4 Welsh - 5 LPs Irish 4 - LPs
As the battle raged, the Welsh lost two units, leaving the Irish with more Leadership points next Turn. Crucially though the Irish were fast outpacing the Welsh in terms of victory points, with three of their units close to  their cohesion limit.

The Irish left flank is nicely poised to turn into Welsh next turn.
Cohesion points abound across the table, with Dave's victory point die visible in the top right hand corner.

Turn 5 Welsh - 3 LPs Irish 4 - LPs 
A particularly bloody turn put both sides on Break tests, which they both passed with ease.

The losses on both sides are clearly visible.
The Irish Companions are outnumbered, but fighting gamely on for eternal glory...

Turn 6 Welsh -  2 LPs Irish 3 - LPs 
The Irish Companions finally succumbed to Welsh numbers, which lead to the automatic rout of their army. Despite losing the battle, they won the game as they comfortably had about a 2:1 advantage in victory points over the Welsh. So it is the Irish that will be immortalised in songs and poems, with the Welsh, well having none to their name.

Post Game Thoughts
Well a cracking game that had a completely different feel to all of the others. As always a few thoughts:
  • This certainly was no 'vanilla' game. If anything it played better without any of the S&Ts of the previous games. We learnt very quickly that the Welsh Monks were game changers, so it was nice to have an even playing field as it were.
  • The Bards add a nice touch to the game. Their positioning took a lot of thought, which added another level to the game. I really must paint mine up as as a Welsh player, using an Irish Bard must surely bring me eternal shame?
  • Both of us generally went for all out attacks, which seemed fitting for this scenario, which made it rather bloody but also great fun.
So the mini-campaign game has been great fun and Dave a great opponent. The games have created their own narrative, which is nice, allowing us to easily choose the next scenario. I would recommend this sort of mini-campaign to anyone out there, as it is much more fun to play than a stand alone game.

So what next? Well we have decided to start with some 'Black Powder' games, kicking things off with some Prussians versus Austrians in the Seven Years War. These will be followed by a 'tour' of various periods of the 18th and 19th Centuries, culminating in the Franco-Prussian War I would imagine. All being well things will get moving next week.

Friday 8 May 2015

'Black Powder' Kreigspiel

Anytime for wargaming in the past few months has been in very short supply due to the usual factors of work and family life. Finally the planets aligned today, giving me a brief window to get some form of solo game in. I decided to give my Kreigspiel style blocks a run out along with 'Black Powder' as in the next few weeks, if all goes to plan, I will be playing quite a few games with this ruleset.

Scenario Details
I toyed with various scenarios, eventually settling on Scenario 4, 'Encirclement or Breakout' from 'Scenarios For All Ages' by Grant & Asquith. The forces were exactly as per the book, with two blocks forming a unit, with infantry side-by-side and cavalry one behind the other. The single square blocks were horse artillery and the round ones command units. 

The Red forces had advanced deep into Blue territory, expecting to launch an attack on the Blue forces in the bottom left hand corner. However as dawn broke, they realised that they were in danger of being surrounded and cut off. Their objective was therefore to exit off any table edge with 80% of their forces intact. For the Blue forces their objective was to destroy or capture 60% of the Red forces.

Nominally I set this battle circa 1750 somewhere in Europe, with both sides having 'vanilla' forces and a command rating of 8. I've added some comments to the photos to give an idea of how the game played, rather than a detailed AAR as this was very much a trial game.

The table with both sides in their deployment zones. The Red forces had 3 command units, the same as Blue, but Blue had them split with one per force.
Red decided to exit off the way they had 'come on' but all Blue forces moved toward them at great speed (2-3 moves due to good command rolls).
Combat is is joined, with Blue cavalry charging into the Red infantry rear unit, whilst the Red roght flank shoot at the Blue forces sweeping around the wood.
The Blue cavalry win the combat, pushing Red back, but flee having failed a morale test themselves due to a single casualty suffered!
Red carrying on moving as quickly as they can towards their baseline, with their right flank once again taking the attack towards the Blue forces by the woods.
Blue press forward where possible.
Despite the pressure, Red manage to extract a large part of their forces (the blocks in the bottow left hand corner).
Blue closes in for the kill, hoping to inflict severe casualties to give them victory...
...but despite destroying one unit, the other flees off the table, resulting in a draw.

Post Game Thoughts
Well it was great to be playing a game again after such a long break. It's been sometime since I played 'Black Powder', but below are some thoughts on the game, the blocks and the rules:

  • The Kreigspiel style blocks work for me visually. I know they won't be to everyones taste, which is understandable, but I like them. In fact I'm considering investing in some Lego blocks of different colours and shapes to give me more 'detail' to the units for future games.
  • They also allow for a very simple Fog-of-War to be replicated on the tabletop. As each block is the same size, your opponent won't know whether they are facing Cuirassier cavalry or Prussian Landwehr, until the unit can be spottted or a unit reveals itself due to its movement rate. This is something that I will be exploring in future games when I have an opponent.
  • The 'Black Powder' rules are pretty easy to pick up and are a nice toolbox for those that want to add variety and detail to their units. I'm still a complete novice, so am looking forward to exploring the options and period details in future games. Ditto 'Pike & Shotte'.
  • The only downside with 'Black Power' I would say is the extremely generous movement rates. This has been commented on by many other gamers, and I will look at the suggestions that address these issues in a 'Hail Napoleon' article in a past issue of WS&S.
  • The scenario played suffered a bit from the above 'va va voom' movement as mentioned above. If the red forces had had some good die rolls and the Blue bad, they could have gotten off the table without a shot being fired. Hopefully the above solution will help fix this. 
So all-in-all nice to have given my blocks and the rules a quick run out. I think based upon tonights game I will go with some smaller forces and some simple encounter scenarios, just to allow me to get a more detailed hang of the game mechanics, as well as a feel for certain periods, unit upgrades etc.