Thursday 16 July 2015

Bohemian Rhapsody, 1761- an Honours of War AAR

I count myself to have been rather lucky over the past few years in having played many games set in the Seven Years War using my good friend Keith Flint's home brewed rules. Then a year or so ago Keith announced that Osprey had accepted his rules for publication and so the serious business of turning them into a commercial ruleset began. Well in what seems a blink of an eye the rules are finished and are due for release on the 20th November this year.

Now the only downside in playtesting with Keith has been that I haven't had to concentrate too much on the rules as Keith has been there to answer my questions and point out the follies of my actions, which have been legion. So I thought it was high time I got some solo games in in advance of publication to once again become au fait with the rules. Also Dave Fielder and I plan to give these a good run out, having had some very enjoyable SYW games of Black Powder.

Quick Rules Overview
At this point it is worth giving a brief overview of the game for those not familiar with the rules. So a Turn sequence is broadly as follows:
  • Dice for Movement Initiative. Each player rolls to see who gets to go first this turn using a D6. The winner can then move one Brigade of troops. It is then his Opponents turn to move one Brigade. This goes on back and forth until all troops have been moved.
  • Movement Phase. Dependent upon the Command Rating of the Brigade Commander, troops can move generally once per Turn, sometimes two or if you're really unlucky not at all. The Commanders are rated as 'Dashing', 'Dependable' and 'Dithering'. So the 'Dashing' chaps have a better chance of moving more than once, whilst the 'Dithering' ones have a better chance of, well, dithering.
  • Dice for Firing Initiative. Essentially the same as for Movement above. This does make you think of where you need to fire first, to get the jump on your opponent.
  • Firing and Melee. This is done with an Average Die to even out those times when you roll a load of 6s or 1s that really affect your game. The die roll is modified by troop quality as well as the normal things like terrain and distance. I find this nice and elegant and gives good balance to the game.
  • Rally Phase. Does what it says on the tin as they say. 
  • Troops. Not part of the Turn sequence, but troops are rated as 'Superior' (Grenadiers etc), 'Standard' (Line infantry) and 'Inferior' (Freikorps). So Grenadiers shooting or attacking Freikorps have a better chance of inflicting hits due to the difference in the troop quality.
  • National Characteristics. The various Nations can have advantages, so the Prussians early on have better commmanders and movement, but the Austrians have better artillery, reflecting the state of the protaganists throughout the war.

So not actually having any figures to play with, my multi-purpose wooden blocks were brought out of the attic to once more grace the wargames table. With time being somewhat limited, I chose a scenario I'd had my eye on for some time from 'Scenarios For All Ages' by Grant & Asquith. 

Scenario 22 - Making the Best of a Bad Job
The Prussian columns have been advancing into Bohemia at the start of the 1761 campaign season. One column has become somewhat lost, knowing only that it must head in an Eastward direction until it re-establishes contact with other Prussian forces. During the march they have become strung out along the route and are not in the best arrangement to meet any enemy troops.

The Austrians are not in an ideal position either. Their cavalry has gone off to search for forage whilst the rest of the troops are in camp at the edge of some woods and are unprepared for action. 
The Prussians have to exit off the Eastern edge of the table with at least 60% of their troops, including their artillery, in 10 Turns. The Austrians simply have to prevent the Prussians exiting the table.
Prussian Forces (Blue)
1 x Dashing Commander
1 x Light Cavalry (Hussars)
2 x Line Infantry

1 x Dependable Commander
1 x Heavy Cavalry (Cuirassiers)
2 x Line Infantry
1 x Medium Artillery

1 x Freikorps (Independent but rated as Poor)

Austrian Forces (Red)
1 x Dependable Commander
3 x Line Infantry
1 x Grenzers (Independent)
1 x Medium Artillery

The Austrians deployed behind the hill and by the woods, but unprpeared for combat. They would require a successful command roll to form into line ready to meet the advanceing Prussians. 

The Prussians were strung out on their line of march, with the Hussars and two units of Line infantry forming the vanguard under the Dashing commander. The rest of the units were under the Dependable Commanders sphere of control

The Austrians won the roll for movement initiative and were able to quickly form a rough line and deploy their artillery piece. The Prussians all passed their command rolls and started deploy either side of the road as well as continuing to advance forward.

Austrian Grenzers sit astride the road whilst the Hussars and Cuirassiers move off to the left and the Freikorps to the right.
Turn 2
The Austrians once again won the roll for movement and continued to straighten their lines to improve their position astride the road, but also mindful of their left flank. Well the Prussian Dependable commander did not live up to his name and his units were unable to advance towards the Austrians, somewhat hampering their planned attack. The Dashing commander did what he could, as did the Freikorps, but the Prussians were now distinctly strung out along the road.

The Hussars probe forward whilst the Freikorps move to try and flank the Austrian left.

The Austrians once again went first but their command roll meant they could only move away from the Prussians, which wasn't too much of a disaster as they could still improve their position. Disaster once again struck the Prussians as the Dependable commander and the Freikorps were unable to advance. The Dashing commander did what he could, but with no support could only deploy his Line infantry.

The Prussian advance falters badly.

It came as no suprise for the Austrians to win the movement roll, allowing them form a very solid line across the road. At least the Prussians were all able to move, moving into position to initiate a firefight with the Austrians, who true to form won the roll off to go first. Both sides traded fire with a few hits caused on the front line troops.

The Prussian attack finally gets going against a strong Austrian position.
Turn 5
The Prussians finally got to go first and advanced on a broad front. In the ensuing firefight, one Prussian unit was forced back having received 4 hits, causing it to spend the next turn re-forming. Other units took a few hits, but were able to rally most off at the end of the turn.

Turn 6
Once again the Prussians went first, but the Dashing commander lived up to his name too well, with his units having to make at least one move towards the enemy.  This resulted in a Line infantry unit charging on its own into the solid Austrian line, which resulted in its demise as a result of closing fire and close combat. Elswhere more shots were traded but to little effect.

The Prussians charge in only to meet their end at the hands of combined Austrian shooting and melee.
With the attack faltering on the Prussian left, the Schwerpunkt moves towards the Austrian left.

Turn 7 
The Austrians in a strong position hold the line despite having won the movement roll off. The Prussian attack once more fragments as the Freikorps moved back whilst the Dashing commanders advance without much support. Only the artillery is in range and once again each trade a few shots but to no real effect.

The Prussians are rapidly running out of time and their disjointed commands do not help their cause one jot.

Turn 8
The Prussian crucially win the intiative to move first but their (less than) Dependable commander fails meaning they are unable to advance towards the Austrians  for a co-ordinated attack . With this all hope of exiting the table goes and they abandon their positions and retreat back along the road.

The final positions before the Prussians withdraw in good order.

The End
Well with the failed command roll in Turn 8, all hope of exiting the table went with only two moves left in the game.

Post Game Thoughts
Well as a first solo outing I was very happy with how things went game wise. Most of the rules came back to me, with the aid of the QRS, and only a few times did I have to refer to the main rules. So as always some musings on the game and rules etc:

  • I must say I think Keith has done a great job with these rules. They work very nicely and capture the feel of the SYW in a very simple but elegant fashion. At first I was not sure about the use of average die, but I find it to be a refreshing change from rolling 'buckets of die' and one that gives a better resolution IMHO. 
  • For anyone wishing to game this period, I highly recommend them buying or getting access to a copy of 'The Military Experience in the Age of Reason' by Christopher Duffy. It really does give a superb overview of the whole period, especially of the SYW. For a novice like myself I have learnt an awful lot from this book which has helped me appreciate how the Armies performed in the period and how that translates onto the gaming table.
  • My wooden blocks work perfectly for these sort of games. I do however need to make some nice markers for the units so that I can keep track of which block is which unit, but also from an aesthetic point of view. I may even try flags on them as others have suggested.
  • The scenario worked well but may have been more suitable for the Napoleonic period. The slow movement of SYW armies in comparison make it quite hard for the Prussians to get into combat quickly enough for them to have a chance of winning the game. Naturally their mission wasn't helped by some exceptionally poor die rolling by the 'Dependable' commander, but then I have a track record of turning good commanders into chinless wonders with my die rolling!

Well, I hope to be able to get another game in soon as I really enjoyed this first solo run out. I think I will try and find a scenario more suited to the SYW period to give both sides an even chance. I will have a browse thought the scenario book as well as the simply superb Kronoskaf website. I'm sure I will be able to find something suitable.  

Wednesday 8 July 2015

Escort the Siege Engine - A Hail Caesar AAR

Last week we decided to have a break from Black Powder and chose to give Hail Caesar a run out. Despite having had the rules for over a year, I had never had a game with them, with Dux Bellorum having giving me my 'Ancients' fix. So what forces to go with four our inaugral game? Dave fancied giving his Mongols a run out (or should that be gallop?) against his Brettonians masquerading as Medieval French.

This was to be a variation on one that Dave had run at his club before, with the Bretonnians having to escort a siege engine off the table, whilst under Mongol attacks from all sides. The Bretonnians deployed off table in line-of-march, with the Mongols organised into 4 Tumen that would randomly arrive and various points on the table. 

As this was a first game and very much a learning exercise for me, we weren't too worried about details of winning and losing, rather just getting familiar with the game mechanics after all of those Black Powder games.

The Battle
As per recent games, the captioned photos will provide a guide to how the game payed out.

The Bretonnian vanguard arrived on the table with the siege engine closely following behind, escorted by Medium Infantry. The vanguard consisted of two units of archers on either flank and a unit of Sergeants in the centre. From behind the woods appeared the first Mongol Tumen, consisting solely of Horse Archers
The Bretonnians moved slowly onto the table (this siege engine could only move 6cm per Turn) and deployed to face the Mongol threat to their front. The Rearguard arrived in the form of Knights who again deployed on either flank, not knowing if and when further Mongol riders might appear and from what direction. The Mongols advanced slightly to form a blocking positon whilst another Tumen arrived (top left) formed of Heavy Cavalry and Levied Infantry.
As the siege train advanced slowly forward, the Bretonnian Sergeants charged the Horse Archers who evaded whilst shooting with Parthian shots (very annoying). Elswewhere the Bretonnian Archers and Knights advanced forward, but their shooting was rather ineffective. The Mongol Heavy Cavalry just sat there, despite their General urging them to advance.
With the Mongol Tumens all on the table, the Bretonnians deployed as best they could to meet the threat. Once again the Archers shooting was pretty poor whilst the Mongol Horse Archers continued to harass and evade the Kinghts.
Despite having plenty of targets, the Archers couldn't hit a barn door. Maybe if they'd had crossbows it might have helped, as these English weapons were obviously not suiting them!
The Battle descends into a swirling mass of moving cavalry, with the Mongol Horse Archers moving with ease around the Bretonnian units. Once again evades and Parthian shots merely goad the Bretonnian knights.
The Archers continue to suffer hits from the Horse Archers, whilst the Knights attempt to charge home, but to no avail.
The Bretonnians are somewhat spread out by the threat to their flanks and front, but at least one charge was successful, destroying one unit of Horse Archers. Sadly one unit of knights has charged off into the distance, simply unable to catch the Mongol Horse Archers that continued to cock-a-snoop at them.
A disasterous round of shooting by the Mongols coupled with shocking die rolls by myself led to the loss of the Sergeants and Knights on the right flank. With this loss there was nothing to prevent the Mongols from shooting at will into the deployd infantry and archers. Short of Divine intervention, it spelt the end of the Bretonnians.
The Archers and Infantry face the Mongols on their own.
Maybe a last ditch attempt by the Knights to save the day may pay off...
...but despite their initial charge being successful...
...they are caught in the flank by the Mongol Heavy cavalry and are destroyed.
The End
With the loss of the Kinghts it really was game over. We looked at the lie of the land and both agreed that there was no that the Bretonnians could possibly salvage anything from the game and so called it a day.

Post Game Thoughts
So not a bad game but one that was certainly very different from the Black Powder games we had played. So some thoughts on the game and rules:

  • After all the speed and movement of previous weeks, the game felt very slow, which is appropriate for the period. However it did take some getting used to.
  • We found ourselves refering to the rulebook a lot, much more so than Black Powder. Afterall this was my first game and Dave hadn't played for a year, so this was to be expected. However a couple of points did tax us somewhat as the rules in the book and the ones in the Useful rules section appeared to contradict each other. Only by re-reading the relevant sections post game in the cold light of day were we able (hopefully) to clear things up.
  • Early on we got the Evade rules wrong, but later on found out the right way to play them. Again to be expected first time out and they really wouldn't have affected the outcome in anyway.
  • With regards to the Evade rule, we figured out that it would be nigh on impossible for the Bretonnian Knights to ever catch the Mongol Horse Archers, short of a series of failed commands by the Mongols. Whilst historically accurate it was frustrating knowing that they were almost impossible to catch. However if caught they would be automatically destroyed.
  • For a first game the two forces were quite hard to get to grips with in terms of the best tactics to use. Dave certainly handled things much better than myself. As we said post game you would need a good few games to really get to know how best to use the troops at your disposal, but then that is true for any game and period.
So all-in-all another good evenings gaming. Certainly more taxing than Black Powder due to this being my first game. With regards the points raised above, we decided that the next game would be a classic Romans vs Ancient Britons, which hopefully will be easier to come to terms with. Only time will tell...

Thursday 2 July 2015

The French Cavalry Charge at Waterloo - A Black Powder AAR

I wasn't sure what sort of scenario Dave was going to concoct for our final Nappies game. After last weeks sojourn in the Peninsular War, I was expecting it to be a follow on from that scenario. In fact it was something completely different. 

Basically it was an excuse for Dave to get a lot of rarely used toys on the table and to see how cavalry performed when faced by infantry in formed squares. So the scenario was based upon Ney's cavalry charge when the Allied troops retreated from the ridge at Waterloo, a sort of 'what if' action. 

In the face of massed French artillery fire, the Allied troops have moved back from the ridge at Waterloo. Ney believing that the Allies are in retreat, has ordered his cavalry to attack and open up the road to Brussels. In support are the French Young Guard. The Dutch troops hearing the thunder of horses hooves have formed up in Battalion squares to try and block the Brussels road.

The Dutch have formed up with some artillery units in support. The French cavalry and infantry arrive over a period of 6 Turns, to reflect the nature of the French attack. Some of the units have supporting artillery

The French cavalry is a mix of Dragoons, Lancers and Cuirassiers. The artillery is a mix of horse and foot drawn.  The commanders are rated CV8 but have the bonus of being Reliable and when in Attack Column, thus often rated at CV10.

The Dutch are all standard Line Infantry with a unit of Hussars and their sole commander is also rated CV8.

The Battle
The Dutch deployed behind the ridge line and astride the Brussels road. The French units all begin off table and arrive as specified by the scenario.

The first French cavalry units arrive, Hussars and Lancers, on their right flank, with the aim of moving up into position but shielded from view by the ridge.
As the French first wave advances, Dragoons and Cuirassiers arrive with artillery support. The Dutch try and move an artillery unit to face the threat to their left flank, but fail their command roll .
The French advance with Dave waiting for his commander to do something.
As the French move into position on the right flank, yet more cavalry (fail to) arrive in support, this time astride the road to allow them some room for manouevre (when they appear that is). In response the Dutch Hussars move towards their left flank.
As the French group up for the attack on the right, yet more French cavalry suddenly appear on the left. The cavalry astride the road fail to appear once again, but French artillery deploys in the centre and starts firing at the Dutch squares.
The cavalry in full flow as Dave prepares the next batch of troops to arrive on the table.
The reluctant French cavalry, who are supposed to be the best in Europe.
The Hussars and Lancers charge over the hill into the Dutch Battalion squares.
The initial cavalry charge is easily repulsed, leading to the loss of the Lancers. However, with the artillery deployed, further cavalry units line up to continue the attack.
Disordered and Shaken troops await the next cavalry charge...
...which goes in but it doesn't augur well for one unit. At least the Young Guard have arrived and moved smartly up to support the cavalry. The Dutch lose one infantry unit in the centre, which leaves their artillery gun somewhat exposed
Not a good idea to charge past infantry and a deployed artuillery unit. Rather unsuprisingly this unit failed its morale save.
Mon Dieu! C'est L'Empereur! Well in fact it wasn't (yet) as Le Petit Corporal blundered and delayed his arrival. This was an unexpected re-inforcement as Napoleon arrived with the Middle Guard.
The cavalry continued their attacks on their right flank with those on the left reluctant to meet the fate of their comrades. The Young Guard move towards the road to attack the Dutch centre.
The Dutch and French cavalry meet, with the Dutch coming off second best.
The Dutch are still in a good position whilst the French cavalry are slowy being reduced in numbers, due to repeated charges at the Battalion squares.
The arrival of Napoleon really seems to stir the French into action. The Young Guard move through the gap in the ridge to attack the Dutch centre/left flank, ably supported by yet more cavalry attacks. The Middle Guard move up towards the centre as well whilst a Grand Battery of artillery is in the process of being formed. The exposed Dutch gun is charged in the flank, which sees its demise.
The Young Guard in Attack column.
Napoleon organises the Grand Battery and moves the Middle Guard ready to support the attacks of the Young Guard.
The cavalry overwhelm the unsupported Dutch gun.
The Dutch still stand firm despite pressure on their centre and flanks.
The French attack right across the Dutch front.
The French artillery move up ready to deploy whilst the Young Guard charge in supported by the valiant cavalry.
With no supporting artillery, the Dutch right flank seems a little exposed.
French pressure starts to bear and the Dutch begin to buckle under the weight of the attacks.
The Young Guard shake into Line to fire more effectively at the Dutch infantry in Battalion square.
The Dutch in a last desperate bid to stave off defeat, move into line to face the Young Guard.

The End
Sadly at this point the clock defeated us. We looked at the situation and agreed that after one or two Turns the French would have reduced the Dutch line to a point that the cavalry could have advanced on towards Brussels whilst the Young and Middle Guard mopped up any remants.

Post Game Thoughts
Well once again a very enjoyable game of Black Powder and very different from all the previous games. The scenario was very enjoyable and we weren't sure how the rules would cope with cavalry versus Battalion squares, butwe both agreed that the rules worked very well. So a few post game thoughts.

  • With so much cavalry at my disposal I was not quite sure how best to use it. From previous games I made sure that they had room to manouevre, hence the attacks on either flank. Dave complimented me on my use of the cavalry , which was nice.
  • Dave also pointed out that I tend to be conservative in my use of artillery, deploying it at long range where it is less useful. I will take this on board to try and get them into Medium range and the die and morale benefits that this confers.
  • It was great fun to have played out a part of the Battle of Waterloo, even as bit of a 'what if?' scenario. For Dave it was the first outing for some of his Elite troops, so nice for him to see them on  the table.
  • I must admit that I'm now a Napoleonics convert. This is in large part due to the nice scenarios that Dave has come up with plus the gentlemanly manner in which he plays. Looking back at my club days, the experience would have been somewhat different shall we say. It will be some time before I collect some Napoleonic armies, given the lead mountain that I have. However at least the wooden blocks can be used until such time the proper soldiers can make it onto the field of battle.
So after a brief chat our next foray will be with Hail Caeser! and most likely Teutons versus Mongols. Time to get reading the rulebook but at least the mechanics are the same.