Monday, 16 July 2012

Rumours of a French victory...

...may have been somewhat exaggerated.  

Yes, we had another Black Powder game on Sunday, and yes, the French continue with their run of less-than-optimal tactical outcomes.
"Do you want to live forever?  En Avant!!!"
We may be forgiven for thinking that the Goddess of Victory is a Francophobe.  Although in truth, French martial honour took another one in the solar plexus largely due to our faulty initial deployment.  

This was compounded, it was generally agreed among us, by the most amazingly lucky die-rolls on Rod's part.

The game was a smallish one, and as Matt couldn't make it that meant Rod's collection of British and Portuguese would be bearing the brunt of French arms, assisted only by my Russian licorne model and a cadre of Sada's Scots Greys (all two models forming a tiny unit!).

So we had the following for the allies:
  • two battalions of British line
  • one small battalion of rifles
  • one battalion of Portuguese line
  • one British field gun
  • one Russian 10pdr licorne howitzer
  • one (slightly sloshed) recruiting party, Scot's Greys
The French mustered a slightly more formidable host, including:
  • three battalions of light infantry, two being large units
  • one battalion line infantry
  • one regiment of Guard Lancers
  • one (very large) regiment of hussars
  • two batteries of artillery, 3 guns including a howitzer.
So the French had a slight superiority in numbers, and a decided advantage in cavalry.  I decided some days before not to bring our club's new French brigade to the game, partly because it seemed overkill on the French side, but also because I've yet to put together the boxes to transport them safely to and from the club.  

This was a big mistake on my part.  Had I known what a tough nut the British position would be to crack in the scenario we set up for ourselves, I would have been content merely to stuff the new models into my pockets if necessary, just so as to get them to the game and on the table. 

Pete had bought his excellent selection of terrain, including fields, hedges, and buildings, so we were able to make a very nice and believable looking table layout.  

Unfortunately for le Premier Empire, it was to make for an early 19th C. equivalent of fighting in the bocage country, giving the defenders lots of places to hide and making manoeuvre a headache for all sides.  We had some open areas, but with hindsight could have used more- a lot more!  
Not a good place for Sherman tanks, let alone for French infantry!
The defence was strong enough to have required the usual three-to-one advantage in numbers for the attackers, although the way Rod was rolling dice I doubt that even a squadron of Mirage fighter-bombers could have done much to even the odds for the French.

Here's a rough map of the battlefield.  May use something identical for a Normandy 1944 game one day.
Click on photo to enlarge.
Rod and Pete very capably commanded the allies.  Sada and I were the French, and Brian, in his first-ever Napoleonics and Black Powder game, was chosen to be the French scapegoat- I mean, commander!  

Apologies for the poor picture quality.  We were in the "small" room for our game this week, where the lighting is not all that great.
The Allies prepare for an afternoon's good sport...
Sada's new unit of light infantry.  They fired off volley after volley, but to no great effect...
Rod's new casualty markers, not that there was all that much call for them in the game.
Ye 'tak 'te high rood...
Looking southwards along the road from the French deployment area.
The French objective was to end the game with two units in the valley to the south of the settlements.  The Allies were tasked with preventing this from happening.  

Conditions which, at the beginning of the game at least,  looked feasible.  
"Plus vite, plus vite..."
Pete's wonderful terrain really sets off our games.
French horseflesh.
Our game plan was for me to take out the 44th regiment with the two battalions under my command, after which my artillery would move up and pummel the buildings forcing the British there to leave cover and get what they deserved from our infantry and cannon.   

Brian was to move up his own infantry and get to grips with the enemy,  covering the attack with his own artillery.  Sada's cavalry would keep the Portuguese warily in check, ever ready to punish any attempt at outflanking Brian's attack.  

That was the plan.  Didn't work out that way.  At all!

First off, the 44th Foot proved to be the heroes of the day (although they were to share that honour with the Royal Artillery,  as we will see later).  
Heroes of the day.  His Majesty's 44th Regt. of Foot prepare to humble Johnny Frenchman.
They were charged twice and in both cases beat off the attack.  In fact, they sent the first French battalion of my brigade- my long-suffering 28e Légère- off and running, never to return.

My supporting battalion, well, didn't.  It soon found itself under steady and accurate cannon fire which, combined with the effects of close-range musket fire from the tenacious 44th, eventually broke the battalion.
"A mere matter of marching, mon ami, n'est pas?"
Going...
Going...
...Gone!
I then moved up my artillery (all that remained of my shattered command), and Brian not only brought his own artillery to bear, but moved a light infantry unit into position where it could bring the 44th under enfilade fire.  We rubbed our hands with anticipatory glee...
Slobber, drool, slobber...
"How could you MISS?"
...but still the buggers held their ground!  At one point Brian scored five hits on the 44th- and fer crissakes, Rod saved all of them.  *sob...sniff*

The end for the 44th was inevitable, but took two full moves before they ran.  By this time the French were getting frustrated and taking losses beyond what they could bear if they were to winkle out the British.  And all this was just from one battalion of infantry and two guns!
 

"When I'm gone, think only this of me;  Sod the Frogs!"
Brian was having troubles of his own on his right flank, with his line unit advancing over the hedgerow.  And staying there, as the Russian licorne and later the 95th rifles disordered his battalion move after move.  I really began to wonder whether the Allied dice had only sixes on them.
 
"Mummy!!"
But while the French attack ground to a halt due to trying to assault too broad an area with too few troops, our cavalry under Sada's command decided on a wild impulse to try a wide flanking manoeuvre that was to come within an ace of success, and which had the potential to turn the tables completely on the allies.  
"To the left,  about...face!"
 
Sada's hussars are truly works of art.
To our great surprise, he ordered his cavalry over to the French left flank, now quite empty of Frenchmen.  He fortuitously scored well on his command rolls, and in the space of two moves the mass of French horseflesh found itself marching along the edge of the table, only one allied gun between itself and the pretty much undefended valley that was our objective in the allied rear.  

Bravo!  Lasalle would have approved.
"Half a league, half a league, half a league onward..."
"Into the Valley of Death rode the thirty..."
With just one, totally unsupported gun in their way,  the Guard Lancers had a good chance of taking it out.  

They would of course take hits from closing fire, but omelettes, eggs, etc., and with anything like an average roll on both sides it would have been game over for the gunners.  Balaclava, but successful.  

And without that field gun which had been disordering our infantry with monotonous regularity, Brian could get his infantry going again as the Russian licorne would have had to change facing to deal with the cavalry threat.  

Having two regiments of free-range cavalry roaming behind the allied lines meant the French would have more than just a fighting change to claim victory over the increasingly cocky redcoats.
Hot work...
...and about to get hotter!
"C'est magnifique..."
Such boldness and coup d'oeil was worthy of success.  However, history is littered with "ifs", and once more the French were to be foiled in their attempt to twist the tail of the British lion.

"Mais ces sont dog meat..."
Everyone takes a deep breath.  The tension is palpable.

Rod rolls high.  Really high.  

Sada rolls low.  Really low.  

The French balloon bursts with a resounding "phhttt" as the Guard Lancers- for the second time in two games- are sent packing. 

Effin' cowards.  The French general writes off a memo to Paris, urging the Emperor to have the colonel of the Red Lancers shot.

To make matters worse, and in light-hearted expectation of the merry slaughter of British gunners, Sada had sent his hussars into the valley as planned.  Unfortunately they now found themselves unexpectedly alone, and subject both to British rifle  and the Russian licorne fire.  
 
There they stayed as they found themselves frequently under disorder and unable to respond.  And the shot that first disordered them and prevented them from seeing off their tormentors came from- no guesses-  the Royal Artillery, who gleefully made them pay for their audacity.     

Think the Chinese water torture, but with solids.
"Oh, Meeeeerrrrde!"
"Are they ours or theirs?"
Eventually and inevitably the hussars broke, while all the time the French (who in the meantime had been trying- and failing- to evict the 30th Foot from a farm building, despite pouring in fire from up to three artillery pieces and a regiment of infantry) now had to contend with a new threat.  

Pete had brought up his Portuguese battalion, and now had them attack Brian's' disordered and immobile line infantry battalion on our right flank with every chance of success.
"Okay, we'll call it a draw..."
There comes a time to call it quits, so we did.  The French attack was in a shambles and we had no chance of getting so much as a randy vivandière to plant the French colours into the valley.  

It must be said that in stark contrast to the sniper-like accuracy of the allied guns, our artillery had failed us miserably.  They couldn't hit the broadside of Versailles palace if you positioned them three feet from the friggin' walls.

But make no mistake, this was an entertaining game with some close calls, and real drama throughout.  It only began to drag towards the end, when French were clearly running out of momentum.  There were some turns with no movement at all- although there was lots of firing- as the remaining French infantry were all disordered and unable to move.  The British of course, didn't have to! 

It was a challenging scenario given the terrain, victory conditions, and the slim advantage in numbers that the attacking force held.  But, mea culpa, the biggest error was mine.  I should have positioned my brigade behind Brian's, ignored the left flank, and moved up close behind Brian's attack in order to overwhelm the defence on the British left.  Some units would take hits, others would get destroyed, but not all.  

We had neglected a basic principle of war-  concentration of force- and rightfully had our butts handed to us for our oversight.


*****
Some notes on mechanics, and some house rules we are trying out.

We decided to try out some of the suggestions that  were mentioned in the house rules posted on the excellent Blenheim to Berlin blog.

The one we had a chance to try in this game refers to supporting units, and I quote their suggestions in full here:

BREAK TESTS FOR SUPPORTING UNITS
Under the basic rules all units which could have supported a broken unit in hand to hand combat should test. This did seem excessive in our early games so we decided to limit this by nominating the units providing support so only up to 3 units need make this test - one on each flank and one to the rear.
Rule - Only the nominated units which provide the +1 support need test if the supported unit breaks - surplus supporting units do not need to test.
In addition we had issues with supporting units at full strength simply breaking on this test. We discussed the following rule but I have never applied it any of our games.
Rule - +1 per stamina strength point remaining above casualties in a supporting unit break test. Example a supporting unit with stamina of 3 which has not suffered any casualties would get a +3 in this break test i.e. the unit's minimum break test score would then be 5.

This proved a reasonable and useful modification, and we will be using it in our future games. 

Artillery: In a previous post, I was thinking of making artillery more effective.  Well, scratch that.  We've come to the conclusion that it isn't necessary, as artillery already has a significant effect on the battlefield through its tendency to throw units into disorder and through cumulative hits.  

The effect of artillery is well modelled in Black Powder in that they can hinder attacks without being overwhelming.  Given our numbers, the French were easily stopped in the game,  but had they had a big enough attacking force, the defending artillery on their own would not have been a battle winner.

We all agree that two-gun batteries (three for Russians) look a lot better, and will require more thought in placing which is how it should be.  Now I'm aware that an actual Napoleonic battery would have taken up considerable space (the Republic to Empire rules explain this convincingly), but given the table space available to us, two stands per battery is limiting enough.

We had a discussion on how to deal with howitzers.  I had originally been organizing my artillery for General de Brigade, which required four-gun batteries for the French, one gun being a howitzer.  We decided that for Black Powder, fielding two gun batteries would mean that one gun in every second battery would include a howitzer model.  That particular battery would then have the choice of firing as either a regular gun or as a howitzer depending on the situation- not both.  

Somewhat artificial, but it seemed to work.  

Russians would be able to include a licorne in every battery, meaning that every battery would have this choice.  But otherwise their three-gun batteries would fire just as French two-gun batteries. This would also reflect the fact from what I've read that while large, Russian batteries were probably less effective than their French counterparts.

Finally, horse artillery is a really useful thing to have when you start having brigade-sized cavalry units to manoeuvre, and you can expect to see them appearing in future games!

The following are not so much modifications, but just hard-learned observations. 

Brigade morale rules: we weren't using them, and just as well given the small brigade sizes.  One thing we now understand is that in any substantially-sized Black Powder game, four battalions with artillery support is the optimum, especially when attacking.  Every brigade needs a reserve, as does every division.  Attacks should be in depth, and brigadiers need to be prepared to take casualties.  

Again, basic stuff, but the rules repay bearing the basics in mind.  Once we start fielding more muscular brigades, we will start using the rule, subject to various suggested modifications out there. 

Commanders: One thing we didn't have this game were any command blunders or for that matter any great problems with failed command rolls.  But we did decide before the game, however, that no side would ever have to deal with more than one blunder per game, and that any subsequent roll of double six would be ignored.

One thing we noticed, was that the French did not have a separate command stand for the army commander. This meant that Brian did not only have to deal with running a brigade, but the army as well.  With the French being the army on the move, on occasion this resulted in a certain lack of flexibility, as the minute he failed his brigade command there was no higher authority to try to issue further orders to units that needed them.

This showed us that we really do need an army command stand.  The much-missed Achilles had a great one, but we never replaced it after he went back to Greece.  Something we have to rectify.  

Fortunately, here then is my project for the La Bricole Salamanca Challenge!

*****
Our next game is on August 19th, and if all goes well with people being able to attend, this will be a big one, with all hands on deck and full brigades, not to mention a proper scenario planned in advance.

In the meantime, rumour has it that Rod is considering heading off to Las Vegas in the near future while his lucky star still shines upon him- and his dice-rolling!

11 comments:

Rosbif said...

Robert, I feel your pain!

paulalba said...

Superb looking battle and superb battle report Robert!!!

You even have inspiration for the comp.

You guys make me want to try Black Powder.

Iannick said...

Great looking battle Robert. Sorry about the bad luck, I can relate!

Achilles said...

I have to say that not only I found extremely amusing reading your report I also got a very strong sense of nostalgia...

I wish I could be there!

Great work on the terrain and figures! Sada san seems to be on a painting spree!

Keep it going guys!

P.S. Rob should buy a lottery ticket ;)

Scott said...

Wow, what and excellent report. Great pictures.

Peter said...

An amusing read. Sometimes the gods of war do not smile. Best to laugh and marvel at such times.

I'm not so sure about the only one blunder per side per game idea. Let the chaos reign IMHO.

Salute
von Peter himself

Rod said...

Thank you for that wonderful report Robert. Loads of pictures and some nice humour there. Really couldn't ask for more. Sorry about the incredibly lucky dice rolling. I'll try not to do that next time.

Brian S. said...

Fantastic report Robert!

I am really getting excited about painting the French. I already have a small battalion on bottle caps ready to prime :-)

John said...

Great stuff. I really enjoyed this post!

David Cooke said...

Hey Robert, enjoyable AAR but also one of the funniest I've read.

Dave said...

Highly enjoyable account, and lovely figures. May the gods of dice take the day off next go round.