Thursday, 4 July 2013

Schlacht bei Klosterdorf, 1813

Saxons, Italians, Bavarians and others join the French in an impressive display of European unity against the forcible introduction of Chip Butties and Fried Mars Bars.
It has been three months since our last game of Napoleonics using Black Powder, largely because the planets weren't lining up as regards player availability due to various work and family commitments.  

This had a detrimental effect on my painting, as without the usual monthly game to spur progress the mojo went AWOL, and the hobby time I had available has been spent on getting sidetracked into a new period (more on that later!).

But at last, this past Sunday had us all on deck for what was an amazing game with lots and lots of nicely painted troops, and it proved a nail-biter from start to finish. Both sides finished up holding their positions in what was a closely fought draw- but it could have gone either way on a number of occasions.  

Butchery all round, but not a frustrating meat grinder like the last game we played.  This one saw both the French and Allies each having numerous- and tantalizing- chances for tipping the scales appear before their eyes, only to then see victory slip like fine sand through frustrated fingers as they failed critical die rolls.  

The Gods of Chance were giving a collective finger to both sides equally and without prejudice on the day.  

Terrain was fairly open; two settlements with a few hills and fields as I had forgotten to set up the trees and woods I had brought with me!  I did have a chance to use the monastery I built earlier this year.

Our forces have reached the stage where we felt we could use the broken brigade rules in Black Powder, but as it turned out this time round most brigades were able to take the punishment

In many ways, the game played almost like an 18th C. battle, at some times reminiscent of slugfests like Blenheim, at others of the bold advances seen at Minden and Dettingen.  Next time we won't place everything on the table at once!
Looking down the length of the table, with the Anglo-Allies to the left, the French and Confederation forces to the right. 

The objectives were simple. Take Klosterdorf with its monastery, the farmstead on the other end, and if possible the enemies' baggage train.  

The side holding the most objectives at the end of the game would savour the fruits of victory, and be showered with honours and favours from their respective governments (as well as more... well,  intimate favours from the more attractive ladies of the court).
French infantry manfully advance towards Klosterdorf.
"Rumours of good pickins in the monastery, mes braves!
Straight out of R.F. Delderfields' "Seven Men of Gascony"!
The ever-prolific Sada put together this magnificent supply wagon from the incomparable Perry Miniatures range.  Both sides had a wagon near their baselines, and taking the opponent's wagon was to be one of the objectives needed to win the game. 

However, neither side saw their wagons anywhere close to being threatened! 

Rod and Sada faced off each other on the French right/ British left. 

"On va leur percer le flanc!"
"Bonjour, Messieurs les Matelots!"
Sada debuted this small, but gorgeous, unit of French Sailors of the Guard. It would soon find itself in the thick of things. 

Rod had braved a fever he had on Saturday, and manfully made his way to the game from the far side of Tokyo.  Perhaps as a result of not having totally gotten over the Bloody Flux, he played a cautious game despite outnumbering Sada on this flank. 

On the other hand, nothing is ever cautious about Matt's style of play.  He can be a pretty dangerous opponent- that is, when his troops decide to cooperate!

Here he can be seen drooling with anticipation over the bloodletting yet to come.   

Matt commanded the Allied right, consisting of British and Brunswickers (including a brigade of light cavalry).
Across the table I held the French left with cavalry and infantry, and was tasked with seizing the town of Klosterdorf- and to hold it against all comers.   

If there was to be copious bloodletting, I wanted most of it to be on the Allied side.

The Red Lancers.  Yet again, they would disgrace themselves in combat.  I can't decide whether to paint them yellow or just toss 'em into the melting pot...

Eyes on the prize; the village of Klosterdorf, dominated by its monastery.   

It would prove a very tough nut to crack, and we were both anxious to get there "firstest with the mostest"!

"Just the thing for my billet tonight!  Mon Cher Colonel, Seize it for me at once, S'il vous plait!"

In the centre, Gareth faced Pete with a division (yes, we can now field divisions!) of British infantry.  His division included a considerable leavening of highland regiments.    

Of all of us, Gareth has had the least experience with the Black Powder rules, and this was to result in the game getting off to a very exciting start...

Gareth ordered his division forward in an advance.   He rolled low on his command dice, and was rewarded with three actions. 

Now unfortunately, he did not specify the limit to which he wanted them to advanceBut orders are orders, so the whole lot moved forward their full three moves...

...which was to bring them right up to face the combined infantry, guns, and cavalry that made up the French centre!  

"Frogs, sir! Farsands of 'em!"  Luckily this time Matt and Sada had movement trays made for the occasion!

It was very reminiscent of the Battle of Minden in 1759, with the French (and British!) astonished at the audacity of the attack.  

That sure as hell opened the ball.
Pvt. Alastair "Big Pinkie" MacCulloch shows his utter contempt for the French with a martial display of wedding tackle.
The French gamely accepted the challenge, and the resulting brawl was a real classic.  It had everything.  Infantry charges and counter-attacks; savage musketry duels; cavalry charging vainly against squares.
"C'est magnifique, mais give 'em shit!!"
When the tide of horseflesh receded, the squares would inevitably find themselves getting raked by close-range artillery and musket fire.  But when the beleaguered infantry attempted to shake themselves back into line, fresh or reorganized cavalry would once more make an appearance, forcing the infantry back into square, and the process would repeat itself.   

Again and again.
The Confederation contingent was to acquit itself well this day.  It included solid infantry from Bavaria, Anhauser-Busch, and Saxony, as well as Neapolitan line troops and, from the Kingdom of Italy, the Royal Guards

All were thrown into the fray, with units being burned out and sent packing on both sides.  In due course the lines on both sides grew thinner and thinner and the piles of corpses higher and higher.

Maddeningly, no one seemed to be able to get any kind of decisive result, despite the ebb-and-flow of the combat.  There were a number of times where one side or another would find themselves presented with a mouthwatering tactical advantage, with the chance for a game-changing breakthrough a real possibility.  

But invariably these opportunities would be lost.  At times attacks would fail to strike home, or else a unit seemingly on the verge of breaking would end up holding on against the odds.  That, or a vast hail of musket balls and cannon shot would be unleashed at an outnumbered and vulnerable foe- only to end up soaring harmlessly over their (charmed) heads.   
On both sides, many a commander's cocked hat was seen being gnawed upon in furious rage by its hapless owner, as everything which could go awry, seemingly did.

Meanwhile, over on the French left, I was having better luck.  

I was fortunate enough to win the initiative roll at a critical time, and promptly sent the veteran 1/28e Regt. Légère forward to garrison the monastery. 

They soon punished some Brunswick Avant Garde skirmishers, who had been hoping to get there first.

The Brunswickers were real slugs early in the game, which caused Matt no end of grief.  Eventually they were persuaded to put down their coffee mugs and newspapers, change from their comfy slippers into boots and to actually get into the fighting where they launched a concerted attack on the monastery.

Once committed, the Brunswickers proved tenacious in the assaultAll during the afternoon, the stout-hearted men of the 1/28e braved the sable tide that threatened to wash over them and wrest the monastery out of the Emperor's possession.
But after repeated onslaughts and cumulative losses, they found themselves starting to run out of both ammunition and nerve, and the Brunswickers were on the scent of success 

So as things were otherwise fairly stable on my flank, I decided to throw a battalion of line infantry into the building for support.  This cheered the bloodied ranks of the 28e, and proved to break the will of the Dark Forces, ensuring that the monastery would remain in French hands.

The final attack on the monastery was made by that reliable old punching bag for the French, the British 74th Foot.  
"Join the army and see the world, they said..."
They were, of course, sent packing in what has now become something of a West Tokyo Wargamers tradition. 

And in similar tradition, the same fate was to befall my unit of French Red Lancers of the Guard.  

Matt, running out of options, had sent his brigade of light cavalry (supported by a Brunswick horse artillery battery) down the flank.  This was in an effort, if not to crush the French there, at least to draw off units and threaten the baggage.
Charges and countercharges were declared, and the upshot was that I lost one unit- the lancers, bien sur- outright, while our Bavarian hussars saw off a regiment of British light dragoons.  
Otherwise, not much gained for the blood expended, and although he did manage to force me to redeploy an artillery battery that I had in reserve, he lacked the strength to do anything more.  

For our part, the loss of the lancers meant that the French light cavalry brigade was at half-strength, and the brigade loss rule meant that they were pretty much incapacitated for the rest of the game. 

I'm getting mightily fed up with those lancers... 

Meanwhile, back in the centre, the carnage continued unabated, with the Italian Guard going toe-to-toe with the battered highlanders, who had been in and out of square all afternoon.
"Isn't that a piece of soggy pasta he's waving at us?"

Honours were working out pretty much even here, but there were definitely fewer units to have to move as the afternoon drew on.  

French, Italians, Germans, British- many regiments decided that they had urgent business elsewhere and left the field in various states of disorder.

While all this was going on, over on the French right Rod had won his race for the farmstead, and Sada's dismounted dragoons were cut down in their effort to take it for themselves.  

The rest of the game saw repeated French attempts to wrench it from the Allied clutches.  All would end in costly failure and exhausted French infantry units.

Throughout the game, the action in this side of the table was constant and bloody- but not terribly dramatic, nor did it influence events on the rest of the battlefield.  

Rod never really bought the full strength of his division to bear, and while the farmstead was to remain in allied hands, the lack of vigorous action by the reserve brigade on this flank would lead to some little controversy (and indeed, cries of treason) in the days following the engagement.
Stalemate! Rod and Pete ponder the gory battlefield.
The game came to a halt as we were running out of time, and it ended a very honorable draw.  Wagon trains were intact, the village of Klosterdorf was very much in French hands, and the Anglo-Allies had a firm grip on the farmstead.  The forces in the centre had fought themselves to a standstill, and although both sides had reserves ready to continue the action, we hadn't the time to redeploy them.  

So nightfall came with everyone glowering at one another while licking their collective wounds, and they then set about re-supplying and reorganizing their forces for the next day.  The strategic situation had not changed one iota. 

Sada took more pictures of the game down his end of the table, risking life, limb- and miniatures- standing on a (perilously wobbly) chair for some birds-eye shots.  We really do need to get one of those high-tech, photo-recon drones for the next time we play such a large game.  

Indeed, this was our largest game to date.  And although our collections are getting larger, we were embarrassingly short of commanders, especially for the Allies.  This will have to be remedied before the next time we play.

Having actual divisions to play around with, rather than just brigades, made the game play a lot better.  The extra level of command meant that there was less chance of all units screeching to a halt due to the brigade commander losing a command roll, as the divisional and army commanders were available to try to re-order recalcitrant units into action. 

Once again, we diced at the beginning of every turn to see which side would get the first movement  and this works well.  It always seems to balance out for both sides, and prevents over-confidence when setting up attacks! 

One thing I thought of after the game was that it may have been better (and more Napoleonic?) to have brigades and/or divisions enter the table at different times during the game and from different points of the compass.  We could have benefited from having more table space (although this was not as big a problem this game as I feared it might have been), but staggered entry would have made this less of an issue, and would have made for scenes of high drama I am sure!  Not to mention making game set-up easier and faster.


Meanwhile, some other club members were playing their first game of Warlord Games' Bolt Action, which is a stablemate of our much-loved Black Powder rules.  

Kazu is the sales representative here in Japan for Warlord, and he put on a very fun game set in Italy, 1944.
Kazu (at right) running the club's first game of Bolt Action.  Giovanni sits aghast that the rules do not give Northern Italians a +5 on all dice rolls.

German half-track and flamethrower prepare to take on the commonwealth troops.
I really like these buildings! 
German MG team covers the road
I've been paying close attention to Bolt Action, and so far it is a rule set that seems to check all the boxes for me regarding a project I have long meant to do, namely gaming WW2 in the Pacific in 28mm.  I've already started on my US Marines and the "Aoba Detachment".


Johnny Rosbif said...

Another entertaining (if rare!) AAR, Robert.

Well done!

John de Terre Neuve said...

Very nice Roger, interesting point about divisions in BP over brigades.

Great looking game.


Rafael Pardo said...

Wow... Impressive figures!

James Fisher, FINS said...

Studio-quality figures, excellent photos and an entertaining report; what else could we ask for—only to have been there, I guess!

DHC Wargames said...

Looking marvelous Robert!

Well worth waiting for this post!