Friday, 25 April 2014

Les limites de la Gloire?

Still catching up with reports of games past.  Here is a selection of photos from a game we had way back on December 1st last year.   I thought I may have lost them all in a hard drive crash a few months ago, but it turns out they survived.

A motley host of dour Germanic and hot-blooded Mediterranean types.
Rifles prepare to defend a bridge.
Russians sent to destabilize the Confederation.
I keep meaning to paint these bases!
The French guns didn't see as much action as they would have liked, mostly due to a lack of clear targets.
French shock cavalry.  This was to be their best day to date.
Poor (i.e. nonexistent) scenario design;  Allied cavalry placed in an unintended cul-de-sac.
Giovanni passes on advice based on his extensive tactical acumen to a newcomer.  This would have taken all of ten seconds...
The Fickle Finger of Fate: "You there, go see what's on the other side of that hedge!"
"Maneuver be damned- straight at 'em, mes braves!"
Horse, Foot & Guns
"Traffic is expected to be heavy on the main roads this weekend, so plan accordingly"
The ultimate target-rich environment.
Gen. Sparre was to lead his brigade of Cuirassiers and Lancers to great glory this day!
An exposed flank!
Redcoat purée.  The KGL is mercilessly ridden down.
Never were the French so happy to have won the initiative roll at the beginning of the turn!
Pressure takes its toll; "Sauve qui peut!"

Sharpie gets a taste of what he so richly deserves.
A sudden and dramatic decrease in local property values.
On the French left, things were very much going their way.
KGL Hussars about to get skewered.
The world turned upside-down; my Dutch Guard Lancers, actually winning a melee for once!
And the 95th find out that they cannot evade faster than a horse can advance.
All in all, this had turned out to be a bad day for the Allied Rifles.
But the French cavalry were in a state of sublime ecstasy!
The action around the farmhouse was long and drawn out.
Command roll of 11.  Sada berates an insubordinate subordinate.
The centre still under dispute.  By now, we had run out of time and the game ended here.
As a game it certainly had eye candy galore.  But despite some moments of laughter and suspense, something was missing this time around.  It was evident that we were pushing the envelope for the size of game we could reasonably handle for a typical gaming day. 

Due to a number of factors the game was lacking in terms of challenge, in speed of play, and in any kind of a clear result.  Not what we had come to expect from Black Powder, a set of rules we are very happy using.

As time is increasingly becoming an issue with us all, we had fallen into the trap of showing up at the club, quickly unpacking all our toys and terrain, forming up the troops largely where we had plonked them down on the table, and then just getting stuck in with little regards to scenario design or to plausible victory conditions.

As a club we don't have the luxury of a permanent gaming table that can be left set up from one gaming day to the next.  And of course the greater the number of figures, the longer it takes to set up and then clear the table, leaving us with less time to actually play the game.  

It was just before 1:00 by the time we were ready to roll the first initiative dice, and we had to finish at 5:00 in order to leave enough time to pack everything away so that people could get home reasonably early on a Sunday night.  That meant only four hours of actual gaming- not nearly enough for a game this size.

The poorly thought-out terrain layout meant that there were too many "dead zones" on the table so that masses of troops ended up being funneled into what were pretty much unintended killing zones.  Not fun if you found yourself with cavalry stuck between a river and your own troops, well in range of enemy guns.

The result of all this was, bien sur, a bloodbath.  Any pretense of tactical finesse went straight out the window as the armies just lunged at the nearest enemy.  Damn, and we were all mere pounders after all, by God.

Think the first day of the Somme, revisited.  Or the crater at Petersburg.  A turkey shoot for both sides, albeit with some very well-dressed and colourful turkeys on the menu.

All this was no fault of the rules; I've never played any set of Horse-and-Musket rules that has played faster or as smoothly as does Black Powder.  But large games need planning, enough space for troops to maneuver and- above all- enough time to play them. This game lacked all three.

This was made worse by the fact that two of the players were new to the rules, and to Napoleonics.  Now this is no problem, we welcome new blood.  But aside from speeding up the game, it would have been easier for us grognards to teach, and for new players to learn, had the number of units involved been more manageable and the table less cluttered.

I need to stress that the game was by no means an unmitigated disaster.  It certainly had it's moments; in particular I cherished seeing our brigade of cuirassiers and lancers run down the Allied right flank.  But elsewhere on the table we did not see any really dramatic developments.  It was a battle of attrition, and such games are never so much fun for the participants.  

Unsurprisingly, by the time we had to pack everything up we had come to the conclusion that we needed to approach our games differently.  Our collections had reached a point where having us field everything we had on the gaming table just wasn't an option for your average pick-up game on a regular gaming day. 

In the past, particularly when we were starting off with Napoleonics some five years ago now, our games were by necessity small engagements; often with half-painted units while we waited for our collections to reach critical mass.  Yet they were no less entertaining for that, and indeed provided some wonderful wargaming experiences, as I have posted here and here.

Certainly Black Powder lends itself to smaller engagements just as well as it does larger ones.

Since this game, we have returned to our small game "roots", and have been having great fun.

Fans of gaming in the Grand Manner fear naught, we fully intend to put on large games in the future.  But they will not be undertaken lightly, and will have to be for those special occasions when the planets line up regarding table space and timing.


lesfoudresdelaigle said...

Très jolie table de jeu. A bientôt Christian.

Rodger said...

Great report Robert!

DHC Wargames said...

Well Robert,

I think we all reach the point where we have to realize that we have pushed the envelope too far. the only big question is... what do we do from there. I think you guys have reached the right conclusion!

Anyway... quiet a selection of impressive turkeys there! ;-)

Robert said...

Merci, mes amis!

Burkhard, the answer to where we go from there is to... get more miniatures!

We will still put on the large games, it is just that we need to put extra effort into making them work.

This would include designing a proper scenario, arranging for larger tables, and perhaps finding a day where we can all start early and even stay till the bitter end, spending the rest of the night at a pub for extended debriefing.

We thought about having a campaign, but this may not work as it would require commitments that a lot of us may not be able to keep.

What we can do is to continue bringing what we can, but arranging the scenario so that not everything will find its way onto the table, certainly not all at once. This also brings an element of suspense as neither side may know what the enemy has, nor what they can count on showing up for the battle!

We did a simple version of this in a previous game, and it worked well.

At any rate, we all continue to acquire and paint miniatures!

Phil said...

Quelle superbe table!
What a beautiful battlefield!
Great looking armies, especially like your Dutch Guard Lancers...

lesfoudresdelaigle said...

Très belles figurines. Christian