Saturday, 27 May 2017

"Good Beans, Wellington!": The Assault on Les Haricots, 1815

'It was the General himself who broke the tense silence.
"The attack will proceed."
Addressing the assembled officers of his staff, he had looked wearily up from a rain-sodden sheet of paper, the contents of which was to have fateful consequences for many of them.
They were all huddled under the inadequate shelter of an elderly oak tree, its saturated leaves and branches almost touching the ground under the weight of accumulated water. All around them was the incessant beating of the downpour, punctuated by sudden thunderclaps, and the clamour of seemingly endless columns of men and horses marching wearily past them along the almost impassable lanes.
Everyone was prodigiously covered with clinging clods of liquid mud. The much-cursed rain had been beating down on the bleak fields of Belgium since the previous morning, and far from showing signs of easing up, it appeared instead to be increasing both in volume and ferocity.
Greatcoats and hats had long since lost their warmth and any pretense of shape, and wet uniforms chafed the procession of chilled bodies who now, like the rain, flooded this corner of the Belgian countryside. The General's black-clad warriors now resembled more a flock of bedraggled and dejected crows than an army.
But for the General's staff beneath the dubious shelter of their solitary oak, their present discomfort was far from their minds. They had more pressing concerns as they now gazed apprehensively at their commander, a look of annoyed determination coming over his rain-streaked face.
He had just read a last terse order from none other than His Excellency himself, brought by an exhausted and evidently ill courier. For the past seven hours there had been an exchange of riders passing increasingly heated messages as to the feasibility of carrying out an assault on a well-fortified French garrison that now lay between the Allied army under Wellington on the one hand, and Blucher's Prussians who were rushing to meet him.
Despite the General's misgivings- based on years of campaigning across Europe and an awareness of the lack of experience of much of his army- His master had just now closed any further discussion with a final order stating categorically that a French Brigade stood between the junction of the two armies at the farming settlement of Les Haricots, and that any delay in evicting them could be disastrous for the Allied cause.
An immediate assault was to take place; and it must be successful, regardless of the price to be paid.
"The attack will proceed!", the General insisted again, the tone of his voice leaving no room for any doubt as to his intentions; "And we, gentlemen, are going to carry out our orders whatever the cost. I will not see the honour of the Duchy compromised." '
That's as far as any literary aspirations I may have for writing Napoleonic fiction goes.  This post sees Serrez les Rangs return to the True Faith- Napoleonics. And about bloody time, I hear some of you say.

These are pictures from a game we played last year, and I only just now came across the photos and some notes I had taken- they had been lost deep in the labyrinth of embedded folders on my computer. 

I do remember that at this time the planets lined up so that Matt, Sada and I were able to schedule in a game of Napoleonics- it was the first one we had in almost a year,  the first on my 4' by 8' table, and the first one where we actually had a proper scenario!

We were of course using Black Powder, but with 28mm figures on a relatively small table it was clear that coming up with a workable and entertaining game would require some (uncharacteristic) forethought: but help was at hand.

The previous week I had received my copy of Neil Thomas' One Hour Wargames rules. I had been reading a lot of positive things about it on various fora and blogs out there, and it intrigued me. So I had decided to order a copy. I'm glad I did.
Just as reading material alone, I enjoyed this book a lot. I like his writing style and found his rationale behind his game design clearly explained. For some reason I was reminded of the wargaming books I read in my teens by Don Featherstone; Neil's enthusiasm for the hobby is infectious, and I found myself itching to give the rules- and especially the scenarios- a try before I even finished reading it.

The rules are of course very simple, but appear well thought out. I'm sure that I will be giving them a try and possibly tinkering around with them as wargamers do- the system looks robust enough to stand tweaking.

But the real winner for me are the thirty scenarios, campaign ideas, and the suggestions for solo gaming. In the book Neil writes:
"There is a paradox at the heart of wargaming, in that many players are absolutely and rightly fascinated by finding the right set of rules, but pay far less attention to the type of battle (or scenario) they play"
Don't I know it, as this has been true of many of our own games. Too many "scenarios" have been half-assed, "set 'em up, plonk down some hills and buildings, and kill more of them than they do of us!" affairs. All too often, the time spent leading up to games has been taken up more by panicky last-minute painting, or trying to get a grip on/ brushing up on the rules, rather than thinking overmuch about scenario design.

But not this time. We had the figures and the terrain, so no last-minute painting frenzy. For this game, I selected one of the scenarios from the book: Scenario #15, Fortified Defence (p.94).

The object of the game was for Blue to seize two fortified villages, while Red had to prevent this from happening.

This scenario was inspired by the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745- a battle in a war that has always held a big fascination for me, so I was anxious to give it a go.

It is a tough scenario for an attacker, seeing as the scenarios in OHWG generally involves opposing forces of equal strength. So for this scenario there is a unique twist; at any point in the game, Blue can announce a "reset"- all his forces are removed from play, and appear again at full strength along his start line. These in effect represent a second assault wave entering the fray. 

No such joy for the Red player, who has to make do with what he's got. But of course Red has the advantage of defending from two, strongly-fortified positions.

With a bit of tweaking to suit our circumstances, our table ended up looking like this:
The roads were purely for aesthetics, they were considered to be in poor condition due to days of torrential rain, and would give no advantage to movement.

We had to make some adjustments to the Black Powder rules in order for the scenario to be workable. We were using 4' by 6' of my available table space, and the scenarios in Neil's book assume a 3' by 3' playing board. Additionally, the scenario assumes unit frontages between 4" to 6", with musket range equaling frontage at 6".

Our own battalions are usually organized on about a 1:20 ratio, so have a frontage of around 10" or so. Ranges as written in Black Powder are 18 inches for muskets.

Given the size of our table and the layout, that would have resulted in the villages enjoying interlocking fields of fire, and and it would have been more like assaulting Omaha beach than Fontenoy. No only did I move the villages farther apart, but in the end we decided to reduce all move and firing distance by 50%.  We had also decided to allow a maximum of two actions a turn rather than the three allowed in the rules (when lucky enough to roll for it).

This put the unit frontages out of whack with move rates and firing ranges, but we put it down to heavy rain having churned the Belgian countryside and dirt roads to a quagmire, and having gotten into the powder so that both sides were having to resort to reduced charges in their cartridges.

Regarding force composition, in all of the scenarios in the book, each player fields up to six units from a maximum of ten units per side (although games with as few as three or four units a side a possible). So in the horse and musket period, the maximum force would be:
4 infantry battalions
2 artillery batteries
2 light infantry units
2 cavalry (heavy or light- it doesn't matter)
At the beginning of the game, we rolled to see which side would be attacking, and which would be the defender, highest dice roll taking the role of the Blue player.

Once that was done, then each side again rolled a dice (1D6), and the result was checked against a table that determines which six of the ten units available to each side will be used in the game.

The Red defenders (the valiant, dashing French) rolled a three. The Blue attackers (a motley and reactionary collection of Brunswickers, Glaswegians, and other sweepings of Empire), a six.

A roll of three meant the French had the following force; four infantry battalions, one skirmishing battalion of light infantry, and a unit of cavalry (my chasseurs à cheval). Two of the infantry would be garrisoning the towns, and the scenario stipulated that they would stay there for the duration of the game, or until wiped out.

By rolling a six, the allies found themselves with three battalions of infantry, one unit of Jägers, and two of cavalry- KGL hussars and some light dragoons. Not the best combination for assaulting buildings! If necessary, this same force would resurrect itself to form the second attack wave.

Both sides had in fact rolled for the only possible selections that did not include any artillery- and this for a scenario involving an assault on fortifications! Obviously the same heavy rain that had turned the battlefield into an early 19th C. version of Passchendale had also left both sides' artillery bogged down and immobile in the mud, thus unable to take part in the days engagement. As always, we can just blame it on the weather.

I dispensed with the special rule in the scenario giving the defenders an additional bonus when firing from the villages. We've played many games of BP that involved attacking BUA's, and they had proven to be tough nuts to crack indeed without needing any additional help from scenario conditions, and this proved to be the case once again this game.

All brigade and overall commanders had a CV of 8. The garrison in Petit Haricot had its own brigadier to mitigate the distance from the C-in-C.   I suppose we could have given it a Marauder rule instead, but as the unit could not leave the safety of the village it really was moot.

The scenario states that the game should last 15 turns. I ignored this, and didn't even bother mentioning it to the others as I thought that there was no way we would get close to this many turns in.

I was wrong. The turns played very quickly, and if I had adhered to this condition of the scenario, the game may have had quite a different outcome.

First we had to gently shoo-off the lads.  Cat ownership pretty much rules out any thoughts of building a sandtable, God forbid.
"We've been kicked out of better places than THIS!"
Here's the layout at the opening of the game, just before the first wave of the Allied assault steps out onto the mud-soaked approaches to Les Haricots. 
It's clear to see that using normal Black Powder musket ranges would have result in a bloodbath for any attacking troops.  As it was, the Allies had to move very carefully to try to avoid flanking fire, and they weren't always successful.

The French line awaits...
...while the garrison at Le Grand Haricot steel themselves for the onslaught, the regimental Eagle glittering gloriously against the leaden sky...
First move, and the French cavalry cautiously advance. Don't want the Allies getting any ideas... 
On the Allied side, the Brunswicker skirmishers advanced through the woods on the right, intent on flanking or even getting behind the French at Le Grand Haricot, there to do as much mischief as they can.While the main force advances on the hamlet, with the Allied cavalry on their left flank. 

Advance to contact!

Scratch one unit of Allied cavalry...

The Allies had been bleeding profusely, and with most of his force either broken or close to their break points, Matt decided to call off the attack and press the reset button for a second assault.

The first game saw the French hold off the attackers- just- but they had taken lots of casualties themselves. And unlike the Allies, they were not to get reinforcements for the follow-up game.

After having stood off to lick their wounds, the bugles sounded, drums were beaten, and on again the Allies came. 

Round II...
If at first you don't succeed...
Last stand...
Time to say "Goodbye"...
The day was a bad one for French horseflesh.

Allied combined arms savage an unlucky battalion of line infantry.

The Brunswickers  take Le Petit Haricot in a  frontal assault.
 Despite being practically ignored in the first game, the defenders lost their collective bottle, and fled shamefully.
In this second game, the Allied skirmishers had it all their own way.
"Sauve qui peut!"
The second game was a victory for the attacking Allies, largely due to French errors in deployment, and not having enough left to deploy; the dice rolling was consistent; alternately blessing and cursing both sides alike.  The French had held off the first attack, but at a high price; the second wave proved too much as a black and red tide inundated French hopes.

But all in all I remember it as being a very enjoyable game.  Since then we have frequently used Neil's scenarios (and rules) for a number of games set in different periods, and the book has proved to be worth way more that what I paid for it.  


Sunday, 21 May 2017

IJA Reinforcements

Recent swag.  

Here are the latest additions to my ever-growing collection of Imperial Japanese for Bolt Action:

A squad of starving and desperate spear fighters is a pretty dark subject for gaming it has to be said; but there were a number of situations where the Japanese were fighting an end game, while suffering from a lack of all kinds of supplies (not to mention from malnutrition and a host of untreated nasty jungle fevers and infections). 

For any clever and ambitious young officer in the IJA, going into the logistics branch was a dead-end as a career path, as it was neither glorious nor held in any esteem, being well down there in the pecking order. A hangover from the samurai days, where a warrior was supposed to be just that; a warrior, not a clerk. 

Unsurprisingly, when push came to shove the lowly bean counters were told by their superiors to "knock it off with them negative waves", and trust in Japanese martial spirit overcoming mere material needs. 

Yeah, right.

Of course the soldiers in the field paid the price for the ensuing neglect, especially if they found themselves marooned on some island or other blockaded by the USN, or if their over-extended supply lines were under constant interdiction by Commonwealth Hurricanes and Beaufighters.
Field Marshal Neglect and his subordinates, Brigadier-Generals Disease and Hunger- probably the most dangerous opponents the Japanese soldier faced.
The sculpts actually capture this quite well, being ragged, lean, but mean. And they are a doddle to paint.

In game terms, the Bolt Action rules allow for squads of these last-ditch desperadoes. A lot of players will want to have a few units of them because they are very cheap in terms of point costs, they count as fanatics, and can still be deadly if enough get into close quarters. Good for soaking up incoming fire as they assault the enemy head-on, while your squad of rifles works its way around the flanks. 

Brigade Games do a good selection of near-naked and emaciated ragged infantry with rifles. I'll be mixing these in with the Warlord spearmen for more variety, and because I doubt very much that you would have found squads armed wholly with spear-armed troops alone.  

Fielding a whole squad consisting of half-starved & filthy fanatics with bamboo spears seems pretty "gamey" to me (in every sense of the word). Which is fine if that's the way people want to play it, but I feel it probably makes more sense historically to use them to beef up the usual rifle squads, rather than have them in separate units. And calorie/protein deficiency coupled with a near-constant case of the runs would probably mitigate against giving them any fanatic bonus. 

I will probably play it both ways, and often end up somewhere in the middle depending on situation and inclination. If it's a scenario I'm playing at my place, I'll most often want to play it more historically and distribute them equally among my rifle squads. If it's for a comp at one of our pub events, the emphasis is very much on the game, on rolling dice and socializing over a few beers, so I'd go with the flow. 

I'm quite comfortable wearing either hat on different occasions. Sometimes I'll look to contemporary accounts and my copy of the US War Department's FM72-20 Field Manual for Jungle Warfare as inspiration for wargaming WW2 in the Far East. Other times, it's an unrepentant homage to the action-filled romps of Commando Comics, no matter how improbable.

To be honest, I'm sometimes happier with the latter as when reading about the reality, I find it can be overwhelmingly grim.

Bolt Action can work for both approaches; it's just a matter of how I organize my force, and which of the rules I want to include/ tweak and which I want to leave out. For example, I never use any special character rules as I find them- well, silly, most being characters who would command well above the level that is being represented in the game. And all my squads have LMG's regardless of how effective they may or may not be for their point cost.  

The Warlord tanks look good, and allow me to build either the original version with the 57mm gun/howitzer or the later 47mm Shinhoto Chi-Ha. They will be far easier to assemble than the resin vehicles, which with flash and mould bubbles can be a right old pain in the derrière to clean up.   Not to mention that the plastic ones come with decals, data cards (good idea), and even explosion markers- very necessary for the Japanese tracked sardine tins.

I might even do a kit-bash to make one of them a command tank, with the older turret carrying another MMG in place of the 57mm, and a 47mm ATG mounted in the hull. There are enough extra pieces in the box to do this.

I've also found the time for working on more grunt-sans, these ones much better fed.

Fiddling about with plastics & putty
More infantry prepped and ready for priming.  These are mostly heavily-modified Warlord and Westwind figures.  ATG and crew Brigade Games.  Lots of Warlord head swops.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Putting Down Mutiny, 1813

Happy well-belated New Year! First post of 2017.

Today was a long awaited return to gaming, and indeed to Napoleonics, using Black Powder rules and scenarios from Neil Thomas' One Hour Wargames.  It was a chance for me to use my newly-based French brigade- 144 figures.
These weren't painted by me, of course; this are the ones that were  a club purchase some years ago now from Mabuhay painting service in the Philippines.    

They won't win any prizes, but they do the job; very acceptable wargames-quality painting that looks good en masse.  After Achilles went back to Greece- taking all his beautifully painted Perry Miniatures French with him- we needed Frenchmen.  Getting them through Mabuhay allowed us to get painted figures on the table fast so that we could get back down to some seriously fun gaming. These are quite the battle-hardened veterans now.

When I first received them, I touched them up a bit (brighter colours on the pom-poms), I gave them some GMB flags, and then put them on some Litko bases and textured the bases with sand.  A lot of work on my part (and extra expense in terms of the bases and the flags), which earned me the privilege of having them on pretty much a permanent loan.  We have gamed with them in this state for some years now, but it always bugged me that I had never gotten around to actually painting and flocking the bases.

On Saturday I finally bit the bullet, sat down and did the whole bunch in one fell swoop, after first carrying out some minor repairs and retouching battle damage where I thought it was worth it.   Normally I don't mind doing basing, but I've never done a whole brigade's worth in one sitting; not the most exciting of tasks.

Still, l think it was worth it; they look so much better now, as they match the gaming mats and the rest of my own army.

Now for the scenario, and some pictures from the game. 

It's late 1813, and treacherous- and ungrateful- Confederation of the Rhine troops (devious Italians/untrustworthy Bavarians/some disaffected and unpatriotic Poles) have risen in opportunistic revolt against the benevolent and righteous rule of the revered Emperor Napoleon. 

Like the rats they are, they have imprisoned the French garrison in the town of Anhauser-Busch in an attempt to defect, with all their arms and equipment, to the approaching- and increasingly successful- Allied armies. Of course, the justifiably outraged French have sworn vengeance, and are trying to stop them.

It may surprise you to learn that I commanded the French.

We haven't gotten together for a good game of BP for a while, so we were rusty. My table isn't huge, so in the interests of space and playability we thought it best to keep it small- the OHWG scenarios are ideal for this. Each side provided a maximum of six units: 3-2-1; three infantry, two cavalry, one gun battery; or 4-1-1; four infantry, one cavalry, one battery; or 5-0-1; five infantry, no cavalry, one battery. Maximum one skirmish unit. 

Gaming in the (less than) Grand Manner, but no less entertaining for it. 

Given the table size, we played using 3/4 movement rates, and command values of eight. Worked well last time, when we managed to get two games in during the day.

The French were the defenders in the triple line defense scenario #26 from OHWG, a scenario based on the Battle of Bladensburg in 1814 (War of 1812). The attacking player has to cross a river and advance down the length of the table to seize a hill on the other side. Easier than it sounds; the defenders are outnumbered, and although they have some advantage in defending in depth, they are crap troops.

My friend Matt and I had played this one last year, but using Anglo-Saxons and Vikings; then the Vikings cleaned the Anglo-Saxon clock. A very challenging scenario for the defender- in fact, almost impossible for the defenders to win given even a moderately aggressive attacker.

My French had no cavalry, as I went with just infantry and a battery of artillery. But my infantry were all barrel-scrapings; ill-equipped Marie-Louise teenage conscripts, fifth-battalion dregs, impressed National Guard, provisional route battalions and other such raw Eurotrash. Whatever could be swept up throughout the rear areas by the French commander in a desperate effort to prevent the breakout of the Confederation troops. 

They couldn't be activated until the enemy came within 12", and were subject to the untested rule: their stamina wouldn't be revealed until they took their first casualty, at which point they have to roll a D6 to see how steadfast they were (or weren't).

The Italian/ Bavarian turncoats were all regular, with three units of infantry, one 8pdr battery, a regiment of Polish Lancers, and rifle-armed Jägers.

As we were using Black Powder rules rather than the ones in OHWG, this time I gave the French a bit more mobility than in the scenario as written, to account for the effect of long-ranged artillery and rifle fire (otherwise the attacker could just stand out of muskets range and blast each battalion in turn to oblivion with their Jägers and artillery). 

But despite this, this time round the (rebellious) Confederation troops couldn't even establish themselves across the river; in fact we drove them back over the bridge, which by the end of the battle was choked with their dead and wounded. We suffered one unit pushed back after having being charged by the lancers, but despite being frighteningly over it's breakpoint, it survived. Basically we got off with just a few scrapes and bruises. 

One of my units never even had to move from its initial position, being very un-engaged throughout the whole battle. They just stood leaning on their muskets and watching all the fun from the top of the hill that was supposed to be the attackers' objective.

Giovanni and Sada have never been the most aggressive of players, bless their hearts, and between them managed to throw away a unit of Polish lancers early in the game. To be fair, they could have benefited from a bit better luck with their command rolls. But it worked both ways.

Piccies, in no particular order. Just some eye-candy.
HaT Bavarians
Initial setup- before we added the roads!
The French commander, threatening the lads with some personal GBH if they don't come through...
With roads!
Victrix Italians;  Lt. Topol on the right wishes he was a rich man...
A dreaded disorder flag.  This was to be a constant companion to this particular French battalion throughout the game.
Polish Vistula Lancers.  Prince August figures, cast and painted by Giovanni.  And very nice they turned out, too- I love that simple, but crisply painted, toy soldier style.
"Form Square!!!"
These two battalions went toe-to-toe for some three turns; the Bavarians blinked first, but both regiments hemorrhaged profusely.
All the Confederation units have been forced back over the river; "Vive la France!!!"

Great fun- and a rare French victory! It was good having another Black Powder game, and we are thinking of putting on a big game sometime during the summer, schedules permitting.
Now, back to work on my cuirassiers.