Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Lundella's Lane, 1814

Marching to the sound of indecision
Unusually, my friend Giovanni and I both had the day off last Friday.  That gave us a rare opportunity to get in a quick Napoleonics game. 

He was anxious to try out his newly-painted infantry and dragoons from the Kingdom of Italy, so in the absence of any painted Allied troops we decided it would have to be the French putting down a revolt of treacherous Italian turncoats, who are trying to suck up to the Allies now that things have started going pear-shaped for the Little Corporal in the aftermath of Leipzig.
North Italian Rabble
I really need to paint up a critical mass of Prussians and Russians.

Anyway, it was scenario #8 out of my now well-thumbed copy of Neil Thomas' One Hour Wargames, and is loosely based on the War of 1812 Battle of Lundy’s Lane, 1814.

Now I did say it was a quick game; unfortunately, we weren't able to reach a conclusion as Giovanni could only stay until mid-afternoon- he understandably had to be home when his daughter got back from school. 

So out of the 15 turns called for in the scenario, regrettably we could only get 7 turns in 3 1/2 hours.  Matt and I could probably have gotten in a dozen turns over that time- Giovanni is a wonderful friend and fantastic painter, but he hadn't played Black Powder for a while, and anyway he is never the fastest at planning and making moves. 

Perhaps we should encourage him to do an Austrian army.

Back to the scenario; we each had six units. His were all standard-sized units with one of them being an elite Grenadier battalion of Royal Guards.   One battalion was of light infantry, two were line, and the remaining two units were a battery of artillery and his newly-mustered dragoons.

On my part I had four, large line infantry battalions, a battery of artillery and, in a touching instance of hope over experience, cavalry support in the form of my ill-starred Red Dutch Lancers of the Guard. 
Italian Guard Grenadiers in assault column
Lundy's Lane was a confused meeting engagement, very hard fought, and the scenario reflects this.  

Giovanni starts the game with two units on a hill, I come on with three; he had two further units coming on in turn three and another two in turn seven, while I had another three units- two of infantry and my lancers- come on in turn four. All marching to the sound of the guns.
The French start with three marching to the right along the road.  The Italians have two units on the hill, in this case an artillery battery and a unit of Guard Grenadiers
Despite the difficulties of the attacker having to clear a hill without clear superiority of numbers, it balanced out.  Italian support comes in in drips and drabs, and Giovanni rates as an overly-cautious commander- without there being need for any artificial rule mechanisms. 
Italians defending the prize.  The French have to be in possession  of this hill by the end of the game.  We simply ran out of time.
Like a lot of the scenarios in OHWG, it was one that would really come down to the wire, so we really needed the full fifteen moves to reach a conclusion.
Stamping out rebellion...
And of course, the lead unit takes one shot from a skirmish stand, and of course it rolls a six; disorder.
Forcing me to support it with another unit in column, one I had earmarked for a different task.  The military calls this "friction".  I call it "fucked".
Italian reinforcements enter stage right, and form into line.
Soon followed by the other half of the French army, but they would be turning off to the left and marching parallel to the hill for the assault.
Flank march!
My Guard Lancers in the lead, knowing that they would be needed to skewer some haughty Italian dragoons.  Artillery indulges in a bit of counter-battery fire.
The Prussian colour is actually a disorder marker on the Italian artillery. Good, good...
Meanwhile the lines kept up an inconclusive firefight/

One Italian battalion marches towards my flanking force.  I like those odds.

At this point we had the first unit removed from the game, as I destroyed his light infantry battalion- victim of a (un)lucky chain of fate.  A bad roll on a crucial volley he needed to win, followed by a devastatingly good one in reply from my French.  With three hits over his break point, cue the necessary morale test, where he went on to roll a modified four on the table.

Arrividerci, baby...

"Welcome to my shop, let me cut your mop"
A very pleasing gap in the line, but no time left to exploit it.
Up to this point Giovanni's left flank had been fairly secure, but with one less unit in play it opened up possibilities.  I could now put pressure on his flank while launching a frontal assault on the hill. 
The last reinforcements enter the table, Italian infantry and dragoons.  Soon after this we had to call the game.
Newly-painted unit syndrome, and the first move of the Italian dragoons was a blunder.  Nothing dramatic, unfortunately, just a move in the direction he wanted to go anyway.  I had the same thing happen to my artillery- in neither case was any harm done.

I wasn't worried about his cavalry, but I would need to draw off his only remaining fresh infantry unit.
These guys would have to go first.  Can't leave them ensconced on the hilltop.
Artillery were having a great time banging away at each other; both were near breakpoint when time was called,
Unfortunately, as mentioned we ran out of time at the seven-turn mark; I was nowhere close to seizing my objective, which would be a tough position to take.

But with eight more turns still to go a lot could happen, and I was preparing to launch a concerted attack on the hill. So under the circumstances it was decided to call it an inconclusive draw.

Quite frustrating, actually.

We had decided to use the optional rule from p.96 of the Black Powder Clash of Empires supplement, that has units in line move a lot slower, due to having to maintain formation.  In our case as we were using reduced movement, this meant they would move at only 5", and would have to roll for forming square if attacked by cavalry- no automatic square.

I feel that not only does this better reflect the difficulties of moving in line, especially in the age of conscript armies, but it also encourages more use of attack columns. These benefit from being easier to command with their +1/ +2 to command ratings, which can make all the difference when you have a less-than-stellar staff rating.

The game was also a salutary lesson in the desirability of avoiding inconclusive, attritional firefights. We had what was essentially a fair fight between two infantry battalions on either side (I had large units with four firing dice each, but one didn't have a clear field of fire, so it ended up six dice (4+2) vs. six (3+3).

Fair fights are to be avoided at all costs.

They are never a good situations to be in as it leaves way too much up to chance. And once you are disordered- which is always likely as the opponent just has to roll a 6- then you are just have to continue firing away. Historical, but it won't help you win games if you can't deal with the enemy decisively and quickly.

Making that simple modification to the Line rule should make the whole thing more "Napoleonic" than has sometimes been the case in our previous games, and the lengthy yet unproductive firefight just hammered home the fact that not only are attack columns much more flexible and easier to control than units in line, but you want to keep maneuvering to try and have more units shooting at the enemy than he has shooting at you.

I did wonder about whether in such small games we should reduce the chance of disorder, or at least make it possible for a player to get out of it. Elite units have this ability, but I wonder if all units should have at least some chance, if for no other reason than to give a player some sense of being in control, even if that roll is failed.

Something to consider. With big, Perry-sized games and enough units on the table, this really isn't an issue; but in our games with half a dozen units a side it might speed things up a bit. I'm not yet totally convinced, and the jury is still out.

But all things considered it really was a great scenario, tough and challenging for attacker and defender alike.  I really want to give it another go, and to play it out to its full conclusion. 

And of course it was good to be playing Napoleonics once again after a long absence.

Next time I'll bring a stopwatch.
These colours don't run!


DeanM said...

Great looking figures and game, Robert. Looking forward to getting in some Black Powder games again in the near future.

Norm said...

Nice read, table and figures. Your conversion from OHW to BP is interesting. I have done this once and converted the 15 turns to 7. From memory. I think I did that based on how long it took the forces in the two rulesets to cross from one side of the table to the other. Though from your comments, 7 turns was not enough to get to the objective.

Robert said...

Thanks for commenting, Norm.

We’ve played about seven or eight games using the OHWG scenarios and Black Powder, and in every other instance we were able to complete the games, usually in anywhere between eleven to fifteen turns. This usually involved starting at 10:30 and finishing anywhere between 4:00- 5:00.

But Matt and I are pretty familiar with the rules, although we don’t nearly play as often as we’d like. While on the gaming table we tend to move and make decisions quickly (as for real life, however...).

And of course, the games tend to move more quickly once units start breaking. Doesn’t take much time to move to or three units aside, but that usually happens in the last three or four turns, which go quickly as a result.

In any event, boldness always pays dividends and all we have to lose is a game!

Robert said...

Thanks Dean.

I’m glad I bought the Clash of Eagles supplement, as there are some great ideas in there worth trying out.

One day, we hope to get in some larger games; but for the time being, and given the size of my ping-pong table, it looks Iike we’ll be fighting brigade-sized actions for some time to come.

Chasseur said...

Great game report, cheers Robert.

Gonsalvo said...

Good to see you posting again... and a Friday game at that!

Robert said...

Thanks, both.

A game on a Friday is quite a change of pace. I always find it easier waking up early to prepare for a game, than it is waking up early to go to work.

I have no idea why...