Thursday, 28 February 2013

Napoleon at War, Campaign Manual, " The Hundred Days"

I finally got myself a copy of the first Campaign Manual, for the Hundred Days Campaign of 1815, and for those who haven't seen this book yet, I thought I'd give my first impressions.

The book is paperback, not hard back as the rules. My experience of paperback rule supplements has been coloured by my experience of the offerings from Battlefront, where the process of trying to open the book at a certain place and folding the spine back to maintain that page as you make notes or something, the book quickly loses its original shape, and pages start to come loose. This quickly necessitates a visit to Staples to remedy the situation with a spiral bind!!!

This being said, the quality is very good, with a nice glossy cover and page style, that is very attractive.

The book starts with an introduction to the campaign, the manual and how to use the lists contained. The overview of the Hundred Days Campaign is a three page summary of the events and key personalities involved.

We then have the core of the book which are the details you will need to model the armies of this period, starting with the French. The format is the same for each of the armies involved, with a briefing on the personality commanders and their special attributes in the game, the lists for the different types of Divisions the army could field on the table, and a colour uniform guide for those forces. For those unfamiliar with Napoleon at War army lists, you can see the generic lists in PDF available on the Napoleon at War site to get an idea of the format.

As you would expect the lists introduce new forces to the table with different special abilities, that are designed to capture the feel of the armies involved in the campaign. So the French have five lists, consisting of the Infantry Division, Young Guard Infantry Division, Imperial Guard Division, Light Cavalry Division and the Heavy Cavalry Division. Like wise the Anglo-allied Army have four lists, the British Infantry Division, the Netherlands Infantry Division, the Brunswick Infantry Division, and the British Heavy Cavalry Division. Lastly the Prussian lists include the Infantry Brigade and the Cavalry Reserve Brigade.

The book then concludes with a chapter on scenarios from the campaign, Quatre Bras, Ligny, Hougoumont, Ney's Charges and Placenoit.

The "Quatre Bras" scenario is based on the counterattack of the British Guards, which re-captured the Bossu Woods. The "Ligny" scenario sets up the final attack of the day by Napoleon with his Old Guard attacking in to Ligny and the Prussians, with Blucher commanding the Reserve Cavalry, desperately trying to hold out for nightfall. The "Hougoumont" scenario is the classic attack on the prepared position, with the Guards defending against Jerome's Infantry assaults, allowing the French to try out the new "Sappeurs" rule when assaulting buildings, whilst trying to burn the defenders out with howitzer fire. The "Ney's Charges" scenario, recreates the massed cavalry assaults on the allied lines in the afternoon of Waterloo, with Ney trying to force an Allied retreat from the ridge. The final scenario "Placenoit" recreates the assault by the Prussians on this village towards the end of the battle of Waterloo with a mix of Prussian infantry types getting "up close and personal" with the Young and Old Guard.

All the scenarios are built around the six turn scenario of a classic Napoleon at War encounter and make these very playable entertainment at an afternoon at the wargames club.

I think this book is a valuable addition to my library, and am pleased with the content. Speaking as someone who has a passing interest in the Hundred Days and would probably only build a few units for that period, this book gives me an easy to follow data base to quickly put together appropriate units and set up some interesting scenarios. As a Napoleonic Grognard, I have more detailed sources of uniform info and orbats available to build on the resources in this book, but the lists and ideas contained within also provide useful information for constructing campaign forces and are a useful summary of the important aspects to be considered when fielding armies of this period.

For the newcomer to Napoleonics, and particularly for someone specifically interested in building the armies of the Hundred Days, this book is an excellent resource and I would have been very happy to have had this alongside my copy of Bruce Quarrie's  "Napoleon's Campaigns in Miniature" when I first started playing Napoleonics many many years ago.

If you haven't yet looked at Napoleon at War, then do so. I often see them characterised as "Flames of War" for Napoleonics, which is not a label I would give them. Yes the "points based lists and pre-packed  units of figures" model of business do seem very familiar, but as someone who wouldn't play FOW from choice, if I had been influenced by that description, I may have been dissuaded from trying these rules out. I think they have a lot to offer the Napoleonic player who wants to capture the look of a Napoleonic battle combined with the character of the armies that took part and the aspects of each that made one army very different from another.

The rules, figures and the campaign book are available in the UK from Battlefield Models and Paul Mews offers a first class customer service when ordering your stuff.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Quatre Bras Farm under threat

The farm at Quatre Bras is under threat of demolition.

This landmark was a key feature on the battlefield in 1815 and it would be a great shame if it were to become a victim of historical vandalism after surviving 200 years.

For the understanding of future generations who visit this famous battle site, please take time to go to the site below and print out the three letters of protest and post them off to the officials concerned.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Busy Weekend Part Two

Ok, just in case you were thinking, I bet not much happened last weekend, I thought I would give you a progress report on my three projects running side by side.
Well first up the Peninsular Houses are done, I just have the walls, sheds, dung heaps, shrines and water troughs to do, so should have things wrapped up next week.

I'm rather pleased with the buildings, they will be perfect for Fuentes de Onoro, Oporto, etc. I can see plenty of street fighting coming up.

Three quaters of the trees are done, you can see a few armatures awaiting foliage in the background. A few examples are here to show you what I've done. I'm going to do some woodland bases to mark the extent of my woods. I'll post some pics when they're done.

Then as I was posting the blog report on our AWI game mid week, the post man delivered my rivers from Products for Wargamers. I only ordered these on Tuesday and for £25.00 inc post, I'm really pleased. They are MDF with sculpted banks and a light bit of flock. I asked for muddy brown rather that blue. I will "tart" them up myself later, but they are a great addition to the terrain box. They supply a set enough to make approximately seven foot of river. Thank you to James Moore for a great product and great service.

"Ok so what about the Portuguese Dragoons", I hear you say. Well I didn't post a picture because they are on my modelling desk primed waiting to be started and I hope to progress them this weekend. More anon

Maurice - AWI Campaign

The release of Maurice has seen this rule set join my list of all time greats. I have never had a boring or predictable game using them, and the design, incorporating its own card driven sequence captures, in my mind the "feel" of warfare in the age of reason.

They have quickly become my turn to set when I feel the urge to play one of my favourite eras, the American War of Independence (AWI) or as our cousins across the pond would refer to it, the American Revolution.

The American War of Independence has been described as Britain's Vietnam, and the Avalon Hill game "We the People" (WTP) seems to capture that aspect of the war very well. It knits together the political struggle of winning hearts and minds with the military struggle, as both sides attempted to destroy each others forces to keep control of areas they had mastered. The political events outside the colonies are also included by having those events affect the course of the war with eventual French intervention.

Again the inclusion of a card driven sequence of play means that I have never seen the game play the same twice, and it makes it a very re playable game.

A couple of years back I picked up a copy of the Jan/Feb Battlegames magazine that had mention of running campaigns for the AWI using Commercial Board Games, namely 1776 from Avalon Hill, Liberty from Columbia Games and my favourite We the People.

I read the article at the time and filed it under "Things to do before I die", because I was building my WWII Normandy collection and didn't need to get sidetracked. However having practically finished the Normandy collection, and now working on the Napoleonics, I started to make notes on the article.

Very simply the article talks about the feasibility of using each game system to generate battles in a historical context and relate the tabletop wargame results back to the board game. There is a neat little rule of 12 that uses a 3:2 ratio for translating forces on to the table with some suggested army lists to construct those armies on the ratio selected.

So in WTP when two forces engage in a battle the weaker side would get 12 units built around the army lists. The stronger side would get any number of units from 13-18 depending on its strength advantage. Then other considerations can add further units to each force, who has State Militia, British National Advantage, Von Steuben doing his magic etc. Both armies will eventually have between 13 to 20 units. You can change these numbers if you wish as long as you stick to the ratio. So for instance you could go 16:24, 18:27 etc according to your whim.

There is a terrain design system based on where the battle is happening, to help put together your tabletop, and away you go. Then at the conclusion of the battle you apply losses to your map force based on the level of victory.

The 12:18 units fits nicely into the Maurice system which designed around those numbers has the advantage of being played to a conclusion in a reasonable amount of time, certainly to be built into the commitment of playing a campaign. This together with the fact that there are relatively few battles in WTP, on average less than ten in a game, makes both games a reasonable possibility.

Thus the seed of an idea, to be able to play one of my favourite wargame rule systems alongside one of my favourite board game systems.

So I thought a play test would be a good idea to see if my theory had "legs".

My old pal and neighbour Steve, who has shared some enjoyable WTP and Maurice games together, came over on Thursday evening, and I set up a table with two AWI forces constructed on a 3:2 ratio using the Maurice points system, rather than units, and the army lists provided in the article. The picture below gives an idea of the forces and set up before additions and changes, with the Americans on the left.

The initial set up with a small hill behind the wood on the front left. This was the British objective.
The Hessian brigade front right would be tasked with taking the hill and would be supported by British Guards and the British Regulars in the photo.

By dicing for the potential variables a WTP game could throw up, I arrived at the two forces;

4 x Regular Line Infantry 24 points
2 x Conscript Hessian Infantry 8 points
1 x Regular Light Dragoons 6 points
1 x Artillery 1 point
39 points
The British gained "Port advantage" and "British Training", giving them the following additional units;
1 x Guards 8 points
1 x Artillery 2 points.
We decided this was an early war encounter, so the British got;
Lethal Volleys 12 points
Steady Lads 9 points
Total British with additions 70 points
Initial Morale 10

7 x Conscript Continental Line Infantry 28 points
2 x Regular Continental Line Infantry 12 points
1 x Continental Dragoons 6 points
2 x Irregular Militia 6 points
1 x Artillery 1 point
53 points
The Americans gained "State Militia", giving them the following additional unit;
1 x Irregular Militia 3 points
56 points
Initial Morale 11

With the game occurring in a coastal zone we diced for the predominant terrain type which came out as hilly and gave the Americans the scouting advantage with their three Irregular Militia to none for the British. Steve playing the "Rebels" decided to defend.

I initially gave the Americans three guns but changed this in favour of infantry assets, militia
The Battle of Lovelace Hill 1777
So with both sides organised the Americans gathered their best units around the British objective on "Lovelace Hill" and prepared to sell their lives dearly. With colours flying and pipes and drums playing the British line prepared to advance.

The defenders on the hill
The first rounds of the battle saw both sides prepare each others lines with an artillery bombardment, The Royal Artillery battery causing a lot of discomfort to the Militia.
As the Crown forces closed on the American line, General Mathews gave an empowering speech to his troops with the battle cry "Remember Bunker Hill" that immediately added two points to American morale.

The British right which with the Artillery and Dragoons were intended to stop the Americans from supporting the hill defenders
The first exchanges of musketry occurred in front of the hill as the British attempted to dress the ranks in preparation for the decision with bayonets. The British Guards moved through the woods displaying their skill at arms, not stopping or needing to reform in the disruptive terrain. The Hessian's close behind wheeled slightly to allow them to approach on the open ground. All the while the lone American gun played on their ranks with round shot.

As the first assault went in on the hill, the British right closed on the American left and the musketry became widespread. It was here that British fire drill started to have effect and American units struggled to maintain their formation under the hail of shot. However the Guards were having an "off day" managing to combine indifferent musketry with a failed assault forcing then to fall back through the Hessian's, disrupting them as they went.

As if this was not bad enough a cry of dismay arose from the British left as Colonel McLeod of the 44th Foot was seen to fall after the last volley from the Americans. He was a leader who lead from the front and his loss was keenly felt causing British morale to drop by two points.

The core of the assault force, Hessian's to be joined later by a battalion of Guards
As the fighting became "up close and personal" both commanders threw in their best cards to gain the ascendancy, units started to disperse, however these losses after the death of their leader seemed to affect the British more than the Americans, and by mid day British morale was teetering on 3 points vs Americans on 5 points.

The British right moves out to hold the centre ground
Extreme times call for extreme actions, the British launched one final assault on the American lines in an attempt to break their morale first. Three battalions of militia who attempted to stifle the attack were quickly dispersed, they were soon followed by two battalions of Continentals. But the fight had taken its toll on the British who having lost their Hessian allies earlier suffered the loss of the 44th in the centre. The sight of these veterans falling back was too much for the British and they were forced to concede the field.

The Guards, left lead the assault on the hill

A Continental battalion gets confused and advances down the hill to meet the British attack
Our game ended in a decisive American victory. Well played by Steve, fending off my furious assaults with some deft card play and canny troop placement.

Final scores were
5 to 0 morale victory US v Brits
US: 3 x militia, 4 Continental  dispersed
Brits: 2 x Hessian's, 1 x British Regulars dispersed

We both thoroughly enjoyed the game and the rules. The card play makes this an great game to play.

Translating this back to WTP. The British force would have to retreat, if unable it would surrender.
Loser casualties are determined by WTP with a d6 roll, with 1-3 causing 1 strength point lost and 4-6 2 strength points. Given this was a decisive American victory any losses would be increased by 2 strength points. The Americans, as the victors, would lose 1 strength point. The maximum size of an army can only be 5 strength points, so this could have been a particularly disastrous battle for the British in a campaign setting. Obviously if this was a campaign game, the British would have probably switched to the defence as the game came to conclusion thus only offering the Americans a marginal victory and minimising their campaign losses. These are the effects that a campaign can bring to the table that one off games often fail to model.

If you are interested in these ideas then check out the Battlegames edition Jan/Feb 2010 for more information
Battlegames back issues

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Busy Weekend

Occasionally it's quite fun to run several projects side by side. I find it helps ease the monotony of just doing the same thing, being able to break off and paint or model something completely different. It just so happens that this weekend such an opportunity has arisen as having finished my British Infantry for Rolica and Vimiero, I have some Portuguese cavalry, Peninsular buildings and trees that need to be done towards the same project. I will update the blog with my progress.

First up, the buildings. I had been searching for the best 15/18mm Peninsular style buildings and saw a recommendation from  Fat Wally's blog that the Rusus  buildings were some of the best on the market. I decided to ask Santa to see what he could do and with some help from my family, he came up with the total collection of their Bella Italia range which I think you'll agree tick the box. I should also say that when I got the models out of the box and grouped them in the order of the collection as advertised, I found that they had included extra village items as a bonus, so "hats off" to Rusus.
I really like the character of these models, if you haven't already, check them out.

The Rusus large town houses with added doors and staircases that come in the extras box to add variety to the buildings

The Farm collection, with dung heaps and water troughs, very nice!

I love the little entrance archway to complete the entrance and exits to the village
The guide that I will be using to paint up my buildings is a very handy little book from Karwansaray Publishing  who produce Wargames Soldiers and Strategy Magazine, but also sell some excellent modelling guides under the Touching History title.  The booklet for Napoleonic Peninsular War buildings is very good.

The next up is my Portuguese cavalry, which is going to be a unit of AB Wurtemburg Chevauleger
that I picked up from Fighting 15s at Colours last year.

These chaps will be supporting my British light dragoons when I roll out my Vimiero scenario in a couple of months!!

I hope my Portuguese cavalry will look as gallant as these chaps

I usually paint two units at a time, and I am planning to paint up these casualty markers for indicating units under a compulsory movement when using Carnage and Glory rules. I always prefer figures to counters when producing markers.

British casualty markers from Fantassin

French casualties from AB
And last but by no means least I like Jason have been planning to upgrade my tree collection so have also been busy with the Woodlands Scenics range to get some much needed new trees ready for a new season of wargaming fun.


Rolica Update

The Rolica scenario play tests are underway. Two weekend ago Jason ,Gus, Nathan and Steve gathered in my "man-cave" to play test the Carnage & Glory II version of this scenario. We aim to replay this game and so I have resisted the temptation to give a precise blow by blow account of events, suffice to say that all commanders took the learning from the set up and the way the rules work and are keen to put that experience into play test two.

An overall impression of the terrain with Rolica and Rolica Hill in the centre
For this first test I selected the commanders based on my observations of their style of play and how I thought they might work to the scenario requirements, thus Jason took the role of General DeLaborde, Steve, Sir Arthur and the two central columns, Nathan as General Hill on the Allied right and Gus as General Fane with the Rifle Brigade on the left.

Sir Arthur Wellesley's centre columns under Generals Crauford and Nightingale pursue the French from Rolica
 This scenario will be a classic rearguard with both commanders aiming to out perform their historical predecessors in gaining more time, losing fewer casualties and inflicting greater damage to the enemy.

French troops followed by the 4th Swiss move to occupy the heights above Rolica
Our initial run through suggests this could be a close run affair, but we need to see it run again to give a better impression.

The 3/2me Legere leave Rolica heading for the heights pursued by British Light troops
So I aim to give a second report and offer up this scenario for "peer review" next month. In the meantime I hope you like the pics of our first run through.

The 3/4me Legere occupy the French right on the heights

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Battle of Sadras 1782 - Devon Wargames Group

Yesterday was spent having fun and laughs at my local club the Devon Wargames Group in Exeter.
I have put up a description of our game on the blog.
I had a lot of fun getting my Langton collection of Age of Sail naval ships out to refight the Battle of Sadras 1782. My collection of ships is built around the fleets of Hughes and Suffren as I find the history of these two well matched adversaries more compelling than the many one sided affairs of the later Napoleonic period.
Over the years I have tried several rule sets starting with "Action under Sail" by S Birnie that we played all the time in the late 70's and early 80's. In the 90's I moved over to the computer using "Clear for Action" by Malcolm Smalley, which I have recently resurrected to play on my laptop with DOSBOX. These are great for smaller actions with an excellent level of detail.
Broadsides exchanged in the Indian Ocean
More recently I had moved to Too Fat Lardies and Kiss Me Hardy (KMH), really enjoying the freedom from order writing that card driven games bring togther with the unexpected.

However I recently came across a free App on the web called "Eight Bells"

Eight Bells Naval Rules App

This App offered the possibility of combining the fun aspects of card play with the game management of the computer. Having just recently acquired an Ipad for Xmas I was keen to try the rules out.

The pdf rules and scenarios are simple and straightforward and give an easy to follow structure for your game using the App to randomise movement, weather and wind, and combat. Entering ship data is simple and the game can be put down and come back to easily.
In addition, if like some, you prefer to roll your own dice, you can and by inputting the results on the App can use them to influence the system.

I immediately saw that the simple card play system that the rules come supplied with which are used to decide when each side can command their ships and conduct combat are easily adapted to more complex options that KMH has to offer, and yesterday I added in the Command Rules that KMH can use, which played very well.

We played the system for the first time yesterday with a good number of ships on each side and we quickly were running through the card play using the App. The system was flexible enough to allow us to adapt rule changes as we went along and the game was a lot of fun.

The ships come pre-loaded on the system offering options from 1st rate 130 gun vessels to unrated 10 gun cutters. The crew numbers are set at specific round numbers ie 50 to 1100 men. There are five crew ratings from Poor, Average, Good, Veterans and Elite. Once you have created a ship you can simply reproduce it in your "dry dock" giving each version its own name and for my game an identifying number.

When you want to create your game fleets you simply choose the ships required from your dry dock and place them in the fleet selected. This means that your creation is kept as built whist the copy is used by the game during your battle and will record casualties and damage.

Movement is governed by the system. You set the wind speed and direction. The system will remind you when this should be checked for changes. Each ship can set several (six or seven) sail settings from Let Fly to Full Sail which combined with the ships attitude to the wind and the score of three dice ends up giving you the option to move your model at the speed in cms of the single highest dice score or the sum of all three, with a bonus added to each according to the proceeding factors. This randomises movement enough to roughly predict what your ship will do under a particular sail set but still make it a challenge to sail several ships in company with each other. There are additional rules to customise your ships as poor or fast sailors by adding six cm to the score or only using two dice as the modifier. There is a suggested turning regimen of two points turned per move, however we simply used the KMH turning circles printed in cm moves with different radii for ship class.

All the gunnery options are included for pistol and musketry, ball, double shot, triple shot and chain, with suggested range restrictions as appropriate.

Damage is recorded by the system in percentage terms, thus your rigging, crew and hull start at 100% with damage degrading that figure as you play. The system automatically alerts you to any critical hits like shot up rudders, masts falling, captains killed or wounded, fires etc (the usual stuff!) Repairs are simply resolved by rolling a dice with a 4,5or 6 usually being required. The game master then updates the ship record manually to record the repair. Boarding requires your models to be locked together. You let the system know which side is attempting to board and depending which attempt this is, ie first second or third will determine what dice score on three d6 is required to succeed. The number of attempts being equal to the number of decks on the target vessel. When all decks are taken the target is deemed as captured. The score required often increases as the fight is carried below decks. If you make a mistake you can go into the ship record and correct any misplaced damage results, which is really good, as we all know mistakes can happen.

If I were to suggest improvements it would be to allow more options around the ship stats when creating the fleets, ie the crew numbers are fixed and standard to the nearest 100 men. Being able to vary those numbers together with adding in specific numbers of specialists like marines would be a good addition.

As a gamer for 40 years I think it's a brave person who predicts the future in wargaming. However with the advent of tablet computers and Apps that allow data to be easily computed and recorded through the game allowing the players to concentrate on the important stuff of commanding their toys, I would be surprised not to see more of these kind of aids appearing in our hobby in future.

These rules are great option for a large fleet action, and as a freebie, I think they are well worth a look. In addition complexity and detail are easily added in by the game master as required and I am going to try out some single ship actions with more cards added to control options as per the KMH suggestions.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Peninsular Light Infantry & Foot Artillery

Tomorrow I will be joined by Jason , Nathan, Gus and Steve to play test my Rolica scenario. Time permitting we will try to play using Carnage & Glory Carnage & Glory II computer rules and Napoleon at War. These are two rule sets that I plan to use as my default Napoleonic rules and am keen to see how my scenario works with each set.

Once we have identified any pitfalls and applied any tweaks I will post the scenario and an AAR for info.

In the meantime I have put up some more pics of my growing Anglo-Portuguese army with the Light Troops of the Light Brigade which would become the Light Division. I think the Cacadores really make brown look cool.

Fane's Rifle Brigade, 60th on the left, 95th on the right (Fantassin from Stonewall Figures, Skirmishers at front are AB)

43rd Light Infantry & 95th Rifles

43rd & 95th

1st and 3rd Cacadores (Fantassin from Stonewall)

Royal Artllery 6lbrs and howitzer (AB)

As in the real affair all my Anglo Portuguese are untried in battle so tomorrow will be their first time under fire, more anon.