Sunday, 29 October 2017

Over the Hills (play-test) - The Afternoon Attack, Talavera

" If this does not work, it is time to give up war!" 

Marshal Victor quoted before the afternoon attack at Talavera, 28th July 1809

Note whilst presenting this game I write about FS and FH which refers to Fatigue Strength, a number that shows the strength of units and formations and FH which are Fatigue Hits, caused by combat and shooting that degrades FS over time and causes units and formations to stop fighting.

So carrying on our series of games designed to find out what we can do with the rule-set "Over the Hills" (OTH) Steve M and I proceeded to this scenario recreating the main French attack on the Anglo-Spanish line on the afternoon of the 28th July 1809; when the might of Generals, Lapisse and Rey's two divisions supported by a forty-eight gun grand-battery and the 2nd Dragoon Division under General Latour Maubourg assaulted the centre of the British held pert of the line looking to completely unhinge the whole position and open the allies up to the combined French cavalry.

The view of the French lines from behind the British position, with the range sticks indicating the perimeter of our battle

The first two pictures illustrate the specific part of the battlefield we modelled this scenario on, and a view of the two armies which, at this point, is the biggest battle we have fought using OTH.

The massed battalions of French infantry arranged behind their grand-battery

This game would see the table groaning under the weight of thirty two battalions of French infantry, twenty battalions of British infantry, twelve squadrons of French and eight squadrons of British cavalry, not to mention the seven batteries of French and two batteries of British artillery, all crammed into a mile wide sector of the British line.

The two brigades of KGL line infantry hold the forward slope of the Cerro de Medellin with Donkin's Brigade in support nearest to camera

The scenario is modelled around the historical orders of battle and is set up to follow the original plans both sides committed to, allowing the three hours the battle took to resolve itself in reality.

The might of I and IV Corps infantry await their guns to fire and soften up the British line

Suddenly the French line of guns opened up a massed forty-five minute barrage

The games we are playing are designed to allow the full OTH rule system to come into play with, in this case, a three turn grand battery barrage to open the battle that caused a bit of concern among British ranks.

In one turn alone Steve caused 5 Fatigue Hits (FH) firing across the front, and probably accruing about 8 to 10 FH across the three turns, despite the British front rank units 'Going to Ground', simulating British troops lying down when subjected to French artillery bombardment.

The French gun fire fell silent as massed infantry columns passed through their lines to be met by fire from the British guns opposite

The columns of Rey's division closes on the Portina Stream

The thing about scenario design is that you envisage a model built around the actual events and then you start to see ways of adding or changing the design to create those key decision points or capture an element you hadn't considered until you see the thing unfolding in front of you, and this game proved no different.

As the columns advanced, the French guns in this sector limbered up to move forward to support the attack

With their guns withdrawn, the British throw forward a thick screen of light bobs to fend off the voltigeur screen 

This was a full blooded French attack on a British line with all the special rules for French and British troops used that OTH has to capture the way these particular armies fought. So our French columns were making full use of their 'Dancing Officers' and 'En Avant! A la Baionette!" rules whilst the British were coming back at them with their phlegmatic ''Steady Lads, Steady' and 'British Cheer' all designed to recreate the classic line versus column encounter.

The two sides light troops dispute the French advance

All along the line the skirmish battle was fully contested 

The scenario follows the three hour long fight for the centre ground of the British line and with a forty-five minute barrage starting at 14.00 it was not until around 16.00 that the first assaults by the front columns went in having been preceded by a whithering skirmish battle beforehand.

The 60th Rifle companies bolstered the British light bobs with long range accurate sniping of the French advance troops

As the two opposing lines draw near the British reserve line is moved up in close support

Not having fought a battle of this size we were both unsure how the fatigue effects would accrue across such a large number of units facing off against each other and although the units could and did rally off successive FH, the brigades and armies could not, and the evidence of the damage started to show as red and blue d6 used to record the losses to Fatigue Strength (FS), started to be discarded on to the table.

I was keen to keep an element of 'fog of war' by having the opposing record cards keeping track of both sides fatigue out of sight of each other thus keeping the effects of our fire on each other a matter of conjecture throughout until the effects started to show.

The 1/61st Foot of Cameron's Brigade move up to the edge of the olive groves in support of the skirmish screen

Despite the casualties (that little blue die) the French keep on coming

It is this fatigue modelling that for me makes OTH such a compelling set of rules for fighting these big set piece battles as that whittling away of each army's endurance adds another layer of battle simulation as each side attempts to cause the other to topple over first.

As in the real thing, you don't need to kill your way to a victory, simply destroy the other sides will to go on fighting, leaving them vulnerable to the reserves.

General Rey's division exchange one last round of skirmish fire as their columns prepare to charge

The British light bobs prepare to retire behind their supports

The fatigue element also forces the player commander to keep a larger perspective as it is easy to get involved in a particular battle within the larger battle, but it feels rather like a boxing match where multiple repeated hits eventually cause a knock down, with one and then another brigade dropping out of the fight, but with the eye on your own brigades similarly close to throwing in the towel.

The second line of French columns ready to take full advantage of any breakthrough

Six battalions led the first French assault

With the lines so close the British guns are safely withdrawn behind the reserve brigades

The crisis point of this battle came with the attack on Campbell's British Guards and Cameron's 1/61st and 2/83rd Foot when six battalions of French infantry charged home with the two Guards battalions and the 61st having to deal with two battalions of French each.

General Mackenzie oversees the deployment of his reserve 3rd Division

Charge! in goes Rey's division striking Campbell's Guards Brigade with Colonel Guards brigade, 2/24th Foot, 3rd Division, in support

The British line at crisis point as Sherbrooke's division comes under attack with the light battalions withdrawn behind the line

Needless to say British Guards are formidable in most sets of Napoleonic rules and if not I would query the rules, so Steve can be forgiven for having his fingers crossed as the 58me and 75me Ligne gave a cheer and charged forward with levelled bayonets only to be met by a thunderous volley that put 8 FS across the four French battalions in one crushing fire.

On the other end of the British line the KGL light bobs dispute the advance of the 16me Legere as French dragoons close on the extreme flank

Suddenly crashing volley fire erupts along the British line as the columns stagger under the impact

However Cameron's 61st Foot had a harder struggle taking hits as well as giving them and ending up in a three turn close combat that saw the British unit narrowly coming out on top but suffering enough FH to take the brigade over their FS allowance and cause them to have to retire from the battle, broken.

The aftermath of the British volley and charge with Belair's brigade broken and forced back behind the Portina
Not all one way traffic as Cameron's brigade is forced to withdraw broken after forcing back the French columns - note the British columns threading their way back into the reserve areas to regroup. Cotton brings up his Light Dragoons.

The retirement of Cameron's two battalions opened up a gap in the British centre that drew in the remaining reserves including the British light cavalry to prevent a serious incursion into the line, all this as both KGL brigades who bore the brunt of French artillery and a significant amount of skirmish fire found their brigade FS wobbling in single figures on 1d6 each, leaving them one combat away from breaking. 

In fact Steve didn't know it, but he could probably have just sat back and shot the KGL off the top of the Medellin without bothering to close on them.

That said I didn't know the parlous state of the French brigades that opposed them and that is what really makes this rule set such a compelling game - great fun!

The KGL brigades were just a few points from breaking as the French closed in - note the British guns deployed to help hold the French up as reserve units deploy to cover the KGL

Big games need to have an ordered way of keeping track of morale. The dice show remaining Fatigue Score (FS) on the various brigades with Cameron's already depleted and the British army FS using D10s with 72 points left from a start of over 100 FS

Sadly we had to end this test three turns short of the end and with a knife edge set up, so we turned to the pick up game rules to see how the two armies were faring in terms of victory points which at this stage with both sides having the wobbly brigades mentioned showed:

French having broken one British brigade 5 victory points
British having destroyed three French battalions (6 points), broken one French brigade (5 points) and breaking the most expensive in FS French brigades (10 points) showing a British total of 21 victory points, but with two KGL brigades each 3 FS away from braking and with French dragoons bearing down on them.

Likewise the French brigades and army were similarly monitored and their army FS at 69 points remaining with one brigade broken and two brigades on one d6 of FS left.

Despite the early finish we both felt that this scenario clearly has a lot to offer both French and British players with plenty of challenge for both sides and some extra optional additional rules that can be used to further enhance the historical narrative.

Both Steve and I had hours of fun slugging away at each other over the Portina Valley and the more we play OTH the more we are discovering and are enjoying the subtle mechanisms of the play.

So further play-tests to come with another couple of Talavera scenarios and then hopefully back to look at some of Sir Arthur Wellesley's earlier actions from 1808 and 1809.


  1. Cool game, sounds like the rules work well.

  2. Well done, love the huge battle, and I love this ruleset too

  3. Thanks for your comments chaps.
    Yes indeed, OTH work very well for this size of game and proved very entertaining, we like them to.

  4. Looks awesome, most impressive mass effect...a great looking game!

    1. Thanks Phil, nothing quite like mass Napoleonics.

  5. love reading up on these big battles....provides inspiration for me!

    1. Thank you, that's great to hear. Keep on playing Napoleonics.

  6. Great report, JJ, and beautiful looking game. It's interesting that you don't really know the state of your opponent's forces - is there some mechanic to give you a clue or are you really completely blind to their condition?
    Really nice table too - love the fold out shelves used for record keeping - so elegant compared to my masonite and packing tape cobbled together affairs!

  7. Thanks Bill.
    Yes OTH has a really interesting mechanism using a fatigue score to rate a units ability and stamina, so an average battalion of 600 men would potentially rate an FS of 7 or 8 depending on its quality.
    If you have four such battalions in a brigade, the brigade break point is half of 4 x 7 plus one, that would be 15 points, Fatigue is caused by combat and certain types of movement. This fatigue can be rallied off of units but not off the brigade, division or army.
    So if you keep the record cards out of site an opponent could guess the likely break point of any given brigade and have an idea of the damage caused over time but not be totally sure of exactly how bad it was. This really adds to the simulation and fun of the game.
    The table is a ping-pong table that my son Tom helped me turn into a purpose built table giving it a frame within a frame that locks the mat down over the styrene underlay that creates the hills and allows me to pin stuff down on the mat.
    It is a real asset that once built I have been determined to get lots of games done on it.