Monday, 23 October 2017

Over the Hills (Play-test) - Pajar de Vergara, Talavera

This weekend, Steve M came over to the man-cave to help play-test one of a series of Peninsular War scenarios for the Over the Hills (OTH) rules we are working on.

As you will know if you read the reviews of our testing of OTH, together with the games we have played using them, we really like them, with their strong period feel, the ability to wargame in the 'Grand Manner' or not as your fancy takes you and the use of the concept of Fatigue to model the 'wear and tear' units suffer during a battle that better replicates the reasons why units stop doing what their player commanders want them to do in a more holistic way than just doing a simple casualty count.

The German Division on the approach with Potocki's Ploes moving out to their right flank in open order

Steve's Anglo-Spanish await the coming storm in line with the allied gunners making their final preparations

The Talavera 208 project took a lot of the focus for this year and was great fun to do and still has aspects that remain to be tied up before it is completely concluded; however with the games played and done it has released the time to look at other things, including playing some more OTH to fully appreciate what the rules can do.

General Alexander Campbell's 4th Division in support of the Spanish 3rd Division under General Portago

That looks a pretty solid line, or is it?

As you will know I really enjoy historical scenarios with as much detail relating to the actual battle that can be modelled without impinging on the fun of the game. OTH is a set of rules that seem well suited to that kind of game and so we are playing some old and some new scenarios to put that theory to the test.

The Nassau battalions form the German right flank with Chasse's two battalions of Dutch infantry next in line

As the German voltigeur screen breaks cover Steve moves the Spanish up to support the guns

So with the Talavera table in situ it seemed like a good place to start by running a few Talavera scenarios on the scale terrain and testing some ideas that might produce some fun games using Over the Hills.

The first sighting between the two forces

Baden infantry preceded by their voltigeur screen

So on Saturday, Steve and I got stuck into the attack on the Pajar Vergara Redoubt by Leval's German Division, trying out various strategies and ways to model the terrain and units to capture what that battle within a battle was all about.

Potocki's Poles move through the olive groves in open order to expedite their movement

Colonel Myers 7th Fusiliers and the 53rd Foot preceded by their light bobs move up with the Spanish line

As we played through two games of this scenarios with two very different results, I was taking a few pictures of the action as the three armies (Anglo-Spanish vs French Allies) sparred with each other on this particular flank of the British line.

A precipitous attack by the Baden brigade voltigeurs is flattened by allied canister - won't do that gain, note to self!!

With the guns in formidable form a gap opened in the German line - Where are the Poles when you need them?

One thing to say is that OTH copes very well with big battle scenarios and both Steve and I found ourselves getting through the phases of play quite easily with only pauses to check the occasional rule concept and to make scenario notes as we played. The fact that we played two versions of this battle speaks highly of the system.

Battle well and truly joined as the two lines screens engage each other

Myers light battalion with a company of rifles get stuck into Chasse's Dutch voltigeurs

The rules make lots of allowance for how you might have your figures based and arranged and I made no changes to my collection other than working out what my units were representing in terms of battalion and regiment strengths. You might also notice that my French commanders have little numbers on steel paper attached under the base as a simple quick method of rapidly identifying a particular commander and his associated troops so I could keep an eye on command ranges.

The British and Spanish general officers were much more obvious and needed no such addition. Like wise I continued with my practice of grouping my light companies and voltigeurs into detached battalions and these are easily accommodated under OTH.

Meanwhile on the other flank the Hesse voltiguers engage the Antequeran light infantry with the El Rey cavalry in close support

The allied guns pivot to pour on the hurt and that was about it for Leval's first attack - fairly historical in fact.

The other consideration for my collection is that we play big battles in 15/18mm and not in that other scale and so we were using our own version of the QRS or QRF with suitably changed movement rates and ranges to half those in the rule book to save our overworked, overheated and some might say feeble brains from having to convert each time.

We really like to include all the chrome and detail that Adrian and Quinton have built into OTH as optional for nerds like us who are happy to roll the extra dice to test for ragged volley fire in response to a charge and other great ideas like that.

Another game a few tweaks and those allied guns just cant resist having a blat yet again

This time General Leval plays a more cautious and considered approach, note those German guns unlimbering to left of picture and oh dear, that red marker seems to indicate the British guns are out of ammunition for a turn.

So play testing scenarios is something Steve and I have had a bit of practice at over the last five years playing with this collection of figures and after a while it becomes a bit of process where we play a set of ideas and then say, yes but what if we try this or that, always keeping the actual aims of the historical commanders and the issues they encountered front and centre of the design.

As the British cannon fall silent, the Anglo Spanish infantry are forced to take a hand, but those German guns might pose a problem

What did I say about those German guns and problems?

The battle over the Pajar redoubt is a good example where a demonstration-pinning attack through various mishaps ended up happening ahead of time in a way that it was never intended - 'C'est la guerre'.

So given a similar set of circumstances and the same troops under your command could you do any better that Messrs Leval, Portago and Campbell, and does this scenario model, present those issues and command choices in a fun and interesting way for both commands that allow you to test yourself against their bench mark?

And that in a nutshell is why we like to test, and note not one mention of the dread word 'balance' because we all know that no general went into a battle looking for balance, quite the opposite. The scenario player has long ditched the idea of points and balance in favour of fun and challenge, and who knows perhaps gaining an increased respect for the generals who had to do it for real.

Time to take full advantage of allied problems - in go the Dutch, en avant, Vive L'Empereur!!

Now what goes around, comes around. That green marker in front of the Polish infantry (extreme lower right of picture) indicates the Dutch horse guns have just run out of ammunition for a turn, Oh dear, how sad, never mind!!

As you can see from the pictures a right royal battle was had with honours even for both sides, gaining a win each but with a few tweaks and re-writes garnered from the day's fun. You might also notice the other Talavera forces still on the table adding a bit of the rest of the battle going on behind. These units will be wheeled out over the next few weeks testing other games for OTH before we move on from Talavera.

Still onwards and upwards - the Dutch carry the redoubt, with the Baden brigade hot on their heels to consolidate their hold.
Honours even.

If you are looking at getting into a set of Napoleonic rules then OTH is definitely a set to look at and both Steve and I had a lot of fun rolling those bones.


  1. Your table looks superb as always and the rules look interesting. I may need to give them a look. Is there a review of OTH you recommend?

    1. Hi Jonathan, thanks mate.
      In terms of reviews, I might suggest my own here in the link in the post together with our other three games played, Vimeiro, Barrosa and Casa de Salinas.

      You could also check out the following review on Facebook on the Napoleonic Wargamer by Ben Norton that gives a good overview

      In addition Mike Hoobs part of the Meeples Podcast crew has got into OTH and has posted about his games and thoughts on the rules together with a link to the Meeples Podcast where you can listen t the chaps chatting to one of the authors Adrian McWalter who goes through the design and play concepts.

      Additionally the Edinburgh Wargames Club have eight game reports on their club blog for another take on how the rules play.

      In addition Ady and Quinton host a lively Facebook Group for all things 'Over the Hills' and their new Peninsular War skirmish game 'Forager' which has its own range of specifically commissioned 28mm Peninsular figures that are a treat.

      Hope that helps

    2. Thanks, Jonathan!

      If your suggestions don't help then I am unhelpable!

  2. Great looking game that sounds like a good system to play with.
    Best Iain

    1. Hey thanks Iain. OTH are ranked high on the JJ fun/simulation scale and are well worth looking at.

  3. Replies
    1. My pleasure Ady, we are having a lot of fun. We started the BIG scenario tonight and will be concluding it on Sunday so let's to come.