Thursday, 21 December 2017

Over the Hills (Play-test) - Vimeiro, Ventosa Farm

The combat at Ventosa Farm on the east ridge of Vimeiro is the last of these scenario playtests before Xmas, with just four more to play in the new year.

This particular scenario is one of two that recreates the battle of Vimeiro fought on the 21st August 1808 and you can check out the first of them, Vimeiro Hill, that we played at the Devon Wargames Group when we first started to put this collection of scenarios together back in January.

The view of the end of the eastern ridge of Vimeiro at Ventosa Farm, 11.30am on the 21st August 1808

In the preamble to the Vimeiro Hill game I outlined General Junot's flanking manoeuvre where the French commander detached two of his brigades to move out to his right parallel to the British held eastern ridge to see if they could turn the British position whilst he attacked frontally to pin them.

The threat posed by this move not only offered the chance to encircle the British army but also an opportunity to attack the beach head they were protecting and thus cut them off from any succour from the Royal Navy offshore.

The British lines were in a perfect ambush position for the arrival of Solignac's troops

It is at Vimeiro that we first see Wellesley's famous tactic of the 'reverse slope' position, which not only enabled the British general to shelter his troops from French skirmish and artillery attacks, but also masked any repositioning of reserves as well.

My picture of the view from the top of the eastern ridge at Vimeiro

The three lines of British troops as described by Oman, with guns and skirmishers forward, the second line from top of picture
1/82nd, 1/36th, 1/40th and 1/71st, third line 1/29th, 1/6th  and 1/32nd

Wellesley was easily able to observe the French movements but his enemy were unable to observe the movements he made in response by his detachment of three brigades of British infantry along the eastern ridge to prevent any French turning movement on his line.

This force amounted to seven full strength first battalions, plus a battery of guns, combined into two brigades, with Major General Ferguson bumped up from brigade to command the force as a whole.

Solignac's position looks terrible when seen from this angle - oh well en avant and vive l'empereur!

If this was not bad enough for the French, Junot displayed his inexperience of independent command by detaching his two brigades separately, without appointing a commander to coordinate their movement.

This poor decision only added to the disjointed attack when it happened with the two French brigades arriving at different times in different parts of the field and seeing them dealt with in detail rather than as a combined supporting force.

As the French columns advanced to the crest line the British skirmish screen prepared to greet them

So the table layout shows the position on the end of the eastern ridge at about 11.30am when General Solignac climbed the ridge towards Ventosa Farm with just the British skirmish line in view, the British line infantry having been ordered to lie down.

The 1/71st Highlanders, destined to be converted soon after Vimeiro into a Light Infantry battalion were famous afterwards for being piped into battle by the wounded Piper Clarke sitting on a rock and carrying on despite his wound.

The British were arrayed in a two brigade line of about 6,000 men with the brigades of Ferguson and Bowes combined to allow Ferguson to command the whole force.

General Solignac's brigade climb the slope of the eastern ridge at Ventosa Farm

Oman describes Solignac as coming on with his three columns about 300 yards apart thinking the British skirmish line was the actual line, only to find his voltigeurs nearly overwhelmed by the British skirmishing and forced to support them with his columns, to be then met by the actual British line standing up and stepping forward to deliver a crashing volley at his battalions at about seventy-five yards with the effect of crushing his attack in an instant.

Don't worry lads I thing we have surprised them!

The firing had one effect that aided French objectives in that it drew in the columns of General Brennier who marching to the sound of the guns arrived with his four columns abreast as the British line was occupied with following up Solignac's retreat, taking several French cannon.

Taking the British line in the flank they gained some success only to allow the British line to gradually envelop their attack with another round of successive volleys which coupled with the losses caused added to French concerns after hearing of the failures of their comrades attacks in other parts of the battlefield and in tern causing Brennier to break off.

The first exchanges saw the French centre driven back

So to recreate this battle we decided to fight in the spirit of the original with poor old Solignac launching a full blooded attack on the British line despite what we can see waiting for him in the pictures.

At some stage after the first half hour of combat the French brigade of General Brennier would arrive somewhere on the right of Solignac's start point thus keeping our British commander honest in not knowing exactly when and where these reinforcements will arrive.

As the fighting intensified the French started to get the better of the skirmishing with hits showing on Ferguson's Light Bobs closest to camera

As the French commander I looked at the prospect of attacking such a strong British double line with much foreboding but assuming my historical predecessors mantel boldly moved my columns in supported by the skirmish screen and guns.

The first exchanges seemed to confirm my worst fears as my centre column took four hits from guns and skirmishers and was driven back into the sanctuary of a slight dip to recover from the shock, leaving my other columns to press on; one occupying the Ventosa farm buildings and the other straight on at the 1/40th foot.

The 3/15me Legere forced back after taking four hits in one turn

An interesting aspect of the Vimeiro campaign is that both British and French infantry battlions are very strong units many of them amounting to close on a 1000 plus men which gives them a lot more staying power than the typical strengths of battalions averaging about 500-600 men.

This aspect came to General Solignac's aid as, by successfully rallying off two of the hits to the 3/15me Legere, they were still very much a functioning fighting battalion in the next turn and were able to support the 3/58me Ligne as both battalions charged the 1/40th Foot with fingers well and truly crossed.

The French columns forced to deploy into line force the 1/40th back

I needn't have worried as my French columns and skirmishers fought like lions as they drove in Ferguson's Light battalion giving it four hits to recover from and forcing the supports to check for seeing a wavering unit and then following that, the the fight with the 1/40th saw my French columns come out on top driving back the veteran Somerset battalion.

As Solignac's brigade breaks off, the arrival of Brennier's command with dragoons to the fore forces the 71st into square to protect the British flank.

However after an hour of combat Solignac's brigade was broken and the order was given to fall back with company columns rapidly moving back down the hill

The arrival of the fresh French troops catches the British line out of position

The British were looking on, considering a follow up to finish off the French brigade, but were all to aware that with an hour of fighting completed Brennier's brigade must be close and, sure enough, on they came the turn after Solignac's men broke.

With the British flank battalions forced into square the French columns march double time and charge in

Brennier has a very strong brigade with four squadrons of provisional dragoons attached and as the French commander it was imperative of me to make full use of the damage inflicted by Solignac's troops on the formidable British line.

Suddenly Bowes' Light Bobs forced into emergency square are destroyed by a French column and the 71st Highlanders are likewise pushed back

The fastest French troops and most threatening to a British line whose flank was hanging out in the wind were the dragoons.

Their rapid approach achieved the result I was hoping for by forcing Bowes' Light Battalion and the 71st Foot into emergency square. But unsupported cavalry is a liability, just ask Marshal Ney if you don't believe me.

The rearward French columns pour on the marching in an effort to maintain the pressure on the British line

So close up and able to charge in was the 70me Ligne taking advantage of the French column four segment move, easily shaking off the two fatigue points incurred by such rapid marching by being around 1000 men strong and a big unit to go bashing squares around with.

The first combat saw the Light Bobs destroyed so grabbed two victory points back for the five lost with Solignac's departure and, with four turns to go, a game very much in the balance when we called it a wrap.

The position at game end with Brennier's brigade very much in the driving seat and the British struggling to realign to the new threat

There are additional tweaks to add to this scenario that reflect better the disjointed and impaired performance of the French in this particular combat that really only came to mind during the play-test and will be written into the final draft.

The numbers tell a story with British army morale reduced to just 19 points and Nightingale's brigade with 6 points left

As well as the Force Morale Cards working really well over this series of games we have added to the ease of play by the addition of  order dice carrying the six options as defined in the main rule book.

Brenniers brigade still full of fight with 26 points of Fatigue still in the bank, but with Solignac's boys taking an early bath

You don't need to play the order issuing mechanics but we feel that to really get the "full fat" effect of these rules it is well worth it and so a simple way of recording the process for each command with all the data kept on the Force Morale Cards seemed a simple way to do it.

Throw in a turn counter, tape measures and some D10 and you are good to go running a game of Over the Hills at home or in the club.

I was asked about the turn counter we use to record progress so here it is in its full glory atop one of our dice towers
Latest addition to the OTH playing kit are these home-made order dice Att-Attack, Av-Advance, Mv-Move, Hd-Hold, Ry-Ready and Rs-Rest/Recover, colour coordinated of course
That's it for Over the Hills play-tests this side of Xmas but Steve and I will be back in January 2018 to show you the development of the final four including Corunna and Oporto.


  1. Very nice! What do you think of this final outcome compared to using C&G II? Would the results have been comparable?

    1. Thanks Adam,
      I think Over the Hills models the games we have played very similarly to C&G II and both Steve and I have found ourselves remarking about that through this and the other games worked on.

      Having a good understanding now of both systems I really see the difference between them as being a preference for die rolling and the transparency of using a paper based set of rules where you can follow the outcome process versus the pleasure of allowing the computer to take the strain.

      So given all the caveats about "a different game might produce a different way of playing it" yes I think with all things being equal the results would have been very similar.

  2. Nice pictures and great looking game!

    1. Hi Phil, thank you for your comment, glad you enjoyed it