Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Assault River Crossing, Second Battle of Oporto 12th May 1809 - Tiny Wars Played Indoors

The Serra Convent overlooking the River Douro at Oporto from where British infantry led by the 3rd (Buffs) Foot crossed to occupy the Seminary on the cliffs above on the opposite bank and around which Sir Arthur Wellesley placed his gun batteries in support of them and other Allied troops crossing to attack the French under Marshal Soult who occupied the city, 12th May 1809
A few weeks ago, Bill Slavin sent me an email giving me the 'heads-up' on his next game in the series from O'er the Hills Scenario Book which I have been looking forward to with great anticipation following his post about how he had built his table to refight the Oporto Crossing.

Stand to Games - O'er the Hills, Early Peninsula War Scenarios pdf Version

This scenario playing follows the others Bill has been working through since he started his series of games with 'The Leopard's Debut, The Battle of Rolica, played back in December 2020.

I personally have really enjoyed seeing someone else translating this scenario book, designed to be played with the rule set Over the Hills, and Bill's games have brought back lots of memories of the original play tests Steve M and I did when I was working on putting the book together.

If you are new to the series of games then I have listed below the series of links here on JJ's that will take you to Bill's blog, Tiny Wars Played Indoors where you can see his AAR's for each of the games played so far.

When writing the Oporto scenario, I was adapting an earlier game that we played with the computer moderated rules, Carnage & Glory and needed to make the game a much more easily translatable set up for most wargamers to be able to set up on the table.

The battle was fought over and around a deep cliff edged river gorge with the outskirts of the city of Oporto and the key stronghold of the Seminary, occupied by British troops, the main features of the terrain to be fought over once the battle commenced, following the discovery of the British troops by part of the French garrison.

Our Oporto Table from the original game set up.

Thus, to make this a more easily playable game I opted to leave the gorge out of the map, using the wargamers old friend, 'the dreaded edge of the table' to represent this imposing terrain feature with the possibility of British reinforcements arriving in the Seminary from said table edge together with supporting British artillery fire directed from it on to certain areas of the table representing the batteries of guns Wellesley set up in support of his assault crossing.

Of course Bill was having none of that and opted to go large by building his representation of the gorge, cliffs and wine barges carrying British troops to produce, in my humble opinion his best table yet, leaving me rather 'gobsmacked' at his ability to 'adapt adopt and improve' with a post detailing his build for others interested  in having a go.

Tiny Wars Played Indoors - Building Porto

Frankly, I never imagined anyone going this far with this scenario and was amazed at the ingenuity of this table, and Bill's post is well worth a look to see his ideas on how to put together a put up and take down version of this game.

So if that little preamble hasn't wetted your appetite to see how Bill's game turned out with the troops in battle array across his table, then move on and wait for my next post about something else, but I think a few of the pictures of the game below will prod your curiosity still further.

The game was quite remarkable and one I would not have expected after playing it several times and seeing others having a go with similar outcomes.

When writing a scenario based on an historical actions and constrained by certain known limitations you tend to end up working within a bell curve of outcome probabilities with the the extreme, but still possible, outcomes hopefully moved to the ends of the curve and with the more likely outcomes very much in its centre.

I think Bill's account of his game shows what happens when the game starts to explore the less likely extremes and also the historical peril that Marshal Soult and his corps faced once Wellesley had established a foot hold on the French side of the river, requiring bold and immediate response to stabilise the situation.

The fighting that followed in this game is a classic struggle to retain and regain initiative and made for a fascinating read.

So if you would like to know more then just follow the link below to Tiny Wars Played Indoors for the full details and more great pictures of the game as it unfolded.

Next up: Mr Steve and I have been battlefield walking with a trip back to the early English Civil War in Cornwall and the seat of the Prayer Book Rebellion in Devon, and I have a book review.

More anon 


  1. What an awesome looking table.

    One can only wonder what the troops really felt about crossing the gorge, scaling the ravine, redressing the lines and then finally fighting?

    1. Yes indeed, Bill surpassed himself with this one.

      Battles such as Oporto and indeed Salamanca rather undermine the sometimes proffered description of Wellesley (Wellington) as a defensive general and illustrate his preparedness to take the offensive when the opportunity presented and offered more prospect for success than failure.

      Perhaps his greatest lack was an understanding of the proper use of cavalry and an ability to pursue a defeated foe to destruction as the two battles illustrate.

  2. Wow, spectacular and gorgeous terrain, must be a pleasure to play on it!

    1. Bill's tables have always been a pleasure to see and he has developed a look of table that is rather unique but very compelling to the eye.

  3. Thanks, JJ, for the kind words on the table - and the great scenario that inspired it! It was a fun challenge to build, and the set up went surprisingly quickly once I had thought things through. As for the game, well, yes, it was a bad day for the French and a good day for the British. I think we will now move an to Talavera, but take a bit of a hiatus as my gaming shed has become too cold to play in. ):
    But not for too long...

    1. My pleasure Bill and bravo. I can't say I'm not disappointed you're not giving this one a second go but I will look forward to Talavera.


    2. Never say never. I'm sure I will return to Porto - I'm very curious to see how it would play out under different circumstances, and will certainly let you know when I do.