General Herrasti personally sighting one of the city's heavy guns during the French siege of Ciudad Rodrigo
Last week I finally got a chance to play a set of rules, Vauban's War, I first became aware of back around 2014 when I was deep into my Talavera project and spotted a series of posts on Eric Burgess' blog, with a mind to using the 18mm Peninsular collection to try out some Peninsular War type sieges.
|If you are interested in finding more resources about Vauban's War check out Eric Burgess' blog in the link below.|
My wife Carolyn indulged me last Xmas by buying me a set for a present and they were put on my 'Must Play at Some Time' pile whilst I busied myself completing other projects focussed around Age of Sail ships and AWI Mohawk Indian collections.
Fortunately there is another 'rules magpie' in our club and an old friend, Chas, who also had a copy of the rules and was keen to give them a run and was happy to take point on organising a try out game, with him getting his head around how they work and importantly producing the required fortress walls, saps and other impedimenta that go along with horse & musket siege warfare; whilst I concentrated on my other stuff, but very happy to dig out my French and Spanish Napoleonic collection to put on a game at 'JJ's HQ', which we ran this week ably assisted by Vince who came over to give them a go as well.
The table you see below is our first attempt at playing with twelve battalions of French infantry, massed guns and sappers before their first parallel, as the Spanish garrison of four line, one grenadier and two militia battalions, glower out from their walls.
The rules themselves are based around the Piquet system of card driven activation and opposed die roll resolution using differing die types from d4, d6, d8, d10, d12 d12+1 and d20 with a base die reference point and moving up or down according to circumstance.
As you can imagine the system really does tick our box in terms of 'friction' with a well thought through plan coming unstuck on first contact with the enemy, represented by the card hands for each player or sequence deck of initially eleven cards, that generate specific events and actions through a turn of play, with each sequence deck played through representing three to four days of the siege.
|Vauban's War is a quality product with cards that can be cut out for play or you can order prepared casino style playing cards, together with other game record cards and nicely produced core rules|
To that initial hand are added another three cards of the player's choice through which they can attempt to modify the events with stuff they would like to achieve at some time during the three to four days, thus when the first saps are being dug, you are unlikely to want to have a 'Let's storm the breach' card in your hand as that would be a bit of a wasted opportunity.
The number of cards to be played each time is determined by an opposed die roll with the Fortress Governor and Besieging Commander rolling off and the winner having the option to play their cards first or second and with the difference in score determining how many cards will be played, by player one then by player two (red or blue as identified on the card decks).
In our case the French commander, probably Soult for 1811, me, was rolling a D10 and the Spanish Governor, Vince a D12, definitely General Herrasti as seen above, with the inactive player able to blast away should he want at incautious sappers and infantry moving about during card play.
A sample of the cards can be seen below and the presentation of the rules is glorious with full colour illustrations and well laid out explanations of how to set up a game of this type of siege warfare with a typical siege likely to play for somewhere between five to twenty siege turns, that could see several sorties and assaults, not to mention the work to dig parallels and saps, set up gun batteries, manage powder supplies, spies, food stocks and undermine the opposition morale as well as the odd wall or two.
In my own experience I found understanding the rules clearer by playing rather than reading, but that just might be my preferred learning style, but having done a bit of pre-game reading and then getting heads together with Chas to actually play seemed to make the rules clearer and before long Vince and I were rapidly advancing through the card play and working out our die changes with little reference to the rules or QRS, which speaks highly of the rules enabling unconscious-competence quite rapidly.
|Examples of the Casino style playing cards for red and blue, garrison and besieger|
As we were playing my mind was cast back several times to my 2019 holiday to Spain, touring across the country to visit key Peninsular War battle sites, and staying in the castle at Ciudad Rodrigo and standing before the walls of Badajoz gazing in awe at the scars of 18 and 24-pounder shot marks caused by Wellington's Anglo-Portuguese siege batteries.
|The main gate and ditch at Ciudad Rodrigo 2019|
The pictures from those visits combined with those of our game as it progressed hopefully captures how well the rules involved us in managing our siege battle, with the pictures illustrating the French advancing their saps on two flanks to create battering positions to clear the first lines of defenders back within their walls prior to advancing forward for the third parallel and the creation of the forward battering positions to hopefully start preparing a breach.
During this play Vince was building saps out to attempt to flank my own positions forcing me to commit reserve infantry to deal with his advancing out from the walls via his saps.
Meanwhile two Spanish spies were intercepted by my security details and promptly shot, whilst my own spy narrowly avoided capture, only to return to the city and successfully stir up insurrection within, lowering the morale a notch as the Governor was forced to send troops into the town to put down a popular revolt demanding him to hand the city over.
The mechanics of recording the state of both the garrison and besiegers is easily recorded on the status cards provided with the rules, together with a simple stat sheet that keeps a note of the quality of the various forces and as we blazed away at each other with cannon and the occasional musketry the various smoke puffs seen in the pictures recorded who had fired in the turn, requiring a reload card to prepare said guns for another round of firing, and the puffs removed but recorded for when the occasional powder check supply card turned up seeing a test or an outright reduction in the powder supply available for future action.
In addition each turn would see the garrison consume its limited food stocks, equally vulnerable to further consumption or despoiling by enemy action, and with little chance of resupply unless relieved by an approaching allied army, all modelled in the card play and with neither side entirely sure of the state of the other, providing yet more narrative and drama.
|The imposing defences of Ciudad Rodrigo 2019|
This post can only be a first impression and with not enough time to progress to attacking the walls directly with the big guns, an incomplete one, but I and we had seen enough to convince us that these are a very cleverly constructed set of rules that has us wanting to play more and had me ordering up a new set of cards and scanning options for a Vauban Wall collection to run my own games.
I can see that the initial collecting and building of the key terrain items is the main ask for playing Vauban, with the rules designed to work with any figure collection, providing infantry are grouped into units of four bases, double rank, in my case, or single rank, makes no odds, artillery men and guns, general officers and figures in pairs to represent sappers.
The rules lay out the basic requirements in terrain collection with most armies any player would already have suitable for use.
|The scars of strikes from 18 and 24-pdr shot fired at the walls of Badajoz by Allied gunners during the siege of 1812, as pictured during my visit in 2019|
I think Vauban's War is a cracking game and I'm really looking forward to playing again, but I know I will have to concentrate on finishing the other stuff first so will probably content myself with playing Chas and others until I can work on my own terrain.
With the advent of 3D printing and of course Paper Terrain, the opportunity to build these kind of games has never been so possible and now there are a set of rules capable of generating a very playable system.
If these kinds of games are of interest, then have a go with Vauban Wars, as they really are a lot of fun and seem to me to capture what sieges in this period were all about.
Next up, more ships are building in JJ's Dockyard, and I visited a very historic castle in North Yorkshire during our trip away in March, plus adventures in Vassal land continue to delight.