Monday, 21 October 2013


Somewhere on the desert borders of Syria, battle lines are drawn between the armies of Emir Asifi of Aleppo and the defenders are the Kingdom of Jerusalem, under the command of the impetuous Lord Reynard de Chatilon.

Bit of a change from the usual tank battles, and the first time my Saracens and crusader armies had seen a tabletop in 4 years, but well worth the wait. We were playing a homebrew version of Piquet rules, with lots of my own alterations, omissions and inclusions... including my own army lists. It produces a very different gaming experience, and I really like the unpredictability that Piquet brings, never quite knowing where the battle will go next, or how much impetus you will have to move/shoot/fight with, but the game as written is (IMHO) rather fussy, slow and weighed down by too many factors. My house-version streamlines the rules a lot, to make for a more player-friendly game (and it still took over 4 hours to get a result).

The chosen armies were as follows:
Emir Asifi’s Army
3 units of Ghulam (medium cavalry)
1 unit of native Arab horsemen (light cavalry)
1 unit of native Arab camelry
5 units of horse archers (skirmishers)
3 units of archers
2 unit of regular mercenary infantry
1 unit of Sufi fanatics (infantry)
5 units of Ahdath militia infantry (peasant rabble)
21 units, morale total 29. 

Lord Reynard de Chatilon’s Army
2 units of mounted Knights
1 unit of mounted Knights Templar
3 units of men-at-arms
2 units of archers
1 unit of arbalester (skirmishers)
9 unit, morale total 19.

Before deployment each force had to be divided into a left wing, ring wing and centre, each ‘battle’ under its own commander (each side also had an independent supreme commander and a baggage train).
The Saracen’s divided their army into a centre of infantry (all 11 units!) massed together, militia (cannon fodder) to the fore, backed by infantry and archers. His right flank was made up of all 5 horse archers units. His left flank was the Ghulam, backed by the camelry. The Arab horsemen were left back as the baggage guard/ final reserve. So, an infantry centre and two cavalry flanks – the classic crescent.

The Saracens deployment, horse archers, infantry and cavalry in that order.


The Crusaders divided their far smaller army into a centre of the Knights Templars, a unit of infantry and a unit of archers, deployed as skirmishers into the buildings. The right flank was just the two mounted knight units, my main strike force. The left flank was more infantry, backed by archers, and screened by skirmishing crossbows, deployed out front.

Crusader's left wing looking towards the centre

The Knights on the right...

 Battle lines drawn...

Models deployed, it was time to roll of for impetus in the first turn, and see who could seize the initiative. Oh, and the random draw of morale totals required result in the Muslims having 29 morale, to the Crusader’s 19, a serious deficit for my army to start with (I was the crusader commander – for the first time ever).

The Saracens gained the first initiative and began spending impetus with a bold advance. First the entire centre stepped off and marched towards my meagre lines, a horde of spears and swords. Then the first horse archer probed on my left, as the light cavalry raced in and unleashed their first shots of the game, to little effect on my crossbow screen. Out of impetus, the Saracen’s phase ended and we rolled off again for impetus, and again the Muslims won. On came the horde in the centre, banners waving. And again the horse archers raced up to loose arrows, causing disruption to the crossbowmen, who opportunity fired back this time and scored the first kills. Their archery vs crossbow skirmisher duel would last all game.

 Horse archers and crossbowmen trade first shots on the left

The crusaders archers also let fly into the infantry hordes, and caused a few loss and a few of the woeful militia infantry to become unformed (which has a negative effect in later combat). All ready they were half way across the board.

Piquet’s rules throws up such variables, as yet I’d only been able to use my interrupt archery to attack the Muslims, who looked like a tidal wave about to crush the few crusaders. There had been no movement on the Muslim left yet, the pride of the emir’s cavalry was saving itself, trying to draw my knights into the main battle before coming forwards to attack weakened and disorganised knights (rather than the well ordered, fully rested and keen mincing-machine the units start out as).

Finally, my army won some impetus and could react. The crossbows fell back, faced with three horse archers units peppering them with arrows. They then reloaded and were ready for fire again, but I ran out impetus to complete this action. Everywhere else my infantry braced themselves for the onslaught, whilst my archers reloaded and loosed again, causing more disruption in the Saracen ranks – good!

Levied militia advance en masse in the centre, a mismatch of the very best troops
(Templars) and the very worst.

 Men at arms and their commander cut a swathe through Saracen archers.

Peasant archers occupying the buildings
On my left flank the see-saw skirmish duelled continued, my crossbows rushed forwards again and shot at short range, seeing off more horse archers. One horse archer unit broke round the extreme left and headed for the gap beyond my lines at top speed. The others advanced and hailed arrows upon my crossbowmen, causing a few more losses and forcing them to pull back again.

In the centre the Ahdath militia’s front line was now within movement distance of my single infantry unit, and rather than be charged, they counter-attacked into the Sufi fanatics. This unit had good morale, but where no match for my well armoured men-at-arms in the melee. It was messy, and the Sufi broke and ran, pursued by my infantry into the (now unformed) archer unit behind. At last I got a cavalry move card and my knights could get going. On the right both units advanced to threaten the infantry flank with a devastating charge, but that brought the Ghulam forwards too in response. If I charged the infantry flank I do a lot of damage (to some poor combat units), but risk losing my knights to a flank charge from the Ghulam. Instead we faced off, my knights were outnumbered two to one as the two side’s best cavalry squared up to charge. Both commanders though it would be here that the battle was actually decided.

 The contest between Knights and Ghulam approaches on the right. Ghulam archery had little effect. The camelry have fallen behind, and later ran off!

It was not to be so. In the centre my lone infantry continued their heroics, cutting their way through a unit of archers, who also broke and ran. The Knights Templars, my last reserve, had been held back, confident that the poor militia facing them would not have the necessary morale to charge a ‘fearsome’ unit. They didn’t, and the Saracens impressive infantry attack was now a disorganised mess, as units were running and men dying. 

Men at arms, their pursuit in the centre stopped, now face the native Arab light cavalry, between them and the Saracen baggage train. A face-off in which neither side had the impetus to close in.

On my left the fast horse archers used their ability to ‘flow around’ enemy units as mounted skirmishers to get past my crossbows and infantry line, and although they took more losses to archery (one unit was wiped out), the lone flanking unit was now behind my lines – and had their eyes fixed on my undefended baggage train.

End runners on the left, causing alarm.

 Horse archers bypassing the infantry

 Behind the lines, the lone horse archer unit eyes the undefended baggage train.
The heavy-weight contest on my right got underway when my knights plunged in. No point in hanging around any longer. The attack was less than spectacular as the knightly charge failed to inflict any losses and managed to only push the Ghulams back a bit, it was stalemate. Lances broken, it was time to draw swords in a slugging match, with the Ghulam’s greater numbers counteracting the knight’s combat ability. Both sides best troops were now locked in a battle of attrition.

The swirling cavalry melee, neither side could break the other quickly.

The battle now was very even. Stalemated on my right, the centre was going well, but the left was now impotent to do much to stop the horse archers, who were all around them it seemed (infantry cannot charge skirmish cavalry).  I couldn’t save the baggage train, and the next time the horse archers got to move (which is often in the Saracen’s cavalry-heavy action deck), the baggage would surely be doomed (the loss of the baggage train has a drastic effect on morale and might well cost me the game). 

Horse archers reach the baggage, but just too late, as their army's morale gives out before the combat could be resolved - a close shave.

It was now, crying ‘Deus Vult!’ that the Templar Knights finally charged. I needed to smash the remaining enemy infantry centre and hope it would be enough to break the Saracen army. If not, then the Crusaders would probably have lost the battle, doomed to die in the desert without their supplies. But divine inspiration and good dice were upon the Templars, and their charge smashed the first militia unit to pieces, and raced on it the second rank, killing more infidels. The resulting heavy damage saw the Saracen commander forced to give up his last morale counters. With all 29 counters now spent, the Saracens had to withdraw from the field. Victory to the defenders of Jerusalem. 

Flee for your lives! The routers from the centre pass their Emir, watching on from high ground
(and none too impressed).

Deus Vult! The Templars dispatch the infidel infantry to win the battle. 

It was good to get the models out again, dust it off and have a game. As I said, it lasted over 4 hours, with no breaks and going hard at it, and this is Piquet ‘Lite’. It might have taken twice that time with the full game, which has some very good ideas behind it, but just is so unwieldy. The game got me thinking hard about getting on with my own Crusades rules again, which I started several years ago under the working title ‘Soldiers of God’. I might have to put some time aside to resurrect the project.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

First 1941 Test

First testing for Battlegroup Barbarossa has begun, with the first army lists getting a run out. I thought BG players might like a little insight into the early working of the development process. Bear in mind this is a very early stage.

Here is the table for the first small test game, which was 450 pts meeting engagement. I kept it simple, to allow the rules to just play rather than be overly influenced by the terrain. I didn’t  take any pics of the game itself, as it was very stop-start, re-set and tinkered with throughout, so not much of a narrative to it, but a useful exercise in discovering a few early issues.

Blue arrows are the German advance, mixed Pz IIIs, infantry and a single PaK38 deployed into the farm.
Red is Russian advance, each 5 x BT-7s with infantry support.

The first issue was that the Russian have far too many Orders to issue, and I want them to struggle here, (and thus rely more on Ura! and Stal! Stal!) due to the poor command and control they had in 1941, which was big factor in their defeats. The Russian never seemed to know what the Germans, or their own forces, were up to.

The second issue was that BT-7s are very, very quick, and the Germans struggled to get deployed as they were pinned into their deployment zone by on-rushing Russian tanks which were in close range from turn 2, and running a-mock. Their 45mm guns also really hurt Pz IIIs, (this is not Kursk, those Russian tanks are faster and much harder hitting (relatively) in ‘41). This will need to reflected in their pts costs as their stats, based on the real thing, won’t be changed. BTs just got more expensive, but I had already been crushing the cost of Russian tanks to better allow them their historical numerical advantage, so I have wriggle-room.

Three. Russian artillery, which I deliberately nerfed hard, is all but ineffective. If this is to the point where Russian players ignore it, then I’ve gone too far. The Russian artillery can’t be versatile (like the Germans), but it still has to be useful. Otherwise, Russian players will just take more tanks instead, rather than a combined arms force, which should be goal - a balanced force being the most effective rather than just more tanks.

Testing will continue, in search of the right ‘feel’ for 1941 battles, and I’ll try an give little updates as I go. Oh yeah, it was pretty solid Russian win, even loosing 6 BTs to hits or breakdowns out of 10. The Germans broke after loosing 2 PzIIIs out of 3, so they put up a hell of a fight, just too many Russians in the end.

Next on my agenda is the first Hungarian Rapid Brigade list.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013


The morning of the battle arrived and both sides revealed their forces and deployed for battle. The Germans were the defenders in a Delaying Action scenario, so had to randomly determine which forces would be on the table and which in reserve. Next, we placed 4 objectives, 2 each. The Germans placed one on the large factory’s main hall, and another on a building near their table edge. The Russians placed one in the ruined school (by the railway line) and, to tempt the Germans out of the city’s cover, one on the black and white cottage on our extreme right. This complete, the defender deployed his defences and any units in them, then deployed his other available forces. The Germans also had a free choice of table edge, so took the long edge (east) and the Russians got the western one.

We Russian commanders had a quick planning meeting, and decided on a single main trust (at the factory) with a supporting/diversionary action on the right, with little objective put to hold the Germans away from the town, and maybe draw their arriving reserves that way too. To this end the forces were split roughly 2/3rds to me, 1/3rd to my co-commander. He got an infantry platoon, the Sherman ‘Emcha’ platoon, and a couple of the JS-IIs when they arrived.

I got everything else, 2 infantry platoons, 2 well-equipped assault pioneer squads, both ISU-152s, the OT-34 flamethrower, 3 IS-IIs from reserve and our forward HQ as the artillery spotter. Our 152mm timed barrage would impact on the factory objective on turn 7. The mortar battery was on call for either player to use at need. 

Red - Russian main advances. Blue - German moves.

My Russian assault was to be a ‘three wave’ attack (by the book). First would be the ‘infiltration wave’, just an infantry platoon, on foot, all with SMGs. These would get into the buildings and start getting some of the Germans pinned and drawing fire (making the defenders easier to spot for the second wave). Next would be the assault wave. In would be the second infantry platoon and both assault pioneer squads, riding on the ISU-152s and the OT-34. They would deliver the main strike against the factory objective. The third wave was the support wave, 3 JS-IIs to lend fire support and hunt down those German tanks, the supply trucks, dispatch rider etc and any non-combat elements. That’s how we agreed the reserves would arrive, as the dice rolls allowed.

Planning complete it was time to go. The attackers took first turn and the first Russian infantry moved on, heading into the city on our left. On the right a single Emcha crawled through the woods to tempt the Panther into a long range duel. Our lone forward scouting BA-64 called down a 82mm mortar barrage, and it deviated wildly, only to land on the Hetzer (which just survived a direct hit) and its supply truck (which didn’t). First blood as the ammo truck went off with a huge bang! The Hetzer now had a problem.
The Germans spent their first turns getting onto Ambush fire, and realising they had the deployed their dug-in 88, in its bunker position, so far back it couldn’t see anything! No early long range 88 shots then (in the end it did nothing all game).

The next turn saw my infiltration wave of SMG squads picking their way deeper into the town, but still encountering no enemy. Behind them the assault wave began to mass on my table edge, and the German commander defending the factory looked worried, his poor Auxiliary platoon of armed factory workers looked badly outclassed, still he had some lurking Pz-IVs, a dug-in PaK40 and a heavy machine gun bunker (with loaders) to help out. 

On the right, the waiting Panther refused to open fire (needing 6s to hit), and the Germans discussed if they could move their 88 without a prime mover (technically as a medium gun it could move cross-country at 1” per turn, but even that seemed too much, so we agreed that good sense should rule and it was immobile – now they wish they had a towing vehicle!). They did however try a cheeky long range shot from their Wirbelwind at a (debatably visible) mortar team, and with a lucky spot roll saw it. A blaze of 20mm cannon fire saw 2 crew and the last crewman pinned, so he was removed. Scratch one mortar team. 

In response the rest of the Emcha’s arrived from reserve, with one lining up the too bold Wirbelwind. It missed, and the Wirbelwind’s charmed game began (it would survive everything we threw at it and cause havoc later on during the factory fighting).

As an aside; I’m no fan of AA weaponry used in ground role, because its job is to defend you from air attacks. The games encourages this use (because an aircraft can turn up at anytime), but doesn’t dictate it, because I know they were often used against ground targets. It’s up to the player in the end (as it should be), but he would rue the day the Wirbelwind wasn’t on Ambush if our aircraft arrived (and we blew both rolls to get one in the game, so no VVS support today – ho-hum!). 

As I moved my assault forces closer, through the buildings and occupied the bank, the Germans two timed 105mm strikes hit, despite our two counter battery fire missions. On the right it scored a single direct hit and destroyed our BA-64 scout car. On our left it left 4 infantry squads pinned, but did no casualties. The Germans hadn’t gone for much artillery support, instead hoping their tanks would do the business. In 1945 German artillery was really suffering.

The remaining tanks had now arrived from reserve, the King Tiger joined the defence of the factory and duelled with the JS-IIs (winning). But our repeated 152mm artillery strikes kept it pinned as often as not, and it didn’t dominate. But man, when it hits, it hurts. 

The battle had now split into two distinct engagements, one with the Germans counter-attacking on our right with the Panther leading 3 Panzer IVs (and a few grenadiers scurrying on behind), and the second, with the Russia infantry fighting tooth and nail to get into the factory. This was the main event, as for four consecutive turns the Russian infantry roared Ura! and rushed across the main road. Each time withering fire from MGs and the bl***y Wirbelwind sent them falling back into the buildings, pinned (falling back is very useful in urban areas, lots of cover to get back too). 

Inside the factory the defending auxiliaries lost a few men and fled, whilst the dug-in HMG-42 took two direct hits from an ISU-152 and was obliterated. I needed the JS-IIs to move up and engage the German armour (and King Tiger) to keep them busy so the infantry could get to grips in close assault, and the veteran assault pioneers debussed from their rides and moved into position to join the attack, flamethrowers ready (being assault troops they wouldn’t need to pass the unit experience check that was also holding up my inexperienced SMG squads). Desperate to hang on, the Germans directed some of their grenadier reinforcements into the factory, and they joined the meat grind, helping drive off the Russian infantry waves until a pioneer squad got close enough to unleash flaming death, with spectacular results. The grenadier platoon HQ was also wiped out by SMG wielding Reds as the burst into the office buildings.

My very useful ISU-IIs were now out of ammo and forced to pull back to re-arm, so it was time for the OT-34 to do its part in supporting the attack, from its hiding place the OT-34 rushed up into range and cut loose with more flaming death, and more grenadiers burned inside the factory, which was now a smoking inferno, as 152mm guns pounded down on it as well. Then, in an extraordinary sequence of events, the King Tiger hit and only immobile the OT-34, and the resulting morale test saw it get a Beyond the call Duty test. It pass and launched flames again into the factory at the last of the grenadiers, and killed all but 2. The last survivors inside also got a Beyond the call of Duty test, and still smoking, launched their Panzerfaust, knocking out the OT-034 which exploded  in the street. Having had their last shot, the grenadiers were then cut down by SMG fire as the first Russian infantry burst into the factory hall. The factory was on the verge of falling...

On our right the German panzer counter-attack got off to a bad start, as a JS-II got a side shot into the Panther and destroyed it (hurrah). But the Panzer IVs returned fire and knocked out the JS-II, and the second heavy tank was out of ammo. It withdrew to rearm, leaving one Emcha vs 3 Panzer IVs. The Emcha scored a kill before being hit and destroyed itself, and our flank was sudden held by two just infantry squads with no anti-tank weaponry (must remember to give my Russians anti-tank grenades in the future). In desperation we moved our overwatching ZSU-37 SP AA gun to engage, and it pinned a Pz-IV with 37mm fire, before a return 75mm AP shot saw it destroyed too. The Russian armour was now clogging the lane into town, burning. To add insult to injury the Germans pulled the Endkampf counter and gained a bonus 2D6 BR to their total (rolling 10). Today, the Germans would fight to the last to hold Heilenberg.

Time was almost up, but so was the Russian BR. The factory was almost captured, but not quiet.

In the end it had been a great day’s gaming, and a close battle until the final two turns when it turned against the Russians badly. We had reached 62 BR from a total of 66. The Germans reached 45, from a total of 70 (which included an extra 4D6 from various special rules – so the Germans were really up for the fight today and refused to give up the town). I think our heavy tanks let us down a bit. The Emcha’s did well, but the JS-IIs were very disappointing in their first big tabletop outing. We lost all of them to German tank guns, so much for their better armour. They only scored 1 kill between them, the Panther. The ISU-152s played their part well, but their lack of ammunition meant they just couldn’t keep our assault supported for long. Still, they survive some PaK-40 hits in the process. That PaK-40 defending the factory had been fired in 6 consecutive turns, with a loader team, for 14 shots! It survived fire from the ISU-IIs, an out of ammo counter and a direct hit by 152mm artillery. The empty 75mm shells cases where really piling up! But it was still there at the end, still fighting - Iron Crosses to all the crew. 

Another German town had been saved from the Bolshevik hordes – for now. ..

The infiltration wave of red infantry making their way cautiously into town.

 The main street, patrolled by a Puma, which soon scarpered when faced by Russian heavy armour.

 First blood, an ammo truck ignites under mortar fire.

 Sherman Emcha line up the Wirbelwind, and miss... it ran off then.

 Assault wave follow in the infiltration wave.

 Lurking Pz-IV, disguised as a wreck in the rubble. 

 Dug-in Pak40 and loader team, a hero of the battle, and very busy men.

 JS-II crest the railway embankment to join the assault wave before they head into town.

 An ISU-152, carrying assault pioneers finds a route through towards the factory.

 Occupying the bank. The Puma is now running off up the road, MG blazing at it left.

 Incoming! Timed 105mm behind the bank causes much pinning.

 Red infantry pinned in the buildings opposite the factory. The church became a common refuge for pinned, falling back Russians.

 BA-64 caught by a 105 barrage.

 Russian infantry are pressing towards the factory, ISU-152 providing HE supporting fire (briefly)

 Urra! Across the road, into the open, then fall back, pinned into cover! 

 German refugees escape the fighting. On leaving the table the Germans threw back a random counter, another aid to their BR.

 Grenadiers in the backstreets, awaiting the call into the front line.

 An Emcha takes a hit from a lurking Panzerschreck team, which then ate 122mm HE in return!  Still, job done!

 88 impact from the King Tiger, ouch!

 The German counter-attack on their left, heading across the fields.

 Russian armour probed up the lane into town, but pulled back due to lack of ammo and the German armour's approach from their right. 

 From here the JS-II awaited for a target, and when the Panther appeared - kaboom!

 Still trying to assault the factory, SMG squad survivors in bitter close combat. 

 Supporting Russian armour around the church and bank. 

 Russian artillery impacts. 203mm and 152mm, only pinned the King Tiger (more's the pity). 

 JS-II victim (the only one thought)

 At the back, the misplaced 88. Quiet day for its crew.

The Panzer roll on passed the burning Panther.

 German armour up the main street, their defensive fire saved the factory for many turns. 

 More heavy artillery impacts, still only pinning (12 dice, no 6s)

 The hordes approach. In the foreground are the pioneers, following the first wave in, to lethal effect.

 Re-arming a JS-II behind the bank.

 ZSU-37 gets involved in the tank fight... a last gasp measure.

 It pinned a Pz-IV though... (woo-hoo)

 Rusian armour engages the panzer attack, but the AP ammo ran out -again.

 On the way back to find a supply truck (not the 2.30 from Moscow)

 OT-34 makes its move, seconds later the factory was an inferno. More pioneers are on the engine deck.

 Ammo for the ISU-152s

 The last re-armed JS-II moves right to meet the Panzer IVs. A lucky hit and penetration knocked it out too. Good grief!

The graveyard of our armour, most of the damage was done by Panzer IVs and the Hetzer which sneaked through the woods to get a few side shots. Who needs King Tigers?