Thursday, 21 April 2022

Engagement at La Bechevaux, a BG:Westwall play-test

A chance to put the WIP book’s Panzer Brigade army list through its paces in a meeting engagement, set in the Lorriane in Sept ’44, as the Germans advance to seize a road junction and main road at La Bechevaux. The Lorraine is open farm land, rolling hills and woods/plantations, which felt (to me) a bit more like eastern front tank battles than Europe. No big hedgerows here.

My taskforce was from a US Armoured Division sent to intercept the German advance facing the raw Panzer Brigade troops, my army list was for 700 points in an Attack/Counter-Attack scenario. It was raining, so no air attack could be used (they counted as 1 instead). Drat, I had hoped on getting some USAAF support, that FAO I included was useless now… oh well…  the timed air strike was not effected.

We started off with the recce troops and a few extras, the M8 moving up the road the objective junction, mounted armoured infantry just behind to seize the hill top objective just off the road. Off-table, remained the bulk of both forces’ armour and support weapons.

The M8, unpinned from the mortar fire, moved on up the road the junction at the ‘forester’s cottage’ and, pinning the German MG team here with suppressing 37mm HE fire, claimed the objective. Not for long, when German infantry later moved on the cottage, panzerfausts in hand, the M8, sensibly waiting on reserve move, withdrew (scarpered fast), conceding the objective back to the Germans.

The real fight would escalate in the centre, as the US armoured infantry squad dismounted and moved throught the scrub wooded valley between to low hillocks (it’ll become known as ‘bloody draw’), they targeted an incoming, fully loaded 251 with their bazooka, hit, and glanced off (double 1!). The German infantry jumped over the sides and, opening fire, MGs cutting down the US infantry. The fight for bloody draw was on and would intensify throughout the battle.

Meanwhile, more accurate German mortars were falling, one hit the FHQ’s M3 and destroyed it, the FHQ team lucky to survive with only 1 casualty as they jumped clear. German tanks were also advancing now, as well their StuG.

The Americans, slower to arrive, got a couple of Shermans into play and opened long range fire on the Pz IV, missing. Its return fire scored a double hit (double 6!) and KO’d the first Sherman.

Meanwhile, in the only good news for the US forces so far, a German armoured car had set-off for a distant uncontested objective wide right (the flank guard position). It hit a random mine counter and blew up!

More troops arrived, the US deploying their potent M7 battery asset, but as yet no spotters were in place (the FHQ was pinned down by that mortar fire). The Infantry platoon HQ arrived, dismounted and started to do the job instead, only to find their radio didn’t work (for 3 turns!). The rain storm was interfering with comms (and no comms team for either side).

In bloody draw, the US had lost a full infantry squad and the second squad deployed to replace them, only to be pinned down again. A Pz-IV rolled up, but the arrival of a Sherman saw it KO’d by a short range AP shell… first German tank loss. In the open fields, a Pz-IV had scored another Sherman kill and long range. The US tankers were losing that dual. Behind the panzers, his FHQ was also on the radio, trying to request artillery support and being turned down. Panzer brigades are weak in artillery, mortars is pretty much it. He needed a 5+…

Both sides were fully deployed by turn 6… as the USAF P-47 zoomed in and dropped its bomb’s, hitting nothing but the ground but pinning a Pz-IV before turning for home. Still, one BR counter for ‘under air attack’ and his AA tank wasn’t on ambush fire. Along the main road to La Bechevaux my infantry support teams deployed, but incoming MG fire pinned them and later, wiped them out without getting a shot off in return. Instead, the M16 opened up on the German infantry firing from the forester’s cottage, hammering it with those four .50 cals and wiping out the squad. I do not like using AA assets for ground fire, but in the rain with no air threat, needs must – I see your three MG-42s and raise you four Ma Deuces!

By now the counters had, of course, built up, I had taken more and was at 33 from 46 BR, so still some fight in me. As yet, the US artillery hadn’t fired, due to terrible comms (three 1s in one turn on comms rolls, good grief!). Now they spoke. Finally, the radio crackled to life and the first fire mission got, err, fired.

The M7s opened up and when the 105mm shrapnel and dust settled both German supply trucks had been destroyed, his forward observer was pinned as was his Jagdpanzer IV, lurking at the back sniping from 60”+ away at Shermans. Those counters levelled the playing field somewhat. Germans fear US artillery.

Back in bloody draw the Germans faced being overwhelmed, mostly by the Sherman tank, even his stretcher team had opened fire (no mercy for them then). The German infantry were pinned down by 60mm mortar bombs and couldn’t use their ‘faust. Now, waiting on reserve move from earlier, a second 251 sped up the road, veered off right and headed for the draw. In their turn, the final move and more grenadiers jumped out: squad, MG team and panzerschreck team - eek! The ‘screck wasted an M3 half-track and was unlucky to miss another. The MG team wiped out my 60mm mortar team. More counters, I was close to withdrawing now. Then, the final coup-de-grace. The German commander finally got his 5+ priority request accepted and used a cunning wire-team to call through to Army-level support. Two 280mm Nebelwerfers were on standby. I had no counter-battery, and so the screamin’ meemies came crashing in, the barrage deviating to land by… my M7 Priest battery. The nebelwerfer strike scored 3 direct hits. 2 M7s were KO’d and their supply truck as well, the other M7 was pinned, as was the M16 and the FHQ again… awesome firepower, and 3 BR counters… that broke the US taskforce for today. Time to pullback, the Germans had taken La Bechevaux and had forced access to the main road now. The German BR total, 37, of 37! He had no BR left… so close! Oh, 1 more counter would have done it.

Great game, nice to have some tank action in open fields, but the battle was actually won/lost by the infantry fight (with various tanks and half-track support) in bloody draw. (Oh and that horrid shock of the ‘werfer strike at the end, which marmalized my artillery with on-table counter-battery fire). The weather didn’t help much either…

Here are some shots of the action at La Bechevaux…

M8 reaches the forester's cottage, chased my 80mm mortar bombs.

Main road, along which the US are moving, Germans coming from top left.

More mortaring, spotted by a lurking recce foot patrol, impacts and pins the M8 again.

Following behind, the first armoured infantry, ahead is the wooded 'bloody draw'.

First enemy armour en route, pausing only to smash a Sherman at long range.

Fight for bloody draw begins, with a bazooka round that glanced off a half-track!

First Sherman deploys and rolls up, opening fire (and missing).

Next, using the hillock as hull-down cover, Germans mortaring it.
The FHQ's M3 is a smoke wreck now after a direct hit.

Germans deploying, a Pz IV is wrecked by another minestrike counter... only for a FAMO to arrive and fix it!

Shermans smoking after the tank duel, as the Platoon HQ deploy and get on the horn to the artillery, or try to. 'LT, I think is radio is busted!'.

M7s roll on in firing line, awaiting a fire mission, and waiting, and still waiting...

Jabo arrived...

US armoured infantry continue to push up the road, whilst the M16 covers them.

The Pz-IVs continue the duel, but have mercifully stopped rolling 6s To-hit. When their supply trucks were destroyed in the first M7 stonk, they were suddenly in trouble and pulled back, low on AP rounds.

The Priest's 105s hit the German rear echelon...

Fighting it out in bloody draw, getting the upper hand now.

At La Bechevaux, German infantry secure the road junction objective and the onward route through the Bois de Bechevaux

P-47 pilot's eye-view

Screamin' Meemies blast the M7 battery to pieces - ouch, that was enough for the US today... 

Wednesday, 13 April 2022



The Austrian centre advances up the hill, jaeger detachments deployed as skirmishers. 

This a short article describing, in detail, a single turn of a game of Soldiers of Napoleon.

This game is a ‘Corps-sized’ battle, with both sides commanding four brigades. It pits a French force verses an Austrian force, both using the 1813, War of the Sixth Coalition, army lists.

The French force consists of two infantry brigades, one light cavalry brigade and the fourth Imperial Guard infantry brigade, off-table, in reserve. The French are deployed with the two infantry brigades on the left and right, with the cavalry on the far right and forwards of the infantry. The Imperial Guard infantry are yet to arrive, but when they do, they will deploy into the centre.

The Austrian force is also two infantry brigades, the weakest on their left, the strongest in the centre. The third deployed brigade is a ‘forward deployed’ grenadier brigade, on the right. The grenadiers would usually be in reserve but have paid extra points to be pushed into the front line from the start. The fourth, reserve, brigade is light cavalry, not yet deployed and due to arrive in the centre from turn 2 onwards.

We join the battle at the start of Turn 2 of the game. So far, the French have been on the defensive, firing cannons and sending out skirmishers but they haven’t advanced too far. The Austrians have pushed forwards in the centre to claim a hill and the grenadiers have also advanced on their right, driven some French reserve infantry out of the castle/monastery building and one grenadier battalion now occupies that large building.

Dealing Action Cards
Both players will receive a hand of Action Cards for the turn, draw from the (well shuffled) Action Card deck. The number of cards is 2 +1 card for each command stand on the table. Both players currently have 3 command stands for their brigades (1 each) and a divisional command stand (themselves), for 4 in all. So both players will be dealt 6 cards.  

This is the Austrian hand:

This is the French hand:

Each Action Card can be used in one of three ways: for Orders (the big number), for its Special Event or to Rally (the bottom box).

The first play of the turn goes to the side with the initiative. Currently, this is the Austrians, with their more aggressive battle plan. The Austrians will then play the first card from their hand.

Austrian First Card
The Austrian commander begins by playing a card for 5 Orders on his central infantry brigade. This brigade (and only this brigade) can now use these Orders. Orders allow an infantry battalion, cavalry regiment or artillery battery (a unit) to do something, like move, fire, etc. It cost 1 Order for 1 unit to complete 1 action, for ever 10 paces away from its brigade command stand. So, at 1-10 paces, it is 1 Order to do something. At 10-20 paces it is 2 Orders. At 20-30 paces it is 3 Orders. Brigades that become widely dispersed are inefficient for using Orders. They tend to want to work together rather than allow units to wander off too far.

Being central to his brigade, the commander will give 3 March orders to 3 fusilier regiments, 1 Bombard order to his artillery battery and 1 Skirmish Fire order to another fusilier battalion, with attached rifle-armed jaegers to do that firing. All the units are within 10 paces of the command stand, so it’s 1 Order each for the full 5 used.

Each of the 3 marching fusilier battalions are infantry in ‘column of attack’ formation and so can move up to 6 paces. They do so advancing across the hill.

Next, the 6 pdr artillery battery bombards. It picks a target (a French infantry battalion, in range, arc of fire and line of sight). The battery is 2 guns so rolls 2 dice To-hit, which is then modified. The only modifier that applies is that the battery is in ‘impeccable order’ (i.e it is in Good Order and has no Disruption itself), so +1 dice. (in SoN modifiers change the number of dice rolled, not the value needed). 3 dice, and round shot hits on a 5+. The bombardment scores 1 hit, and the French battalion have to take it, as there is no save against artillery fire (there is against musketry). 1 point of Disruption is added to the French battalion (on a dice next to them).

For the fifth Order, the fusiliers skirmish fire. There are two ‘modes’ of firing, Skirmish and Volley. Skirmish fire has longer range (20 paces not 10) and isn’t blocked by terrain and LoS issues (the skirmishers move up). The number of dice rolled is equal to the firing unit’s Skirmish value, which for the jaegers is 2. So 2 dice. This is then modified by -1 dice because the target French infantry battalion has it’s own light company deployed (Voltigeurs are out counter-skirmishing). So, just 1 dice  is rolled To-hit. The regular fusilier’s musketry score is 4+. The roll misses but, as rifle-armed jaegers, 1 dice per can be re-rolled (that’s the bonus for rifles, a single re-roll). The re-roll hits. The French may now make a single Discipline test against the incoming musket fire. Their Discipline value is 4+. The roll is failed and they take a point of Disruption from the jaeger’s rifle shots.

That is now 5 Orders all used, the Action Card is placed on the discard pile and it is the French’s first play.

French First Card
The French start out by playing a card for its Special Event, the ‘Reserve Redeploying’. This gives them a chance to choose a new area for the reserve brigade to arrive and re-roll which turn they might arrive on (sooner the better). Happy with the Guard arriving in the centre, but so far on turn 5, they roll for which turn the reserves might become available. The result is now a 3, so an urgent galloper has reached the Imperial Guard brigade commander to tell him to hurry up his battalion’s march.

There is chance, after any Special Event, that the player will immediately get another go. On ‘Reserves Redeploying’ this is 4+. They roll, pass and can play immediately again.

French Second Card
The next play is to give 4 Orders on the left infantry brigade. The 4 Orders are: first, a Manoeuvre to deploy the light company and more Voltigeurs come out from the veteran battalion holding the village and move towards the monastery which, at 19 paces away from the French infantry’s main body, is just in Skirmish Fire range. They’ll now be able to harass the grenadiers in the monastery with Skirmish fire.   

Second, the regular line battalion out front, under jaeger fire, will return Skirmish fire with their own Voltigeurs. The French regs are Skirmish 2, so roll 2 dice, but the jaegers are deployed from the target unit so -1 dice. The Voltiguers roll 1 dice needing 4+, and hit. The Austrian fusiliers fail their Discipline test of 4+ and so take a point of Disruption from the Voltiguer’s fire.

Third, another reserve infantry battalion, currently in line of march formation having moved through the village streets, changes formation and are placed into line formation, far better for fighting and very good for Volley firing if the Austrians come within range.

Fourth Order and the brigade’s artillery battery bombards. It targets an Austrian grenadier battalion across the field and with 2 guns (so 2 dice) and is also ‘impeccable’, so +1 dice. It scores 2 hits (ouch!) and the grenadiers have to take them, gaining 2 Disruption from the accurate incoming round shot. 

French infantry and guns deployed to hold the village, at the rear, the monastery, scene of Turn 1 fighting.

Austrian Second Card
The Austrian commander next chooses to take the Battlefield Objective card he has, ‘Take the High Ground’ and keep it. He can claim the objective later and already has his troops on the hill. This will all be resolved in the End Phase (see later).

French Third Card
They use 3 Orders on the right infantry brigade. These 3 Orders will be for the brigade’s two artillery batteries to Bombard, but as one battery is 14 paces from their command stand, it costs 2 Orders to fire, using up all 3. The guns crash forth their round shot at the Austrians over on the hill. Both batteries are 8 pdrs of 2 guns and ‘impeccable’ (the Austrians haven’t been able to fire at them yet). Both roll 3 dice To-hit, needing 5s. The first scores 1 point of Disruption on a fusilier battalion. The second targets the Austrian 6 pdr artillery battery with counter-battery fire. This reduces the To-hit dice by -2 (batteries and gunners are far hard to hit that blocks of men), leaving just 1 dice. The roll is a 6, a hit, and the Austrian 6 pdr battery take a point of Disruption (significantly, they can no longer claim to be ‘impeccable’ and get the bonus dice when Bombarding).

Austrian Third Card
The Austrians use the Special Event ‘Artillery Bombards’, as guns to the rear or flank fire onto this tabletop. They target the French regular battalion threatening the monastery and, as per the event, roll 5 dice, scoring 2 hits. So, that is 2 Disruption on the French line battalion which is now at 4 Disruption on a 4 stand unit… so in serious danger (if a unit ends a turn with more Disruption that it has stands, it breaks and runs). The chance of another play after the Special Event is 5+, the rolls fails and so it’s back to the French player.

French Fourth Card
The French also use a Special Event, ‘Senior Officer Arrives’. They roll a D6 and score a 3, the Corps Commander has arrived to observe the field here – ‘Bonjour Marshal St Cyr’. The command stand model is placed on the tabletop, close to French table edge, his presence will give various small aids to the French. The chance of another play after the Special Event is 3+, and is passed, the French player can go again.

French - Pass
The French player has 2 cards left, the Austrian’s have 3, so, because they have less cards the French player has the option to Pass and allow the Austrians to play. They do, preserving their Action Cards for later.

Austrian Fourth Card
The Austrians use 4 Orders on their left infantry brigade. The brigade’s Orders see three battalions (two fusilier, one landwher) advance, in lines, 4 paces. The fourth Order is on the brigade’s battery of two 12 pdr guns. They fire at the distant, and inactive, French light cavalry. They roll 2 dice, +1 for an ‘impeccable’ battery, score 1 hit on the French hussars, so 1 point of Disruption is added to them.

French Fifth Card
With both sides with 2 Action Cards left, the French must now play, they cannot Pass. With Disruption building up on his left infantry brigade, the French player decides to Rally here. He uses the 5 card for its Rally, allowing him to try and rally any ‘Militia, Trained, Seasoned, Profession or Elite’ troops (so any unit, there are 5 levels of troop quality). The brigade can Rally the Trained, line infantry (those under jaeger and artillery fire) and the Militia quality reserve infantry battalion. The Rally is +1 VP, so the Austrians gain +1 Victory Point to their total for forcing this Rally. Victory Points are what eventually wins the game (see later).

To Rally, the battalions must resolve the following steps in strict order. First, ‘Rally by Withdrawal’. The units takes a full withdrawal move backwards and automatically lose 1 point of Disruption (from 4 down to 3 for the regs, and from 2 down to 1 for the reservists). Next, they ‘Rally to Colours’, rolling one dice for each point of Disruption on the unit and any 6s remove a point. The line infantry roll 3 dice and scores no rallies, then 1 dice is rolled for the reserves and again, not a 6. No Disruption is lost. Finally, the units may choose to ‘Take Casualties’. Each stand removed from the unit reduces the unit’s Disruption by 2 points. The line infantry removes one stand, so now becoming a 3 stand unit with 1 point of Disruption. The reserves don’t ‘Take Casualties’ and remain a 4 stand unit with 1 point of Disruption.

The two French battalions have been driven back with some losses but are still fighting. 

French light cavalry advance on their right, about to splash over the Grunbach.

Austrian Fifth Card
The Austrian command uses 5 Orders on his central infantry brigade again. The first two Orders are for Skirmish Fire, as two jaeger detachments attack the French regulars again, both rolling 1 dice each (they are Skirmish 2, but the target’s Voltigeurs are deployed). They score 2 hits though and the French fail their Discipline test and take them. They are now a 3 stands unit with 3 Disruption, dangerously close to breaking and under serious pressure even though they just rallied.  

The third Order is for the brigade’s artillery battery, to Bombard. It targets the French artillery that hit it, with return fire, but with only one dice To-hit, misses.

The fourth Order sees a fusilier battalion currently in ‘column of attack’ formation change formation in a ‘line’. All the better to defend their hill.  

The fifth Order is for the landwehr battalion, behind the fusiliers (but still within 10 paces of the command stand), move up the hill behind, as the brigade’s reserve.

The last part of any Orders sequence is for the brigade command stand itself to move. The commander repositions himself on the hill, to keep his entire brigade within 10 paces, and thus save Orders.

French Sixth Card
The French play 4 Orders on their light cavalry brigade. So far it hasn’t moved, but it will now. The 4 Orders are all ‘March’ Orders to move as the three cavalry regiments (2 hussar, 1 chasseur) and their 4 pdr horse battery, still on limber, all move up at speed. The command stand then moves up with them. The French cavalry are on the way, moving very fast, but still in ‘column of march’ formations (which is quick, but terrible for actual fighting). They’ll need to change formation soon.

Austrian Sixth Card

The Austrian commander doesn’t feel the need to Rally any brigades at the moment, and, as his central brigade had the last Orders, immediately giving them Orders again will incur a penalty for consecutive Orders (pushing units like this gains them Disruption, so, at need, you can do it, but it costs). The commander elects to use his last card play on the infantry brigade on the left, for 4 Orders.

With the enemy cavalry now moving up fast, the three infantry battalions change formation and form square. That will keep them safe from most cavalry charges. The last Order goes on the 12 pdr battery which Bombards again, with 3 dice and scores 1 hit and 1 more point of Disruption on the galloping hussars.

That all the Action Cards played, so we move to the turn’s End Phase.

End Phase
This is the book-keeping and it is done in a set order.

First, are any reserve available? The French Imperial Guard will only arrive from turn 3, so not for them. But,

the Austrian light cavalry can arrive from turn 2. With the divisional commander in charge here, the chance of their timely arrival is a 4+ (it is better with a Corps commander or better again with the Army commander present). The roll is a 6! The Austrian uhlan, chevaux-leger regiments and their horse battery are here and can be deployed on their central table edge, ready for Orders next turn. Just in time to ride out and meet that threatening French cavalry.

Second, are any command stands ‘At Risk’?. ‘At Risk’ means they are within 10 paces of any enemy units. In which case, there is chance they must evade the enemy. No command stands are currently within 10 paces of any enemy, so there is no chance of any commanders being ‘At Risk’ yet.

Third, are any units broken? No units have yet gained more Disruption than they have stands, so no units break, but the French line battalion with 3 Disruption and 3 stands means the Austrians gain +1 Victory Point for them wavering. 1 more point of Disruption would have seen them break.

Fourth, claim Battlefield Objectives. The Austrians are holding, and now reveal, their ‘Take the High Ground’ objective card. They have units on the hill (which is outside their deployment zone) and so gain D3+3 Victory Points. They roll and get the maximum +6. Morale is soaring, they have the high ground above the French and hold the monastery. The French have no Battlefield Objectives to claim at the moment.

Fifth, roll for ‘How Goes the Day?’. This is a roll-off to see if either side have gained any significant advantage on the rest of the battlefield (this tabletop isn’t it, the battle rages left and right as well). The roll-off uses 2D6 and is modified by a forces’ pre-game scouting, aggressive battle plan and commander’s competence. The Austrians have +5, the French +4. The Austrians roll 6, so score 11. The French roll 9, so score 13 and win, but not by enough, so there are no significant gains elsewhere on the battlefield (you need to double your opponent’s score), but the French will have the initiative and the first play next turn.

Sixth, is it the end of the game? Has either side accumulated enough Victory Points to reach the opposition army’s Break Point? The French Break Point is 31, and the Austrian VP total is now 14… so no. The Austrian Break Point is 28, with the French having 2 VPs, so also no – the battle will continue (it is only turn 2, some way to go, but the Austrians have started well).

Finally, deal cards for the next turn. The Austrian player will get 7 cards (2, +4 as all 4 brigades are now present, +1 for the divisional commander = 7). The French will also get 7 cards (2, +3 brigades, +1 divisional commander, +1 Corps commander = 7). After dealing 7 cards each, turn 3 can start, with the French playing first.

Thursday, 24 March 2022

Designer’s Notes: Soldiers of Napoleon preview

My wargaming started with the Napoleonic Wars, back in the early ‘80s. Airfix plastic men that would never stand up combined with Charles S. Grant’s Napoleonic wargames rules (photocopied from a library book) to make up the first games I played with a tape measure and dice. ‘Epic’ battles took place on bedroom floors and, when it was allowed, across a dining room table covered with a green Subbuteo pitch and scouring pad hedges for terrain.

It was terrible! No battle ended without acrimony, but it was the beginning of a lifelong hobby in tabletop wargaming. Our gaming passions soon moved to WW2, but the appeal of the Napoleonic period lingered. The epic battles, the grand and colourful pageantry, and the sheer scale of the wars - it was only matter of time before I felt to the need to go back to my wargaming origin tale and write a set of rules.

Napoleonics is the biggest period for one of my regular gaming opponents, who has large miniature collections and has played with various rulesets for 30+ years. Despite the plethora of rulesets available nothing’s ever quite worked as well as he’d like; he asked if I’d consider writing some new rules (to go along with the other Soldiers of games we often play (Soldiers of God and Soldiers of Rome)). Nostalgia was no longer the only motivation (it’s usually best if it isn’t) and Soldiers of Napoleon was born!

I am a big fan of games that use cards to create tension in game play. Back in the ‘90s I experimented with the Piquet rules, which had some brilliant ideas, but I felt they were weighed down with too much ‘other stuff’ that, frankly, made it hard to finish a game. Elements I really liked included the asymmetry of the turn sequence, the unpredictability of the cards, the hard choices of how or when to use a card, and how managing your card deck correlated to the command and control of an army. Another nice feature is that the cards can also give the armies their historical character, steering commanders into fighting with an army as it would have performed historically.

The way Piquet’s cards produced a pleasing amount of ‘friction’ within a quick to understand and, more importantly, quick to play system is something that inspired Soldiers of God and Soldiers of Rome. These first two titles in the ongoing Soldiers of series only deal with ancients warfare, of course, when men with pointy sticks tried to stab each other - a far simpler period for tactics and army organisation than more modern combat.

As warfare has developed, over the centuries, it has become increasingly complex and the basic rules for any Soldiers of book going ahead is evolving to reflect this. With my first crack at horse and musket rules, in Soldiers of Napoleon, I didn’t want to just re-write a set of ancient warfare rules with added muskets! No, for a change of time period, there would need to be a radical change in the game system too. The core mechanic that drives the action along would have to be altered, with the aim of reflecting the complexities and details of Napoleonic warfare. The game rules and card system need extra complexity.

My starting point for Soldiers of Napoleon was to change the engine somewhat. I’d redesign the core action-card game mechanic that would drive the game along. The cards provide a number of ‘Orders’, which are spent by a brigade’s commander on Actions for the battalions/regiments/batteries of his brigade. The greater the command distance, the more orders required for an Action – every 10 paces costs 1 Order. This keeps brigades together for efficient use of Orders, with very large brigades become unwieldy and costing a lot of Orders. Actions include the usual: marching, manoeuvring, formation changes, cannons bombarding, musketry fire is split into two ‘modes’, volley and skirmish fire (for which you’ll have to deploy skirmishers). There are also some specialist actions, like ‘harassing’ for light cavalry only (to try and sweep away enemy skirmishers) or ‘intimidation’ with heavy cavalry or lancers. Cards don’t have to be played for just Orders, they can also be played for Special Events or to Rally.

The next decision to make was what was I actually trying to recreate? What are the characteristic features of the period? What makes Napoleonic battle unique? What makes Napoleonic battle feel Napoleonic?

Big questions to work out the answers to and, on the subject of big, one of the defining elements of Napoleonics is exactly that word - big! For me, Napoleonic battles need to be impressive in their scale on the tabletop, they should have an epic sweep. They were large engagements by the previous standards of warfare, so at a very simple level they benefit from bigger armies.

There were many smaller engagements, of course, but Soldiers of Napoleon would be a game of battles, not skirmishes. There is great gaming to be had from Napoleonic skirmishing, I’m sure, but what attracted me to the period was the ‘big battalions’ and that’s what I still love - massed infantry, cavalry, and artillery all on the tabletop in their finery.

That’s great on paper and in the imagination, but the instant problem encountered while going down this path is that the battles are just too large for most tabletops. There are only so many toy soldiers you can have on a table, and I’m not a fan of the over-full tabletop in which miniatures have no room for manoeuvre. Figures that are crowded-in, shoulder to shoulder, restrict the two commanders to simply advancing on each other and meeting in a grinding war of dice rolling attrition.

Decisive movement makes battles interesting, it gives them more of a story, enables a to-and-fro feel. There can be a flanking move here, a heroic defence of a farm or village there, a swirling melee for a ford or bridge, the sudden collapse of a defensive position, the clearing of a wood - these are the events that tell a battle’s story and create the type of narrative that underpins the events of the best games.

When reading histories of real battles, they do not often become repetitive grinds until one side breaks. Only the most incapable commanders would pursue the mid-battlefield mass-melee as a key strategy!

There are smaller actions across the battlefield, a charge here, ground lost there, a hill taken then lost, etc. I want these events in my battles - a hill fought over, and wood cleared on the right flank, a farm defended on the left flank, so that the story of each game reads like the story of a historical battle. This, in part, comes down to having space on a tabletop for such fights to develop. As most of us do not have huge tabletops to play on and huge numbers of men to line up on those tabletops, I need to put on my designer hat to find another way to make it work.

I think there is perhaps a ‘golden rule’, a proportion of models to table space that works best. I don’t know exactly what it might be, but experience means I can get a feel for it and see it on the tabletop when playing game.

All of the above helped me to settle on a roughly ‘division-plus' sized game for Soldiers of Napoleon. The basic tactical manoeuvring element of the game is a battalion of infantry (or the roughly similar regiment of cavalry). This is as it was on Napoleonic battlefields. Regiments might be fielded together but divided into their battalions and these could execute different tactical roles if required. It seems only right that the game would us the same system.

In all, with infantry battalions, cavalry regiments, and the addition of artillery batteries, playing with maybe a dozen to fifteen units under your control on the tabletop is possible. This is scope for enough variety in units to keep things interesting, but not so many men that the tabletop is so packed with models that there is no space to manoeuvre in.

I’m talking about 28mm models; obviously smaller models equal more space. As with all Soldiers of games, Soldiers of Napoleon is model-size agnostic. All distances are set in ‘paces’ chosen by the players to suit model size and table space.

If, as a commander, you are in control of division, it seemed obvious that, although it’s a lot of men, you can’t expect to refight Austerlitz, Wagram or Waterloo on a regular tabletop. What you can do is recreate part of it - hopefully the exciting or crucial part! Hence the ‘plus’ part of the division-sized game, because once engaged a division is not often fighting alone, it is part of a wider force - its Corps and then Army, and they may well also become involved, as reinforcements.

These extra troops would play a big role in the game, to try and make it feel like you are commanding part of bigger whole – there is a larger battle raging, to the left and right of your tabletop that will impact on your actions despite it being out of your particular game’s scope.

You’re trying to win in your ‘divisional area’, which is slightly different to just commanding a division. It opens up the historical orders of battle somewhat. A Napoleonic division is fairly restrictive on models and variety, it’s going to be infantry or cavalry. The assumption that the tabletop area you are pushing figures around is just one part of bigger fight allows games to include elements that were not part of single divisions, like the heavy cavalry reserve (note reserve). Just because they aren’t in your division it does not then mean that cuirassiers can’t be in your games - they can be committed to your ‘divisional area’ and it still feels historically correct. In fact, their deployment just adds to the exciting story the game is creating - the arrival of the heavy cavalry or the grenadiers to apply the coup-de-grace or save the line is pure drama! An ‘exciting, emotional, or unexpected event or circumstance’ - that is what all wargames (and games in general, for that matter) need!

During the game, each side’s force has access to ‘Reserve Brigades’, drawn from the wider army and there is a chance these will be released to aid your area of the battlefield. This is all arranged pre-game, as part of set-up, on which turn and which table edge they’ll arrive, and this can be aided by the presence of more senior officers – Napoleon’s presence can get things done! Reserve brigades include the likes of the French and Russian Imperial Guard, grenadiers, the heavy cavalry and, well just about any other brigade really, an authentic way of placing the ‘central reserve’ and second line troops into the game without them becoming an overly common choice of forces. The faster the brigade, the sooner they are likely to arrive, so a light cavalry brigade can be moved up from reserve quickly, faster that the heavy cavalry, which is faster again than infantry. Sometimes the reserve can be strong brigades, other times weaker, will they strengthen the line on the left, right or centre? Will they be required to defend, or attack? All this part of the pre-game planning for the battle.

Soldiers of Napoleon is an ambitious project, covering eight different theatres and campaigns, from 1805 to 1815, with multiple army lists for each. The first book includes two theatres, for the wars of the Sixth and Seventh Coalitions. More will hopefully follow in the first supplement (but that’s getting ahead of ourselves).

The game, as it stands, has the feel I hoped for and includes a few new gaming twists. There are battlefield objective cards and, to answer the question you’ve probably all got waiting to go, yes, there are some named commanders too. These will not be a persistent feature on the tabletop, instead making the occasional appearance, to observe and assist on the part of their battlefield that you are gaming on. These commanders include the bigwigs: Napoleon, Wellington, Kutusov, Blucher, et al. who will bring their own variants to the flow of battle and give you the justification to collect and use their models! 

This is an article, by me, first published in Wargames Illustrated magazine.

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Battlegroup Stalingrad - Shoe Factory No. 4 and Kutusov Square

This game has been planned since Christmas, but for various reasons we haven’t made the time to play. Well, we finally did, 1,200 pts with the Stadtkampf scenario set in the city centre as the Germans push for the Volga. The table was set-up with many buildings, on the Russian left was the edge of an industrial zone, with the factory and a marshaling/ train depot. In the Russian right centre was the only open space on the tabletop, named Kutusov Square. All the rest was mostly apartment blocks with a few other scattered factory/workshop buildings and a fuel depot (which was on fire at the start of the game). There were a full 5 objectives on the tabletop. The main work hall of Shoe Factory No.4. A building on the edge of the marshaling yard (I’ll call it the office). A small church on the western edge of Kutusov Square (also a fortified building by the Germans and full of various support weapons). A larger church, ‘cathedral’, on the eastern edge of the square and finally, the German left rear (Russian right) a large Party admin building, which would become the German ‘command centre’ area, with his FHQ, comms team, observer team, ambulance, etc. To start with the Germans held 2 objectives and so did the Russians, with only the marshaling yard office in no-man’s land. 

Shoe Factory No.4, main work hall, an objective in Russian hands.

Kutusov Square, far end a German strong point, under fire from a dug-in T-34.

For forces, in brief; the Russians had 3 regular infantry platoons (all Volga flotilla marines), 2 Remnants platoons both secreted in tunnels and a hidden cellar deep in German lines. 2 dug-in T-34s, 2 mobile T-34s, various marksmen and a sniper ace, a sapper team with a flamethrower, an observer team, off-table 76.2mm battery and 120mm mortars, a PRTP, an AA HMG on a truck, a Timed Katyusha strike and other bits and pieces, so infantry heavy as required by this environment.

The Germans had 3 Platoons, 2 of regular grenadiers, 1 Sturm platoon of veterans, of which 2 squads were hidden in tunnels to emerge anywhere. 3 StuGs (two kurtz, one lang), a StuG-33B (of course), a Pz II, a Pz I mounting 20mm flak field-conversion, ambulance, HQ, FOO, an on-table 150mm infantry gun with loader team, an on-table 105mm artillery gun and loader team, on-table 80mm mortar team in a mortar pit, 2 supply trucks, a lurking 222, sniper, timed 105mm arty strike, timed Stuka strike and bits and pieces. Each platoon also had an attached HMG team, making 12 German MGs around the city… eek!

Having set-up and deployed, which took a while, then sorted timed strikes, hidden locations, ammo for tanks, located PRTPs, the Germans then won the roll-off for first turn and could get their attack underway. Let the slaughter commence!

The Germans moved up and their guns and mortar start to drop fire into the Russian deployment zone, one direct hit on a dug-in T-34 was effective and the MGs rattled out some suppressing fire. The first ‘hot-spot’ of the battle would be the objective in the marshaling yard, as the Germans threatened it and marines in the factory moved up to counter and came under heavy incoming fire. The StuG-33B rolled up and fired into the objective buildings and the first Russians became casualties. Around Kutusov Square the Germans edged up by one buildings and cleared out a Russian infiltration team, but got pinned down by sniper fire from the ‘cathedral’ where my sniper-ace and his spotter were waiting on ambush fire. German reinforcements were slow to arrive, and that wouldn’t help them all game, but both sides were rolling well for orders for most of the game.

The Russians counter-attacked to secure the marshaling yard office, launching the first close assault of the game to cleared out the building of a German squad, but then got pinned themselves and countered attacked by a German MG team… wiping out the squad. Along the road between the factory and square the front line would form, German MGs blazing across to the apartment blocks opposite where the Russian struggled to hold, feeding in a few squads to keep the Germans at bay, only to watch them whiter away each turn. Marine losses were high in the first few turns… but we drew some lucky counters, both mine strikes (both used on StuGs and both failed, one on rolling a 1, but we had no mobile vehicles on the table to use the counter back on). Then an air attack, which we repurposed as ‘low on fuel’ and the StuG-33B, out of ammo, was also out of fuel, so the crew abandoned it, blocking a side road. Russian reinforcements started to move on, including the AA truck, to get on ambush fire, because for-sure the Luftwaffe would show-up at some point.

Both sides backed off the marshaling yard office,neither able to claim it and just dying from the heavy fire instead. The fighting here fell into a lull, only to ignite at the ‘cathedral’, the Germans had sneaked up and  assaulted the building, taking it and the objective. This would start a sequence of assaults and counter assaults as Russians appeared from tunnels into the cathedral crypts and the Germans, with heavy supporting fire from across the square, assaulted back, resulting in the loss of an entire German platoon and at least 4 Russian squads. The objective changed hands, back and forth four times, for it to eventually be held by the last handful of Russian sappers, then abandoned due to the German fire. In the end, nobody held the objective here either.

Whilst the slaughter in the church was on going, the Russian armour had arrived and pushed on through the streets, intend on marauding into German lines, just to cause chaos really. This was hindered by the militia crew’s auxiliary status (i.e, I kept rolling 1s), and 20mm cannon fire from a Pz II, which was later destroyed at PB range by a T-34 and a 222, which lurked around the square’s edge. The Luftwaffe did show up (I knew they must), the Stuka timed strike dropping in, only for the Dshk to drive it off… yeah… I like it when AA does it’s job, praise to Mama DshK, and no chit requires for ‘under air attack’.

Acros the city another two Russian squads appeared in a apartment block through the sewers and took out the mortar pit and then failed to destroy the 105mm gun’s crew before StuG returned fire at PB pinned them and a German demo team (all he had in reserve) assaulted them. The surprise attack had not achieved as much as I had hoped and cost us 2 veteran squads of assault troops.  

On the right, behind the T-34 advance two Sturm squads did likewise and appeared under my FOO’s building and began climbing the stairs to the top floor, unopposed. Their sewer tunnel entrance was not collapsed by my ‘collapsed tunnel’ on another rolled 1.., tbf, the Germans also rolled a 1 for theirs… it seems nobody can collapse a tunnel round here! The German’s would assault and kill my forward observer team, KOing my off-table artillery with it. I did ask if they could jump of the 4th story roof as the Germans came up the stairs…

The Russians had their own reposte. The second remnant platoon, hidden before the game, now emerged, by luck, next door to the large ‘party HQ’ building used as the German command post. The veterans behind enemy lines rushed out, assaulted and wiped out the crew of the 150mm infantry gun, loader team and all, and destroyed an ambulance too (no pity here). They also got the German FHQ under fire. Suddenly, the Germans had little to try and stop them… and the HQ ran for it. My platoon could advance on the objective buildings, but the 20mm flak wagon, on ambush fire, pinned them down. It had to die to claim the objective as the German’s quickly vacated the area (it’s not running away, it’s a tactical withdrawal). One of my T-34s rushed across the square, but got pinned by 222 ambush fire, saving the flak. I’d get it next turn…

Except, there was no next turn, the Germans had suddenly run-out of BR, their counters now totaling 79 of their 77 BR break point. The Russians had reached 68 of 84, so a solid win, but we had the luck of the special draws which reduced that total. Grueling fight, but great fun, the losses on both sides were, as expected, high. We counted up the loss of 3 full platoons and at least half of another, so 3.5 platoons gone. The Germans had lost most of 2, so higher losses for the Russians even in victory, but we had the men to lose. The post-game debrief agreed the two dug-in T-34s had proved tough, one was lost to an artillery hit late in the game, but they both took multiple hits and fought on. The Germans were short on AT guns, their one lang StuG broke down (another special counter for us).  The crux of had been the  slaughter in the ‘cathedral of death’, and the Russians ‘war of rats’ four underground counter-attacks which had been the (as planned for) surprise. No route to Volga here, a victory paid for in blood. 

Nazi sniper, waits on ambush fire.

T-34, dug-in guarding the work hall. German shelling would eventually KO it.

Russian right. Orange fluff for the buildings that are burning, and out of bounds. At the rear is the party admin building.

The marshaling yard office. The engine shed is on fire, which was awkward.

Russian move in to try and claim the office objective, only to be quickly torn-up.

AA truck, Mama DshK is ready...

when the Luftwaffe try to drop by over the square...

The end at the office, just a few stragglers left.

Marines hold the factory, but the Germans never came this way, so a stand-off.

More marine reinforcements make there way up through the work hall, under occasional mortar and 105 shelling.

First T-34 reserve arrives at the' cathedral' before rushing the square.

Second T-34 approaches the German roadblock, behind which waits the Pz II.

German landsers cross the front line and infiltrate through the apartment to attack the irksome T-34 covering the square, with their AT grenades. It failed and a counter-attack by marines cleared them out again.

Race across the square, only for a 222 to pin the tank. But with only a 75mm infantry gun to engage it, the rookie crew were safe inside.

T-34 reaches the road block and blasts the PzII, brave stand, but futile. Now to storm through the road block.

Urrah! My remnant squad appears behind the party admin block, and jump the German ambulance, no mercy for the wounded fascists...

More straggler marines try to hold the line under whithering MG fire.

Still waiting at the shoe factory... all quiet though...

The T-34 lines up his flak wagon (Pz I conversion), but pins itself... argh! Damn auxiliary crewed tanks!

Tuesday, 15 March 2022

The Battle of Grunbach, with Soldiers of Napoleon

The Austrians would be attacking the French positions around the stream and village of Grunbach. Here is the rough sketch map. 

Austrians will be the top, French at the bottom

The Austrian plan was in 2 simple stages. First a general advance and the grenadiers would attack and take the ‘Kloster’ (a small castle/citadel) in the right centre, whilst the centre took the hill high ground and deployed its guns. Stage 2 would see the centre press on across the fields to engage the French centre, whilst the left moved up to secure its flank. That was it, go forwards, get the Kloster and then press on to test his reservists mettle…

The French had dug-in, behind earthworks in their right centre and fortified the village on their extreme left. Rather than wait they would screen this with a spoiling light cavalry action to stall the Austrians, long enough to allow the reserve Imperial Guard brigade to arrive and deploy, to conduct a strong counter-attack, punching out from the main line. This was, at the last minute, added to by the addition of contesting the Kloster, sending 2 battalions forward in march columns (fastest) to fly forwards and try and get there first. The Kloster would see heavy fighting early on, but my best infantry had orders to secure it… go the grenadiers! 

The tabletop, Austrians will deploy on the right, French left.

We rolled for a ‘Special Circumstance’ to find that, last night, an Austrian ADC had blunder into French lines and been captured with dispatches, the French gained a bonus command point and Operations point for the lucky incite, not a great start! Next, we both deployed. Austrians with the right flank pushed forwards, grenadiers closest to the Kloster, then echelon back to the left. The French had a main line and a forward screen, his light cavalry, all out on their right (Austrian left) to swing round and counter-attack. Seeing this, its was obvious what my light cavalry reserve’s job would be, race up and engage those French hussars, fend them off, so the infantry could win it.

Turn 1 and the Austrians beat the drums and began forwards, guns limbered and dragged up the centre hill, white-coated attack columns following up to. The grenadiers closed on the Kloster in their attack column too, whilst the left infantry brigades remained in place and opened up some 12 pdr fire on the distant French cavalry, to little real effect.

The French send forwards two battalions at speed for the Kloster and fired back with their dug-in guns. The race to the Kloster was on… and the French won. One battalion broke up and occupied the little castle, harassed by a lot of jaeger skirmish fire though. My grenadiers were not be deterred and charged the Kloster. In the melee, they just won, and pushed the French back from their superior position, climbing the walls and battling through the courtyard and doorways. The French took more jaeger fire retreating and then panicked and broke, fleeing the field. The grenadiers had stormed the Kloster and would hold it for the rest of the battle, under skirmish fire from Grunbach, but secure. Objective achieved, that earned me some VPs, as did the melee win and the broken French battalion. I also claimed the hill as another objective and the Austrians suddenly had a good early lead in VPs.

The Austrians continued to do well, accurate jaeger fire harassing the French as their own cannons missed, for once, a lot. End of turn 2 and my reserve light cavalry arrived, either side of the Grunbach stream, the Uhlan and Chevau-leger. Spurred into action, literally, the French cavalry started to move, splashing across the stream and swinging left to threaten the hill. My cavalry would need to move quick and did (at the quick) galloping up to intercept. The French were also moving quickly and the light cavalry duel erupted, his hussars charging to be counter- charged by the arriving Uhlan and, for now, driven off. The other hussars overran my 12 pdr battery in a bold charge but got shot up by volleying Austrians as they retreated, still, worth the losses to remove the gun battery. My chevau-leger went after them and charged, to be met by a counter-charge and driven back. With so many cards being played on the cavalry, now all rallying, the infantry in the centre had stalled, and accurate French gunnery now hit home and broke one of Krawietz fusilier battalions. Still, 3 more to use…

The French reserve had not arrived, but the early VPs saw the Austrians lead 19 to 5! Woo-hoo, a great start. I needed 31 VPs to reach the French MV total and force them to quit the field. They needed 28. The French were under pressure, and playing a special event, the French Corps commander arrived to observe the field and offer any aid… handy chap, and his extra Action Card to the French hand would see them gain an advantage here… one I couldn’t match.

Turn 4 was an utter disaster, for the Austrians… less cards and not good ones, the attack stalled and then, due to ‘command confusion’ I loss 2 cards as well. The French comeback started, his horse battery deployed and shot up one of my 6 pdr batteries which broke and ran. His hussars rallied, charged again and this time defeated the uhlan. His other light cavalry threatened my infantry lines and so they had to form square for safety. His artillery found its range and inflicted more pain. By the end of turn 4 the French had 14 VPs and where back in it. Also, his reserve brigade was now available to deployed, directed here by the Corps commander, but held just off-table until needed.

OK, could I recover from a disastrous turn? Let’s press this attack… well no! The eager French cavalry charged again and the uhlan, now in mess and short on men were driven off again… the chevau-leger had rallied and came forwards but faced 2 French regiments alone. With disruption points building up, the Austrians rallied, and rallied again and this cost VPs, and suddenly, the French were ahead, also claiming their own objective of ‘Hold the Line’ for extra VPs… damn it, the good start had evaporated in 2 turns and the French tide was rising.

The last two turns saw his light cavalry utterly rout my light cavalry, the uhlan dying in a ‘gory massacre’ on the banks of the Grunbach stream. With no cavalry support, that was too much for von Klopp, he couldn’t press the attack here and so, in defeat the Austrians withdrew… in all the French had turned it around, scoring 40 VPs to the Austrians 25… a solid win, a big turn-around in momentum and the Imperial Guard were not required… another easy day for the favoured sons. Napoleon will be pleased.

Something obviously went terrible wrong there… mostly I blame the French cavalry attack, but I could have managed it better. I stalled when I should have pressed on with the grenadiers and in the centre, given him problems to cope with as well as trying to just firefight my own, used the cards for a fast advance against his weak infantry, maybe that would have dealt enough damage to win it, but more likely, his waiting Guardsmen would have advanced too and hit me hard back… Renard is in the Emperor’s good books. Von Klopp is in trouble with Prince Schwarzenburg… he can always claim he needed more cavalry support… where were the Cuirassiers he needed?

Good game… terrible outcome given the start I got… here are some pics of the action. Soldiers of Napoleon, the game, is well into production now and will be out, err, soon… maybe a month?

Austrian left and, beyond the Grunbach stream, the centre.

Krawietz' brigade screened by the many jaegers on the hill... the hammer of the attack! They got the hill, then stalled.

The right, the grenadiers and their artillery, with its caisson wagon.

French light cavalry in line of march, on their far right.

French infantry behind their earthworks

Occupying the village of Grunbach

The advance approaches the Kloster, jaegers are in action straight away, and doing good work with their skirmish fire.

There are Frenchmen in the Kloster!!

On the other flank, light cavalry begin to advance.

Heavy skirmish action around the Kloster, the jaegers are winning to engagement though.

Foward the uhlan! My reserves race on.

French hussars are deploying, as is their horse battery, in the cornfield.

Whilst the others ford the Grunbach.

First clash with the Austrian light horsemen.

Uhlan counter-charge the hussars and win! But not decisively, those hussars will regroup and be back. 

Chevau-leger come face to face with Chasseurs this time on the banks of the Grunbach.

The left flank formed square for protection from marauding French light cavalry. They have already had their artillery battery routed by hussars showing bold elan! Damn them... they won the day for the French.   

due soon...