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...

Monday 14 March 2022

Soldiers of Napoleon – Army Building

Just a short article with some details of how army’s are constructed for a 'Soldiers of Napoleon' game, for those interested and those with collections they might be worried about converting. First up, don’t worry. ‘Soldiers of…’ rules are flexible, on basing, numbers of models, ground scale, it is all adaptable to suit the player’s collections, nothing is set in stone. Scale too, it plays with 6mm to 28mm (or 40mm for that madness). For example, we use 28mm, 40mm and 50mm bases, 4 models per base for infantry, 2 for cavalry, 1 per gun, but only because it suits our collections.

The rules are designed for 4 sizes of game, small and large division, corps and army. This determines how may brigades you will command and sets the points total. A small division game is 2 brigades (the smallest) with no extra forces, reserves, etc. In this size game it is literally just your division in action, not as part of a larger Corps or Army action. In large division games, with 3 brigades, Corps with 4 and Army with 5, the tabletop action is assumed to be part of far larger engagement, you are not fighting alone as single division anymore, but with the aid of your Corps and Army. They can provide extra reserves and influence (in small ways) the cause in your ‘divisional area’ of the wider battlefield.

This example of constructing forces is from our latest game, Austria vs France, set in Saxony in 1813, so using the army list for the Austrians and French in the War of the 6th Coalition (there are army lists for different time periods and theatres). I called it the (fictional) ‘Battle of Grunbach’.

I’ll start with my force, the Austrians. The game was set as a Corps-level (4 brigades each) and 900 points. Each commander would be required to have 3 brigades deployed on the tabletop (left, right and centre) and one off-table in reserve.

I started my selection with a strong Austrian line infantry brigade (the sinews of the army). Each brigade has a command stand (for free) and a minimum and maximum number of battalions. My first infantry brigade could have a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 6 battalions. Battalions are 2-6 bases strong. I went with 5: 4 line fusiliers and 1 landwehr (they hide at the back, as on table reserves, called up only at direst need). Added to this would be  the single allowed foot battery, of 6 pdr guns. Also, each army has a few ‘Unique Units’, and I added the maximum of 4 Jaeger detachments, 1 to each line fusilier battalion, as good skirmishers. This was titled ‘Krawietz’ Brigade’ and would be in the centre of my deployment.

The next brigade would be a second, weaker infantry brigade, of 2 fusilier battalions and 2 weak landwehr battalions, with an attached 12 pdr artillery battery. These would not be conducting the main attack, but supporting on one flank, not to get involved in the heavy combat but just stall and prevent any French flanking moves. It was called Achterburg’s Brigade.

Third, I chose a Grenadier brigade, good infantry. Some brigades are designated as ‘Reserve only’ brigades, i.e. they can only start games off table and come up from the Corps/Army reserve. They aren’t usually front line troops. There is a special rule that allows a single ‘reserve brigade’ to be ‘forward deployed’ by paying a points premium for it to be pushed to the front from the start. I did this with my grenadiers, ‘Schlumberger’s Brigade’, of 2 strong grenadier battalions and a supporting 6 pdr battery. This battery was also upgraded with ‘full caissons’ (this allows a re-roll when rolling to hit for the extra ammo, but needs a caisson model). These would be my flank strike force.

With three brigades chosen, I had to have a reserve brigade as well. With no cavalry yet I’d need some, so the choice is a light, medium (dragoons) or the heavies (cuirassier) brigade. Not enough points left for the big hitters (in large enough regiments to threaten), so in the end I went with a light brigade of Uhlan and Chevau-leger and a 6 pdr horse battery with them. They bring ‘scouts’ and are likely to turn up quicker than other brigades (being fast), but lack the hitting power of the dragoons. This is Lindjer’s cavalry brigade, ready to ride up in support and assigned (as required) to deploy from my centre (but fast enough to ride left or right if needed).

Of the 900 points limit, I had a few left and used them to by a few more upgrades from the ‘Commanders of Note’ section. The divisional commander, ‘von Klopp’, would be a Commander of the Highest Renown for the Morale Value (MV) bonus. One artillery battery gained an Expert Gunner to aid it. The Uhlan would be led by ‘Le Beau Sabre’ making them more aggressive, and the grenadiers would be led by a Ruthless Commander for one and a Drillmaster for the other. Each of these gives them a small benefit in the rules, quicker to reform if in disorder, etc.

That was it… 900 points spent. All that was left to choose was a Tactical Order (how the army commander wants von Klopp to fight today). That would be as a Steady Advance, go forwards, but with caution (the other options are to Defend or an All Out Assault).

Here is the full Austrian army list.

For the French, well they had 4 brigades selected as follows. Two infantry brigades with a lot of reservist infantry, a very strong light cavalry brigade of 3 regiments (2 of hussars, 1 chasseurs and a horse battery, the maximum allowed) with a tough reserve of Imperial Guard infantry (they have to start in reserve unless bought as forward deployed for the extra points). Here is their full list as well. Note, the French also chose to take an artillery battery of the army reserve, with the first brigade, giving it 2 batteries. They chose a tactical Order, to Defend, so the Emperor just wants Renard’s division to hold at Grunbach and see off this Austrian advance. On the defensive the French rolled gained some field works for 1 brigade to hide behind… and any buildings in their deployment zone will count as fortified, as they were dug-in tight.

Here is the full French army list.   

The battle report for the Battle at Grunbach will follow, soon(ish)… will Renard hold or can von Klopp's men in white breakthrough?

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