sabato 10 ottobre 2020

Hill Line Defence... after action report

 I played the Hill Line Defense I described here. Just as a reminder, the Russian Army under Benningsen is defending some hills, while the French are massing against one of the Russian wings.

The battle started with the French artillery massing fire against the rightmost Russian division, causing heavy casualties, while Ney's Corps advanced. 

The Russian division broke early as soon as the French Light troops arrived at skirmish range. The hole allowed Ney's Corps reached the hilltop easily, with the French Light Cavalry engaging its Russian counterpart in an inconclusive and prolonged struggle which saw no real winner.

The Programmed Blue Orders stated (roll of 6) that the Russians would be willing to lose part of the hill as long as they held at least part of it, uniting their forces - which meant that they would contract the front to a more manageable defensive line. In addition, the Programmed Blue Response (roll of 5) indicated that Benningsen would weaken the center to reinforce the threatened flank. Both these response fit the stated Russian goal to protect its route of retreat, between the two hills.

The Russian Imperial Guard therefore moved from its reserve position to the hill, and the Guard Cuirassiers charged the French infantry repeatedly. They were unable to break them and only managed to stop its advance.

Then the Guard Cavalry fell back and it was the Russian Foot Guards' turn to counterattack. Despite being outnumbered in the area, the Russian Guards pushed back the French columns several times and even repulsed a counterattack, effectively retaking almost the whole hill alone.

However, they were then subject to enfilade fire from French batteries brought forward on their flank. As Ney launched another attack, the stalwart guards repulsed it again, but they couldn't resist anymore to the short range artillery fire and broke. Meanwhile, in the centre, Lannes' Corps saw the opportunity to attack the Russian Line infantry and Grenadiers holding the farm and hedges. The Grenadiers repulsed the first attack, but a second one managed to clear the position, and the Russian troops were forced to retreat. Bagration had also decided to threaten Lannes' left flank, but the French Dragoons there kept them in check. 

Lannes' artillery managed to rout the enemy light cavalry, and a general advance on the rest of the front finally broke the Russian army, which had hoped to resist until dusk. With more light cavalry remaining, the French were able to mount a limited pursuit, granting them a major victory.

lunedì 14 settembre 2020

1807 in Poland...

It's 1807 and Napoleon's Grande Armee is chasing Benningsen and the Russian Army across Poland. The war has been dragging for too long and while Napoleon is enjoying his time with his Polish mistress Countess Maria Walewska, his troops want to end the war and go home. The battle of Eylau has shown there won't be an easy victory like those against the Austrians or the Prussians: the Russian soldiers are stubborn and resilient and never seem to rout, their army able to slip away every time and denying the French Emperor a clear victory. Still, Napoleon needs that victory, to bring Tzar Alexander to the peace table. That means continuing the chase.

Finally, a report from Marshal Lannes is received: he has reached the Russian army, which is resting on top of hilly terrain in a defensive position that covers its likely retreat route. Lannes asks for reinforcements before the elusive Russians can escape once more.

Orders are sent to the scattered French Corps but it will take time to reassemble the main force. Meanwhile only Ney's VI Corps, part of the cavalry reserve and the Imperial Guard are close enough. By early afternoon, only those formations have reached Lannes in front of the Russian positions.

The Emperor knows that tomorrow at least two more Corps (Victor's and Mortier's) will be in position too, but it could be too late. What if Benningsen slips away once again during the night? Lannes' reconnaissance parties have indicated that the enemy left flank looks weakened, with a gap between them and the strong enemy center. Have some units already left the area? Are they still in the process of redeploying? That may be a vulnerability... at least for a short time.

It's a risk, but also an opportunity, one that great generals take when they see it. Napoleon can't let Benningsen escape again and that slight opening may be the only chance. Without further ado, he orders Ney to attack.

The game

I'm going to play the first scenario (Hill Line Defence) from the Programmed Wargame Scenarios book. It's excellent for solitaire wargaming because it provides both some sort of fog of war and a responsive enemy. The process of setting up a scenario may look confusing at first (I think the revised version could have used a better layout and explanation of some paragraphs...) but it's actually fairly easy once you've got the overall flow in mind. I'll show here step by step what I did, showing how the mechanics nicely build up the narrative above.

1807 in Poland, when Napoleon's Grande Armee was chasing Benningsen's elusive Russian army...

I wanted to play Napoleonics, with French vs Russians in 1807 (I had planned to play a battle of Friedland scenario, but then changed idea when I received the Programmed Scenarios book). The Hill Line Defense scenario fits the 1807 campaign well, with the Russians in a strong defensive position and the French trying to pin and defeat them, a common situation (think Heilsberg) during that campaign until Friedland. Therefore, the scenario looks very realistic. I decided to play the French attackers (Red side in the book) against the programmed Russian defenders (Blue side in the book). 

Napoleon has 2 Corps, the Imperial Guard, and some reserve cavalry...

I then determined the French Order of Battle, by choosing army composition 17. I generally consider the "Light infantry" category as "Light/Elites", therefore including also Grenadiers, Guards etc... and Medium Cavalry (Dragoons) as Light Cavalry. This created the structure for my 2 Corps + Imperial Guard army, with the cavalry reserve divided to support the two Corps:

V Corps: 2 Infantry, 1 Light Cavalry, 1 artilley

VI Corps: 3 Infantry, 1 Light Cavalry, 1 artillery

Imperial Guard: 1 Guard Infantry, 1 Heavy Cavalry

The Russians occupy some hills.

I then rolled for the three map sections: Left 2, Center 2, Right 2. Quite a coincidence, but it's still a random roll, so it's ok. However, at this stage you can't look at the map yet. That will come later.

Lannes's reconnaissance parties have scouted the terrain and identified the enemy positions. One Russian flank looks weak...

First, I had to roll to see if the Attackers have proper reconnaissance of the enemy. If not, they will have to deploy first and plan using a possibly incomplete map of the terrain (that's why I shouldn't look at the full map before this step!). In this case, the roll tells me they have done their job: Lannes has made a good job in identifying the terrain and locating the overall enemy deployment. I can now seen the real (Blue) map.

According to this, I choose army composition 7 for the defenders, and deployed the Russians using the full map and using the Blue deployment options from the book:

Left Flank (includes center): 3 Infantry, 1 Light Cavalry, 1 Artillery (1 Infantry and LC deployed on the right, rest in the center).

Right Flank: 1 Jagers, 1 Light Cavalry

Russian Imperial Guard (behind the center): 1 Guard Infantry, 1 Heavy Cavalry

The French army could therefore deploy in order to exploit the enemy weaknesses

Then I deployed the French forces as I preferred inside the correct deployment area, with Ney's VI Corps on the right, Lannes' V Corps on the center-left and the Imperial Guard in reserve. Having prior reconnaissance means I can exploit the defender's weaknesses.

Napoleon orders Ney to attack

Now it's time to write my orders for my commands: my attack will be on the weak enemy right flank! Ok, Grande Armee (my wargame rules of choice) doesn't have a written orders system, actually almost no ruleset uses those anymore...  but writing initial orders in a solo wargame can help you "stay honest" with your plan especially if the adversary has a programmed response like in this case. So all my Corps Commander receive their orders from the Emperor...

VI Corps (Marshal Ney): "Attack the enemy left flank on the hill, destroying or driving it away, then turn left and hit the enemy center on the flank. Marshal Lannes' V Corps will engage the enemy center frontally to keep its attention away from you"

V Corps (Marshal Lannes): "Demonstrate against the enemy center between the two hills and keep the enemy focused on you while Marshal Ney turns the enemy flank. Press the attack only if the enemy leaves positions, in order to keep it from escaping or turning against the VI Corps"

Imperial Guard (Marshal Bessieres): "The Imperial Guard will remain in reserve, ready to support the attack if needed."

The plan looks good, but with so few reserves, the French army might have to rely on the Old Guard as the masse de décision.

Grande Armee's usual command rules will take care of everything from now on, but until/unless something happens, I plan to stick... to the plan.

Writing orders is a good exercise on clarity and sharpness. Vague orders can be badly interpreted (wargames-wise a player should be penalized for writing too vague orders just so he can do "whatever is needed"), while trying to describe all contingencies is not really historical and should be prohibited (a maximum of 1-2 contingencies should be allowed).

The enemy has plans too... the Russians may try to escape, or turn to face Ney

Of course the enemy has plans too, represented by the programmed orders (in this case, the Blue - defender - Programmed Orders): a roll is made to determine what their orders are AFTER own orders are written down. In this way, players' orders aren't influenced by reading the enemy ones. It has to be noted that they may have some strict criteria, but are usually for the most part generic and their exact execution is left to the player. I won't spoil now what the Russians got, but I feel it fits their real objectives well. Keep in mind that the enemy orders also help understand how victory could be assessed.

Let's get down to the scenario orders of battle, using the Grande Armee ruleset:

Weather: Normal (no variation)

Ground: Hard

Turn Length: 4 Turns (starts early afternoon)

French Army (Fair - Break Point = 4)

Napoleon (Great)

Napoleonic Army of 3 Forces

V Corps (V) - Marshal Lannes (V) 1/6"

1/V    Oudinot    6SP    Sk2        Veterans

2/V    Verdier    6SP    Sk2        Veterans

C/V    Dragoons    5SP    LC        Veterans

A/V    12-pdr Foot Artillery

VI Corps (VI) - Marshal Ney (V) 3/8" Aggressive

1/VI     Line Infantry    6SP    Sk2    Veterans

2/VI     Line Infantry    6SP    Sk2    Veterans

3/VI     Line Infantry    6SP    Sk2    Veterans

C/VI    Hussars    6SP    LC        Elite

A/VI    12-pdr Foot Artillery

Imperial Guard (IG) - Marshal Bessieres (V) 3/6"

OGD/IG    Old Guard    8SP Sk2    Guard

GC/IG    Guard Cavalry + Cuirassiers    8SP    HC    Guard

Russian Army (Fair - Break Point = 3)

Benningsen (Average)

Traditional Army of 3 Forces

Right Flank (R) - Bagration (V) 2/3"

J/R    Jagers        5SP    Sk1    Veterans

C/R    Hussars    6SP    LC    Elite

Left Flank (L) - Gortchakov 4/5"

1/L    Line + Grenadiers    6SP    Sk0    Veterans

2/L    Line Infantry   5SP    Sk0    Trained

3/L    Line Infantry   5SP    Sk0    Trained

C/L    Dragoons    5SP    LC    Veterans

A/L    12-pdr Foot Artillery

Russian Guards (G) - Doctorov 4/3"

IG/G    Guard Infantry    7SP    Sk1    Elite

GC/G    Guard Cavalry    6SP    HC    Elite

lunedì 7 settembre 2020

Programmed Wargame Scenarios

This is a book that I tought I could never have: impossible to find (at reasonable prices), and no indication of a reprint... and then covid came.

Probably one of the very few good things to come from the pandemic (wargames-wise) is that a new, revised version of this book was published. I ordered it from Caliver Books as soon as it was available and just received it. It looks really good.

You can see it comes from a distant "wargaming age" (it refers to written orders, WRG rules etc...) but the scenarios are top-notch and the programmed scenario instructions can be easily adapted for any ruleset.

I was preparing to do a Friedland scenario for my simplified Grande Armee rules but now I'm turning to the Hill Line Defence (scenario 1 in the book). Stay tuned...

martedì 31 marzo 2020

Austerlitz 1805 - Battle Report

I finally managed to play the Austerlitz 1805 scenario I described here. Lots of proxies and a few map distortions to make it fit the limited space... but it worked!

Set up from the French side

Set up from Davout's entry point (lower left)

Set up from the Bagration (lower left) vs Lannes (lower right) side

The game started in an historical fashion, with Buxhowden's wing racing to the Goldbach while the French main force (with Bernadotte's I Corps and Soult's IV Corps at the front) attacked the enemy center. However, an unique string of die rolls actually allowed the Allied army to coordinate better: I rolled "1" three times in a row for pulse determination, which meant that turns 1-3 only had 1 pulse each! Thanks to this, the French command superiority faced a decent Allied army command, with Buxhowden even activating by initiative once!

In short, Kollowrath and Lichtenstein managed to build a solid defensive line at the top of the Pratzen and check Bernadotte's advance, while Buxhowden pressed its attack. On the Allied right, Bagration actually managed to stop Lannes' advance and even push him back a little.

Kollowrath and Liechtenstein manage to (briefly) check the French advance

However, disaster struck on turn 4, which followed a more traditional pattern (3 impulses played). Bernadotte was able to resist the Austrian Kuirassiers charge, while Soult's IV Corps stormed the top of the Pratzen pushing back Kollowrath's recruits.

Soult gets to the top of the Pratzen, while Kollowrath's
wekeaned recruits try to establish a new line.

Kollowrath tried to re-establish a new defensive line but was wounded. He returned shortly after, but was killed by another bullet, and his replacement decided to launch an ill-fated counterattack, which was easily defeated by the French. Murat's Cuirassiers then charged the weakened Austrian center to seal the victory, while Soult's troops, with the help of Devout, rolled Buxhowden's troops that failed to take Sokolnitz despite repeated attacks. On the Allied left, Bagration was getting the upper hand against Lannes (Walther's cavalry routed and Caffarelli's division was effectively spent), until the French Imperial Guard Cavalry charged the Russian Jagers and routed them in turn, stabilizing the situation.

Murat's cavalry breaking through the Allied center on the Pratzen,
while Kollowrath's command is broken.

Vandamme and St.Hilaire (Soult's IV Corps) rolling the Allied left

When turn 4 ended, Lannes was able to rally Walther's light cavalry, but the Allies were unable to rally any of their routed units due to the French being too close. With 9 units routed, the Allies had to check for Army morale (their Break Point being 5).

Routed allied troops

The Army Morale check was failed (roll of 9 + 4 turns + 4 routed units beyond the Allied break point of 5 = 17) and the Allies routed. The Austro-Russians still held a slight advantage in light cavalry, which prevented a French pursuit, but the French victory was undeniable.

Some post-game thoughts:

  • Balance: the game favors the French, but is not so skewed as to be pointless for the Allies. Some key combats could have easily gone in a different way, and Bagration showed that a reckless French advance can be met successfully. However, the Allies were favored by the first 3 turns lasting only 1 round each, which mitigated their command issues. Still, the game is fun and not easy to win. If playing with a newbie, let him play the French: he will have fun but still face a challenging, stimulating situation.
  • Light Cavalry: the French can dominate but still fail to have enough light cavalry to pursue the fleeing Allies when they break army morale. Therefore the French player has to be careful in when (or if) commit them. The Allies most likely will need to use at least part of their light cavalry, or will be thrashed early. Probably this is part of the scenario balance too.
  • Allied command decisions: the Allies have some very interesting command decisions to take. Using CPs to keep Buxhowden under control is useful to be able to keep forces on the Pratzen, but this costs a lot and might be pointless if a turn lasts for more then 2 pulses (you won't have CPs to sustain it). In addition, having his wing take Sokolnitz quickly may be useful to put additional pressure on the French if they are checked on the Pratzen. Kollowrath and Liechtenstein are, instead, probably the keys to the Allied battle plan: Liechtenstein can either go to an historical position to check the French I Corps advance and still have the powerful Russian Guard in reserve, but this will leave Kollowrath's forces with no reserves. This is what happened in my game: ultimately the French broke Kollowrath, splitting the Allied army in two. Or, if the Allied cavalry remains behind Kollowrath, this will create a powerful center, but Bernadotte's I Corps will have an easier time in flanking the Pratzen, and the Russian Guard will have to enter the fight (it may need CPs to keep Constantine active), with no-one else behind it as a last-ditch reserve. Tough choices.
  • Lannes vs Bagration: yes, it's almost a side battle. I'm wondering if eliminating them will let me expand the rest of the battlefield a bit and make it less crowded. Somehow I'm hesitant, because they were a part of the battle after all, and if one of them wins quickly, it will create new battle dynamics. But eliminating them can be an option, especially if play space is limited.
  • Overall judgement: the game was good and had a great Austerlitz (and Napoleonic) feel! I loved it!

sabato 21 marzo 2020

Custoza and Goito

Last Christmas I received Europa Simulazioni's Custoza: Fields of Doom, a game about the 1848 and 1866 battles during the 1st and 3rd Italian Wars of Independence. Both battles were defeats for the Italians.

Custoza: 1848 introductory scenario

Custoza: 1848 introductory scenario (losses)

In January I also received Goito, a game inside issue 6 of the Parabellum Magazine, which uses the same system but for a smaller battle (roughly 1 Corps vs 1 Corps), which is therefore a good introduction to the system.

Battle of Goito. Austrian attacks repulsed

Battle of Goito: final positions
The system has some unique mechanics (fog of war, command & control) that requires a bit to get used too, but it's not hard to learn and once you get the use of it the game flows smoothly. So far I like it.

domenica 19 gennaio 2020

Battle of Austerlitz 1805 (Scenario)

2019 has been a good year for wargaming, even if I didn’t play or paint as much as I would have liked. Still, since the last update I’ve paint some more Prussian 1813-1815 Dragoons, French Dragoons, Russian infantry and a few others, and I’m currently working on Russian Jagers (from RedBox), Austrian Grenzer (from HaT) and Russian Guard Infantry (from Zvezda).
After playing Saguntum, I decided to work on a bigger battle that would be a bit more interesting. Given my (still) limited unit availability, I chose Austerlitz (more on this later).
Finally, even if miniature wargaming on the Risorgimento is a bit on hold for now, for Christmas I received the excellent Custoza: Fields of Doom from Europa Simulazioni. I’ve played one introductory scenario so far and it looks like a really good game!

Battle of Austerlitz (1805) - Scenario

This is the scenario I'd like to play next with my revised Grande Armee rules. Why Austerlitz? It’s a big but not huge battle with both Russians and Austrians (this helps with miniature painting), an interesting terrain and more challenges than the historical result may lead us to believe.
I based my scenario on the Grande Armee scenario found here. I reduced the scale from 1 unit = 1 brigade to 1 unit = 1 division, more or less. While not all proportions remain equal, I feel the overall strength ratio is maintaned. I’d like to playtest this so I’m going to play it several times.

Some notes on the OoB: SPs represent effectiveness too, and not just manpower. Overall, the French have an advantage in infantry SPs, a very small deficit in cavalry SPs and have 50% less artillery (rest being included into the infantry units SP numbers). Even if manpower-wise this may not be totally correct, I feel the effectiveness ratio is ok. Of course, coupled with the superior command system, this means that it’s likely the French will win again, but I hope it will still provide a fun game. Also, playtesting will be useful exactly to evaluate balance.

Scenario General Info:
1. Basic Length: 7 turns
2. Weather is Normal, with no variation. Ground is Hard.
3. Both armies set up simultaneously, as indicated on the scenario map.
4. Morale of the French Army is Confident. Its Break Point is 7.
5. Morale of the Allied Army is Shaky. Its Break Point is 5.

Battle of Austerlitz opposing armies (source: The Art of Battle)

French Army
Napoleonic Army of 6 Forces
Napoleon (Great)
Break Point = 7 (Confident)
Imperial Guard (G)Bessieres (V) 2/6"
OG/GOld Guard9SP Sk2Guard
GN/GGrenadiers9SP Sk1Elite
GC/GGuard Cavalry8SP HCGuard
A/G6-pdr Horse Arty
I Corps (I)Bernadotte 4/6" Cautious
1/IRivaud7SP Sk2Veterans
2/IDrouet7SP Sk2Veterans
III Corps (III)Davout 1/6"
2/IIIFriant7SP Sk2Veterans
C/IIIBourcier5SP LCTrained
A/III8-pdr Foot Arty
IV Corps (IV)Soult 2/8"
1/IVSt.Hilaire7SP Sk2Veterans
2/IVVandamme7SP Sk2Veterans
1/3/IVLegrand 16SP Sk2Veterans
2/3/IVLegrand 26SP Sk2Veterans
A/IV12-pdr Foot Arty
V Corps (V)Lannes (V) 1/6"
1/VCaffarelli7SP Sk2Veterans
3/VSuchet7SP Sk2Veterans
C/VWalther4SP LCTrained
Cavalry Reserve (CR)Murat (V) 4/6" Aggressive
HC/CRCuirassiers7SP HCVeterans
LC/CRDragoons6SP LCVeterans
A/CR6-pdr Horse Arty
Allied Army
Traditional Army of 5 Forces
Kutusov (Poor/Average)
Break Point = 5 (Skaky)
Buxhowden Left Wing (B)Buxhowden 5/10" Aggressive
AG/BKienmayer6SP Sk2 MXTrained
2/BLangeron7SP Sk1Trained
1A/BAustrian 6-pdr Horse Arty
2A/BRussian 12-pdr Foot Arty
Fourth Column (4)Kollowrath 2/6" Aggressive
A/4Austrian 6-pdr Horse Arty
Fifth Column (5)Liechtenstein (V) 4/4" Aggressive
HC/5Austrian Kuirassiers7SP HCElite
LC/5Russian Light Cav6SP LCVeterans
CK/5Cossacks4SP Sk2Raw
A/5Austrian 6-pdr Horse Arty
Advance Guard (AG)Bagration (V) 2/6"
1/AGRussian Jagers5SP Sk1Trained
2/AGRussian Line6SPTrained
C/AGRussian Light Cav6SP LCVeterans
A/AGRussian 6-pdr Horse Arty
Russian Imperial GuardConstantine 4/3"
I/CRussian Guard Inf9SP Sk1Elite
C/GRussian Guard Cav8SP HCElite
A/GRussian 12-pdr Foot Arty

Special Rules
1. Kutusov quality: Kutusov was the nominal Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Army but the command situation was confused and the presence of Emperor Francis I and Tzar Alexander didn't help. In theory, Kutusov should be rated as "Poor", but in order to make the scenario a bit more balanced, roll 1d6 at the start of each turn. 1-3: command confusion. Kutusov is rated as "Poor" for this turn. 4-6: the Emperors let Kutusov run the battle without interference for a while. Kutusov is rated as "Average" for this turn.

Scenario Options
1. Historical Allied command situation. Rate Kutusov as "Poor" for the whole battle. Keep in mind this will make it even harder for the Allies to win.
2. Better Allied command situation. Rate Kutusov as "Average" for the whole battle. This will help the Allies.
3. Better Allied Morale. Rate the morale of the Allied Army as "Fair". Its Break Point becomes 6. This will help the Allies.
4. Davout is late. Do not set up Davout's force on the board. At the end of Turn 1, roll a die. On a 4+, Davout enters on the first pulse of the next turn. Add 1 to the die roll at the end of each turn until he arrives. This will help the Allies.
5. No Lannes and Bagration. Lannes and Bagration faced each other for most of the battle and effectively cancelled each other. This will be a likely result most of the times, even if there's a slight chance that one of them will overpower the other soon enough to then turn towards the rest of the battle. As an option, players wishing to use less units or needing a more limited play space can eliminate both Lannes' and Bagration's commands and reduce the terrain accordingly. If this option is chosen, French Army BP becomes 6, Allied Army BP becomes 4. 

Battle report
See this post for a battle report of the scenario and some post-battle considerations.