How Men of Quality Resolve Differences

How Men of Quality Resolve Differences
Pudel and Peper attacks - an ugly but inevitable part of any 17th C. British Civil War, "Oh! The Shame of it All!"

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Post-Beaumont Playtesting, p.3: Mars-la-Tour

The fine-tuning continues and I am pleased with progress. I even figured out how to clean the heads on the printer thanks to a YouTube video - this helps with printing clean drafts. Each draft becomes a fresh look at the rules and the little changes that make things go smoother, and hopefully more historically.

Fortunately, I am on limited duty as I recover from a surgery to fix a few things that went wrong with the old frame - if I was a car, I'd be an antique! I have been able to spend regular time at the game table, albeit wearing a brace, and also spending some time reading Bruce Weigle's "1870", Roger de Mauri's memoir "The Franco-Prussian War" [edited by BG Peter Young, no less...] and Brent Nosworthy's "The Bloody Crucible of Courage" because Bruce Weigle says we should in his bibliography; and yes, a little red wine, also.

This time I repeated the forward deployment and the flank attack options of the original scenario framework; I felt like I had learned a few things for both sides that I wanted to play out. I liked the Prussian selection of forces: both Cavalry and one Skirmisher, the latter to seize the small but important central wood.
Table South above, and table North below.
The French force has both Ligne Infantry and the Guard Voltigeurs [Skirmishers] seizing the large woods as an avenue of approach against the two North towns, and the important central town. Marching against the central town are two Guard Infantry, one Cavalry, and both Artillery batteries - classed as "smoothbores" altho one is a Mitrailleuse. Again, I don't know where the flank march will enter, or for certain the Turn.

Turn 1, the Forward Deployment and faster Operational Movement [my idea] get the Prussians situated at Table center quickly. The only real estate that is owned by the French is the Bois du Nord, which is key terrain for them.

Turn 3. The Prussians have a strong central position, but are limited due to the Flank March - if they get too ambitious, they will be too spread out to support themselves properly. This is OK since four of the towns form a compact wedge just to Table South and West, and they can contest at least one other.
Table North, the Prussians pull back a bit, anticipating the arrival of French flankers at any moment! The Voltigeurs engage the Prussian Jagers who are protecting the Krupp batteries.

Turn 4. Both forces are engaged at longer small arms range - indecisive usually. The Prussians are firming up their defense of the four towns they need for a win!
French Turn 5. Preparatory Fire against the central town occurs from both chassepot and smoothbore Artillery. 
And then the Flanking Force arrives from the North! Hussars, a Ligne battalion and the Mitrailleuse. Despite Prussian preparation, it is awkward to receive guests at this hour and from this angle...
Prussian Turn 5, their Jagers depart the field, having lost a base and failing their Morale Check. The French Ligne are advancing with the Voltigeurs to their right.
In what can only be described as a poor showing, the French Hussars rout from the field! Looks like it'll be up to the PBI as usual. Fortunately, the Ligne Battalion and the Mitrailleuse are already in a good position to deal with the dragoons on their way towards victory conditions further south.
After a few more Turns, it was clear that the few Prussian Infantry were not going to be able to handle multiple avenues of attack and hold on to all four towns. As the battle was winding down and starting to get a bit "gamey" due to the units being very spread out, I called it a day for the Prussians.

My main issue with the scenario system is that with only 10 Units a side, and only up to 6 being Infantry, things can get very spread out. It is hard to concentrate force anywhere, and the historical approach of supports won't really work. Altho I think that the book's scenario system works well in presenting some ways to throw a game on the table, the following grains of salt should be sprinkled:

1) The table is large enough that it really needs almost double the number of Infantry, so 8-12 per side.
2) Whichever side has the most Infantry Units should automatically be the attacker.
3) Use the Events for ideas, but be prepared for them to overwhelm a good game - plan ahead to tone them down so that if 3 Units are lost in traffic, you might change it to 1-2, and then that smaller force automatically is the defender and gets the Forward Deployment to compensate, for example.
4) Use the historical "bathtubbed" scenarios for ideas, either steal the map or the entire scenario - there are some interesting challenges.
5) Some of the historical special rules are a bit over the top. They may need to be put to the "common sense" test and modified.

I hope that has been helpful for readers of this blog and owners of this book!


Moving right along...
The culmination of the playtesting will be the bathtubbed version of Mars-la-Tour from Neil Thomas' "Wargaming 19th Century Europe". Scenario systems are all well and good, but let's get back to history! 

The scaling is interesting when compared to the full-sized scenario in "1870". 
The below is from the wonderful and highly recommended set of rules and guide to the period by 19th Century European warfare guru Bruce Weigle:
This has about four French Corps engaging two Prussian, more or less. The table is about 5' x 9', so if played without any scale-down, I could only fit in Vionville to Rezonville and south to Bois de Gaumont or so with a 3x4' table that's in my office. Which would be a nice battle, anyway.

Neil Thomas takes this corps-level action and reduces it to about a dozen units a side, about a division and a brigade! Below is NT's game table:
This is for a 3'x4' table. The French have about a 2:1 advantage in the best Unit in the game, Infantry battalions. They get significant reinforcements from point A at table North. The Prussians get a few reinforcements at C and D, about half as much. Victory is to the French if they clear the road from Rezonville to Mars-la-Tour a pretty demanding victory condition. The key to this is Vionville and its adjacent woods. Of secondary interest is Tronville which is close enough to the road to need to be cleared. 

Overall, this is a pretty typical "clear the path/road" scenario. I would re-phrase the victory condition to read that the attacker must clear the road of Fire from infantry weapons; this would necessitate a 6" corridor against Prussians, and a 9" corridor against defending French if one flipped the scenario. 

The single most unusual special rule for this scenario is that all French Units move and fire at half effect, except for 1-3 diced each French Player Turn. This is to represent the indecisiveness of the French commander Marshal Bazaine. While I am OK with the snail-pace of movement [some armies are notoriously slow to maneuver including the Austrians and the Russians] I have a problem with the firing at half effect. NT justifies it by saying that they are conserving ammunition. 

My rules have a modified Player Turn which gives more nuance by separating Close Combat from the Fire and Maneuver phases. Ergo for my purposes, I will only prohibit French Units from charging or entering Prussian Close Combat range unless they are one of the diced units.

Below, after a few turns, the French have [slowly] advanced. As they outrange the Prussians, simply moving them within 9" is enough to challenge the Prussian defensive line [do they take Hits without replying and wait the clock out?]. My solution was to advance the Prussian Infantry into their 6" range, so they could fully engage the French line, but not into the Close Combat Range. Still, it ended with the loss of a Prussian Infantry and a couple of Krupp batteries. One Prussian Infantry had to hide out of Line of Sight behind the town - they jumped back in when the French were in their range of 6", and lasted quite a long time.
The French Infantry develop a strong attack on the town and woods at center. One Krupp battery has been shot down by long-range chassepot fire, and an Infantry battalion had to bravely threaten the French left to slow their advance.

Prussian forces needed a boost about halfway thru - I tossed a few extra units onto the reinforcement schedule. Then, I advanced von Bredow's cuirassiers to give the French Hussars a chance to redeem themselves after the previous battle.
And this time they did quite well, beating back the Elite and heavier Cuirassiers! These pass morale and fall back a few inches. 

Again, the French hussars beat back the cuirassiers, who are disorderly but plucky. Above them the Prussian dragoons are advancing upon a unit of Voltigeurs - Skirmishers - in the hope of wiping them out and then charging the damaged French Ligne Infantry battalion behind it. That would really help their defense, and it is statistically possible as both French units are a bit weak.

The Dragoons in the top left corner managed to - barely - destroy the skirmishing Guard Voltigeurs. They turned to present as many threats as possible to as many French as possible. Meanwhile, the Cuirassiers lost 3-1 but pass morale to Fall Back in an orderly manner.
But, the French Hussars pursue them and the Cuirassiers lose melee again, then  fail morale. They rout from the field...
...and the Hussars turn to face the Prussian dragoons behind them, as well as the flank of the Prussian Jagers. 
"Take that von Bredow! May this Death Ride be your last!"
Now the Dragoons are unable to attack the French line, as they could end up with their rear facing the Hussars if they lose.

Flush with victory, the French Hussars charge the dragoons - odds favor the dragoons. BUT! They beat them also, 3-2, and the dragoons fail morale with the black '3'. This leaves them in a weakened state and a bad position.

At table center, the French have a wonderful base of fire built up, and a Ligne unit about to charge into the woods to clear them. The Prussian Infantry re-occupied the town when the French were within 6", which is their Range.
This operation is successful, and the French Infantry envelop the woods and seize the town. The Prussians still hold one more that needs to be cleared, however.
Guard, Ligne, and Voltigeurs advance!
At center, a strong French force is preparing to launch the next phase of the clearing operation. In the back left/top, the French reinforcements are s-l-o-w-l-y advancing onto the table. I need the few diced full moves in the battle area.
This Prussian General deserves special mention - he was Hit a couple times rallying Prussian Infantry, but kept returning to the field [needed a '6'!].

After a few more turns, it is clear that the Prussians are "kaput!" The careful use of French Cavalry charges and Infantry counter-attacks have broken up the last Prussian defense and the town has not only fallen but is secure from counter-attack as the last Prussian Infantry have been destroyed and it is Turn 14.

Over in the central area, the French have cleared the woods and the town and are closing in on the last surviving Prussian Infantry.

An interesting battle, but one that seems easy for the French to win, despite the slow advance. They have the numbers and all the French player needs to do is get into chassepot range and the Prussians have a difficult choice to make. If the French also fired at half effect, I don't think it would be much of a game at all, and would probably allow more French units to dice up to full fighting capability.

The victory conditions as they stand demand that the Prussian force be nearly wiped out, as it isn't very hard to keep a couple of units able to interdict the road through Fire. This is the main challenge to the French, but I think they have the turns to do it.

Hope you have enjoyed this look at the Wargaming 19th Century Europe book by Neil Thomas, and have a better appreciation for its strengths and weaknesses. Overall, I'd say that this and the Napoleonics book are the culmination of his 4-base horse and musket rules that began with Simplicity in Practice, progressed through Wargaming: An Introduction, and then resulted in these two books.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Post-Beaumont Playtesting, p.2

In 1870, Glorious Cavalry Charges are still in fashion...
...but fashionable doesn't necessarily mean successful!
here, Prussian Dragoons are seen off by a French smoothbore battery

After several more quick fights, and some laying out of Infantry units to really just test the mechanics, I felt like I had a few more modifications I wanted to try out.
I tidied up the table a bit and made the terrain to match that of the books, mostly, as I plan to actually play Mars-la-Tour soon. Aside from the terrain, I'm playing the scenario system RAW, to evaluate it's worth.

This time I used Forward Deployment for the Prussians, and Flank March for the French. Interesting combo, as being farther forward is potentially more dangerous for a force being outflanked!  On the other hand, it is probably better to take as many objectives as possible and start with a win - let the French take objectives the hard way. Am I right?  We'll see!

Below, French outflanking force. It's not supposed to have any Artillery, but guns in this period are pretty mobile, so what the heck. I'm hoping that the balance of arms will make it useful no matter what it faces. Plus I don't want to spare more than one Infantry from the main effort, as it is the best unit in the game. 
As I want to surprise myself, I will not dice for the arrival of the flanking force until Turn 4, the first turn it may enter. I will also randomly roll as to which Prussian flank it will arrive on - setting aside my personal preference for the North end!

Prussian deployment. Infantry get 12", Skirmishers 18", and Cavalry get 24" onto the table, the rest must deploy at the usual 6" limit. I choose both cavalry and one Skirmisher to provide immediate Fire support - and seize the small central woods.
The cavalry make a huge difference here - with their 24" deployment, they block the French from advancing to most of the towns, and provide plenty of space for their own force to quickly advance and take most of the objectives in the first turn or two - just like cavalry would really do. 
I like how cavalry works out to be useful in the scenarios, and in its historical role.

Turn 1 below. The French are still the attackers so get to move first. Their Infantry advance quickly on the road as usual. With the two Guard and Voltigeurs [skirmishers] at table North, I hope to seize at least one town, using the woods as a base of Fire. To table South, the lone French Cavalry can't advance as far due to the Prussian dragoons. Instead, the French will have to prepare to threaten the town immediately ahead on Turn 2, and realize that the Prussians will take it first. With the smoothbore Artillery in support, the French hussars have the option to plink away at the dragoons from outside their charge range. Note that I converted the 
RAW "Road Move" to an "Operational Move" in my rules, but the principle is the same - you can move faster if you keep about 9" away from enemy units.
Turn 1 Prussians also advance fully with their infantry, getting a few more inches than when they move second without the Advance Deployment rule. The South force has slightly better combat power than the French, with Elite infantry and a Skirmisher that is better than the French gun. The cavalry is the same. The North force is stronger than the French - two batteries and a cavalry regiment stronger. Unfortunately, the terrain doesn't allow them to engage the French easily or support a defense of the town between the forces.  I plan to bottle the French up in the confined terrain and attrit them.

Turn 2, table South. The Prussians seize the town which will be well supported from the jagers in the woods and a battalion to the right. The Krupp batteries will have to advance to get line of sight to the French who have maneuvered to interpose the woods between them. This makes the forces even, altho ideally the French should've stayed farther away, out of range of the Prussian Infantry - they outrange them by 3". I felt it more important to avoid the Krupp batteries as I don't know how long it will take my reinforcements to arrive, or which side they will arrive on!
The Prussian dragoons are within range of the French guns, but out of charge range. They will need Fire support from their Infantry.

Turn 2 table North, the Prussians seize the town and closely support it. Their cavalry maneuver to protect their flank while the Krupp guns move forward in the center, making them a significant threat to the South.

Turn 4. The French battalion was hammered by a combined force of two batteries, the jagers and the Infantry in the town, and wiped out, taking the general with them! He was valiantly attempting to Rally the battalion when it fled the field [in my rules, you can slowly rally off Hits]. The Prussian dragoons charged the French hussars, bouncing back an inch with low losses on either side, thanks to bad dice and a passing Morale Check for the Dragoons, who inflicted zero Hits!

Turn 4, table North. The Guard set up a firing line focused on the town. The Voltigeurs got lost in the woods for a turn, and deployed into the center [they were out of command control and failed to activate]. Ideally, the French would be engaging the town from outside the Prussian range, but they could always shelter behind it, then re-occupy it when the French advanced. Better to try to grind them down a bit and hope the flank force arrives nearby. Anticipating this, the Prussian dragoons are protecting their infantry's flank and rear. 
The scenario rules doesn't say "no charges the turn the flanking force enters". I plan to give the Prussians a turn warning as they see the dust of oncoming French, or else it is too good a game event...

Between the Skirmishers and the Infantry, the Prussians manage to weaken one Guard unit down and charge them, but are held off - barely. The Prussian Infantry in the town are rallied by the general as they have taken 50% Hits.

Turn 5 in the South, the Prussian dragoons charge the smoothbore Artillery - knocking it out would help their situation, and the odds are with them. Unfortunately, the Artillery roll 100% hits, and the dragoons fail their morale check, lose the melee, then fail morale again, routing from the field! Quel domage!
This shifts the balance in the South a bit, altho the French are still weaker in the most important unit - Infantry. Statistically, the Dragoons should've wiped out the gun and then had a Pursuit Charge into the hussars - rolling WELL a couple of times could have seen them adding laurels to their standard...alas, not to be.

French Turn 6. Both Guard Infantry had to rally, being a few figures away from destruction. Finally, they see dust on the edge of the battlefield - hope has arrived!
The French diced for the North flank. Their Infantry seize the town, their cavalry threaten the dragoon's flank, and their Mitrailleuse battery advances into range of both the Krupp batteries and the dragoons - fortunately, none are facing them at this time! The flanking force is not necessarily a game changer, but it has definitely put the Prussian North force in a tight spot. It would have really helped if the Prussian charge into the woods had succeeded, like it statistically should have!

Turns 6-7 table South. With the Krupp batteries now firing North, the Prussian Skirmishers abandoned the woods to hold the town while their Infantry retreated towards the other town, hoping to hold them both. The French advanced their Cavalry into a flanking position on the remaining Prussian Infantry. The Prussian Infantry counters by forming a column and facing the Cavalry, then manage to shoot off a Base. The French pass morale and Turn 7 they charge into the maelstrom of Prussian lead!
Despite having another Base shot off, the French again pass morale and charge in with 50%, destroying the Prussian Infantry unit - Hussars! They are then in a position to Pursue, charging the flank of the retiring Prussians thanks to rolling the max distance! Note - Pursuit is not in the RAW.
This time, they win the melee 6-2!
but the Prussians pass morale easily, Fall Back and face them, ready to Fire...unfortunate, but the Infantry are now hurting. A battalion and a half of infantry from one light cavalry charge?  I'll take it, even if the cavalry get wiped out!

French Turn 7, table North, things don't go as well with the French hussar charge. The dragoons re-positioned themselves nearer to the Krupp guns as they were unable to charge the French who were well away and on their flank. The French were looking for at least an effective charge, but both units rolled high for Hits, the French lost, then failed their morale check and are nearly wiped out!  They ignominiously run away.
and on the Prussian Turn 7, they are charged in the rear and wiped out. This could have been a devastating blow, but the French managed to hang on - barely - in the Fire Phases, and pushed the Prussian Infantry - and Skirmisher - to check morale, and all fail, the survivors fleeing the field. Now THAT was unexpected!
The table is looking pretty clear of Prussians in the North - the Mitrailleuse has only one shot at this range, but Hit!  It is the last figure on the Base, so the Prussians check morale...
...and fail! They lose their last base and flee the field.
Things have really turned around suddenly. The only Prussians left are in the South where the Infantry and Skirmishers wipe out the French hussars with a couple rounds of close range shooting. The Prussian batteries will have to retreat South, as the Voltigeurs can easily out-shoot them from the woods.

With the Prussian North collapsed, I was ready to throw in the towel, but played a couple more turns. The Prussians managed to rally off their losses, occupy both towns, and keep the French at bay for a few turns. But the Guard meanwhile rallied off much of their losses unmolested by Fire, their Ligne unit advanced taking towns along the way, the Mitrailleuse re-positioned itself...  
By French Turn 13, the Ligne charged the Skirmishers occupying the town who then failed morale and fled. The Ligne take the town, while the Guard array overwhelming firepower against the last Prussian Infantry Unit and Krupp battery.

Interestingly, the flank force's arrival in the North was not as devastating to the Prussians as blowing all their morale checks in the North! With a 3+ Morale as Elite troops, the Prussians should have passed 2 of the 3 checks. And both French Guard units were down to almost zero combat power. Only the voltigeurs were ready to continue the fight.

In the South, the unexpected success of the French hussars completely turned the tide. They should have been stopped cold charging the Prussian Infantry column, but the dice were with them there, also. Unfortunately, it got them very close to the remaining Prussian foot units, which wiped them out with close range Fire.

I probably made a mistake in being as aggressive as I was with both sides. The French attacking force needs to engage the Prussians, but not necessarily close up - they should keep their distance and force the Prussians forward against their Chassepot Fire, or, alternately, the Prussians could sit back and occupy a central position, using their artillery advantage. The Mars-la-Tour terrain however puts many of the towns on the board edge, which makes the flanking force more potent.

Overall, I'd say that the scenario system in Wargaming 19th Century Europe is a solid place to start, and will provide plenty of interesting battles just as it is. I don't think it is perfect, however, and some of the "events" would need to be toned down a bit to give smoother play and a fair chance for both sides to win. 

This is a bit unexpected, as Neil Thomas did such a great job with the One-Hour Wargames book and scenarios, that I would have thought the scenario system here would be a bit tighter than it is. However, like many British designers, NT is satisfied with a product that gets you started, rather than a finished product that is completely playtested and ready to go.

Occasionally, the special Events will weaken a stronger side, e.g. Prussians v. Austrians, and perhaps allow the Austrians a much-needed victory and morale boost! But in reverse, it may generate a game that is entertaining but leaves little chance for one side to win. While I understand NT's philosophy that war is not fair, most players expect a game to be, and may not enjoy the uphill battle that results.

This doesn't diminish the value of the book for newbies and grognards alike, however. While you may feel like changing a few things to suit the armies you have available and the skill of the local opposition, you will be well on your way to lots of interesting tactical challenges with this book, so it is still highly recommended

Indeed, I credit "Wargaming 19th Century Europe 1815-1878" with my interest in the mid-19th C. wars, from Italy to Austria to France! NT has written a book that gets you into the period in such a way that you can easily appreciate the interesting tactical challenges provided by the changes in weapons and tactics of many different nations, while having a good time with some straightforward rules. Rather than finding the weaponry advances diminishing the play value, I think they enhance the play value significantly over Napoleonics, which is a lot of the same-old, same-old identical troops, weapons and gear fighting each other.

I see the middle period as the best, with the Crimea, Italian Liberation, 7 Weeks War, and Franco-Prussian war providing many interesting challenges to both sides, and the resulting battles very entertaining. The only period I'm not investing in at this point is Crimea, but who knows!