Thoughts on March Attack rules by Crusader Publishing

Over the past couple of days I’ve had the opportunity to play a Napoleonic game using the March Attack rules. I’ve seen few reviews of them despite them being out for some time. These are my thoughts…

First impressions

The rules are cheap, at 9 quid or so for a PDF. I’ve had them for a while but never actually looked at them, having bought them at the same time as Rank and File from the same publisher. In terms of production values, the rules appear well laid out, with lots of illustrations of how the various mechanics work and they read well. I was enthused by them and wanted to put them into action ASAP.

They are a battalion, regiment, battery level set of rules, good for up to a corps a player and probably more if you’ve got the table space and troops. Infantry and Cavalry are only two bases, with which you can form Line, Square, Column and Batteries are usually one base although larger 12 gun batteries are 2 bases wide.

Units are rated by Combat Value (CV), which are strength points worked out from the actual numbers of men in the units being represented, cross referenced against their quality (Militia, conscript, regular, elites etc). This works brilliantly for my campaign where each unit is tracked at a manpower level. Artillery receive CV based on their quality and number of guns.

The turn sequence has Strategic actions first, so changing orders, attaching commanders/generals, Major Formation (MF) morale, skirmishing, and resolving initiative, then moves onto a Tactical set of phases which covers movement for the active side, firing for both sides, any resulting melee, and a bit of cleanup. The tactical phases are then repeated for the non active side. Turns are 20 minutes of real time.

The good…

  • The musketry firing mechanics work well although I can see that having a firing factor over 6 giving an automatic hit could grate with some people and have seen some reviews to that effect. Personally I don’t mind it too much. One thing I would say is that if you’re fighting an action in the rain then the permanent halving soon means that troops are unable to have any effect whatsoever if they’re also carrying other modifiers.
  • The movement system with the strategic/tactical movement is very good, quick to play and does need you to make a plan and think ahead. I was caught out early on with columns behind lines being unable to push through on strategic movement and thus stuck to slow movement, especially as strategic movement cannot change formation. Clever.
  • The skirmishing rules are quite innovative (at least I’ve not seen something similar before) and although there are holes in the idea you can walk an army through, with a bit of judgement and fair application I think they’re a good and simple way to resolve skirmishing between large formations. (The holes I speak of are – what happens when multiple MF are in the same area? how realistic is it to accept the skirmish rating of an MF where only one unit is actually within range of the enemy MF? etc)
  • The turn sequence works well with movement then firing allowing troops charging to be forced to take a Valeur et Discipline test, to see if they charge home. This is about the only time individual units take any sort of morale test, the other being if they want to do something “fancy” in an enemy units zone of control – change formation, change facing etc.

The OK?…

  • The melee rules. Essentially a d6 + your CV + some mods, the list of mods appears to me to be a bit ambiguous and it’s quite “swingy” due to the dice roll. The big issue is that the penalties for losing are severe, at best you’re losing 2 CV from the unit and going back 6″ with a disorder 2 marker, at worst your unit is just broken outright. What’s strange however is that the winner takes no loss whatsoever. It’s odd as one of the few things I dislike about Blucher is the automatic loss of Elan when involved in combat whether you win or lose, here it feels like it should be that way or the losing side losses severely reduced.
  • Disorder. Apart from a halving of effect when firing, or a negative modifier on the Valeur et Discipline test, I can’t see the point of it and it’s bloody fiddly. You end up putting markers down, only to flip them almost immediately after. It appears to have zero impact on melee if you are the charging unit unless the defending unit is disordered in which case you get +3 which is a huge bonus, it doesn’t affect movement at all and just seems partially implemented.
  • Firing twice a turn seems generous. Plus there is no modifier for movement other than potentially accruing disorder markers due to terrain.

The Ugly…

  • The rules layout leaves a whole lot to be desired. On initial read through they seem fine but when you try to start using them it’s a constant battle to find the passage you need. The movement rules have bits of the morale rules in, the explanations of units and gradings need you to have read the morale rules to complete the exercise, the weather rules have modifiers to shooting which do not appear anywhere else (or on the play sheet). The inclusion of very comprehensive examples does a lot to help understand most of the confusion, but it could have been much much better and easier to comprehend and some of the examples do not cover every eventuality. I suspect I’ll resort to rewriting the rules in an order that make more sense to me and redoing the QRS.
  • The command and control rules. At first glance these seemed perfectly sensible, but having played through, they’re a nonsense. They’re of a type where it’s all down to player interpretation and possibly umpire enforcement. However there’s no real explanation of what limits are imposed. Say I order my 1st Division to attack that hill, it’s a valid order. But what if I don’t move my troops? What if I do move some but leave others behind? It’s just a mess. There’s no command radius, or influence range to speak of, there’s nothing stopping you having troops spread out all over the table. There’s also the “issue” that you can move everything every turn and issue as many orders as you like per turn. Personally I don’t think this is reflective of the period or makes for a good game, but then I adore Blucher and the MO system which prevents you from always doing what you want. I think this is the area I’m most disappointed with and will be casting around to look at replacements. The good news is that it should be relatively easy to drop in without much impact elsewhere.
  • Some bits of the rules just make no sense and have clearly been changed in development iterations. For example, Strategic Phase 2 is morale tests. Strategic Phase 5 is initiative. However the rules for morale clearly state “The side that lost the initiative roll takes all of their MF and Army Morale tests before their opponent.” But that hasn’t happened yet…? Not insurmountable by any means but odd.

In the end…

I think I’ll persevere with these rules a bit more and see if I can shake them into something I can live with happily. I think there’s a core of decent ideas in here and they certainly play fast with some period flavour. The real key for me is whether I can edit the rulebook to flow better, and implement some of the changes above without trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s certainly not inconceivable that I’ve misunderstood some aspects of the rules during my couple of read throughs and one game.

The Battle of San Sebastian Pt3 (turns 7-13)

The rain continues to be a problem, with both sides musketry utterly pitiful and the French cannon equally useless in the main.

Close up of the centre of the battlefield around 10am

On the Spanish Left, steady advance up the wooded slopes continues slowly, the terrain rendering movement at half speed and inflicting disorder at every move. In the centre, the Spanish 1st Division pressed hard against the Brigade holding the French line, repeated bayonet and close musketry attacks on both sides causing attrition that could only end in one way, the French Brigade losing a unit and being forced back, all remaining units left in a precarious state of 1 CV each. It hadn’t been easy for the Spanish though, and most of the 1st Division were now in perilously low CV as well.

Turn 8

It was at this point that Blake issued an order to attack to the 4th Division who’d been behind “supporting” the 1st Division. They were to punch through the French left. The Legere on the slopes were not worried by this though and continued to tie up several Spanish units in futile musket duels that the Spanish were inevitably losing although not without cost for the French. Slowly, the casualties mounted on both sides, several Spanish attempts to charge up the slope met with close order volleyfire and heavy loss.

The French centre gives ground
Two battalions in column counter attack in the centre (The little “explosions” are disorder markers while the micro dice are the unit CVs to speed up play without needing a roster sheet)
Close fighting in the trees on the Spanish Left

Finally a battalion of the Legere were dispersed but the damage had been done and the rest of the Spanish were not in a position to follow up and take advantage, or possession of the slopes.

On the French left the battalions of the line regiment pushed up into the gap before them and attempted to slow the assault of the Spanish 4th Division. This they succeeded in doing, dealing some hefty casualties to several Spanish militia battalions and counterattacking to drive off several battered Spanish units from the 1st Division.

Turn 10
Positions at the end. Apologies for the terrible picture!

At 1pm, the Spanish 1st Division finally broke, it’s remaining units streaming to the rear. Neither the 3rd or 4th Divisions gave any sign of weakening, but the French left brigade also broke, several of its battalions melting away into the rain. Gen. Blake looked across his forces, took stock of his position and the lack of any sign that his reinforcements were coming and elected to fall back while he still had troops in good order to fend off the two French Light Cavalry Regiments that had so far been uncommitted in the battle. These cavalry pursued his forces for several hours, inflicting more casualties and disorder amongst his units but not without losing a few of their own number. This was not a rout however, but a covered withdrawal.

For now, the siege of San Sebastian continues, it’s residents dismayed that the sounds of battle grow more distant than closer…

The Battle of San Sebastian Pt2 (Turns 1-6)

Richard’s orders were very clear, attack as soon as possible with everything. Sadly Martin didn’t respond to my post so I’ve had to make some sensible orders for the French troops.

Initial deployment. The French troops at the bottom include 3 infantry brigades (white, green and blue dice) and a light cavalry brigade.

The Army of Castille’s orders from Gen. Blake (Richard) were very clear, attack as soon as possible with everything. Sadly Marshal Victor (Martin) didn’t respond to my post so I’ve had to make some sensible orders for the French troops.
The initial orders for the Spanish were to attack straight down the valley with the lead division supported by the rear division, while the left division would move onto the slopes of the hill to attempt to force the flank.

View from the Spanish lines. (Ignore the fact I’ve had to press into service British and Portuguese bases!)

French orders were to secure the slopes on the left and to hold the centre, but as soon as the Spanish thrust on the right was observed, Ruffin (the senior general present) ordered the reserve brigade from V Corps to move into the wooded slopes to protect his right flank. On the left, the 3 battalions of the Legere regiment moved to secure the heights before moving down slope to begin engaging the enemy forces in the valley.

Turn 2

Long range cannon fire did very little to soften up the Spanish due to the rain, although the better skirmish capability of the French meant that a few casualties were counted.

Turn 3

In the centre the leading Spanish units were taking casualties but pressed on, attempting to charge home but the initial attack was repulsed with heavy losses, one battalion sent hurtling rearward with 80% loss of Combat Value.

Turn 4
Turn 5
Turn 6

One bright light was the Spanish battalion charging the deployed Artillery from V Corps and driving that battery backwards before them, rendering them almost effective for the rest of the battle.

The Battle of San Sebastian

The sixth day of the online campaign sees the first battle to be fought between forces from the Spanish Army of Old Castille under General Blake (Richard) and elements of both I Corps and V Corps under Marshal Victor and Mortier respectively (although neither are on the battlefield).

This engagement has been precipitated by the Spanish offensive move from Vittoria to San Sebastian where a siege was begun several days before.

The battlefield from the North (San Sebastian). Both hillsides are steep hills and will be rough ground for all troop types. The woods are light, but will disorder Cavalry and non-skirmish infantry (pretty much everyone!)

The battle will be fought using my 6mm figures and the March Attack rules from Crusader Publishing. This is a first game for me using these rules but I’ve read through them a few times and they seem like they’ll do the job well. Sadly I don’t have enough Spanish troops now I’ve started basing all new figures on 60mm x 60mm for Blucher so I’m having to press some British and Portuguese into service as proxies but I’m sure they’ll do just fine.

As this is technically a meeting engagement, and both sides may have reinforcements hurrying to the battlefield, both commanders have been given the option of when to attack, the earlier choice of the two indicating the initiative for the first turn and the number of turns that can be played in the 12 hour March day.

Oh, and it’s raining…