The ongoing Peninsular campaign created another battle, some 15 days in. The forces of Marshal Victor’s I Corps clashing with the Army of Catalonia in Soria. Unfortunately we’ve been waiting for this battle to be resolved for over a week but due to real life pressures I just have not been able to get round to it. Because of this, I wasn’t able to get the players as involved as I’d intended.
I fought the game solo using Blucher rules, and a small scale, so each base represented between 1200 and 2000 infantry or 400-600 cavalry. Several of the smaller units had to be amalgamated together into Blucher units, something I’m not comfortable doing but it’s the only way it makes sense. Both sides had reinforcements arriving during the day and the action didn’t kick off till around midday when those forces had arrived.
I used a variable opposed roll to determine when the reinforcements would arrive and what hour the battle would begin. This left around 18 turns of the day, meaning that the chances of outright destruction were limited but so was the chance of a meaningful victory. Due to the size of the forces, both sides had only 2 MO dice and the number of units routed required was low so some careful thought was needed. I played both sides as evenly as I could.
The battle began with a Spanish advance to occupy a hilltop to their front, while the French light cavalry began a move towards the Spanish right flank. What would continue to plague the French for the rest of the battle became evident, at critical times they would roll sub-average MO dice and be unable to move large portions of their forces.
The Spanish cavalry division moved to counter the French lights, and in the ensuing turns succeeded in driving off the Horse Artillery and one of the Hussar Regiments while crippling the effectiveness of the other, but losing both a Heavy Cavalry regiment and a Light Regiment of their own in the process. The remaining Heavy regiment would continue to tie up and present a threat to the French infantry on the left flank for the rest of the day. (It seems the logical reason for such poor command dice rolling!)
On the French right, the infantry of 3rd Division, attempts to throw the Spanish off the hill, supported by the Dragoons of VII Corps. The Spanish however stand firm, preparing their infantry against the cavalry which deploys to threaten their flanks. In return, a regiment is routed when the Light Cavalry regiment attached to the Spanish 1st Division attacks in the flank of the attack.
The attack is overwhelming, and the Spanish unit disintegrates. Spanish musketry is beginning to have an effect on other supporting units but it’s looking tense on this flank. In the next few turns, Dragoon regiments charge multiple times but fail to break through the resolute Spanish squares. Casualties on both sides are mounting and the Spanish have lost 3 of their 5 break points, the French 3 of their 6. The French are unable to mount a concerted and coordinated assault due to terrible command rolls.
On the French left, finally 1st and 2nd Division infantry begin moving through the town to assault the Spanish right. With no artillery to prepare the way, they advance straight into the teeth of the Spanish regiments, one of which buckles as the troops contact each other, while the French attack falters around it. A musketry duel follows, superior French skirmish skill whittles the defenders down while their attached artillery and volley fire also causes casualties to mount. As darkness falls, a last ditch effort to break the Spanish is thrown back.
Darkness falls with an inconclusive result, both sides only one unit away from breaking, both sides licking their wounds and awaiting their commanders decisions whether to stay or whether to retire.
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…
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 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 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 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.
This week we are going to start a series of Combat Patrol games, in a narrative style campaign. The first game is a refresher of the rules and mechanisms since Combat Patrol works somewhat differently to every other ruleset we play, but the casualties will have a bearing on the games to come so hopefully the players will be careful with their tin soldiers lives….
The briefing for the two sides is simple. The Germans have 3 x 5 men teams (with 1 LMG amongst them) and a 3 man MMG team. They are the outpost line and may have dug themselves in. The British troops have 2 full sections (4 teams) and a Platoon command team. They are to probe the enemy and find their positions. If they can they should attempt to manoeuvre a team to the enemy base edge which will induce a withdrawal.
Apologies for the poor photo’s, they’re from my phone.
Figures a mix of FAA, Britannia and Lancer, farm from Commission Figurines, Hedges from Last Valley and trees a mix of Last Valley, home made and some new additions to my collection from Woodland Scenics, based and finished last week.