Battle of Benevente Pt 2

Rather than do a blow by blow, turn by turn narrative, I’m just going to post the pictures I took, with captions explaining what you’re looking at.

Game set up, with the Anglo Portuguese on the far side of the river holding the town and the river bank and the road leading from Leon where Wellington expects the main French attack to come. The French Division on table, hold the high ground with orders to protect the road from Mayorga.
The British cavalry and Horse artillery advance, to slow any French advance, and to take what advantage they can of static troops with no artillery support. The dice represent the first artillery shot – In Blucher, 6’s are needed to score a hit… (It’s raining is the gunners excuse!)
The British continue to manoeuvre, moving their Heavy cavalry into position to charge the French infantry who will be forced to respond by “preparing” (ie going into square). The four dice are the Horse artillery’s 2nd attempt…
The first French reinforcements arrive. This is elemenets of V Corps under Marechal Mortier. Now the British cavalry are going to have to respond.
Some of Ney’s infantry begin to flank the artillery, while the cavalry knowing how difficult crossing the river and through the town will be, have already begun retreating. Finally, the artillery starts to find it’s range.
VI Corps troops (orange dice) start moving forward to press the Artillery. At the top left you can see 2 cavalry regiments begin to flank and cross the river towards the road to Zamora.
The Horse artillery starts to retreat, firing as it goes and once again hitting the target.
The net closes in, the V Corps troops are pushing as hard as they can to get into the fight but the terrain isn’t helping and is funnelling them into a defile.
More troops from VI Corps arrive from Leon. Only a small division of 3 regiments, 2 batteries and some Provisional heavy cavalry. They approach and immediately try to cross the river away from the emplaced British Guns.
The battle field approaching lunchtime. The French cavalry on the left has crossed the river and the British have responded by moving a Brigade to cover the crossing. On the right the French have crossed the river and in the centre the horse artillery are finally contacted by the pursuing French infantry. The combat will see the artillery fire it’s last ammunition and depart the field.
French artillery on the right opens up, hammering a Portuguese regiment as the infantry cross the river.
The British Left, the reserve division starts to commit off the hill to prevent the French from turning the flank.
More french artillery fire. Sadly, they still need 6’s, 5’s just won’t cut the mustard!
The Centre as the 2 Corps try to organise their troops and consolidate. The congestion, and lack of Momentum (Blucher uses a hidden orders value to randomise how much a player can do for which I have an Excel macro to allow solo play) would hamper the French attack much of the afternoon.
On the French Left, the cavalry moves forward, forcing the infantry into square (red disk under their Elan dice) and Wellington commits his cavalry to the woods to prevent the French lights crossing and wreaking havoc in his rear. These forces would spend the rest of the day eying each other and in stalemate.
French right, all the infantry are across and the Provisional cavalry attempts to break the Portuguese regiment in squares. It fails.
The centre, as the infantry clears the way, the French batteries go into action against the town. The garrisoned infantry take a few casualties but the bombardment is not as effective as it could or should be.
The cavalry charge
Terrible picture because of the rain (!). The Final French reinforcements arrive at last, but in numbers not sufficient to be decisive. The artillery is brought up to go into action against the prepared infantry and does some damage, but not enough to risk a charge across the river and into full strength British cavalry.
Wellington’s reserve division is committed off the hill to prevent the French pushing through the woods. The artillery is shifted to begin playing on the French columns.
With little effect.
In the centre, Wellington is beginning to trade space for time, giving up the town means his troops are out of sight from most of the artillery and the French push forward
On the French right, the infantry struggle to debouch from the wood, going into action against the Portuguese.
The French artillery finds its mark again.
The combat. Hits are scored on 4+
The Portuguese lose only one Elan but are forced to retreat, the French taking 1 hit also and follow up into the gap in the line.
Another rain effected picture. The British are falling steadily back behind the town
Some effective shooting from the British and Portuguese troops hammers a French unit on the French right.
The French retaliate by charging the cavalry forward again into a British square, the battered french unit on 2 Elan is the one that just got shot up.
The French Centre presses forward over the river but slowly.
The French cavalry charge fails once again. That will cost them another 2 elan and they’ll effectively be a spent force for the rest of the day. In the other infantry combats, one unit will be victorious and force the Portuguese back, while the other will be pushed back off the hill and likewise, be a spent force.
The British counterattack on the right, almost destroying the depleted French regiment who retreat once again into the river. In the centre the French reach the town and the British artillery repositions to fire at them. In a rare success of counter battery fire, the French unit at the bottom left as been forced to retreat.
French units from VI Corps charge into the waiting British guns and infantry.
The dice gods do not favour the French and the assault is thrown back into the river.
And to add insult the guns find their mark, eliminating the French unit.
The French centre has taken the town
While on the right the British who counterattacked are now caught by Cavalry and Infantry
This time the dice dictate they take 4 hits, and since they only have 1 elan left, they are eliminated. (The french elan have already been adjusted 1 down for the combat)
View from the road to Sanabria, the British are hurrying to pull back and give ground.
Once again the British artillery finds its mark.
Situation at nightfall.

Wellington’s orders are clear, all units are to fall back to Puebla de Sanabria, the battle is over. The battle has cost the lives of some 3,000 troops from both sides.

The Battle of Soria

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.

Opening Positions. Spanish on the Right, French on the Left.

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.

French cavalry advance
French infantry of the 3rd Division begin to advance (Orange dice, bottom middle) while the Infantry of the 2nd Division move on Soria itself supporting the cavalry (Blue Dice, top middle)

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!)

Situation after the initial cavalry melee (Nice to be able to use the newly painted Spanish Cavalry)

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.

French moving up the hill.
The French try a combined infantry and dragoon assault on the first Spanish unit

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.

French left. (The purple die Cavalry unit is actually Spanish, and will charge the unit of French Hussars to it’s right shortly)
Poor image of the final French infantry assault (top of picture).

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.

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.

Combat Patrol – Game set up

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.

Table
German Forces
British Forces
New trees
Looking down the lane