Monday, July 18, 2011

Rossbach Revisited, or: Futile Fury on the French Flank!

Right, on to that battle report! (Note: click on any photo to enlarge). 

I've played many a game now using Black Powder for Napoleonics, but this was my first time using it for the SYW.  Before I came to Japan, our gaming group had about two years worth of playing SYW games, with hundreds upon hundreds of miniatures on the table.  The rules were a home-brew set, and the games, while fun, took a long time to play as a result of working out the firing and melee results- a legacy of the fact that they started life as what were intended to be largish skirmish games in the forests of North America!  

In contrast, Black Powder was designed from the get-go for handling pretty big armies, so I have been impressed with how quickly the games flow, and the SYW was no exception.  In fact, in terms of units this must have been the largest game of Black Powder I played in.

The scenario had a large, but middling quality, French army stretched out in three lines along the left side of the table.  The Prussians had a much smaller force, but it was a tough one, with many units getting a first fire bonus (add one to hit on the dice roll). with still others being able to take four hits rather than three before taking a break test.  

To make matters worse for the French, the Prussians were deployed on the other side of the table, but directly across from the exposed right of the French army, with the Prussian left almost directly across from the exposed French flank.  
The cream of the Prussian army ready to swing into action.
Looking down the Prussian line to the left.
  Nothing in front but green fields...

The French general had the unenviable task of having to ponderously reorganize his lines to meet this coming threat before the dark blue mass could start to wade into the vulnerable flanks. And of course, they didn't have the Marquis de Sangfroid there to help them!
French in line- facing the wrong direction!
Prussian power bearing down on the effete French.
von Seydlitz & Co. looking forward to a bit 'o fun at Good King Louis' expense.
The Prussian cavalry formed to the left of their line, with most of the French cavalry being deployed on their own right, so it was clear that the game would most likely start with a swirling cavalry melee.
Four regiments of beaux sabreurs ready to meet them.
Front Rank dragoons on what look to be Essex horses.  Miniatures in Walter's collection, painted by (IIRC) Doug Hamm.
The French had one unit of wild Hungarians on their left flank, who were to give a most lacklustre performance. 

More miniatures again painted by Monsieur Hamm, these are from the collection of Andrew Mah.

The French were ably commanded by Walter Melnyk as Soubise, with Andrew Mah taking the key command of the right flank cavalry.  I was Frederick, and at first was the only player commanding the Prussians.  Soon Dave Smith arrived and had the (dubious) honour of commanding what was to be a very tardy Prussian right.

The game was fought using 28mm figures from Front Rank, Falcon miniatures, Rafm, and a few Old Glory.  Battalions were of 12-18 miniatures and cavalry squadrons were made up of six  figures. All were from Walt and Andrew's collections.

The Prussian plan, should it have worked,  was to hold the right with some high-quality infantry while the left was to swing into the French flank before the unfortunate soldats had time to respond.  In order to achieve this, it was important for the success of the Prussian plans that the French cavalry be swept from the field PDQ.

The situation at the beginning of the game. The game started, as expected, with the opposing cavalry getting set to grips.  The ball opens with the Prussian cavalry advancing on their French counterparts, while the French infantry hurriedly try to get into march column and move off to the right flank.

Unfortunately things began to go awry for the Prussians early on, as they failed to send the French cavalry packing- I was really rolling dreadfully at that point in the game.  It was a real see-saw battle (typical for cavalry, and something that I feel Black Powder handles well).  

Lines reformed, and counterattack followed upon counterattack. Unfortunately for Prussia, although the French cavalry couldn't defeat the Prussian cuirassiers and hussars outright,  they were carrying out their role in holding up the Prussian advance very effectively.  The Prussian horse just wasn't up to the task of dealing with them decisively that day.   

I needed to do more than just to keep the French horse at bay.  Space was at a premium, so I wanted them routed out of the way completely so that my infantry could then slam into the French infantry before the latter was able to redeploy in the face of our attack.  Each turn that went by without our seeing off the French cavalry saw the French able to steadily reform their infantry line to face the threatened flank.  

Time was not on my side.
Give 'em hot lead, boys!  Meanwhile, the new French line takes shape...
Eventually the Prussian foot took matters into their own hands, and, à la Mollwitz, drove off the French cavalry on their own.  Unfortunately, this entailed them having to use their first fire bonus against the cavalry, which irked me no end as I really wanted to save this for use on hapless French infantry.  

While not doing badly in terms of casualties, I wasn't coming even close to achieving the goals I had set out for myself by this point in the engagement. 

Those Frenchmen look awfully close...

Unnecessarily galling was the fact that I had placed my artillery too far on the right flank of my first line.  The advancing French infantry rejoiced in taking pot-shots at them so that they eventually broke under the constant fire (although they were able to put a few units into disorder, which certainly helped to slow down French re-deployment somewhat).  

By this time the Prussian left found itself getting into what was promising to be a pretty intense firefight with the French infantry, as battalion after battalion of the latter started getting into position.  As the situation developed, Konig Freddy kept looking over his right shoulder to see where the hell the rest of the Prussian army had gotten itself to.

And what of the Prussian right?  The idea was for them to engage the French to their front, and by use of some aggressive hit-and-run tactics, hinder the French in trying to reinforce their right flank.  

However, in all my experience of Black Powder, I have never seen such an unwilling, bloody-minded, and incompetent (or treacherous!) commander as had evidently been appointed to command the Prussian right, nor such a steady succession of failed command rolls.  A real slap in the face of mathematical probability!

This meant that on numerous occasions, and despite being needed elsewhere, King Frederick had to race off to the right in order to try to get the troops to do something- anything- that would see them off their butts and wading into the French.  But more often than not to no avail.

"Aren't we supposed to be, like, well- doing something?

A unit of rabid grenadiers did show some spunk, and was able to see off the French hussars in fairly short order, but that was all they really achieved.  
Much more where that came from, mein freund!
All this had Dave chomping at the bit, as being a very experienced and aggressive wargame commander himself, the slowness of the Prussian right that day was proving really frustrating for him!  The dice rolls required to give the necessary commands just weren't forthcoming.  But them's the breaks.   

The upshot of all this was that by the time we called it a day, the lines had formed at pretty much right angles to the original start positions, like this;
From the Prussian side
...and as seen by the French
The game could have continued the following week.  But the French, I felt, had accomplished their mission as they were able to prevent their right from caving in, and had the resources to fight a battle of attrition against the Prussian infantry.  

Man of the Hour!  Hungarian cavalry command stand (in French service!) painted by Doug Hamm.  Andrew's collection.
The French horse had saved the day, and Andrew had handled his command boldly, achieving deserved success.  Although his brigade eventually broke under all the pressure, its efforts had bought the time General Soubise needed to re-arrange his line to meet the Prussian attack.  

In turn, the Prussian horse was pretty much a spent force as a result of the cavalry combat, and would need considerable time to lick its wounds before it would be in much state to carry out any further attacks.  In addition, much of the infantry that made up the Prussian flanking force had been forced into using their first fire bonus- with little effect.  

All would now depend on the tardy Prussian right, and even if they deigned to get moving again, the French commander could easily start falling back down the road, getting most of his army off the table to safety.  

A lost opportunity for the Prussians, and Soubise could count himself lucky to escape! 

As for Gen. Gerhardt von Slothdorf, the sullen & gouty septuagenarian commander of the Prussian right flank, His Majesty has a special posting in mind for him; garrison commander of a run-down fortress in the middle of some disease-infested East Prussian swampland.  Don't call us, mein herr, we'll call you...

We all thought the game played well, and that it looked and felt like what we imagined an 18th C. battle to be like.  Th
e scenario made for a close game, with a good balance of manoeuvre and combat.  The game mechanics worked smoothly, and we found ourselves concentrating on tactics rather than on the system.  Most of all, it was both challenging and fun, with moments of great tension!   

It was also a nice change for me not to have lots of skirmishers complicating things as is the case with our Napoleonic games, 

Some thoughts on the rules:

 #1:  Too many tokens on the battlefield!  The first fire bonus meant having to keep track of who had and who had not fired. Walt had some good ideas in an e-mail he sent me:
"I used to give all my Prussian or British boys First Fire and/or Steady to credit their superior discipline and fire control. Both, however, can only be used once which meant using tokens on the units or a roster system to keep track of using these traits.

Instead, to make things easier, these units will get bonuses such as Shaken at 4, instead of 3, Elite 4+ to save disorders, or 3+ saving rolls instead of 4+, and/or sharpshooter (re-roll 1 missed shot per fire). All these are examples of permanent bonuses which eliminate fiddly record-keeping, especially troublesome in larger games."
 #2:  We field large units of 24-36 miniatures in our Napoleonic Black Powder games.  We prefer this as it allows us to field all those elite companies, colour guards and sappers, etc, without making the units look ridiculous.  But for the more straightforward 18th C. armies, smaller is better.  I will continue to settle for the 12-18 man units for my own collection, despite the siren song of those larger units as seen in Charles Grant's books!
#3:  I like the way the rules work for cavalry vs. cavalry actions.  He with the last squadron in reserve will win, which seems to have often been the case historically.

#4: We decided that in 18th C. warfare, infantry would seldom form square.  So we discarded the rule that infantry should automatically form square when charged by cavalry.  As it happened this worked well as the Prussians chewed up the French horse when they tried it, but there was some good dice rolling involved there as well.  There may- or may not be- a case to be made for strengthening the infantry's ability to deal with charging horse.

All in all a great game, and I'm inspired to get in a few games myself over the coming months.  The rules mods for the 18th C. give a quite different "feel" to the game than is the case for Napoleonic scenarios, and Walt has pointed out to me some further modifications for use with games using fewer battalions and squadrons.

A doff of my tricorne to you all for a fantastic afternoon's gaming, comrades!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Back in the saddle again! Rossbach Revisited

I have been ignoring this blog for well over six months, for the simple reason that I was not doing any 18th C. gaming.  Those members of our club here in Tokyo who are into the Horse-and-Musket period have been getting into 28mm Napoleonics, a development made possible by access to the excellent, relatively inexpensive, and easy to transport plastic miniatures produced by companies such as Victrix and of course Perry Miniatures.  

The absence of plastic equivalents for the 18th C. mean that it tough to get people into doing the period due to cost and figure availability, especially in my favourite scale of 28mm.

But I have never lost interest in the period, and there have been a number of developments that have whetted my interest over the last while.  One was getting hold of a copy of Volume II of Wargaming in History by Grant & Olley, a volume that deals squarely with my favourite subject, the War of the Austrian Succession.  "Drool fuel" abounds within its lovingly designed pages, and like Volume 1 with its scenarios for the SYW in the western theatre, it makes for inspiring reading.

I look forward to the forthcoming volume on the wars between the Prussians and the Austrians.

Another big development has been the Black Powder rules by Warlord Games, which I have come to love as they tick all my boxes when it comes to what I am looking for in my wargaming experience. These have become the rules of choice for Napoleonic gaming down at our club, and we have had some very enjoyable games using the rules, games with a high standard of presentation if I don't say so myself!

Most important of all, this past three weeks I was back visiting family and friends in Vancouver, where I had the chance to play a Seven Years War game with my old group, the North Shore Gamers, and using Black Powder at that!  It was a scaled down re-fight of Rossbach in 1757 between the Prussians and the French, and while M. le Marquis was not there in body, he was there in spirit- even if I was playing the role of Prussian commander. 

It was a great game, my first big SYW bash since before I left for Japan some 20 years ago now.  Firstly and most importantly, I was gaming with a great bunch of guys, old friends and new.  The scenario- at least as we played it- struck a good balance between manoeuvre and combat.  And with Black Powder, the game just looked right and felt right for 18th C. combat.  

In my next post I'll give an AAR seeing how the game went, and some of the mechanics we used.  Lots of pictures! 

The experience has left me determined to try setting up a game at the club here in Tokyo sometime over the coming months. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Most Generous Commisariat!

While prowling YouTube I came across this rather interesting video of FIW reenactors, which I have posted here because it gives a good view of the off-white colour of French infantry justeaucorps, and the kind of shadows that it gets in the folds and creases  Clearly it is possible to go for fairly dark shading, so my black-lined figures don't seem all that far off.

Now, I can appreciate the appeal of reenacting, and am aware that it is not an inexpensive pastime.  It is also more accessible to those of an age where they have accumulated a good degree of disposable income and time now that the children have grown up.  

I also realize (to my own personal annoyance!) that as one gets on in years, a certain "thickening of the torso" is hard to prevent- and even harder to reverse.

Nevertheless, there are some mightily-proportioned individuals here wielding their Charlevilles.  Whatever perils the French army may have faced while on campaign in the New World, starvation  evidently wasn't one of them.  One can see the strain on many a buttonhole.   

The average annual calorie intake evident for individuals here would probably have equalled that of an entire company back in 1759.  Says a lot about modern diets and lifestyles.
Anyway, the next time some people slag off  my beloved Front Rank miniatures as being over-fed gargoyles, I will simply reply with a link to this video.

Oh, and lest it be thought I'm knocking these people, and their hobby,  I'm not; I'm no string-bean in the least, and I would have loved to have been there and to have been part of it. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

To the Aid of King Raoul and Grenouisse!

No updates for ages now.  Clearly the history professors beavering away at La Bibliothèque Nationale de la Lorraine, poring over the documents relating the stirring tales of M. le Marquis have been slacking, or have at least been suffering from a shortage of willing graduate students to do the gruntwork. 

Our club here has been focused on WW2 and to a lesser extent Napoleonic games.  The reality of accomplishing anything in miniatures gaming is that you really need some degree of project discipline, and to accept that you can't do everything you want to.  To try to do so by working on a little here and a little there is to make no significant progress in anything at all. 

So all the time that there was no real prospect of getting any 18th C. games in, I had resigned myself to the fact that work on l’armée de l’Oise would have to be put on the furthest of back-burners for the foreseeable future.  A shame, but given time restrictions it made sense as I have been making inroads on my Soviet army and on my Napoleonic French army.

Well, things can change.  And it appears that the The Regt. de St. Vignobles is destined to see combat in big way- even if I won't be there in person to see them in action! 

Over on the WD3 forum which is my first forum port-of-call these days, an idea has taken off to have a big 18th C. "Old School" game on a grand scale, to be held in the wilds of Yorkshire in spring of next year.  This will be under the auspices of a number of veteran wargamers including Tim Hall and Henry Hyde of Battlegames magazine, who is of course in overdrive getting everything sorted out for the game.

Now unless war breaks out on the Korean peninsula again, I can't see myself getting to the far reaches of decayed Empire for the game, as I have committed to being back in Vancouver then.  But I offered to send a contingent from the Bishopric to form part of the vast forces being mustered for battle, and Henry was happy to accept.  With New Year's holidays on the horizon, this means that I have an incentive to finish off the regiment now in a box awaiting completion, along with some other units that need some TLC.

The Expeditionary Force of the l’armée de l’Oise boards transports before setting out on its long voyage in support of King Raoul.

The story at the moment is as follows (subject to change!); 

His Excellency, Louis-Baptiste Sardanapalus Bouillon-Cantinat, the 10th Marquis de Sangfroid, Comte de Roue and the Prince Ecclesiastical of the Bishopric of St. Vignobles, will of course be honouring his ancient allegiance with King Raoul of Grenouisse, in defence of His most righteous and holy cause as he asserts his ancient rights to the territory of Grandprix, held in violation of God's Will by current Duke Zigor.

An expeditionary force is being raised for service afar, in which the Bishopric of St. Vignobles will will no doubt once again add further laurels and acclaim to King Raoul- and, of course, to the House of Buillion-Cantinat.

But rumours abound that the great rival of the House of Buillion-Cantinat, Matthias St. Hubertus von Loseth-Pfaffenhofen, Duke of Avenberg-Pfaffenhofen and Landgrave of Nassau Ringgwurm-auf-dem-Skree, is planning to hire out his own contingent as part of an Auxiliary Corps to the Duke Zigor, including the famous Lieb-Dragoner regiment. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend", yes; but for a price.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Wanted for Service: Good, Bold Men (with an Eye for Loot)...

As the poster says!  I've been thinking of which miniatures to use for Les Hussards de Sarkozy, and have decided that the ones that best suit my particular bill are these by The Foundry, which were, I believed, designed by Mark Copplestone. 

Yes, they are cartoonish/ orcish or what have you, but they have an "over the top" look to them that I actually like for the early, wild-hussar type.

The problem is that including command figures I only need sixteen of them.  

Now while I'm certainly no cheapskate, neither am I an idiot. I realize that I've been spoiled by the excellent service from companies such as Front Rank.  And in fairness, the mail order service from the Foundry is by all accounts not to be faulted for reliability.  

But by having different "stores" depending on where you are placing the order from, the Foundry in effect charge their overseas customers twice for postage.  And God help you if you fall into the East Asia/Rest of the World category!  To add insult to injury- and unlike most all other companies I do business with- they evidently do not even see fit to deduct VAT from their prices.  

While having to grudgingly grant them a certain amount of "testicular fortitude"  for the practice, I cannot- will not- validate their unfathomable policies by holding my nose and paying those kind of prices for a handful of miniatures.

 So,  if anyone out there has sixteen to spare, along with command/  personalities,  please do drop me a line and let me know how much you want for them.  Any fair price considered!  I'd of course be paying the shipping to Japan.    

In particular I'm looking for the ones in short fur hats, but I'll consider a mix.  Preferably unpainted, but painted is okay (bear in mind that I'll be stripping off the paint so that I can paint the minis in the "correct" uniforms).

Alternatively, if someone could point my way to a cheaper source of these figures through a store who actually charges postage at a reasonable rate, please let me know. 

No recasts, though.  Aside from the poor quality I have no intention of rewarding thieves, even if it was Foundry they've ripped off!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Regiment Royal de St. Vignobles

click to enlarge

The Marquis wrote:

"The outfitting of  L’armée de l’Oise proceeded apace, with overall efficiency and considerable expense- particulary on my part.  Monies for uniforms, arms and accoutrements and victuals were always in short supply.  The shortfall was inevitably made up by my dipping into my own coffers. 

While I was able to bestow some amount of patronage for some tidy sums, not to mention the occasional- and lucrative- games of chance, those gentlemen who managed my considerable estate were not averse to chiding me for such excess.  They urged that I bring the spending under control, and begged that I pressure Versailles to be more forthcoming with the resources needed to prepare the army for war.

This war within a war for ever-scarce funding alloted to me its share of little victories as well as defeats.  Yet overall, it must be said, the balance of success went to those low-bred, pestilential and mean-spirited troglodytes who inhabited the counting-houses of Versailles.  

Indeed, late one evening Count Sarkozy arrived back from a reconnaissance to find me in a most highly agitated and irritable state with my staff over the issue.  On perceiving my evident distress, he promptly offered to ride with some of his men to Versailles with the intention of hanging the scoundrels in question up by their tongues until they agreed to loosen the purse strings.  I must confess that I did mull over the merits or otherwise of the scheme for some moments before politely- yet firmly- refusing the Count's well-intended proposal.

Nonetheless, I was not without some skillful experience with the machinations of the court, and I was able to obtain some favours in return for my forbearance with such rogues, chief of which for the purposes of this narrative was the refitting and elevation of my own regiment, that of St. Vignobles.

The campaign of Dettingen in which the regiment had distinguished itself had reduced the uniforms of the men to a most wretched and deplorable state.  Having just outfitted the Regt. de Bouillon Cantinat,  and seeing clearly that my finances were not what they were during the peace, I resolved that if the Ministry of War failed to underwrite my expenses as was my due, then I would see if I could not indeed manage to elevate the regiment and my House to a status fitting with the illustrious lineage and service of the Bouillon-Cantinats.

So debts were quietly called upon to be made good, and understandings were negotiated with the mighty and influential.  As well as with their wives & mistresses, for over the years one learns where true fountains of power and decision making lay.  With such stratagems, and in the fullness of time, the carefully nurtured seeds of ambition bore their fruit.  

Many months had passed when finally we received the welcome news from His Gracious Majesty that the Regt. de St. Vignobles, ...'on account of its proven valour and dedication to the House of Bourbon', would receive the unique honour of being bestowed with the title of "Royal".  While steadfastly maintaining its independent character and certain privileges,  it was to be taken into the French army as a native rather than as a foreign regiment.   

As befitting the new status of the regiment (and in exchange for a considerable pecuniary gift of sundry movables) I was granted some small but fairly profitable holdings in the Aquitaine.  

Furthermore, it was agreed that my eldest son was to be betrothed to the Duchesse de Limoger.  A somewhat dim-witted young woman, but a niece of the King and the eldest of four children, all daughters; thus is the House of Bouillon-Cantinat to find itself tied to that of the Bourbons.

I insisted upon the condition that the regiment would all the while remain under the command of its chef, and that it would be subject to the needs of the hereditary Prince Ecclesiastical of the Bishopric of St. Vignobles whenever the principality was to find itself threatened by an external foe.   

The price of such arrangements was dear. A further reduction of a stock of the best vintage St. Vignobles had to offer, some sudden (and calculated) desertion of skill and luck on my part at the card table, and a tacit agreement that the regiment was to expect no financial support from Versailles other than that of pay (when available), arms, and equipment.  But as these were already less than forthcoming I felt it a very practical solution and a pleasing outcome to me, one which would bring further lustre to the already brilliant stars in the Bouillon-Cantinat firmament.

The day the colours were presented to the regiment by the King and his party was one renowned for its splendour, with gentlemen and ladies of quality the region over coming into camp to take part in the festivities, including also some officers of my acquaintance from the Pragmatic armies, visiting on parole to pay their respects.  

I myself performed the benediction over the new regimental drapeaux.  These were designed by a most willing and appreciative Duchess D'Argenson and her daughter.  In richness of  fabric and in their embroidery the new colours were magnificent in execution, equally the rivals of those borne by the Gardes Francaises

Dinner that evening was a sumptuous affair, in which the finest wines of St. Vignobles flowed like the melting snows of spring.  This repast was accompanied by music provided by a party of musicians led by the esteemed M. Boismortier, as well as by the regimental hautbois.  There was, of course, a display of fireworks followed by dancing, which was welcomed by the young officers of the army as being a rare opportunity for some pleasant dalliance.

The rest of the night was passed by games of vignt-et-un, in which I played with even more than my customary skill and ruthlessness in order to cover at least part the evening's expenses, which I woefully suspected would be prove to be a daunting sum. 

Indeed, my chief comptroller had rather irritably begged me to excuse him from duty that evening, as he desired to retire to bed early with what he suspected to be a case of imminent apoplexy."


Basically I was never that happy with my first design for the uniform and flag of the Regiment de St. Vignobles, and as I develop the character of the Marquis de Sangfroid and L’armée de l’Oise I have had a better idea for the flag and uniform.  I've also become a lot more familiar with the graphics programs I have, so I can do a better job than before.  

I like the idea of wine or madder-red as the distinctive colour of the Principality, and it is a colour that goes much better with off-white than with the mid to dark blue of the foreign regiments in French service.  So I had our scheming hero concoct a plan to have the regiment become a regular French one- with privileges!  

And frankly, I've enough blue to paint with the Dutch and my French Napoleonic infantry.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Noble Volunteer Company of Vintners

I have been asked to provide a uniform plate of the Noble Volunteer Company of Vintners as introduced in my previous post, and find myself most happy to oblige.  

Fortunately, the standard of the company still exists, having been carefully- and remarkably- well preserved in the vaults of the Cathédrale de Notre Dame de St. Vignobles
   (Click on picture to enlarge)

The company was always maintained at a strength of 48 officers and men, all of the nobility, as this was the number of men who sallied out with the 7th Marquis de Sangfroid to save King Louis during the Fronde in 1651.  

A detachment escorted the King whenever he made an official inspection of the vineyards of France, and an officer of the company was always present for the opening of wine casks during festivities at Versailles, tasked with tasting the wine both for quality and for safety.  

While never serving as an actual combat unit, the uniform was worn by all general officers from St. Vignobles, for whom membership in the company was a prerequisite for the rank.

-Plate made possible through some creative digital "legerdemain" and of course by David's wonderful work on his excellent blog,
 "Not by Appointment ".