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.