If you're choosing a wargames magazine, there's nothing like actually having one in your hand to flip through. Online, you can find the contents lists for all the glossies, but the quality of the articles and how they might relate to the broader hobby can only be appreciated by tracking down a copy in a newsagents (or maybe at a wargames store or show).
And so it was with WI298. The theme in this issue was Napoleonics, so I wasn't tempted until I found a copy in W.H. Smith's. Then I realised the quality of the articles was such that there was plenty that could be related to Horse and Musket wargaming in general, quite aside from giving a useful insight into a period I've never really even dipped into. Plus there were other articles worth reading, for example about the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 (relevant to me) and the Battle of Plataea. Have you noticed that a wargaming article about a period you have no particular interest in can be worth reading because it's well conceived and well written? Of course you have.
As for Napoleonics, Barry Hilton had this to say in the opening article:
Most wargamers want something which gets a result in a few hours and does not require a second mortgage to fund or a lifetime to collect. After reading [this article] you could be gaming from scratch with 4-6 battalions within a few weeks.
That's the way to get people's attention: new periods can often seem daunting. However, I should freely admit at this point that I have no intention of starting Napoleonic wargaming. (Almost certainly my loss: if anyone within driving distance of Bristol has a collection and a good set of rules and needs an opponent, I'm you're man). But Barry went on to prove his point by providing a set of three small scenarios later in the magazine that I knew I would have to try out: not with Napoleonic armies but with those of the Seven Years War.
So finally we get to the point. The scenario for my latest SYW battle was this one, which Barry called 'Take The High Ground'. From the Peninsula in 1812 the action shifts to Silesia in 1758. Rather than the French attacking the positions of the Spanish on the fringes of a fictional siege of Avila, my imagination took me to the Prussians assaulting Austrian positions on the fringes of the siege of Schweidnitz. Thanks to Barry and WI for letting me use the map:
|Reproduced by kind permission of Wargames Illustrated and Barry Hilton|
Copyright Wargames Illustrated
Forces and scenario were:
Prussians (blue, attacking)
Infantry brigade of 4 line battalions
Cavalry brigade of 2 dragoon regiments
Artillery battery (6pdr), 2 model guns
Independent grenadier battalion
Austrians (red, defending)
Infantry brigade of 2 line battalions with artillery battery (24pdr), 1 model gun
Infantry brigade of 2 line battalions and 1 grenz battalion
Independent grenz battalion
The Prussians must attack and capture the ridge feature ahead of them. The Austrians must retain control of the ridge. Using the standard victory conditions from my own rules, this meant each side would fight until it reached its army breakpoint (i.e. losing half its units, rounding fractions down), with the main ridge costing the Austrians 2 army points if lost. To bring the isolated unit in the church/chapel area into the game, this location would cost 1 army point if lost.
The set up:
I was able to make a pretty good stab at recreating the table as per Barry's map,
and placed the forces as drawn.
The independent grenz battalion occupy the church area.
The Prussian main force of 4 battalions sets off for the ridge. To their right the artillery battery prepares to fire, but one gun is limbered and moved forward to support the Prussian cavalry who would have to handle the Austrian left wing infantry.
The Prussian cavalry are seen on the left. The Prussian grenadiers had been assigned the task of assaulting the church, and made an excellent start by rolling a double move.
They headed up the hill in column.
The Prussian infantry managed a double move on move 2, but celebrations were curtailed when the right hand leading battalion received such heavy fire from the Austrian siege gun that it broke and ran off.
The Prussians grenadiers also managed another double move which allowed them to smartly change formation to line and then charge the grenzers in the churchyard. Fire from the Austrian light infantry was weak and in the subsequent melee the grenz battalion was swiftly seen off, never to return. This lost the Austrians 2 army points (1 for the unit and 1 for the church). Losing just one more unit would lose them the game, but they braced themselves for a fightback.
The fightback started quickly in move 3 as another Prussian unit attacking the main ridge was broken by a blistering volley from the Austrian infantry, backed up by another effective artillery cannonade. Honours now seemed more even. In the background you can see Prussian infantry streaming away from the ridge.
The Austrian left had moved out steadily to confront the Prussian cavalry in something of a standoff. The other grenz unit on the extreme Austrian left flank had lost its chance to interfere with the attack of the Prussian grenadiers, so swift had been the latter's onset. The Prussians can be seen occupying the precincts of the church in the background of the photo.
Now things started getting really interesting. The Prussian commander decided that his cavalry would have to lend a hand at the ridge, but this meant crossing the line of fire of the Austrian infantry in front of them if the help was to arrive in time. The leading regiment took a stern volley in its flank and fell back (bottom left) but the other regiment won through and ended up nicely positioned for a charge on the Austrian siege gun (top centre).
Once again both sides had something to cheer about. The Prussian cavalry charged the siege gun, but their hopes of a flanking charge were dashed when the gun managed to turn and face them. However, the canister fire they received was not effective enough to see the cavalry off, and once the horsemen got in amongst the guns the result was a foregone conclusion. On the other hand, a third Prussian infantry battalion was seen off by the Austrians on the ridge with yet another devastating volley (bottom centre). Nevertheless, having lost 3 army points the Austrians had officially lost the game. You can see at top left that one of their infantry units on the ridge has been beaten in a musketry exchange with the last remaining Prussian battalion and is clinging to the table edge reforming (red casualty dice). This left just one battalion defending the ridge. However, I decided to fight out one more turn to see how things would go, especially as Barry's original victory conditions had specified a 6 turn game. And I wanted to give my rules a thorough workout.
Prussian moves on the ridge were predictable - the last infantry battalion moved up to give the wavering Austrian battalion in front of them the benefit of a volley, whilst the Prussian dragoons charged the other defending infantry battalion in flank. It was just as well for the Prussians that their commanding general (lower centre of the photo) was present, as the Prussian brigadier threw a miserable 1 for command. Normally this would mean his units would not be able to advance.
The results of the Prussian moves were equally predictable. The reforming Austrian battalion could not reply to the Prussian volley and were blasted off the table. The other Austrian unit was routed in melee and can be seen flowing around their commanding general as they run off.
The ridge was in Prussian hands.
There was plenty of other drama on the final move. This photo shows the situation at the end of the game. In the low ground between the 2 ridges, two Austrian infantry battalions had faced off against a weakened Prussian dragoon regiment and the Prussian guns. A fierce volley from the left hand Austrian battalion saw off the cavalry, but the other Austrian battalion was itself broken by close range artillery fire. To add to the Austrian embarrassment, the skirmish which had been going on between the remaining grenz battalion and the grenadiers in the churchyard finally resulted in the grenzers breaking and running. The Austrians thus ended up losing 6 out of their 7 original units, so the decision reached in the previous move was roundly confirmed. However, with the departure of the Prussian dragoons, the Prussians themselves had lost 4 units which was their own army breakpoint. Nevertheless, with 5 units still active on the field and the ridge firmly in their hands, common sense said the Prussians had definitely won.
...just to finish off, the bases of my commanding generals have recently benefitted from the addition of dismounted command figures from Minden Miniatures. The picture (and my paint job) doesn't really do these marvellous figures justice.
I also used my own mildly adapted version of Charles Wesencraft's weatherboard (from Practical Wargaming) during the game. As you can see, hardboard and a golf tee have been replaced by a chart and suitable figure. Weather remained fair throughout the game.
As I mentioned, Barry had 2 other scenarios to offer. This one worked out so well I will be sure to fight out the other 2 at some stage. These smaller actions are usually a lot of fun to play: it's interesting to be able to concentrate on the actions of individual units, and as the games are easier to set up they are often more relaxing than bigger battles which need more organising.