Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Attack at Weissbach

Naturally, during a holiday weekend a wargamer's thoughts turn to, well... wargaming. Especially when the house will be empty due to wife and daughter being out each day attending the Badminton Horse Trials. My broken arm is getting steadily more comfortable so I reckoned I would be able to set up a proper wargame. With my old buddy Paul also available, we would have the luxury of a relaxed afternoon game.

My inspiration came from Warning Order, the online wargames magazine. Specifically, WO 34, which contains a SYW battle report between Austrians and Prussians played using the Age of Reason rules. The battle used a neat little scenario where a fairly basic attack-defence situation was enlivened by a flank attack taking place over a river crossing. This sparked my interest so I decided to steal the idea for my own game.

Laziness has prevented me from drawing a map this time, but the setup is pretty obvious from the photo below. Prussians attacking from the left. The name 'Weissbach' for the village or small town just popped into my head as I was going to sleep one night. I added a ford across the river near the Prussian baseline to give a little flexibility to Prussian movements should the bridge be too solidly held. I think my table (6' x 4') must have been smaller than the original, and my units bigger, because I found the table quite densely packed when I laid out the forces, which contained about the same number of units as the original battle.

I swapped the sides around so that the Prussians were attacking. Forces were:


Main Force

Grenadier Brigade
3  grenadier battalions
IR6 Garde Grenadier (1bn)
1 artillery battery
1 howitzer battery

Infantry Brigade
IR1 von Winterfeldt (2bns)
IR4 von Kleist (2bns)
1 artillery battery

Cavalry Brigade
2 cuirassier regiments

Independent hussar regiment
Independent jager detachment

Flanking Force

Infantry Brigade
IR33 de la Motte (2bns)
Freikorps le Noble (1bn)
1 artillery battery

Cavalry Brigade
2 dragoon regiments

21 units.    Army Break Point = 10


Infantry brigade
2 grenadier battalions
IR kurfurst in Bayern (1bn)
IR von Morawitzky (1bn)
1 artillery battery

Infantry brigade
IR 10 Jung-Wolfenbuttel (2 bns)
IR 37 Josef Esterhazy (2bns)
IR 9 Los Rios (1 bn)
1 artillery battery

Cavalry Brigade
1 cuirassier regiment
1 dragoon regiment

Independent light infantry battalion

14 units    Army Break Point = 7

The bridge and village would cost the Austrians one point for each - i.e. losing either would be the same as losing a single unit towards the Austrian breakpoint.

The Battle in Pictures

The setup (1): Hungarians from 1st Battalion IR37 guard the bridge.

The setup (2): showing the Austrian right wing. 

The setup (3): this photo is mainly to show off my new Total Battle Miniatures 'Town Tower', now that it's been painted.

The setup (4): my opponent Paul had brought a bottle of Maltese Moscato  to help the afternoon along. He elected to command the Prussian forces. We cracked the bottle and hostilities commenced.

Move 1. The Prussian grenadiers had been allocated the task of taking Weissbach. Their brigadier threw a 6 for command (double move), and without further ado they commenced a headlong assault. The independent hussar unit (in yellow) had the same luck and also threw itself into the attack alongside the infantry. The supporting artillery had its line of fire immediately blocked, so no artillery preparation was possible. So much for tactics - rolling those 6s had brought a red mist before Paul's eyes!

The result on move 2 was this scene of carnage. The grenadiers charged in  against Weissbach whilst the hussars charged the Austrian artillery battery. The brigade of dragoons attached to the flanking force had crossed by the ford (assisted by yet more high command rolls) and joined in, crashing into the Hungarians at the bridge. The attackers were met by a hail of musketry and canister.

The Austrian line held. The Prussians, weakened by the fire received whilst closing their enemy, were thrown back in all the melees.

But still they came on. Move 3, and the grenadier brigade again rolled a 6 for command.  With a 'dashing' brigadier they had no choice but to renew their attack. The result is seen above. The Austrians seemed demoralised by the elan of their attackers - defending fire was weak, and the grenadiers won their melee and drove back the Austrians in Weissbach. The Austrian artillery battery was destroyed in another direct assault by grenadiers - all this despite the absence of Prussian cavalry support on this turn. The Hungarians defending the bridge had little choice but to give ground in order to avoid being outflanked and destroyed the next move. This was bad for the Austrians - Weissbach was lost and the way over the bridge was open. One modest cause for hope was the dithering Prussian commander of the outflanking force (foreground), who remained motionless for 2 moves trying to work up the initiative to force the passage of the bridge.

Events were a bit less torrid on the other flank for the moment, but things still went against the Austrians.  Artillery and musket fire forced back one white coated battalion of grenadiers. The woods in the background contain Prussian jager and cuirassiers making an outflanking move - hence one of the Bavarian battalions in the second line has turned to face the new threat.

Move 4. The thoroughly rattled surviving units of the Austrian left flank reformed a line behind Weissbach as the Prussians completed their occupation.

Move 4 on the Austrian right flank saw a further disaster unfold for the defenders. The Prussian cavalry emerged from the woods to destroy the Austrian artillery battery attached to the right flank Austrian brigade. Limbers and panicking artillerymen fled back through the Bavarian unit behind, who were already under pressure from a detachment of Jager which had been inflicting casualties on them from their right flank. Not surprisingly, the Bavarians also broke. The Prussian advances had opened up the lines of fire of their supporting artillery, and this was concentrated on the Austrian grenadier battalion still holding the line of the road. When they fled, they took the other Bavarian battalion of the second line with them. The Austrian cavalry in the foreground didn't move the whole game. They had been placed in reserve but an opportunity to intervene never presented itself, and they ended up standing idle whilst the infantry line in front of them crumbled.

So move 4 saw the Prussians score a notable victory. The Austrians had now lost 6 units plus Weissbach and the bridge, and so had exceeded their breakpoint of 7. Only 3 Prussian units had been lost. The reckless attack of the grenadier brigade had been the foundation of the Prussian success. Here we see that, having let the the grenadiers do all the hard work, the Prussian flanking infantry was finally led over the bridge.

Concluding positions. The Austrians are pressed against their baseline all along the table, with a great crowd of panicking Bavarians ruining the Austrian right flank in the background. Both objectives are firmly in Prussian hands.

On The Question Of Moves
As you can see, the game was concluded in just 4 moves, which took about 2.5 hours to play. My rules seem to generate this type of game - a relatively low number of moves but lots of action in each one (see this post for example). This was not intentional - I just tried to develop a set of rules that would produce a fairly simple and brisk game. Doubtless the scenario contributed to such a vigorous action - the table was of a modest size and was well packed with units, which were therefore likely to go head to head without too much delay. 

Nevertheless, there is a strong contrast with rules like Charge!, where 20 moves to get to a conclusion seems common even where fairly small forces are in use. The move count in the Table Top Teasers in Battlegames bears this out. Whilst Charge! can hardly be considered a complex set, it seems to me it can be time consuming. I have always thought this was linked to the availability of a permanent wargames room in the author's home, and the consequent ability to wargame at a relaxed tempo. 

I'm not sure whether to regard the low number of moves usually required by my rules as a good or bad thing. I have achieved my objective of creating a set that will allow me to conclude a game in an evening (say 3 hours of play) whilst using most of my toys (about 350 figures of all types per side organised into around 25 units per side). What seems to catch some people by surprise is that players start to lose units quickly - melees are always concluded in one move, and firefights rarely last more than 2 moves before one side or the other retreats or is lost completely. Other rule sets I have used in the past tend to give players a slower build up to the point where they start losing units - I am thinking here, for example, of Rank and File, Minden Rose or Maurice. Black Powder is more akin to my own rules - the action flows thick and fast and desperate situations can occur right from the start of the game.

Whatever my eventual conclusions about my rules, the important thing with developing your own set is that the journey is so much a part of the pleasure. Whether I suddenly gain inspiration and decide to change the way my rules work doesn't imply an admission of previous failure - it is just the next step in a pleasurable process. Unless of course you're daft enough to try and develop a set for commercial release, in which case time pressures presumably make things rather more like work.

On Setting Up The Table
As in some other recent battles, I set up both sides in advance, giving my opponent choice of forces on arrival. This means battle can commence immediately, but of course it precludes the tactical interest of each commander making his own choices about deployment. This game was a natural for setting up on each side of a curtain, but with my broken arm, rigging the curtain in advance would have been too much of a trial.

But to be honest, I love to set up both sides once the terrain is laid out, just to see how things look and to complete the spectacle. So it's time to be a bit less selfish, I think, and allow opponents to choose the deployment of their own forces.

Anyway, this was a fine, agressive and action-packed game. No real alterations to my rules presented themselves. I think perhaps the advantage of forces was a little too much in the Prussian's favour, so I would probably remove their independent hussar regiment if I played the scenario again. It would also be interesting to play the game again using Black Powder, as comparisons can be very useful, but whether time or motivation will allow remains to be seen.


Steve J. said...

A cracking looking table and figures as always Keith. The game itself was certainly quick and bloody, with the poor Austrians probably still shell shocked from the initial assaults on Weissbach.

It would be good to re-run the game with say BP, but as always time and more importantly motivation may preclude this.

Fitz-Badger said...

I agree with Steve J., great-looking table, terrain and figures.

It's a matter of personal tastes, and circumstances as well, but I like rules that get into the action quickly and resolve things quickly. The way your rules and reports sounds good to me.

Sgt Steiner said...

Super looking figures and terrain as ever

Keith Flint said...

I guess it's the use of rules that allow more than 1 normal move in each turn, like the 3 possible moves with BP, that are making games with fewer turns. In BKC you often get the equivalent of 3 or 4 turns from a traditional set of rules happening in just one move.

Archduke Piccolo said...

Fine looking set up and great looking armies, Keith. I have a special interest, too, in what mileage other gamers get out of limited space, such as a 6'x4' table (I've had to kiss goodbye my hopes ever to expand beyond my own similar sized table.

As far as rule sets are concerned, I tend rather to like a certain amount of build-up to a denouement, protracted fire-fights and the charge and counter-charge of a large-scale cavalry fight. But I can certainly see big advantages to be got from the quicker sort of game.


Millsy said...

That looks like great fun and the whole setup is really well executed. Thanks for sharing!

Capt Bill said...

I just love looking at your battles. They troops, scenery, and after action reports are simly the best. Two to three hours seems optimal so your rules work. Best regards, Bill

Keith Flint said...

From the creator of the world famous Reich Duchy of Beerstein, kind words indeed. Maybe 'simply the best' is a bit more than I deserve, but on the other hand I'm a sucker for flattery!