Friday 8 March 2019

The Engagement At Fontoney

Only yesterday I saw a copy of Charles S. Grant's Scenarios For Wargames available from Caliver Books at £60. I'm not calling that a rip-off - you can pay the same on Amazon. I guess I did well a couple of years ago to buy a copy of the book for £20 at the Colours show - I knocked the seller down from £25. 

The book is a classic, and why it hasn't been re-printed is a mystery to me. The copy I bought did have a few pages at the back stuck together. Maybe it was owned at one stage by the kind of misguided gamer who describes our hobby as 'exciting'. I mean, the book's a classic, but it's not that good. I separated the pages carefully and the final few scenarios could still be read.

Anyway, I have been remiss in failing to use the many excellent ideas contained in the book to enhance my wargaming. Apart from being clever in concept, the scenarios score by mostly using quite small forces, which means they are easy to stage and can be played comfortably in an evening. Of course, it has to be remembered that Mr. Grant uses 48-man infantry battalions, so perhaps in his case the battles aren't as small as they seem to be to me. Whatever the case, recently I started at the beginning and took up scenario 1 as a try-out for my Post of Honour rules. Even better, the stars briefly aligned and I would be able to play the battle twice in less than a week against 2 separate wargamers, both of considerable experience. So I would play Paul in game 1, and Steve in game 2.

My table size was 6' x 5'. The scenario maps are sized for a 7' x 5' table.

The map for the scenario, taken from the book, is shown above. Any Horse and Musket wargamer worth his salt will see straight away that the source is the Battle of Fontenoy (1745). Hence the slightly altered names of places, which are my own additions.

The defenders of the line B-A-C (in my case, SYW Austrians) number only 4 infantry units, a light infantry unit, 2 units of heavy cavalry and 4 guns. The attackers (Prussians) have to form up on the line X-Y and have 8 infantry units, a unit of light infantry, 2 units of heavy cavalry, 1 unit of light cavalry and 4 guns. Basically, the Prussians need to control 2 out of the 3 positions A, B and C, or make the Austrians suffer sufficiently to flee the field, in order to win. The defenders must set up first, allowing the attackers to deploy in full knowledge of the defender's positions. 3 of the 4 defender's guns are required to be in the 3 redoubts.

I thought giving the Austrians 4 guns was a little generous, but I was proved wrong (and not for the first time). To even things up a bit (as I thought), I made 2 of the Prussian infantry units grenadiers, and hence 'superior' quality in my rules. I also intended to to use my 'pre-game bombardment' rules which would allow both sides to use their artillery to soften up their opponents before the first turn.

So now, let's look at how the 2 games proceeded.

The Engagement at Fontoney (1)

The defender sets up first, then the attacker responds with his set up. Paul (Prussia) concentrated
all his infantry in his centre and right, leaving the guns on the left with unhindered lines of fire. 
An Austrian battalion plus artillery in Fontoney.
The Prussians concentrated on cracking open the centre of the Austrian position
by assaulting Fontenoy in overwhelming numbers
They are completely successful - the defenders are driven out and what remains
of the Austrian line are considerably outnumbered.
On the other flank the Austrian gun positions in redoubts 1 and 2 were
eventually wrecked by the concentration against them of all 4 Prussian guns.
A conclusive victory - the Austrians are notable by their absence
in this shot at the end of the game
Redoubt "C" remained in Austrian hands, although harassed by Prussian jaeger.
On the opposite flank, Angoint remains in the hands of a unit of Croats -
but their position is untenable and they will have to leave quickly.

A fairly straightforward victory for the Prussians, mainly due to Paul doing all the right things. I decided to add in another Austrian battalion for the second game.

The Engagement at Fontoney (2)

Another day, another costly assault. With the Prussians now under my command, and the Austrians
fielding an additional infantry battalion, things might not go as well for the forces of Frederick.
Once again Fontoney was the key to the position.
The assault is well under way. The Prussian battery in the distance pounds Fontoney,
supporting the infantry advance.
Oh dear. Two Prussian battalions appear to be routing! That wasn't supposed to happen. 
Unfortunately the Army Commander was killed at the same time - the gold counter marks the position 
of his demise. With luck his subordinate will reappear in the next move to take over.
My clever little flank move isn't having much success either.
Artillery from the redoubts sends cavalry and infantry running for their baseline.
About here I decided it was all up. I have a toehold in Fontoney,
but not much to back it up. Plus the town is being reinforced already.
The desperate struggle in Fontoney.
My flank moves had resulted in Angoint being disputed, but the attacking
battalion was on its own. They would have to retire.

So I lost the second game as well. It was obvious that the key to this scenario was partly following the British tactic from the real battle - channel all your forces into the relatively weak sector east of Fontenoy/Fontoney - but with the addition of a strong attack on Fontoney/Fontenoy itself. My flanking foray in game 2 was just a waste of resources. So I lost both battles but had 2 really good games, both completed in around 2.5 hours. Thanks for coming over guys.

Post of Honour
I was pretty pleased with how the rules played, but in the second game in particular some confusion occurred when multiple units were retreating in bad morale, and we were trying to work out how they affected each other. So I got to thinking about simplifying the morale rules with some inspiration from Kings of War Historical. There will be a new version of Post of Honour available soon on the HoW website, with the new ideas incorporated.

Check out Steve's thoughts on Game 2 here.

Until next time!


Natholeon said...

Great games, Keith. The rules do seem to be coming along well. I agree about Charles Grant's book. I'd love to get my hands on a copy, but not at that eye-watering 60 quid. A reprint is well overdue!

Steve J. said...

First off thanks for putting on a great game Keith, which I really enjoyed. It's great to see the 'photos of both games, especially from the Prussian point of view. I'm looking forward to a re-match and for the updated version of the rules.

Why the scenario book ahsn't been re-printed is beyond me, given that it is a classic. The same is true of the Programmed Wargames Scenarios book. Like you I was able to buy both for quite reasonable prices, just by being patient until good copies appeared on Amazon/Ebay.

Jonathan Freitag said...

Excellent pair of games! Losing both just proves you are a gentleman and an accommodating host.

Ross Mac said...

These look like good games!

I bought my copy when the book first came out and while it is now held together with nice blue tape, it is still in use nearly 4 decades later!

I've played this particular scenario more times and in more periods and scales with more different rule sets than I can count but don't remember it ever having not providing a good game.

iir it was a WRG publication and I vaguely recall some rumour that something about that and some issue around copyright title having something to do with its never having been reprinted. (Is that vague and unreliable enough?). I do hope it does get reprinted one day.

David Cooke said...

I very much enjoyed your reports. Reading two felt like a bonus! I've played this once with a last turn win for the attacking Austrians. Mainly due to some Austrian second rated skirmishers that first drove off their opposing French voliteniers, jumped a fence and out flanked a battery position and then provided the routing casualty on a Line Battalion.
Its on my list again once my 18th century armies get big enough.

Andy McMaster said...

Excellent little write ups. And always good to see some RSM goodness on the table!

I've got the Grant book as well but no way would I drop £60 on it now!

Thanks for posting.

Chris Gregg said...

One of those books I've often had in the back of mind to get, but I'd no idea it fetches such a price now! Glad you had a good time with your new rules. Me? I still like Honours of War thanks.

Phil Dutré said...

I also have a copy of this book - very useful! The trick is not to get bogged down in the exact force compositions, but rather understand the tactical issues of each scenario and translate them to your own preferred ruleset and troop density.

I use scenario books as a source for inspiration, not as a holy text to be followed without any room for interpretation :-)

Amtmann B. said...

Nice small game of a large battle. Great to see you enjoying the period again.

Der Alte Fritz said...

In the actual battle of Fontenoy, I'm don't think that there was a 2:1 Allied infantry advantage, noting that both of your scenarios had zero infantry posted between Fontenoy and the Bois de Barri. Also, the French had another battery across the river ar Antoing that provided a deadly enfilading fire on the Allied left wing. Finally, the Allied artillery was largely of the light 3 and 6 pounder variety compared to the larger weight French cannon. Now you can begin to see why it was so difficult to defeat the French in this battle. The British attack between Fontenoy and the woods turned out to be the only viable place to attack, and they almost pulled it out.

You might want to try the battle again with more even forces.

Keith Flint said...

Good points Fritz. Obviously, Mr. Grant's scenario was not meant to be a reconstruction of Fontenoy, but I think it could certainly be enhanced with more units on both sides - and as you say it points the way to creating a worthwhile reconstruction of the battle without needing a vast table and a garage load of figures.

kevin halloran said...

Yes the current asking prices for the book range from £49 to £70 and even Oxfam recently sold a copy for £48. I shall have to get by without.