Thursday 31 October 2019

The Fourth Wargaming Magazine

It is usual to state (as I did in this post) that there are 3 glossy magazines supporting our hobby. I think this is mistaken. I was forgetting that there is a fourth, namely the magazine of the Society of Ancients, Slingshot.

Cracking cover!

Now, some of you (like me in the past) may be under the impression that Slingshot contains rather arcane articles that have more to do with archaeology and academia than wargaming, and that it's all rather too, well, specialist. There may have been some truth in that in the past, but in my experience, no longer. 

The magazine as I have experienced it over the last 2 years, and especially recently under the enlightened and professional-level editorship of Justin Swanton, contains an excellent mix of historical information, wargaming battle reports, analysis of wargaming practices, and reviews of books and rules. Frankly indispensable if you are an Ancient Wargamer.

Of course, you can't get it in Smith's, but you can buy individual copies or subscribe. Check out the SoA website here.

In conclusion - highly recommended!

Sunday 20 October 2019

The Bridge At Atzbach

At the present time, Wargaming, Soldiers and Strategy is definitely my favourite wargaming magazine - by a long way. Miniature Wargames is just too full of sci-fi, fantasy and steam-punk for my taste, and Wargames Illustrated is, well, a bit too much like Wargames Illustrated. All crash-bang-wallop and the excitement of consumerism.

Established readers of this blog will know I am a sucker for a good map and a good scenario. Imagine my pleasure when WSS 104 provided both in an article by Henry Hyde, from his series entitled 'Tabletop Tactics'. There were in fact 2 good scenarios in the article, both based around the effect of bridges. I will overlook the fact that Henry called the article 'A Bridge Too Far' (clichéd, Henry, far too clichéd!), and merely say that my attention was drawn to the first, in which a bridge over an uncrossable river had to be taken by assault. The map for this is reproduced below - my thanks to editor Guy Bowers for allowing me to use it.

The map from WSS104, reproduced by permission. © Karwansary Publishers 2019.
The defenders were confined to the country north of the bridge, the attackers were to come from the south with the intention of taking the bridge and then exploiting northwards to take hill D and farm C. 

In past games, assaulting bridges has presented itself to me as a bad option for a scenario - they are just too easy to defend, with attackers being easily shot down as they try to cross. But I reflected that my experiences derived from games where taking a bridge was part of a larger game, with the result that usually not enough forces were available to do the job properly. Henry sensibly indicated that the attacker should have 2 or 3 times the strength of the defender, and with this in mind I decided it would be interesting to see if a bridge assault could indeed be made to work as a wargame. Unsurprisingly, it turned out that Henry was quite correct, and it could.

To further test my Napoleonic rules, I set the game in that period. I would have to use my 28mm SYW figures (see previous post), but for a solo game that would be fine. The forces and scenario were as follows:

French Forces (attackers)
Light Infantry Demi-Brigade: 3 battalions + horse artillery (all superior)
Infantry Brigade: 6 battalions (regular)
Cavalry Brigade: 2 dragoon regiments (regular)
Artillery Brigade: 3 field batteries (regular)
Independent Cavalry: 1 Hussar regiment (regular)

16 units, Break Point 8 units.

Austrian Forces (defenders)
Infantry Brigade: 2 battalions (regular)
Infantry Brigade: 2 battalions (regular)
Light Infantry Brigade: 2 Grenz battalions (regular)
Cavalry Brigade: 1 cuirassier regiment (superior), 1 hussar regiment (regular)
Independent Artillery: 2 field batteries (regular)

10 units, Break Point 5 units.

The French can deploy up to 12" from their baseline, but may also deploy on hills F and G if they wish. They have to take the bridge in 8 moves or break the Austrians in the same timescale.
The Austrians can deploy anywhere north of the river. They must successfully defend the bridge for at least 8 moves, and try to  break their attackers.
The river is only crossable at the bridge. The bridge, hill D and farm C are each worth 1 unit. In my game the farm is represented by a ruined monastery.

The Game
As you can see, I only gave the French a 60% advantage in numbers. As with the game in my previous post, they would also have the advantage of the 'French System', and better command. I didn't honestly think greater French numbers would have much effect, as bringing them to bear would be difficult. Some  extra artillery might be very useful, but they already had 4 batteries to the Austrian 2. The time limit was intended to give the French a reason to get on with their assault, rather than  just pounding the Austrians with artillery until half their units were broken!

How to deploy the Austrians was a bit of a puzzle, but in the end I lined the river near the bridge with the Grenzers, with a field battery supporting them firing straight down the road across the bridge. The line infantry and cavalry were in depth behind, with the other field battery on hill D with a decent field of fire.

The French plan was to shoot their way across the bridge. The field batteries would pound targets near the bridge, and the line infantry would move forward to the river and shoot at anything on the opposite bank. When the time was right the elite light infantry would charge across, supported by their horse battery.

Deployment. I used my normal 6' x 5' table, and moved the river slightly south in order
(I hoped) to give more room for a decent battle after the French were over the river.
The French have moved up, and it's time to try a charge across the bridge.
This was fairly easily repulsed, with the attacking unit routed. Not enough preparation it seemed.
The same turn from the Austrian side. Two line battalions had moved up and were
giving the French a lot of trouble.
A couple of moves later and the French try again, with the horse battery supporting.
You can see that the Austrian battery directly covering the bridge has been routed.
It was desperately close, with every die roll counting, but the French managed to get one light battalion
in place, causing just enough distraction to allow a regiment of dragoons to cross as well.

This was the end of the 8 moves. The Austrians had lost 4.5 units, the French 6, and the bridge was just about in French hands. A last minute French victory. I couldn't resist another turn to see if they would hang on to their tenuous bridgehead.

Check on the far side of the Toll House and you'll see an Austrian line battalion has routed and taken a supporting
Grenz unit with it. The Austrians are now broken and the French victory is confirmed.

Most scenarios try to create a nail-biting finish where both sides are in the game until the final move. This was achieved, but I think the game would be better if some fighting on the far side of the river took place. To this end, it might be good to weaken the Austrians slightly, so I would take away one of their line battalions and form a single brigade of 3 battalions. It might also be an idea to lengthen the game to 9 or even 10 moves.

Anyway, I was pleased with the scenario (thanks Henry), as well as how the rules handled it. The next challenge is to read more books and broaden my knowledge, so that I can represent other armies and other campaigns of the period.

'Til next time!

Tuesday 15 October 2019

The Action At Fausterlitzen (1805)

So, time for a much needed playtest of my new Napoleonic rules. Having made some recent changes, more games were vital, and I arranged first to go over to Roy's, where I knew I would get some well-informed feedback. Then shortly after that I had a free evening at home to consider our conclusions during a solo re-run. 
Both games featured a modest fictional engagement set in 1805, supposedly just before the Battle of Austerlitz - hence the rather cheesy title of this post.

The Scenario
Between Napoleon's famous victory of manoeuvre at Ulm in October and the battle of Austerlitz on the 2nd of December, a small French force is advancing south protecting the flank of Napoleon's eastward advance on Vienna. Light cavalry scouts advance along the road through Fausterlitzen, and on reaching the southern edge of the town they discover an Austrian force drawn up across the road ahead of them. On the far side of an area of open ground the Austrians have blocked the route south, with their right anchored on the gentle slopes of the Kleine Berg. It looks like the Austrians are in similar strength to the French.

Table size 6' x 5'. North to top of course.

The French commander decides to attack, and his forces advance through the woods north-east of Fausterlitzen until, on reaching the open ground east of the town, they are able to deploy.

French Forces
These can deploy anywhere up to 12" from the northern baseline, but are also allowed to occupy Fausterlitzen at the start of the game.

1. Infantry Brigade: 6 infantry battalions, 1 field battery
2. Infantry Demi-Brigade: 3 light infantry battalions (superior), 1 field battery
3. Cavalry Brigade: 2 dragoon regiments, 1 horse battery (superior)
4. Independent Cavalry: 1 regiment of hussars

Total 15 units. Break point 7.5 units.

All units are classed regular except the 3 light infantry battalions and the horse artillery battery, all of which are superior.

Austrian Forces
These are deployed up to 12" from the southern baseline, but are also allowed to occupy the Kleine Berg at the start of the game.

1. Infantry Brigade: 4 infantry battalions, 1 field battery
2. Infantry Brigade: 4 infantry battalions, 1 field battery
3. Independent Light Infantry: 1 Grenz battalion (inferior)
4. Cavalry Brigade: 2 cuirassier regiments (superior)
5. Independent Cavalry: 1 hussar regiment

Total 14 units. Break point 7 units.

All units are classed regular except for the inferior Grenz light infantry and the superior cuirassiers.

The much better quality of the French command in this campaign is represented by giving them a +1 on their initiative roll at the beginning of each turn, and also more favourable die rolls for deciding the quality of their brigade commanders at the start of the game:
French: 1 = Inept, 2-4 = Capable, 5-6 = Inspiring.
Austrian: 1-2 = Inept, 3-6 = Capable.

The French will also have the advantage of the 'French System' - quicker formation changes, assault columns, and the ability to deploy skirmish infantry from both their light and line battalions. The Austrians are still labouring under the disadvantages of the 'Linear System' at this date, so assault columns are forbidden and the only skirmish infantry available will be the slightly dodgy Grenzers.

Deployment will be by alternate brigades, with the Austrians going first. After all brigades are deployed, the independent units are then also deployed alternately.

The Game (1)
And so battle commenced at Roy's. In this case the table size became 6' x 4', and we gamed with Roy's lovely old 20mm Hinton Hunt miniatures, using 24 figure infantry units and 12 figure cavalry units.

The French attack commences under Roy's direction.
It appeared Roy's intention was to give the rules a stern test by going straight into the attack.
Were those assault columns (foreground) heading around my flank or would they strike the Kleine Berg?
The French dragoon brigade hovered west of Fausterlitzen awaiting developments.
The columns of high quality Legère turn towards the hill.
The Austrian cuirassiers set off to threaten their flank.
Ouch! The  French columns smash into the Austrian infantry on the Kleine Berg
and Tricolores are soon flying over the ridge.
An overview from the same turn. French pressure is strong across the table,
and the Austrians are losing units.
The French have triumphed on the Kleine Berg, but an Austrian cuirassier regiment turns back
and drives one of the French battalions westward
On their left flank the Austrians have also lost units and now the French Dragoons are closing in.
We called it here, announcing a French victory.

This was a fine test for the rules, and I went home with a few changes in mind, particularly regarding increasing the effectiveness of assault columns in close combat. Unfortunately, in his eagerness to get to grips, Roy had not bothered to deploy skirmishers, and the utility of these troops was not tested. But our post-match analysis seemed to suggest their use would be worthwhile.

The Game (2)
And so a couple of days later I was able to consolidate the lessons of Game 1 in a solo run-out of the same scenario. I'm afraid Napoleonic fans will be disappointed to see that in the absence of a Napoleonic collection, I have substituted my 28mm SYW figures. The blue-coated Prussians represent the blue-coated French, whilst the white-coated Austrians represent (you guessed it) the Austrians. My 28mm RSM95s are organised into infantry units of 16 figures and cavalry units of 8 figures.

I set up the opposing armies in the same deployment we used in the first game.
This time I deployed skirmishing infantry ahead of the attacking French columns.
Once again, the dragoons deploy on the French right.
Here they come! French artillery and skirmisher fire took a toll on the
2 Austrian battalions on the front slope of the Kleine Berg...
...with this result. One Austrian battalion routed, taking the other with it.
Now the 2 Hungarian battalions moved up from the reverse slope and braced for impact.
The French dragoons were a little more active under my control,
and steadily pushed back the defending Grenzers and hussars.
Once again, it was crunch time on the Kleine Berg, and once again the French columns were successful.
The Austrian battery is surrounded, and the final battalion of Hungarians
has suffered heavily and is about to be routed.
Overview - the Austrians are on the back foot across the table.
Just the artillery to mop up and the Kleine Berg will be an Austrian-free zone.
Just about the only Austrian success was their triumph against the French hussars on the French left.
Still, with 2 cuirassier regiments against one regiment of hussars, this was hardly unexpected.
Another solid French victory.
The French artillery had done sterling work for the whole game. A close up of one of their batteries.

The use of skirmishing infantry worked well for the French, protecting the advancing columns and helping to weaken the defending battalions. The Austrians suffered from their own lack of skirmishers, which seemed pretty historical to me. Interesting in both games was that, with basically equal forces, the French were able to attack successfully. I think this was partly due to them having an extra artillery battery, and partly to the concentration of forces against the Kleine Berg, which gave a local superiority. A tribute to Roy's original plan!

Both games seemed to me to play well, so I am optimistic about Post of Honour developing into a worthwhile set of rules. A new version incorporating lessons learned from these games will appear shortly on the Google group.

Another Napoleonic scenario coming up shortly. See you then!