Tuesday 26 March 2024

In Which I Try Out Valour & Fortitude

The Perry Twin's Valour & Fortitude rules are a set I have been interested in since they first came out about 18 months ago. The basic idea is excellent, and impressed me straight away - a set of Napoleonic rules created by some very well known wargamers (mainly Jervis Johnson), designed to be short and relatively simple, available for entirely free download and supported by regular updates as they improve and develop. I think that's what is sometimes called 'the spirit of wargaming'. The shame is, it has taken me so long to get around to a playtest. I finally got around to it recently following an invitation from a friend at the Cirencester Wargames Club (many thanks Nigel). 

For our game, Nigel set up a fictional Prussians vs. French battle from 1806. Each side had 3 infantry brigades and a cavalry brigade, plus an artillery battery in each brigade - around 20 units a side. Nigel has a wonderful collection of 20mm plastic figures, including Airfix figures going back to when he was a teenager, and we were using a 6' x 4' table, with the ranges and distances in the rules reduced by one third. Here was my first lesson in V&F - as with Black Powder, the big games and large units they were apparently designed for can easily be reduced for the collections and tables of mere mortals.

The French 'come on in the same old way...'

After the game, both of us had some comments about the detail of the rules, but the overall conclusion was straightforward enough - we had both enjoyed ourselves, and we were keen to play the rules again and further our understanding of how they worked. Simply writing a decent set of Napoleonic rules within a limit of 4 pages is a remarkable achievement in itself, and this is certainly a very decent set of rules. Any modest criticisms given below should be seen in this light.

Just a few words about the game. Firstly, both of us were new to V&F. The version we were using was v.2.3. In order to give the rules a good wring out, Nigel flung his French forces into a headlong attack against my Prussians, who adopted a defensive posture. Under these circumstances, the Prussians managed to see off the French assaulting columns relatively easily, and the battle ended (if I remember correctly) with 2 French brigades destroyed and a third approaching destruction, whilst all Prussian brigades were still functioning. A few photos are given below, mainly to enable readers to admire Nigel's lovely figures.

Impressions of the Rules
Most people interested in V&F have had plenty of time to check them out and will be familiar with their basics - so this post won't attempt any summary or overall description of the rules. I just wanted to record the thoughts of a couple of experienced wargamers following their first game.

One interesting thing I've never seen mentioned is that the rules don't actually say what period they are for. "Designed for fighting battles using the Perry Miniatures range of figures" is the nearest the rules get, but as Perry Miniatures cover periods from Medieval to WW2 this isn't much help. It's the kind of thing one expects on a title page - but there we are, everyone seems to know they are primarily for Napoleonics but can be adapted for other Horse and Musket periods, so let's leave it at that.

Now then - the Fate Cards. Personally I could do without them. Their presence was one reason I left the rules alone for a while. The idea of such cards is as old as the hills (as I'm sure Jervis would admit), being something I remember reading about in Donald Featherstone's earliest books. In V&F you draw a card at the beginning of each turn and add it to your store of surprises (i.e. previously drawn Fate Cards) which you can spring whenever you want. You know the kind of thing - that unit that's about to be destroyed or retreat can re-roll its last dice throw and be saved. For me, this just adds an extra layer that detracts from the game - the rules themselves, especially with the special rules for particular nations, provide all the period character you might need. The rest is just fluff, IMHO. Yes, you guessed it, I don't like cards in wargames. I'm pleased to see that V&F isn't one of those 'card driven systems' that are all the rage these days.

A particular mechanism I retain some doubts about is the use of supporting units for both fire and melee - only one unit attacks in both these processes, whilst others offer support. This seemed to be one reason that the Prussians saw off the French so well in our game - perhaps rather too well, as the rules seemed to prevent the French columns from developing their full potential. However, more games are needed to see the rule in action before I get too dismissive!

The various army lists currently offered are a fundamental part of playing a 'proper' Napoleonic game, and a solid attempt has been made to give each nation a bit of historical character. The 'stat line' system defining the characteristics of each type of unit is carried over from Black Powder, and is very useful in creating period flavour whilst keeping the core rules simple. The 'elan' rule for the French is a good example of a national special rule that seems to work well, but the 'drilled' special rule for the Prussians had both Nigel and I scratching our heads over whether it was really justified, particularly in 1806. 

The compressed nature of the rules does make for the occasional difficulty in understanding what is intended, and overlooking a short sentence buried in a particular section can make a big difference in a game - so if you're new to the rules, some careful reading is advised. I was unsure what the 'reform' action was all about until I read the Designer's Comments and twigged that it was all about formation changes - but the phrase 'formation change' is entirely absent in the main rules. A minor point, but the sort of thing you need to look out for.

The rules for skirmishers (i.e. skirmish screens in front of a formed unit) are commendably simple, but I'm not sure if they really provide the flavour of the real thing - in particular the unit deploying them doesn't seem to get any protection from their presence. Rule 8.1.2 gives line a significant advantage vs. column in melee (as far as I can tell after one game). This was great for me in this battle, but whether it is justified? Who knows. Maybe more experienced players can put me straight.

Finally, as the reviewers on Little Wars TV have noted, the QRS has the look of a sheet of A4 where the rules were fitted on...well, where they would fit on, rather than in any particular order. The LWTV QRS is much better, but note it is a bit out of date now and will need amending for the latest rule changes.

Nigel was fully in favour of the Fate Cards idea, maintaining that they added some colour to the game without adversely affecting play. Overall, he reckoned (as I did) that the rules gave a game that flowed well without getting bogged down in too much detail. He also liked the system for working out who had won, based on the accumulation of Defeat Tokens, again something I liked as well. It is a nifty and easy to use mechanic. Nigel also liked the command and control system - perhaps 'system' is too strong a word, but the rules are simple and have the required effect.

On the down side he noted that you need to have decent sized armies for the system to work well - even using smaller units and smaller size figures, you still need a handful of brigades to get a worthwhile game. This is fine, and it is what the rules are written for, but players of Sharpe Practice and Dan Mersey-style rules should beware. Nigel also thought the sudden death of units (the Valour Test), reliant on a 50/50 dice roll when they reached the appropriate level of damage, was a bit too harsh and too dependent on a single D6. I could certainly see what he meant, although at this level of game I do tend to like a set of rules that are reasonably bloody. 

Over and Out
And that's just about that. If you're holding back from giving these rules a run out, wait no longer. I seem to have concentrated in my comments on things I had some doubts about - but overall I found the rules interesting and original, and fun to play. They're well worth trying and have much to recommend them. For myself, I need to look in particular at the special rules for each nation and see how they fit in with my own thoughts. But that's just me.

'Til next time!

Saturday 16 March 2024

The Attack On Wurstburg 1758

It's well past time that I recorded some plain, old-fashioned wargaming on this blog, if only for my own benefit.  So to start with, this is a report on a game from just a few days ago, played with some old friends and using a scenario from one of the stalwarts of the now-defunct Honours of War website. Thanks then to Konstantinos Antoniadis for this scenario and the many others he has posted over the years. Some of them (including this one) can now be sampled by joining the Facebook Group. Just go to the Files section.

Konstantinos' map is shown above. His forces were French vs. Prussians - in my game the Austrians replace the French. The Austrians are defending the town of Wurstburg and the countryside to the west. They appear to be a little unprepared as the vital bridge is only lightly defended by inferior Bavarian troops, and the outlying units to the west are also weak. In addition to the bridge, there are alleged to be two viable fords across the river, one east of the bridge and one to the west. In the original scenario a pontoon bridge is to be built west of the bridge ('d'), but as I have no suitable troops I went for the ford option. The Prussian attacking force outnumbers the defenders by about 30%. The map shows the opening dispositions.

The great attraction of the scenario is the steady arrival of reinforcements for both sides, in particular the strong corps of von Kleist which arrives from the west ('h' on the map). This gives a game full of action, manoeuvre and choices. It also turned out to be very well balanced. The scenario was written for Honours of War, but I played it using my Post of Honour rules (also available for free download on the Facebook Group). The maximum turn allowance was reduced to 10 moves, which turned out to be fine, and I simplified the victory conditions by using objectives. These are shown by red dots on the map. Four of the six objectives would need to be claimed by the Prussians in 10 moves to win. Of course, if either side reached its breakpoint before then (9 units for the Austrians, 12 for the Prussians), they would automatically lose.

The Game in Pictures
The game opens with Prussian hussar detachments searching for the two fords, whilst the Prusian main forces either commence crossing via the bridge or wait impatiently for the hussars to be successful. Konstantinos had his own rules for the latter process - I produced what I called my 'Find The Fords Table'.
In the pre-game dice rolls for quality of brigade commanders, the Prussians had aquired a glittering array of 'dashing' commanders, and seemed full of confidence. The Austrian players (of which I was one) were rather more sober in outlook, hoping to hold on and praying for the reserves to arrive (or perhaps the other way round).

I'm afraid the opening moves remained unphotographed as I led the other 3 gamers through the rules, but the images below should give an idea of how things progressed post-lunch.

We join the game as von Kleist's Prussians arrive via the western table edge (foreground).
To the left two regiments of Austrian dragoons throw themselves into the fray to buy time.
Adam appears well satisfied by Prussian progress.
Or perhaps finishing the last of the Custard Creams accounts for his expression.

The Prussians have crossed the river in force and are building the pressure against Wurstburg.
Austrian reserve infantry are arriving on the left of the photo.

The Bavarian battalion in Dumhof was quickly smashed by Prussian artillery.
Now the remainder of the brigade is in trouble as the position on Windmill Hill is unhinged.
They have turned to their rear, but are still being connonaded from across the river.

A bettter view of the Austrain infantry reserves arriving in Wurstburg.

The Austrain reserve cuirassiers hover behind Trommler Farm waiting for a suitable
time and place to intervene (bottom right), as von Kleist's advance continues.

Now the Prussians have broken into Wurstburg. At top left the Austrain grenadier reserves are arriving, whilst at top right the Prussian grenadier brigade has crossed the bridge and are about to enter the fray.

Overview during the end game. The Prussians have claimed 3 objectives (bridge, Windmill Hill, and Wusrtburg north), and are disputing 2 others (Trommler Farm and Wurstburg south). But the Kaiserlichs have sacrificed too many units whilst holding back the Prussian tide, and have reached their breakpoint. Reserve biscuits have arrived at top left.

The Austrian Grenadier detachment bravely continue to dispute control of Trommler Farm,
but have been bypassed by the Prussian cavalry on their right, and Freikorps on their left.

The concluding positions around Wurstburg.

The north of the town is lost to the Austrians, whilst the Austrian grenadiers have their bases
firmly planted on the southern town objective marker. But the game is up.

So, a Prussian victory in the final turn. Their set of dashing commanders had produced a run of double moves which had greatly aided their triumph. On the other hand, von Kleist had arrived later than hoped, and the Austrian dragoon brigade had done wonders against the Prussian cavalry on the Austrian western flank, before being finally crushed. So Austrian hopes of victory had not been dashed too early.

This was a fine game, and all four of us enjoyed ourselves immensely. This is a scenario I would recommend for any Horse and Musket gamer, regardless of the actual period.

The Post of Honour rules worked very well, I thought. In essence, they are Shadow of the Eagles for the 18th century, and are in fact the rules from which SotE were developed. Of course, Honours of War would have been just as good!

Thanks for visiting. 'Til next time!