Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Crossroads: Spain, 1808

The French Vanguard.
This, the second game in the Crossroads series, takes place in Spain in 1808. Set broadly during Moore's retreat to Corunna, the scenario and forces themselves are hypothetical. Further the figures employed are from Alternative Armies Slaughterloo range. While using fantasy black powder figures adds a touch of whimsy, in this particular case their appearance  is the only fantasy element, with all troops acting as their historical human counterparts.

The rules in use this time are a set of horse and musket rules I have been developing along the lines of Two Hour Wargames' offerings. However rather than being a skirmish level set of  rules, this engine is scalable from having each unit represent a company up to each unit representing a brigade. In this case units represent infantry battalions, cavalry regiments, and artillery batteries. Each stand represents a a division of two companies of infantry. a squadron of two troops of cavalry, or an entire battery with the number of two gun sections present each represented by a single crew figure.

The rules are an updating of an earlier project, now moved to a stand based vice figure based approach. With the plethora of information out there on Napoleonic subjects in particular, a word on my preferences may help. For questions on unit frontages and etc I went with Mark Adkin's "Waterloo Companion" where sources conflict. Of course "conflict" also includes units adapting to circumstances, yet in order for a game to work some standardization is required. Further my personal favorite set of Napoleonic rules is "Paddy Griffith's Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun". While I love a command system that involves written orders, and couriers, as well as force rosters and etc., sometimes that level of bookkeeping does not appeal.  As such while my set of rules is not a direct copy of the late Mr. Griffith's rules (what would be the point!), any similarity is probably intentional. Suffice it to say that the rules used to play this game take the point that fun is the goal.

The scenario is taken from C. S. Grant's "Programmed Wargames Scenarios" the main details of which may be gleaned from a look at the first game in this series. For a long while now I've been after having a cavalry fight and with this in mind selected my force from those available for this scenario. Details of the enemy force, the time and place of our arrival on the table, the quality of commanders, enemy plans, and the occurrence of random events were all randomly determined as laid down in the scenario rules.
Initial Deployment.
I would take the rule of Sir John Moore. I divided my force into two brigades, a Light Brigade consisting of:

  • 3 squadrons of the 10th Hussars (cavalry)
  • 6 companies of the 95th Rifles (light infantry)
  • 1 battery of 6 x 6pdr Royal Horse Artillery
And Heavy Brigade consisting of:
  • 3 squadrons of the 26th Light Dragoons - the Joccian Hussars (light cavalry)
  • 3 squadrons of the 6th Dragoons (cavalry)
  • 3 squadrons of the the Life Guards (cavalry)
  • 3 squadrons of the 2nd Dragoons - The Joccian Greys (cavalry)
Despite the presence of some prestigious units on both sides, all troops were rated as trained regulars, Rep 6, in this game.

My commanders at both brigade and unit level were all rather mediocre with a good many plodders. Only the commander of the Greys showed any reap spark (Rep 5).

I had to plan and play through two turns of movement onto the table before the enemy force would be diced for and revealed. This time I would enter from the West table edge, providentially along both roads, AND with a one turn head start on the enemy. I would get their "firstest with the mostest"! The Light Brigade entered from the SW while the Heavies entered from the NW.

The French force turned out to be three brigades, one of horse and two of foot.
Cavalry Brigade:
  • 3 Squadrons Hussars de Jeunes (light cavalry)
  • 3 Squadrons of Corps Imperial des Dragons (cavalry)
  • 3 Squadrons of L'Esprit du Garde (armoured cavalry)
Light Infantry Brigade:
  • 4 companies 1/2nd Legre (light infantry)
  • 4 companies 2/2nd Leger (light infantry)
Line Infantry Brigade
  • 6 companies 1/15th Ligne (line infantry)
  • 6 companies 2/15th Ligne (line infantry)
  • 6 companies 3/15th Ligne (line infantry)
  • 1 battery of 8 guns 8pdr  foot artillery
Again all troops were rated as trained regulars, Rep 6, while the French did considerably better in the leadership department with a nice cross section of Rep 3', 4's, and 5's.

The French would enter from the SE, Hussars leading. I would randomly determine their order of march and battle plan as more forces arrived.

My plan:
Clearly my force was not a good one for holding ground. Success could only come from aggressive action. In general if I could drive off the French horse, my cavalry and horse artillery should make short work of the enemy foot. Specifically the 10th Hussars would run at any enemy cavalry it faced while the Rifles took up position in the wood and village by the crossroads. The battery of RHA would deploy to the left of the Rifles.Once the infantry and guns were in place the 10th would retire taking up station on the left of my line.
The Heavies would sweep north of the crossroads and and take the enemy in the flank. I'd hold them by the nose and kick them in the pants : ).

The French plan:
My opposite number would push up the road as far as he could and then deploy, making a beeline for the crossroads. Once in possession of the objective he would set up a strong defense and hold his ground until I went away.

What happened:
According to plan the 10th Hussars had a go at the forward French regiment. In this short engagement the better mounted British had the advantage, forcing the Hussars de Jeune back with some loss. 
Hussars Clash.

Surprisingly I was able to keep the Hussars in hand and prevent a he** bent for leather pursuit. However they were not sufficiently in hand to retire in good order and milled about on the spot.

The next French unit to arrive was the Corps Imperial de Dragons. They deployed to the right of the Hussars de Jeunes, nearly catching the 10th Hussars as they reformed.
I was now neatly positioned to put phase two into effect and hit the reeling Hussars de Jeunes with the Joccian Hussars. Unfortunately at this juncture a panicked boar ran in among the Joccians leaving them in some disarray (random event!).

On the plus side there was a lull in the action during which the 10th Hussar were able to reform and retire.
Help Arrives.
At the start of the next turn the French cuirassiers trotted onto the table while the Hussars de Jeunnes reformed and regained some order.

The Joccian Hussars finally kicked off their charge and sent the Hussars de Jeunnes flying from the field.
Put to Flight!
And again with uncharacteristic restraint the Joccians were reigned in before they could be hit in the flank by the cuirassiers. 
There was another short lull with both sides bringing more troops to the front. British artillery fire forced the Corps de Imperial des Dragons to take position behind the ridge on the southern end of the field.
Legre Arrive.
As the first elements of the French Legre brigade arrived, the cuirassiers took up position on the French right. With both flanks now covered by horse the French infantry could now press forward.
Cuirassiers Deploy.
Meanwhile with the Joccian Hussars covering the approaches to the crossroads, I began deploying the heavier regiments to their left.
On the heels of the Legre, the Ligne arrived and wasted no time advancing. Apparently the guns were far to the rear.
Battle Lines.
The French deployed skirmishers while the Rifles occupied the wood and village near the crossroads. All was going according to plan.
The Rifles.
The 15th Ligne deployed into column of attack and advanced on the crossroads. The Joccian Hussars, gave a little ground, conforming to the French movement.
The time had come. The 6th Dragoons charged the cuirassiers!
Charge of the Heavies.
The armoured horsemen were up to the challenge although both sides had to retire and reform.
The 10th Hussars forward divisions of Legre, routing them. The Corps de Imperial des Dragons, apparently stunned at the audacity of the charge, stood rather than counter charging. It was to prove a costly mistake.
With the cuirassiers out of the way, the Joccian Hussars charged the 1/15th Ligne, routing them. 
Wild Charge!
The exuberant Joccians swept on taking a nasty volley from the remaining Legre as they passed...
...and crashed into the flank of the Imperial des Dragons, routing them.

With two thirds of his cavalry, half his Legre, and a third of his Ligne routing, the French commander ordered a withdrawal and the game ended.

This again proved an enjoyable solo scenario. One of the great advantages of solo games is that you get to play out the sort of actions that might not make for a good two player game. In this instance the French side was face with some serious disadvantages, and with the random set up and arrival times the disadvantage could just as easily have been mine.

In truth, once having found out the strength of the British force that had beaten him to the crossroads, the French commander would have been better off halting his advance and deploy his forces for a more deliberate assault, starting, say, half a table further to the east. 

Scenario considerations aside, the ruled worked a treat. The key concepts support the notions that combat is attritional, cavalry is powerful yet brittle, and commanders do (or don't do) the darndest things. 

Next up will be a Plains Wars implementation of the same approach based on my old Comancheria rules.

Hope you had a good time and thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Crossroads: Firefight Off the Grid

The Crossroads
Prydian Civil War, The Ion Age: The spark of war, ignited on Bosworth IV has spread throughout the system. Even the backwater ag-world of Evesham has become a scene of conflict. Admittedly it is fought at a very low intensity, yet conflict it remains.

 Our story concerns an affair of outposts fought by the blue and yellow liveried forces of  the Earl of Warenne representing the Yordanists on the one side and the kahki, silver, and blue of the Company of St. Andrew, in the pay of Canlaster on the other.

Some background first. This is the first in a series of  games I plan to play using the same scenario in different ears. The scenario is "The Crossroads", number 11 in C. S. Grant's excellent "Programmed Wargames Scenarios". Each scenario in the book is played out on semi-random terrain, with again semi-random force generation. The scenarios are set up so that in most cases the player(s) can take one side and the book will handle the decisions and plans of the enemy, Here I will take up the cause of Canlaster and the book will handle the forces of Warenne.

For this game I am using the "Firefight 2.0" rules that I developed for Alternative Armies. Firefight 2.0 or FF2 for short is a tense game of close-in urban combat in the spire cities of the Ion Age. It is normally played on a square grid, but for this game I am just using my regular wargames table. By simply equating each FF2 square with a single inch, it's dead easy to do so. Indeed players are free to use any increment per square, say 1 cm or 2 inches or whatever suits the space available to play this way. I also capped weapon ranges at 25 inches if this was otherwise unspecified. The only other change implemented was to use circular burst templates rather than the squares used in the gridded game.

For those of you unfamiliar with FF1 and/or the current version, a word on the mechanics. Basically every figure is rated for the number of action dice it may use when activated. This number may be modified by weapons and equipment, as well as just what sort of action is being attempted. When acting the player rolls the appropriate number of action dice. 1's usually mean a defensive success such as dodging a hit, while 6's represent an offensive success such as hitting a target or treating a wound. Any other result is called a General dice. These are used to carry out more mundane tasks such as moving about and operating machinery.

Back to the game. The table depicted a small community at the cross roads of two major routes (major for a back water ag-world anyway). The roads entered/exited from the NW, NE, SE, and SW corners of the table. The crossroads itself was situated nearer the east than the west table edge. There were some clumps of woods scattered about and a number of low rises. On the western edge there was a long ridge dominated by a steep mesa at the southern end.

One last and very important restriction; The Rules of Engagement forbid the use of explosives/heavy weapons on any target where collateral damage could result to any civilian structure. The Prydian Civil War is an affair of Barons fighting amongst themselves and any severe disruption to civil infrastructure is strictly prohibited...for now.

Randomly generating my force, I ended up with the smallest possible command. My force consisted of one  fire team of 4 Muster (think regular infantry), one understrength fire team of 3 Retained (think futurisit armour), a Muster heavy weapons (HW) team of an Anvil Rocket Launcher team, a Muster scout, and a Retained medic. My on table presence was in the form of a Retained Knight (officer).
The Approach.

We were instructed to approach the crossroads from the NE and I set the marching order thus; Scout, command team of myself and medic, Retained fire team, Heavy Weapons team, and lastly the Muster fire team bringing up the rear.

It was a good thing that I had drawn the shorter approach to the crossroads for as it happened Warenne's men had beaten me onto the table by a move. Entering from the NW, Warrenne's force was eventually discovered to number a Muster platoon of three regular fire teams of four rifles, a HW team of  of one Anvil, two Rifle supports for the HW team, a medic and a comms officer all led by a Muster Magoris (Officer).
Warenne's Men

I was outnumbered 19 to 11, but we had Right on our side. Actually my small force of Retained would be a great counter to Warenne's numbers. Or so I hoped.
Scout and Command enter the settlement.

Warenne's men began spreading out, a fire team occupy a wood to the north of the settlement, the HW section to the western ridge, and the remainder to advance on the crossroads itself. Their maneuvers would inevitably lead to part of my force being caught in the open by fire from the wood.

Girding our loins we pressed on. My plan was to get my Retained into the settlement to thwart the enemy HW team, while using my HW team to cover the movement. We'd soon see if Retained armour conferred any real benefit on the open battlefield. My Muster team was to be my reserve, taking position behind the settlement in order to shore up any weak points in my forward section.

We had nearly reached the cover of the buildings when shots rang out and my character was struck and down. The medic rushed over to assess the damage and my chances looked good. My wound level was 6. It merely needed to be raised to 7 for my figure to re-enter the fray. However each turn the status would drop one level without medical attention.
Struck down by sniper fire.
The very next turn the medic was struck down as he tended me. The nearby Retained put paid to the sniper but the damage had been done. The scout quickly dragged me to cover and did what he could. At this point, from a story telling perspective, I could have ended the game. Certainly "I" was no longer capable of remaining in command.
Warenne's Men advance.

However as it was so early in the game I pressed on as my subordinate : )
Grove of Death.

With the HW team pouring fire into the wood, the Retained fired as they made for the cover of the buildings.
Advancing under fire.

Here the superior armour and armament of the Retained came into its own as the three remaining Retained shrugged off a couple of hits while themselves dealing out some damage. A lucky HW shot eliminated all resistance in the wood and there was a momentary lull as both sides prepared for what would follow.
Position silenced.

The Lull.

In a scene repeated on thousands of worlds in millions of wars my men took shelter among the shanties and prepared to fight for their lives far from home at the back end of nowhere..
Eternal Soldier.

Desperate Times.
Warenne's Men got ready to assault the village.
Stay Frosty
The Muster teams paired off, some providing covering fire while the others advanced.
The assault kicks off.
As I had hoped, by keeping my men in the settlement, the enemy's HW team was denied viable targets. They watched from on high, awaiting any opportunity to fire.
Now it was our turn to play sniper and soon blue clad bodies littered the lane.
The Lane.
As Warenne's assault went in the firing became general and ranges got down to point blank.
Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough!
My forwardmost Retained fell in a hail of fire but took one of his attackers with him...
I guess they were...
His killer had scant time to relish his victory as he fell to a volley from my reserve Muster team.

Meanwhile the scout lost his battle with the inevitable and my character bled out.
Situation Critical.
At this point the Retained section leader fired an extremely effective burst that brought down two more of the enemy. Warenne's Men had had enough and began to retire!
Final losses amounted to three for the Company of St. Andrew; Commander, medic, and one Retained. 

Warenne suffered the loss of thee Muster Trooper Emeritus (section leaders), and seven  Muster rank and file. 

A good day's work for the Company.

Notes: It was a fun game. I was a bit concerned by the disparity in numbers but in the end the fighting skill of the Retained more than made up for their lack of numbers.

As far as using Firefight 2 on the table vice the grid, well there were no difficulties encountered at all. 

All figures pictured are from Alternative Armies. Buildings from Rackham and JR Miniatures. Roads from Miniature World Maker. Other terrain primarily from The Terrain Guy with bits from Lemax and Geo-Hex. Acrylic game tokens from Litko.

Hope you enjoyed the report and as always thanks for stopping by!