Monday, December 28, 2015

BLACK POWDER: Napoleonic Peninsula Attack

Usually "the Christmas offensive" is a World War II battle that I play close to Christmas or on Christmas day if I have the time.  This year, as part of an ongoing Napoleonic rules-testing series of battles, I experimented with various Napoleonic rules sets in order to see which ones I like best. 

So far, I've played Neil Thomas' excellent "Napoleonic Wargaming," Arty Conliffe's outstanding "Shako" rules, and finally the ever-exciting "Black Powder" rules for Horse and Musket battles.

Portuguese defending their village

I won't talk about the comparisons now because I want to talk about the Black Powder game I played first.  Then, in a later post, I'll compare and contrast these 3 rules sets from a standpoint of what I liked versus what I didn't like about all of them.
This battle has the same TOE as the last 2 Napoleonic battles I played with 2 Brigades (or 1 Division in the case of Shako) attacking a town held by an Anglo-Portuguese force.  The French start out strong with good rolling as their force were mostly arrayed in columns thus the command receives a +1 to command values for placing them in such fashion.  This almost guarantees that they'll receive multiple move orders in a turn.  They do, and are almost at the village before the British turn even starts!

The French have the benefit of multiple units which is good because there is a heavy foot battery on a hilltop waiting for just such a target to come stomping through the tall grass...  One of the French columns receives a healthy dose of ballshot as it advances ever-closer to the British lines.

French Grand Battery  That Battalion to their front doesn't have a chance!

approaching the hill
 The French lights move in (one of the first times I've used "small" units in BP) against the British to start softening them up.  As an interesting aside here, the British Brigade on the left failed its command roll and their own skirmishers sat idle while the "French devils" ran all across their Brigade's front, picking off soldiers and officers alike.
Assaulting the hill

French columns
 The British adjust their right slightly and Portuguese artillery opens up with disappointing results against the densely packed French columns.  You can hear the drum beats and chanting of the French as they approach through the fields.

There were a few rules questions which I was easily able to answer here and again I applaud Black Powder due to its simplicity (and prose in the rule book although that same prose is awfully annoying if you're an impatient person like me, just looking for an answer to your question!).

 The one striking thing about Black Powder I noticed was that it would probably handle larger, much larger battles with ease, especially if you have multiple players handy.

the French close on the British and on the French right, against the hill, French columns are stopped cold by merciless British musket volleys.  Unfortunately for the French, their foreign volunteer Battalion, placed in the Brigade reserve, has not received its order to move and the command starts to lose its grip.  The Commander places himself in a more advantageous spot so he can coordinate the second wave.  To the division commander, it seems as if the attack against the British held hill is simply a demonstration now, and the main effort against the town must succeed!

 And succeed it does!  This time, the French try out a different trick by placing 2 Battalions in line to trade volleys with the Anglo-Portuguese force in the town all while bringing up assault columns alongside them.  The assaults go in with elan and the Portuguese artillery battery folds quickly, and a British Battalion is pushed back out of its position.

The subsequent breakthrough charge allows the French infantry to advance further now into the village, placing the overall British command in peril!  Black Powder says if the command is threatened they must join the nearest unit and they do - at a gallop!

The French battalion slices a wedge in between the force defending the town, who are now in very serious trouble.  The next move sees the French fire on the remaining British battalion from all sides. The British battalion evaporates and at this point, with the British division split (even though the all-British force is holding the hill top still) I decided to call the game.

Breakthrough!  French column sweeps into the town.

Lights skirmishing!

The British unit is trapped!

Portuguese retreating through the town!  Forced back actually.

British lights finally get to move!

They fail to take the hill but they got the town!  The British withdraw in good order.


First of all, I really enjoy games of Black Powder.  It's easily one of my favorite "horse and musket" era rules sets.  Besides satisfying results from combat, Black Powder delivers a level of excitement that goes beyond the "old school" approach (such as rolling and stand removal, huge accounting sheet lists of modifiers, etc).

While I admit I have less of a taste for "gimmicks" and "bullsh*t" in my rules, Black Powder gives you a decent command mechanism that works "much" of the time.  That said, for whatever reason you want to attribute it to, your troops won't always comply with your orders.  I'm ok with that as the command roll mechanism is not overpowering (although I've played games where there were units who never moved throughout the duration of the game due to my crummy rolling).

The rules answered many of my questions throughout the battle, leaving only a few left unresolved (break tests after melee combat for winning units anyone????).

Another thing I like about Black Powder is that it produces a great "narrative" of the battle, as evidenced by this lengthy post.

I like that shooting is done with 3 dice.  I also very much like the concept of "disorder" being separate from casualties.  For instance a unit can save all its casualties and still become disordered, rendering them unable to carry out an order during their turn.  The general concept of disorder, morale, and cohesion in real life is so abstract it's very refreshing to see it handled in such a nice and simple way in a game. 

Also another nice thing is that units recover automatically from disorder.  Again, a great mechanism for large battles.  (and it lends itself nicely to "eye candy" on the tabletop just like Bolt Action - you can come up with neat markers for disorder I would imagine).

This battle also saw the French win the day which was refreshing but in all honesty things in the village could have gone either way.

As I said before, some of the prose in the rule book is funny if you're reading it before bed or to refresh your knowledge of the rules.  Not so much during the heat of battle!  It was downright annoying when I was madly flipping through page after page to find out what happens to a command stand that's over run (I found it, BTW).'

It does seem that BP is built for larger battles, and that you need lots of units painted up to have a better gaming experience.

Final Analysis?  Black Powder is a solid game that delivers satisfying results in a reasonable amount of time.  It has built-in tension and excitement with the command mechanism and break tests, as well as a great method for incorporating friction /disorder on the tabletop.   Huzzah!

stay tuned wargaming fans - the "State of the Hobby" post as well as some interesting ideas for gaming in 2016.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas Everyone!

I think I post this picture every year and it's one of my favorite Christmas pictures ever.  It took me 23 years and a trip to a combat zone to learn that the best parts of Christmas (besides the promise of salvation...) don't come wrapped in boxes.

Merry Christmas everyone, or Happy Holidays, and if you don't celebrate anything at all this time of year (which is perfectly fine with me), I hope you have a wonderful day regardless.

My buddy David and I at Balad Airbase, Iraq, celebrating Christmas in 2003.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

SHAKO French Peninsula Attack: A Tale of Two Divisions

My Neil Thomas Napoleonics game left some of you clamoring for more so in that vein, here is another Naps game with the same forces arrayed a little differently to suit Arty Conliffe's "Shako" using the original rules.  (BTW as an interesting aside, I have been reading through the Shako II rulebook and I have not found any differences yet between the first or second edition).  I played this game in very small "batches" of turns probably no more than 15 or 20 minutes a day...

This game featured 2 French Divisions of 6 and 5 "formed" battalions and 1 skirmisher battalion each.  I decided to keep the French artillery batteries under Corps control as opposed to parceling out the guns to the divisions.  While you may not have the positioning to suit the advance, you have more flexibility in who you're attacking.  I resisted the cries of my Division commanders and gave the signal to attack....

The Anglo Portuguese forces (who else?) were defending a village and hilltop with 2 small "divisions."  Defending the town was a Portuguese force with 2 formed Portuguese battalions, 1 formed British battalion, and 1 artillery battery.  Defending the hill was a British force of 4 formed battalions and a heavy foot battery.

 The French stepped off in their usual fashion and made good progress, with each battalion following the division assault plan.  The problem I ran into was traffic management on the right, with battalions wheeling to and bumping into one another to move into the attack.  Some fancy footwork on the French part would have helped here and if they would have changed into column, I do think the attack would have gotten off much smoother.  It's a special feature the French have in Shako so why not use it?

British begin their artillery on the advancing French but the ballshot fails to find any good targets.  I should point out that the real success story here was the French "grand battery" used against a lone battalion in the open.  3 French guns firing ball even at long range forced a Battalion to break and flee the field, leaving a crucial sector of the British line undefended.  With no additional reserves to spare, the British division commander can only watch and let his stomach turn as the frenzied, blue lines stomp ever nearer.

View from the British side.  Note a French Battalion staggered (yellow die) with a single kill (red die with a "1" showing).  2 attacks against the center British Battalion would end badly.  But there is a French Battalion who broke through (center-right)!
                    Moving into contact the French find themselves in a hell of a fight.  The British fire is fierce and the French sacrifice a battalion just to claw their way up the hill to get at the British.  2 assaults against the British Battalion atop the hill are sent reeling back!  Eventually the tide of battle turns  and the British flank folds on the hilltop.

French Division struggling to take the hill.

Interestingly, they fail their division morale by rolling a "1" and the entire division withdraws without orders!

tragedy in the town as the French zero in on the Portuguese units (why I don't know - their uniforms are the only thing that separate them in this particular game) and a massive assault evaporates a Portuguese formed battalion and pushes another British battalion back.
Note the crisp, dressed French lines.

French storm the town!

A quick word on some mechanics that I really enjoyed about Shako: the infantry combat modifiers. 

Players are significantly awarded for doing 2 things:

  1. Softening up the enemy prior to charging (hopefully garnering some kills or a "staggered" result.
  2. Deploying supporting combat formations on the flanks and rear.

Shako's argument is that your games "look" more like Napoleonic battles and I have to say I agree.  The French had units to their rear and on both sides pressing home the attacks.  With the way the modifiers (calm down, there aren't too many) work, a unit that you thought had great advantages could see those advantages negated by the enemy's modifiers, especially if he's clever about how he deploys his battalions to maximize support.  The melees went the French players' way each time due in no small part to the French deployment scheme.

The devastating attack against the town sent the Portuguese and British retiring through the town and in rough shape.  In the end, with one British division back at the start line and another retiring, the British withdrew in good order, ending the battle.

I will say that this battle, a French victory, was really a story of 2 smaller engagements, the French attack on the hill on the right, and the French attack on the town on the left.  Both divisions had roughly similar forces, with the  Corps grand battery providing support primarily to the division attacking the hilltop.

The French attack on the right against the British held hill did not go as easily as the attack against the town on the left, even though the attack against the town had probably less than 5% of all the artillery fired during the battle in its support.  I wondered why that was and in retrospect, the attack against the town was much more organized with battalions in disciplined and mutually supporting formations. 

The avalanche of modifiers granted to the French for support (flank and rear support) negated the benefits the British and Portuguese held by garrisoning the town.

The thin Anglo-Portuguese line (3 units on combat turn one and 2 units on combat turn 2 with no reserve) guaranteed that the attacking force with flank and rear modifiers would overwhelm them, despite poor dice rolling.

So there you have it.  A well coordinated, well thought out attack with skillful deployment of units can turn the tide.  Whereas on the right, a poorly organized attack which went in piecemeal relegated too much to chance, with small, individual combats and much less support.  Fascinating!

Shako delivered a cracking good game and my biggest regret is that I don't have more units painted for bigger even bigger battles.

Next up, we'll try the same game with Black Powder and see how it goes.  At that time we can compare 3 Napoleonic rules sets and see which one stacks up best!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Cold War Reinforcements!

Well my "Potecknov's Bears" FINALLY arrived!  There's also a little MERDC surprise in this post as well.  Albeit a poorly photographed one but it shows I've been working a little anyways...

By now you're probably sick and tired of everyone posting pictures of their TEAM YANKEE stuff for...well.  the game TEAM YANKEE.  Mine will be used for other games in addition to Team Yankee.  Like Sabre Squadron among others!  Plus I received a free vehicle for all of the troubles that came with pre ordering.

 I received 10 AFVs (T-72s) and 2 x HIND MI-24s in 1/100 scale and boy are they HUGE!

You were right, David.  Look at those tracks!  A thing of beauty.

The body is slightly smaller than my Zvezda T-72B.  That's OK they'll be in separate units.
I've got my work cut out for me!
I will go over the models individually over the next few days when I can find the time.  I will say though that the castings are absolutely beautiful and I cannot wait to put these together and paint them.

Speaking of painting, not to be outdone by the Soviets, the Americans have their own reinforcements to add.  Again, I apologize for the crappy pictures but that's how it goes sometimes!  More to follow.

My MERDC proof of concept

MERDC Madness!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Neil Thomas Napoleonic Wargaming: Peninsula Attack Part II ENDGAME

The Neil Thomas Napoleonic Peninsula game was finished last night will telling results! The French closed to assault the British positions along the line.  The attacks occurred staggered from right to left and in that order.  The assault on the French right (British left) went in first and succeeded in pushing the British off of their position, only to be swiftly counter-attacked by the British and pushed back off the hill!
French attack succeeds and pushes the British off the hill

meanwhile the other French battalions position themselves to assault.  It's important to note here that the Portuguese are considered "in the town" along with a battery of their artillery, making this village a tough nut to crack.  Note the hand to hand combat in the upper right.
Forces gather for the assault.  Note the French on the right hilltop, reeling from the last combat!
 The French commander is starting to get nervous.  Even with all the battalions up front, his musketry is not forcing any of the British or Portuguese from their positions and the first assault did not go his way...

Commit the reserves now!  The French elite battalion surges forward, hoping to finish off the assault.  
 The elites switch to column along with another battalion.  It's a hard day's work in the Peninsula! While I forgot to take pictures of the action, the Royal Artillery scored a major hit against the French Cavalry on the French left and successfully kill 2 stands.  They fail their subsequent morale check and lose another stand prior to "going in" and charging the fresh British infantry on the hill.  The cavalry unit evaporates!

French foreign volunteers close ranks march forward to continue to fire at the Portuguese in the town.  While they finish to find any targets, they are keeping extra forces pinned down.

Successful British infantry and artillery still holding the right!
 Where is our artillery?!?  The French commander cries.  The battery starts to move up, hoping to blast the Portuguese and British out of their positions.

meanwhile the combat on the right moves back and forth with the French gathering and assaulting the position again.

hit after hit against the stubborn Portuguese and each one is saved!  (receive a 4+ save in towns).
 Morale problems start to enter the picture now as the Italian volunteers start taking hits and more and more stands evaporate (Levy pass their MC on 5+).
Italians on the far left in white.  Casualties are mounting for the other 2 battalions.

3:1 odds in the village but not enough with that enemy artillery battery!

The whole line - lots of red dice!  (casualties)

The last of the British lights retreat to the safety of the village and continue to fire at the French to their front - exacting a rough toll on the Italians.
 Feeling the moment right and seeing nothing but dead horses and cavalrymen to his front, the British commander moves the Battalion on his right forward to start putting pressure on the French.  He has no idea that his troops are in much better shape than them!

One after another, the French battalions break!  The Portuguese have a mere 2 hits on them!  The British are firmly in control of the hill on their left (French right).

French commander is starting to worry and commits the elite reserves and artillery to a final assault.  His troops are suffering at the hands of the British and Portuguese musketry!
 The French commander sends in his most elite troops to assault the Portuguese directly and they are repulsed!  It seems like nothing can dislodge troops who are in towns!  Another Battalion forms up to assault the town but the British artillery also have something to say about that.

The Italians quit the field thanks to combined shooting from the Portuguese artillery and British lights, leaving one of the French assault columns exposed to British artillery.  They lose more stands and the French decide to quit.

Final Thoughts:  This was a good game - very hard fought although I have to say the way shooting and combat was going, I didn't doubt the outcome.  British muskets are deadly in Neil Thomas' rules and going straight up against them without flanking or extra artillery is asking for trouble.  With the numbers, I wonder if the results would have been a little different with NT's "regular" Napoleonic rules in "Wargaming: An Introduction."

I would like to try this exact same scenario with NT's rules from Wargaming: An Introduction.  With my megalomania, I'd also like to try it out with Rank & File, and Black Powder and see how that goes.  Of course with Cold War stuff in full swing, that's if I ever find the the time!