Saturday, October 7, 2017

Eagles at Quatre Bras...In Austria?

Not much time for gaming this weekend but I did manage to retire to the gaming bunker after the women and children went to sleep for the night last night for a quick, introductory game of Norm Smith's "Eagles at Quatre Bras."  [link]

If you've been following my blog of late, I've become enamored with Hex gaming using miniatures on the tabletop and Norm Smith's outstanding "Tigers at Minsk" really scratched the itch for me for WWII gaming so I thought I'd try and peer into the vast black hole of Napoleonic grand-tactical wargaming with hexes.

Last night i threw some forces on the table reminiscent of the 1809 campaign.  An small Austrian Division is blocking a road.  The French need to open the road.  Austrians have 2 "regiments" and an artillery battery along with their commanding general who has been given modest forces in an attempt to slow down the French steamroller. 

The French have a brigade of elites, along with 3 infantry brigades, a light cavalry brigade, a battery of artillery and 2 officer stands.

The battle opens at the 11:00 hour and the French advance!

French Artillery opens up a cannonade on the Austrians while their infantry boldly advance across the fields.
 The sequence of play is interesting and takes some getting used to but in reading Norm's notes, it becomes obvious "why" certain things happen at prescribed times.  Gamers who appreciate the author's intent for various rules will appreciate Norm's style as he gives superb explanations for his rationale.

The game turns open with the active player attempting to lose disorder/blown, and change formation with a command roll on a D10.  Better troops have a better chance of passing.  Worse troops, less chance.  In this game, all troops were regulars with a value of "7" to beat or less on the command roll.  Officers give you a -1 to the die roll to help out.

The infantry cannot assault this turn as they advanced in the regular movement phase in line! 
 While "grand tactical" the reader will appreciate the subtleties of the rules.  Units are pushed back routinely from disorder and fire but they come back almost as quickly as they left which really adds to the excitement.  For a game like Volley & Bayonet, Blucher, or Et Sans Resultat (All excellent games in their own right) where a few hours' worth of action occurs with the throw of a dice, EAQB gives you a taste of the frustrations, heartache, and joy of a commander on the Napoleonic battlefield as your units are not static.

My unfamiliarity with the rules enables some rash decision and my converged grenadiers advance right up to the muzzle of the Austrians but since they moved in line, cannot attack (had they passed their command roll in the beginning of the turn, they'd have been able to move into columns and assault in their own phase!).  The opening of the Austrian turn sees muskets leveled (or lowered?) and a deadly volley unleased at the Grenadiers, who take a "heavy casualty" and retreat 2 hexes, disordered.

My elites on the left fail their command roll again and are disordered as well as beginning to accumulate heavy casualty markers now.  You do not want to roll high on that D10!
 With the sequence of play the way it is, it's now clear to me that prior planning is necessary before launching an assault.  You have to time your advance, and ensure there are multiple units advancing as well, as enemy fire may well drive a lone brigade off easily enough.

11:28am - I love the timed turns using cards to advance the clock!  Like Tigers at Minsk, the clock really adds an element of realism to the game.
 The Austrians are holding pretty well and the casualty rates are not really excessive.  You need at least 2 hits when attacking to cause a "heavy casualty" result and those aren't quite as common.  I try to mix things up and do the exact thing I chide Dave against - move my Cavalry up as a battering ram against fresh troops!

Thundering hooves and sabers raised - but is it enough to dislodge the white coats?

The Austrians successfully form square and my cavalry passes their command test but bounces back "blown" and "disordered"
 I had a few questions at this point - I also had an infantry unit adjacent to the Austrian square (mass?) formation.  In their assault, they managed to score 1 hit against the Austrian square.  Does the square have to withdraw 1 hex disordered?  (that's the result from the hit table when 1 hit is scored.)
I played the square withdrawing, disordered, 1 hex and still remaining in square formation.  I couldnt find where the rules addressed this situation (that doesn't mean they dont.  It's been a long, tiring week).

12:06pm and the Austrians are stubbornly holding on.  My elites will be fully reconstituted and "rallied" at 12:28pm so they're not ready yet.  that green D10 rolled 9 4 turns in a row so I got rid of it....
 Some more questions about disorder - what "bad" things does disorder do?  Am I still allowed to advance while disordered?  I know I have to pass a command test to lose disorder, and I know I cannot change formation when disordered, but besides that what negative things does it bestow on me?  I couldn't figure that out because from reading the rules it appears as if I can still attack an adjacent unit while disordered.

What I love about EAQB - I finally got to attack a square on the tabletop with infantry!!  Usually my games are either too high level to manage this, or the infantry fight is over before the cavalry is sent in.  Here are my lights trying to break their Austrian foe's square (mass?) formation.
 The Austrians get a chance to compose their line and, even though pushed back slightly, they are able to present a wall to the French.

2 Austrian "Regiments" facing the French.
Something else interesting happened - my Austrian artillery goes out of ammo (rolled a "1" on their firing which forces the out of ammo test, then they rolled another "1").  Then they're assaulted on the ground by a French column!  What happens to them now?  

Anyways I played the French assault out and they scored 1 hit against the Battery, which pushed the battery back, disordered.  I know there are rules about running the battery down for cavalry, but what about an infantry assault, and how does the "Out of Ammo" affect the battery's combat?

Note the stacked cannonballs for "Out of Ammo" for the Austrian guns.  The French start to learn the value of their assault columns as well!

not sure if this was played out correctly but the battery was disordered and pushed back 1 hex.
 Another question about disorder if Norm happens to read this - if the attacker rolls a "1" he takes 1 hit himself, which causes "disorder retreat 1 hex" so if the defender is pushed back, but the attacker has 1 hit, do they BOTH retreat?  I did not play it that way.  I advanced the attacker into the vacated hex, but kept his disorder marker.

An Austrian regiment is pushed back to the table edge and the battle is reaching its conclusion!

12:26!  Almost time for the Grenadiers to be put back into action!  (note the 28 on the dice behind the grenadiers)  The battle is almost over now as one of the Austrian regiments retreats to the table's edge with 3 heavy casualties

I desperately want to attempt to set up a "Flank Attack" but the proximity rules don't allow yet!  The flank attack allows the attacker 2 extra dice but there has to be a 1 hex separation between attackers, with no additional adjacent defenders.

Red Dice are "heavy casualties" and the yellow beads are disorder markers.

The final French assault masses and the Austrians are pushed off the table by another French assault column.  The Austrians call it quits!  
 Although I didn't use them, there are rules in EAQB for calling the game but I didn't have enough units on the table to use them.  (tied to heavy casualties received).

Final dispositions
A very satisfying game that has the right amount of period feel to it.  There are some concepts you have to wrap your head about early on, but ultimately, Eagles at Quatre Bras is a simple, fun, and very challenging game.  Even though you're in command, things happen that are out of your control, and you have to plan to mitigate the bad things that can happen when your plan doesn't come off as expected.

I like how assaults/combat are handled with units conducting their "combats" while adjacent and artillery and rifle armed skirmishers being the only units that have ranged fire.

I also like how there are technically no facings to fiddle with, however you can pull off a flank attack on an enemy if you set it up correctly.  The methodology for cavalry charges and assaults is simply brilliant in my opinion.  Cheers to Norm for developing a novel set of Napoleonic rules that captures the spirit of the era and the challenges that the commanders faced.  Here's my list of things that I really enjoyed about the game:

Time clock.  I love that the turns are anywhere from 8 to 60 minutes long, and probably closer to 25 minutes.  I also love that some unit statuses (artillery resupply and some unit rallying) are tied to the game clock, which makes it relevant to the commanders and not just a novelty.

Usefulness of Formations.  Players are rewarded for using their formations correctly.

Simplicity of combat.  The D6 methodology, which is very similar to Tigers at Minsk, is lovely and refreshingly simple.  Also the hit against the attacker for rolling a 1 is nice.  Makes the game much more suitable for solitaire gamers like me.

Narrative.  The ebb and flow of the combats, with units routinely being pushed back and "heavy casualties" being somewhat rare, really makes for a tense and exciting game that produces a narrative like a battle report would read.

once again, my hat's off to Norm.  Please make a Seven Years War supplement!


  1. Steve thanks for putting this on the table, I know the way the rules are written, the first couple of games can be quite a learning curve, so thanks for sticking with it.

    There are a load of concepts that I like with the rules .... but, they were put up on my site as a beta set and I'm afraid I have not done much with them since (though changes are afoot!).

    Basically I have some old ACW hex rules (Two Flags - One Nation) and the Napoleonic set. They come from quite different backgrounds, but this year I set about doing an updated version of my old ACW rules and I dragged across a lot of Eagle at Quatre Bras into those rules, because they contained my current thinking on what I want rules to do. The intent was to get a single set of Horse and Musket rules that would have specific rules for Napoleonic, AWI and ACW.

    Because the two sets come from quite different directions, it has been difficult to merge the rules and so what I have now is a well developed set of ACW rules with EAQB lagging somewhat behind. Over the coming months I hope to pick up EAQB and dust them down to something that feels a bit less awkward. On my revisit of EAQB, I will likely be bringing across quite a bit from the ACW set in an effort to get the two systems closer together. (this will see disorder effect fire and combat, as it presently only effects charging cavalry and the C&C tests).

    EAQB was written with Quatre Bras permanently on the table and so the result was that the rules give a game that allows a battle of that size to go onto the kitchen table. This created a scale in which units were equalling brigades and turns of up to an hour ... where-as my ACW set is units are regiments and 200 metres per hex and turn time is 2 x D6 plus 8 minutes long (intended to give 10 to 20 minutes range, but to average out nearer 15 minutes).

    And so in trying to equalise the two sets, my first decision is whether the keep the Napoleonic set at brigades, or drop down to battalions and regiments and it is this sticking point that makes me inclined to want to keep them as two different, but related systems.

    Thanks for giving so much of your blog time and space to TaM and EAQB, it does help spur me on the get these things more polished.

    By the way, at least one TaM expansion is also being looked at (yes, that means two!). Too many projects with too little time :-)

    1. I should have said, it is worth keeping an eye out on my COMMANDERS site as it tends to flag up plans, rule changes and thoughts earlier than the blog does. The link is

      By the way, I like the look and utility of your 4 base units, better than my 2 x 40mm base units

    2. Thanks Norm, your COMMANDERS site is linked on my useful site link on the right hand side of this blog. As far as the 4 base units are concerned, most of my Horse & Musket basing is in this schema. 100mm across gives me nice looking units with an acceptable mass to them in both 10mm and 15mm.

    3. I still need to play TFON and have been reading over the rules but I'm very passionate about my Napoleonic rules (aren't most Napoleonic gamers??) and so I just had to try EAQB given that there are so many novel and terrific concepts in them.

      Personally, I like the Brigade/Regimental level as you can play larger battles on smaller tables with the rules comfortably but that's only my humble opinion.

      I'm very excited to hear a supplement for TaM is in the works, and also equally excited that you've had an AWI supplement for Horse and Musket rules in your mind as well. Perhaps I could use the AWI version when it comes out for SYW battles. Keep up the great work, Norm!

  2. Answering some of your questions.

    Situation - Your square retreated disordered - that is correct under the rules, however I will be doing this differently, I don't want squares retreating.

    Situation - what is bad about a disorder - also cavalry can't charge. In rule changes I would have disorder impact on fire and attack capability.

    Situation - Artillery went out of ammo and were then attacked - In the absence of the rules saying anything on the point, you played as per the rules - however, when I re-visit these, such a situation would see the artillery removed from play.

    Situation - Attackers HIT the enemy, but also received a HIT themselves, can they advance after combat? On the chart a 1 hit only causes a defender to retreat, not the attacker. So both wold go disordered, the defender would retreat, then because the attacked hex is vacated, the attacker MUST (compulsory) advance after combat.

    It's interesting, after spending so much time on my ACW set, which is now quite tight, the gaps in these rules are very obvious.

    1. Thank you for your timely answers! I plan on playing a larger game of EAQB based on a Grande Armee beginner's scenario involving Austrian forces fighting against French forces in 1809, but I plan on playing a few smaller, introductory battles first. I'd also say that the Commands and Colors Napoleonics scenarios look like they'd work splendidly with the EAQB rules.

    2. And don't be too hard on yourself - the rules played very well for a newbie like me :)

  3. Really enjoyed reading this guys - looks like a great set. I will look at these again.

    1. Would be well worth your time Darren. Tigers at Minsk and now Eagles at Quatre Bras are quickly becoming favorites of mine!

  4. Great job, Steven! Your BatRep and explanation of the rules was quite informative. I recognized a lot of the mechanisms and processes in the these rules to Norm's ACW rules.

    1. Cheers Jonathan. Norm said many of the concepts from EAQB and TFON are borrowed. I have yet to play the ACW rules but theyre next up on the docket.

      Just wait until you see the solo game ive been playing using EAQB next!