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!


  1. Huzzah for Shako! I've been playing Shako II and I've found the changes are small and often obscure. A lot applies to the powers that are not French or British. I can't remember just what the differences are right now, but I'm very pleased to find another Shako player!

    1. Glad you liked the post, John. Shako has always been a favorite game of mine. I wish I played Shako more - I think the biggest shortcoming for me is that I don't have enough stuff painted up!