Saturday, December 21, 2019

The Christmas Offensive: ASPERN-ESSLING!

The usual suspects were over today for the annual Christmas MEGAGAME and this year we pulled out all the stops, switched centuries, and put a huge battle on the table - Napoleonic style!  Some of you will remember last year's Arab-Israeli battle for Tassa Junction during the 1973 Yom Kippur war using the popular Team Yankee rules.  In fact all of the Christmas offensives have been 20th century affairs...until now!
Austrians of the 4th column marching to the battle

Today we played the entire battle of Aspern-Essling using Norm's excellent "EAGLES AT QUATRE BRAS" rules, and when you're done reading this, you'll wonder how we fit all of that Napoleonic goodness on a single 6x4 table.

French arrayed in battle lines (taken after the battle!)

We played this battle using the reinforcement schedule and unit roster from the Volley & Bayonet "Austria Stands Alone" campaign supplement.  I had spent quite a few weeks in preparation for the game, including putting the roster and unit quality table together, building terrain including the villages of both Aspern and Essling, modeling the world-famous Essling Granary, and the Aspern Church which Alex mused looked like the Munster's house from the old TV show.

The French initial positions.  Aspern is in the foreground and the Danube is clearly visible behind.
 1:00pm - Hiller's 1st Column (IV ArmeeKorps) Arrives
Hiller's Colum enters the table
Units from Hiller's column shake out from the road to Stadtlau and fan out to assault Aspern.  No shooting or combat on the first turn.

Baden-Hochburg troops garrisoning Aspern Church and Cemetery which would be the scene of brutal fighting.  
 1:37pm Hiller edges closer to Aspern.  The French Cavalry sally forth

Hiller's troops continue to fan out to assault Aspern while the French heavy Cavalry to the tune of Pire's Hussars and heavy Cuirassier Brigade Fouler leave the bridgehead position to assault the oncoming Austrians on the Marchfeld!  Ken's Cuirassier are now trapped in a pocket, unable to retreat and taking heavy casualties from assailing Austrian brigades.  GdD LaSalle accompanies them.

French Cuirassier trapped

Disordered Austrian brigades on the Marchfeld

The gang playing through the first column's attacks.  Ken commanded the French while Dave and Alex commanded the Austrians
 1:56pm Expanding the Bridgehead

Hiller's column reaches Aspern and shakes out to attack with the light troops assaulting the Aspern Church cemetery and structure.  Ken's Cuirassier are keeping the Austrians from mounting a direct assault on Aspern village itself.

2:49pm The Second Austrian Column arrives.

More fighting in front of Aspern as the Cavalry escape and Pire's Hussars expand the fight almost the to the very muzzle of the gun battery! 

Keeping a Hungarian unit in square, GdD LaSalle urges the Cavalry on!

Ken brings up even more Cavalry and expands the bridgehead, taking the fight to the enemy.  
 I have to admit by the end of the 1:00pm hour, the battle looks weird instead of fighting around Aspern, there is fighting north of the town where the Austrian second column will arrive and out.  French artillery is beginning to find targets from within the bridgehead but things are quiet in Essling.  For now.

II Corps Artillery, on scene, are pounding far-away targets!

Troops in Essling and the Granary (left)

Note the troops of the second column arriving top-center.  The French will throw cavalry in their way in the hopes of slowing the Austrian tide.

Austrian units deploy around Aspern as the second and first columns merge for the assault.  Interestingly, the battle for Aspern is being decided well to the north of Aspern in a see-saw cavalry engagement.

Note the Grenzers top-right in line formation assaulting the church.  They'd eventually push the Baden troops back.  The Badeners gave a solid accounting of themselves and withdraw without any heavy casualties yet.
The Austrians step up their assaults on Aspern and the Aspern Church

French holding but taking heavy casualties now in Aspern village

Success!  The Grenzers overrun Aspern church and push the Baden troops back finally!

Situation in Aspern at the end of the 2pm hour Badeners are lower left of picture as Austrians have a toe-hold.  The French lights holding Aspern will be kicked out soon.

3:21 PM Heavy Fighting at Aspern Village

Pressure from the first and second column is relentless as fresh Austrian brigades are sent into the attack.   Renewed assaults against Aspern continue while the cavalry fight on the plains to the north.

Ken's efforts to try and expand the bridgehead north of Aspern with Cavalry
 4:01 Austrian Third Column (Hohenzollern) Arrives.

Austrian infantry flood down from the north and fan out across the Marchfeld as more Austrian guns line the hills ringing Aspern.  While historically those guns proved so troublesome that Napoleon ordered an assault against the guns, this is different since the see-saw fighting with the first and second column, the Marchfeld is now crowded with Austrian infantry brigades and marauding French cavalry brigades.

Manuevering troops towards the battle

An Austrian Battery goes out of ammo!

Cavalry fighting between Austrian light horse and French heavy horse

Ken pushes as much Cavalry as he can forward!
The Austrian Reserve Column arrives to the north!  The Austrians begin planning to assault Essling now.  Aspern is barely holding.  
 It's worth mentioning here that one of the reasons Aspern held on for so long was the presence of friendly units blocking the retreat.  That's a good thing in a number of ways because it guarantees that the village cannot be easily taken.  Unfortunately for the unit holding, it wears it down very quickly.

Under Pressure in Aspern

The 4th Column arrives on the field!  Look at all these troops!
4:49pm The Pressure Mounts - Aspern falls!

 Dave and Alex waste no time in expanding the fight to the east, towards Essling and the flanks.  I have another heavy cavalry division coming on at the same time and a fight will be brewing near the Gardens, an objective, soon to the east and southeast.

General Liechtenstein bringing up the Austrian heavy horse!

More Austrians coming onto the table!

Austrian plan is to drive a wedge between Aspern and Essling.  You can see that plan materializing here.

Austrian heavy cavalry charges the II Corps Artillery next to the granary.  The battery successfully passes its command test and can fire a 3 dice volley at the oncoming horse.  Would you believe it?  3 sixes! 

3 sixes and the Austrian horse retire.  This turn would see relentless cavalry attacks in the center as the Austrians try to chip away at the French positions.

The Austrians even assault the unit Napoleon is accompanying!  (I would move him away next turn!) the unit is hit but Napoleon is okay!
 After numerous assaults, the Austrians carry Aspern with a fresh brigade of Hungarian infantry.  The lights manning the town pull back towards the Lobau to join the Baden troops.  They establish a blocking position and will continue to give a good accounting of themselves.

It's worth mentioning also that here we started to "figure out" EAQB and what Norm is wanting you to do.  The looks on my group's faces were priceless as they tried to set up flanking maneuvers, using cavalry correctly by forcing infantry into square and possibly disorder, then pounding them with extra artillery dice or infantry combat dice!  I dont think a single person in my group was displeased with the results so far.

Aspern falls!  All of my units around Aspern are disordered and I dont have any fresh troops to mount a counterattack at this time!  I'm stuck!

Alex and Dave plotting next moves!

French artillery hammering away at the oncoming wave of Austrians

Speaking of which
 5:32pm The Focus Shifts Towards Essling

With Aspern comfortably in Austrian hands, the fighting is beginning to shift to the center and East.  Alex and Dave know they have to hold the Granary in addition to scoring casualties of which mine are mounting now and I'm getting close to the initial casualty BP.

looking south the Austrians have formed a new line and are pushing a wedge in between Aspern and Essling.  A quick, violent thrust by French assault columns staves off total disaster at the middle of the 5pm hour.

Badeners in line break the Hungarian unit to their front.  Napoleon was very pleased with their performance today.
 In the center, Austrian Grenadiers move to assault the Granary and seize a wooded copse next to it while more of their infantry storm Essling.  The French are pushed out of Essling in hard, heavy fighting and the II COrps Artillery guarding Essling's left flank and the Granary go out of ammo.  The Austrians move to overrun the gun battery and it's pushed back towards French lines.

Grenadiers push into the woods next to the Granary

Essling falls to the Austrians!

Dave and Alex shift their cavalry to their left (French right) to get around the French positions and cut off their reinforcements.

The Austrians overrun Essling but the French are in good position to take it back

Converged Grenadiers

French Counterattacks

Badeners still shooting well!

The French recapture Essling in bitter fighting with General Valory.  I'm learning the value of supporting your brigades by not allowing them to retreat.  If you're pressed for time or need time to stall for reinforcements, it's a good way to hold a geographical objective since it's literally impossible to have them leave their position if they can't retreat.

French Cavalry spar with Austrian heavy horse outside the Gardens.
 At the bottom of the 5:00pm turn, the remainder of the IV Corps shows up and French infantry reinforces the line south of Aspern.  It's literally perfect timing as the Austrians are desperate to put a stop to Lannes' Corps arriving on the field - 9 more brigades!

Freshly based Hesse Darmstadt troops arrive!

I move up French cavalry in the hopes of forcing Austrian infantry into squares.  Then I can hit them with infantry!

Behind the granary, Cavalry and artillery units alike are reorganizing after hard fighting.  There is a massive cavalry battle going on in the fields east of the gardens, on the road to Gross Enzersdorf

5:59 Endgame

The generals are exhausted by now.  We pull cards for the turn and it advances to 1 minute shy of 6pm.  Lannes' Corps will have to wait and the Austrians force the french out of the Granary with a disorder result (single hit).  Advancing into the Granary I am at 32 heavy casualties and each unit will have to roll.  Instead we call the game.  The Austrians hold the Granary and Aspern.  Essling was retaken.

Huge swirling cavalry battle east of Essling!

Hard fighting south of Aspern on the road to the Lobau Bridgehead.

Austrian General Bellagarde - the only general officer killed during today's battle

A pensive Alex discusses next moves

Rallying Cuirassier behind the granary complex!

The gang minus Brian (Alex, me, Ken, Dave) who left before this picture was taken.  Another successful Christmas Mega Game down!  Bring on 2020!
    Man what a battle this was!  Everyone was pretty worn-out by battle's end but all in all a great day of Napoleonic gaming where we fit the whole battle of Aspern Essling on my modest 6x4 table!  Granted, it was getting crowded but it was a great spectacle none-the-less.  I definitely learned a lot today and it was fun getting reacquainted with Norm's rules which I enjoyed very much when I first played them.  Some of my key takeaways follow:

I need more (lots more) Austrian cavalry in all shapes and sizes from light horse up to heavy.  

I realized how much I enjoy playing games on hex grids and games that are simple to learn.  One of my main goals for 2020, at least in terms of Napoleonic gaming, will be playing more Commands and Colors Napoleonics, and playing more of Norm's EAGLES AT QUATRE BRAS game (perhaps using CCN scenarios which I feel go together nicely).

I want to spend more time gaming and less time with the rules and I definitely want to play games that give me a decision quickly.

After the exhilaration and accomplishment of putting on a truly MASSIVE game like this, I'm left feeling a little....lost now?  What next?  I'm actually not sure where to go from here.  More to ponder.

Look for an end of year recap coming up on 2019's gaming soon!  I hope you enjoyed this battle report - it was a real blast to play!


  1. Steve,

    Wow man, that was truly a saga. Great looking fight, and looked to be a helluva lot of fun. And somebody did an amazing job painting some of those Austrian flags! ;)

    I'm with ya man, simple is where it's at. I was just discussing the same thing regarding my slipping into IABSM for my support to the Firestorm Ponyri games; I'm ready to get back to simple, and smaller, too. At least for awhile.

    Thanks for sharing, and I'm looking forward to seeing what you get up to next.


    1. Thanks, Jack, it was a blast. Once the guys got the hang of the rules they wereaking more aggressive decisions and putting well thought out attacks into motion.
      Im really of the mindset with my gaming that i want simpler amd easy to play games, and games that are simple to digest (like EAQB) but hars to master are the sweet spot. Im hoping to play lots more simple games like this in 2020. Thanks for all your support of the blog.

      Glad you noticed your boys marching into glory! BTW i used every austrian soldier and gun and horse i had yesterday lol!

      Im thinking hard about where to go next. Im not sure what to focus on in 2020 or what i want my priorities to be. Post on that coming up!

  2. Steve, a wonderful AAR with a lovely table and I really admire your 10mm armies. Thanks for highlighting the Eagles at Quatre Bras rules. They are still somewhat in their 2015 (I can't believe that!) beta status, so I will make an effort this year to work on them. I know what I want them to do, but they are not always intuitive at the moment.

    Anyway, they gave a lovely game and I know how much time and effort you put into getting this game on, including painting and the great write-up, so thank you.

    Your comment (and Jack's) about wanting to get some balance back between gaming fun and what we might generally call rule complexity is something that I have been increasingly feeling and I am guessing from the number of bloggers who have been making references to Featherstone, Grant and Neil Thomas, that there is a growing sentiment of wanting easier / fun gaming hours.

    I will be doing a Christmas Day post which includes a fair bit of deliberation on this very point, as it becoming increasing central to a direction that I want to move my hobby towards.

    Your blog always has a great sense hobby energy, enthusiasm and motivation and 2019 has been no exception, with me eagerly awaiting the next post - thanks for all the time that you put into sharing and energising others. Norm.

    1. Thank you Norm, and thanks for your help in planning this battle. At times i felt bad constantly asking you questions about but as i feared, i did not have time to playtest the scenario! I wanted it to be a memorable and epic experience for the players.

      I remember being very happy finishing my Eckmuhl game a few years ago and this experience was equally satisfying especially given the exciting narrative that was produced.

      To me one of the key issues is TIME! There never seems to be enough of it. If i wouldnt have sent out invitations weeks in advance, theres no way i could have got all these guys over to play for an entire day. Myself included. No one has any time to spare and at most we can normally game for up to 4 hours and so im looking at games that give a good feel, good narrative, and plausible results in a shorter timeframe. Your rules all do that very nicely (to be fair about yesterday Aspern Essling was a huge battle and we spent much time relearning rules, rereading, and if im honest, snacking and talking!)

      Im very much looking forward to your Christmas post and will be reading it, coffee in hand!

      Thank you for your kind words about the blog, Norm. If ive been a source of motivation for even a single gamer or hobbyist at some point, then all of this has been worth it.

  3. Apic, bloody and superb, what a splendid game...Well, except fot Bellegarde, but splendid!

    1. Thanks for commenting Phil! It was a huge, desperate fight with the action eventually covering the whole table!

  4. Superbly staged battle, Steve! Enjoyable photos and description of all of the action. One can pack a lot of 10s on a 6' x 4' foot table. It sure looked like a fun game.

    On Norm's rules, it is really interesting that a unit can be forced to hold a position as long as its retreat path is blocked. I need to think about that for a bit. Perhaps Norm is thinking that a unit having close support can have reinforcements fed into the fight and prevent the defender from taking a retreat? I have not read these rules yet but ought to give them a look.

    Thanks for the effort in producing such a detailed battle account. They are a lot of work but worth it.

    By the way, the building DOES look like the Munster'mansion.

    1. Jonathan, id be less than honest if I didnt let you know there were MANY references to the Munsters and Adams family yesterday!

      In EAQB units that take a single hit must take a disorder and retreat 1 hex. However units cannot interpenetrate and so a unit who has a blocked retreat path must instead take a Heavy Casualty marker. Propping up a unit in a vital position seems to me to be plausible course of action albeit costly.

      I love these rules and my group seemed to like them very much. I like sequence of play that highlights the actions of the various combat arms and that you can set up and plan devastating attacks once you understand the sequence of play better. IE force infantry i to squares, and pound them with infantry attacks afterwards. Also these rules have a great way to force you to keep fresh reserves with the heavy casualty / disorder interaction with command tests. I love the rules as you can tell and plan on playing more in the new year.

      Also it's worth mentioning that CCN scenarios will port over almost perfectly.

  5. Good stuff - my voice is hoarse from shouting caustic comments at The Corsican Ogre yesterday. Despite two attempts, Steve managed to not roll for him to get killed, sparing many lives in future campaigns.

    Figs looked great, Jack, rules worked well, Norm [I insisted Steve make a list of questions for you] and are a solid Beta. The Squad Leader like turn sequence took a bit of learning but we eventually understood what its purpose was and attempted to use it to good effect.

    At the end of the day it was the spirit of the common Austrian Soldier who carried the day forward for the cause of stability in Europe. The Imperial Family and indeed all Vienna will be celebrating an especially joyful Christmastide this year!

  6. What a game guys. Absolutely superb.
    I never realised that Norm's rules could handle this epic scope and size of game.
    I must try these for a group game.
    The narrative really moves along with the time slots .
    Great stuff.

    1. Cheers,Darren. They handled the size remarkably well. The sequence of play worked out well but it will take some getting used to. Once you get the hang of it, the game really starts moving! I personally think you will like these. My group is very discerning when it comes to Naps rules and they enjoyed these very much i think. You should play them and soon! Also remember the Commands and Colors scenarios port over seamlessly.

    2. Sounds great - and it suits my lack of Napoleonic expertise I think to handle command via the rules mechanisms ...and I'm thinking of a hack for Nine Years War and Marlburian perhaps hmmmmm....

    3. I think that should be possible. The units in EAQB are so big that it should be possible. If you can figure out a SYW hack also id be eternally grateful :)

  7. Great looking game, and interesting rules comments. We did Aspern-Essling back in 2009, with several playtests preceding it. It always gives a hard fought game, but a French victory (draw. really) is very difficult to achieve... as it should be.

    We used 25's and a 6 x 18 foot table, though! :-)