Saturday, 19 November 2011

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Plans for 2012

The Avon Napoleonic Fellowship has an ambitious programme of games planned for 2012.

July 2012
Ostrovno, 25th July 1812 and/or Vitebsk 27th July 1812

August 2012
Smolensk, August 16–18, 1812

September & October 2012
Borodino, 7th September 1812

November 2012
Maloyaroslavetz, 24th October 1812

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Battle of Albuera, 16th May 1811

A Chess-Like Arm-Wrestle

Our re-fight of Albuera was much like the real thing. It was a great tussle, a near-run thing and a “damned nice thing” in my book—since the French won a minor victory! The outcome was determined according to the scenario rules. After the battle the French would have had to withdraw, as Soult did historically. The French army was not able to damage the British as much as they did in the real battle, but did manage to break all of the Spanish troops plus the British cavalry. They even captured Albuera and held it for seven turns, with the Anglo-Portuguese re-capturing it on the second last turn!
We based this game on the scenario in Fields of Glory. This scenario begins after Soult’s brilliant out-flanking manoeuvre and with only Zayas’ Spanish ‘division’ and Lumley’s cavalry turned to meet the new threat (map below).

Above: schematic map of Albuera from the Fields of Glory scenarios for Shako rules.
Below: a series of views of the wargames table. Firstly looking south towards Albuera; secondly Lumley’s cavalry on the Anglo-allied right; thirdly Latour-Maubourg’s cavalry on the left of the French attack and lastly Girard and Gazan’s infantry at the southern end of the tabletop.

Initially we used this game as a play-test of the de Bonaparte à Napoleon (DBN) rules, but we only completed two and a half turns with them, finishing the game using Shako instead. It had been a little too ambitious to use DBN for Albuera. I had only newly finished my translation of the rules and so was the only one who had read them. This meant that we could only refer to them by using my hand-written notes or by me doing a translation on the fly. It also soon became evident that they are better suited to a smaller action or section of a larger action—fighting in buildings may be ideal.

The battle opened with a large cavalry mêlée between Latour-Maubourg’s dragoons, hussars and chasseurs and the British dragoons/dragoon guards and light dragoons, supported by regiments of Portuguese cavalry, that had recently been placed under the command of Major General Lumley (photos 5 and 6 below). The British regiments came off the worst and broke at the end of second turn. However, Latour-Maubourg’s cavalry had also suffered during the extended mêlée and, following additional casualties from artillery, failed morale on turn 4 and retreated. They did not rally until turn 11; too late to have an further impact on proceedings.
Photos 5 and 6: the cavalry mêlée seen from the British and French sides

This left the unbrigaded Vistula legion lancers, understrength 27th chasseurs à cheval and a weak regiment of Spanish grenadiers à cheval as the only effective ‘French’ cavalry formations on the western side of the battlefield. Opposed to these were the Penne-Villemur's understrength regiments of Extremaduran hussars and Spanish dragoons from various regiments (photo 7).
Photo 7: Vistula legion lancers come to grips with Spanish dragoons

While these dramatic cavalry combats were taking place, Gazan’s and Girard’s divisions were attacking Zayas’ Spanish 'division' which occupied the Anglo-Allied right flank (photo 8).
Photo 8: Zayas’ ‘Army of Extremadura' attacked in force by Girard’s and Gazan’s French divisions

Meanwhile, Godinot’s diversionary attack on Albuera (photo 9) achieved unexpected results. The French drove von Alten’s KGL battalions from the town on turn 3 (photo 10). Cole gathered his Anglo-Portugese division and repeatedly attacked the town in an attempt to re-take it (photo 11). He was finally successful on turn 11 (photo 12). The survivors of Godinot’s troops broke on turn 12.
Photo 9 and 10: Godinot's independent brigade attack and capture Albuera

Photo 11 and 12: Cole's Anglo-Portuguese bring overwhelming numbers to re-capture the town

Fortunes continued to ebb and flow in the main, southern sector of the battlefield. Just as one side seemed to gain the upper hand, another result would switch momentum to their opponents.
After initially being successful against the Spanish dragoons, the un-brigaded French cavalry failed it’s ‘divisional’ morale on turn 4 and retreated to the rear of the French lines.
Rain began to fall at the end of turn 5, reducing the effectiveness of small arms and artillery fire, but the desperate infantry combat continued. As in the real battle, Zayas’ Spanish troops resisted doggedly, but the overwhelming numbers of French began to tell on these gallant men (photo 13).
Photo 13: Under sustained attack, Zayas’ ‘Army of Extremadura’ begins to crumble.

Around this time the unbrigaded ‘French’ cavalry rallied and re-entered the battle. As if controlled by the ghosts of their historical counterparts, the Vistula legion lancers, “Los Diablos Polacos”, charged and broke the square of the Voluntarious de Navarre (photo 14). This in tun broke the will of the ‘Army of Extremadura' which retreated from the battlefield. The lancers carried on to attack the 2/48th British Line managed to form a hasty square. The lancers fell upon them, but suffered terrible losses and broke, taking with them the remainder of the unbrigaded cavalry (photo 15).
Photos 14 and 15: “Los Diablos Polacos”.

The rain storm ceased at the end of turn 10. This produced an immediate effect on the cannon fire, with the guns of both sides producing devastating results on turn 11. On the French side, the casualties from this artillery fire were enough to break the will of Girard’s division which retreated from the battlefield leaving a huge gap in the right centre of the French line.
The game ended after turn 12 and was declared a minor French victory under the scenario rules. It was a pyrrhic victory though as, like the real battle, the French would have withdrawn in the days following the battle.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Review of Talavera: Wellington's First Victory in Spain

Talavera: Wellington's First Victory In Spain, Andrew W. Field
(Images courtesy of the publishers. Please do not reproduce without first seeking permission)

This book is a rare treat; an objective view of the British in the Peninsular War written by an English author; and a serving military man to boot. Andrew Field’s account of the campaign and battle of Talavera is detailed, analytical and readable. It will make a fine addition to the collection of anyone interested in the Napoleonic wars, especially, but not exclusively, wargamers.

Talavera was typical of so many Peninsular battles; a closely-fought affair that was a pyrrhic victory for the Anglo-allied forces, leading as it did to a withdrawal and continuation of the long and costly war. Andrew Field’s book has a structure that will be familiar to many readers, comprising chapters of background, the armies, the commanders, detailed chapters dealing with the battle itself and the aftermath. In addition to these is a chapter on tactics, orders of battle and a tour of the battlefield.

The introduction and first chapter provide the background to the Talavera campaign. This will be of some use and interest to the general reader or ‘student’ of the period who knows little about the Peninsular and this campaign, but is too cursory to be of much use to others. This is disappointing as it results in the usual description found in any overview, presenting nothing either new or insightful. The content could have been covered in a paragraph or two about the campaign introducing the first chapter.
The book improves dramatically with the chapter two, ‘The Armies’. In this chapter the general, overview material that typified the introduction and first chapter gives way to some detail and interesting quotes including material that I, at least, have not seen before. For example, we were only discussing at the ANF the other day about whether to include rules for the ‘typically’ uncontrollable British cavalry in our preferred ruleset, debating how much of this is fact compared with wargamers’ myth perpetuated by successive rule-writers. From what Andrew Field presents, it appears that a combination of the two is probably correct. Another interesting detail that he presents are the figures on the numbers of horses required per gun and per battery. This is not something that I have considered before and it highlights the logistical and practical problems of campaigning in the period, especially in the Peninsula. This balanced, critical approach is continued in the subsequent chapter on ‘The Commanders’.
The book is worth reading for chapter four, ‘Tactics’, alone. Field seeks to refute the mis-information that was first generated by authors like Oman and has been perpetuated since then, especially amongst the early writers of rules for Napoleonic wargaming “...without being contested by further research until relatively recently” (page 49). As this quote states, his re-analysis is not new (featuring as it does in publications such as Elting’s “Swords Around a Throne” and in many issues of that fabulous magazine “Empires, Eagles and Lions”), but Mr Field presents it in a logical, concise and clearly articulated fashion.
The account of the battle itself is divided into three chapters. The first examines the night attack of 27th July. This is an oft-overlooked part of the battle which, Field suggests, is due to the poor performance of one of Wellington’s most trusted subordinates, General Hill. The next chapter covers the first, abortive French attack on the morning of 28th July, while the main attack of the afternoon and the aftermath are the subject of the third of these chapters. Throughout his description and analysis of the battle, Field refers to his chapter on tactics, providing an excellent reference point for the reader and one of the main bases for his critical assessments of the action (or in-action) of commanders and of the performance of troops at particular stages.
Chapter 11 is a tour of battlefield and description of key sites using both modern and contemporary maps and helpful photographs (e.g below). This is a fantastic resource for anyone who, like us, ‘popping’ over to Spain to look for ourselves is not such an easy option. This chapter and the appendices of army lists, along with the descriptions of the battle are invaluable for anyone putting together a scenario of Talavera for a wargame—as we will be in the near future.

An example of the helpful photographs that accompany the 'tour of the battlefield. In this case "part of the wall in the east of the town that was manned by Spanish troops to help anchor the allied right."

Andrew Field’s summary of the battle, its aftermath and the performance of the armies and commanders is one of the most honest and impartial accounts that I have read. I was particularly interested to read such an objective assessment, from an English author, of the contribution of the Spanish.
Talavera was a classic case of a ‘minor victory’ or a ‘winning draw’ in wargames parlance. Both sides suffered high casualties and neither wished to continue the battle. The ‘loser’ (French) withdrew but the ‘winner’ (British & Spanish) were not in a position to pursue nor pressure them. Field goes as far as to propose that it was a pyrrhic victory. He admits that the campaign was a French “success” as the supply situation, Soult’s outflanking manoeuvre and Venegas’ failure before Madrid meant that Wellesley’s attempt to capture Madrid only resulted in a withdrawal to Portugal. Thus it was similar to all of Wellesley/Wellington’s victories prior to the decisive battles of Salamanca and Vitoria—a sound defence that checked a French attack, but ultimately resulted in the retreat of the Anglo-Allied army(ies) because they were unable to exploit the success. Conversely, due to divided command, poorly co-ordinated attacks and solid defence, the French failed to take advantage of one of their best opportunities to inflict a serious defeat on an Anglo-allied army in the Peninsula.
The maps in the book, such as the one above of the final French attack, are excellent. In this particular map the 9ème légère are labelled as the 7ème légère .

The book is replete with clear maps that, most pleasing to me, include most of the towns and features that are mentioned in the text! There are few typographical errors evident. One exception is where the 9ème légère becomes the 8ème ligne in a schematic of the main French attack on the afternoon of 28th July. This is repeated with the same unit, 9ème légère, which is listed as 7ème légère in both the text and on the map on pages 116 & 117. Fortunately these errors are easily clarified by the army lists, but it is disappointing that they have slipped through editing.
Overall this is an excellent book with loads of detail, a clear description of strategy, tactics, troop distributions, movements and key actions during the battle, complemented by numerous quotes from eye-wtinesses, analysis of the tactics, detail of points of dispute from various sources and interesting and sometimes harrowing observations; such as the exchange of casualties following the first abortive French attack on the 28th (p 97) and the horrendous fire at end of the battle (p 122).
Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Review: Napoleon as a General

Napoleon As A General, Jonathon P. Riley
This book claims to be different because it focusses not on Napoleon’s campaigns, career or legacy, but specifically on Napoleon as a general. Yet Riley presents little that has not been covered in earlier secondary sources on same subject such as Count Yorck von Wartenburg (1902) “Napoleon as a general”, James-Marshall Cornwall (1965) “Napoleon as military commander” and David Chandler (1966) classic study “The Campaigns of Napoleon” with its section on Napoleon’s art of war. That said there are some useful insights and ideas that make it a worthwhile read.
Riley begins with a mediocre, workmanlike account of generalship and leadership which comprises many long quotes, but little analysis. This is followed by a reasonably interesting critical analysis of Napoleon’s generalship, leadership, logistical management and co-ordination of a multi-national force. The chapter on strategy provides some useful and interesting insights with regard to the continental system, the sale of the Louisiana territory and relationship with the US.
I found the case studies of most value. There are well-written and detailed accounts of Italy 1796/7, Jena-Aüstadt 1806 and Dresden and Leipzig 1813. None of this is new, of course, but a new author always brings some fresh perspectives. The choice of these three as subject matter is of itself an interesting combination rather than the more usual ‘suspects’ of say Italy 1796/7, Austerlitz, Russia, 1814 and Waterloo.
I had a few real gripes with this book. Firstly is the so often repeated tendency by English authors to over-estimate the role of the British army in the defeat of Napoleon. I am not trying to downplay the impact of the Peninsular War and Waterloo, but they are relatively small when compared with the sustained role of the Austrians, Russians and Prussians assisted by British gold and the blockade by the Royal Navy.
The second is Riley’s tendency to make too many irrelevant references and analogies to past and recent/current campaigns. He makes the point that WWI generals are commonly lambasted for losses that are comparable with those which frequently occurred during Napoleon’s time. This misses the crucial, key difference that actions in the age of Napoleon, especially those involving Napoleon himself, achieved a strategic result, while WWI did not. He also makes frequent reference to the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, while missing the real analogy of Napoleon’s War in Spain and those modern guerrilla wars; the similarity of an ‘enlightened super power’ seeking to ‘liberate’ a nation from a dysfunctional regime but under-estimating the domestic response and the use of the campaign by its enemies, seeing the pyrrhic victory of conventional war, rapidly falling into a protracted ‘insurgence’.
Thirdly are some of Riley’s statements and opinions that range from unsupported and unsupportable to down right outrageous. The oft made assertion that Napoleon’s enemies’ mistakes made him look good ignores the real genius of Napoleon: his ability to react quickly to changing circumstances, his flexibility and clear thinking and his rapid and decisive responses. Riley’s statement that “... many of those who did gain access to his inner counsels–such as Lannes, Reynier and Junot–were mediocre commanders” is astounding. Junot and possibly Reynier may be justified in this, but Lannes?!
Lastly is the use of maps that are poor with most of the places that are referred to missing! I am astounded that this frustrating mistake seems to be made again and again in so many books. It is almost as if the maps are an after-though or merely some form of decoration.
My final assessment: this book is worth a read, but I’m glad that I borrowed it from the library and did not bother to add it to my personal collection.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Review of Wargaming on a Budget

Wargaming On A Budget: Gaming Constrained By Money Or Space by Iain Dickie
(Images courtesy of the publishers. Please do not reproduce without first seeking permission)
Iain Dickie is a genius. He has written a book that is clearly aimed at people who are new to wargaming yet and while staying true to this, has penned a manual that has something for all wargamers.
This book reads like a fireside chat from your father or grandfather and, in similar manner, you will find yourself agreeing with some sentiments and not with others, but nonetheless respecting the author of them all (hopefully!).

The book is enjoyable and easy to read. From the outset Dickie’s use of humour ensures that it is taken in the right frame of mind. His witty asides include warnings about going into garden (p 55), his quip about using foam hills for a pillow (p 68), his advice to cut insulation foam in someone else’s house (p 68) and warning to keep plaster glue away from the carpet because you’ll be “decidedly unpopular” as it is “not on the insurance” (p 69).
Throughout the book Dickie remains true to the idea of wargaming on a budget, giving the reader numerous ideas of how to beg, borrow, re-use, improvise and recycle materials for numerous uses associated with our hobby.
The book is packed full of useful tips. For example making a wall plug from a piece of wood rather than using a plastic wall plug—either I was not told this one by my grandfather or have forgotten; or perhaps just did not listen properly! “Measure twice so do not have to cut twice”. Making a wargames table from scratch using an old bed or a table as a base. Painting the table as sea so that it will be available for any naval wargames (since in usual circumstances it will be covered with terrain and a cloth, terrain squares or the like). Ideas for making trees, bushes and hills from materials that are easily obtained and the ‘stability test’ of terrain which is such an elegantly simple, practical idea.

The "stability test". A simple and practical idea.

Iain Dickie extends his budget theme to choosing an army, suggesting that the choice be made such that the army may be used across multiple eras or campaigns. Such an army, he says, presents “excellent value”. He presents a number of suggestions for games that require few figures, or perhaps none at all. This will appeal not only to the budget conscious but also to those keen to try some new eras, aspects or approaches.
The many examples throughout the book are described clearly, step by step, with accompanying black and white drawings and/or photos. The pictures are similar to the real and realistic ones that adorned the magazine Miniature Wargames which he formerly edited (and which I always preferred to the glossier, over-produced photos in other mags). Following his advice you’ll soon be producing functional terrain pieces that look good without being works of art.
After reading this book I am now regularly using lego supports in place of jars, books or cans for figures that I have altered to rest on or against while the glue dries. I also have a growing store of ‘flocking’ material of various hues obtained by drying tea from tea bags, leaf tea and coffee grounds. Thanks heaps Mr Dickie.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

River Côa: a Play-test of Grand Battery Rules

Grand Battery comprises a guide to Napoleonic wargaming and a set of rules. A full review of the book is provide elsewhere on this blog (review of Grand Battery). The rules are an interesting mix of ideas and mechanisms that are similar to aspects of other rule-sets.
Familiar mechanisms include card-based turns for movement (like Piquet), tests of the resolve of defenders and of attackers (common to many wargames rules of 1970s and 1980s, including Bruce Quarrie's), use of a number of combat dice (like Piquet & Blackpowder), command impact on responsiveness (similar to many boardgames, Empire & Napoleon's Battles), and quality of command affecting initiative (like Empire). That said, the mechanisms and ideas have been combined into a genuinely novel set of rules. Grand Battery uses the random drawing of cards for each brigade commander and higher plus specific orders to try to overcome the wargamer’s helicopter view of the battlefield. Their implementation of cards is preferable to that used in rules such as Piquet and Le Feu Sacre.
We chose the Battle of the River Côa (often called action at the River Côa) as the scenario to play-test the Grand Battery rules. This is an interesting scenario with a small body of elite troops (the British Light Division) against a larger number of good quality line troops (two divisions from Ney’s VI Corps plus accompanying cavalry). The battle is fought over challenging and ‘interesting’ terrain. A variety of troop types are involved with light and line infantry, light cavalry and dragoons, skirmishing cavalry and infantry piquets, horse and foot artillery and a Portuguese heavy artillery battery in Almeida.
The battlefield is a combination of open and rough terrain, with defensible slopes and a river crossing. The eastern ‘half’ of the battlefield comprises a fairly open plain which  extends from the village of Vale da Mula to the walls of the fortress town of Almeida (Photo 1). The plain is traversed by the small, easily fordable Alvercas stream. By contrast the western end of the battlefield features the River Côa which is passable only by the stone bridge and is surrounded by steep, rocky river banks on either side (Photo 2). A description of our scenario for this battle can be found at River Côa scenario.

Photo 1: Looking across the eastern part of the battlefield towards Almeida

Photo 2: The bridge over the River Côa

The first problem we noticed with Grand Battery was that they do not seem quite sure at what scale they want to operate. The authors suggest that units are regiments, but no system is proposed to, for example, account for a single battalion British regiment against a three-battalion French one. The orders of battle seem to indicate a flexible system whereby a unit may be a battalion or a regiment depending on the size of the game. As the River Cóa is a small battle, we chose to have units as battalions. The next problem was the ground scale. Once again, no scale is given, but we assumed a nominal scale of around 1 mm to 1 metre as indicated by the movement rates and frontages of units.
As mentioned above, the rules use a simple and realistic system to reflect command and control, based around the historical command structure. Allowable orders to lower levels of command (e.g. brigades and units) are dictated by the orders given further up the command hierarchy. This approach was first used in the Empire rules however, unlike Empire’s percentage chance to change orders based on command quality, Grand Battery uses a command radius and leadership factors to determine whether a formation is in command. These factors vary with the quality of a commander. The entire system is simple and effective and is reminiscent of many board-games.
The heart of the rules are a series of tables that are used to determine firing, determination to charge or to receive a charge, results of mêlée and morale. At first these appear complex, but they are simple and effective. Ratings of the experience and training of units serve as the basis of most of these tables and are the sole factor in the attacker’s resolve to charge and defender’s resolve to a receive a charge.It was our first use of these tables that indicated that these rules were unlikely to be for us.
The first turn produced some “interesting” developments. The French 3rd hussars tried to charge the British cavalry piquets around Vale da Mula (Photo 3). They duly took the attacker’s resolve test. A nine was rolled on the die resulting in an immediate rout. Clearly those British skirmishing cavalry were scary! The detachment of British rifleman in Vale da Mula then fired on the French 15th chasseurs à cheval and destroyed two bases. Not to be outdone, the chasseurs à cheval fired at the piquets of the 16th light dragoons and eliminated them. This fire was clearly devastating stuff, even when from horseback.

Photo 3: Lamotte's light cavalry brigade approaching the British piquets around Vale da Mula

These astonishing results continued in turn two. A regiment of French dragoons (15th) charged the KGL hussar piquets, pushing them back but losing two stands in the process! Another three stands were removed due to firing from the 95th posted in the village (a single stand only) and from the KGL hussars. More amazing still, especially after the result with the 3rd hussars in turn one, was that the dragoons passed their morale. Ferey's infantry brigade moved up to Vale da Mula, fired on the 95th and destroyed them.

The devastation wreaked by the piquets was not over. In turn three the KGL hussars fired on and destroyed the remainder of the 15th dragoons.
Satisfied that the piquets would soon be eliminated, the French moved up past Vale da Mula on turn four. Determined to clear the village Lamotte’s horse battery fired at the 95th in Vale da Mula, inflicting some casualties, but with no further effect. Gardanne’s remaining regiment of dragoons moved towards the Alvercas stream only to be shaken by artillery fire from Ross’ troop of RHA. At the southern end of the French line, Simon’s foot battery was shaken by long-range fire from the Portuguese heavy battery in Almeida and retired. This was just the beginning.
Photo 4: Gardanne's 25th dragoons and horse battery advancing past Vale da Mula

In turn five the heavy gun again fired at long range, this time inflicting two stands of loss on the French 15th chasseurs. They the passed morale test. The French retaliated and Gardanne’s horse gun fired at Ross’ horse battery at long range destroying a gun and 1 crew. Not to be outdone, Ferey's foot battery fired at and destroyed the remaining KGL hussars around Vale da Mula.
The tremendous casualties from firing continued in turn six. The Portuguese heavy gun fired at long range and inflicted two further stands of losses on the French 15th chasseurs, destroying the unit. Anson’s KGL hussars standing in line around the mill were mauled by fire from Gardanne’s horse guns as were the French 25th dragoons when fired upon by the main body of the 95th rifles that were posted in front of the mill.
Photo 5: 95th rifles and Ross's troop RHA defending the mill (note the Portuguese battery in the bastion of Almeida)

Photo 6 and 7: French 25th dragoons advancing on Anson's cavalry suffer devasting fire from the Portuguese heavy battery in Almeida

Turn seven saw more casualties from firing before we gave up. This artillery fire was reminiscent of Quarrie’s "machine guns", but on steroids!
So ended our dalliance into the world of Grand Battery. As Julian said, they are somewhere between Warhammer 40K and a real set of rules! While they are easy to use, with a mechanism that is quick to understand and even to predict results, any relationship between these rules and a Napoleonic battlefield are purely coincidental.
We concluded that the rules may work in a multi-player game with an umpire to adjudicate any ‘ridiculous’ results, like our charging French hussars, but as a stand-alone set they leave a lot to be desired.
The experience was not a complete waste of time. While not a Napoleonic wargame we did have a lot of laughs; mainly at the expense of the rules. In addition, we will be considering including two aspects in our preferred rules as a result of this test of Grand Battery. The first is an optional rule for firing by cavalry. The second is to utilise a system like the one in Grand Battery for valuing objectives differently for the two sides and using these values in the determination of victory.
We are now looking forward to replaying the battle of River Côa with a proper set of rules.

Grand Battery: guide and rules for Napoleonic Wargaming reviewed

(Images courtesy of the publishers. Please do not reproduce without first seeking permission)

Authors often pose the rhetorical question “why another book about Napoleon?” Now, with a plethora of guides and sets of rules, it is pertinent to ask “why another introduction to Napoleonic wargaming and set of rules for the period?” After reading this book and play-testing the rules, the question remains largely unanswered. Alas, it could have been so much better...”

I read and reviewed this book with a sense of excited expectation. I am from the generation of Napoleonic wargamers who were introduced to the hobby with the Airfix guide written by Bruce Quarrie. While we would never now use these rules for our wargaming—a fact reinforced when we recently pulled them out for a nostalgic game, only to quickly shelve them again—the book remains one of my favourites. I still enjoy flicking through the pages, enjoying Quarrie’s turn of phrase and recalling how it generated a sense of excitement and anticipation in a 14 year old boy at the prospect of painting and building an army, setting up a wargame and getting on with the contest. I thought that Grand Battery could have been akin to a 'Quarrie' for another generation of Napoleonic wargamers; not the 'last word' on the subject by any stretch of the imagination, but a book that would provoke interest and enquiry in the period and help to stimulate, or foster, a life-long interest. I was sadly disappointed.
The book lacked ‘flair’ or ‘enthusiasm’ in the writing, had a strange structure, a disappointingly large number of major typos and errors (as my four pages of handwritten notes and corrections attest!) and then there are the rules... Any connection between these rules and a Napoleonic battle are purely coincidental!
Grand Battery is beautifully presented with many wonderful colour and black and white photos of Napoleonic wargames figures of various scales. The picture on page 73 of Prussians running up against French cavalry and guns is even reminiscent of the picture on page 6 of Quarrie’s Napoleonic Wargaming! Yet, as with so much of this book, these photos do not stand closer inspection. Where are the captions? What do the figures represent? Which manufacturer do they come from? How do the photos relate to the text?

Two examples of the excellent photos that adorn this book. The top one of Prussians running up against French cavalry and guns, reminiscent of a similar photo in Quarrie's Napoleonic Wargaming and the bottom one of British infantry in line, skirmish and column formation. Sadly, no such captions are provided in the book.

The large number of errors in this book are inexcusable. They diminished my enjoyment of it and made me question the veracity of all of the content. I would dearly have liked to have been a proof-reader as with a bit more attention to detail, a few additions and some corrections this could have been a classic wargamers’ guide. I will not bore you by listing all of the numerous errors that I found, but present a few of the worst cases to serve as an illustration of the type of errors and their wide distribution throughout the books 212 pages.
  • Page 29 says that “The Peninsular War battles detailed as distinct wargame scenarios in both Chapter 8 of this book (where three have been selected)...”, but there is no Chapter 8. This refers to Chapter 4.
  • On page 33, the description of the Battle of Arcola ends “in the New Year another attempt would be made”, but the result of that attempt, the Battle of Rivoli is not included in this period history.
  • Several incidences of mis-spellings are present with most referring to well-known places or people. We have “the Danbube” on page 52, “Bessiere’s cavalry” on page 54, “Thomiere” on page 63 (several occasions), Latour Manbourg and Nansonty on page 67 and Davout spelt as Davoüt throughout.
  • On page 65 outlining the Battle of Borodino, the forces involved include Britain, 120,000 commanded by Kutuzov.
  • On page 70 the description of the Battle of Vittoria ends with “the French army disintegrated and the losses totalled, with 151 or 153 guns captured”.
  • In chapter 2 figures from Waterloo are often quoted, but this was not a typical battle so it is not indicative of the general situation that prevailed for much of the period.
  • Page 93, erroneously states that “the new war with Austria broke out in 1808”.
  • On page 107 it is stated that “target practice was very important...” but then on page 108 “infantry were not trained to necessarily aim at their targets...” Such inconsistencies are a source of confusion to the novice and annoyance to experienced or knowledgeable reader.
  • Page 152 of the rules refers the reader to “see section XX XX Objectives and Winning”
Most of these are simple typographical errors, but they point to a lack of final proof-reading and detract from the quality of the book.
Grand Battery beings with a ‘no nonsense’ introduction. This is fine, but it does not create a sense of anticipation or excitement about what is to come in the book nor about the hobby that the reader is about to embark on (if new to wargaming). It is in this introduction that one finds the first of the many errors and omissions. The book claims to include information about combatants of nations from the Austrians to the Ottoman Turks and including the numerous minor nations, but the chapters on “The Armies” and “Weapons and Tactics” only cover the major nations although, to be fair, the chapter on “Organising Troops” does have army lists for numerous nations, both large and small. The introduction also mentions that the Pen & Sword website has “additional scenarios, rules clarifications, battle reports, downloadable cards, templates and ready reference sheets and a host of other game support”, but I could find none of it by either a search of the site or by clicking and browsing.
Chapter 1 is a chronology and description of ‘major’ battles. This is largely a descriptive narrative of the wars which needs maps and an overview of each campaign to draw it together and make it easier to read. Not surprisingly, I questioned the choices of some of the ‘major’ battles. For example, Maida and Roliça are included but there is no mention of any of the famous six days’ battles of 1814 (Champaubert, Montmirial, Chateau-Thierry, Vauchamps and Montereau). I would also question the assessment of the outcome of several of the battles listed. As with the rest of the book, this opening chapter is written in a ‘workmanlike’ style, lacking flair, with many misconceptions and far too many errors.
Chapters 2 & 3 describe the “Armies” and “Weapons and Tactics” respectively of the major nations. I’d like to compare what is in these chapters with what I think wargamers need. After a brief and general introductory paragraph the authors launch into a description of the armies of each of the major nations using terms regarding types of troops, weapons and equipment that would be familiar to experienced Napoleonic wargamers or ‘students’ of the period but would likely bemuse the novice. In my opinion the chapters should have been combined into one and opened with some general statements about Napoleonic armies. The authors could then have introduced the troop types and roles of each, showing how they relate to the rules. Having done this, the descriptions and specific details related to each of the armies could have followed logically and without the repetition and contradiction that besets the current text.
These chapters do contain some useful snippets of information, such as the cavalry to infantry ratio in the Austrian army compared with the French and the numbers of Austrian heavy cavalry compared with other nations. No matter how much I read and despite 30+ years as a ‘student’ of the Napoleonic period, I can always learn more. Unfortunately though, these chapters suffer from the same problem as all of the others so that, for example, the ratio of cavalry to infantry in French army quoted in Chapter 2 (one to three) is contradicted in Chapter 3 (one to six).
Chapter 4, “Organising Troops” provides examples of the organisation and relative qualities of troops from nearly all nations that fought in battles in various European campaigns between 1799–1815. This is a useful reference and overview, but it is not clear how one list relates to another, how they are derived from historical orders of battle and how they may be used for competitive games (although I suspect that the rules are not intended for this latter purpose).
The rules themselves (Chapter 5) are an interesting mix of ideas from other sets. Mechanisms such as card-based turns for movement (Piquet), charges including resolve of defenders and then of attackers (common to many wargames rules of 1970s and 1980s, including Quarrie's), use of a number of combat dice (Piquet, Blackpowder), command impact on responsiveness (similar to many boardgames, Empire, Napoleon's Battles), and quality of command affecting initiative (Empire) are familiar. That said, these mechanisms and ideas have been combined into a genuinely novel set of rules.
It is one thing to read a set of rules, but to evaluate them properly it is necessary to trial them by play-testing. We chose the Battle of the River Cóa (often called action at the River Cóa) for this purpose. This action has many elements that make it ideal for play-testing a new set of rules; the action is relatively small, it involves all troop types, terrain is a major factor and command and control are crucial to the outcome.
A full report of this battle is provided on our blog (Battle of River Cóa report). In short we concluded that if you want a fast, furious game with lots of quick action and casualties that will play easily for a group of novice wargamers or wargamers unfamiliar with the rules, then these are for you. If you want a set of rules with a Napoleonic “feel”, an historical look and results that reflect history, then they are not.
The last two chapters of the book were two of the most useful and interesting. Chapter 6 lists three scenarios to use with the rules, but in truth they could easily be utilised with any rule-set. Refreshingly, three little-known battles are chosen—Neerwinden 1793, Raab 1809 and Ligny 1815. This makes them a particularly useful resource for wargames scenarios. Sadly the errors that beset the rest of the book are also here, with the aim for Neerwinden stated as “to route the enemy forces”!
The final chapter, “Buying guide” is a gem. It contains well presented, useful and objective information about figures from a wide range of manufacturers. The authors resist the temptation to push their favourite scale or style of sculpting. This chapter is of great use and interest for the novice and experienced gamer alike. It is particularly pleasing that manufacturers of 1/72nd plastics are included, since the hobby often has a snobbery around metal figures compared to plastics and we are devotees of the latter type.

Thus, while the numerous errors and misconceptions are disappointing and frustrating and the rules do not offer much, Grand Battery is still a useful book. Yet it could have been so much better.

Monday, 25 July 2011

More rules tried

We have had some great wargames at the ANF so far in 2011. Not only have they been challenging, close fought and interesting scenarios, but they have allowed us to try some other sets of rules for Napoleonic wargaming.

Thus far we have used Shako, Bruce Quarrie’s Napoleonic Wargaming, de Bonaparte à Napoleon (DBN), General de Division (GdD) and Shako II. We had a preliminary test of Black Powder when we paid a visit to the Napoleonic Wargaming Society (NWS) in June and we plan to use them in a game soon, along with Grand Battery.

Here are some one line 'reviews' of the sets that we have used so far.

Shako remains our most favoured set; elegant mechanisms, seems to recreate history well, a good compromise on scale and detail, clearly written rules and able to handle medium to large games well.

It was great to use the Quarrie rules again for their nostalgia value, but we soon realised that wargames rules, and we, have progressed a lot since the early 70s.

Le Feu Sacre failed to impress. As Julian quipped, "life seems too short to bother with wargames rules that don't have infantry fire!"

We had high hopes for DBN, but they bogged down badly in the game which we tested them with (Albuera). We'll try them again with a smaller battle, or perhaps part of a battle.

We had a preliminary trial of Black Powder at the NWS. They are a highly stylised set which are well-suited to multiplayer games and situations where only 3–4 hours are available for a game. We look forward to reading them and trying them at ANF.

GdD have some excellent mechanics, but we found the PIP-like version of the Polemos tempo rules frustrating. The version in MdE seems like a better system, although we have not used these rules yet.

We used Shako II in a game recently. There are many more changes than most reviews lead us to believe. Changes such as initiative, rallying, artillery fire effects, point blank volleys, divisional morale and hasty formation changes are significant. They still work extremely well and we are happy with the changes on a first 'outing'. We'll see how they go with more testing.

We have written more detailed reviews of some of these sets of rules ( with others to follow.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Napoleon’s Army in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Albrecht Adam

This book is a gem on so many levels. The book itself, half-way between a coffee-table item and a standard hardback, is beautifully presented on high quality paper stock, the text is in a clear, pleasing font and the prints themselves are clearly reproduced. Each of Albrecht Adam’s paintings is printed on a separate page with the artist’s description on the page adjacent. The prints are introduced by Jonathan North’s description of the 1812 campaign and are concluded with Albrecht Adam’s memoir of his harrowing return journey from Moscow to Munich between September and December 1812.
Jonathan North’s seventeen-page introduction covers the events leading up to the 1812 campaign, the privations of the march on Moscow, the unsuccessful attempts by Napoleon to trap the Russian armies, the Battle of Borodino and, of course, the terrible retreat. His description is interspersed with numerous quotes from the memoirs of eyewitnesses. Lithographs of Prince Eugene, Napoleon and Murat by G. Englemann decorate the text. This section of itself is a worthy account of the Russian campaign, but it is Albrecht Adam’s eyewitness paintings that make this book so special.
As North explains in his prologue, these paintings were completed between 1827 and 1828 from the sketches that Adam had made while on campaign as a member of Eugene’s topographical bureau. The paintings are presented in 72 full colour plates, each one accompanied by Adam’s vivid description of the scene. These descriptions capture the hardship, the very real human experience, the weeks of marching and relative inaction interspersed with bloody battles. The vastness and colours of Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine and White Russia and the tragedy and waste that is war are shown graphically.
Although he had been present in the 1809 Austrian campaign, Adam was clearly a sensitive man who was confronted by much that he witnessed. There is a personal aspect to all of the paintings and accompanying text, but it is particularly powerful in those depicting and describing sad or tragic events. For example, plate 8 shows the bloated corpses of nine horses; “because of the lack of forage the horses were being fed on green corn, trampled down by the rain. The poor creatures ate their fill but, shortly afterwards, collapsed dead. I have tried to capture this morbid scene in the plate opposite.”
As would be expected given the topic, examples of the human suffering abound. Two from the Battle of Smolensk are presented in consecutive plates. Plate 40, which is a touching scene of an infantry grenadier and hussar (or aide) carrying a wounded officer on the soldier’s musket and plate 41 which depicts the grim scene of the burnt out and destroyed town. The description of the latter reads, in part, “the Emperor’s expression altered significantly when his eyes alighted on the smoking ashes... Such destruction astonished him. And what a victory for our troops. Instead of finding shelter, food and booty there was nothing but rubble on which to pitch our tents.”
Such scenes of the suffering and tragedy of war are interspersed with those depicting the human spirit. Plate 48 “On the road to Viazma” shows Prince Eugene, accompanied by his staff and a regiment of Bavarian chevau-légers. Eugene is speaking with a young woman who is mounted on a horse, laden with necessities of life and holding her baby on her lap. “The sight perhaps affected the Prince’s paternal instincts... he sought details of the child and the condition of the mother. He learnt that the baby had been born on the road... He presented some gold coins to the woman, bade her farewell in an affable manner and modesty obliged him to turn a deaf ear to the praise which his action had given rise to.”
The camp scenes are particularly interesting and strongly portray a human element. Most of the scenes depicting troops naturally show entire units of the same type and formation, but the camp scenes present interesting exceptions. Several of them portray individuals from a mixture of units and present the us viewing them nearly 200 years later with a strong sense of the camaraderie of these men who were involved in such momentous events.
Amongst the 72 plates are numerous battle scenes from Ostrovno-Vitepsk (ten plates) Smolensk (two plates), and Moskva-Borodino (eight plates). Most of these paintings present a wide view of the battlefield, showing terrain, dispositions, formations and the smoke and confusion of battle. Such presentations are a boon to anyone designing wargames scenarios.
The depictions of troops from various French, Italian and Bavarian units are invaluable.  The troops are not shown in full dress uniforms ready for inspection on a parade ground, but in a mixture of uniform items used on campaign. Some uniform colours are wrong and certainly not as you are used to seeing them in a uniform guide. This principally relates to details such as the colour of epaulettes, trousers and shabraques (for example shown in red for cuirassiers). Despite these inaccuracies, they are of great value if you are painting wargames figures or other models.
The book is a fantastic source for any student of military history, particularly anyone interested in the Napoleonic period. It is especially of interest to wargamers with its eyewitness studies of terrain, armies and command. As the examples that I have presented illustrate, the text is genuine and touching and provides the sort of insight that can only come from someone who was an eyewitness. It is a tribute to Jonathan North’s translation that this is conveyed so strongly.
This is not the sort of book that you will read from cover to cover, but rather one that you will dip into at different times, opening at a random page, leafing through the pages or re-visiting a particular plate. Each ‘exploration’ rewards with a new insight, a new detail, a delightful aside of war or a harsh and often horrible reality.
Highly recommended.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Shako Rules

We have now played six games using these rules (first edition with the Fields of Glory amendments) and have been impressed. Our games have all been corps-level historical re-fights, the Battles of Montmirail, Utitsa (southern sector of Borodino), Plancenoit, Pultusk, Golymin and Albuera. The summaries of each of these will appear as blogs.

Shako are divisional-scale rules suitable for corps and army level games; although some scaling is required to make the latter manageable. The basic unit of movement is the 'division' and the nominal figure scale is around 40 to 1 (although no precise scale is used). Divisions in Shako may be real divisions or brigades. Game turns, which are conducted with alternate movement by division, represent about 30 minutes The rules have the important concepts that make for a good set of rules for Napoleonic wargaming; primacy of command and control, battlefield attrition leading to a loss of effectiveness of units, troop class, terrain and situational impacts on combat and an insistence on historical formations. None of these concepts would be foreign to anyone who does the ‘real stuff’; Napoleonic wargaming.

No doubt the rule’s author, Arty Conliffe, has been influenced by, and then himself influenced, other sets. For example, I can see the legacy of Empire, but also a concerted effort to avoid the frustrations associated with those rules. The sequence of play, which is artillery fire, then movement, then small arms fire, then mêlée and finally command (new orders, rallying, divisional morale and army morale) is simple, logical and creates a good flow. Orders may either be defend, attack, or timed versions of these and are simply indicated by arrows on a game-map. Changes in orders need to be carried by an aide-de-camp who moves in the command phase. Alternating movement by ‘divisions’ prevents any of the little traps and potential gamesmanship of ‘simultaneous movement’, without being too stylised nor clumsy. The key to the rules, and their defining mechanism, is the use of a morale rating for all calculations.

The morale rating is a single figure, which ranges from one to six for ‘second rate‘ to ‘guard’ units respectively. This single figure is used as the basis for combat, unit morale, rallying and, in aggregate form, for divisional morale. This is the 'gold' in these rules. It produces an elegant simplicity in calculations and related speed of play. Mêlée results are decided in one turn, with anything from a retire to break possible depending on the degree of the loss. Units can retire, reform again and enter the fray once more. As divisional losses reach one-third and one-half, tests for divisional morale determine whether they will carry on, change to defend orders, retire or break. Once losses reach three-quarters, divisions automatically fail the test and are removed from play.

Skirmishers, an important part of Napoleonic battles that rule writers seem to struggle with, either making the rules too complex or merely including them in a nominal fashion, are also well handled in these rules. Each division has a stand or two of skirmishers (three figures in loose formation) which clearly indicate their presence and position on the battlefield. The skirmishers move with the division, fire and modify the fire of the enemy and are moved back a full move distance when attacked. All in all, this is a pretty big wrap, but we are wargamers and so are not completely satisfied with the rules as written.

Aspects of the rules that we, either individually or collectively, have indicated that we would like to modify or to add are quality of commanders, a greater range of unit quality factors, less impact of the die rolls, better representation of fighting in towns and villages and skirmishing cavalry. In the basic rules the ‘army’ commanders do not move and provide neither morale nor organisational benefits (nor restrictions). The only distinction that is made is that orders to French divisions are changed in the command phase on which they arrive, while the non-French ‘think about it’ for a turn. There are rules for the quality of divisional commanders in the optional rules (albeit largely ‘self-service’), but nothing for ‘army’ commanders. The use of a range of morale ratings from one to six makes for simple, fast-play rules, but does limit the differentiation of different troop types. It also means that the random factor (die roll) is of the same range.

Fighting in towns and villages is always a tricky thing for rules that seek to work at the divisional, corps and army level. The approach in Shako is to divide built up areas into sectors into which up to one unit (battalion-equivalent) of infantry may enter. All combat and fire mechanisms are as for field combat, except for a cover modifier and restriction on the use of canister.

While villages are covered at some level, skirmishing cavalry are not. There is now Shako II, but the reviews on the web suggest that this may have been more about presentation than anything else (dare I suggest ‘milking’ the market?) and the rules have not changed in any dramatic manner.

These points aside, we have been generally really impressed with the rules, especially the fact that they have been able to answer all of our questions simply and clearly. We’d recommend them to anyone.