Saturday, September 05, 2009

Napoleon's Battles - Marengo at Nick's 04/08/09

Carl umpired a Marengo scenario using his 15mm troops & the Napoleon's Battles Rules. Jim & Nick commanded the Austrians, Leigh & Cameron the French.

The battle started badly for the Austrians when they found out how devastating a charge by good cavalry can be against unlucky infantry in these rules - well placed cavalry with the right dice can continue charging on repeatedly after beating infantry. 3 Austrian brigades were routed by Leigh's cuirassiers before they reached one with enough dice to form square & stop them. This somewhat slowed the Austrian attack on Victor as Jim had to spend a lot of time rallying & reorganised his corps (and beating off more French counterattacksattacks). But Nick continued on with the original plan, his right deploying to bombard Victor while shielding the advance of his left on Bonapart. (See pic).

Nick's left smashed Bonapart's force, but command issues prevented follow up. Bonapart reformed his Corps & received valuable reinforcements. Eventually, the Austrians stopped Leigh's counterattacks on their right, reformed their forces and slowly drove him back. They were then able to spare some valuable cavalry to help Nick's left now hard pressed by a counterattack.

Unfortunately we ran out of time (about 1am). At that stage, Victor was in trouble & Bonapart's counterattack had been stopped in its tracks. Leigh's aggressive defence had disrupted the Austrian plan, but they stuck with it & it may have been successful in the end. It looked touch & go as to whether the Austrians could force a French Army morale Test before the next wave of French reinforcements arrived to change the balance again.

The battle took longer than it should have due to Carl being the only one familiar with the rules & having to run everything. The rules are dated in some ways (being from the 80's) & the print's too small for old eyes, but they move along pretty well & do provide a good Napoleonic flavour. It was hard to love them early on while most of my infantry was being ridden down by a lone cavaly brigade, but as the battle went on they got a lot better.

The Command & Control rules involve having Divisional & Corps general figures on the table & the players have to careful to maintain command distances between units & commanders, then between commanders up the chain. But while this means you have to do a lot of petty geometry to maintain command chains, it doesn't do much to control opportunistic manoeuvres & I'm not sure that restricting command distance is the best parameter to reflect commander ability (or even that commander ability should be a major factor - isn't that what us wargamers are for?) Manoeuvre is restricted by speed penalties for various tasks.

The firing system is reasonably simple - generally both sides throw a 10D, then add & subtract factors. If the firer wins they cause 1 casualty, if they win by 2x they inflict 2. Close combat is similar except the highest score wins & causes casualties & if you lose by enough & you can rout or be destroyed. Indecisive close combats are repeated in the same turn until they are decisive. Cavalry v. infantry is more complicated - the crucial issue being if that the infantry are in not in square they have to pass a test to get into it. It's pretty much a case of squares win, otherwise the infantry lose. Routed units can move with little if any restriction & then can be rallied by generals & returned to the fray if not followed up - this tends to prolong the battle, but also means that to make a decisive breakthrough you have to plan for exploitation. Casualties are recorded with caps then whole stands removed. Units are destroyed by big combat loss or if casualties = 50%. Units are disrupted if they lose 2 casualties to single action - they then have minuses & can't move so far.

National variations are built in with different troop types having different speeds in different formations & different +/-'s in combats. In some ways I think they overdo it & introduce a lot of unneccessary complication (eg: does it really help the game to have one unit move 14" and another similar one 15" on the basis of a very disputable opinion - or is it just something else to have to remember or continually look up?)

In the main, the rules do as they purport to - that is allow the fighting of big battles without too much tactical detail to slow it down. There are some inconsistencies - like the tactical details about squares being vital, while there is little advantage for flank attacks (though on the other hand it can be far too easy to make a flank attack sometimes as you can quite likely advance, wheel & charge in one turn).

10D are used throughout. Apart from my predjudice against them, this has some bad side effects: 1) the rules are very dicy - the 1 to 10 random range can easily overwhelm tactical issues. 2) The single dice each for each action reduces the opportunity for bad dice runs to even out (as they do at least in theory in fist full of dice rules).

The basing of cavalry is a bit odd - on 2 rank stands - so even when in line cavalry units look like columns.

I rate the rules similarly to Fire & Fury, maybe better. They provide a good game & have a bit less unecessary crap than some rules. I would have liked just a little more tactical detail (more skill & less luck in it) compensated for by a bit less finicky differentiation between unit types & generals.

Edit by Nick
It is worth pointing out that the Austrian commander went to extraordinary lengths to be historically accurate. He snoozed during the game briefing, and was obviously not on the top of his game -- just like the real Austrian commanders. It was very generous of Jim to get himself jet lagged just to help the game :)

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