Friday, 28 September 2012


To Michael, Sergio Rico and Mark. Thanks for joining, folks.  It's funny, most of my blogging endeavours have been with my ancients, but on the rare occasion I do something Napoleonic, there is a surge of interest. It's probably due to the different topic.  I think that means I made the right decision to keep everything on the same blog, rather than splitting it between several.

Cheers again!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012


Last Saturday we played our large Borodino game at Willy's place.  He added a table to extend the length of the sand table to over twenty feet, and we played right across the whole table.  The force ratio was roughly one unit to two infantry battalions, cavalry regiments or artillery batteries.  Mark from Northern Ireland came over with most of the French and Poles in his car, and his forces were supplemented by William's Westphalians and some others.  I provided most of the Russians, with some extras from Willy and Euan.  We had players from Glasgow, Ayrshire, Coventry, York and of course Mark.  Figures were 15mm and the rules were Shako II, with a few minor tweaks to speed up such a large game.  Willy reckoned there must have been almost 7,000 figs on the table.  Photos of the Russian deployment:
Utitsa on the Russian left, looking past the old road towards the jagers infesting the woods.  Karpov's Cossacks are in the right foreground.  In the centre of the shot is a Line Infantry Division with Stroganov's Grenadiers behind them, including the famous Pavlovs.  Tutchkov (Scottish Mark) ran this lot as a separate command, almost a little army in its own right.  I took the rest of the photos of the defenders from the French side to give an idea of what they would be attacking:
The fleches, held by Neverovsky's 27th Division.  These guys operated as the rearguard to the Russian army as it retreated in the face of the Grande Armee's march ever deeper into Russia.  At Borodino, they gave Davout's corps a particularly hard time.  To the right of the photo are some combined Grenadiers, with Duka's Line Cuirassiers in reserve.  At the top left you can just about make out the massed reserves of the Russian Imperial Guard.
Moving further along is another Russian Grenadier Division holding the area between the fleches and the Raevsky Redoubt.  Euan as Bagration had already decided that he would send a messenger to Kutusov asking for the Guards to be released as soon as possible.
The Grand Redoubt itself, with its formidable artillery contingent.  Paskevich's Infantry Division is in immediate reserve, with orders to retake the redoubt should it fall.
Barclay de Tolly's powerful forces on the Russian right wing, defending the Smolensk-Moscow highway.  David from York played Barclay, which was good because as an experienced Shako player he would be able to keep the game moving in this area.  At the rear of the Russian army are Platov's Cossacks, Uvarov's Guard Light Cavalry, and two other Cavalry commands.  They won't really be needing much help here, then!
Rounding off the initial deployments is a full length shot of the whole table, with the French massed to the left of the photo.  I didn't take this one!  Over the course of the day we had maybe twenty players on and off in total, and a good day seemed to be had by all.
I stayed at the Utitsa end of the field for most of the game, mainly for reasons of space.  The action started here almost immediately as Scottish Mark sent in the Cossacks against Poniatowski's (played by Hugh) light cavalry in an attempt to disrupt any enemy intentions.
The longer range photo above shows the Polish advance on the woods at the same time.
Another shot of (Irish) Mark's resplendent Poles.
I moved along the table a bit to take this one of Davout's assault on the fleches...
...and this one of the massed weight in the French centre.
Above you can see the advance on the Grand Redoubt.  As Napoleon, Mark had detached one of Davout's powerful divisions and deployed it opposite the redoubt to mask it.  Billy, though, had other ideas and attacked anyway!
Back at Utitsa, the Cossacks have been seen off smartly by the Poles, as expected.
Tutchkov deploys Stroganov's Grenadiers in anticipation of the impending Polish attack.
The action is really heating up in this sector.
I moved along a bit and took the photo above from the French centre.  It looks towards Utitsa at the top of the shot, with the struggle for the fleches in the foreground.  Nasty.
The French advance continues just to the left of the previous photo.  The Grand Redoubt is just out of the frame to the left of this one.
Billy's assault columns reach the Grand Redoubt.
On the French left, Eugene's corps mixes it with Barclay's infantry divisions.
Davout's pressure on the fleches begins to tell.
Back at Utitsa, Karpov does the unimaginable and rallies all of the Cossacks for another go.
A long shot of the action at this point, which is now general right across the field.  The Poles engage Tutchkov in the immediate foreground.
A shot of the battle at Utitsa at the same moment, from the Polish viewpoint.
Looking towards the area to the left of the Poles, from the same viewing position.  Some of the Poles have entered the woods, rather gingerly in the face of telling fire from the dispersed jager battalions.  Pressure is now being applied against the converged Grenadiers and the French cavalry reserves under Murat (Alan) have moved into position.
Neverovsvky's division has all but ceased to exist by this point, and Davout is poised to advance beyond the fleches.  Davout did a lot better here than was historically the case.  Some really poor tactical dice rolls by the Russians combined with dreadful divisional morale on the part of the Grenadiers.
Looking more towards the French centre, the battle develops further.  Only one fleche still holds out tenaciously.
The French mass their forces in the area between the fleches and the Grand Redoubt, helped by the relative inactivity of the Russian Grenadiers.
More French cavalry arrive here, and even the French Imperial Guard makes it onto the field.
French pressure is telling in the middle of the field.  The Russian Guards are waiting patiently at the very top of the photo.
The struggle for the Raevsky Redoubt.  Unlike the historical battle, hardly any cannon shots were fired at it - the French were far too busy piling in with the troops!
Eugene makes very little headway against Barclay.
Above is a long shot of the battle lines looking from the vicinity of Utitsa.  To the right, the Russian players await the French impassively.
Back at Utitsa, the Poles have finally driven off the Cossacks.  Seeing a Russian infantry battlion in line, the Chasseurs a Cheval break through to charge them, only to see the stalwart Russians unhurriedly form square.  One of the two units of Poles is obliterated.  Their lancers retire, with the command demoralised.  The Cossacks might have been destroyed, but half of the invaders' cavalry on this flank is now out of the battle, and Tutchkov has bought himself more time.
Davout has taken the fleches.
Above is a final shot of Neverovsky's last battalion before it too quits the field.
The French make headway against the Raevsky Redoubt, albeit at horrendous cost.
The attack takes a battering, but still they come.
The French reserve cavalry have a bad time against the converged Grenadiers.  The latter have recovered their morale and hang on in there grimly.
The Raevsky Redoubt falls, only for the French to find Paskevich's division waiting for them...
The French left is thrown back by the might of Barclay's force here.
At Utitsa, the situation has stabilised somewhat as the initial Russian line division holds on.
In the centre, Davout's victorious troops swarm across the fleches, with cavalry in support.  A confused fight breaks out as Duka's Cuirassiers attempt to stem the tide in vain.
The pressure mounts with Ney's corps surging forward to Davout's left.  At the top of the photo, the Russian Imperial Guard waits impassively for a nice juicy target rich environment to roll towards them.
The division detached from Davout's corps is too weak to withstand Paskevich's counterattack.  I think the French were Morand's troops, but I'm not entirely sure.
And this is the final situation for Eugene's corps.

We had to stop there because we ran out of time.  Overall, the French were held at their left.  Morand had taken the Grand Redoubt, but his division was destroyed and Paskevich recaptured it.  Junot appeared with the Westphalians at the edge of the table to form the next wave.  In the centre, the French were pouring through in great numbers, with Ney and Davout leading the way, supported by Murat's cavalry and the Imperial Guard.  The Russian guards had just received their orders from Kutusov to go onto the counterattack.  The Combined Grenadiers were still just about in existence, and the Polish attack on Utitsa had been repulsed.

All in all we managed twelve turns, which is pretty good going for a game this size in one day.  The discussion afterwards was quite interesting, as the commanders revealed their pre-battle intentions.  As Napoleon, Mark had always intended the two extreme flanks to be holding actions, so Eugene and Poniatowski both did what was required.  Napoleon's main attack was supposed to be Davout and Ney in the centre, and he was pleasantly surprised by Davout's success.  He had timed his commitment of Murat and the Guard to follow through after Davout had cleared the fleches.  The one thing that didn't go according to the initial plan was the direct attack on the Grand Redoubt.  I think the division there was simply supposed to hold until Junot arrived, and then the two forces between them were to assault it at the same time as the main forces to their right came forward.  Still, it was a great attempt and the commander was acclaimed after the game for his elan.

Euan as Bagration saw the relative thinness of the area across from Ney and Davout, and immediately decided to ask Kutusov to release the Guards to move in this direction.  He knew this would take a while, and was determined to hold on as long as possible.  If we had time to play more, there would have been an enormous clash in this area as the Russian Guards were committed.  Elsewhere, Barclay held quite nicely, as did Tutchkov around Utitsa.  The surprise assault by the French on the Grand Redoubt saw it fall, but it was then quickly retaken by Paskevich's counterattack, with the French division destroyed.

Everyone seemed to enjoy it.  I learned from my recent large Heraclea ancients game and gave out command cards so that everyone would know what they were doing, so far as possible.  Each card showed what a division had, as well as its morale decision points and any modifiers.  I also modified the Shako victory conditions to make it easier to play such a large game.  Basically, I borrowed the legion rules for Republican Romans from Tactica II, in which the legion is the unit, not the indidual sub-units.  In other words, broken battalions or cavalry regiments didn't count towards army morale until the whole division was destroyed.  I also varied the values of the various divisions with a numerical score, so that, say, Karpov's Cosscaks were not so valuable as the Grand Redoubt.  I kept track of the scores, and it seemed to work well on the day.  By the time we finished, the French army had lost one-sixth of its value, and the Russians one-quarter: a French tactical victory, then.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Heraclea AAR

Our club meets every Tuesday evening, although my attendance has been a bit erratic for a while now.  I did agree to put on a large multiplayer game a couple of weeks ago.  The first Tuesday of the month has become something of a club tradition, with one especially large game.  The idea is that folks can try out things they might normally never play, without having to invest themselves.  This way we can take advantage of the various collections that exist.  When I was asked to do one, it seemed sensible to use my large successors force and my Republican Romans, since those are the armies that are in decent enough shape as well as being large enough to fit the bill.  Heraclea has been doing the rounds of the discussion groups, so I thought I'd put together a scenario for Tactica and see what happened:
This is the deployment map from the scenario I've already posted on my Ancients Scenarios page.  Pyrrhus is at the top in blue, and the Romans are at the bottom of the map in traditional red.  The sources seem to agree that the battle began in somewhat confused fashion, with the Roman Velites forcing the river crossing against the Peltasts, and both sides' cavalry mixing it up.  Pyrrhus seems to have been almost killed at one point, and the Roman cavalry gave a very good account of themselves.  Pyrrhus pulled back his forces to regroup rather than continue the battle in piecemeal fashion, and this permitted the main body of the legions to cross the river unmolested.

My scenario begins at this point, after Pyrrhus has made his famous comment about the impressive order of the Roman army in the field.  I have set up Pyrrhus at the head of a reasonably traditional Macedonian right hook comprising excellent cavalry.  The remnants of the Peltasts in the second line on his flank, accompanying his elephants.  The centre comprises the phalanx, with the elite Epirote Guards and native Macedonians in the position of honour on the right of the line.  A large body of Tarentine Hoplites acts as a sort of flank guard to each end of the phalanx.  On the left of the army is a contingent of Italian or Greek colonist horse - a mixture of light and medium cavalry.

The Roman army is a double consular force of four legions with matching Latin legions, a formidable legionary array.  They also have some Italian allied medium infantry at either end of the line, with Latin Equites on the left, along with some Italian light horse.  The Roman Equites are on the right, as usual.  The Roman army seems to have deployed the four Latin legions on the left of the main infantry set-up, and the Romans to the right.

Historically, this was a desperate struggle, with neither side gaining an advantage.  The Roman and Latin horse held out well, and the Legions stubbornly contested every inch of ground against the phalanx.  Eventually Pyrrhus committed his right wing reserve and the elephants put the Latin Equites to flight; they then rolled up the opposition from that flank.  Even so, the Romans seem to have retired in some order to their camp across the river, with little pursuit.   It would seem that Pyrrhus' troops were too exhausted to follow up properly.  This is the battle that gave rise to the term 'Pyrrhic Victory'.  It did not play like this in our game...
The first photograph, above, shows Pyrrhus' cavalry wing from the Roman perspective.  The great man (Raymond)  is leading the centre of the cavalry in person, and the Peltasts and elephants are in reserve. The Tarentines link this wing to the centre.
Photo number two moves along a bit towards the centre.  You can see four units of elite phalangites, with skirmishers in front.  Willy and Simon supplied the Epirote Guards.
Above is the mass of the phalanx, six units deployed deep with the usual skirmishers in front.
Completing the full deployment are more Tarentine foot, then Italian light and medium cavalry.
The Roman army is as usual pretty much symmetrical, so rather than show them by commands I took an angled shot of the whole lot, pretty much from off to the right of Pyrrhus' own position.  Most of the rest of the shots are taken from the same point.
Above is a long table shot of the advancing forces.  As you can see, the Latin horse on this flank is holding back, trying to delay the moment of contact with Pyrrhus in person.
Staying on this wing, you can see that the Latin cavalry commander has sent his light horse out to get in some javelin fire, with some success (casualty marker behind the unit at the bottom left of the photo).
A shot of the central infantry lines closing.
I shifted over to the other side of the table to see the cavalry clash there.  This shot is taken from behind the Greek colonists as they engage the Roman Equites.  The latter are trying desperately to stop any potential envelopment of the Roman legions.  To the right of the photo above, you can just make out the Italian infantry coming to help them.
Back on the other wing, the Italian light horse retire away from the might of Pyrrhus' heavy cavalry.
Above is a photo of the action in the centre at the same point in time.  This is where the game began to diverge from what I thought might happen, with the Greeks holding back their phalanx on the right and going in only on the left.  This gave the Romans an unexpected boost - a partial overlap on a phalanx unit is not something to be turned down...
Above is the same situation, from behind the phalanx.  I thought they would send in the whole lot.
Back to my original position as Pyrrhus' vaunted cavalry charges in...and is then held in place by the valiant Italians.The Greek unit in the immediate left foreground is in trouble.  The earlier javelin fire has hurt them and they are being swarmed by larger numbers of light cavalry.  If Pyrrhus had pressed his advantage, he could have chased them off, but instead he passed the initiative to the Romans and they managed to get their light cavalry back into position after their earlier retreat.  This could be costly for the Greeks...
Above is a full table shot of the action as a whole.  The elephants are waiting for the Romans to show a nice juicy flank.  It turns out that this was why the right half of the phalanx held back, to tempt the Latin legions (the half of the force that is in white) to come forward.  But discipline held firm and the legions stayed in place.  In other words, the consul of the day (David) didn't fall for it.
Engagement all along the line.  At the top left of this photo you can see the Greek colonists coming in at an angle towards the Roman legions.  The Roman Equites and their erstwhile Italian infantry support have been dealt with, and now the legions are in danger of being enveloped on the far side.  Simon, Gus and Ewen lead the attack, chortling with glee.  Maybe Tarentum is about to get some bloody revenge.
I sped over to the far side to get a shot of the impending masterstroke.
Back to my standard position, and it looks as though Pyrrhus is about to break through the Italian horse on this flank and envelop from here too.  The mangled remnants of the Italian light horse have disposed of the damaged Greek heavies, and throw themselves desperately at the flank of Pyrrhus' lancers.  Dying to a man, they take him with them!

Alan played really well on this flank; his last unit of light cavalry got five kills on eight dice, needing a 5-6 to hit, and took out the great man.  Wails of despair could be heard from the other end of the table as Simon, Gus and Ewen destroyed a legion and were about to do for another with their envelopment, but it was not to be.

It was perhaps rather ambitious to try to squeeze a game of this size into a Tuesday evening, even with an earlier start than usual.  In the end, though, it worked out, and folks seemed to enjoy it.  The leftmost attack worked well for the Tarentines, but the day was saved for Rome by the Latin and Italian cavalry on the other wing.  I can't remember exactly who played which commands, except for the important decision points, so apologies to all concerned.  I think we had around a dozen players.

One thing I did try was to manage the game better than I usually do.  I knew that most of the players would not be ancients fans, so I knocked up some command cards to explain the units as clearly as possible - you can see some of these lying around the table in some of the photos.  The difficulty with a battle like this is that the deployments are relatively static, especially in the centre of the two armies, so players with a taste for more modern combat games may feel hard done by.  It can feel a bit like "line them up and roll dice".  However, there were still plenty of interesting decision points, and I had no idea what to expect when we played it.  The command cards really helped, and I was asked to make some for the grand Borodino game on Willy's sand table.  More on that anon...