Sunday 16 June 2024

Infantry Rules for Army Level Wargames


Typical Army Level Wargame

I don’t get nearly as many comments on this blog as I would like, but a recent one from Archduke Piccolo caused me to reconsider one element of our current wargame rules.   The blog commented on was about hills in wargames, but the comment was about skirmishers in different levels of wargame.   For example how to represent them on the table at brigade level, division level, corps level and army level wargames.

My own wargames are currently army level, with three corps per side.   The above photo will illustrate what I mean.   All games are a maximum of 12 moves, to coordinate with the campaign 12 hour day.  I have written the rules to allow for fast and fun games, but also I want to reward historical tactics.  I also want to achieve a clear winner within this relatively short number of moves.   And most important I want a large element of luck, because my wife is my regular opponent and having gamed together for more than 50 years we can anticipate what each other will do in almost any wargame situation.

The campaign includes all of the major Napoleonic armies, and many of the minor ones.  I wanted to give an element of national strengths and weakness, for example the British were well known for their effective volley fire and the Russians for their stubborn fighting style.   Equally important I wanted to avoid making any one brigade too powerful, for example British Riflemen or French Imperial Guard.   I wanted to ensure that whilst elite formations had an advantage; it was not so great that they would always win.   And at the same time historical poor performers, such as the Spanish, should also have a chance to win.  

To this end I created an order of battle which gave infantry brigade’s three combat abilities.    These are skirmish, firefight and melee.   Each brigade is graded A, B or C in each of these functions.  


A British rifle brigade would be class A skirmishers, B class melee and C class firefight.  

A French guard brigade would be C class skirmishers, A class melee and B class firefight. 

A Spanish line brigade would be C class skirmishers, B class melee and C class firefight.

Each corps has four brigades, and most have at least one class A brigade in one of the three combat types.  The exception is the Spanish, who are lucky to have more than one B class.   They always have to rely on a good defensive position, such as a village, woods or hill.

This allows the player to decide which brigade is most suitable for which task.   And even more important which brigade is weak, and must not be exposed too much.

The distance of a brigade from the enemy will determine what type of combat takes place.   If 2 to 4” it will be a skirmish combat.   0 to 2” will be musket volley.   Base contact will be melee.   A rifle brigade would pick skirmish combat; a British line brigade would prefer musket and a Spanish brigade would have to try for melee.

However it is not always possible to ensure the type of combat you want.  The move sequence is determined by drawing a poker chip from a bag, each corps has a chip.   Your rifle brigade may halt at 3”, but if the Spanish chip is before them in the next round, the Spanish brigade can charge into contact and decide the outcome by hand to hand combat.   The brigade which charges into contact gets a plus one for impact, which gives them a slight advantage.

It all sounds complicated, but it’s really quite simple and fast flowing.  The element of luck, in the form of the 1D6 and drawing a chip for who goes first, is what makes the whole game so unpredictable and enjoyable.  

I suspect that for most wargamers our reliance on the dice would be unacceptable.   I went through many different types of rules over the 54 years I have been Wargaming.   All tried to reward historical tactics.    The early ones were very simple, and then came very complicated followed by moderate complexity.   All were enjoyable, at least to start with, but lost their appeal through frequent play when the shortcomings became obvious.   Most, if not all, did not have a time limit on the wargame.   This resulted in very long games with the complicated rules, which were often abandoned due to loss of interest.

We are very happy with our current rules.   Having written them myself, and only having to keep both of us happy, I can change them at will.   So when the failings become obvious I can just tweek the rules to overcome the problem.   Will not work for everyone, but works well for us.

Sunday 9 June 2024

Santander Campaign – Day Three


Campaign Map

French attack Laredo
French occupy Ramales
10 French army – attack Laredo
11 French army – occupy Ramales
12 French army – rally and regroup at Villacayo

British retreat to Medina
1 British army – defend Laredo
2 British army – retreat to Medina
3 British army – rally and regroup at Soncillo

Guerrillas
14 brigade – abandon Ramales
16 brigade – capture convoy outside Sarautz
18 brigade – return to village
20 brigade – return to village
21 brigade – return to village

Battle of Laredo - Move 12

By day three the Wellington has had time to redeploy his army, and in particular deploy his First Army in a strong position in front of the port town of Laredo. 1st British corps hold the woods either side of the main coastal road leading to the town. 2nd British corps hold the village in the centre, 7th Spanish corps hold the extensive woods on the left of the allied position.

30th Polish corps attack the Spanish held woods. Their cavalry charge the Spanish guns, but fail to take them and retreat shaken. However their infantry take the woods section by section and hold the entire woods by nightfall

29th French corps attack the village in the centre. Their cavalry lose the opening melee rout and take the nearby gunners with them. Neither take any further part in the battle. So the French infantry have to attack the village without either cavalry or artillery support. They finally take it just before nightfall, and their light brigade beat off a determined British counter attack despite receiving 30% casualties.

28th Young Guard corps are given the most important task, the woods protecting the road to Laredo. It is held by the elite 1st British corps and fighting continues throughout the day. For most of that time the British hold the left half, and the French the right half. But in the last two hours of the battle the French finally take the left half

Having taken all three game objectives, the French have won the battle.

French lost 4 infantry. 4 cavalry and 1 artillery casualties (2100 men)
British lost 12 infantry and 1 cavalry casualties (4900 men)
Spanish lost 7 infantry and 1 cavalry casualties (2900 men)

Comments

This was a well balanced wargame in which the French had the advantage of slightly better quality troops, but the Allies had a strong defensive position. Even the poor quality Spanish corps were able to hold their own for most of the battle holding the large expanse of woods.

The French cavalry performed badly and the Polish lancers took their routed early in the game. They managed to rally and return, but lost a second melee in the closing moves of the game. In doing so they unmasked the Polish gunners, who were then routed by the British cavalry. The nearest infantry brigade failed their morale as a result and joined the rout.

The British infantry lost 12 and the Spanish 7, against 4 French infantry. But the French cavalry lost 4 to 1 British and 1 Spanish. In subsequent battles the French would miss their cavalry losses more than the British their infantry casualties

And interesting wargame, in which the dice once more played a leading role. It was surprising how often the winners of a melee would roll a 6, and the losers roll a 1 when testing their morale as a result of casualties received.

I am very pleased with how the new rules are working out. It can be very annoying to roll a 1 at the wrong time, particularly if it results in nearby brigades also rolling low to test their morale. But it adds to a fast moving and very unpredictable game. And so far the good, and the bad, dice have been pretty even over the 12 moves of a game.

Sunday 2 June 2024

Wargame Objectives


Battle of Ramales

We recently changed the game objective from the town or city to three objectives in the centre of the table.  This was to deter the defending player from slowly retreating as the attacker deployed to attack.   The defender could inflict casualties on the attacker, but retreat before the attack could be delivered.   In addition it took so long for the attacker to pursue that nightfall usually prevented any attack at all.

However our recent battle of Ramales proved that this might not be as easy to achieve as I had expected.

The game would be decided by three separate combats, one for each of the game objectives.   On the left was the hill, in the centre the woods and on the right the farm.  Although this was an encounter battle, the British and Spanish troops would reach their defensive position well before the French attackers.

The Hill

This was held by the Spanish corps, by far the weakest of the three allied corps.   However it was attacked by the Italian corps, the weakest of the French corps, and not a lot better than the Spanish holding the hill  

Hills are best held, and attacked, by infantry.  So the British Army commander took command of the Spanish cavalry and artillery and deployed them between the hill and the woods.

The French Army commander also took command of the Italian cavalry and artillery, but that was to support the Westphalian attack on the centre.   It also countered the Spanish detachment, but that was not the intention.

The attack on the hill was an easy victory for the Italians.    They used their two best infantry brigades to spearhead the attack, and routed one Spanish brigade by skirmish fire.  The remaining three Spanish infantry brigades quickly followed suit.   They ran to the woods in the rear, where they eventually rallied.  But they did not make any counter attack on the hill.

The French had taken their first game objective

The Woods

The 4th British corps, who held the centre, included two rifle brigades which represented the famous light division.   The senior brigade held the woods, supported by the second brigade and the corps artillery between the woods and the hill.

The Westphalian corps was given the task of taking this objective.  They were better quality than the Italians, but only just.   They could not risk an attack on the rifles in the woods, at least until they could drive back their supports and attack the woods from at least two sides.   This proved extremely difficult.

Supported by the Italian cavalry and artillery they easily outgunned the weaker British 6pdr guns, and also the poorly trained Spanish gunners.   However it requires a roll of six on 1D6 to hit a gun, so they would have to be very lucky.   Their reinforced cavalry should also be able to defeat the British hussars and Spanish irregular lancers.   However their artillery failed to roll any sixes, and eventually turned their attention to the supporting infantry.   Their cavalry finally won the cavalry combat, but not until they had lost one brigade.

It took 10 of the 12 game moves, but eventually the rifle brigade were driven from the woods.   The nearest infantry rushed the woods, but were halted by a counter attack by the supporting British brigade.   At nightfall only two British brigades still remained, but they continued to contest the woods.

The Farm

3rd British corps had one elite infantry brigade, and a heavy cavalry brigade.   Apart from that they were two line and one conscript Portuguese brigades.   However the foot guards held the farm.

The attacking French corps was young guard.   Not only good infantry, but also a 12 pounder artillery battery and a brigade of heavy dragoons.   Their attack should have been the easiest of the three combats.  It was not to be so

To attack the farm they had to secure at least one side as well as the front.  They could then attack with two brigades against one.   They would also hope to weaken the garrison with artillery and skirmish fire.   But first they would have to persuade the British supports to retreat.   The dragoon brigade was sent to drive off the British cavalry.   Due to really poor dice the French not only lost two cavalry combats, but they routed with 20% casualties without inflicting any casualties on the British horsemen.

The attack turned into a real slog, and by nightfall the farm was firmly held by the British.   The French managed to get into the farm, but a prompt counter attack resulted in a stalemate.

So at the end of the game the French held one objective, but the other two were still held by the British.   Victory conditions were the side which held two of the three game objectives.

The British could claim that they still held the woods and farm, even if they were contested.   Had the game gone on for another two or three moves the French would probably have taken the woods, but they would have been drive out of the farm.   But the deciding factor was that the French clearly held one of the three objectives, and contested the other two.

I gave the game to the French player.  

Sunday 26 May 2024

Santander Campaign – Day Two

Campaign Map

French attack Ramales
French occupy Villacayo
10 French army – hold Sarautz
11 French army – attack Ramales
12 French army – occupy Villacayo

British move up to border
British retreat to Soncillo
1 British army – move up to border
2 British army – defend Ramales
3 British army – retreat to Soncillo

Guerrillas
18 brigade – attack convoy outside Beasain
20 brigade – capture convoy outside Tolosa
21 brigade – move closer to border.

Battle of Ramales - Move 2

This was an encounter battle, once again on the border between Santander and Dan Sebastian districts.

4th British corps start the battle deployed either side of the main road to Ramales. 3rd British and 8th Spanish corps are just behind the town.

The French enter the table at the start of move 1.

The game objectives are the hill on the left, the woods in the centre and the farm on the right. At the end of move 2 the Spanish are climbing the hill, and 3rd British entering the farm. The French have entered the table and are advancing towards the allied army.

On the left the Italian corps quickly takes the hill, and the Spanish retreat in some confusion. The Spanish do rally, but are never able to launch a counter attack.

In the centre the British corps includes the light division, who occupy the woods. They are a very difficult objective for the Westhalian corps. The Spanish commander takes command of the Italian artillery and cavalry to support the attack in the centre. After a hard battle the woods is still disputed at nightfall.

On the right 31st French corps is a young guard formation, and should be able to take the farm. However at nightfall fighting still continues and the farm is firmly held by the British corps.

At nightfall the French have taken the hill, but the other two objectives are still contested. The British can claim victory because they still hold two of the three game objectives.

The French have lost 3 infantry, 6 cavalry and 1 artillery casualties (1900 men)
The British have lost 11 infantry and 3 cavalry casualties (4700 men)

Comments
As the French advance their lines of supply become more vulnerable to the Spanish guerrillas. There are two attacks, one convoy is captured the other drive off the guerrillas. The loss of 3 days supplies will take a few days to affect the corps concerned, but affect them it will.

This wargame was interesting. The combat ability of the six corps involved was very different.

On the left the Italian corps was only very slightly better than the Spanish corps holding the hill. But they could choose their point of attack, and ensure that their best brigades led the attack. Just one routed Spanish brigade led to the breakup of the whole corps.

In the centre the Westphalian corps slightly better than the Italians, but only just. They had to attack the famous light division, who held the woods. Despite having the support of the Italian cavalry and artillery they were hard pressed. They could not afford to attack the rifle brigade holding the woods. So they concentrated their artillery on the gap between the woods and the hill. This was held by the lighter British 6pdr guns, who still managed to hold their position until just before the end of the game. At nightfall only two of the four British brigades remained, but the rifles still held the woods.

On the right the French young guard corps should have taken the farm without any difficulty. However they lost two cavalry melee, resulting in the rout of their cavalry. This made it very difficult for the infantry to attack the farm, which was held by the elite Guards brigade. At nightfall the farm was still held by the British.

A great wargame, full of interesting decisions about which brigade to lead the attack, and when to order the attack. Not at all helped by the roll of (it felt like) a LOT of ones or two.

Sunday 19 May 2024

Hills in Wargames

Battle of Gadebusch

Hills have always played an important part in my wargames, and particularly since I started a campaign to provide battles to wargame.  

In a campaign it is difficult to recreate mountain ranges, such as the Alps.   To do so would require the whole table being covered in terrain which was impossible for corps and divisions to deploy on.   In Napoleonic campaigns these large areas were obstacles to be crossed, rather than areas to deploy and fight battles.   In some campaigns, such as the Iberian Peninsula, they would be the scene of small scale guerrilla combat.   More suited to skirmish type wargames, rather than corps sized games.  

In my campaign wargames hills are represented by largely flat topped oblong shapes, looking more like a series of ridges rather than mountain ranges.   This is because I wanted to allow my corps to deploy and fight, rather than struggle through a table where they could only follow one narrow track and fight a series of skirmish actions.

All arms are allowed to cross these obstacles, but at half movement rate.   Combat is usually fought as if on a ridge.   The defending artillery usually deploy on the forward edge facing the enemy.  The infantry usually slightly further back, to avoid the attacking artillery.    This makes them a very difficult target to attack.  

It also creates a lot of debate about whether attacking artillery can hit troops who are not at the front of the ridge, and therefore not in direct line of sight.   And if that is allowed why not defending artillery deploying in a similar position.   Then there is the question whether cavalry can charge on a hill, or up or down from a hill.   All of this would be allowed on a flat topped ridge, but would not be possible on a mountain range.

We have struggled with these questions for quite a long time.   One obvious decision leads to a less obvious one and so on.   Finally we have decided to redefine who can do what on “hills”.

In future only infantry will be allowed to engage in combat on “hills”.   Infantry, cavalry and artillery will all be allowed to move across hills, but at half movement speed.   However only infantry will be allowed to fight, and will do so exactly the same as on flat ground.  Artillery will be allowed to deploy on the forward edge of the hill, but nowhere else.

It will be interesting to discover whether this clear cut decision actually results in a series of unintended consequences.   This often happens when we bring in a new rule to overcome problems resulting from long time game play with two players who both know the rules extremely well.                     

Sunday 12 May 2024

Santander Campaign – Day One


Campaign Map

The campaign opens with a surprise French attack on Villacayo

10 French army – hold Sarautz
11 French army – hold Bergara
12 French army – attack Villacayo

1 British army – hold Laredo
2 British army – hold Ramales
3 British army – defend Villacayo


Battle of Villacayo - Move 8

The battle opens with 35 French corps attacking 6 British corps in front of the town
34 French and 36 Vistula corps arrive on the table at the start of move 2
5 British and 9 Spanish corps are allowed to move at the start of move 2

5 British occupy the farm on the right
34 French attack but are driven off

35 French corps attack in the centre, supported by artillery from 34 corps
6 British retreat slowly towards the town to avoid combat and delay the French attack

36 Vistula and 9 Spanish arrive at the hill on the left at the same time
The Poles storm the hill, and the Spanish retreat to avoid combat

At nightfall the French have taken two of the three game objectives and won the game

The French have lost 6 infantry and 2 cavalry casualties (2600 men)
The British have lost 3 infantry, 3 cavalry and 1 artillery casualties (1600 men)

Comments

The French have lost more casualties, but the British have lost more cavalry and gunners. They also have two brigades in rout.

The heavy French casualties is because the British in the centre, and Spanish on the left, have retreated to avoid casualties. In doing so they abandoned two of the three game objectives, leaving the French the winners

However there was more to it than that.

The British cavalry suffered heavy defeat due to really poor dice throw. This allowed the French to advance their cavalry and threaten the allied artillery.

The French suffered a similar defeat, again due to poor dice, on their attack on the farm on the right. They should have won the attack, but they rolled 3x1 and 1x2 out of 6 dice.

Although I would prefer that the dice did not play such an important role in the outcome, it is not too bad if it happens to both sides. It is also the only way to achieve a fast flowing game when both players understand the rules, and each other, so well. If neither side make a mistake, and if both can anticipate what the other is likely to do, the result is often a very slow moving and boring wargame.

This strong influence of luck, in the form of the dice, helps to add an element of unpredictably and total surprise to a game. Normally the attacker, usually me, is very cautious in the opening part of the game. Hoping to achieve casualties with his artillery, or cavalry, before risking his infantry in a frontal attack. If I can achieve this, the attack usually wins. It is pretty unusual to roll such poor dice, but it can (and did) happen in this game.

This is not a style which would suit everyone, but it does suit us.

Sunday 5 May 2024

Santander Campaign in Northern Spain


Campaign map of Northern Spain

This is the fourth campaign phase to be fought in Northern Spain.   As you can see from the map the British won two and the French one.

Santander is Wellington’s main supply base.   If the French can capture it, he will be forced to establish a new base at Llanes, causing considerable disruption to his lines of supply.   It will also allow Soult to establish his own base there, and shorten his lines of supply to France.

Example of a British corps

Wellington has nine corps under his command, but only six are British.   The remaining three are Spanish.  The three armies under Wellington’s command each have two British and one Spanish corps.    All nine corps have four infantry brigades, one cavalry brigade and corps artillery.   

There are also 12 Spanish militia brigades, one for each of the 12 cities and towns in the campaign.   These are not under Wellington’s command.   Each one is the garrison of a city or town.   When it is occupied by the French the garrison becomes a guerrilla band.   They must remain within the same district (nine squares on the map) and will carry out irregular operations against the French.   Mostly this will be attacks on convoys.   The outcome of such attacks will be decided by 1D6, and may result in casualties or the loss of the supplies.   Such loss will be deducted from the field army concerned.

Example of a French corps

Soult also has nine corps under his command.   There is one young guard corps, four French corps and one Polish, Westphalian, Italian and Vistula.   The non French corps have more conscript troops than the French ones.

There are also six reserve infantry brigades.   These are all conscript and provide the garrison of the six cities and towns in San Sebastian region.   They also provide the escort for supply columns moving through their district.

Any towns captured within Santander region must be garrisoned by a brigade from the occupying French army   This will weaken the French as they advance towards Santander.

Map of Spain

The two campaign areas in Spain present more problems than the three in Germany.   This is because of the difficulty in trying to recreate interesting wargames where there are such unbalanced armies facing each other. 

In northern Spain Wellington’s army has a history of wining almost every battle.   In southern Spain the Spanish army lost almost every battle they fought.   In a wargame this would result in very unhappy French players in the north, and Spanish ones in the south.

In northern Spain I have weakened Wellington’s army by making one third Spanish troops.    They are the best three corps in the Spanish army, but far below the combat efficiency of the six British corps.

In southern Spain the French have to garrison the six towns on their side of the map by detaching brigades from their field army.    They also have to detach further brigades as they capture Spanish towns.

Throughout Spain the French also have to protect their lines of supply from the many guerrilla bands.   Getting the balance right has proved very difficult.   Each combat is decided by rolling 1D6.   A low score will see the guerrilla rout, possibly with casualties.   A high score will result in them capturing the convoy, and possibly inflicting casualties on the escort.

This simple method works well, but can result in unwanted results, particularly if the Spanish are too successful.   The aim is not for the guerrilla to win the campaign, but rather to detract from the combat effectiveness of the French   But it is not possible to control the outcome of rolling one dice.

Usually at the end of a campaign phase in Spain the rules are reviewed to determine how well they have worked.  I have to be careful not to change them too often, as they often result in unexpected consequences.

All of this makes the campaigns in Spain must more interesting, and challenging, than in northern Europe.    So I am particularly looking forward to this next campaign phase.