Sunday 25 May 2014

Wagaming with the Spanish Army

 Spanish break French centre

Last week’s blog about using my French Imperial Guard was inspired by the wargame we had fought that week.   It was one of my PBEM 1814 campaign battles and involved the French Old Guard corps and 1st Prussian corps.

This week’s battle, also from the campaign, featured the Spanish and 6th French Armies.

Very much from one extreme to the other!

If the French Imperial Guard is the most popular formation for Napoleonic wargamers, then I suspect that the Spanish would be one of the least popular.   They have lovely uniforms, and provide a very colourful display on the wargames table.   But everyone knows that they lost every major battle they took part in, with the exception of Baylen.

I can easily remember buying my first French Imperial Guard figure.   Not so easy with my first Spanish figure.   I suspect it was about 20 years ago.  I am pretty certain that I have replaced them all once, from Minifigs to Front Rank.

I do know that they have spent most of their life sitting on the shelves in the wargames room waiting for a battle.

That all changed when I started my current campaign five years ago.    The campaign was designed to use ALL of my Napoleonic armies, hopefully in sequence.   So they have started to make a regular appearance on the wargames table.   But I have not really solved the problem of writing rules to suit them.

In my campaign every nation has strengths and weakness, except for the Spanish.   I have to confess that it is difficult to justify giving them any particular strength over the French.   I grade each army on its generals, its morale, its skirmish ability and its volley fire ability.   It would be hard to convince anyone that the regular Spanish army of the Napoleonic Wars were better than the French Peninsular Army of the same period.

For the first four years of my campaign I fought a different area, and a different allied army, as a mini campaign.   Eastern Spain, and the Spanish, were used twice and produced only nine battles.   If my memory serves me well the Spanish lost most of those.

Last year I changed the campaign system to include all six campaign areas at the same time.   This resulted in six battles.   The Spanish won three of them.

This change was because I gave them one British corps in their order of battle.   This is acceptable because a British formation did fight in eastern Spain in 1813-14.   They also had three guerrilla bands, who provided intelligence and posed a threat to the French lines of communications.

Strange to relate, both Jan and I like commanding the Spanish on the wargames table.  

She likes them because she feels there are no great expectations.  If she loses it is just what most would expect.   If she wins it is quite an achievement.

I like them because they always provide a challenge.   Great care must be taken to avoid artillery casualties in the early stages of the battle.   Just one casualty can cause the brigade to rout, and that can easily spread to nearby brigades.

I am very happy with the way things have developed for my poor Spanish Army.  

I am also relieved that the long suffering Spanish commander in the campaign at last has some reason to celebrate.    Three out of six is not great.   But I suspect it considerably better than most wargamers achieve using commercial wargame rules.


  1. I believe the Spanish performed a bit better than has often been credited them. Suchet's first battle with the Spanish was a defeat (Alcaniz); and (if memory serves) Marchand was handed a shellacking at Tamames. On a couple of other occasions at least they gave the French a hard fight.

    It might be hard to award in battle rules any kind of compensating advantage to the Spanish over the French. I might suggest that the Spanish equal the French in defence (recall their performance at Albuera!), but a small negative in attack.

    But if a rule set extends to campaigns, I would be inclined to give this advantage to the Spanish: their ability to recover from a setback. Possibilities that suggest themselves: (1) standard battle losses are halved (or, in other words, gaps due to battle losses are filled at twice the standard rate; (2) A Spanish army has to be beaten twice to achieve the effect of a single defeat on any other Peninsular Army. I'd probably suggest the latter provision for the Russians in Russia.

  2. Thanks for your comments.

    My campaign is designed to make use of all of my Napoleonic armies on the tabletop, and this includes the Spanish.

    In addition the Spanish player only has that Spanish army to fight his campaign. It would be unfair to ask him to command an army that stands no chance of winning.

    I agree with the points you make, but its hard to incorporate those in a set of table top rules. And particularly ones like mine which rely on a large element of luck.

    The Spanish already have the advantage of greater numbers and more knowledge of the French movements through the use of guerrilla bands. So it is important that they are inferior on the table, otherwise the French commander would be unhappy.

    Not an easy problem to solve. But I do feel we are getting there


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