Sunday 28 March 2021

Maintaining the Balance – Cavalry and Infantry

Mixed infantry and cavalry melee

I have always found that getting the balance right between infantry and cavalry is very difficult to achieve in wargame rules.   I found that in most rules the cavalry were too powerful, and the only infantry defence was to form square.   The cavalry were then doomed to defeat if they dared to attack.

This is all part of the wider balance between infantry, cavalry and artillery.   I believe that each should have some disadvantages to balance their obvious strengths.

My wargame rules are very much fast play, and I want to achieve a clear result within a maximum of 12 moves.   To this end I have opted to rely more than usual on the luck of the dice.   I have stuck with the more limited 6 sided, rather than the wider range of options available with 10 sided dice.

I have also gone for morale and combat tables.  They allow me to reward better quality troops, supports and full strength.   They also punish casualties, low quality troops and isolated formations too far from their commander and without support.

But, for me, the joy of winning a melee with conscripts because I rolled high dice makes each wargame different and unpredictable.   It also rewards a bold general who is prepared to make a bold move against the odds.  

It is not unusual to start move 11 or 12 facing certain defeat.   Then a lucky dice throw routs one enemy brigade, and their supports who have casualties must then test their morale and also fail.   For me the chance of such reversals are what makes a memorable wargame.    I appreciate that for some players this would be unacceptable because the chances of it happening in “real life” are indeed very slim.   But as the great Donald Featherstone, who fought in WW2, remarked in one of his books “it is a warGAME”.   Anyone who believes that we can achieve more than a passing resemblance to historical warfare on a wargames table is searching for the Holy Grail.   Those of you who have served in the military will recognise, and appreciate, the adage that the best laid plans are often abandoned when the first shot is fired.

So how to balance infantry, cavalry and artillery?   In my rules all combat are one brigade to one brigade.   Artillery have a slight advantage over cavalry.  But if the cavalry are allowed to charge home the gunners rout with 20% casualties.   An infantry attack on artillery is almost sure to fail.   Equally one infantry brigade will lose against one cavalry brigade, unless the infantry are in square.

With this type of balance the attacker must secure an advantage before he sends his infantry forward.  Because almost all games are decided by the infantry, as almost all battles were in real life.  

If the attacker can defeat the enemy cavalry early in the game, he will have an immense advantage.   However if his own cavalry are broken he will be unable to attack at all.   So early artillery fire is usually concentrated on the enemy cavalry.   If they manage a hit their own cavalry can advance with confidence to finish them off.

However cavalry v infantry is one of the most difficult to balance.   In my early games I relied on the infantry forming square, and cavalry are not allowed to charge a formed square.  So there is no chance of a lucky dice allowing the cavalry to break a square.   However a square which suffers just one casualty is disordered, and does not count as a square for the remainder of that move.

One of my recent rule changes is to allow an infantry brigade to count support in a cavalry v infantry melee.   They get plus one for each formed infantry brigade within 4”.   Heavy cavalry gets plus two in melee.   So three infantry brigades advancing in close support would overcome this advantage.   In such a melee neither side would have an advantage, and the result would be down to the luck of the dice.

We are fortunate to be able to wargame most days.   The advantage of this is that we both have a real understanding of the rules.   The disadvantage is that neither of us often make a serious mistake which then allows the other to win.   That is why we rely on the luck of the dice.   It is the only way we can keep our games fresh and enjoyable.   Winning is not a great driver for either of us.   Enjoying the game is much more important

Sunday 21 March 2021

Thoughts on the 1813 Campaign

Geographical map of Europe

The Valladolid campaign was the 79th campaign phase fought since I started the 1813 campaign in August 2009.   The last battle of this campaign was the 337th wargame we have fought in the campaign.  

This was never intended to be such a long running campaign.   We have wargamed together for 50 years and have gone through all of the phases that everyone else has.   We started with one off games, each one bigger than the last as our collection of wargame figures grew.  Like most wargamers we wanted to be able to game Waterloo and Leipzig.   I remember the inspiration of seeing Peter Guilders WRG games in the pages of Wargames Illustrated in the 1970s, and then being able to take part in them some years later.  

But the anticipation was always better than actually playing the wargame.   Even at the WRG I found the games disappointing, though the spectacle was inspiring.   Actually handling large number of figures over a huge wargames table can be tiring.   And playing against a lot of strangers who have different knowledge of the rules can be frustrating.  

When I left the army in 1984 we were finally able to buy our own house, and at last we could have a permanent wargames table.   We were fortunate to have a large, stand-alone garage.   We converted it into a wargames room, and built a 12x6 foot table.   We then started a wargames group of 6-8 players who would meet once a week.   I provided the rules, figures, scenery and games.   So I could control the types of games we played.   It lasted until we moved to Spain in 2006.

All of this was a big learning experience.  I had experimented with various rules and different types and sizes of wargames.   I had a very clear idea of what type and sizes of wargames I wanted to play.   Retirement and moving to Spain would give me the opportunity to put it all into practice.

We decided that we would restrict our wargame to just the two of us.  A smaller 6x6 foot table would be ideal.   And I could downsize the number of figures due to the smaller table size.

The second decision was to concentrate on wargaming.   After 35 years of painting model soldiers I would put my brush and paint aside, and put all of that effort into gaming.

The final result of all this would be my 1813 campaign.    The aim was to use all of my figures and scenery in rotation.   So the campaign would be divided into five geographical regions, each with its own French and allied army.  A series of mini campaigns would be fought in each region, similar in size to the Waterloo campaign.   Each campaign phase would last about 10 campaign days and one or two months.

The original concept has not changed, but the mechanics of the campaign has developed and improved with each campaign phase.   The greatest influence was when I discovered Profantasy computer maps.  This allowed me to create a whole new series of maps, from each battle to the whole of Europe.

But the thing which keeps the interest alive is lessons learned from each and every campaign phase.   Things that go wrong provide me with projects to improve the whole concept.  

Military regions of Europe

The latest was the concept of military regions rather than historical boundaries.  This allowed me to create a whole fictional European organisation.  It also kept me busy for many months making new maps.

My next project is increasing my ten armies from 4 corps to 6 corps each.   The Valladolid campaign was the first time that I have used this new army organisation and it has worked extremely well.   It provides me with larger and more challenging wargames.  It also adds a new structure to the organisation of each campaign phase.   I am very excited to see where it will lead.

Sunday 14 March 2021

Valladolid Campaign – Day 7


29 March 1813 – Northern Spain – Day 7

After six days and five battles both armies are tired, disorganised and urgently in need of casualty replacements.   However the French are in a much worse state than the British

Being close to his supply bases Wellington has been able to resupply and regroup his army.   All six corps have battle casualties, but have been able to concentrate the infantry in one brigade per corps.

Due to their success in the early part of the campaign, the French were too far forward to resupply all of their corps.   Consequently all were low on supplies.


Both armies have suffered heavy casualties during the course of the campaign.   Providing that they are out of contact with the enemy, and in supply, a corps can reorganise and regroup.   This means that they can concentrate all of their infantry casualties, except for the first 10%, in one brigade.  The result is that they lose one of their four brigades, but the remaining three have a maximum of 10% casualties per brigade.

At the end of a battle the losing corps retreat, the winners occupy the objective, for example a town.   This means that both sides move, so neither can regroup or resupply.   The following day both often halt, regroup and resupply.   But this can be more difficult for the winning army, because they have often moved too far away from their supply depots, or the depot may not have sufficient supplies to bring all corps up to four days supplies.    The losing side will have retreated towards their main depot, and will usually not have any difficulty obtaining sufficient supplies

This is the current situation for both armies.   All British corps have two or three days supplies.    Five of the six French corps are completely out of supply, and the sixth corps has only two days. 

Both armies have considerable battle casualties, but the British have managed to rally all routed and shaken brigades.   Four of the six French corps still have routed or shaken brigades.

Wellington is aware that any delay will allow the French to rally routed and shaken brigades, reorganise and even resupply.   He therefore orders his battered army to advance.   The French have no option to retreat.

Sunday 7 March 2021

Valladolid Campaign – Day 6

28 March 1813 – Northern Spain – Day 6

Encouraged by his victory at Palencia, Wellington is determined to keep up the pressure on the French.   He orders 5th and 6th corps to occupy Arevalo.   1st and 4th corps are ordered to attack Valladolid.

The French supply system is now in tatters.    Four corps are in retreat, and the other two under attack.   They have had to abandon their depots at Arevalo and Palencia.

Three of the six French corps will be out of supply by nightfall.   A further two will have one days supplies left.   One corps is already out of supply and has lost 400 infantry to attrition.

The French retreat will bring them within range of their rear depots, and this will greatly ease the supply problem.   But to resupply, and to reorganise, they must avoid any further contact with the enemy for at least 24 hours.

It is essential that the French win the battle at Valladolid.  If they do so it will slow Wellington’s advance and allow the shattered corps to regroup and resupply.

Second battle of Valladolid

Soult held the city with two infantry brigades.   8th French corps were deployed to the right of the city, 16th Italian corps to the right.

Wellington opened the battle with an attack on 16th Italian corps.   Having lost their artillery and cavalry the Italian infantry retreated into Valladolid.

The British then attacked 8th corps, who put up a determined defence.   After a cavalry melee and artillery preparation Wellington ordered his infantry to attack.  After a prolonged melee the French broke at nightfall.

Soult held Valladolid at the end of the battle.   However the British now heavily outnumbered him, and at daybreak they could concentrate their artillery close to the city and batter him into submission.

Under cover of darkness the French abandoned the city.


This was a very enjoyable wargame, and one that was only decided at nightfall (end of move 12).  

It opened with two cavalry melee.   The British won both, but lost so many casualties that their cavalry were no longer of any use for the remainder of the game.

Artillery on both sides were effective, though the French guns were captured

The outcome was decided by an extensive infantry melee.   On the left one French brigade still held at nightfall.   But the rest of 8th corps were in rout.    On the right 16th corps held the city.   But two of the four brigades were shaken.

The French could claim victory because they held Valladolid at the end of the battle.   However without any artillery or cavalry, and heavily outnumbered in infantry, they would be eventually have to retreat.    To avoid this the French retreated during the hours of darkness.

 I really enjoy these complicated games where the advantage moves from one player to the other almost every move.   As casualties mount, both sides become more fragile and vulnerable to a morale test.   If one brigade routs anyone within 4” have to test their morale.  This is when a single casualty can result in a mass rout.

Great game which we both really enjoyed.