Monday, February 21, 2011

Battle Report: 'When Things Go Boom' - The Great Retreat from Waterloo

Last week we played a game based on a hypothetical scenario I dreamt up which is based around the premise that the British had been defeated at Waterloo and were in the midst of falling back to Antwerp in order to be evacuated by the Royal Navy. The retreat has hit a bottleneck at a pontoon crossing of the River Rupel, just below the village of Boom (yes, that's its real name). To stave off the pursuing French the British have prepared the village for defense by tasking a composite brigade to hold as long as possible. For further details on the scenario feel free to check it out here in the 'Past Games' section.

A few weeks previous I had put on an earlier edition of the same scenario for friends up in Saskatoon using 'Black Powder' which turned out to be good fun. You can read Tim's excellent report of that game here on his blog. To change things up I decided that for this replay we were going to us 'Republic to Empire' as several of the guys here have copies of the rules and wanted to get a better sense of them.

Dan took on the defense of Boom by the British while Sylvain and Stacy each took a reinforced French brigade each. Stacy had an attached regiment of Dragoons while Sylvain commanded the Divisional Artillery Battery (8pdrs plus howitzers).

This was the battlefield as seen from the French entry position.
...from the British perspective ('Boom' is in the foreground).
...and finally an overhead image.
I gave the option to Sylvain and Stacy to deploy the French guns forward along with a single infantry brigade in order to conduct a preparatory bombardment of the village. The downside of this would be that the British would get some extra time to evacuate the army, the French guns would be at greater risk of counterbattery/skirmishing fire and the second French brigade would have to follow on later. After some deliberation they decided against this in favour of entering the table as a cohesive force and assaulting the village as soon as possible. 

Wanting to see if he could force the French to waste time in deploying early Dan positioned the 95th Rifles in open order far ahead of Boom in a stone-enclosed field. The 28th Foot were arrayed in a large wood near the village's flank with the idea that it could provide support if needed. Between the 28th and Boom Dan deployed two sections of Royal Horse Artillery (6pdrs and howitzers) to cover the main approach to the village. The 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers along with a section of Foot Artillery (9pdrs) were given the honour of holding Boom to the 'furthest extremity.'

Here we see the 'Royal Welch' deployed in Boom with a couple sections of RHA on the outskirts and the 28th in the woods.
Sylvain and Stacy knowing they were 'on the clock' set up both of their French brigades in attack columns with the artillery limbered up and moving forward.  Ney  took a central position just  in case he needed to shivvy any of the new conscripts along.  All in all the French were arrayed to roll ahead with as much force as possible.

Initiative went to the French for the first turn and both brigades ground forward. As they had extra Maneuver Points (MPs) to spend Sylvain decided to use an Exploitation Move in order to move his guns further forward and get them unlimbered for action (at medium range to the village). Stacy was completely unflapped on  seeing the Rifles to his front and ordered his columns forward, intending to pin the 95th down and destroy it by sheer weight of numbers. 

The French columns deploy voltigeurs and advance on the British
Dan's (British) seemed satisfied with his situation and so let his side of the turn lapse. (Dan forgot that his Rifles had the range to fire at the advancing French and so missed an opportunity to deal out some damage early.) 

The initiative for the second turn went to the British and Dan again held his his position and his fire - nerves of steel indeed! 

Stacy's French brigade begin to close in on the 95th. The dragoons are a bit bottled-up to the brigade's rear...
Stacy's French duly continued their advance.  His voltigeurs were arrayed forward and began to give harassing fire on the partly concealed 95th. Sylvain fired his battery at the Rifles in support but the stone enclosure shielded them from most of the roundshot. Sylvain made sure to keep his infantry roughly in line with Stacy's so as not to get separated and to provide support if needed. He also didn't want to allow it to get too far forward and mask the guns which would start bombarding the village.

Voltigeurs cover the advance of their compatriots in the columns. The Rifles are beginning to sweat a bit at this point...
The French took the initiative in the next turn and Stacy's brigade began to close in, preparing for an assault on the Rifles' position behind the stone wall. The 95th bagan to take telling casualties from the combined skirmish fire of the three French battalions. Dan has the Rifles fall back to the rear of the enclosed field thinking he may have a forlorn hope on his hands. On the other flank Sylvain acknowledges that the situation with the Rifles is being addressed and so has his gunners re-lay their cannon on the village of Boom.
The 95th forms square hoping to make a dash for the trees in order to escape the French advance (the treeline is just off camera, about 8 inches away)
In the next turn Stacy's voltigeurs cross the stone fence and push into the field to better close with the Rifles. The French 2e Dragoons, which are finally provided a clear path to the front, are now frustrated by having to maneuver so close to the stone field. As they don't have a clear charge-line to the 95th's line they move instead trying to get into a better position.

The French battery switches target and starts to pound the village in preparation of the assault.
Dan realizes that with three battalions of infantry and a regiment of cavalry bearing down  that the jig is up for the Rifles. He decides that they must try to leg-it back to a woodline several hundred yards to his rear. He knows he can't make it in one move so hopes he can roll well enough for his command to get halfway and then form square. He will then pray to get the initiative for next turn so he can attempt to sprint the rest of the way to safety. Its a long shot but he really has little options open to him. He rolls well enough to get out in the open and to form square - half way there!

Now comes a very important roll for initiative. If the French seize the initiative they can simply pin  down the Rifles in their square with the dragoons while blasting it apart with the three advancing battalions of infantry. Lady Luck holds out for Dan and the British get the initiative! Its not over as Dan needs to get a good command roll for the British so the Rifles can not only break out of their square but also make a mad dash for the woods. Again, he rolls exceedingly well and manages to extract the 95th out of a very sticky wicket. 

With Stacy's French now advancing closer to the village the British artillery opens fire on the 51er Ligne causing it to fall back from the galling canister fire.  On top of this  growing chaos, rockets now begin to arc into the battlefield from a Royal Horse Rocket Battery that has deployed opposite of the river, offboard. (Note: To reflect the extreme inaccuracy of these weapons both sides get to pick targets each turn, rolling for deviation.)

The French brigades soak up the casualties with great aplomb and continue their advance. The dragoons see the British horse artillery deployed outside the village and decide to initiate a charge. Upon hearing the sound of the cavalry trumpets the artillerists see the danger, realize that their position is compromised, and so decide that their expertise would be best served on the other side of the river (i.e. they kick up their heels, abandon their guns and run like hell). The cavalry take some fire from the defenders in the village but pull up from their charge quite satisfied with themselves. This leaves just the one section of foot artillery defending the village.

Sylvain continues to bombard the village but realizes that at this range his guns will probably not reduce it quick enough to assist the first assault. (Note: In hindsight Sylvain realized that if he had unlimbered his battery at close range he would have had a much better chance of discomforting the defenders more with his artillery fire. Good to know for next time.) He then shakes out his brigade into line, diverting one to pin down the 28th Foot which is deployed outside of Boom while the others start their final advance on the village. Stacy tasks the 19e Ligne to winkle out the Rifles while its second battalion angles towards the village.

The British hold tight with all battalions firing measured volleys at the French inflicting some casualties. The dragoons come under canister fire from the foot section in the village and they decide to retreat to the rear.

The 19e charge the Rifles and a furious close combat occurs along the wood's edge. It goes to three successive bounds due to their being no clear initial victor, but finally the 95th preservers by forcing the 19e to pull back. Nonetheless, both battalions are so mauled in the action that they are now basically combat ineffective.

The 19e and the 95th clash in the woods.
The British continue their harassing fire on the massing French, waiting what they know must come. By this time in the game the British have evacuated 67 'factors' of refugees plus one 'factor' of Louis Royal court. They will have to hold out for at least a few more turns  and/or maul some French battalions to claim victory. Its going to be tight...

For the French the moment of decision has arrived. Sylvain wisely orders his two French battalions that have been tasked with the assault to form attack columns, compressing their frontage in order to allow as many into the attack as possible. Stacy's remaining battalion also moves itself into position. Both French brigades bring up their respective assault pioneers for their help in the attack. And if this wasn't enough, Marshal Ney, plus the two French brigadier generals move to each of the columns to inspire the men with their direct leadership in the assault.

The British fix bayonets and the artillery load up double-canister...

One can just hear the drums and fifers sending the French forward into their desperate assault on the village!

Good Golly! Will the French succeed in storming the village? Or will we see the British repel the attack and hold out long enough for their comrades to escape? The suspense is thick in the air! You've paid for the whole seat but you only need the edge! Tune in later this week for the exciting conclusion of "When Things Go Boom"! 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Game Scenario: After Waterloo - The French Pursuit (Alternate History)

I've always been fascinated by the historical accounts of the Napoleonic actions which occurred in urban or 'built up' areas. The names of Hougomont, Fuentes de Onoro, Aspern-Essling  immediately come to mind as a  few of the many pitched battles where the combatants furiously struggled for control of streets, buildings and fortifications. I have aspirations to do some of these larger engagements but my present collection is still too modest in size so I wanted to find something smaller to work with. I also wanted an action which I could more easily test the various rulesets that I have to see how they each handle combats in built up areas.

During my reading of the Waterloo campaign I came across a reference to a letter Wellington wrote to King Louis XVIII on the eve of Waterloo. In this note the Duke cautioned Louis to be ready to retreat to Antwerp if the decision (at Waterloo) went against the Allies. (Louis and his court were in exile at Ghent - awaiting 'in the wings'  to be reinstalled on the French throne.) Fearing the loss of the army if the campaign went poorly Wellington had always been prepared to fall back upon Antwerp for a sealift evacuation, if the situation warranted it.

So my interest was quite piqued by this and I began to investigate further in order to better understand the mechanics behind this little-known 'contingency plan'. What I found was quite interesting and  this gave me the idea to create a hypothetical scenario that focuses on a rearguard action where a lone British brigade holds a critical village in which to buy time for their retreating army.  

"When Things go Boom"
The Great Retreat from Waterloo - 19th of June, 1815


In broad terms Napoleon's objective at the start of the 1815 campaign was to launch a preemptive attack on the allies situated in the Low Countries in an effort to separate, isolate and destroy both the Anglo-Allied army led by Wellington, and the Prussian army led by the 72 year-old Gebhardt von Blucher. Once this was achieved Bonaparte would consolidate upon Brussels and pivot to face the Austrians and Russians who were still mobilizing. 

Napoleon's initial advance across the Sambre caught Wellington off-guard and the Anglo-Allied forces were forced to scramble from their dispersed billets in a desperate effort to consolidate and respond to the threat. Whether by accident or design this situation had Wellington promise the Prussians his support in their efforts in facing Napoleonic at Ligny when in reality none could realistically be provided. 

At the Battle of Ligny the Prussians were defeated, but not shattered. Nearing the end of the battle Blucher's horse was killed from underneath him and he was trapped under the corpse for several hours. He was later rescued and after a short time recuperated to take command of the withdrawl.

In the Ligny's aftermath, Blucher's Chief of Staff, August Neidhardt von Gneisnau strongly advocated falling back east on the Prussian lines of communication, but Blucher decided to take a great gamble, move north-west to risk his army again in supporting Wellington at Waterloo. Messages were sent to the Duke telling him of Blucher's intentions.

Meanwhile Napoleon decided to give Marshal Grouchy approximately a third of the French army in order to pursue and harass the Prussians as they fell back. Grouchy was to ensure the separation of the two allied armies and then rejoin Napoleon on his advance to Brussels. 

Ok, this is where I have history take a twist... 

During the night of the 16th Blucher dies of internal hemorrhaging suffered from his injuries during the previous day's battle. Command of the Prussian army falls upon Gneisenau, who, after hard consideration, decides to countermand Blucher's orders to go to Wellington's aid and instead instructs the army to fall back on its lines of communication. He sends several couriers carrying notice of his intentions to Wellington and begins to move the Prussian army east. Nonetheless, these messengers are either lost in the torrential rain, killed or captured in the French pursuit and Wellington does not get word of the Prussian's change of orders.

Wellington duly fights at Waterloo, but instead of Blucher's Prussians linking-up on his left flank it is Vandamme's French corps from Grouchy's pursuit which smashes into the weakened Anglo-Allied line. Wellington is killed just before nightfall, during the Guard's shattering assault upon the Allied center. The wounded Uxbridge takes command and follows Wellington's contingency plan to fall back upon Antwerp in order to save the army. Chaos ensues but the drawing night allows the Allied army to disengage and begin its retreat.

Previous to Waterloo Wellington had ordered a large pontoon bridge to be built over the River Rupel at the village of Boom. He also notified King Louis of this and suggested that he, along with his royalist court, be ready to flee to Antwerp if the Allies were defeated.

The action depicted in the scenario begins in the late-afternoon of the 19th. Earlier that morning a composite British brigade had been sacrificed on the outskirts of Brussels  to buy time for the army to prepare Boom for defense and to allow the army to begin its retreat across the Rupel. A rearguard has been formed to invest and hold the village as the French pursuit makes all effort to cut the British from their seaborne escape. Stung from Napoleon's criticisms of his command at both Quatre Bras and Waterloo, Marshal Ney has personally taken control of the pursuit in order to reconstitute his reputation.

For both forces the stakes are incredibly high. If the British position collapses they risk losing their army and if this were to happen it is conceivable that London could seek a separate armistice with Napoleon. Alternately if the French loose too many men in this endeavour they may critically weaken themselves for the upcoming struggle against the Russians and Austrians.

The Opposing Forces

The French are commanded by Ney who has personally taken control of the pursuit.
In terms of 'Republic to Empire' Ney is classed as Skillful (+2) plus 2 Dav (1 for each brigade).
For 'Black Powder' rate Ney as an 8 Commander with High Aggression (+1 to his Command value when giving orders to charge) and +1 Combat rating.

For infantry, the French will have six to eight battalions. These will be organized into two brigades of three to four battalions each (we played with three). Within each brigade we classed the first battalion as Veteran, the second as Drilled and the last as Conscripts. If you have four battalions per brigade I'd suggest a Drilled classification for the additional battalion.

The French will also benefit from having a full battery of medium Foot Artillery and a regiment of Light Cavalry. We organized the two brigades so one would have the artillery attached while the other controlled the cavalry.

The British are commanded by Major General Frederick Adam.
For 'Republic to Empire' Adam is classed a Competent (+1), plus 1 Dav (1 for the Rearguard Brigade).
For 'Black Powder' rate Adam as an 8 and has a +1 Combat rating. 

The British will have three battalions. I suggest making them all of high quality as they will be quite hard-pressed straight from the beginning.

The British will also have a composite battery of guns, survivors of the retreat from Waterloo. One section of the battery (1 model) should be 9pdr field artillery whereas the rest should be 6pdr Royal Horse Artillery.

Victory Conditions

If the British accrue a total of 100 victory points the holding action can be considered a success. 80 points is a marginal victory. Anything less less is a defeat. (see below for victory point allocation)

At the end of each turn the British player (or umpire) rolls 2D6 to see how many ‘factors’ of refugees/units have managed to move across the pontoon bridges to safety.

The French Royal court is composed of 4 'factors'.  Each time a ‘6’ is rolled from the above a royal court factor has managed to escape across the Rupel.  Louis is represented as a 1 on a D4 otherwise he is the last of the royal court to go across the pontoon bridge.

Game Length: 12 Turns (4 hours) then the action subsides as night falls.

Victory Points

+1 for each refugee/unit factor that escapes
+2 for each refugee/unit factor that is part of Louis' royal court
+5 if Louis escapes
+5 for each French battalion destroyed/routed
+1 for each section of French Artillery destroyed/routed
-10 if Louis is captured at the end of the game
-5 for each British battalion destroyed/routed
-7 if the Rifles are destroyed/routed 
-1 for each section of British artillery destroyed/routed
-10 if Boom falls

If the French take Boom a general panic will ensue amongst the remaining refugees. Throw 3 last D6 for the final rush across the pontoon bridge (and those who are strong swimmers) but the remainder surrenders to the French.

The Table

I haven't wrapped my head around how to do online maps yet so bear with me - I took some pictures of the set-up I used of our game. 

This is a 8x5 surface though I'm sure that this game could fit just fine onto a 6x4. The scenario runs down the length. The village of Boom is at the extreme end, along one of the short edges. The French will basically start from the opposing end and advance on Boom. The River Rupel (along with the fugitive British army and refugees) is beyond the village, off board.

I strongly suggest placing a few terrain features (i.e. stone enclosed fields, hedgerows, etc) in intervals along the length of the board. This will allow the British some cover if they wish to try a fighting withdrawal back to the village. I placed the village of Boom on a slope as many rulesets give a benefit to the defender if they are uphill.

Game Setup

Before the game stars determine if the French players wish to sacrifice time for a perparatory bombardment of the village. This reflects Ney rushing the guns to the front of the pursuit column and deploying them in advance of the rest of his force.

If the French decided to proceed with a bombardment the French will  be able to set up their guns plus one brigade up to 60” away from the rear of the village (or so that the village is at medium range to the guns). The remaining French brigade enters on turn one from their table edge. The French will get D6 turns of bombardment. In order to reflect British counter battery and skirmishing fire for every turn of French bombardment the British player rolls a D6 -  on a 1 a wound is caused on the French battery (randomly allocated). Also the British player rolls 2D6 for each turn of preparatory bombardment PLUS two turns to determine number of escaped refugees. (The extra two turns reflect the advance and deployment of the guns.)

If no preparatory bombardment is chosen then the British can deploy their troops as far as 30" from the French side of the table. The French can deploy their troops 12" from their table edge.

Rules particular to the Village of Boom

Republic to Empire: Fighting in Built-Up Areas (p.107)
Size: 3 (small village)
Style: B (sturdy stone and wood construction)

Min-Max Defending Garrison (in Combat Groups/Bases): 6-12
Maximum Number of Assaulting Combat Groups/bases: 36

9” Zone of Control extends around the village.

Boom has a base of 36 Structural Points:
(defenders gain +50% dice, always at a minimum +2, also +2 Resolve modifier)

If structure reduced to 18 points:
(+25% dice, always at a minimum +1, also +1 Resolve)

If structure reduced to 9 points:
(+15% dice, round down, also 50% chance of +1 Resolve)

3 Consecutive Combat Victories are required to secure the village.

Black Powder: Fighting in Buildings (p.77)
Village can accommodate 1 normal-sized battalion (8 bases) along with a section of guns (1 base).

A unit in a built up area has a shooting value of 2 per facing up to a total maximum equal to the unit’s shooting value.

A unit in a built up area has a combat value of 2 per facing up to a maximum equal to the unit’s combat value.

A unit in a built up area has a +2 moral bonus for shooting a fighting.

 A unit in a built up area has a +3 Hand to hand fighting bonus if it is a large unit or standard sized unit, +2 if it is if small and +1 if tiny. Artillery gain no bonus.

A unit in a built up area ignores results that oblige it to retire and will hold their ground without becoming disordered instead.

9” Zone of Control extends around the village

Special Events

To me, battalion-level games often feel as if they are happening in a vacuum where in reality the tabletop action is usually just a small segment of a larger battle going on around it. With this in mind I like to use 'Special Events' to add a little off-board 'friction' to the game. Below are few ideas I used for special event cards specific to this scenario. There is a 50% chance that a card is drawn at the beginning of each player's turn (once a card is used it is then discarded):

French Special Event #1
The speed of the pursuit has caused your force to outstrip the Army's cavalry support. Reports of a large body of Allied cavalry on your flank compels you to form square with some of your infantry.

Roll to see which flank and then roll to determine which two battalions are forced to form square. 

French Special Event #2
"The woods to our flank are thick with enemy skirmishers!"

One battalion (randomly selected) is pulled away from the pursuit to move offboard to secure a flank. The battalion does not count as a casualty loss in regards to the scenario.

Once offboard for 2 turns it will return on a 5-6 rolled at the beginning of the French turn. It will arrive 3D6" from its original departure point (French player's choice).

French Special Event #3
Ney receives an order from the Emperor who reminds him of his recent failures at  both Quatre Bras and Waterloo and so hectors him to attack. 

Ney will join the nearest brigade to the village to lead an assault on it immediately. If an assault is already underway Ney will wade-in as part of the attack. Ney will have a +2 MP (or Command) modifier which he will use to 'motivate' the attack.

French Special Event #4
"The gun teams have brought up extra caissons!"

For this turn all your artillery can fire twice but if any three dice come up as 1's a gun section is lost due to bursting a breach.

British Special Event #1
The section commander of the Foot artillery section recognizes the pennant of the French dragoons as belonging to the regiment that over-ran his batter during the withdrawal from Waterloo. 

The Foot section will make every effort to make the Dragoons the priority target over any other. Each time they are required to target any enemy unit other than the Dragoons they will need to roll a 4+ on a D6, otherwise they will continue to target the Dragoons. They will also receive a +1 firing die when firing at the Dragoons.

British Special Event #2
The pioneers that were tasked with the construction of the pontoon bridges have been released to assist int the defense of the village.

The pioneers can either improve the village by 2D6 or assist in the defense as a fighting group.

British Special Event #3
Rockets from a RHA battery deployed on the opposite bank of the Rupel plunge onto the battlefield.

From this turn forward on every artillery step each side will select a single target point. Use targeting dice to determine any deviation. A hit causes 1D4 casualties and an immediate resolve/moral check to that unit (cavalry check at a -2 penalty).

British Special Event #4
"Louis' carriage has overturned and is blocking the bridge!"

Panic ensues. Roll for each of your units. On a 1-2 the unit takes 1D4 'hits' as men begin to panic and fall back to try to cross the river.