Friday, 26 August 2016

Black Powder – Ligny 1815 – The Eagle’s Last Victory?

Yesterday at the Uni Gary organised a Black Powder game set around the battle of Ligny in 1815.

Ligny in many ways is a fascinating and apocalyptic battle, unfairly overshadowed by Waterloo. An epically tough fought battle, replete with Wagnerian drama – house to house combat in all the burning villages along the Ligny brook, desperate cavalry charges, the Old Guard committed in the full implacable force of its final triumph, on the last stretch of their glorious march into history  under thunderously dark skies, an Army Commander in Chief within an ace of being captured on the field, furious massed cannonades. It has it all, including perhaps the greatest what-if question of the entire era...

What if D’Erlon, Napoleon’s linch-pin reserve Corps Commander, marching onto the field into the flank and rear of the breaking Prussians, had ignored the recall order from Ney, over at Quatre Bras, and continued on to encircle the Prussian army, sealing its doom? Surely Wellington would have had to consider re-embarking the British Army, leaving Napoleon once more the unquestioned Emperor of Battles?

Even with Black Powder rules, it would be a stretch to stage all of this drama in an evening!

But Gary’s scenario cleverly focussed on the key parts of the action, and manipulated geography as well as time to straighten out the Ligny Brook somewhat to allow the battlefield to better fit our 8 x 4 foot table.

The Prussians deployed first, along and within the Ligny Brook.

To speed things up, the 3 first players to turn up after Gary had set the table up were enrolled in the Prussian Army: Caesar took a Brigade to cover Ligny itself and the left flank, I took a Brigade and the Artillery Reserve to hold the centre and the heights of Brye, and Daniel took another Brigade to cover the Prussian right flank. Our Cavalry Reserve would arrive the move after the French deployed their reserves.

The next 2 players to roll in joined Gary under the Eagles; Bryan took an infantry division and the artillery reserve, Alan had no choice but to accept command of the French Cavalry, when it came on, something of a tradition with us now! Gary also had an infantry division and the Guard.

The Cavalry would come on after 2 moves, the Emperor would only commit the Guard after the Ligny brook had been forced.

There would be 10 turns.

PRUSSIAN objectives:
St Armand township (Combat Modifier +1)
1 VP
St Armand La-Haye township (Combat Modifier +1)
2 VP
Ligny township:
Block 1 south of Ligny Stream (Combat Modifier +2)
2 VP
Block 2 north of Ligny Stream (Combat Modifier +2)
3 VP
Moulin de Bussy
3 VP
11 VP
If Prussians ever control less than 6 VP equals instant French Victory
FRENCH objectives:
Moulin Naveau, Fleurus
If Prussians ever control the Fleurus windmill equals instant Prussian victory

Gary also adjusted the defence combat values of the built up areas, instead of the usual +3, as shown above. This worked well to encourage the French team, packed to the gills with the sort of players who like to drive scenario designers insane by playing ahistorically, to actually assault the villages. Which they did, with a vengeance!

We Prussians deployed fairly conservatively, garrisoning all the villages and cramming as much artillery on the heights of Brye as would fit,

and spreading our remaining infantry between them, keeping such light cavalry as we had out on the deep right flank or in central reserve.

There was much debate about whether to deploy our infantry that was in the open in Assault Column or Line. I figured that if column was good enough for Blucher, it was good enough for me, but both Caesar and Daniel adopted a combination within their brigades – well that would have pleased the Emperor!

But overall, looking at our defences and the formidable task presented to the French attackers, I was quietly confident…

Then the French deployed, and were anything but predictable! They packed their left flank, their right flank, opposite the VP rich Ligny town, left completely empty…

Was it simply a case of not having read the scenario, or was there something cunning afoot? From past experience we assumed the former, so accordingly spent our first few moves shifting some of our weight to our right, but leaving Ligny adequately defended in case the Guard should come knocking!

The French came on in the old style, but with a tactical flair which was very pleasing – skirmish screens to the front and columns to the rear.

Our attempts to discomfort their precision with pinpoint cavalry attacks were nixed by unlucky command dice, but some well-placed artillery fire caused sufficient disorder amongst their ranks to delay their advance for a few moves.

However the French Army’s morale received a fillip when their Cavalry was committed – once again on their extreme left flank? Well the sight of magnificent regiments of Hussars, Chasseurs, Dragoons and Cuirassiers trotting past your ranks would, wouldn’t they?

But we Prussians were not afeared, and we duly deployed our cavalry to face them, under Caesar’s command, since his infantry command around Ligny was looking distinctly underemployed! He was given the rather challenging order:

– hold off the French Cavalry – but remain capable of then interrupting the advance of the Old Guard in due course! Yes I like to have my cakes and eat them too! (As anyone who knows me in the [rather ample] flesh will testify!)

By this stage, despite our toiling gunners, the massive French columns had set themselves up in good order for synchronised and well supported attacks on St Armand and La Haye, and duly attacked across the disordering Ligny brook.

Our closing fire was disappointing in both cases, and our Fusiliers and Musketeers, despite fierce fighting, also came second in both melees.

However, both garrisons passed their break tests to stand their ground, but would now not receive the combat bonus in subsequent rounds of combat…

not good…

Over on our right flank, the cavalry action was developing, with our gallant, honourable Prussian Hussars charging the foppish, prancing French Hussars, a swirl of horse and dust, blade and bugle, and – another draw!

At this point, we had played 5 turns, and I was in danger of turning back into a pumpkin, so had to bid adieu to my comrades in arms. I gather there were a few more fierce assaults and cavalry charges, for a further hour, but insufficient to settle the issue.

Kaptain Kobold of the French Cavalry remained with the colours until the bitter end, and his account will be posted on his blog here: The Stronghold Rebuilt
A great scenario of an interesting battle, I hope we revisit Ligny again before too long!

Monday, 22 August 2016

Team Yankee Competition

This weekend the Hall of Heroes was the venue for a Team Yankee Tournament, organised by Lachlan.

That 'Oh S*!T' moment!
Now as a general rule I steer clear of Tournaments, thinking that they can attract hard nosed 'win at all costs' types, and that any battle that has both sides meeting on equal terms means that one commander or other has blundered!

In fact this is the first tournament I have entered in my own right, rather than just standing in for a mate for the odd game. 

However on both counts this excellent tournament proved me wrong. The standard of sportsmanship was all that you could wish for, with my 3 opponents courteous and knowledgeable, and more interested in developing their knowledge of the Team Yankee rules whilst playing a challenging game, rather than winning at all costs. And the general ambience of the event suggested that attitude was universal. To my surprise the TO told me I was unanimously voted for as ‘best sport’, well in that company that was a real honour!

'Oi Dave! Where's the objective?'

My second reservation about tournaments, that battles rarely occur historically as fair fights between equal points armies; is to a great extent addressed by the imaginative Team Yankee scenarios. Both the ones in the rule book and those then developed in the free online supplement. With a clear sense of specific mission, they present equal but challenging situations that do seem to mirror my understanding of real life tactical challenges. And a confirming second opinion comes from Ken, a 25 year veteran of the Royal Australian Regiment!

M1s of the Aussie 1st Armoured Regt, backed up M109s of the USMC - yes we know they had Leos in 1985!

Rob, who had come a fair distance north from Canberra to take part, was my first opponent in the Dust-Up scenario, which we played across a reasonably ‘busy’ table, terrain wise, reflecting a rural but moderately wooded and hedged terrain with lots of crop fields and a few scattered farms.

The first thing I want to say is what a pleasure it was playing against Rob’ beautifully painted army.

I voted for this as the best painted army - US Autumn MERDC lovingly executed and shaded!


We diced off for attacker, which was me, to my relief as I had played as attacker in all my practice games.

Fielding a Soviet Tank force, I started off with my usual tactic of trying to get as close to the enemy as quickly as possible whilst getting on top of the objective fast – my experience with a Soviet Tank army is that the law of diminishing returns applies with a vengeance – if you don’t seize the objective in the first couple of turns, you aren’t going to!

However, in the face of 9 M1s, I moderated that policy slightly by using the cover of the cropfields where possible.

At first this seemed to pay off as my T-72s knocked out 2 of his M1s and the rest of that platoon decided to break off!

Unfortunately Rob then did the same to me, with interest...

so by move 4 it was game over as I had no platoons left in good spirits! Played 1, Lost 1!

My second game was Breakthrough, playing against Ken, also from Canberra, this time playing his Soviet tank force – Blue on Blue! Or is that Orange on Orange? Ken’s army was also a treat for the eye, and I will be unashamedly copying some of his techniques and cam schemes in future!

This time the attacker was nominated, and again it was me. But I had never played against a WarPact force before – was attacking wise? Interestingly, they say designers give a tank a gun that will overcome its own armour, and that certainly holds true for the T-72 – Front armour 16, Anti-Tank 22 – so no saves against other T-72s – and only bailing out on a roll of a 6…Ouch! 

Since like me Ken chose not to take any Aviation or Fast Air, I left my Gopher Platoon Out of Battle, and left a Tank Platoon in reserve – with hindsight a mistake as the reserves come on close to the rear of one of the objectives.

Ken's T-72s - Modulated paint techniques can make the most plain AFV interesting...

Gonna be copying this scheme!

In fact I think my doubts about how to handle a WarPact-WarPact situation were reflected in my game play from the get-go, as I faffed around for 4 moves trying to move a group of mech inf about 18 inches to clear the opposing infantry away from the closest objective.

Where's the MPs when you need 'em?

The ‘Follow Me’ movement order failed to reduce the difficulties of hedge and stone wall crossing to get there, once within 4 inches of the objective my BMPs and Infantry then got in each other’s way in the constricted lanes of the village!

By the time the chaos in the forming up area  had been sorted out Ken had destroyed all of my other platoons without losing any of his – a complete whitewash! Played 2, Lost 2!

Major Potecknov could feel the political officer's eyes on him after yet another defeat...

My last game was No Retreat, and this time I was defending – a first for me, and probably not suited for a Soviet Tank Army! This scenario requires half of your platoons to go into reserve, and by the time I nominated another of my 7 platoons to sit in ambush, I was only placing Gophers and Mech Infantry on the table! My gallant opponent, Daniel, was actually playing with a US Armoured Battlegroup he had loaned from me, so I had the advantage of knowing his force’s strengths and limitations!

The table was an interesting set-up, a large swath of ruined cityscape at my end of the table, but intersected with cleared roads to allow some movement. The table as a whole had plenty of hills, and was intersected with a couple of rivers, so was not easy to negotiate. And with 4 minefields to place, I was not shy in thoroughly blocking all available road intersections!

One of Bryan's excellent minefield markers - available from the Hall of Heroes or THoR wargames scenery

Daniel astutely placed his Cobras out of range of my Gopher SAMs, which I had placed behind the only tall cover on my half of the table, right in the corner, and his opening salvoes of ITOW missiles and 105mm M1 rounds decimated my BMP platoon.

I was not off to a good start. However I sprang my T-72 ambush right in front of his other M1 platoon from behind the cover of a convenient ridge, and was able to pick them off steadily – that approach to the objective was safe for the time being. Moving my Gophers out from cover to close his Cobras, I forgot that Cobras could range the table at will – that cost me that platoon…

Daniel in an earlier game, at a table I' didn't play at, thankfully - Brrrr!

However the dice gods had clearly decided that I would win at least one game this day and I passed every single one of my immediate reserve dice rolls, so the other M1 platoon was soon facing an unequal firefight with 2 large T-72 platoons, US Cobras kept at bay by the accompanying Shilkas. After they’d had enough it was just a case of slowly but steadily grinding his infantry platoon so that I won by virtue of the enemy having no tank or infantry platoons in my table half by move 7. A hard fought game!
We then held the prize draw, based on raffle tickets awarded for a number of criteria; one for each win, best painted army, best sport, and so on. Bryan’s Aussie list got the best painted army, and that was an achievement since all the painted armies were pretty good! He also lent Lachlan his interesting Indonesian Marine Landing force army - quite the most interesting army of the day!

Rob got the prize for number of wins – having won all three of his games. Respect!

The Indonesian Marines head for the Pub with No Beer...

A great day’s gaming, challenging but spent in the best of company – thanks to Lachlan and the Hall of Heroes for running it, and kudos to Bryan for providing so much help with spare armies and terrain. I hope we do the same again next year! I’m looking forward to catching up with the lads at the MOAB Convention in early October! 

Of course not all the armies were fully painted -
I was surprised the West Germans had time to put their kits together, let alone undercoat them!