Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Monday, January 22, 2018

Waterloo in 20 minutes.

One of the most interesting small-footprint games in my collection is the innovative Waterloo simulation W1815 by Hannu Uusitalo. It was brought out by U and P Games in time for the hundredth anniversary of the battle, and while it's out of print, it's always worth a revisit.



Unlike most board wargames, the pieces in W1815 do not move. They can be removed as casualties - and there are a few of markers which indicate the arrival of Blucher's force and possession of Hougoumont, La Haye Sainte and Plancenoit - but other than that the board is static. In effect you are playing an interactive map game, not a usual hex and counter or area control style board wargame.

If you were ever the type of kid who would get books out of the library and pore over maps illustrating the different stages of Waterloo, Gettysburg, Blenheim, Hastings, the fall of France and so on, you'll have a sense of what a game board of this kind is like.

Board at start.

The game itself is played by referring to commander cards. The British have Hill, Orange, Uxbridge, the reserve, Wellington, and Blucher; The French have Reille, Kellerman, the Guard, Lobau, d'Erlon, Milhaud, the Grand Battery, and Napoleon. Each card shows the enemy the command can attack, the range of results (xC denotes casualty; xM denotes morale loss) and whether the enemy has a counter attack option.

Sample cards.

Cards can also be turned over if certain events occur (Hougoumont is captured, Hill's corps goes into square, Ney charges, etc.), and the reverse side gives a different range of options for attack or counter attack, or, for some cards, no options at all.

Play proceeds with the French player moving first to activate a command, consult the relevant card and roll the die. The 7th Coalition player then gets to react with a counter attack, use the reserve to cancel the French action, or else roll on a card of his or her own.

Play continues, with both sides accumulating casualties and morale hits, until one side fails a morale check and routs.

The initial dynamic is one of French attack and Allied defence. The Coalition player must react to French moves to prevent the French gaining a significant advantage, while also trying to activate Blucher as often as practicable in the hope that he will quickly make his presence felt on the field. As the French wear themselves out, the dynamic changes: the French search for the opening they need to activate Napoleon and push for victory; the Coalition player waits for the right moment to use Wellington's one-time general advance card and drive forward, hoping that this will be enough to win the day.

A Sample Game. 


In my most recent play through I decided to use the unofficial 7th Coalition bot (see boardgamegeek), which offers a programmed response for solitaire play. The bot is not necessary for enjoyable solo play, but it seemed like a good excuse to get the game to table again, so why not?

Turn 1) The first move of yours truly as the French is to attack Hill with Reille. Both sides take a casualty. The bot activates Blucher, who rolls a miserable 1 and no Prussians arrive.

Turn 2) The French attack Hill again, now with the cavalry under Kellerman. Kellerman takes a casualty, but with Hill's corps now in square any further attacks by Reille's infantry on Hougoumont are more likely to succeed. The bot activates Blucher again, who rolls a 2 and once more no Prussians arrive.

Turn 3) Reille attacks again to get the benefit of the +1 to his die roll for Hill being in square. Hougoumont falls, and the Allied reserve must be used to cancel the result. A second Allied casualty results.


Turns 4,5,6,7) Reille continues to press the attack against Hill/Hougoumont. Hougoumont is hit and relieved three times in four turns. There are 3 French casualties and 6 Allied casualties, but now the Allied reserve is expended. When not pulling the reserve in to hold Hougoumont, the Allies activate Blucher - this time with some success.

Constant attacks from the French left stretch Hill and use up the Allied reserve.

Turn 8) Reille attacks again: Hougoumont falls once more; this time for good.

Hougoumont has fallen. The French look now to press forward on their right.

Turn 9) Kellerman attempts to exploit, but both sides take a morale loss. The French have taken 4 casualties and a morale loss; the Allies have taken 6 casualties and a morale loss. It is now afternoon. The French must work to reduce Allied morale while continuing to preserve the relative loss advantage that they have established.

Turns 10,11,12) The Grand Battery fires to wear morale down. The Coalition responds by activating Blucher. He arrives in increasing force but the French maintain their advantage in casualties and morale losses inflicted. The exchange is even enough that it benefits the French to keep on with a low-risk, low-but-almost-sure-reward approach.

13) The Allies are now within an unlucky morale roll of capitulating. Millhaud attacks to cause another Allied morale loss. Blucher is now on the field in force, and the French take a casualty.

14) The moment of crisis is almost upon the French. They are within reach of victory, but it is not yet assured. Before activating Napoleon for what is presumed to be the decisive push with the Guard, D'Erlon is ordered to attack Orange and soften up the enemy one more time. He drives in with considerable elan and rolls very high. The Allies take a casualty and a morale loss, then roll badly, fail the morale test, and rout.

The moment of victory.

Thoughts.


The 'attack Hill' tactic worked again, and the bot, by failing to bring Hill out of square and back into line, helped render the Reille infantry attacks more effective. If the bot had brought Hill out of square earlier the cards tell us that his corps would have been open to a Kellerman counter attack rolling at +1, but at least Hougoumont would have had better odds of holding out, the reserve would have been maintained for longer, and with a Kellerman attack there was a higher risk of a French blow-out.

W1815 is a game of margins established by increments, and the ramifications of certain actions mean that player tactics in terms of which card to activate when become, over the course of a game, steadily more important. In this refight the initial high risk approach opened up a gap which the French only needed to maintain to force the win, but worse early dice and cannier bot play could have kept the Allies in touch and forced the French to either take more risks elsewhere or play conservatively and hope to time their final attack just right.

There is a lovely balance, and it takes time to see it.

So far, when playing as Napoleon, I swear by attacking Hill / Hougoumont, but it requires a run of good dice like the ones here to succeed.

The Grand Battery option (shown here), while seemingly safe, does not do enough



damage fast enough, and needs to be complemented by more aggressive play elsewhere. Nor does the Grand Battery attack force an Allied response: this then leaves Wellington free to concentrate on bringing those battle-winning Prussians onto the field, or to look at wresting the initiative in other ways.

I hope that this has shone a little light on what is a most enjoyable game. Most of my play has been solo, but I have a feeling that the more you play it with an opponent, the more other approaches will begin to suggest themselves.

It's a very fine game. It's beautiful to look at and the pieces feel good in the hand. It is enjoyable to study the cards and work out which combination of activations might work best given the board situation. If you have it, don't forget to play it; if you don't, perhaps consider pestering U and P for a reprint until you do!

Game end.


The better angels of our nature.

The last couple of weeks have been a bit quiet in house Prufrock due to a bug I picked up somewhere. I tend not to get sick very often, but when I do, I do it properly.

The evenings therefore have found me either sleeping or doing some kind of non-thinking activity, such as watching the TV. Actually, being in Japan, I don't watch the TV (it's almost as bad as New Zealand TV), but instead watch a DVD or look at YouTube. Recently, Ken Burns's Civil War series has been my poison.

My first introduction to the series was about ten or twelve years ago. A friend who uses the internet 'creatively' had downloaded the series from somewhere free of charge, burnt the episodes onto disk and loaned them to me.

"What's that?" someone asked him as he handed them over one night at soccer.

"Oh," he said, "it's about the American Civil War."

"Why would YOU want to watch that?"

"Well, it was you Americans fighting each other. Why shouldn't we like it?"

And he was right on both counts. It was Americans fighting each other, and it was a series that even people who have no particular reason for interest in the war could find value in.

The Ken Burns documentary style which mixes period photographs, voice overs, actors reading quotes from the writings of historical figures, footage of places and interviews with authorities, is compelling viewing. The themed structure and the variety of voices from both sides gives a sense of fairness in the telling. I may be wrong about the fairness, but it's how it seems to me when I watch it.

You are shown the movement of the war, you follow the characters chosen, hear their voices, and invest in them emotionally. It is by turns humorous, sad, uplifting and harrowing. It is always informative, humane and respectful.

Anyway, last night I was watching the ninth and last episode of the series and had been drawn into it again. You know it is coming, and you have been prepared for it with artful foreshadowing during the past few episodes, but goodness, the death of Abraham Lincoln is always hard to take.

Perhaps the greatest thing about the series is that in watching it you become a bit American too. You see the grandeur of the country and its people. You see the capacity for suffering and sacrifice. You see that we all, no matter who we are or where we are from, are invested in that last best hope and willing it still to come into the fullness of its promise.

And with that written, if you can forgive me, I must excuse myself...

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A bit of Old School Tactical

I don't know about other people but I had a relatively wargame-free New Year break this year. Our annual local game didn't eventuate, but my boardgame mate Pat did come down one Sunday to introduce me to his new WWII game, Old School Tactical.

He taught me the main points of the rules in about five minutes and then we got into it. I was commanding a bunch of Germans trying to escape the Falaise pocket towards Argentan. We had something like eight squads and two leaders with a couple of LMGs and another couple of Panzerfausts to share amongst them. On turn three or four a Tiger would arrive in support, and my objective was to get three squads off the opposite board edge.

Pat was coming in perpendicularly to cut off our retreat / breakout. He had three or four squads in halftracks and a small army of Shermans and M10s to interpose between the Germans and their hopes of (temporary) escape. It would be an interesting fight.

(Apologies: my photos have been ruined by glare from the window, but in person the board was very impressive.)

First squads enter.

More follow up.

Field of play: lots of open ground to cross, and some good fire positions for both sides.

I won't go into too much detail, but our Tiger and a particularly reckless Panzerfaust team did a scarcely believable amount of damage to the Allied armour.  Terrified Sherman crews preferred to take shots on offer at infantry rather than the Tiger because the chances of doing any damage were so slim. There were close-assaults a-plenty, and lots of momentum swings. Things turned our way after a brilliantly executed ambush of the Tiger leading to shots from point blank range from both the flank and front failed to do any damage to the great beast. Once those two ambushers were smoking wrecks, the poor old Allies didn't have a lot left. Still, it would have been touch and go whether the Germans could get to their exit area before time ran out, so we called it a draw.

All those wrecks were caused by that (unscathed) Tiger and a single suicidal Panzerfaust team!

I thought the game itself was good fun. The board was a delight to play on, and there was enough there to convince me that it would be a system worth investing time into. I suppose you'd call it 'cinematic' WWII, with lots of swings of fortune and plenty of moments of high drama as you decide whether to take on the odds or not, and then, decision made, see what happens.

One quibble I did have was that the activation mechanism relies upon command points to do anything (even opportunity fire), and uses a low base rate + high variable system (I was on 4-14 CPs per turn; the US on 3-18). I would prefer a higher base rate and lower variables so that a good planner could avoid the situation where a low roll leaves one helpless. Perhaps a good planner can already, but I couldn't see how, except by hoping the enemy rolled badly with attacks. I generally want a positional advantage (good cover, clear firing lanes, etc.) to count, but at times a low CP roll meant that it effectively wouldn't: if one side had no CPs left the other could advance across open ground into a 50/50 close combat situation without fear of being shot up before getting there.

It's probably however just a beginner's reaction, and I'd certainly like more opportunities to enhance my understanding of the system!

****

Not only did Pat introduce me to Old School Tactical, but he also very kindly went to the considerable trouble of making up a board and set of figures for a jousting game for our kids. Our boy is already enjoying the game, and he wants to play it with his mum next. I'm not sure how lucky he'll be on that score, but we'll see!

The two protagonists square off...


Thanks, Pat!




Friday, December 22, 2017

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Just one more day of work for me and then it's two weeks off to enjoy a bit of rest and relaxation. Not sure if there will be much gaming involved (the time off is actually awkwardly punctuated with 'must attend' events and activities!), but there will certainly be some drinks consumed, convivial times had, and a few tunes bashed out on the old guitar.

Anyway, compliments of the season to all, and I wish everyone a safe and joyous end to the year. See you in 2018 (if not before!).

Cheers,
Aaron

Friday, December 8, 2017

The foraging party (Part III)

And so we come to part three. The previous installment of our tale saw the two Roman raiding parties experiencing contrasting fortunes. The western column has been set upon by Gauls while crossing the river, and although reinforcements have rushed to its aid the Romans have been having much the worse of the fight.

In the east all has gone more smoothly: the troops have cleared one field of wheat and ransacked a village to so far bag three loads' worth of supplies to take back to the storehouse at the camp. Two more loads and it will be a good day's work.

But the alarm has now been sounded. A band of Gauls has burst out of the forest to confront these Romans who would rob them of harvest and kin, and the distant sounding of warhorns has the Thirteenth legion a little spooked.

And so they should be, for a mighty host has gathered.

[The Gauls roll high, and seven units appear in the vicinity of the hill fort]

Dumnorix and men appear seeking vengeance!

As yet unaware of the true danger they are in, the Romans continue loading their stolen stores into the wagons and on to the mules.

The eastern column does not yet know quite what it is facing.

In the west the fighting carries on. Another cohort is put to flight, but a band of Gauls also gives way. A second reserve cohort hurries west to secure the ford against any opportunistic Gallic advance.


Romans have lost 2, Gauls 1, but the Romans have reserves on the way.

This cohort reaches the ford before the Gauls can cross and there is a moment of respite as the two bodies of troops confront each other across the river. The Roman central cohort, having driven off its enemy, is asked by its commander to steel itself for another charge. Too exhausted, it refuses to budge. [Morale test fail!]

The situation in the west.

Back east the forward cohort is starting to sense that things are getting tense. "Is it just me or does that hill over there appear to be moving? Do we stay or do we go?"


Sorting the wheat from the chaff.

Dumnorix is faced with no such hesitancy. His Gauls will advance!


Up and at them.

Back west once more, fortune favours the big battalions as the second reserve cohort charges across the ford and drives off the defending warband. These Gauls have already put in a heroic performance in defeating two cohorts singlehandly and they can be forgiven for at last running a little short of blood sugar.

Nevertheless, their departure means that just one band of Gauls remains, and with fully equipped, grimly determined legionaries to its front and flank, it won't last much longer.


The ford is cleared: just one unit of Gauls remains.

In the east the cohorts so recently happily pillaging have finally seen the size of the force now bearing down upon them. The commander pulls them into a defensive position to cover the retreat of the wagon train. After all, he reasons, we're here for the food, not for the fight.

[Column fails a morale check and falls back. I wanted them to stand and fight, but once you commit to letting the dice decide you can't just ignore what they tell you!]


Romans get the jitters (or see sense, depending on how you look at it).

After four hours the Romans have almost seen off the challenge in the west, but it has taken five cohorts to do so. This leaves only half a legion and a squadron of cavalry to face the lately arrived Gallic force in the east and to get the supplies across the ford and back home safely to the camp.


The map after four hours.

In the west the Romans break the last batch of Gauls holding on there. One badly beaten up cohort pulls back across the ford, but the two reserve cohorts are still fairly fresh.


Phew! Seen 'em off!


The stand-in commander of the Thirteenth (the infamous Aaronius Bellicus Minimus) continues to pull back. It will take him two hours to get his stolen wares and troops across the river, and the Gallic force appears determined to make things difficult for him. "If I get my men slaughtered against this river, what will Caesar say?" he thinks.


Romans pull back.

For the Gauls, there are conflicting emotions on their left as the menfolk from the recently ravaged village arrive back home. What of the women and the children? Did they survive? Do we stop and take account, or do we continue on and catch the Roman dogs?


Gauls surge forward, reclaiming the village.

Dumnorix the Gallic chief, attaining the high point near the ancient obelisk, surveys the field.

Dumnorix. Not one to eschew manly gestures, he grasps the opportunity to flourish his sword dramatically.


From this elevation he can observe the true picture, and the victorious Roman cohorts across the river to his right do not escape his notice.


The Roman left, now free to ford the river and turn the Gallic flank.

Dumnorix halts to consults with his druid.


The field at the moment.

With the village now back in friendly hands, its menfolk anxious to tend to kith and kin, and the Romans with an observable and unchallenged force on the Gallic flank, Dumnorix considers the possible cost of driving on against these Romans and orders a general halt.

[Dumnorix bottles it! He fails a morale check and the Gauls stop]

Even so, well done to the Gauls - especially those on their right - who by keeping the Romans to just three loads of forage have won a minor victory.

******************************

And so the game concluded. I'd almost run out of time to continue on anyway, but as it has ended in such an interesting position I'm going to play out a final fight at a later time. The Romans should get their ill-gotten provisions across the river, but the troops are faced with a dicey situation: if they all stay they are safe; if some leave, the rear guard is vulnerable. The Romans will need to scout for additional fords to cross by. If they find some, they will probably be fine; if they don't, look out!

As a solo affair this approach ( a first for me) really was a lot of fun. The twists and turns in the story were both entertaining and, to my mind, believable. Thanks to Stuart Asquith for the germ of the idea, and to Dan Mersey for the nicely adaptable Dux Bellorum combat rules.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The foraging party, or even Romans have to eat (Part II)

As detailed in the last post, our Roman foragers have run into feast in the east and a test in the west.

First to the east.

Two cohorts have moved into the wheat fields. One field is being cleared already, while the other is about to be. The Germanic cavalry and another cohort see if they can't break into the fortified village and rob it of whatever foodstuffs are in storage there.

It's a tough life when there are invaders about...

But it's not so pleasant for the Romans in the west. Caught on the hop while crossing the river, the two leading cohorts have a mass of Gauls crash into them, and it's all the centurions can do to prevent panic. Another half hour of this and the Romans will likely break [Vicious attacks by the Gauls see 6 hits inflicted against 4 sustained]

The Gauls charge in with understandable passion!

The third cohort squeezes across the river into a support position, and in the nick of time the reserve cohort splashes across at the ford they so fortunately discovered last turn.

The numbers even up, but the Gauls' first rush has the first two cohorts badly rattled.

In the east the lone horseman seen an hour ago has arrived at the Gallic hill fort. Unbeknownst to the Romans, a muster is now underway, and the men will arrive at the fort within the hour. [A d3 roll determines how many turns it will take for the chief to organise resistance. Two is the result]

Message delivered, our hero waits for the tribal reinforcements to arrive. Anxious moments as he contemplates the fate of his village and the desperate families within.

In the west the lead Roman cohort has had enough. Thrown into confusion and panic, the men pour back across the river. The victorious Gauls follow up and hit the supporting cohort before it can get out of the ford.

[The Gauls win initiative (d6 each minus attrition. Highest score strikes first) and get to deliver the first blow. They break the Romans and then catch the second cohort in the river. Again, they inflict heavy damage at the cost of just one further hit to themselves (cohort caught in the river gets half the usual number of attack dice)]

The central cohort hangs on, but only just. The reserve cohort and the last Gallic unit are strangely reluctant to close to close quarters. [Both fail their activation rolls]

The first cohort has had enough.

And what's this? The Romans in the wheatfields are suddenly confronted by a terrifying sight - Gauls coming out of the woods! It must be the menfolk from the village.

Think you can take our crops, eh?

But in an awful turn of events for the would-be Gallic saviours, the Romans succeed in finding a weak point in the village defences and break in through the wall. They commence ransacking the place for stores, and no doubt will do worse if they have time.




The fall of the village stuns the newly-arrived Gallic warband. They pause, unsure of what the best course of action might be. For the Romans, the first cohort starts loading freshly harvested wheat onto the train, while the other cohort covers for them.

Loading wheat and ransacking the village.

Back in the west the fight goes on. The reserve cohort has now engaged the third Gallic unit, and the Gauls continue to have the advantage in the other two fights. The danger is such that another reserve cohort is hurrying to the scene. The baggage train realises that it will not get across the river, and, calling it quits for the day, hastens back to the safety of the camp.

The Gauls still giving more than they receive.

The map after three hours of daylight.

Overview of the scene.

Yet hark: what's that sound coming from the north? Not Gallic war horns, surely? 

To be continued (here)....

The foraging party, or even Romans have to eat (Part I).

It's 56BC, Gaul, harvest season, and Caesar's legions are running short of food. It's time to do a little foraging. The Thirteenth legion has been instructed to go north of the river, into Gallic territory, and raid. They have eight hours to do their work, and must bring back as much forage as they can. Five loads would be a good effort, but you never know what might happen over there...

Map of the area, with north at top. Each carpet tile is 1 mile across.

The temporary commander of the Thirteenth - Aaronius Bellicus Minimus - sends three cohorts and a wagon train to the ford northwest of the camp. Four other cohorts, a detachment of German cavalry and two trains are to cross the northeast ford. The remaining three cohorts will be held in reserve to cover the return crossing or to advance and fight if the foragers get into trouble. Orders are that the foraging cohorts are to take light equipment only. 

[For game purposes the lightly equipped cohorts have lower morale and combat strength than the reserve cohorts. This is shown here by making the reserve cohorts three ranks deep]

The cohorts leave camp.

There is some delay as the troops reach and then begin to file across the fords.

The western ford.

The eastern ford.
The main group advances without opposition, despite the terrain offering good potential cover for roving Gauls. So far so good!

The way to the village seems clear!

But in the west they are not so lucky - three gallic warbands suddenly spring from the woods and catch the Roman column still in the ford. Alarums blare!

Hi-de-hi!
Hearing the call for assistance, one of the reserve cohorts hurries west, hoping to find a crossing point closer. Fortunately, a scout discovers one just half a mile away. [A very lucky scouting roll of 6 allows them to find a new ford]

The western column has just enough time to rush a following cohort across the river before the Gallic attack hits.

A bad situation, but help is on its way.
The other column is having a far happier time. Wheat fields, a village, and a strange obelisk in view, but no sign of the enemy in any strength.

Happy Germans.
The forward-most cohort begins harvesting wheat while the rest come up.

Sickles out, chaps!
But their activities are not unobserved. In the distance a lone, proudly seated horseman takes in the scene, then gallops off towards the west.


To be continued.... (see here)

[The game is a solitaire encounter scenario inspired by Stuart Asquith's book on solo wargaming. A simple dice mechanism is used to check if and where enemy forces are generated in response to the Roman moves. The fighting rules are an adapted form of Dan Mersey's Dux Bellorum] 




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