Thursday, September 4, 2014

Age Of Eagles - Play Test and First Impressions.

Initial set up, somewhere in Russia, 1812.  The figures and most of
the terrain pieces are Geoff's: just the hills, roads. fields and
forest floors were mine.  I was much taken with Geoff's home
 constructed village buildings.
 Although I have been a member of the Age of Eagles Yahoo group for a number of years now, I had, except for a half game (Waterloo, defending the Hougoumont and the Allied right wing) a zillion years ago (pre-earthquake, I think), I hadn't really looked at the rule set, let alone played a game.  A few weeks ago, an occasional war games buddy, Geoff Mahan,  having bought a copy of the rules, suggested we get together for a bit of a game.  As I don't do 15mm myself, we used Geoff's own French and Russian armies.
Map of an 1812 encounter battle between the Corps of
Prince Eugene Beauharnais, and Prince Bagratsyan.
For the purposes of this game I did not want the thing to be altogether symmetrical, but wanted a balanced sort of game with forces approximately well matched.  Choosing 1812 as the year, the Grande Armee having crossed the Nieman, Geoff and I agreed that we would each represent reasonably capable commanders, Princes Eugene de Beauharnais (me) and Prince Bagratsyan (Geoff).  Our subordinate Division commanders would be pretty much the default, adding -1 (i.e. subtracting 1) from the die roll for Reserve Movement (whereas we, if taking over from a Div Cdr would have no such penalty effect).  At this time, both armies are classed as 'columnar' which gives them good manoeuvrability, but rather indifferent fire power.  At a different time period, or taking Davout's Corps in 1812, the French could have been classed as impulse infantry (3 ranks), which would have doubled their musketry effectiveness.

Russian lines, looking southward.
Having added a battle map (I find they add meaning and orientation to photographed pictures), I'll add the orders of battle.  As an encounter battle between semi-independent Army Corps seeking to seize control of a road nexus at the small towns Malenkovo and Bol'shevo, it seemed a reasonably interesting scenario.

French IV Army Corps:  General Prince Eugene:

(Yes: these should have been Italians, then.  I forgot. Geoff doesn't have Italians anyhow)
Heavy Division (attached):
1 Brigade Carabiniers-a-Cheval E 3/2/-
2 Brigades Cuirassiers E 4/3/2
Light Division:
1 Brigade Dragoons R 5/4/3
1 Brigade Lancers R 4/3/2
1 Brigade Chasseurs-a-Cheval R/3/-/2
(Attached to Division) 1 Battery Horse guns
1st Infantry Division:
3 Brigades, each  R 7/5/4 Sk
2nd Infantry Division:
3 Brigades, each R 7/5/4 Sk
Artillery Reserve:
3 Foot Batteries. (We made a bit of a mess of these.  They should have been assigned to divisions, with the French (having fewer divisions as such) retaining a Corps Reserve.)
This force represented a whisker over 20,000 troops: a little over 15,000 foot and 4,000 horse, with 30-32 cannon.

Russian: General Prince Bagratsyan

(I don't like the spelling 'Bagration', which in my view works only if you pronounce it as a Frenchman would).
Heavy Cavalry Division (attached):
2 Brigades Cuirassiers E 4/3/2
1 Brigade Lancers E 4/3/2
Light Division:
2 Brigades Light Horse, each R 4/3/2
1 Battery (attached) Horse Artillery;
1st Infantry Division:
3 brigades each R 7/5/4
2nd Infantry Division:
2 Brigades each R 7/5/4
3rd Infantry Division:
2 brigades each R 7/5/4
Artillery reserve:
3 Foot Batteries.
This force, at about 22,000 was slightly larger than the French: stronger in infantry (over 17.500)  and artillery (maybe 40 guns - although the number of batteries was the same, the Russians are slightly more effective under these rules), but weaker in cavalry (3,600).

The numerical disparity in Russia's favour - not to mention its superior artillery - was thought to be partially offset by the French infantry's skirmish capability.
Overall battlefield, looking northward.

Even in organising the armies, we failed to appreciate some of the niceties, in particular where the artillery fitted into the order of battle.
Russians deploying, their commander seeing to their alignment...
Then we gradually got the hang of distinguishing between Reserve and Tactical Movement, and which columns in the March table we were supposed to be looking at when dicing for reaction to orders - oh, and which column of modifiers....
French light cavalry on the move.  They
were mostly to remain pretty inert for ther
But right from the start I found my formations being broken up by several brigades simply failing to get under way, and once a brigade stalls, it takes a while to get it moving again.  Unfortunately our misunderstanding of the rule set exacerbated that annoyance as we had inferred that the artillery batteries were subject to the same rules for movement.  Towards the end of the day, I discovered our error.  The guns' relative freedom of movement would have made it possible to form a reasonable advanced gun line to amuse the enemy and provide cover for our own advances.
Russian early moves.
The overall effect of this was to scramble every attempt at coordinating a Division's activities.   How can you plan a Divisional attack if you have to count on a proportion of its strength being unavailable on account of a dilatory commander, I ask you?  I some respects I'd rather the whole Division stalled or advanced as one - and maybe a 'Divisional Order' rule is worth thinking about.
View of the Russian right flank.  The large ridge southeast
of Bol'shevo was classed as rough going over its entire surface.
It might be argued this affects both sides equally, but I'm not so sure about that - even in an encounter battle like this one.  The large ridge east of the villages, as an obstacle to Russian movement, had one beneficial effect, as did the stream.  Slowing the movement rate down reduced the effects somewhat of tardy brigades (though I rather formed the impression that Geoff was overall luckier in his brigades' celerity of movement).  Unless I am quite wrong in my early impression, I reckon an aggressively minded player will be somewhat disadvantaged over one more circumspect.
Russian centre
So, with the Russians delayed somewhat by the terrain, and the French by obtuse and insubordinate brigade commanders (except for the Heavy Cavalry brigade which, after an early hiccup, manoeuvred right well throughout the day), it took most of the day for both sides to get into action (and this with a table no more than 4 foot wide!).
Russian left wing, approaching the Malenkovo village.
French light cavalry steadfastly maintaining its ground.... much to
'Eugene's' disgust.
...gradually - I have always found that, unless there is a lot of player interaction, IGoUGo game systems tend to be slow moving - ...
So much for a coordinated advance: one brigade out of three
out of the 2nd Division obeyed orders to advance upon Malenkovo.
'Er, uhm... yes, well... aren't there Russians in that village?'
'Sacre nom de dix-mille chiens! There soon bally will be, Cochon,
  if you don't move! Allez-vous en!'
... the armies...

A rather washed out picture of 1st Division
 doing its bit to avoid confrontations with the enemy.
.. drew closer...

An even more washed out pic of the one formation that performed well all day:
the heavy cavalry Division.
... together...

Looking east toward Malenkovo.
I had hoped to seize the both villages before the Russians could effectively intervene, and then abide the attacks that would no doubt be 'Bagratsyan's' response.  This attempt proved successful at Bol'shevo, as 1st Brigade marched on the place with scarcely a falter.  But, upon almost reaching the outskirts of Malenkovo, 6th Brigade, possibly apprehending a Russian presence already in the place, and maybe concerned about the lack of support from 4th and 5th Brigades, suddenly halted.  From there, it could scarcely be moved again before the Russian 3rd Division did indeed begin entering the place from the east side.
Prince Eugene supervising the advance of 1st Division,
and the race for Bol'shevo.
The advance of 1st Divison was equally uncoordinated, mainly owing to the dilatoriness of the artillery (entirely due, as I said earlier, to our misunderstanding of the rules).  At that, I still find the thing counter-intuitive: that cavalry and infantry brigades are subject to the vagaries of fortune how they behave, but gun batteries simply do as they are bid.
The dilatoriness of the French 2nd Division has meant that it
will have to fight to take Malenkovo - if indeed it can!
The oblique order in the above picture - the 4th Brigade is just out of picture to the left rear - was entirely adventitious, and not at all an outcome I desired.
From behind French lines looking up at Bagratsyan's Ridge.
Meanwhile 3rd Brigade advanced close under the big ridge - dubbed by the French 'Bagration's Ridge' - where it came under the undivided attention of two Russian batteries and two Brigades. Now here, I simply forgot that it was permissible to refuse a flank and so bring the whole line into action. Not that it would have mattered a whole lot: 3rd Brigade hung on in its isolated position for a couple of moves before being driven back by a 'telling fire' (loss of one stand out of 7, and disordered as well).  They drew back to form a line with 2nd Brigade.
Why has the French artillery been so dilatory?  'Cos we didn't
read the rules properly, is why.  Third Brigade, isolated as it is,
 is unhappily eyeing the hosts arrayed against them...
A close action at last developed between the French 2nd Division and the Russian 2nd and 3rd Divisions.  Sixth Brigade held its own momentarily against the whole of the enemy 3rd Division before being forced to relinquish its hold upon the western half of the village.  However, this reverse was requited by the success of 4th Brigade, with artillery support from a flank, driving off their counterparts in a brief fire fight.
The French 2nd Division at last forming a coherent array,
but its three brigades are facing four Russian.  At least some help is coming
from artillery out of picture to the left.

First Brigade completes its occupation of Bol'shevo, but 3rd Brigade
has been forced back with some loss and in some disorder.  Second Brigade
with a battery attached, is coming up (slowly) in support.
But the most spectacular action of the day, which earned the 1st Cuirassier Brigade, and its commander, a Mention in Despatches, was its defeat of two Russian cavalry brigades in quick succession.  Seeing an enemy heavy cuirassier formation a short distance east of Bol'shevo, General Etienne Cointreau thought to chance the arms of his troopers, and ordered the charge.  This naturally drew the attention of enemy artillery on the ridge, whose fire was enough to disorder the Frenchmen in their career.  Nothing loth, they swept into the countercharging enemy horse, and in a trice drove them back (the respective rolls were France 9 - Russia 1 - a +8 differential reduced to +6 owing to French disorder, and a 'Driven Back!' result).
The charge of 1st Cuirassier Brigade.  Despite a lively flanking artillery fire
during its initial charge, the Cuirassiers swept away the leading Russian heavy cavalry
thundered on and threw back the supporting Uhlans as well.
 Then, they stood their ground unflinching under a heavy close range bombardment...
'Onward!' bellowed the French commander, 'En avant!'  For close behind the enemy first line stood another - a brigade of uhlans that he mistook for a second line of cuirassiers (actually Geoff and I both forgot they were actually uhlans - the other cuirassier brigade was the one standing on the northern ridge observing the entertainment below).  Wonder of wonders, once again the French horse were spectacularly successful, and more Russian horse deemed it meet to take the road east (amazingly enough, the die rolls were again respectively 9-1 - Geoff was certainly as unlucky with his combat dice as I had been with my 'March' rolls). Now I'm pretty sure that this result did not permit mes chevaliers to charge on against a third close target (something to check out), so there they remained, on the ground so well won.  And there they came under close range artillery fire that was enough to leave cuirassiers shaken, but not enough to compel a withdrawal.  But that left the cuirassiers completely immobile: sitting ducks.  Surely they would simply have bugged out, whether compelled to do so by force majeure, or under orders, one way or the other?

Heavy fighting about Malenkovo at the close of the action.  Sixth
French) Brigade was forced out of the village, but 4th Brigade,
 helped by supporting flanking artillery, caused some loss
 and disorder in the enemy ranks.

Considering the amount of time trying to decipher the game mechanics and the slowness of movement (ironic given that I chose columnar for speed of movement!), we didn't really get much action in.  But I believe we did learn something about how the game is supposed to go.  

Personally, I found the vagaries of Reserve Movement particularly exasperating.  This would only partially have been mitigated by knowing that the artillery were not meant to be subject to such vicissitudes.  It seems to me - only further play tests will confirm this or otherwise - that a Divisional attack must be problematic if you can not count on brigades acting in concert.  Defence is less problematical in this regard, there being more time available to repair irregularities in the line. Before leaving this, let me say that my impressions are in terms of a two-player game.  At the same time, I am inclined to look at the solo-play potential, and in the regard, the sort of thing that in my view  is likely to detract from a two-player/multi-player game, may well be very desirable features of a solo game.

Moving on, possibly the oddest thing about Age of Eagles and its companion Fire and Fury is the astonishing number of guns you seem to need.  Of the three battle scenarios offered (Austerlitz, Dresden and Quatre Bras), the last is the smallest and handiest, playable on a 3.5ft x 4ft playing surface.  This calls for:
200 infantry figures (50 stands), 72 cavalry figures (36 stands) and 6 guns - not an unreasonable ratio of guns to figures, but;
Anglo-Dutch (sic):
376 infantry figures (94 stands), 26 horse (13 stands) and 11 guns.  Eleven cannon!
In the Dresden battle the Allies require 66 model cannon.  

Sheesh!  Too rich for my blood.  My French army at present comprises 568 foot (not counting 8 sappers), 148 horse and 8 or maybe 9 cannon.  A couple more cannon might well be called for, but I don't think I'd want to go for the ratios we are looking at here.


  1. As a Fire and Fury player (rules that I think are great for ACW, but I'm no expert, I just like how your army falls apart becoming worn and then spent, seems so ACW to me) I have often thought that AoE would be interesting to try, but as Napoleon's Battles fits in the same scale (brigade level) and are a set that work for me and more importantly are a set I know well, I've never made the effort to have a game.

    Reading your AAR it sounds very much like FnF, but I don't know about the reserve movement bit. The brigade activation is a substitute for an orders system and I think is a reasonable mechanic - when your troops are fresh you have a confidence that they will follow your orders, but when spent you are lucky if they don't decide that your orders ain't worth squat and they leave the field in disgust. NB deals with orders based on distance from commanders - if everything is in, no problems, if things are out it is no move or half move. The exception is march columns following roads although this is rarely seen on the table top. The one order that NB has and it took me a while to work out, but it is really useful is the "every man for himself" voluntary rout. It buggers the unit somewhat (you will need to allocate a commander to rally them), but it gets units out of trouble.

    As for artillery, in FnF you still need a commander in range to get it unlimbered and ready to shoot. There are also various outcomes that have your precious artillery limbering up and pulling back which can cause command decisions such as - do I stay with the infantry brigade or move to try and get that artillery back in action?

    Great stuff!

    Keep up the pondering and analysis. I find it most interesting.

    1. Thank you for your comments so far. I value your feedback.

      On the matter of Reserve Marches (RM), I do think I was a bit unlucky with the rolls. A Brigade will move with a modified roll of 7 on a D10, but modified at the first turn, and the turns following a successful RM, the roll receives a +4 modifier. Movement fails on a 1 or 2 (a zero on a D10 counts as a 10). After a fails, this modifier becomes +1-+3 depending on how long the unit has remained immobile. That's why it can be a bit of a while for a stalled unit to get moving. Incidentally, generals do make a difference. I chose generals that had a zero modifier, which, by the way, signifies reasonably capable commanders. Once you get to within 18 inches of the enemy, movement becomes Tactical, with a whole different set of reactions according to a die roll with a whole different set of modifiers. Finally, a disordered/shaken/routed unit responds to a third set of die rolls.

      There seems to be no die roll required to determine the extent to which artillery will carry out its orders, neither in the Tactical nor the Reserve zones. Such restrictions are compassed by what the cannon are capable of doing in one turn. At that they, like leaders, move freely between the respective zones.

      The voluntary rout idea is something I 'invented' also for my own rule sets. I could not understand why a unit taking a pounding would stand around helplessly if it could - even against orders - bug out. It seemed to me sensible that one way or another, the local commander might order his men to make their best speed, at whatever cost to order, out of the bad spot. A voluntary rout - accepting all that went with a rout - seemed to me an entirely sensible way to go.

      Having said that, such a rule would have to take the troops out of musketry range at least. There were occasions (e.g. Iverson's and Daniel's Brigades at Gettysburg, or the 1865 attack on Fort Stedman, in which Confederate infantry found themselves under heavy fire, with all possible movement interdicted by that same fire. There were only two possible responses, apparently: go to ground and wait it out (? Gettysburg), or surrender. But that was due to the added range of rifle fire compared with smoothbore musketry of the Napoleonic era.

      Whether I need a 'voluntary rout' rule in my proposed BB4ST game, I doubt, but no doubt time will tell.

  2. Excllent report and photos! I've had a copy of AOE for years and for quite a while intended to collect some suitable 15mm armies for Waterloo. I've still never played the rules and anyway most of my 15mm French have since been sold off. They are the kind of rules I hoped would be good but always suspected may be mediocre. Very interesting to see how the played out!

    1. Bear in mind this was a 'first pass'. I am hoping for a second round shortly. Just by the way, I quite liked the look of the Quatre Bras set up (give or take the extraordinary number of Allied cannon), which required only a very small table to accommodate it.

      There is a sizeable and still pretty active 'Napoleonic Fire and Fury' Yahoo Group if you want to explore the thing further.

  3. Thanks for this cleverly written and thoughtful AAR, Ion. Some splendid pictures towards the end really show how lovely the table looked up close. I have played neither FnF nor NB but I confess no great desire to try either after reading these rules. I shall explore the Polemos Naps rules once I get enough of my figures rebased, as well as the rules you kindly sent me, but this post certainly whets my appetite to get that project done and the figures on the table!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Michael. The table was pretty basic, but managed to look fine - and I particularly liked the way the low angle shots came out.

      I'm certainly willing to give AoE another crack. I reckon I prefer these to Volley and Bayonet at any rate (which rule set I was never able to get my head around). A lot of the other rule sets of this scale - Napoleon's battles, Snappy Nappy, and the like - I have not encountered. So far as I know they haven't reached this remote corner of the world.

      I reiterate also: a rule set I don't like as a two player game might well gain favour as a solo set. AoE looks very promising in this regard.

  4. Excellent Battle Report. I enjoy AoE for its sheer simplicity - much the same reason I enjoy the original Brigade level Fire and Fury.

    There are a few abstractions I don't care for but those are easily managed.

    Gamers these days seem to crave an aspect of "command & control" or "friction" modeled on the table where you must pass a command roll or subject your forces to random events.

    I much prefer to give an order, and have that order carried out. I will admit it's hard to beat the excitement in Blitzkrieg Commander or Black Powder before making a command roll, still though, I'd much rather simply carry out a battle plan and see it through as best I can.

    Thanks for the great write-up and pictures.

    1. Sorry it has been so long since I saw this comment, Steven. Thanks for you kind remarks. On the whole, I prefer too the type of game in which can plan sensibly. True, encounter battles you can really plan for, except to respond as best you may to events as they develop. But in formal attacker defender actions, the attacker has to be able to count in the boys being pretty much available. Otherwise you end up with a piecemeal sort of assault that peters out for lack of heft.

      Having said that, I have a second game coming up soon, in which I'll be able to make use of far greater knowledge of how the thing is supposed to go that I had last time.