Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Big Battles for Small Tables - A Little Play Test.

Two Hungarian Divisions close in upon the French
14th Division.
The early stages of the Rhinelands campaign in April 18** had not gone well for the French.  Left without the Emperor's guiding hand, Marshal the Prince of Neuchatel had botched the operation. Marshal Dubonnet's Corps had been left isolated 'in the air', and came near to being cut off, surrounded and destroyed by the advancing Austrian Army.  Fortunately seeing the danger betimes, Dubonnet had ordered a retreat by the only available road.  But to safeguard that retreat, he required General Morlot's 14th Division to stand flank guard at the hamlet of Inkheim, there to watch the Ingolstadt road.

It was as well he did, for the redoubtable Feldmarschall Sax, commanding the Austrian II Corps, was advancing up that very road to cut off the French retreat.  Coming upon Morlot's command at Inkheim, two divisions of II Corps were quickly engaged.  Morlot had deployed in two lines behind a screen of voltigeurs between the hamlet itself and a nearby wood.  The Feldmarschall, for his part, disdained finesse for a straightforward columnar attack.

The French skirmishers suffer heavily and are driven in.

The early exchanges went rather well for Sax's Hungarians.  The French skirmishers failed to register a single hit (one die per figure, needing 6s - yep: this is fistsful of dice country), but even at 2 dice per 3 shooting and ignoring first hits, in two turns the Hungarians had inflicted 2 hits upon the enemy. Reduced by 50%, the remaining light infantry fell back onto the leading close-order line.
The Hungarians prepare to engage the forward
French line.

The Hungarians now closed up to bring the 14th Division main body into action.  
Pressing close...

At this point, the voltigeurs having joined the line, the French could bring as many muskets to bear as the Hungarians, 12 figures apiece. But of course the latter had huge reserves upon which to draw.
As the Hungarians closed the range, losses on both sides began to mount.  Having so far 14 figures engaged - the 4 voltigeurs and the 10 figures of the first line - the French line could take 4 more hits before a fifth hit (i.e. totalling 7 of the 14 engaged) forced them back onto the final line.
So it happened.  Despite giving somewhat better than they received in the close quarter action, the French were forced back.
The Hungarians drive French forward line in upon
its supports.
All this was taking time, however.  A good five or six turns had gone by - as many hours - and the French were still holding out against double their numbers.  Once driven back upon their last reserves, moreover, the final French line became a formidable obstacle.  The 10 figures of the 'reserve brigade', plus the 7 survivors from the action so far, meant the French could bring 17 figures into the final stand.  Remaining in their divisional columns the Hungarians could bring 12 only.
For all that, it was a brittle line that faced the Hungarians - 5 hits would reduce it to 12 figures, whereat the French would have to retreat.  There was no danger of the Hungarians being halted. This was due to my decision that morale is represented solely by the 50% rule.  But there seems to be a need to assess the results of the close combat move by move - a reaction test. Given such a test, the French might well have stopped the Hungarians.  I know: I'm probably reinventing the wheel a bit with all this, but for mine it bears thinking about.

The extra French firepower cost the Hungarians heavily - 8 figures in two turns.  But the Hungarian return fire - 5 hits - was enough.  Reduced to 12 figures, 50% of their original strength, the French made off to rejoin the retreat of Dubonnet's IV Corps.  The overall Hungarian losses, amounting to 6 figures from one division and 7 from the other, slightly exceeded the French.  Considering that the voltigeurs were driven in without loss, that was quite a good performance by the French.

The final stand of 14th Division.  Though giving better
 than they receive, it is not enough.
This gamelet, played upon my overturned chessboard (of less than 19 inches square), Involved 1 French Division (14th from IV Corps) against two Hungarian, all of 24 figures each.  It was intended partly to test out my proposed 'fistful of dice' musketry, but mainly to try out the proposed supported linear formation of the French Division against a columnar attack. 

On the whole it went the way I hoped it would.  As the leading lines fell back upon the supports, the rear lines thus augmented grew the stronger in firepower, but more brittle as well.  The Division became less able to absorb further losses.  
The defeated French Division makes off.

Having said that, I need game mechanics to produce results a little more quickly than what was achieved in this test.  The whole thing took seven or eight moves to complete.  It is true that in similar circumstances in April 1809 a Division from Davout's III Corps held up strong Austrian attacks for the best part of a day.  But, professional soldier as he was, Marshal Davout devoted a lot of time to keeping his troops at the peak of efficiency.  One imagines that not every French Division could have achieved such a feat.  At most I want the average Division to hold for three or four moves - about the expectation of a Division fighting on its own hook against odds.

In my last posting Ross Mac had (among other things) this to say:
British Division  in line, covered by light infantry and
a detachment of 5/60th Rifles.  The lead French Division
is in a rather peculiar T-shaped ordre-mixte formation.
However, coming at last to the post in hand, noting that you have skipped over the division in line, which will be needed for Brits at least, I think whether or not you need to show a line of battalion columns vs a column/mass of lines is whether you have away to show the added flexibility of the series of small columns vs the solid mass. (Actually I've never seen evidence of any advantage of the solid mass and have trouble figuring out why it was ever used, esp by competent commanders)
Did I miss how you are going to do squares? For some reason my attempts to respond timed out.  I have no idea why.

Now, my first thought about this was, yes, I did omit single the divisional line, and I had reasons for this. But, without going into them, they seem on reflection to be less than compelling.  For one thing, it is known that at the Medellin battle (28 March 1809), the Spanish were drawn up in a long thin line.  The attacks by the French V Corps and Werle's brigade at Albuera (16 May 1811) were met by similarly shallow formations of Spanish and British muskets.
These two pictures are to illustrate the sort of situation that arose
at Albuera with the attack of the V Corps.  Of course there ought to be
a Spanish Division in place of the British, with the latter hurrying to
their aid...  But the question is this: is it war game-able?

And here we run into a problem.  In effect V Corps attacked with successive Divisions, Girard leading in a T-shaped ordre-mixte formation, and Gazan following so closely as to present a whole mass of 8000 soldiers.  In effect this was met by my 'supported line' formation, this comprising a first line of Zayas's and Ballesteros's commands, with Stewart's Division forming a second line.  This was somewhat complicated by Colborne's Brigade placing itself on the flank of the French column, whereat a close quarter firefight ensued, with heavy losses on both sides.

A French Division in a single square.
How do we effect this kind of action on the table top?  One way is to use the methods of Paddy Griffith or Col Wilbur Gray: determine the win-loss outcome, and then adjudicate the losses.  It has the virtue of convenience, sure.  But I would prefer to determine losses and then reaction to those losses - the 'perception of risk' thing.   Work is still needed on this, and decisions made as to method.  The musketry thing I like, as being not especially decisive in itself.  To obtain results, one has to get 'up close and personal.'  Mr Griffith and Col Gray have shown the way there!

A French Division in Brigade squares.


  1. Well illustrated write-up. I'm tempted to try out this little scenario (two Austrian units against a French one on the defensive) with my preferred rules and see how it goes.

    Did the French skirmishers get a bonus for firing on the massed Austrians?

    Did the Austrians suffer a penalty firing at the elusive French skirmishers?

    Was the fire simultaneous or did the French fire first as they waited the Austrian advance?

    1. French got no bonus (4 figures, 4 dice requiring 6s); Austrians did get quite punitive penalties (12 figures, 8 dice requiring 6s, ignoring first hit). In 2 turns, the French scored no 6s with 8 dice; the Austrians (Hungarians) 4 6s with 16 dice. Firing was simultaneous. At close range, hits were scored on 5s and 6s.

      However, at close range, I think I require something a bit more quickly decisive.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. I was inspired, here is my post trying the same type of think with my favourite rules:
      I deleted my comment due to a few embarrassing typos that had escaped the red squiggly line.

  2. Replies
    1. An Austrian army just isn't complete without a Magyar contingent, don't you think?