Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Portable Napoleonic Wargames: More Combat Mechanics.

French Division column of 3 regiments attacking a
British line of 2 Brigades.  Generals accompanying;
the pluses and minuses cancel out.  An even fight.
I admit to procrastinating on this post.  In the previous, I suggested slight amendments to The Portable Napoleonic Wargame to resolve what I considered to be a problem with the (close) combat mechanics.  The 'problem', as I saw it, was that in certain, not rare, situations, one side would be entire immune from harm.  Not even rolling a '1' would incur a hit.

Nor did I like the notion of arbitrarily deciding that rolling a natural '1' on a D6 would be a hit, regardless of modifier (that a '6' on a D6 might be insufficient to 'save' a unit from harm doesn't seem to come into consideration, the way the mechanics work).  Hence the methods I've suggested.  Before leaving this, it was remarked in response to my last posting that the effect of a supporting stand being a 'plus' for its own side and a 'minus' for the enemy was perhaps to skew the results too much in favour of which side had the edge.  That is a reasonable argument, but there are two reasons for my deciding to set it aside:

  • I wanted to change the published game mechanics as little as possible - to stay with 'the spirit' of the original game;
  • A change to an 'asymmetric' system of adding only or subtracting only seemed likely to lead to rather more sweeping changes being required to the combat mechanics.  That of course doesn't rule the notion out of court if I couldn't make the system 'work' they way I wanted within the parameters I had set for myself.

British line attacking a French column.
 Not the best approach (piecemeal) - a losing proposition for the
Now, we could leave the matter here, but it seemed to me a week ago that the game rather omitted the 'column vs line' theme that was such a feature of many of the battles, especially of the Revolutionary and Peninsular Wars.  Looking back to the Brigade and Divisional sets - yep: there they were.  Why not at Army Corps or Army level?
French columnar attack:
Here the Redcoats can claim flank support from the right -
in contact, otherwise not engaged, but not from the left
(not in contact with the French column).
I admit it took longer than it ought to ask myself this.  It should to have occurred to me sooner.  In trying out a new rule set, it is usually a very good idea, when encountering something hard to understand or to accept, to ask: 'Why has the author done it this way?' Why has he omitted this; why has he included that; and why choose such-and-such a method?  I could of course ask Bob Cordery himself, but I think I pretty much had an answer already.  Column and line combat was to be subsumed by the scale.  The two, three or four elements to a grid area were pretty much cognate to 'stacking' the unit chits in board war games.

In the light of this, what have now to suggest is rather less compelling.  However, I have decided that for my own purposes, and given the grid size compared with my own elements (see the picture below), even at this scale, there remains scope for 'column' vs 'line' combat.  Hence my suggestion of +2 for friendly supporting flanking unit  in the same grid area; and -2 to a unit attacking an enemy unit  that has  a supporting flanking unit in the same grid area.  Recall from last time, that who has the more 'pluses' adds 1 to his die roll; who has the more 'minuses' takes 1 from his die roll.  The presence of generals, by the way, only adds to his own side, and has no effect - not even if he is Napoleon himself - upon the enemy.
French column overlapped on both flanks by the British line.
Not a healthy place for the French to be!

But even that doesn't seem to me to be quite enough.
Let's repeat the second diagram here:

Check it out.  A French Divisional column of 4 stands, led by the Divisional commander, advances into contact with the main body of a British Division of 3 brigades.  For some reason the British Division commander is no longer commanding (possibly taken by a cannonball or something).

French Roll: n + 4 (General + 3 supporting units) - 3 (enemy flanking supporting units 1 in same hex plus unengaged enemy contacted in adjacent hex)
British Roll: m + 2 (Flanking support in same hex) - 3 (enemy rear supports in same hex)
French have the extra 'plus', so can add 1 to the D6 roll.
Minuses are equal, and so neither side subtracts from the die roll.
The French will be hit if they roll '1'; the British will be hit on a roll of 1 or 2.

Now it is the British turn, and the whole Division counterattacks.  As they are already in contact, it is just a matter of their 'initiating' the combat this turn.  Now there are two combats.  Given that the advantage in both lie with the French, one feels that this is too much a losing proposition for the British.  Mind you, it is aruable that this is too piecemeal an approach.  The Redcoats would do better concentrated in the one grid area.

I'm very tempted to suggest that a line of two elements as depicted here, both elements initiate combats, still counting their fellow as a flanking supporting rank.   But it is still a losing proposition, even with a general present.

However, there is a solution.  If the third British brigade were in the same grid area as the main body, it would add a (rear) supporting element.  The presence of a general will then put 3 British Brigades, in line with integral rear support, on a par with the four French in Divisional column.

If were are to continue placing negatives for enemy in contact and pluses for for friends in flanking adjacent grid areas, - in effect an overlap - then we might have to look at something a little extra (in the negative direction) for being in contact with enemy on flank or rear.

The next few diagrams are part of a play test of the ideas I had been mulling around.  In the above diagram A French infantry Division and light horse brigade attack a British Division strung out in the dear old 'thin red streak'.  The French infantry can count a general and 3 rear supporting ranks.  The light horse count 1 rear supporting rank.

The British facing the French infantry can count one flanking support unit within the same grid area (+2), and one unengaged flank support from the adjacent grid area (+1) to their left.  As the right flank brigade is under attack by French horse, it can not help the rest of the division.  That brigade can count no pluses at all, and will have to subtract 1 from the die roll owing to the cavalry's rear support.
In the above diagram, the French cavalry are in line.  I am inclined, however to reserve the +2 for flank support in the same grid area to infantry, and possibly supporting cannon. 

The above diagram presents a thicker line for the French to face, equalising the 'minuses'. French have 4 'pluses' to 3; and 3 'minuses' to 3.
Here, the French have caught a Tartar: a powerful British Division of 4 brigades, in two successive lines.  Even with no general present on the British side, the prospects are in favour of the British: pluses even, and the French have to take the minus.
Even worse for the French, this strong enemy has a general present.  The Column will take a minus on its die roll; the British will take a plus.   But ...
... Here come the French cavalry!  Led by Marshal Davout, no less.  It is the French turn.
French Infantry: Roll i; +5 (General + 3 rear support +  flank support*) - 4 (1 flank and 2 rear enemy supports in same grid area.
British Infantry vs infantry: Roll j; +5 (General + 2 rear support + 2 for in-hex flank support); -4 (3 enemy rear supports, and contact with unengaged enemy).
French Light Horse: Roll h; +3 (Marshal + rear support + flank support), -4 (enemy 1 flank and 2 rear supports).
British Infantry vs cavalry: Roll k: + 5 (General + 2 rear support +2 for in-hex flank support), -2 (Cav rear support + flank support)

French Infantry vs British Infantry: plus modifiers equal; minus modifiers equal means no adjustment to the die rolls. 
If i = 1 or 2, the French infantry take a hit
If j = 1 or 2, the British take a hit.
French Cavalry vs British Infantry: Plus modifiers favour the British (5 to 3); Negative modifiers also favour the British (-2 to -4).  British add 1 to their roll; French subtract 1).
If h = 1, 2 or 3, the French cavalry take a hit.
If k = 1, the British infantry take a hit.

* Flank support from adjacent grid areas are cancelled if the 'supporting' unit is in close combat itself with another unit.  In the above diagram, if a second British unit or formation stood to the immediate right of the one shown, then it would be engaged by the French cavalry.  Neither would get the flank support.

French light horse, led by Marshal Davout, encounters a
formation of Austrian cuirassiers.  Should the linear supporting
element modify die rolls by 1 or 2 in this case?  Should the
appearance of line and column be ignored on account of scale?
After all this, I'm simply not sure I want to go down this track - at least not so far.  That won't stop me play testing the idea in the fairly near future!  What I will have to investigate is whether any added complication adds anything to the game system; and whether it adds or subtracts from the play and the satisfaction from it.


  1. That last question is usually the critical one.

    For a higher level game its hard to say what the formations actually mean. A column of battalions in line one behind the other? (worst formation but used occasionally, a line of battalion columns covered by skirmishers? (flexible and a useful choice), a mix of battalions in line and some in column?

    All below the grain really.

    1. I believe that Bob considered the column-line thing 'below the grain'. I guess had the dimensions of the grid areas been insufficient to hold two 3-figure units in line, I would have reached the same conclusion. A two-unit deep formation could be anything.

      I've played Age of Eagles, in which what looks like a continuous line might actually be a line of battalions in column, with sizable intervals between the battalion columns. Once getting past the visual aspect, I found the system easy enough to accept.

      But the fact is that the line can be accommodated, and, for mine, that does add some texture to the game system that (again, my own view) can be (and possibly ought to be) accounted for.

      Though I will play test the suggestions in this posting, I think it likely I'll come down pretty much only on my suggestions in the earlier posting.