Monday, 16 May 2011

Raid on St Michel

So I mentioned a couple of posts back that three of us are running a small Napoleonic narrative campaign at the club. Thursday just gone we played the second game of five linked scenarios and, as promised, here's the update on things so far

Getting Started

The scenarios themselves are from "Raid on St Michel" by Caliver Books. The scenarios are written for 18th Century gaming, but they're very easily adaptable to any "blackpowder" era. The rules we use for Napoleonic gaming are 'Rank & File' by Crusader Publishing; we like them for the very easy-to-grasp mechanics and 'fast play' style, but there are a whole host of additional and optional rules you can add to flavour and suit the era you're playing. The campaign would be fought between my French and the Austrians (commanded by Paul).

Rank & File uses a system whereby each element/base can take three hits before being removed. As a running campaign, casualties would carry over from each game with units regaining a third of the hits taken between games (so a unit that takes 9 hits i.e. 3 bases would regain one base/three hits before the next game)

Game 1 - The Bridge at Fleur

Your border forces in and around the town of Fleur have noticed increased activity by the Osterreichers over the past day or so. You thought nothing of it, as the sausage-munchers like to pose and the campaign season has not even started.

However, as dawn broke above the sleepy town and your garrison there began to go about their daily business, a sentry, seeing some movement in the gloom over the rivere, sounded the alarm. A half regiment of light cavalry had already gone out on patrol, part east and the other part west along the river. The rest of the garrison was forming up for morning drill, weapons inspection and similar dull, routine stuff. Now alerted to the enemy presence, however, it was clear that an attack was underway and the garrison made ready to defend the town and its precious bridge, whilst sending out couriers to recall the cavalry and to warn the garrison of St Michel to the south. 


And so my task was laid out - to hold the Austrians off for as long as possible, inflict maximum damage for minimal casualties in return and then fall back in good order. Ably commanded by Brigadier Toutou, I had a regiment of Line, a regiment of Militia, a single artillery piece and a unit of Bavarian Chevau-Leger (light cavalry), half of which were on patrol off table at the start of the game.

Deployment was largely taken out of my hands; the French units had to be positioned in specific areas around the village of Fleur; the militia had to be within the confines of the village itself and nearest the bridge, the gun had to be positioned on the hill behind the village, with the line infantry and cavalry parading in the open space behind the village.

The attackers moved first, and the Austrians entered the field of battle - first on were a unit of Hussars and three infantry units. My moves were very simple; the militia formed into line and moved up to the bridge, the line infantry moved up through the village, while the gun manhandled forward to get closer to the bridge itself.

The next turn saw the Austrian Hussars launch a rash charge across the bridge into the militia; the cannonshot missed, but the militia proved to be surprisingly accurate, killing a base of Hussars and forcing a morale check that was duly failed and the Hussars retired back across the bridge. 

The next couple of turns were all about getting into position; the line infantry took up position in front of the bridge, while the militia moved to their left to fire across the river. With the Austrian artillery and heavy cavalry foolishly placed at the rear of the order of march, the task of forcing the breach once again fell to the Hussars. Twice more they charged and twice more they were repelled by the line infantry who had formed square and by the increasinly accurate artillery fire. Meanwhile the militia exchanged fire with the Austrian infantry who had formed up across the river; the militia gave far better than they received, but ultimately the weight of fire proved to great and the militia broke and ran.

Things were looking grim for the French. The returning cavalry patrols were making their way back to the village, but the Austrian Kurassiers and artillery had finally reached the riverbank. The artillery took up position to blast away at the French infantry square while the Kurassiers formed up to launch a charge across the bridge and into the square.

Disaster struck when a stray cannonball somehow managed to strike Brigadier Toutou and seriously wound him. After taking a few casualties from artillery fire, the Kurassiers hit home. The French line finally cracked and ran; the Kurassiers pursued straight into the waiting Chevau-Leger, who held their own in the first round of combat but broke in the second due to sheer weight of numbers. With all the French forces running and their commander out of action, the game was over - the Austrians had broken through.

Game 2 - Rear Guard

The second scenario was fought along a narrow, steep-sided valley; effectively limiting the playing area to a 6' long 2.5' wide corridor, divided by a river along the length of the valley, with a ford at the Austrian end and a bridge at the French end.

This time round, I had a unit of Line, a unit of Light Infantry, a unit of Chasseur á Cheval (light cavalry), a unit of Cuirassiers (heavy cavalry) and two guns. As this was a defensible position, I was allowed to deploy up to halfway up the board, so I took full advantage of the walls and hedges dotted around; the Line infantry deployed behind the wall on the right, with the two artillery pieces immediately to their left in the gap between the wall and the river. To the right of the Line were the Cuirassiers. On the left side of the river, the Light Infantry were deployed behind the hedge while the Chasseur á Cheval were hidden behind the hill, ready to be revealed when the Austrians approached (as part of the scenario rules, I was allowed to declare all out-of-sight units as hidden until I decided to reveal them, or they were sighted).

The Austrian forces for this game were split into two sections; the Advance Guard and the Main Body. The Advance Guard consisted of a unit of Hussars and Kurassiers on the left bank and a large infantry unit and unit of Dragoons on the right bank. A random dice roll at the beginning of the game turned out to mean that the Main Body of the Austrian force would begin entering the table on Turn Four, which happened to be just as the action began. As the forces were entering the board (a whole twelve units of them, giving the Austrians sixteen units in total - compared to my five...) the Hussars on the left bank approached the Light Infantry alongside the Kurassiers and the Chasseur á Cheval were revealed. The Light Infantry fired a volley at the Hussars and caused a couple of hits while the Chasseurs moved up on top of the hill to face off against the Kurassiers. On the right bank, the Austrian Dragoons and my Cuirassiers faced off against each other, with my artillery taking shots at the Austrians as they approached and causing a couple of hits (which would prove to be decisive in the following turn).

The following turn saw the proper action begin and charges were declared - the Dragoons and Cuirassiers met on the far right flank and the Kurassiers and Chasseur met just left of the river. Crucially, the Hussars were forgotten about and failed to make their planned charge. This left the Light Infantry free to fire at them once more, again causing hits and forcing the Hussars to retire in ignominy for their error.

Meanwhile, the two cavalry charges were to ultimately decide the fate of the game. On the right flank, my Cuirassiers ploughed through the Dragoons (thanks in no small part to the hits caused previously by my artillery). They were forced to pursue, which took them into the open ground between the battle lines and still in a position to charge the fleeing Dragoons in the following turn. On the left flank, however, things faired rather more poorly with the Chasseurs being soundly beaten and just escaping being run down by the victorious Kurassiers. While things were going well on my right flank, my left had pretty much collapsed with the Light Infantry left with four cavalry units bearing down on them (not to mention the three infantry units following behind...)

Fortunately, the Austrian cavalry had little interest in the Light Infantry - they were on a time limit, and had to reach the end of the board within a certain number of turns (a fact I was unaware of during the game). This meant my Light Infantry were largely free to reform and harass the flanks of the cavalry units as they passed by while they chased the Chasseurs off the board. Meanwhile on the right bank, my Cuirassiers again declared a charge into the Dragoons who, being as they were already fleeing, were forced to flee again. Unfortunately this left my Cuirassiers in a rather sticky situation - bang slap in front of an infantry line, with a second line to their flank and a formed square behind the first line. Visions of the Scots Greys at Waterloo flashed before my eyes as I foresaw the gory deaths of my elite cavalry at the ignoble hands of grubby Austrian muskets.

Lady Luck had other ideas though it seems. The combined volley from the two infantry lines proved shockingly ineffective (only a single hit) and the Cuirassiers hit home. As expected they ploughed straight through the vulnerable line, who fled, but were now faced with the steady square. Again they were forced to charge, and again they took only a single hit from the incoming fire. They hit home again, and yet another unit broke before them. So far so good, but the Cuirassiers were now about as far from my lines as they could get, with the remaining Austrian units between them and my infantry. Pursuing the fleeing infantry (as well as the Dragoons, who had not managed to rally) off the table gave them a turn's respite from incoming fire.

Meanwhile, back at the other end of the table, the Austrian infantry was finally approaching my lines. The artillery pounded the incoming column into submission and forced them to retire, but the pressure was mounting and the Austrian cavalry on the left bank had secured free passage across the bridge and behind my forces. Fearing that I'd be surrounded and cut off from my retreat, the line regiment reformed and fell back towards the bridge, leaving the artillery for one more turn of firing before they too limbered up and began the retreat.

The game ended with both sides meeting their victory conditions; I had inflicted heavy casualties on the Austrian forces (with five units broken, four of those by the Cuirassiers!) and had managed to retire in good order with the majority of my force wholly intact (including the vital artillery pieces). The Austrians had just managed to achieve their objective; as was revealed to me after the game, the Austrians had 18 turns to get at least two units off the board - they managed it in 17. One more turn of holding the Kurassiers on the left bank could have made all the difference, but it wasn't to be. Still, I was more than happy at the result - I had suffered next to no casualties, my cavalry had ploughed through four units in a row and I had retreated my forces in good order and intact. Roll on Game 3!

In other news...

I was at Vicarage Road today to watch the Rugby Premiership Play-off Semi-final between Gloucester (Yay!) and Saracens (Boo!) The first thing that struck me was how squat the pitch is; very short, and absolutely no width at all. No wonder Saracens have conceded the least number of tries all season! There's absolutely nowhere for teams to run, and Gloucester score a lot of their tries from the wings. Some frankly awful refereeing didn't help matters either - Gloucester were seemingly penalised for everything, while Saracens got off lightly. I don't like to complain about referees and I know every supporter always feels like their team is hard done-by, but I can honestly say that this was one of the worst refereeing displays I've seen all season. That said, we really didn't help ourselves, and it's been the bane of our season - unforced errors all over the shop, schoolboy errors most of them; knock-ons, dropped catches, silly offsides. Luckily, Owen Farrell didn't put his kicking boots on until late in the half, and with five missed penalties (two saved by the uprights), we were probably let off lightly to go in at halftime only 6-3 down. The second half was more of the same. Steve Borthwick was finally given a deserved yellow card (which should have come about half an hour earlier) and the pressure was enough to give us a try and the lead for the first time in the game. Again though, we let ourselves down and gave away another penalty in the final five minutes. Just when we really wanted Farrell to miss, he came good and slotted it home to steal a win, leaving a pretty bitter taste in the mouth. On the performance of the day, Saracens weren't the better team and if it weren't for the unforced errors that have plagued us all season, coupled with a few more refereeing decisions actually going the right way, it would have been a very different result. Still, we can always rely on Leicester to do the job. Normally it would gall me to say it, but - come on Tigers!

Until next time...

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