Sunday, February 25, 2018

Bonaparte by email, a first try

I wanted to turn Chris’ BBB Dego scenario into a point-to-point play-by-email (PBEM) game, acting as the umpire. I figured we would lose a lot of tactical finesse from the table top game but gain the fog of war endemic to operation level combat, and also try to simulate the road conditions that led Bonaparte to march in separate columns and combine for battle. Four of the Fencibles were willing to try my mad escapade. The scenario is fairly simple and limited to 8 turns. My previous experience with PBEM suggested it would be best to keep it simple.

Paul played the Sardinian commander, Colli, while Bill was the Austrian Beaulieu. Andrew played French division commander Augereau with Jay as Bonaparte. I was umpire and chief of staff to all players, answering questions about rules but none about enemy whereabouts. The map is below.

Units might march one area (BBB half move), two areas (BBB full move) or not at all. Each turn was presumed to have three combat phases, morning, afternoon and evening. The movement table would specify what time of day troops started marching. Road congestion dictated that only two units could move down the same road in the same phase, with no more than 4 per turn over any one road.

Austrians and Sardinians will be in italics from here on.

On the first turn, Bill ordered Pittoni and Vukassovitch to concentrate in the face of the enemy at Voltri while his brigades at Sassello and Mioglia reinforced Dego. They marched slowly, each advancing one area. The move against Voltri wasn’t quite simultaneous, Pittoni and Beaulieu arriving in the afternoon, followed by Vukassovitch in the evening. Paul ordered his brigade (and Colli) at Millesimo to advance to Carcare.

Augereau intended to lead his two brigades into Carcare the same turn but the march was hot and the troops stopped at Montefreddo.
Bonaparte ordered one of Massena’s brigades to Arezzano but again the march was hot and they stopped at Varezzo. Bonaparte himself, with Massena, two brigades and the artillery, set out for Montenotte but again stopped at Cadibona after a hot march.

There was a battle at Voltri.
Austrian Brigade Pittoni attacked Brigade Cervoni in the afternoon. Austrian die: 5, French die: 5, 0 attack. Modifiers: -1 for Voltri, final score -1. Both disrupted. Austrians forced back unless reserves are committed next assault phase (evening).
Vukassovitch arrived in the evening and was committed, keeping Pittoni in the fight. Austrian die: 4, French die: 3, +1 attack. Modifiers: Voltri -1, Austrians have 2-1 odds +2, both sides have disrupted units, final score +2. All disrupted, Cervoni and division CO Laharpe fell back overnight to Arezzano.

Souts noted the presence of enemy for each side at Montefreddo-Carcare and Montenotte-Dego. Below is the umpire map for turn 1.
Red symbols are allied units, blue are French. Squares are infantry, circles are artillery and triangles are commanders.
Contrast this with the Austrian situation map for turn 1.
On turn 2 Colli’s chief of staff noted that Millesimo was a better defensive position than Carcare, which generated this hilarious rejoinder:

“Defense? What is that? Defense does not win wars, my friend. Fortune favors the brave!

We will attack! Troops in Carcare, following up on scout reports, to Montefreddo, to deal the French a devastating blow.”

And so his troops made ready to march to Montefreddo, while the umpire chuckled.

Augereau ordered his troops to advance to Carcare. They marched in the morning, arriving in the afternoon.

The battle of Carcare:

The Sardinians had a fine lunch and made ready to march in the afternoon, when the scouts came rushing back shouting that the French were coming down the road from Montefreddo. It seems they had forgone lunch! The French formed two brigades up and attacked.

French roll 4, Sardinians roll 3, +1 attack. Modifiers: +2 outnumber enemy 2-1, total +3.
Defender forced back, both sides disrupted. The Sardinians retreated to Millesimo during the evening. A French prisoner taken early in the fight revealed they were facing General Augereau and his two brigades. There was no pursuit.

Bonaparte ordered the brigade at Montenotte to advance to Dego, while the main body would march to Montenotte and then Dego. His chief of staff warned that things might not show up simultaneously. The chief of staff was overruled.

Bonaparte also ordered the brigade at Verzze to reinforce the one at Arezzano.

Beaulieu ordered the two brigades at Voltri to advance and attack Arezzano, while the CO himself rode to Sasslleo, to see what was going on to the west.

He ordered the two brigades at Dego to attack Montenotte, and the brigade at Mioglia to move to Dego.

The brigades at Voltri rallied from their fight the turn before but that was all. They did not march.   

The brigade at Mioglia moved off in the afternoon, reaching Dego in the evening. The planned offensive from Dego fizzled as the local commander decided things weren’t ready yet.

And now Bonaparte’s risky plan was undone even further by a design flaw in the movement table. It had seemed a good idea to have some rolls specify that 1 unit set out, followed by the rest in succeeding phases. It was a bad idea. The brigade at Montenotte set out before dawn, arriving in the morning. Bonaparte’s main body set out before dawn, again with one brigade in the lead, followed by the remaining brigade and the artillery.

If the planned Austrian offensive had gotten under way, the lead brigade would have fallen back to Montenotte and the battle would have taken place there. Instead, one French brigade attacked in the morning, another arrived in the afternoon and the last with the artillery in the evening, fed into the gathering white-coated forces at Dego, behind works. In case this wasn’t enough, they had execrable dice while the Austrians had pretty good combat dice.

The battle of Dego:

Brigade Meynier arrives in the morning, having marched before dawn. and tries to surprise the Austrians but the scouts sound the alarm (roll 2, need 6 for surprise).

Morning assault phase:
The Austrian gunners (4.5 firepower) roll 8 and disrupt Meynier, but do not stop the veterans from closing. French roll 1 (something has gone wrong!) while the Austrians roll 5 for a -4 attack. Modifiers: -2 Dego & works, -1 outnumbered 3-2, -1 disrupted, total -4. Added to the -4 gives a final total of -8. Menard’s brigade is whipped, loses two bases, is disrupted and runs back down the road to Montenotte. The Austrians cheer as the morning turns into afternoon and then Brigade Joubert arrives and attacks.

Afternoon assault phase:
The Austrian gunners score 6 and disrupt Joubert but do not halt the veterans. The French score 2 (ouch), the Austrians 5, a -3 attack. Modifiers are -2 Dego & works, -1 outnumbered 3-2, -1 disrupted, total -4. Final total is -7, Meynier’s brigade is whipped, loses two bases, is disrupted and runs back towards Montenotte. Again the Austrians are not even disrupted.

Evening assault phase:
Wild cheering ceases when Brigade Menard and artillery arrive in the evening. Nicoletti’s brigade arrives from Mioglia and is placed into the front line. The Austrian artillery scores 7, disrupting the French brigade but not stopping it. The French artillery fires 1.5 firepower at the Austrian artillery and scores 6, missing. The evening fight sees the French score 4 to the Austrian 4, a 0 attack. Modifiers: -2 Dego & works, -2 outnumbered 2-1, -1 disrupted, total -5. Final score -5.

Joubert’s brigade was defeated, losing a base and having to retreat. All units on both sides were disrupted. The French fell back to Montenotte, having lost 5 bases of infantry. Prisoners revealed that Massena was present.

Umpire’s map end of turn 2:

I had planned on having the grapevine spread tales of the Austrian victory at Voltri, which Augereau and Colli were ignorant of.

The combination of a bad idea in the movement table, a moderately risky French move, and a bizarre combination of poor Austrian movement dice with hot combat and lousy French combat dice eviscerated Massena’s division, the largest of three, on the second turn of an eight turn game. I suggested the French CO call the game and he agreed. I’m currently reworking the rules, aided by Jay’s proof-reading and editing. I also am going to take a good long look at the map and see if it could use changes. If nothing else, I can make the boxes for the areas larger to make more room for unit symbols and such. I hope to try this again in late March.

Update: we played this again in April and played a complete game. The report is here

Friday, February 23, 2018

Young Bonaparte III: Lodi

Thursday evening the Fencibles played the third in a series of scenarios of Bonaparte’s 1796 campaign in Italy, by Bloody Big Battles designer Chris Pringle. The first two can be seen here.
It looked like the Austrian was in for a hard time but we figured on playing the game twice and switching sides. Bill volunteered for the first ordeal. I played Bonaparte and Ken was Serurier. Austrian morale is pretty shaky after earlier defeats. Worse, the troops are starting to have valid doubts about the competence of their CO, Beaulieu. All the infantry are fragile, which combined with the passive status and lack of officers makes them a hard army to play. They don’t move well and they don’t fight that well. They also have to worry about the French cutting them off from their supply lines to the east. Austrians are in italics in all the photos. The starting deployment is below.
Serurier crossed first and got a face-full of claws for his pains.

Then Bonaparte crossed the Po, east of Stradella.

Since the Austrians did not directly block the crossing, French units crossed at the rate of 3 per turn. The cavalry waited until all the infantry were across.

Now the Austrians started to fall apart.

The Austrians picked up 3 victory points, 1 each for holding the Terdoppio stream line on turn 4, the Ticino river turn on turn 5 and Milan on turn 6. But they lost 5 points for units destroyed during the game and another 3 for Liptay’s units cut off at game end, for a grand total of minus 5.

French losses were 7 infantry bases, 2 run off, Serurier wounded. Massena was also hit near the end of the game, out of action for a month. Austrian losses were 12 bases of infantry with 8 run off, another 12 or captured at game end, 1 cavalry and 1 run off. Bill noted proudly he had no officer casualties, since he had no officers. We had taken 2 hours, 27 minutes to play 8 turns. There had been a wild fur-ball of assaults near the Stradella crossing. They game was fun, though the end was hard on Bill. I think he enjoyed roughing up Serurier at the start.

Andrew arrived and we broke for dinner, enjoying the fine bottle of wine he’d brought, along with Ken’s bread and Bill’s dessert.

We set up again, with Bill as Bonaparte, Andrew as Serurier and me as the hapless Beaulieu. Ken watched for a while and then left to get home early.

And then I corked the bottle.

Serurier finally got a bloody nose.

Finally things broke for the French at the Stradella crossing, but way too late.

I picked up 2 victory points, 1 for holding Milan on turn 6 and another for holding the Adda river line at game end. 5 of my units were destroyed during the game, 3 in the astounding rout of my right flank early in the game and 2 near the end of the game at the Stradella crossing. This gave a total score of minus 3, a thumping French victory. Half of my army was hors de combat.

French losses were 7 infantry, with 1 run off. Austrian losses were 15 infantry, 2 run off, 1 cavalry and 1 run off. We played 8 turns in an hour, 40 minutes. I think it went faster because fewer French got over the river and thus there were fewer assaults to calculate.

We all enjoyed the game though I think Bill was frustrated by his rough time getting across the Po. We had scores of -5 and -3. I think perhaps the Austrians should count a positive score as a victory, or else give them 2 points for each time dependent objective. Scored that way, both games would still have been French wins but closer.

After the game it struck me perhaps we should not use the magnetic sabots when playing this scenario because it makes the footprints of the units deeper, and much of the game is about shoving units across the Po River in tight circumstances. Also, while editing photos I realized I had forgotten to put houses on the villages and towns. Oh well, next time...

But this was a gas and once the report is done I need to pack away the troops, roll up the mat and get working on the next 1796 scenario. Cheers. Oh yes, a posthumous medal and promotion to whoever commanded the Austrian cavalry in the second game. I need to paint a medal on the officer, put a battle honor under the base.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Young Bonaparte II: Mondovi 1796

We played a draft scenario of the 1796 campaign of Mondovi. This is the second scenario of a group designed to accompany the new English translation of Clausewitz’s history on Bonaparte’s 1796 campaigns in Italy. The game features an unusual scale, both in time and space. Each turn is approximately a day. We enjoyed the previous scenario, Dego.
Warning for button counters: most of the French are wearing the correct uniforms but we had to add in some infantry and artillery from 1813 or so. We don’t have any Sardinians for this period so our Seven Years War Prussians are standing in.
Further disclosures: I neglected to place any model houses on the villages (the orange circles on the map). Mea culpa. The map also has two different colors of paper. I ran out of the darker green, started the map anyway and found the new roll of paper was distinctly more yellow. Rest assured that the color you buy will look different than it does on your monitor. Perhaps the yellow part of the map shows a different time zone in Italy.

The yellow discs in the photos show disrupted units, the red are half-strength artillery (how they start the game in this scenario) and .22 cartridges denote units low on ammo. Sardinian units and the leader Colli are printed in italics in the photos.

The first game saw me, Bill and Ken play as Bonaparte/Augereau, Massena and Serurier. Jay and Rick played the Sardinians. I opted to deploy Augereau’s leading units against Ceva, tasking Massena with reducing the Pedagiera redoubt.

Hot dice saw us carry Ceva on the second turn.

We were on a roll! And then we hit a wall.

Around this time the French attack overran Colli’s headquarters. He wasn’t seen for the rest of the battle.

The game ended in a tie, though I thought it a Sardinian victory until checking the victory conditions with the designer. It took us just under two and a half hours to play 8 turns, about 18 minutes per turn. French losses were 5 infantry stands lost and 1 run away. The Sardinians lost 16 stands of infantry with 3 run away. Colli was hit; our house rules determined that he was wounded and out of action for a week.  San Michele, one tough position (-4 terrain factors against assault) never fell and both Mondovi and Carru were never in the slightest danger.

We broke for dinner and conversation over some excellent wine. This would have some effect on our next game. We switched sides, with me and Bill playing the Sardinians while Jay, Andrew and Rick played Bonaparte/Serurier, Massena and Augereau respectively. Ken watched for a bit and then left early, as is his habit.

Augereau was sent against Pedagiera, scoring an early success.

We were not to get any points on turn 3. Something was wrong with our bloody dice today.

The French forgot to bring on Augereau’s last two demi-brigades on the fourth turn. The wine struck again. But it was good.

A French attack seen off with losses.

Jay decided against making an attack on the last turn since he didn’t see how it would gain a victory.
We played 8 turns in an hour and 48 minutes, a little over 13 minutes per turn. But we didn’t have as many epic assaults this time. French losses were 3 stands of infantry with 1 run off and the Sardinians lost 11 stands of infantry with 4 run off. Colli was hit again, out of action for 2 weeks this time. That fellow doesn’t seem to know how to duck.

Again, all enjoyed the game and we managed to play it twice in an evening. Both sides forgot to use the scenario rule giving the Sardinians +1 on movement when falling back. Both games saw the Sardinian army torn apart. And both games saw the French unable to capture San Michele (as noted previously, a strong position), not to mention getting anywhere near Mondovi. Since the real French cavalry commander Stengel was killed fighting on the objective just outside Mondovi, I think the scenario needs some more work. But it is still fun and we look forward to the Lodi scenario in two weeks’ time. I have to get started on the mat…

And here it is.