Monday, April 30, 2018

Cinco de Mayo: Puebla, 1862 via BBB

We tested my scenario of the 1862 Battle of Puebla last Thursday. The game was last played in 2016, with the game favoring the Mexicans too heavily. The report was delayed by the passing of a dear friend. Here’s the report, a tad late. Be warned, the Mexicans look like Confederates with Yankee artillery and 1866 Austrians as Zapadores. The French are in 1870 uniforms. If that offends your sensibilities, avoid this article. Oh yes, the French sailors are based on snow stands for the winter of 1870-71.

The rules were Bloody Big Battles, as usual. Jay and Bill played the French, further aided by Andrew after dinner. Rick played the Mexican commander Zaragoza and I his subordinate Porfirio Diaz. My scenario is largely based on this article by Arofan Gregory . Mexicans deployed first, French moved first. French units and leader are in italics from here on and in pictures.

French artillery bombarded Fort Guadalupe, knocking out Mexican guns and gunners.

The first serious rush stormed into Fort Guadalupe, the Mexicans managing to withdraw their remaining guns.

Andrew arrived and we broke for dinner. We had played 5 turns, 3 to go. A bit over an hour later we returned to the fray. Dice placed Andrew in the French ranks, commanding the infantry that had seized Fort Guadalupe. Pressure built up against Diaz on the Mexican right.

The French infantry in Fort Guadalupe made a series of attacks, each repulsed. This gave the Mexicans a better chance of retaking the fort. Perhaps the potent beer we had with dinner had some part in this. The Mexican counter-attacks failed to get back into the fort.

A spirited charge by the 1st Chasseurs threw my Mexican Rifles out of the La Ladrillera brickworks. After this my position deteriorated rapidly and Mexican losses mounted.
Each attack out of the fort was followed by an attack trying to get back in, all failing.
Diaz had his horse shot. Overrun, he was taken prisoner, later exchanged for Lorencz. Would he later become dictator of Mexico after being thrashed at this battle?

Another fierce French attack smashed through Mexican lines.

The Colonial Marines in Fort Guadalupe made yet another attack and were thrown back into the fort disrupted. The Mexican infantry rallied and came on supported (or was that prodded?) by cavalry and stormed back into the fort.
BBB rules say that objectives must be taken by infantry or cavalry. Hence, the presence of French artillery in Fort Guadalupe (after being hauled up the hill and into the fort) did not prevent the Mexicans from claiming the fort. Had they not been masked by their own infantry, the Mexicans might well have been blown away before getting into the fort. The scenario says victory depends on how many objectives the French take. This was a Mexican victory. But when we totaled up the losses, half of the Mexican infantry were hors de combat and French losses much lower. Since this is my scenario and a work in progress, it seemed that such heavy losses would break Mexican morale. I declared the game a French victory. We played 8 turns in slightly under 3 hours, 30 minutes, abut 25 minutes per turn.

The scenario needs serious work. Last time it favored the Mexicans too heavily, this time the French had it all their way, and not a result explained by the dice. Both sides had good and bad runs of luck. Most telling, the French stormed Fort Guadalupe with two battalions after pounding the fort with artillery fire. In the actual battle, the French never got into either fort. That was where their main effort was made. The artillery was deadly. 6 of the 18 French guns were heavy 12 lb guns, the rest 4 lb. 6 of those were mountain howitzers, not noted for power. Perhaps the artillery needs to be taken down a peg. The French also suffered from a shortage of artillery ammunition in the battle. Perhaps there is a simple way to represent this.

Treating most of the French as aggressive, while almost all of the Mexicans are fragile may be too much. Both added up yields a +2 assault modifier, a serious advantage. Of course, this may swing the balance back too far in favor of the Mexicans.

We all had fun with the game and the scenario looks good on the table. I’ll have plenty of time to think about this since the Fencibles are standing down until late June.

In Memoriam
Kurt Hoss
1951 - 2018

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Dego 1796, a play by email (PBEM) campaign (take 2).

This PBEM campaign is based on Chris Pringle’s campaign scenario for the week in 1796 that saw the 26-year-old General Bonaparte make his debut as army commander in Italy vs. two Allied armies; the Austrians led by the aged, over the hill Walloon General Beaulieu, and the Sardinian army commanded by the solid General Colli, an Italian officer on loan from the Austrian army. I think it best played by four people. The first test was aborted after two turns because my rules design had a serious flaw. That game had four people. By the time the game was ready for prime time again, (thanks to assistance from Jay), real life intervened and the game became a two player game. Jay commanded the Allies while Andrew took on the role of the young Corsican, appropriate since he is the newest Fencible and the youngest by decades.

The game is based on Bloody Big Battles played on a point-to-point map, like the ones used in the board games “A House Divided” and “Soldier Kings”. The rules have been modified to reflect this. The main attraction of a PBEM game is that players don’t know where the enemy units are. The downside is they have to accept the lousy dice I roll. The game lasts 8 turns, reflecting 7 days and possible intense activity on one of those days. Below is a map of the starting locations of both sides. French troops are arriving at road D. Austrian troops are arriving from roads B and C. The French have been told scouts see enemy on those roads but not how many. The only way to know for sure is to be in the same area, and that means a battle. Allied units and generals will be in italics in this report.

The French ordered the troops at Savona to march to Cadibona, those at Voltri to move to Arezzano and the ones arriving on road D to move to Montefreddo. The Austrians arriving from the bottom edge of the map were tasked with storming Voltri. Both players forgot that units sometimes can march two areas, depending on movement rolls. The French are more likely to succeed.  As you will see, sometimes they don’t move at all.
Below is the umpire map of the end of turn 1, followed by the maps that each side was given. After this example only the umpire maps will be shown. You can see how little each side knew of where the enemy was.

                                                                         French map
                                                                         Allied map

The Austrians were surprised to find Voltri free of French troops. A reminder to both sides from the umpire about being able to move two areas sparked a number of march orders taking advantage of this. In an unusual turn of events, all of them rolled high enough to move quickly. The weather must have been dry and the Italian roads firm that day. Bonaparte and Massena reversed course and marched to Varezze, lead elements arriving at nightfall. The rest of the column arrived during the night. At the same time, Beaulieu and two brigades force-marched from Voltri and arrived at nightfall, both sides observing campfires across the way. Laharpe and his brigade marched to Stella. Augereau and his two brigades march to Cadibona. The brigade at Montenotte tried to march to Savona but found the roads choked with traffic. The movement rules for this game specify no more than 4 units per road per turn, and even then two per phase. March phases are morning, afternoon and evening while a night turn can be used to retreat from contact. Both sides were asked if they wished to withdraw during the night from Voltri, with a link to “Should I stay or Should I go” by the Clash in their emails. The French, eager for blood, stayed. Beaulieu agonized for a while and then sent an email ordering a withdrawal, with a link to “My Little Runaway”. The map below shows the situation before that retreat.
Beaulieu ordered a retreat on Voltri, but troops were tired from the night retreat (lousy movement dice) and could not be gotten into ranks until roused by musket fire; the French were attacking. They had risen before dawn (high movement dice, aided by the presence of Massena and Bonaparte) and tried to surprise the Austrians. Alert pickets gave warning as the long roll sounded. Pittoni on the left drove back a French brigade after a nasty close-range fight (a tie, one hit for each side and immediate re-roll) while Vukassovitch on the right was driven out of the line by a spirited French attack. in the afternoon phase another French brigade and artillery appeared on the road behind the French. Beaulieu called for a retreat and the whitecoats hit the road for Voltri. The newly arriving French brigade pursued and scored a hit on Vukassovitch.

Laharpe in Arezze sat and waited for the roads east to clear. Young Bonaparte was learning that Italy did not abound in multi-lane highways. Augereau and the orphan brigade from Laharpe’s division sat tight around Cadibona and rested (low movement dice). The Austrians in Dego were ordered to advance to Montenotte since scouts noted the absence of French troops. Poor staff work (low movement dice) kept them rooted to the spot.
To my surprise, Beaulieu let his troops rest in Voltri. They were left alone because the French apparently got out of hand and looted Arezzano (crappy dice). The Austrians in Dego now advanced to Montenotte where their scouts reported French in Cadibona and Altare, putting fear into the Austrian commander. Augereau marched with his two brigades. The orphan brigade decided to rest some more (Augereau’s movement bonus did not apply to them).
Bonaparte again ordered an attack on Voltri, but his subordinates spent the day getting their troops back into the ranks. He wasn’t pleased.  Augereau stormed Millesimo, leading from the front. Colli and his Sardinians made a creditable fighting retreat. Laharpe’s orphaned brigade marched up after the battle was over. Austrians in Montenotte had been ordered to return to Dego but confusion over the date on the orders led to them staying put. Reinforcements arriving from off-map garrisoned Acqui, the Austrian supply base.
Colli’s troops were unwilling to march further. Augereau had marched before dawn and now led a surprise attack, catching the pickets off-guard. Colli rode among his troops and put up a stern fight (a tie). A renewed assault saw Augereau have a close call. Colli then managed to retreat back to Ceva without further serious losses. Augereau organized his troops for the attack on Ceva. Bonaparte and Massena marched in the morning and struck Beaulieu in the afternoon. Vukassovitch was worn down in a tough fight and then wiped out, the French brigade exploiting against the other Austrian brigade. Pittoni was driven back with losses. As they retreated during the evening, a fresh French unit pursued; causing more heavy loss, wrecking Pittoni. Austrian infantry in Montenotte fell back to Dego. More reinforcements arriving from off-map garrisoned Acqui.
Beaulieu told Pittoni to run for Melazzo and then did so himself, not waiting to see how the orders were followed. Bonaparte, Laharpe and a single brigade caught and destroyed Pittoni. Massena was told to force-march on Sassello and storm it. But the poor mountain roads kept him from going further than Fajallo. Beaulieu suspected the French center was bare. The two brigades in Dego made a forced-march to Altare, finding no French at all, not even scouts. Augereau and two brigades reached Ceva in the evening and attacked. Both were driven back but the arrival of Laharpe’s other brigade at night stabilized the situation. Augereau again had a close call with enemy bullets. Both sides stayed through the night and awaited the next day.
On the final turn, the Austrians in Altare had the chance to clinch the game. Liptay was ordered to march on Millesimo, which he did without opposition. Rukavina was ordered to force-march to Savona, the French supply base. But he took the wrong road, got lost and ended up where he started. The French could tie the game if Massena took Sassello, and win if Augereau could storm Ceva.

Massena marched before dawn and tried to surprise the Austrians, but Nicoletti’s pickets were alert and gave proper warning. The first attack was driven back. In the afternoon the third brigade arrived with artillery support. The guns bombarded Nicoletti without much effect. Then all three brigades went forward and were driven back. Massena fell back to Fajallo. Well might he curse his luck, being driven off by a much smaller force. There was no chance for a tie. It all came down to the battle of Ceva, where French faced a slightly smaller Sardinian force that was dug in.

Both sides spent the morning reorganizing after the fighting of the previous day. Augereau again led his right flank brigade (Victor) forward against the entrenched Sardinians led by Colli, both generals cheering on their troops. A bloody close range fight (another tie) saw the renewed French assault driven back. The French charge in the center, against Provera’s reduced brigade was also driven off. On the French left, Menard’s brigade drove Vitale’s brigade back. The afternoon phase revealed that both sides had no reserves. The troops on both sides who had been repulsed would not take part. Menard now attacked the two Sardinian brigades that remained in the line. Both were reduced in strength and together just matched Menard’s strength. They were entrenched and Colli’s inspired leadership just managed to see the attack off. The French fell back to Montezemolo and found out Austrians were behind them at Millesimo.  

The French had Savona and Voltri and had caused at least 2-1 losses on the Allies. Losses were 10 – 4, close to the actual casualties in this campaign. That gave the French 3 points. They needed 4 for a draw (including holding Savona) and 5 for a win, or hold either Ceva or Acqui. They should have won the battle of Sassello. But then the Austrians might have marched into the unguarded depot at Savona.

7 battles were fought, Ceva being a 2 day battle  

Turn 3 Arezzano, French victory
Turn 5 Millesimo, French victory
Turn 6 Voltri, French victory
            Montezemolo, French victory
Turn 7 Masone, French victory
            Ceva 1st day, Sardinian victory
Turn 8 Sassello, Austrian victory
           Ceva 2nd day, Sardinian victory

Jay and Andrew both said they enjoyed the game. I might run it again in a few months.

It took about 10 days to play this game. It would probably take longer with 4 players since real life is always delaying some player’s orders. More players would mean more delay, but then Bonaparte having to coordinate with another French player or Colli not knowing what Beaulieu was up to would add even more fog of war to the game. And that’s the whole point.

I had to manage a couple situations that hadn’t been foreseen, like forces that wished to move and contained units in good order and disrupted units. Disrupted units on the battlefield milling around and not moving make sense. But in a campaign game where a turn equals a day or more, disrupted units staying put when they should have run didn’t seem quite right. I’m considering having disrupted units that are adjacent to enemy held areas retreat towards their supply lines if they don’t rally. I’m not worried about disrupted units running from smaller enemy forces. That is often what successful pursuit was about. But I have to think about unintended consequences of such a change. Perhaps a force that is entirely disrupted would have to run. If they had one unit in good order they could hold their ground if they so chose. 

Also, a group of units in the same area and moving in the same direction get one movement roll. Perhaps disrupted units should roll movement individually. Several times forces that had been defeated retreated to the next area and then refused to move, even though the force that had defeated them was in close proximity. I think the tendency of defeated troops would be to keep running. I have to give this some thought.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Young Bonaparte in Italy VI: Bassano

Last evening we played the sixth scenario in Chris Pringle’s series of scenario about the young General Bonaparte’s campaigns in Italy, 1796 using his Bloody Big Battles rules modified for campaigns where a turn equals a day. In this case, a turn equals two days. The Austrians are trying to raise the siege of Mantua, at the bottom of the map. The French are seeking to cripple Austrian morale by capturing the Adige River valley villages and possibly exploit down the Brent River valley to take Bassano, while seeking to keep the Austrians out of Peschiera and/or Castiglione (guard their own supply line). Both sides also seek to knock out more enemy units than they lose. It looked like a hard job for the Austrians. Looks weren’t deceiving.
We began on my mat, a 4 X 5 foot version of the map above. Rick has the unenviable task of holding off my French attack up the Adige valley. He had 3 brigades to start, with two more peeled off the rear of Wurmser’s column. Coming at him were 7 brigades under Bonaparte, most of them in action from the start while his were fed into the action a couple at a time.

Ken was tasked with delaying Wurmser’s column, which sought to relive Mantua.
Ken had only an infantry brigade and Kilmaine’s cavalry brigade, while Wurnser had two infantry brigades and a cavalry brigade.

At the end of the game, 3 Austrian units had been knocked out in combat while the French lost one unit. This gave the French the only victory point scored and the win. That said, Ken had cut the Austrian supply lines from the east edge of the table so in theory all Austrian units save the garrison of Mantua and a brigade that had escaped off the north side to the Tyrol were gone. In any case, it was still French 1, Austrians zip. It took us 2 hours to play 7 turns. French losses were 6 infantry, 1 cavalry and Kilmaine was wounded and out for 4 days (2 turns).

My attack up the Adige River valley saw a large number of tied assaults, which means each side loses a base and the attack is immediately done again. In one case, there were two ties in a row, the combat needing three rolls before being resolved. I didn’t like it at the time, hoping for an elegant win. But heavy losses favor the French because their veteran troops stand it better than the trained Austrians. The heavy losses led to the collapse of units in the Austrian valley force, which gave us the game. The sparse numbers of Wurmser’s column allowed the small French force in the east to cut the supply lines, so that also gave us victory, the same 1 point. Having seen the labors required of the Austrians, I wasn’t looking forward to switching side after dinner.

Dinner was lengthy and entertaining, as usual. Linda’s fig cake was a big hit.

Then we set to the rematch. Ken left early and Andrew, arriving late, sat in for him.
I led the defense force in the Adige valley, facing Rick. Turn about is fair play. Andrew had Wurmser, keeping all 5 brigades with the injunction to kick Jay’s ass. Short story; Rick did not get a load of ties against my forces and they didn’t collapse. They were driven back across the mountainous terrain and were handled roughly a couple times. Andrew got into a brawl with Augereau’s forces (two infantry brigades, one cavalry). His larger force was able to protect our supply lines to the east but got no further south than Vicenza, and that only after hard fighting.

Trient finally went under and Rick got the die roll that had evaded me in the earlier game.

The French scored the only victory point in the game by collapsing the Austrian theater morale, winning the game. Seven turns took 90 minutes. French losses were 3 infantry bases, 2 cavalry and 1 run off, and Kilmaine was wounded badly, out of action for 6 months. Austrian losses were 4 infantry bases and 1 cavalry.

All noted this as a rough game for the Austrians. They don’t have that many troops if you don’t count the diseased garrison of Mantua and the Adige valley can be flooded with French troops at the start of the game. Jay noted that the severe defeat the Austrians took in the first game counted exactly the same in game terms as the somewhat gentler defeat in the second game. In any case, relieving Mantua seems near impossible and cutting the French supplies only a dim dream should the French be so kind as to let the Austrians through their lines. It seems the most unbalanced of the scenarios so far. That said, playing twice in an evening and switching sides was entertaining. As in all the scenarios, it made what went on a lot clearer than the accounts I have read in several books. The beer with dinner didn’t hurt.

We are not going to revisit Bonaparte in Italy for a few months, Next session will see us play the 1862 battle of Puebla (the Cinco de Mayo). After that, extensive traveling will keep me away from the game table until some time late in June.

Our Puebla game will be the standard BBB rules, with the whole game representing the one day of battle, with firing phases, various formations, etc. Our 1870 French will stand in for the 1862 chaps while a mix of Union, Confederate and possibly 1866 Austrians will stand in for Mexican troops. Stay tuned.