EXCERPT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Battle of Grand Pre (final)

Since virtually all of the rebel side were my old troops, the Spanish being the only exception,  I took command of the Rebel army. Taking command 1/2 way through a battle is an awkward thing at the best of times and while I carefully listened to the reports of the morning's fight and of the enemy's likely positions and forces, the game was under way before I had a solid plan. When taking over a retreating army on the edge of the table with the enemy following,retreating a little farther seemed to make sense and so I did while pondering the geography and strategic aims as well as the possible rules which I was only noddingly familiar with. My commanders all served me well though as did the column bonus which  pretty much guarantees at least 1 move per turn if you're careful and are lucky enough to not have a Brigadier blunder. It took a while to get accustomed to visually gauging cm instead of inches. Neither a 12cm command radius nor a 6cm brigade integrity rule give much leeway.

On the southern flank, the Hessians advanced slowly up to the wood and Von Barner's light infantry began to trade fire with my riflemen.
The Brunswickers, in close order in the open, were swiftly getting the worst of the firefight so fixed bayonet and charged. The rifles evaded back into the woods and then came back to resume sniping. Jerry deployed Barner's as skirmishers along the edge of the woods and the firefight resumed until eventually with 2 hits, Jerry pulled them back to a safe place where they became stranded out of command and unable to screen my riflemen.

While this was going on, the Grenadiers reformed into columns and began to move past the wood with the dragoons on their flank. Suddenly a problem became apparent, the CV 7 Brigadier had trouble issuing 1 order let alone 2 or 3 and the Germans were too spread out to be controlled as a brigade. Jerry either had to keep trying to push ahead as best he could, choosing 1 unit each turn as the most important to move and occasionally getting lucky and moving several, or else stop for a turn or two to purposefully reform his brigade to make it easier to control. Having riflemen sniping from the flank, occasionally causing disorder or getting close enough to cause a -1 orders penalty did not help. The German dragoons (being subject to the 'marauder' rule that allows them to operate at any distnace from their Brigadier) advancing slowly up to the top of the hill but there they sat in column and waited for the infantry to catch up. It all seemed pretty minor at the time but in retrospect, those persistent riflemen may have been instrumental in preventing the grenadiers from advancing and cracking my center.

In the north, the French were prompt and appeared on Turn 2, the  earliest possible time,
(Lauzon's Legion marching on)
The remainder of the Hessians arrived from the south but the British were obviously bogged down and disorganized after having stormed the bridges as it was several turns before they finally showed up. By now, with a large Hessian force moving up from the south, the French on hand and no British in sight, I was starting to formulate a plan and started moving troops to hold an 'L' shaped defensive line up the road and then refused back across a line of hills with the cavalry on my right. Delegating   some units of the left and center brigades to act as a rearguard, I started moving the rest in column to my new position and soon found myself in the same position as Jerry, unable to move scattered forces efficiently. In my case, my personal figure was soon at hand to control the troops forming the new refused flank but before I could pull in my rearguard, the British appeared and I had no choice but to turn and fight.
.(British Grenadiers and Light Infantry, supported by artillery attack the rearguard of the center brigade)

(Jerry contemplates the march of the Hessians while my cavalry heads for the hills.)
At last the remaining British forces marched on. I smugly pointed my cannon at his march columns only to find that my artillery was only allowed to fire at very conservative ranges. Forty eight inches may seem like a substantial shot but 48 cm doesn't get you far! No problem I thought, he'll be here soon, but as I waited and waited, there were more command control problems, a CV 7 general who couldn't roll low to save his life, and a command that was soon scattered as the light infantry deployed on one flank. Eventually, I began to drag my cannon forward and opened a desultory fire.

 Fighting was now general all along the line with the British Light Infantry charging into a woods full of militia who held turn after turn, giving as good as they got (thanks to the cover of the woods and some hot dice).
 (The red disc indicates disorder, the little green die tracks hits)
Eventually the militia would break and run but the victorious light infantry were shaken and not fit to press the attack. By then, the rest of the brigade had turned and taking advantage of an serendipitous  rear slope position, launched a counter attack on the rest of the British central brigade. One battalion was halted by fierce canister fire and eventually thrown back shaken to rally in dead ground but the other battalion supported by artillery surprised the grenadiers with a  tremendous first fire. The grenadiers would make a fight of it but the end was almost inevitable, eventually they broke and ran and the remains of the center column was forced to beat a hasty retreat.
  When I say the grenadiers were 'shaken' I mean it! By now, the light was failing.
To the south, the Hessian line brigade was pressing forward through a narrow defile defended by 1 battalion, a fierce fire fight resulted in the Americans falling back only to be replaced by a fresh unit which broke the leading Hessian regiment and then braced to receive the rest. On the heights, my cavalry had eventually made their way onto the high ground, just failing to catch the Hessian cavalry still in march column. My 1st squadron of Lauzon Legion Hussars charged supported by the second squadron and the American dragoons. A handful of 1's and 2's rolled out to my great alarm, made worse by the handful of disordering 6's leading the enemy's roll. Luckily I saved enough hits that the supports brought it to a tie. In the second round the luck changed and the Dragoons, narrowly defeated, rolled a 3 for morale and broke. My battered squadron fell back while the fresh ones  maneuvered around the flank of the Hessian Grenadiers.
Finally, in the south, I became impatient and launched the 3rd NY and the Green Mountain Boys in a counter attack.
(The counter attack begins. The British have a unit in column on the road, another behind them also in column, light infantry in skirmish order to the flank and artillery behind.)
(The British barely had time to form line before being crushed by the rebel fire and broken.) 
Pressing forward, with the rest of the brigade moving up in support, my infantry turned on the Loyalist light infantry and routed them.  With both British brigades broken and both of his remaining Hessian brigades in sticky situations, Jerry decided it was time to call off the attack and fall back to the river.


So that was our first 20mm cm option AWI game. How did it go? Well, despite a cheering win, I thought it was great!  The scale of the action and units on that size table meant that there were no flanks secured on table edges, many of the smaller AWI battles in the northern campaigns involved small forces and large distances and this captured that feel. Not only that, but we were able to handle 4 brigades per side, totaling a score of units each, playing a set of rules we were novices at, in a complicated situation, and play the game to a conclusion in a long afternoon with breaks, probably 5 hours of actual play time including looking up rules, maybe less, and I'm not sure how many turns, my guess would be 10. With 2 or 3 experienced players a side, we could easily have knocked it off in 3 hours.

After my first small tests, I was concerned that the order mechanism would control the game but here, with multiple commanders and a better feel for the use of columns, brigade orders and initiative, I felt that despite occasional failures, over all, it was my decisions that mattered, not the die rolls and my battle plan unfolded as I envisaged it, the command occasionally slowing things rather than stopping them. The major impediment came from the enemy, not the rules.

There are still some process quirks that irritate me but since it is not a process oriented set of rules and because they seem to give the right feel and results, I am willing to over look them. (for the curious, the main one is that I am uncomfortable with the way the attacker can always get first shot, this does reward aggressive play and mirrors the early 18thC British tactic quite well. I will content myself by observing that it may reflect a pyschological edge for the attacker and that the combat is really simultaneous despite the igougo game mechanism and so doesn't necessarily mean what it appears to. I also felt that the artillery might have had a slightly longer range, especially in a theater where ammunition might be less of a problem than in North America!

Tactical observations when using Black Powder, esp with the cm scale on a big table:
a) obey the principles of war, concentration, economy of force, surprise etc
b) keep your brigades properly formed so that the Brigadier can control them
c) if you want to march substantial distances, do so in column but deploy into line where it is still safe to do so, don't gamble on waiting for the last minute,
d) skirmishers can cause serious delay and disorder in the enemy but don't expect to break any enemy units with their fire, well, unless they stand still and let them selves be sniped at for a protracted while,
e) keep a reserve when possible,
f) lastly, if you are going to attack, attack! don't f**t around, 'slap, don't tickle' is the expression I think.Take the casualties and inflict them and have a reserve on hand. If you are defending or meaning to annoy the enemy, then sure, a little long range fire is ok but don't throw away troops in close firefights or charges unless there is a good reason.

A thoroughly enjoyed game  and I foresee more Black Powder games to come.


  1. Ross,

    Thanks for the account and comments. Reading them I got more of the feeling of a battle where not everything went as planned . . . with delays causing many of the problems that have plagued real generals in real battles.

    I also appreciate your comments, which are encouraging me to perhaps try some Black Powder games.

    -- Jeff

  2. Glad you've enjoyed them Jeff, (even when not doped up?) I like having the friction but also liked that my decisions still seemed to rule and that it was the enemy that caused the most friction. I should have noted that I think that there is probably a minimum optimal size for BP games, I'm not sure exactly what yet, at least 2 brigades plus General perhaps. With too few commanders, the command rolls become too dominant.

    What kinda annoys me, is they seem to have accomplished (using different methods) the kind of game that I've been trying to produce for years but thats just ego!

  3. Ross,

    A well written report. I like your big hills. They are taller than the trees for once :-) I share your conclusions that the game lets the commander worry about tactical decisions without much worry about mechanics. I have read on forums about the move and fire conundrum. One poster said the played with an attacker move - defender fires order of play and it worked fine. Hope you can make the game on Sunday - we can use your expertise.