“Champagne! In victory one deserves it, in defeat one needs it” - Napoleon
World War II Naval, General Quarters 3, 1/2400 scale
This was an unusual evening. First of all, I got there early and claimed my gaming table, as Dougie Trail was up, and I was meeting him in the pub across the road. When we turned out I found some little shit had nicked my space, so we had to set up all over again, with me cursing like a trooper. So, we got off to a late start. Then, the plan was to run through a few turns of a search system, to generate a game. Then we’d play it out on the tabletop. The trouble is, we didn’t make contact for most of the evening. When we did, it was only between a pair of heavy cruisers. Still, we played that, as we had the toys all ready. So, a strange night all round!We set out an 8×6 foot table, and with me umpiring the two players got cracking. Peter was playing the part of Admiral Tovey and his British Home Fleet, while Dougie Trail was Admiral Lütjens, flying his flag in the Bismarck. The German aim was to break out into the North Atlantic through one of the gaps between Greenland – Iceland – the Faeroes – Shetland, while the British had to patrolm these areas with cruisers and aircraft, and keep a reserve of capital ships, ready to intercept the enemy when they were spotted. It all sounded fairly straightforward – or so everybody thought. Our scenario generator was Bismarck, an old Avalon Hill boardgame dating from 1979. Each player had a search board, and used it to mark plot the location of his ships and any search aircraft. Clearly Peter had more of this to plot than Dougie, but then he’d the job of locating the enemy ships (Bismarck and Prinz Eugen), and then bringing them to battle. The Germans had a head start on the first turn, and made the most of it by powering towards the gap between Iceland and the Faeroes. Try as he might, Peter couldn’t find them throughout the first day (22nd May 1941), and by nightfall he still hadn’t made contact, although he’d got a sighting from a passing trawler that the Germans were heading through the Iceland-Faeroes gap. It was actually getting pretty tense by that stage. Peter had the whole Home Fleet out searching, but every turn he was just a square away from making contact. Worse, during the night the weather deteriorated, and the morning of the 23rd brought rough seas and dirty weather.That makes it much harder to find the enemy, and so the Germans managed to sneak through everyone hidden by rain squalls and a storm front. From square E14 he dropped down the line of “14 boxes”, all the way to M14, all without being detected. Each turn was a four hour “watch”, and he got to move a box one turn, and two boxes the next. So, by the start of the evening watch (at 8pm on the 23rd) he’d reached the African Convoy route from the Middle East to Liverpool… all without being spotted. This pretty much messed up our idea of using this as a quick scenario generator. Our stand-by was to refight the Battle of the Denmark Strait – the duel between the Hood, Prince of Wales, Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. We had all the ships ready to go. The trouble was, both players were getting into their stride now, and wanted to keep on going. Peter was determined he’d find Bismarck soon enough. Actually, during the night Dougie detached the Prinz Eugen, and she headed off to the north-west, so lurk around the Atlantic Convoy route.The Bismarck stayed around P16, astride the African Convoy lane, and at noon a convoy dutifully appeared. This was dealt with on the boardgame’s Chance Table, and resulted in the Germans bagging a bunch of victory points, and the scattering of what remained of the convoy. the only advantage Peter got from this was he picked up a sighting report from the outgunned convoy escorts. So, at least he knew where to look. For the rest of the day the British raced south, and blanketed the area with search aircraft. Nothing.This changed at 8pm, when two squares to the south on R17 another convoy was shot to pieces. Peter was getting pretty frustrated now, especially as the battleships of the Home Fleet were starting to run low on fuel. Dawn on the 24th saw his aircraft refuelled and out searching again, and the sea was now calm, and visibility good. His run of luck though, can be summarized by the map above. The red counters are his ships, and the rest his search aircraft. In this snapshot above, at 8am on the 24th, Bismarck was in box R21 – surrounded by British ships and aircraft, but still not spotted! That morning though, we had our first proper contact. It was the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, spotted in box J7 by the British heavy cruiser Norfolk. It was pretty clear by now that the Bismarck was going to make it into Brest or St. Nazaire, and there was nothing Peter could do to stop her. So, meagre though this was, we decided to fight out this cruiser duel on the tabletop. This was “small beer” for General Quarters 3, but time was running out – it was after 9pm – and we wanted to shuffle some toys. Range was set at 18,000 yards, and the first few turns were spent with both sides cautiously approaching each other. Norfolk fired first, but it was Prinz Eugen who got the first straddle, causing a minor hit. So, the duel was on. The Norfolk’s front 8-inch guns scored a penetrating hit, hitting the German cruiser’s bridge. So, no more Captain Brinkmann. However, Prinz Eugen had the range now, and pounded away at Norfolk, hitting her several times, knocking out three hull boxes in quick succession. This reduced her speed to 21 knots. She lost “A” turret too, so clearly she was getting the worst of the pounding. Prinz Eugen lost one hull box in return, but she could still cruise at 29 knots. Both sides tried firing torpedoes now, but none of them hit – although Norfolk’s spread of four came pretty close, and had to be diced for. The range was now down to just 7,000 yards, and Norfolk lost “Y” turret and another two hull boxes. Prinz Eugen was unscathed. So, Peter, aka Rear Admiral Wake-Walker decided to call it a day. He laid smoke and limped off. Prinz Eugen could have given chase and finished her off, but that wasn’t her orders. She was out to attack convoys, not duel with enemy warships. So, she broke off the engagement, and so ended what was a most unusual evening of naval wargaming. While it was a clear German win, and we only had an hour of “proper” wargaming, we all enjoyed ourselves immensely. So, naval campaigns might be on the cards in the future – although next time we might save time by fighting them out beforehand, and save the wargames evening for the actual battle.
The Napoleonic Wars, Black Powder, 28mm
This time we were celebrating the return of two intertwined old favourites. the first was Bill Gilchrist, lured back to the club after a period of illness, holidays and cat-sitting distractions. the second was Black Powder, Bill’s favourite rules set. In fact I’m sure the only way we could get him here was to let him run a BP game… He chose La Granja de la Abundancia, a scenario from the Albion triumphant booklet for Black Powder. The premise was that winter was coming in Spain, and both sides needed supplies to squirrel away. Abundance Farm was the place for them, and so two forces appeared, determined to capture the place. So, this was a classic “Capture the Flag” scenario. the farm (on the right of the picture above)was worth 6 points, and other hamlets in the area were worth either 1 or 3 points, depending on who held them. The two hills closest to the farm were worth 1 point each, while the hill overlooking the “T-junction” was worth three points. You also lost a point for every unit you lost by the end of the game. The highest scoring side were the winners. All fairly straightforward, and strangely symmetrical. The map below, by the way, is reproduced courtesy of Warlord Games. The two forces were pretty similar too, with two or three infantry brigades per side, and a cavalry brigade. the French had the advantage of a horse artillery battery and an extra unit of cavalry, while the Allies had a couple of extra skirmish units. I say allied, as only one unit of British was on the table – the 16th Light Dragoons, while the French side was all German, Polish or Italian, apart from the three cavalry regiments and their horse guns. The game was played out on an 8×6 foot table, with both sides appearing at their respective hamlets. Mark, Bart and I played the French, while the Allies were run by Peter, Alistair and Campbell. Bill umpired, although I suspect he secretly favoured his brand-new Portuguese brigade… So, before we started you had to work out your order of march before the game began, and unsurprisingly both sides led with their cavalry. Soon two cavalry columns were snaking their way south from their respective hamlets, on either side of the wood.Fortunately my French horsemen beat Campbell’s Allied ones to the draw, and reached the farm first. Although they couldn’t occupy it then at least we could deny it to the enemy, and use our horse guns to keep them at bay. Following close behind was Mark’s German brigade of four battalions (two Baden, one Nassauer and one Hessian), backed up by a battery of Baden guns. With them ensconced in the farm the objective was safely in French hands. Mark was even able to detach the battery, which alongside a regiment of my chasseurs-a-cheval deployed to the east of the wood, to prop up Bart’s left flank. Seeing they’d lost the race the Allied cavalry declined to charge. Instead it held its ground, and sent word to the infantry columns marching behind them. The two brigades of Portuguese – a total of six battalions and a gun battery – were immediately diverted to the central hill by the “T-junction”. Bart was facing them with four battalions – two of Poles, and two of Italians, backed by a Polish battery. The new Allied plan was to overwhelm Bart’s command, and seize the French-occupied hamlet. That would compensate for the loss of the farm, and give them the edge in points. So, the two sides squared off against each other. Peter decided to launch a veteran Portuguese battalion at the Polish guns, which had turned to enfilade another Portuguese column. The charge went home, and the guns were overrun. That though, left the Portuguese out on a limb. and the next turn they were hit in the flank by my chasseurs-a-cheval. they retired in disorder, and were only saved by some lucky dice rolling. The melee continued, allowing Peter to throw in another Portuguese battalion. It ended with the cavalry retiring, but in good order, and the Portuguese extricating themselves to lick their wounds. However, they failed a morale check, and one battalion – the one that charged – was taken off. Bart though, wasn’t to be left out. He’d just had one of his Polish battalions driven from the field by the Portuguese brigade assaulting his right wing. So, to save the day he extended the line with his Italians, and sent his remaining Polish battalion in a charge towards the Portuguese lines. His excuse was that the Portuguese were still disordered. It almost worked too. He chopped up one Portuguese battalion, but in the end he was outnumbered and forced to retire. Incidentally, marks Baden battery had been firing throughout all of this, but it never hit a bloody thing all evening. In the end Bart was forced to fall back with his remaining troops, losing an Italian battalion along the way. So, that put us three points down, for three lost units, and one point up for Bart’s “kill”. We still had the edge in points, but only just. We landed up stripping one of the German battalions from the farm’s garrison to prop up Bart’s flank, and my unit of chasseurs-a-cheval had now reformed and were ready for business again. that was enough to slow the Allied advance up there. At that point Bill the umpire declared it was the last turn. Now, after seizing the farm my cavalry had done little or nothing, apart from that charge into the Portuguese flank. So, in the spirit of the wargaming “last turn syndrome” I unleashed my lancers at the KGL hussars on the hill in front of me. I did well, but not well enough. It turns out that in Black Powder that all British and KGL cavalry are “ferocious”, which lets them re-roll failed melee hits. This made them all-powerful, and my lancers were shaken and driven back. their morale held though, and thanks to the support of the German brigade the German hussars had to retire too. So much for my last turn cavalry change. Campbell tried the same thing too with his Light Dragoons, but failed to charge home. SO, the battle for “Abundance Farm” came to an end. Counting up the points it turned out we had 6 points for the farm, and 1 each for the hill and our hamlet, making 8 points. We had one more for the two broken Portuguese units, for a total of 9 points. The Allies only had 5 points for their objectives (3 points for “T-junction” hill and 1 each for their smaller hill and the hamlet. They scored three “kills” though, which brought them up to a total of 8 points. So, the game was duly declared a French victory, with 9 points to 8 in their favour. The whole game ran pretty smoothly. Bill has run this scenario three times now (and I played it once before, on the other side), but this was the closest-run game he’d staged. We could have done better if we’d supported Bart better, but our whole plan centred on taking the farm, and blocking the other flank. The Allied third infantry brigade of two Spanish battalions never really got into the fight – and neither did their two units of skirmishers, who occupied the wood. So, both sides could have done better. The main thing though, was that it was a fun game, and well-balanced. I can see us returning to “Abundance Farm” again some time.First though, those Baden gunners need some retraining…fancy uniforms clearly aren’t enough!
The Seven Years War, Seven Years , 28mm
This week saw a return to the Seven Years War, and the playtesting of the new Seven Years rules (working title). Michael has been tinkering again, so this was all about seeing if these modifications made any sense. As usual it pitted a Western Allied army against a French one, and was what is probably best described as a “divisional level” action, fought out on an 8×6 foot table.There wasn’t any real scenario or objective – this was one of those games where two matched armies line up and fight, without any real reason behind it. Still, that way nobody could whine too much about having an unfair advantage. Actually the Allies had an extra command dicve, but one of their four cavalry units was downgraded to light cavalry. Both sides had nine infantry battalions in three brigades (one of their units being grenadiers), with a battalion gun attached to each brigade. Each side also had two brigades of cavalry, each of two regiments, plus a light infantry unit (in my case a legion – Fischer’s Chasseurs), and a battery of heavy guns. The middle of the table was dominated by a small village – Michael wanted to try out his town fighting rules. So, we both deployed facing each other, about 4 feet apart, and then got stuck in. mark, Alistair and I ran the French, while “New” Michael, “Mad/German ” Michael and Bart ran the Allies. Our plan – such as it was – was to lure Bart into a sort of killing ground to the right of the village, while I occupied it, or at least contested it with the enemy, who no doubt would also head straight towards it. The killing ground idea relied on us moving our gun battery onto the hill on our far right flank. that way it could enfilade the Allied cavalry and British infantry if they tried to push forward. Over on our left, Alistair with four battalions and a cavalry brigade had the job of holding off the bulk of the Hessian contingent – so he was outnumbered over there. His job was to hold on until we’d chooped up Bart’s cavalry, and stymied the British foot. True to form Bart surged forward with his horsemen, while “New ” Michael occupied his half of the village with British foot and Hessian jaegers. I did the same with the Chasseurs de Fisher, supported by a couple of battalions of French foot. The cavalry clash on the left ended badly for Mark, whose French regiments were driven back. Still, not only did they rally, but the leading Allied regiment was forced back to regroup. Bart then tried riding down one of Mark’s infantry supports – a battalion of La Couronne regiment, which stood firm and routed the British light dragoons who charged them. That meant there was now a mass of disorganised Allied cavalry on their left flank, and their guns were screened by them, and by the British foot moving up to plug the gap. That’s when Mark’s guns reached the hill and unlimbered. They were screened from the British guns by a small wood on their right, and so the only way Bart could counter this was to charge the guns. HE tried to do just that, but his cavalry balked at the idea, and retired. Next he moved up a British infantry battalion, but that exposed his flank to the now fully ordered French cavalry. In other words he was stymied, and the guns kept on pouring shot into the Allied ranks. That and the continued good fire discipline of La Couronne regiment turned the battle. All of Bart’s units were now either shaken, disordered or routing, save for his guns (which were blocked by his own troops), or a small reserve of British foot, deployed behind the village. In the centre my own light troops were adding to the carnage, but neither side had the strength to drive the enemy from the rest of the buildings. I tried to break the deadlock by charging through the village with the mounted contingent of my chasseurs, but they were disordered, and so couldn’t charge the enemy battalion guns in front of them. Over to my left the La Mark regiment was under pressure, and eventually its first battalion was routed by the Hessians. Further to the left Alistair was also under pressure, and his outnumbered Swiss and French troops were barely able to hold their ground. That’s when “German” Michael gambled with his own cavalry. He charged a von Hodenberg’s Hanovarian horse towards a gap in the French line, but got stopped by fire from the von Reding Swiss regiment, and a battalion gun. I then finished the job by bringing up my reserve – a battalion of the Grenadiers de France, who routed the Hanovarian horsemen. A similar thing was happening on Alistairs far left, where more French fire drove off another Hanovarian unit – the von Briedenbach dragoons. The only bright spot for the Allies was that the Hessian foot finally managed to rout a Swiss battalion, which added even more pressure to Alistair’s flank. However, it was clear that the Allied had now run out of steam. On their left flank they were on the verge of being swept from the field. All Mark had to do was to pound away with his guns for another turn, then unleash his supporting cavalry. In the centre I wasn’t making any headway in the village, but at least I’d rallied the La Mark regiment, and plugged our centre. On the Allied left “German” Michael was still making headway, but even he was slowing down thanks to the loss of his cavalry, and the threat posed by Alistair’s horse. That was where we stopped the game. The rules worked quite well, and for once we actually got to play in buildings. We didn’t storm them, so perhaps we need to try that next time. Interestingly the command and control rules meant that when the gap appeared in our lines, and the Hanovarian cavalry trotted forward, our force couldn’t sent support “staff points” to Alistair, as he was our of command range. So, for a brief turn or so he was on his own. That worked fairly well. Also, with two new players to the system, it worked well, and they picked it up fairly easily. So, a qualified thumbs up, the playtesting though, will continue into the autumn and winter.
Queen Victoria’s Little Wars, The Men who would be Kings, 28mm
We were off to South Africa this week, for a small three player game set in the Second Boer War. The British objective was to capture De Jager’s Drift (ford), the only place for miles where British guns and wagons could cross the Buffalo River. Obviously the small Boer commando guarding the crossing was out to stop them. Campbell and Mark played the Brits, while “Whizz-Kid” Michael and I took command of the Boers. The game was played out on a 6×4 foot table.Three companies of the Johannesburg Commando were dug in around the ford, two in trenches on the enemy (south) side of the river, one on either side of the ford. The third company was in reserve, protected by a wagon laager on the north side of the ford. On the small hill behind it was a Schneider-Creusot field gun, emplaced in a stone sangar. Each “company” consisted of 12 figures. In front of them was an open veldt, broken only by a dry river bed (or donga), and a small hill. The club really lacks decent-looking sandy hills, so we had to make do with ones which were much too verdant for the South African veldt. Still, needs must. Anyway, the British had four companies of infantry (two from the Gordons, and two from the Dorsets), backed up by a squadron of the 5th Lancers, an artillery section, and a machine gun section. They had a little over a three to two advantage in points over the Boers, but they’d probably need it, as they were attacking an entrenched position across an open plain. The officer with his “gin bearer” (above) and the heliograph team were just there for show. The game began with a general British advance, with the Gordons falling in behind the Dorsets. So essentially they were coming on in a column of four companies, one behind the other, each extended in skirmish order. Mark commanded the guns and the Gordons, while Campbell ran the Dorsets and the lancers. Now, this should have made a juicy target for the entrenched Boers.However, this was where we hit our first snag. They were classed as “mounted infantry”, and in The Men who would be Kings you have to roll two dice to activate a unit, based on their leader’s rating. All the British activated on a 5+, and the Boers on a 7+. If you fail to activate, you get a free action. For most regular or irregular infantry this is a fire action – troops can always fire. However, for mounted infantry this became a move action instead. Inevitably, for two crucial turns the Boers in the trenches failed their activation rolls, and so their Mauser rifles remained silent. This wasn’t good. The Boer field gun managed to hit the lead company of the Dorsets, and pin them in place. The second company came round their flank, and then they got pinned too. So, the advance had stalled in the open. Meanwhile, on the British right flank, the lancers were cantering forward, bypassing the trench line to cross the river. They reached the far bank, but that was as far as they got. The Boer reserve company in the wagon laager managed to open fire, and in two turns it managed to wipe out most of the lancers, and drive the rest off. That little success though, was the high point of the Boer defence. On the British left the Gordons charged out from behind the Dorsets, urged on by a Staff Sergeant who was so good his unit got a free action. So, it could move at the double, and then charge. They Highlanders slammed into the Boer trench line on the west side of the ford, and captured it at bayonet point. More than half the Boer unit were wiped out, for the loss of one of the highlanders. The survivors fled across the river, only to be followed by the highlanders, who managed to catch up with them, and wipe them out. The second company of Dorsets were still pinned, but managed to open fire on the remaining Boer trench line with their rifles. Under cover of this the second company of Highlanders stormed across the ford to the west of the trenches, while the first company of Dorsets launched a bayonet charge. It was all over in a turn. The defenders were chopped up, and the survivors gunned down at close range by the highlanders as they fled from the trench and tried to find their horses. Seeing this the final company of Boers in the wagon laager decided to call it a day. They retreated off the table, and so ceded the ford to the British. So, the Dorsets had one trench line, and the Gordons the other. The wagon laager had also been abandoned. That meant that the only Boer defensive position left was the field gun, up on top of the little green hill, ensconced in its sangar.With hindsight it might have been better having the Boer trenches on the north bank of the river, but the idea was that both banks were lined with vegetation, which provided light cover, but also blocked line of sight. So, from the south bank the Boers could see over the veldt to the south. From the north bank they could only cover the far side of the river. Actually, the Boer dispositions were fine. The problem lay with their poor activation scores, and their lack of a free fire action. During all this the Boer field gun had been banging away at the British, with mixed results. Its free action was to fire, rather than to move, and so it kept firing, despite Michael’s dire activation rolls. then, as the highlanders advanced towards it, he tried to save the gun by limbering up and clearing off.His activation rolls failed him though, and so the same fast-moving Staff Sergeant’s company charged up the hill and took the sangar at bayonet point. That ended the game- a resounding British victory. The British benefited from having a sound plan (using the Dorsets as a screen), and the Boers were handicapped by their ability to fire when they needed to. We may tinker with the free actions rules next time. However, it was a cracking little game, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The rules are great fun to play, and are both easy to pick up, yet offer enough of a challenge to make the game interesting.