Star of Bravery Ep. 4: The Bridge over the Laber

“Croissant!” the gallopping ADC shouted. “Name’s Cruchon,” Capt. Cruchon wearily replied. The arrogant staff officer in his fancy uniform didn’t even bat an eyelid. “Get your men moving! Générale Delabréjaude wants you to secure a bridge over the Laber!” Cruchon got out a map and the ADC pointed his sword at it, making a huge tear where “Polstermühle” was written. Without another word, he made his horse rear and gallopped away. “I see we had a visit from young Lt. Profiterole,” Merlot chuckled as he walked over. Cruchon sighted. “Looks like it’s going to be another hot day in Bavaria.”

As the French column hastened towards the bridge, Cruchon sent Merlot’s skirmishers into the woods to his left and Bouffard’s Chasseurs à Cheval ahead along the road. Merlot soon reported a heavy column of Austrians on the northern road, screened by what looked like Jäger.

It now became a race towards the bridge. The French column was a bit faster, but the Austrians were preceded by their Hussars, who seemed eager for a fight and headed directly at the French column.

When Bouffard saw this, he immediately counter-charged, hitting the hussars hard. The fierce melee resulted in the Austrian cavalry fleeing back behind their infantry.

The Austrian commander could be heard to shout at his men to hurry up: “Vorwärts, my children, to the bridge!” When Cruchon saw the column approaching, he immediately formed line with his three groups. For a moment, he thought about opening fire, but he knew that while the enemy column would certainly take casualties, it might just continue their march and make it over the bridge. “Then charge it is,” he murmured and gave the command to lower bayonets. His groups crashed into the head of the Austrian line. The Austrians fought stubbornly until sheer exhaustion made both sides fall back. Brave Cruchon, however, lay unconsciously in the mud, having been hit by a musket butt.

For a couple of minutes, the soldiers of the French line were baffled. What now? Their Capitaine was down and the rest of the Austrian column was continuing their march towards the bridge. A part was already on the bridge when Bouffard’s cavalry charged them in the flank. “This is how you do it!”, the brave cavalier shouted. 

When his horsemen came cantering back in disorder, having been repulsed by the Austrians, the foot soldiers burst out laughing. But now the spell was broken and the line rushed forward on their own account. Another fierce melee followed. The Austrians fought tenaciously and both sides started to accumulate casualties. Fortunately, at that moment, Lt. Fougasse, Cruchon’s second-in-command, arrived with a fresh group. He immediately dressed the ranks and had the men open fire. Austrian Major von Eynhuf did the same and a short firefight erupted at almost point blank range. Both sides were close to exhaustion. When Fougasse got word that the French skirmishers in the woods were broken and Jäger might be threatening his rear, he knew a decision had to be forced. Remembering his drill manual, he ordered the pas de charge and his line moved forward in splendid order, breaking the last of the Austrian line and securing a French victory.

When Cruchon came to, he was pleasantly surprised. “Well done, Fougasse!,” he said, clapping the proud Lieutenant on the shoulders. “One group of Austrians managed to escape over the bridge,” Fougasse said with chagrin. “Never mind! We got the rest and the bridge. Let’s celebrate our victory!” Cruchon let his gaze wander over his exhausted men. “But where is Merlot?” An exhausted skirmisher timidly came up: “The Jäger got him, Capitaine. There was nothing we could do.” “Zut alors! Check the prisoners. Where are those damned Jäger?”

But the Jäger were not to be found. The crafty woodsmen seemed to have slipped through the lines and taken not only Merlot, but also Major von Eynhuf with them, as the Austrian commander was also not among the POWs.

A couple of hours later, the rest of the French column came up. When artillery wagons got stuck in the mud and Cruchon’s men were labouring to get them moving again, Lt. Profiterole dashed up to the Capitaine. “Cruchade!” he shouted. “Hurry up! The Générale has a special assignement for you!” Cruchon looked into the sneering face. “Va te faire foutre,” he murmured. “What was that?” “I said, give the general my regards, I’m at his service.”

This was a hard scenario for the Austrians. They had to cross the bridge with at least four intact groups and then destroy it by spending actions. However, it might have gone differently when the initial cavalry clash had resulted in an Austrian victory. For a change, I played very aggressively, which paid off in the end, although my Force Morale was also pretty low by then.

Most importantly, however, the game was fun and the story keeps developing. Cruchon finally got some Honour Points, but his old comrade Merlot is a prisoner (again). And Cruchon seems to have caught his superiour’s eyes, as he got a special assignment.

For Sigur’s view of the game, visit his blog, where all his AARs may be found.

Star of Bravery Episode 3 – Bénes’ Ambush

Capitaine Bénes pointed the tip of his sword at the map spread out in front of him. “There!”, he said to his staff. “There, where the sunken road meets the road to Peising. There we will ambush them!”.

A couple of hours before, Sous-Lieutenant François Bouffard of the 13e Chasseurs à Cheval had brought exciting news: An Austrian wagon train heading towards Ratisbon would take a back road through the Fürstenholz and then pass through a village called Peising. Bouffard said that the train was guarded by infantry, which was why his troopers alone where unable to capture it. But if he could have some infantry support…

The chef de bataillon agreed, so Bénes assembled his company and marched it in a Northeastern direction. During a short rest to let the men catch their breath, he talked his staff through the plan. “The key,” he said, “is to catch them at the right moment. Too early, and the escort will have time to form up and we’ll have a costly stand-up fight. Too late, and the wagon drivers will crack their whips and we’ll never catch them. So, I want discipline – no one is to move before they hear my signal!” The officers and NCOs nodded. “I wonder what’s in the wagons…”, Lieutenant Guy Bonhomme murmured. “Let’s get moving again, or we’ll never find out. Get the men back on the road, Lieutenant!”

Major von Eynhuf looked at the gently rolling landscape in front of him and sighted. Finally they were out of that cursed Fürstenholz! A couple of hours ago, he had seen horsemen shadowing his convoy, but now they were gone. Von Eynhuf was an experience enough officer to distrust this peace. But if the French planned an ambush, surely the wooded area of the Fürstenholz would have been the place to do it. Now they were almost at the village, where they could take some rest.

Suddenly, he heard the cry of “Vive la France!” and, with shock and disbelief, stared at a column of blue-coated soldiers marching out of a sunken road and directly in his direction.

“Form line!,” von Eynhuf barked. His well-drilled troops immediately executed the order and, before the French themselves could deploy into a firing line, delivered a ragged volley. To catch the French in the flank, he refrained from performing a controlled volley and shouted at his men to fire at will. With glee, he saw the French column waver. “Now who is ze ambusched?,” he muttered.

Bénes had not expected the usually sluggish Austrians to react that quickly. When their first volley hit, his men started to waver and for a moment, it looked as if they might fall back. “Courage, mes enfants!,” he shouted, “Let us show them what la Grande Armée can do! Form line and fire at will!”.

A brutal close-range firefight developed between the two lines. Soon, the superior numbers of the French started to count, but the men were still shaky from the withering Austrian musketry. Suddenly, the sound of gallopping horses could be heard. “There is Bouffard!,” Bénes shouted. “Look how our brave cavalry charges them in the flank!”. And indeed, Bouffard’s little band charged headlong at a group of Austrian skirmishers positioned at the right of their line. The Austrians, uttlery panicked from being attacked in the flank, immediately surrendered. However, when the cavalry hit the line infantry, the Austrians fought back tenaciously. Bouffard himself was wounded and had to fall back to regroup.

Von Enyhuf was sweating profusely. The situation was deterriorating by the minute. The musketry from the superior numbers of Frenchmen in front of him caused disorder in his ranks, cavalry was putting pressure on his right flank and now some Voltigeurs had turned up and supported them with their sniping. One of his group of skirmishers was gone – he had seen the cowards surrender – and there was no sign of his rearguard.

In horror, he watched his men slowly fall back when another volley tore into their ranks. In a couple of minutes, the retreat became a general rout and no amount of shouting, swearing and sword-waving could stop his panicked troops. As he finally turned his horse to follow, he met the men of his rearguard, who told him that Ober-Lieutenant Felber “had stumbled” and was out of action. “I’ll drag the Hundsfott before a court-martial,” he muttered. “Stumbled, eh? Might as well make him a fall guy, then.”

Inside the first wagon, wounded Capt. Cruchon had woken up from musket fire. “What’s going on?,” he asked Merlot. “I think it’s our boys, 2e Ligne judging from the facings.” “Isn’t that Capt. Bénes’ outfit?” Cruchon had, of course, heard stories about the dashing Capt. Bénes, who had been awarded the Légion d’Honneur a couple of days ago for his bravery. The commotion outside reached a crescendo and then ebbed down. Shouts of “Vive la France! Vive l’Empereur!” made it clear who had won the fight. Suddenly, the wagon’s canvas was pulled back. Cruchon blinked and stared at the officer in front of him. His eyes wandered to the medal on his uniform. “Capitaine Bénes, I presume?” “Oui, oui, but you are wounded, monsieur. Fortunately, doctor Pincecourt is with me, he will get you back in fighting trim in no time.” Cruchon sighted with relief. “Let me introduce Sous-Lieutenant Merlot. I am Capitaine Cruchon, and I am in your debt, mon ami.”

Back in camp, Bénes enjoyed a moment of rest when the commanding officer of his Voltigeurs, Lieutenant Florin ‘Le Frelon’ Ouellet, walked up to him. “The impunity!,” he heard him mutter. “What’s wrong?” “One of Bouffard’s officers insulted me. Claims that I’m a coward because I didn’t join in the fray, even though you and me know that I helped doctor Pincecourt transport wounded. Of course I challenged him. I’ll skewer him on my sword!” Bénes looked at the agitated Lieutenant and pondered. Regulations said that he should forbid the duel, but he knew well enough that matters of honour had to be settled. “Well, old friend, then I wish you good luck.”.

But luck was not necessary – the ‘Hornet’ struck again, wounded the insolent trooper and restored his and the company’s honor. “All in all”, Bénes thought as he contentedly let his eyes wander over the rolling Bavarian hills, “not a bad day, not at all.”

This was a short and decisive game. Beforehand, I gave Sigur a map and told him to chose a place for the ambush. And he chose well! The sunken road shielded his troops from the eyes of the approaching Austrians, so they stayed in marching column until the French suddenly burst forward. I was a bit lucky to catch them in the flank with a volley before they could form line, but of course my three groups could not stand long against a five-group-line at close distance. Maybe if I had charged them right away instead of firing, I might have broken the line and pushed them back to clear the way for my wagons. My rearguard commander did not activate for a while and when he did, a random event hit him – he was “accidentally barged down by his men”. Perhaps von Eynhuf’s court martial will find out what really happened back there… When the cavalry hit me in the flank, I knew the game would be over soon.

But it was a exciting game nonetheless and, most importantly, it advanced the narrative. Capt. Cruchon is free and now in the debt of Bénes, so that may lead to further scenarios. Also, the campaign event with Lieutenant Oeullet (who was late because of the last campaign event) was very fitting, and the Lieutenant’s victory in the duel means that he increases his Status by one. Truely a good day for Capt. Bénes, who is quickly becoming something of a celebrity, at least in the Division.

Star of Bravery – Episode 2: Cruchot Gets Captured

Capt. Camille Cruchot was nervous. “Hold the crossroads!” the adjutant had shouted before hastily galloping away. And now he was standing in some godforsaken Bavarian wheat field and waiting for the Austrians to attack… 

Cruchot was a farrier’s apprentice from a small village in Puy-de-Dôme when the revolution broke out. A honourable, handsome devil with a pleasant demeanor, he was one of the first volunteers to join the army when Carnot proclaimed that the nation was in danger. Through hard work, he managed to rise through the ranks and obtain a commission. He has left behind his Republican tendencies and is now a loyal subject of the Emperor.

“Here they come”, his old friend Sous-Lieutenant Pierre Merlot murmured. Cruchot nodded. “Alors, mes amis, let’s get to work! Merlot, I want your skirmishers to harrass them from the orchard in front of us while I deploy the line.”

Hastily, Merlot took position at the orchard’s fence, from where he saw two groups of Grenzer skirmishers deploying. He took them under fire, but they gave back in kind – or even worse, as their superior rifles made the situation untenable for long and the French had to fall back.

“I don’t like it,” Cruchot thought – a thought that would come to him many more times during this battle, with gradually more expletives added.

For the moment, though, the Light Infantry deployed in good order. Cruchot sent Sgt. Nonnette with another group of skirmishers through the woods on his right flank. They would hopefully draw off some Austrians or even be able to outflank them.

The Austrians had meanwhile deployed two groups of their own infantry in the center, while Grenzer Sharpshooters tried to get into the French left flank. Cruchot advanced in one large line, but then detached his two right groups to guard the flank, while the center groups adcanced into the orchard. Although the Austrians were still at long range, he decided to open fire, as he didn’t want to get lured away from the crossroads he was tasked to guard.

The French salvo inflicted some shock on the Austrians, which promptly faced about and marched back. Would it be that easy? Where the Austrians already giving up? Unfortunately, no. However, Cruchot sensed a chance, as the lumbering Austrians were still within range. He immediately ordered his men to fire at will. This was to be a mistake: Blasting away like there was no tomorrow, they ran through their ammunition at an appalling rate without inflicting any real damage. Also, the smoke, noise and excitement made it impossible for Cruchot to make himself heared.

Meanwhile, Merlot had withdrawn the survivors of his group to the woods, where Nonnette was threatening the Austrian left flank. The Austrian commander, Major Deček, personally led two groups with colours flying into the woods to check the French. Still trying to get his men under control, Cruchot could not discern what was going on in the woods, but it seemed that there was chaotic close-quarter fighting which led to Merlot being taken prisoner. However, the French also managed to capture an Austrian officer.

Suddenly, the Austrians withdrew the troops from their right flank and moved them to their left. To Cruchot, it looked like they intended to break through the woods. He was sorely tempted to advance his left flank line and fall upon the manoeuvering Austrians, but again he was afraid of leaving his objective uncovered. Leaving his madly shooting men, he personally took command of the flank groups and marched them over to the woods, where he could already hear excited shouts of “Vorwärts, Vorwärts!” –  the Austrians were breaking through the trees.

To Cruchot, the whole situation looked dire. The capture of his old comrade Merlot had hit him hard, and the breaking down of his skirmish screen meant that his right flank was wide open. Shouting himself hoarse, he at least managed to get the central line under control and immediately sent one group to cover his left flank, where the Grenzer were again pressing forward.

Seeing the Austrian Major with the colours moving through the woods, Cruchot decided to stake everything on one card: “Chargez! Chargez!”

One of his dispersed groups was the first to hit the Austrians, but they were thrown back. Then he himself led his men forward and a brutal melee ensued. On both sides, men fell or ran away, until Cruchot, already wounded, stood face to face with Deček, who was also bleeding.  With an angry snarl, Cruchot launched himself at the Austrian. After some cautious faints and parries, Major Deček launched an all-out attack which showed the superior swordsmanship of the Austrian. Desperately fighting for his life, Cruchot held on for a while but in the end succumbed to the sword of his foe.

Seeing their Capitaine fall and the line in disorder, the French troops broke and routed. Loud shouts of “Vivat!” were heard as the Austrians advanced on the crossroads.

When Cruchot came to, he found himself lying on some straw in what was painfully obvious to be a moving vehicle. Sitting beside him was Sous-Lieutenant Merlot: “I patched you up, but we are prisoners, old grognard. And you need some rest.” Sighting, Cruchot let lose a feebly string of expletives. Oh how he hated Bavaria!

Will Cruchot’s wound heal? Will he get back to his command and get his revenge on Major Deček? And will he finally get out of Bavaria?

Well, this did not go as planned. I blame the heat for my lackluster performance, but in reality Sigur got the better of me. My main tactical problem was to beat his forces while, at the same time, defending my primary deployment point. His combination of attacking and feinting, advancing and retreating, grated on my nerves and in the end led me to make a rather imprudent charge. The dice also were a bit adverse and my infantry getting low on ammunition while blasting uncontrolled at Sigurs troops, who – the impudence! – turned their backs on them really tested my frustration tolerance. I guess my habit of lecturing all and sundry on Clausewitzian friction came back to bite me.

Nevertheless, it was a fun game and I’m already looking forward to the next one, when we will join once again Capt. Benés.

Star of Bravery – A Sharp Practice Campaign

Some time ago, I came across the board game Legion of Honor. From the reviews I read, this seems to be basically a story-telling game that follows the career of French napoleonic officers. I never played the game (though I’d be interested in doing), but it gave me an idea for a Sharp Practice campaign game.

Star of Bravery (SoB) follows the path of two French officers, one of a regiment of the line and one of a light infantry regiment, through the 1809 campaign against Austria. Two players – Sigur and me – generate a character each. I’ve made a new officers background table for French officers, but the attributes and traits are the same as in the SP2 rule book. Each game turn consists of each player playing a scenario, with the other one as the opponent (or other people, if we find volunteers). After each scenario, a player draws an event card. I’ve devised a number of events, which allow different reactions to be taken. According to the player’s decision, a dice is rolled and the outcome is checked. Players can also duel against each other. After the event phase, a new scenario is played.

The aim of the players is to accumulate honour, which can be gained by heroic actions during a scenario or through events. Each player will play 5 individual scenarios. After those, the final scenario will put both players against a third person in a climactic battle. At the most, we will be playing 11 games, although characters may have to skip scenarios due to wounds, so it will probably be less.

Capt. Charles Benés

Sigur started by rolling up his character and then plunged headlong into the first scenario.

Capitaine Charles Benés is the son of a lawyer who became an officer during the revolution. In secret, he still leans towards republicanism and finds Napoleon’s imperial demeanour distasteful. However, he knows that the French army is the only bulwark against the tyranny of Europe’s many kings, so he will serve dutifully. He is honourable and although of average build, he is a good-looking and charming chap. At the moment, he is commanding a company in the 2e regiment d’infanterie de ligne.

The first scenario took place at the beginning of April, when the Austrian opened the attack and caught the French somewhat wrong-footed. As Capt. Benés’ objective was to stop the Austrian onslaught, we played the Defense in Depth scenario from the rule book.

Benés deployed both his skirmishers in the woods and took the Austrian advance guard, a group of Jäger, under fire, who could not stand the concentrated fire for long. The Austrian commander Oberst Jaromir von Eynhuf deployed his main force and withdrew the shaken Jäger behind the bulk of the regulars. He also sent his skirmishers forward on the far right flank, using the building as cover.

Meanwhile, Capt. Benés had deployed his line infantry in a huge and very impressive line. In true gallic spirit, instead of waiting for the Austrians to come, he steadily led his men forward.

Von Eynhuf was somewhat rattled by this. As he had to use the troops on his left flank to guard against the pesky French Voltigeurs, who ran circles around him, he faced the French line with only three groups. The fight started in earnest with a close-range volley from the French, which caused a shocking number of casualties in the Austrian line. However, the Austrian skirmishers meanwhile had slipped behind the house and fired at the Frenchmen’s back. Unfortunately, this did not impress them much.

The skirmishers suddenly realised that he did have an objective, namely the French main deployment point! The started running towards it and there was little the French could do… Or was there? With a shout of “Vivle la France!”, Capt. Benés charged ahead of his men into the Austrian line, intent on capturing the kaiserlick’s flag. While the melee was raging, von Eynhuf threw himself in front of the flag and drew his sword. “From ze dead kold handz!” he cried as the duel commenced. Unfortunately, the Austrian Oberst got the better of the dashing Frenchman and managed to take out Benés. Realising that his small group was the only Austrians left of his line, von Eynhuf post-haste joined his men in the general rout, clutching his precious flag. The charge had reduced the Austrian Force Morale to 0 just before the Austrian skirmishers could take the Deployment Point!

Capt. Benés had done many heroic deeds: He led his men into fisticuffs and won, he took a wound and he won the engagement! This brought him a lot of honour. Surprisingly, it also brought him membership in the Légion d’Honneur! Maybe he was better connected then he let on… However, when his grievous wounds were checked, it turned out they were not that grievous. In fact, it was merely a scratch. His comrades shook their heads at those theatrics, which cost him some honour.

After the engagement, Capt. Benés marched his men through Bavaria, as Napoléon was arriving and a counter-strike at the Austrians was planned by the higher echelons of command. On the way, he met a surgeon who was trying to organise transporation for some wounded. Honourable chap that he is, Benés offered some of his men to help. This will mean that one group will arrive late to the next engagement. However, Benés has now found a friend in Hypolite Pincecourt, a very competent physician.

Will Benés simulate even more wounds now he has the service of a physician? What will his old rival, Capt. Camille Cruchon of the 24e regiment d’infanterie légère, say to Benés’ getting into the Légion d’Honneur after just one fight? Stay tuned for another episode of Star of Bravery!