Commands & Colors: Napoleonics

After my very enthusiastic reaction to Commands & Colors: Ancients, Virago and Sigur decided to expose me to another variant of Richard Borg’s ingenious series of games. This time, it was to be Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. As another mate was also present, we played two parallel games. Virago and Nik had a Peninsular battle while Sigur and I played a scenario from the Austrian Army expansion. Our version of the 1805 Battle of Wertingen pitted me as the French commander against Sigur’s Austrian corps.

pic1

The rules are basically the same and many of the command cards were familiar. Shooting is, of course, more dominant. Terrain is now important, mainly because there is some (in contrast to the empty expanse of the ancient battlefields). Infantry can form squares, which is linked to an interesting mechanic reducing the command cards available for the player – this is supposed to model the loss of flexibility. The change that felt most significant was that attack dice are reduced in proportion to unit losses. While in the ancients version units with only one block left still attack at full strength, in the napoleonics version each block lost also means one die less.

pic2

In our game, the French decided to concentrate on their right flank. This was partly prompted by my deployment and the terrain and partly by the cards I had in my hand. With a combination of heavy cavalry, light infantry and grenadiers, I pretty much rolled up Sigur’s left flank. However, a sharp counter attack by his cavalry forced my infantry into squares, severely limiting my command abilities.

pic3

In the end, three of my infantry units were standing in square. Fortunately, a couple of reckless attacks by my reserve cavalry managed to drive the Austrians out of the town of Wertingen and secured the French victory.

pic4

Having finished our game and Virago and Nik having finished theirs, Nik and I were pitted against each other in a short game of C&C: Ancients. This one I lost rather quickly to the Carthaginians’ nimble and canny light cavalry.

Again I was very impressed by Richard Borg’s design. C&C: Napoleonics was exciting and although a bit slower than the ancients version, it was quick enough to still have time for something else. Working out how to best combine my troops and how to best use my cards was great fun. I did notice that I play those kind of games quite differently than miniature wargames: I play them much more ‘mechanically’ or ‘gamey’, meaning I tend to make quick calculations in my head and weight my chances in a more analytical way than I would in a game of, say, Sharp Practice. This is of course due to the variables being much more transparent – with hexes and fixed movement distances, you know exactly how far you will advance, how far the enemy will be able to advance etc. It feels a bit more like a game of chess in my head, which is something I don’t usually like. However, with the cards and the dice, there is enough friction to render too much planning futile, and the scenarios provide enough of a narrative to keep the game from becoming an empty exercise in abstract problem solving.

And in a rare show of spontaneous spending, I’ve just ordered a second-hand copy of Battle Crythe American Civil War version of C&C. It will hopefully provide me with an easy and simple way to fight some of the larger Civil War actions…

Advertisements

Waterloo in 15 Minutes

Originally, I wanted to publish this review last year, what with the anniversary and everything. Everyone seemed to be busy painting hundreds of Imperial Guard miniatures and Waterloo games were all over the place. Even I succumb to the buzz and managed to read two books: The first being the excellent The Battle: A New History of Waterloo by Alessandro Barbero, the second the rather disappointing The Longest Afternoon by Brendan Simms. I never, however, even thought about gaming Waterloo – the model count is too off-putting and I’m not really interested in big battle games anyway.

pic1

But then I stumbled over a review of a boardgame that promises to let you replay the Battle of Waterloo in 15 minutes. I was hooked. Generally, I’m not much interested in board wargames (although I like other kinds of boardgames). I’m turned off by the hex-and-counter aesthetics and the complicated rules with their paragraphs.

W1815 is an attractive little game published by the Finnish company U&P Games. It comes in a plastic bag, which contains wooden blocks, a cardboard map, cards and two dice. The game places the player at the highest level of command: Basically, you are Napoleon or Wellington, you have already positioned your troops and the battle is about to begin. There is no room for manoeuvring – in fact, there is no movement at all. This may come as a surprise to wargamers, but thinking of some miniature wargames of big battles I’ve seen, there is no real manoeuvring either, as there is no space for it.

Instead, the game is all about timing. Each player has a selection of action cards and is allowed to conduct one action on his or her turn. Some actions can be countered by the other player, and some can trigger further events. The aim of the game is to force the enemy to make and fail a morale test. If the army is broken, the game is over.

pic2

The game is easy to learn and quick to play. It nevertheless gives very exciting and dramatic games. We’ve played several times now and each game had a unique narrative. I fondly remember winning with the French by committing the Guard at just the right moment!

W1815 is a very abstract model of the Battle of Waterloo. For me, it nevertheless – or perhaps for exactly this reason – captures what such a battle was all about on the highest level of command. It’s not about manoeuvring regiments, forming squares and trying to get the right angle for a flank attack, but about getting a grip on the flow of events and finding the right moment to commit your troops.

I can highly recommend W1815 – it’s an innovative game with interesting mechanisms that deliver a fun and exciting game. I think it would also be an excellent instrument for teaching or explaining the Battle of Waterloo and napoleonic tactics.

The Cavalry Maiden

Logo_small

In 1806, 23-years old Nadezhda Durova ran away from home and joined the cavalry in order to escape the “sphere prescribed by nature and custom to the female sex”. Durova was the daughter of a Russian hussar officer and was brought up among soldiers. She was a very able rider and had her own horse, Alcides. At first, she attached herself to a troop of Cossacks, who were marching to join the army on its way to the Prussian campaign against Napoleon. When they arrived at Grodno near today’s border to Poland, she officially joined a Polish Uhlan Regiment under the name of Aleksandr Sokolov. She saw action in several battles and once saved the life of an officer, who was threatened by enemy Dragoons:

“Instantly I rushed toward them with my lance tilted. I can only suppose that this scatterbrained audacity frightened them, because in a flash they abandoned the officer and scattered.”

Durova1

Her autobiography describes several battle scenes, but even more interesting are the details on everyday life of the cavalry. There are fascinating passages on exercises, setting up sentries, foraging and the social life of officers and enlisted men.

Perhaps the most astounding episode of Durova’s life is her unmasking. Her close companions gradually became aware that she was a woman, but as she had proven herself to be a good and reliable soldier they didn’t care. However, she had written a letter to her father, telling him where she was. Her father immediately started an investigation and Czar Alexander I took a personal interest in the story. He collected reports from Durova’s superiors and in late 1807 finally summoned her to St. Petersburg. Confronted by the Czar himself, she admitted to being a woman but begged him to allow her to stay in the cavalry. Alexander not only presented her with the Cross of St. George for saving an officer’s life, but also promoted her to lieutenant in the Mariupol Hussar Regiment.

Durova served in the cavalry for several more years and took part in the Battles of Smolensk and Borodino. However, being a woman in disguise hurt her chances of promotion and she retired from the army in 1816. In her later years, she became a writer and published not only her diary under the title The Cavalry Maiden, but also several novels.

Durova2

Durova’s exploits would make exciting skirmish games. What miniatures are available?

As she was in disguise, the most ‘historically correct’ variant would be to just use an Uhlan figure and declare her to be Durova. However, this may be a bit dull from a wargamer’s perspective. For 28mm, there is the option of putting one of The Dice Bad Lady’s spare female heads on an appropriate figure. A dedicated female hussar is presumably available from Elite Wargames and Models, but I was unable to get any further information – please contact elitewargamesmodels@gmail.com if you want to know more.

Bibliography

Durova, Naděžda A.: The cavalry maiden. Journals of a Russian officer in the Napoleonic wars, Bloomington: Indiana University Press 1988.

 

Flank Attack

To try out the scenarios in One Hour Wargames, we decided to set up a game of Sharp Practice. Scenario #6, Flank Attack I, sounded interesting, so K. took the French ambushers and I took the British, which deployed in column along the road.

The set up.
The set up.

For the first two turns, I added a ‘French Initiative’ card to the turn deck, which would allow the French to activate any of their Big Man. Also we ruled that, as long as the French hadn’t revealed themselves, the British were only allowed to march forward.

The first two turns saw the French at the road block take some potshots at the British advance guard without much effect. However, the French also formed a line with their flanking force and swiftly moved it up the hill. When they opened up, their fire was withering and threw the British column into confusion!

French road block.
French road block.
Ambush!
Ambush!

While the British Major was rallying his troops, the Maroons charged out of the jungle and crashed into the other group of British regulars. They were repulsed but again the British took casualties and shock.

Maroons attack.
Maroons attack.

Things were going downhill for the British. Most of the next turns ended early because of the ‘Tiffin’ card, which meant that the French could keep up a steady fire which wore down the British troops while the British couldn’t do much besides shooting back. The Chasseurs were falling back fast and soon the whole column was in a state of disarray.

The British column dissolves.
The British column dissolves.

I decided to let the Chasseurs run and concentrate my effort on the regulars. To our surprise, Major Turvington and Lieutenant Winkworth managed to rally their troops and get them on the road again. Ranks were dressed and the men marched forward towards the barricades.

Here we go again.
Here we go again.

The rear was pretty secure as the Maroons had fled into the jungle and the French regulars were far behind, so I nourished hope that I might swing the game around. Major Turvington led the first charge onto the barricades, but alas! a thrust from a French bayonet felled the brave fellow and he dropped from his horse dead as a doornail.

The final charge.
The final charge.

We decided to end the game at this point. The British charge had been repulsed, their leading Big Man was dead and it was only a matter of time until the French troops would close up. There was no chance the British could force the barricades now.

This was a very enjoyable game with some dramatic twists and turns. The scenario worked very well for Sharp Practice, it was challenging and provided an interesting tactical situation. Also, it was perhaps the most historical plausible scenario we have played in a while – ambushes like this were very common during the Haitian campaign, and the French usually got the better of it.

I am definitely looking forward to trying out more scenarios from One Hour Wargames!