|Men of the Match: Dachs and his 'Grenzer' foot face the Prussian masses|
Bob Cordery's 'Portable Napoleonic Wargame' rules played very well - of course! Lovely and simple, by a few turns in I was remembering the dice modifiers for firing pretty much without needing to look them up. This is surely how rules should work, as long as the period feel is right. Many of us have been through the 'more complicated equals more realism' phase, but I'm sure it's a dead end - I'm convinced that half of those complicated rules just get forgotten during play, anyway. Given my lack of time and space, Bob's quick, simple rules, set up for a small playing area, were ideal.
Ah yes, the 'Period Feel'. Obviously Bob's rules were meant for Napoleonics, replete with the British squares at Waterloo, or the French column attacks sweeping all before them, but that's not the Seven Years' War. I won't claim to be an expert, but to quote someone who is :
"Overall, [ 7YW] formations and tactics tended to be simpler than in the later Napoleonic period : squares, skirmishers and battalion assault columns were essentially complications of later wars."
"The infantry was the most powerful of the three arms, being able to hold ground on its own and, unless of poor quality or disorganised by losses, able to see off cavalry with musket fire without forming square... Close-order infantry moved to the battlefield in column, and then formed into line to fight".
Those are from Keith Flint's 'Honours of War' rules, and they seem to sum things up well. It was simple enough to just state 'No Squares' and 'No charging Columns', and to remove the advantages for Cavalry attacking Infantry formed in Line. I did like the idea of taking a simple set of rules and actually removing some details so they are even simpler - very satisfying!
Pundit von Lineker's spies were everywhere during the engagement, taking notes. Documents seen by 'sources' close to the action show such cryptic jottings as 'Grenze hold - fire 2 Klst - hit 1 SP'. From these it can be revealed that 'unit of the day' was indeed the Austrian Grenze dismounted Hussars, hurriedly retrained as Line Infantry - in their stalwart defence of the ridge, they fired 6 volleys and never missed, inflicting 3 SP losses and 3 retreats on the advancing Prussians. They had the advantage of being urged on by their commander General Dachs - plus 1 on the dice - no doubt Dachs was a good steadying influence in defence. At the other extreme, the poor Prussian gunners, fired six shots, only 2 hits - a succession of '1's rolled! These too had the supposed advantage of their commander personally overseeing things; but perhaps Erich von Kleist is a fiercesome, irascible, red-faced character who tends to put the gunners off their aim!
The other heroes of the hour were of course von Kleist's Uhlans, who kept up a see-sawing fight with the Austrian Hussars over six moves, inflicting 2 SP losses and 2 retreats before finally being wiped out. They had taken an immediate loss in turn 1 to artilley fire, and in that weakened state I hardly expected such herioics against the full-strength Hussars, but fate ( in D6 form ) decided to make things much more interesting.
Interesting too , to compare with Bob Cordery's original game of 'Porter's Ridge' - I think his attacking Americans took more SP losses more quickly , partly just due to dice luck, but I noticed one or two occasions when a unit faced with a 'lose 1 SP or retreat' result in his game would choose to lose the SP - presumably in an effort to keep everything moving forward. My commanders always took the 'retreat' rather than lose strength if they could , and thus held back the approach of 'Exhaustion point'. Of course, the absymal Prussian gunnery also played a part! Another difference, I think, was that the linear tactics encouraged the attacking Prussians to depend on their musketry to sweep the defenders away, rather than an uphill charge , and resulting disavantage in close combat. The Prussians hoped to use their fire to either wipe out the Grenzers on the ridge, or to inflict retreats, allowing them to climb the ridge and advance to close combat on equal terms: they did not actually succeed, but the approach seemed right to me.
Would I have added anything to the rules ? Well, fun though it was, I did wonder about that six-turn cavalry melee. A dim memory took me back to Charles Grant ( 'The War Game' ) - didn't he decree a limit on the duration of a melee, owing to exhastion and disorganisation? Sure enough he did: after two turns of combat, if no conclusion reached, both sides to retreat two moves, then rest and re-organise other two. Four moves out of action? Wow, I didn't remember that.. But I might be tempted to impose some sort of ( less drastic ) restriction.
Musketry - I have a hunch that in the days of smooth-bore flintlocks, really effective fire only happened at pretty close ranges. Bob's rules allow muskets to blaze away at 3 hexes range; I wonder if they should be less effective, the further from the target they are? Perhaps a minus modifier for shooting at maximum range? I wouldn't actually reduce the range, as muskets could be and often were used at quite long distances, but the effect would be significantly reduced.
Also, I suspect there really was a difference between the 'first volley' ( weapons loaded carefully, under little stress ) and subsequent discharges in the smoke, noise and confusion of a firefight? I might consider a plus modifier for first volley. I think that may be another borowing from Charles Grant - there's little new under the sun.
And one more - that line from Keith Flint about infantry repelling cavalry "unless of poor quality or disorganised by losses " - hmm, yes. If the cavalry managed to close, despite the musketry they faced, and break into the infantry's formation, surely they should gain some advantage. Perhaps if in the first turn of close combat the cavalry inflicted a hit on the infantry but did not suffer a hit in their turn, they should be given a 'plus' in the next round? Worth considering. perhaps?
I think that should be enough for now - let's not overload the cart with baggage. But I hope that Bob wouldn't mind me tinkering a little...
Finally, I had a look at my bookshelf and came up with a couple of useful finds :
The Duffy book looks like an excellent introduction - an inscription inside tells me I read it in 1999, so my memory of it is hazy! The Nosworthy I suspect is another beast entirely, and may demand much greater commitment. Time and space, time and space..
So, the baptism of fire - or at least of dice. Was it time well spent? Will I do it again? Yes indeed! I think Dachs and von Kleist will meet again on the battlefield, and I rather hope they may be commanding somewhat larger forces next time. Apologies for a rather long pause to reflect after the action: 'events, dear boy, events...' I hope some of these thoughts have been interesting, anyway!