Wednesday, 26 February 2020

After the (first) Battle

Following on from the 'Action!'  of the previous posting, this time some thoughts on how my essay at 'The Portable Seven Years War'  turned out.

Men of the Match: Dachs and his 'Grenzer' foot face the Prussian masses

I should point out, this was the first 'proper' game I'd set up and played in many years - perhaps decades, so I really wasn't sure how it would go.  Would I 'get into it'?  Would it be fun, but also seem true?   The answer was 'yes' - I had a great time!  Events moved  quickly,  and results felt mostly 'right'.  It's interesting  how a narrative develops, units take on personalities, events go in unexpected ways, and the game seems to develop a life of its own -  often due to the effects of nothing more sophisticated than our old friend 'D6'.

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!

Tuesday, 18 February 2020


Gen. Dachs Advance Guard lying in wait..
"At this stage of our war game saga it would not be amiss to stage a practical demonstration of how the rules as they have already been established govern an actual war game".   I really can't argue with Charles Grant, so here goes..

But first,  a special welcome to our first two followers, my old comrade  LiverpoolDave and none other than Bob 'Portable Wargame' Cordery.  It's an honour, and something of a responsibility*.  I hope I can keep your interest!

A word on the rules:  I decided to use  Bob's 'Portable Napoleonic Wargame' brigade-level game,  but I wanted to impart some flavour of the Seven Years' War period, especially its  linear infantry  tactics. Keeping things as simple as possible,  I made only these changes:

(i) Infantry  Square formation  is not allowed.

(ii) Infantry in  column may not 'charge'  i.e. move to close combat. Column is for marching, not attacking.

(iii) Horse Artillery  is not allowed.

(iv) I removed the modifier ( +1 or +2 ) for cavalry initiating  close combat against infantry in Line - and did  not use the 'infantry in line vs. Cavalry' hit resolution table. I considered a bonus for cavalry attacking infantry column, but the circumstances did not arise.

I thought these should be enough to ensure the infantry 'shook out' into line when approaching the enemy, and reflect their confidence in repelling cavalry with disciplined volley fire.   Perhaps the 'no column attack' rule is a bit harsh?  I admit I'm going with my dim and distant memory of Fredrician tactics;   your comments welcome..

The battle for Tragers Grat,  1760

Transporting  Bob's 'Porter's Ridge'  scenario to the Cruel Wars in Higher Germany, we have the somewhat obscure battle for the equally obscure  'Tragers Grat'.   

Having seen  the opposing brigades of Generals Dachs and Erich von Kleist, and  the contested terrain, in previous posts,  we have Dachs and his  Austrian  advance guard of 'Grenzer' foot, artillery and 'rifles' positioned on the ridge and in the woods,  awaiting their Prussian  foe. And so to battle..

Turn 1 : enter von Kleist. Note Austrian 'rifles' in the woods - dozing!
On Turn1 , Von Kleist's column marched up the road led by his splendid Uhlans, with 1st and 2nd von Kleist Friekorps foot following on. Too good a target for the Austrian guns to resist - target in column, and General Dachs in person urging on his gunners.   A hit - and first blood,  the Uhlans lose 1 Strength Point (SP).  Not a good start, but they were not shaken, as we shall see.   Unfortunately Dachs was so preoccupied with his guns that he entirely forgot to order his rifles unit to fire on the Prussian foot - within rifle range , and would have been unable to answer with their muskets. A grievous error!

On Turn 2,  the Austrian Hussars  appeared at the Northern end of the road, and deployed into line. Nothing daunted, von Kleist's Uhlans charged - and in the ensuing close combat, the Hussars lost 1 SP, levelling things up.  And so began an epic tussle between the two cavalry units, evenly matched - first one and then the other taking a hit and losing an SP or being being forced to retreat.  The Uhlans were down to only 1 SP after  Turn 3, but kept fighting back, and were only finally destroyed on Turn 7, leaving the Hussars themselves with only 1 SP remaining, and no doubt exhausted.  Von Kleist's Uhlans had done their part heroically, keeping the flank of their infantry protected from the Austrian Hussars.

Meanwhile the Prussian infantry columns ( joined by 1st and 2nd Jager foot  and with their gun in support)  deployed off the road,  formed battle line,  and by Turn 3  began their assault on the  Austrian position.
Turn 3:  Prussians Deploy. Uhlans and Hussars hotly engaged at top right

Austrian reinforcements arrived in the form of their two 'Wildganse'  Jager foot units  on turn 4 and turn 5, from West (the ridge) and North (the road), but on turn 4 disaster struck - their gun  having been first swept by FreiKorps Musketry, then took a second hit from the Prussian gun, and was destroyed!  A big loss to the defenders of the ridge.   However, this blow was softened by the subsequent performance of the Prussian gunners, who spent the next 4 four turns firing at the Grenzer foot on the ridge and  throwing a succession of '1's ,  missing every time!

The Prussian foot meanwhile advanced steadily, preferring to sweep the ridge with their formidable musketry rather than venture an uphill charge and close combat at subsequent disadvantage.  The Grenzers, joined by 1st 'WIldganse' jagers, returned fire equally steadily,  and both gave and took casualties and temporary retreats.  The Austrian rifles'  sniping  delayed the Prussian advance, but even with  the  cover of the woods they were gradually forced back by the weight of fire from the Prussian line battalions.   Casualties mounted on both sides, but  with Prussians getting more luck with 'retreat' results rather than SP losses, and by the end of turn 7  the Austrians had lost  7 SP  (against their 'Exhaustion Point' of 9) to the Prussians 5 . 

Turn 6 : Austrian reinforcements in action, musketry all along the line.
Turn 8 saw  battle joined between opposing Jager units  by the road in the North, with Uhlans now destroyed but Hussars severely weakened.  Austrian fortunes turned, as their musketry from the ridge took 2 SPs from the Freikorps foot, and the rifles one more SP in repelling a charge by Prussian Jagers into the woods. But Prussian muskets found their mark too.  8 SPs lost each,  only 1SP short of exhaustion on both sides..

And so Turn 9 saw a conclusion - the Prussian gunners finally found the range and took 1 SP from the Grenzer foot on the ridge, so the Austrians were certain to reach exhaustion. The rifles were further pushed back, and indeed out of the woods, by another  charge of Prussian Jagers, and the other Prussian Jager unit's musketry hit and destroyed their Austrian counterparts on the ridge.  General Dachs' defenders were thus well and truly exhausted, and the position on the ridge looking uncertain.  The Austrian Grenzers managed to stave off disaster at the last throw, however - their fire  removed one final SP from von Kleist's Frei Korps foot, and pushed the Prussians to exhaustion in their turn.

Turn 9 : Final Situation, mutual exhaustion!
And so we have the final situation - both sides exhausted and unable to advance.  The Austrians had  held on to the ridge , and von Kleist's men were in no state to attack it further,  but Dachs had lost 10 SPs to von Kleist's  9 SPs.  A tactical Austrian victory , having held the position?  But at greater loss - I think an honourable draw.  I had a lot of fun with this - I hope you have enjoyed it, too!

Next time - the after action analysis.  Confidential report by Herr Pundit von Lineker,  Head of Intelligence..

*'but how shall we **** off, oh Lord?'

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

The Erich von Knowles Frei Korps

Many thanks to those who so very  kindly welcomed my first post.  Now I feel like the child  who rather enjoyed their first day at school,  before the realisation dawned that they had to go back every day..  Let's see if we can keep it up* .

Having looked at the Austrians last time,  now for their doughty opponents. Also acquired from the collecton of the late Eric Knowles, and thanks to David Crook,  here we have :

The Prussians :  General von Kleist's Brigade

I'm glad to say the Prussians are, as might be expected, a little less of a mongrel force than the Austrians. When David listed the items for sale there were several units of von Kleist's Frei Korps, so it seemed appropriate to keep them together, and add a leavening of other types.  This time modelled on the American Brigade in Bob Cordery's brigade-level example game from 'The Portable Napoleonic Wargame', they are as follows:

- Brigadier General  Erich von Kleist  - commander ( 6 Strength Points ) .  A little-known scion of the illustrious family;  owing to a hiccup in the officers recruiting process, actually a von Kleist Horse Grenadier,  rapidly  promoted.

- von Kleist Uhlans  ( 3 SPs)

- Artillery   ( 2 SPs )

- 1st and 2nd von Kleist Freikorps Foot  ( centre and right, each 4 SPs )

- 1st and 2nd Jager Foot ( rear and left, each 4SPs  ),  perhaps in two minds about having to fight against their former comrades, now flown to the Austrians.

Notable by their absence the famous Prussian Line infantry.   But as with the Austrians, those are waiting to be painted - I'll need some time (they've waited 40 years, so won't  mind a little longer).   As before, I have gone for one 'base' or one figure per SP, to avoid paper-based casualty recording.  All units rated 'Average' in Bob's rules - as were the Austrians except for their Rifle unit , which was nominally 'Elite'  - but did not quite live up to that, as we shall see..

And the scene of their first engagement :

For a first action, I thought I'd simply try the brigade-level game from Bob's book - 'Porter's Ridge', which he sets in the war of 1813 between Britain and the USA. Imagine it transposed to some rugged, romantic and sparsely-populated Germanic region. In the picture we are looking East :  General Dach's Austrians are to hold the ridge and woods, with help coming from the North and West, while von Kleist's Prussians enter along the Eastern road, from the South , aiming to 'take the high ground'.  The Eastern edge is the shore of a large, deep and no doubt chilly lake. All done with Kallistra 'Hexon' 10cm hexes, as many will have spotted - this is more or less my entire collection, but sufficent, as this is the only table space I have available too. Time and space, as always, time and space..

Next time, we march to the sound of the guns..

* my good friend LiverpoolDave said  - to quote Kenneth Williams in Carry on Camping, ‘getting it up is easy, it’s keeping it up that’s the hard part’.

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Making a start : a little piece of history

Welcome to my novice blog.  I've been reading and enjoying other gamer's efforts for a few years now, let's see if I can add anything worthwhile to the conversation - and perhaps give and get a little enjoyment along the way.

I have  been following others progress, but my own has been pretty slow; time and space have been in short supply.   But the efforts of  others out there have been nagging at me, and I hope to make some sort of effort to join in the fun.  So, here goes..

With many  thanks to David Crook, I have recently been fortunate enough to acquire a little share of wargaming history:  a small part of the collection of the late Eric Knowles.  Fond childhood memories of Charles Grant's 'The War Game'   drew me  to the Seven Years War items, and I have acquired a ( slightly random, admittedly ) selection of mainly Austrians and Prussians - some painted, some not.    Meanwhile, I've been intrigued by Bob Cordery's 'Portable Wargame' series,  and having read his 'Portable Napoleonic' volume, perhaps it will fit my 'time and space'  constraints?  Can an enjoyable and rewarding game be played within my limits? 

So I give you, my Portable Seven Years War  brigade-level forces.

The Austrians :  General Dachs' brigade

My Austrian  force,  for now,  are a makeshift lot: many not even Austrian, but lured into service no doubt by the promise of the bright lights of the Viennese society whirl.  Others hurriedly  re-trained from their original roles.   They are, borrowed from General Badger's  British force in the brigade-level scenario in Bob's book,  as follows :

General Dachs  - commander ( 6 Strengh Points )

Grenze Hussars  ( 3 SPs)

Artillery :  ( 2 SPs  )  - owing to David Crook's indisposition, recruitment of Austrian guns and gunners had been delayed.  A bizarre sort of Lend-Lease saw Prussian gunners step in..

Grenze Foot :  ( centre, in white :  4 SPs ) - in reality, dismounted comrades of the Hussars

'Rifles'  :  ( left rear, in white :  3 SPs  )   - more dismounted Hussars

1st and 2nd Jagers ( at rear, each 4 SPs )   - let's call them 'Wildgänse' ,   recently persuaded to fly from Prussian discipline to Austrian comforts.

I hope no-one minds this ad-hoc approach ; I think they are lovely 'old-school' figures , and  Eric's painting is very pleasing ( and well beyond my abilities ),  so let's get them into action, and not take things too seriously.  'Button-counting' doesn't suit us Ragged Soldiers.  I have various unpainted Austrian infantry in reserve, but they will need time  and potentially scary practise to mobilise.

Where possible I'd like to avoid paperwork and 'roster-keeping', so I have tried to have unit sizes reflect strength: hence the Infantry units consist of 8 figures ( 2 per Strength Point ) ,  Artillery  has 1 gunner per SP,   'Rifles' 1 figure per SP, and Cavalry  1 'base' per SP - albeit the bases being 'two twos and a one'  so as not to overcrowd their allotted space.  Thus good old-fashioned figure/base removal will allow us to track loss of SPs.

Enough for now - next, the Prussians.