Sunday, March 22, 2009

Once more unto the black hole, dear friends! Once more...

This Saturday, Bill Stewart and Mitch Berdinka hosted a 28mm Napoleonics game at The Panzer Depot in Kirkland, WA. This is the third time since November that I've played Napoleonics, which my friend Kevin Smyth calls "the black hole of wargaming" because of its profound ability to suck into its maw the entirety of your hobby experience. I am feeling the pull—but I resist.

The rules we used were 2nd edition General de Brigade from Partizan Press. The figures were mostly supplied by Bill Stewart, although as word got out that the game was to be played, it became a kind of bring-and-play with people volunteering a few of their own units to the mix.

We wound up with two French ligne brigades (each of three battalions), one French légère brigade, a brigade of Polish lancers and hussars supported by a Polish foot battalion, an 8-gun foot battery, and a four gun horse battery. 

French légère in column

Opposing this were three british foot brigades (three battalions each), a foot battery, and brigade of heavy dragoons supported by a horse battery.

Redcoats in line supported by 9-pounders

Most of us were brand new to the rules. Mitch had run a game of the Battle of Maida a few years back using 15mm figures, which was my only experience (and his, too, I think). Even so, the exposure I had gave me some clue to how to use my troops most effectively.

I ran one of the French ligne brigades. As the game began. my brigade had assault orders, while the rest of the French had advance orders. I formed up my battalions in column, screened by skirmishers, and headed full speed at les goddams to my front. Being in column naturally attracted the attention of the British guns. No artillerist can resist a dense mass target. My right-hand battalion took some punishment in its advance for a few turns until they moved out of the battery's arc of fire. My left-hand battalion also took some losses due to very effective British musket fire.

Just before contact, the columns are exposed to British muskets

On my right, Bill Stewart's ligne brigade advanced in line with skirmishers forward against the British guns. On the extreme right, the légère skirmished across a stream against the British leftmost brigade. 

French and British skirmishers exchange fire as more French move up to assault across the bridge.

On my left, Mitch ran the cavalry, Poles, and the horse battery. As I assaulted with my brigade, Mitch ran his cavalry against the British dragoons. However, his charge was blasted by the British horse battery and he was forced to halt unformed. Since the Dragoons had countercharged, he might have been doomed, but the Rosbifs failed their morale check to charge home and they halted unformed as well. Meanwhile, Mitch ran the Poles up against the British horse battery, but got sent running back after a "whiff of grapeshot."

After advancing for a few turns, I finally came within charge range of two British battalions. Ken Kissling, who commanded these battalions, had ignored the Wellingtonian art of "making war sitting on his ass" and advanced against me. When I charged, he chose to countercharge me instead of shooting me (hopefully) to bits as I came in. I was able to get 2:1 odds against his left-hand battalion and was even up against his right-hand one. The dice favored me, barely. I pushed back his right-hand battalion, following up to remain locked in combat, and forced the left-hand one to retreat. 

A little worse for wear after enduring the British fire last turn, les fantassins come to grips with the Rosbifs

My mêlée victory left me unformed, which required a turn of rallying before I could advance against the British again. Once reformed, I charged my center battalion against Ken's right-hand battalion, which was locked in the third turn of ineffectual combat with my left-hand battalion. This charge did the trick and threw back les goddams. With my right-hand battalion, I charged again against his left-hand battalion, which had since recovered morale and reformed. They didn't stand it and routed away before contact. When attempting to recover morale next turn, they failed again and ran off the table. At this point, I reformed my troops and regrouped for the last push against the redcoats. 

With 30% losses to the flanking battalions, the brigade reforms for its last assault

Meanwhile, on my left the opposing cavalry brigades were at it again. Once again, the French failed to charge home, but the British dragoons countercharged successfully and routed the French horse. Unfortunately, the dragoons rolled badly for their pursuit check and wound up being blown—unformed and no pursuit.

The clash of cavalry—just before a bad French loss

Also, on my right, Bill's brigade had advanced to the foot of the hill where the British foot battery and two battalions stood. His skirmishers were taking a steady toll and he had nearly shot away one of the British gun crews.

The French pressing the British center

In the final charge, my left-hand battalion failed its morale check to charge home, but the center battalion was enough to do the trick. The British battalion was unformed and retreated, so its ability to make a stand was pretty feeble. It had significant minuses in mêlée due to its losses and status, so there was no contest. My right-hand battalion went forward to chase off the last of the British skirmishers. The result was a big hole in the British line. I was in position to turn my battalions toward the British center and support Bill's assault.

The last assault

At this point, after about 3.5 hours of play, we called the game.

Responses to the rules were mixed. Like any rules, they have their, sometimes irksome, idiosyncrasies, but overall, I liked them and I hope to play again. This is the style of gaming I like. The dice can vary widely, but with 2D6 as the standard die roll for everything, there is an averaging built in that mitigates extreme differences without preventing them in rare circumstances.

After scouring the Web for manufacturers of 28mm Napoleonics, I've cooled off and won't be painting any figures soon. I have far too many other irons in the fire. However, somewhere I have a few blister packs of Foundry French cuirassiers. Maybe I will paint a squadron or two…


  1. Great battle report and awesome figures!

    I'm a fan of GdB myself. I like the fact that the game encourages the use of proper Napoleonic tactics. In the solitaire game I played, the only way to truly rout a unit is to bring overwhelming shock and/or firepower to bear against it. Or even just the mere threat of overwhelming force is enough to cause a unit to break and run. Otherwise, you end up with an 18th Century-style firefight--which also happened quite frequently.

    One of the fiddly things I noticed was the regimented turn system. When I played my game, I applied the results of failed morale checks immediately and didn't wait until the Rout Phase. Half-way through my game I realized my mistake.

    I just orderd their 4th scenario book "Against the Ottomans."


  2. We ran into the same thing. The morale phase rule was the only thing I really thought was goofy.

  3. David:

    I was derelict to not have seen this earlier - it was recently posted on TMP by Bill Stewart regarding questions on OG figures. Beautiful looking game. Although I am surprised to see the British cav getting the better of both Polish Lancers and French Hussars! I don't think this ever happened historically. Dean