Friday 2 November 2012

2012-10-20 Black Powder Retreat from Moscow 1812

Yesterday (by the time I post this it will be 2 weeks ago) I played a great game with Guy. I needed a scenario that lasted 5 hours and we'd voted on the Napoleonic period using Black Powder rules. Since it is the anniversary of the 1812 campaign in Russia and we were playing in October what better way to celebrate it than play a retreat from Moscow game.

I enjoy putting scenarios together to game, trying to get the right balance between play-ability  historical accuracy and fun. Using the Black Powder rules means I wasn't planning a skirmish but a game with brigades. I know I could make battalions in to companies etc and scale it down, but my figures look best played in battalions so that was an easy choice to make.

The time constraint meant I needed to keep the forces on both sides reasonably small so I opted for 4 French brigades against 5 Russian. To give the forces a flavour of the retreat I included lots of Cossacks and cavalry for the Russians plus vengeful peasants and lots of baggage and depleted troops plus stragglers for the French.

I opted to play the board length ways so the retreating French had to travel a long way to safety. Checking the movement allowance for waggons I decided on a 12 x 6 board. This meant with poor dice the game length would be a maximum of 12 moves. I added a small river with a ford so upping the game length to a maximum to 13 turns. If good dice were in play this would reduce to a minimum of 5 turns.

The scenario was loosely based on history and more an amalgam of my knowledge of the retreat. I knew that the French Grande Armee began to loose discipline after leaving Moscow and was in serious trouble by Smolensk. There were gaps between retreating Corps and the Corps at the front stripped the surrounding areas of supplies so the rear Corps were marching through a waste land of their detritus. I also knew there were garrisons along the route of the retreat that had not followed the advance and were there to protect the line of communication and be gathering points for fresh replacements.
So armed with a little bit of knowledge I decided that a French garrison had sortied out to keep a bridge open for the remains of a retreating division to reach them and comparative safety. Outside of military structure there would be stragglers making for the same bridge. The French would earn points for units saved.
The Russians goal would be to cut off this retreat. Earning points for units destroyed. Outside of military structure would be vengeful peasants out to rob and kill the dastardly French.
To had irony I made the retreating French Italians from Prince Eugenes' Corps. To keep the game flowing I created some special rules, which were then tweaked in play. I'll explain these in the players briefs.

French Players Brief
Retreating Division:
Safety is in sight for your Italians. You are being pursued by the Russians. There are Cossacks all around you, supported by regular cavalry, and a Russian infantry to your rear. Your command is in a bad way, your fighting force a mere few small battalions. You need to reach the next town with your remaining precious wagons and last gun.

You enter the board on road on the short side opposite end of the bridge.

Brigade Commander 8 (acted as overall commander of retreat)
6 x Battalions - Small size (I used 12 figures)

Brigade Commander 8
1 x Battalion - Small size, Sharp shooter
6 x wagons
1 x Artillery

The remains of Eugene's division are in sight hotly pursued by the Russians trying to cut them off. Your infantry brigade of freshly raised troops bolstered by 2 battalion regiment of experienced troops is supported by a light cavalry brigade. You must keep the road and bridge open to get them through. Once over the bridge you can seek cover under the towns’ guns and should be able to hold out the Russian forces.

You enter the board on road on the short side by the bridge.

Brigade Commander 8  (acted as overall commander of garrison)
2 x Battalions - Standard size (I used 24 figures)
4 x Battalions - Standard size, freshly raised
1 x Artillery

Brigade Commander 8
2 x Hussar Regt - Standard size (I used 12 figures)

Survival is the only goal, and that means getting to the bridge. A few of you still have arms to defend yourselves, but you'd prefer to avoid the Russian army and particularly the peasant scum who treat stragglers with no mercy. Getting in to the town before division coming down the round would be a good idea. You don't want to share the food! mind you neither will they.
There are 10 pre-placed tiny units of stragglers on the board.
Special rules:
  • The narrow river can only be crossed at the fords of which there are 2. Surrender 6" to cross
  • The fords and bridge are march column width. No crossing in attack column or line.
  • The houses can each fit a battalion in. There are currently full of exhausted stragglers.
  • Stragglers always get 1 move. Through command dice to determine if each tiny unit can get 2 or 3 moves or worse blunder in there panicked state. (originally I'd said these would use the broken brigade rules, but using command created tension as some moved fast, others slow and yes even blundered)
  • Wagons only move once off road on a successful command. Even if the score entitles them to move 2 or 3 moves. Blunder as normal.
No Brigade Commander
10 Tiny units (5 figures each)
Point Scores:
  • Wagon across the bridge - 2 points
  • Retreating Division unit across the bridge - 2 points
  • Stragglers across the bridge - 1 point

Russian Player Brief
Cut off the French retreat and revenge the Motherland!

Move 1 - Only the Cossacks and the peasants are on the board. The Cossacks can enter the board anywhere except on the French side of the bridge. The peasants emerge from the woods.

Move 2 - Roll 1D6 and score a 5 or a 6 for a Jaeger Brigade of 2 battalions. In the game we increased this to 3, and historically there would have been 4. If roll fails reduce the score to 4 or 3 on move 3, then if still unlucky 2 or 1 on move 4.

Move 3 - Roll 1D6 for each cavalry brigade and score 5 or 6 for them to enter the board on the ridge at the retreating French divisions entry point. If either of the brigades fails to come on then as with the Jaegers on move 4 reduce the score to 4 or 3 then if required 2 or 1 in move 5.

Special rules:
  • The narrow river can only be crossed at the fords of which there are 2. Surrender 6" to cross
  • The fords and bridge are march column width. No crossing in attack column or line.
  • The houses can each fit a battalion in. There are currently full of French stragglers.
  • Peasants and Cossacks will always move 1 move towards stragglers if not threatened by formed units. Use command dice to stop this and bring them under control. If successful follow the command rules as normal.
  • Wagons can be captured by base to base contact.
  • 1 move after all the retreating French have entered the board a Russian Infantry brigade will appear on the road deployed how the Russians wish.
Point Scores:
  • Wagon captured - 2 points
  • Retreating French Division unit broken or destroyed - 2 points
  • Stragglers broken (they will surrender) or destroyed - 1 point
Russian forces:

Platov Cossacks - Command rating 8
2 x Cossack cavalry - small size (6 figures), marauder
1 x Cossack cavalry - tiny size (4 figures), maruader
3 x Cossack cavalry - standard size (12 figures), marauder

Jaeger Brigade - Command rating 8
2 x Jaeger battalions - standard size (24 figures), sharpshooters

1x Jaeger battalion added due to early route of Cossacks, with intention of adding another but game ended)

Cavalry Brigade - Command rating 8
1 x Guard Lancers - small size (6 figures), lancer, elite
1 x Hussars - standard size (12 figure)
1 x Horse artillery

Cavalry Brigade - Command rating 8
1 x Guard Cossack - standard size (12 figures), lancer, elite
1 x Hussars - small size (6 figures)

Peasants with guns
2 x Small unit each with a command of 7

Peasants with hand weapons and old guns
2 x small units with a command of 7 and single dice to shoot.

Infantry Brigade - Command rating 8
4 x Battalions
1 x Artillery

After Action Report
So how did it play? In the briefs above I've noted where Guy and I tweaked the scenario as we played. Guy took command of the French/Italian forces and I the Russians.

Move 1

French go first, and only manage to move the stragglers and Hussars more than 2 moves. Not surprisingly everyone retreating ends towards the bridge and the garrison begins marching across it to provide protection.  The Hussars with maximum 3 moves gallop forward and form up on the low hill across the large river. The Russians managed to move the peasants and the small Cossack unit, but failed with the main Cossack force who decided to let the French come closer to them. No one was in range to shoot, and therefore politely didn't.
    This photo was taken before deployment was finalised. Top right of picture 2 Russian cavalry brigades waiting to be activated from turn 3, or 4 or 5 depending on the dice. Bottom right on the road the retreating French baggage indicating the retreating divisions start point. On the road and ford and moving around the edge of the middle hill are some of the French stragglers. Just in view on the left in the 2nd ford with a French straggler group poised to cross.
    View from the small river towards the bridge of safety. In view on the left are the Russian peasants and Cossacks issuing forth to seek revenge on the French. Foreground right is another group of stragglers. Middle right you can see a village occupied by stragglers who can go no further.
    A closer view of the Cossacks and peasants. The Cossacks are Wargame Foundry figures from their SYW range and the peasants with pikes are Bicorne.
    Close up of the village. At the top are the rest of the Cossack brigade led by Platov.
    A group of French stragglers hurrying towards the bridge.
    View from one of the fords towards the retreating divisions start point. French straggler groups can be seen on the road.
    View from the bridge towards the retreating divisions entry point top right. The Cossacks can be seen on the middle left.
    Another view of the peasants and Cossacks coming out of the woods.
    The village full of exhausted stragglers.
    From the middle of the board looking towards the retreating divisions entry point top right.
    The garrison force of 2 brigades. 1 brigade for 2 units of French Hussars and 1 brigade of 6 French infantry battalion's. 4 of whom are freshly raised.
    The 2 French brigades from across the bridge. Crossing this bridge is the goal of all the French coming from Moscow.
    Mainly Bicorne Cossacks ready to harass and plunder the French!
    More views of the stragglers.
    And more views of the stragglers.
    The stragglers release they need to get a move on to out run this lot.
    Deployment time Guy decides to bring the infantry on first in march column with the waggons behind and a rearguard of Velites. Poor dice rolling and move 1 results in 1 move.
    The stragglers on the other hand positively sprint away.
    The Poles make for a gap between the on rushing Cossacks and peasants. 2 other groups decide that perhaps scaring the Cossacks off with a few shots will give them the chance they need to make a break for the ford.
    Positions at the end of Move 1.
    Foundry Cossacks fail their command test and look on. This is before we realized that they should get a free move to attack stragglers.

    Move 2
    The stragglers continue their move towards the bridge. 2 groups veered off the road to line the small river to try and see off the unit of small Cossacks before they cross. Their subsequent fire paid dividends disordering the nearest unit.
    The Hussars decide not to stay on their low hill and resist the stationary Platov and his patient Cossacks and charged for huge shout 'Hussagh' and plowed through 2 units scattering them to  the winds. Platov successfully managed to wheel the rest of the brigade and charge home and both brigades held each other to a draw to fight it out till the next turn. 
    The lead stragglers seeing peasants and Cossacks bearing down on them decided to charge and scare them off. They only managed 1 move and failed to charge home, but their tactic worked confusing the Cossacks who stood still. The peasant moving up to support opened fire on these foolhardy French men and caused a casualty. In other wild firing the lead stragglers crossing the open ground also took a casualty from an antique musket.

    At the end of move 1 small unit of Cossacks charged towards  the main road while pike armed peasants bee line for the Poles.
    Close up of the disordered small Cossack unit.

    The second small Cossack unit that had charged from the woods towards the main road in Move 1 had left the stragglers that had made such good progress with little choice. If uncharacteristic bravery they decided running at them and shouting may scare them away.
    Peasants rushing towards stragglers on the road. Not surprisingly the mounted Cossacks are beating them to it. 
    Slow going for the garrison. At the end of move 2 only the cavalry with great elan had galloped forward to take control of a key hill.
    They may be slow but so is a glacier and nothing stands in its way, or so they hope.
    Left hill secured and ready to threaten the Cossacks or should I say obliterate.
    A tiny unit of Cossacks locks on to a group of stragglers
    A view from the Cossack right towards the flanking French brigade.Some good dice will be needed to wheel to face, which did not materialize in move 1 and the Cossacks paid the cost in move 2. 

    The French stragglers take a casualty from the advancing peasants. The stragglers charge having startled the Cossacks into inactivity. This will become the genesis of the automatic move after stragglers.
    The stragglers on the road concentrate their fire on the largest Cossack unit  heading towards them. They cause 1 casualty and disorder the Russian rascals.

    With a command score of 2 moves the Italians march on.
    In move 1 the Cossack brigade failed to react to Platov's orders, too busy focusing on which stragglers to ride down and pillage. This gave the gallant French Hussar brigade the opportunity they  needed and charged the brigades flank. Unable to react 2 Cossack units scattered to safety (in rules terms they couldn't clear the brigade safely in retreat, then when they could they were blocked by the river).
    The next Cossack unit in line eyes the triumphant Hussars nervously.
    Meanwhile at the fords the stragglers stream across. 2 small units of Cossacks are disordered (which occurs on a roll of 6 during firing), leaving a tiny Cossack unit to charge home. This picture was taken before the final straggler moves.

    Move 3

    The Italians continue their march on the bridge taking the first ford. The garrison equally continues to cross the bridge, moving slowly. The Hussars defeat Platov's Cossacks breaking the brigade causing the marauding small units to fall back towards the woods. The only offensive capable Russians left on the table were the peasants, but what's this at last some good dice and the Jaeger brigade arrives on the forest road. The fool hardy Cossack charging stragglers survive a melee with the peasants, and the first stragglers sprinting across the open ground survive a melee shaken and push the peasants back shaken and disordered. At the main road ford the tiny Cossack unit charges home and is destroyed. The last offensive move by the Cossacks ends in ignobly.

    In the Russian move the peasants charge in to melee. Here peasants hit  the stragglers who had started the game between the 2 rivers. In Guy's 2nd move they are now joined by 2 more groups of stragglers, and the retreating division surprises the Russians by taking the 1st ford which they begin to cross.
    End of the French move. Beginning of the Russian. The peasants have charged the stragglers and Cossacks are about to retreat. The pike wielding peasants are about to change direction and head for the village.

    The Jaeger brigade arrives! Phew
    The garrison marches on in the distance, receiving fire from the peasants on the ridge.
    The Cossacks suffer the indignity of receiving a casualty before having to retreat  as their brigade is broken.
    In the background the victorious Hussars move up towards the main road's ford.
    Stragglers bunching up at the ford. If only there were Cossacks to take advantage of it!
    Move 4
    The Cossacks retreat and the peasants finally destroy their first band of stragglers. The French do not blink an eyelid and continue their respective marches to dominate the middle of the board.
    The only offensively moving Russians.
    A nice gap between the peasants where the French stragglers used to be.

    Move 5
    All Russians except the Jaeger are on the retreat or too disordered to move. Not quite the retreat from Moscow I had envisaged. The French not surprisingly continued the respective marched to dominate the middle of the board. The garrison column begins to deploy to face the Jaeger and provide cover from the sniping peasants.
    The French garrison deploying against the Jaeger.
    The Russian position by the woods prior to creating a defensive line on the outskirts. Bad command dice slow this down.
    Move 6
    Good shooting by the French from all sides begin shaking the Russian Jaeger and peasants. At this point it was decided to allow the full historic Jaeger brigade strength to enter the fray. On marched an additional Jaeger battalion with promise of a 4th. All hope of stopping the French was fading fast.
Move 7
While the Jaeger continued to be shot up by the French well trained battalions with little effective return, the retreating Italians closed in. A ray of hope did appear for the Russians and finally their 2 regular cavalry brigades rolled the right dice, which to be fair by now was a cert. and galloped on to the board. The garrison  move towards the second ford on the small river to support the French cavalry blocking the advance of the Russian cavalry brigades.
Unhappy Jaeger

Happy lead Italian battalion bottom right

The full retreating column of Italians now on the board. The newly arrived Russian Hussars and  Lancers can be seen top left. 

2 Russian cavalry brigades at last.

12" till link up for the French.

On the French move good command dice saw the majority of the retreating column across the small river. The French gun deploying to cover the ford.

All Russian hopes are on these boys!
Move 8
The final move. The Italians deploy against the Jaeger. The garrison take the ridge overlooking the hapless Jaeger. In the shooting phase all the Russian Jaeger become disordered. The French cavalry move to the ford used by the Italians to cross, realizing the Russian cavalry has the same problem crossing the main ford. The problem being one of changing in to march column to cross then back in to line on the other side.  This would leave them too vulnerable to the Russian horse artillery and a charge by the Russian cavalry. and move towards the second ford on the small river to support the French cavalry blocking the advance of the Russian cavalry brigades.

On the Russian move the cavalry are ready to sweep down on the retreating French. 1 failed command roll and a double move on another is not enough to stop the French getting away.

Note no white smoke disorder markers on the French. The smoke in the woods denotes unhappy Jaeger.

Although slower movement for wagons off the road the advantage of having the river between them and the Russian cavalry brigades on board and the imminent arrival of the pursuing Russian infantry brigade made up for it. It helps that the French are winning.

The French and Italians move in for the kill

The Russian cavalry poised to make a difference.

The French cavalry move to the furthest ford having realized it will take the Russian cavalry several moves to cross the ford and reform. The larger threat is the Russian infantry brigade that has been following the Italians. 

At the end of the French shooting all Russian Jaeger units are disordered.

The French stragglers long forgotten in the game close in on the bridge and safety. Covering them and the advancing garrison infantry is the garrisons artillery on the ridge on the right.

I'd love to say it was a close fought game, but it wasn't. The Russian Cossacks failing their first command roll allowed the French cavalry who rolled a full 3 moves twice enough opportunity to see them off. This removed the main offensive Russian force. Poor Russian rolls to bring on their reinforcements allowed the French to gain too much ground, even though they were moving mainly 1 or 2 moves.

The stragglers worked as a scenario mechanism and provided some early fun, but became a hindrance once the Russians could not threaten them. In fact by the end they had become an offence force which certainly wasn't the intention.

The poor Russian command rolls led to the use of the automatic move towards the stragglers which livened the game up and gave the atmosphere that the Russian commanders had to control their troops from going after easy pickings and focus on the regulars.

What would I do differently with the scenario? Well in addition to the rule changes mentioned, I would make the Russian Jaeger brigade 4 battalions. I would also have the Russian brigade come on earlier so that the bridge could be threatened. This would give a focus for the garrison to hold the bridge open for the retreating Italians, which is more in keeping with my vision of the original scenario.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, even though I lost. I enjoyed seeing my scenario play out, and the fact the French did everything different to how I'd thought they would.

Would I play it again? Not sure, I think I would go for a different scenario. Keeping with the retreat theme I would go for a rearguard action but that's for another day.