Thursday, December 27, 2007

Siege Train, or "Caught on the Move"...

As promised, a review of the game from last weekend, when my regular wargaming buddy DG and I got together for our last game of the year.

We'd decided up front that it was going to be Marlburian, it only remained to me to come up with a scenario.

I'd toyed with the idea of re-playing the Ambush scenario that I'd already played solo not so long ago, but in the end was much taken with the Teaser in this months issue of Battlegames (#10) - "Siege Train". In summary - and you aren't going to get all the details here, you need to hot foot it to Henry's web page and buy yourself a copy of the magazine, or preferably a subscription (there's a link to the left) - a convoy of siege and ammunition wagons is trying to get through to their own army, with a sizable convoy guard, and a nearby reserve. The enemy - in three bodies of troops - are trying to stop them. The kicker is that with the exception of the convoy guard, and the enemy advance guard, all other troops arrive on a randomly decided turn... which adds spice!

Without further ado, we diced for sides and DG got the role of defender/convoy commander, I was the attacker.

Now the logistics.. most of these are covered in the scenario, but I added some local rules to cover off the convoy itself. These were pretty much the same as when I played "Wagon Train" but to re-cap, there were eight convoy units in total (various limbers and wagons) as per the scenario, and they moved at "Heavy Guns" rate, ie. slow! Each convoy unit was deemed to be worth a number of strength points (4 each) and hits were inflicted in the usual manner for my rules, but with no morale effect. Once the unit gets to half points it moves at half rate. Once it gets to 0 points it is stopped. When a convoy unit is contacted by the enemy it stops for as long as the enemy is in contact, and all units behind throw 1D6 to decide what they do (as per the scenario description), I decided that Infantry or Cavalry can assist wagons by man handling them to overcome damage - a unit doing this needs to be next to the wagon for one move and can 'donate' strength points from their roster to the wagon roster (which represents the loan of man/horsepower)..

I slightly modified the victory conditions Charles gives, as I had an idea this was going to be a tough one so I allowed a draw with anything up to six units off the table – less than six was an outright loss – commander dismissed in disgrace!

The table was set out as follows:

At the top left you can see Schafenplatz, the river is crossable only at the bridges, and the ford. The convoy comes in on the bottom right, within the loop of the river.

OOB's for each side were as per the scenario with the exception that there was one less infantry unit per side (I didn't have enough to do the scenario as described). On the map above the enemy advance guard comes in at bottom right. The enemy main force enters bottom left and the convoy reserve is in the village; activation of both these forces is random, the mechanisms of which were exactly as per the article..

Having diced and noted all the arrival periods, we then started the game.

Following you can see the French advance guard (who were the attackers) and in the distance the convoy crossing the bridge and heading for the far (far) end of the table and safety..

The first indication that the game was not going to be easy for the British commander came when the French main force arrived on the earliest turn of the random range they were allowed - this is them filing in through the rough ground in the bottom left of the table. The artillery was never destined to come into action - even light guns don't move fast in rough ground!

There then followed some (very) sharp exchanges first at the bridge where the infantry of the French advance guard started exchanging fire with their British counterparts. The advance guard cavalry (Chartres) also contacted the convoy guard cavalry (Schomberg's) and in an ominous foretaste of what was to come comprehensively shattered the British cavalry driving them off in rout {rules comment: it was a delta 3 difference between the two sides which in the rules we use is a 2 strength point loss, and automatic rout}. Not the best start for the British..

Slightly later the British infantry (Orkney's) who have been exchanging fire with the French across the river (Bourbonnais), fail their morale (the first of many units to do this) and rout leaving the way open for the French infantry to cross the river.. The good news is that the British reserve in Schafenplatz have activated, and more to the point activated quickly - but the convoy is already under attack, and the back half has been forced to stop.

The reason for the convoy halt is that the French cavalry (Chartres) is now attacking it - the British cavalry from the convoy defence force continue to rout and cease to be an effective force {Rules comment: DG was really having a torrid time of it - in our rules we use a D6 to throw below the units morale strength to recover - the theory being that as a unit gets weaker, and it's morale therefore lower, the unit finds it harder and harder to recover. He threw 6 on a D6 in three successive turns for this unit of cavalry - meaning it continued to rout and take casualties for three turns after the original melee defeat!}

The French main force cavalry (Orleans and Weickel), instead of going with the infantry went south of the woods to tie up the British cavalry from Schafenplatz (Cadogan's and the Dutch Nassau Friesland).

First blood in these engagements go to the French, with Chartres fresh from their defeat of Schombergs managing to catch the Dutch cavalry mid-formation change (yes - it gets worse for the British - this was another failed dice throw!) and although the Dutch stand, they are swiftly dispatched in the next turn...

In the following picture, the British cavalry can be seen routing up the middle of the table, through the early arrivals from Schafenplatz. The French main guard has now exited the rough ground and the infantry is marching around/above the wood - my plan was to hook round either the wood, or the village, depending on what the British did with the convoy, and how my advance guard had fared.

In the following we see the British 1st Foot Guards (from the convoy) facing up to the triumphant French cavalry (Chartres) and forcing them away from the convoy - in the background Cadogan's are about to go in to their first ever skirmish with one of the French cavalry units (Orleans) - fingers crossed!

Just when nothing seems to be going right for the British commander, and in their first ever engagement, Cadogan's defeat the French cavalry regiment (Orleans) - their mere presence is enough to drive them off in rout {Rules comment: I failed the melee stand test badly!} Cadogans continue their advance and come up against the Bavarian cavalry - is it to be another repeat of their experience at Ramillies ("Big men mounted on big horses, they drove the famous Bavarian horse-grenadier guards off the field, capturing four of their standards")??

In the following (poor) picture you can see Cadogan's about to charge Weickels, Orlean's are in rout towards the bottom of the picture.

The writing was now on the wall, and all remaining British efforts were soon extinguished - the French infantry turned and moved south through the woods - I'd decided now was the time for the coup de grace, and that there was no point in waiting longer.

Chartres (the cavalry) attempt to charge home on the Foot Guards failed to engage {Rules note: Superior musketry from the Foot Guards caused a "shaken" morale result that effectively stopped them in their tracks} the other French infantry (Bearn) contact the convoy. In the meanwhile Bournbonnais attempts to cross the river while Ingoldby's are otherwise engaged (another failed morale test following some exchanges of musketry caused them to retire).

In the last passage of play in the game:

- the Foot Guards decided to try and drive off the cavalry at point of bayonet and are comprehensively "whacked" for their troubles (never a good idea to attack cavalry when you're on foot but there were precious few other options!), but,
- Ingoldsby's drive back the Bourbonnais in rout following a failed change of formation after they got across the bridge.. ouchh....
- Yet another failed morale test resulted in Orkney's ceasing to be a cohesive force

...and the results of that cavalry melee?? Unfortunately we were not to see a repeat of history - Weickel's stood, counter charged, and then drove Cadogan's off in tatters.... a brave but ultimately doomed attempt.

The British commander called a parley, and offered his sword in surrender, which the French commander (not quite believing the number of truly awful dice rolls in the previous 3 hours) gladly took..!

Post Match Analysis

  • After some discussion we decided to award the battle honours for this game to the French cavalry regiment "Chartres" - for their destruction of Schomberg's, then the Dutch cavalry, and then the Foot Guards. We also agreed there should be a mention in dispatches for Weickel (for the destruction of Cadogan's) and Ingoldsby's (the routing of Boubonnais)
  • We also discussed, as is our want, how we felt the game had gone - I was happy (naturally) with the way that my tactics had worked out. What had comprehensively won me the game, however, was the truly appalling British dice throwing - which was so unlucky that at times I did wonder if the loaded dice I keep in the back of the wargame cupboard had made their way on to the table... oops, shouldn't have mentioned them, should I! Luck is always present on the wargame table though, and true spirited gamer that he is, DG took it on the chin whilst promising me that the pendulum does often swing equally as hard in the opposite direction - not so sure I'm looking forward to the next game now! J
  • We also discussed scales, and fire effects, and mutually agreed that the modifiers for cavalry firing did need a slight tweak... in the rules we're using cavalry regiments represent about 3 or 4 squadrons - or about 400 men in campaign terms. Infantry represents a regiment of about 1200 men. While we didn't see a problem with the comparative difference in melee terms, where the weight of the cavalry man can be used to it's full and balances the difference in numbers, the actual number of carbines is a third of the infantry, and the current -1 modifier is not enough to reflect this. With effect from the next game we'll make it -2 . We discussed making it -3, but on reflection what I don't want to do is cause the French commander to always "act out of character" - to explain, my reading is that the French cavalry was always more likely to fire off their weapons before the charge, the allies were trained to do the opposite (in fact Marlborough took away almost all of their ammunition to ensure they always charged home with the cold steel!) In the rules we play, however, the "counter charge" is only available to French units that haven't fired - so there is a fine, and historical, decision to be made - fire and hope to stop the enemy unit in it's tracks, or charge home and hope that the bonus from holding fire is enough to help you offset the British/allied cavalry melee advantage... if we make the negative modifier too big that decision becomes a no-brainer (ie. that you would never do it), then the rules suffer as a consequence... so let's see how it goes with -2.
  • For those that are avid followers of this section of the analysis, the biscuits on this occasion were the emperor of dunking biscuits, the McVitie's Digestive. In celebration of the fact that it was Christmas however, we also deployed some shortcake biscuits coated in caramel and chocolate, and of course some luxury all butter mini mince pies from the grocers to the Queen, Waitrose. The tea on this occasion was big mugs of Twinings "Assam", (and next time DG, I promise less milk!) J


  1. Great report and scenario. I must get around to buying Battlegames. Bad luck for Cadogan's first outing, but at least they defeated one enemy unit first. My recent reading of Guthrie's Later TYW make some interesting points about deeper formations being more likely to stand and fight. "The newer shallower formations contributed to the decreased steadiness of cavalry, After 1632 it became increasing common for units to break prior to contact" Cetainly it makes one ponder about the different cavalry depths and tactics in the WSS.


  2. Great photos and battlefield account. And I really like the look of the terrain.

    -- Jeff

  3. I know what you mean about dice rolling. During our game there were two guys who appear to play a completely different game to me - one consistently rolls well above average, and one consistently below average.

    Interesting thoughts about formations and such. I'm having similar thoughts about how restrictive or not formation changes should be.

    Great game all the same and more for the New Year please!