Saturday, 22 June 2013

Hexes with rules for miniatures (Napoleonic).


This AAR is based around a marriage of two different games. I used the boardgame parts from GMT’s Commands & Colors Napoleonics, but used the rule system described by Neil Thomas in his book Napoleonic Wargaming, published by The History Press, as a way of exploring how to get the figure format into a smaller space.



160 page paperback, contains simple rules and army lists.



This is a self contained boardgame with board, terrain, rules, scenarios 
and French, British and Portuguese forces. Other nationalities are already available.


The Neil Thomas rules are light, fun and have enough tweaks to reflect the various unit characteristics. They are based on hits and saves (mainly if in protective terrain). The GMT boardgame has high quality game parts, giving us a playing area and terrain tiles, together with the wooden blocks (units) that are ideal to work with the Thomas system that mostly uses four elements per formation.

To convert the Neil Thomas rules over to a hex format, measurements, facings plus a few bits and pieces need some house rules. In the spirit of keeping the system simple, the following seems to work fine.

Facing;
All units must face a hex vertex (the point where hex sides meet). They can move into either of the two front hexes that they face into. They may attack into those same two hexes or fire out beyond them (in a cone shape) if their weapon range allows. They can change facing to face another vertex within their hex as part of movement.


 Whenever the rules refer to making 45 degree turns, treat this as meaning the unit turns within the hex, either left or right to face towards the next vertex.

Whenever the movement rules talk about a manoeuvre taking half a move, the unit performs that manoeuvre and can then still move 1 hex.

Retreats - if a retreat would force a unit to leave the board, then instead, it stops in the hex at the board edge and loses 1 extra block instead (this does not trigger an additional morale check).

Movement allowances;

Line infantry in line - 1 hex

Line infantry in attack column, all light infantry, limbered foot art - 2 hexes (see my reservations at the end of this article)

Heavy cavalry and limbered horse artillery - 3 hexes

Light cavalry, lancers, Cossacks - 4 hexes

Infantry in square - no movement

(remember - artillery cannot fire in the same turn that it limbers up, unlimbers or moves).

Weapon Ranges;

Rifle - 3 hexes
Musket - 2 hexes
Carbine - 1 hex

Artillery short range is 3 hexes or less
Artillery long range is 4 hexes to 9 hexes

For infantry units to physically fit inside a hex, infantry line should be should be deployed just like heavy cavalry, that is, two blocks wide by two deep (rather than the 1 single line required in the book). All skirmishers types (light Infantry) will be in the same formation, but each block should be slightly set apart from each other, to show a more dispersed and open organisation.

Artillery cannot be charged if it has any friendly close order infantry or horde unit in an adjacent hex (the book states a distance of 8cm, our conversion is roughly 8cm equals 1 hex).

Artillery is represented by a single block (that like every other block, can take 4 hits).

Terrain selection.
Ignore references to roads. To establish the size of each hill or wood deployed, roll a d6, on a 1 - 3 one terrain tile is used to form the feature, on a 4 - 6 use two tiles but they must be placed adjacent to each other.

SCENARIO

The retreat from Quatre Bras. 17th June 1815.

This fictional scenario (created to test this variant) assumes that the French were more effective in their pursuit of Wellington’s army following the battle of Quatre Bras, preventing him from properly disengaging and resulting in a further substantial battle the day before Waterloo was to be fought.

Victory Conditions are as per the generic conditions in the rules (but see special rule 2 below).

Special Rules - The rain on the day was described as torrential. Immediately before moving each unit, roll a d6. On a result of 1 - 2 the unit must reduce their movement allowance by 1 hex and yes that does mean that line infantry in line formation will not be able to move out of their hex. This rule does not effect any in hex movement, such as change of formation or facing, which it would do first before testing for movement.

After 20 turns have been played, the game ends and victory is assessed under the scoring system (page 121). In addition to the usual VP conditions, award the Anglo - Allies 1 VP for every four (round down) surviving friendly blocks (not the leader) that are in the rear hex row on the Allied board edge, as they are assumed to have disengaged successfully.

Forces: (8 units per side plus a general)
French. They take their mandatory units, 2 line infantry, 1 conscript infantry, 1 light infantry, 1 cuirassier and 1 leader. In addition they choose 1 cuirassier, 1 light cavalry and 1 light infantry. This is a fast force for pursuit.

Anglo - Allied. They take their mandatory units, 1 British line infantry, 2 Allied line infantry, 1 British heavy cavalry and 1 leader. In addition they choose 1 foot artillery, 1 riflemen, 1 guards infantry and 1 light cavalry. This force reflects the general composition of the retreating army.

Terrain Selection.
There are two hill groups and two wood groups. For each group, lay each down one at a time by having both sides roll a d6 and the winner is allowed to freely place that terrain group (1 or 2 tiles, see above).

Troop Deployment - as per the rules, the sides take it in turns (Anglo - Allied) to place their units two at a time with the generals being placed last of all. Units can only be placed on their own baseline row of hexes, except the Anglo - Allied artillery, which can be placed anywhere within the first 3 rows of hexes on their side of the board.

The French player is the first player in the sequence of play.

After Action Report of the second game played with this variant.

Terrain selection




 
The Anglo - Allies get a single hill which they place being mindful of giving a good artillery position. They also get a double woods feature, which they place next to the hill, so that infantry can give support from there to the artillery (artillery next to infantry cannot be charged, as the crews can take refuge with the infantry).

The French get a couple of terrain pieces, which they place forward as potential anchor points for their left flank attacks.

Set-up
 



1) The French have 2 line and 1 conscript infantry units set up in assault columns. They have cuirassiers to their left for support. They plan to just drive these columns straight off the Allied side of the board. With these rules, for every close order infantry exited this way, the other side have to remove two formations from play. All three count as eliminated.

2) Light cavalry and cuirassiers.

3) Two formations of light infantry, note how the blocks are separated to show their dispersed nature.

4) The Anglo - Allies have artillery on the hill and two Allied infantry units ( count as levy) ready to occupy the woods.

5) The British Guards - to be held in reserve.

6) Heavy British cavalry and Rifles.

7) British Line infantry and British light cavalry.

At this point the Anglo - Allied set-up looks a little too strong in the centre at the expense of their right flank, especially with those French columns set to attack that flank.

Turns 1 - 2. The French play through the sequence of play first and then the Anglo - Allies do the same. Turns are ordered as follows;

1/ Make charge moves and receive contact fire if appropriate.

2/ Conduct other movement.

3/ Fire with units that have not moved (some exceptions such as light infantry that have a dual move / fire capacity).

4/ Resolve close combats (simultaneous within each individual battle) generated during the charge move.

The artillery fires on the French light infantry causing 1 hit. I am using small dice to record these hits next to the units. Every 4 hits cause a block to be removed. Whenever a unit loses a block or retreats after close combat, it must take a morale test and if it fails, it will lose another block - it can get quite deadly.

The French make good progress, hampered little by the rain.

Turn 3


 1) French cavalry chase away the British light cavalry, which have now moved around the rear of the woods near to position 2. The light cavalry received 5 hits, so they lost 1 block and kept the remainder hit. They took more hits than the attackers, so had to retreat. The retreat would have taken them off the board, so instead they stopped at the board edge and lost another block instead. Both the retreat result and the block loss are causes to generate a morale check, which if failed would result in another block being lost - but in his instance they passed.

2) One of the (two) Allied formations (brown coloured blocks) is trying to get from the centre to aid their right flank, but it slowed by the effects of rain and struggles to get going.

3) The French attack columns are making excellent progress. The conscript unit (counts as levy) have deployed into line in the woods.

4) the British cavalry have driven the cuirassiers back and inflicted a block loss on them - but once they charge, British cavalry lose control and are compelled to repeatedly make mandatory attacks, losing fighting strength for each round that they fight.

5) The Guards have had to move to intercept the French advance.

Turn 4.


 1) Thankfully for the Anglo - Allies, the seemingly unstoppable advance of the French columns has been halted by a concentration of British force and they are thrown back a hex.

2) The Allied formation (brown blocks) has been slowed by rain every turn so far, they should really be amongst the French by now.

3) The British lone light cavalry block and the Guard (with leader) have attacked the right French column . The Guards lose a block to fire from the conscripts in the woods.

4) British Heavy cavalry continue the pressure on the cuirassiers, who are now down to 2 blocks and have accumulated a further 3 hits.

Turn 5

Turn 5
 
One of the French attack columns has reached the far side of the board. The British heavy cavalry have at last removed the cuirassiers from the field.

To the right (off picture) the second cuirassier unit is moving towards this sector and in response, the Guard (top right of above picture) go into square.

End of turn 5

Turn 6
The French column leaves the board. It goes into the elimination pile but in response, the Anglo - Allied player must now remove two formations from the board and likewise count them as eliminated (the Guards unit, now down to 2 blocks and with three hits is removed, as is the Allied infantry unit in the centre woods).


  With the artillery no longer adjacent to a close order infantry unit, it can be charged and so the cuirassiers position themselves to do that next turn (they have missed the charge phase this turn). However, the allies in their part of the turn, respond by moving the British line unit across from the woods hex to the vacant one. Once again the artillery has support and so will not be able to be charged.

Turn 7
Rain slows down the second French column and prevents them leaving the map this turn.

Turn 8
Both sides have 3 losses in total.

French - cuirassiers and 2 line infantry
Anglo - Allies, Light cavalry, levy allies and the Guards.

To maintain the pressure on the left, the French draw their cavalry across to that flank. The artillery pivots in place to give better cover to their right flank.

Turn 9
The French conscripts, having left the woods in attack column, have now reached the map edge. A series of confusing battles is fought by several units in that locality. The British heavy cavalry bring the cuirassiers down to 1 block.

Turn 10
The French conscripts leave the board and in response the Anglo - Allies remove their heavy cavalry and rifle units from the game.

Turn 11 - 14
The French light cavalry charge the allied levy unit. Both sides take heavy losses, but the infantry is down to 1 block. It goes into square. The light cavalry attack again but without making any impression. The light cavalry and cuirassiers break off the attack and pull right back, they are down to single blocks and vulnerable to complete defeat. There is something of a stalemate as both sides fear coming of worse if they engage further. Seeking to meet their disengagement victory conditions, the artillery limbers up and the British line in the woods turn 180 degrees and move onto the back row of hexes.

 

Turn 15
The French light infantry move up to the hill / woods.

 

Turn 16
The artillery re-deploys on its baseline, it presently has two hits on it.

note the lone allied infantry unit in square (top left)
 
Both sides are worn down but 1 VP either way could sway the game, so careful engagement is worthwhile. On the left the units are too weak to risk further action, but on the right the French light infantry units will push into the woods and try and reduce the number of British blocks to stop them getting the extra end of game VP’s (special scenario rule 2).



 
 
Turns 17 - 20
The units satisfy themselves with just firing at each other. The artillery suffer another hit, but fortunately for them they don’t suffer a 4th hit, so stay in play. The last die rolls fail to make any impression and the game ends.

Victory points. The Anglo - Allies score 4 for eliminations plus an extra VP for having 5 blocks (divided by four) on their base hex row, so 5 points altogether. The French score 5 points for eliminations, so the result is a draw, which feels about right as these two armies have fought themselves to a standstill.

Afterthoughts.
The first time I played this scenario, my terrain generator was more generous and the Allies had too much terrain, which gave too much cover and made the scenario tough for the French. This game, with the generator modified, felt about right, even though it looked a bit sparse on the map.

Mistakes - I have found one so far, I treated the French light infantry as being armed with rifles, when I should have been using the shorter ranged musket.

The merging of the two game sets gives an enjoyable game, there is room for some more tweaks but overall it shows promise.

My main concern at the moment is that the attack columns move too quickly and encourages infantry to go charging off the board as a way of getting easy eliminations. Essentially these columns move too quickly to have an adequate chance of stopping them. In this game, it was only the special rule of the rain that slowed them down. Neil Thomas has them moving at 12cm, so really, using the 8cm to the hex scale that I have chosen, they should only be moving at a hex and a half each turn, so I will need to think of an easy way to reflect that.

The rules have some nice ideas for relatively little rules overhead. Some seem a little strange at first such as the exiting infantry causing the enemy to lose two formations and artillery not being exposed to charge when next to infantry support, but the rational (explained in the book) on all these quirky rules is interesting and basically it works rather well.

I have the GMT Russian module and so I will give those troops a go in my next game.


Solitaire - fine, it is a bit of a buckets of dice system, so some might find doing the die rolling for both sides a little bothersome at times, but overall there is nothing that presents an obstacle to solitaire play.

Size - You really only need the 8 panel game board and a place to rest the rules and dice tray.

Complexity - The mechanics are very straight forward, but the 9 pages of rules have gaps as the rules can feel like you are reading a set of notes. These gaps are filled in the previous chapter as the rational of each rule section is discussed, but for the first game, it does result in some flipping of pages back and forth. However, if this is a game that you will play even a few times, then that learning curve is worthwhile. Because of this, I would rate the complexity as initially 3 (out of 10) and then perhaps a 2 with some familiarity.

Time - The game will play in a short evening, allowing around two hours after set-up is about right. The game speeds up after the inevitable losses grow.
 
 


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