Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Marengo AAR


Marengo by Decision Games.

Italy 1800. French forces were taken by surprise when a larger Austrian Army caught them dispersed on the Marengo Plain. While Victor’s corps fought a tough delaying action along the Fontanone Creek, Napoleon hurried his troops towards the battlefield. Eventually the French broke and began retreating eastwards, but at a critical moment, Desaix arrived and together with Kellerman’s cavalry, they shattered the Austrian spearhead and reclaimed the battlefield - hence the sub-title ‘Morning defeat, Afternoon Victory’.

Folder cover.



This is just a simple AAR. For anyone wanting a detailed look at the game system or how the Quick Play rules stack up against the full system rules, please look at my post covering Shiloh (under labels on the right).

The Quick Play version of the rules (downloaded) are being used for this replay. After recently playing Shiloh, moving on to Marengo simply required reading the cavalry and squares rules plus the few extra rules that are given in the exclusive Marengo rulebook. All is very straight forward.

The armies have different characteristics. The French have high movement rates and high morale (fours), making them quite flexible - but in combat, this means that they often pass their retreat checks and so the secondary combat result of 'Exchange' is a more likely outcome. Since there are quite a few one step units in the game, that can be a painful outcome.

The Austrians are a mixed bunch. They typically have much slower movement rates than the French and combat values and morale values are fairly varied, so you get an individual feel for the units. Of particular note, the artillery when deployed mostly have a movement rate of just 1. It has been clarified by the designer that you can flip the artillery to its ineffective side to get the faster move rate - but obviously you will then need to be out of an enemy ZOC to flip it back again before being able to use it for bombardment (plus an extra turn if you need to move it up adjacent to an enemy as you cannot flip back and move adjacent in the same turn). There is enough Austrian artillery, with its range of three hexes and enough open terrain, to allow their bombardment support to be useful.

An interesting added rule concerns chateaux terrain features. Where a chateaux exists in a hex, it is ignored unless you have a battalion sized unit that can be placed inside it. These units are then considered isolated from the rest of the stack and they cannot be attacked until they are the only unit remaining in the hex. This is a clever little mechanic for simulating these strong-points. The Austrians start with some battalion sized units and the French can generate up to two such units during play.

The French artillery is poor and does not have an attack value. If the French can bring three out of their five gun units together, they can exchange the guns for the Marmont (attack value 3) artillery unit.

French reinforcements are on the turn track (shown below), though most of them have to roll to see whether they get delayed a turn or so. In this game they generally did!

The Austrians win if Napoleon becomes a casualty or the French HQ leaves the map. The French win if by the end of the game they hold Marengo and have a safe line of retreat from it. Failing this, victory is based upon casualty levels.

Because of the Austrian victory conditions, I used parts of the H.Q. rules from the full set, but on reflection that was not really necessary.



Starting positions


1/ The Austrian army enter at this location in the order that the column of troops down the left side of the board are set out (i.e. as though they had marched in column onto the map).

2/ The town of Marengo, a French objective.

3/ The Fontanone Creek is a linear obstacle that substantially helps the French position.

4/ The orange dot is a chateaux - in this case Chateaux Barbotta, which the French managed to hold throughout the game.

Turn 1.
Austrian movement - As with Shiloh, there is a special turn 1 movement rule for the Austrians. Each time they contact a French unit, the French unit must take a moral check to see whether it disrupts. Any further contacts cause another test, this time to see whether the unit routs.

Despite being contacted several times, the French high morale level (four) saves them, until all of a sudden, they lose a few die rolls in a bad run of luck and both units rout away.

First contact has caused the French to give up their positions and they
are disrupted (so lose their ZOC’s, are halved in attack, have a
-2 modifier when checking morale and have a variable movement based on a D6).



Austrian attack Phase - In this system. Attacks are not mandatory, but if you do not attack a unit that has a ZOC, then it can immediately counter-attack at double strength. Disrupted units do not have a ZOC, so that is not something that will bother the weak Austrian cavalry unit next to the disrupted unit (above photo).

French Movement - cavalry move out to cover the flanks and on the right they cover the trails over the stream.

French attacks - They chase off a cavalry unit and cause a couple of retreats, but they do not want to advance after combat and give up the protection of the stream.

Turn 2.
The slow moving Austrians are all on the map (I forgot to apply the randomised movement allowance for an inactive H.Q) and spreading out to stretch and pin the defenders.

The French roll for the arrival of Napoleon but he is delayed as are the Consular Guard (until turn 4 ... not good). They do however get a battalion sized unit that immediately occupies the Barbotta chateaux and an infantry unit also advances into that hex to bolster the line.

the orange dot is Chateaux Barbotta. You can see the battalion sized unit
(next to the die) that will move to occupy it.



the French centre / right looks like it has been over strengthened
at the expense of the left.

Turn 3.
The armies make contact and three Austrian attacks inflict two retreats and one exchange. When cavalry, artillery or leaders retreat, they flip to their inactive side and it takes a full turn outside of an enemy ZOC to flip back. The Exchange results can be deadly as the game has quite a few 1 step units.

Napoleon arrives on the field, but a major formation that could have arrived with him is delayed. He starts to move towards the left flank, where the greater threat is.

Turn 4.
The French positions along the stream are strong and Austrian progress is slow. Napoleon arrives on the left, but his forces here are too few in number to do anything other than try to hold on. He must await troops that are following up behind.

Because the French do not want to attack this turn (as they are halved for attacking out of a stream or into a stream), the Austrians effectively get 10 counter-attack opportunities (made by single stacks), but the strong French positions discourage most of them from doing so (this is one of the things that I don’t like about the full rules, this situation would give the Austrian 10 Fortune of War opportunities, which can have a big impact).

The French suffer just one retreat - against the unit that is in the Barbotta hex, but OUTSIDE the Barbotta Chateaux. The small battalion garrison inside the Chateaux is not effected, so they remain and it prevents the Austrians advancing into the hex after combat - neat idea.

Turn 5.
The Austrians chip away at the French positions and bypass the Chateaux Barbotta (it does not have a ZOC). At the river bend just in front of Marengo, they manoeuvre to bring in a concentration of troops, supported by bombarding ranged artillery fire. They launch their attack as something of a risky venture with just a 50/50 chance of success and failure meaning their own retreat. The position needs to be forced before the French have chance to strengthen it. The die falls in favour of the Austrians and they get their push back.

Turn 6.

The start of turn 6.

The Austrians move around the side and rear of Marengo and their assault causes the defenders to rout away. The capture of Marengo is a blow to the French as having control of this town is their main victory condition. Each side has lost 3 units so far, though several others are on their final step.

The French continue to roll badly for reinforcements, which slide further down the turn track. They pull some units back slightly to preserve the line - except Lannes and his force, who are surrounded and trapped (top left of above photo). Enough new units have arrived to maintain a secure front line and allow the French to remain within the proximity of Marengo, ready for their certain attempts to re-capture the town before the game ends.

Turn 7.

starting positions for turn 7.

Lannes is in a difficult position, but amongst the stream and marsh, the Austrians find it difficult to bring their full strength against him. Napoleon stands off, awaiting the arrival of more troops before he can intervene. But before this can happen, Lannes routs. He survives but the infantry unit with him flips as they escape past an enemy ZOC.

Ott becomes a casualty

The Austrian commander (Ott) is not so fortunate in his attack. Though they push the enemy back, the Combat Table gets a ‘leader’ result (I had to check in the main rules to make sure that this result applies to all leaders in a combat, even attackers). He then failed the test die roll (5 or 6 eliminates) and was removed from play. This reinforces the view of the French player that Napoleon should stay out of battle until sufficient forces arrive, as a dead Napoleon would give an instant win to the Austrians!

Desaix arrives (hooray - can he save the day as he did historically?) a turn late at entry point F. He moves to leave the trail and get onto a main road as quickly as possible. As pressure builds, Napoleon has little choice but to become involved in battle on his exposed flank. His stack inflicts a Dx result (1 enemy flips) and importantly, he does not get a leader harmed result.

Turn 8.
Noting the mustering of French forces on their right, with Marengo as the likely target, the Austrians make an attack on Napoleons position.

Napoleon surrounded.

The Austrians get 25 combat points, including support from nearby artillery. The French stack has 7 combat points. Napoleon could add his 4 combat points to that, but the Austrians would still be rolling against the highest combat column on the combat table and his involvement would simply increase the chances of him becoming a casualty, so he stays out of the battle, so that if a leader result was rolled, he would only be lost on a 6 (not a 5 or 6).

The Austrians roll 5, causing a DM (Dx) result, so first the defenders take a morale check for routing (the DM bit of the result), which they pass, causing them to apply the second part of the result (Dx), which automatically (under the new errata) flips a counter. The lead French unit only has a single step and is eliminated.

Napoleons position is precarious, but those two (see above photo) French stacks adjacent to the attackers were not attacked, despite them both having a ZOC, accordingly, they are both now entitled to launch a counter-attack at double strength, which they do.

Lannes (bottom of the picture) gets a DM (Dx) Leader result. The Austrians test against morale for rout and pass, so must take a Dx result (flip). It has 1 step and is removed from play. But the leader result means Lannes must test for casualties - he fails and is removed from play.

The other stack (Victor) has more luck, he routs the Austrians in front of him and he advances to support Napoleon’s right shoulder.

Turn 8.
The Consular Guard (single step) attack to get adjacent to Marengo, but suffer an Exchange result and are removed from play (ouch).

End of turn 8

Napoleon is with a reduced unit. Victor is adjacent to Marengo and is with a full strength unit, so he may be the biggest threat to the Austrians at this point

Turn 9 (last turn).
Austrian part of the turn - Austrian strengths are now getting low. They make two attacks of note, one against Napoleon which fails and one against Victor which results in an Exchange. In a counter-attack (through not being attacked), a French unit was able to eliminate the flipped unit in front of Marengo. It is now for the French to make something of that opportunity and take the town with whatever is available.

French part of the turn - The game so far had not really presented much opportunity for cavalry charges, so I just had to try a charge and with who else other than Kellerman! The cavalry pass their charge check, the defenders (single step) fail theirs and disrupt but do go into square. Kellerman gets an Attacker Retreat result and has to retire 3 hexes. Oh well, at least I tried!

The French assault goes into Marengo. It is only defended by an artillery unit (bad decision by the Austrians), which is pushed back and as a final act of the game, the French advance into Marengo and claim a victory. Overall, an enjoyable game that went down to the last die roll.

Out of interest, both sides lost 9 units each.

the end of the game, viewed from the French position.

1/ This is Chateaux Barbotta, held by the French throughout.

2/ This wing just bogged down into a stalemate. The French units are strong but so is that defensive line on the stream. If either side suffered disruption, the loss of a ZOC could result in encirclement of the other forces and the wing could quickly become a crisis point, so both sides remained cautious.

3/ The French advance into Marengo.

4/ The Austrian unit that went into square when charged by Kellerman.

5/ Kellerman, repulsed following the attack on the Austrian square. It is flipped to its inactive side and would need another turn, out of an enemy ZOC to flip back.

I really enjoyed the game under the Quick Play rules. Though it is exactly the same system as the Shiloh game that I recently played, the difference in the armies, the terrain and the few special rules makes for a very different feel (as it should, but what I am saying is that we are not getting generic games here under this series system).

I did not really get a chance to use the charge rule, because much of the fighting was done in and around the stream and charging needs open terrain only. However, in other regards, the cavalry did act within role.

The open terrain allowed for the Austrians to use bombardment to support non-adjacent attacks to good effect and I really like how the values on the counters are used to differentiate the capabilities of both armies. The Austrians can use their artillery offensively, the French cannot (unless they convert 3 artillery units to the Marmont counter), French morale is high, Austrian morale is mixed and their units are slow. Those infantry units that start as single step formations are capable but brittle. This became more noticeable as the number of Exchange results in combat were plentiful as good morale generally meant that units were passing their morale checks and having instead to apply the second combat result, which is how Exchanges are generated.

I dived into the full rules on a few occasions but everything was quite manageable. I did two internet searches for Q&A, neither was necessary as I later discovered both points were covered in the full rules.

I really enjoyed this game and will play it again soon.

Solitaire - This is a two player game that plays very well solitaire. The testing of unit morale provides a variable that takes control away from the player and the combat table also delivers uncertainty. Both these help keep the solitaire play interesting.

Time - this is just a 9 turn game and for most of the game, only half the French army is on the board, so this fits comfortably into an evening session.

Complexity - It is worth reading my Shiloh post concerning the complexity of the full rules for this series. This AAR was played with the Quick Play version of rules and they were easy to read and easy to implement. I did need to access the full rule book a few times to deal with some things in the scenario that are not covered in the Quick Play rules - such as H.Q.s but overall, the QP rules meet the 2 out of 10 complexity score that the rear of the folio suggest for the full version (I feel the full rules should have been marked a point higher).

Size - The game is a half mapper with 80 counters. Turn track is on the map and game charts are on the back of the rules, so the only table space needed is for the map itself. The hexes are large enough to comfortable manage the small counters. The game is contained in a cardboard folder (magazine sized).

Errata - there is a very small amount of errata (as shown below) and generally this helps move the casualty rate upwards. The rout rule seems too ‘gentle’ without the errata. The latest download rules now incorporate the new errata (November 2013).

7.5 Combat Results. Change the definition of Ax or Dx to read:

Ax or Dx = Attacker Loss or Defender Loss. The affected unit loses a step (7.7); no advance or retreat is made.

Also, bombardments satisfy the need to attack an enemy unit.

7.6 Retreats & the SLR. Under the Unsafe Line of Retreat, a unit takes a loss before it routs again. Change the Unsafe Line of Retreat to read:

Unsafe Line of Retreat: This is identical to the SLR but passes through an unnegated EZOC and/or ends in an EZOC. In this case, the unit takes a loss (7.7), then routs from the unsafe hex. A unit may take a loss and rout any number of times until it no longer has a line of retreat or retreats off the map.



  1. Good AAR and review Norm.
    I have played Stone's River which uses the same system, and while I liked the system, I do not like ACW battles that much.
    Curious as to what part of the UK you live in, as I am in Hastings, and I noticed your avatar is from the Bayeux Tapestry,so you are either in the Hastings area or is the avatar of Norman the Conqueror - your namesake?

  2. Hi thanks, I enjoyed the game and really liked Marengo. I would love to see a few more Napoleonic battles coming out. I have just re-bought Chickamauga, which looks nice and really, I am just glad to have another source of interesting battles at this scale that are easy to setup and play.

    No, I am not a local, my avatar reflects my general interest in 1066 etc and is used at Consimworld in connection with a couple of 1066 designs that I did for the world of DTP. I retain the avatar here so that together with my CSW and boardgamegeek posts, I am readily identifiable and to provide continuity.

    I don't make posts here about my DTP stuff because it seems fair that I should keep that separate from reporting on games printed by companies with commercial interests i.e. I do not want to confuse my amateur dabblings with the professional output of others or to ride on the coat-tails of others, they have earned their place on our game tables by putting cash and investment down.



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