Sunday, 2 June 2019

Quatre Bras 1815 - Hexasim

This is the fourth game, published by Hexasim in the Eagles of France series. Waterloo, Austerlitz and Ligny being the others.



I have looked at the system closely in earlier posts, so will not cover that ground again, though links to those posts are in the Resource Section below.


This post is just going to look at the physical package, changes to the rules and run a playthough of the introductory scenario.


please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.



For whatever reason, Quatre Bras is one of my favourite napoleonic battles, so I am really pleased to see this compact battle join the series. It has an updated rulebook, with new material printed on a pale blue background, making any updates an easy assimilation for ‘old hands’.


First up, the maps. We are getting a standard sized map (well a tad bigger really at 84 x 60cm because it uses the European A1 poster standard), back printed and a second strip of a map that can be used to expand the main map (out towards Ligny) when playing the larger campaign games that links with the Ligny module. The reason for back printing is that one side enjoys a slightly larger hex, since this is a relatively small battlefield, but the other side has the standard Ligny sized hex, which accommodates the expansion map, so it is pretty much the same map on both sides.


Both Quatre Bras and Frasnes are shown on the map. The artwork matches the previous two titles and I have read recently that when Waterloo is reprinted later this year, it will have its artwork updated to be consistent with this style.


The counters - There 4 counter sheets, which are nicely die cut to have rounded corners on the counters that sit in individual cells. Again these match the counters from the series and are easy to handle and read.



Play aids - You get plenty, mainly to deal with the various set-ups for the scenarios, but the two most used ones are the Terrain Chart (single sided) and the Game Charts (double sided). These look exactly like those used in the series to date, with the combat chart being slightly modified to include the additional DRM for British attacks.


Cards - There are 18 cards (12 tactical and 6 strategic). The game is NOT card driven, rather they add moments of interest and opportunity into the battle. They are double sided and need to be pushed out of a die cut stamped sheet of card. They are on thin card, though when sleeved are very good.


Looking at the rulebook - This is very nicely done and is improving with each edition, as the design team work to get the rules tighter. So you can see some additions highlighted with that blue background, but these are mostly just enhancing the text and removing ambiguity, no doubt based around previous Q&A - job well done, it has made a worthwhile difference.


New series rules are fairly constrained, the main one being that off map units can select an order  destination that can be greater than the usual 15 hexes away from the commander and once they enter the map, that destination will continue to apply while ever they stay on a road. Another ruling sees cavalry flank attacks being strengthened


The rulebook has been made slightly longer, but this is just to accommodate a re-organisation of material. Reinforcement rules have been moved from the Ligny playbook to the main rules (now section 23) and the examples of play in the playbook, have also been moved to the rulebook. In addition, the last 3 pages of the rules now include series Q&A and a small amount of series errata - nice touch.


As a consequence, the Play Book, which remains the same size as in Ligny, now has more room for scenario information and designer notes. There are specific module rules for Quatre Bras and these are making the British (only) elements slightly better at firing and slightly weaker when attacking into melee, while also limiting the number of strength points that can melee. This is to reflect the British trait of having a heavy reliance of using line formation. The results look to be a good application of subtle effect.


An interesting rule is that Ney has direct command of the Guard Cavalry and they are not constrained by the order system. They either move at full when within Ney’s influence or use the Independent Move process when not. The Guard also pay a premium in Victory Points costs for combat losses, so a gentle hand of restraint is placed upon their use by the player.


There are a number of interesting scenarios. Leaving aside the campaign games that unite with the Ligny game, which is something I will explore in another post, we are left with four very worthy and interesting scenarios.


Scenario 1 - This is the purely historical scenario. The game starts at 2PM and the French must work hard before the balance of strength tips over to the Anglo-Allies (around 5pm). The fight continues to 8PM (7 turns).


Scenario 2 - The same as scenario 1, but with variable reinforcements, intended to bring an emotional connection to the battle into play, with both commanders dealing with an evolving battlefield with uncertainty of what they can rely on or be expected to face.


Scenario 3 - This is classed as the introductory game and also the tournament scenario, no doubt because of the limited numbers of units in play. Essentially this is a ‘what if’ of Ney being more decisive and launching his attack three hours earlier at 11 AM. It is a four turn game, with some fixed aspects, such as no end of turn dice rolls.  The whole of Reille’s II Corps and the Guard Light Cavalry are available to the French from the start, while the Anglo-Allies have Perponcher’s 2nd Netherland Division over-stretched in the Quatre Bras and Gemioncourt sectors and no reinforcements. They will not be able to resist the French onslaught and this scenario for them, is all about managing an effective retreat to deny the French their scenario victory goals. We will be playing this scenario in today’s replay.


Scenario 4 - Another ‘what if’, this time it is assumed that Wellington, pre-battle, was able to concentrate much faster against the French left, increasing his options of fighting Ney and / or supporting the Prussians.


So let’s have a go at Scenario 3.



Above - a quick iPad sketch of the essential elements of the battlefield for our scenario.


French intentions are to capture and then push beyond Gemioncourt and onto and beyond Quatre Bras, to secure the Anglo-Allied supply route on the Brussels road and to secure the Quatre Bras to Thyle road, that will later allow French support of the Ligny battlefield, while preventing Wellington from uniting with the Prussians there.  Their losses cannot exceed those of their enemy.
Accordingly we will issue the following initial orders to the French;
Reille - Advance on Gemioncourt
Guard Light Cavalry - Unusually for this system, they don’t need orders in this game, but the plan is to move them up to Thyle and then take the lateral road to envelop Quatre Bras.


Dutch / Belgian intentions are to initially fall back on Gemioncourt and then fall back onto Quatre Bras and if that position becomes compromised, protect the road to Brussels at all cost.


Accordingly we will issue the following initial order to 2nd Netherland Division;
Perponcher - Concentrate around Gemioncourt.


Although not specifically required by the rules, I have set up units to keep them within their proper organisational designations, so for the Anglo-Allies, 1st Brigade will be in the Quatre Bras zone, 2nd Brigade in the Gemioncourt zone and the divisional artillery (Stevenart) at Gemioncourt. For the French, I am keeping A and B units together, so for example 2nd Ligne A and 2nd Ligne B are together in one hex, as are say 4th Léger A and 4th Léger B. I will try and keep them together or at least in close proximity, rather than just trying to get the best stacks etc.


Turn 1.
Ney is in decisive mood, he uses the Frasnes to Quatre Bras road to give Reille’s Corps maximum momentum, aiming straight for Gemioncourt. His Guard cavalry, out on the right, make it as far as Piraumont and he remains in close proximity to their advance. 4th Léger advance so quickly, they arrive in front of Gemioncourt unsupported. They are fired upon by the Dutch / Belgian divisional artillery with deadly effect and they fail their Quality Rating check by enough to cause them to rout. Not only would they be lost to rout, but as they rout back down the road, they are at risk of turning other units to panic. Reluctantly, the French play the ‘re-roll’ card, the unit successfully re-rolls the check and is spared the rout .... but that valuable card then gets handed to the Anglo-Allied player.


Follow up units line up in front of Gemioncourt, these have out-paced their artillery, so will launch an early attack without artillery support. Not having enough troops to cover the frontage of defensive positions and wanting to concentrate their attack on the farm itself, the 2nd Battalion of Nassau are free to deliver disruptive fire (Opportunity Fire) against the left wing of the French assault, forcing 92nd and 100th Ligne back. All around the farm, the French are repulsed, with losses, but on their far right, 61st and 108th Ligne smash into Dutch / Belgian 2nd Battalion Orange-Nassau and Jagers, routing them and allowing the French to start to envelop the farm on one side.
Initial assault on Gemioncourt


Turn 2.
Perponcher extends his line to try and contain the French. A second assault against Gemioncourt fails, the troops suffering grievously on the 2nd Netherland’s guns. Both Gemioncourt and Pierpont farm, further down the edge of Bossu Woods, have checked the French advance.
Defence at Pierpont



Ney sets up his Headquarters at Piraumont, while lead elements of his Guard Light Cavalry advance through Thyle and move along the Quatre Bras road, passing the Materne Pond. Suddenly the danger of being out flanked is all too clear to The Prince of Orange, who issues orders for the division to retire onto Quatre Bras.


Gemioncourt is abandoned and Pierpont falls. Reille pushes his forces just beyond Gemioncourt to secure the area and awaits further orders.


Turn 3.
The lull, while Reille reorganises his Corps at Gemioncourt, gives Perponcher enough time to settle the Quatre Bras defences and site the Divisional Artillery on a small rise at Ferme de la Bergerie, a position that protects Quatre Bras from frontal assault.


Ney orders Reille to attack Quatre Bras, while the Guard Cavalry increase their stranglehold  on Quatre Bras, with Chasseurs and Lancers cutting the Brussels road in the rear at Ferme des Allies.
Perponcher's defence at Quatre Bras



Guard Horse Artillery start putting Quatre Bras under fire, while an infantry assault is made against Bergerie farm, which not only fails, but causes two French regiments to rout. With so much French cavalry milling about, 8th National Dutch Militia move from the village outskirts to seek the cover of some buildings.


2nd battalion Nassau and the artillery at Ferme de la Bergerie, though taking losses, continue to hold. This is a tough position and Stevenart’s divisional artillery is causing heavy casualties amongst the French.


Turn 4.
Positions at the start of the turn

At last! Bergerie falls and the Prince of Orange is captured, but the defenders have inflicted heavy casualties on the French and perhaps more importantly, have significantly held up their advance.


Guard Chasseurs roam the rear areas of Quatre Bras, picking off Allied routing units.
Picking off the routers!



Finally, Reille has his forces in position for a direct assault on Quatre Bras, he has brought up his final reserves of fresh units for the attack, but the infantry and Bijleveld's Horse Artillery at the crossroads, under the personal command of Perponcher, continue to inflict heavy losses on the attackers and the assault does not make headway. Eventually the gunfire dies down and a stand-off marks the end of this phase of the fighting.


Casualties.
French loses are 2 units that have a value of 17 strength points. Additionally 3 units are routing and 5 units are flipped.


Dutch / Belgian losses are 5 units, that have a value of 40 strength points. Additionally, nothing is routing and 1 unit is flipped. The Prince of Orange has been captured.


When losses exceed 50%, an army becomes Demoralised at the end of that turn. In this instance, the loss of Orange would have put 2nd Netherlands Division over that level. So had there been a 5th turn, they would have been in a sorry state.


Victory?
For a French win in this scenario, they must pass all of the following hurdles;


The French must occupy the Quatre Bras crossroads - Failed.
The French must dominate the two main roads - Failed (just!)
The French must be within 4 hexes of the Dutch / Belgian supply on the Brussels road - success
The French must inflict higher losses on the Coalition forces, they succeeded at 40 losses Vs their own 17.
Ney must not be harmed during battle - success.


So an Anglo-Allied win. The French were held up at Gemioncourt and even more significantly so later in front of Ferme de la Bergerie, where the French took their greatest losses. The pace of the French advance meant that they were typically moving into contact without the support of their own guns and this became quite telling.


The placement of Dutch / Belgian guns at both Quatre Bras crossroads and at Gemioncourt farm, ensured that both positions were significant obstacles to the French timetable and responsible for inflicting the most losses and degrading the French assault capability.


The decision to keep a unit down at Pierpont was probably worthwhile, as that distraction tied up six French units for a while.


All told, this was a different game to the face-to-face outing the other day at the tactical level, but the overall strategic direction of the scenario was similar and it still rested on a tight turn 4 that could have seen victory go either way. This is certainly a good introductory scenario, but its value as a tournament is also clear. I can see this scenario being put onto the table regularly, if only to keep the players familiar with the system.


Conclusions.
For any fan of the battle, collector of the series or someone just wanting to see what this series is all about, this is a cracking package. The game has a feeling of being designed by gamers with a miniatures background (I have no idea whether they have or not), but the flavour of play is very napoleonic and the relationship between the various arms is quite nuanced.


Although the game is being played at army level, at anyone time there can be multiple critical points in the battle in which the variables of the combat system / Quality Rating checks and potential leader loss will lead to some really nice narrative, such as when Bergerie farm held out in our game for longer than expected, with Prince of Orange commanding in person and providing a stubborn defence against all the odds and as it fell, he was captured. This is a game that you can immerse yourself into.


I have played this scenario both face-to-face and solitaire now and both have been enjoyable experiences. There is an order system, commonly based upon the geographical destination of formations (within 15 hexes of the commanders current position) and while the potential secrecy of this is suited to 2 player play, the solo gamer is quite used to handling these sort of things and destinations are often fairly obvious anyway.


The focus of the previous main scenarios in the series has been based around actions across two maps, but the concise nature of this battle offers a chance for the gamer with limited time or space to explore and enjoy the system, with it’s one map offering, while also being suitable for the battle that I think we will all want to do eventually ...... Quatre Bras and Ligny combined, with D’Erlon having a chance to arrive on one field or the other!


Thanks Hexasim for your continued support of such a great system.


Resource Section;


Earlier posting on the Ligny intro scenario, Streets of Ligny and a look at the system. Link.

Replay of the Ligny full battle. LINK


11 comments:

  1. Nice overview and play-through, Norm. The components of this one look superb. The map reminds me of Rick Barber maps in the LaBatt series or L'Armee du Nord from CoA. Beautiful! The artwork on the counters and having pre-cut rounded corners are brilliant. This would save a lot of time for those among us who are confirmed counter clippers. I may add this to my shopping list.

    Thank you!

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  2. Thanks Jonathan, your eye is perceptive, the 'design' is the work of Rick Barber, but the execution of the artwork is by the hand of Sebastien Brunel.

    I see someone at Consimworld has jumped in and already done the big combined Quatre Bras / Ligny scenario - fab!

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  3. Nice write up. Especially since someone like me who knows nothing of the battle of QB (or even how to spell it) was able to get the larger strategic sense of the scenario and the tactical aspects.
    The game looks cool. I think any boardgamer with an interest in Napoleonic battles would appreciate it. 😀

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  4. Thanks Stew, this has been my most anticipated game for almost a year.

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  5. I have to say the artwork looks great and those counters are especially well done. they look like they would be very easy to handle.

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    1. Lee, I really like the counters, perhaps because they are a little understated, but I noted a post on Consimworld yesterday, in which a poster had asked for future games not to use the cross bars (i.e. Nato symbol) for units, based on the idea that to do so was thematically wrong (i.e. the symbol post dates the period in question), so as always, as far as counters are concerned, we are into personal taste. But I like them, so all is good :-).

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  6. Sounds like a great set of rules and you certainly had an entertaining game. We are hoping to play Wavre in a week or so, on or as close to the date as possible, subject to the usual real life issues etc. I had hoped to get a Normandy game in on Thursday (still an outside chance) to commerate the 75th anniversary of the landings and as a tribute to all involved.

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  7. Thanks Steve, I love the series, hope you get Wavre going. I am too late organisationally to get something for Normandy done, but I do have a Caen scenario in mind for perhaps next week.

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  8. Nice write up and lovely graphic quality to the maps and counters,I guess I can see the chaps point about the symbol being slightly anachronistic but it's clear, works and certainly doesn't jump out,it's testament to the quality of the rest of the product that that's the level of criticism!
    Best Iain

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  9. Thanks Ian,I think at this scale, it is better to have a counter that is easy on the eye than having (albeit lovely) single icons in their proper uniform, as a clutch of single figures would lose the 'army' effect that the game is going for and trying to scale a horse and rider into the same space is seldom a good look.

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