Today is the anniversary date of the Battle of Quatre Bras, so Hexasim’s boardgame covering the subject has been up on the table. The blog has seen earlier posts covering the ‘Eagles of France’ system in some detail and links to those articles are provided in the Resource Section at the foot of this post.
This article is just going to be a straight AAR of the battle, using the historical scenario, which means that Ney is attacking later in the day, with the Anglo-Allied reinforcements already near the battlefield.
Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.
We begin play at 2 PM. The game will conclude at 8 PM, having been played in hourly turns. The French have the numbers advantage at the start of play, but Anglo-Allied reinforcements are close at hand and by 5 PM, the tide of favour will turn their way.
A decisive victory will be called if Wellington is killed or if either side loses a critical number of casualties (unlikely).
Failing that, at the end of play, calculating victory conditions include geographical objectives and casualties. The French will score decent VP’s for controlling the Quatre Bras road junction and / or for cutting the road between Quatre Bras and Thyle with more than 40 strength points (this represents stopping Wellington moving along the lateral road to assist the Prussian army who are currently engaged 7 miles away at the nearby battlefield of Ligny). Further, control of some of the local farms will also add to the VP mix.
So there is much to to.
We know the story of Quatre Bras. Ney delayed making an early attack, believing the enemy were stronger than they actually were. This lost opportunity meant that once his assault did get under way, the Anglo-Allied reinforcements were already entering the proximity of the battlefield - that is the basis of our scenario.
Above - note the system uses orders. The red dots on the orders reference card show locations that a corps can be given as an objective in their orders. Essentially the formation must move in that direction or defend such a location and should not deviate from the task unless their orders are changed.
2 PM. Both sides open play with a slightly different approach than I normally take with this game and later in the day we may look at this moment and feel that it mattered.
The French, rather than driving straight for Gémioncourt, instead open their attack with orders to advance on Grand Pierpont, intending to then have their orders change to drive on Gémioncourt, rolling up Perponcher’s line (2nd Netherlands Division). This might well destroy Perponcher’s division, but it might also mean that by the time the French attack Gémioncourt, it will already have been heavily reinforced.
For their part, the Anglo-Allies have the newly arrived Picton’s 5th Division marching to reinforce Quatre Bras, but the Brunswickers, following on behind, are diverted to move cross-country, towards Thyle. This will likely work to help Wellington’s left flank, but might leave Quatre Bras too weak? Some interest is bound to fall out from this as Kellerman’s Cuirassiers (French) have also been sent on ahead to Thyle, to cut the road.
Perponcher’s men (28th Regiment Orange - Nassau and Jägers) put up a tremendous defence at Grand Pierpont, inflicting heavy casualties on the French, but surrounded, they eventually rout and with their path blocked, they are taken out of the game.
3PM. With Grand Pierpont taken, Ney directs (using his orders allowance) Reille to push directly onto Gémioncourt. The French are taking heavy losses, which may impact later in the game, but this is not too one sided, as they press on, 27th Dutch Jäeger rout and 8th Dutch Militia are removed from play.
The turn ends early (two end of turn dice rolls have caused this), so the Brunswickers, using the country lanes, heading for Thyle, are advancing frustratingly slowly, though Picton has managed to fully deploy at Quatre Bras.
4 PM. Losses so far (measured in strength points actually removed from the table - not including flipped units still on the table), Anglo-Allies 15 SP's plus 1 routing unit and 18 SP losses for the French.
Reille orders the capture of Gémioncourt by II Corps, but once again, Dutch firepower is very telling, particularly their artillery which drive back two French brigades, routing them. As the attacks against the farm complex continue to go badly wrong, three French stacks in total start to rout and both Reille and Ney get distracted for the rest of the hour, trying to recover 6th Division.
French Guard Cavalry and Kellerman’s Cuirassiers are in and around Thyle, but their movement has been checked by Brunswick's advanced cavalry units - 2nd Hussars and Uhlans.
5 PM. Largely re-organised, Reille is once again ready to press on Gémioncourt. His corps have lost precious time and Perponcher has also re-organised to better defend Gémioncourt, plus now there are strong Anglo-Allied forces in and around Quatre Bras, which Ney is not aware of yet …. in truth, Quatre Bras is likely already too well defended to be taken by the French …… Where is d’Erlon! :-)
As the hour closes, Reille again assaults Gémioncourt, but even though the Dutch / Belgians suffer heavily, Perponcher grimly holds out! The hold up is seriously impinging on French plans and intentions. Once again the turn ends incredibly early ….. the French time-table is slipping.
General Alten arrives on the Neville road and since Wellington does not feel particularly pressed, Alten is ordered behind Quatre Bras to act as a reserve.
Above - Reminder of the game area.
6 PM. Wellington is relieved to hear that Cooke and The Guard have been sighted close by on the Neville road, surely the French will be forced onto the defensive soon!
At last! Gémioncourt falls to the French. Near Thyle (above photo), Brunswick’s Hussars and Uhlans move to pin Kellerman’s Cuirassiers, while the forward elements of Brunswick's corp move in to clear the area …. a most ill-advised dangerous plan and one that unravels instantly as the French heavies counter-charge Brunswick’s horse and shatter them (rolled very low!). However, the heavies lose control and charge further into Brunswick's line in pursuit, becoming totally ensnared and unable to disengage, they in turn become shattered and withdraw from play.
Perponcher’s luck finally runs out at Ferme de La Bergerie, where he is captured. This encroaching French threat caused Wellington to order the newly arrived Guard Division to traverse Boise de Bossy (woods) to re-capture Gémioncourt and counter the French left flank.
At the same time, Ney seeing that Quatre Bras was so heavily defended, tells Reille to forsake Quatre Bras and instead concentrate on cutting the lateral road running between Quatre Bras and Thyle.
Perponcher’s Dutch / Belgian Division finally, due to hours of absorbing heavy casualties, become demoralised and withdraw from front line positions.
7 PM. The French start to open up a section of the Quatre Bras - Thyle road, exploiting a gap between Brunswick and Alten.
Cooke emerges with the Guard from the large woods by Quatre Bras and attacks La Bergerie, taking the settlement, only to be evicted by an immediate French counter-attack that sees 2nd Coldstream Guards rout from the position!
8 PM (last turn of the scenario). The situation looks finely balanced. The Anglo-Allies do not have the strength to push the French back from the mid section of lateral road, though with Quatre Bras secure, Picton is ordered to go over onto the offensive and retake La Bergerie and attempt to break French resolve by inflicting casualties directly to his front.
Picton re-takes La Bergerie, but both sides, including Cooke’s Guard have taken heavy casualties and it becomes very obvious that both armies are becoming exhausted and that the resulting under strength attacks are now being stopped dead in their tracks, with heavy casualties. It is not prudent for either side to press further.
Being the end of the game, the victory points are totalled. Just looking at the map without knowing the sums, I would say that the French have had the worst of it, they seem rather mauled, with many 'on map' units flipped to their weaker side, yet it is the case that Wellington has been prevented from advancing past Thyle and supporting the Prussian army at the nearby Ligny battlefield - so perhaps that will count.
Adding up the points, the French get 40 points for holding various settlements and a goodly 70 points for having over 40 strength points on the Quatre Bras to Thyle road.
When counted, Anglo-Allied losses are actually higher, so the French get a small uplift for that margin, plus 20 points for capturing Perponcher and another 10 points for capturing the colours from one of Perponcher’s brigades. The final tally of 157 victory points for the French is enough. Anything over 100 gives them a ‘Marginal Victory’, which is probably a fair result.
Always a pleasure to get this system to the table. I like that the game puts you in the role of directing corps sized formations, but that it also allows you to enjoy the intrigue of what is going on down at the hex level ….. while also slightly putting that lower level of detail outside of your control due to the chaos and uncertainty that the two Combat Result Table (Fire and Melee) bring, plus the less than certain guarantee that orders can be changed.
The activation system generates narrative and focus. Several times in the mid part of this game, turns were ending prematurely, brought about by the ‘end of turn’ dice rolls. This notably hurt the Anglo-Allies attempt to get Brunswick and Alten quickly across to their centre and left to cover the lateral road, though equally the French just didn’t get the time to get up near Quatre Bras.
French mistakes were not pressing on Gémioncourt quickly enough, which would have allowed for an early taking of La Bergerie, itself a springboard into Quatre Bras. Plus the miss-management of Kellerman’s Cuirassiers, the loss of which made it much harder for the Guard Cavalry to operate effectively around Thyle.
It was likely an Anglo-Allied mistake to have the early arrival of Picton’s division sitting for several hours at Quatre Bras, twiddling their thumbs. It would have been better for them to have moved closer to Thyle to cover the lateral road (Wellington’s centre - left) and to allow a follow on division, such as Brunswick or Alten to defend Quatre Bras instead.
I do find nice subtleties each time I use this system. Today, I got a better appreciation of light cavalry. In wargames, these useful troops are usually limited to a fighting role and often used just like weak medium / heavy cavalry. But today I discovered that if pushed forwards to be in close proximity to enemy formations, they can curtail the activity of those formations.
Where this works is at the end of the turn when any formation that has not used both activations, can make one bonus activation - but cannot do this if any one of the formation's units are within 4 hexes of an enemy. It is similar to how strategic movement works in some games. So by putting light cavalry within 4 hexes of such formations, it closes them down at the end of the turn, plus the cavalry can use 'retreat before contact / combat' type actions to escape threat. A nice systems touch.
Anyway, a good anniversary battle and good to keep my hand in with this system.
Previous post covering Hexasim’s Quatre Bras game. LINK
Previous Post covering Hexasim’s introductory scenario for their Ligny module, called The Streets of Ligny, an interesting battle over an urban environment and this post explains the system in some detail. LINK
My sister webspace COMMANDERS is being re-configured to showcase various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and give a flavour of where current ongoing projects are up to. Link