The battle of Ligny from Hexasim makes a return to the table. I was really surprised to find that my last outing with the full historical scenario was four years ago! There is a link in the Resource Section below that covers the fairly detailed AAR that I did back then.
For details of todays game, please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post
A few weeks ago, I played the St. Amand introductory scenario from this package (link in the Resource Section), which gives a taster of what this system is about. Going to the full system adds three important elements which really strengthens game play.
Firstly, when a commander wants to activate their Corps, it is not automatic. A die roll is made against the commander's rating and a failure means the corps cannot activate at that time and that you move on to test a different corps commander. This brings a bit of command chaos into the game as moments of opportunity can be lost or gained.
Secondly, Each corps is given an order in the form of a location that it should advance to. Individual stacks can attempt to circumvent those orders, but if they fail, they don’t move and if they pass, they only get to move at half rate. At the start of each turn, a player can attempt to change orders by rolling to see how many new orders may be issued that turn. In this module that roll is a D6 minus 3, so new orders can be hard to get, you might have to stick with old orders for an hour or often more! This really puts a hand of restraint on the players and wrests some control from them (good) and helps solo play.
The only other way to change an order is by direct intervention from an army commander. They need to use one of their activations and must be within 8 hexes (in this module) of the recipient commander. The army commander needs to be in the right place at the right time and on big battlefields ….. well, good luck with that!
On the above play aid, the map is littered with small red dots. These are the locations that a unit can be ordered towards. The limitation is that the new location must be within 15 hexes of the corps commander current location and so even though you know you want your cavalry to swing out to the left and drive deep, in terms of orders, it will be moving in shorter steps and waiting for new orders to press on.
Thirdly, there is a variable end of turn. After each individual activation of a corps, 2D6 are rolled and if the result matches the end of turn number, then the turn ends, though there is an end of turn administration phase that allows some formations that are not close to an enemy a limited capability to move.
There are in fact two end of turn numbers, the first has to be failed and then the second for the turn to end, so once that first number has been rolled, there can be some nervousness in trying to get everything done as the clock is now really ticking.
Our historical battle starts at 3PM and ends after the 9 PM turn with hourly turns. Victory points are earned by capturing VP locations (I have marked the 7 of them on the map, each with a black glass bead), by capturing supply routes on the map edge, by inflicting casualties and in some instances by not having Blucher stacked with Prussian attacking units during the turn.
The French have the problem that they simply don’t have enough soldiers present and there are no reinforcements in this scenario, so just like in history, d’ Erlon will not be making a potential winning appearance! It is therefore necessary to deploy The Guard as part of the initial battle plan. Losses to The Guard, even first step losses (on some of them) are very expensive in terms of victory points.
The Prussians have the problem that their Corps, especially I Corps are initially a little spread out and lacking a focused defence.
Plans - Initial corps orders will be issued to meet the opening plans of both sides, which are;
FRENCH - Vandamme will attack on the left, moving up through the villages of St. Amand and la Haye. They will ultimately be threatening the Wavre Road. Gérard with IV Corps will assault Ligny. The Guard will advance on an axis that takes them between Vandamme and Gérard with a view to destroying the Prussian I and II Corps that Vandamme and Gérard will have degraded. Milhaud’s excellent cavalry that starts in Fleurus with the Guard, will make the long swing out to the left and drive up the French left flank, stretching the Prussian defence. The two remaining cavalry corps (Pajol and Exelmans ) already located on the right will threaten the Namur Road, helping pin Prussian III Corps.
PRUSSIAN - They must do a lot ….. quickly, if they are to to offer up a cohesive defence. I Corps, which is spread out between St. Amand and Ligny will regroup to concentrate at Ligny. II Corps, which is around Brye will drop down to secure the St. Amand / la Haye villages. The problem here will be getting II corps into place so that I corps can vacate, it has the potential to be a mess. III Corps will advance to put pressure on the French right.
Above - the image (clickable) shows the difficulties of the needed Prussian fancy footwork. Can I Corps concentrate in time at Ligny before they are hit by Vandamme? But for the French, can Gérard take Ligny before Prussian III Corps falls on his flank? Risks all around!
3 PM (Turn 1). Orders as per above.
The battle opens with Gérards IV Corps (brown units) attacking into Ligny. The village is lightly held and the French want to get their attack going before nearby Prussian units start to feed into the defence. The urgency of the attack means that Gérard assaults without his guns being in place.
The attack is very bloody. Initially some gains are made, but in the lower part of the village, the French are ejected from their foothold and two regiments rout. The first assault has been held off!
On the French left, Vandamme (green units) makes little headway against St. Amand. At this rate, the French Guard will need new orders to support either of the two French attacks, rather than being the hammer that breaks a weakened enemy.
Victory Points - Prussians gain 70 points for holding all of the objectives (black beads), plus they have removed two French line units from play. The French have only managed to remove one Prussian horse artillery unit.
4 PM (Turn 2). Both sides fail to gain new orders.
Above - you can see the effects of the order system here. Prussian I Corps is in Ligny, while Prussian III Corps have moved down from Tongrenelle. III Corps are now ideally placed to smash into Gérard (French brown units) from two directions and quite likely to put that corps out of action …… however! III Corps have advanced as far as their orders allow. They now need new orders to move on Ligny if than outflanking assault is to be made, but the Prussians did not get any new order allowance this turn and Blucher, the army commander is too far away, on the far side of Ligny, to be able to issue new orders to III Corps. So there we are!
Blucher, content that I and II corps are holding, makes the arduous journey over towards III Corps to get them moving against Gérard at Ligny.
Individual stacks from III Corps could test for independent movement (i.e. acting upon their own initiative), but that can be hit or miss and is more likely to fragment the Prussian lead elements, leaving them vulnerable to counter-attack.
At St. Amand, Vandamme has captured the first victory location. This kicks in a special rule that compels Blucher to be present in one Prussian combat per turn or suffer a penalty of 50 victory points! Oh No! Blucher is now in the middle of nowhere, moving towards his left flank.
Vandamme consolidates at St. Amand, but already von Pirch (Prussian 2nd Corps) is taking up positions at la Haye, just above Vandamme and his next objective.
Gérard at Ligny has taken serious casualties and is in fact on the ropes. To take some of the pressure off him, Napoleon orders The Guard to divert and attack the lower end of Ligny.
Above, The Guard make their first assault. The Corps' junior command argue for their ample gun strength to be brought up to work the Prussian line before attacking, but Drouot overrules them, stating that time is of the essence and The Guard goes in off the hoof!
Victory Points - The Prussians get another 60 points for holding the objectives (keeping hold of Ligny has significantly helped them), plus they have removed one French unit. The French get 10 points for objectives (St. Amand) and they have removed four Prussian units this turn.
5 PM (turn 3) Orders - The Prussians get lucky and get two orders, though they only need one and it is essential …. Send part of III Corps to Ligny to attack Gérard. They need to keep part of their corps in place to prevent the French cavalry capturing the supply hex at the map edge on the Namur Road.
Just as important is that this order frees up Blucher from using an activation to change orders, instead, he can now to concentrate on getting into a battle to prevent those 50 bonus points going to the French.
For their part, the French do not get any new order allowance …. Oh Dear! Gérard desperately needs to disengage before he suffers more harm and worse, becomes trapped by Prussian III Corps.
Napoleon moves up and orders Gérard to disengage from Ligny and to set up a defensive posture across the Tongrenelle Road to counter the advances of Prussian III Corps.
Above - As Gérard disengages, Blucher orders III Corps to drive down the road instead of moving on Ligny, but Gérard acts faster than the sluggish III Corps and gets into position, rebuffing the initial Prussian assault.
The Guard try to get their artillery in position prior to any further assault on Ligny. The delay at taking Lingy and the two associated terrain objectives is starting to have a really detrimental effect on the French victory point track, though the French did pick up points for Blucher’s failure to personally get involved in a combat this turn.
Victory Points - The Prussians claim another 60 points for held objectives. They managed to remove three French units this turn ….. all from Gérard. The French claim another measly 10 points for objectives captured and have removed just one enemy unit, though they do get the bonus 50 points for Blucher not getting into action this turn - the VP tally is markedly going against the French. The next hour will really matter.
6 PM (turn 4) Orders - The French get 3 new orders and the Prussians get 2. The Prussians don’t want to change their orders, but the French are desperate enough to use all three of theirs.
Milhaud (Heavy Cavalry Corps) has got himself out to the far left flank and he is ordered to move onto the Charleroi - Wavre road to threaten the Prussian right (and rear!). Vandamme is ordered to move up the line of villages and assault la Haye, where he will engage the Prussian fresh von Pirch II Corps. Over on the right, Exlemans’ II Cavalry Corps (Dragoons) is ordered to move to support Gérard.
Above - click on the image for the current main French areas of focus.
Above - As Gérard (brown) continues to take heavy casualties, Exelmans cavalry (orange) charge into the Prussian flank - the charge is repulsed and worse! Gérard’s own cavalry mistake Exelmans 15th Dragoons for Prussians and charge them, driving them from the field. (This was my genuine mistake during play and I only realised it at the end of the turn as I was writing up the notes, so I decided that these things happen in reality and that I should let that stand).
Gérard is very close to demoralisation (50% loss). Napoleon orders him to fall further back.
And then a real problem for the French …… the turn ends early, before the Guard have taken either of their two activations. This delay at Ligny is a terrible moment for them and may later be seen as one of the decisive moments of the battle as once again, Ligny and its objectives stay in Prussian hands.
Victory Points. The Prussians score 60 more points for objectives held and they have also seen off five French units. The French again get just 10 points for objectives captured. They have removed two Prussian units from play. At this halfway point, ignoring casualties, which are also worse for the French, the Prussians have 250 points, while the French have 80!
7 PM (turn 5) Orders - neither side score high enough to get any new orders.
Prussian III Corps, as fragile as they are, put in a Herculean effort to break Gérard, who withstand the attack, but then fall back. Grouchy orders Exelmans to fall back to keep aligned with Gérard.
The French Guard capture the first farm objective at Ligny and survive a counter-attack, which witnessed several Prussian Landwehr units rout. As the Guards press on with their attack, they destroy another seven Prussian I Corps units, taking the Prussians closer to demoralisation, though the Guards are suffering losses and in this game, their victory point loss values are higher than other non-guard units.
On the French left, Vandamme opens a renewed assault with effective artillery, clearing the objective hex, which French forces simply walk into and capture and then they too see off the Prussian counter-attack. However, the tough fighting has caused the French to lose five units and Vandamme no longer feels strong enough to further press Prussian II Corps.
Of some consolation to the French is that Milhauds heavy cavalry brigade (red) have managed to slip by the Prussian right wing, despite Prussian attempts to block that move with their own cavalry.
Victory Points. The Prussians gain 40 points for objectives held and have removed 12 French units from play. The French have gained 30 points for objectives and likewise removed 12 enemy units from play. A more even turn this time.
Conversations at the Command Headquarters.
French - We have reached the high watermark of our attack and our losses have been significant. On the right we have the demoralised Gérard together with Exelmans and Pajol cavalry corps falling back, but we think Prussian III Corps, facing them, may well be running out of offensive steam. In the Centre, The Guard have most of Ligny under their control and Prussian I Corps are about to break, so it seems worthwhile pressing the attack there for the next hour to complete the task of knocking I Corps out. On the left, Vandamme has taken his two objectives, but alone, cannot make further gains. We are reliant up Milhauds cavalry to unhinge the Prussian defences. We shall close the day by continuing to fight to reduce Prussian capability, while trying to preserve our own force.
Prussian - We have had the best of the day and seriously degraded the French army, but at the cost of our I Corps at Ligny, which is close to breaking. As the day closes, we will withdraw I Corps to preserve formation integrity. Whilst II Corps are strongly resisting Vandamme, if I Corps fall back, then II Corps will be exposed to a joint assault by Vandamme and the French Guard. Accordingly II Corps will also fall back to keep our forces aligned. III Corps on the left will regroup and consolidate. If we preserve our forces over the next couple of hours, we will have done enough to win the day.
8 PM (turn 6) orders - The French do not receive any orders, fortunately for the Prussians they receive two. I Corps at Lingy are ordered to fall back in the direction on Sombreffe. II Corps are ordered to fall back towards Brye. If the Prussians had failed to get any orders this turn, then I Corps stood a serious chance of being destroyed where they stood.
The French Guard press on enthusiastically through Ligny, taking the second objective there (farm) and removing four enemy units …. Demoralising II Corps through losses. Von Ziethen has a narrow escape when 1st Triailleurs attack his headquarters, with him just managing to escape to a nearby gun battery.
The French capture of a fourth objective removes the compulsion for Blucher to be personally involved in an attack each turn.
Seeing the victorious Guard all over Ligny, Blucher becomes cautious about allowing III Corps to continue their pursuit after Gérard and instead orders the corps to fall back in the direction of Tongrenelle.
Prussian II Corps adopt a very slow withdrawal towards Brye, happy to make it a fighting withdrawal, but Vandamme has not pursued with any vigour, instead, preferring to re-organise and recall routing units.
Above - Milhaud has managed to get the lead elements of his cavalry corps to the Barettes crossroads (under the glass bead), an objective and important stepping stone to seizing a Prussian supply hex further down the road.
Victory Points - a much better turn for the French, with 50 objective points earned and four enemy units removed. The Prussians score 20 objective points (for the two objective hexes that remain deep in III Corps rear) and do not remove any French units from play.
9 PM (turn 7) orders - The French get 3 (the maximum) orders and the Prussians don’t get any. This is not a problem for the Prussians as their current orders will suffice, but the French do need to urge Milhaud to continue up the Wavre road to capture the Prussian supply line and for the Guard to turn and attack from Ligny into the flank of Prussian II Corps.
The Guards strike out to maximise the number of attacks that they can make before dark, but the initial stack of three units advances into punishing artillery fire and all three units are flipped and this deters further approaches.
Milhaud’s 7-12 Cuirassiers reach the end of the Wavre road at the map edge, allowing them to claim victory points (50) for its control.
The end of turn die roll numbers are lower for this turn and it is not long before the fighting dies down.
Victory Points - The Prussians gain 20 points for objectives and just a 50 point end of game bonus for keeping one supply road open. The French get 50 points for objectives, but a goodly 150 points for an end of game bonus for having control of three supply roads (two of their own and one Prussian). Our total victory point tally excluding casualties has evened out to 370 for the Prussians and 360 for the French.
Conclusions - As we look at the map, both sides would no doubt claim victory. The Prussians have not been destroyed in the field and have kept most of their force intact, while still having possession of some of the ground. The French have taken important ground, including a supply road, but their army has been mauled, taking too many casualties.
So we must turn to the good old Victory Point schedule as the final arbiter. We have already been calculating the objective points as we have gone along, but to those numbers, we must add the scores of units lost and (half points) those units that routed off the map.
Well no wonder the game felt tight, the final tally is that Prussians lost 269 victory points worth of units and the French lost 270. Adding all of the numbers we get 640 victory points for the Prussians and 629 points for the French. That is incredibly close for victory conditions that have so many moving parts.
Anyway, in game terms, on those scores, we find ourselves with a draw - a right result I think, with both armies running out of offensive capacity.
This was the same scenario, battlefield and battle plan as the last time that I played, but with a different direction of play and outcome, so there is good replayability in the game.
Both Vandamme and Gérard took very heavy casualties in their initial assaults and failed to capture objective hexes early enough. Those two facts combined to give the Prussians a very good early start on the victory point side of things and very early on, the French lost the effectiveness of a corps (Gérard), meaning that the Guard had to double up as a basic fighting corps, rather than being the instrument of decision at the appropriate time.
Add to that the turn that the Guard stood idle due to the turn ending early and the French really struggled to catch up - though in the end they did!
At the 7 PM turn, when the Commanders had their briefings, I was tempted to call the game in favour of the Prussians, at least that is what the situation on the map suggested was appropriate, but it just goes to show how things can turn in the last moments.
The game gives two levels of play. The interest and nuance of what is going on down at the hex level and the more grand tactical aspect of what is going on at corps level, having the corps in the right place at the right time and activating effectively.
The gamer actually has reduced control over the former. The combat system has hard to predict outcomes. You send your troops in and then hope for the best, you do feel somewhat remote from the process that gives the result. A good deal of narrative falls out of this and it is the sauce that makes the meal enjoyable.
In reality, the player is in the driving seat of the army commander. Getting orders issued and directing and tasking the various corps with broad directional orders is where an important part of the game engine sits. You will get frustrated (in a good way) when orders can’t be changed and moments of glaring opportunity are lost.
The armies in this box are very interesting. They offer unit size, but also quality rating. Some of the Landwehr units have whopping strength numbers, but with lower quality ratings, they are not the super troops that powerful combat factors initially suggest and once they flip onto their reduced side, an even lower quality rating makes them brittle and hard to rally.
The French in contrast, while having mostly average combat numbers, have some excellent quality units, the Guards obviously, but of interest is Milhauds heavy cavalry, also their light units have good quality ratings, making them the units that often lead attacks. High rating makes ‘Independent Movement’ a much more certain thing - this is where units can move contrary to their orders and more likely to react to what is going on before them.
An interesting moment came in the game when I mistakenly charged French cavalry with ….. French cavalry! a mistake that I only realised after the game had played on, but it did add to the story telling of the game.
I was able to leave this set up for three days as it took a number of short sessions to complete due to a ‘hateful’ back that taunts and teases whenever it thinks I am having a good time! Though I have grown to like the smaller game for comfort as much as anything else, every now and then it is nice to have something on the table that is a little more encompassing.
I have the Waterloo game in the series and have only played the smaller Hougoumont scenario, but hopefully the full battle might make an anniversary outing this year.
The 2018 AAR on this battle - LINK
The attack on St. Amand introductory game replay 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.