Friday, 19 August 2022

EPIC - The Battle of Thuin 15th June 1815

As part of the recent Epic Waterloo releases, Warlord Games have just made available their ‘The Hundred Days’ book, authored by Adrian McWalter. This is a scenario book that gives 18 historical actions from the 1815 campaign, plus a further 3 ‘what if’ scenarios and additional support material.

The battles are presented in chronological order and so it is that scenario 1 presents us with ‘The action at Thuin’ 3.30 AM 15th June 1815. 

It is conveniently a small action and described by the author as “a fantastic starting point to learn the rules (Black Powder) as it involves a small number of units and involves buildings, which are a reoccurring theme throughout the scenarios in this supplement”.

In my tinkering, I am looking to reduce unit size to just 2 bases (instead of 4) per unit and this seems an ideal opportunity to test that out.

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

This action results from the French army crossing the Franco-Belgian border and striking at the outposts of Prussian I Corps. The village of Thuin was a gateway to the crossing of the River Sambre and the Prussians, understanding that they would soon be overwhelmed here, where fighting a delaying rearguard action to allow their forces to safely fall further back.

Thuin is on high ground and divided into two parts with some buildings at the lower level and then at a higher elevation, double the number of buildings, which are bounded by a wall, making the upper part of the village much more defensible.

The scenario suggest that the lower buildings have a defensive bonus value of +2 and the higher elevation +3. I have generally felt that Black Powder makes their buildings too strong and so tend to reduce building values, but here it seems to be an important part of the scenario, as the Prussians (defending) need some sustaining as essentially we are looking at a 4:1 superiority in French Numbers, exacerbated by the difference in troop quality, with the French being light infantry and the Prussians being Landwehr.

So, one assumes the building values are very much part of the scenario game balance.

Black Powder is noted for its easy management of Brigades and Divisions and so the order-of-battle here does not immediately appear to be the sort of thing that one would turn to Black Powder for, with the Prussians in reality having only 3 companies of infantry (yes you read that right) and the French have two formations, each of 6 companies.

However, things are tweaked, with each company (usually represented as a one base ‘tiny’ unit in Epic BP) being represented here by a standard sized unit (4 bases in Epic BP), which we would normally think of as the battalion. I suppose this is sort of the opposite to bath-tubbing and of course is typical of the flexibility of the ‘tool-box’ character of Black Powder.

Anyway, the point is, the author, to get all of the actions into the book is already having a little tinker even before we get past page one …. So I shall add mine;

A unit will be represented with 2 bases (not 4) and accordingly, all measurements will be halved. The scenario recommends a 6’ x 4’ table, but with my reductions, I should be able to get away with a 4’ x 3½’ affair quite nicely.  

Admin - The hill is rough ground, so movement is halved. Playing time is estimated at up to 1 hour. The Prussian initial deployment area is limited to the hill. The French initial deployment is off map, units will arrive sequentially over 4 turns from the bottom left corner of the table. The French player is Player 1. The first 3 turns count as night fighting, this is simply and cleverly represented by increasing the incidence of blunders (corruption of orders) during those turns. The French have an off-table battery giving fire support. 

Game length - ? Well, on first reading, I had the impression that the scenario is just 4 turns long with a focus on building capture, but after several re-readings I think the idea is that the Prussians must hold at least one part of the village for at least 4 turns and then (if they are still effective) attempt to withdraw from the table. The French will win by capturing both halves of the village by turn 4 or breaking the Prussians by pressing two of their three units to shaken status or worse. If the Prussians have managed to hold on to the buildings for 4 turns, then due to the French 4:1 advantage in numbers, they will be quite keen to quickly retire from the table and of course the French equally keen to pursue to try and break / shake them. 

Overall I’m sure I have that right now and it should make for an interesting scenario, though the ‘reliable’ French Light infantry will find it easier to pursue than the ‘unreliable’ Landwehr will to retreat, so we will just have to see how that goes.

Painty things - as a previous post has heralded, with this project, I am painting as I go along, to get gaming and paint progress working together, so mostly you will be seeing raw plastic here today - some may want to brace themselves before reading on. :-)

Toy things - The figures are Warlord Epic 13.5mm and the rules are Black Powder from the Epic set. The buildings are resins from Battlescale and the hill is from The Tree Fellas (modified by me). The stream is from S&A Scenics. The roads are latex from TimeCast and the game cloth is a fleece from Geek Villain.

Let’s go!

Prussian deployment, I have put a unit in each of the two building sections (figures kept off table) and the third unit is on the lower forward slope in line formation, covering the road.

The French plan is to have Despan-Cubiéres attack the lower part of the village with his 6 units and Maigros to attack the upper part with his 6 units and to be supported by the off table artillery.

Above, I have put the French guns on the table edge (bottom right), just so that I don’t forget them. The Prussian unit is a standard line unit being used as proxy Landwehr. French columns have just moved onto the board ….. slowly!

Turn 1 - The French bring the first four of Despan-Cubiéres’ units onto the table. I choose to have them all enter in assault column and their orders are to directly assault towards the hill with a view to capturing the lower half of the village. However, they fail their command and so get just a single move onto the table. The off-board French artillery bombards the higher part of the village, scoring a hit.

Turn 2 - The French bring Despan-Cubiéres’ two remaining units onto the table, but the formation get terrible command rolls and their advance stalls. This is really bad for the French as their timetable to assault the village is already really tight.

The artillery scores another hit on the upper village and the Prussian commander fails to rally any of that damage off. After 3 hits, a unit goes ‘shaken’, so this artillery is doing well. This looks like an easy way to get one out of the three Prussian units to eventually break.

Turn 3 - Maigros brings the first four of his units (the second French formation) onto the table. Their orders are to assault the upper part of the village and they seem much more lively than Despan-Cubiéres’ men, managing to make 3 moves in the turn and getting onto the hill.

At last Despan-Cubiéres hits the Prussian line, the part guarding the road. His columns are disordered and suffer one hit going in, but at bayonet point, his men push the Prussian line back as far as the village (between the two BUA’s). From their new position, the defiant Prussians let off a volley and the head of the French column goes ‘Shaken’.

Despan-Cubiérs’ 1st and 2nd Battalions

Turn 4 - The French bring Maigros’ last two units onto the table, the French order-of-battle of 12 units is now completely assembled ….. for all the good that it seems to be doing them! 

Despan-Cubiérs’ 2nd Battalion manage to pass through the head of their own column (1st Battalion is shaken and disordered) and launch an unsupported assault into the Prussian central position, which breaks the Prussians and removes them from play. 

The French are now close enough to the village to suffer fire from the occupied building and Prussian fire is quite telling.

Turn 5 - The Prussians have now held on to the village long enough (a full 4 turns) to deny the French a win based on occupation alone. However, the Prussians have lost a unit and there are a LOT of French moving towards them. It only needs one of the two remaining Prussian units to go shaken, for the Prussians to lose the game …… time for this rearguard to abandon the buildings and flee along their line of communication and leave the table.

Rather than chance command rolls, they use their initiative for the guarantee of 1 move and each of the two Prussian units falls back. They are in rough terrain, so can only move at half speed (that is 3” to us today).

Turn 6 - There is a scramble between those trying to escape and those that would stop them. The lead French unit (Despan - Cubiéres) goes into line and fires at the fleeing Prussians …. to no effect! Worse, all the French units have failed to move ….. Total Lethargy! we need someone like Marshal Ney right here right now!

French skirmisher bases proxy as the two fleeing Prussian
battalions. Only one French unit is close enough to fire.

Turn 7 - The lead French unit again fires and puts another hit on the fleeing Prussians, bring their hit number to 2, they are just 1 away from going to shaken status, if that happens they will lose! But the Prussians are on the flat (good going) and need just one turn of movement to vacate the table. This is tight.

Turn 8 - Despan-Cubiérs again fails to act, so all eyes are on Maigros. He is lucky and gets three moves, allowing his lead battalion to run and catch up with the fleeing Prussians, inflicting enough loss to send the Prussians to shaken status, ending the game with a French win, based on two of the three Prussian formations shaken or worse.

Wow - that really was so close, I was getting ready for a Prussian escape.


Due to the defensive nature of buildings in Black Powder, four turns is a tight timeframe for the French to get control of both halves of the village and so while this must be the immediate objective, breaking the Prussians (degrading two out of their three units) will likely be their overriding objective for this scenario. 

For the Prussians it will be important that the one unit that starts in the open, does not get quickly consumed, leaving the French with a now easier job of just having to degrade one more unit. 

The balance of making them effective enough to be relevant, but safe enough for them to escape will come down to player judgement as to how the scenario is playing out at that time, but Landwehr have the ‘unreliable’ characteristic, so have an increased chance of failing a move order …. plus of course there is the bit of chaos that Black Powder throws at us in the way of variable movement / gaining of orders. You either like that sort of thing or don’t. I generally prefer reduced player control over forces, so it suits me.

An alternative set-up might be to have the exposed Prussian infantry unit start further back, to link a defensive line between the two building blocks to offer better and heavier defensive fire and then to start to withdraw it before it is too badly mauled.

The French Staff Rating of 7 is clearly intended to dampen down aggressive French movement to help the scenario, though the light infantry do have the Pas-de-Charge (+1 command mod) when in assault column and on our small battlefield, the French should tend to get within ‘proximity’ of the enemy buildings to enable them to start relying on their own initiative, rather than needing command orders to get their attacks going …. On this occasion, their command rolls (particularly Despan-Cubiérs) were really quite poor, on another day, perhaps a different story would be told.

Before play, I thought this would be hard for the French and during play, that sense only got stronger, especially with their slow (to none!) movement, but in the end it was spectacularly close, with that surprise burst of energy from Maigros, making the difference …. but that’s Black Powder for you.

One final thing, the Black Powder sequence of play allows a unit to move and then shoot, but the potentially long moves allowed in the game (up to 3 moves in a turn) immediately followed by them firing without interference from the enemy, just feels a little odd. In the ACW supplement, there is a very helpful rule stating that if a unit moves more than once in a turn, it cannot also fire that turn and I apply this to all of my BP games. However even though the rule was also adopted in the Clash of Eagles Napoleonic supplement, it never made it across to Black Powder II or the Epic Napoleonic version of BP II, but anyway, I adopted it in my game (as always).

So there we are, we have scenario 1 under our belts. The battle of Gilly is next. I have this campaign book next to me while I read Tim Clayton’s Waterloo, so that I can use them together to visualise the action from a wargame perspective.

The scenario is small and focussed enough to run a number of different rule sets by it and some skirmish friendly sets would allow the scenario to run the original order-of-battle i.e. with a deployment of companies, rather than the up-scaling.

Overall I got an enjoyable game and today learned about a new area (to me) of the battlefield.

Resource Section.

There is an earlier article that looks at basing ideas for Epic - 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.


  1. Excellent write up, Norm! I like the smaller actions as they make for excellent blog fodder and more detailed narratives! We are playing Black Powder this weekend and while I won't spoil the surprise I'll just say it's a Napoleonic engagement!

    I've always wondered how a "smaller" BP game would shake out with units representing smaller formations. Your epic troops look great!

  2. Thanks Steve, I like that a book would typically give this moment a paragraph or a page at best, because is a ‘smaller incident’ in the bigger scheme of things, but when you play it out, you get a much more immersive sense of the story and things like rough ground and artillery bombarding buildings become heightened things of importance and of course to the real people who died at these less well known actions - they would be the greatest story ever told!

    It has been interesting to see a designer deploy the Black Powder ‘toolkit’ to address scenario hurdles.

    Enjoy your napoleonic game …… 1809?

  3. That was a nice little scenario Norm! By the way, I agree with you re scaling for Epic...I can't see the value of having smaller scale units....then having them take up the same footprint per unit as 28mm figures, you lose a lot of the advantages of using a smaller scale! I can't remember how BP treats buildings but in our house rules, they are VERY hard to assault, capture or kill the occupants of! I don't think that's particularly unrealistic, if they represent a small town, it woukd take a lot to take it! Seemed like the artillery was what won it for the French; without the casualties it caused, the Prussians might not have reached a break point? I wonder if "hiding" the Prussian unit not occupying a BUA would work as a tactic for the Prussians, to reduce the ability of the French to build up hits from firing?

  4. Hi Keith, yes I think there is s light mis-match between what Warlord intended for Epic and what some customers have hoped for. Warlord clearly want Epic to look ….. well, Epic, while some of us with smaller game spaces look at Epic as the opportunity to bring the Black Powder rules to a smaller table.

    IN BP, the buildings are giving the defenders a +2 to their save roles, which is pretty significant, but artillery claw some of that advantage back as ‘victims’ of artillery hits suffer a -1 save penalty. The big effect comes post melee, when the occupants of buildings increase the number of hits suffered by the attacker by a give amount. The only real counter to this is that an assaulting unit really needs supporting units, as they get added in to do the same thing against the defender and so in effect can neutralise that building effect …… otherwise watch your assaulting units get ground down.

    It seems there are three things you can do with that ‘spare’ Prussian unit 1) put them up front (as I did) to create at east a 1 turn delay in the French being able to get at the buildings, but high chance of loss. 2) start them between the buildings so that the French first contact will face 3 firing units and not be able to fully support an assault on the building, because their ‘support’ would likely be engaged by the spare Prussian unit 3) as you say hide it at the rear of the hill and have it start to retire almost straight away or stay in place to give covering fire for when the occupants of the building ‘bug out’ in turn 5.

    Of course all this goes to show just how much can be dragged out of such a contained scenario - very good.

    1. Could the third Prussian begin forward as you did and then quickly retire to between the buildings after having slowed the French advance? I agree that the French artillery seemed decisive in this action.

    2. Hi Jonathan, the issue is that nothing is certain in BP, so on turn 1, Despan-Cubiérs might have had a brilliant activation giving them 3 moves and that would have put them all over the Prussian unit. As the charge goes in, the Prussians could make close fire (defensively), but be unlikely to stop the charge and then the supported French columns against a lone Prussian battalion would be pretty devastating.

      Best hope for the Prussians would be that French movement would be enough to bring them on into musket range, but not enough to launch a charge. This would allow a turn to try and inflict enough casualties (and disorder) that any subsequent closing fire might wreck the French lead unit - worthwhile delaying result.

  5. Playing with unpainted figures? Tsk, tsk, tsk.
    Enjoyable write-up. I look forward to seeing how this project evolves.

  6. Hi Jonathan, Napoleonic Prussians quite interest me and this is a relatively fast way into them, but it does compete with my liking of 28mm Austrian!

  7. As usual you present an interesting game and analysis.

    1. Thanks Peter, on the face of it, an unlikely wargame with 12 units to 3, but the focus of the action, capturing Thuin, makes this an interesting study in scenario creation.

  8. Hi Norm, another great report and it looks like a very interesting scenario for a game with only a few units. Well done on the BP team in adding it to the book.
    Interesting to see the unpainted figures next to painted ones. You have done a great job!

  9. Hi Ben, as a case in scenario design, it is an interesting subject of itself. There were a few more painted units on the table (French), but they never got into shot - my fault for not thinking about placement before taking the photo!

  10. An informative read as usual here Norm. BP does seem to play well and I see a lot of gamers using reduced unit sizes now as while 80 figure battalions looks incredible they do occupy so much table space. Interesting that are approaching Epic from different directions, you from the historical gamer point and myself from very much the painter/collector point. Personally I know that I would not have the patience or commitment to learning Black Powder so if and when I do play with my figures it will be DBN or C&CN. I have seen some massive games on the epic FB group but your game as presented here has far more appeal to me. Great stuff and good to have you back again Norm.

    1. Thanks Lee, over the past week I have been watching some DBN videos :-)

  11. I've not heard of this book before so will keep an eye out for it, given that I enjoyed Clayton's book recently and all the actions contained there in. It does show that BPII can scale down to smaller actions quite easily, something that we tend to forget, myself included. I must remember to try some small games to see how they play and of course to become au fait with the rules in advance of the Cotswold Wargames Day.

  12. Hi Steve, as you know I jump between rules, so get caught out from time to time with ‘mis-remembering’, but overall they worked here. What interests me is that I would have read right past the Thuin account in Clayton’s book, without seeing the wargame implications, as it would have read as a first contact type of account, with the defenders pushed aside, while we read on to get to the bigger engagements - this scenario has dragged me back to this particular point and now has me wanting to know more about it. Good old wargaming :-)

  13. Fantastic stuff Norm, gives me my Napoleonic eye candy fix.


    1. Thanks Bill. More on the painting sticks.

  14. That sounds like a nice small solo battle to learn the mechanics of the game. The +2 save for buildings is significant and let’s defenders hold out and I think the idea is that it allows one unit to hold off many. I know BPs brother Hail Caesar pretty well but not BP: only that the two have some big differences. I’m wondering if there will be a HC 2nd Ed. 😀

  15. Hi Stew, I'm sure there will be, it is a big successful line for them and the rumour mill is that Epic will either move into Hail Caesar or Pike & Shotte next and ifthe napoleonic Epic is anything to go by, dedicated versions of the rules (BP) have been made for them, so Napoleonic Epic has on Napoleonic related content in it.

  16. A most interesting scenario, well presented Sir.

  17. Thanks Phil, it is a clever management of handling what is essentially a 4:1 French advantage.

  18. Another down to the wire account, with plenty of drama for such a small engagement. Thanks again for the blend of informative description of materials used to put the scenario together with a clear depiction of how the action unrolls.

    1. Thanks Mike, this is the action I had planned for us on Friday!

  19. Norm,
    Great report. I have the Warlord publication which I think is excellent value. I have to admit when I first saw this scenario I thought it was nothing more than an intro. to the rules. How wrong I was! Whilst I’m a bit of snob when it comes to using unpainted figures I think the time has come to not worry and play

  20. Hi Graham, it is quite a nuanced scenario, more so than one might expect from an intro type scenario.

    Thanks for the thumbs up re unpainted. I think with these sets it is important to game with them as soon as possible as the amount of figure supplied, would possibly leave some of us overwhelmed if they had to fully paint up an army before play … or worse (in my case) two armies - no, better to get right to the action and see what you think.

  21. Good write up and thought provoking as always Norm! I'm going back over Blackpowder and clash of Eagles and will be applying the move and fire rile together with most of the Blackpowder 2 adjustments with my Blackpowder 1 rulebook! I like it as a system and am looking forward to umpiring a game with multiple players! Oh thumbs up from me for using unpainted figures in your game, the option is to wait forever until you've finished everything them gknd out it doesn't work and you have to rebase!
    Best Iain

  22. Hi Iain, thanks for the thumbs up. That Clash of Eagles volume is very a nice thing to own, that and the Rebellion (AWI) volumes are my favourite.


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