Sunday, 13 August 2023

Bierges 1815, (Epic) Black Powder rules




Warlord Games produces an A5 book covering 18 actions (plus 3 ‘what if’ games) from the Hundred Days Campaign, especially configured for their Epic Black Powder napoleonic range.


Flipping through, there is a nice sized action taken from the Wavre sector, called Assault at Bierges.


The name may be immediately familiar as Moulin de Bierges, to those who became involved in my recent e-mail Wavre campaign, whether as a player or a reader of the final write-up (link in the resource section below).


Here, the author has isolated the  battle and has Stülpnagel’s 12th Brigade (Prussian) defending the wooden bridge at Bierges from Hulot’s (French) attacking 14th Division.


The rules in play are the suggested Black Powder II set that come with the napoleonic starter Epic sets.


The post also includes a session with my own rules and a dabble with the 28’s in the same setting, so a bit of a rambling mix.


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




The Prussians are guarding one of the important bridges that cross the Dyle River, which has become swollen after recent storms and is passable only via the bridges. The French are desperate to cross the river here as all to attempts to cross further up at Wavre and Bas Wavre have failed. 


On the Prussian side of the table, behind the river, is the village with its mill, counting as a single BUA and on the French side of the river, the ground is very boggy, intersected by drainage ditches and counts as ‘difficult terrain’.


Click for larger



The French start off table and have 8 turns to capture the bridge (with a play estimation of 2 - 3 hours), which is represented by a French unit occupying the bridge for at least two consecutive turns, while not being in close combat.


Overall, the French have the slightly better troops, but the Prussians have the stronger position, more battalions and 2 gun batteries compared the single French battery. In our previous campaign battles for this location, the gun batteries mattered, so will they be dominant here?


The scenario describes using a 6´ x 4´ table. The action seems like it may very well be concentrated on that right side of the board and on the face of it, that 6´ width could be reduced, but I will go with it.


Measurements - I have been using just 2 Epic 60mm bases per battalion and halving all measurements, however on reading this scenario book, I get the impression that in the first instance the table is set up with normal Black Powder measurements in mind.


Since this is a timed scenario of 8 turns, I am assuming that play testing has relied upon this, so for my compromise, I will keep standard BP measurement and use 3 bases per battalion, giving a line frontage of 180mm and column frontage of 60mm.


Black Powder is fairly generic, so we will adopt some of the unit specialities for variety. For Prussia, this gives their fusiliers sharpshooter status and ability to skirmish. The Landwehr will have unreliable status, so are slightly harder to move from A to B and the Landwehr cavalry will be a small unit and have marauder status (helps with being in command).


Of note is that the Prussian horse artillery has a low stamina rating of ‘1’ this will make them more vulnerable that when I last used them under the Shadow of the Eagles rules.


For the French, the light battalions have sharpshooter status and both line and light infantry battalions are allowed to skirmish into terrain that they might not normally enter. 


Special Rules - I rather like the special rule in Glory Hallelujah that has any formation moving more than one move in a turn, not being able to then fire after movement. This is repeated in the Rising Eagles supplement and helps suppress the desire in this game to make big moves.


I also feel the ‘Brigade Break’ rule for small games is a bit severe, so I have very gently modified it, so that the brigade has to have more than half its battalions in shaken status or already lost before the brigade breaks. I will not apply the change to the Prussians, who have a very large brigade.  


Plans

French - the artillery has been allocated to Toussaint’s brigade, who will arrive on the table first and engage along the lower banks. Baume’s Brigade will follow, with the light battalions covering the flanks of the line troops, which will storm the bridge and village.


Prussian - simply hold firm. The fusileers are in the village and two musketeer battalions guard the bridge. Some of the landwehr will line the river banks with the artillery, while the rest provide a reserve.


Let’s roll dice!


The French get off to a good start for movement and make those big movements that BP is known for. This gets their troops into the difficult ground by the lower bank and close to the bridge road.





The French light infantry fail to deploy to the attack column’s flank and the march has been so fast, that the French artillery, with their view blocked by friendly units, cannot lay fire.


The French assault the first battalion of musketeers



The French assault columns at the bridge suffer casualties and become shaken, but manage to brush the first battalion of defending musketeers aside.





A fresh French battalion pushes through and continues the attack into the second battalion of musketeers.


The Prussians get the better of the close combat and the French battalion takes a Break Test and fails badly enough to leave the field!


This is a very serious set back for the French. However, the Prussian musketeers themselves had become shaken and fallen back and their fighting position was handed over to a landwehr unit.


Additionally, French light infantry had now moved up on the right wing and were engaging enemy artillery and the fusiliers at the village on the far bank.


Stülpnagel moved to personally help the musketeers rally, but with the French now standing on the bridge, unengaged and ready to call victory, the Prussian general was compelled to act and counter-attack with his landwehr.


Landwehr, supported by a second battalion, counter-attack the French on the bridge.



The attack was most vicious, managing to break the French battalion. This was the second French battalion leaving play and with another battalion in that brigade already shaken, the entire brigade breaks and disengages.


The remaining French Brigade, fighting below the bridge is not strong enough on its own to take the bridge, neither is it well placed to get into a decent attacking position in time before the scenario clock ends.


Retreat!



Above - There is no choice other than for the French to retire from the field …. defeated!


It is an enjoyable scenario and a tough one for the French, however, despite the advantage in Prussian numbers, there is not enough space around the bridge to deploy them all effectively, so they default to a useful reserve.


With the table already set and the troops out. I re-ran the scenario using my own Eagles at Quatre Bras rules. This saw a different outcome.


The French cleared the bridge. A Prussian battalion was lost, causing all other friendly units of the brigade to test - everyone went above and beyond and passed … except the last test at the village. The fusiliers lost their nerve and with my mouth still open! they pulled back, abandoning the village.


The French took the opportunity to move into the village unopposed, while another battalion defended the bridge. The French were in a good position to win. 


Landwehr counter-attacked both village and the bridge with gusto, but were unsuccessful, the game ending in a convincing French victory. 


Finally, I keep getting these out!


Trees and buildings were changed for their bigger brethren and the 28’s paraded on the table. This is not a re-running of the scenario, I just used the scenario theme together with those units that I have already glued up. 





I ran a quick game, again with my rules. The French line infantry charged across the bridge three times and three times were hurled back. With increasing losses and the brigade in no state to attack again, the commander sent in the Old Guard!


They had already taken heavy casualties from artillery fire and then from closing fire during the charge, but still they managed to press home the attack. However, already battered, they lost the melee and like the previous attempts, were thrown back across the bridge.





The windmill model here is interesting. It is a work in progress, and actually comes with the Epic stuff. It is an MDF build by Sarissa Precision Ltd and scaled to 15mm, but in my opinion, it is too large for the Epic, but I think it sits okay on a 28mm table, while obviously keeping footprint down. It has been primed and blocked in with brown umber and awaits dry brushing and the ground work done. 





The house is a resin from Battlescale in their 20mm range and gives a helpfully small foot print for the 28’s. The roof is designed to be lifted to put units in, but I always glue my buildings down tight. Here the line between roof and building body, which is noticeable, has been blended with Milliput and is awaiting primer.


Resource Section.


A complete write up of the recent Wavre multi player campaign played in association with this blog. LINK

https://battlefieldswarriors.blogspot.com/2023/05/wavre-campaign-diary.html



My sister webspace ‘COMMANDERS’ is being re-configured to showcase various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and gives a flavour of where current projects are up to. Link.


https://commanders.simdif.com


21 comments:

  1. Well that battlefield looks familiar 😁 interesting play throughs with very different results, was that more down to the vagaries of the dice rolls or key differences in the rules?
    A very challenging scenario for the French I think. I still like the look of epic more than the 28’s 🤪

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  2. Hi Graham, interesting to ‘revisit’ this one. Just like in our games, that single crossing point equals a choke point and it is difficult for French units to reach the other side without a mauling that leaves them too vulnerable to fight on.

    I wonder if a game or system was created only to look at such a bridge crossing, how different it would be compared to the main rulesets that are around.

    The Game with the 28’s was purely driven by excellent Prussian dice rolls and poor French capability rolls when responding to the fire.

    In the first two games, for rules differences, sometimes the difference we think are there are sometimes smoothed out. For example I am inclined to say that having a system of ‘saves’ and rally allows units in BP to survive longer …. But in my rules, hits are permanent though you need 4 to really degrade a unit and 8 to remove it from play, where-as above 3 hits in BP units are taking break tests, which can cause unit loss, so likely, on average, unit churn is probably very similar for both systems.

    Also in BP, some gamers complain at unit going turn after turn without activating, yet a good order roll might give a unit up to 3 moves. Also if within 12” of en enemy they can use an automatic initiative order and in a turn, units can move and fire ….. whereas in my rules, though units can always act, they can only do one thing i.e. move, fire or charge, so again over the course of a game, unit function might in reality be similar.

    One thing that did look off with the Epic and BP was keeping the measurements standard. Unis can fire smoothbore musket out to 18” and that just doesn’t look right, using half measurement i.e. shooting to 9” would seem more intuitive.

    Ranges in my own rules are shorter …. on balance too short, especially when using 3 bases with a frontage of 180mm.

    Other rule differences are really window dressing, how supports work, how disorder occurs and is recovered from, what factors go into morale checks and how command works.

    Sometimes I feel BP can be a bit arbitrary, but on reflection I am left wondering whether my rules are any less or more so!

    So perhaps rule choice is just that personal thing rather than systems being significantly different once you drill down into action, reaction and outcome. I suppose it is that thing that an 8 page ruleset can give a cracking game and so can a 50 page set.

    I thought the Epic looked very good from that sort of 3’ playing distance.

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  3. Always interesting to follow your trials of scenarios, rules and scales Norm. Who knows, someday you may settle on your favourite choice, or not. In the meantime as ever an interesting post.

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    1. Hi David, the journey is becoming as interesting as the destination :-)

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    2. I somewhat see David’s point in that your trials may resemble Ross’ (Battle Game of the Month) ever-changing experimentations. I see your pursuits not as random trials in search of the Holy Grail but as a meandering journey to enjoy the sights and experiences of a varied landscape.

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    3. Hi Jonathan, yes, almost a hobby within a hobby, it is not a frustration, but as you say a meandering journey.

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  4. Interesting scenario and results there a splendid read too. I have no doubt the rules butterfly will alight on a favoured set at some point, meanwhile enjoy the flight getting there and we will enjoy your commentary along the way for sure.

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  5. Thanks Phil, not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon :-) things are tightening up in my mind, I just need to walk around the block a few more times!

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  6. An interesting write up, I am increasingly convinced of the value of replaying scenarios as test bed for rules. You mentioned in the write up that various French and Prussian units 'took over' as their pals were mauled, and I'm wondering how that was managed? Interpenetration is one of the great debates for all horse and musket games, although I generally play higher level stuff so some intervals between battalions and regiments can be assumed.

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    1. Hear! Hear! On the value of replaying scenarios.

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  7. Hi Martin, agree about benchmarking against a tight selection of scenarios.

    Interpenetration is simply allowed in Black Powder. In my rules, two units that start immediately next to each other (front to rear) can exchange places and that consumes the entire move … but neither unit can be involved with an enemy.

    In the game, the Prussians did it by one unit moving out of the way and vacating, while a reserve unit moved up. For the French it was harder and more suspect to arrange the fancy footwork needed as the fresh troops needed to passage the bridge.

    I took the view that if the rules allowed a unit forced to retreat through friends to do so, but that each friend woukd have to pass a disorder test, then the reverse would be possible and a rear unit could push their way to the front, but with the result test of all parties for disorder.

    In an above comment, I mentioned how interesting it would be to design a game purely on a bridge assault as this would focus the mind and game engine on realistic dealing with such issues, rather than relying on the ‘general’ rules of the system to make bridge assault / crossings work.

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  8. Nice detailed review, Norm. I like smaller unit actions for Napoleonics sometimes. Also like to use the rule preventing shooting after more than one move.

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  9. Hi Dean, yes I like that rule and was surprised that when Black Powder II came along, they didn't amend the system to include that by default, I don't even think it is mentioned in BPII.

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  10. The scenario book sounds good and I was immediately transported back to the mammoth tussle at Bierges during your 'campaign'! Good to see 3 games and 2 Prussian wins with what is quite a 'simple' scenario, but a challenging one nonetheless. I much prefer the look of the Epic scale figures and game, but saw them in the flesh at the recent show and boy do they look big compared to 10mm! The windmill does look huge to try and fit in with Epic scale, but then for years I've been going a scale down for buildings which still look right for games such as this.

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  11. Hi Steve, I thought the post subject would catch your eye.

    I know we like our pretty pictures across the blogs, but I know that my shots never really compare with the MK I eyeball. I have even started to photograph the table from the position of my eye and zooming to 50mm (it best replicates how the eye naturally sees), so it is no surprise to me that your personal experience with Epic was a ‘scale revelation’. I find that the goodness I see, never properly translates to the screen, regardless of scale and subject.

    I agree with the ‘one scale’ down idea for terrain, except for tactical, when a figure looks right when stood against doors and windows, taking into account that the figure is already on its metal base plus the MDF / card / plastic base.

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  12. Interesting review of the rules on the same scenario Norm - I thought the French had won, expecting them to beat off that attack by the lowly Landwehr....my mistake! I certainly agree the windmill looks in scale with the 28mm figures, so must look huge with the Epic ones!

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  13. Hi Keith, I think the problem for the French was that by the time they met the Landwehr, they had already been a bit roughed up and in that landwehr counter-attack, they roll 6 dice and got 5 hits and the modifiers were working in their favour.

    Bridges are, as they should be, difficult to assault over, but I would like to think a little more whether these moments need some special rules, regardless of what game engine is in play.

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  14. Are you saying that you still haven't picked a scale for Naps??!! only madmen would do Naps in two scales. (I tease. I kid).

    nice walk through. Warlord Games scenario books are somewhat hit or miss depending on who wrote them. This one sound good. And your terrain is looking top notch in these photos. 😁

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  15. Thanks Stew, I am presently writing the next post …… so who knows 😀

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  16. Interesting scenario I like the terrain with both scales of figures, I was wondering about a 20mm windmill one or I might just scratch build, that looks enormous if it's 15mm!
    Best Iain

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  17. Hi Ian, I had the ho/oo Dapol windmill, I think that would fit, especially with other 20 / 28mm buildings, but for storage, I think this 15mm Sarissa one is an ideal compromise.

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Thanks for taking the time to comment