Thursday, 30 December 2010

Fuentes de Oñoro Refight

The Christmas holidays have provided the opportunity to do the delayed refight of the battle of Fuentes de Oñoro.

The French began with attacks against Fuentes in order to hold the British centre while trying to sweep around the British right trying to catch the isolated 7th Division. Wellington was quick to realise the danger and ceasing the initiative he order the Light Division out in support.

The British had filled the gap in their lines before the French could get to grips but the ferocity of the French cavalry attack swept away the Portuguese Brigade of the 7th Division. If it was not for Sontag's Brigade valiantly resisting combined attacks by French infantry and cavalry the British line would have been turned.

Having failed to turn the British right and the attacks on Fuentes eating up the 2nd Corps, the French decided to try their final option and crossed the stream north of Fuentes in an attempt to take the high ground. The attack met with initial success forcing the British 6th and 5th Divisions to withdraw, but they regrouped and counter attacked before the advantage could be exploited.

Despite having inflicted severe damage along the British line the French exhausted and Wellington threw forward the Guards in order to see off the remaining French and forcing Massena to flee to prevent capture.

True to history the French fail to break the British line and relieve the fort of Almeida.

This is the third time I have refought Fuentes de Oñoro using Grande Armèe and each time the British have won. In this refight the French attempts to turn the British line south of Fuentes failed to force the British back to form the L-shape it did in 1811.

Grande Armèe's command system is excellent at representing the difficulty a General has in co-ordinating an attack across their lines. Giving Bessières a command rating of 5 means that as Massena you have to spend a lot of your time getting the attack on your left moving, limiting the chance of a simultaneous attack on the right. 

Monday, 13 December 2010

Carthage carry on

This week my Carthaginian's fought a Mid-Republican Roman army giving an insight into how Impetus will fair in recreating the Second Punic Wars.

The Carthaginians were on the attack and were able to pick ground placing a wooded area to dominate the centre. This forced the Romans to split their Legions, three to face the Carthaginian left and one Legion plus the cavalry to face the Carthaginian right.

The Carthaginians loaded all their cavalry on the right, positioned their infantry in the centre with their elephants protecting their left. The plan was to move the Spanish light infantry into the woods and prevent the two halves of the Romans army joining while the cavalry support by the Gauls took on the isolated Legion and Roman cavalry before arriving on the flank of the larger part of the Roman army.

As the Carthaginians began to implement their plan the three Roman Legions advanced as quickly as they could but soon became disordered, while the isolated Legion and cavalry tried to position themselves to prevent the Numidian cavalry turning their flank.

Progress was slow for both sides but eventually the Spanish infantry came out of the woods onto the flank of the Roman cavalry pelting them with javelins and throwing them into disorder just as the Gauls came charging into their front. At the same time the Numidian cavalry had got round the flank of the Legion and were starting to inflict serious damage. It was only a matter of time before the command was finished.
On their left the Carthaginians were forced to retreat as the three Legions slowly progressed towards them. The elephants were thrown forwards to try to slow the Roman advance but were taken down by a swarm of Velites. But the delay was sufficient to see the Romans on the right break.


The battle had now turned clockwise 90 degrees splitting the three remaining Legions across the wood. On the left the Romans tried desperately to get to grips with the Carthaginian heavy infantry but they were able to maintain sufficient distance while the Legion on the other side of the woods was surrounded by Numidian cavalry and overran by the Gauls. Putting the remaining Romans to flight.

Another Carthaginian victory.

This is the fourth time I have used the Carthaginians, and while I have yet to lose with them I am finding a trying army to use. Don't get be wrong, I love fielding them, but the battle plan to relies on waiting for the Numidian cavalry to turn the enemy flank which because they are light cavalry relying in javelins can take some effort.

Having all the cavalry on one flank has also caused some issues as the opposite flank is often left slightly exposed. I am considering adding another unit of Numidian Cavalry to balance it out but I'm not sure where to find the points.

Having a high value General is an unusual in comparison to the armies I normally face and I could save points here. However, I have found the ability to win the initiative with my infantry invaluable in being able avoid or engage the enemy at the time of my choosing.

Unfortunately the Romans did not try to change lines during the battle so i have gained no further insight into the workings of these rules. This was mainly due to the Romans deploying in either single or double line in order to remove this limitation. This is an issue for me as we know the standard historic formation from the sources and I remain convinced that the rules will need to be adapted.

Next week I take on an Imperial Roman army as part of the clubs campaign. It will be interesting to see how they try to adapt following the pervious annihilation.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Norman Painting Challenge

The planned refight of Fuentes de Oñoro has been delayed due to the recent weather and will hopefully be rearranged for the near future. On the plus side, this has given me time to think about doing a 28mm army for Impetus. Numbers permitting the Vapnartak tournament will go ahead on the 6th February and I need to get an army together by then.

It took me a while to decide on the force but I was finally swayed by Conquest Games new line of plastic Norman knights.

Collecting a Norman army has the advantaged that it is a new period for me and therefore changing scale to 28mm will not conflict with my existing armies in my preferred 15mm scale. The new plastic range for the knights will save me a bit of money at a time of year when I am supposed to be spending it on other people (tis the season after all). And, they should be relatively quick to paint as the majority of them wear mail.

The army needs to be 300pts and will consist of 5 units of knights, one being the Duke, 2 units of Pueri, 4 units of spearmen, 2 units each of crossbowmen and archers. All in all in 2 months I need to paint 109 figures, 29 being cavalry, that's nearly two a day. Here's hoping for a quiet Christmas.

All the cavalry will be Conquest's plastic range. I am not a big fan of multi part plastic kits as I am not much of a modeller and don't like spending time assembling figures. That been said, I started on the first box of knights two nights ago and they we by far the easiest set of plastics I have assembled in recent years.

For the infantry I went with Crusader Miniatures over Gripping Beast based primarily on price as the quality between the two seems on par. They are ordered and I hope they arrive before I finish painting the knights.

Another advantage of the army is its potential to roll over another force, I hope. The last tournament I played in I used an Early Imperial Roman army and though a great army it relies on the Legions to cut their way through the enemy which takes time and casualties. This meant that although victorious in two out of three battles I did not pick up that many points towards winning the tournament.

The large amount of heavy cavalry in the Norman army should provide a greater punch and potentially roll over the top of the opponents. It is a change from recent tactics with Carthaginians where heavy reliance is based on the Numidian light cavalry so may take some getting used to.

Anyway, this diversionary project will hopefully only slow and not stop progress on the main projects.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Fuentes de Oñoro

The Sheffield & Rotherham club has been running a series of games to explore different historical rules sets and I have been asked to showcase Grande Armée and so have decided to refight Fuentes de Oñoro. It is the first scenario in Sam Mustafa's excellent set of rules and I have refought it three times previously to demonstrate the rule system.

Fuentes de Oñoro was the final battle in the third French invasion of Portugal. I highly recommend David Buttery's Wellington Against Massena for a full history of the invasion.

The British under Wellington, then Wellesley, had successfully driven out two previous French invasions of Portugal, Junot's in 1808 and Soult's in 1809, before Massena undertook the third in May 1810. The invasion route drove straight towards Lisbon with the French successfully taking the forts of Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida as they began their advance. The British retreated before them until they came to Bussaco ridge where, in what became a classic example of a Wellington battle, the French columns having made the difficult climb were repulsed by the British and Portuguese lines before there could fully reform.

The battle, whilst a defeat, did not prevent the invasion continuing as the British again fell back. While it may have seemed that the campaign would end with the British being driven into the Atlantic, on the 11 October 1810 the advanced French cavalry came across Wellington's masterstroke. Began a year previously based on Wellington's initial assessment of the strategic situation the Lines of Torres Vedras were the undoing of Massena's army. Unable to penetrate the works and with his army struggling on low supplies Massena was forced to retreat in early 1811.

As the British pursued Napoleon decided that Massena, previously one of his greatest Marshals, was no longer up to the task and Marmont was dispatched to assume command. Having being pursued past the fort of Almeida which the British now besieged, Massena decided on one last throw of the dice to try and defeat Wellington in open battle.

In early May 1811 the British had advanced as far as the town of Fuentes de Oñoro on the Portuguese-Spanish border just past Almeida, and it was here that Massena decided to attack. Wellington had around 34,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry compared to Massena's 44,000 infantry and 4,500 cavalry. The British did however outnumber the French in artillery with 48 guns to the 38 guns of the French. Massena was also being undermined by Marshal Bessières. Massena had already fallen out with Marshal Ney who had returned to France. Bessières was in command of the Army of the North and although he had brought some supplies and 1,600 cavalry to support Massena, he was reluctant to follow Massena's orders.

The battlefield centred on the town of Fuentes de Oñoro with the river Dos Casas running north-south presenting the first obstacle the French would have to cross. The fort of Almeida, which Massena hope to relieve lay to the north west of Fuentes de Oñoro behind the battlefield. The British held the slopes running down from Almeida to the Dos Casas north of Fuentes. While this might have been a more natural route to avoid Fuentes, the terrain either side of the Dos Casas was difficult leaving an attacker exposed to the enemy on the far side.

The 3 May 1811 saw the first French attacks on Fuentes with their initial success stopped by the arrival of British reinforcements. Realising that Fuentes was well defended Massena spent the 4th probing the British position looking for weak points before deciding on an attack plan for the 5th. The plan was straight forward, Reynier's Corps would provide a diversionary attack north of Fuentes while d'Erlon's Corps would attack Fuentes itself. With the British pinned the remaining French forces, including most of the cavalry, will advance south of Fuentes turning the British right.

Wellington had played into this plan. His forces were spread over a wide area and on his right the 7th Division, newly arrived in the Peninsular, was positioned at Poco Velho detached from any supporting Divisions.

So we have the scenario. Will the French be able to turn the British right and roll-up the line? Will Wellington send reinforcements to support and extract the 7th Division and redress his line?

The scenario is played using the forces given in the Grande Armée rule book, I have however added to the map provided which I find to be a little bare. The main changes being to add additional hills to give a better feel of the landscape and to add rough terrain to represent the ravine north of Fuentes, otherwise it is too easy for the French to attack the Britsh here.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Sacking Syracuse

This week I managed to give my Carthaginians their first run out and they didn't disappoint. The battle was against Early Imperial Romans as part of the club's current ancient campaign. The battle was one of two simultaneous encounters for control of Sicily.

The armies deployed across the Sicilian plain with rough terrain and woods down the Carthaginian left. The Carthaginian's were on the attack and deployed their infantry opposite the Roman Legions who were intermingled with German mercenaries. Both armies had their cavalry far out on the Carthaginian right.

The Carthaginians opened the battle with a general advance headed by their elephants. The Romans countered by advancing their Auxiliaries to bring the elephants down. However the Numidian skirmishers got the better of their Romans counterparts and the Roman line began to fracture as the elephants charged home. The Germans allies were refusing to cooperate making it difficult for the Roman's to support the Auxiliaries.

On the right, the outnumbered Roman cavalry held their ground drawing on the advancing Carthaginian cavalry while some Roman Legions move against their flank. Spotting the manoeuvre some Numidian cavalry peel off to hold up the advancing Legions. This opens a gap and the Roman cavalry charges in an attempt to break through. The Carthaginian cavalry resist the charge while the remaining Numidian cavalry swarmed around the Roman cavalry putting them to flight.

On seeing the Roman cavalry in flight the Germans, unreliable throughout the battle, take flight leaving the Roman infantry outnumbered in the centre. The Legions launch a final charge into the Carthaginian line. However the Gods were not with them and bad luck turned worse with the capture of the Roman General routing the remainder of the army.

With the Romans in flight the Carthaginian army were free to move on and capture Syracuse. The news just gets better for Carthage as they have won the other encounter giving them full control of Sicily.

While the battle went to plan, I grouping the cavalry together on one flank in order to overrun it and surround the enemy, JP had such bad luck with the dice so the army wasn't really tested.

Grouping all the cavalry together on one flank should mean that on most occasion I will be able to take that flank, but it also means the other flank needs to be secured. If necessary that could probably be done with the elephants. They were effective in the centre but not devastating. Historically, it seems that while the Carthaginians preferred to place their elephants in front of their line a number of the Successors started placing elephants on their flanks to ward off enemy cavalry.

This would however weaken the centre where the multiple troops types were able to hit in succession, skirmishers followed by elephants followed by spanish and gallic light infantry followed by libyan heavy infantry. In the Carthaginian army list, only the Libyan troops troops count significantly towards towards the armies break points, so unlike most armies the Carthaginians can deploy in depth effectively. This maybe useful for refighting Zama where Hannibal deployed his army in three lines.

The 50 per cent command break limit again proved a potential weakness. The Roman cavalry consisted of two bases of light cavalry and two bases of heavy cavalry so by taking out one of each the whole command went.

All in all though I fully enjoyable game and a successful start to the campaign, i'm itching to get them back on the table.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Reflections on Impetus

Impetus is my favourite set of ancient and medieval wargames rules. I have been playing it now for over two years but it is only since I joined the Sheffield & Rotherham club nearly six months ago that I have been playing it on a regular basis. Prior to becoming hooked on Impetus I have played Warhammer Ancients, DBA, DBM, and Field of Glory. This blog will be about why I like Impetus, including highlighting some limitations.

I wish to start by saying what it is that makes Impetus the best set of ancient and medieval rules I've played. They are fun and produce a reasonable simulation of how I imagine an ancient battlefield. Like my favourite set of Napoleonic rules, Grande Armee, Impetus combines a units morale and fighting capability into a single value, it's VBU.

Impetus, as it's name suggests, is all about grabbing the initiative and maintaining momentum. The impact bonus units receive from charging encourages armies to press forward and the follow up combat mechanism can mean that a unit which begins to get pushed back and quickly be rolled over if it's opponent can follow up.

I like the look of the game, a unit looks like a body of men even when on it's own. The game mechanisms are simple and yet subtle. While it is possible to quickly march a large portion of your army across the battlefield, this is done at increasing risk of disordering the troops and the army being scattered piecemeal across the field. I like variability in the game and the initiative system in Impetus means that the order commands move in can vary each turn.

There are however a few issues with the rules that I think should be looked at and are potentially easily fixed. While I will spend more time discussing these in this blog I want to stress that the positives of Impetus monumentally outweigh these elements and it is my far the best set of rules for the period I have played.

Break point

In Impetus each unit has a VDU factor from 1 to 3 that represents the morale contribution that unit makes to the army as a whole. For example, a Legionary unit has a value of 3 whereas some skirmishers have a value of 1. A Command breaks at the end of the turn it loses 50 per cent of VDU, and an Army breaks at the end of the turn when it loses 50 per cent VDU.

The fixed break point of 50 per cent has two distorting impact so the game which I believe distort historical reality.

First, as each player is able to determine how close they and their opponent are to breaking, the result can be perverse behaviour as players chase individual units to knock the enemy over the break point rather than focus on the battle as a whole.

Secondly, it is beneficial to form an army into a single command as it has more staying power. An army in a single command must lose units up to 50 per cent of it's VBU in order to break. Dividing an army equally into two commands reduces it to a 25 per cent break point, as either half going would result in the whole command going. Though it does extend the command range making it easier to maintain order and manoeuver. Most armies were divided into multiple commands especially in the medieval period and the rules should encourage this.

The solution I propose is to have a system that starts to test whether an army breaks once it has past a certain threshold, for example 40 per cent. The test is based on the proportion of the army beyond that threshold and the length of the game. By not having a guaranteed break point players must focus on inflicting the most damage possible on the enemy at all times.

Strength of firing

There have been a number of situations where firing from skirmishers has almost overwhelmed heavy infantry but the new rules in Extra Impetus 3 may have resolved this.

Roman lines

As mentioned in my last post the exchange of Roman lines is to difficult, with only a 1 in 4 chance, and is limited to the Polybian period only between Hastati and Principes. I could go on for quite a while on this one and plan to do a future post drawing upon some current reading so for now I'll simply state that I believe that the exchange of lines needs to be easier and should be extended to late republican armies.


I want to finish this post with a quick comment on scale. I normally play the game in 15mm but recently participated in a 28mm tournament at Derby. The different scales do impact on how the game plays. The larger movement distances mean that there is often less opportunity to shoot though this is impart compensated for by larger shooting distances. 28mm certainly feels more hectic with less opportunity for initial manoeuvre.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Assyrian Aspirations

On Saturday I went to the British Museum to see their new Book of the Dead exhibition which is well worth a trip. It was my first visit to the museum and while wondering the halls I came across their Assyrian collections, including Lion Hunt and Siege of Lachish. While gazing at the immense detail and impressive scale of the works that fearful thought that all wargamers have entered my mind. Wouldn't it be nice to do an Assyrian Army?

This resulted in a lot of day dreaming on the journey home about four horse chariots when I had intended to make progress in cataloguing battles to refight with my soon to be completed Carthaginians.

I regularly face this problem, most commonly when listening to Mike Duncan's excellent The History of Rome podcast when he moves onto a new period that I know little about. I have been looking for an army to do in 28mm for Impetus tournaments so perhaps the Assyrians could fill this hole.

Anyway, must regain focus as the Carthaginians are due their debut on Thursday, delayed last week due to work commitments.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Plodding towards the Punic Wars

I am currently reading Carthage Must be Destroyed: The rise and fall of an ancient civilization by Richard Miles and it has inspired me to get my Punic ambitions back on track. One of the main projects I hope to start, and possibly complete, by the end of next year is a campaign of the 2nd Punic Wars. I first read Polybius history of the Punic Wars when I was twenty but have struggled to get this period going. To date I have the majority of the Carthaginian army painted but have never fought a battle with it. I do have the campaign map and system I hope to use to run the campaign.

The campaign map will be the map from Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage by Valley Games game. This is an excellent game that I have played a dozen times and find each time incredibly interesting and enjoyable. In every year of the war, each player gets a number of strategy cards which allow them to undertake campaigns or play certain events. Who is winning at a given time, and who wins the game ultimately is determined by a players political points that allows them to control provinces.

The board for the game is a map of the western mediterranean at the time of the 2nd Punic Wars. It is a point-to-point map, each point representing a major town or city with four to six points within each province.

Armies in the game are represented by a number of points. When battles are fought each player receives a number of battle cards equal to the number of points in their army, their commanders rating, and the number of allies they are entitled to based on the provinces they control in the area of the map the battle takes place.

In order to convert a battle on the map onto the table top, the ratio of the number of cards each player has will be converted into the ratio of the points between each players army. Players will be allowed to pick their army from a list up to the points they have available. I am working on how the lists will be restricted to reflect the reliance on allies and other game events, for example the Carthaginian player can only select elephants if in Africa, or their army has an elephant counter present.

Battles will be fought using Impetus rules. I know that Lorenzo, the rules author, is looking at writing new army lists for this period as part of the next supplement. I hope that he will be looking at the rules for changing Roman lines as this is one of the few areas in the game that needs revisiting. The current process of having to pass a discipline test with both the Hastati and Principes unit means that there is only a 1 in 4 chance of success for a standard legion. This seems too low as they must have conducted the manoeuvre on a regular basis.

Having recently fought a Carthaginian army at the Impetus tournament at Derby I am keen to complete my own and get it fighting. The Sheffield & Rotherham club is just starting a new ancient campaign which should provide plenty of battles in which to explore the army's capabilities.

Anyway, back to finishing those Numidian cavalry so more on the army in a future post. As well a 2nd Punic Wars campaign, I also hope to refight the major battles from the Wars and will use Richard Miles book to start cataloguing these before developing them using a range of texts.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Reflections on Lasalle

Last week I played my second game of Lasalle which I enjoyed despite my British getting creamed by JP's Austrians. The game did however raise some concerns about the systems that will need some thought.

I was excited when Lasalle came out. I have this vision of a whole of Europe Napoleonic campaign where battles can occur from divisional to army level (more in other posts). This requires different rulesets for battles at different levels and I hope that Lasalle can fill the division level.

We were using army lists from the rules. JP was on the attack with a Advance Guard Austrian Division supported by a Line Infantry Brigade. I defended with a British Line Division supported by a Portuguese Brigade. The map was dry hills.

The Austrians deployed with the infantry brigade on their right with the advance division deployed across the centre and left with the two cavalry units more towards the left. The British deployed behind a line of hills with the portuguese on the right of the line.

While the Austrians advanced across the field the British took up a position on the crest of the hill. Observing the Austrian line fracturing as they advanced across the rough terrain the British tried to take advantage by rushing forward in the centre and trying to take an isolated battery of guns. The guns withdrew but the attack in the centre stalled.
The Austrian attack faired much better on their left where a regiment of Uhlans were able to ride down two battalions of Portuguese before they could form square turning the british flank.

The Austrian attack on their right looked to be failing as they took heavy fire while reforming having crossed the broken ground. They managed to rally however, and in what appeared to be a desperate charge they broke through the 42nd Highlanders and continued over the hill to capture a battery of guns.

The Austrian attempts to break the British centre fail due to the heroics of the 71st Highland Light but it was to no avail as the Austrians had taken both flanks and the battle was lost.

This was my second game of Lasalle and the rules are simple enough that I was able to command an army on my own without needing to reach for the rules on a regular basis. I enjoyed the game, I like the look of the table and the simple mechanics. However, I have concerns about a few elements of the game which require exploration.

The large units of the Austrians easily outmatched the British units. Normally the British are able to get two shots on the Austrians before a combat, one while the Austrians advance and one as a reaction to their charge. The higher skirmish ability of the British means they normally throw five dice when shooting so are likely to cause a disruption each time.

This means that for combat the Austrians will have 10 dice (2 x 6 bases = 12, minus 2 disruption) compared to the British 8 dice (2 x 4 bases). Future tactics will need to focus on getting more fire power focussed on the Austrians before they can make contact, including making more effective use of artillery.

Reflecting on the battle I think a general advance is needed by the defending side in order to create space to manoeuvre and fall back. This will need to be considered when placing terrain. I should have made better use of the rough terrain to break up the Austrian attack.

All in all an enjoyable game, I want to play more Lasalle and it has me thinking about sorting out a French army. I would like a more interesting command system and variable movement which would make co-ordinated attacks more difficult. After a few more off the shelf games it will be time to look at some scenarios, I have my eye on Massena's 1810-11 invasion of Portugal.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Welcome to my blog

Hi and welcome to my new blog. The aim of this blog is simple, to encourage me to complete wargames projects.

After many years of wargaming I have a mind full of ideas for battles and campaigns, so much so that they all seem to get in the way of each other. My interest in any given period waxes and wanes with each book I read, each show I attend, and especially each time I see some bonny new figures.

After 20 years of wargaming I feel the time is right to try and complete some of these projects and the best motivator to do this would be public exposure to my lack of progress.

I started wargaming at the age of eight playing Napoleonics with my dad. Throughout comprehensive school I played the range of Gamesworkshop games before joining a local club while at university and getting back into historical gaming. For the past ten years I have attend the North Tyneside club and for the past six months the SheffieldRotherham club.

The initial periods I am going to concentrate on are Punic Wars, Late Republican Roman, Wars of the Roses and from the Napoleonic period the Peninsular War and the 1809 Danube campaign. I'll go into the detail about where I am and where I want to get to with each period in future posts but for the moment i'll just say that all the period require armies to be completed before anything else can progress.

As well as posts about ideas and progress towards these ongoing projects I plan to make regular posts on whatever I am currently playing, painting, visiting or reading. The post will be my own thoughts and are meant to help me clarify and develop ideas. I welcome any comments you have on my posts and hope that some of the material I plan to produce for the projects will be of wider use.

This is my first ever blog so excuse my style. I hope it will improve with experience.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog