Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Somewhere on the Road to Corunna: A Small Napoleonic Game Using 'Food for Powder'

Lately I've been working on our household set of Napoleonic rules, 'Food for Powder', toying with a couple mechanics and playing around with a few new ideas. So this past weekend I wanted to get in a playtest of the edits to see if we could bust them in actual game play. To keep things simple we played a small game based on a scenario that I've put on several times in the past which seems to give a consistently quick yet decent game.

The scenario is an old chestnut set during the Peninsular War - a holding action at a bridge during Moore's retreat to Corunna. The scene features a weak British brigade of three battalions striving to buy enough time for their engineers to rig the bridge for demolition before the French vanguard can force its way through. A more detailed description of the smaller-scaled scenario can be found here.

The French push back a British battalion towards the river. The 'socket-trays' for the skirmishers are from Warbases.
All of these photos shown are from the last turn of the game.

As a short summary of the highlights, the French, commanded by Peter and Sylvain, advanced towards the British position (run by Stacy) along two lines of approach.  Sylvain's brigade, not being as obstructed by intervening terrain, went into action first. His lead battalion took a good deal of punishment on it's advance from two sections of Royal Horse Artillery along with musket volleys from a blocking British battalion, but they weathered the fire to go into close assault. The resulting melee battered the English infantry, but ultimately the French were spent and had to withdraw from the action.

The French press the British left flank. The 'Advance' marker denotes the path of march which was ordered for this French brigade.
Not to be deterred, Sylvain pushed his second battalion through the remnants of the first, shrugged off the resulting disorder it caused, and closed in for another assault. (At this point Stacy and I looked at each other in amazement as Sylvain typically has all the aggression of a slightly piqued French professor; which, well, he is.)  

So, while being disordered by crashing through their sister battalion, and being mauled by shot and shell, the second French battalion managed to beat all odds, stagger ahead and throw back the British line towards the bridge (the appalling rolls by Stacy at this point were truly epic). By this point two of the three French battalions were broken or spent, but the British opposing the remainder were ground down and falling back.

Peter's French force advancing on the British position. Dragoons at the top pausing while the infantry goes  into the assault.
On the other flank, Peter's French force included a small regiment of Dragoons to which he made good use of by placing them in the vanguard. As the green-clad cavalrymen approached the bridge they induced one of the British battalions to form square. Peter played it cool by not committing his cavalry to the charge, using them instead as a pinning force while his infantry came up for the assault. The British were again pushed back and they began to look nervously to the bridge to see what was holding the Engineers up.

A few squadrons of French Dragoons threatening the British right flank.
The last of the French infantry working its way through rough terrain.

As if on cue, the Engineers signaled that the bridge would be blown in two turns - intoning that it would be best if the brigade extricate themselves and get back over the river before they were cut off. Before we called it for the night we decided to see which side would have initiative for the next turn. The dice were cast and it was determined it would be the French who would react first. We reasoned that it will be a little touch and go for the British as the bridge could quite easily become swamped with men trying to escape to the other side. The French would probably be stopped at the river, but at the cost of a mauled British brigade and perhaps a few guns.

A photo taking in most of the action. The British are being forced into a thumb-shaped perimeter around the foot of the bridge (a precursor to another bridge action in 1944...)
It was great fun to break out the Napoleonics again and the rules seemed to hang together under the strain. Peter had not played the rules before but he picked up the essentials in a couple turns - which is an encouraging sign. There is still some work to be done on them but I think we're getting very close to having a solid beta playtest version soon.