Saturday, December 1, 2018

ImagiNations: Nordstrum (a Xmas special)

Over the last few months, as son #1 was in Norway with NATO, I've been beavering away at a new ImagiNations army to add to the collection. Michael had some years ago concocted a new state for our ImagiNation world but the painting had not gotten off the ground. He had tried a few test figures but his real skills lie in the world of silly spaceships and tiny blobs of metal (oftentimes referred to as micro-armour). The figures he had tested were Front Rank Napoleonic Spanish, from an earlier ill-fated plan of mine to build up the white menace from the Peninsula campaigns. Because the Spanish uniforms are bit anachronistic for the Napoleonic period, Michael decided to use them for his ImagiNations army... Nordstrum. 

The Nordstrum elevator pitch...

Nordstrum is a fanatically secular state, governed by the FolksParlament, at the head which sits Chancellor Karl Gustav Gustavsson. The Chancellorship is an elected position and is beholden to the whims of the people in the form of the annually elected FolksParlament. The small but professional army mirrors the state, wherein advancement is based on merit and service, rather than birth and preferment. The common soldier fights for his family, his regiment, and his country (God has little, if anything, to do with it). Nordstrum is notorious for staying out of the common disputes amongst its more pious and monarchic neighbours, while preferring to promote its overseas trading interests.

Thus, while Michael was tramping the wilds of Norway, I put paint to brush for his Xmas present and completed the first brigade of the Nordstrum army.

Two infantry battalions, one cavalry regiment, and a heavy artillery battery. There will also be a 12-figure light infantry addition to the brigade. The plan is to eventually have three such brigades in the army, each with a distinctive brigade facing colour (in this case, red). I was hesitant, at first, to follow Michael's instructions to have the infantry in charcoal grey coats. It wasn't a technical issue (painting and shading black/grey is pretty much the same as any other colour); rather it was an aesthetic concern. But once completed, I was quite pleased with the result.

Each brigade will have a small cavalry contingent. For these, I chose a lighter grey for the uniforms (mainly because I needed a break from the darker charcoal grey), with the brigade red facing colour.

The heavy artillery battery in blue coats. While perusing the Front Rank website, I couldn't not pass by the 24 lb guns without adding them to the cart.

The infantry battalions each have a 6 lb battalion gun section and are considered standard-sized units in Black Powder.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Spanish Mini-Campaign: updated campaign rules

After going through the first five campaign turns, we've added a few items to the campaign rules (link).

Destroyed Units
If any group is destroyed during the tactical battle, it is marked as destroyed in the order of battle (i.e. crossed out) and is no longer available in the current campaign year. Destroyed units may be replaced in the order of battle during a winter turn. The unit is restored (i.e. not crossed out) at one quality level lower than the original version with no special characteristics. [note: “destroyed” = all figures “killed”]

>> This rule will hopefully make us think twice before sacrificing units in a tabletop battle for short-term gains. Although it's fairly uncommon for a group/unit to be completely destroyed in a game, it does happen form time to time.

Battlegroup Composition
During the drawing of Effect Cards, if a Joker is drawn, roll 1d6: 
  1. One unit of the Battlegroup has been temporarily detached for outpost, line of communication, or garrison duty or has not been able to keep up for various reasons. A unit is selected randomly and will not participate (in this battle only).
  2. The men in this Battlegroup are feeling patriotic today! The worst Battlegroup modifier is ignored for this battle only. If this Battlegroup had no modifiers or only has positive modifiers, it will receive an Up 1 modifier for this battle only. 
  3. After all Deployment Points are deployed, this Battlegroup may deploy one extra Secondary Deployment Point. 
  4. If this Battlegroup is the attacker, you may choose the tabletop baseline for your force instead of the defender. 
  5. This battleground is particularly important! Any post-battle effects are doubled. 
  6. Your men have been industrious! Your Battlegroup may deploy two breastworks. 
>> This adds just a little bit of colour to the Unit Selection procedure.

Voluntary Withdrawal
A player may elect to Voluntarily Withdraw a Battlegroup from a tabletop battle at any point in the game. To achieve this, he must move all of his troops off via his friendly table edge. Once only two Groups of his troops remain on the table, the game ends.

>> This is more of a clarification than an addition. The post-battle effects have also been changed to suit (no effect; withdrawing Battlegroup must move as per Retreat Destinations above and suffer Pursuit Fire).

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Spanish Mini-Campaign 2: Skirmish at Gelsa

Vidal and I met this past weekend at Casa Bairos on the banks of the Grand River to continue with our Spanish campaign, with a guest appearance by Captain Dan. At the beginning of the 5th campaign turn, Vidal had moved a force across the Ebro River to threaten the center of the French river defences. This British incursion met a French force near the village of Gelsa, south of Zaragoza.

After the force selection procedure was completed, the two opposing Battlegroups were of roughly equal size (with a slight edge to the French). Both groups also received an extra Level III Big Man to command the forces.

We remembered to actually read the campaign rules this time and a scenario was randomly selected from Dawns & Departures and Support Points were rolled for: 2 British points and 1 French. The All-Out Attack scenario was selected and Vidal chose to make it a Hasty Attack. In a Hasty Attack, "both sides are in some disorder, possibly deploying from column of march straight into action, or having been surprised. Roll a d6 for each group attempting to deploy onto the table. On a roll of 4 to 6, they are delayed and may not deploy. They may attempt to deploy again when the opportunity next arrives." This restriction did not seem to affect much in the game... most rolls were successful. What did affect the plans and the outcome was fighting down the length of the table and that both sides had only their Primary Deployment Points from which to deploy. This constricted the deployment options for both sides and restricted the impact of the cavalry (but more of this anon).

Captain Dan took control of the French force and chose a barricade with his measly one point of support. Vidal chose to field a marksman ... yes, with his damned 95th Rifles (thank goodness, it turned out he had only one unit of these horrible monsters in his force).

The full battlefield, with French Deployment Point on the left and British on the right.

A full synopsis of the battle...

and a photo AAR...

British line infantry, screened by light infantry and observed by the force commander, deploy in the center of the field. It seemed Vidal planned to shove this right down the center of the French position. This is a nasty little combination.  The light infantry can screen the line (giving them soft cover) until they are ready to deliver some disciplined and powerful volleys.

French cavalry deploy on the right flank, intent on gaining an early edge by threatening the British flank and rear. An Imperial ADC commands these horsemen, as the Emperor (or his designate) would never allow these Grenadiers a Cheval to be used without some guidance.

French infantry deploy to anchor the right of the line as the cavalry move forward. These are bog-standard conscript & volunteer infantry. Once they begin delivering musketry volleys, they are notoriously difficult to get back under control to do anything else. But bolstering them, the French force commander waves them forward (but not for long...unfortunately...).

Pretty Spanish cavalry deploy on the British right flank, seemingly with a similar intention as the French cavalry... threatening the French flank and rear. But "pretty" was the extent of their contribution to the battle... but as they say, "it's not how you fight, it's how you look while you're fighting." I'm sure it was Napoleon who said that :)

French skirmishers deploy behind the barricade to face the British line infantry in the center of the field.

British light dragoons deploy to counter the French cavalry at the top right of the photo. What can't be seen here are the damnable 95th Rifles cowering like snakes in the small farm building.
As the French skirmishers start to pepper the British lines, a stray spark has set alight the building behind them. 

The British cavalry has turned to face the French light cavalry. This was a drawn-out affair with multiple charges and counter charges before the French chasseurs were thrown back for good, leaving their commander un-horsed, stunned, and captured. The French heavy cavalry had meanwhile continued on to the French rear (without a commander and activating only on Tiffin cards). What can't be seen here is the 95th Rifles finally deciding to be real men and come out of the cover in which they had been cowardly creeping. They chased the French heavy cavalry and forced them from the field. Surely, a tactical withdrawal by the cavalry commander... yes, that's clearly what it was.
Meanwhile, back in the center the French force commander had early been knocked off his horse and stunned by a stray round from the British light infantry. He was hors de combat for the remainder of the battle, depriving Captain Dan of a valuable command resource.

On the French left flank, a massive volley by a formation of Legere shattered the Spanish cavalry flanking attempt and left them scurrying to the rear. We can't see the Spanish cavalry in this photo... but no matter...even if the field of focus was widened, we'd see only a shattered and ruined (but ultimately pretty) cavalry group .

French forces begin to build up around the Deployment Point.

At this point, Vidal had begun to slowly move his British line infantry in the center back towards the British Deployment Point. There seemed no purpose in continuing to try and force the issue in the center with so much French infantry finally starting to shake themselves out from their initial deployments. The French Force Morale was at this point down to 2 and British at 6. Captain Dan decided to make a Voluntary Withdrawal and concede the field. 

In hindsight, a couple of things could have made the battle go more in the French favour. First, placing the Primary (and only) Deployment Point farther forward may have helped. It could have allowed a less cluttered deployment area around and behind the central farm building. As it turned out, the cluttered terrain in the center negated some of the superiority in numbers the French infantry enjoyed. Second, Captain Dan's attempt to rush the French cavalry along the flank may have been premature. The narrow frontage fighting along the length of the table restricted the potential of such a move. Perhaps holding them back to deliver a timely charge on weakened British units may have been a better choice. But, hindsight is 20-20!

In campaign terms, there are no positive or negative modifiers appended the respective Battlegroups, although the obvious bonus for the British is the occupation of a French class 2 town. 

On the map you can see French Battlegroup G retreating to Hijar. In the French half of the campaign turn, Battlegroup D moves from Banon to Hijar to join Battlegroup G. Thus ends Campaign Turn 5...

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Spanish Mini-Campaign 2: The Second Battle of Pla

After the initial British defeat at the Battle of Pla, Vidal's British Battlegroup retreated north to Manreso, having suffered a sharp rebuff. The victorious French commander in Pla was somewhat surprised to find the same British Battlegroup bearing down on Pla in the second half of Turn 2. And thus, the Second Battle of Pla...

Spoiler alert! can be seen on the map, Vidal's British Battlegroup E had been pushed back to Manresa (dotted red arrow) and then immediately began it's move back on Pla in the British half of the campaign turn (solid red arrow). The second dotted red arrow shows the British retreat to Terraga after the battle.

The pre-game unit selection procedure came up with 14 French units and 11 British:

As the French commander, I was quite pleased with the result. My force ended up with two proper-sized infantry formations (each with three formed groups and one skirmish group), a lovely little section of medium guns, and good cavalry punch.

The battlefield was then set up as an Encounter scenario from the main Sharp Practice 2 rulebook. This was a fairly straightforward battlefield with hills and rough fields. Force Morale was determined and both sides would start with 9 points.  Support points were rolled for as per the scenario in SP2 and we both received 12 points.

Perhaps I should read the campaign rules as compiled by.... well, me. "Ignore any Support Point options in Sharp Practice 2 scenario notes. Instead, the attacker rolls 1d6 etc etc." So we should have both received 6 points of support... oh well.

The battle began with cavalry deployments. The British and Spanish started toward the flank behind the large hill and the French lights deployed on the same flank to counter. The only clear advantage I had here was that I could create a formation with the two chasseurs units. Vidal, on the other hand, could not do this, as one unit was British and the other Spanish. The British infantry also made an early appearance in the center of the field. Five groups of British regulars can be a tough nut to crack... but I had a plan... yes, a plan! (did I mention that neither commander knew the composition of the enemy force at the start of the battle?...although we did know how many units)

French infantry deploy to support the light cavalry. 

The dreaded British rifles deploy near the woods behind the hill. Besides the juggernaut that can be the British line infantry formations, the 95th Rifles are the unit I least like to see appear. And they had a marksman! I could only hope that there was only one of these units in Vidal's force. 

British infantry prepare to advance with a skirmish screen and light gun in support. Textbook deployment!

French light cavalry advance to meet the British cavalry...side note: I've become a Front Rank fan-boy (actually, I think I've always been one) and these chasseurs are the perfect example of why). 

British and Spanish cavalry prepare to move over the hill and engage the French light cavalry. The British rifles have ascended the big hill from where they could easily pick away at the French cavalry (especially with the added marksman). The French cavalry commander decided to move as quickly to the hill and the rifles duly scuttled away to the rear of the hill (they played little part for the rest of the battle... and no complaints from me!).

The resulting cavalry clash was a swirling affair spread across the hill, with much swaying back and forth... until the French lights finally broke, leaving their wounded commander in the clutches of the enemy. But I had a plan for this as well... yes, a plan!

Meanwhile, in the center of the field, the first stage of The Plan had come to fruition. I had deployed the two French medium guns on the central hill (in the background of the photo above) and promptly threw a couple of rounds of canister at the larger of the two British line infantry formations. You can see the result above. Three line infantry groups have been reduced to two depleted groups with a large helping of shock! So far, so good with the plan (did I mention I had a plan?)

In the French center, the force commander waited patiently for the outcome of the cavalry battle and the artillery bombardment on the British infantry.  Some may say he was somewhat timid (or even cowardly) to keep the French infantry concealed behind the hill and out of the sights of the British lights and rifles. Pish-tosh! It was prudence... and no, that was not actually part of the plan. It was because, for the first half of the battle,  I could get no other Big Men chips out of the bag to activate offtable resources (in particular, the other infantry formation with skirmish screen). As it turned out, this apparent lack of energy on the part of the French infantry (and/or the commander) played out well. The off-table infantry formation was never deployed...but not for lack of opportunity.  By the time its Big Man was activatable, the situation didn't require their deployment at all (excpet perhaps to protect the guns... more of that anon). Again, not part of the plan... but it was fortuitous to have another reserve off-table, if required.

The second part of The Plan is activated...the Grenadiers a Cheval deploy to shore up the right flank and take advantage of the victorious but depleted Spanish and British cavalry. To be fair, the plan wasn't specific about where these monsters would be deployed, only that they would be held in reserve until just the "right" moment. I had actually considered deploying them on the left flank against the shattered British line infantry formation but there were too many hedges and rough fields to navigate before they could have made contact. Thus, the right flank and the "right" moment beckoned.

In the center, Vidal boldly pushed his light infantry towards the French guns. This was a most unexpected turn of events... and definitely not considered in The Plan. The British lights charged the guns and drove them off! A great tactical move and it could have cost me the game. The French Force Morale at this point was at 3 but thankfully, because of the repeated pounding of the French guns on the British infantry, the British Force Morale was at 2.

Don't leave your guns unsupported! I had had the opportunity to deploy the off-table French infantry formation beside the guns (and straight in the path of the future British light infantry advance) but passed on the chance. I had become besotted with the image of British infantry falling like nine-pins under accurate and devastating French artillery fire. And I was also more than a little obsessed at this point with trying to win the battle without having to use the infantry reserve. These oversights almost lost the battle for me.

Grenadiers a Cheval advance past the remnants of the French light cavalry, confident in their ability to best any of the Emperor's enemies.

And the situation after the glorious charge and the Spanish cavalry dispersed. This was the last action of the day as the Spanish defeat brought the British Force Morale down to zero.

A Crushing French victory! Vive l'Emperuer!! 

And that's not just hyperbole... that's actually the result as spelled out in the rules. Getting the enemy Force Morale to zero (and thus also achieving your scenario objectives by default) is the best result possible. Vidal's Battlegroup will suffer a 30% down 1 modifier to go with the pre-existing 20% down 1 modifier for future battles. Ouch! My Battlegroup, conversely, receives a 30% up 1 modifier. British Battlegroup E retreats to Terraga and we move onto Campaign Turn 3.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Spanish Mini-Campaign 2: The Battle of Pla

After our enjoyable first attempt at a Sharp Practice 2 mini-campaign set in the Spanish Peninsula (see here), Vidal and I have decided to have another go at it but in a somewhat different context. This time around, we're not using a version of campaigning from TFL's Dawns & Departures, the usual starting point for SP2 campaigns. Instead, I went back to an old board game favourite, The War of 1812 from Columbia Games. The map in this game, besides being gorgeous, provides an excellent geographical context for a small campaign, involving relatively small forces. 

I had previously married this mapboard with a mish-mash of campaign rules for an 1812 campaign but before this we decided to try out the system in Spain. I sourced a map of Spain from a stash I have on my hard-drive, culled from who knows where on the interwebs. For rules, I ported over the 1812 mish-mash I had previously created, a combination of the Columbia Games campaign rules, Piquet Games' Theater of War, and Sharp Practice 2. You can see the rules here: link 

As can be seen, the French and British-controlled areas (blue and red numbered towns, respectively) are located on the east coast of Spain along the Ebro River. It doesn't take much to realize this is completely and utterly fictitious. I'm moderately confident that there were French and British forces in the area during the war but I have no idea how many, where, or how they operated. Not really important for us. This is just a geographical shell to add some context to our campaigning. That disclaimer out of the way, the basic objective for both sides is to control as many enemy towns as possible (the higher numbered, the better). The details can be seen at the link provided above.

1812: Turns 1 & 2

On this version of the map can be seen the opposing battlegroups deployed about the area and the initial moves in Turns 1 & 2. This resulted in a battle at the oddly named crossroads of Pla. French Battlegroup H (strength 2) moved north from Reus to confront British battlegroup F at Pla. Vidal was required to reveal the size of his British battlegroup and it turned out to be strength 2 as well. After the Battlegroup Composition procedure, we ended up with these forces for the battle:

The battlefield was then shaped with Dawns & Departures and a Battle scenario rolled up randomly. This is a fairly straightforward scenario where the attacker (in this case the French) must capture the enemy Primary Deployment Point or force them off the field by means of a voluntary withdrawal or reduction in Force Morale to zero.

The battlefield was relatively sparse with only two farm buildings and two fields (rough ground). This seemed perfect for my infantry formations. I had been somewhat chagrined to not have any skirmish troops in my force for this battle... especially as Vidal somehow ended up with two units of 95th Rifles (ugh) and one of Portuguese cacadores (at least these were not rifle-armed). Support was rolled for and the French received 4 points as the attacker and the British half of that. I decided that given the open nature of the battlefield, I couldn't go wrong by purchasing an Exploring Officer. This choice provides an extra 3" when deploying and a Fixed Secondary Deployment Point. I also chose a Physic, but I was doubtful how useful that choice would be. The French Primary DP is in the top left of the photo (the lovely vivandiere stand) and the Secondary DP is the white disc below the central farm building. The British Primary DP can be seen in the top right of the photo. Because of the disparity in forces, Vidal chose two barricades (seen deployed between the right-hand farm and the adjacent field).

As it turned out, these barricades were never used in the battle (by either side). Given the skirmish-ey (yes, it's word) nature of his force, Vidal may have been better served choosing a Marksmen for one of his 95th Rifles units. He could then sit out of range of the French muskets and try to pick away at French Big Men. Hindsight as they say...

I rolled 9 Force Morale POints and Vidal 11. Even with the French numerical advantage, it would take some doing to get the British Force Morale down to zero. Immediately out of the bag came the Big Men chips for both of my infantry formations so I took advantage of the extra 6" for deploying out of sight of the enemy (Vidal had nothing on the table as yet) and pushed ahead as far as possible.

French infantry deploy. 
The lack of a skirmish screen is painfully evident.

The Spanish cavalry commander, feeling a bit cocky, trotted onto the field with his command hoping to catch the flank of the French infantry. Nothing like yellow coats to strike fear into the hearts of your enemy!

And the bane of my existence, the 95th Rifles, deploy just out of range of French muskets (but still well within the range of their own rifles). Have I mentioned how much I dislike these guys? In fact, with their very first fire on the French infantry, they were able to hit one of my Big Men, possibly even the force commander. But wait! The Physic was also attached to the same formation and counts as a Big Man for casualty purposes. The Physic was hit and killed, forcing a Force Morale test. The French lost two Force Morale points but the force commander was saved. Was the Physic worth it in the balance?

French artillery deploys near the Primary Deployment Point and promptly targets the Spanish cavalry. Spanish cockiness soon turned to disillusionment and the cavalry decided it was enough merely to show up looking splendid. They quickly about faced and trotted off the field with as much grace as could be mustered.

Portuguese cacadores deploy near the farm, hoping to get a sneaky shot at something French. This was their first deployment in a game and, surprisingly, did not conform to the normal standard of new units breaking and running.

French chasseurs a cheval start moving to the flank of the farm. My original intent had been to deploy and  charge the Spanish cavalry but the latter had already vacated the area, leaving the French cavalry commander somewhat disappointed.

I could have made better use of the French cavalry by deploying them on the opposite flank and threatening the 95th Rifles. There was much more open ground and would have provided more opportunities for maneuver .

Both French infantry formations crawled (and I mean "crawled"... two successive rolls of snake eyes) forward and were finally able to bring the 95th Rifles under fire, albeit at long range. The casualties did begin to mount among the rifles, however, and Vidal wisely decided to quit the field. The loss of his only formed unit (the Spanish Dragoons) had severely hampered his plans and he saw no real chance of winning... thus the withdrawal.

The battle counts as a Decisive Victory for the French (achieving the objective but not forcing the enemy Force Morale to zero) so the French Battlegroup will receive a "20% up 1" modifier (20% of its units in the next battle will be upgraded one quality level, appropriate to the unit type). The British Battlegroup will receive a "20% down 1" modifier.