Saturday, February 9, 2019

Spanish Mini-Campaign 2: Probing the Defences

After minor gains on both sides of the River Ebro in 1812, the French and British forces receive reinforcements at the beginning of the new year. Of most immediate importance are three British strength points arriving in Barcelona, providing Vidal with the incentive to make a play for the major French-controlled port on the Gulf of Lyon, Terragona. This would be quite the prize, if taken, worth four Victory Points. Knowing Vidal would come at me with a Strength-4 Battlegroup, I was fairly confident that, even though I had only a Strength-2 Battlegroup in Terragona, the city's defences would help to balance out the disparity. As it turned out, after the Force Selection process, the forces were moderately small and of fairly equal size.

The Scenario would be a Spirited Defence, in which the objective of the attacker is to capture the defender's Primary Deployment Point. As the attacker, Vidal rolled six support points, giving the French three points as the defenders. Unfortunately for Vidal, I also rolled 6 x 4" breastworks for my defences (Terragona is a "starred" fortress on the map). Vidal purchased a secondary deployment point and a specialist (plus something else... I've forgotten). I made use of the Exploring Officer, as this provides a Secondary Deployment Point and an extra 3 inches of deployment room. Force Morale was rolled for: British - 11; French - 10. After placing my defensive works around the built up area, I placed the French Primary deployment Point in the center rear, covered by the buildings and second line of breastworks (can't be too careful). The secondary French DP went to the immediate rear of the center-left breastworks. Vidal's Primary DP went in the center of the British baseline and he was able to push his secondary DP far up the British right flank to threaten the open flank of the French defences (well, not "open" per se... perhaps "less fortified").

The battlefield with French breastworks deployed to defend the built up area. The British would be attacking from left to right.

Immediately, it was apparent that the blue chips were heavier than the red and were lurking in the bottom of the draw bag. Three turns passed with barely a French chip drawn and Vidal was able to deploy almost his entire force with nary a response from the French. Good thing I was planning to draw him into my nefarious trap anyway (yeah, that's it... really). Get him to come close to the seemingly empty defensive works then pop up and blast 'em! 

British and Spanish cavalry deployed on the British left flank and made to move towards the French breastworks.

This was a interesting development, especially since there seemed little chance of French response. On the British right flank, a Portuguese cacadore group deployed off of the British Secondary Deployment Point and began an end run to threaten the French rear and Primary Deployment Point. 

It seemed at this point, as few French chips were coming out of the bag, that these "fighting cocks" might actually do it. Fortuna, however, is a fickle goddess... French opportunities soon arose. A French light artillery piece deployed to the north of the village with a legere skirmish group and began blasting the approaching British & Spanish cavalry. 

The first artillery salvo was delivered as an Ambuscade (using three command chips) and doubled all shock. Surprised by this development, both cavalry units decided to turn and move away. This only exposed both to enfilade fire and (with a lucky few draws of the chips) the French gun took full advantage.  Shock piled on quickly and both cavalry groups soon routed to the rear. Many rude gestures from the French defences followed after the horsemen. 

Not so much a Learning Moment as a pat on the back for remembering to use the three chips for an Ambuscade. I often find myself in SP2 games waiting for the right moment to launch an Ambuscade... on an enemy flank, at close range, etc. As was proven in this game, simply deploying to the enemy's front (and not at close range) and delivering double shock can have a serious effect.

To counter the threat of the Portuguese on the other flank, I had several options. I could deploy my Young Guard skirmishers, some or all of my legere groups, or even the guard cavalry. Although a glorious charge from Les Dragoons de l'imp√©ratrice would have been...well... glorious, I reined that thought in and decided to keep these regal horsemen as a general reserve (for emergencies only!). I turned to the Young Guard skirmishers who were able to deploy in enfilade on the Portuguese cacadores and quickly turn these fighting cocks into scattered chickens (good thing their trousers were already brown).

Self-Congratulatory Mode: Remembering that groups (in this case, the Young Guard skirmishers) can deploy even to the rear of enemy troops if their deployment distances allow.  It's an occurrence easy to reconcile... hiding in a fold of the ground, etc.

Both flanks thus secure (at least temporarily), I was satisfied... but there were still the stalwarts of the British force to deal with. In the center, Vidal had deployed a 2-group formation of British line, protected by a group of lights. While smaller than every other appearance so far in the campaign, this could still be a potent force. And to make it worse, a group of 95th Rifles also appeared. "Ah!" says I..."Only one group?  I can live with that. At least it's not three groups like last time." While the Rifles contented themselves with sniping at the French gun and lights in the breastworks, the regulars began their inevitable march up the center of the field. They seemed not to be particularly enthusiastic this time and the advance was slow.

When they had advanced close enough to the defences to present a credible threat, I decided to deploy the three-group formation of French legere in front of the breastworks (to gain a better field of fire) and unleash a volley. The French formation commander waved his chapeau exuberantly and the resultant fire staggered the British line. Once again, Fortuna made up for her earlier absence in French affairs and allowed a second volley before the British line could react. Coupled with fire from the Young Guard skirmishers, the British formation was soon in bad shape. Vidal decided to that a Voluntary Withdrawal would be the best course and began moving his units back toward the British base line. Unfortunately for him, the British morale had been seriously degraded after the loss of the cavalry and the cacadores. Continued fire from the French infantry formation soon forced the British Force Morale to zero and a Crushing Victory was achieved!

The British Battlegroup will retreat back northward and we'll then move onto the second half of 1813_Turn 2.

Friday, January 25, 2019

terrain blitz continues

January seems to have become terrain month, as I slowly clear out old terrain pieces and projects from the well of shame under the stairs. Since the urge to build/renovate/create has not waned, I continue on. This time up, an old 'O' scale Lionel kit (or kits?), originally kit-bashed by Daniel into a train depot for his long-forgotten Cowboys & Indians project. I think Daniel may have combined two kits into one and added a wooden trestle platform. It was all very Western-looking, rustic and with lots of rough-hewn wooden extras. It was also a large piece of terrain, measuring 18" x 12" on the base. I decided to put it on a smaller base (now 18" x 8") and make some changes to have it look a little more European. This included cladding the supporting timber sub-structure with brick and removing most of the wooden accents that so clearly made it from the old West. Some new loading platforms were also added, using various bits of card, plastic, and balsa. The end result can be a basic rail-loading platform and sheds or a more generic industrial piece.

Unfortunately, I took no photos of the model when first pulled from storage. It had fared quite well through various house moves and re-packings (over that 10+ years?) but it did have a substantial layer of dust. This dust proved a bit of a trial to remove and in the end some was left on the model (especially the roofs) and I simply painted over it. The basic model had been base-coated a dark brown and I decided to leave it as is except for the roofs, which I painted black and dry-brushed and washed with successive layers of greys, blues, and greens.

 The basic shell of the model has been re-based and white card added to cover the wooden sub-structure. Brick sheeting would be added later onto this white card.

Two loading platforms were added from various bits & pieces, replacing the original ramps and platforms (deliberately made to look rather rickety as part of the Western theme).

And the finished piece... 

The supporting base was clad with embossed brick sheeting (no idea where they came from other than the depths of my terrain bits drawer). The freight piles are, I believe, from Warlord Games and separate pieces that can be used anywhere on the table. I also added some posters from the interwebs (and appropriately re-sized) and a small notice board with individually cut posters, notes, etc.

Another view of the freight pieces. These are lovely resin castings and should prove quite versatile in our games.

The backside of the structure, clearly showing the brickwork sub-structure. I needed to put quite a heavy wash over the brick sheeting to tone down it's initial brightness.

Another of the various posters and ads downloaded from the interwebs. I've just noticed how in this picture the poster looks to be rather skewed on the end wall. I checked the model and it is quite level, so it must be a trick of perspective in the photo.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

continuing on the terrain band(shell) wagon...

Again, dipping into the seemingly endless terrain black hole that is the storage area under the stairs...

A small but pretty piece from Sarissa's Gaslamp Alley collection, a bandshell. Strictly speaking, this is a Victorian piece meant mainly for Britain. Some quick (but admittedly cursory) online research and I discovered that this style of bandstand was common to Britain but not so much on mainland Europe. No matter... historical accuracy be damned! This was too nice a kit to leave languishing in the forgotten pile.

As with all Sarissa kits I've encountered so far, construction was simple (though fiddly, in this case). Only one part gave me some trouble... the roof. This is etched card to represent the curved outer skin. Unfortunately, I didn't give it the care and attention required in the prep phase. The end result turned out as "adequate" and taught me (again) to spend a few minutes visualizing the end result instead of diving right in.

Friday, January 18, 2019

"Ah, to build, to build!"

"Ah, to build, to build! That is the noblest art of all the arts."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Well, making toy buildings for toy soldiers isn't exactly noble. But I'll run with it. Following from my last post and the recent building blitz, I again dipped into the black hole of terrain tucked under the basement stairs and pulled out some long-ago purchased Warbases building shells. These are pretty basic and have the advantage of almost infinite possibility for modification. I wanted these to sit alongside the Charlie Foxtrot building I recently tarted up for Michael (see here), as part of a generic French-ish mid-20th century-ish village/town.

Bases were made from 3mm mdf and front walkways added from balsa and plastic stonework sheeting. The cafe received a front patio and some scratch-built tables (I've subsequently ordered some 1/48 dollhouse tables and chairs). Shutters for the windows have not yet been added at this stage. Also can be seen the wood filler used to correct small imperfections in the kit (or mistakes in the construction... by me).

I also added a couple of sheds/outbuildings to the side of the cafe, to add some visual variety. These are Warbases extras and are as cheap as chips (so much so that's it's easier to order them from Warbases than to cut them from mdf or foam-core myself... or maybe that's just me being lazy).

The backyards for each are made with foam-core walls (ok, so maybe not so lazy after all), capped with card pieces. The gates are from Warbases, as are the garden sheds. These had been completed (almost) many months before but shoved aside for far more important things... like painting toy soldiers! Thus, they have the roofs covered with Warbases laser-cut shingles... as will the main buildings.

And the finished product! Walls plastered with tile grout, shutters and doors added, and roofs tiled.

The cafe patio will receive a few tables and chairs... waiting on the post.

Great buildings are the work of centuries...

"Great buildings, like great mountains, are the work of centuries."  Victor Hugo

At the very least, parts of this hobby can sometimes seem to take centuries. I've had a few terrain update projects on my grand list of things to do for some time now. After my figure-painting blitz in the last part of 2018 to get Xmas gifts completed (link), I thought I'd switch gears and look after some of these long-standing terrain items that needed updates or makeovers. 

First up, I've been wanting to re-base our grand resin church (from HG Walls, I think?) This fantastic, multi-period building had a rather large base with small courtyard and attendant graveyard. You can see it below in action. We were quite happy with the look of it and many a skirmish swirled among its walls over the years. But the big drawback was the size of the base when trying to fit it into and among other terrain pieces and it awkwardness for storage.

Thus I decided to rip the church off its large base and salvage as much of the graveyard as possible for a separate terrain piece.

A smaller and tighter base for the church makes it more adaptable to various terrain situations and its reduced footprint easier to store. The gravestones and mausolea also received their own small bases, again for added flexibility.

I also pulled out an old half-finished courtyard piece, originally slated for the long-forgotten Boxer Rebellion project, and tarted it up. It's essentially an empty walled courtyard but allows a variety of pieces to be placed within, including the church. The courtyard walls are 1/4" plywood screwed and glued onto the base from underneath to prevent warpage of such a large base. I usually use yellow carpenter's glue for all terrain construction. It's stronger than normal PVA and dries much more quickly. In this case, I decided to up the ante in the fight against warpage and drill-inset-screw the walls. So far, no warpage! The walls were plastered with tile grout and painted/dry-brushed. The last additions were a few WWII era posters (that can be selectively ignored if the piece is used for earlier periods).

Also pulled from the unfinished terrain pile were two kits from Sarissa...village fountain and park benches. Added to the new courtyard, they provide another option. I'm thinking of purchasing some large willow trees for this as well. The fountain came in a nice little kit that took only about 30 minutes to construct. I realized early that "as-is" it would look to be a wooden structure because of the various layers of mdf required to build it up. I chose to use a liberal coating of wood filler to... ummm... fill... The result, I think, looks more like stone. I added a small flagstone enclosure made from some old offcuts of plastic stonework.

Also included in the terrain blitz was a Charlie Foxtrot townhouse piece that had been sitting on Michael's shelves in the Trenton Gaming Emporium, built and base-coated, but sadly neglected for many months. As with almost all mdf building kits, the roof was flat (although etched) and showed the attachment plugs too clearly. I chose to overcoat the roof with some laser-cut shingles from Warbases (a tedious but curiously cathartic exercise) to provide a bit more depth. The walls were coated with tile grout and painted/dry-brushed as normal. 

Michael had already provided a nice little birch tree for the backyard, attached via rare earth magnet. Some posters were also added to provide variety.

First use of the new townhouses in a recent game.

Many a gamer of a certain age will recognize this piece... the ubiquitous Hovels resin church. Pulled from the depths of my terrain black hole, this lovely little piece is intended for the ImagiNation collection (but could easily be used for later periods, including WWII, if required). An easy build (glue the steeple on and cut a base from 3mm mdf) and straightforward paint job made this a pleasure to work on.

And a peak at what's coming up next...

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Spanish Mini-Campaign 2: The Second Battle of Gelsa

A couple of campaign turns saw Vidal and I shifting troops about the map in anticipation of another battle. This wasn't long in coming as I had decided that I needed to retake Gelsa. To do this, I had combined two Battlegroups into one 4-point Battlegroup. This, I hoped, would be enough to push Vidal's 1-point Battlegroup back across the river. We ran through the unit selection procedure and was I in for a shock. Unfortunately, a 4:1 advantage in Battlegroup size does not necessarily translate into a 4:1 number advantage on the battlefield. More times than not, there will be a significant advantage for the larger group but there are always anomalies. Of this I was fully aware... I just didn't need it to happen here.

The opposing forces turned out to be fairly close in size... 17 French to 15 British. And Vidal's force received the benefit of an extra Level III Big Man. Oh Boy! This wasn't gonna be as easy as I first thought.

The scenario was to be a Fighting Withdrawal and because of the importance of this river crossing (smack in the middle of the river defense lines), all post-battle effects would be doubled (this was the result of an effects card I drew as part of the French unit selection procedure). Six points of support went to the French, as the attackers, and three to the British. I chose an Exploring Officer, as this allowed me to deploy an extra Fixed Secondary Deployment Point, and deploy from my DPs an extra 3 inches. Force Morales both came out at 9. I mentioned casually that it might be a quick game with both forces starting at 9 (we had no idea how accurate that would prove to be!).

[note: most of my photos of the game came out out-of-focus... probably the wine Vidal was plying me with]

I was feeling fairly confident and after Vidal immediately deployed a unit of Portuguese cacadores in the small wooded area on my right flank, I plonked out a small two-group formation of French Ligne. The intention was to blast the cacadores with an initial volley at close range and cause some Force Morale checks. Alas, the result was quite disappointing and the cacadores maintained their position. 

Across the field, Vidal chuckled softly as he deployed three (yes, three!) groups of 95th rifles and two of British light infantry, manning the hedges along the road. The former are the bane of my existence in this campaign and seeing all three appear at once was quite a blow to my personal morale. They loosed a few volleys at my French line infantry facing the cacadores and promptly wounded the formation commander. Force Morale dropped to 8.

Meanwhile, Spanish dragoons appeared on the scene, led by a Level III Big Man! Wait... what? They trundled toward the French infantry, waiting for an opportunity. And the opportunity came quickly. Because the French had loosed its first volley, subsequent firing would be uncontrolled and they proceeded to send a second fire at the cacadores. This, of course, left them unloaded and it was at this point the Spanish cavalry surged forward at the gallop and slammed into the weakened French (the infantry formation had taken a number of hits from the British rifles). The infantry group contacted by the Spanish cavalry promptly folded and fled. Force Morale was down to 4 and little had yet been accomplished. I deemed it prudent to withdraw in the face of such a solid defensive position and the game was called.

Not much to learn from this one... except perhaps to always expect British rifles...ugh! 

And so Gesla was held by the British... but not for long! Turns 9 & 10 of the first campaign year saw the French move back at Gesla and this time, facing superior odds, the British opted to retreat back across the river. Thus, the 1812 campaigning season is over with neither French nor British holding enough Victory Points to end the campaign. So, on to 1813...