Monday, July 27, 2009

Battle of New Orleans

After my recent Historicon rant, I'm happy to report it's back to business as usual (assuming I don't mention that my camera may have been stolen at Historicon...ooops, too late!). I was able to get some gaming in this weekend, with another game scheduled for Wednesday of this week. Michael and I decided Friday night to throw together a War of 1812 game on my home table. We hadn't actually pre-decided on 1812. This was necessitated by the fact that most of my Napoleonic collection was at the club and I only had my Americans and British available at home. So, we began setting up a game, specifically New Orleans. This battle has held a strange fascination for me for years. At first glance it seems a straight-up attack-defend scenario with the defenders behind fortifications and little room for attacker maneuver. There is, however, more subtlety to the scenario than may seem at first. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the battle knows that the British in this battle were faced with substantial entrenchments thrown up by the American army under Andrew Jackson. The American line, entrenchments aside, was solidly flanked by the Mississippi River on one side and near impassable woods and swamps on the other. The British were forced into a tactical frontal assault, although not necessarily strategically. For a good perspective on the latter, you can't do better than Robin Reilly's book The British at the Gates: The New Orleans Campaign in the War of 1812. There was one other possibility open to the British. Jackson had installed an entrenched battery on the other side of the Mississippi that could rake any British forces intent on advancing on the main entrenchments. In our scenario, we allowed the British player (Michael) to deploy a limited number of units on the far bank of the river to neutralize the American artillery there. We also allowed limited movement through the swamp and woods on the American left flank, as was possible historically.

We had set up the terrain for the game and began picking the units out of their boxes when we realized we were short of dice, tape measures, and Field of Battle card decks (also at the club). The decks we could easily manufacture and the tape measures I could get from my garage but the various die types required for FoB we could not replace. I had a few d6s but that was it. The table was set and the troops available but no means to prosecute the battle. What to do? Another rule set using only d6s would suffice. Since I had just come back from Historicon where I ran a good many demos of All the King's Men rules, we thought it would be a great opportunity to try them out in the 1812 period (appropriate enough since Ken at ATKM has just launched his new 1812 range of figures). You can see the progress of the game in the photos below. The end result was a British victory but that was probably as much a result of the way we designed the scenario as any great generalship on Michael's part (no offence intended). ATKM rules are designed for 12 figure infantry units and my collection is based as 16s for the regulars and 12s for the militia. Rather than make any adjustments to compensate for artillery firing on the larger units, we decided to leave it as is and see how it worked. Turned out that the artillery was not powerful enough against the larger units. One key to the American defence is the artillery's ability to chew away at the British attackers as they struggle across the drainage ditches and soggy ground toward the entrenchments.

We also allowed generals to spend command chips to move multiple units at once on one activation. Units were required to be within four inches of each other and within the general's command radius. We allowed three such units to move together under these conditions but after discussing it further, we decided that in future we would allow a general to do this with a number of units equal to his command rating. Thus, a class 3 general could move three units in concert, a class 2 general two units, and a class 1 general couldn't do it at all. It does allow a bit of coordination in movement and gives the player another use or choice for his command chips. Of course, using the command chips this way reduces the general's ability to activate other units outside his command radius in the normal manner. (Note: These comments are directly related to ATKM rules. To gain a better understanding, you can download the rules here.)

The initial deployments. You can see the Americans ensconced behind their entrenchments and the British preparing their assault. The British have detached a small brigade to the opposite side of the river to deal with the American battery there. The British general has decided to "stack" his brigades, one behind the other, in preparation for the assault. Note: The river should be much wider but my on-table river is not big enough to model it. In fact, Battle Chronicler, the program used to create the maps, has only one size of river.

An overview of the table after initial deployments.

The British have begun their advance on both sides of the river. The Americans have pushed some skirmishers forward in the woods and swamp to threaten the British right flank.

The main American entrenchments.

The American redoubt on the opposite side of the river. Note: Maryland militia are standing in as southern units.

While the main British assault is struggling to cross the drainage ditches in front of the American line, the detached brigade has pushed the defending infantry and gunner away from the redoubt on the opposite side of the river.

American militia have abandoned the small redoubt.

The first British wave is within striking distance of the entrenchments and the detached brigade has been able to turn the American guns around to play on the main redoubt on the right end of the main American line.

The 5th West Indies Regiment leading the assault on the American line.

The American militia has retreated from the entrenchments after seeing the fortitude of the British army.

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