After a six week trip to Australia, followed by Christmas and flu, I’ve had rather a long break from gaming and modelling/painting. Now I’m starting to work my way back in. Last night I ran another Napoleonic game at the club, using my heavily adapted BBB rules.
For a scenario I dusted off an old one I had from Grand Armée days, called Three Roads. It is actually a disguised ACW scenario, reset to 1815, though alas I don’t know what the original battle was. In the GA version Napoleon’s I and II Corps attack the Anglo-Netherlands forces based near Hal under Prince Frederick to the right of Wellington’s main army. In my version it is the French III and IV Corps (reinforced by a couple of brigades of infantry) who pounce on the Prussian III Korps. Only after I put the scenario on the table did I realise that the OB was strikingly similar to the battle of Wavre, on the opposite flank of Waterloo, where the French had less infantry and more cavalry. The French have a big advantage in quality and quantity, but their force is split across three lines of advance, and they are time-limited. We played this scenario a couple of times back in the day, and it produced an intriguing game, asymmetric games often do.
We got about 5 turns played (though one flank only completed 4 turns, it was clear where that was heading). This is probably right for the length of the scenario – the GA and BBB timescales are hard to compare. Though by then the Prussian were close to collapse (but with reinforcements coming) , they were holding one of the two bridges that were the battle’s objectives securely (being the Prussian escape route), though the other was close to falling. If darkness fell the Prussian would be able to get out, and the French had taken some pretty heavy losses. A draw. With a little tweaking this works OK for an evening game. We had two players each side, with me as games master.
My companions are getting the hang of BBB, and things are moving much faster than before, which is gratifying (we got through 5 moves last time, but with smaller forces). One feature of play that threw me a bit was that both French players threw their infantry into combat in march column. I don’t think we played this quite right. I think this was a mistake on their part, but they didn’t think they had time to deploy into proper combat formation, and on the French left they wanted to take advantage of a bridge. I wonder if it is too slow to redeploy from march – but then reorganising your forces could be a slow business.
My rule modifications worked OK. Artillery proved very influential: it help the Prussians a lot, as those march columns made good targets. Both sides had more artillery than in previous games with these new rules (which double up the number of bases), as I was doing an artillery-lite Peninsula scenario before – this time I used historical ratios. This anyway answered the previous issue with artillery not being effective enough – it’s a matter of quantity. Artillery can be devastating with good dice (11 or 12) but it is often ineffective. I don’t really like this balance, but it’s core BBB. The replacement of “out of ammo” with “disrupted” is simpler but clearly less harsh, as artillery tends to bounce back from disrupted quickly – though if it happens on Offensive fire, it will affect Defensive capability. Another point is that artillery is quite vulnerable to an exploitation attack, where they can’t fire defensively. This could be realistic, but I’m not comfortable with it.
Others of my new rules didn’t have much impact. There wasn’t much infantry v infantry assault combat. Those French march columns tended to get stopped before they could get involved. The skirmisher rules weren’t really used at all. The players were too impatient, and I don’t think they’ve internalised this new feature yet. Whether this new feature is worth the bother remains in the balance. Nor did we have any artillery in direct support of infantry units – though the Prussians should have done this, and I could have guided them into doing so. So I can’t say that my rules have properly proved themselves yet. I need to give them more time. Squares were used a bit – and I did allow all-round firing, though it was ineffective.
I am resisting the temptation to fiddle with them some more. But here are some things to think about:
- I could make formation changes like limbering and unlimbering is for artillery: a two out of three idea. So changing formation doesn’t stop you from making a full move, but you do lose the ability to Offensive Fire. This would have the benefit of aligning the infantry and cavalry rules with artillery. Formation change could be extended to more general “reorganisation”. Though what about a a dash across a bridge in March Column to quickly change to Depth or Line before the enemy can counterattack?
- Squares could behave a bit more like tactical squares – in which case they would need to be based on the Depth formation. Or perhaps squares in depth get a no flank benefit to infantry attacks also.
- Artillery might be a little less vulnerable, especially to exploitation attack. Perhaps it gets an extra round of defensive fire.
- Artillery bases in the same corps could combine to form temporary units for the purposes of movement throws and assault combat.
- What happens when a unit that is disrupted suffers a second disruption result? At the moment nothing. Perhaps have a “Shaken” status, which takes 1 point of movement throw, and perhaps increased combat effects (no advance into a ZOC maybe, but no modification to firing and assault modifiers).
Apart from this some wider problems with the BBB system are becoming apparent. I have already mentioned the issue with artillery being alternatively devastating and ineffective. The activation system is a strength and a weakness. One throw deals with command friction and morale. This is very good in situations like the multiplayer setups I get on club nights. For example it was no trouble to split the Prussians between two players in this game. But it can be very disruptive. The Prussian regular unit got stuck for at least two turns, as did one of the French units. This sort of thing happens in real battles, of course, but it gets in the way of player agency. Other systems get players to concentrate command resources so that disruption is less likely to happen to areas of high priority. Perhaps this could be moderated with a bigger effect for a CinC – allowing a re-throw of a Movement Throw perhaps?
Still with my gaming companions getting used to the system, and with my modifications getting most of what I wanted, I’m holding back on developing my own system for now. I have an 80% draft for a prototype, but I already know that it is over-engineered.
Meanwhile the success of Three Roads means I should look at a scenario based on Wavre.
Another thought on a possible rule amendment: the cavalry opportunity charge. Before defensive fire cavalry can charge enemy units within 6in that have shown vulnerability by changing formation. They require a movement throw as usual, and in any subsequent combat there is an advantage. This actually fits in with something one of the players said in our game – but it would fit well with more flexible rules on formation changes suggested above. This could be allowed for infantry too, instead of Defensive fire. Inf act it could be brought into the same phase.