Our club game this week was another game using our adaptation of BBB. I devised a scenario based on the Allied left flank from about 2pm, with the Prussians advancing in masses and Wellington’s army hanging on. The French had enough forces to beat the latter but the main focus of the scenario was a Prussian race against time towards Plancenoit.
First the rules. This version represents a significant development of the core BBB system, to the extent that I can’t really call them house rules. We still use the main rule booklet to deal with some queries, but it is getting to the point where I should do a complete rewrite which can be published as a standalone. The double-disruption rule, formation change rule and new assault table were carried forward from last time. This time lost bases were replaced by “Morale Markers ” with the same footprint as a base. The idea is to put casualty figures on them. Each marker gives -1 on both the Movement Throw and Assault, replacing the -2 for Spent status. Veteran and Raw status are given +1/-1 on the same throws. The other big change from last time is that cavalry attacks on infantry are dealt with sequentially rather than in one great punch-up.
The scenario was highly simplified so that we stood some chance of setting it up and finishing the game in an evening. There were no hills; only the major areas of forest were included. The ridge at the centre of the Allied position was represented by a hedge. None of the Allied or French units involved in the earlier combats were given base losses. Instead two French divisions from d’Erlon’s corps, some of the French artillery, and Bijlandt’s Netherlands troops were removed, and the British troops downgraded from Veteran to Trained.
The French (played by Terry) weren’t interested in following the historical precedent and launched into the Frichermont and Smohain area with three out of their four infantry divisions and all three cavalry divisions. The remaining infantry advanced on the British to the (French) left. This left the road to Plancenoit wide open, but it worked. They pushed the Nassauers out of the Smohain complex and drew the two British cavalry units in (releasing one of these units would have given the Allies a victory point). The Prussians were drawn into this combat, as they preferred to skirt the Bois de Paris via the Frichermont area rather than push through it. The French cavalry were badly mauled. The British also beat off the attack on their main line with a cracking artillery throw. Meanwhile the French activated the Young Guard, which managed an unsuccessful attack on La Haye Sainte. We reached Turn 6 out of 8, with the French holding four victory points to the Allied one, and with no prospect of losing the key Plancenoit (two points) being taken by the Prussians.
It is clearly very hard for the Prussians to win this scenario. I found something similar a few years ago when I tried BBB on a full game of Waterloo. That time Lobau’s troops held up the Prussians to the west of Bois de Paris. The interesting question is how much this reflects a weakness in the BBB system in representing less static battles, and how much it reflects historical problems. There are arguments for both. Pete, who played the Prussians, complained that he was hampered by movement throws which restricted his movement. The maximum infantry move of 12in is only just over a mile, which is slow for an unimpeded advance in an hour, never mind being restricted to random half-moves. But historically the Prussian focus on Plancenoit was more relentless than that used in either of the games. Critically they turned Lobau’s right flank early, forcing him to retreat rapidly to a more secure line. Blucher resisted the temptation to get embroiled in the Frichermont area.
How realistic was the scenario design? I don’t think I got the Frichermont/Papelotte/Smohain area right. I split it into two, but left a small gap between each part, which in the game the French used to infiltrate cavalry and artillery through. There is a gap on some of the maps, but I’m not sure it was a very practicable one. Also I’m not sure that representing each area as a wood quite reflected the good defensive qualities of the terrain. However nobody historically tried to throw three infantry divisions at it, so it is hard to assess this properly. The terrain is much more complex than I represented it, with small woods and a stream. It would repay a bit more research, as it played an important role in the battle, even if it is neglected by most historians. The same comment can be made for other parts of the battlefield. Having said that, the heroic simplification wasn’t as much of an issue as I thought it might be. Representing the main British ridge line with a hedge worked well enough, and I think the rules for La Haye Sainte were fine in principle, though not seriously tested. Compared to the other games at the club, though, the table didn’t look very attractive. I need to think of simple ways to make it look better. More building models would help (the use of 6mm models was fine – though less good that they were meant for a Spanish scenario!). Representing some of the tracks and streams better would help – but this isn’t easy to do for a club night. Having some fields to scatter over the terrain is an idea worth looking at though.
And the rules? The new rules on double Disruption and base removal worked pretty well, including the new unified Assault table. But the morale markers and changed rules on Raw and Veteran units I am much less sure about. I rated the French (and British) light cavalry as Veteran. That made it quite a formidable proposition against the Prussian infantry rated as Raw. It didn’t feel right, but the simplest thing is not to class light cavalry as Veteran. But the new system is intuitive and easy to for players to understand. There is more work to do around this, but I suspect the thing to do is for the Raw/Veteran status to affect the Movement Throw and not Assault, which can be left to the Aggressive/Fragile classification.
Meanwhile I continue to chip away at some more radically different rules of my own. These will address the problem of slow moving troops in more dynamic battles.