Tag Archives: Lasalle

General D’Armée 2 – first impressions

I have been using Lasalle 2 for my club wargames, gradually working through the scenarios in the rule book. But I’m tiring of it. It is far too abstracted and too gamey – by which I mean the players is more concerned with the operation of game mechanisms than things that a historical commander might consider. Many important features of a Napoleonic battlefield (such as generals and skirmishers) are abstracted away. In my last game I found myself pushing my cavalry towards a random patch of earth because it represented a victory point. This allowed me to snatch a draw from a losing game – and it felt like a lot of nonsense. It’s always possible to rationalise explanations when odd things happen, but I prefer it when tabletop events look more historically plausible. At the same meeting, one of the other club members raved about the General d’Armée 2nd edition rules. I have also seen being praised by some members of my last club – so I thought it was time to investigate.

Now I had heard about GDA and GDA2 before – but because they were designed around divisional or corps-sized games, I had not investigated further. My main focus is bigger battles – and I thought that the well-written Lasalle 2 rules would suffice for club games. But if these rules were gaining popularity at my club, then they were surely worth a look. So I went to the Reisswitz Press section of the Too Fat Lardies website and ordered the pdf and hard copy package. I wasn’t disappointed.

I discovered that they covered remarkably similar space to Lasalle 2 – the typical two-player encounter would be between forces of four to six brigades – being a reinforced division. The basic unit is a battalion for both with typically four bases (this uniform in Lasalle 2 but there is variation in GDA2), allowing only the most basic of formations to be represented: line, column and square – with the column representing all manner of different column types. They are both carefully written. GDA2 covers some 90 pages of A4; Lasalle 2 has some 120 pages of smaller 7in by 10in paper. But GDA2 feels much weightier. More space is given to diagrams in Lasalle 2, and the writing is more spaced out. And Lasalle 2 is split between basic rules (100 pages) and advanced rules. There is no basic game in GDA2 – you plunge straight into the advanced game equivalent. Its quick reference sheets are a full four sides of closely packed A4, with many more tables and categories than Lasalle 2 (whose QR is much briefer but leaves too much out).

My most recent club game of Lasalle 2. My French are attacking the Prussians from the right. You can see my cavalry passing the cornfield on the right centre and heading for that lone tree in the distance – which marks a victory point. I am in the process of overwhelming the village in the foreground. But in the distance on the left Rod’s combined arms attack is about to cause some serious havoc. Great game but it doesn’t feel historical – a problem GDA2 should fix.

Quite a lot is abstracted away in GDA2, of course. But it feels much less. The generals are represented on the table and issue what amount to orders. There are skirmish bases rather than an off-table system. You need a dozen or so hits to destroy a unit in GDA2, rather than the typical seven in Lasalle 2. There are more unit statuses; in Lasalle 2 units are fresh, shaken or broken (though their effectiveness diminishes with each hit); in GDA units can be unformed, brigades can be hesitant, and so on. Somehow GDA2 feels much more serious and detailed.

Write-ups for GDA2 suggest that its the critical innovation in game design is the allocation of Aides-de-Campe (ADCs) from the commander to the brigades. This is a bit oversold. The ADC system is really a variation on the old idea of command points or command capacity. They only superficially represent the role of real ADCs. I have had the idea of using ADC figures to represent command points for allocation each turn in my own rule systems. It is a good idea though – contemporary prints of battles often show individual horseman charging around the field, as well as skirmishers, and these prints should be an inspiration for the tabletop, as they operate under similar constraints. What is much more interesting are the stylised orders that these ADCs transmit, which operate at brigade level – they are called “Taskings”, terminology that I dislike: surely “orders” would be better. They are supplemented by “C-in-C Commands” to represent the impact of the commander taking personal control, which can only happen a limited number of times. Brigades can’t do very much without these orders. This system achieves the same thing as MO in Lasalle 2, but it is less abstracted. It is much easier to understand what is actually supposed to be going on on the field.

One interesting aspect of the brigade order system is that only one unit in a brigade can charge per turn. Amongst other things this stops the wargames tactic of two or more columns ganging up on a unit deployed in line (which happened in my last game but one of Lasalle 2), which is totally unhistorical – a function of how different a wargames tabletop is from a real battlefield. This is an arbitrary rule but a very sound idea.

The turn itself follows a fairly classic Igo-Ugo format, with different phases for command, charges, movement, firing and close combat, each played alternately. This has the big advantage of making multi-player games easier to run – though only one player can allocate the ADCs. The more complex card-driven or other systems so fashionable in modern wargames systems can produce interesting game situations, but are harder to rationalise. They are more suited to skirmish games than one where each commander dominates the whole field of play – as was the case in Napoleonic battles at this level – though perhaps less so for big multi-corps situations. The need to manage multiplayer games without players from the same side having to wait for each other all the time is still the best reason for the traditional alternate move system – and it’s an important consideration for me. It’s the big weakness of Lasalle 2, though the author does make suggestions as to how to run multiplayer games.

There will always be things in a rule system to quibble over from somebody that has been into wargaming and Napoleonic history as long as I have. From a gaming point of view my biggest one is that I would have much preferred a simplified basic game, to which more complexities can be added as people get the hang of it. It’s not hard to see how that might be done. The basic game would focus solely on divisional encounters (the rules do cater for corps games too), with a reduced menu of ADC Taskings (leave out CinC Command, Skirmishers, Artillery Assault, Scouts and Reserve) – and the CinC Commands altogether. No reserves, scouting, simplified troops types, no light infantry skirmish deployment or reinforcing skirmish screens (or you could leave out the skirmish screen altogether), and simplify the troops types a bit (no drilled or enthusiastic) and do away with small (and perhaps large) units. I’m tempted to create such a basic version myself, but currently I have bigger priorities for my limited hobby time. As it is taking on my first game with my usual club partner is going to be a bit daunting.

Other quibbles are pretty minor. I don’t buy the logic that six and eight gun batteries are the same at this level (“If simply having more guns guaranteed superior firepower, then surely every nation would have deployed 12 gun batteries,” the author asks. Then why didn’t everybody use six-gun ones?). It wouldn’t have be too hard to build a bit more depth to the larger batteries, even if there is no firepower distinction. The author isn’t familiar with later Prussian command doctrine, whereby commands at “brigade” level (i.e. the game brigade – the actual Prussian Brigade is a game division) were task-oriented, and it was usual for them to be composed of battalions from two or three different regiments. I would like to see the ability to form converged howitzer batteries. I’m a little less than convinced by the skirmish rules, especially what the deployment of light battalions into full skirmish actually means. It would be pretty much impossible to deploy a whole battalion into skirmish order and to maintain any meaningful control of it – it would disperse over a very wide area. This presumably actually means some combination of a dense screen and formed reserves. And I don’t think this happened much (or at all?) in the Empire era. Commanders often reinforced skirmish screens by drawing off companies/third ranks from formed units – but the rules provide for this already. And yet this is all grumpy old man territory – the issues are either easy to fix or don’t really matter.

The important thing is that these rules are steeped in a Napoleonic feel. Achieving this with relatively simple game mechanisms is quite a feat. Incidentally, I don’t think they would work that well for either Seven Years War, or the mid-19th Century ones. I really want to give these rules a go!

Which leaves the question of how I adapt my Napoleonic armies to the system. I have 18mm men on bases 25mm square (with some on 30mm squares) – six infantry or two cavalry per base. Artillery are on 35-45mm bases. I also have skirmisher bases which are 25mm by 15mm deep, with a pair of figures. The rules say that a standard battalion should have a frontage of about the same as musket range. On the standard scale for 15mm troops (1mm to a yard), this would mean 15cm. That’s six bases (or five if they are 30mm) – with say 8 bases for a large unit (which would be normal for my 1815 Prussians). This is a lot of metal: 36 miniatures for a standard battalion, though it would doubtless be visually impressive. I would prefer to use the basing I already use for Lasalle 2 – four bases to a standard unit, six bases for a large one (using house rules). That would mean using the recommended distance scale for 10mm miniatures – where musket range is 9cm. That’s a bit tight, but it roughly equates to what I’ve been using for Lasalle 2 in terms of distances (musket range is four base-widths). The distances in GDA2 are all (almost) in units of 50 yards – which is 5cm for 15mm, 3in for 28mm, and 3cm for 10mm. So I could try 4cm for 50 yards. – but then all the QRFs etc would have to be redone. Batteries would be two bases, as per Lasalle 2.

In breaking news, I have already agreed to have my first game this coming weekend at the club. And somebody is bringing a set of status markers – which you are encouraged to buy separately, as there are no printable sheets, but which are out of stock. We still have to mark casualties somehow. I think I might stick to pipe cleaners with yellow/white being singles and red being 5s. I will try and simplify the rules (i.e. leave bits of the standard game out).

My aim is to try this system out for club games with generally non-historical scenarios – in place of Lasalle 2 (perhaps using Lasalle scenarios). For big, historical battles, like Ligny, I still want to develop a different system. The authors suggest that GDA2 can be “bathtubbed” for bigger battles, with each unit representing a brigade, and so on up. That’s not a bad idea, but I prefer systems developed specifically for the scale. Anyway, watch this space!

Another Lasalle 2 game

The game swings decisively towards the Prussians as their cavalry arrives on the far side of the table

I am slowly working my way into a new wargames club – the Tunbridge Wells Wargames Society. Yesterday I put on a game of Lasalle 2 with another new (or in his case, returning) member, using my 18mm Napoleonic French and Prussian miniatures. I am slowly warming to these rules, but I’m still getting used to them. Some further thoughts on the system follow.

We used scenario 8 in the book “Marching to the Guns”, with the “small” forces. I expanded the game squares to 10″ from 6″ (my figures are on 1″ bases – the runs tailor everything to base width, or BW), to make the table less crowded. The orders of battle were based on the clash between Tippelskirch’s brigade and Habert’s division at Ligny in 1815. The Prussians were the larger army, with their 9 infantry battalions on the table to start, with two brigades of cavalry (one Landwehr) from the corps reserve coming in on their right flank as reinforcements. The French had two brigades of four infantry battalions, plus a brigade of two units of Chasseurs, all on the table at the start (Habert’s division actually had two brigades of six battalions – but their unit sizes were smaller than the Prussians’). They held two of the three geographical victory points at the start, meaning that the Prussians needed to be on the offensive. All the French infantry were treated as veterans, with only three of the Prussian units their equal. The three Landwehr battalions were treated as raw Landwehr, and the 25th Regiment (represented by a mixture of my freshly minted 23rd and 29th regiments) was treated as veteran Landwehr, to reflect the unsettled nature of this unit in 1815. Both sides had one foot and one horse battery each, with the horse battery being part of the Prussian reinforcements.

The Prussians, played by my opponent Rod, (organised into three “brigades” with units of the three regiments mixed up, in accordance with Prussian practice at the time) advanced on a broad front, with each brigade advancing side by side, in a “two up” formation, with the foot artillery on their left. They were content to be quite passive until their reinforcements arrived. This proved to be an effective strategy, as, playing the French, I spied an opportunity to be aggressive on my left flank, against his weakest brigade. I pushed some infantry forward, supported by the cavalry. I hoped that the Prussian reinforcements wouldn’t arrive until later (as had been the case in my only previous game, for another scenario). But on turn three, just as my strategy looked as if it might mature (and after a Prussian Landwehr unit delivered a devastating volley on my leading unit), both cavalry reinforcement brigades arrived, threatening to overwhelm the left flank. I managed to extract my cavalry and the attacking infantry in time, with my artillery (both units operating as a combined battery) destroying the offending Landwehr unit, but I was on the back foot thereafter, continually conceding ground on the left in order to avoid disaster. Rod kept throwing cavalry at my infantry squares on the left, but his reserve Landwehr unit was brought forward, and destroyed the left-most French infantry unit (which had been subject to that devastating volley). This and the other Landwehr unit were the only two units to be destroyed when we called stumps at Turn 12 (this was a nominally 10 turn game, but the rules say the time limit should be extended by up to four turns on a bigger table). One further infantry unit on each side was near destruction (my infantry was being quite aggressive in the centre), and some of Rod’s cavalry was looking a bit ragged. But I had lost one of the VPs, and he had the “carnage” bonus as well, because I had lost the more valuable unit. I could see no prospect of reversing the tide, so conceded.

We were both pretty tired by this point, after about four hours of play. It was Rod’s first experience of these rules, and its rather unusual mechanisms, and only my second game. Several times I needed to look things up in the rule book. In my previous game, played much more aggressively by both sides, there were always tricky decisions on how to use MO points – but this time that was rarely so. But this relatively cautious approach carries risks of its own, of course. The Prussians could easily have run out of time, especially if their reinforcements had arrived later.

From the opposite side of the table at the same time. The Prussian cavalry descends n the French left flank

Overall my impression is of a beautifully crafted game system, which produces an interesting and challenging game. The mechanisms ensure a nice flow with good engagement by both players right through the turn. But those same mechanisms give it more of a feel of a game of toy soldiers than a simulation of history. As to how faithful the tabletop results are to historical scenarios, the jury remains out so far as I’m concerned. Certainly the outcome of Tippelskirch’s attack in 1815 was entirely different – it ended in disaster, with probably only one of Habert’s brigades involved. That was because of the difficulties of coordination on the Prussian side (their cavalry never got seriously involved) – which weren’t helped by a large village in the middle of their deployment area. That says more about the scenario setup than the rules, though – except that the rules will allow more coordination between infantry and cavalry than the historical norm. My main requirement though is for a game I can use on club days – which is very much at the game of toy soldiers side of things. The main problem there is adapting the game mechanism for a multi-player format.

My main concern for now is getting the terrain rules right. In this scenario I introduced fields of standing corn, a feature of the 1815 battles, and important in this episode of Ligny. I had to establish a house rule for this, as the “standing crops” terrain was more for muddy fields of cabbages than man-high rye. I really don’t like the rules on built-up terrain; one reason for choosing this scenario is that it did not involve any. They adopt the classic wargames idea of built-up area patches of about 2-3 base widths square, which must be cleared of terrain models as soon as troops enter. But built-up areas consist of buildings and walls which completely break up formations (and usually only occupied by skirmishers), and streets, where most of the action took place. I like to represent this structure on the tabletop, without the need to remove building models. To do that I need bigger built-up area segments (six base-widths square should be OK, and/or 3-4 BW ones with a single building in an enclosure). With my 10 BW terrain squares, this is not in fact much of a problem. The rules don’t need all the much modification beyond this: the combat, cover and garrison rules work well – indeed much better than most rules systems I have used. The impact on movement needs one or two house rules, though. Moving through a built-up area in battle formation should be hard work, as you have to break down the formation, pass through, and rebuild on the far side.

Another area requiring more work is the tabletop presentation. I want to get a nice-looking but portable table set-up. My Geek Villain “Autumn” cloth, shown, works fine for what it is. I taped on a table boundary, which is a bit of a faff – but I’m sure that there are easier ways of coping with this. I’m pleased with my representation of woods (inspired by Bruce Weigle), using strips of trees made from 3M scourers and coarse flock – though the green cloth interior needs to be a better fit. This looks much more like a real north-European wood than a few free-standing trees sitting on some green cloth. For those built-up areas I am going to need some 10mm building models. My existing models are mainly 6mm, which I can get away with for big battles (where I can’t use big BUA footprints), but look wrong on this format. I have a few on order now. Streams will be a problem; I haven’t seem any that look right that haven’t been built into terrain boards. Beyond that I need elements of eye-candy – fields, free-standing trees, roads and so on, to give more of an impression of real countryside. You can see from the pictures that I used teddy-bear fur for the standing corn. This is good when troops wade through it, rather than on top, but the more usual doormat pieces look a lot more like cornfields! One problem is that clubs (and friends’ houses) tend to have hard tables, so things can’t be pinned in – and I don’t want to hump around soft boards.

For now I’m going to keep my faith with Lasalle. Only of the prospect of multiplayer games becomes serious might I consider alternatives.

A trial game with Lasalle II

I have read a number of excellent review of Sam Mustafa’s latest game, an updated version of his Lasalle rules, for Napoleonic divisional level games. So I splashed out and bought a copy. I have just tried it out on a solo game. What are my impressions?

As I have said many times here before, Sam Mustafa is one of the top wargames designers currently in business. His games are always elegantly designed, properly tested and clearly explained. However, since his first Napoleonic game, Grande Armée, I have taken a dislike to his various systems – they just didn’t provide kind of feel of game that I have been looking for. That was the case for his first edition of Lasalle. I found them too abstract and “gamey”. There was too big a gap between the way the game was played, and how battles were actually fought. I am very interested in the historical simulation side of the game, rather than it being just a game for toy soldiers. This is a balance, of course: I don’t have much patience for complex mechanisms and piles of detail these days – so a lot of abstraction is essential. And Sam does pay a great deal of attention to the history. The balance wasn’t quite right for me.

Lasalle II never promised to be more than a highly abstracted game for toy soldiers, albeit one that is heavily grounded in the history. However it intrigued me because I would like to have the option of this sort of system for shorter games and club play – in order to give my miniatures time on the tabletop and provide entertainment. This set of rules looked as if it could fill that gap.

What’s more they can quite easily be adapted for use with my miniatures. These are in 18mm and (mainly) based on 25mm (one inch) squares, with six infantry or two cavalry to each base. Lasalle uses standardised units of four bases (for infantry and cavalry). I thought this would look good with my figures, even though typically shallower bases are used. The most popular base width seems to be 40mm for 18mm figures (and this base width is used for 28mm as well – and for 6mm too, albeit with different base depths!). Like most of Sam’s current systems, all distances are given in base widths (BWs); since 1BW equals an inch, I have no need for specially made rulers.

I don’t want to describe the Lasalle II system here – there are plenty of online resources that do that for those that are interested. Suffice to say that it is everything you might expect from a great games designer like Sam. And it’s very abstract. What I want to do is talk about my game and the particular issues that came up for me.

My test game was based on the trial scenario in the rules, but replacing the Austrians with my Prussians (my beloved Austrian army is in a sad state at the moment). That actually changed things quite a bit. The Austrians don’t have the “Attack Column” trait, but did have some high-class cavalry. My Prussians do have “Attack column”, like the French, but five out of the eight infantry units were Landwehr. I still gave them three cavalry units, but these were bog standard quality dragoons and hussars, with the same characteristics as the two French units, of hussars and chasseurs. But I did get the points to balance! I also had to adapt the table layout so that I could use my Albuera table, which I haven’t taken down yet.

Half way through my game. You can just see the discrete pins that mark the edge of the playing area, and how cramped it is becoming for the advancing Prussians

The game length is meant to be eight moves – but mine ended in the fifth, as the Prussians reached their break point of four units lost. This was mainly because I misread the rules on artillery, so that the longer range “bombardment” fire was using the number of dice for canister “volley” fire. The French quickly set up two batteries together, and blasted away the Prussian horse battery before it could let off a shot, and then trashed one of the Prussian infantry units, which had seized the village, followed by one of the Prussian dragoon units. Both of these units were subsequently finished off by close combat, though the Prussians managed to retake the village, and it took a few moves before the cavalry was finally routed. The one Prussian battery to get going did manage to make a mess of one of of the French infantry units before I realised my mistake – and this was duly polished off by a Landwehr unit. This was all aided by good dice throwing; the third French battery did not manage to achieve much – until later. The final battery (Prussian) was never deployed as this was part of an over-ambitious Prussian turning move and it got crowded out.

The Prussians sent their strongest “brigade”, with two line and two Landwehr infantry, one cavalry unit and a battery, on a big turning manoeuvre, through and round a wood. This succeeded in giving them the initiative (in battle rather than game terms), messing up the French plans, and forcing their left brigade to come to the aid of the right one. But one prolong move was enough for them to swing round their battery just enough to face the threat, while there wasn’t enough table space for the Prussian cavalry to get round the rightmost French infantry unit, which formed square and bottled it up. The Prussians decided to risk everything on a charge on the French battery with its leading Landwehr unit (the same one that had routed the French infantry). Because the French had wisely held their fire, this meant that the Prussians had to endure one round of canister before they could close. With some fine French throwing, this time within the rules as written, they scored four disruptions (all the infantry and cavalry units have a strength rating of six, which is the maximum number of disruptions they can endure). The Landwehr rallied and pressed on – but the rally move succeeded in only pulling back one of the disruptions. The battery stood its ground and beat off the attack, inflicting more disruption. A series of charges by Prussian attack columns on the French infantry were also beaten off, and there was some largely ineffectual musketry between the sides – the musket power of attack columns (and squares) is quite limited. But the musketry did manage to finish off the very battered Landwehr unit, and the Prussians had lost their four units.

That was a fair verdict. The Prussians were running out of steam, and didn’t even have the space to deploy their third battery. Quite apart from misreading the rules on artillery fire, there were a lot of mistakes arising from the lack of familiarity wit the rules. In particular my usual method of rapidly throwing in attack columns without bothering much with musketry didn’t really work – and the congestion problems the Prussians had clearly had their root in unfamiliarity too. But there were a number issues that surprised me a bit, and might not be so obvious from the write-ups you see. These aren’t problems with the system, so much as warnings about how they work.

The first issue was space. One inch to a base width gives you a very compact table. The rules recommend a playing area of 24BW by 36: just two by three feet for me (60 by 90cm). I followed this for my trial game wanting, not to spend too much time in the game in early manoeuvring. That meant the playing area was a bit cramped with the suggested armies (8 infantry 2/3 cavalry and 3 artillery unit a side). Both sides were constrained by the opposite table edge. It didn’t help that my wood and crop field were a bit big – the official trial game would have had them smaller. My bases are quite deep, of course, which made them take up quite a bit of space. One-inch bases are doubtless more typical of 10mm or 6mm miniatures on shallower bases. That would still have led to problems with the table depth – and I didn’t even use the suggested unit labels, which are quite big. But this problem has an obvious solution – I have plenty of space to use a bigger playing area. But if you are using a 40mm BW I would recommend that you have a full 4ft by 6ft playing area (1.2 by 1.6m, rather than 0.96 by 1.44m), and space nearby for the routed units, reinforcements, etc.

A second issue is skirmishers. This is a problem that Sam has struggled with for a long time – they were historically important, but are very hard to represent in game terms without making the whole thing too fiddly. Sam has abstracted them away, so that while they have an important effect on the game, no models on the table. Each infantry unit has a number of skirmish points. These are totalled up at the start of each turn and a die thrown for each (an awful lot of dice incidentally) – a 6 is required to sore a “hit”, and this determines who goes first, and may give you extra “Momentum” (MO) points, which drive the game. This is very clever, and further ideas are incorporated into the advanced rules. I would still like skirmishers to be on the tabletop, even if only as markers. At first I thought that I could put one base on the table for each skirmish point, and just use them as decoration. But there are far too many skirmish points for that, in an already crowded table. One base per hit would be fine, but since these have no significance beyond who goes first and MO points, this looks pointless. In fact one of the Advanced rules does give a role for skirmish markers, and adopting this rule is probably the best thing to do.

A third point is that the rules for built-up areas are too abstracted for my liking. At this sort of scale – one base width is something under 40m – you should be able to differentiate streets from blocks of buildings, and so start to represent how street fighting actually worked (it was almost all on the streets, with buildings used as strongpoints only occasionally – otherwise they were just used by skirmishers). I guess the problem is that most wargamers like to use buildings that are “in scale”, and this means the are far too big to leave enough room for streets. On the plus side built-up areas confer no cover or defence benefits unless the defenders have taken time out to “garrison” the block. This is a much more realistic treatment than you usually see in wargames, though the garrisoning is maybe a bit too easy (just a formation change, albeit one that costs two MO rather than the usual one).

But overall this is an excellent game system, fully justifying the rave reviews I have seen of it. The turn play system – both sides interact without the use of phases or player-turns – is especially clever and works really well. There are intricacies which you can miss on first play, but generally the rules should be very quick to pick up. When I get back to club play (some way off – I haven’t found a nearby club yet in my part of East Sussex), I will certainly be trying to introduce these. They are a great way of getting the miniatures onto the table for a bit of fun. The high level of abstraction means they will not be to many tastes, but they are the basis for an absorbing and entertaining game. And the reference to history is much more than a token one, even if it is highly abstracted.