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.
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.