Late last year, I indulged myself and had a couple of Napoleonic 15mm — actually listed as 18mm — armies painted and based: Austrians and French, with allies, for the 1809 campaign. With their return from the painter/baser and the busy holidays behind us, I decided it was high time to take those Naps out for their first stroll on a tabletop battlefield.
To play the game, I used a custom-made 15×12-hex map inspired by the Commands and Colors board games, along with some home-made 3-D terrain (more or less randomly chosen). The rules were mostly CC:Napoleonics, but I discarded the card-selection mechanic that drives the board game. I substituted a simple 1d6 dice roll to determine how many units or groups of units (with “groups” generously defined) each side could move or “battle” with during that turn.
What follows is a brief description of the battle, with photos of its progress.
The battlefield featured a 3-hex hill on the Austrian right, adjacent to some woods, with the woods extending partially onto the hill. On the French side, from their left, was a village, a centrally located five-hex hill, and some rough (rocky) ground on the right.
After initial set-up and some adjustments, the armies were deployed as follows:
Austrians: On their right, 3 infantry battalions (including one of militia) in column; Grenzers and Jagers preparing to enter the hills and woods. Center front, artillery and 2 infantry battalions; Center rear, the general, grenadiers and another militia battalion. Right front, dragoons and cuirassiers. Right rear, hussars and Uhlans.
French and allies: Left front, French legeres. Behind them, 2 Bavarian infantry battalions. Left rear, chasseurs a cheval. Center front, 2 French infantry battalions, artillery, 2 Italian infantry battalions. Center rear, grenadiers and general. Right front, Saxon cuirassiers and Italian dragoons. Right rear, Bavarian dragoons.
The French planned to take the central hill and, from there, bombard the Austrian center, weakening it until it could be successfully assaulted by the bulk of the infantry. The left and right flanks would try to hold their positions defensively until the attack in the center could be developed.
The Austrian plan was almost the exact opposite. They planned to attack on both flanks, with an infantry brigade on their right marching around the wooded hill to attack from there, while holding off the French in the center. The left would feature an all-out cavalry attack.
The French were the designated attackers and moved first, but were only able to move one group of units (poor dice roll of 1), on their left. The Austrians rolled a more generous 4 and were able to move all their units forward.
On Turn 2, the French made a general advance all along their line, with the artillery unit reaching the back slope of the central hill. The Austrians also made a general advance. The flank march on their right was moving slowly, while on their left the cavalry brigade was already forming up for a clash with the French cavalry opposite them.
Turn 3: Another general advance by the French, with the forces on the left beginning to form up to deal with the oncoming Austrian flank attack. The Austrians rolled poorly for initiative this time and could only move the right-flank force forward.
Turn 4: Good initiative dice for the French. On the left, they continue to form up to oppose the Austrian flank attack. In the center, they advance their artillery and one infantry battalion to the edge of the hill. Both flanks in the center are refused. On the right, the cavalry advances to prepare for the expected Austrian assault. The Austrians get another so-so dice roll. They use their initiatives to form up their cavalry on their left and better organize their lines in the center. The Austrian artillery fires at the French on the hill, but misses. Short on initiatives, the flank attack must wait.
Turn 5: The French land the first punch: Another good initiative roll, and the French cavalry launches a spoiling attack against the Austrian horse. All three Austrian units that are attacked suffer casualties and are forced to retreat. On their left, the French move the legere infantry unit forward into musket range and are able to score a hit on the infantry battalion leading the Austrian flank attack. Once again, the Austrians roll poorly for initiative and use it to restore some order to their cavalry formation, then manage a return shot at the French legere battalion, which absorbs one hit and is forced back a hex.
Turn 6: This time, it’s the Frenchies’ turn to roll a low initiative. They are only able to take a couple of shots, but they are effective. The legere unit fires at the leading battalion of the Austrian flanking force on the French left and scores a hit and a retreat. With the Austrians unable to fall back in the narrow corridor on their right, the battalion takes an extra hit instead, so is now only one hit from destruction. The French artillery also forces an Austrian infantry unit to fall back one hex. The Austrians continue to roll low, but they move their Grenzers and Jagers down from the wooded hill and prepare to link up with the flanking force for their long-awaited attack in that sector. The Austrian artillery is able to fire, but misses its French infantry target.
Turn 7: Yet another good initiative roll for the French. They elect to fire on the damaged Austrian infantry battalion with the French legeres and the resulting hit destroys the Austrians. A Bavarian unit fires on the Austrian Grenzers and forces it to fall back to the wooded hill. On the French right, the cavalry plows into the Austrians, causing additional casualties and disrupting the Austrian formation. But the Austrians finally get a big initiative roll, reorganize their cavalry lines and deliver a coordinated attack on their left. The attack breaks up the French cavalry, but causes few casualties and, under the CC:N “Battle Back” rule, the Saxon cuirassiers are able to counter-attack the Austrian cuirassiers and destroy them. Two Austrian units destroyed of the necessary five for the French to claim victory. Things are not looking good for the Austrians.
Turn 8: The French roll a limited initiative, but make it count. Fire by the legeres on the left causes two hits to the Hungarian battalion in range, and forces it to retreat a hex. On the right, the Saxon cuirassiers charge the weakened Austrian hussar unit and destroy it with good rolling of the combat dice. The Austrians retreat their dragoons on their left, but attack the Saxon cuirassiers with the Uhlans. It does not go well. No hits on the cuirassiers, who “battle back” again, causing another hit on the Uhlans, and forcing them to retreat a hex too. On the Austrian right, their Grenzers advance again from the wooded hill and get off a devastating volley that causes three hits on one of the Bavarian battalions.
Turn 9: The French advance their legere battalion again, and take a shot at the Hungarians facing them, scoring two more hits and forcing them back two hexes, effectively out of the fight for now. The Austrians Grenzers fire again at the Bavarians. They cause no hits, but push them back one hex.
Turn 10: The French get enough initiative to 1) move their legeres in close enough to take a shot at the Grenzers, scoring one hit; 2) move their light cavalry on the left forward; and 3) move the Saxon cuirassiers into contact with the Austrian Uhlans, attacking them and rolling well enough to destroy them — and advancing into their vacated hex. The Austrians are now down four destroyed units to zero for the French. One more lost unit for the Austrians and the game is over.
Turn 11: The French get an initiative of one, and choose to attack the Austrian dragoons with the Saxon cuirassiers. (Those guys are everywhere.) And they roll just enough hits to destroy the dragoons. The French have achieved their victory level — five destroyed enemy units. But the Austrians still get their turn, futile though it may be. They get only a shot by their Grenzers at the French legeres, scoring an additional hit, but with no other results. Game over. French 5-0.
Well, it was a rout by the French. And they did it on the flanks, where the Austrians planned their main attacks and the French had merely planned to hold on while their center did the heavy lifting. On both sides though, the center was largely inactive. Neither side suffered casualties there, and only one Austrian unit even had to retreat a hex.
The Austrian flanking maneuver on their right was a mess. The units moved slowly enough that the French were able to throttle it before it could make any real headway. Considering the effectiveness of the French light infantry unit (legeres), the Austrians should have tried to do more with their own light infantry, the Grenzers especially, but also the Jagers. Instead, those two units were placed in a supporting role and never were able to accomplish much.
For the Austrians, their cavalry attack on the left was a disaster. Although they initially outnumbered the French cavalry, four units to three, they couldn’t turn those numbers to their advantage. In fact, the French destroyed all four Austrian units, without losing any of their own. And the Saxon cuirassiers proved to be a one-unit wrecking crew, accounting for all four of the Austrian cavalry units, without suffering a single hit.
The difference in the game seemed clearly that the French consistently rolled higher initiatives than the Austrians. And the French also rolled better combat dice. It’s hard to win a game when the dice are as much against you as they were with the Austrians in this game.
Also, the Austrian flank attack on their right was probably ill-advised. The infantry moved too slowly to pull it off. But the massed cavalry attack on the left still looks like a good move on that open-terrain flank. The Austrians just couldn’t beat the dice over there, where the French, or more accurately, their allied cavalry could do no wrong.
CC:N provided the “guts” of the battle: the movement rates, the terrain effects, the combat factors and results, and, naturally, those parts of my game worked fine. The big change from CC:N in my game was abandoning the cards that decide which units can move, and when. Instead, I wanted to try a simpler, quicker method of moving the game along.
There are a lot of ways to determine intiative, and they’re probably worth a separate discussion of their own.
The one I chose for this game was simplicity itself: Roll a 1d6 each time a side started its turn and that side got that many initiative points to move or battle. With the generous group moves available the two armies moved fairly smoothly in the opening turns. So smoothly, in fact, that I began to suspect I had allowed movement to be made too easily.
But, as the battle progressed and the neatly dressed lines began falling apart, the initiatives couldn’t move most or all of an army any more. The longer the battle continued, the more decisions each side had to make about setting priorities in the use of the initiative points. Recall that, as early as Turn 4, the Austrians had to forego advancing their flank attack on their right. There weren’t enough initiatives to move those troops. And that was just a taste of what was to come.
So, I conclude that the simple system of deciding initiative levels with a 1d6 worked just fine. Perversely, now that I know that, I will probably try a somewhat different initiative system in my next game. Because there’s always the hope that maybe things will work even better next time!
— George Arnold