Friday, 1 August 2014

Waterloo Project: 1:3 Second Test Game - "A Cloudburst of Cavalry"

Thanks to every one on this blog, and the AMG forum, who commented on the first-test-game. I hope you will enjoy seeing this one even more. Just to get started here is a sample.
British - Victrix painted by James Fergusson. Lancers - Perry painted by Kevin East. Photo by Kevin with digital effects by CG
For our 1:3 scale refight next year of the fighting round La Haye Sainte a big part of the fun and excitement will be how to represent the cavalry which were so critical at that part of the battlefield at various times from about 2 pm to 6pm. On the French side the 1st and 4th Cuirassiers and 2nd Dragoons were operating around the farm and up and down the slopes to the Elm tree crossroads; for the Allies we have mainly the British Lifeguards and KGL Light Dragoons. But of course we have to handle potential encounters with infantry too. In poor formations and taken by surprise there were the Luneburg battalion and the 5th and maybe 8th KGL Line, all destroyed by cavalry, as well as some of d'Erlon's French infantry being swept away by a tide of British dragoons. Then of course the stalwart squares have to be represented in the game without being either boring or too predictable.

Based on experience from the first game I decided to start this one off with various units already in very close proximity and having suffered either 10% or 20% casualties from fire on the approach to combat. This would help us test the morale rules and effects of attrition and disorder. It proved a good idea which got us into tense situations straight away and lots of varied action even though we only managed three game moves! More on that at the end.
Once more we cobbled together a makeshift basic battlefield approximately 6 feet square plus a little outlying table (on the right here) to accommodate a French Horse Artillery Battery and another out of shot, further back for French Foot Artillery.
Positions at the start Allies on the left, French on the right.
From behind the Allied ridge line. Foot Artillery battery in the foreground, then Line infantry in square. A Guards light company on the road and a Wing of 95th Rifles from farm out to the flank, with Royal Horse Artillery battery behind

From behind the French cavalry squadrons. We used what we had so from top left - Line Lancers, Chasseurs, then Guard Lancers behind  with Hussars behind them. A small squadron of Carabineers connects across to two squadrons of Dragoons ahead of a large one of Cuirassiers
I admit the above looks rather contrived but it was to test rules and formations and also simulate the smoke and mist haze which produced some situations on 18th June 1815 that wargamers would never willingly let happen, but we have to make them a possibility in our game.
Some closer views by Kevin of (mostly his) French cavalry,
today commanded by Richard Newcombe

First action was joined by testing the Chasseurs against a British square. 
 Both sides had 20% casualties already on the assumption of  cannon fire on the infantry and musketry on the cavalry. We know cavalry had very little chance of charging home on a good square but the "melee" dice are intended to reflect this and the cavalry lost enough to make their morale very poor, yet the infantry lost some too.
We should have some bodies really to represent all the cavalry casualties!
The outcome was that the cavalry rolled bad morale dice and fled the field ( they could rally off table) and the face of the square was left clear for French foot artillery to re-commence round shot fire from their off-field position. There were 3 model guns and a howitzer playing on this square and, after the first effect,  we had a 4,5,6 chance of a "second graze" bounce for ball in the muddy conditions and when this occurred the side companies and the colour party took casualties too.  Note this size square is only a "wing" or half battalion and made up of heterogenous units from larger scale games; in our refight most battalions will be about 75% larger.
At the same time the French Line Lancers braved some close range canister and ploughed into the Royal Foot Artillery battery. It was a foregone conclusion  and the surviving gunners were driven back onto their supporting teams with great loss.
 We deemed that the lancers would have their formation disrupted by going through the gun line but not suffer any morale detriment as they carried on to engage the fairly helpless teamsters.
The resulting losses destroyed the battery and what remained fled the field, leaving the elated lancers very disrupted and vulnerable if the initiative tokens fell right for the Allies.
Meanwhile losses had mounted on the British square who had been watching without any musketry targets as 95th Riflemen in the nearby wood used their longer range to pot at the Guard Lancers. A Morale check for the square forced a retreat and luckily they had the breathing space to form column, otherwise it could have been disaster. The Coldstream Guard Light Company is helping cover their retreat.
Why had the powerful Dutch and Polish lancers of the Guard not attacked earlier? The answer was that a lucky roundshot in the first move's salvo from the RFA battery had taken off the head of their commander. My WMaB1815 rules deliberately put great store on leaders so although their morale was sound they could not move forward until the Brigade commander got back to appoint a new leader.

Back up on the ridge top the initiative fell right for Kevin who had his Light Cavalry squadrons just off table at that point. They charged forward and the consequent morale check by the weakened Line Lancers was enough to see them scurrying back down hill without waiting to be sliced up.
British Light Dragoons and King's German Legion Hussars
Line Lancers scurrying back through a gap between the supporting squadrons
The road up the middle of the table, and the need to deploy cavalry away from the central farm effectively made two separate battles only connected by the wing of the 95th Rifles. Its three companies I'd  formed as one administrative unit of about 80 figures but with their own leaders so each company could perform independently if required. It took a bit of head scratching , and clarification of the "Disorder" status rules to make the best of this but I see it as an essential part of the transition from skirmish scale to "big game". The sizes of units combined with the terrain they try to occupy becomes much more taxing at this scale since very little is representational. This side of the battle opened with one Rifle company in skirmish line and the order of initiative was vital. It turned out that the French Dragoons moved first and the skirmishers were caught.
Perry plastic Dragoons by Richard Newcombe
Mixed manufacturer's 95th Rifles by CG
The Rifles fired first and the Dragoons took casualties but not enough to stop them so we fought through a melee in which, not surprisingly, the thin line of engaged Riflemen lost about half their figures. It wasn't a huge impact on the Wing as a whole and this company was able to withdraw at the double (being skirmishers - 120 paces per minute) to one side out of direct line of the cavalry advance. Kevin was able to bring them together with the reserve company and all formed a square near the walls of the farm. The IGO/UGO nature of the game may seem to give a rather staccato appearance to what should be a fluid movement, but what matters is the result and the "fog of war" we can't enjoy from our God-like wargamer stance. Put simply, heavy cavalry had suffered some losses but swept aside a skirmish line, the survivors of which ran away to reform with their mates. I think it worked OK so I'm going to celebrate with this brilliant photo by Kevin which I had fun digitally enhancing.
That mounted Major model is on loan from the Hanoverians till I convert something appropriate
Here's a photo of the RHA battery behind the Rifles which had already been taking out some of the cavalry as it approached.
RHA and photo by Kevin. We should really have twice as many gunners  at 1:3 so had to just
count them notionally. For the real game crews will be augmented by other project members. 
At this point Kevin was desperate to bring on his three squadrons of British Dragoons on his left flank but we had a good example of how the Initiative/Command system can catch you out if not careful. As Umpire I'd only given him one overall cavalry leader which he chose to use on the right flank. Each squadron had its own leader but poor Kev had stacked his up in squadron column and the Initiative number tokens fell in the wrong order. The consequence was that the French Dragoons lurched up the slope unopposed and could cross the hedge and were only then met by a single British squadron.

While this was going on Richard had eschewed the higher ground I had placed for his Horse Artillery in favour of limbering them up and bringing them onto the main table, clear of the cavalry squadrons where they could hammer the RHA battery with canister. The 95th Rifles square had conveniently got out of the way by retreating behind the farm when they saw the horse guns approaching.
A clear field of fire
Kevin has augmented his normal French HA crews models with extras  for this scale 
At that range the canister angle from all the French guns bracketed most of the British battery and quite a lot of casualties resulted including a team horse and rider just visible over the crest. Although the Artillery morale check was good Kevin still wanted to pull them back in view of the proximity of the cavalry, and that farm was becoming a useful safety barrier blocking line of sight.

Here's is one more photo to show that we had planned a lot more possibilities in that the French have two more infantry battalions to follow up the cavalry assault; here is one of them.

The British also had a Guards infantry battalion ready to come on via the road but we just ran out of time.
So we had planned to have about 1100 figures potentially in play but in fact about a third of them didn't make it onto the table in the time we had available - like the first game, about 4 hours play mixed with 3 more hours talking about rule mechanisms.  Only three complete turns were made so about 10-12 minutes "real time" and about 30-40 minutes in my "historical schedule". 

Kevin explains one of his movements to Richard
(A 1:100 model of the impending new Gregg dwelling on the mantelpiece) 
Nevertheless these three moves proved a lot to us. Getting stuck into the action straight away meant an awful lot happened and I was very pleased with the command/initiative system and movement. Morale testing is done "as it happens" and retreating/fleeing is a free move even though there is no such thing as free "space" - everything in the terrain is actual. This meant players had to really think like on the spot leaders about how to marshal their squadrons, companies, guns to have some effect, and in the right order, confounded by that accursed "fog of war" - random initiative tokens and morale checks.  We had beefed up small arms casualty infliction by introducing a "Very Close" range under 6 inches, and easier "to hit" dice, and improved the killing power of canister to penetrate three ranks of figures. Melee casualties were bloody without being too overwhelming. The Morale system also worked well with good or fresh units being unlikely to be checked, and weary or poorer ones having to worry if dice rolls were extreme. We will be trying one major morale change next time though in order to simplify record keeping and casualty number crunching. The latter can get difficult with such large units. We will need to get a bit more sophisticated  with status markers etc and I'm experimenting with the new ones from Wargamer Aide de Camp, but more on that in a future blog. 

As you can see from some photos the systems produced some sudden changes of fortune and on this scale large open spaces resulted. This felt right to me and I quote from Captain Kincaid's eye witness account of Waterloo from the sandpit near LHS when his Riflemen began to take a toll on Cuirassiers engaged with Allied Light Dragoons ".....when they instantly opened a terrific fire on the whole concern, sending both sides to flight; so that, on the small space of ground, within a hundred yards of us, where five thousand men had been fighting the instant before, there was now not a living soul to be seen".  

In the previous blog one reader very reasonably asked how we will cope with the timing to get the whole game done. My hope is based on the following:
- We will schedule two days over a weekend to play about 4 to 5 hours of historical time.
- so that means about 20 Moves
- there will be about 3000 figures in play but not all at once, over a table at least 12 feet x 6 feet plus extensions giving even more usable space.
- the command system means not every unit can be active every turn but at least one command from each side can play concurrently with two umpires adjudicating
- there will hopefully be about 5 wargamers per side so each will probably command only  2-3 major units at a time not the 7 to 10 in this test game.

I'll leave you with just one small part of the most amazing Waterloo Panorama painting, a memento from Kevin and my trip to the battlefield this June......I think we are getting it right.