Monday, June 16, 2014

Black Powder Bavarian Brouhaha

Clouds of disciplined Hapsburg musketry fill the air!

Fresh off a great outing to Prairiecon XXXV (see here and here for some photos), the Conscripts stopped by last Thursday for a game we have not played in quite some time - Black Powder.  Dallas and I cracked out the 15mm Napoleonics for the game.  The scenario was set in the early stages of my favourite Napoleonic campaign - 1809 and the War of the Fifth Coalition.

Pre-game table - the French would start on the left side, the Austrians on the right

The 1809 campaign was a big show, with fighting in Italy and Poland as well as central Europe. It culminated in the noted engagements of Aspern-Essling and Wagram.  Vienna was occupied and Austria defeated. What a busy summer! But it kicked off with an invasion of Bavaria by Austria in April, and for an ever-so-brief period, Archduke Charles had the initiative as the French struggled to assemble properly from their winter encampments strung out along the Danube. Delayed by bad weather and by, let's say, an ingrained Austrian command culture, this wouldn't last, but there was some sharp fighting early on that might have tilted things in the Hapsburgs' favour.

Austrians advance
French brigade advancing

Davout's III Corps, encamped in various locations around Regensburg, was the most vulnerable French formation, and the conservative Austrian commanders did their best to impersonate the decisive movement of the French (Charles had even reformed the Hapsburg army into Corps-level formations instead of columns) in order to pin him and take him out.  But Davout was nobody's fool, arguably of Napoleon's best commanders.  His dispersed units repelled the various Austrian thrusts and escaped to the west, where Napoleon was massing the army and would soon turn the tide and sh*t can the Austrians back towards their own capital and beyond.

Initial encounter - Austrian advance screen against small French brigade...

Ouch - these were the kind of command rolls the French had all night
Hussars crash into the French - why didn't they form square? See above...

The scenario we played was a "what if?" set in this time, an alternate Battle of Teugen-Hausen.  In the real battle, St. Hilaire's division, screening Davout's western movement, fought a sharp and confused encounter with the lead elements of Austrian Field Marshal Vukassovich's Corps.  The fighting took place along forested ridge lines between the villages of Teugen and Hausen.  I used this engagement as inspiration for the scenario.

These Austrian light troops punched well above their weight in the game

Bill and Dallas played the French side.  They had a small brigade of two battalions and a large one of five battalions, and reinforcements in the form of two regiments of Chasseurs. Historically I don't think there was any cavalry present for the French, but where is the fun in that?  We imagined that perhaps units from General Montbrun's cavalry division were nearby. Leadership values reflected the elite and motivated French commanders.

Firefight in the valley - it goes ill for the French...

Frederick and Byron took charge of the Austrians.  The Austrian force had two brigades - one small one with a battalion of Grenzer, a battalion of Landwehr and regiment of Hussars.  The second brigade had six big fat Austrian line battalions - two full regiments of fierce sausage consumption.  Set against this force were relatively low command values and a special rules limiting the success of even a generous command roll.

You can see here the French (on the left) have struggled to set up their line of defence

The goals for each side was to capture the other's village, or failing that, not to lose their own. Fighting would proceed until one side or the other broke. I expected the smaller French force would have a better time maneuvering, while the sluggish Austrian commanders would struggle to get their big units into place. But the dice don't give a hoot about scenario rules, or my expectations, and they did not this night!

A view of the Austrian advance through the valley

Suffice to say the French had some bad luck.  And by "some", I mean "a lot".  While they didn't fail every command roll, they failed a lot of them.  The Austrian players had lots of hot rolling, even with the re-rolling designed to limit their hot rolling!  This carried into the shooting as well - the French musketry was indifferent, while the Austrians blazed away like they had depleted uranium musket rounds or something.

Austrians make a steady advance - see that unit in the back? That is the very first Napoleonic unit I ever painted...more than 14 years ago!

Early on the French were on the receiving end of a charge by the Austrian Hussars - the target French battalion failed to form a square, and got chewed up badly.  Overall, the leading light elements of the Austrians managed to out-gun and out-fight the leading French elements, while the French struggled to move into position.

French Chasseurs arrive and...well, don't get up to very much...

The Austrians, for their part, moved efficiently up the valley and into a nice, double-ranked advance that would make any linear-theory army commander pleased. From there, it was a matter of blowing the French away with some well-ordered musket fire.

Austrians form square as French cavalry approach...
The last chance the French had to turn things back was to get their cavalry involved - they arrived by the sixth turn. But again, command rolls failed at key moments.  It was not to be for the French. Their brigade broke, and General St. Hilaire would have some explaining to do when he next reported to Marshal Davout!!

The 2nd/57th tries to hold the line...

Black Powder is a wonderful set of rules - very quick to play, and very flexible in terms of setting things up.  One adjustment we made for this game was to goose up the shooting values and lower the "close combat" values for the units, with an eye to encouraging the players to hammer away with muskets and hold the bayonets until they have a solid chance to finish the opponents off.

I also love the very specific command mechanics within the spirit of the Black Powder rules.  You don't just roll the dice - you have to specify what you want first. This isn't the easiest change for casual players, but the guys totally embraced this during the game, leading to excellent discussions about what was intended before any dice were thrown, and a more interesting feel to the game - even better than Shako, in my opinion, even though with Shako you have to draw out orders.

Between the "new" edition of the 40k rules and all of the Horus Heresy projects, it may be a little while before we see some Black Powder in this space again.  But a big thanks to Dallas for bringing a bunch of stuff out, and to Bill, Frederick, Byron and Jim for coming out to play. 


DeanM said...

Very nice to see you getting a nice Black Powder game in. I haven't played one in years, and may just have to dust off some of my stuff. Best, Dean

Dallas said...

Thanks for setting up that game, Greg - that was some good fun!

Byron said...

Awesome fun, thanks a ton Greg! It was nice to see all those amazing 15mm figures out on the table as well. Great job Greg and Dallas.

We need to do more of these.

Phil said...

Great looking game, love your Austrian army!

Michael Peterson said...

What a visual feast of an AAR! Those figures are brilliant and your painting skills have only improved over the years. It's also very rewarding to see an AAR of a game that is solidly rooted in history, even "what if" history, rather than just a points game or a "line 'em up and have it" game. Thanks for sharing this.

Jason Meyers said...

Great looking game, definitely looks like a good time!