|Barrosa starting position (almost untweaked), from behind the French right|
Yesterday I fought a Commands & Colors: Napoleonics battle with my friend Jack, who has no prior experience of wargames. Since this was primarily a social occasion, I gave some thought to what would provide a suitable game.
C&C is a pretty obvious game for a beginner, since it is straightforward, capable of being learned quickly (and as you go along), moves along briskly and is of short duration.
I made a mental note that I must take care not to frighten off my friend by being too enthusiastic, and I seriously considered an ECW game using my own variant of the rules – the ECW, after all, has a pleasingly ancient, other-worldly charm, and the funny costumes and quaint “Chaunce” cards all add to its potential appeal.
Eventually, I decided that the Napoleonic game has less fiddly bits (squares and combined-arms attacks notwithstanding) and involves less risk of someone being injured by a unit of pikes. Further, it seemed a good idea to use a published scenario, since these are pre-tested and should give a balanced game and – importantly – start from a position where the armies are lined up and ready to go. If it seems odd to justify using someone else’s scenario, I must explain that I normally do not use them.
I chose the Barrosa scenario from the 1st (Spanish) expansion set, and made a few other decisions for the day:
(1) Use the C&CN rules as published, without my usual house tweaks (the Barrosa scenario does not involve guerrilleros, nor use of the guerrilla rules)
(2) Take care to use the unit sizes and strengths as published, rather than my own variations on these, so as not to distort the game balance
(3) The only tweak was to add a couple of units of cavalry to each army, to give a better spread of troop types for an instruction game
We adopted the approach of jointly examining the cards of both sides and agreeing the best moves on each turn, taking the opportunity to reinforce the way the rules work and consider the available options. The game went well – we were, I suppose, running it as a joint facilitation rather than as a match – Jack didn’t get too confused, and seemed to quite enjoy himself, and we finished in round about the standard two hours.
The narrative of the battle is quickly presented. The French set about the big hill on their left front, drove the Spanish infantry from it, and were then stopped dead by the British Foot Guards (who are a very serious proposition indeed), and by the (largely unauthorised) British cavalry, who made very short work of their French opposite numbers. The Allies won 7-5 (including the extra victory point for having most of the hill), the French situation not being helped by the spectacular failure of their light cavalry and the demise of General Ruffin. The wooded plain opposite the French right did not feature very much in the action, though it served to limit the effectiveness of their artillery.
The Spanish General Lardizabal, in passing, was the true hero of the day, leading units into action in a manner which would have astounded everyone back in 1811.
Anyway, an interesting afternoon. My liking for the un-tweaked rules is renewed, and I have another candidate opponent for future games. I have decided that the Short Supply command card is such a silly one that I may drop it from the pack in future - it is difficult to come up with a justification of what it involves (one unit selected to drop back to the baseline). I also have a new respect for the published scenarios, though I have to say that the Barrosa scenario is not awfully similar to the actual battle…