A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Friday, 18 April 2014

C&CN - Barrosa Scenario

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…


  1. Enjoyed reading that Tony, what a brilliant introduction to the hobby! It's funny you mention how some of the C&CN scenarios can be a bit 'distorted', but they're just so much fun to play aren't they?

    That table looks excellent :-) your guest must have been taken aback when he walked into that room surely.

    1. Thanks Lee - it's a funny thing, but when you start attempting to produce a simple explanation of the rules, it doesn't seem so very simple! As for my guest, he knows that I am a maniac anyway, so he was probably only slightly taken aback, I think!

  2. I got an email from Martin P, who occasionally sends me lists of reasons why he doesn't like C&C, which is fine, if only slightly relevant on this occasion. One particular point he raised this time interested me. Martin says that it is ludicrous that you can't get a bonus die for attacking someone in the rear - something that all "proper" miniatures rules would include.

    It's hardly my place to respond on behalf of the Mr Borg and his colleagues, but I thought I'd contribute my thoughts on this. Unlike "proper" games [sic], C&C assumes that - for the most part (i.e. other than for squares and a couple of specific manoeuvres) the formation of an individual unit is not a matter of interest to the commander - it is assumed that the regimental officers will look after that sort of thing. You don't form columns or lines in C&C because it is assumed that the units will look after themselves in this respect - you just move them around to where you want them, and give them orders for combat. It may offend "proper" war gamers (it offends Martin, for a start), but that's how the game works. That is one of the reasons why it works as well as it does, but that is another subject.

    The facing of the unit is a similar matter - it would be dumb to assume that, simply because they do not get an order from the C-in-C, a unit will stand motionless waiting to be taken in the rear - we have to assume that, like the formation, the facing will be looked after by the unit's own officers, though we can't see it happening. Thus a unit will tend to turn to meet an attack without the C-in-C giving specific orders. You may not agree with this, you may not like it, but you can see that it is a valid approach.

    I look forward to more from Martin in the future, but he'll have to do better than this...

    1. Interesting comment about Martin's reaction to there being no plus points for charging someone in the rear. I felt his irritation at first when playing Polemos Napoleonics. But then once you come round to the idea that you're not really talking about a couple of dozen tiny men sneaking up a few inches but 1000s moving hundreds of yards, and that any "surprise" is soon lost once the action starts, it makes sense.

      I suspect that this reaction is due to accepting historic wargaming conventions as logical and realistic when in fact they might not be.

      In defence of no "bonus for attack in rear", I refer to the Patron Saint of 18th Century Wargamers, St Christopher (Duffy), in his account of Kolin. The rear rank of the Prussian Garde surprised in the rear by Austrian cavalry smartly turned around and commenced firing.

  3. Battle cry, the original Borg rules are even simpler for newbies being from a simpler range. Once the current civil war project is complete adding another slightly different one should be a snap....