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

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Talavera - (2) - The Game

Today Baron Stryker, Count Goya and I fought the Battle of Talavera, as promised in my last two posts. Of course it wasn't really the Battle of Talavera, it was just a game which had certain similarities. The set-up was mostly derived from a Commands & Colors user website scenario. I'm always a bit dubious about published scenarios - not that there is necessarily anything especially wrong with them. It's simply that, typically, they are designed to give both sides a fair chance of victory. In my experience, one of the risks then is that a closely balanced fight can develop into a slugfest, and little of interest happens until attrition has worn down one side or the other to a point where something decisive might become possible.

Definite signs of visiting generals - first session before lunch.
Looking along the field from the Allied left flank, at the outset. Spanish
battalion in the farm in the foreground.
Allied right, with the Spaniards defending Talavera
However, fear not - today we had an absolutely cracking game - it had everything. History was overturned yet again - the French won - just about. I was the unfortunate Cuesta, commander of the Spanish force, whom history has not remembered kindly. Typecasting again, I know. Stryker was an impressively dynamic Marshal Victor, Goya was Wellesley, with most of the work to do on the Allied side (since, historically, he had restricted the Spanish army to a defensive role, on the flanks) and with the constant frustration of not being able to bring enough force to bear where he needed it (as a direct consequence, so it serves him right!). We had a tweak in the rules: this was a battle of three armies - the British and Spanish could collaborate on the card play, but, since they had separate turns, could not co-ordinate any action directly. This worked out pretty well - by the time the battle was lost, The Spaniards still had more than enough troops to help turn the day, if they could only have been employed more usefully.

If this sounds like a gruelling session of frustration and frayed tempers, nothing could be further from the fact. The game had lots of movement - feint attacks, very exciting cavalry fights, astonishing, show-stopping volleys and even more astonishing complete misses - all conducted in a splendid spirit of enthusiasm and good humour.

The battle involved over 60 units - around 1100 castings - on a table of ten-and-a-half feet by five. We got properly started around 11:30am, and the game came to a clear conclusion at about 16:30 - and that included a sit-down lunch break of about an hour and a half, which is not bad going at all. The armies were tied on 12 Victory Points each near the end, but at the last Victor forced enough units onto the British-held ridge at the Cerro de Medellin to gain the necessary 3 bonus VPs, and it was a 15-12 win for the French. Very, very close - it really could have gone either way.

My thanks and sincere appreciation, as ever, go to my worthy collaborators. It was such a lot of fun that I didn't even mind about those deplorably streaky French dice rolls.

Well, maybe just a bit.

On the Allied right, Cuesta sees the German troops opposite starting a general
advance through the woods - this caused much alarm, but turned out to be a feint attack.
In the centre, the key defensive point was the ridge at Cerro de Medellin - here three
companies of the 5/60th Rifles splash their way across the stream in front of
the ridge. They had a difficult day.
The French set about forming an attack here, but initially made slow progress.
Oops - a battalion of the Regimiento Ordenes Militares had the job of defending the
farm on the Allied left flank, but took fright with little real provocation, and
evacuated the place - these double retreats for the Spanish army really have the
boys running around!
They were replaced by the Voltigeurs of King Joseph's Guard, who made a
much better job of things, and held the place for the rest of the day.
Credit where credit is due - the stand-out performance of the day came from
the French 15e Chasseurs à Cheval, who fought off all-comers on the French
right. They were still on the field at the end - battered but glorious. Special
mention in dispatches.
The French are still making little progress in the centre, as Wellesley brings
up the Coldstream Guards.
By this time, the Confederation troops opposite Cuesta have quietened down a
bit, so the Allied right flank has not very much going on.
But what's this? - Victor turns up some very heavy cards, and things start to happen.
Sudden, very rapid advance in the centre by the troops of Sebastiani and Lapisse.
Yes, this is looking serious.
To make sure their photo is in the report, the 15e Chasseurs pop up again,
this time on the end of the ridge, in order to (briefly) claim one of the bonus
VPs available. It didn't last, but the point was made.
The French suffer a few reverses in the centre, and the British defence of the
ridge looks secure for the moment, though losses are creeping up.
Suddenly, there is a rush of cavalry on the French right, near the farm. This is the
area where the British light cavalry fell down a ravine in the real battle, but
we didn't have anything like that.
What we did have was a sizeable clash of cavalry. All sorts of celebrity units - Vistula
lancers, KGL Hussars, even a unit of British Dragoon Guards. Very exciting.
The British cavalry was very successful initially, until they came up against
the dreaded 15e Chasseurs again, and everything stopped dead.
Over on the Allied right, Cuesta's infantry made a demonstration against the
Confederation boys in the woods. It didn't necessarily start off as a demonstration,
but it didn't go very well, so it became a demonstration quite quickly.
Victor appears to be calling down a thunderbolt on to Wellesley.
French now splashing through the stream, trying to get some purchase on the
ridge, and suddenly a few of the British defenders were dislodged. 12-12 in
VPs at this point - if the French can get 3 units on the ridge they've won the day.
Lots of desperate action from the Brits, while their Spanish allies are doing
very little on the flanks.
Here they come - the French are on the ridge, including - most impressively -
their astonishing charging foot artillery.
It no longer matters, but Cuesta is still disputing the woods on the right.
Heroically, but to no avail, Wellesley brings up the 16th Light Dragoons, his final throw.
But the French retain their foothold, and the battle is decided. Observe, if you will,
that two of the British generals are still on the border, and have never entered
the battlefield. Fane is in the foreground, Henry Campbell further away. The
French had two generals killed during the day; the British had two generals
who didn't turn up. Hmmm.
Over on the right, Cuesta's Spanish troops have kept the town of Talavera
safe and secure, which is exactly what they were ordered to do.
Opposite Cuesta the French forces look solid enough - Milhaud's heavy cavalry in
reserve and everything.
This photo to go to the Daily Mail, I think - and maybe Horse Guards -
Henry Campbell wondering if this was the right address - the game is over.


  1. Wonderful looking game, I am a hex gamer and your table is very inspirational.

    1. Thanks Norm - the table is working well - form follows function!

      I need to add a few more panels, so I can set up bigger battlefields - since large games run quickly enough under C&C to be viable. Problem is I need a bigger hall!

      The dreams of madmen?

  2. Epic stuff, Foy, and told with style. My Hinton Spieler Napoleon is thinking that he really must some of those Chasseurs...
    Best regards

    1. Thank you, WM! - the Garrison chaps are packaged but have not departed yet. They'll be setting off tomorrow.

  3. Classic!

    I'm looking at this game (again) and picturing a handful of fuzzy B&W photos in an early 70's magazine or book and wondering how many hours would have been spent pouring over them again, and again?

    1. Ross - I was definitely one of the guys doing the drooling over magazines in the early 1970s - I was never the same again - you can tell!

  4. A great game Tony and a damn near run thing!

    1. It was terrific fun - of course, I blame that Arthur bloke with the long nose.

  5. Lovely looking game and looks like you had fun playing.

    Is the bugler with your Garrison French Chasseurs a convertion from an ordinary trooper?

    1. Hi Mark - I did some conversions using the Garrison trooper, but I think for that unit the officer and the trumpet are from the Kennington French Line Chevauxlegers-lanciers command pack, with Garrison chasseur heads grafted on. They're on Garrison horses, of course. I've also used spare NapoleoN command figures, but they ran out years ago!

  6. Great, just great...and something to aspire to

    1. Thank you Sir - sometimes these games just work well - this one did. If I could find out the recipe I'd bottle it.

  7. Super looking terrain and game. It also seems as though your rules worked well, especially the Spanish element. Is there anything that you would change having given them a good testing?

    1. Hi Bob - the collaboration between the British and Spanish armies was very difficult, but it was designed to be so! In the biggest C&C games (EPIC, Grand Battles etc) there is scope for dividing the cards between multiple generals on each side (similar to what was done here) - based on our experience on Saturday, there is something to be said for using a timeclock to limit the discussion time. That's about all. The combat systems are all pretty much tried and tested. Things that went wrong were sometimes a result of using the wrong type of troops (e.g. attacking with Spaniards). No issues really, otherwise.