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


Sunday, 26 November 2017

Möckern Around on a Saturday Afternoon

Tough nut - the French-held village of Möckern, complete with medieval tower
and - can that be Felsham church...?
Yesterday, before dawn, it was all busy, busy here at Foy's Travelling Wargames Inc, the van was packed and I set off with many little friends packed in magnetised boxes, headed for 16th Oct 1813 and that far corner of the Kingdom of Fife which calls itself Perth and Kinross. Very nice too, despite the weather forecast and rather snowy conditions.

Goya hosted the event at his baronial palace, where he has busily been painting Prussian troops to make up the cast list. The combined Prussians of the armies of Goya and Baron Stryker (under Goya's command) were to fight the French VI Corps under Marshal Marmont (played by Stryker himself, still glowing with the glory of his recent French success at Talavera). I was the umpire, a role which I enjoy (leveraging, as Dilbert would say, my OCD tendencies to advantage) and which gives a very good chance of avoiding defeat.

Möckern, of course, is one of the outlying precursors to the Battle of Leipzig, which took place two days later. Research is hampered a little by the fact that there was another battle of Möckern, some 6 months earlier, which, since it was a French victory, is rather better documented [discuss].

The large village of Möckern at that time was some distance from Leipzig, and sat on a road from the north which went to the Northern gate to the city. Our battle was only part of the real historical one - we covered the left of the French defence - that part which was opposed by Yorck's Prussian I Corps of Blücher's Army of Silesia. Our scenario comes from the official Commands & Colors: Napoleonics Expansion #5 booklet - the only amendments were some substitution of Prussian units to fit with the miniatures we had available, and a house rule tweak to include a couple of roads, and allow a small measure of quicker movement for regiments which used them.

The French start the day strongly positioned in the village (thus having 2 bonus Victory Points at the outset, which, if they lose the place, will disappear and become 3 for the Prussians). There were also bonus VPs available if the Prussians managed to exit any units over the French baseline (which in rugby terms is known as a try, we think). 10 VPs for the win. Standard size 13 x 9 hex table. A couple of scenario rules concerned the small bend of the River Elster and the minor stream (Pleisse? - Parthe? - can't remember) on the French right flank, and a more significant rule, in that the outlying Manor Farm of Möckern was a strong, walled strongpoint allowing defenders to disregard one "retreat flag" if one came up.

The Prussians, being Prussians, are allowed an allocation of Iron Will counters by the C&CN rules - on this occasion they had 4 available for the day - these may be used as a last-resort means of cancelling retreat flags - 1 counter per flag. [We used 20-cent Euro coins, in fact]

In the real battle, the Prussians made pretty slow progress attacking the village, suffered heavy losses and retreated. The French were somewhat inconvenienced by an exploding ammo cart (so Marmont says, anyway, in his memoirs), but the Marshal ordered up his corps light cavalry - a brigade of Württembergers commanded by Generalmajor Normann - to pursue the repulsed infantry, and - allegedly - Normann refused. Marmont then ordered forward Lagrange's infantry to carry out the pursuit, and they were caught by the Prussian cavalry, and very badly handled, falling back in disorder onto the village of Gohlis, where they joined Ney in an attempt to hold off the Russian advance the following day.

Normann's disobedience may seem less surprising when it is remembered that the Württembergers were one of the German states which defected to the Allies on the 18th.


Our game started with the Prussians butting their heads against the walled farm, in authentic style, and they started losing men rapidly - a tendency which became established as a general theme for the day. They then had a quick, dramatic success when a battalion of French légère received two retreat flags and - special rule or not - were forced out of the farm, to be replaced by some Prussian grenadiers, who held it for the rest of the engagement. That was as good as it got for Yorck. Hampered by astonishingly poor dice (unbelievable - it quickly passed beyond amusing to downright embarrassing, so after a little while no-one laughed any more...), Yorck also had problems with the quality of his army - he had a lot of Reservists (double retreats) and militia (triple retreats), and thus had to use the Iron Will counters to stop his militia cavalry disappearing to the rear - and his cavalry, though much more numerous on the face of it, were relatively puny, the scenario stipulating 3 "blocks" per unit, compared with the French 4 per unit.

The French at one point were 8-0 up on VPs, though the Prussians did eventually wear a few units down, and then there was the extraordinary episode of General Lagrange. Lagrange was present with a French line unit which was eliminated. He survived, though was only able to retreat to a very hazardous position adjacent to the farm, where the resident grenadiers duly used him for target practice. They missed. Apparently crazed by his luck, Lagrange hung around for another volley, waving his hat to goad them - they missed again. At which point a unit of militia lancers appeared, and captured him, which certainly served him right.

The Prussian attack on the left fizzled out from lack of sufficient good-quality troops, and the game ran out a 10-4 win for the French - still with the initial 2 for holding most of Möckern village, and with the Prussian 4th VP counter entirely due to the death-wish of General Lagrange.

Interesting game - very interesting. None of us has any idea how the Prussians could have won; once again we overturned history. They never got close to securing any bonus VPs for scoring a "try" on their left - they couldn't have spared the troops anyway. One alternative strategy would have been to ignore the very strong village and concentrate on an assault by the Prussian left - it would be necessary to clear away a good few French units to rack up VPs, and then exit over the French baseline with enough units to get up to 10VPs with the scenario bonus.

As it was, this was never a possibility, and the day's bloodshed made very little contribution to the overall cause of Befreiung. Not to worry - an excellent day's entertainment, and excellent food, as ever. Special mention must be made of the personal efforts of Count Goya, who had banished his family, along with all the servants, to the country for the weekend, and did a fine solo job of the catering. My thanks to my colleagues for their excellent company and good humour.

Thoughts on C&CN scenarios? Not very much - we should maybe be suspicious of general application of the standard C&CN national characteristics. In particular, the French line infantry get an extra combat die in melee combat against infantry, simply because of their famed élan and effectiveness. That's well and good, but the point is well made that, though Marmont's Corps was among the better of the French line troops at Leipzig, the French army was nothing like what it had been in 1809. We should have a look at scenario rules more carefully in this respect. The French OOB for VI Corps includes many provisional regiments which consisted of battalions of veteran Peninsular War regiments, but typically these were the 5th or 6th battalions of such regiments, and the large numbers of "Marine Infantry" present are something of an unknown quantity - whatever some of the historical paintings may show - these were not the Marins de la Garde - nothing like.

Right - to the pictures. Please ignore the labelling you see on the units - there were a great many sabots on loan from other armies, so the presence of apparently Spanish or Portuguese units should be disregarded.

General view - French on the left, Prussians and the North to the right, and the
village of Möckern dominating the Leipzig road at the far end
From behind the Prussian left, at the start (about 11:30)
The village, with its outlying walled farm, seen from the French side, with the
little village of Wahren on the far edge (featuring a town gate which I like, and
which doesn't get played with very often, on account of the clock in the tower being
a poor fit with the ECW). General Lagrange is already practising his hat-waving
act, just this side of the village (with the white border to his base).
Yorck's Prussians make a start against the walled Manor Farm
Though the farm is not very promising, the main village itself is a very formidable 
objective, with enough size to allow garrison units to provide mutual support
Just for a moment, things seemed to be swinging a little, as the Silesian grenadiers
drove the French out of the farm
Further left, the Prussians under Horn and Steinmetz ponder the chances
of a breakthrough
And on the far left flank of the Prussian force, Hünerbein did at least have some
better quality regular troops
General problem for Yorck was that his cavalry was understrength, and he had
too high a proportion of Reservist and Landwehr units...
...more particular problem was his spectacular lack of luck with the dice. Here's a
good example - this is the result of a 3-block militia lancer regiment attacking in
melee. Normally, 3 sabres would be 3 hits, but of course militia don't get to count sabres
in a melee under C&CN rules. We did have a laugh at this one, in fact.
Action on the Prussian left - a brief glimpse of the legendary French 15eme
Chasseurs à Cheval (on the road) who did not manage to live up to their celebrated
success at Talavera
The battle for the farm reaches its peak - the French were driven off here
Having driven off an attack by the French (Württemberg) cavalry in the centre,
the Prussian cavalry here are too weakened to contribute further
The extraordinary adventure of General Lagrange, waving his hat in defiance of the
Prussians in the farm. The lancers in the background did for him shortly afterwards.
The final situation - stalemate on the French right, the Prussians have failed to capture
the village and - ultimately - lost too many men. If you have good eyesight, you may
see the white Victory Point counters on the respective baselines - 10 for the
French (including 2 green ones for hanging onto most of Möckern) and 4 for the
Prussians.

20 comments:

  1. Looks like a fantastic game! Very interesting background of the real thing as well as your description of the 20mm refight too.

    Best Regards,

    Stokes

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    1. My first involvement with Prussians, and my first action from the 1813 campaign. Marmont was not helped on this occasion by the fact that Napoleon had already ordered him to abandon the Möckern position, without any factual knowledge of the situation, so that Marmont's defence was set up in a rush as his troops rushed back. I was disappointed during my research to find in the work of one of my favoured historians, F Loraine Petre, mention that the fighting after the Prussian cavalry attacked was "indescribable"; that's all. Professional writers at work. Gee, I wish I had the words to understand it.

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  2. Castillo Goya looks less baronial than palatial...

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    1. I'm not an expert - I'm sure you're right. As I understand it, our game took place in the Corner Tack Room adjacent to the gun lobby, on the ground floor of the South West Tower.

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  3. A good game and a tough one for the Prussians to win. It must be said that the umpiring was superb and impartial (thanks for slipping my 'special' dice to Goya as agreed). I'm already looking forward to the next one!

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    1. Yes Ian - I really don't see how the Prussians should approach this one. Did you think my umpiring was good? No, really? I mean was it REALLY good? You're not just saying that? I didn't think it was all that good, really.

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  4. Well! That is a splendid looking set up and game!
    Sounds like your turn at umpiring went off without incident.

    Good show!

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  5. Well it looks splendid. Perhaps with a scenario like this everyone should have to take a turn as Prussian but perhaps not, there is always the risk that one player will win from both sides which is just a pinch of salt really.

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  6. A truly wonderful spread. Lots of toy soldiers check. Game played to a conclusion check.

    Can't say fairer than that.

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  7. Thank you for appreciative comments, gentlemen! Game was quite a bit smaller than our previous big bash (Talavera), but much fussier ground, and the village is a real stopper. All excellent fun.

    Jon - I think I may be one of Nature's umpires. This is a mixed blessing. Napoleon would have made a very poor umpire, I think.

    Ross - in truth (and it's not a complaint, just an observation) we played a bit slowly. The game lasted about 3 hours - with a bit tighter focus we could have probably done it in nearer 2. Part of my wargame kit for C&C is a timeclock, which sounds menacing but actually works well in context - maybe we should try using it. Once you declare that you have started your turn you have 2 minutes (or 3, or whatever) to make your mind up and get things moved. Combats etc can continue beyond the end of the time period. In C&C each turn is short anyway - one of the chief attractions is that the players do NOT get to march their entire army round the table each turn, in the Grand Manner.

    The point is that if we had moved the game along a bit quicker, we would have had time to play it a second time, if we'd wanted wanted. There's a fair amount of hindsight in this, obviously, and it is likely that we would have decided against a re-run, but individual casualties and bases are not removed, only complete units, so the housekeeping needed to set the game up again is minimal - maybe 10 minutes, maximum. One possibility for smaller games is to plan to play them a second time, if time permits - swap sides - I've never thought about this, except solo.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. On the other hand, it was a relaxed, social. event. Would one really want not just the pressure of the clock (that can be fun and Ron had to do a computer timer decades ago for one player) but the pressure to finish early so as to not be blocking the second game?

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    2. Ross - absolutely - there was never an intention to play it twice, so everything was fine - better than fine, in fact. The series of social games I am involved in at present is more enjoyable than any wargaming I've done before - I'm certain that's true - but it follows a period during which my experience of playing social games was very limited, and the whole idea of using someone else's published scenarios is unfamiliar to me. From personal intuition (basis? ignorance?) I have a problem with games which are engineered to be "balanced" - frequently, as we have discussed before, a balanced game means a terrible bloodbath while the sides wear each other down. I found my earlier ECW games - especially the larger ones - could be like this (which was why I had abandoned large Ancient battles), and this is why I introduced Event cards (which are called "Chaunce" cards in my ECW game), which are gamey but which can break up a stalemate and can sort of crystalize a game and provide opportunities for the players (and excuses, of course, which is just as important!).

      As with your own experience, I originally introduced the timeclock by agreement with a group of occasional ECW opponents, one of whom was capable of ruminating for 15 or 20 minutes over a single C&C type turn, and unfortunately had a tendency to absent-mindedly delaminate the cards while he was thinking! In that circumstance, the other players tended to start talking about their holiday arrangements or the repairs to the boiler during the breaks, and the whole game went off the boil (so to speak). Our current situation has none of that, but one interesting plus for time-boxing just a little would be the chance to have a couple of goes at a heavily unbalanced scenario in a single day - the hopeless rearguard, the skilful withdrawal against impossible odds, use of Spaniards vs Napoleonic French (this last was a joke, of course).

      Again, as you say, we probably wouldn't do it, but it's an interesting possibility. Any nervousness I have about games which proceed too slowly is entirely down to ancient baggage - much of my Old School wargaming prior to the Great Sabbatical from 1985 consisted of games which dragged on for so long that they never finished, and no-one had the strength or the stomach to re-convene to finish them off!

      No - we won't start using the clock. These games are just great as they are.

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  8. Excellent photos of what was clearly a very enjoyable game. Can't beat C&C for a game that rattles along and builds tension without in any way bogging down in too much detail. You have clearly found two convivial opponents who enjoy playing C&C as much as you do :)

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    1. Hi Lee - yes - I'm really very fortunate with my collaborators, and I'm also lucky that someone invented C&C just in time, before my attention span got even shorter! This must have been a very nasty battle in reality - C&C handles it simply enough, but assaulting the village is a meat grinder.

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  9. I have been enjoying your C&C game reports. I have only played the game 2 or 3 times. I am thinking of giving it a go using my small classic Napoleonic collection instead of the blocks. My units will only be 8 infantry or 3 cavalry so nowhere near as grand as your set up.

    Mark

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    1. Hi Mark - with smaller units, you can use smaller hexes and thus (1) have enormous battles, (2) use professionally made hex terrain products - both of which are difficult for me! :-)

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  10. I think others have already done the honous in terms of all the oohs and aahs, but I thought it wouldn't do any harm to add my own. Spectacular in every respect, as always, Foy.
    Best regards
    WM

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  11. Very nice report, thank you; and good to see the church in the little-known suburb of Mockern-Felsheim. Obscure histories in local archives may relate the stories of those bands of itinerant Suffolk builders who plied their trade across 'higher Germany' in earlier centuries..

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    1. Good shout on the Felsheim builders - I shall look further into this. Earlier forerunner of "Auf wiedersehen Pet" - well, sort of.

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