Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Friday, 22 May 2020

Action on the River Coa - 24th July 1810 - The Game

The south-west corner of the fortress of Almeida, which contributed little to the action, really, though the Portuguese garrison gunners caused some loss to the French 3eme Hussards when they ventured too close
Well, because playing a game via Zoom was a new experience for us, I had spent some time this week working on camera angles, and lighting (which sounds grand, but was mostly a matter of which lights to switch on, which curtains to close to avoid table-shine and that strange effect you get when the electric lights are on but the far end of the table is in bright sunshine).

All went very well - this techy stuff is well tried and tested now, and was only really new to us greenhorns, so I shall avoid pretending it was stressful or dramatic, or even particularly clever; the game went well - we finished (just) in the scheduled 3 hours, and we learned quite a bit. Interesting. It was a very good day, I think - a lot of fun, apart from anything else.

We started at 10:30am, Goya commanding the French, Stryker the Anglo-Portuguese allies. The scene was General Craufurd's strange episode on the River Coa. The game was chosen because it is not too big (for a first bash at Zoom, like) - we used my scenario rather than the official C&CN #006 from the book (I was a bit affronted by the fact that the official scenario gives Craufurd a couple of gratuitous British Line battalions, just to balance the game - my usual crib about the official scenarios, in fact).

Our game paralleled quite a few areas of the real battle - interesting. Craufurd should, by rights, have retreated across the only bridge over the Coa a day or so before he did. He was certainly instructed to do so by his Commander in Chief - in the event he hung on, while Ney's VI Corps bore down on him; presumably he had hopes of gaining some kind of personal triumph against the advance guard, but he risked his entire Light Division with no real justification - he was still going to have to retreat eventually. Still, I guess you had to be there, as they say - it's all very well being smart about it now...

Our game required the accumulation of 7 Victory Points for a win - there was some fancy stuff around the availability of extra VPs for successful evacuation of Craufurd's units across the river, and there was also the issue of having a train of wagons and mules to evacuate, too. The challenge for Craufurd was knowing when to cut and run.

It was very close. These games are usually very close, but this one was probably the closest yet [cue rolling of eyes]. Craufurd himself spent some of the early part of the game resting (apparently) in a wood, but he manoeuvred his little army with skill, through a series of reverses. He evacuated half the wagon/mule train (the other half was destroyed by the French cavalry), he also evacuated 2 of his combat units, and he inflicted enough damage on the enemy to amass 6 VPs - at this stage the French, whose VP all came from eliminating Craufurd's units, had also got to 6 VPs.

Craufurd himself, with a battalion of the Rifles, was on the bridge at that moment, and his next turn would allow him to march them over the river to safety, to get the required 7th VP.

Didn't happen - his turn never came. The French threw in the last of all they had on their left flank, including a charge on the battered 14th Light Dragoons by the last intact battalion, the 1/66eme, led by General Ferey himself. Since the 14LD were not in good shape, and did not have room for the approved Retire & Reform ploy, the infantry won this scrap - a rare example of an attack column defeating horsemen - and the game was over, leaving Craufurd to go to discuss his day with Wellington.

General de Brigade Claude-François Ferey - probably man of the match
Excellent fun - we didn't learn too much from things that went badly, because there weren't many at all - about all I can think of was that the usual red loss counters do not show up well on camera, so we'll use white in future. One important skill in learning, I think, is to make sure you remember the things that did work - and there was plenty of scope for that.

My colleagues, of course, mucked in with their usual excellent enthusiasm and good humour, which was a massive contributor to our success. I was the umpire and general labourer, and it is quite hard work, but I had a terrific time - from time to time I felt apprehensive, because I was charging about, hyperventilating, while my guests were really only getting to watch through the keyhole, but it seems that everything was fine at their end too.

I think it proved worthwhile spending time and attention on the hardware - we had my Android tablet on a high stand - some 7 feet up in the air - as the main camera, at one end of the table, and my iPhone - also 7 feet up (and permanently connected to its charger, since Zoom will flatten a phone battery in no time at all - please take note!) - as the second camera, at the other end. The iPhone attended as a separate guest - Max Foy, in fact, who has his own Zoom account (not many of Napoleon's generals have Zoom accounts, I think). It also proved to have been a good idea to invest some time in setting up a grid reference system for the hex table, and to produce some good maps for the players.

My thanks, as ever, to Goya and Stryker for being such good chaps and making the game a success. Now that we have some experience, we are considering allowing one or two guests/observers to drop in on future games - we'll have to weigh that up, since there isn't a lot of time for chat, but it's all good so far!

One thing I was aware of was the lack of time to take decent photos, so apologies for the unbalanced set I managed to salvage - in particular the end of the game was a little frenzied, so there is a shortage of pictures of the climax! It's worth saying, I think, that playing a game by videoconference introduces a lot of obvious challenges, but it also encourages the players to be very methodical about following orderly turn sequences, for example, and this actually helped the game to run smoothly.

Points duly noted! Oh - yes - being umpire is fun but it's a bit of a work-out - I recommend a bottle of Lucozade on stand-by!

View from above the fortress of Almeida, looking along Craufurd's line towards the bridge at the far end. The little stone-wall enclosures are the remains of old vineyards. Craufurd is on the right edge of the picture, with the white edge to his base.
General view at the start from the French right flank - Ferey's brigade, who did much of the work, are at the far end. Loison, the division commander, like Craufurd, has the white base-border befitting his rank.
Ferey, with two battalions of each of 82eme and 66eme, plus a battalion of Légère, has a couple of batteries and support from the 15eme Chasseurs à Cheval (regular stand-out performers on this table). He sets about the Allied right flank.
And the first target is the 52nd Foot, on the end of the Allied line, with Sydney Beckwith attached. The 52nd suffered heavily and very quickly (something to do with being in the open), and eventually had to fall back behind their more sheltered colleagues.

On the Allied left, in front of the fortress, Col Robert Barclay has Rifles and the 43rd Foot, plus Ross's Troop RHA

A couple of gaps in the Allied right - some of Anson's light cavalry arrive, to help out
A more general view, around the same time - the battered 52nd Foot, identifiable by the stack of red markers, were not impressed by Col Beckwith's speech-making, and took little further part in the fighting, though eventually they were safely evacuated over the bridge. 
Bitter fighting near the bridge - Ferey brings up the 82eme - the black square means that - that's right, good guess! - the unit is in square; no time in a game of this sort to arrange the bases in a nice square, though it could be done in a more leisurely context.
Baron Ferey had a really exciting day - as a succession of units to which he was attached were eliminated, he would move on to someone else - at various times he was briefly attached to the foot artillery, the 82eme and the 66eme, and here he personally brings up the 15eme Chasseurs à Cheval - that's him with label #14 on his base - if he doesn't get made a Count for this then he should. No staff casualties on either side this day, by the way.
The chasseurs were repelled by the KGL Hussars, here seen with Gen George Anson, but they reappeared subsequently to help out with the final scrap. The last of the wagons is heading for the bridge and safety - it may seem unimportant, but that's another half a VP, and these things are hard-won.
Craufurd has now appeared in the battle line, as he prepares for his final stand. Though it was a struggle, Stryker handled the retreat over the bridge and the rearguard action with considerable skill.
Not much remaining on the French left by this stage - the 15eme Chasseurs are out of picture, getting their breath back and being egged on by General Ferey, but this is about it, though there is a flank attack coming in on the Allies from some of General Gardanne's dragoons.
Meanwhile, the French right, mostly General Simon's brigade of infantry, has hardly moved. There may be some awkward silences at dinner tonight.
Suddenly, very quickly, 6-all becomes 7-6 to the French, as Ferey, with the 1/66eme in column attack, manages to rout the British 14th Light Dragoons. The game is over - still within the 3-hour Zoom session. Stryker estimates we played out 14 turns in the 3 hours, which is not bad going at all in the circumstances. Well done, everyone!
Here you go - it's official - the French win 7-6. Yet another close one!

***** Late Edit *****

I received a couple of questions about the reference letters around the edges of the table - this was to make it easier to match the table up with the "official" set-up map I sent to the generals. Here's the map:


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19 comments:

  1. Well it looks like you had a marvellous time with all this new technology. Whatever next...you tube videos?

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    1. It all went better than expected - very pleased. Previously I thought I was doing well if I turned on the light without wetting myself.

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  2. Excellent work, Tony! Umpiring AND direction/production can be a difficult job. 7-6 is a close one, for sure. One thing about CCN is that it often isn’t over until it is over. Always enjoy seeing your banner counter.

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    1. Hi John - thanks for your appreciative comments - I'm currently relaxing in a warm Chianti. Close finish again - wow.

      The legendary Freitag battalion (26eme Ligne) were present, in Simon's brigade - they took a hit from artillery fire, but otherwise received no orders, I believe. They also serve who stand and wait - I think in the real battle they had marched some 12Km on a very wet morning, so they probably welcomed the rest!

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    2. Too bad Freitag Bn saw no action; probably mesmerized by the beauty of your table. Have I mentioned that your layout is quite elegant?

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  3. Nice to see some close-ups of the troops except of course for the 15th Chasseurs - a great game Tony!

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    1. Thank you again for your virtual company! The 15th Ch-a-Ch were eliminated in the end, but they took a few with them - I thought the Allied cavalry were pretty good - they tended to start well and then fizzle out. They probably had better horses back home in Surrey.

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  4. It certainly sounds like things went very well for a first try out of this technology. Given the size of that table you seemed to have it covered. Quite ambitious for a first go, very well done. You know, the more I read write ups of C&CN games like this one the more I miss those rules. Your scoreboard always make me smile, only you Tony, only you :)

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    1. It was a lot of fun - I have been meaning to get myself a decent bluetooth headphone/mic set anyway - I'll order one today - that will cut down on the throat pastilles, and save me walking around the room shouting (which frightens my wife). I am delighted that I do not need a good webcam after all - the tablet and the iPhone provided a good view from each end - the players can switch between views as they wish, without affecting anyone else's screen.

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  5. Looks and sounds like you had a great time. Glad to see all your preparations paid off.

    Looks like a great scenario. Food for thought.

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    1. Yes - went much better than I had expected. My past experience of videoconferencing in a work environment did not make me any more confident, but this was a different beast altogether. Thanks for tips on your own games, by the way.

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  6. Well done for conquering technology and my setting and running the game. I can see that hex terrain makes it easier and play the game remotely as movement and combat is regulated. I see you have letters by each hex row. Did you use this to assist referencing individual hexes ?

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    1. Hi Mark - thank you! I created maps of the set-up for the commanders, which had hex reference numbers superimposed, and added the letter tiles to the tabletop to help me with the movement (since I wasn't using a map). In fact the grid reference was very useful at the start, but we used it less as the game progressed, because we drifted away from the starting positions, and I think the commanders managed to be self-sufficient just with the two camera views and the facility to clarify things with me (the Ump). Having reference numbers certainly makes setting the table up from a map a lot easier. I've had a request to publish the map, so I think I'll add that as a late edit - then you can see what I did.

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  7. A great game of the 'race to the bridge' Tony and clearly a close-run thing (not to mention the hard running by the uber-tech umpire). I love your representation of Almeida.
    Clearly Black Bob had an eye to history when making his decisions—he knew that this would be a favourite for wargamers to refight!!

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    1. Black Bob - after my week of reading about him - appears to have been a genius or a hero, maybe both, but he was definitely too weird to live.

      Like the bits of the fort, eh? I'm hoping to get my hands on the new Vauban's Wars rules very soon, so with luck the fortifications may get some more table time in the near future!

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  8. That looks like it all went very well...
    A fine looking game indeed...

    All the best. Aly

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    1. It went very well, Aly - very pleased. Thanks for relating your own remote-gaming experiences, by the way - that was helpful and also reassuring. I owe a vote of thanks to a number of people who got in touch - I should have said, above...

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  9. I am pleased to see that it went so well, and the game looks great. I think I've played in at least 4 Zoom games now, but I had the easy job of just giving orders, not serving as set up, camera man, lead pusher, tech support etc!

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    1. There's a danger I may be over-trained now. I was very pleased with the game - I utilised your suggested two-camera system, and it worked well - many thanks for this. One extra trick in our case was to make the iPhone a separate attendee (though a silent one). That way the other attendees could individually flick between the two table views without my help, and without affecting each other.

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