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


Monday, 29 July 2019

The Battle of Neumarkt-Sankt Veit (24th April 1809)

We had a big wargame here on Saturday - we had four generals, no less - Goya and Stryker and I were joined by The Archduke, who had travelled through a tempest, by express carriage, over the mountains from foreign lands, so we were a happy and prestigious assembly, as you may appreciate.

Our event for the day was to be the Battle of Neumarkt, noted as one of Marshal Bessieres' bad days. If you wish to read about the real battle, the best coverage is in the second volume of John H Gill's Thunder on the Danube trilogy, and in the Bavarian chapter in the same author's With Eagles to Glory. Like me, you may be surprised that there is so little written on the subject, but you must bear in mind that (1) Napoleon was not present, and (2) the French lost, which explains a lot.

Allied forces frantically pushing the French reserve over the river early on, to support Wrede's Bavarians. A lot of congestion - a lot of tap-dancing and creative orders to squeeze everyone in.
We played to the latest upgrade of Ramekin (the house's tweaked version of C&CN), we played on a 17 x 9 hex table (that's 10'4" long) and as far as possible we fielded armies which were pretty much correct for manpower representation, though the number of separate units was understated to fit [i.e. we used a reduced number of full-strength units to achieve the correct army strength, since that saves space and the rules work best in that arrangement]. Since they contributed the bulk of the Austrian forces - and we had 21 battalions in the Austrian OOB, which is a fine effort - Goya and The Archduke commanded the forces of the Kaiser. Stryker and I were in charge of the Franco-Bavarian army.

My scenario is due for a bit of criticism at the end of this post, but we'll get to that. The idea was to make use of off-table reserves. At the start, the French infantry (a division under GdD Molitor) were behind the River Rott, and thus off the table (since the river was mostly along the edge of the table). The Bavarians were deployed on the other side of the river, with their backs to it - not a comforting situation. They were placed in and around the south side of the village of Neumarkt and the Abbey of Sankt Veit (St Vitus - yes, that one), with their front line on a ridge by the village of Ober Scherm. The Austrians were arriving on the table in 3 columns. One (the left one - Hoffmeister's) was delayed, and thus had to be cued onto the field by a dice roll of 6 [test every turn!], the other two columns being well established on the table, with the rear of each column being off table but able to march on as orders and space permitted.

In the actual historical battle, the Bavarians defended their position pretty well, until things became impossible, at which point they managed a moderately disastrous withdrawal over the Rott (only one bridge at the town). I had identified that this would make an unsatisfactory game, so for our scenario the French adopted a new Plan B, by which Molitor would bring his infantry over the bridge to reinforce the Bavarians (under Wrede), and the combined force would set about the Kaiserliks before the ends of the columns came up.

Aha.

The game was pretty hectic - and I have to say this was one of the hotter afternoons of the summer so far, so the level of personal courage displayed by the generals was - what's the word? - exemplary - yes, that's it. Extra Victory Points (VPs) were available to the Austrians for every unit they managed to exit over the French baseline - having crossed the river, these units were regarded as having outflanked the French position.

I'll attempt to indicate a narrative of some sort in the captions to the photos. If you can't be bothered reading all that stuff, you need to know that the French lost, and it was not close, so for once there will be no "it could have gone either way" malarkey.


The battlefield, river and town at the far edge, before the soldiers came. John H Gill present and correct - great book, by the way.
And with the first instalment of troops - French light cavalry far left, Bavarians in front of the town and in the Abbey (famed for its lofty tower). On this side of the table, Mesko's advance guard is moving up in the centre, and Reuss's column is moving up on the right. Hoffmeister should eventually appear on the left flank.  
This is Jacquinot's light cavalry brigade - the only French troops on their right. There would have been a regiment of hussars as well, but Bessieres had detached them to go and check on something or other [historical fact]. You will hear more of these chaps later on...
View over the Bavarian-held area - the River Rott to their rear has only a single bridge, and is unfordable - yes - quite so.
Over on the French left, the view across the field shows that Prince Reuss's column is moving up nicely, and getting bigger as the off-table elements arrive. At this point, there was a lot of anxiety about the French left, and a plan was emerging to shift some of the French arrivals over to that side.
General view at this point, with Molitor's troops pouring over the river bridge, and wondering where they should stand
The defence of the southern suburb is looking less sparse, but a lot of sorting out is needed to get them organised. The centre column in the background advances relentlessly. Apart from artillery exchanges, very little combat at this stage, so any chance the French might have had of gaining some early momentum has already largely evaporated.
The Austrians are beginning to realise that they don't need to bring on all the reserves at once - they can use some of their orders for doing some actual fighting. The French took a while longer to get this idea. The soldiers in the woods are two battalions of Grenzers who, along with the IR Benjowsky of Hoffmeister's column, were the stand-out troops of the day.
Ah yes - Jacquinot's cavalry spotted a fantastic opportunity to take out an isolated battery on the Austrian left. It did not go as well as we had hoped. The cavalry units were not eliminated, but were not in a fit state to contribute much thereafter. In earlier conversation, The Archduke had wondered how a cavalry attack on artillery would go under these rules - he had his answer - he may still be grinning.
Part of Hoffmeister's column (with the man himself attached), looking to do the crafty outflanking manoeuvre and cross the river for extra VPs.
The Austrians did not mop up on their right flank, though it looked as though they might, but then they didn't need to.
More Austrian infantry crossing the river for bonus VPs - the end is close. Austrians won 10-5. The 10 consisted of 3 units advanced off the table ("outflank") and 7 French units eliminated. No staff losses on either side, by the way - unusually, apart from the heat, the Generals were all safe.
A moment for the C&C buffs. At one point, an Austrian line battalion attacked a regiment of Bavarian cavalry from the edge of a wood. The cavalry performed the correct Retire & Reform manoeuvre, which means the infantry still get a bash at them, but do not get to count "crossed-sabres" symbols, only "cavalry" symbols counting as hits. Guess what the infantry rolled? - see above. This roll would have wiped the cavalry out otherwise - as it is they suffered no loss at all - very lucky indeed!

[This is the point I reached in this post last night - I am now editing...]

My thanks to my colleagues for their enthusiasm and hard work, and especially their excellent company. Many miles were travelled on a very wet Saturday morning to assemble the troops and the players, so my compliments and admiration all round - The Archduke had a long drive each way to take part, which is an especially splendid effort! Thanks again, gentlemen - I could not hope for better friends.

The Ramekin rules worked well enough (Ramekin has now reached Ver. 2.0, and some more gentle tweaks are probably in the pipeline). The Austrians' appearance at Eggmuehl a few months ago sparked the first adjustment to kill rates. Yesterday we saw some similar situations - those 5-block Austrian battalions secure in woods. The changes in the rules do make things more reasonable, but the Austrian line units still take some stopping!


Ramble about Off-Table Reserves, War Games, Waterloo and All Sorts

Allsorts
Analysis of the scenario design is interesting - I am now thinking hard about the best way to incorporate off-table reserves. That aspect of our game did not go as well as I had hoped - though the game was fine, and a lot of fun, there is something philosophically tricky about reserves. I had spent some time before the game trying to get some insight into how this is handled in "proper" [i.e. other people's] wargames. I didn't learn much that was useful. In particular, I came across lengthy discussions on BoardGameGeek and elsewhere in which a load of guys took the opportunity to spout everything they knew about WW2 boardgames and the correct way to win a real war with bits of cardboard - I regret that I slept through quite a lot of that.

Here's the nub. At the Battle of Waterloo (sorry about this, but please bear with me a minute or two), most of the fighting took place in an area which I could squeeze into my largest table size - well, you might have to exclude Plancenoit. You could have the Allied army at one side, and the fighting would all take place around their position and in front of it - that's pretty much how the battle went, and it makes sense, since the French were attacking. That's how the game is traditionally played. Good.

Napoleon had a lot of troops a fair distance behind his front lines. The big cavalry charges, the final advance of the Guard - all that stuff - would correctly manifest itself in a game as an off-table reserve marching on. What Napoleon did not do on the day was fire a cannon at the start of the action as a signal for everyone to charge at once. When I think about it, this means he used his reserves as, well, reserves. I appreciate that the world of 6mm brings a different dimension to the game, but most wargamers of my acquaintance - especially me - guys with 25mm soldiers and normal-length arms - would, as far as possible, have just flung all the reserves in straight away to try to get an advantage on the table. The advantage is mostly illusory. You have more troops, but you can't do much with them. Napoleon (unlike me) was smart enough to realise that he had too many troops to fit onto the immediate fighting area - good practice was to bring the boys up only when you could use them. I use Waterloo because it is a well-known situation, and even I understand it, and also [whisper it] because we are pondering having a bash at Waterloo sometime.

Right - the problem in the game is partly the instinctive behaviour of amateurs like me, who were brought up on small skirmishes with embryonic collections of toys, and partly is a matter of rules. A standard approach to this might be to artificially restrict the availability of the reserve troops. The rules might say, "you may not stage Ney's big cavalry attack until after 2pm (or something), because that's what happened in the real battle". Now that would stop the beggars charging onto the field at the start, but I really don't like that as a rule. It is scripting the action, which takes a lot out of the game, and it brings you into all sorts of areas of the defenders knowing what is going to happen, how many troops it is going to happen with, and a whole pile of conditioning based on our understanding of the real battle and a load of hindsight which would not have been available to the generals of the day. As soon as your game becomes a scripted walk-through it pretty much stops being a game.

Our Neumarkt game on Saturday involved too many units to fit comfortably on the table, but the military situation was historically correct, and the idea of keeping some of the troops off the table until they could be used is obvious and (I think) authentic. Where the scenario struggled a little is that the French Plan B involved getting their reserves on the table as fast as possible and - in response - the obvious thing for the Austrians to do was to get the rear of their columns on the table too, so they didn't become disadvantaged. In other words (to repeat the message yet again - for my own benefit), the wargaming instinct was to cram everything back on the table as fast as possible - thus defeating the whole purpose of having off-table troops in the first place. Because the supply of order chips is restricted, the need to march everyone into position limited the amount of fighting, and crowded out most of the manoeuvre that could have gone into the early stages.

As I mentioned above, the Austrian commanders realised what was going on and started attacking with what was on the table - they did a nice enough job and they certainly saved the game as a spectacle. And, of course, they won rather easily in the end. If I recall correctly, 9 of the Austrian units were still waiting to come on the table at the end. Meanwhile, the Franco-Bavarian side had a lot of units crammed on the field which had not done any fighting and had mostly consumed order chips by trying to get out of each other's way. Hmmm. Mea culpa.

I have a couple of discussions going on with people whose views I have a lot of respect for, so setting this conundrum out here is not intended to preempt anything they have to say. There is something basic here that I can't get the hang of - how to make off-table reserves available, and have the rules allow the players (force the players? - nah...) to use them correctly.

Interesting stuff. 

Hmmm.




27 comments:

  1. Looks like a terrific game! I always really enjoy perusing your set-up(s). The perfect blend of scenic goodies with gaming practicalities.

    Best Regards,

    Stokes

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    1. Hi Stokes - it was a stiflingly hot day, though rainy, and we had the window open throughout the afternoon. This was not ideal, since my house is only a few miles from East Fortune airfield, where the Scottish Airshow was being held on the same day. We only heard one plane in the whole day, so either the airshow's budget had suffered heavy cuts or else they were flying the other direction. The battle looks more elegant and controlled than it felt at times, but maybe the Austrians were calmer than I was!

      Thanks for the feedback!

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  2. I always enjoy seeing your CCN table and troops out for battle. I await the identification of your game critique teaser posted at the beginning of this post.

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    1. The scenario design teaser is now in place, Jon! I'm reading all the wargame books I have for clues - not much help, though the old "Big Battalions" book has some basic rules. These seem to rely on written orders and, preferably, an umpire. I'd rather do without those overheads, but I'm reading it anyway.

      I'm convinced a lot of this is to do with player behaviour. In a real battle, anyone who set up his entire army within musket range of the enemy would be found alternative employment fairly quickly. In (for example) C&CN's published scenarios this is the standard set-up!

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  3. Yup, great looking game, age old conundrum.

    No sorry, not about to reveal the magic solution. Not even through my 2nd morning cuppa yet.

    However, in that state, when playing our modified Memoir WWII games, apart from the main action on the cards, most had an additional move x units which we used primarily to bring on off table units. Would probably still clog the table even if it did allow for the battle to continue while doing so.

    I wonder if adding some sort of Victory points for uncommitted off table reserve units might have a useful effect on player decisions?

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    1. That's an interesting idea. If bringing on reserves has some necessary cost (over and above making the battlefield into a gridlock) that might encourage good generalship.

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  4. This is very interesting. I confess that I hadn't really thought of reserves in that way but that's likely because I mostly play hex and counter wargames where you can get the whole battle of Waterloo on a dining table so the issue doesn't really arise. If you want to do Waterloo in 25/28mm and don't have an entire warehouse floor at your disposal then it gets a bit tricky doesn't it? Just thinking out loud here, but might the solution involve having two narrow boards representing the Allied/French ridges respectively and cutting out the bit in between? Then Napoleon could for example point at Reille's Corps on his side of the board and say, I want this to march towards this point in the Allied line, the allies can fire their cannon across the virtual middle bit, roll a few dice to decide how many of their attackers have been taken out by the artillery and then place the rest of Reille's French guys immediately in front of the Allied line at the correct point. So the bit between the ridges becomes kind of a virtual space where it's possible for troops to suffer casualties from artillery but is not physically represented on the board. Something like that? Feel free to point out my naivete. Also don't know where features like Hougoumont or La Haye Sainte or Plancenoit would figure in that scheme.

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    1. The separate strips is an interesting idea - only first-consideration downside might be that you have then defined a no-man's land in which nothing may happen. If (for example) Uxbridge now leads an Allied cavalry attack on the massed French cuirassiers then the fighting would be in the banned area! If we discount this attack since it didn't actually happen then we are heading back towards a scripted game again.

      Sorry - that wasn't hugely positive - I didn't mean to be unreceptive there - your idea is exactly the sort of thing I'm looking for.

      One thing that you can do with a hex-gridded board (and I only ever tried it once) is to move the whole field a couple of hexes. I once did that with a home-brewed Peninsular scenario - the Spaniards' defensive position was so near their baseline that the two generals agreed to push the whole battlefield two hexes towards the French baseine, so that the Spaniards were further on the table. This is not immediately relevant to the current problem, but is some kind of plug for the kind of flexibility that hexes can give you!

      Thanks Dave.

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    2. Yes there would be issues with action in no mans land. I suppose you could set up a separate battle board for such actions, although if you did that agreeing on the initial placement of for example Uxbridge's heavies and the cuirassiers might be tricky. I suppose you could possibly have a separate smaller map of the entire battlefield and map the smaller actions on there before translating them to the battle board but you're getting into some overly complex territory there too. Whatever you come up with I suspect it will be a bit simpler and more elegant than my meanderings! I will be curious to hear what your solution is.

      I will definitely read the Gill trilogy now. I have James Arnold's 2-volume history of the 1809 campaign which is pretty good, but I have enjoyed Gill's contributions to some collections I have so I will give it a go.

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  5. Tony, it was a very enjoyable game and the sheer number of troops was visually impressive. The reserves were more of a problem for the Austrians because they had a lot of troops coming on but still had the same number of order chits each turn. Perhaps an extra order chit per turn could be issued for each nominal reserve 'division' that enters the table, this way the commanders would be more able to make use of the extra troops.

    I also like the idea mentioned of uncommitted reserves possibly counting towards victory points although this might lead to armies standing back rather than fighting so it would have to carefully balanced VP wise.

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    1. Hi Ian - yes, the game was fine, but keeping hands off the reserves looks like a perennial problem - seems to be more than just a weakness of Ramekin. It's not hugely problematical, but I can't quite fathom why there is no encouragement for a wargame general to treat his reserves in a realistic manner. It seems to me that there should be some simple twist which could change this, but I can't quite see what it should be at present. Making it easier for the reserves to flood on might be useful if the result was an organisational problem for the generals, and therefore an obvious disadvantage. Hmmm.

      The classic off-table reserves are the Prussians at Waterloo - but they are usually deliberately delayed by the scenario rules. At the same battle, Napoleon didn't use his Guard until the last possible moment (in fact not until some time after they might have made a difference!).

      Thanks for thoughts - useful.

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  6. When I first read this at lunchtime I thought, "aha! I love a knotty problem like this." Now I've re-read it, I'm not so sure if there is a problem.

    I don't know how the real battle went so it may not be what you were intending to do, but what you seem to have is a scenario where one side needs to win space for deployment and the other needs to stop them. Your rules limit your ability to get all units doing what you want at once and stop you just piling on your off-table reserves in one go, so you've automatically got a mechanism to stop you doing something unrealistic.

    Tonight's Europa League Qualifiers Result:
    Ramekin CNC 1, Line-emup & Rolldice 0.

    Does the scenario prevent you using the other bridges (maybe with a penalty of further time delays as they're further away)?

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    1. Hi Chris - thanks for this - I think the problem is largely bad generalship on my part. As discussed, Napoleon would not have rushed his Guard on to the table at the start in order to crush all opposition. In his place, I would certainly give such action serious thought. The rules we used are stingy enough to slow down the rush, but they don't really encourage leaving the reserves in reserve. Overcrowding the battlefield is dumb anyway, quite apart from dissipating the reinforcements and potential battle-winners. If units get too crowded they get in each other's way, and being unable to retreat causes extra losses, so it should really be a no-brainer. We need some really convincing rule tweak which encourages the generals to resist the temptation for premature commitment of the reserves.

      It should be just a behavioural adjustment, but there is something missing in the motivators!

      This scenario restricted the French infantry to a single bridge - in fact all the off-table troops had to appear along a limited front - this is at least partly due to the fact that as yet we have no rules for off-table movement. Units are either on or else they are still to arrive, but we know where that will be (which is not unreasonable, since the enemy would see them coming), but there should be some means of changing their line of march or something.

      You are right - the shortage of order chips in the game should slow down the rush, but it doesn't discourage bringing them on as quickly as possible!

      I am stuck with this thought that the rules should allow realistic behaviour, and real generals wouldn't have behaved like this! Something missing...

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    1. It is interesting but I'm not sure if it gives you quite what you are looking for, which is a way of making it reasonable for a wargame general to act as a real general would have done in the circumstances while avoiding scripting. Being forced to use your reserves cautiously to avoid conceding extra VPs would make the game look more like the historical battle, but on the other hand using VPs in this way as a disincentive for committing the Guard too early could still be construed as scripting, no? There seems no more valid reason for making reserves lost before 7:30pm count double than there is for saying that Ney cannot commit his cavalry before 2pm. The ideal would presumably be to come up with a mechanic that makes the judicious use of reserves advantageous in its own right as part of your strategy? Not that I'm saying I can come up with anything better, mind.

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    2. Dave - you're right, but hang about - we're developing some of these ideas and I hope something more practicable will emerge forthwith (or at least fifthwith).

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    3. Sorry, getting ahead of myself :-D If you can come up with a way of handling this well you will be in line for some kind of medal for services to wargamers I reckon.

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    4. Having a think over my sandwiches the way you do...assuming that the main advantage of reserves, as of sandwiches, is their freshness, I wonder if you could just give the reserves some additional potency the longer they remain inactive, extra dice or some other advantage. Conversely, give units that have been in combat some kind of progressive penalty to reflect their tiredness, so that keeping your reserves back until you see a weakness in the enemy line becomes a bit more sensible. A bit of housekeeping to record unit states then becomes involved I suppose.

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  8. I have played this scenario (my own version), and it is quite an unusual battle... but that's part of what makes it fuin. There are a LOT of reserves/troops to bring on on both sides, and CCN very much restricts how much "energy" there is the game. Indeed, that is much like classic Piquet. So, on the one hand, that shortage of energy forces you to use "economy of force" (or game energy) by focusing on what matters most. That's a good thing, and it sounds like the Austrians figured it out better and profited thereby. Having said that, this is a game with SO many troops coming on,that some kind of mechanism to is probably needed to compensate. It might be as simple as allowing one (or two/three) additional; unit per card to move, provided they start and end at least so many hexes (? 5) from all enemy. I don't know CCN anywhere near enough top suggest a definite mechanism.

    Neumarkt definitely deserves more attention thatn it has gotten. As you state that in is part because Napoleon wasn't there, and the French/Bavarians lost. I would submit that another reason is that the victorious general, Hiller, was a difficult subordinate and personal bitter foe of Erzherzog Karl, and thus not well beloved by Austrian historians, either!

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  9. What a splendid-looking setup! Reserves is such an interesting subject, I remember being quite struck by someone pointing out that no wargamer ever seems to bother having a reserve, which is completely unrealistic. Why?
    Perhaps this is because many games ( especially in larger scales ) feature only relatively small forces. But in ‘real life’ the commander of even the smallest force would keep a reserve – ‘two up, one back’, it must be in every tactical manual, surely? And cavalry – you’d never send the whole squadron in a single charge, would you?
    As I think you point out, its probably easier in smaller scales, where larger numbers of units are available. In larger scales I guess we tend to have a few large units – difficult to split them and keep a troop / company back, or whatever.

    Maybe it’s simply the fact of it being a game – we quite literally want to get all our ‘toys on the table’ and use them all. And because it’s not real life, we don’t actually mind if we lose them – at the end of the day we just shrug and pack them away, whereas the real commander has to extricate what’s left and get away with as many as possible. Which is where a reserve becomes very useful indeed.. I guess making the game part of a campaign must help a bit, there. Or is it that games tend to be a bit ‘one shot’ affairs – you make your big attack, it fails, maybe there’s no more time, the evening is getting late, you shake hands and pack away the troops – where the real general would be saying ‘one more heave – bring up the reserves’..
    I feel that somewhere in the early issues of good old Duncan McFarlane’s magazines from the 1980s, there may be an article or two on this very conundrum. Next time I’m in the loft..

    I really like Command and Colours, but I do slightly bridle at the way the cards can stymie things – easy to end up with the troops on the left facing an ‘open goal’ but most of the cards giving actions on the right... also perhaps because the number of units allowed to move can be quite small – hence maybe you had to spend a lot of cards to get those off-table troops into play? You may have addressed that issue in ‘Ramekin’ , of course – I confess I have not read them. But I am opening discussions with my good friend LiverpoolDave to give them a try, perhaps with the C&C boardgame components...
    thanks again, a fine-looking battle!

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  10. I have just played my first board game for years tonight - "Battle Cry" by Richard Borg. I lost but suddenly the flow and ease of the game becomes very apparent.

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    1. Hi Matt - I had a crisis moment in about 1974 or so when I realised (1) that miniatures rules were getting crazier and more stuffed with quasi-legal small print and "Terms & Conditions", and (2) that boardgames, in comparison, mostly ran like clockwork - not only that, but you could see the game developing in measurable time. I spent years (discounting the odd sabbatical) trying to find a workable blend of the pretty toy soldiers and the smooth game - I had hexes on my battleboards in the mid-1970s.

      With some house modifications, C&CN - which is a nephew of Battle Cry, of course - has now given me what I was looking for all those years ago.

      It became a bit of a religious war somewhere along the way, but it was always just about practicalities really.

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    2. It's good to have a set of rules that really work for you. Incidentally I see that Richard Berg died just last week. Looking at his Wikipedia page I was surprised at how many games he authored over the years. I have a number of them but find I have played very few of them. One honourable exception is the old SPI Siege of Constantinople game, which not a lot of people seem to like but my brother and I played it to death back in the day, me invariably as the Byzantines and he as the Turkish horde. Good times.

      It's nice to have a ruleset that you can basically just read once and then scarcely ever have to refer to again while playing. I often feel I am a bit long in the tooth now for those old 96-page rulebooks to which all the players are constantly having to refer and which end up provoking a big argument every time they do! As Thoreau said, simplify, simplify!

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  11. A most entertaining report (in progress), as always Tony: "...there will be no "it could have gone either way" malarkey", love it!
    Looks and sounds like a great game; despite the heat off-table!
    James

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    1. It was an entertaining and interesting game - thanks James. Apart from my burgeoning post-graduate study in the deployment of reserves (coming to a cinema near you very soon), there were also some clear indications that the French didn't really have much chance in a "square go" for this one - Bessieres' best move would probably have been to keep the Bavarians on the sensible side of the river, and retreat smartly. I rigged the game to make some kind of a battle out of it, but it is surprising how similar Bessieres' situation is to Grouchy's after Ligny - neither of them seem to have been too clear what they were supposed to do (though at least Grouchy had enough men to do it), and both also seem to have been pretty much stupefied by the fear that they were going to get a dreadful bollocking from His Majesty.

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