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


Wednesday, 26 January 2022

Sieges: Trial Solo Game - the Siege of San Juan el Timido

 
View from the fortress, with the British First Parallel in the distance

It took me about a day and a half elapsed to fight my test game to a result. I learned a lot, especially about Vauban's Wars, with which I made a rather daunting start, but which was flowing a lot better by the second day. Although I'd read the book a few times, there is a lot to learn. There is no substitute for just memorising the Combat and Defense values of each unit type - once you've mastered that, things get a lot easier, but for the first two turns I had to read the details of everything that happened, which is really heavy going. After that - after I'd seen most of the things which could happen - things picked up.

Vauban's Wars is Piquet-based, which means it's a very prescriptive, card-driven game, aspects which some people find unappealing, but it is a practical approach, especially for a solo game, and it generates a nice narrative as you go along (or, alternatively, the player(s) will build their own narrative to explain what happened).

My scenario involved an attack on the (fairly modern and tidy) fortress town of San Juan el Timido, somewhere near the Spanish-Portuguese border, in the year 1811. The French commander was the well-connected and irascible Corsican, Général de Division Léonardo, Comte Cindérella, supported by the very capable (though little seen) Général de Brigade Dandini. The fortress has 3 bastions on the table.

The attacking British force was commanded by Major General Sir Paladin Lassiter.

Lassiter's plan was to develop a 2nd Parallel covering the whole south side of the fortress, and then to construct two short 3rd Parallels with a gap in the centre - the intention being to effect a breach on the South-Eastern Bastion (the one on the right from the British viewpoint.

I'll start with a spoiler: the British had such rotten luck during the first 3 game turns (a turn is about half a week, if you are comfortable with such an idea) that any sensible general would have abandoned the siege and tried again another time. In a campaign context, this would have been a no-brainer, but such a proceeding would be of little use for my apprenticeship with the rules, so Lassiter was encouraged to stick with it. 

 
First priority for the French garrison was to shift their infantry into the town, and move the heavy field guns on the walls, on to some specially constructed platforms (or "doofers" in my house jargon)
 

 
Something of a minimalist town, I'm afraid, I had all sorts of plans to paint up the add-on extension board in the regulation baseboard colour, and lay out buildings, gardens and a monastery to double as a powder magazine, but the green paint had gone off, so minimalism it is. Sorry about that, but there was a war on. Here you see Dandini in the Rallying Point in the town, with 4 line battalions, a light howitzer and the second company of sappers

 
Having no cannons within range until such time as the emplacements in the Second Parallel were constructed, the earliest British efforts were concentrated on forward sapping, and a couple of heavy mortars lobbed a few shells into the town, to keep them on their toes. Trivial effect.

There was a strangely hushed period - the French fortress guns had a few shots at the sappers at work on the approaches, but they were a long way away, they were in good cover and sappers are a poor sort of target anyway. Both generals (being inexperienced!) were nervous about wasting powder, which turned out to be a mistaken approach - the supply of powder is more adequate than you would think, and on balance the rules make it more efficient to give plenty of fire. Since Cindérella was the better of the two commanders, he tended to win most of the initiative rolls (having a D12 against Lassiter's D10), but since the British were making such poor progress he often allowed them to go first, in the hope that the Opportunity Fire rules would give him something to fire at as they approached.

 
The British working on their forward saps (brown felt, as recommended by Gonsalvo!), still fairly safe from the artillery on the walls
 
 
The French turn up a "Trench Raid" card, and bring into action a battalion of elite troops they had placed specially in the fort. The first two such raids seemed very effective - two parties of sappers were sent scrambling back to the 1st Parallel. One of the two raids was very closely contested - the French grenadiers were armed with (in Piquet jargon) a D12+1 (blue), and the sappers had a D8 (red) - the "+1" bit on the blue die was enough to scare away the sappers - here's an exciting war photo of the dice action
 
 
The markers in the town indicate that we are on Turn 3 (about a week and a bit after the completion of the 1st Parallel), and the accumulated damage caused by mortar bombardment is 4pts, which is insignificant
 
 
At this point things took a turn for the worse for the British; encouraged by their success with Trench Raids, the French tried again. In the absence of protective infantry, the sappers were badly exposed, and this time the two attacks resulted in the elimination of two sapper companies (out of an army total of four companies!). This was not going to help much with getting the 2nd Parallel operational.
 
 
Here's a close up of one of the Trench Raid disasters for the British - wiped out. In itself, this is a nuisance, but should be recoverable, since the CinC can create new Sapper teams by converting infantry companies

 
Not so fast. On the same initiative, General Lassiter, who has to check his health and safety as part of the "Leadership" card, is laid low by a roll of 1 on a D20. Since there was no firing going on, so as you would notice, I have to assume that he fell off his horse, or was just taken ill. Whatever, the British now had no CinC, until the next Leadership card came their way, so there were quite a lot of things which they now couldn't do, such as winning initiative rolls, and recovering (rallying) losses - oh yes, and they couldn't replace the vanished sappers with infantrymen...
 
 
And so, being sort of stuck for the moment, the British brought forward most of their infantry, to protect against further Trench Raids. The French artillery - three 24pdr fortress guns plus two 12pdrs, started knocking lumps out of the British infantry, and the British morale was sinking fast
 
 
Eventually, the British 2nd Parallel was seen to shape up, emplacements were dug, big guns installed, and they started to fire on the French artillery, very inaccurately to begin with. 
 
 
Almost immediately after this, the weather became foggy for the next turn, so any serious fire was not possible. The British infantry also had a slow but steady stream of deserters
 
 
When the fog cleared, there was a new CinC (Lord Bakewell), replacement sapper units were created, and the British 24pdrs eliminated the central fortress gun and badly damaged one of the French 12 pdrs
 
 
In a sensible world, the British, who had no chance of making a decent attempt at a 3rd Parallel and were in any case running out of men and morale, should have abandoned the siege, but in the interests of gaining experience of the game I pressed on
 
 
At the end of Turn 6, some 3 weeks after the completion of the First Parallel, the British ran out of morale points, and they had lost. The starting position had been 26-14 to the Brits - at the end it was 0-8, as you see
 
 
In fact, they were doomed anyway, since one of the Unique Event cards turned up had scheduled the arrival of a relieving force for the French during Turn 8. The French knew about this, the Gamemaster (that's me) knew about it, but strangely the British commander had no inkling of it. The British spies had been very unproductive - right from Turn 1, when an attempt to sow insurrection in the town had failed and the spy was arrested and shot. A lack of intelligence, undoubtedly, in several senses, but also a bucketful of bad luck and dreadful dice!

 
The final state of the French - they had lost one fortress gun, destroyed, suffered damage to a heavy field gun (with white markers), and the one element of damage they had suffered to the match-winning elite battalion had been recovered at the first attempt by Cindérella. They had plenty of food and powder left, too

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

I had a couple of emails last night which mentioned the fact that my test siege game may have produced a result (technical knockout?), but didn't get to blowing holes in walls or any of that stuff that one normally associates with sieges. Agreed - the game only got as far as the 2nd Parallel, at which stage shooting at walls is still some way off. The test game was invaluable because it gave me a first serious workout of the rules; I've now seen most of the cards in the pack, and learned a lot about convenient ways of keeping track of the game without written notes and without covering the room in counters and Post-It stickers. One of the more alarming things about Piquet is the potential for clutter - I have a problem with clutter in any form, and it is not an essential part of this game, if you go about it carefully.

After a laboured first couple of turns, my enthusiasm picked up as I became more confident of carrying most of the rules in my head. The lack of wall-bashing is a big gap, however.

It says in the VW manual that you can, if you wish, shorten the game by starting with the Second Parallel built, to whatever degree of completeness you wish, and it offers suggested adjustments for Powder and Food Levels for this later start. Sounds good to me. I believe that the 2nd Parallel, as supplied at the start, probably needs a little careful design, to set the game up for the demolition stage. I'm keen to have a shot at this - it would be interesting to pinch some design ideas from real sieges (or bits of them). Anyway, good so far, and a further test game should appear here once my wife has recovered from the trauma of every scenery box I have being dragged out of the cupboards. I'll have a better idea what I'm doing next time.

For anyone who has read this far, my appreciative thanks. There are a couple of things which I haven't found in the rules yet - storm by escalade may be an example, though I'll no doubt receive a note pointing out that it's on p44. I'm still not altogether comfortable with all the digging being done by specialist sappers, but will think further on this. The game works nicely and, like all Piquet games, is intended to be tweaked as required.  My compliments to Eric and Peter and the other guys who worked hard and long to get VW published - a splendid effort.

*********************
 
Lassiter (in later life, as Governor of St Kitts)



30 comments:

  1. What an entertaining AAR - these rules certainly seem to make a siege game playable and enjoyable. The Brits had lots of bad luck for sure, mais c'est la vie/guerre, n'est ce pa?

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    1. I think it eventually went pretty well, but I still have the bombardment and assault etc to get to. I'll put together another game, starting with the 2nd Parallel built, as suggested in the book. The game I was playing could be reconstructed from the photos, but it was in bad shape, so I'll do a different one! Haven't found the answer to Trench Raids yet - thinking about it! The elite battalion were unstoppable in Trench Raids - there must be a way of arranging a better defence.

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  2. I’m pleased you persevered with the game; it was an unusual gaming experience for sure. Though the British pressed on when you yourself might not have - I’m sure that generals in the field are subject to all kinds of political pressure and often have to pursue things that seem like a lost cause. I felt the outcome was fairly realistic - which for me would be the acide test. Very worried about the dried out “house green” paint though. Does the hardware store you purchased the 150 litres from 20 yrs ago still exist? Lol.

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    1. Hi JBM - quite a strange game; though I have read about sieges for years, the instincts of what to do, who supports whom, what happens next etc all need to be acquired - not like anything else really. Very interested in the next one - get to the heavy stuff! Might try a Peninsula fortress with ancient walls and earth add-ons. I'll see what I can find in Belmas or John Jones.

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    2. Oh yes - the paint is OOP, but Dulux can still make it up for me if I have the ColorMatch code. I always bought it in 250ml tins, but the tins went rusty before the paint was used up, so now I buy 250ml tins and decant them into 250ml plastic screwtop food jars - the last lot of these jars I bought were a slightly different design, and the lids wear a bit, so the seal gets dodgy and the paint, as you say, dries out. Still beats trying to get the rust flakes out, though! Crested Moss #1 - ye cannae whack it.

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  3. Could have been worse - the 15th Chasseurs might have sallied out on turn 1!

    This looks good fun Tony and perfect for solo gaming, I’ll be fascinated to see how you get on with the next attempt.

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    1. Hi Ian - it was fairly arduous getting to grips with the rules - quite a lot of detail, but the game runs nicely. A couple of things I might tweak a little for the Peninsula, but I'm pleased with my first bash, even though I'll have to push on to get bombardment and assaulting on my CV!

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  4. A big fan of Piquet, but not sure I like the trench raid being decided by the cards - surely that's a player decision? Anyway, a fascinating AAR and looking forward to how the breaching and escalade plays when you get round to it.

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    1. Hi Rob - the Garrison player has 1 Trench Raid card in his hand each turn (there are options in the make-up of the hand which could give him a second, as a swap for something else). With my garrison hat on, I opted for them to get the second TR card, this out of a hand of 14 cards to be played through in a turn (split into standard-type Piquet initiative plays). Thus 2 of these things were coming up each half-week, and the active player can always ignore the card when it comes up. Unlike FoB, the cards all have a draw value of 1, so there are no yes it counts in the initiative/no it doesn't complications. I'm going to see if I can find the map booklet which goes with the John Jones trilogy, for a bit of inspiration.

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  5. I have good memories of a few siege games we played with Duffy's rules in Fire & Stone.

    Your table and fortress look great, even though the interior of the town has been razed and then cleaned up, that would certainly have lowered the risk of mortar bombs starting fires. :)

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    1. I am a bit shamefaced about the baldy town - I laugh to keep from crying. Duffy's rules used a simplified version of "Charge!" for the tactical bits. He certainly didn't use D4s.

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    2. We were already using Charge! for the field battles so that worked well. The games were played on a 6'x10' table though and I can't manage that at home 20mm would have been so much more convenient than 40mm.

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  6. An excellent and very entertaining report Foy.

    Are those Lammings in the penultiate shot, and why is Lassiter wearing blue? Is he working for the Portuguese?

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    1. Yes, lots of brushed-up Lammings from spares boxes - these little siege units have allowed me to have a good clear-out. Lassiter (who is, I think, an Alberken Rowland Hill) is painted as a general of Artillery - he doesn't get out much, so he got the gig. He didn't last long.

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  7. It is good that you enjoyed the game Tony - that must really have been bad luck for the British. As regards escalade - P44, isn't that the rule that says no fraternisation between senior and junior ranks except on the Feast of St Miggins? Perhaps I am thinking of another publication. It looks as if the rules are more for a pre Napoleonic period as the peculiarities of British sieges in the Peninsula don't seem to be catered for. However, the system is sound, so I am sure you will come up with something.

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    1. Ah - how fondly we remember St Miggins, and the toasted apricots in rum. Apart from a long-standing absorption in all things Peninsular, I have a great liking for Wellington's methodology of quick, dirty sieges in the shortest time possible - mind you, he skimped it a few times, didn't he? I need to add extra Unique Events, such as the explosion of antique Portuguese siege cannons borrowed from the Lisbon Museum.

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  8. A good entertaining report(as usual) and well done for persisting to see how far it would go even when it became clear the British couldn't succeed. It certainly sounds like you enjoyed the game and are encouraged to do more siege games. Sounds perfect for solo gaming.
    I presume Lassiter got the next boat home to ..er..convalesce?

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    1. On the face of it, it is faintly ridiculous that I should be pleased with running a failed siege (not a failure for the defenders, of course), but I put a lot of study and effort into this test game, and am happy with what I've seen. Obviously I'm keen to set up a further trial, so that I can get experience of breaching and all that, so will set that up.

      This evening I've been looking at the diagrams in JOhn Jones and in Myatt's book, and I am reminded that the initial ricochet and enfilading batteries should be set, not simply where the sappers can walk to in one move, but along specific lines around the 2nd Parallel, to keep the defenders heads down while the breaching batteries are put in place.

      Amazing how the smatterings of science I absorbed disappear out of the window when the dice start to roll. I shall make an effort to sketch out angles and so on next time, rather than just reaching for the gun emplacement pieces when the card comes up.

      Lassiter - very mysterious rule that - all generals test for demise every turn (if the Leadership card appears, anyway, which normally it will unless the turn is aborted for a tied initiative roll). Which means that the risk to a general is independent of how dangerous his location might be. There were unfair whispers that Lassiter dived to claim a penalty. I understand he was struck down by some unknown stomach problem, and is expected to make a full recovery, in a new staff appointment in Lisbon. Horses for, what is it? - courses - that's it. Lassiter carries a letter of introduction signed by Sir John Hope, in which attention is drawn to his very neat handwriting.

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    2. It must be easy to forget when the dice are rolling, or cards turning, as the case may be, that formal siege warfare is probably the nearest thing to an exact science that you can get. Yes, I can feel the eagerness to get the batteries on the table.
      Looking forward to the sequel.
      Hmm, sounds like I'm doing it wrong then. I've only been doing that leadership test if the general is somewhere near the fighting. Or perhaps my generals have better gastric health.

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    3. No - you're correct - the Leadership rule for FoB only requires a survival test for generals whose troops have been involved in some action in the last turn.

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    4. Aw, I was quite warming to the idea too.

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    5. I guess if the turns for Vauban's Wars are 3.5 days the generals could be regarded as having been all over the place? No idea why it's different - simpler but maybe hard to justify when it goes wrong.

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  9. Thanks for slogging through that and writing up the report. I think I'll be passing on these rules...

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    1. Thank you for tuning in - have a nice day.

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  10. A thoroughly enjoyable read my good man. Poor Lassiter, red cheeked he should be!

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    1. Serious stuff, eh? I think Lassiter was used to daintier grub.

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  11. Prof De Vries correctly points out that rules for escalade are a problem for the tactical rules which come into use during an Assault (and which you supply yourself, to taste) and therefore it's reasonable that they are not covered in VW.

    I'm confident that I'd have realised that quite soon, but in the meantime, I only have one thing to say:

    Doh!

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  12. A most enjoyable read and a great insight into the rules which has enthused me enough to go dig my copy out for a read through and possible outing. There appears to be a lot of potential and it’s ease! Of use for solo play is a great attraction. Escalades ? I’m sure there’s a fairly simple solution to representing that

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    1. Hi Graham - I've still to get into the more frenzied bit of the game, I think, but I've broken the back of the task of learning how it hangs together. Eric Burgess, with support from some other heavy talents, has put together an impressive set of rules, but it makes most intuitive sense if you've played Piquet-family games before. In fact I have some experience of Field of Battle, in a couple of editions, and for that I was lucky to join in with some experienced players, which is the best way to learn anything, for me.

      It has now been pointed out to me that escalades, since they are a matter of men climbing up ladders and bashing each other, form an activity which would not take place during one of VW's siege turns, but would be handled by the plug-in set of tactical rules one chooses to go with it, to look after Sorties and Assaults. Eric's choice is FoB3, which makes sense, given his background and personal preferences, but I intend to use Commands & Colors, which is one reason why I have converted VW to work with hexes.

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  13. I almost missed the fact that you are playing Piquet. This is a good thing sir!

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