Sunday 21 August 2011

The Battle of the Bridge over the Rio Blanco

The following battle was the opening engagement of the 1820 Cordeguayan Civil War. It was fought using part of my collection of Del Prado 25/28mm Napoleonic wargames figures, and the rules were a hastily lashed-together amalgam of Joseph Morschauser's 'Musket' and 'Frontier' wargames rules.

The Southern Army that had been raised by the Constitutionalists was hurrying north to join up with the rest of General Branco's Constitutionalist Army. It comprised:
  • 3rd (Southern) Cavalry
  • 4th (Southern) Cavalry
  • 2nd (Southern) Artillery
  • 4th (Southern) Infantry
  • 5th (Southern) Infantry
  • 6th (Southern) Infantry
News of this movement had reached the ears of President-for-Life General Santa Maria (the leader of the Presidential Army), and he saw it as an opportunity to destroy half of his opponent's army before he moved on the crush the opposition to his 'lawful' regime. He therefore sent a mixed force of cavalry, artillery, and infantry southwards to intercept the Constitutionalists. The force he sent included:
  • 3rd Lancers
  • 4th Carabineers
  • 5th Hussars
  • 1st Foot Artillery
  • 1st Regular Infantry
  • 2nd Regular Infantry
  • 6th Militia Infantry
  • 7th Militia Infantry
Turn 1
The leading units of each army advanced towards the bridge over the River Blanco.

Turn 2
The Constitutionalists gained the initiative for this turn, and moved their two Cavalry units forward towards the bridge to face to oncoming Presidential forces. The rest of the army followed on as quickly as they could.

The Presidential force responded by moving their Cavalry forward towards the bridge as well, followed by their Regular infantry and Artillery.

Turn 3
The Presidential force gained the initiative this turn, and the Cavalry continued its advance towards the bridge ...

... followed some way behind by the Infantry and the Artillery.

The 3rd (Southern) Cavalry of the Constitutionalist Southern Army (supported by the 4th (Southern Cavalry) charged over the bridge, and attacked the Presidential Army's 3rd Lancers. Whilst this was taking place, the rest of the Constitutionalist Southern Army continued its hurried advance along the road towards the bridge.

The 3rd (Southern) Cavalry engaged the 3rd Lancers in Close Combat ... and dispersed them! They then engaged the Presidential 4th Carabineers ...

... and both units were so badly 'cut up' by the fighting that for all practical purposes they ceased to exist.

Turn 4
The Constitutionalists gained the initiative, and they 4th (Southern) Cavalry advanced across the bridge but did not engage the Presidential 5th Hussars. This allowed the 4th (Southern) Infantry to cross the bridge and turn to engage the 5th Hussars with musket fire.

Despite having only recently been raised, the 4th (Southern) Infantry had obviously been well-drilled, and their volley of musket fire drove off the 5th Hussars, who took no further part in the battle.

The Presidential forces now advanced to meet the oncoming Constitutionalist troops, but as they were out of range, no fire was exchanged between the two sides at this point.

Turn 5
At this crucial point in the battle, whichever side gained the initiative would probably be able to ensure their victory ... and the Constitutionalist side's good luck with continued when they were able to move and fire first!

The vanguard of the Constitutionalist Southern Army (the 4th (Southern) Cavalry and 4th (Southern) Infantry) maintained the positions they had reached during the previous turn whilst the rest of the army advanced towards the bridge.

By doing this, the Constitutionalists had two options that they could choose; either to cross the bridge to extend the existing line of troops facing the Presidential forces or continue their advance along that side of the river, which would enable then to threaten the flank of the Presidential forces whilst being protected by the river from a direct assault by the Presidential infantry.

The Presidential forces did not perceive this danger, and they continued to move the remainder of the troops forward to support the 1st and 2nd Regular Infantry.

Turn 6
This turn the Presidential forces gained the initiative, and the 1st and 2nd Regular Infantry advanced to engage the Constitutionalist troops to their front. The remainder of the Presidential force continued its slow but inexorable advance.

The 2nd Regular Infantry opened fire on the 4th (Southern) Cavalry, but the cavalry survived the encounter. The 1st Regular Infantry were still out of musket range of the 4th (Southern) Cavalry and the 4th (Southern) Infantry.

The 4th (Southern) Cavalry and the 4th (Southern) Infantry responded to the advance of the Presidential forces by withdrawing further out of musket range. This enabled the 2nd (Southern) Artillery to move onto the bridge, where it deployed, ready to fire during the next turn. The 5th and 6th (Southern) Infantry continued to advance along the edge of the river, and would be able to threaten the flank to the advancing Presidential force in the near future.

Turn 7
At this point the Presidential forces realised that they were in no position to win a decisive victory over the Constitutionalists. The loss of their cavalry during the early stages of the battle had deprived them of the only fast-moving troops at their disposal, and the Constitutionalists were already across the bridge and in a strong position to hold off any attacks. The Presidential forces therefore began the slow process of withdrawing.

The Constitutionalists considered the possibility of sending their remaining cavalry in pursuit of the withdrawing enemy forces, but the possibility that this would only lead to the loss of the 4th (Southern) Cavalry for no major gains convinced them that they should leave the Presidential forces to withdraw unmolested. After all, they had inflicted a defeat (albeit a minor one) on the Presidential forces and had shown that President-for-Life General Santa Maria that at least one part of the Constitutionalist Army was not going to run away at the sound of the first musket shot as he had predicted.

Notes and Conclusions
The battle was fought of a 15 square x 15 square grid. The road and river were made from masking tape (some of which seemed to lose its 'stick' during the battle; hence the occasional upturned road or river corner!) and the individually-based trees are typical of the type that can be bought in most model shops that stock items for wargames and/or model railways.

This was a fun little battle to fight, although the outcome was affected by the fact that the Constitutionalists were incredibly lucky with some of their dice throws. The rules were very simple ... and do fit onto a single side of A4 paper (and the print is 12pt, so it is actually readable!).

In retrospect, the movement rates are a bit too fast, and these will be changed in the next draft so as to enable the battles to last slightly longer. The layout of the rules follows the pattern I developed for the most recent (and as yet unpublished) draft of my PORTABLE WARGAME rules. The chart follows the turn sequence (which is displayed in the left-hand column), and at each stage in the turn sequence the various game mechanisms are explained in the right-hand column. This makes the rules very easy to follow and there is no need to have to find what to do in the rules at each stage of the turn sequence.


  1. Hi Bob,

    Looks really good and I will give the rules a try with the blocks and hexes - when I am back from not-so-sunny-but-still-quite-warm-Devon!

    All the best,


  2. Thats a nice setup Bob, very Morschauser-like. Glad to see you finally getting in a game.... you deserve it!


  3. Thank you for the report. Looks like a fun little game. Something I could manage! ha ha
    I love simple rules sets. I think non-wargamers are more likely to be open to such games, too, either as an introduction to wargaming or as fun games in their own right. It's all too easy for newcomers and non-wargamers (and even "oldtimers" like me) to get turned off by thick rulebooks and complicated mechanisms.

    Once you have the simple rules down it wouldn't be hard to add some additional "color" or scenario-specific rules. Thinking of things like event cards, designating certain features as impassable, etc.

  4. David Crook,

    The whole thing felt 'right' ... and the rules worked better than I hoped (although they still need a few minor tweaks).

    Enjoy your holiday; you deserve the rest.

    All the best,


  5. Brigadier Dundas (Don),

    Many thanks for your kind comments.

    I had hoped that the game would look like a modern version of one of Joseph Morschauser's battles, and I think that I managed to achieve that.

    All the best,


  6. Fitz-Badger,

    I am glad that you enjoyed reading this battle report. I certainly enjoyed fighting the battle.

    Simple rules have the benefit of being easy to understand and remember, and I agree with you that this should make them attractive to both beginners and veterans alike.

    Simple rules also have the benefit of being adaptable in a way that complex ones do not.

    All the best,


  7. "the rules worked better than I hoped (although they still need a few minor tweaks)."

    Ahh the lament of any true wargamer after his first bout with a new rule set- especvially commercial ones. May I quote you on my blog? The next step we all take is to start writing "house rules to edge the rules towards our own view of "what feels right" Dick Bryant

  8. Maximus Gluteus (Dick),

    I plead guilty to all charges!

    In mitigation I would argue that they are 'house rules' anyway, so I hope that you will take that into consideration!

    All the best,


    PS. Please feel free to quote me on your blog at any time; It will be an honour to be mentioned.

  9. A very enjoyable battle report.

    For me, this is a good example of the attraction of the simple, uncluttered abstractness of the format. It is attractive, but it allows the mind to focus on what is happening on the battlefield. The more troops that are crammed onto the board and the more complexity that is added, the less elegant and effective it becomes. Something I will have to bear in mind. I am convinced this sort of gridded game with 2-4 figures per unit is going to be the best way to get my old 54mm toy soldiers on the table.

    I can see why you might want to reduce the movement, especially if you want to increase the square sizes. Some of the issues surrounding shorter moves vs longer ones that I have considered without coming to a conclusion on are:

    Unless ranges are altered, it will make rifle and artillery fire more potent since they will be able to fire for more turns at an attacker.

    It makes it easier to react to the enemy's moves. Hard to surprise some one at 1 square per turn, especially with no diagonal move!

    It makes it hard to go around obstacles including friendly units.
    To get past a square that is occupied will take 4 turns instead of 1 unless diagonal moves are allowed.

    For infantry to pass a friendly unit in a defile becomes impossible.

    In each case these things make be seen as good or bad depending on preference and POV.

    I look forward to watching developments.

  10. Ross Mac,

    Many thanks for your kind comments ... and the usual thought-provoking ideas that they contain.

    In the light of the points you raise, I have given the propose changes to the rules a few more thoughts ... and have come up with the following idea; namely that Units that just move and don't fire use the existing movement rate and those that want to fire use the proposed movement rate.

    This is an easy to remember mechanism that meets some of the points you raise without increasing the complexity of the rules. It will be interesting to see how well it works during the next play-test.

    All the best,


  11. Bob,
    I concur with Ross Mac; were you to reduce the movement rates, but leave the ranges alone, attackers would have to endure two turns of musketry before closing with the bayonet. Which would be acceptable if each turn represented a small period to time, and the grid square a small distance. Much depends on what you want your base of troops/unit occupying a square to represent.

    Your compromise seems good. You might also consider allowing stationary troops to fire twice?

    A set of rules on one A4 page! Reduce the font and you could actually realise Don Featherstone's idea of back of a [large] postcard...



  12. Arthur1815,

    My thoughts about what each 'unit' represents are a bit nebulous ... but I tend to think of them as being about the size of a battalion or equivalent-sized unit. In these circumstances I think that the ranges should remain as they are, but that the differential 'move' and 'move and fire' rates of movement should be introduced.

    As to units that do not move getting to fire twice … well perhaps they should be given a +1 on the die score instead. This would represent the fact that they are firing without moving rather than firing after moving.

    I deliberately set out to make the rules as brief as possible so that they would fit on a single sheet of A4 in 12pt Arial Narrow font. I could reduce the font to make the rules fit onto a postcard … but I don’t know if I could read them if I did!

    All the best,



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