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Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Stalled ... but only briefly

I was making slow but steady progress on my PORTABLE NAPOLEONIC WARGAME book right up until a few days before we went away on our recently cruise ... and then I seemed to stall. I suspect that one of the reasons was the need to get everything packed and ready before we left, but another was a mental brick wall that I had come to regarding one particular game mechanism.

As a relative novice when it comes to the Napoleonic period, I have been relying on feedback from various people regarding certain aspects of the rules, and the one thing that seemed to stand out was the outcome of cavalry fighting infantry in line in Close Combat. As the rules stood, if cavalry engaged infantry in line, there was a high possibility that the infantry would not only survive the encounter but might even cause the cavalry to retreat.

Now this is not an unrealistic result for later in the nineteenth century when the infantry would have been armed with breech-loading rifles and would have probably shot the cavalry to pieces well before the latter got close enough to engage in Close Combat ... but infantry armed with the slower-firing and less effective smooth-bore muskets of the Napoleonic era would have almost automatically formed square to face off a threat from cavalry, and infantry that did not would have stood a serious chance of being overwhelmed and destroyed.


The problem was how to incorporate this into my rules without making the whole process complex and clunky. Whilst on the cruise I was able to spend some time thinking about the problem, and I have come up with a solution that seems to work. I have vigorously tested it, and the mechanism seems to work.

What I have done is to add a specific results table in the RESOLVING HITS ON UNITS section of the rules for cavalry who engage in Close Combat with infantry in line. It looks like this:


Whereas an Elite infantry unit caught in line stands some chance of surviving the encounter (albeit at the cost of the loss of one Strength Point), a Poor-quality infantry unit is very likely to be overwhelmed and routed.

I seem to have overcome my brick wall, and progress on the book is again being made. Whether or not I manage to get it published before Christmas (which was the goal I set myself) is in the balance ... but I am definitely going to try to.

24 comments:

  1. Hi Bob,

    That seems to make sense. My understanding is that if infantry had sufficient warning then forming square was straightforward enough but if caught in line or in the act of changing formation or surprised it was a whole different world of pain - in which case troop quality would certainly be a factor.

    Really pleased you have got back in the groove again!

    All the best,

    DC

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    1. David Crook,

      I've since added an extra element to the results. If an infantry unit in line survives a close combat with an enemy cavalry unit, it automatically forms square. This is to reflect the training the infantry would have received to adopt some sort of defensive formation to prevent further losses.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. I started to write some lengthy stuff about this, but have changed my mind. Depending on what the other results are, I think your method should work. As it stands, though, I do think it a little on the punitive side, and would suggest reducing the 'unit destroyed' score by 1.

    A case in point: Marshall Lannes's infantry at Austerlitz came in for several Russian cavalry attacks. Not only were they capable of opening intervals to let their own cavalry evade the enemy, but they closed up and met the attackers in line and saw them off. A quote from Christopher Duffy's book:

    '... you could appreciate just how much military training and experience can affect the course of an action. The troops of Caffarelli's Division ... opened their intervals as coolly as ... on a parade ground. Immediately Kellermann's cavalry passed through, they closed up again and opened fire on the enemy.' (Duffy, 'Austerlitz', p124 my copy)

    Just as an aside, Caffarelli's Division, under new command, was one of the Divisions of Marshal Davout's III Corps in the following year. It seems to have been unusually well trained.

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    1. The 'automatically forms square' thing seems to me a good idea. The 'Age of Eagles' rule set uses a vaguely similar scheme. If the Infantry see off the cavalry, they must have formed square betimes; if they got ridden down, then, clearly, they didn't.

      But I infer from what has been said here that under the PW system infantry in column has a better chance of survival against (frontal) cavalry attacks.

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    2. Archduke Piccolo,

      I've been thinking long and hard about how to incorporate the likely outcome of an infantry unit in line being attacked by a cavalry unit, and the end result is the simplest method I can come up with.

      As I mentioned in my reply to David Crook's comment, I have added an extra element to the results, and as a consequence, an infantry unit in line that survives close combat with cavalry will automatically form square to protect themselves. Not quite in line with the situations you mention, but certainly an improvement.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    3. Archduke Piccolo,

      An infantry unit in column does have a better chance of surviving a cavalry attack than an infantry unit in line.

      What I am hoping is that commanders will try to avoid putting infantry in line in situations where cavalry can attack them ... but there is always the odd 'Prince of Orange*' out there who won't!

      All the best,

      Bob

      * I really shouldn't watch SHARPE'S WATERLOO whilst thinking about Napoleonic wargame rules. It tend to affect my thinking.

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  3. I do think our wargaming culture has over stated the universality of infantry squares. I have not dabbled much in the period this century and my memory is a bit shaky on sources and details on various examples on cavalry v squares.

    It is worth noting that during the 18thC, with the same muskets and 3 deep lines and usually with fairly hastily trained armies raised during the wars (the well trained regulars being in rather short supply after the first few battles of each war), it was routine for infantry in line to repulse cavalry. There is even an example of the much despised Spanish infantry in line repulsing Napoleon's cavalry early in the Peninsular War (but I no longer have my copy of Oman to check the battle)

    Some of the reasons for the increased frequency and importance of squares seems to relate to more flexible army organizations and operations rather than on unit tactics.

    Is it worth rushing this book to make a deadline?

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    1. Ross Mac,

      I must admit that I could not understand why infantry in line seemed to be able to see off cavalry before and after the Napoleonic era, but not during it. However, forming square in the face of cavalry seems to have been pretty universal during the Napoleonic Wars, and I'm not one to challenge the orthodoxy on this point.

      The book will be ready when it is ready. The Christmas deadline is one that I set myself as I have at least two other non-wargaming books to work on, one of which has to be ready by September 2019 to coincide with the anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War. Setting myself a deadline helps to spur me to get things completed, but one thing that I will not do is rush this book into print before I think that it is properly finished.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. Bob, perhaps it was psychological: once there is a prescribed drill for forming square to receive cavalry and the foot are all trained to do that, they start to imagine that not being in/failing to form square when faced by cavalry puts them at a disadvantage, and so - morally speaking - they are! They don't believe they can withstand cavalry in line, so they can't...

      Regards,
      Arthur

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    3. Something I was going to mention, but changed my mind on, was that I read somewhere (the name Don Featherstone comes to mind in this connexion) that overall the standard of musketry at the time we are discussing had declined considerably since the 1750-60s. This was true even of the British army (it was their fire discipline that gave them the edge).

      During the 7YW, you don't hear of foot forming square in the face of cavalry unless for some reason they were isolated. In the two instances I have read of, the horse were Austrian - hussars, IIRC on at least one of those occasions - the foot, Prussian. On one occasion the square held; on the other, it broke.

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    4. Arthur1815 (Arthur),

      That makes sense, and has modern parallels. You learn a programmed response to a particular circumstance ... and when that situation arises, you automatically do as you are trained to do. Most times it works, but occasionally things do not go as planned.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    5. Archduke Piccolo,

      Again this is something that seems to fit in with what I have termed as the orthodox historical point of view regarding the use of the square as an infantry formation.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  4. Bob,

    Like many others I am waiting with baited breath for your Napoleonic book! I have two requests: Could you include a sudden death option in the rules and explain how that would work re your 'square' rules and please do not use a Frenchman as an illustration on your front cover as Warlord did with the second edition of Black Powder!

    Very best wishes
    Anthony

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    1. Anthony Morton,

      As they stand at the moment, I haven't included a 'sudden death' option in the main rules in the book, but I could include it in a chapter of optional extra rules.

      I haven't designed the cover of the book as yet, but it will probably depict a battle scene featuring figures from my collection ... and very likely it will include the odd Frenchman or several! I hesitate to ask why you have expressed such antigallican sentiments in your comment ... but I am intrigued to know the reason.

      All the best,

      Bob

      PS. There is a pub in Charlton called the Antigallican. It is mentioned in the book SMILEY'S PEOPLE by the name 'the defeated frog'.

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    2. That's no Frenchman; that's a Corsican (Tyrant)!

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    3. Good point Arthur1815!

      Bob, When Warlord Games published the 2nd edition of Black Powder the standard version (i.e. cheaper!) bore a picture of Napoleon on the front cover. To get a copy with Wellington on the cover one had purchase the absurdly overpriced limited edition. My beef is that most Napoleonic rules publishers glamorise Napoleon and the French just as many WW2 rules publishers glamorise the Wehrmacht/SS, at least in terms of the iconography used to market their rules...

      Cheers
      Anthony

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    4. Arthur1815,

      Now I understand!

      All the best,

      Bob

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    5. Anthony Morton,

      You had to pay EXTRA (!!) for your book to have Wellington's image on it rather than that of the Corsican Tyrant! Now that is a marketing ploy that I have yet to use.

      I suspect that glamorising the loser is a trait that is not that uncommon, and not just within wargaming. Unfortunately that can become something that has serious political undertones. For example, the case of the Confederate flag being flown in certain parts of the US springs to mind. This is certainly something that needs to be discussed ... but not necessarily here. Better to be done over a drink in a pub somewhere.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    6. Well said Bob-I would be very happy to have a drink with you in a pub sometime!

      Best wishes
      Anthony

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    7. Anthony Morton,

      I look forward to that meeting, and hope that it will take place sooner rather than later.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  5. This is a tricky one... Even in the Napoleonicn era, well trained infantry in good order charged frontally, with secure flanks would still most often see off cavalry. As those variables change... not so well trained, tired. disheartened, battered/substantial losses, insecure flanks, etc the advantage falls increasingly to the cavalry.

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    1. Gonsalvo,

      I'm going with the orthodox view and allowing infantry in line a small chance to see off a cavalry attack but a far greater one if they are in square. It certainly worked in my play-tests, and seemed reasonably realistic.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  6. As noted, a line in good order with secured flanks could easily see off cavalry. The difference between Napoleonic and SYW is that napoleonic cavalry are a far more manoeuvrable, so more able to hit exposed flanks.

    In any case, both Clausewitz and Jomini agreed that cavalry should only be employed against infantry already weakened and disordered by artilery etc.

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    1. Martin Rapier,

      What you have outlined regarding the views expressed by Clausewitz and Jomini is how I hoped that players would use the rules. Weaken the infantry and then finish them off with a cavalry charge.

      All the best,

      Bob

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