Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Times

I'm still working away up to Xmas eve (Bah, humbug etc,) and I'm still being kept busy in the evenings as well. As a result, I'm probably going to have to delay a little bit before fighting the impending battle.

I know that delay's terrible and all that, but hopefully I'll be able to fight it out over the xmas holidays and post a report on it, alongside some pictures. I'm also keeping my fingers crossed to get some good hobby-work in over the xmas break (I'm hoping santa will get me some odds and ends for my armies, so you never know...)

Merry Xmas to everyone!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Crossing

As the armies gathered around the Spitzbruck, most sensible travellers detoured north or south to avoid the combatants, and the ferry to the south did excellent business for a while – barely even disrupted by the Luftberg hussars that set up an observation post in the adjacent woods overlooking the crossing, as well as the farmhouse a short walk to the south, across the ponds and marshes near the river.

One evening, an unremarkable figure crossed the ferry to the east bank, a traveller much like any other down-at-heel gentleman on his way. When the hussars checked his papers he was under a false name, but his real name had reputation beyond many others. This was the Baron Von Rache, known throughout Central Europe as ‘The Mad Baron’ and reputedly the most dangerous man in all of Germany. He had recently been cajoled by the Prinzessin Emily von Krumper into joining her brother’s army, in a strictly non-official basis. Knowing of his hair-trigger temper and tendency towards duelling with anyone who attracted his displeasure, the baron had quickly been turned loose with a commission to ‘take whatever measures are deemed necessary by you to ensure events develop in a manner propitious to the interests of the Aschenbach state.’ It was effectively a license to run riot over the continent, and the Baron gladly accepted it.

Emptying Aschenbach’s prisons for some of the most dangerous and unscrupulous individuals he could find, whose talents could prove of use, he had quickly formed a small band of daredevils to execute his plans. He travelled incognito with the Aschenbach army, following in it’s train until called upon. Now the need had brought him here – to secure a crossing over the Spitzwasser.

Travelling on in the darkness beyond the scouts, he left the road into the undergrowth and met his men, who were secreted into their agreed meeting-place and busy readying their weapons. The baron cast an eye over them all and politely cleared his throat. ‘Would you all please be so kind as to take the flints out of your muskets? We’re using only pistols and cold steel this evening, my boys. I am sorry if this inconveniences any of you.’

The men obeyed wordlessly. When they had been first yanked from prison by this strange, polite young man, they had thought themselves in the hands of an ineffectual fop. They had initially defied him, but the more they learned of the baron the faster they rushed to obey. The men had given up exchanging stories of the baron’s antics by now – they had simply grown too scared.

The baron sketched out the plan, which called for a rush on the farmhouse in the dead of night to neutralise the enemy Hussars based there, and subsequently clearing out the observation posts in the woods immediately at the crossing. The men listened, nodded understanding, and set off after their leader.


Hours later, with the card games well underway and the supplies of local wine diminishing, the sounds of raucous shouting and singing could be heard from the main farm building. Sentries tramped round the walled outbuildings, tended to the horses, and joined in the drinking at a distance, swigging from a bottle brought from the house.

Silently, a dark figure emerged from the shadows behind one lone sentry and closed on him. A hand closed over his mouth and a swift thrust with a dagger into the back was accompanied only by a slight scuffle as the dying hussar was quickly dragged back into the murk. A few seconds later, when it was clear no attention had been drawn, several black forms slipped into the farm buildings. The horses were led away and the remaining sentries picked off, while the sounds of shouting and laughter continued from the main building.

Von Rache reached the door and cautiously looked through the leaded windowpane. Revellers inside were in the middle of a card and drinking game on the large kitchen table, next to the roaring fireplace. Von Rache looked round at his men gathered around him, nodded warning, then kicked the door open.

As he ran in to a room of startled faces, he fired his pistol square at the largest man he saw and slashed right with his sword at an unfortunate who had stood too near. He heard a scream, hurled his empty pistol wholesale at another man and shoulder-barged another to the ground, all the while slashing wildly in every direction. His men charged after him and quickly swarmed through the room, cutting down some of the faster enemy and backing the rest into corners.

Von Rache climbed up onto the tabletop. All his men were still alive, although some were injured. Whether it was from the enemy or from his own frenzied efforts, he neither knew nor cared. His men knew better than to complain.

He addressed his captives. ‘My apologies, my friends, but,’ he delicately kicked some scattered cards off the table. ‘I am afraid I must express my distaste for gambling in the strongest manner. Most particularly, card games to which I have not been invited.’


The hussar scouts in the woods heard the firing, sharp and distinct over the background rumble and thump of the guns north at the Spitzbruck, which seemed set on a constant bombardment. They had been about to go to the farm to see what had happened, when they suddenly spotted the masses of Aschenbach troops working on the far side of the river, and beginning to cross it in strength. Realising the enemy move was underway, the hussars sent a young and fast messenger back to report to their regimental headquarters. The hussar galloped north and rushed into the commandeered village. The gruff major met him, and he breathlessly explained.

‘The enemy are building a pontoon bridge at the ferry crossing, and seem to be preparing a crossing in strength.’

The major blinked, unimpressed. ‘Any news from the main post, in the nearby farmhouse? It’s their job to watch the ferry – you should have reported direct to them.’

‘But sir, we heard shots coming from there, and then no word at all.’

The major was even less impressed now. In mock-horror, he said ‘Hussars drinking, and you heard shots fired? Dear god, what should we do?’ He paused, then added ‘Do you mean musketry? Volleys?’

‘No sir, just some pistol shots.’

‘well then lad, don’t worry yourself. Those bluecoats are in the north by the bridge, for certain. Why you can even hear them.’ He nodded towards the thump of cannon.

‘But sir, we saw figures in the dark, and they were trying to cross over.’

‘Did you stay to observe?’

The young hussar hesitated. ‘No sir, we rode here at once.’

The major’s tone was gentler with the inexperienced young trooper. ‘So, you saw some figures in the dark, at a ferry crossing, and the main post assigned to watch it hasn’t bothered to send any warning, or even go out to investigate.’

‘Yes, sir.’ The hussar felt deflated and foolish.

‘And you want to go to Feldmarschall von Hentsch – Graf Von Hentsch, mind you – and tell him to move the army south?’

This was something that the hussar had not thought of before. Von Hentsch was not a man to take a mistake in good spirits. ‘Well, sir, I …’

The major saved the hussar from any more struggling with the problem. ‘We’ll send word to the main post straight away, then take a look in the morning ourselves, lad. That’ll confirm everything. Get some sleep yourself in the meantime – everybody’s still tired after that damn forced march up from Blinzburg.’

‘Thank you sir.’ True enough, the hussar thought. He was tired, and the others would deal with it.


At the ferry, the infantry column streamed over the first pontoon in column of approach, with the cavalry joined them once the second heavier pontoon was complete. Now lit by the first light of dawn, Baron von Rache watched it all in satisfaction. The farm had been turned over to the army and was now being converted into a fortress, with cannon dug in on the far bank, to protect the bridges. They’d been lucky recently, he reflected, what with von Zaub’s stunt in Spitzburg and now this river crossing. Still, it all hung now on what was about to unfold. Von Rache wondered if he had merely gained Von Krumper a chance to send his army into a disaster. No matter – he wasn’t paid enough to care that much. He led his men down to the bridge and they recrossed west, drawing curious looks from the infantry on the bridge as the only men not joining the tide of bluecoats flowing eastwards.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Prelude to Action

The ground between the city of Spitzplatz and the planned crossing point is obviously going to be subject to some serious large-scale maneuverings. 'Grand Tactical' is, I believe, the correct term - in my uneducated mind, anyway! So, it deserves some detailed mapping out. Below is my randonly generated terrain map. Each square is one of my 1ft x 1ft terrain tiles, which scales out at almost exactly 1 square mile. Each tile has been assigned a terrain feature in each quarter, which I then set up an Excel spreadsheet to randomly create for me. (There are free packages on the internet to do this on hexagons, but I've never come across one that works to a grid.) Anyway, here's the result. If you can't click on it to see an enlargement, would somebody please let me know how I can set that up?

So, what have we got? As might be expected, it's a mixed bag for Aschenbach. While the crossing point is screened by a large woods (good), it's crammed in by a marsh with a farm on the far side of it (bad). Thanks to this nearby habitation, it seems sensible that there'd be come kind of crossing like a ferry, so I've dubbed the bluff on the left bank the Fahrschiff der Tauschung.

Once past this, there's a large open area called the Offen Ebene with little cover, while easy to move and fight across (good) it's pretty exposed to observation (bad). To the east of this, there's an area of marshes called the Niedringer Sumpf which should be too remote for any impact.

Next comes the really bad news. The Luftberg camp site sits at a strategic set of road junctions, within easy reach of the bridge westwards and the city to the north. By chance, there are two bands of hills to the south of this, available for easy defence. Southermost is the Windmuhle Hugel, so named because of a prominent windmill perched on it's crest, and north of that lies the larger Grosser Hugel. This hill, right on the edge of the Luftberg camp, is all but impossible to reach before the defenders awake to their peril and occupy it (bad). However, the hill runs largely NW to SE, so if the Luftbergers gain full advantage from the heights they will have to project their left flank outwards (good.)

East of the Grosser Hugel, there are quite a few areas of rough terrain. When I also randomly got two linear obstacles from the terrain generator, I knew what I'd make it - a quarry, with a partially worked rockface, which I've now dubbed the Steinbruch.

So, much in the style of Old Fritz verbally briefing his commanders on seeing a field, the general shape of the battle can be guessed at. Advancing fast from the crossing, the Aschenbach army will count the Grosser Hugel lost and instead seek to occupy the Windmuhle Hugel. From this, the - presumably - exposed Luftberg left will be assaulted obliquely by the Aschenbach right, including von Kleintrink's cavalry wing, thus cutting all it's roads of escape and crushing it's battle-line. The Aschenbach right will protect itself from envelopment by using the rough ground around the Steinbruch to disrupt any enemy movements. Von Kleintrink will take the right flank cavalry, the solid veteran Von Grenwitz will oversee the left, while Von Krumper himself will command the centre.

Which brings us to that minor technical detail of crossing the river. From reading up on the nearest contemporary battles fought over a river (I came up with the Napoleonic wars' battles of Aspern-Essling and the Berezina - utterly unscientific, but it keeps me happy!) It seems a crossing about 5-6 miles upriver is a suitably distant side-step (as Napoleon moved this far from Vienna to cross the Danube, apparently.) However, armies would cover riverlines for about double this distance (The Berezina crossing was apparently watched 12km away from Napoleon's first position on the river in 1812.) In other words, the Aschenbachers will almost certainly have to cross at Farhschiff der Tauschung under the noses of enemy light troops. How far will their luck, surprise and tactical advantages hold?

Reasoning that there is an initial 50:50 chance as to who gets the advantage, I came up with the following dice-roll chart to see when the sentries detect trouble:

1=Spotted and blocked - Luftberg gets a very early warning!
2=Spotted as soon as the raiders cross over - Luftberg gets an early warning
3=Engineers cross over - Normal Alarm Raised
4=Piles sunk in river - Normal Alarm Raised
5=Pontoons to carry Infantry are across - Luftberg gets a late warning
6=Pontoons for Artillery and horses are assembled - Luftberg gets a very late warning!

But, thanks to the Tactical cards for Surprise and Terrain, this would give Aschenbach a +1 or +2 modifier, I reckon. So, I'm rolling a dice and the result is...

Well, excuse me for drawing out the tension! Hope the above has inspired some ideas in others for depening the detail they've got in their own games!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Aschenbach's move

So, what a spectacular recovery from the General Von Zaub! Attacked out of the blue, cut off from the main army, he held his command together and fell back to the city of Spitzburg. Reasoning that a city on a river must have a fair amount of marine transport, he bluffed his way on to some of it and escaped to the friendly shore ahead of his pursuers. Not only that, but to create confusion behind him he emptied the banks that was Von Hentsch’s real objective. By the time the Luftberg army arrived, not only was all the money ‘vanished’ but so had all records, making it impossible to tell who owed what! [I rolled a dice for how successful his escape was, and rolled a natural six!]

Von Zaub was initially created as a well-meaning but slow character – but that was before he lost his ancestral lands in the last campaign. Could the resulting exile have had some kind of effect on the man? Based on his last performances, some kind of recessive gene in him has been awakened.

So, what now, as the two armies glare at each other across a fortified river-crossing? Well, Luftberg need to go to another city to try and claim some cash. North is Overburg and south is Unterschloss, but each is four areas away for Luftberg and just two areas for Aschenbach. Strategically, Luftberg is at a big disadvantage as they’ll almost certainly be beaten to either one and have to attack against the defending Aschenbach army. Or, of course, if they pull away from the river crossing the enemy will simply follow them over and prey on their rear, cutting their supply lines. Hm...

That’s assuming of course that Aschenbach is interested in such marching around, when the enemy is right before him and a battle is all he seeks! So, how to do it?

Well, to further get inspiration I drew up the area in a bit more detail and pondered it over. From the direction of flow in the main Spitzwasser river and the tributary river south of the Aschenbach camp, I reasoned that erosion etc. would have plausibly formed a high bluff between the two rivers just before their confluence. If so, then it would give a good elevated position from which the Aschenbach troops could approach unseen, lay a pontoon crossing under protection of cannon on their own bank, then cross over. The Spitzbruck bridge crossing, heavily defended by each side, would be bypassed and the two armies on the same side of the river. The more I pondered it, the better it seemed. Astride the Luftberg lines of supply, a battle in open country would be inevitable. If won, Luftberg could be forced into Spitzburg and would either have to accept terms or a siege they were unprepared for. If the battle was anything like a stalemate, then the Aschenbach army could remain close or withdraw back over the river for protection. In fact, by leaving the crossing well protected, only a major disaster which saw the Aschenbach army comprehensively routed would leave it open to destruction before it escaped to the far bank.

So, a plan is afoot. Aschenbach draws it’s hand, and the cards say…

Tactical Advantage; Terrain Effect; Wild Card; Rally; Large Formation; Terrain Effect; Tactical Advantage; Small Formation; Fatigued; Ambush

From this, I’m going with: Aschenbach will attempt a River Crossing (WILDCARD) to launch a Surprise Attack (AMBUSH) on the Luftberg Army. This will succeed because of the surprise crossing point (TACTICAL ADVANTAGE), the advantageous bluff on the friendly side of the crossing (TERRAIN EFFECT) and this can be carried out in the face of the enemy still resting after their forced march up the road (FATIGUED.)

The cards have fitted in nicely with this plan, with good ‘terrain effect’ and ‘tactical advantage’ cards – excellent! I’ll roll for success or failure just before the miniature battle, once I’ve drawn up some tactical maps and ‘prepared the field’ so to speak. The dice roll will be used to decide how far through the process the Aschenbachers get before the Luftberg army awakes to it’s peril.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Welcome to Spitzburg

The Burgermeister of Spitzburg, Erich von Dank, could see the writing on the wall. He had heard word of the approach of the Aschenbach army, drawing far closer than the Luftberg force. Then, the roads had been cut by bluecoat foraging parties and scouting groups. The city was about to be taken, obviously. No force was present to resist a serious assault, so all accepted that the only thing to be done was to surrender the city in return for good treatment, and keep the disruption to profitable trade as small as possible.

Then, one morning, the thump of artillery and rattling musket fire could be heard to the south. Von Dank headed south out of the city to a small hill a short distance from the gates, a small delegation of the city’s magnates accompanying him. His secretary brought the large ornamental key to the city, to present to the occupiers when they arrived. A large welcome ceremony with Aschenbach flags was prepared in the city’s central square.

They didn’t have to wait long, as a column of fast-marching Aschenbach infantry quickly appeared out of the woods and came on down the road, with the General von Zaub riding at their head. The general cantered forward and halted in front of the delegation, whose small band energetically sprang into action.

Von Dank held up his prepared speech and launched into the oratory the occasion demanded. ‘General Graf von Zaub, rightful heir to the province of Zaub, and representative of the Kingdom of Aschenbach – ‘ von Dank tried to concentrate and press on, but faltered as the column of infantry swept past them, ignoring the usual niceties which dictated they should wait until the surrender was accepted.

Even Von Zaub, although he waited politely, seemed distracted. As Von Dank faltered, he seized his chance to cut in. ‘My thanks, Herr Burgermeister. I’m proud to accept this city’s surrender. My men and I will be heading straight to the riverside docks.’

Von Dank struggled again with this news. ‘The docks Herr General? But that’s the worst part of the city! We have a welcome ceremony for you in the city centre, if – ‘ Once again, Von Zaub cut him off with the barest politeness.

‘I’m afraid we have some matters to attend to. Nonetheless, the Aschenbach state is grateful for the loyalty of it’s rightful citizens, and shall be issuing a sum of funds in a display of appreciation.’ At this, the attentiveness of the delegation picked up. Von Zaub continued, as the troops marched past them and on into the city gates. ‘I’m sure the Spitzburg Bank will forward the money for us in the meantime. How much do you currently hold in your vaults?’

‘Around forty thousand thalers, herr General’ piped up von Dank’s secretary before he could stop him.

Von Zaub didn’t even blink. ‘Excellent. Release it at once. All 40,000 thalers. Distribute it as a gift from Aschenbach to the worthy citizens and nobility of the city. You can decide between yourselves who is deserving.’ The band’s music suddenly died away. Members of the delegation exchanged looks. Von Zaub, seeing the tail of his column disappear into the gates, raised his hat and with a cheery ‘Goodbye Gentlemen!’ he galloped after them.

Von Dank gawped after him, the dust cloud all around. As it settled, he realised that many hangers-on and even some official delegation members had slipped away, heading back to the city to reach the bank first. Von Dank headed back to the city himself, with his secretary in tow, still holding the ceremonial key.

By the time he reached the gate, the whole city was in an uproar and he was instantly waylaid by a mob, with dozens shouting at him at once.
‘Von Dank, is it true that the Aschenbachers are emptying the bank vaults?’
‘It is! I’ve seen them! They simply opened the doors and left it!’
‘I want some! I’m a worthy citizen!’
‘I’m more deserving! Give me money!’
‘No, me!’
‘The Aschenbach troops are all down in the riverside!’
‘They’ve commandeered boats to cross the river and have abandoned them on the far bank!’
‘The mob’s turning into a riot! Call out the militia!’

What on earth was Von Zaub playing at? Von Dank was going to have to find him and demand an explanation for this chaos, but he could barely get beyond the gate, never mind make it to the riverside.

A voice called down from the gate walls. ‘Sir! Look! Back up the road!’ Von Dank looked back behind him. Coming up the road was another column, this time of white-coated troops flying Luftberg colours, hot on the heels of their enemies. An officer galloped ahead of the column towards him. Von Dank began to feel distinctly unwell.

The officer pulled up. ‘Herr Burgermeister, this city is now being occupied by the Luftberg army of Feldmarschall von Hentsch. Have there been any Aschenbach troops spotted near here? That rogue von Zaub has been cut off from the bridges south of here, so he can’t get across the river. He’s trapped for certain as long as nobody dos anything stupid.’ As he finished speaking, the officer glanced past Von Dank and noticed the chaotic scenes in the street, framed by the gateway’s arch, which told him a whole city’s worth of ‘anything stupid’ was happening right now.

With a furious glower at von Dank, he wrenched the horse around and pounded back to warn his superiors, leaving the Burgermeister in yet another dust cloud. His secretary appeared at his elbow. ‘It’s been a bit of a strange day, hasn’t it sir?’ Von Dank grabbed his lapels and pulled him up. ‘Get to the square and pull those Aschenbach welcome flags down – quickly!’