Friday, March 12, 2010

The Battle of Dolderburg

Hello everyone, and welcome to my overdue play-through example of Black Powder in action! There has been a meeting engagement in the opening stages of the campaign (of which more shall follow) and below is an account of the first clash. General Von Grenwitz has marched a small force of Aschenbach troops to the town of Dolderburg - a critical point for the early stages of the Aschenbach invasion. Marching rapidly to meet him is the Luftberg army in the vicinity under General Von Bitzhelm, intending to meet on the batlefield and get the rookie Bitzhelm his first battlefield victory. Setup was a nondescript bit of countryside with a few low rises, some woods and hedges, plus a stream snaking along a peaceful valley between the sides. Each army marched on as a 'meeting engagement' type of scenario, although through campaign situations the Luftberg army was allowed to deploy it's regiment of hussars along the stream, as a kind of advanced picket.

Aschenbach Army (The Hon. General Von Grenwitz commanding)
Von Schott's 'Hirschburger' Grenadier Regiment
No.5 Von Moglich's Infanterie Regiment (1 battalion only - half sized unit)
No. 1 Von Schnitzel Kurassier Regiment
No. 2 Von Flunck Dragoner Regiment
Artillerie Battery No. 1

Luftberg Army (His Grace the Graf Von Bitzhelm commanding)
IR1 Radetzky Infanterie Regiment
IR3 O'Brien Infanterie Regiment
DR3 Hortenburg Dragoner Regiment
HR1 Rotwang Husaren Regiment
Artillerie Battery No. 2

A numerical superiority to Luftberg, but a qualitative edge to Aschenbach (what's new?)

Let battle commence!

Turn 1
Orders Phase
Luftberg kicked off by seeking to advance forward and get into fighting trim by the stream. Verbalising his orders to the troops as follows (in our head we can best imagine a slightly German-tinged accent): “Ze entire Brigade vill move forwards und deploy into line between ze wooded hill und hedges.” Accompanied by a commanding sweep of the measuring-stick to gesture the line intended, the brigade (the entire army in this case) rolls to see how many times it can move towards fulfilling this. The Luftberg army has a Command rating of 7, and this gets +2 for all the units being in march column to reflect their mobility. This means a Command Rating of 9 in the end, which he has to roll on 2D6 to get a move. If he rolls 2 or 3 less than it, he gets 2 or 3 moves correspondingly. As only 10+ rolls will mean a failure, he’s pretty likely to do well. Bitzhelm rolls 2D6 and gets a 7 – excellent! 2 under his command rating, so he gets two moves. The columns move off at a sprightly 6” per move pace (I’m halving the ranges in BP because I’m in 15mm.) Being out of range there’s no shooting or hand-to-hand combat yet.

Over on the other bank, the Aschenbach army is sent on a flying march south (parallel to the stream) to try and snatch the defensive position on a hill this side of the stream – what with Grenwitz unwilling to try and force a crossing in the teeth of the advancing Luftbergers. The Aschenbach Command rating is 8, plus he also has the +2 for being in march – he rolls a 7 so gets three moves, zipping his infantry across to the hill and ready to deploy. The cavalry continue to lurk opposite the stream, ready to charge any crossing attempt.

Turn 2
Bitzhelm wants to take on the hill before the enemy get thoroughly set up to meet him. He orders his intantry and artillery to move east to face it and begin bombarding it. His modified Command rating is 9, but he rolls an 11! The order has failed, and as a result Bitzhelm can issue no more orders this turn – looks like the Dragoons will just have to kick their heels and wait for word from HQ next turn!

Luckily however, the failures appear to be on both sides. Expecting an easy job to finish his deployment into line on the hilltop, Grenwitz needs 10 or less and gets – 11 as well! Doubtless some strange mood in the air! (Incidentally, if Aschenbach had been playing with the ‘Superb Drill’ special rule on it’s infantry, they would have been allowed one automatic move towards fulfilling their orders even after a failure – rather handy insurance against just this sort of fumble.)

Turn 3
Bitzhelm retries the order, and gets a 6 – three less than his rating, so three moves! Unfolding into line and crossing the hedgerows, his infantry close the distance at a worrying rate – right up to the stream edge, where they squeeze in slightly obliquely to fit in by the Hussars. The cannon also follow up on the flank, deploy, and the firing begins!

Shooting Phase
IR1 Radetzky is at the bottom of the hill, and it’s 9” range can reach the Aschenbach ‘Hirschburger’ Grenadiers on the summit, who are still in marching column! The regiment gets 3 dice to roll, and gets hits on a 4+. Unluckily they miss all three, which is just as well because the saving throw for the Grenadiers would have been very low in March Column, leaving them in a bad state! The artillery made up for it however, and banged away energetically. At medium range it rolled 2 dice (4+ to hit as normal,) and managed to roll a single hit. The grenadiers roll their save and need a 3+ to ignore the hit (typically it’s a 4+ to save, but these are Grenadiers with superior discipline!) As they are in march column and unprepared for cannonballs hurtling through their ranks, the save has a -2 modifier. The result is a 5+ needed , and they fail the roll – a hit is marked on the unit with a counter showing a casualty. If a unit takes 3 (or 4 for the grenadiers) hits it becomes shaken, and risks collapse. The shooting turn ended with the other infantry regiment - IR3 O’Brien – firing a volley at the Cuirassiers on the far bank, but sadly they also failed to score any hits.

Aschenbach’s move saw orders being issues (angrily?) for the infantry to get into line at once and begin firing. The grenadiers do so, finally deploying for action. Right afterwards however, the artillery fail to unlimber and bring the furious Grenwitz’s orders phase to a halt. The grenadiers fire back, and also roll 3 dice needing 4+. They roll a 4, 5 and 5 – three hits! Devilish luck! (There isn’t even a need to use the Aschenbach infantry’s special ‘sharpshooter’ rule and reroll a single missed dice each turn.) That leaves IR1 with three saves to roll for, 4+ required. They successfully save two and take one hit.

Turn 4
Fearing a lop-sided musketry duel, Bitzhelm orders his infantry to cross the stream and charge home to overcome the enemy! Sadly his Orders roll of 10 is no good, and the lads clearly feel rather ambivalent about the whole thing. Only firing remains to be done, and each infantry regiment scores a hit each on the Grenadiers and Cuirassiers, but both make their saves. The artillery misses altogether, which probably means some farmer off in the rear is getting his field ploughed for him!

Aschenbach manage to unlimber their guns and get them into action at last, and also pull their single brigade into line on the Grenadiers’ flank. This housekeeping is accompanied by an order to the Cuirassiers who are told to pull back slightly to get out of musket range. Grenwitz rolls a natural double-six, which meand not just failure, but an outright blunder! Thankfully when the random effect is diced for the Cuirassiers do not charge solo over the stream and against the enemy infantry; instead they withdraw two full moves, taking themselves straight off the table – the order to pull back was obviously taken a bit too literally!

With this, it’s back to firing. The grenadiers fire and get 1 hit, plus the ‘to hit’ dice rolls a natural six, which means that the lively fire throws the target into disorder! This is a one-turn temporary confusion which prevents orders and reduces fighting ability, and represents an ideal opportunity to charge into hand-to-hand combat to rout a unit (or it would, except here there’s that damn stream in the way.) Next the newly-deployed artillery blast at the other infantry regiment IR3 gets a hit too with a six. The regiment makes it’s save, but the disorder still applies – this confusion is contagious! To round off Bitzhelm’s misery, the infantry battalion also fires at the artillery battery and scores a hit on the crews. Thoughts turn to retreat, as this hillock of Grenadiers is clearly not going to fall to firepower or get charged.

Turn 5
With his infantry trying to recover from the staggering effect of incoming fire, orders are out of the question. He resolves to try and get his cavalry over the river and hopefully turn a flank. It was too dangerous before with two regiments of enemy horse waiting, but now with the Cuirassiers taken off the scene with the misunderstood orders to withdraw, the odds look much better! The hussars are ordered to cross and charge, but roll an 8 when they need 7 or less – useless irregulars! With their failure there’s not even the option of bringing up the Dragoons and deploying them for a fight. Luftberg is left with only ineffective firing, where the artillery lands yet another hit on the grenadiers which they save.

Aschenbach decides now is the moment to press forward, so the infantry are ordered to march down the hill in preparation to crossing the stream and see off the enemy. They actually roll a 6 which gives two moves, but as no specific order to charge was given so contact is not allowed. No matter – each side now lines the opposite bank of the stream, exchanging fire at close range (a +1 to hit, which means dice will only need 3+ at such point-blank conditions!) The grenadiers duly make good on this, rolling a spectacular three hits, which the luckless IR1 Radetzky promptly fails each save for with a string of twos and threes. (In case you haven’t noticed, the dice seemed resolved to favour Aschenbach throughout this game!) With 2 existing hits and now 3 more, this total of 5 hits takes them over their stamina limit – the unit is not just disorganised, but on the brink of an outright morale collapse!

The break test
The stamina value is 3, but with the total of hits now at 5, the taking of excess casualties through firing means the unit must take a ‘break test.’ The regiment rolls 2D6 and consults the table with it’s modified result. Colonel Radetzky wants a high number but gets a godawful 5. This is further reduced by -2 (for the casualties in excess of his stamina number) and -1 (as he’s already disordered at the time of taking this test) to give him a score of 2: utter destruction! The surviving soldiers in IR1 take to their heels, fleeing to the rear as fast as they can go.

As well as this excitement on the turn, Grenwitz got some results elsewhere – he just barely managed a difficult order for the Cuirassiers to return (very difficult because of the distance to them, and he didn’t want to go riding off after them himself at this point in the battle!) Also, the artillery managed to place a casualty marker on IR3, although the infantry failed to harm the Luftberg battery as they closed in.

Turn 6
IR3 finally get to remove their ‘Disorder’ marker, and decide to pull back behind the protective obstacle of the hedgerows for some cover. As the enemy are within 6” the regiment can make a single move on initiative, avoiding the need to roll a command test. It does so, getting itself into the protective terrain (+1 to all it’s morale save rolls.) Bitzhelm attempts to order the cavalry into action again, before the enemy Cuirassiers can return. He orders the Dragoons and gets: double six! A blunder! The stupid fools come galloping up, still in march column. No doubt when in reserve they thought the battle was progressing nicely, but now they find the front much closer than they thought! In firing, the artillery gets no hits, but the infantry shoot down some more grenadiers – sadly the regiment makes it’s save again and shrugs off the loss.

Watching from his hillock, Grenwitz orders his infantry forward and the bluecoats cross the stream, ready to close with the hedgerow last-stand. Grenwitz then orders the Dragoons screening the river to charge the Hussars on the opposite bank, just to ratchet up the pressure a little more. They get one move, which brings them to the stream’s edge. In firing, the infantry battalion completes it’s firing on the artillery battery, finally shooting down enough of the crews for the remainder to take the hint and flee, spiking whatever guns they can’t take with them. The artillery on the Aschenbach side are having a much better time, lobbing rounds into the deluded column of blundering Dragoons opposite, promptly getting a casualty and causing disorder in their ranks. The grenadiers fire away at the infantry now in the hedges, failing to get a casualty but at least causing disorder (damn all these sixes!)

Turn 7
It’s pretty much all over now. IR3 fire on the grenadiers but get no hits, thanks to needing 5+ to hit (-1 modifier from being disordered.) Aschenbach rolls on, getting the grenadiers point-blank again before the hedge. The defenders save all hits, but on their flank the infantry battalion sweeps through the wrecked battery and wheels round, flanking IR3 and the hedge. Enfilading doubles the dice rolled, and despite it’s small size the battalion inflicts 2 hits, though luckily these are saved. Grenwitz also orders his tardy Cuirassiers up although there’s barely any work for them by this point. The dragoons are ordered to charge and they splash through the stream, but thanks to the unlikely odds (Dragoons roll 8 dice compared to 6 for the Hussars, plus there are bonuses for the charging heavy cavalry in deciding who wins the combat) the dashing horsemen opposite decide not to wait for their arrival and evade, moving back out of their way. Still, the Dragoons have to stop up short in the face of this evasion, so they can’t reach the rest of the enemy army for a charge (textbook screening by the Hussars, it has to be admitted.)

At this stage the game is clearly up. Cavalry in disorder and undeployed, artillery wrecked, one infantry regiment routed and the other outflanked – this is clearly not Bitzhelm’s day. He orders a retreat and the triumphant Von Grenwitz chivalrously allows him to slip away, his job done and honour satisfied.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Book-keeping transfer

I haven't been doing any tabletop wargaming or even blog posting for a bit, down to both other wargames projects demanding attention and my desktop PC becoming deeply unstable and freezing every few minutes, forcing me into my 'lifeboat' PC of an old and battered laptop! Still, I have managed to stay active in other ways. I have recently been revamping the way I keep records of my campaigns, and thought I'd explain what I was up to.

From reading various blogs and solo-wargaming podcasts, it dawned on me that I was rather under-exploiting one of the big opportunities of a solo campaign, which is to record everything in a very detailed and colourful narrative, to re-read at leisure like a historical novel. I had a think, re-read a bit of 'Wargame Campaigns' by CS Grant and got underway!

Above is a snap of my journal, which I bought out of Asda (about £4 and pretty hefty pages, hardback cover, unlined, plus 3 pockets at the back to store loose sheets of paper.) As per Grant's sensible suggestion, I wrote out a list of all generals and units in the campaign on a strip of paper, which I then glued to the left-hand side (as you can see in the photo above) to form a fold-out 'flap' with all the units and characters listed. Now when I use each left-hand page as a ledger I don't have to write out headings for unit names and characters over and over again.

The left-hand page records each unit in three broad columns, which read left-to-right as 'at the start of the turn' then 'during the turn' and 'at the end of the turn.' Mostly this is about their physical location in the game world, so I can track armies and do the functional basics of campaign record-keeping.

The right-hand page can be used for the heart of the campaign record, in the form of a prose-style account of the turn, spiced up with the odd hand-drawn map, sketched drawing (no doubt sketched by some artistically-minded gentleman on campaign) and fictionalised quoted excerpts from the private correspondence of eye-witnesses, in the style of whatever actual historical book you prefer! A good opportunity to take advantage of is not just to discuss what happens, but what might have happened at various stages as the campaign strategies unfold. This all adds to the narrative (as well as builds up a stock of future scenario ideas, which no wargamer should be without!)

So, that's what I've been up to with my Muckenmire campaign, setting it into the new format before it truly gets going. Through it, I have recorded the setup and first two moves, which have now brought two armies within battle-fighting distance. The whole process of working backwards in my disorganised notes proved longer than I thought, but I think I'm finally sorted now! I shall post on the blog an update on the situation to fill all you on-line readers in, so you can see how it has come once again to the battlefield. Then, I hope this coming weekend to get the (small-sized) battle fought and recorded, allowing me to give the long-promised Black Powder rules set detailed example of play.

So, there you go - still enjoyable wargaming work, although of an unavoidably behind-the-scenes nature! Sadly, the system is appealing and I now find myself buying yet more of these Asda notebooks to transfer all my other campaigns into the format too! (Is there any action in this hobby which doesn't lead to yet more action required?) :-)