Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Borodino playtest: Utitsa and the Fleches

This past Sunday, six of us from the Hartford Area Historical Gaming Society gathered in my basement for the final playtest of our massive Battle of Borodino, 1812 scenario for Historicon this July. I am fortunate to have a six foot wide table (actually ping pong tables: 2 tables end to end with a 2 foot gap between them  underneath, overlaid by a several part frame of 2 x 4's covered with 3/4" plywood - heavy but sturdy!)  that can be up to 20 feet in length, but I seldom use more than 12 feet of it. For this scenario, one edge needed an additional wing about 2 feet deep for Poniatowski's advancing V Corps to enter from. This meant I had to finally address the foot deep layer of assorted gaming and other junk that had accumulated on it over the past 10-15 years, which I did. I also needed to replace the two fluorescent "shop lights" suspended above that half of the table, the starters of which had burned out. I set to work on that Sunday AM - should only take 30 mins or so... well,  the first of the two units I bought flat out refused to work, and then I dropped the other one while installing it (with the bulbs in it, of course), doubtless due to frustration with the rather last minute discovery of the defective unit. Cue sweeping up glass, vacuuming, etc. All this meant that I had the table cleared off, the wing set up, and the felt table covers in place, but really hadn't been able to set up the terrain as planned. Fortunately, Barry, Joe, and Roger had all agreed to come an hour early, so we made pretty short work of setting out the terrain followed by the troops, contributions of various units coming from Greg, Barry, Roger, Joe and myself, in varying measures. At least that operation in and of itself was good practice for setting things up for the convention in July!

    This part of the scenario involves the Southern portion of the battlefield, including the assault on the Fleches, and Poniatowski's attack up the old Smolensk road to Utitsa. The table space used was 12 feet long by 6 feet wide, plus the extension on the Utitisa wing. The Russian players were Joe (commanding the Combined Grenadier division (essentially like line troops) and the real Grenadier Division defending the  low ridge with the Fleches), Greg (commanding an infantry Division to the South of the ridge, soon to be reinforced by a Cuirassier Division), and "Czar" Barry, commanding the Utitsa sector with an Infantry Division, a Grenadier Division, a moderate sized cloud of Cossacks, and twelve units of Opolchenie (Russian militia, many armed with pikes or half-pikes). On the "French" side, we had James, commanding Davout's reduced 1st Corps (two of his Divisions were sent to reinforce Eugene's attack on Borodino itself prior to the start of the battle) with 2 large infantry Divisions and a small Light cavalry Division assaulting the ridge and Fleches, Peter (moi!), commanding Nansouty's Reserve Cavalry Corps comprising 2 Heavy and one Light Cavalry Divisions with one measly Horse Artillery Battery to my name for firepower (but good commanders), and Roger, commanding Poniatowski's strong V (Polish) Corps. All of the players except James were experienced at using the rules (Field of Battle, 2nd edition, by Brent Oman), and even James had played a game or two back in 2009 when we were playtesting our 1809 project. Enough talk, on to the pictures!

A long shot of the table (only the 12" to the North (near side) of the ridge line was in play today. I opened the cellar door to increase the light (see above), as it was a fairly nice day outside. Czar Barry is seen in apparent conversation with the Captain of the Enterprise prior to the start of the game. Don't you realize "Jean-Luc Picard" is a French name, Barry? In any event, the Next Generation starship commander evidently failed to make any useful response. Given to us 20+ years ago, we refer to this particular basement decoration as "Jean-Luc Picard-board". Ahem.

On the left, the ridge and Fleches with Joe's defenders in the near ground, followed by Greg's Infantry Division, with Barry's Militia heavy command in the far distance. To the right, James' (Davout) Corps, followed by Peter's (Nansouty) Cavalry Corps, and beyond the woods is Utitsa and the Smolensk road, up which Roger (Poniatowski)must advance (largely unseen on the "wing" off the right edge of the table). 

The Russians get the first MOVE card, and Barry makes good use of it to seize Utitsa and its environs on a triple move by his Infantry and Grenadier Divisions.

Roger's Poles get ready for their own advance; the main table is about 34" high, while the wing is a folding table of standard 28" height, thus creating the apparent escarpment! This height is no accident, by the way. I believe it was actually Donald Featherstone himself who recommended a higher table for wargames to reduce back strain. Don was a physical therapist in his professional life, so he ought to know, and as I'm 6'4" tall myself I needed little persuasion as to the wisdom of his advice!

Roger leads Poniatowski's Poles forward to contest the Utitsa sector!

Uh-oh, what are those troopers that I see behind Greg's Infantry Division? A Russian Cuirasier Division!  Greg has called for them from the Russian reserves early on, and a good Leadership Die roll allows then to advance well onto the table in support. Great, now I'm facing a combined arms force with just cavalry!

Meanwhile, James has had good Leadership dice himself, as well as a play of the French Sequence Deck cards that has been extraordinarily favorable to a rapid advance, and then a Maneuver card to allow the change of facing y his lead Division. This has allowed him to outflank the Fleches and the ridgeline! In the full scenario, of course, there would be Russian troops to his left, so this might not have been possible. On the other hand, at the playtest of the Northern sector of the Borodino battlefield this Fall, the French cavalry Corps that would have been to his left had similar cards and Leadership rolls and also raced across the table, so, who knows? The Russians, however, have called for the eight batteries of artillery from the Reserve Artillery to assist in their defense. Unfortunate for Joe, he rolls a "1" on his first MOVE card, preventing them form entering, and wins just a single segment the next move which allows a couple of batteries (only) to enter the table, but they must still remain limbered for now!

Greg rolls a triple MOVE for his Cuirasier Division, and moves forward to engage my eight regiments of cavalry with his three! Of course, only half of mine are Cuirasiers, the rest being light cavalry, and the Russian Cuirasiers are rated somewhat superior to the French ones, especially after the horrible privations the French horses suffered during the long advance across Russia over the long, hot summer. I've also taken some losses already from the Russian batteries on the ridge off in the distance. As Greg didn't roll EVEN, he must wait for a MELEE card to fight me (or roll even and high on the next Russian MOVE card). 

My lone (but crack!) Horse battery unloads canister into the nearest Russian Cuirassier regiment at Point Blank range. Confidently I roll my D12+3... a "10", plus 3 is 13, but no scores higher than 12 count, so that a 12! The Russian Cuirassiers, being as tough as Guards, have a D10 for their defense die, and Greg rolls - a 10!  Curses! Two hits, not enough to cause a UI loss; as I did at least roll even, I have to be content with the Cuirassiers falling back 2", Out of Command. At least that takes them out of contact with my Chevau-Leger Lanciers, who are thus no longer outnumbered 2:1. Still, the battery is now "unloaded", and horribly vulnerable to a potential charge!

James' attack starts to hit home, and the first unit of Joe's Combined Grenadiers is Routed by close range fire from the front and long range fire from the flank! (The "smoke" designates a unit that has "fired" and must await a RELOAD card of the appropriate type before it may "fire" again.)

I get a double magic MOVE myself, and countercharge with a fresh Cuirassier unit, and change my Lanciers into a more favorable melee formation and charge home myself on the opposing Cuirasiers - not great odds, bu better than waiting them to be the ones initiating the charge! The French Cuirassiers are routed in the process, but my 5th Chevau-Leger Lanciers manage to return the favor, routing and destroying their heavier opposition in the second round!

As Polish pressure builds around Utitsa, Barry orders the Opolchenie forward - all 12 regiments, here represented by a mix of Front Rank (Barry), Hinchliffe (Greg), and Falcon UK (me) figures. 

Speaking of troops with a D4 Defense die type, and thus very vulnerable to fire...

 The bluest toes you've ever seen, in Siberia!
And the bogs, the greenest green, in Siberia!
Like an unruly child,
Galloping free and wild.
Full of Vodka, free of fears
They are out to cause some tears
And grab loot to last a year
in Siberia!

When you find your own true nag, you will know it,
By its guile, by the sway in its back.
Thrust your lances in the air,
Better yet up a French derriere!
Look out everyone here come the Cossacks!

(Yep, 'ol Peter forgot to take his meds yet again, folks. Sorry!)

Overview of the Southern portion of the Battle at this juncture.

"Dense clouds of dark smoke obscured the battlefield." Yet another timely French MOVE card, followed by a Melee card has enabled James (Davout) to continue his sweep across the ridgeline, routing successive units of combined Grenadiers and clearing one of the Fleches.

Several Russian units are caught and forced to surrender, as the Artillery reserve has continued difficulty deploying, but manages to drive back a unit or two of French Infantry... but not nearly enough!

Another French Cuirassier unit is routed by their Russian opponents, while my Horse Artillery has pulled back, and awaits the chance o unlimber and reload before it is too late!

Who will charge first?
(Those are unenthusiastic Prussian Hussars serving with the French in the foreground!)

I get an Even roll on a MOVE card. The 5th Chevau-Leger Lanciers, historically the best of all the miniature units in my original, long ago French Napoleonic army, bravely, perhaps foolishly, charges another Russian Cuirassier regiment... at least I'll get the UP one for charging and another UP one for the better melee formation (column = waves of attack by squadron as it applies to cavalry).

"Not thees time, zo, (un)lucky Pierre!"

"Juggernaut James" seems unstoppable, as he switches to routing "real" Russian grenadier regiments! About to clear the third and final Fleche, the Corps artillery and cavalry turn to contain the threat from Greg's victorious Cuirassuiers. Around this time we turn an Army (Corps, for Borodino) Morale Card. Nansouty's Cavalry have been reduced to zero Morale points, and thus I must test! Rolling Nansouty's D12+1 for leadership against a D12, I pass by 2!  The French Cavalry will fight on... at least until the next MORALE card is turned! Amazingly, no commanders "die" in the playtest of sector of the battle. Wait until we get Dave M. commanding some Russians at Historicon, though!  

Two regiments of Russian Cuirassiers: each charges a unit of Hussars; one French, one Prussian! The Prussians are destroyed, but the French Hussars outperform their heavier brethren, decisively defeating the Cuirassiers who charged them. I could have called upon some reserves (The Young Guard Infantry, for example, would have been especially welcome), but seeing the success of James' attack and the advancing hour, I opted against it.

Near Utitsa, the enormous mass of Oplochenie advances enthusiastically upon the Poles, actually causing minor damage with their antiquated and scarce muskets!

Greg's Infantry Division finally rolls something more than a "1" and moves forward, perhaps trying to get out of the way of Juggernaut James' advance!

In the far South, my new Vistula Legion infantry regiments (standing in for Grand Duchy of Warsaw line in order to get some tabletop time before the Big Game in July) face off against the Russian Grenadiers, with neither accomplishing much. 

A Russian Oplchenie unit charges one of Polish regulars... and routs them!

Although I am still out of Morale Points, Greg is almost out of Curiassiers at last! at this juncture, we call the action after about 3.5 hours of fighting; Davout has decisively pierced the Russian Center, although Reserves are on the way to try to plug the gap. The terrain and troops, distances and use of Reserves all seem about right., so we're set for the actual game in Fredericksburg in July. I just have to cut out the commander labels so that we can keep the game at the show relatively clear of the clutter of the color coded Command cards, which list the troops of each Division and their ratings.

Finally, a last shot of those Mecklenbuger-Schweringites shipped to us by fellow [Hofkreigs-] Rat, Gavin from Australia. It seems they picked up some provisions during their time Down Under as well!  :-)

"Now THAT's what I call a Vegemite Sandwich, Mate!"  (cue Paul Hogan voice, a la Crocodile Dundee).

Don't take our hobby *too* seriously, friends. It's supposed to be FUN!



  1. Nice report, Peter...did not realize your lighting problems as you'd cleaned up so thoroughly by the time we got there.

    It was a grand fight, I felt sorry for the Grenadiers under my command who were so blocked up by the poor die rolling on my part and the annoying sequence of cards on our side. They (the Grenadiers) deserved better, and showed how tough they are when the enemy came anywhere near their front. Jim did a great job off maneuver and attack and had some excellent rolling.

    Still, facing down 18 (or was it 20?) enemy units with 8 units to start and still having three units left shows the qualities the castings! Maybe next time the Reserve Artillery will come more quickly.

    There is always July in VA. As bad as I rolled that day, I roll good on others.

    1. Yep, sometimes you just get caught in a perfect storm like that, and there seems little to do but sit back and enjoy the ride!

      As we observed, clearly prudent but relatively timely commitment of the reserves is likely to be the deciding factor in the big game!

  2. You have no idea how excited I am. Is it July yet?!

    My ultimate strategy for success consists of a plan to seat myself across from Dave once again.

    1. I'm looking forward to it tremendously, but don't want July to come to quickly - still about 100 figures left to paint, although few of them are essential!

  3. A great AAR. I like your Opolcheniye units
    Best regards

    1. Their flags are especially nice! :-)

      (half of them are courtesy of Rafa's site)

  4. Love the work of those lancers. Looking forward to reading about the big game.

    1. Less than 2.5 months away, which means I have to get on with the last of the painting!

  5. Peter, thanks for another witty, descriptive and interesting battle report.

    Like Rafa, I love those Opolchenye, especially the pikes (and flags)! How could such units rout a unit of Poles?! "Stupid rules" is my usual comment when such things happen to me!

    I was interested to see how you designed the terrain too. We are musing about how we are going to do it, so your ideas will be really useful--we have a bit more lead time than you.


    p.s. Totally agree on the table height. We are fortunate to use a table that Mark made that is about 1 m high. As you say, it makes playing a large battle heaps easier on the back. It is especially good compared with the couple of games that we did on the floor back in 2010, before we had set up the table!
    p.p.s. I have put a link to this on the Wargamng Waterloo 2015 blog.
    p.p.p.s Thanks for the vegemite!

    1. Thanks, James!

      Raising the Oplochenie was definitely a group project - I mean, how many other combats will these units ever see? Barry did four of them (Front Rank), I did four (Falcon-UK), and Greg did some (Hinchliffe, I believe). They do make a grand show en masse like that! Could probably almost use them as Thirty Years War troops, too.

      As for routing the Poles, well, they're rated as bad as you can get in Field of Battle - Defense Die Type D4, Combat D8. The Poles are DD6, CD10. If the Oplochenie charge in column and initiate melee, they will be up one each for that, while the Poles are Up 1 for having the higher DD type - so they will both be rolling a D12, even odds. Of course, if the Poles *shoot* at them as they come in, they'll be rolling as high as a D12+2 against the Militia's D4, which will probably stagger them, but... nothing is guaranteed!

      The battlefield map was drawn up by Czar Barry; we used what I had on hand in the basement for terrain to set up the table for this game, including the Hovels Russian buildings.

  6. Thanks for the explanation of the odds under Field of Battle. Interestingly, under our Shako ANF, the Poles will be 'regulars' with a base of 4, while the militia will be 'second rate' with a base of three. If the militia got in the Poles would have a 'failed volley' modifier of -1, making them, EVEN (before die rolls). If I roll a '1', and "they" roll a '5', it's back to Warsaw. At that stage I mutter "stupid dice,... stupid rules!"

  7. It sounds like in both rules, shooting at the inferior unit is a better bet than melee!

    For our Cossacks and Opolchenie at Borodino, we're using a special rule whereby Morale Points are only lost when an entire unit is removed (the regular army doesn't care much about their fate!), BUT, any such units that rout are just removed instead - no chance for them to rally. With a D4 Defensive die type, they are likely to Rout from fire!