Monday, January 20, 2014

And really bad eggs...

At my Middle School we offer electives in 8th grade.  In the quarter just ended I got to teach a History of Piracy class.  We began in ancient times and progressed to the present day with naturally, an emphasis on the "Golden Age of Piracy."  After completing their essay final exam I set up a simple pirate raid on a British holding using 25mm figures and a simplified version of Buccaneers, Broadswords and Blunderbusses, which uses quality dice.  The premise was that at dawn a band of pirates with two leaders landed from the ocean, while another rival band came overland.  The gallant defenders had a handful of grenadiers, a heroic leader on horseback and a bevy of largely terrified civilians.  Each command carried gold doubloons with them and the objective was to have the most at the end.

The game:

Each group rolled 1d6 to determine who moved, fired and meleed first.  In our game the seaborne pirates landed first and rushed towards the town walls, killing the night watchman who apparently was not very watchful.

Initially the pirates were successful, gunning down some grenadiers and civilians.  When the two bands first came into contact I wondered if they could fight, but the call against the common enemy was too great and there never seemed to be any danger of the Brotherhood clashing.

Some pirates attempted to loot buildings while the fighting was going on.  Two that tried at different times to dive through a window discovered that in the dim light they hadn't noticed the shutters.  (Rolled a "6" on a d6)  Others used the door.

Then the dice got hot for the defenders.  The hero survived hit after hit and the toll of pirates began to rise.  One band lost their leader and said their other one was back at the boats.  So they had a -1 to their initiative dice for the remainder of the game.  Some pirates entered buildings and found 1d6 of doubloons.  One rolled back to back sixes and found a special treasure.  Head for the woods!  As a final incentive, a party of Royal Marines landed, shot the remaining pirate leader, and headed for town.

In the end the pirate band with seven survivors of their 18 men "won" with 22 doubloons.  The special treasure putting them over the top.  The defenders were second with 21, having found some on dead pirates to add to their starting number.  Leaders who were hit could buy a saving throw by giving away a doubloon.  All four that bought a second chance made their saves except one.  The other group of pirates was, um, removed from play.

Justice triumphs and a the pirates are driven away.  Most of the players had never done a miniatures game before and none had done a vaguely historical game.  A fitting end to an interesting class.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Battle of Talavera 1809(2) Part II

As battle was rejoined the ebb and flow of the battle continued to swing in favor of the French and then the British.  In the center, at the joint formed by the Spanish redoubt and 12lb. battery, the French were in some difficulty.  Two battalions had already routed from an utterly failed elan test to charge against the British and others had been thrown back by the Spanish in a firefight, which packed them tightly.  Sensing an opportunity the Zamora regiment and their grenadiers surged forward.  With the Marquis la Romana leading (yeah, I know, but we went with the figures painted) and de la Cuesta urging them on, they hit the French and threw them back, disordering themselves and the supporting battalions in column.

Zayas' division continued to "attack" Leval's German division but seemed every hour to be seized by inertia and could not risk getting too close.  (Damned Spanish modifier for activity rolls.)  Taking advantage of the previous situation, Romana threw himself and his regiment on the disordered French battalions, routing them.

On the left Ruffin and Lapisse continued to throw themselves at the Cerro de Medellin.  Charge after charge went up the hill.  Sometimes they closed and won or lost, sometimes they had firefights, but throughout it all the British held. 

The British light cavalry earned a brief respite as the French Dragoons sorted themselves out. 

But the Coldstream Guards suffered the most.  Being bombarded unmercilessly by four French batteries, saw their strength reduced to a small cluster around their proud colours.

The end of the hour saw a dramatic change in the status quo.  Lapisse caught a musket ball in the forehead and left his division leaderless, if but for a time.  Zayas, no doubt attempting to get his men moving was gut shot and was carried from the field.  Still conscious and naming a successor who would eventually assume control.  (He lived.)  Even de la Cuesta was not immune as debris thrown up by a cannonball skipping by struck him in the forehead, temporarily stunning him.  Or course it was really just a run of extremely low dice rolls, but this is much more interesting.  :-)

Finally, the French division facing the Spanish and British, which had been so man-handled this hour, felt the pressure.  Losing confidence in their officers, they precipitously retreated almost 1000 yards to the rear.  Romana, being also engaged by the Germans, had to watch as his prey (yeah, right) slipped out of reach.  To the relief of the British, it also meant the four batteries that had pummeled the British line also limbered up and moved away.

As the struggle renewed the temporarily leaderless Spanish kind of floundered.  The cavalry that had been ordered up two hours earlier to support la Romana still preferred to observe and the pervading sense of ennui that had taken Zayas' division now gripped the whole Spanish army.  Not so the French, who determined to take the Cerro de Medillin, no matter the cost.  Similarly, the French dragoons lined up for another attack on the severely fatigued British light cavalry.  Worse for British fortunes, an infantry element began to work its way around the far British left. 

As we began the fourth continuous hour of battle (tabletop time) it was obvious to all that the crisis point had been reached.  The seemingly endless stream of Dragoons maneuvered to flank the British light cavalry.  Only the continuing string of getting the first tactical impulse saved them temporarily from destruction.  The French infantry continued their march and engaged a rearward British division.

Even the Spanish Royal Guard moved in to attack.  There were no French reserves at this point, while the British and Spanish still had unengaged maneuver elements.  A breakthrough was essential.

Having moved up in column, they switched to line and prepared to charge.

Finally, not even the bagpipe band could halt the onrushing French.  The Cerro de Medellin fell, or at least the first part of it.  The Royal Guards wrestled with the depleted British Guards and KGL, and the French and German divisions under Sebastiani began to retake lost ground.

But just as the exhausted French took the long fought over ground, the sound of trumpets chilled them to the bone.  Fane's brigade of heavy dragoons moved forward.  First a foot battery was trampled, then several battalions that failed to make square were run down and dispersed.  As they were taking breath to cry "Victoire!" the words were ripped from their lungs.

Elsewhere French cavalry learned a bitter lesson about solidly formed squares.  Even the crack Royal Guard could make no positive impression on the British.  Romana and Portago, the latter with the revived de la Cuesta, were holding on tenaciously.  With a mass of cavalry and two unengaged Spanish divisions waiting, the French reluctantly conceded the field.  Having had almost all their infantry engaged for four solid hours of fighting they were in no position to carry on.  That just left it to the clean-up crews to begin their sad work.

A gallant game with honors to both sides.  Had the dice been a little kinder to Paul, Andrew and Jake the French may well have won the day.  But the Gods of War favored Todd, Dan and myself this day.  Next time....?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Battle of Talavera 1809(2) Part I

For our refight of Talavera we reconstructed much of the battlefield north of the town itself.  The old, medieval walls would anchor the flank of the allied force, up to the gap between the Cerro de Medillin and Sierra de Segurilla.  The Portina stream is just cosmetic and after some thought I decided against a special rule for the 23rd LD finding a ravine if they charged.

The allies were made to deploy first to represent the apparently abysmal work by the Spanish and British cavalry that led to the surprise attacks and near embarrassment of Wellington the day and night before our engagement.  They chose a historical deployment.  The French, commanded by Marechal Jourdan rather than the questionable Joseph Bonaparte, were then allowed to plan and deploy.  The starting positions from North to South from the allied POV.

The city of Talavera itself, with the great bridge spanning the Tagus River.

As we began the first grand tactical movement, the allies stood fast except on the flanks.  On the left Cotton and Anson's light cavalry brigades took a deep breath and started off to intercept the mass of French infantry and cavalry that appeared to be bearing down on them.  However, Marechal Victor, in his eagerness to lead Ruffin's division forward neglected to send clear orders and the division under Lapisse didn't step off with the rest of the army.  On the right, de la Cuesta sent the vanguard division ahead to attack into the olive groves next to Talavera.  There they found the "German Division" under Laval opposing them.

 Sebastiani's division moved forward to hit the union of the British and Spanish forces.

The 16th Light Dragoons covered  themselves with glory this day.  Beating both French cavalry and infantry battalions.  While grievously damaged, they held their morale and were eventually extricated back into friendly lines.

Zaya's division closed but had a sudden bout of inactivity and could only prepare themselves to receive the enemy, should they emerge from behind the olive grove enclosures.

Sebastiani's division neatly formed line from column and advanced slightly while their voltigeurs kept up an annoying fire against the lines.  They then advanced and drove back a battalion of British guards and a crack line battalion.  No amateurs these; the French assailants were the famous 32e Ligne.

Back on the left, the French infantry stalled in fear of the rampaging British cavalry and a fierce duel developed for the Cerro de Medillin.  A bagpipe band played loudly to stiffen British resolve.
In time, the aggressive de la Cuesta could stand it no more.  Placing himself at the head of Portago's division and moved to attack.  If the British guards were to be driven back, then Spanish bayonets much drive the invaders from Spain!  Their courage bolstered by the fact that a French charge in line against the British had utterly failed and routed.

Comforted by the knowledge that right behind him were the divisions of Albuquerque and heavy brigade of Fane.  However, things are getting thin on the Cerro de Medillin.

Looking south on the table we see a fierce struggle tapering to stalemate.

I can sometimes be accused of painting a rosier picture than the tabletop would indicate.  But I truly believe this one can go either way.  The "thin red line" on our left is getting very thin and one must think that numbers will prevail there.  However, by weighting so heavily on that side, we have chances in the center and right.  We will finish the battle today (Sunday) with a report to follow.

Vive el Rey!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Disaster at Malme 20.5.41

'ere now, it's a 'einkil.  Messerschmitt!  'einkill!  Messerschmitt!  Ne'er mind, get 'em!

It was in fact, three flights of Ju-88s coming in to bomb the British (New Zealand) defenders around the airfield at Malme.  However, the Bofors were fully manned and ready, and in our Flames of War game, shot down/dispersed/drove off all the attacking bombers.


Wreckage littered airfield

Hill 107, overlooking the airfield
Approximately three companies of infantry, with two platoons of Vickers machine guns, two platoons of 3" mortars and two platoons of Bofor anti-aircraft guns awaited the German onslaught.  On the airfield were two objectives which the Germans needed to capture by turn 8 for a complete victory.  Given that the Allies were historically waiting for the assault due to Ultra intercepts, we dispensed with the usual para drop rules and allowed the defenders on Hill 107, the airfield, and the town of Chania to be fully capable.

As the skies filled with Ju-52s and gliders (literally) the carnage was horrible.  Eschewing an open and undefended area some distance from their objective, the Germans gallantly (foolishly?) landed in the heart of the Allied defense perimeter.  Some of their weapons canisters were even more aggressive, falling within the Commonwealth lines.

Alas for our game, some particularly hot shooting dice, coupled with God-awful saving throws by the Germans, meant that the game lasted one turn.  All three companies that dropped or landed were shredded or eliminated, and the Gebirgsjagers in the next wave were decidedly unenthusiastic.  It is rare that I've seen such a dramatic display of good and bad dice rolling.

1/144 Ju-52s and 15mm Gliders
So we reset the game and used the traditional 1st edition rules for drops.  The Falschirmjager para pioneers with their flamethrowers were lethal but limited in use.  In the end, although they did much better, there was no chance for victory here either.  And since we didn't inexplicably evacuate the high ground and airfield, the Allies held on.  Mentioned in dispatches are my Bofors platoon, that though driven off the field when down to their last stand, were absolute killing machines in both games.  Defying the odds to hit and survive themselves, till finally failing a motivation test.

Happily things were taken in stride.  Camaraderie and good food were enjoyed as well as a totally righteous win by my football team in a bowl game.  Next up, a trip to Spain using Empire.