Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Comment on the Tactical Rules

The battles were fought using the 1st Edition of Volley & Bayonet by Frank Chadwick. All of the cavalry were on regimental bases, which made them very fragile (one hit/regiment).

If I were to fight the campaign again (and we did, sort of), I would put the cavalry on brigade bases. This is mostly because the doctrine of the time was already migrating to the use of cavalry brigades as opposed to regiments. This was in large part because of the recognition of two factors. First, that individual regimental strengths varied widely, depending upon the success of the Colonel-Proprietor. Second, that cavalry was best used en masse. Dragoons, however, would be on regimental stands because my reading of the literature of the period indicates that this was the way it was usually done.

Now the 2nd Edition of the rules is out, Volley & Bayonet, The Road to Glory. I would use these the next time the two sides face off. When will that be? Well, there was another campaign that followed the one I'm currently detailing, a campaign that emphasized scouting (one side didn't). That will get detailed later.

A word on armies/rules/&c. All of my Marlburians are for V&B. I've tried various other rules for the period, and like V&B for its subtlety and simplicity. Long gone are the days when I felt complexity gave a better game.

I saw this in a game of Wagram I read about using the rules Two Hundred Years Ago. This club lovingly painted up every battery, battalion and regiment from that battle. They rented a hall. They laid the troops out. They got through three turns(!) and then had to pick up. I read the rules and concluded that a simple time-motion study precluded ever doing anything with them aside from small actions.

Historically most wargames rules work best with small forces. This is partly because the foundations of the hobby were from (mostly) WW2 gaming, and there you didn't think of divisions, the gamers who had been through that war thought in terms of companies/troops and battalions (at the highest level). Scotty Bowden changed that with Empire 1. Suddenly my 1:20 Napoleonic army (2 divisions) became two corps! I felt like a corps or army commander, not a glorified regimental commander. And part of Scotty's secret was a time-motion study that simplified the mechanics. But even so, by the end of a battle spread over three or four of our days, we would be so exhausted that we'd just say "throw the dice and we'll look it up if it's close."

Years ago I did Alte Fritz, a 1:75 set of Seven Years War rules. I simplified the mechanics as much as I could, and you could handle a reasonable sized battle on the table. The largest we did was 35+ battalions and 60 squadrons on a side. That was an epic fight that took a good part of a day. Clearly improvements could be made.

Jeff Cox and I took the DBA concept and did Little Big Battles. There a player could handle a corps without a problem, often two. And Jeff and I did one epic battle where we had multiple corps each. But the average player had no problem handling even the extra-large Austrian corps of 1809. The secret was a close attention to time-motion, and the DBA concept of rolling morale and combat results up as one throw.

The only other set of rules that I've enjoyed for large actions (what I prefer) are the V&B rules. I confess that my first experience was very negative, but that was partly because the guy putting the game on at Enfilade! was a nice guy who didn't know the rules all that well. Jeff and I tested them by trying our best to abuse the daylights out of them. It left a sour taste in our mouths.

I went back a few months later after an ACW V&B game. True, I was hung out to dry by my Army Commander (I had Sickles Corps on Day 2 of Gettysburg), but so was Sickles, partly through his own folly. But I cobbled together a line after the initial shock, and managed to fall back in some order and pull more of my troops out of the fight than Sickles (or after he was wounded, Humphries) did. And what was going on felt like what I'd read. I decided to give the rules another try.

I did, and my Marlburians all went on V&B stands. I also mounted my 1813 Prussians for V&B, but haven't touched my 1806 French or any of my SYW troops. We'll see about what happens in the future.

Why didn't I try Napoleon's Battles? I did, and it makes an interesting story. Jeff and I were at a local hobbystore, and the guys there were putting on the Battle of Teugen-Hausen (1809 Campaign). Jeff took the French, and I was given a corps of Austrians. The main Austrian force deploys on a ridge, and my corps was coming up through some woods on their right. The French (Davout's troops) assaulted the ridge, carried it, and swept the Austrians aside.

Jeff didn't just power into the Austrians in a Napoleonic style banzai charge, get mangled, and then have to fight hard with his second division to hold his line while the Austrians massed on his flank. This was unheard of! Instead he massed his forces, and pinned the Austrians in front while trying to turn their left flank. Unheard of! In fact one of the guys who normally gamed with the rules dismissed Jeff's flank attack as something that couldn't work because "the end battalion will simply face". So Jeff got behind the Austrians and hit them from three sides. Their line folded at once.

I took one look at this, and at too many French for my columns of march to hold back. So I used my Advanced Guard division to punch the French back while everyone turned around and marched away. The Advanced Guard division fell back as a mobile rearguard, and after a couple of bad experiences the French followed up cautiously.

The same guys were going to put on Wagram using these rules, and they called me about a month before. They wanted me to take an Austrian Corps because I was "a careful, cautious commander". For some reason this sends my friends into paroxysms of laughter. I declined politely.

I didn't like the feel of Napoleon's Battles (just like I didn't like Piquet). Call it personal preferences. I have not tried Sam Mustapha's Grand Army. For now I'll stick with V&B, and if I want SYW, Age of Reason. For Napoleonics...right now it's a reworked Empire 2, or Guard du Corps. Negotiations are on-going (there are other games involved). We'll see what happens.


Bluebear Jeff said...

I've been tempted a few times to pick up a copy of Volley and Bayonet for Marlburian but have never done so.

Now the new edition has about doubled the price . . . but does it really add anything for the early 18th century? Or is it mainly added Napoleonic info?

(Note that unlike many gamers I have absolutely no interest in the Napoleonic period.)

In other words, is the new edition worth the big price jump given my narrow interest?

-- Jeff

Maj_Gen_Stanley said...

Jeff -

The new version is keyed around the Napoleonic period. Subsequent releases are for the 18th Century and the ACW.

I would say that if you have the opportunity, try the rules that someone else has bought first, and then decide.

-- Bruce B.