Saturday, September 12, 2015

Victory Point Games: Aspern Essling

I quite enjoy the Napoleonic 20 system from Victory Point Games. They are quick to play with easy rules that still manage to pull off reasonable results for the scale.

Right now I'm reading John Gill's excellent trilogy on the 1809 campaign against Austria:

Which is just a phenomenal read. If you are at all interested in Napoleonic warfare, this should be on your list.

The book prompted me (as happens) to try some gaming from the campaign. Last week I started with Aspern Essling 20.

Initial French and Austrian positions. Units are corps

Aspern Essling was, historically, a French defeat. After a stunning series of victories against the Austrians and the capture (again) of Vienna, Napoleon was feeling his oats and elected for a hasty crossing of the flooded Danube to destroy the Austrians under Archduke Charles. Frankly, the Austrians had done such a poor job up to that point that it's hard to blame Napoleon for thinking he could just steamroll them. Unfortunately, Napoleon didn't really understand that the Danube in flood was not the same as the Rhine in flood, and ended up stuck on the north bank of the river with just part of his army.

The French cross the river and the Austrians slowly begin to react.
The more I read and learn about the operational art during the 19th century, the more I realize just how little generals of the period actually knew about the movements of the enemy (and often their own troops).  Simulating Fog of War and good scouting is critical for a good game, even playing solo. I've taken to using hidden units and other mechanisms to obscure just what's going on as much as possible.

The French pontoon bridges are destroyed and Napoleon is isolated on the north bank. Desperate Austrian assaults have cleared the French from Aspern.
Fatigue is the other big factor in this period. The newer Napoleonic 20 series rules have a nice, simple optional fatigue system that's worth playing. The circular markers seen in the picture above are fatigue markers. At one point the Austrians had completely exhausted their attacking units trying to take Aspern.

The final situation. The Austrians have destroyed the French bridgehead and taken the villages, but at a cost. French morale was still high enough to yield only a marginal victory for the Austrians, the historical result.
This game had some really dramatic moments as the Austrians assaulted the villages and the French, stretched thin, repeatedly held them off. More than once the Austrian attacks produced Attacker Withdraw results that the French were able to ignore due to the fortification effects of the villages. The destruction of the French pontoon bridges was also a very neat game result that dramatically changed the tactical situation for the French. Seeing all of those French reinforcements trapped on the far side of the Danube, unable to rescue Napoleon and the rest of the army was quite the situation!

All in all the game played out in a couple of hours and was great fun. I really like that VPG games have most all of the charts and tables printed on either the map or a couple of cards that can be placed next to the map. This really cuts down on the paper-shuffling during the game. I'm looking forward to trying the other game in this set, Wagram.