Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Famous Victory - Blenheim: Anglo-Allied Setup and First Turns

Now for the Anglo-allied setup. Again, this is a quasi-historical setup. The commands ("lines" in game terms) are composed of roughly the right mix of units, and are in roughly the right places - as far as anyone knows. For a future game I will probably use the positions as illustrated here for what may be a more historical setup.

On the Anglo-Allied right, we have Prince Eugene's wing. This wing is composed of Danish and German/Imperial horse and foot. Poor Eugene has a long slog through the marshy ground around the Nebel. Hopefully the smoke from the burning village of Schwennenbach (extreme left of the photo) will keep the midges off!

Burning villages, you say? Yes, an interesting special rule for this scenario is that the Franco-Bavarian player can fire all of the villages and the two mills north of the Nebel. The actual fired hexes are impassable. The immediately surrounding hexes are all filled with smoke, which blocks line-of-sight and which causes a check for disruption for any unit moving through them. So, in addition to the bloody marshes and streams, the Anglo-Allied player has to contend with this smoke! Continued fire is checked for at the beginning of each subsequent turn, with a hex being extinguished on a d10 roll of a 7, 8, or 9.

Cutts' troops line up before Blenheim. Note the two burning mills. I think I'd like to come up with some sort of smoke markers to show the blocked LOS. Also note the two wrecked bridge counters crossing the Nebel. These can be repaired, but require a unit to expend all its movement for a turn adjacent to the bridge with no enemy unit on the other side. The troops here are all English and Hessians. All of the English troops start with a "-1 Reduced" marker to reflect loses taken at the Schellenberg (another battle I'd love to see represented with this system.)

My artillery placement here sucks. Most of the guns have their LOS blocked by the smoke from the mills. I think I would have also been better off to concentrate them, rather than spread them out. One real challenge with artillery in this scenario is that it can't move across bog at all, unless by road. I'd have been better to set these guns up to support Marlborough's center than the attack on Blenheim, which is, after all, really a feint. In the end, these guns were mostly useless during the early part of the game.

I'm terrible at gun placement pre 20th century. I need to work on that.

Marlborough's center. Dutch and Hessian infantry make up the front line. This is followed by a line of Dutch, Hessian, and Hanoverian cavalry under John's brother, Charles. Finally, there is another line of Dutch infantry, this time under Ingoldby. This is the force intended to break the center of Tallard's line.

After a preliminary artillery exchange that the French gunners had the better of, Cutts moves forwards towards Blenheim. This was my first shot at trying the assault rules and in retrospect, I screwed them up completely. For one thing, I failed to account for LOS being blocked out of some of the hexes of the village, allowing the French to artillery to fire too much during Cutts' advance. In reality Cutts' troops sheltered from fire in the low, marshy dead ground along the Nebel, clearly visible in the photo above.

More importantly, I failed to understand that in this game, using the Assault/Charge order applies to the entire line. Line commanders can issue essentially three orders - Move, Rally, or Assault/Charge. The first two of these apply to individual units, so different units in a line can do different things. However, and Assault/Charge order applies to every unit. Units that aren't in position to actually assault (capable of moving adjacent to an enemy by moving one hex) are still constrained to take part in the assault by moving only a single hex. Instead, I moved a small number of units adjacent and conducted assaults individually.

This didn't go well for Cutts. In the first hour after the artillery exchange Cutts lost three entire battalions of English infantry, a pretty steep price for what's supposed to be a feint. Of course, I didn't actually understand that when I set the game up, nor did I fully understand the Assault/Charge order.

Honestly, now that I've played a few turns of this, I would set up completely differently, at least for the Anglo-Allies. During setup I took the idea of "line" too literally. For Cutts and probably some other formations I would shorten the lines and make them deeper - I now realize that a "line" is more a "division" and as long as the units are adjacent and within range of their commander, the formation complies with the rule. Combined with my screw up of Cutts' initial assault, I may reset the game and start over, despite play for another couple of hours of game time yesterday (not yet documented here).

I am loving this system. So much so that I ordered the sequel from Enterprise Games. I'm going to pick it up in an hour or so - it's my fortune and my curse that I live about a ten minute drive from them! Despite my mistakes, the play of this system lines up amazingly well with the reading I've been doing about Malburnian warfare. There are a few ambiguities in the rules, but nowhere near what some people have claimed in online reviews and discussions. A common complaint, for example, is that players aren't sure whether or not to use the d6 or d10 for certain rolls, and yet it states quite clearly in the rules that the d6 is used for fire combat resolution and the d10 for everything else. I'm just not finding the rules as confusing as some people seem to think.

One thing I don't care for is the map colors. I'm finding the elevation colors are too subtle. I'm tempted to take a drafting pen and outline the elevation boundaries like contour lines to make them more visible.

If I'm liking this as much as I am, I suspect I'm going to flat out fall in love with the Battles from the Age of Reason system. It may be a bit before I get to that one though, since I'm going to have four battles in this system that I think I'll want to play through. Honestly, if you really want to get a handle on the tactical combat of the early 18th century, go find copies of these games. You won't be disappointed.