Thursday, October 19, 2017

RAMILLIES 1815: A TWENTY FOOT TABLE, TWENTY PLAYERS, AND A FEW TOY TELESCOPES

If you have been following along, you will no doubt recall that I have been meandering towards hosting a rather epic (as it has been called by others--let the record show) Napoleonic orgy featuring all of my Prussians vs most of my French. For those who wish to catch up, you may wish to check out the previous post, which presents the context for the engagement. This happened last Saturday (Oct 14), and this post, dear readers, intends to shew what transpired.  I was heavily engaged with running the affair, so please excuse if this report may consist of rather alot of eye candy with some contextual framing tossed in. For those who may want to know how this was done, or who might wish to replicate this madness, I direct your attention to my Ramillies 1815 content page, where I have posted all the game files.   On to the report...

For starters, I used the below text to produce my own versions of maps for the event...
Ramillies 1706 Marlborough’s Tactical Masterpiece Campaign 275 Author: Michael McNally Illustrator: Seán Ó’Brógáin Publication Date: 20 Oct 2014 

...the dimensions of the maps necessarily wound up getting warped quite a bit to fit the elongated proportions of the wargames table. In this case, I had a main table (Ramillies) of 20' x 6', with two adjacent "approach" tables (one Prussian and one French), of 18x5'...

...Above left, the graphic showing the tables marked off in a 1' grid (numbers are entry points).  Above right, the graphic combined into a single map. One feature of the game was that the last foot of each of the approach tables was actually the first foot of the Ramillies table. This overlap took care of any issues with fighting over the gap between tables (which I've seen come up in games that use multiple tables). Speaking of arrival points, each commander had to decide on a primary axis of advance ahead of time, as well as an order of march. Once that was done, units would arrive in accordance with the order of march table. This system abstracts the time/distance effect of formations arriving in columns of march along the axis...
 ...Example: If the Center/North axis was chosen, 1 formation (French Division or Prussian Brigade) would enter on turn 1 (at entry point 3), and up to 2 formations could enter on turn 2 (1 at entry point 2 and 1 at entry point 4). 2 formations could enter on turn 3 (1 each at entry points 1 and 3). As it turned out, both sides chose Center/North, but more on that later.
   
On the night before the game, I set up room and the terrain...
...I had terrain "tents" to assist with both identifying terrain effects as well as objectives for towns. In the above, you can see that in addition to the terrain classification information, the town of Foulx is worth two points for the French (signified by the two blue dots) and one for the Prussians (one gray dot)...
...I started setting up at 6:00 p.m. and wrapped up at around 11:30 p.m. on Friday. I hand't expected it to take so long, so am glad that I didn't try to get the tables set up the morning of!  Aside from levelling the tables and securing the table coverings, I spent a good amount of time ensuring that the entry points were correct (so both sides had the same distances to cover) and meshing where the roads left one table and entered another given that these would serve as guides when units were transferred between tables. Above, the room and tables ready to go the night before.  I must add that the near table in the above left photo is the table mat that I created for this game, spraying patterns on a piece of 20' x 5' duck cloth. I was rather pleased with how it came out (now I have one if I need one again). The others are  Hotz Artworks European Fields mats, and they are superb.  I then returned early the next morning with the troops, and things starting happening....
...players begin arriving and checking out the turf.  We had identified a group of core players for each side ahead of time. These fine fellows would command the major formations and were appraised of the grand schemes for each side. Walk-in players were assigned to them to assist with running the formations. Although there were inevitably some comings and goings through the day, we had twenty players at the peak (that I counted), which was what I had figured for...
...Charlie, the author of Napoleon's Rules of War, briefs the players before the game.  Charlie would assist me in running the game. I then followed charlie and briefed the players on the peculiarities of the Game Day rules and the Victory Conditions. The game was intended as a mini campaign and kriegspiel in one, only without maps. Towards these ends, one of the central tenets was limited player communication. Once a player's formation arrived, he could only communicate with adjacent commands or the army commander via written note, and that was only during a five minute command phase at the end of every turn.  Thus, each player commander would see the other side approaching and have to adjust based on his understanding of the operation. This worked out well; the individual initiative of multiple players impacted the overall schemes of the commanders (for better and worse), and each side clearly was reacting to the other.  Another point was that players could not leave the environs of the approach table until their commands had actually entered the Ramillies table.  And in any case, they could not examine the approaching enemy units except as they could see them across the table (or approaching the table in the distance).  Thus, spying out the approaching forces was a major part of the game.  To assist with this mechanism, I (helpfully) equipped both sides with the finest in Napoleonic technology (what we call in contemporary military terminology "off carriage fire control")....
...each side had four of these magnificent toy telescopes available to scan opposing forces. What they lacked in magnification they more than made up for in flavor...
 ....after the rules briefings, each team broke into their planning sessions. Team Prussia, above left, receives its brief from Bob (playing the part of Gneisenau), and Team France, above right, received its brief from Mark D (Playing the part of Grouchy). Then things got rolling in earnest...
...a few turns in: the Prussians arriving on the approach table (above left). Above right, you can see the French Corps on the approach table arrayed in battalion carre (each block is a division).  Nicely, done, that man, Mark D/Grouchy (seen at the end of the table at the top of the picture)...
  ...Above Left, a shot of a French division marching across the approach table.  Above right, a Prussian brigade marching in from its arrival point...
 ...the first players start taking up positions on the Ramillies table as advance guard elements start arriving there...
 ...meanwhile, the main body players whose commands were still on the approach tables look on to follow developments and adjust accordingly (or not)...
  ...more players start taking up positions at the Ramillies table as more formations begin to arrive...
  ...things are developing, with most players on the Ramillies table, but there remain substantial forces yet to arrive...

  ...a shot from the French side looking towards the Prussians on the northern edge of the battle. This would be a more spread out affair, with room for troops deployed in line, as opposed to the main effort in the center, where you can see the more concentrated forces in columns. Standing in the photo is AJ, of AJ's Wargaming Blog, who also has a report on the game...

...Both sides are now all in, with nothing left on the approach tables.  This did not mean that the approach tables were irrelevant. A breakthrough by either side could force action onto an approach table (which would be extremely adverse to the side that had to defend its approach)...
 ...Above, action on the north end of the table with fighting stretching into the woods and across the Little Gheete River. On the French side, Earl's dice, which had been red hot in the practice games, went cold, and General Dice instead weighed in on the Prussian side (when it rains...).  The Prussians would eventually threaten Autre-Eglise by the end of the day...
  ...the culminating action in the center, with the French Young Guard hitting the Prussian line opposite Ramillies.  This also was where the Prussians deployed one of their two grenadier battalions (seen in the above right, the fellows with the busch plumes). The Prussian line withstood the shock, and they eventually would challenge the French for control of Ramillies (which was contested at the end of the day)...
....On the south end of the table, the Prussian cavalry division has arrived and is poised to impact events, with the dragoon brigade headed for the gap in the French lines (trying to get there before it can be covered), and the cuirassiers threatening the French line south of Ramillies...
 ...but the French Dragoon division is coming up to counter. Unfortunately, we had to call the game before this epic clash was resolved, but it was grand to see it developing!
This game represented an engagement between a full up, reinforced Prussian Armee Korps (five brigades, plus cavalry division and reserve artillery), and a reinforced French Corps d Armee (three divisions, plus corps light cavalry division & reserve artillery, plus a Young Guard Division, plus a Dragoon division supplemented by a hussar brigade).  In all, there were  48 Prussian battalions, 44 French battalions, 48 Prussian squadrons, 44 French squadrons, and 9 batteries on each side.  About right, it seems, for a 20 foot table :)

By all accounts, it was well received and ran pretty much as I had hoped it would.  The game ended before we could name a victor, but it was well fought and all seem to have been productively engaged while there.  I managed to put all of my toys on the table, and it was quite a sight to see them spread out in one game. We played from 10:00 a.m. until 5 p.m.: 'twas a fine way to spend a Saturday, among good friends playing with toy soldiers.  My thanks to all of my compadres in the club for their enthusiasm and support.  I am content. 

And this, friends, concludes my report on Game Day, 2017.  

Excelsior!



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

FINAL APPROACH TO GAME DAY

This is just a quick post to keep things alive in these parts. My time has been taken up with preparation for our club's Game Day, which will be happening this weekend! Above is the situation (the map is from the Columbia Games Napoleon block game). The Penguin (in case you were wondering) is the mascot of our club. Here is the situation:

The Game Day battle is premised on an alternate version of the 1815 Campaign.

15 June, 1815. Napoleon has crossed the frontier and concentrated at Charleroi, pushing back the Prussian pickets. He orders Ney to take command of the left wing of the Army of the North and press north up the Charleroi–Brussels road towards the Anglo-allied army to "drive back the enemy" while Napoleon drives up the Fleurus road to do the same to the Prussians.

The Prussians are concentrating in the vicinity of Fleurus (Ligny), while Wellington, who has been “Humbugged,” gives orders for the Anglo Allied army to concentrate at Nivelles (these were the actual orders). The Prince of Orange and Bernhard of Saxe Weimar, as they did historically, move to Quatre Bras on their own initiative to block the French.

16 June, 1815. Wellington, not recognizing in time that the French are not flank marching towards Hal, fails to reinforce Quatre Bras. Ney follows his orders more effectively than in history and breaks the unsupported Anglo Allied Force at Quatre Bras. French pursuit disrupts the Anlgo Allied attempt to concentrate at Nivelles. Napoleon decisively smashes Blucher at Ligny.

17 June, 1815. Isolated from the wrong-footed Anglo Allied army, the shattered Prussians are forced to retire towards Liege. Blucher, who was overidden in a cavalry action, is wounded and out of action. Von Gneisenau assumes control of the Prussians. Napoleon shifts the main effort towards eliminating the Anglo Allied Army. He turns to Grouchy and detaches a wing of the Army of the North to pursue and complete the destruction of the Prussian Army of the Lower Rhine.

18 June, 1815. Wellington, gathering together his forces Hal, is obliged to retire, with Napoleon in pursuit. Meanwhile, the pursuing Grouchy collides with lead elements of a Prussian force advancing from Hannut. Apparently, Gneisenau has rolled the dice and brought the only remaining Prussian forces in theater forward. A meeting engagement is developing in the Ramillies Gap between the Mehaigne and Geete rivers....on to Game Day, October 14, 2017!


Today, I will concentrate on putting together the "game box" to run the game (the dice, rulers, markers, terrain markings, etc, etc).  Here's what it looks like after two weeks of preparation....
The terrain all stacked and ready to be inventoried one last time and then stuffed into tubs and boxes for the trip to set up on Friday night. With two 18'x5' tables and one 20'x6' table, the multiple game mats are a major item (there are two more rolled up in the cardboard box, on loan from a fellow club member for the occasion: thanks, Bob!)...
The Prussians and French sorted and placed in boxes organized by command, and stacked ready to go. Last step will be to add some identifying information to the boxes that don't have them.
Above left, the "game box" stuff still spread out and waiting be inventoried and packaged. It sounds quite anal, but having 20+ people show up on a Saturday and then not having something like enough dice  to run the game would be no joke. Above right, all the documents sorted and ready to go.
Above, one last minute project that worked out beautifully. I needed more town blocks than I had, I realized, and was at something of a loss--no matter how hard I stared at the 4 that I had, they didn't expand to 13. I wanted a uniform look, so didn't want to gather the extras from among the group (who would have been happy to contribute). I hadn't realized how short I was on this particular terrain item until it was too late to order something through the mail.  Then it came to me: the Interwebs! Of course! A Google Search for "Cobblestones" brought up many options. Here is just one search result for printed cobblestone patterns. In short order, I had downloaded a likely pattern, printed it out, mounted it on mat board, cut it out (x13), and "poof"--end of problem. Furthermore, these will be a nice addition to my collection for future use! But...
...there was one project (above), longer in the planning, that didn't work out. I had an idea for the army commanders to be able to designate a "main effort." I had these spare figures about, so thought that I could facilitate the idea with special stands (which would be really easy to use in practice: plunk the thing down and there ya' go: "Main Effort Here"). Of course the definition of "main effort" in game terms remained vague...
...and never got fully developed in time for the Game Day. As you can see from the above, the concept revolves around assigning a number of bonus dice (up to 6 fit on the stands) to the main effort. Exactly what these dice would do, however, remains undefined (lots of ideas, none of them workable). I also could use chits or some other kinds of markers (other than dice), but once again, not in time for this Game Day. So, I have some neat special stands that will have to wait for another day to see the table.

In the meantime, the practice games have been done. The key players have been briefed. Their battle plans have been prepared. And now I must finish up the last bits of prep and packing.
 

Then, on to Game Day!
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