Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Historical Gaming news from Turkey

Your loyal foreign correspondent has news from the  Sublime Porte!

Last weekend Onur and two other gamers played a Black Powder battle using 1/72 armies based on the Battle of Waterloo

You can read a AAR at this link at Karargah Club.

Onur was nice enough to provide me with some pictures of the game, to make up for the fact that non-members cannot see the pictures on the Club Page.

The French overrun Hougemont and Le Haisainte 
Original Positions of the Anglo-Prussian Army

The French carry the field.

A good day for Napoleon

The French Attack

The French break-through

The table.

The French Arrive

The French Advance

The two armies after the arrival of the French

Storming the strong-points

1/72 goodness

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Project Finished: American Civil War US (Union) Army

Good Day to all

I am finally done with my ACW Union army. Initially collected for the Gaine's Mill Scenario for Altar of Freedom the force can of course be used for Black Powder, Neil Thomas Rules, and Bloody Big Battles. Figures are all from the great 10mm range by Pendraken Miniatures

I tried to use the morning light to get some pictures, but they are not that great. I apologize for that.

I have 16 Altar of Freedom Infantry Units, 8 artillery units, 1 cavalry unit, and 3 command bases

In Neil Thomas basing I have 12 infantry units, 1 cavalry unit, and 8 artillery units

In BBB basing, I have 48 infantry bases, 2 cavalry bases, 8 artillery bases, and 3 command bases.

The whole force organised as a Union Corps of two divisions each of two brigades, each of 4 regiments

Another view

And another.

A brigade of New England Regiments primarily from New York

Another brigade of New England Regiments, Zouaves in the front.

A Brigade of US Federal troops, including a regiment of US Colored Troops

A closer look at the US Colored Troops

A Brigade of Pennsylvania reserves (note the lack of regimental flags)

Another view of the whole Corps

Re-organised into Neil Thomas Basing.

The next task is the non-enviable one of painting 25 Confederate units. That is a lot of lead. It actually is 75 bases of infantry and thus the largest project I have tackled in 10mm. But before them I have to finish about 44 bases of Ottoman Turks for 1877/1897

Sunday, November 1, 2015

200th Post: Review and Battle Report: Blucher by Sam Mustafa

Battler Report and game review
Blucher by Sam Mustafa
Image from another site

Ongoing with my theme of grand tactical games, I had the chance to look through and run a solo scenario based on Sam Mustafa’s new rules-set Blucher.

The Rules
Blucher is a grand tactical game like Bloody Big Battles, and Altar of Freedom, that focuses on the Napoleonic Wars. While historical context is not set in stone, it seems to cover the period after the Peace of Amiens to Waterloo. It probably can be extended to cover wars up to the 1830s-1840s. With modifications it could extend to the 1850s.  Like BBB it is scalable and units could represent anything from multi-battalion regiments, to combined arms brigades, to divisions. Unlike BBB and like Altar of Freedom, units are a single base and do not have multiple formations. Unlike both Blucher is targeted towards free play rather than historical scenarios. Only one historical scenario comes with the rulebook.

Instead there are army lists for generating plausible armies for seven powers (Austria, Prussia 1806 and 1813-1815, Russia, France 1805-1812 and 1813-1815 and allies, Spain, Ottoman Empire, UK Peninsular and Waterloo and allies). These are based on a point system for balanced play. One nice addition to make your what if games more interesting is the Scharnhorst theater campaign system. This is a simple system whose goal is to produce one or two potentially asymmetrical battles.

Another thing that Blucher does which is not often seen in historical gaming is encourage the use of counters, in this case illustrated poker-sized cards, instead of miniatures as long as this is your fancy. You do not need to use the cards, but you also do not need to use miniatures. It is up to you. Cards can be attained in three ways, either making your own, downloading free ones made available by Sam Mustafa or other players, or buy one of the expansion sets in the game series. The first ones, covering the Hundred Days Campaigns and the Peninsular war, are already out and cover five to six different armies with hundreds of cards. I remember when Blucher came out initially a very nasty fight breaking out on The Miniatures Page where people attacked Sam Mustafa for this choice. But I think it is not a bad idea. It caters more to the war-gaming part of miniature war-gaming, and opens up many opportunities for a less complex game in the vein of kriegspiel. 

For my review game I used the free Along the Danube set, which gives a good sized Austrian and French army for 1809.

Units in Blucher, infantry/cavalry/artillery are grouped into corps (divisions are not represented as a level of command for simplicity). They can be activated as a corps, individually or by direct command of CnC. Activaitions cost a number of Momentum points out of a pool which is known to your opponent but not you (the opponent dices it, keeps it secret and only reveals it when you have run out of momentum). Thus you need to use your intuition about how much momentum you have. Units move fairly simply but in a more restricted fashion than BBB or Altar of Freedom. I was not sure what the gain to the extra restrictions was.

Once your units have moved those that have not can open fire or if they moved and contacted the foe can engage in close combat. Units have an elan or ammo rating, which plays the roll of both “life” and “number of dice rolled in attack”. You roll as many dice as your ammo or elan rating. Units lose elan by engaging in close combat or being hit by enemy fire. Artillery uses ammo instead of elan and loses ammo every time it fires. Once a unit loses its last point of elan it is broken. Artillery is broken if it loses its last ammo point in close combat. Otherwise it retires. A player can always retire a unit that has lost too much elan voluntariry and unlike in many other games this is important here.

Armies are defeated when the number of broken units they have had is equal to a number equal to 1/3rd of their initial cavalry and infantry units. Units that retire do not count as broken, which is a very very important thing, as it encourages players to not sacrifice tired units in useless attacks. Games can also be won by control of objectives, but that is more demanding then in BBB. Unlike Altar of Freedom Units do become exhausted and broken quite fast once the thrust of attacks starts, so games tend to be bloody.  For example in my solo game, the Austrians started with 19 units, and the French with 24. By the end of the battle the Austrians had 7 broken units and 7 retired, and the French 8 broken units and 9 retired. The Austrians won because of French demoralization. Only 7 Austrian units and 7 French (2 left with 1 elan point) were left on the field. Thus both armies took a beating.

Terrain is much more simpler than BBB and as a result plays less of a role in your tactical operations. The crucial importance of “shadows of slopes” in BBB for sheltering attackers that are massing for an assault simply does not exist in Blucher. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as for the pick-up games Blucher is built for, simple terrain is a better choice. But it does deny the game some elements of tactical choice.

 There are more things in the game (commander personalities) but this is the back bone.

The game

Austrians and French clash along the Danube in 1809

 I played the game using the Basic Rules (which is about 80% of the game worth). Three Austrian Korps were defending a strong position against four French ones. The game flowed well, and by the middle I had internalized most of the rules (it helps that Sam Mustafa created a very good Player aid in Gneisenau). I did know the momentum dice for each side, so in this sense the game was more like DBA(managing friction, instead of incomplete information). But the dice did provide for a varied game, many times stymying the French plans and seeing the French Corps become uncoordinated. I did feel that the game was a bit too much of attrition, which could get tiring in a larger battle (this is from my experience with Perfidious Albion, another game based on attrition). But in general it was not a bad experience.

Initial set-up. As you can see you get a lot of stuff for free. Also, the system does eat up battlefield space, denying that grand maneuver feel of BBB or Altar of Freedom.

Example of the free Unit cards from the Blucher site. Colored by me.

French near you, Austrian far.

Austrian artillery and infantry defending the minor river.

Situation about mid-day

the French strike at the center and right flank, but bad momentum dice and sighting of guns deny them coordination and firepower.

Two Austrian grenadier units "prepared" cover the Austrian Left flank.

Situation in the evening.

The Austrian Right holds well.

Battle at the center

Condition at Twilight. The Austrian center is about to fall but the French are exhausted. The Austrian Left and Right flank are still safe.

Armies move much slower than in BBB or Altar of Freedom, and the size of the units can quickly eat up the terrain space. In another name the battle felt less of a grand tactical battle of maneuver, and more of the divisional games many players do, in which too lines smash into each other. At least in comparison to BBB and Altar of Freedom. The good news is that the game is scalable for table sizes, though it does mean you have to make your own counters since the cards produced by Sam Mustafa are at the default scale). I would strongly recommend players keep the table size normal, but make their units one scale smaller so as to gain space.

The Bottom Line

Blucher is a nice grand tactical game. It is not as rich as a grand tactical experience as BBB or Altar of Freedom, but it is also much more free-wheeling than those and maybe easier to get in for the un-initiated. It seems better for pick-up games with little focus on terrain, than doing historical scenarios. Rules are simple and easy to learn. I would suggest it to all gamers who wish to do grand tactical battles in the Napoleonic Era. If you just want to use your collections for a made up battle this is the system for you. It can be used for historical scenarios, but its strong point is generating fun pick-up games. I will probably buy them and either the 100 Days Campaign or a future product focusing on 1813-1814 or 1809. It has rekindled my interest in Napoleonics, and made me look again at my 6mm collection. Rules can be used with any scale of miniatures, and the cards are big enough to accommodate large figures. Some players combine both. For example , Lord Ashram's ingenious idea.
Image from Lord Ashram's House of War

 It is also a system in which combining unit cards with a nicely illustrated terrain mat can give you essentially a nice simple board-game system which can attract people who are not normally attracted to historical war-gaming. This is the game to use to get your friends or loved ones to become interested in historical war-gaming. Here is an example from Cigar Box (not my image).

Image from Cigar Box

Monday, October 26, 2015

A game of day at Leadhead PhD: BBB Second Pleven 1877, and DBA

A game of day at Leadhead PhD

Last Saturday Onur and me met at my house for a day of gaming. Our goal was to play the BBB scenario of Second Pleven, and also an introductory game of DBA (v.2.2 since I have not had the chance to buy 3.0 yet). 

The result of the battle both in history and in this game

This would be our first full BBB large battle. I had played one large battle in the past (Inkerman with Mehmet) and we have both played some of the smaller scenarios (Nikopol, Velestino, Langasesda). But this would be our first big one. It would also be the first test of my new terrain system. Unfortunately because I did not have the requisite 13 Russian guns, and I did not want to proxy for our first full game, I ended up having only 6 batteries of Russians, plus 1 US Union battery masquerading as a Cossack battery. This means that I made an already asymmetrical battle more asymmetrical. I knew that going in, but I believed in my plan!

The 2nd Battle of Pleven was forced on Baron Krudener by the Grand Duke cnc of the Russian forces operating in Bulgaria. Like most such battles it was a bad battle for the attacker, as the Russians simply did not have enough forces to overran the strong positions of Osman Pasha. As BBB focuses on historical scenarios that asymmetry is still evident (just like in Chess of Hefenltaf) , but Chris balances this with fairly simple objectives for the Russians. If they can take 1 of 7 objectives they get a draw, if they can take 2 they get a victory.

The scenario map by Chris

My setup, looking from the south towards the north

The vine covered green hills. The little labels have the names of geographic points, and also indicate were forces will deploy.

Looking down the Tutlchenitza River ravine.

The south line: Tahir-Araba-Ibarhim redoubts.

Janik Bair and its positions. Looking from East towards North by North-West


The Bukova valley

Looking from East to North by North-West

The Grivitza river

Historically the Russians failed because they did not concentrate their forces, with one of the two Corps (IX)fighting north of the Grivitza river, and the other south (XI), with little coordination. A key position in the Ottoman defensive perimeter is the redoubt system of Grivitza. 

Russian force, Two Corps plus two Cavalry Divisions. Missing 6 Batteries. The IX Corps in front, XI Corps behind. Remember that this is a Grand Tactical Game

My decisions was not to attempt Grivitza but instead to focus on the line of redoubts south of the Janik Bair Redoubts (see map).  One division of the IX corps (the 5th) would screen Grivitza and with the 9th Cavalry Division threaten the  Jaink Bair positions and thus tie down Ottoman defenders. The 31st Division of the IX Corps together with the 32nd and 30th of the XI Corps (Commander Prince Shahofskoi)  would then converge on Ibrahim Tabiya and roll the Ottoman south flank. Skobolev’s Cossacks would threaten from the south and make a dash for an objective if Onur decided to move troops west.

My plan.

Both forces deployed

Skobolev, next time I need a small figure of a journalist there to keep him busy

The XI Corps

The Ottoman 2nd Division

The IX Corps looking on the Janik Bair position held by the Ottoman 1st Division

At the extreme North, the 9th Cavalry Division

The Ottoman 2nd Division

The southern fortifications and Peven with the Reserve Division ready to cross the bridges.


The game did not go as my plan. First, I had completely underestimated the fire power of the Janik Bair Redbouts. My screen forces were obliterated whenever they dared to pop up from behind intervening terrain. By the half game point, the 5th Division of the IX Corps had been smashed to bits. Only the 20th Regiment had survived which had joined the 9th Cavalry Division north of Janik Bair. Thankfully those were enough to make Onur keep at least three  infantry units and an artillery battery minding the north. Second, while the XI Corps made good time to reach the starting points for its assaults on Ibrahim Tabiya, the 31st Division became bogged down crossing the Grivitza River. It was mercilessly pummeled by the combined fire of Grivitza Redoubts and Ibrahim Tabiya. What is worse this led to my failure to find good positions to sight my guns. For most of the game my guns were limbered and I never succeeded to concentrate them.
XI Corps moves north

IX Corps send one division to mask Grivitza. The other tried to cross the river but is stalled.

Ottoman 1st Turn moves

XI Corps continues moving forward. IX is still stalled.

Grivitza Redoubts destroys the 17th Regiment

9th Cavalry Division moves to threaten from North

Ottoman Cavalry advances to threaten the flank of XI Corps

The Russian forces finally reach their staging grounds.

Despite this around Turn 4 or 5, a spate of good luck permitted me to move the 31st to position. The loss of time though meant that my assaults were a) not supported by artillery  b) made sequentially. Each Corps attacked in sequence, bravely rushing the fortifications and being decimated. It did not help that most of the units of the 31st went into the assault already badly hit. Also Ottoman cavalry did wonders pinning one regiment at Radischevo and holding up two more during the assaults.  As a result the high water mark ended in failure. Skobolev spent most of his time interacting with journalists and his Cossack brigade was mostly useful in pinning some Ottoman units south.  Grivitza Redoubt was a death dealer as it stood on the flank of my assault, and mercilessly poured fire and death on my lines and columns.

The Russians mass for the assault, but two Ottoman cavalry units stall them

Threatening and pining on Janik Bair

Skobolev fighting or doing interviews in the south.

General assults! HURRRAHAHH

Merciless Ottoman fire from the flank breaks them

Once more into the breach!

Movement towards Bukova

The condition around turns 5-6

More assaults and the decision to make a mad dash for Bukova

With the high water mark passed I became desperate for a draw. I ordered the 9th Cav. Div and 20th Inf. Regiment to try and take either the Bukova or Janik Bair redoubts.  I ordered repeated assaults by spent elements of the XI and IX corps against Ibrahim Tabiya in the hope that a lucky roll would give me an objective. I ordered that lazy man Skobolev to take Tahir Tabiya. I was in another name a vile commander, pushing my exhausted and sheel-shocked men to their deaths. All assaults failed. By the end of the turn the IX and XI corps of the Russian army had become shattered. If I was me in real history, I would probably had blown my brains out.

We kept turns using the old clock on the wall (it does not work). Turn 7 of my doom

Most of the Russian army is gone (those white puffs indicate destroyed or spent units)

Last desperate charges!

Final Turn is upon us

End game, the ruins of an army

Showing axis of attack and were my units were destroyed

The valley of death

The valley of death 2

Different war but the sentiment is spot on.

So what happened? One of the great things with BBB is that because it such a great game I never feel bad for losing. Also we always talk about what could had gone differently. Both Onur and me agreed that the Russians need their full artillery. However even with that, we a really are talking about 4 extra guns (as 2 others are part of the reserves). Grivitza Redoubt really dominates this battle and the Russian play must decide what he will do with it before doing anything else. Ottoman firepower with BLA guns, Late Breechloaders, Skirmishers and Russian infantry being Tactical inept means that if you are in the open you will die. There is no point in trying to enter a firefight, For good or bad the bayonet is the only way to use your infantry.

Soooo damn accurate 

 I do not personally think it can be taken without committing both the IX and XI corps against it. But that is a risky strategy because it will not leave you many reserves and will permit the Ottoman player to rush reinforcements. Furthermore Ibrahim Tabiya stands on the flank of any northern movement of XI Corps. Whether you like it or not if you are going for Grivitza you must go also for Ibrahim, and the reverse.

Our fist plan is exactly this. Using the XI and IX corps to hit Grivitza and Ibrahim. It is similar to my historical plan, but this time the Russians do not just try to mask Grivitza but attack it. The key is to take your time and mass the Russian forces in two blind spots. The little hill between Grivitza village and Grivitza Redoubts, and the Radischevo valley. You mass your guns on the ridge north of the valley and on the hills north of Grivitza, engage in a preparatory bombardment, and then charge with both masses. Skobolev and the 9th Cav Div focus on threatening Bukova and Pleven so as to pin at least 2-3 Ottoman Units. This plan has the pros of concentration, but it does mean that you will probably be attacking in the last 2-3 turns. Any failure and there is no going back.

The second plan is to make a large left hook with the IX Corps using the XI corps to screen Ibrahim Tabiya and Grivitza in order to attack Bukova with the goal of taking Pleven. This is also a long term plan, but it has the benefit of attacking the weaker Ottoman flank. The second ridge on Janik Bair covers any flank movement from the north which gives some chances of success. Unfortunately the impetuosity of Prince Shahofskoi can doom this as it might see the XI Corps attacking the strong points it is only supposed to mask.

The third plan, is to drive up the Turchenitza River ravine and strike at the Tahir Tabiy with XI Corps, while IX Corps screens Grivitza Redbouts and Ibrahim Tabiya. This is the plan that requires the least coordination, as all the IX needs to do is sit tight until the Ottomans start pulling forces south to stem the Russians if they take the Tahir Tabiya. This plan also works to the weakness of XI corps.

Three potential plans. Which do you think would work?

All are interesting possibilities but I learned my lesson fully know: 1) Always bring the guns first even if it means losing time 2) Never let a powerful fire-power position on your flank 3) Sacrifice time to gain power. History wise this showed me that Osman Pasha and his commanders deserve all the praise they got. The position they built was a very strong one. Hard to overrun. Now wonder it beat two general assaults. The Russians should had masked it and bypassed it, flank or no flank.

BBB is still the one game I have played that forces me to understand why people fought their battles as they did. It forces you to learn the heard way all the lessons of military strategy and tactics that I have read about. And it gives a good feeling of just how much it sucks to have all those lives in your hands. In all of the battles I have played I have felt queasy about the wreck of my armies. No wonder Dr. Murray is using it in classes ,and you rest assured I will do in my classes.

All in all a great game that satisfied us and led to a good intellectual discussion. It also left enough time for me to introduce Onur to DBA with a quick game of Ottomans vs. Venetian Condotta. He liked the game and won after a see-saw battle (3 v 5 points). Much fun was had.

DBA the setup

Later Ottomans

Italian Condotta

Knights in shinning armor

Servants of the Prophet

Game scene

Game Scene

In the midst of clashing steel

End Game