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


Steve J. said...

Thanks for a good overview of the game. I'm considering both Blucher and BBB, but somehow Blucher just does not grab me...

Konstantinos Travlos said...

There are quite different games. So it partly depends on what you are looking for

BBB is geared towards historical scenarios, and terrain plays a big deal. CnC is simple, and can be a bit routine. There is a mod for points system gaming, but the game shines in historical scenarios.

Blucher is geared towards pick up games. The terrain does not play as big a deal. CnC is more sophisticated (though not Altar of Freedom level).

So take those into consideration.

Steve J. said...

Thanks for the feedback. I prefer simpler, pick up style games that can be historical if required. So Blucher seems to be inching ahead as a result...