My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Battle Report: Auerstadt 1806 using Ein Ritter Spiel

In the last blog post I provided a review for a set of rules by Chris Engle that cover a number of periods and genres. The rules were Jabberwocky, Ritter, Fusilier, and Ein Ritter Spiel. I decided to play a game using a modified version of Ein Ritter Spiel (my game used a hex grid rather than the square grid specified by the rules), with a few additions from Fusilier due to the period being Napoleonics (I added in a troop type to represent the Cuirassiers, which never came into play).

The scenario is Auerstadt – 14 October 1806 (7 am to Noon), from GMT Games' Command & Colors: Napoleonics. The background of the scenario is as follows:
Napoleon mistakenly believed that most of the Prussian army face him at Jena, and ordered Bernadotte and Davout to concentrate and attack the Prussians from the rear. On the morning of the battle, the majority of Prussian army was marching away from Jena and towards Davout's advancing III Corps. As Gudin's infantry division advanced in a dense fog, it clashed with the Prussians in the village of Hassenhausen and drove them out. As the fog lifted, Bl├╝cher rashly led forward with the Prussian cavalry. Gudin's men formed square and repulsed the assault. Davout could now see he was greatly outnumbered and ordered Friant and Morand to march to his aid immediately. He also sent urgent appeals to Bernadotte and his I Corps to support him. Bernadotte, most likely out of professional jealousy, left Davout to fight alone. Meanwhile Emperor Frederick and Brunswick, the Prussian commanders, were surprised to find French units to their front. Their indecision delayed massing the Prussian infantry and artillery to drive the French from Hassenhausen till 10 am. By that time, Friant, with his division and the corps artillery, arrived to secure the French right and repulse the Prussians. During the attack, Brunswick was killed and Schmettau was wounded, causing more command confusion. A full hour elapsed before the next Prussian attack went in against the weak French left. Davout personally  led the counterattack, reinforced by Morand's division, whose timely arrival preserved the left flank and drove back the Prussians. The Prussian high command remained passive, and did little to bring up fresh troops. Davout on the other hand, wasted no time attacking and driving the Prussians from the field in the afternoon, winning the most signal victory of his career. For many years thereafter, the III Corps retained an aura of invincibility. Napoleon was justifiably furious with Bernadotte and meant to court-martial his, but he never did – a mistake in retrospect.
I made a game board for this scenario some time ago. Why this particular scenario has been lost over time, but the idea was that it would make game setup and teardown much easier. My gaming buddy Don and I have always liked the Memoir 44 printed maps that came with some scenario packs, like Hedgerow Hell. We thought "why don't they do this with all the scenario maps?" I would have certainly bought them. They were convenient. So one day I decided to do the same thing, only with a scenario for Command & Colors: Napoleonics. I think I just wanted to see how it would turn out. I was right. It is handy for quickly setting up a test game.

I pulled out my Baccus 6mm Napoleonic troops that I have been collecting for a while. I have had a hard time settling on which rules to use for them so they are currently in about five different basing schemes. The basing scheme I seem to use the most – 20mm squares – seems the least visually appealing. I think I am going to end up with two schemes – one dioramic with 6" x 4" bases and one with 40mm wide bases – before it is all over. My hope is that I will be able to limit my dioramic basing to the Waterloo campaign troops only with all of the other troops on 40mm wide bases. We will see. For this game I am using either four 20mm infantry bases or two 40mm infantry bases and four 20mm cavalry bases or a single 40mm cavalry base. The artillery units are all 40mm square bases.

My French are the worst when it comes to being on different basing schemes. So I had to improvise with them. I recently bought some painted French and have not been able to rebase them yet. Some are on 2" wide bases, and others on 60mm wide bases. I had to bring in my Spanish in white uniforms and bicornes to fill in as French. It is a mess, but it is all functional. The Prussians look much better. I had to improvise a little bit for the Grenadiers and Guard Grenadiers, but they never really got into the action anyway.

Here are the troops in their starting positions.

You can see the village of Hassenhausen in the center with three Prussian units (top of board) in close proximity to the French. Everything else pretty much starts on their baseline. Note that the village of Hassenhausen is worth 1 Breakpoint to the side holding the majority of the village's hexes. As the Prussians hold one hex at the start and the French hold none, the Prussians have an additional point added to their army Breakpoint.

Fusilier grants the French army with 3 Moves, 3 Attacks, and a Breakpoint of 3 while the Prussian army gets 2 Moves, 2 Attacks, and a Breakpoint of 2. This differential seems appropriate for the scenario, so I keep that as the base. However, if you are using a larger army than standard (10 units) you need to adjust those numbers. The rules indicate that the increase in army capability is not proportional to the increase in units. For every doubling of the army size the army capability only increases 50%.

The French have 23 units so the additional 13 units add (3 * 0.5) * (13 / 10) points or 1.95 (rounded up to 2) points. So the French have 5 Moves, 5 Attacks, and a Breakpoint of 5.

The Prussians have 24 units so add (2 * 0.5) * (14 / 10) points or 1.4 (rounded up to 2) points. So the Prussians have 4 Moves, 4 Attacks, and a Breakpoint of 4. I had thought about not rounding up, but rounding to the nearest, but I am glad I did not. I think only three moves and attacks would have been too hampering.

The French first turn is pretty tame, with no attacks. Although I am starting to surround Hassenhausen, and have taken one of the village hexes thereby denying the Prussians an additional Breakpoint point, I haven't quite figured out how to dislodge the Prussians from the village. Artillery will definitely do it, but they will simply retreat from the village. I need the French infantry in the village to make the attack, so it drives the infantry into the cavalry unit behind it, eliminating it. (Remember, units forced to retreat into friendly or enemy units or into terrain are destroyed. That is how you eliminate units.) Infantry needs a 3:1 ratio in forces to defeat units in towns, however, so the safest bet is to swing the infantry to the left of the village into attack position. Next turn...

The Prussians move off of the baseline, leaving behind some reserves (which also serves to create a sufficient gap for the front line troops to retreat, if necessary). The Prussian light cavalry at Hassenhausen shifts position to threaten the French flank attack on the village. Meanwhile the artillery opens fire, forcing the French infantry on the right of the town to retreat.

Now you may be wondering why I forced the French infantry to retreat. After all, it did not really do anything substantial, like eliminating it. For those of you who play DBA a retreat in that game is typically a recoil – a backwards movement, but still facing the enemy. A retreat in Ein Ritter Spiel is directly away from the enemy causing the retreat and the unit ends its movement facing away from the enemy. Further, its next movement is a Rally, so the unit can only turn about; it can't move in any other way. This has the effect of causing a much more substantial disruption in the enemy formation than in DBA. In both rules, in order to move a group of units with a single point/PIP all units must be touching and facing the same direction to be considered a group formation. Because the retreat in Ein Ritter Spiel changes the unit's facing, the group formation is broken, while in DBA it often isn't, especially if more than one unit recoils.

Another shot into that retreating French unit will force it into a friendly unit, eliminating it. Because it can only turn about, I need a way to block the shot by the Prussian artillery. The French move an infantry to block the shot even though it cannot defeat the artillery in combat. Instead I line up a French light cavalry unit on the right flank so it can charge the artillery from the flank on the following turn. Meanwhile the French move light infantry into the woods to the left of the village and together with the infantry beside it they drive off the Prussian light cavalry.

It is so easy to get tunnel vision in this game, focusing on your next turn's attack and not thinking too deeply about the enemy's potential moves. The French made two mistakes. Can you spot them?

The Prussians moved up their infantry into a position where they could flank the light infantry in the woods. As light infantry retreat two hexes, they ran straight into friendly lines and were destroyed.

On the opposite flank the Prussian artillery unit fires into the flank of the French light cavalry, who have no retreat path. (If I had moved the infantry forward and to the right one hex there would have been an open retreat path, so that was an avoidable error.)

The other Prussian artillery unit fires cannister at the French infantry forcing it to retreat. The area around Hassenhausen is jammed with French troops. This looks bad. This looks like a quick French defeat.

Friant arrives with the corps artillery and drive the Prussian artillery away. (Each artillery unit attacks in turn forcing the retreat of a single hex. By expending two attacks the French were able to destroy the unit, rather than simply force it to retreat.)

On the far right flank Friant's division is in a position to attack next turn.

The rules are pretty minimalist and do not consider topics like zones of control and whether a unit was in a flank position at the start of the turn versus at the time of attack (like many rules do), so the attack on the left flank (Prussian right flank) is perfectly legal. Despite being at melee range at the start of the turn the Prussian infantry advances and turns onto the flank of the French in the woods, which dislodges them. The Prussians pursue, taking the position, and allowing them to drive the French into the windmill (different terrain), thus destroying them.

Meanwhile, the Prussian artillery forces one of the French batteries off of the hill. Things are looking bad for the French. They are two units away from breaking, while the Prussians are still three away.

This is how quickly a game can turn. While the French corps artillery rallies the French take advantage of the five attacks. On the right three infantry units combine to destroy the Prussian infantry in the woods by the village of Speilberg. Note that by attacking with the leftmost unit and having the other two units support the unit is forced to retreat into the Prussian Cuirassiers rather than through the gap. Selecting which unit attacks and which supports is very important.

The battle in the village of Hassenhausen illustrates that idea further. First the French infantry attacked it in the flank from the right. Once the Prussian infantry was dislodged from the village the French infantry on the left fired into it, forcing it to retreat into the Prussian cavalry, destroying it. (Note that I moved a French unit into the woods by the windmill on the left. This was the same position in which the light infantry was previously flanked. Sometimes it is worth making a risky move into such a position.)

The third unit loss came when the French artillery fired into the Prussians twice, forcing them to retreat into their reserves.

With four units lost the Prussian army is in a broken state. This means that units in the army can move no closer to the enemy than any other friendly unit is, but can still attack. (That may be a little hard to explain properly. Individual units can move forward, essentially to counterattack as part of a rearguard action, but they cannot move beyond where the current "front line" is located. In this case I moved the Prussian cavalry forward in an attempt to hold off the French and allow the Prussian infantry to escape. It did not work.)

Prussian artillery pounds the French infantry in the village of Hassenhausen, catching it in a crossfire and destroying it. Unfortunately, the French breakpoint is 6 (5 for the army and 1 for having the majority of the hexes in Hassenhausen), so they are not close to breaking. Had the Prussians broken the French the game would have pretty much ended as neither side could close with the other. Nonetheless artillery can do some damage on a retreating army.

The French artillery destroys two Prussian units, pushing them into other retreating troops, while musketry from French infantry destroys another two units. The Prussians have now lost eight units – double their Breakpoint – so they are now in a Routed state. No Prussian units are allowed to move closer to the enemy or even to attack. It is not "sauve qui peut" for the Prussians. Now the game is simply about how many Prussians will survive the day for purposes of the campaign. (If you are not playing a campaign game you probably would stop here, noting that the French have achieved a major victory.)

The Prussians start moving units off of the board. That is about all they can do. Despite being in a rout state, units still rout in "formation" so trying to maintain groups allows you to move more units per Move point. (Unfortunately it is hard to see which way units are facing in these pictures. Suffice it to say that not all units were facing the rear, so this turn was an attempt to rectify that.)

The French make the last effective attack, forcing the light cavalry covering the retreat into a friendly unit. Again, which unit attacks is critical in determining the direction of the retreat.

After the Prussian turn it was obvious that there was nothing that the French could do to destroy the remaining Prussian units, so the game is called as a Decisive French Victory, pretty much as it was historically.

Points to Ponder

The following events in the rules gave me some pause.

  • Artillery can move and attack in the same turn. My first thought was that horse artillery would be able to do that, but that foot artillery could not. But that would make horse artillery a super weapon, which they were not. The idea should be that artillery bombardment should get the high rating it receives in the game and that you cannot bombard if you move.
  • Units cannot retreat through friendly units even though they can interpenetrate them during movement. This concept is not unique to these rules, by any stretch. All of Neil Thomas' rules are like this. It is a significant way to destroy units in those rules and a primary way in these. Eleven of the thirteen units destroyed in this game came from retreating into friendly units. Only two unit destructions were due to retreating into terrain features. If you did not destroy units when they retreated into friendly units then this game would take a lot longer to play out.
  • Successive, timed attacks are powerful. Having one unit attack, forcing a unit into another hex which in turn makes it vulnerable to attack by a second unit is an exciting part of the game.
  • Successive attacks by a single unit, however, feels wrong. This happened twice, once in which infantry flanked the enemy in the woods, pursued, and then attacked again and the second time in which a single artillery unit simply attacked twice. I did not like either case. In the infantry attack I felt like the second attack should not have been allowed for two reasons: 1) infantry should not be allowed to attack a second time, after a pursuit; and 2) no one should be allowed a second attack after pursuing into woods. Infantry should not be allowed to make an attack after pursuit; only cavalry should. In the artillery attack I realized that if I could make as many attacks as I had points, and because artillery in the attack defeats everything simply applying all my attacks to a single artillery piece would ensure the enemy's destruction. The only limitations would range and angle. An artillery unit should only be allowed to make a single attack in a turn. In fact, the only unit that should be allowed to attack more than once in a turn is cavalry in pursuit.
  • The lack of zones of control means that units can slide around the flank of units after moving into melee range. (By the way, being in melee but not attacking does not mean that nothing is happening. It simply means that the fighting is not conclusive because neither side is pressing the issue.) I am not sure if I like this or not. This happened twice, once with the infantry in the woods and once with the infantry in the village. Both events might be justified as they both had a 2:1 ratio of troops, so you can say one unit occupied the enemy while the second made a decisive, tactical flanking move. Further, it cost 1 Move and 1 Attack, so it took a substantial number of resources. Where I think I would limit it might be that you must stop as soon as you hit a hex in the enemy's front melee range, i.e. adjacent and to their front. This would stop cavalry from charging from the front of a unit and hitting them in the flank, something we do in Richard Borg games all of the time.
All in all I really enjoyed the game and did not find it being diceless a problem at all. I might employ the optional rule of throwing 2D6 for each combat – with a '2' resulting in an inconclusive result and a '12' resulting in the winner losing – but I did not want to introduce that for this test game. I believe in the concept that you need to apply sufficient force at a point in order to ensure victory and these rules absolutely reflect that. I think too many times we rely on the luck of the dice to carry us through a poorly planned or executed attack. That just does not happen in this game.

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 58 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ working for a software company for the last three years. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").