Saturday, March 31, 2012

American revolution: battle of Guilford

The american revolution is not my pet period, but I find coming back because of the excellent Battles of the American Revolution series of games written by Mark Miklos and published by GMT. The rules are light, smooth and fast, and manage to be so without sacrificing much realism. Gameplay rarely bogs down and the system scales well to different engagements.

Last time I got thoroughly beaten at Brandywine so I was hungry to even out the score. Simo picked the battle of Guilford court house from his collection, which we haven't played yet. To be honest, between us we have so many unplayed hex & counter battles that there rarely comes a need to revisit an already played battle! We randomised sides, and I ended up with the continentals. Again. Trying to fend off elite english troops with poorly armed and motivated militia was something I was painfully familiar with from Brandywine, and this, as I've understood it, is THE militia centric battle of the American Revolutionary War. (Disclaimer: I know this period rather poorly so please excuse me for any mistakes and misconceptions. You can correct me in the comments section.)

Opening setup from Vassal.
 I forgot my camera home, so I had only my phone to take pictures. That's why they're even more crappy than your average handheld snapshots of plexiglass covered hexmaps in poor lighting. That's why I loaded up the Vassal setup for the scenario so that you could make out at least something. Comments are also embedded into the pictures. All photos are taken from my perspective, and I was sitting at the top of the map, so imagine the Vassal map upside down to orient to the photos.

In the scenario, about 2000 English troops march onto the area, where the 4000+ Continental troops have already taken position in three defensive lines. There are three victory locations but the main objective is to break the opposing army. The Continentals cannot start moving with their main forces before word of the English attack has reached them and are even then geographically restricted in their movements.

The English column was headed by none other than Banastre Tarleton, whose infamous acts had already earned him the nickname "the bloody". Continental cavalry was posted on both main roads leading towards Guilford court house and Tarleton picked the long route to see if he could lead some troops to threathen the Continental flank. He encountered Marquis De Bretigney, a hapless French nobleman and his dragoons, with expected results. The Marquis soon found himself captive to the English, and Tarleton lead his dragoons as well as some Hessians to the Continental left flank.

On the other road, Henry "light horse Harry" Lee was expecting trouble with some dragoons and riflemen. They got more than they bargained for as the main English column lead by Charles Cornwallis, the english commander! The man who would be the father of Robert E. Lee sent a courier to Nathaniel Greene at the court house, and prepared to stall the English column.

Robert E Lee's father leads a stalling action against he English column.

The English proved too powerful to stall much, and Lee's cavalry and the riflemen were scattered in disarray to the surrounding woods. However, when out of harms way, they regrouped and prepared to put pressure to the column's rear and eliminate any stragglers.

Greene got word of the attack and as his brain had been invaded by a Finnish wargamer from the 21st century, decided to order his well placed troops to assume a new defensive position to the front. I didn't want to just sit there and wait for my opponent to come, so I advanced to a stream ahead where I could at least get one terrain modifier point for defense (you don't get any for woods and fences).

The Continentals advance to meet the English column.

 Greene also heard of Tarleton's little flanking maneuver and decided to go and meet him with a couple of regiments of Continental regulars. He sent the best of the regulars to bolster the militia line against the English column. As Tarleton saw he would be facing more than just milita, his brave advance was halted. He took a defensive position at a stream and waited.

Tarleton hesitates.
The English arrive to the militia line in column.
 The English kept a quick pace and marched in road column almost to the Continental line. Their formation was vulnerable there for a moment but with a magnificent display of drill and discipline, the English deployed into a line before the Continentals could capitalize on the situation (the English got to move twice in a row because of an initiative shift). The English struck in two powerful groups across the stream to weak points in the Continental line. The defenders were no match 1:1 against the better quality English and retreated back.

The English did make a slight blunder. They brought their guns into their right flank without infantry support, and the Continental rifles were quick to exploit the situation. They flanked the battery in the cover of the woods and overran it.

The Continentals concentrate their attack.
 The Continental line was not going to survive against the two strong English concentrations so they converged on the weaker of them in an attempt to rout them piecemeal. The colonists halfway surrounded their enemy, attacked with twice as many men and spearheaded the attack with the best troops the Continental army fielded, but it was no use. The English held, recombined their forces and forced the Continental forces back. The defenders retreated across the clearing to form a second defensive line, this time bolstered with guns.

Meanwhile, Greene had been pressing Tarleton with everything he had. The redcoats were beaten back time and again, but time and again they regrouped without appreciable effect. They did lose ground and were in no position to threathen the lone victory location they were trying to get to.

Greene presses Tarleton.

Lee's dragoons and the accompanying riflemen had been fighting hard against a rearguard left by the English but the redcoats were just superior in a one-on-one fight and Lee's forces were eventually scattered.

The beginning of he last turn.
 Even though the English had only lost one battery and one small regiment during the battle, and the Continental militia was more or less shattered, the Continentals had the upper hand in army morale. The English had been moving up and down from high morale to fatigued for a while due to some small defeats which had disordered some of the redcoats. The Continentals had managed to retreat in good order into a new position with artillery support, and so Cornwallis decided not to push on. Instead he heard the noise of battle from his rear where sporadic fighting was going on between Lee's dragoons and English rearguard and disordered main line troops. Cornwallis ordered his troops to go and assist, scattering what was left of the Continentals in the rear.

As a last action, seeing the English retreat, the Continentals advanced to retake the victory location across the clearing. The battle ended as a draw with the English having a two point lead due to all the Continental casualties.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Fire and Fury Chickamauga scenario

Whoah, it's been a year since I started this blog already? Time to break out the party hats! *toooot*
I'll celebrate with an offering of pictures and tales of battle!

We played a Fire & Fury scenario of Chickamauga a week and a half ago but I've been too busy to write about it until now. As those familiar with Fire and Fury know, the scenarios in the scenario books tend to be a bit large, and by large I mean too damned big for anyone with only a moderate collection of figures. Luckily I found a scenario with a smaller portion of the field presented, and with a very easy terrain setup to boot. The scenario is hosted at by a Simon MacDowall, so be sure to give his site a visit as there's lots of wargaming goodies there.

So, it is September 19th, 1863 in the western theatre of the American Civil War. The scenario depicts the initial fighting on the northern side of the battlefield. Confederate forces are attempting to outflank the Union line. The game fits on a 6'x4' table and took the three of us a full evening to play.

The initial positions. The map is from the scenario at Legio Wargames.

We had three corps on the table so each player took the role of one corps commander, picked randomly. Simo got the lone Union commander, George Henry Thomas, not yet named "the rock of Chickamauga". Janne got Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate cavalry general infamous for being the first grand wizard of the KKK. I got Leonidas Polk, just arriving to the scene to drive Forrest's spearhead home. 

The initial positions looking from north towards the south. The yellow fields mark clearings, everything else is wooded. The stream shows so pale blue in the pictures it's easy to mistake for a road.

The game started with the Union preparing to receive the Confederate attack. The Confederates started with Forrest sending Liddell's division to take the crossroads at the clearing, and by sending Pegram's division to harry Brannen's Union division through the woods and behind the stream. Cheatham's division of Polk's corps marched on the map from the southeastern road. The first shots rang out in the clearing.

Opening shots.

The second turn saw the Union forces further consolidate their position in the middle of the clearing. Union reinforcements started moving in from the south.  On the Confederate turn, Walthall's brigade of Liddell's division tried to charge the clearing, but was beaten back badly and retreated after sustaining casualties. The rest of Polk's command arrived from the eastern road. 
Walthall's brigade attempts a charge as one of Polk's divisions arrives on the field.

 Next, Baird's Union division moved to the woods on the center of the field towards Pegram's division, which was exchanging musketry over the stream with Brannen's division. The Confederate forces were split between two distinct forces but the union line was beautifully drawn evenly through the field.

Pegram and Brannen clash at the stream.

After Walthall's failed charge, Liddell's division remains in position and pours musketry and cannonade to the Union line, waiting for Cheatham's division to deploy and threathen the Union right. This gives the Union reinforcements a chance to use the roads to quickly reinforce the line.

Union reinforcements rush to the scene.
General Thomas redresses his line.

At the stream, Pegram bravely rolls two batteries of guns to the front and manages to drive back some of the defenders. The assault by the dismounted confederate cavalry brigades looked like it might succeed, but Baird's division moved in through the woods to support and the confederates found themselves in trouble.

The Confederate attack at the stream falters as Union reinforcements arrive.

The rest of the battle at the stream is fought to a stalemate with neither side gaining the upper hand.

At the clearing, the rebels had regrouped and now attacked the Union line in force. The focus point was at the center of the Union line, as there were two Confederate batteries conveniently placed to support. The Union forces put up a hell of a fight though and inflicted massive casualties on the advancing rebs only to slightly fall back with few casualties themselves.

Polk observes his command advancing into the clearing.

The attack on the center was failing and the brigades in no shape to see the attack through, but there was still one card up the Confederates' sleeve. The Union right was somewhat vulnerable and if the rebs could punch through there, they might be able to cross the clearing and grab a victory (the scenario states that the Confederates must advance past the clearing and inflict superior casulties to the Union to win). 

The Confederate forces attacked the Union right and in a spectacular showing of elan, captured one battery, and drove another battery and an infantry brigade back. However they soaked a lot of canister fire from the batteries doing so, and were reduced to worn status.

The Confederates drive the Union right back.

This was exploited by the Union cavalry waiting in reserve. They launched a dashing charge against the worn out left flank of the rebs and wiped out the remaining four stands in the brigade in a single round!

The Union cavalry slams into the worn Confederates.
The union cavalry shatters Jackson's brigade with a well timed charge.

It was clear at this point that the game was lost for the Confederates. We still had one round of the eight total rounds to play, but decided to call it a night as it was getting late. The fighting at the stream had been inconclusive but the Confederate assault at the clearing had failed miserably. The Union forces had eliminated 21 stands from the Confederate army, losing only 4 infantry stands and 2 artillery batteries in return. This was a clear and resounding victory to the bluebellies!

Final positions at the clearing: The Confederate attack is a disaster and the Union forces move in for the kill.
Final positions in the woods.

As usual, we didn't permit tactical discussion between generals if their models are not adjacent. This usually results in generals being huddled together on the field, but this time the Confederate corps commanders were well apart, and we sent messages using notes carried by couriers. Due to the difficult terrain, these notes arrived about two hours after being sent, which made coordinating our efforts difficult to say the least!

Here's the OOB labels I used in the battle. The labels are for 25mm frontage stands: PDF

Monday, March 5, 2012

Texas Glory

February turned out to be rather block-wargamey as I managed to squeeze in a game of Texas Glory in addition to all the Hammer of the Scots action I had. It was the second session of the game I have played and against the same opponent. Last time I played as the Texans so I took the Mexican army of Santa Anna this time.

The game is set in 1836 during the Texan Revolution with the Mexican army of Santa Anna, the "Napoleon of the west" marching to Texas to bring the rebelling land back to Mexican rule. On the defensive, a small army lead by names such as Houston, Austin, Crockett and Bowie. Scenario-wise the Texans are outnumbered but have the benefit of defence and receive reinforcements every turn. The Mexicans have a large army but have a lot of ground to cover if they want to capture all the victory locations required, and cannot afford to get bogged down for long. It's an interesting asymmetrical setting and an interesting scenario to play.

To start off, the main body of the Mexican army made straight for the fortress of Alamo and assaulted the defenders. The assault was bloody for both sides, but the defenders remained in control of the ramparts. The other Mexican column made progress towards the fortress of Goliad and eliminated a cavalry block in the way.  The Texan defenders started to form a defensive group, but were still badly scattered.

The next turn was cancelled due to a storm (an event card), but after that, the rest of the Mexican army started to enter the board. I opted one group to stall one turn and enter more to the south rather than bunch everyone around Santa Anna (more like forgot to place them on the board but let's keep quiet about that). On the following turn, Alamo fell to the numberless Mexican stack of blocks while Goliad fared better as the Mexican advance posse was made mainly of cavalry which wasn't any good at assaulting fortresses.

The Mexican brigade I sent to Goliad arrived and took over the siege from the cavalry while Santa Anna headed two or three brigades around the flank of the Texans. Although the Texans received one block of reinforcements each turn and the Mexicans had all they were going to have on the board at this point, the situation looked grim. The Texans hadn't been able to withdraw properly in face of the Mexicans and had lost a few blocks.

The Mexican army was able to swing round the Texans' flank and began to surround them while battle weary blocks were left behind to occupy victory locations, which must be held by the occupying force to count for victory purposes. There was a bright moment for Texas as one of their groups punched through the encirclement to attack one of the victory locations held by a weak unit and retook it. The Mexicans quickly responded and surrounded the group before it could disperse behind their line and wiped them out. It was clear at this point that the Texans had little chance to fight toe-to-toe with the Mexican steamroller, but they could still attempt to stall the Mexicans and win this way. If the Texans could hold onto four victory locations until scenario end, they would win.

The Mexican forces dispersed to grab all the victory locations they could, which made the army vulnerable and more difficult to activate. This was aided by good activation cards drawn. The Texans withdrew towards the coast and prepared to make a last stand there, as they were in no condition to exploit any weaknesses in the Mexican line.

The end came in the far reaches of the map as the Mexicans caught up with two blocks defending the last town they needed to win. The battle was won and so was the war with two turns to spare.

Santa Anna was aided by good fortune in the early battles as well as consistently getting good activation cards, but I think the Texans really have to concentrate on withdrawing their forces and trying to survive until they have amassed enough troops to make a stand. There's a nice defensive position midway through the map along a river which has narrow ferries where the Mexicans are limited in the amount of blocks they can transport into battle. I reckon it is here that the Texans should make their stand. This time the Mexicans could too easily use their full might in battles.