Saturday, April 7, 2012

Peninsula Battle, 1811, Part 2

After the brief but bloody light cavalry action on the near flank fizzled out, the infantry had moved close enough for the battle to enter its primary action - the infantry fight. Allied troops moved against the line from their left center all the way to their right flank. British against the left center, Portugese against the right center, and Spanish against the right.

The Spanish moved against the French of Gazan's brigade who were moving aggressively to oppose them. As mentioned earlier, there was some confusion as to the referee's background talk, and the French on this flank were behaving very aggressively. Gazan's troops moved through the wooded patch beyond the bridge and formed into line. Spanish came at them in attack columns.
Spanish infantry and grenadiers moving up

Meanwhile, the Portugese of Campbell's brigade would tie up the French on the hill to their front, assaulting them in line formation. The French would hold, inflicting substantial casualties on the valiant Portugese, but would be pinned in place by their attacks.
Portugese of Campbell's brigade in the assault

To the left of the Portugese, the British brigade came on in one big mass of attack columns and lines. In the area where they hit the French line, they were opposed by only a single battalion of line infantry and a battalion of converged grenadiers. The British took pretty heavy casualties in their assault, but were able to stagger the line battalion and destroy the grenadiers. With most of the French right-hand brigade tied down in square formation to protect themselves from the unopposed British light dragoons lurking on their flank, there was very little to support the French center, which was crumbling quickly.
Massed British battalions hit the French center

In order to stem the tide of the British wave approaching them, the reserve brigade of French dragoons was split up and sent in two directions; one regiment to the right to drive off the British lights and free up the infantry on that flank, the other launched itself in a charge against the British infantry in the center. The charge was successful in breaking a British battalion, but cavalry cannot hold ground, and with Brits swarming around them to blast them in subsequent turns, I am sure this will prove true here as well, although it did buy some time.
French dragoons charge to buy time

On the French left, seesaw assaults between the French and Spanish continue while the Portugese continue to chip away at the French. In the last turn we played on this night, the French battery on the hill in the center of the photo below would fall to an assault by the Portugese cacadores facing them. This success, coupled with the British advance against the center adjacent to this part of the line would cause huge concerns for the French, and seriously jeopardize their goal of holding their position solidly enough to be sure of a secure retreat across the stream to their rear.
The French left holds, but at what cost?
At the end of the night, the French position was holding firm on both flanks. The problem was that the center was crumbling badly and in danger of total collapse. To make matters worse, two more British brigades were moving up from the rear; one behind the Brits in the middle and one into the gap between the Spanish and the Portugese. All that would be served by playing a few more turns would be to see if the French could stabilize things well enough to be able to exit the table in decent order. Frankly, that looks kinda doubtful.

Conclusion - This was a very fun night, and it is great to have played some Napoleonics again. It is one of my favorite periods, and one that we have not played much of due to a lack of satisfactory rules. As for LaSalle, my conclusions this time around aren't much different from before. Some comments (all of which come with the disclaimer that we were fumbling through the rules as we went and may have been doing some things incorrectly - further reading of the rules is happening soon...):

  • There is a very substantial degree of abstraction here, but in general I like the feel of the game, so I don't consider that an issue.
  • Artillery is quirky. Due to the tremendously restrictive fire arcs (i.e. absolutely straight ahead only) and the turn sequence, it is possible for enemy units to sidestep the fire arc and avoid being shot at. In our game we had a number of instances of British march columns approaching over clear ground at long distance and repeatedly moving out of the arc. With a broad field of vision, no obstructions, and all the time in the world, it is ludicrous to think that the French batteries would not be firing on those approaching columns. But according to our reading of the rules at the time, they couldn't.
  • Size of artillery doesn't seem to affect anything but range. From a combat perspective, assaulting the front of a 3 lb horse battery would be no different than assaulting a 12 lb foot battery. This is silly.
  • The devastating effect of melee combats takes some getting used to. It is a common thing for a completely fresh unit to lose a melee decisively (most of our combats seemed to be decisive) and vaporize instantly. No degrading over time, no getting pushed back, just gone.
  • Lack of unit morale rules removes complexity but makes all units seem pretty similar. The best of the best and the worst of the worst don't play tremendously differently in this game.
  • There don't seem to be any formation restrictions. For example, in our game, British foot units repeatedly attacked the French in massed attack columns. This goes against drill, doctrine and history. Early war linear armies like the Prussians would have the same issue. House rules can easily fix this.

Despite a few quirks, and some house rules we are mulling over (not to mention the need to learn the rules much better so the game goes quicker), this is a fun game that we will be playing more. Now to get to those Austrians...

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