The French Cornered
Zach wanted revenge after the French slipped through his grasp in the last battle, so we arranged for a second battle. Initially we planned to roll for scenarios, but after trying to set up the Rescue Mission and realizing that it would be a bad fit for our forces, we decided to play a straight up meeting engagement instead. Evidently, the Russians were alarmed by a certain French captain who had not only beaten one of their skirmish forces, but also slipped through their net despite their best efforts to catch him. Now, on a small road outside Vitebsk, the French captain runs into yet another Russian search party. Will he prevail and add another trophy to his growing list of achievements, or has his luck finally run out?
This was the first battle where we used the points system, and we used the PDF Russian list and the French Peninsular list from the rulebook. Needless to say, I'm not completely happy with the French list for representing France in Russia 1812. In the list, French veteran company troops are worse than the Russian line troops! But until my own French 1812 list is vetted by the club, I use the one from the book. The battle was fought before the French light infantry and lancers were finished, so the forces are similar to our first games.
Experimental rule: Simplified Leader Activation
We set up a simple crossroad with a small farming household and some woods, where our two forces would meet.
The French force has a formation of four Fusilier units. With them are a large formation of 4 groups of skirmishing Voltigeurs, led by a single NCO. These two formations are bolstered by a single unit of mounted Dragoons.
The russian has one large formation of four units of line infantry, and one formation of grenadiers. They are fronted by a formation of two units of skirmishing jägers.
The French quickly took initiative, and rolled onto the field with their entire force. The Fusiliers marched on in a line, covered by a huge cloud of skirmishers. On their left flank, the lone Dragoons started looking for vulnerable units to prey on.
The Russians were caught by surprise, and scrambled to meet them. The Grenadiers and skirmishers advanced straight for the French force. while the line infantry formed up a column and started marching towards the unprotected French right flank.
The skirmishers get within range to open up on each other. Skirmishing troops get +1 to hit at long range with muskets, and troops with the "First Fire" rule get an additional +1 to hit with their first salvo. Our skirmishers only have to roll 4+ to hit on the first volley, and 5+ on consecutive rounds. Meanwhile, line infantry quickly ends up needing 6+ to hit if they try to fight a long range battle.
However, skirmishers also counts as being in one level of cover extra, since they are spread out and utilize whatever they can find to hide behind. This means that losses are few in the initial firefight, but the leader of the Russian formation is knocked out! If Zach wants to activate him, he needs to roll a 5 or 6 to wake up. This takes a while, so the Russian skirmishers are temporarily out of action.
The Battle Heats Up
The Russian Grenadiers are not worried that the skirmishers halt, and move up to the solid stone wall by the road. From the heavy cover they start firing on the French skirmishers on close range, and the both sides are embroiled in a firefight.
At this point the French Fusiliers are in a bad spot. The skirmishers are in a large formation, they can't easily be manouvered to the sides. The Fusiliers could push forward and move the Voltigeurs to their back, but then they are in light cover, against a formation in heavy cover at close range. Instead of a decisive action, the French stands still, exchanging fire with the Russians. A combination of deployment mistake and static battle plan? This doesn't sound good!
Meanwhile, at the crossroads:
After two battles of being useless, the French Dragoons are chewing at the bit to prove their worth. And what's more tempting than the flank of an already engaged infantry group with unloaded muskets? It's time to recover their lost honour!
Slowly trotting forward, they change facing at the crossroads and line up. You can only change speed one "step" up per turn with cavalry, so they are spurred on to a canter, but not gallop. To make sure that they make contact, the French player spends two command flags to use their special rule "Tally Ho!". This gives them an extra die for movement, and two extra dice in the Fisticuffs if they get into contact. With the extra die and +3 inches per die for moving at canter, the Dragoons crash into the surprised Grenadiers!
The Dragoons are only one unit against the Grenadiers, who are supported by the unit next to them. Even though they are Agressive (extra dice in close combat), the flank charge removes enough dice from the Russian side for the Dragoons to overpower them. While losses are few, the Grenadiers are pushed back, and have to leave their heavy cover.
Meanwhile, the intrepid Russian column has fanned up into a line, and are advancing through the woods. The French Fusiliers hurry to form up to face them head on, but they are very close now!
The Dragoons are now in a much worse situation, and it's do or die as they continue their attack on the Grenadiers. But at this point they have formed up in a line, and while they are badly mauled and not really in combat shape after the Fisticuffs, the Dragoons are killed to a man! Only the officer survives, and retreats from the battlefield in a frantic panic. This angers the Voltigeurs, who fires upon the Grenadiers until they are forced to retreat due to accumulating too much shock.
Meanwhile, the Russian troops open up a devastating volley on the French! Casualties are high, and before the French can reply in kind, a second volley riddles the French captain with musket balls, and he falls dead to the ground. Quel dommage!
With the French losing their captain and with only their skirmishers in fighting shape, the players agreed that it was a good spot to call it a day and break off for lunch. The Russians had prevailed, and put an end to the French rampage across their countryside. At least for now...
We learned a lot from this battle. First of all, skirmishers should not operate in such large formations! If they had been organized as two formations, they could have manouvered much more efficiently, and maybe try to flank the Russians or get in the way of the marching column while still keeping the Grenadiers in check.
Secondly, getting a first volley at close range with ranked infantry against other ranked infantry is very lethal. It's likely to put you in a position where your opponent is weakened enough by the shock and losses that they can't claw their way back into the fight.
Thirdly, if the Dragoons had two units instead of one, the Grendiers would probably have been wiped out, not pushed back. Even in perfect conditions, a single cavalry unit is pretty limited. But at the same time, it practically removed three units from the battle through their sacrifice. So cavalry, while they have their weaknesses, are far from useless.
Finally, it's more fun to have two ranked up units than one! Only fielding one unit of Fusiliers made the French force needlessly static. With more units you can manouver more, and do interesting things like flanking. So bumping up the armies in size a bit so that both have more than one "core" unit is probably for the better.
Overall a fun game with the balance shifting back and forth. Now it's on to add more troops, so that we can fight bigger battles!
"Glory is fleeting,