Approaching the Village of Aleshki
The third element of the French army reaches the the Village of Aleshki as the sun starts to decend in the afternoon. The village is eerily silent, and at first the French see no signs of any people. But as the Light Infantry Voltigeurs approach the village, under Lieutenant Jean-Paul Gall Tier, they notice signs of pillaging. In front of one of the houses are piles of dead animals, and isn't that a well stocked carriage hidden behind another house?
The skirmishers are sent forward to see what is up.
The French deployment points are outside the village, while the Russian ones are suspiciously gathered in a copse of wood. Could it be an ambush?
The Voltigeurs, slightly decimated from previous battles, move forward in the wheat fields to scout out the enemy. The main infantry force holds back, waiting for reports.
(I kept on not drawing their activation cards. Especially my inability to get the second formation of line infantry cost me dearly in this game)
The Russians refuse to show themselves, so most of my army decides to show up. From left: one formation of inexperienced line infantry, one small formation of light infantry Carabiniers, and one formation of lancers placed in the woods. I am pretty sure at this point that the Russians will have units of mounted Cossacks or Hussars, ready to spring an ambush and charge me if I get close.
Contact with the Enemy
Finally! The French forces are alerted to the Russians as a group of skirmishers pop up in the woods, shooting stray shots at them. Is there a main force hidden among the trees as well?
The Russian skirmishers are immediately rewarded, as one of the lancer officers take a bullet wound.
A large Russian formation reveals themselves as well. They have already plundered the village, and are now ready to give the French a bloody nose before they cart their loot off. Just look at that gathering of officers, physicians, even a Priest! This seems to be the core of the Russian command structure in this campaign.
Strategic outlook after the Russians are found. I'm still lacking a big formation of line infantry, and I'm pretty sure that the Russians have hidden a cannon and some cavalry somewhere, which makes any approach uncertain. At this point, I settle on a steady advance of my infantry, and I plan to send my skirmishers forward to take some pot shots at the line infantry.
The French infantry keeps trailing behind, but at least the skirmishers are now in range and starts a duel with the Russian skirmishers in the wood. But the Russians are far too many for it to make an impact.
And there it is! The Russians finally reveal their cannon. And to my horror, it is accompanied by an ammunition cart, meaning that it will not be limited to a mere three canister shot. Since it's a heavy cannon, it will be able to pour an alarming amount of fire into my troops.
Already after the initial salvo, the skirmishers and line infantry in front of it starts to hurt. With the rest of the line infantry nowhere in sight, the French are in for a tough decision. The lancers surge forward towards the woods, hoping to cause a distraction. If they can overturn the skirmishers, they could get into the flank of the infantry. The line infantry has to choose whether to steadily die in the wheat field or march into range of the Russian musketry. With two bad options, they go for the one that might lead to some Russian casualties as well.
The lancers fail to get into contact, as the shock they have suffered slows them down. The Carabiniers manage to catch up with the line infantry, to even out the odds just a little bit.
The Russian infantry are almost unharmed, while the French officers work double time to remove shock from the line infantry. The lancers are unsuccesful at budging the skirmishers - don't overestimate the power of cavalry against units in terrain!
The second formation of line infantry finally turns up, marching towards the Russian flank. But will it be too late? The French line is rapidly taking casualties, as both cannon and muskets fill the area with hot lead.
And there they come! Just as I suspected, the Russian Hussars were just waiting behind the forest, ready to pounce at the right time. The French lancers were already exhausted from the skirmish with the nimble infantrymen, and are helpless against the Hussars.
In their first tabletop appearance, they easily rout the lancers. In the back you can see the Voltigeurs disintegrating from canister fire and heading for the hills.
Quel dommage! The combined strength of the Russian musketry and cannon has torn my frontline to shreds. The troops are barely hanging on, and too weak to return fire.
Steeling themselves, the French swear not to let the Russians leave victoriously without paying for it. The tardy recruits have finally arrived, and swiftly fan out into line formation in front of the cheering Russian Hussars. Ready! Aim!
Blammo! The salvo at close range is extremely deadly. As the remaining Hussars gallop off the battlefield, they leave more than half of their men behind, dead or wounded.
The firefight has devolved into a mess of bloody bodies. While the French line infantry is all but eradicated, the support of the well trained Carabiniers mean that they have managed to fell almost half the Russians as well.
The fresh Frenchmen decides to make a desperate attempt to dislodge the Russians. Charging straight forward, one of their units crashes into the valiant Russian skirmishers that kept the lancers at bay.
En garde! The two officers meet up for a final duel, as the setting sun bathes the bloody battlefield in an orange haze. The Russian gentleman deftly dodges to the right, catches the Frenchman out of balance, and dispatches him with a well placed sabre cut.
With a wave of infantrymen rushing towards him, the Russian officer and his two surviving soldiers decides that it would be wise to get moving. They run towards the panicked Hussars who are rapidly leaving the field.
Despite these final moments of success, the French morale is in tatters. As the Russian reloads for yet another deadly canister salvo, the remaining French fall back, leaving the Russians with both the spoils from the Village and a large part of the French loot from the morning.
The Russians get to celebrate their first victory in the campaign, and one against a numerically superior French force. But with casualties taken, you have to wonder - at what cost?
Thoughts on the Battle
I think that my main mistake was to be too afraid of the cannon. Now, by that I don't mean the actual cannon when it was in close range - a heavy cannon without a three-canister limit is just amazing, as it can shoot canister before my troops are in even long range, and cause tons of damage while doing so. But I was so afraid of it that I pushed forward before I had all my troops in a good position. If I had held back until the rest of my infantry arrived, even if it meant taking solid shots from the cannon, I would probably have been in a better position to attack.
Imagine if that last attack from the infantry against the Hussars and skirmishers had been simultaneously with an approach from the front - much better.
In the end I got stressed into rushing into the ambush, and both my infantry and cavalry were dealt with piecemeal.
My only consolation is that I managed to put a dent into the remaining Russians. Their infantry is no longer a threatening four unit formation, while I still have plenty of infantry left, even if they are merely recruits. The final activations saw me dealing with those pesky skirmishers, who are now a lot fewer. I also managed to kill off a ton of Hussars, and I'm always vocal about my thoughts that in Sharp Practice, a two-unit formation of cavalry is way more scary than a single unit.
While the Death Ray cannon remains, the Russians are running out of soldiers to protect it, and at some point I'll be able to rush it and take it out. And even though my lancers took a beating, they actually didn't lose that many men, so they will be ready to attempt more charges in the future.
Revel in your victory for now, Russians. Because next time, revenge will be mine!
Evening, July 28th
Hector's troops (#1) reaches the Gleboff Monastery, and immediately get to work on looting it. Two sacks of supplies are added to the baggage train. However, Hector fears an immediate counter-attack, since the force that was repulsed on the road was mostly left intact, and must have warned any comrades nearby. So he orders his engineer team to craft some defensive works, if the monastery itself is attacked.
The untested force led by the Prince and his dragoons (#2) have read the spy's report that there were Russians further down the road this morning. They pursue them after a brief meal. As they move forward, they don't see a trace of Russians for several hours, until they hear something... is it a Summer thunder storm approaching in the distance? No, it can't be. It's cannon fire! From the direction of the monastery! The Prince immediately calls his men - forward! To Gleboff, and Glory! March towards the sound of the guns!
Meanwhile, the staunch carabiniers and the line companies that fought across the river crossing (#3) march towards the village Aleshki, where the spy had previously seen Russian looters. Can there be anything left to take? As they move towards the village, they see some men, looking like Cossacks, scurrying in the woods nearby? Are they independent scavangers, stragglers, or a screen for a larger Russian force? Captain Bernard Obelisque of the carabiniers orders the men to approach, but carefully. It could be a trap...
An explosive afternoon, with TWO battles to be fought!
With a strenghtening cup of tea by his side, the French commander inspects the field of battle. It's almost empty, with a few small copses of trees and a lone wooden building. The road to Gleboff Monastery lies in front of him, and his aim is clear: push away any Russians, and continue the march.
In the morning he musters the troops, and the following formations are ready for battle:
Large parts of his batallion, including
- Two companies of fusiliers (2 formations: 4 groups of veterans with some casualties, 4 groups of recruits without any casualties)
- His company of voltigeurs (2 formations: 2 groups of skirmishers in each, mostly intact)
Supporting them are:
- One squadron of the 2nd lanciers (2 groups)
- One squadron of the 8th chasseurs-a-cheval (2 groups)
- One 6-pounder cannon from the horse artillery
The French recruits march forward in marching column. With the Russian deployment expected in the forest on the other side of the road, it must be a perfect idea to quickly march forward, and then outflank them. Right? It can't go wrong!
A sneaky Russian 12-pounder cannon lies in wait by the woods, and their crew is eager to punish the approaching column. The take aim, and start the battle with a thunderous blast.
The cannonball bounces perfectly along the deep column, felling men and causing confusion. The French find themselves charging into cannon fire, just like yesterday!
But this time, the French horse artillery is ready for a match. They are not disheartened by the difference in caliber, and their small 6-pounder starts a battery duel with the Russians. Some French voltigeurs are working their way forward, ready to put some pressure on any Russians protecting the cannon.
The French recruits continue forward, with more voltigeurs deploying in the forest. One of their officers is hurt by debris thrown up by cannonball. He forces himself up, grasping a savage bleeding wound in his side.
But the French artillery is ready to retaliate and a well placed shot knocks out some of the artillery crew. The furious Russian artillery commander orders his men to switch their target from the infantry to the pesky French artillery.
Мудак!! When his men load the next shot, the Russian artillery officer is alarmed by large dark spots on the powder bags. The boneheaded illiterates in his crew have left the bags sitting in the grass all night, soaking up the morning dew. Curses!
The next cannonball spewed forward with a much less impressive blast. The shot bounced towards the French cannon, and the Russian crew cheered as they saw the French artillery officer fly into the air, and then land still on the ground. Lieutenant Gustave Bourguignon is knocked out of the fight!
The Russian force reveals the battery's defenders: two units of dismounted Cossacks form a dense skirmish screen, while a company of what looks like elite carabiniers line up on the other side of the gun.
Battle Lines Drawn Up
After a long wait, Hector's veterans finally turn up the other flank to relieve some pressure from the recruits. He is also within command range of the shocked and leaderless cannon crew, which he orders to continue the artillery duel.
The voltigeurs are within musket range and starts to exchange fire with the Cossacks (don't tell Shirty, but I forgot half of my skirmishers! These units should not be single groups, but formations of two groups each).
The lanciers also turn up, cautiously standing still in the forest overlooking the battle. They are in an unusually good mood, with the hideously ugly yet charming captain Jean-Paul Martre leading his men in a jolly song. Evidently his cheer makes people overlook his physical appearance!
(The singing was a random event, which in this case would have made the unit move faster this turn if they were formed in a column)
Hector leads his men along the building, preparing for a two-pronged assault on the Russian line.
The recruits, tired of exposing themselves for cannonballs, form a line and prepare to wheel into musket range of the Russian infantry formation that protects their gun.
The Russians wheel up their line to protect the cannon. The French voltigeurs tries to sneak around on the side...
...but take a couple of pounds of canister to the face! While only one man fall to the ground, the unit is extremely shocked, and decides to see if there's any skirmish duties to tend to somewhere else. Preferably far away from Russian guns.
The French companies are lined up for attack, and the lancers are waiting patiently in the cover of the trees, ready to spring an attack whenever an opportunity shows up. Then suddenly, there's confusion in the Russian ranks. The carabinieris are ordered to present, that means, carefully aim their muskets for their first volley. But after some confusion and shouts about protecting the motherland, the line starts to waver. It begins with a few individual men, but soon the whole line is surging forward, with muskets lowered, charging towards the French! Their lust for revenge has pulled them out of the defensive position planned by the Russian commander and in the way of the cannon.
(This was due to a random event, forcing the Russian troops to advance)
Needless to say, this leaves these elite troops out of support from the nearby cannon and cossacks, and in a very dangerous position. The French infantry would be able to sandwich the line between themselves, and the lanciers would be able to swoop in after the initial musketry exchange, possibly wiping out the valuable Russian core of elite soldiers.
Panicked, the Russian commander calls for his men to immediately stop and to retreat off the battlefield. The French soldiers are happy to end the morning without having to experience a deadly exchange of volleys. The road to the monastery is ours!
This is an example of the kind of games you sometimes get when playing campaigns. While it can look a bit anticlimactic, I completely understand the Russians decision to back out immediately instead of risking a very likely loss of their best infantry troops.
The random events really messed up the Russians today, but that's mainly because they were fewer in number to begin with. With such risky odds, any bad luck would be harsher on them than on the French. If they had one or more additional formation of regulars, the sudden surge of his carabinieris would not have jeapardized the entire force. Now, it ended up forcing them to leave my marching route to the monastery open.
While I was looking forward to wiping out this army, which would have been a possible result if the assault had been carried out, it was a very inexpensive win for me. The position for next turn is good, as I now hold the monastery. I can plunder it and then strike out from there, leaving the Russians unsure which route I'll take.
I also managed to hurt the artillery crew, with two (?) losses for them. This make them more vulnerable in any future game as a lucky cannonball or some well placed skirmish fire could knock it out. The Russian artillery has been a thorn in my side this far, and I want it eradicated!
Morning, July 28th
The morning on the 28th of July sees a flurry of activity as the French are eager to exploit their victory at Rudnja the previous evening.
The main force (#1), led by Hector himself, sets off towards the Gleboff Monastery. What riches might the Ortodox monks have hidden away here? Hector is hesistant, unsure if it will be heavily defended or not, and decides to not send out his light cavalry on scouting duties. He might indeed need his lancers and chasseurs close at hand if there will be fighting.
Hector leaves the battered but victorious force of Captain Obelisque and his carabiniers (#3) to browse the buildings in Rudnja. There is not much to loot in the ashes, but his troops are weary after the hard fought crossing and appreciate the chance to rest. While the Russians had time to evacuate their engineers' wagons, they find three bag's worth of supply that must have fallen off the wagons during the hasty retreat.
The unproven force under Prince Sasha Siemenschneider of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen (#2) enters the village after their pillaging tour across the farmlands. The Prince is chomping at the bit, and wonders in frustration which path will enable him to make contact with the enemy as soon as possible. The nerve of that simpleton Hector, to wrap himself in all the glory of the battlefield while his noble dragoons were left to haul supplies and chase away peasants!
The spy Percule is sent along the Smolensk road, looking for the enemy. He spots Russians just a short distance from the village, pillaging their own fields!
Bloodletting on Hallowed Grounds!
Hector's men follow the road to the monastery that some villagers pointed out in exchange for their freedom. Just as Hector sees the tip of the church tower over the gently rolling landscape, he hear a warning cry. One of the voltigeurs, moving ahead of the force, has spotted a column of Russians marching along a nearby road. By pure coincidence both forces are making their way towards the monastery, almost neck to neck.
With neither side ready to give up their common goal, both forces halt their march and begin to line up. Let the battle for Gleboff begin!
Russian troops waiting in the fields
The First Clash
Just as expected, the initial contact between the French and Russian forces turned out to be around the village of Rudnja. The small group of houses form a strategic chokepoint, as it's bridge is the main path for an invading army. It would take far too much time to look for another crossing: the French need to smash their way through, no matter the cost.
Hector Bidet was not the most elegant military mind of his generation, but he understood that the cramped village streets and the wooden bridge across would make it hard to overpower a reinforced Russian garrison. The Frenchmen should attack head on, and rush for the bridge as soon as possible. This flanking force, under the watchful eye of Captain Bernard Obelisque of the 15th Légère Carabiniers was told to approach the outskirts of the village and attempt to ford the river if possible. If he could get across he would be well positioned to outflank any resistance in the village itself.
As the sun slowly started to descend, Hector could see a few strands of smoke rising from the chimneys in Rudnja. Tonight he would make his lodgings there, even if he had to swim across the river himself!
Rudnja Village. We did a lot of last ditch work on the terrain, as we started these river sections years ago but never finished them. They're still not finished (no water makes for a sorry river!), and we lacked enough river sections for this huge table. But we used some bushes to mark off an area where the river banks are covered in heavy undergrowth and unpassable. The Russians will deploy on the side with two buildings, and the French is the one with three..
The village was full of bounty, as the locals have not evacuated it yet. Sheep and cows milled around, ready to be grabbed by hungry soldiers on either side.
We improvised a plunder scenario for this game. For each base of animals captured, that side would gain extra loot in the form of supplies. Both sides can also try to set fire to buildings, with each building set ablaze during the game decreasing the available pillage from this campaign grid.
The Russian forces are startled by the dust cloud of the incoming French, and spring to action first. A heavy cannon deploys outside the village, overlooking both the approach by the village and the small island.
Meanwhile, several groups of Cossacks run around inside the village, chasing any livestock they can find.
The first French units to reach the outskirts of the village are the voltigeurs led by the uncouth bastard Jack Dupond, who make their way towards musket range of the cannon. In the meantime, they exchange fire with one of the groups of Cossacks. The Cossacks in the sheep pen fire off a few stray shots, and poor Jack bend over as a bullet smashes through his stomach. In return, the remaining voltigeurs fire off a deadly hail, felling most of the Cossacks. The rapidly dwindling bunch of Russians decides to intently focus on the foodsource instead, picking the braying animals up one by one.
Pulled forward by the sound of battle, the first formation of French regular line infantry deploy. They start to march towards the village, Led by Hector himself.
Battle Lines Are Drawn
As the French forces starts to reach the village, the Russians reveal their real defensive perimeter in Rudnja. A formation of two line infantry units protects the bridge on the French side, while a unit of Strelski skirmishers man the windows of a building. These better trained skirmishers are well suited to cover the Cossack units, who can use the distraction to keep on looting. In the horizon, Hector can see a marching column of Russian reinforcements through his spying glass. How many enemies will be close enough to turn up before sunset?
Facing the defenders, the bulk of Hector's force starts marching. His own attack column of veteran line infantry march along the road, ready to push aside the smaller formation of Russians in front of them. A second company led by Captain Maurice Suave deploy in line, ready flush out the Strelski in the building. The French skirmishers continue to harass the "Sheep Cossacks", who despite being down to three men are still dodging bullets while strapping sheep to their increasingly burdened backpacks.
Meanwhile, the French flanking force stumbles forward through the dense crops outside the village. A company of fresh recruits are first in line and starts a slightly uneasy march towards the river crossing and the menacing Russian gun waiting on the other side. Behind them are the more well trained light infantry skirmishers and carabiniers, the equivalent to grenadiers and the toughest infantry available to Hector. A squadron from the 2e lanciers hang back, unsure if they should risk looking for a second place to ford the river.
The Russian defenders are prepared for this second prong of the French attack, and a line of Russian infantry set up to contest the crossing.
The French forces eventually reach the small forested island and are met with a shower of deadly projectiles. The Russians have prepared not just one, but TWO heavy cannon! The deadly 12-pounders pour canister fire onto the French recruits, who quickly have to learn how to seek any available cover among the trees. The seasoned carabiniers give them encouraging cheers as the Frenchmen form a haphazard firing line. To reach the guns across the river they need to give the Russian infantry a bloodied nose, or clearly they'll be shot up or chased off when they try to cross the river. But which line will hold out the longest? The numerically superior French in their light cover or the Russians, backed up by their deadly cannon?
To make matters worse, the increasingly worried Russians reinforce this side of the table even more. A squadron of cavalry rides forward to form a reserve in case any Frenchmen make it across the river. The Hussars have arrived!
The French lanciers were hit by a cannonball early on and have to stay put to calm their mounts down before approaching the river. If they can find a second crossing, they might be able to surprise the frantic Russian cannon crew. But as they stab their long lances in the water they reach far too deep, finding no solid ground. Meanwhile, the French and Russian firing lines exchange deadly volleys, filling the air with a dense cloud of smoke and agonized screams on both sides.
The French recruits slowly form up from marching column. They are supported by fierce carabiniers in their bearskin hats, taking their share of the flying lead to keep the pressure from overpowering the untested soldiers.
Forming a combined firing line.
Shock and casualties start to pile up on both sides but the Russians seem to take a tad more, at least for now....
Back in the village proper, the French are determined to fight their way through the firing line waiting by the bridge. The Russian strelski skirmishers and cossacks set fire to the houses and prepare to get back across the bridge before they are cut off. The French send skirmishers and the light cavalry chasseurs-a-cheval around the village, to see if they can catch any Russian looters.
The Cossack leader is bleeding from a severe bullet wound. Together with a single trusted, yet incredibly stressed, henchman he refuses to budge. The sheep pen has turned into a pile of dead and wounded Cossacks - how can they possibly remain steadfast enough to still be gathering the sheep? But ice and a burning need for mutton runs in their veins.
The small formation of Russian regulars try to keep Hector contained as he pushes his company along the road, regimental flag waving in the wind. With gun presented, their leader waits for the right time to start firing their first volley.
One group of Cossacks, led by a mounted noble, has been left largely unscathed. They sneak around a building to reach the bridge with their share of the local sheep population. They flinch and instinctively push their bodies against the wooden wall when a massive volley from the French fill the street with thunder, smoke an mayhem, crippling the company of Russian regulars. Will they hold out for much longer?
Zut Alors! Incredulous French voltigeurs watch as the remaining Cossacks in the sheep pen, despite several bullet wounds, manage to wrestle the last sheep to the ground. In an impressive show of strength, both men raise a sheep on each shoulder, and zips behind the corner of the building. Will they finally make their escape?
Yet another salvo echoes through the street, and the inexperienced Russian serfs cut their losses and flee across the bridge. The French have taken a few losses as well, but now the road to the bridge is clear. The three remaining units of Russian skirmishers are now in great danger of being cut off. But what's that big column of dark uniformed men, rapidly closing in from the other side?
A Gunpowder Plot
Unseen by the French due to the line of troops in the way, the Russians have arrived in force! A unit of elite carabiniers and some less experienced regulars have lined up on the other side of the bridge, ready to repell the invaders. On top of that two units of engineers have come along, deployed their wagon, and are now busy jumping into the river. With water up to their necks, they are ready to receive their deadly cargo from the remaining engineers - several barrels full of gunpowder!
If the Russians won't have control of the bridge, noone will! As the screeing company retreats, Hector grasps the situation. The battle is now literally a ticking time bomb!
The engineers steadily strap explosives to the bridge, while the large group of Cossack makes a break for safety. But the French, aiming to fight their way across the bridge, are already formed in column, ready to move.
The Russians across the river shout for the Cossacks to hurry across, but to their dismay the French column rushes into the exposed backs of the irregular troops! After a brief tallying of the Fisticuffs tables...
...the odds are not speaking in favour of the poor Cossacks. In Fisticuffs, or close combat, you determine the size of your dice pool based on things like troop quality and if you are well prepared for the combat. 5+ are kills, while 6+ also causes shock.
The bridge is strewn with the bodies of dead or wounded Cossacks, but several of them manage to flee across, draggin their loot with them. The Russians are now forming a solid wall on the other side of the bridge. To try to cross it with the Russian lines mostly unharmed and in good order would be suicidal. But the engineers are also working at a blinding pace, strapping powder kegs to the bridge with complete disregard to the occasional bullet whizzing by from the French side of the village.
In the middle of this chaos, both players cheer as the daring Cossack duo from the sheep pen rushes past the French column which is too surprised to react. Each man carries a pile of shocked sheep, their fleece blood-stained from the Cossacks own wounds as well as the stacks of bodies they have waded through.
The battle hangs in the balance as the engineer officer rolls out the fuse to the explosives. The Russians have taken heavy losses already and the men's courage is starting to waver. But the sun is setting, and the French can't keep up the attack for long. If the Russians can blow up the bridge and make an orderly retreat, any French victory would be hollow at best. As Hector stands in front of the bridge, unsure how to act, he is blissfully oblivious of one important fact:
He, and most of his company, is standing well within the blast radius of the explosives strapped around the bridge supports.
A Last Hurrah
As the engineers prepare to finish their work and evacuate the blast zone, it's now obvious that the last chance for the French is a push across the ford. The Russian commander sends some of his troops by the bridge on a march to join up the ford defenders, while the French voltigeur skirmishers move forward. Positioned on the river bank, they fire at the cannon crews, causing some shock...
...and a retaliatory spray of canister that leaves the formation virtually useless, as the men are largely unhurt but scared witless, scramling to find any cover possible.
But things are looking better around the small island. The Russian officer can be heard cursing, as his dull-witted conscripts are slow to act, while it's hard to imagine that the French company facing them are fighting their first battle. Coldblooded and calm, they take care to use the small rugged trees as cover while they reload their muskets. They are rewarded by a surprising amount of protection from the worst effects of the Russian volleys and canister.
The despicable captain Henry Peste carefully eyes the opposite river bank. He can see that the Russian infantry facing him is wavering, on the brink of backing off. He barks a set of short commands to his sergeants and corporals, and they get ready to carry out a daring scheme.
Just seconds before Henry spies the Russian artillery crew light the fuse for next barrage, he orders his men to fire a concentrated volley. The receiving line of Russian recruits is disordered, with many men leaving the ranks in the dense smoke.
"Duck!" His men are barely able to get back into cover as the Russian guns belch another deadly load of canister at them, mostly hitting dirt and tree trunks.
Henry doesn't even take time to dust off his coat before he waves his sabre and shouts to his men. "Advance! Advance!" His NCOs drag the dazed men to their feet and they quickly wade into the shallow water.
The Russians are taken completely unprepared by the quick attack. The artillery crews frantically tries to reload for another shot, but the French comes at them much faster than they thought possible. The artillerymen can't get help from the disrupted infantry on their flank or the the infantry marching on from the village. To their dismay, the hussars behind them seem unable to grasp the danger as the dense smoke hides the French column.
I managed to roll extremely well for the move across the river, and then spent four flag cards to be able to move the unit twice in the same turn. It was a desperate gamble to try to cause more morale hits on the Russians and force their morale to zero before they blow up the bridge, and my commander with it. Will it pay off?
The surviving French crash into the artillery crews in an attack column, craving revenge for the intense canister fire they suffered on the island. The Russian crews fight bravely, beating several French fusiliers unconscious with their ramrods, but are eventually overpowered by sheer numbers.
With the crews fleeing through their ranks, the Russian hussar corporal turns to his commander - "Should we charge?"
"No, we turn back. Napoleon's wretches are pouring across the river, and we can't afford this battle any longer. We will make them pay another day."
As the Russians by the ford starts to retreat, a ripple goes through the rest of the army. Unit by unit, they start to pull back. The engineers hurry to load all their gear on the wagon to avoid being left behind. The fuse to the explosives on the bridge is left unlit amid all the confusion.
What could have been a rout turns into an orderly retreat. The Frenchmen by the bridge are wary to pursue, afraid that the bridge could explode at any second. Henry's men by the ford are completely exhausted and spend any remaining ounce of energy on celebrating the two captured guns.
The night settles over Rudnja, lit by the burning houses. Today was a very important victory. The road across the river is cleared of enemies, and the French commanders are now ready to spread out and pillage the Russian countryside on the other side.
Hero of the day: Captain Henry Peste, a man as courageous as he is unlikable. Without his surge across the river, with the least experienced men in the French force none the less, the Russians would clearly blow up the bridge and made any victory a very hollow one.
Well, that was a close call. This was a very tricky battle from the start and it played out as I feared, with the Russians creating two deadly bottlenecks. My superior numbers were not really helping me as I could barely get half a dozen units into firing range anyway.
In the end I managed to squeeze in a victory, but it was down to the wire. Shirty had to roll two morale tests after losing the two cannon crews and getting his artillery officer injured. He managed to roll the maximum morale loss on both, reaching 0 army morale and ending the game. Otherwise, I would clearly have been counter-charged with the cavalry next turn. This would give the Russian units enough time to complete their evacuation of the blast zone, enabling them to blow up the bridge and ruin my day.
The reason I won was in the end that the Russians had several small units and formations, and I managed to rout or damage enough of them to cause a lot of morale hits. That's a big downside of running many small formations in SP2.
Another lesson was just how deadly canister fire can be. It's a great defensive tool, and the only reason my infantry survived was that they fought from light cover, which canister fire doesn't negate (unlike solid shot).
With a doctor available and ready to get busy and my side victorious, chances were higher that my casualties would be wounded instead of killed. Wounded men will either get better and return to their companies or pass away as the campaign progresses.
The strapping Lieutenant of the voltigeurs that got shot in the very start of the game, Jack Dupond, was killed outright! One man has risen from the rank, replacing him with a status 1 leader. I knew being a tall skirmisher was a death sentence.
The lancers lost 5 men to cannon fire. 1 was killed, 2 were wounded, and 3 could return to duty after tending to their minor wounds or finding remounts.
The veteran line infantry fighting by the bridge lost 5 men. 3 were killed, 2 returned to duty.
The voltigeurs skirmishing opposite the cannon lost 3 men. 1 was killed, 1 wounded, and 1 ready to fight again.
The light infantry skirmishers fighting alongside them by the crossing lost 4 men. 1 was killed, 1 was wounded, and the other 2 could return to duty.
The recruits charging across the river lost 7 men. 3 were killed, 1 was wounded, and the other 3 were quickly in fighting shape again.
The carabiniers fighting from the island lost 3 men. 1 was killed, 1 wounded, 1 ready for battle again.
Total losses: 1 officer killed, 10 enlisted killed, 6 enlisted wounded.
The fog of war lies thick in front of Hector and his men. The Russians were beaten at Mogilev, but nobody knows if they are hurrying towards Smolensk or if they are preparing a defensive line, or even worse an ambush. With clear orders to plunder as much supplies as possible, the French forces quickly fan out, each with a mission of their own:
Unfortunately, the French officers take a while to get started, arguing back and forth before settling with this plan. So it's well after noon when the forces start to move, and already the supplies causes a bit of alarm, as we use one sack of supplies, leaving the supply wagon with a measly single sack of garlic and bread.
As the sun sets, the dragoons completely fail to maraud a single cow along the road. Not a good start for the campaign. Not a good start at all. But at least the spy manages to find a spot were a small sand bank might allow my troops to cross the river. As night approaches, the detachment of light cavalry scouts the terrain in front of the army. Dire news: the river crossing is not just guarded, but the Russians seem to be busy forming up an actual defensive line there! If they manage to build up their forces around Rudnja, it could become a hard nut to crack.
July 27, Morning
The French infantrymen wake up at dawn surrounded by crops and a few spread out farmsteads. The supply wagons are almost empty, so the orders for the morning are clear: take everything that's not nailed down!
And then, take those nails, and take whatever they were attached to as well!
The cavalry screen is sent further down the river to look for a third potential crossing, but fail to find one. Meanwhile, our spy works his way across the river crossing he found yesterday, and is sent in a wide arch to approach Rudnja from behind, to see if reinforcements are arriving.
Evidently a night's sleep did wonders, because all three forces manage to loot their areas, and fill their wagons with food for several days of marching. This will be very helpful, but Bidet's orders are to gather as much supplies as possible, not just feed himself.
Then something strange happens. A Russian serf, dressed in rags and carrying a broken pitchfork, comes strolling a stone's throw next to the road. Apparently he is completely unfazed by the French invasion. One of the French line infantry officers, Captain Dijk van den Bockenklockentocken, becomes suspicious due to the Russian's behaviour. The towering, vile, giant of a Dutchman was raised in the streets of Rotterdam before joining the French army, and has never let his guard down since then. His suspicion doubles when the serf stops for a second, looks in both directions, and quickly shuffles his hands under his tattered cloak.
Dijk sends out a pair of voltigeurs to catch the Russian, and after a quick dash they catch their prey. The serf has great troubles to explain why he carries a bunch of papers, and even harder to explain why they include cruedly drawn notes about the composition of the French forces!
Hector Bidet thanks Dijk for his awareness, and rewards him with a bottle of his finest cognac. The nefarious spy refuses to talk, and is tied to the supply wagons. Maybe a few days of marching in the dust of the suppy train will make him more eager to dispense of any information about his Russian masters?
July 27, Evening
The spy Percule arrives at the front of the French columns at noon, and reports that there are swarms of Russians all around Rudnja. If the town is not taken immediately, there are at least two forces ready to bolster the defenses!
Hector's plan was initially to carefully capture all available food on this side of the river, and maybe even sneak in a flanking force across the river. But with these news reported in, can he afford to wait? No, the Colonel would have him stripped from command if the advance on Smolensk is slowed down by a bunch or Russian recruits in a small countryside village.
Hector sends out a flurry of orders:
With the orders sent and the troops marching, there's nothing to do but to sharpen our bayonets and prepare to push our way across the river at Rudjna.
Au plus dru!
Bienvenue à Mogilev!
Right now is a terrific time be in the French army for Chef de Bataillon Hector Bidet, despite the unbearably hot Russian July sun. Yesterday his fellow soldiers in the first Corps, under the magnificient Marshal Davout, whipped General Bagration's lapdog Rayevski and his brutish columns of serfs. The battle played out near one of those quaint collections of haphazardly piled logs that the locals call towns (was it Saltanovka?).
Now, yet again, the Russians are fleeing before the Empereurs's superior soldiers. While his 33rd line infantry regiment were left out of the fight yesterday, he could not help but feel like the war against Russia was already halfways won. And any glory showered over Davout would also reflect on the men under his command, isn't it so?
Hector's was surrounded in his tent by his lieutenants and captains, hiding from the unrelenting rays and blazing heat while taking bets on whether or not they would see a uniformed Russian again before reaching Smolensk. Their casual banter was cut off as a burly Aide-de-Camp in a Hussar uniform stiffly marched into the tent, and handed over a small rolled up piece of paper.
"Bien! Mes Amis!" Hector turned around to see the faces of his closest subordinates. "Prepare your men. We're marching immediately. We will not wait for the supply train - it's imperative that we move quickly, and not let the Russians recover. So we will take what we need along the way, and stock up as much as possible so that we can keep marching. We beat them at Mogilev, and now we must harry them to Smolensk, and not waste a single day!"
A clatter of sabres being drawn simultaneously was followed by a single, unison, shout:
Setting up a Dawns & Departures Campaign
Welcome to the start of this campaign, using the SP2 campaign system Dawns & Departures. As you might guess from the intro, I'll be playing the French. Dawns & Departures connects a series of SP2 games, with a focus on narrative gaming.
A D&D (confusing, I know) can be played with either two or more players, or with both players and an umpire. In our test games, adding the umpire made the campaigns so much more rewarding, as the umpire can keep track of secret moves. Our minds were blown by how much better it played with an umpire, so if possible, recruit a friend to fill that role.
You prepare the campaign by agreeing on a campaign type, which will tell you your campaign goals and sometimes add extra features. The rulebook comes with several examples, such as a peasant revolt, a daring heist, or escorting a lady through dangerous territory. In our case, we designed our our campaign set around the scorched earth tactics used by the Russians.
The map consists of a grid, and is a simplified and somewhat abstract one. That means that there's no measuring distances and calculating marching speeds or anything like that. You can either make a map yourself, or roll on tables in the rulebook to see how your map will look. We decided to make one ourselves, and after some playtesting we realized that for our campaign it had a large effect on whether the scenario was winnable by both sides. So depending on your campaign goals it can be a good idea to take a second look at the map.
Once you're set on a campaign idea, you decide how big forces you'll be playing with, and each player make their forces and roll up their leaders' character traits. In our case we're fighting a rather large campaign - you could easily fight a perfectly fine campaign with about a third of the size of our forces. We upped the numbers so that instead of having one main army, we can have 2-4 ones, and so the movements on the maps will be more important and less predictable. After all, brilliant maneuvers where several columns coordinate is often central when you read about Napoleonic campaigns.
So how does one depart at dawn?
Each day is divided into two halves. Each army or detachment can spend half a day on either moving one square on the map, or staying put while doing a task, such as looting or scouting for a place to ford a river. You can send out scouts, either special characters or light infantry from your force, to search ahead of you for enemy forces.Your force will need supplies to move at a normal pace, and there are some special actions such as forced marches (move twice but lose a lot of men).
When forces meet, they fight a battle using SP2. What kind of scenario you fight can be influenced by how your forces met on the map: maybe you ambush the enemy as they are halfways across a ford, or you bumble into a well prepared defence where engineers have toiled for days digging fortifications.
Your force rosters stay the same throughout the campaign. Casualties suffered carry over between games, so your force will gradually wittle down. Not all casualties in the battles are considered permanent casualties, so you'll get some of them back, especially if you have a physician or similar who can tend to the wounded. In the end, the player who meets his or her objectives win.
Simple enough, but what else is there to it, that makes it more interesting than just playing one-off games?
The obvious difference is that you become a far more careful commander when you're dealing with casualties that will carry over inbetween games. We experienced this in our WW2 campaign, where some games would end up in mexican standoffs in a way we would never see in one-off games. Rushing into effective musket range is already a gut-wrenching affair in SP2, and with a more permanent result of any mistake, I expect our games to be even more tense. I will probably also not keep on gambling away my cavalry on do-or-die charges every single game. Maybe. We'll see about that.
Mechanics for Narrative Play
Compared to a lot of other games, SP2 allows for a lot of character, almost bordering to a roleplaying game. For this campaign, some of our officers will have their own individual goals they'll try to achieve. We'll also be using the rules for rolling up personalities and traits for our officers, which in turn will probably affect how I play. Of course I will lament when my vile dishonorable officers survive and earn glory, while the heroic gentlemen bites the dust! Dawns & Departures is designed for the characters that survive to continue their adventures in the next campaign, whether they made it out like heroes or whipped dogs. That means there's a reason to be invested in them´, no matter if you win the overall campaign or not. I can definitely see myself paint up specific officer models to represent some of the leaders who stands out in the campaign.
Dawns & Departures also comes with a lot of extra things to do, like random events, which will be informed by what kind of officers are involved in the whole mess. We will be playing with an umpire, so there's no limit to the shenanigans that might happen behind the scenes. To make it even better, both players will be in the fog of war, only knowing the positions of their own armies and oblivious to where our opponent's armies are until our scouts hopefully catch a glimpse of them.
So my hope is that this campaign will simply make for good stories, and stories that continue from game to game. To me, that is usually what you want from a good campaign compared to one-off games.
French Campaign Objectives
The French side have three main objectives in this campaign;
1) Pillage as many squares as possible on the campaign map. Only square that hold something valuable count, like a village or a farm. Some are more valuable than others.
To pillage a square I need to occupy it with a force, stand still for half a day, and roll a die. The higher result, the more loot. A larger force has a better chance of pillaging than a smaller one. Taking supplies from the Russians by beating their forces in battle is, of course, also acceptable! The Russian's will use scorched earth warfare to pillage the land before me, so if I slouch around they can win the campaign by removing enough supplies and retreat off the campaign map.
2) Cause a significant amount of casualties for the Russians. The Grande Armée is still numerically stronger, and the Russians can't afford to weaken their army as long as Napoleon keeps pressing into Russia, looking for a decisive battle.
3) Don't lose too many men. Well, if all our men are dead, it doesn't really matter if we reach Smolensk, does it? Doing suicidal stuff to reach the two goals above won't pay off.
The campaign will be fought along a path that covers two rivers, so it is a good idea to bring engineers in case those dastardly Russians sabotage them. Bonus points are given to the French for keeping the bridges open, and to the Russians for blowing them up.
We are using a lot of special rules for this campaign. Some are from our own Moscow 1812 campaign book, and some are variations to the Dawns & Departures rules that we plan to add to the book if the work out well. As the French I get 360 points to play around with, and I've been told that the Russians have a slightly smaller army. I'm also told that I will start the campaign with very few supplies. That means I'll need to focus on pillaging from the get-go, even just to fill the bellies of my soldiers so that they'll be able to march properly.
The French Forces
As the French, I need to balance pillaging as many map squares as quickly as possible, with the risk of diluting my army so much that it can be defeated piece by piece by the Russians. Basically the Russians have two options: either make a big stack of troops and go on the offensive, or spread out and try to burn the entire map before I have a chance to pillage it. With this in mind, I decided to divide my forces into three pretty evenly sized columns,. I will try to keep two of them close to each other, always ready to gang up on a smaller Russian force. Meanwhile, the third column can keep busy stealing food behind the frontline, while still being large enough to have a chance against any small scouting party (damn Cossacks!) that might be probing me.
I went somewhat semi-historical with my force, so all officers are fake, while the regiments were either part of the 2nd Infantry Division in Davout's I Corps, or cavalry regiments operating more or less nearby, some of them even present at the Battle of Saltanovska. I mostly built my armies to utilize the troops I've already painted up. I also wanted them to be at least somewhat realistic, rather than to make the "best" armies using the points available. But I still think they'll give the Russians a challenge, as long as I can manage to get somewhat even battles on the campaign map. The Russian player agreed that we'd consider a formation of 2-3 units to be more or less a company, so that we don't end up with widely differing officer ranks - SP2 doesn't really care about ranks, as it uses the more abstract "level", which can be whatever fits the force size you're representing.
I've rolled up stats for pretty much all leaders except for the lvl 1 ones, but I'll go more into their backgrounds if they end up important in their battles. Who knows when they'll need to step up to replace their wounded superiors?
My first column is also the biggest. I made it to be a well balanced force, with all aspects of the French army - a solid core of line infantry, skirmish screens, a healthy amount of cavalry, and some artillery.
It's lead by Chef de Bataillon Hector Bidet himself. His fellow officers talk behind his back that his rise in the army comes more from his nouveau riche family back in Paris rather than his brilliant strategies. Their evidence for this is that poor Hector is, indeed, quite slow-witted. But he's an honest man, and he welcomes the better ideas put forward by his adjutants. His simplicity shows in his force: it's made to be a well balanced one, with no obvious strengths or weaknesses - it's all down to utilizing the basic tactics of the French formations as well as possible.
The first Fusilier Company of Bidet's Battalion is led by Capitain Dijk van den Bockenklockentocken, a vile giant of a man with obvious Dutch heritage. An illegimate offspring who left for the army as a young teenager, he is feared by his men who prefer it when Hector is around to keep his dull, yet steady, eyes on him. Despite his faults, Díjk has made sure that his company is well trained and prepared, and they are considered regulars rather than conscripts like most of the line infantry in this campaign.
The second Fusilier Company is a stark opposite. Led by Capitain Maurice Suave, these recent conscripts are yet not hardened in battle. Maurice does not worry too much about such worldly problems. His striking features, curled moustache and pleasant, almost fatalistical demanour on campaign makes his men wonder if he somehow was mistakenly lent to them from some Hussar regiment.
A company of men from the 2nd Chevau-Légers Lanciers will follow along to give close support, led by their Capitain Jean-Paul Martre, a man as pleasant to his comrades as his young face is hideous to look at, marred by sabre-cuts rather than years, and more than one riding accident.
The first company of the 8th Chasseurs à Cheval is operating in the area, primarily scouting for Russians and valuable targets to plunder. They are always ready to follow their dashing Capitain André lePetit, a man so tall that his shako is plainly visible even among the bulky colpacks of his men. His horse is as unfortunate as his enemies, as it barely holds his weight as he charges into their ranks.
The cavalry units are accompanied by a crew of horse artillerymen, led by their beloved Lieutenant Gustave Bourguignon, a jovial man known to crack jokes to raise the morale of his crews, even when under heavy musket fire.
The force is screened by a large number of voltigeurs, under the commands of Lieutentants Jaque Dupont and Jack Dupond. Both of them outrageously ungallant men who have given the entire voltigeur company a questionable reputation in the battalion. But while both of them are unusually unrefined, they could not be less similar: where Dupond is an ugly, sleazy miser with a constant sneer on his face and the common shortness of French voltigeurs, Dupont is a handsome and pleasant man with a hopeless lack of manners but an astounding stature, which has become the talk of the entire division. He's literally dwarfing his men at 6'5', and he is often seen resting his elbow on the shako of his sergeant. What impossible strings were pulled by whom, and for what reasons, so that he would end up here?
Finally, this column has a team of engineers as well as a scout, ready to offer their specialist skills when needed. It is also followed by a proficient doctor, ready to perform surgery on any wounded men, just like the two other columns.
Too Long; Didn't Read
First column has the following:
4 units of fusiliers, regulars
4 units of fusiliers, conscripts & volunteers
2 units of voltigeur skirmishers
2 units of voltigeur skirmishers
2 units of lancers
2 units of chasseurs à cheval
1 medium cannon
1 unit of engineers
The second column is slightly smaller, but still a match against most foes. I built it to be a good defensive force, so that they don't need to retreat if outnumbered. The threat of canister fire and a massive cavalry charge will hopefully make it a tricky force to assault.
When Hector is absent, this force is torn between two detestable men. The first one is Chef D'Escadron Prince Sasha Siemenschneider of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen. A minor German royalty who might look like a reincarnated Roland, his brash treatment of anyone he deems his inferior (which happens to be everyone) has made him few friends on the campaign this far. However, nobody doubts his abilities when leading his large body of Dragoons from the 7th Dragoon regiment.
If Prince Sasha is Scylla, then Capitain Guillaume de Pamplemousse is this force's Charybdis. A truly detestable fellow from an former noble French family that evaded the guillotine but at the cost of their estates. Guillaume has regained some respect through making his way up the ranks, and now leads the grenadier company of Hector's batallion. But his hatred of Prince Sasha is a worthy competitor for Sasha's condescension of the fallen French nobleman.
Caught in the middle of these vile officers is Captiain Jean von Bovi, the second son of an obscure German noble family from Alsace. The combination of his gentle manners and dull mind means that he has either managed to avoid the ire of the other officers, or he is happily oblivious to it. He leads a fusilier company that consists mainly of new recruits.
The force is screened by a handful of trusty voltigeurs, led by yet another vile example of a true cad: Sous-Lieutenant Marc deQanaille, a nobleman of no good intentions. No good intentions at all, I tell you.
Finally, the column is supported by a line infantry 6-pounder under the sturdy guidance of Lieutenant Giovanni Cappotto, a charming Milanese who grew up as an illigimate child and quickly found his new home in the French army.
Too Long; Didn't Read
The second column consists of:
4 units of fusiliers, conscripts & volunteers
3 units of grenadiers
2 units of voltigeur skirmishers
3 units of dragoons
1 medium cannon
The third column is the smallest, and probably the weakest in composition overall. It was meant to represent the light infantry of the 15th Légère regiment, but I didn't have time to paint up any chasseurs! So imagine that some of these guys wear blue pants instead, ok?
The force is led by the stout Capitain Bernard Obeliceque, a tall man at the front of his trusty light infantry carabiniers. They are currently in depot, having their bases magnetized, but my grenadiers were up to the task of repacing them for the photoshoot.
He is screened by his fellow light infantrymen from the voltigeur company, led by yet another despicable skirmish officer: Lieutenant Jean-Paul Gall Tier, a dimunitive, poor, dumb bounder. What is wrong with the French skirmisher officer corps?! Obviously, the voltigeur regiments are breeding grounds for the worst the Empire has to offer.
The bulk of the force is made up of two large continents of fresh recruits. The first is led by Capitain Henry Peste, a half-crippled man who turned bitter and uncouth after suffering a near-fatal wound from a cannonball. The other is led by Capitain Armand LeDouche, a strapping handsome man of humble background, who has risen through the ranks through hard boot-licking work and serious efforts when it comes to backstabbing.
Finally, we have even more lancers from the 2nd Chevau-Légers Lanciers, this time under the steady command of Capitain Francois Galop. Francois comes from a long line of cavalry officers, and is well liked by his men despite being a horrible freak: a horse with colic kicked his jaw almost cleanly off when he was a teenager, and it still dangles at a 45 degree angle, unhinged on his right side. But more importantly, Francois is the only man with a skill in my entire army! There's a 1 in 6 chance that an officer gets a skill, yet after rolling 18 times, I had yet to roll a single 6. But then, on my last roll, our buddy Francois got the skill "sporting life", which means that he'll be slightly better at doing special tasks that require strength or dexterity. Not much, but I'll take it!
Too Long; Didn't Read
The third column consists of:
4 units of fusiliers, conscripts & volunteers
4 units of fusiliers, conscripts & volunteers
3 units of light infantry carabiniers
2 units of light infantry voltigeurs
2 units of lancers
So what have I got to work with? A lot of pretty bad to average infantry, which I think I'll need to not be too outnumbered by Russian serfs. I have a decent amount of cavalry, and with the help of my cannons, I think that all of these forces are able to either attack a smaller Russian army, or put up a decent defense against a larger foe.
They are led by a bunch of unskilled hacks, but they are at least an honourable bunch of hacks. Of course with exception for the uncivilized cesspool of faux pas that some people deign to call voltigeurs. What's wrong with them? Hopefully they'll fight better than they wield cutlery.
I have yet to settle on which two officers will get individual goals in the campaign. Of course my overall commander Hector will get one, but none of the goals in the rulebook fits him, so I'll try to design a new one and see if the umpire accepts it. Then it's down to the second one: could it be that the despicable Teutonic prince Sasha has some skeletons in his wardrobe, that he might need to attend? The mystery might unfold later on in the campaign...
Until then, it's time to crank out an engineer wagon and some deployment point markers before we start making the moves on the campaign map, and hopefully we'll have our first battle real soon!