Sunday, 19 January 2020

Rules Review - Lasalle

Here is a rules review of Lasalle, published 2009, at time of this review only available as a PDF. 
For more detail on my approach to reviewing rules, please see my Rules Review Page.



Command Level: Divisional Commander
Basic Tactical Unit: Infantry battalion, variable number of cavalry squadrons, or artillery battery.
Figures per unit: Any - units are small if they have four bases and large if they have six bases. Artillery batteries are 3-5 bases frontage.
Ground Scale: Not stated - depends on basing size. Distances are measured in base widths so that existing figure collections can be accommodated.
Time Scale: Not stated, though perhaps 15-30 minutes a turn.


Organisation: 5/5
Lasalle has excellent layout, referencing and organisation. Attractive diagrams illustrate concepts through the rules. Design note boxes helping to clarify the intent of the author as to why certain rules choices have been made. Quite possibly the best presented Napoleonic rule set published to date if still available as a hardback, though presently only a PDF is available.

Mechanics: 5/5
Mechanics are intuitive and simple. You should be able to memorise the combat factors reasonably quickly.  The "true IgoUgo" sequencing is innovative and clever without being an gimmick for the sake of doing something different, and the game flows nicely.

Simulation: 2/5
There are some issues here for Lasalle I think, and unfortunately the first one is significant and likely a game breaker for Napoleonics. The problem of the effectiveness of columns vs line has been well covered here. Arguably it is too easy to use columns more like a Macedonian Pike Phalanx than anything Napoleonic, and enemy is forced to do the same to counter.  Games can end up with two rows of columns butting heads. A related issue is the ease of doing combined assaults from the same direction. As the linked article suggests, there are numerous potential solutions, for example only allow one attacker per facing (as has also now been done with Blackpowder 2). If you houserule these issues then I'd change the simulation rating to at least a 3-4, but as it stands this issue is unsatisfactory.

Another common complaint is that despite the modifiers, large cavalry formations can perhaps run over squares too easily, and cavalry may also not be limited enough by rough terrain. For that matter large units may also be a little overpowered in melee. See here for more discussion and potential solutions, if you feel this is a problem. If this is a problem the magnitude is less than that of the column issue I think.

Skirmishers are very abstracted in Lasalle in a way that speeds play, but also has some limitations. Formed units have a number representing their inherent skirmish ability (represented by a number of skirmish bases), and you gain a bonus against units with lesser skirmish ability. This is a simple and elegant mechanic, though arguably it may not give skirmishers their due importance in Napoleonic warfare at this scale, for example when it comes to harassing formed infantry or artillery. Skirmishers do have a minor effect in reducing effect of canister on their unit - representing their harrassment of the gunners. 

Like many rulesets, the casualty system also doesn't scale linearly with numbers of attackers, but has stepwise reductions at certain critical points which creates quirks. For example three gun batteries end up disproportionately less effective than four gun batteries because of these threshold points. At close range a four gun battery is over twice as likely to break an enemy battery as a three gun battery is, rather than just being proportionally more effective.

So that's some problems, or potential problems, depending on how you interpret history. More positively, something I do very much like about Lasalle is that units largely just fire straight ahead at whatever is in front of them, rather than the "sniping" like target selection you can get with fire arcs in some other rulesets.

Friction: 2/5
Command is very simplistic - if you are within range of your general you move as you want in Lasalle. So it tends to play as a "always move as you wish" sort of ruleset, with uncertainty coming from enemy action rather than vagaries of your own control ability. Officers can also have a role in rallying units and giving bonuses to combats in the advanced rules.

Speed of Play: 3/5
Advises that it plays in 2-3 hours, though in 28mm with 10cm moves for infantry in line (assuming 5cm base widths) and 15cm in column, and no option for multiple moves, games could be quite protracted. Especially so if you are using more than a dozen units. However, units are also automatically removed once they take a limited number of disruption hits (equal to number of bases), which helps speed play. 

Clutter Avoidance: 4/5
You need disruption tokens (three per unit, or up five if a large unit), plus cotton wool puff to show an artillery piece has fired and therefore can't move later that turn. So pretty clean.

Pickup Play Support: 3/5
Lasalle has a helpful series of army lists and game setup procedure in the main rulebook, with victory conditions and terrain all highly specified. The army lists are quite restrictive however, which creates a problem of repetitiveness and limits to replayability. You have an non-variable core force depending on nation and year range, to which you add one or more optional Brigades which are similarly invariable.

Historical Scenario Support: 3/5
Little in the way of official support, but fans have developed quite a number of scenarios which are available here, and see my Battles Index for further resources for Lasalle and other rules.

Overall: 3/5 
While Lasalle was initially met with enthusiam, the simulation problems listed above caused consternation after a time and enthusiasm for it dropped off since the release. However, with a few fairly minor houserules to tweak the problematic simulation issues above (mainly columns), Lasalle still gives a good game and many people enjoy it. It's a shame the excellent organisation and mechanics were hampered by the problems described, and that a good effort at including pickup play army lists also made these somewhat inflexible to the detriment of replayability.

There's a great deal to like in the design of this ruleset. Sadly many rulesets never get past a first edition, and thus the design is unable to mature by taking advantage of wider playtesting, community feedback, and further testing and reflection. The author is a fairly prolific producer of diverse and high quality wargaming rule products. From what I can see these seem to be one-off creative efforts  that warrant his attention for a time before he moves to the next project. Whether Lasalle warrants sufficient attention from the author to see a second edition remains uncertain.

Lastly I'll also observe that the author Sam Mustafa has published "Blucher" in 2015. This is a Brigade level Napoleonic wargame with a well developed campaign system. It also has an option to play with cards rather than miniature figures making it a very accessible introduction to Brigade level Napoleonics. I own and have read but not yet played this ruleset at the time this post was published. However, my brief impression from other reviews of Blucher is that to date it has received more positive and sustained regard than Lasalle.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Battle of Gospic 1809 - Battlereport

Here's a report of a small divisional action, taken from Michael Hopper's "Road's to Vienna" scenario book. The Battle of Gospic, the first day May 21st 1809.  

As I've mentioned before, while people tend to think of the huge battles of the Napoleonic wars, there were many more smaller actions. These can be quite interesting and much less effort to set up and play, so this is another of those!  Battles this size are also good for beginners who don't need to paint thousands of figures to get started, or if you have limited time.

Scenario

In this action in Croatia, Austrian General Rebrovich's Grenz reserve force crosses the Licca river to threaten the flank of the main French line of advance. French General Marmont sends a division under Montrichard to push them back and take the bridge and village.  Montrichard is dithering in confusion and so Marmont rides over to take personal command of the action. Historically, a hard fought battle resulted with significant casualties on both sides, and I believe all three French Generals were wounded.

Here's a view of the battlefield. The river is impassable except at the bridge. Hills are good going in the scenario as written and played here (though looking at photos of them on google street view, they might be better classed as rough perhaps!).

In terms of victory conditions,  the French get one point if they take the town across the bridge to the left. The Austrians get one point if they still have a unit within 20cm of the uppermost hamlet at the end of the game. The French get two points if they break the Austrian Division, Austrians get one point for each broken French Brigade. 

Rules used here were 321 Fast Play Napoleonic rules again.


Forces

The Austrians have a single large unwieldy division of Grenz reservists under the sole charge of General Rebrovich. The French have two Brigades, with Marmont in overall command as an Army Commander. All generals were rated as competent for these games. 

Austrians - General Rebrovich
2 Large Regular Grenz
4 Large Recruit Grenz
2 Recruit Landwehr
1 Recruit Chevauxleger/Hussars
2 Regular Foot Artillery


French - General Marmont

General Soyez
2 Regular Light
2 Regular Line
1 Regular Skirmisher

General Launay
3 Regular Line
1 Regular Skirmisher
1 Regular Chasseur

First Refight

We diced for sides, and my opponent Andrew ended up with the French in the first game. My Austrians deploy up to the two hamlets. In the scenario the two Austrian batteries have to start deployed on the left side of the river guarding the bridge approaches.  Here's the battlefield after opening moves by the attacking French.  

The French advance on the hamlets with the weight of their force on their right. They assault and quickly take the upper most hamlet, breaking the Grenz recruits defending it.

The Austrians then counterattack and retake the hamlet with a Regular Grenz unit, breaking the French line unit that had just been victorious. 


On the right I advance with the Recruit Grenz to chase back the Chasseurs, rather bravely and foolishly deciding to meet them in line. This goes poorly and the Chasseurs run the Grenz down... and charge on and break the Recruit Hussars before retiring out of range of the Austrian artillery.

Meanwhile a massed assault from three directions by the French, also breaks the Regular Grenz unit in the hamlet (on the left below), and retakes this.

Things are going rather terribly, so I pull back the Austrian forces towards the bridge. The large recruit Grenz unit on the right leaves the hamlet retreating back in square to hold off the Chasseurs.  The other Recruit Grenz unit manages to retire over the bridge in march column.

Withdrawing in the face of a massed enemy like this is not easy! The Regular Grenz on the left break a French attack column that charges them in an attempt to quickly end the business. However, both Austrian units remaining on this bank of the river are rapidly falling into further disorder.

The Recruits break under fire and the Regulars, pressed from all sides, also do so in quick succession.  With that the Austrian Division breaks. There is not time before dark for the French to attempt to push on over the bridge but they have won a 2-0 victory.

Second Refight

We switched sides for a second game, and Andrew sets up the Austrians. He decides to garrison both hamlets with the Regular Grenz units, which we both thought was a good idea to make these harder positions to crack.

The French spend much time preparing the hamlets for assault. Fire against garrisons is highly ineffective of course, but the French have numerous skirmishers to pester them at low risk to themselves. Trying to causing some modicum of disorder before charging seems wise!

The Austrian units in the open also suffer heavily from skirmish fire and begin to fall back. Rebrovich tries to rally the central Grenz unit on the hill with a fine speech, but is felled by a skirmisher, causing some further disorder before he is replaced. 

The French press forward around the now isolated hamlets, which are still holding on, with French units reluctant to close with them despite the urging of their Generals. 

The Austrian General is also unable to give any commands except hold and retire most of the time,  but that seems to work in their favour by discouraging too rash action!

The Austrians manage to exact a heavy toll, including French General Launay who is felled by some long range artillery fire while trying to rally an attack column. The Austrian Grenz steadily retreat and file over the bridge one unit at a time in an orderly manner. 

The Austrian Hussars move to intercept the Chasseurs as more Grenz escape.

Disaster for the French now, as the Chasseurs charge but are routed by the Hussars! The Hussars retire back across the bridge, job well done. The French take the uppermost hamlet breaking the Grenz there, but lose another unit in the process. Their Brigade skirmish line then also breaks seeing the rout of the Chasseurs and Infantry, on top of the loss of their General. This breaks Launay's Brigade!

The Austrians have lost two units but have managed to break a French Brigade, so win 1-0!

Conclusion

So there we have it, two games with a victory for each side. I managed to lose with both the Austrians and then the French! 

This is an interesting little scenario, with the Austrians needing to inflict as much damage as they can on the French, while at the same time not leaving it too long to retreat and suffering heavy losses in return, as happened in the first game. There's a fine line between putting up an insufficient fight, and committing too heavily to it!  There's an interesting question too about whether or not you relocate your artillery across the river - both of us decided that doing so would be too risky. Trying to manage a fighting retreat, or pressing this as the French is a challenge.

There's also the question of how to class various aspects of this battle. I did not rate these Grenz as Light Infantry (able to adopt skirmish order) for this battle, as I understand the Austrians were trying to de-emphasise this in drilling these reservists. Doing so would change the flavour of the battle and be an interesting alternative. So would making the hills rough rather than clear going in line with my earlier comments on this, as this would slow the French attack down and further limit the role of the cavalry.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Painting review for 2019 - Confederation of Rhine

Just over 500 28mm Napoleonic figures painted in 2019, here's a list of links to them. Mostly Baden, Bavarian and Saxons, and good to get substantial numbers of these contingents ready. They are needed for 1809-13. A quieter year in terms of painting, given some years I've done 1000 figures, but I did more gaming this year which was good!

Total painted in 2019: 75 mounted, 423 foot, 20 guns, 2 buildings.


Baden
4 Baden Command
48 Baden Line Infantry
12 Baden Jagers
12 Baden Light Dragoons
4 Baden artillery and 16 crew


Bavaria
12 Bavarian Schuetzen
24 Bavarian Light Infantry
96 Bavarian Line Infantry
4 Bavarian Artillery and 16 crew


Saxony
3 Saxon Command
15 Saxon Light Infantry
24 Saxon Leib Grenadier Guard
96 Saxon Line Infantry
12 Saxon Chevauleger
12 Saxon Leib Kuirassier Guard
12 Saxon Zastrow Kuirassier
4 Saxon Artillery and 16 crew


Duchy of Warsaw
12 Polish Uhlans

French
8 French Artillery and 32 crew

Terrain
Granary
Windmill


Other stuff...
Ancient: 2 Scythed Chariots and 16 Galatians
Modern: 1/285th Cold War East Germans


Plans for 2020

I didn't get quite enough done to do Aspern Essling in 2019, though at least the Granary is ready! This battle should be on the cards for later next year. I will have to find some other smaller action to play in the next week or two, likely something 1809, maybe part of Abensberg.  

Local wargames club is also planning to have a large Dresden refight in 2020, though that will depend on us having enough Prussians and Russians available!

On the painting desk right now are another 12 artillery limbers! French, Austrian, Bavarian, Saxon, Dutch. So they will be up next.