Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Battlereport: British Cavalry vs Baden/Bavarian, & Rules Musings

I've been playing a series of small Napoleonic games over recent weeks, testing out some rule concepts on a smaller 6x4' table. Here's a report on a somewhat unusual game today. We had a British force that was entirely cavalry (and horse artillery) facing a combined arms Baden and Bavarian force.

So here's a look at the forces, the game, and then some musings on the rules.


My Baden/Bavarian force consisted of two recruit grade line infantry brigades, and a better quality cavalry brigade. (Recruits start off enthusiastically enough but lose this enthusiasm quickly once the bullets start flying!).

Matt's 500 point British consisted of three cavalry brigades with mostly veteran cavalry, though the horse artillery was regular (Matt ran out of points to make more units veteran!).

Just for reference too, command levels for generals gives the chance of a Brigade holding (being unable to advance) each turn. This starts at 25% chance for a level 1, and reduces by 5% with each additional level. An Army Commander can reduce this further.

Baden/Bavarian Force: Army Commander Lvl 3 and 16 units (breakpoint of 1/3 = 6 units)
  • Baden Brigade (General Lvl 2): 4 Recruit Line, 1 Recruit Skirmisher, 1 Recruit Foot Artillery
  • Baden Brigade (General Lvl 2): 4 Recruit Line, 1 Recruit Skirmisher, 1 Recruit Foot Artillery
  • Cavalry Brigade (General Lvl 4): 2 Veteran Light Cavalry, 2 Light Cavalry

British Force: Army Commander Lvl 1 and 10 units (breakpoint of 1/3 = 4 units)
  • Light Cavalry (General Lvl 2): 1 Veteran Light Cavalry, 1 Light Cavalry, 1 Horse Artillery
  • Light Cavalry (General Lvl 2): 1 Veteran Light Cavalry, 1 Light Cavalry, 1 Horse Artillery
  • Heavy Cavalry (General Lvl 2): 3 Veteran Dragoons, 1 Horse Artillery

The Game

Below we see the situation a couple of turns into the game, with much action happening already.  My Germans have made a cautious advance, except for a Baden Infantry regiment which has advanced in line and been caught in this formation by Light Cavalry.  Other British Cavalry keeps up some regular feints and charges, with other infantry forming square to repel them. Just off camera to my right are my two Veteran Light Cavalry.

A large wood and hill dominate the centre of the table. Over on the left flank, it is far more open. My skirmishers make use of the wood throughout the game to snipe rather ineffectually at any cavalry nearby. My Bavarian artillery bottom left inflicts a casualty or two but is then disordered by the British Horse Battery opposite, and overrrun by British Light Cavalry.

The disordered Badener's caught in line (dark blue flag on right) fire a fortuitously timed volley which sees the British Light Cavalry retreating back. Some unexpected good fortune!

Bavarian squares see off other cavalry, which retires.

Bavarian and Baden attack columns press forward.  Some of them are forced into square by cavalry, and a Baden infantry unit breaks under artillery fire. The Baden General reforms another disordered line infantry regiment.

I commit Chevauleger and they break a British Light Cavalry unit, but annoyingly fail to restrain themselves, and pursue into fresh cavalry. This in turn sends them fleeing back in much disorder. The victorius British cavalry follows and sabres my Baden artillery in the confusion before retiring spent.

To add insult to this loss, a Baden square then breaks to a cavalry charge! Getting close to a dozen charges by this point, so my recruits have held up pretty well so far I guess....  The British cavalry breaking my square pursues (compulsory for British cavalry in rules used), into more fresh Chevauleger and are broken in turn though, so it's a fair trade!

With my infantry attack hard pressed, I throw forward my own veteran cavalry. The Bavarian Dragoons (here treated as Veteran Light Cavalry - they did became Chevauleger after 1810 afterall!), inflict heavy casualties but ultimately break against Veteran British Light Cavalry -  which in turn smashes into the flank of the Baden Light Dragoons (also Veteran here) who are busy fighting Veteran British Dragoons. The Baden Light Dragoons take heavy losses and fall back in maximum disorder. The British Cavalry charge on into my infantry forcing them into square, and then retiring.

Below, about turn six and both forces are pretty shattered. I've lost both my artillery units, most of my cavalry is exhausted, as is my Baden infantry and the British Cavalry. The British still have all their artillery intact though, so my shaky units will break under this fire very shortly if I just hold back... and we are both only a single unit off breaking.

I decide to throw my freshest Chevauleger at a disordered British Battery, but British Dragoons intercept (top right in photo below). This is expected and I'm at a disadvantage but things are desperate so I have to try something! Goddess fortune frowns on the challenge to the law of averages though, and my Chevauleger break before the Dragoon attack. Then both a Baden and a Bavarian infantry regiment break under artillery fire (both still stuck in square due to all the British Cavalry!).

End of the game. The British have lost three cavalry units. I've lost two cavalry units, four infantry units, both my artillery units, and skirmisher unit (though the skirmishers are ignored for victory purposes). Ouch! Having said that the game was actually very close and could have been a victory either way, or a draw.

Rules Musings

This game was done in two hours including the setup and packing up. I lost count of the cavalry charges, but many of them were cavalry becoming fatigued against infantry squares. There was also one failed charge against a line, one square broken, and over half a dozen more decisive combats between the opposing cavalry forces, plus of course my two artillery batteries were sabred by cavalry.

These games have been played using the 321 Fast Play Napoleonic Rules on this site, with revisions. The major rule change we've been testing in these games, is using D20's rather than D6's....

I acknowledge D20's may seem like an odd choice!  However, it resulted from frustrations with the limitations of D6's when trying to preserve both subtle distinctions and flavour, but also fast play. I'll repeat here what I said in The Napoleonic Wargamer Facebook group about the  rationale behind using D20's to help meet these objectives:

Reasoning for trialing D20's.

  1. The probability distributions with D6 are coarse (0.17, 0.33, 0.5, 0.67, 0.83), and modifiers have relatively huge effect, so it is hard to introduce more subtle variation in combat odds.
  2. To get around the limitations of D6’s, systems then typically introduce multiple "special rules” to increase the range of possible results (e.g. to hit and to disorder rolls, or extra saves, reroll abilities, multiple dice against a chart, and so on). For example see Black Powder or General D'Armee. But this then adds more complexity and/or dice rolling and slows the game down.
  3. In contrast D20 range allows more subtle variation with a single die roll that would take two or more D6 rolls to replicate, or some conditional checks. It is of course still important not to have thousands of modifiers or complex charts which would slow play by being dull and fatiguing to work through, but I believe there may be some good ways around this. 

Reasons against using D20’s:

  1. Not as many people have D20’s or are familiar with them. However I would note they are easily available via a google search, and if you only need a small number also cheaper than lots of D6’s. Plus electronic apps are good too (e.g. works great on a mobile phone). 
  2. Law of large numbers – if you have more die rolls you get an increased probability of normal distribution. However, for this to really count, you need buckets of dice per unit like Warhammer (which is also slow), and few if any Napoleonic games choose to do this. Instead you typically have a small number of dice needing 4-6’s to hit (for example), or opposed rolls, or 2D6 on a chart.
  3. Some people have a perception that D20's are prone to luck (or "swing") than D6's. As several commentators observed though, this is not correct, D20’s are no more inherently swingy than a D6, but rather it depends what the mechanism is. So a dichotomous hit/not hit result is no more swingy on a D20 than a D6, you just get greater finesse as to the odds of the occurrence, (.e.g possibility of 5% steps rather than 17% steps). Of course if you are using opposed D20 rolls plus small modifiers you would have much more swing - but I'm not sure why you would do that if that is also what you are trying to avoid!

For these test games then, four D20's have been used by each player.  Using these instead of D6's has effectively halved the number of dice rolls needed. This means fewer physical and mental actions, and  less cognitive fatigue from repeatedly processing masses of dice throws. This is excellent if you want to play monster battles in a reasonable time frame... as I do. Aspern Essling, and a bunch of 1813 scenarios are on the cards.

Anyway I will keep testing, and likely put up a new version of this soonish for any interested.

Other News

In other Napoleonic rules news, I see David Brown, the author of General D'Armee is discussing ideas for a GDA2. See this thread for more on this. I find it interesting that he is considering merging charges and melee as I did for my own quickplay rules, and as Bataille Empire does. Plus he is considering using the skirmisher fire mechanic instead of charts, as I wished for in my rules review of GDA, and he wants to improve the command system. This all sounds positive to me and should lead to some faster play and simpler systems I imagine. Also Lasalle 2 has been released, I hear it has fixed some problematic issues in Lasalle 1 and many people seem to be enjoying it from what I can see on the web.

Lastly, on the painting table we have more French underway, and some more Germans.  As part of this next lot of figures I will be adding the below Murat figure to my French, accompanied by two Guard Kettle Drummers! I'm looking forward to painting this command stand up :)


  1. Nicely thoughtful AAR /rules review. I tend to agree on the inherent evil of a six sided cube. ;-)

  2. I agree with Pancerni and your observations, there is just not enough granularity in a six-sided die. We play with percentile dice, but effectively the bands are in five percent which is equivalent to a D20 anyway, so that seems like a smart choice.

    1. Cheers Lawrence, yes that's a similar solution :)

  3. Hi Mark -
    Thou defiest the goddess Hexahedra at your peril, sir! But seriously, there is an alternate approach that might be worth considering: 2D6, based on the entirely spurious yet somewhat compeeling notion that two dice are better than one. The advantage is that you begin already with something more resembling a bell curve (binomial distribution - hit or miss). Situational modification might then be used to modify scores, move the 'curve' up or down; narrow it or flatten it.

    Just a thought.

    Interesting play test, and a very surprising result!

    P.S. Rats. I'm in bad with Icosahedra now. I can see the point of monotheism after all...

    1. Hah yes thanks Ion, and agree 2D6 is another possible solution, though it doesn't really work with my simple "one base one die" approach, where each dice is just a hit or not. Instead I often see this tied to a chart, usually with quite a number of modifiers, and containing a range of outcomes. This not terrible, just not what I find easiest.

  4. Enjoyed reading about the larger figure scale on a 6’x4’

  5. Hi Mark.
    I love reading your posts and the thoughts regards rules.
    I'm with Piccolo on the 2D6, which is why my favourite set of Napoleonic rules is still General de Brigade as the two dice deals with most situations (firing, melee, morale) and there is enough of a range of possibilities across 11 results depending on the dice roll.
    Just my 2 cents.

    1. Cheers Chris :) Yes 2D6 and the GdB or GDA rules produce a nice range of outcomes, though I dread to think how long this game with probably two dozen charges would have taken to play with those! Move chargers, defensive fire, charge test, move chargers, melee test, potentially move up more reinforcers, test again, outcome. Exhausting, and you'd get through a tiny game like this in several hours I guess, but it grinds to just a few turns played if you want to play a big game. A combined charge/melee mechanism, as in my quick play rules, Bataille Empire, and hopefully GDA2 seems more user friendly if you want to play big games.

  6. Nice AAR. You should try Lasalle 2. It's very different from the original.

    1. Thanks Daniel, yes it sounds interesting, though the highly abstracted skirmishers, momentum command mechanism, and lack of cav breakthrough mechanics don't really look like matching my preferences. I also wonder about speed of it still looking at the movement and combat factors. But yes playing is the only way of making an informed decision about it.

  7. Good sounding game, I'm still a little way off having enough troops for a game but I'll have to give your rules a go once I have got enough!
    Best Iain

  8. Great to see the armies out on the table, Mark!

    I really enjoyed your discussion on the use of different dice. Whether D6, D8, D10, D12, D20 are the right choice boils down to the game engine and the goals of the design. I prefer D6 over D20 since I prefer the random component to have less influence than the fixed (or situational) component. A smaller spread does that for me.

    1. Many thanks for the thoughts Jonathan, and yes I guess that variance issue can also come down to the mechanic you choose for the dice. E.g. if it is dichotomous hit or not then the random component doesn't need to be higher with D20's, you can instead just have greater gradation in odds, e.g. according to morale grades.

  9. Another fine looking game Mark and great to see those new(ish) Bavarian cavalry get a run and make a fair fist of it.
    I really like D20s, first used them with Empire back in the late 80s. The random factor in wargaming is a tricky one. I am not keen on the rule sets that are focussed on the game aspect with lots of dice—once again putting me in some 5%, I guess. The starting point has now become to have a random factor for *everything* 'cause people want to roll dice. I'm now thinking seriously about a back to the future and am musing about rules without dice, for my own interest and edification...
    All the best with continued musing and tweaking.
    Regards, James

    1. Thanks James, yes one of the first sets I used had no dice at all, can't remember the name. An interesting one, and I would like to minimise dice throws where possible I think.

  10. Excellent battle report as usual! Looking forward to seeing your version of the rules using D20. I have been tinkering with a modified version of your rules where I use D10s instead of D6 but going all the way to d20 didn't occur to me!

    1. Thanks for the comment Jonas, that's interesting to hear! Have played a couple more games since this one and still in the process of tweaking and testing!

  11. I somehow missed this; we used D20's for our own Napoleonic house rules for almost 20 years in the 1970's - 1990's. Then Piquet and FoB with multiple polyhedral dice (still my favorite set). Test of Resolve (WotR) very effectively uses D12's. I put GdB on the table, and couldn't face plying even a 2nd turn before concluding they simply weren't what I wanted in a rules set - way too many tests of this and that, too many die rolls, too many tables... good if you have to have an explanation of why things turned out as they did, but really largely IMHO unnecessary complexity for its own sake.

    1. Thanks Peter, just noticed this in the moderation comments!
      Yes I've noticed the multiple dice in your scenario book and lists, and interesting you used D20's for a few decades. Interesting to hear about the GdB experience, yes the level of complexity just to get a result in a particular situation is a bit excessive for many I think.