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The Road to Bokhara, 1920

September 21, 2017 - 11:43

The Back of Beyond, Setting the East Ablaze!, 28mm

We can’t go too long without staging a Back of Beyond game. they’re just such good fun. This week’s one was set on the road between Samarkand and Bokhara, where a Muslim League blocking force was trying to delay the Red Army’s drive westwards. The game was played on an 8×6 foot table, with the Muslims at one end and the Bolsheviks at the other. Running the length of the table was “The Golden Road” (which didn’t really live up to its name, and the equally grandly-titled Trans-Caspian Railway – even though it only had a single track. running along one table edge was an arm of the Zeravshan River, which was fordable in a couple of places. On the Muslim half of the table lay a sprawling sun-baked shitty-looking village – all stinking goat pens and peeling adobe walls.In this game, Campbell played the part of the Emir of Bokhara, aided by Tim (as his Turkish adviser) and Michael as his Basmachi tribal ally. Bill and I played the commanders of the Red Army. Both sides had similar numbers of troops – 7-8 infantry units, 3-4 cavalry ones and 4-5 support weapons (machine guns and field guns), but the troop quality varied. All units were 10 figures strong, although the two Basmachi cavalry units came in dozens. The Muslim League force included a small Turkish expeditionary force, there to bolster their Bokharan allies. The Reds though, had three things the enemy didn’t have – an armoured car, and armoured train, and an off-table flanking march…The game began with the Red Army advancing up the table. We were using the 2nd Edition of the rules, and we hadn’t all read them yet, so there was a lot of rules-book flicking, and peering at the playsheets. There are a few subtle differences from the last edition – most notably artillery is a bit moire effective, while light machine guns aren’t so good. Anyway, the first few turns followed the same pattern – a ponderous Red advance, and some long-range firing from the Muslim side of the table. Then, things started to heat up. First, Michael got a little bored with his Basmachis, and launched them in a charge. Actually, this was part of “the big plan” – a Napoleonic-style mass cavalry attack down the centre of the table. Unfortunately it never came off – instead the cavalry went in in “penny packets”. It started well though. Despite being halted by rifle fire the leading Basmachi unit rallied, then charged home, routing a unit of Red infantry. It was an impressive feat – these were good-quality troops – but the tribal cavalry paid a hefty price, as they were promptly mown down by Bill’s sailors, waiting in reserve. The second Basmachi unit took a few casualties, and retired to the back of the village, and didn’t emerge again for the rest of the game. Next, the red Army’s flanking column appeared on the far bank of the Zeravshan – three cavalry units, a field gun and a tschanka. Their immediate opponents were the Turks – they had two infantry units, a field gun and a machine gun on the far bank of the river. The Turks scored the first kill though, destroying the tschanka with a direct hit from the Turkish field gun. The leading Red Cavalry unit splashed over the eastern ford and charged an outpost of Bokharan militia, holed up in a dilapidated goat pen. The militia were spared being ridden down by the fact that the goat pen  – while not classed as cover – at least wasn’t classed as open ground either. That helped. Still, they lost the melee, which went on to a second round. This time the Bokharans were cut down to a man. If you look at the picture above you’ll notice the Turkish cavalry in the background, advancing up “The Golden Road”. This was Tim’s big moment. He launched them in a charge at the Red infantry, but his charge move left him short of the Red sailors. He was promptly cut down by rifle and machine gun fire. The fourth and last Muslim cavalry unit – the Bokharan Guard “Cossacks” – wisely stayed behind the cover of the village. The red advance was painfully slow though – while these suicidal cavalry charges hadn’t really worked, at least they’d delayed the Bolshevik steamroller. Over on the banks of the Zeravshan my Red cavalry was also coming unstuck. While my first charge had seen off that unit of Bokharan militia, the Turks were now ensconced in a khat field, which counted as soft cover. They and the Turkish machine gun wiped out the victorious red cavalry unit, which was still milling around the goat pen. Back at the western ford though, the red field gun scored a hit on its Turkish opposite number, and destroyed it. That though, was pretty much where the game ended. it still had everything to play for, but as we just had a couple of hours to play this evening, we’d run out of time. The Red army’s advance was ponderously slow, but while the Muslims had delayed them, they hadn’t stopped the Red hordes. By mow the armoured train and the armoured car were coming into play, dueling with the obsolete field gun the Bokharads had deployed to block “The Golden Road”. My two remaining cavalry units were still in play, although one of them had been battered a little by the Bokharan artillery. Almost inevitably though, the Muslim League would have had to cede the field. In this game though, we declared the outcome a well-fought draw. These games are always lively, and great fun. I’ll look forward to the next outing of the Red Army of Tashkent, and their next adventure on the road to Bokhara. 

Categories: General

The Battle of Faulquemont, 1870

September 14, 2017 - 12:09

Bismarck’s Wars, Bonnie Blue Flag, 10mm

With a lot of people on holiday this week my regular group was reduced to just one – German Michael (aka “Mad Micha”). We opted for a small Franco-Prussian game using our 10mm toys, to see how they work with Bonnie Blue Flag. While Michael hadn’t tried these rules before, I’d played quite a few games with them, before they were published, or even had a name. Strangely, while they’re an ACW set, I’ve never used them for that period – only for Napoleonics and the Indian Mutiny. I was sure they’d work though, as their mechanisms are both sound and simple. The only change we did to them was to change inches for centimetres.In this small game Michael took charge of the Prussians, while I reluctantly took the French. We had a Corps of two divisions aside, which meant the Prussians – with their bigger regiments and lots of guns – had the edge in numbers. However, they were attacking, so in theory that sort of evened out. This fictional scrap was set at the time of the retreat to Metz, with the Prussian III Corps advancing up a road heading west, around the back of the fortress city. At the village of Faulquemont (or Fiesingen) General Ladmirault’s IV Corps  barred its way. Both sides were deployed with a division on either side of the main road, which ran down the centre of the 6×4 foot table. The Prussians deployed a foot onto the table, massing their Corps artillery on their far right flank. The French artillery reserve though – what there was of it – was still just that – limbered up on the main road at the back of the village. Michael (aka “Mad Micha”) played the part of the Prussian General von Alvensleben, while I took charge of Ladmirault’s troops.The game began with a lot of moving – at least on the Prussian side of the table. As he wasn’t in range yet I stayed put. We were using the rules “as is”, which meant thy were really designed for a different war entirely. However, the aim of the game was for Michael to try out the rules system, so we avoided any tinkering, apart from the switch down from inches to centimetres. Actually, movement was a bit of a faff at first, as you had to roll a die for each unit – infantry got 6 cm., plus 1xD6 cm. In future we might let people roll by brigade, at least until they get into rifle range. Eventually, Michael reached the halfway point of the table – then stopped. His infantry were still bunched up in assault columns, but his guns were now in range (48cm) while mine weren’t (40 cm). So, he unlimbered and started blazing away. One of the fun quirks of Bonnie Blue Flag is that you don’t roll to cause damage – the defender rolls to avoid it. So, for instance, if the factor after modifiers was 35, then you rolled a pair of decimal dice, and if you got that score or higher you were OK. Otherwise bad things happened, usually a loss of attrition points, and sometimes that and a fall back move. The way attrition points work is simple. Each unit had a dice behind it, colour-coded depending on whether it was Veteran or Experienced. We had no raw troops in this battle. Veteran units start with 6 attrition points, and experienced ones start with 5. As you lose points the total goes down, until you reach ), when you’re broken. Each divisional or Corps commander has 4 extra points, and he can ride up and hand some over to the battered unit, to keep it in the fight. Simple but effective. Anyway, after two turns of bombardment I found a couple of my units were losing points faster than I liked. On my right, the best unit in Grenier’s Division was forced back into the cover of a nearby wood, while on my left my guns were systematically shot up by the Prussian artillery. I tried manhandling them forward into range, but I lost two batteries before they even finished moving up. One of them was my reserve artillery – or half of it – pounded to matchwood while still limbered on the main road, as it trotted out of the village. This pointing just kept going until Cissey’s Division on my right lost all its guns. Only then did the Prussians resume their advance. At that point I enjoyed a little bit of light relief. On the far right of Grenier’s Division the 5th Chasseurs began firing at a unit of Buddenbrock’s 6th Division, causing a couple of attrition points. They pulled back through their supports, who started taking casualties in their turn. Other Prussians stopped their guns from firing at my Chasseurs, who took casualties themselves, but seemed to lead a charmed life. In the end they eviscerated the 35th Brandenburg Fusiliers, and broke them. Croix de Guerres all round for that one! This though, slowed but didn’t stop the Prussian advance. On the right Stuelpnagel’s 5th Divison was spearheaded by the Leib Grenadiers, with their snazzy white ostrich plumes. On the right the Prussian corps and divisional guns kept hammering away, stopping me from doing anything but hanging on. Still, my remaining battery from my Corps reserve pounded away at the ostriches, while the 20th Chasseurs did the same. inevitably though, I lost a unit – the 6th Infantry Regiment – from enemy fire. Actually, I was amazed that on that flank I managed to hang on until the end of the night. Hang on they did though – despite losses the cautious Prussian advance meant that the French were still defending the outskirts of Faulquemont when the game ended. Over on the French left things got a little more heated. Buddenbrock’s Brandenburgers launched an all-out attack, and the 24th Brandenburgers charged my chasseurs. Amazingly the Frenchmen held on, then disengaged. Then they and the supporting unit of zouaves (standing in for the 43rd Regiment de Pied) poured fire into the Prussians, who recoiled. Alvensleben had even brought up his corps cavalry reserve, and I was bringing up mine. We were shaping up for a real hum-dinger of a fight, but we called a halt there, as the evening was drawing on, and it was almost time to pack up. So, by the end of the game the French had weathered the Prussian assault, and still held the line to the east of Falquemont. This defence came at a cost though, with almost all the French casualties coming from the Prussian artillery fire. For some reason Michael kept attacking in large assault columns, three bases wide and three deep. That made them juicy targets, so most of his casualties came from French rifle fire. Mind you, there was an optional rule about bigger units being able to soak up more punishment, but while we planned to use it as the Prussian had 9 stand regiments to the French 6 stand ones .. we forgot all about it until it was too late. That brings us to the rules. We both thoroughly enjoyed the game, and Michael, who’s hard to please when it comes to rules, gave Bonnie Blue Flag a five star rating. We’d used Fire & Fury before, and we both think this gave a more enjoyable game. Still, there’s a lot of tweaking to do. First off, we need to limit Prussian artillery a bit. In this game they blazed away throughout the game, but Kevin Calder – who wrote the rules – has run games when they have a limited stock, with more available in supply caissons. Next time we’ll do that. We’ll also insert a “going prone” rule, which would save the French from taking such a pounding, and of course we need to properly work out what the respective ranges should be for the rifles and artillery pieces of both sides. This though is all a matter of tweaking. The main thing is the rules worked splendidly, and are well on their way to becoming our rules of choice for this period. 


Categories: General

The Battle of Weitzel’s Mill, 1781

September 8, 2017 - 14:21

The American War of Independence, Black Powder, 28mm

This week we were off to the Carolinas, to refight the skirmish that preceded the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. The tactical situation is covered in my Osprey on Guilford Courthouse 1781, so I’ll be brief here. Essentially, Colonel Tarleton and his advance guard had been probing for the rebels, and he found them near Reedy Ford Creek, about 18 miles east of Guilford Courthouse. They were there to screen the assembly of General Greene’s rebel army, but when Tarleton approached they began retiring towards the creek and safety. True to form, Tarleton launched an attack, spearheaded by his four regiments of British and Hessian regulars. That’s where our game begins – as the Americans shake out a defensive line to the north of the creek, and Tarleton deploys for the attack. The map below (looted from my Osprey) shows the basic set-up. We changed things a little though, to conform to our stock of terrain. In this fight, Bill and Campbell played the Americans, while Bart and Ken commanded the British. In theory I was commanding the British reserves – Leslie’s brigade, but in fact I just acted as a sort of scenario-meister. I would have said umpire, but Bill knows the rules backwards, so so he’s the go-to guy for Black Powder queries. Anyway, in this game we played it out on an 8×6 foot table, with the British coming on on the short edge to the south. For once we were using full-scale moves for Black Powder, rather than the 2/3rds ones we normally opt for. victory was simple. The Americans had to stop the British getting a brigade or more off the northern table edge. The British had 12 turns to pull it off. The Americans deployed along the reedy Run Creek, facing south. On its southern edge though was the rearguard – two skirmish units of Virginia riflemen. Their priority was obviously to high-tail it over the creek and their own lines. This almost ended in disaster. The British won the initiative on the first turn, and Bart – or rather his alter ego Banastre Tarleton – launched the British Legion cavalry in a charge against one of the two units, which was running back to the West Ford.That’s the militia, standing forlornly to the north of the creek, with the cavalry heading down the road towards them. Bill opted to stand and fight, and amazingly his skirmishers drove back the cavalry, thanks to some unusually bad die rolling by Bart. Rather than head over the creek, like the other rifle was doing over by the East Ford, Bill opted to advance into the woods to the south-west – his plan was to use the unit to delay the British even longer.Campbell’s unit over to the west made it over safely, but then it was duly ordered back across the creek again, to delay the advance of the British there. This it did heroically, firing at the light infantry companies of the Guards Brigade, who eventually lost patience and charged the American riflemen. The melee continued for another turn, with the tide of battle swinging back and fore. In the end both sides had to make a simultaneous break test, and both failed. So, the riflemen went, but so did the best British unit on the table! By now things were hotting up by the East Ford. Tarleton rallied his cavalry, and while he sent the jaegers to take out Bill’s riflemen skulking in the woods, he led the British Legion full-pelt at the ford. The attached Legion infantry simply stood to the side and skirmished, but the cavalry splashed across the ford and straight into the waiting unit of North Carolina militia. Again the dice gods were with Bill. He disordered the cavalry with his closing fire, and then comprehensively won the melee. The result was that the British Legion cavalry routed from the field, temporarily taking their commander with them. A sheepish Tarleton returned the next turn, with a slightly lower Command Rating to reflect his chagrin.  In the centre, the 33rd Foot – a large unit operating in two divisions took on the American militia guarding the big bend in the creek, by the schoolhouse. They aced in in the firefight that followed, helped by the arrival of a 3-pounder battery, which deployed in canister range of the rebels. The shaken and disordered militia duly broke and ran, and the 33rd crossed the Middle Ford. Actually, in the real battle there was a bridge there, but I couldn’t find a suitable one in the terrain store..By now it was turn 4, and the British reinforcements – Leslie’s brigade – were marching up the table. they elected to head for the West Ford, giving Bart some much-needed extra firepower.  His jaegers were already skirmishing with those riflemen in the woods, and the British legion infantry doing the same with American riflemen across the creek. So, this fresh brigade – the 71st Highlanders and Von Bose’s Hessians was the lifeline Bart needed to resume his stalled attack. It was the Highlanders who led the way, and after a brief exchange of fire they charged across the ford at the North Carolina militia. this time there was no lucky dice god to help Bill, and the militia were comprehensively routed after missing with their closing fire, and suffering a bunch of melee hits. So, now the British had control of two of the three fords, and were across the creek. The Americans were now down to two rifle skirmish units, one unit of Continental regulars, and Colonel Washington’s cavalry brigade. That tally included the unit which was still skirmishing in the woods to the south of the West Ford, and in fact they and the jaegers spent the rest of the game trading blows, without anyone coming out on top. This though, was an expensive diversion for Bill – tied up a skirmish unit from each side, but he was outnumbered, and that unit might have been more useful on the north side of the creek. So, with the Continental Light Battalion covering the East Ford, and the remaining unpinned rifle unit in the woods near the West Ford, the Americans were almost out of units. Worse still, the British were now streaming over Middle Ford. Still, Bill and Campbell had an ace still to play. Waiting in reserve was Washington’s cavalry – his own 1/3rd Continental Dragoons, McCall’s Militia Horse (A small unit), and another small outfit – Lee’s Legion, which comprised both horse and foot skirmishers (pictured above). It wasn’t much to stop the British, but it was all they had. It was now turn 7. So, the Americans had to delay the British for five more turns to win the game. So, it was time for a cavalry charge. the Continental Dragoons charged forward, straight into the waiting lead division of the 33rd Foot. The two sides clashed just beside the schoolhouse, with the British troops’ backs to the Middle Ford. The cavalry won the first round, but the British rolled well, and didn’t retire. Then, in the next round, the cavalry were driven off.  Next, Bill tried with Lee’s Legion. They too were forced back, shaken and disordered. Worse was to come though. While all this had been going on the 23rd Foot had been trading shots with the Continental Light Battalion across the creek. Eventually the British fire proved the more telling, and Campbell failed his Break Test. The Continentals skedaddled, which meant that the British now had control of all three fords. The Continental Dragoons rallied and charged again, this time into the 23rd Foot. This time they were dispersed by the British closing fire. General Greene, who by now had ridden up to see what was happening, was now running out of units – and options.. Back on the East Ford, Bart used his British Legion skirmishers to screen the American riflemen, while the rest of his brigade force-marched up the road, heading towards the northern table edge. Actually, what he did was to give two units a “follow me” order, one being led by Leslie, the other by the British CinC himself, Lord Cornwallis.  These units were the two wings of Von Bose’s Hessian regiment. the Highlanders stayed near the ford, to screen their advance, and to add their weight to the firefight involving the American riflemen. Bill (aka General Greene) had one chance to stop them – his Militia Horse. Cornwallis merely wheeled his unit round, fired a wvolley, and the disordered and shaken cavalry never even came close to launching a charge.That, effectively, was the end of the game. The road was clear to the north, and the British had three turns to get there. Game over.  General Greene quit the field, escorted by the Militia Cavalry (below). Bill and Campbell had done well, but not well enough.The high points for them were breaking the British Legion Cavalry, and the Guards Light Infantry. The British had superior numbers, and once  the reserves came up, that really began to tell. Everyone enjoyed the game though – in fact it was a real cracker – and could have gone either way. Weitzel’s Mill poses tactical problems for both sides, especially for the Americans, who really have to make the most of very little to win the game. Bill and I both liked the added dynamic of using full-scale movement, but if we run this again we’ll ask the British to do it in 10 turns, not 12, to give the Americans more of a fighting chance. 










Categories: General

The Merano Ambush, 1524

August 31, 2017 - 10:43

The Italian Wars, Pike & Shotte, 28mm

For weeks, German Michael (aka “Mad Micha”) has been wanting to run a Renaissance game. He loves them, especially if they involve lots of landsknechts. He normally prefers a battle fought on a flat and featureless plain, but this time I talked him into doing something a bit different. Right, let’s set the scene. It’s late 1524, and an Imperialist force was marching south through the Brenner Pass, on its way to join the main Imperialist army at Cremona before the snows block the road. These troops weren’t just there for the fun of it – they were also escorting the Emperor’s siege train.  The Venetians, as allies of the French, were out to stop them. They were lurking in ambush some miles south of the pass, near the village of Merano. That was where the narrow pass opened out into a wider valley, at the head of the valley that led south to the town of Bolzano. So, when the Imperialist force began debouching from the pass, the Venetian commander game the signal, and his small army stepped out of hiding and began their attack.The map shows the set-up, and the Venetian options. I had the option of deploying on either side of the valley, so I opted for the eastern side, as in theory that was the direction of my line of retreat if things went wrong. I have to say, I love my Venetians, but they don’t have a particularly good track record on the tabletop. So, a line of retreat is important! My Romagnol infantry battle was massed on the hill to the left of the Imperialists, at the top of the map above, while the Tyrolean mercenary one was jsut below it, on the valley floor. To its left was my main cavalry force led by my army commander, Bartolomeo d’Alviano, while my smaller cavalry reserve waited on the hill behind the Tyroleans. That’s Bartolomeo down below. The battle began when my guns opened up. I couldn’t get at Michael’s left-hand pike block, so I targeted the doppelsoldner unit in front of them. This seemed to work, as when they became disordered the pikes couldn’t move, as they were trapped behind them. So, first strike to the Venetians. My two guns kept up their fire throughout the game, and caused a fair bit of disruption in the Imperialist ranks. By now though, things were hotting up. Michael send forward his screen of arquebusiers, to pin me down while his mikes moved in for the kill. That at least, was the plan.Strangely, his main block of cavalry didn’t move for the first three turns. it tuened out he kept failing his command rolls. His advanced guard force of lighter cavalry pulled back to the western side of the valley though, and screened my horsemen, who seemed quite content to sit tight for the moment. Back on the Venetian right the Imperialists did the unexpected, as their arquebusiers charged my ones. Both of us had pike blocks in the vicinity, but this “battle of the skirmishers” needed to play out before they got to grips.In the end, after two rounds of combat it was the landsknecht shot troops who were forced to retire. Then, a few rounds more of roundshot forced a break test on them, and they evaporated. Michael wasn’t done with his sneaky little attacks though. A unit of sword & bucklermen and that unit of doppelsoldner did the same, along with the rest of his arquebusiers. This time the two-handed swordsmen picked the wrong target. They tried to attack one of my guns, but its closing fire stopped them in their tracks. then, supporting fire from my militia crossbowmen saw the German s break and run. Next up were his second unit of landsknecht arquebusiers, who evaporated too when faced with the fire of my Venetian guns and skirmishers. I was clearly winning the firepower battle – as all Michael had left to shoot with by this stage were his two little guns. Actually, I don’yt think they actually scored a hit throughout the game. Far more successful though, were the landsknecht sword & buckelrmen. Now, before the game we’d been debating how best to rate these little units – the ones designed to swing out from behind a pike block and chop up their opponents. We both had them – my rodolieri were designed to do the same thing. So, by way of an experiment, Michael gave some a hand-to-hand rating of “3”, and others a rating of “6”. So, when his bucklermen charged my Tyrolean pike block I almost laughed it off, right up until the dice started rolling. We both had 6 melee dice, and the result was a draw. He then had a bonus for his swordsmanship, and I landed up retiring. Those little bucklermen had thrown back a whole pike block!  They weren’t such a joke unit as I thought! Back on the cavalry wing Michael’s horse had finally begun to move up, and growing tired of waiting I threw my Venetian cavalry forward in an all-out charge, hoping to smack the opposition before this new batch of German men-at-arms reached the front line. This charge was generally successful – I routed a unit of stradioti in Imperial service, and a unit of Imperial men-at-arms. That though, left my own elementi (men-at-arms) shaken and vulnerable. However, when a second unit of Imperial mounted crossbowmen were forced to retreat  I found there was nothing left between my stradiots and the enemy siege train. That, unfortunately, was the point where we ended the game, as we were out of time. The two sides hadn’t really done much with their pikes, safe for a last turn push by both sides on the  German left and Venetian right. My Romagnol pikemen held their landsknecht opponents to a draw. In the centre my Tyroleans had sorted themselves out again, and were awaiting the advance of the second landsknecht block, after those pesky sword and bucklermen had been forced back through arquebus fire. So, the game ended with the Imperialist siege train no further than halfway up the table, and with nothing between it and the Venetian light cavalry. The Venetians had won the first round of the cavalry fight, and so outnumbered their Imperialist opponents, even though the German horse were fresh, and their men-at-arms were still there, waiting to strike. In the end though, having lost five units, Michael conceded defeat. We both thought it was a great little game, and our experiment with the little supporting units was an interesting one. Pike & Shotte don’t really deal with them properly, so our plan is to give these small blocks of assault troops a rating of “4” next time, to see how that works. The best thing though, was that the game – as ever – was a real visual treat. 


Categories: General