Despite having owned the Black Powder rules for a few years now I haven’t actually played the game, let alone read the rules. Fortunately I was able to coerce Antti into learning the rules and teaching them to me!
The first outing of our 15mm Napoleonics took place yesterday. We played a straightforward encounter game with relatively identical armies. The idea was that a small French force consisting of 3 battalions of infantry, 2 squadrons of dragoons and two batteries of 6 pounder artillery was marching en-route to spread mayhem somewhere in Spain. Blocking the path of their advance was a British force consisting of 3 battalions of infantry, 2 small battalions of light infantry, a squadron of dragoons and two batteries of 6 pounder artillery. We were playing with the nation specific rules that the British infantry fire one extra time in their first round of shooting (representing the first volley) whereas the French gain a bonus to command infantry when they are in attack columns.
The deployment can be seen in the image below. Along the middle of the table runs a road. There is a hill on the British left and another on the French left, a wheat field on the British right and two woods. We agreed to play the wheat field so that if a unit of infantry was in it and did absolutely nothing in their phase, they would count as being in cover (representing the men kneeling or lying down).
The British placed their guns and light infantry battalion 1 forward with the three infantry battalions behind them. The other British regiment consisted of the cavalry and light infantry battalion 2, who were hiding behind the hill on the British left. The French had the three infantry battalions in marching column on their left, the guns limbered on the road and the two cavalry squadrons to their right.
The French had the first turn. Unfortunately they immediately failed the command with the infantry regiment and completely bungled the command on the cavalry/artillery regiment (rolled double 6). The cavalry / artillery should have retreated from the enemy, but in order to get a game going we decided to ignore the result.
The British had no similar problems, but decided to maintain their positions. The light infantry on the left advanced cautiously to the woods while infantry battalion 1 on the right advanced a bit and battalion 2 moved up to support.
The second turn started more promisingly for the French. The infantry regiment changed formation to attack column and advanced at full pace straight forward (three commands went through). The cavalry regiment also got three commands through so they advance the guns a total of 36cm (two moves) and then unlimbered. The cavalry moved up to protect the guns. Only the guns were in range and they managed to drop a single point of stamina from one of the British guns.
The British regiment on their left (cavalry and light infantry 2) failed their command so didn’t move. On the right battalion 1 nudged slightly forward and opened fire with this battalion and the guns. French infantry battalion 3 and cavalry squadron 1 lost a point of stamina and the infantry was disorganized by the volleys of the British infantry that suddenly rose up to fire from the field.
The French general saw an opportunity for a quick combined arms strike so cavalry squadron 1 was order to attack the British infantry battalion 1. The infantry formed square and the attack thereby failed. However the infantry used the cover of the cavalry charge to get to grips with the British while they were in such a weak formation. Battalion 2 charge the British while battalion 1 moved up the flank to engage the British. Battalion 3 was disorganized from the enemy fire so stood still while the cannons and cavalry squadron 2 chose to remain stationary and blast at the enemy.
The firing didn’t do much, but the infantry assault routed the British, who took quite a beating and fled behind battalion 2. We played the rules wrong as the battalion in square apparently wouldn’t have run but stayed it’s ground in the fight (which would have been good for the French as the formation was in a very poor formation for fighting).
British round 3 had mixed results. The regiment on the left failed to understand its orders YET AGAIN (the commanding colonel couldn’t be found). Infantry battalion had taken a beating but was still in the fight. Everybody stood still and fired at the French. British battalion 2 fired at its counterpart, the French battalion 2 which lost a single point of stamina and became disorganized (not shown in the picture below). Predictably the cannons and light infantry sharpshooters took a heavy toll on the French dragoons that had charged in the previous turn. The dragoons lost four points of stamina and were forced to retreat.
The French infantry on the left continued to press their advantage with battalion 1 outflanking the British. Battalion 2 was disorganized so it just stood still to fire while battalion 3 moved forward. The second regiment however failed to comply to orders to advance in the confusion of the cavalry retreat. The French fire was murderous to British battalion 2, which was utterly destroyed by fire to its front and flank.
In their round 4 the British regiment on their left finally understood that the battle was going on behind the hill. The cavalry moved to reinforce the crumbling right while the light infantry moved to firing positions on the hill. Light infantry battalion 1 pulled back so that line infantry battalion 3 could finally enter the fight. British fire caused a steady amount of casualties along the whole line with French battalion 1 on the left becoming disorganized.
The French general was in a position to push forward his advantage. However the infantry regiment on the left failed to understand their orders at this critical moment so the overall result was not the knock-out intended. The plan would have been to combine battalion 1 and 2 fire on British battalion 1 (in a very weak state so liable to break) with artillery and battalion 3 doing the same to British battalion 3. The end result though was some steady casualties along the line, although the British gun on their left was knocked out and the light infantry on the hill was crushed under the charge of the French dragoons. (in the image below the British movement arrows are from the previous round)
At this point the game ended as Antti had to “leave for a dinner invite at his mother’s”. This is of course a time honoured way to let the other side know the have won the battle. This is quite appropriate in such gentlemanly battles and was apparently quite frequent in battles of the Napoleonic era. The final situation can be seen on the image below.
Had the game gone on, the British could have ended up victorious with some luck. Pretty much all the battalions had taken a beating (with 2-3 stamina lost each) with British battalion 1 and French cavalry squadron 1 in particularly bad shape. However the British firing at French infantry 3 could have been deadly and British infantry battalion 1 and the British cavalry were about to make a combined charge like the one the French made, which could have crushed French infantry 1.
Impressions of Black Powder and the game
This was a great game and I liked the mechanics a lot (particularly when played with such good company). We played a number of things wrong (that we know of) but I believe I got the basics.
The uses of cavalry seem quite limited, although the combined use of cavalry and infantry seems quite devastating. Artillery is also quite vicious due to the reduced save you get from it as well as the negative effect on morale tests.
In this game the French really benefited from their special rules for the attack column. This quite often allowed them to take three actions per turn. However once close enough to the enemy this had to be abandoned in order to get a decent amount of firing at the British.
All in all an awesome game. Now I just have to finish painting my army.