Jim Owczarski, 11 February 2021
A group of Dragoons — not all of whom are big Napoleonic nuts — are making their way through many different versions of the Battle of Quatre Bras to decide which is the best, but also talk about how they each handle the iconic battle. This is the first after action report.
The Ruleset: Professor Sam Mustafa’s Blucher
Can I Still Buy a Copy?: Yep!
How Many Players?: Five, three French and two Allied.
How Long Did It Take?: It always feels like, if we deducted the chit-chat and tomfoolery, that our games would last 30 minutes or less. Except Leipzig, of course, which is a horse of a different feather. Honestly, though, about 2.5 hours.
How’d It Play?: Blucher is a favorite system for us, so our familiarity and its native strengths made it likely we would enjoy this one; and so we did. Which is not to say we did not wind up with a question or two. Here are some moments from the battle:
The French came straight for the Gemioncourt Farm, knowing that the Nassau troops deployed there could prevent the French from using the 36” Reserve Move Blucher allows troops freshly arrived on the battlefield to make.
click images to enlarge
Screening the farm, the French then drove some of their best cavalry around to the left and sent them riding hard towards Quatre Bras.
The Allies saw this move coming and quickly sent their own horse into the village to halt the French advance. One of the quirks of the rules is that cavalry may not attack in or into a town meaning that these horse could not attack one another. They did, however, each prevent the other from claiming the key victory location.
Undeterred, Marshal Ney sent in his elite lancers who pummeled two brigades of relatively low quality Hannoverians before they were themselves driven off the table by an assault from the rear.
The French eventually committed to the Gemioncourt Farm and took it with only slight losses. This did, however, tie up two brigades and a unit of artillery for several turns.
The Allies rallied enough troops to evict the French horse from Quatre Bras and both seized and garrisoned it. The French knew, perhaps they always knew, that they would have to muster their strength and seize it by force.
Before the final attack, though, French troops assaulted the Brunswickers who were rushed forward to shore up the Allied left. Against fairly long odds, these fellows stood, “bouncing” the attacking French backwards as time continued to tick away.
As befits a dramatic first battle of a series, it came down to a final roll as elite French troops tried to push the Allies out of Quatre Bras. They succeeded and, as night fell, Ney was able to achieve at least a partial victory.
The problem for the French, though, and perhaps for the scenario, is that got them no better than a draw. The victory conditions state that the French can only win if both Quatre Bras and the road running east from Quatre Bras are in their hands at sundown. That, however, is a long road running all the way to the Thyle settlement — which the Allies did garrison — and it was not at all clear how much of that road the French were supposed to control. There is a good argument to be made that it should be all of it, but an equally good one that that assumption creates illogical strategies and outcomes.
And then there was the question of the reinforcement schedule. We played the variant under which d’Erlon’s corps can arrive given the proper dice rolls. The French put Velker in charge of those dice rolls and, yes, d’Erlon arrived on the very first turn he was available. Virtual Velker was pleased.
For both d’Erlon and numerous other units, however, there seemed little chance for their arrival to affect the outcome of the battle. The crew liked this scenario well enough to want to try other scenarios and see if other results could be achieved before making fundamental changes.
Overall, it was a very fine start to Project: Quatre Bras.
Next up, Napoleon’s Last Battles.
The video of the festivities is here
Oh, and for those that want to see the version of this battle played on the table with the wrong scale, in which no small measure of hilarity ensues, that’s here.
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