Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Massena's Gold: A Black Powder AAR

Hello everyone!

We played my first game of Black Powder last night, and what a game it was! The game ended with an overwhelming victory for the French, and I left the table with some valuable lessons about the Black Powder ruleset; namely that I still don't  have them down 100%. Anyway, on to the report (remember to click on the pictures for bigger versions.)


Late Summer, 1810, on the Spanish-Portuguese border...

The French army in the Peninsula under Marshal Andre Massena is forcing the British army under the Duke of Wellington to retreat as the French make their way towards Portugal. To many in Britain, the situation in Portugal seems hopeless, though Wellington has secretly been establishing massive defensive works around Lisbon to repel the invaders: the Lines of Torres Vedras. Meanwhile, Marshal Massena has dispatched a large escort to protect the payroll for his army as it makes its way through Spain. With Spanish guerillas plauging the French, such a tempting target as a wagon-load of gold was deemed to be worth protecting by a sizeable force: two small brigades. But guerillas aren't the only threats to the convoy; building massive earthworks is expensive, and a French payroll wagon would go a long way towards funding Torres Vedras. So a combined Anglo-Spanish force, also consisting of two small brigades, was dispatched to intercept the gold on behalf of the British.

The French objective was to move the wagon loaded with the payroll from their table edge to the far table edge within ten turns. The Allied objective was to stop them in ten turns, whereupon British reenforcements would arrive and surround and capture the French and their gold.

The table from the French side, with the stream to the front and the village beyond.

The table from the Allied side, showing the village, the roads, the woods and the stream with the old Roman bridge in the center and the ford to the right.

The initial deployments. The Allies could deploy up to the village, while the French could deploy along their own table edge. The French amassed most of their troops to their own right, with the artillery to the left, while the British brigade massed to their right as well and the Spanish held the center, near the village.
Turn 1

The Anglo-Spanish team won the initiative and began to advance. The British brigade pushed quickly towards the ford, with the 5/60th Rifles leading the way for the 45th Foot on the right. while the 74th Highlanders and the brigade commander pushed up the road towards the bridge.

I commanded the Spanish brigade, and on my first command roll I rolled double sixes--a blunder!

The Allied situation at the end of turn one. As a result of my blunder, instead of moving to occupy the village, the Regimento del Rey moved in march column up the road and halted, cooling their heels along the road outside the village, while my artillery battery moved into the middle of a field and just stood there, limbered, with my brigade commander. With the Spanish brigade's low staff rating, this is where my men remained for most of the game.

The French move. The first French brigade, consisting of the 3e Hussars, a battery of Foot Artillery and the gold-laden wagon, opted to move only their artillery forward up the left, skirting the treeline, while keeping the cavalry with the wagon. The infantry brigade, consisting of the 8e and 19e Ligne, pushed boldy forward, the 8e forming line at the foot of the bridge while the 19e pushed across the stream in attack column.

Turn 2

The British brigade starts turn two by pushing towards the stream. The 45th and 74th spread out in attack column as the Rifles push across the ford and into the trees on the far side.

The poor quality Spanish brigade commander fails his command roll and sits tight--no doubt hoping the Brits will bear the brunt of the actual fighting while he takes a siesta!

On the French left the Foot battery deploys on the stream bank, pointing a gun at the Rifles in the trees while directing the rest of the battery towards the advancing British brigade.

To the right, the hussars cross the stream in force, while the wagon is pushed up the center, protected by the 8e. The infantry begin to take pot shots at the advancing British.

Turn 3

The 4th Foot and the 74th Highlanders deploy into a long line stretching from the ford to the wood on the left. Meanwhile, the Rifles in the woods are feeling their oats and decide to charge the deployed Foot battery! The Spaniards are content to do nothing once again.

The brave men of the 5/60th rush in...

...and are completely decimated by close-range French canister. "A whiff of grapeshot" indeeed.

Turn 4

The British sit tight and exchange musket fire with the French across the stream. The Spanish fail to act in any way as the 19e Ligne charges the 74th Highlanders in the center.
On the British right well-aimed artillery fire from the Foot battery causes the 45th to retire one move in disorder. The British brigade commander is successful in rallying them, however. In the center the 19e and the 74th are locked in vicious hand-to-hand combat.

The resulting melee spells the end of both the 19e and the 74th, who destroy one another at bayonet point. The survivors of both units flee the battlefield.

Exploiting the gap in the line, the 3e Hussars charge around the woods, aiming for the Regimento del Rey, which has been sunning itself in march column outside the village.

Caught completely unawares, the flashing sabers of the hussars cut into the Spanish infantry. Those that aren't killed in the melee are routed off the board. The disciplined 3e Hussars remain in good order and look for new targets.

Turn 5

Under constant barrage from the Foot battery across the stream and with the French cavalry close, the British 45th Foot are compelled to retreat towards the village as they form square.

No doubt shocked at the savagery with which his infantry were destroyed at the hands of the Hussars, the Spanish brigade commander manages to order his artillery battery to deploy, firing into the cavalry's flank.

The hussars change direction and charge the guns. Though the Spanish unleash a load of canister on the horsemen, causing a casualty, the cavalry slam home unfazed.

The 45th fail another morale test and are compelled to retire one more move to the rear. Though amassing high casualties, the 45th stubbornly refuses to quit the field.

Turn 6

The Spanish artillerymen, facing an entire French cavalry regiment, don't stand a chance, and are destroyed in the melee. The Spanish briagde commander rides as hards and as fast as he can towards Lisbon, the Don undoubtedly wishing he had been given a more relaxing post as part of Wellington's staff.

The artillery defeated, the hussars attempt to break the British square. Though close to decimation, the plucky lads manage to repell the French charge while inflicting a few casualties of their own.
In the center, the 8e forms march column and crosses the old Roman bridge to support the cavalry while the Foot battery continues to pound away at the British square. Things are not looking good for the British...

...as the 45th crumbles away under the combined French onslaught. The British brigade commander can do little but offer the commander of the hussars his sword and hope his French counterpart is a gentleman.

Turn 7

With the British and Spanish brigades routed, the French push their wagon across the Roman bridge towards the village.

Turn 8

With the broken remanats of the British and Spanish fleeing west as fast as they can towards Portugal, on turn eight the French were able to get the wagon-load of gold to the far end of the table, securing their overwhelming victory.
The French destroyed or routed the entire Anglo-Spanish force and managed to get the gold to safety in eight turns, at the cost of a single infantry battalion. The British brigade commander was captured by the French while the Spanish commander got away; the Don will most likely try to convince all who will listen to him that his brigade bore the brunt of the fighting, defeated three French regiments single-handedly, and that the position of the slothful British, whose laziness caused his defeat, is untenable in Portugal. The French managed to escort Massena's gold to safety, while the British will have to find other means to fund the Lines of Torres Vedras.


The game was played on a three foot by five and a half foot table with four players, each with a small brigade. The game lasted about three and a half hours.

Lessons learned: Mainly, I don't yet know the rules well enough to play or act as an effective umpire. I know that I did the hand to hand combat incorrectly, and the morale tests I'm 9/10 sure I completely bungled. I purposefully kept the special rules to a minimum because I was playing with my family (who played to humor me more than for a love of wargaming), and as such I was playing pretty fast and loose with the rules. The game played okay though, and we all had a big time, which is really all that matters. This wasn't a historical simulation, after all.

Coming soon: I'll start work on the 1/88th now, and maybe the Pavlovsk grenadiers. And maybe the Iron Duke himself; I just got my Christmas present to myself in the mail today, a box of AB figures from EurekaUSA, including Wellington. We'll see.

Questions, comments and suggestions are always welcomed and appreciated. Thanks for looking!


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