Tuesday, 25 September 2018

West Country Quatre Bras: Wargame refight conclusion and project review


Rather belatedly I can now give a full appraisal of our mammoth project to refight the whole of Quatre Bras at 1:20 figure scale. Thank you to all who have given us massive support through comments and interest on the many blog posts, it has helped keep us motivated.

Quatre Bras Part Two - Wargame Conclusion
This has been contributed by Kevin East who masterminded the whole thing and even ended up playing, as General Reille. I'm illustrating it with some great photos taken during the event by Tony Dillon.
The reports on the two-day game can be accessed here




Kevin writes:

<<In conclusion:
Wargame result points systems are always going to be flawed and some might see that in those collated here. However, it was a game and we needed some measure of accounting when our playing time ran out. The total tally was to read:
 Allies: 16 points. 
French: 66+1 points (the plus 1 is the sabres edge lead from Quatre Bras Part 1).
(see points chart  below  for details - apologies for the format but this is the best copy I can get into blogger. "Rows" refers to areas on this battlefield map - CG)



The Battle Of Quatre Bras (2) 
21/22 April 2018 
POINTS Calculation 

EVENT

ACCUMULATION

POINTS
ALLIES   
FRENCH
NOTES
POINTS FROM DESTROYED UNITS (ON TIMECHART)

2
(per unit)
4
(2 French units routed off field)
36
(9 allied units destroyed)
(9 allied units routed off field)

EVERY UNIT IN GOOD ORDER 
(row ‘I’ :Allies) 
(row ‘E’: French)            
2
(per unit)
0
14
(7 units in row ‘E’)

POSSESSION OF QB BUILDINGS

2 (per
building)
4
0

NORTH GEMIONCOURT BRIDGE

2
-
2

SOUTH GEMIONCOURT BRIDGE

2
-
2

EAST OF BOSSU BRIDGE


2
-
4

GEMIONCOURT FARM


4
-
4

LA BERGERIE


4
4
-

NIVELLES ROAD WEST OF QB

4
4
-

NIVELLES ROAD EAST OF QB

4
-
4


TOTALS


ALLIES
16
FRENCH
66+1


VICTORY: In control of the majority of victory points by 6.00pm on end of Sunday. 
DRAW: EQUAL POINTS.
MARGINAL VICTORY or loss: 1-6 points difference. 
MAJOR VICTORY or loss: 7 points or more difference.



Whilst the Allies lost in points, and particularly in the number of units destroyed (10 to 2), by dusk the French had still not captured Quatre Bras which was their ultimate goal, and it's also interesting to note that the Allies held onto all the terrain points they started the game with – quite a feat! This weekend's gaming showed a surge in French forces northward but the going was tough and eventually each side fought themselves to a standstill. Later in day two the 4 battalions of British Guards arrived fresh and were looking to drive the French south into Bossu wood (just like in 1815!) The French Guard Lancers and Chasseurs light cavalry (not used in 1815 by Ney due to an order from Napoleon) were also fresh and threatening the Allied centre and left flank respectively. However, they were without significant infantry support and would not have succeeded very far as an Allied rearguard force of artillery was waiting and the 23rd and 11th British Light Dragoons were just entering the field to put a halt to it.


So I concluded that the Allies did keep the village of Quatre Bras but at a great cost. Realistically they would now retire to lick their wounds and fight another day. The French infantry units were also worn and would have mirrored the Allies’ activity. The French cavalry would continue to press the Allied rear guard for a short period until nightfall. 



Points are one thing, but a reflection upon history is another, and with this in mind I judge that by the end of the game the French have pushed the Allies much further North than they did in history at the parallel time, therefore they score a marked victory in the wargame. However, this gain would soon have ebbed away as tired French infantry would not be able to push further in taking Quatre Bras. So it might be said that the ‘high tide’ mark for the French had in our game proved to be about 8.15pm rather than the 2.30pm on the actual day of battle fought all those years ago. How games and times change!




Some number crunching on both games:
The Quatre Bras duo of games were to reveal some sizeable wargames numbers: 
At 1:20 ratio a total of 3700 Allied and French figures in 133 units were used over the 4 day's gaming, involving 6 players, an umpire, plus reporter/photographer/adviser (Chris) over a combined table/map gaming space of 308 sq/ft.  This was two specially designed and sculpted terrains with the addition of outside (off table) gaming space via map moving and combat which increased the size (in game One) to 18’x17’ to allow off table flanking manoeuvres.  Is this the most detailed wargamed version of Quatre Bras on the planet to date?  Who knows? Perhaps Google will reveal? >>

Thanks a lot Kevin.






Wargaming Quatre Bras as a two year project.

In over 50 years of wargaming this is probably the most satisfying endeavour I have ever been involved with (that's not to say there haven't been some other great ones!). Especially for those who may not have followed this blog for long I think it is worth reflecting on how it came about and why it worked. (This section illustrated by some of my own Quatre Bras photos).
Dutch-Belgian casualty in Bossu Woods
When Kevin came back into my life after a 36 year gap he was a bit of a lost soul collecting beautiful 28mm historically accurate Waterloo armies at 1:20 figure:man ratio but not knowing his way to get to a game. Paul D. and I steered him towards massing his forces to be a major element in our West Country refights of La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont at 1:3 scale in 2015. This scratched the  Waterloo itch in the biennial year but Kevin and I still hankered for the grand tactical 1815 game with battalions as the main tactical units, and, against my practical advice, he was intent on 1:20 scale.

First we had to find, or write, a set of rules to suit us and that search began in January 2016 at our joint-birthday game - testing-rank-and-file-rules-for-1815. Thanks to Simon Millar and John Rich I had been introduced to a Seven Years War version of "Rank and File" (R and F) the year before and since R and F covers most of the black powder era I thought they might work using the Napoleonic adaptations.


Enjoying the feel of this small scale test we realised the project could have legs but the 3000-4000 figures required was a daunting task even for the painting machine that is Kevin East. I volunteered to repaint many of my 1:3 scale units and create more, but we badly needed help. The experience of the massive 1:3 refights had given us new contacts and practical big-game organisational opportunities. Also my wargame room and terrain sculpting skills had proved adequate for hosting up to the 8 players at a time we hoped for. Paul H. had kindly lent his ready-made Waterloo armies for LHS and Hougoumont and was keen to "do" Quatre Bras but his base sizes were not compatible with R and F so work would be needed before they could be used. James Fergusson had proved a stalwart supporter of 1:3 and was very willing to come to Gloucestershire regularly to be involved in QB. It was a no brainer to invite Richard Newcombe to join the team as he had been involved with 1:3, had some British Guard Battalions to prove it, and as a retired barrister is just great at getting under the skin of any set of wargames rules!

Kevin and I renewed our reading, trying to dissect the historical Quatre Bras in forensic detail to figure out what we really needed at 1:20 scale. He masterminded the orders of battle and produced a super-detailed list including our existing figures and all those that needed creating/repainting. For my part I played with unit footprint sizes and distances and ranges and tried to come up with the optimum tabletop battlefield to make. We had the following aims for this project:
1. See if, by taking all available historical elements into account, the French could make a decisive victory, as they so nearly did in 1815.
2. Honour the brave inexperienced Dutch-Belgians, Nassauers, Hanoverians and Brunswickers who held off the veteran French for longer than anyone could reasonably have expected. They are so rarely properly represented in refights of QB where the British dominate.
3. Once again enjoy a lot of toys on a big and beautiful tabletop terrain, this time in a classic style Napoleonic battalion level game, the kind we'd dreamed of in our boyhood!
4. Share the joy with as many players as practical and the world via this blog.

Those were long term tasks but we had to keep up momentum and interest and prove various concepts.  First was a two day test game in April 2016. Never mind the QB historical units let's just have an 1815-themed imaginary game. It only involved Kevin, James and me but was a great success and tremendous fun so we were really on....The rules were not perfect but gave us a good framework on which to build the QB detail we needed.

Next we wanted to give Paul a chance to use his figures, so scheduled a game about 6 months hence which felt like plenty of notice. Sadly his work, family life, and community commitments meant Paul had to pull out and with him the prospect of about 1000 of the figures we had hoped to use. This left a hole in our team that took a while to fill in various ways. Nothing daunted we pressed on. Spring 2017 brought the opportunity for another test, this time involving Richard too and so we were off to a good start with verifying the rules modifications so far made. You can see lots of pictures and read the project outcomes of that game here encounter-at-kaaskerke. The most significant changes were:
- better balance of weapon ranges, especially artillery
- need for a very much more nuanced structure in defining differences in unit quality
- historical sized French battalions were too small to stand the pressure they would get in 7 hours or so of historical time in our QB, so compromises on the orbat were needed.

Meanwhile we had managed to revise the figure painting schedule: James took on the Herculean task of creating the whole of the Brunswick Corps and I volunteered to make a four-battalion brigade of Hanoverian landwehr, Kevin took up the slack as best he could but it looked woefully as if sacrifices would have to be made on artillery and all those French skirmishers we needed. That was until I found, via the A Military Gentleman Forum, a dyed in the wool veteran Napoleonic wargamer in Tony Dillon from Birmingham. Tony was also prepared to travel to the Cotswolds (getting lost round Stroud!) for the tests and the real events. Tony's arrival transformed our project, which had looked like having to be put off, as he had considerable quantities of compatible figures and a gung-ho attitude to doing whatever it took to help, including redesigning our playsheet to a more user friendly format.

Some of Tony's Guard Horse Artillery moves in at the gallop
I had warned Kevin at the outset that trying to do the whole battle in 1:20 would outgrow my facilities and the amount of playing time we had.  So around the turn of 2016-17 we made some major decisions. We would fight not one but two weekend games, and split the historical Quatre Bras affair into one game from about 2pm to about 5.30pm taking two days to play, and a second weekend game covering from about 5.30pm to nightfall. This had a number of advantages:
- We could split the terrain to cover most of it in two correctly scaled chunks. The southern section first to represent the Prince of Orange's Corps' stand and retreat towards the crossroads, then this would overlap with a northern section allowing reinforcement by Brunswick, Hanoverian and British troops. Thus we hoped to do justice to history and not just wing it as so many wargames have to.
- First half in September 2017 and the second in April 2018 would give me sufficient break to dismantle and rebuild the 96 square feet of sculpted tabletop terrain
- Though we still had to make every unit they were not all needed at once, so it gave us all another 6 or 7 months to finish painting figures.
- Two weekends gave the potential for more people to be involved overall.
The QB2 build at an early stage - reusing a large chunk from QB1
Recycling some roads and fields from earlier Waterloo terrains.....
....and adding new ones
So our next step was a bigger two-day battle than we had so far done to test the cavalry rules in particular and how units would fare for durability over a long hard-fought game. In May 2016 we staged The Battle of Hoeke Valley reported here hoeke-valley-day-one and here hoeke-valley-second-days-play with a wrap-up here hoeke-valley-wrap-up.  This involved all the project team plus Ken, Roy and Graham for a day each. It prompted huge email discussions afterwards which helped Kevin and me crystalise our thoughts how to conduct the real thing - which was next!

We got there OK and had 5 players for the first event but poor James was ill and had to miss the first serious engagement of his wonderful Brunswick figures. Links to my After-Action- Reports on it via the second one quatre-bras-part-1-second
James got to command most of his Brunswickers personally in QB2


And hopefully you've just read the parts detailing Part Two, and so it's all over.....though I think Kevin is now planning a Prussian force for The Battle of Wavre in about 2020 - 21.........:-)
The River Dyle and Moulin de Bierge near Wavre,
photographed during Kevin's and my trip to Waterloo in 2014
Wargame Project Tips 
New wargamers, or even experienced ones might benefit from a few (fairly obvious) pointers if thinking of undertaking a project like this:
- Establish your aims at the start and try to keep them within the resources you believe you can manage (figures, space and time to play, and sufficient time to organise everything)
- Do engage a number of kindred spirits as early as possible and get agreement to how and when the activities will be shared. Give those people priority to participate, and a share in the decisions on when the games will be. 
- Make sure you have a "completer-finisher" type like we had in Kevin who has the authority and enthusiasm to set everything out clearly and keep driving and encouraging till it's all done.
- Try to ensure all the project team will check emails/texts regularly and respond when required.
- Be prepared to tailor your rules and game system to suit what you want to do, not be unduly ruled by "official" doctrine or outside influences. Have test games as frequently as seems sensible. Best not to have these resemble too closely your eventual scenario, but to illustrate points you know you need to sort out.
- A bonus of this approach is that you keep up team enthusiasm as well as have the chance to get game/rules practice with others outside the team and exposure to fresh ideas.
- Provide plenty of beer, port, chocolate, cake, meals out to the host(s)! (Especially if it's me).
CG gets an end of move briefing from James (Photo by Richard)
Kevin gives directions
Supporting Documents
You can find PDFs of all the Quatre Bras briefings and rules QRS in the Napoleonic Download link in the right hand sidebar, but here is a quick link
Feel free to download them for your own use and if you find anything useful please let us know by Comment on this blog or emailing me, it's what makes the effort of social media/blogging more satisfying.


French wounded being attended to at Tony's field hospital vignettes
French dead along Gemioncourt stream






29 comments:

  1. Gorgeous pictures, what a specatcular terrain! Fantastic minis as well, congrats!

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  2. This was an amazing undertaking Chris, well done to all involved - it has been truly inspirational!

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  3. Excellent insights into the BIG GAME planning and awareness of team spirit!

    BRAVO all around gentlemen.

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  4. Chris,
    the whole project has been a brilliant read. The quick links are useful and the information provided most informative and inspiring.
    Graham

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  5. Chris, an excellent report on the game and the construction of the battlefield. Great research and as they say; "time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted." As always, highly jealous!!

    Regards Greg

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  6. Chris, a terrific series of posts and an excellent summary. There’s a magazine article series there I’m sure and it deserves a wider audience.

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  7. Thanks to everyone who has commented so far (and what an illustrious bunch of veteran wargamers you all are!) and for all your praise and enthusiasm throughout this series, it has certainly been very enjoyable reporting it all as well as being a participant. As for a magazine article for "a wider audience" I'm afraid my attitude is the same now as when Robbie Roddis said the same about our Waterloo at 1:3. The blog is available to the world for free with no middle man and I am in (almost) complete control not beholden to editorial process (and spelling errors) nor constrained by the number or type of illustrations. Neither am I lining the pockets of editors, advertisers, publishers, newsagents by my labours. I fell foul of Google's Adsense many years ago so my blogs are ad free too but I am still grateful to Google for giving me this free platform that so many do seem to enjoy. So if you like what you read on "not just old school wargaming " please spread the word and put links to it wherever you like. Thank you.

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  8. Thanks for putting this final report together Chris- did we really do ALL that?! Ah, how your copy brings such memories bounding back about the hours/months of painting, research, test gaming, organising and game planning in a team spirited environment! It was good fun and great to actually game in the end! Great to see some photos of the figures again. Those from my collection, unfortunately haven't graced a gaming table since! Hopefully that will change soon........

    Must say it's nice to have had a gentle 'rest' from all the intense battle torn turmoil of putting together the QB wargame duo. It proved totally engrossing over such a long period. The following week from the game I couldn't resist my purchasing the Prussian OOB at 1:20 for a new interest. A few months rest following QB and having not touched a paintbrush I am now off to fathom the battle of Wavre with all its on and off field activity that ultimately made the history we know today. Just to prove that while the paint brush may get a rest for a while the old grey cells still hanker for the next 'BIG' project! A daunting mountain of lead is ready for the paint brush to be picked up once more! En Avant!

    Thanks Chris for your consistently accurate and interesting multiple blog reporting on what was a very special project for me personally. One I hope the whole team thoroughly enjoyed participating in.

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    1. Thanks Kevin for such a full comment and all your contributions to this series, which was mainly about you mate! I do believe the quality of your armies and the high standards of fidelity to history that you set us made it definitely deserve the full blog treatment i've given it. It is great that this record stands on the internet for anyone to find...in a magazine it would only moulder on the bookshelf! Great to hear your Prussians are real- so you should really say "Vorvaerts!"

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    2. Hi Kevin, just making contact, Jonathan

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  9. Spectacular gaming! The quality and quantity of superb figures and terrain is unsurpassed.

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  10. A big thankyou to Chris and Kevin for organising this excellent series of games and inviting me to join in with the project. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and meeting up with new wargamers to reenact part of the 100 days campaign. Chris's terrain was a joy to behold a Kevin's figure painting puts my own efforts to shame. It's always satisfying to be on the side that eventually won this particular Quatre Bras but the it must be said that all of the players were great fun to be around.
    By the way Kevin I have lots of 1815 Prussians if required for a future Wavre?

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  11. Thanks Dean for your praise. And a big thank you back to Tony D - you brought far, far, more to our experience than just your classic Nap figures - a droll sense of Liverpudlian humour being most in mind......also a much more efficient Marshal Ney than your historic counterpart!

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  12. There is no doubt Chris that this series of posts, and your blog in general, have been done of most enjoyable visits on the web for quite a few years now. The quality of the terrain, thought out scenarios and sensational figures makes this everything I love about our hobby. This article was a great way to sign off on QB, unless you gave some secret “Black label” shots to follow shortly.
    Very happy to hear that Kevin is now preparing for Wavre - I am very much looking to seeing those.

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    1. Thanks Carlo, wonderful praise indeed coming from you. Kevin and I both follow your blogging adventures just as keenly. As for wargames porn, you've got the best for free mate already!

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  13. Wonderful to read the washup *and* the stages of the planning all interspersed with more photos of the marvellous game and gorgeous terrain.
    Such things don't happen easily and without planning and a concerted effort, but the result in your case was truly superb. You must really enjoy sitting back, looking at the photos and thinking, "we actually did it". I reckon that you not only achieved all of your aims but got an A+ for each of them! Congratulations to you all Chris.

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    1. Wow James! What a wonderful end of term report from the headmaster himself (Mastermind of Waterloo 200 blogging). Thank you

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  14. Thanks Chris
    This really has been a joy and an inspiration to follow. You really need to take a bow and a few encores! (see I slipped in a bit of Frenchisch in there)
    Simply superb
    That of course only leaves 1 question - what do you do next or how do you follow that?

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    1. Thank you Kerry for your constant support for this blog and I'm sorry you could not coordinate your latest trip to UK to fit in a visit to my little den. What I do next is concentrate for a couple of years on my SYW and WW2 collections - plenty of good quality blogging backlog on them to come. What Kevin is doing next, as stated above, is planning for a another historically valid, but probably with a bit of what-if, refight of Wavre - the parallel battle to Waterloo.

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  15. Your Quatre Bras undertaking is a astonishing visual treat! Very well done and I expect to return to this post frequently for inspiration.

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    1. Thanks Jonathan, I hope you will frequently find something new to notice - I do myself!

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  16. Amazing battlefield = glorious pictures.

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  17. Superb, as always. Honoured to be a part of the project.

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    1. And we really loved having you along James, thanks for all you did

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  18. Stunning looking game, congratulations to all involved.

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  19. My friend Ken Marshall has sent me this feedback and agreed I can put it on as a Comment: "Lots of lovely pictures of a very big game involving a lot of concerted effort by a lot of talented wargamers. What's not to like. Well done to everyone involved." Thanks Ken, sorry you missed it.

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