It’s been while since I last posted here. No apologies—the Patreon venture, together with other work commitments, book writing and life stuff, has demanded all my attention and, as we all know, one only has so much energy to go around.
However, a recent visit by old chum Iain Burt (known affectionately as Essex Boy in some circles) not only enabled me to play one of the few games I get to play each year, but also gave me plenty of food for thought.
The setting was one of the classic C S Grant Table Top Teasers that featured in Battlegames—in fact, “Pontoon” from issue 1. Here, one side (Red) is initially massively outnumbered by an enemy force (Blue), part of which has managed to cross the river overnight, but the remainder is stranded on the far bank and reliant upon a couple of small craft to ferry more men over the river, whilst a team of engineers and pioneers labour frantically to build a pontoon bridge so that the main force can join the advance guard on the eastern bank. Meanwhile, the Red army has a steady—albeit unpredictable—stream of reinforcements arriving, so that if the game runs to its full extent, it is likely that numbers will be at least equal.
I added a little spice to the scenario in terms of some imagi-nations background. I decided, pretty much on a whim, that the history of my continent of Europia needed some new bellicosity in addition to what was already making it perhaps the most war-torn piece of geography imaginable.
Thus it was that portions of the forces of Borgenmark and Grenouisse were arrayed against each other. Tensions had been rising for some time following the incident during our 1750 campaign, because an enthusiastic and utterly callous general in the pay of King Raoul of Grenouisse (are you reading this, Paul?) casually lobbed a fizzing howitzer shell into the fortress of Ofteborg—and annihilated the town when it ignited the magazine. You can read the completely impartial report at http://battlegames.co.uk/ofteborg-in-ruins-innocent-citizens-slaughtered-in-titanic-blast/
The Elector of Borgenmark, a gentleman known as Locutus, had not been doing a terribly good job of keeping the anger of his citizens in check ever since what came to be known as The Barbaric Incident. But now, in the summer of 1752, he became aware that the moment to strike back was at hand, because the cream of the Grenouissian forces had been sent far to the east, where they were engaged in a struggle with Prunkland and its allies in the colonial heat of Dahlia and Chindrastan.
Meanwhile, in Europia, the resentful King Raoul was still smarting from the drubbing meted out to his army two years previously. He was also more preoccupied with his borders with the Schwitzers to the northeast and Granprix to the south, both of which had been breached with relative impunity in previous campaigns. The river Carillon and the region around Passillon was far from his mind.
Thus, in August 1752, the Elector and his generals planned a sudden crossing of the Carillon, aiming to grab the town of Dondrelin at the southern end of the Forêt de Sangliers and to establish defensive lines in the passes around the crossing. If all went according to plan, the incursion could be expanded to besiege Passillon and assimilate the region around it for the glory of the Borg.
The Forces Involved
This was a perfect opportunity to trot out the Spencer Smiths. There was no need for Iain to risk his own, beautiful collection of Gateway Alliance figures (formed from the more recent SS metal castings for the Wars of the Austrian Succession and made with a curiously heavy pewter alloy that Iain describes as “pig iron”) as I have, over the years, amassed a substantial number of the original, plastic (technically AWI) figures to accommodate pretty much any scenario.
However, as the majority of my collection has been donated by various kind souls over the course of a decade or more, their appearance is somewhat, shall we say, “colourful and varied”. A substantial number, such as those donated by the kindly Colin Stone of Tunbridge Wells, form a pleasingly coherent and well-painted force of Seven Years War French look-alikes; likewise, Stuart Asquith kindly bequeathed me a number of splendid units. But others, from nameless donors, have seen better days and an alarming number suffer from the dreaded ‘ankle rot’ that can affect random batches of the curious plastic that emerged from the shed of Ronald W Spencer-Smith in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
So, when you see the pictures, it won’t be immediately apparent which troops belong to which army, other than that I managed to cobble together enough bluecoats to equip the forces of Borgenmark, and the Grenouissians were well-served by a batch of pearl grey coated units of infantry. Beyond that, the Grenouissians were allocated green-coated chasseurs à pied, whilst those of their opponents were blue. Hussars are a riot of colour at the best of times, so the models at my disposal were just divvied up between the armies, and likewise the heavy cavalry. Grenouisse was given red artillery pieces, and again the Borg benefited from blue.
In the course of preparing the game, it became apparent that I both want and need to lavish some more care and thought on the command figures, so that brigadiers will stand out and the commanders-in-chief even more so, though I can at least boast a magnificent model of Baron Munchausen on his half-horse gifted to me by Kerry Thomas some years ago. Though some other, fabulous models have passed through my hands over the years, my heart is always drawn back to the idea of doing some special conversions of Spencer Smiths to match the rank and file.
As far as the scenario is concerned, the forces from the original Teaser are listed as follows:
Blue Force (played by Borgenmark)
- 2 units of infantry
- 1 unit of light infantry
- 2 units of light cavalry
- 1 battery of artillery
- Pontoon train and engineers
- (2 barges optional)
- 6 units of infantry
- 1 unit of light infantry
- 1 unit of light cavalry
- 3 units of heavy cavalry
- 2 batteries of artillery
Red Force (played by Grenouisse)
- 6 units of infantry
- 2 units of light infantry
- 2 units of light cavalry
- 2 units of heavy cavalry
- 2 batteries of artillery
Based on the original scenario, Blue arrives at the river with his advance guard as dusk falls. The pontoon train will arrive just before first light, but Blue commander has also found two small craft (I used spare pontoon barges). These will enable him to cross some troops to the far bank during the night. Roll an average die and note the result. A light infantry unit counts as ½ a point, a line infantry unit as 1 point, a cavalry unit or an artillery battery as 1½ points. Blue must first nominate the units he wishes to cross and in what order. For example, a roll of 4 could allow four units of line infantry across, or two artillery batteries and two light infantry units, and so on.
As dawn breaks, these units are within 6″ (or, for my own rules, three Base Widths) of the far bank. The pontoon train is on the western, home bank and ready to start building. There is an option either for no more troops to cross by boat during the day, or for the crossing of the advance guard to continue.
Blue will now start to build his pontoon while using his advance guard to fend off the unwelcome advances of Red. As the day draws on, Blue’s main body will start to arrive on the western bank. This should start two thirds of the way through the battle, and not before the minimum time by which the bridge could be complete, so, for example, if the day consists of 24 moves, then the head of the column will appear on move 16. (In our game, we deemed the day to be 12 complete moves, so the bridge would be finished on turn 8 and the main body would arrive on the table at that point.
As for Red, a half unit of Red light cavalry have bivouacked overnight at the eastern farmhouse shown on the map. They awake to see elements of the enemy advance guard on the eastern bank and the paraphernalia of a pontoon train on the west side. Mounting in haste, they divide into two and gallop off north and south to raise the alarm, leaving a small patrol to continue observation. Red now writes each of his units’ names on a separate piece of paper and places them in individual, unmarked envelopes, including two envelopes for the light cavalry sub-units that have gone off to get help. Shuffle the envelopes, then throw three D6 (in our game, 2D6) for each envelope and mark the total on each. This provides each (unknown) unit with an arrival move of between move 3 and 18 (2 and 12 for our game). As each move arrives, Red throws again with a single die for each unit entering on that move. On 1 or 2 will come in from the north at A; 3 or 4 from B; and 5 or 6 from the south at C.
For building the bridge, the original scenario specified the following sequence:
- Move 1: pontoon floated
- Move 2: roadway started to first pontoon
- Move 3: roadway complete to first pontoon
- Move 4; second pontoon floated
- Move 5: roadway started to second pontoon
- Move 6: roadway complete to second pontoon
- …and so on (one move to float and two to bridge).
We modified this to:
- Move 1: pontoon floated
- Move 2: roadway built to first pontoon
- Move 3: second pontoon floated
- Move 4: roadway built to second pontoon
- Move 5: third pontoon floated
- Move 6: roadway built to third pontoon
- Move 7: fourth pontoon floated
- Move 8: roadway built to fourth pontoon
- Move 9: roadway built to far bank, bridge complete.
Charles also specified that for every hit from artillery, another move is required to replace damaged material. In fact, in our game we ignored this, or Iain would have never finished the bridge before he had to go home! However, it would have made perfect sense if I had deliberately targeted the structure of the bridge, rather than the troops crossing it. Moreover, other suggested ‘house’ rules included:
- A tree floating downriver damages a pontoon—add one move to repair before continuing building.
- The pontoon builders work extra hard—reduce the road-building time for one section to one move.
- Red advances the next two (units’) envelopes to appear by one move.
- An additional unit (throw for type) appears unexpectedly to reinforce Blue’s advance guard.
Again, we didn’t use these as Iain was under time constraints to get back home and, to be honest, by the time we completed a dozen complete moves at around 5pm, we were both exhausted! As it was, we felt pretty satisfied that we had pushed things as far as we could for the time being. We mused about how the scenario’s original timescale reflected those heady days of yore when we had entire weekends to play a game at leisure, perhaps leaving things overnight to be continued the next day. It’s a sad reflection of the times that nowadays, unless one lives in extremely fortunate circumstances, that’s what a wargames holiday centre is for…
Note that in my own Shot, Steel and Stone rules, the sequence is ‘interrupted’ IGO-UGO, so a full move consists of two halves, in effect, where one player moves and shoots, but the opponent is allowed to interrupt the sequence, such as for countercharges or firing at a charge. Certain compulsory morale reactions also take precedence over the normal sequence.
It so happens that, whilst my Shot, Steel & Stone rules have been used successfully many times in their original, ‘old school’ format, with players fielding large, dare I say it ‘Grant-esque’ units of 48 infantry figures per battalion or more, a number of the players involved in the large Ayton games have experimented with cutting the unit sizes in order to have more units to manoeuvre on a standard tabletop.
Indeed, Iain is one of those very people, and he has reorganised his Gateway Alliance troops into battalions of 30 rank and file plus a command base of 5, making six bases in all. The result of such culling is that the resulting games look perhaps a tad more Gilder-esque (vide In the Grand Manner rules) rather than Grantian, and certainly not the giant formations of Peter young’s Charge!.
Therefore, since Iain seemed keen on this format, and because it also conveniently tied in with the size of some of the units in my collection, I acceded to the idea, and we duly played with line infantry units of half a dozen bases of 6 figures each, and cavalry squadrons of two bases of 3, with three or four squadrons to a full regiment. Light infantry units were mostly four bases of 3 in skirmish order, and to keep things in proportion, a standard artillery battery was represented by a single gun with 4 crew (representing heavy artillery—medium artillery and howitzers have 3 per gun, light artillery just 2; the number of crew figures also denotes the number of dice to be rolled to hit).
BUT in hindsight, I realised that everything else should, perhaps, have been scaled down in proportion—ranges, movement rates and so forth. When I was researching my rules, I realised that there was, historically, an almost perfect correlation between the standard frontage of an infantry battalion (roughly 133 yards for a 600-man battalion: three ranks of 200 men, with 2 feet of frontage per man = 400 feet = 133.333 yards; or 166 yards for a 750-man battalion) and the effective range of musketry. Thus, to reduce the frontage without reducing the range means that you are effectively now portraying much smaller battalions of a size perhaps more common to the American War of Independence than the Seven Years War.
It’s not the end of the world, but I shall certainly be doing the calculations to take this into account next time and produce a shorter set of range and movement sticks! (I’m nothing if not a worrier and a fiddler.) In fact, for fans of the rules, the simplest way of doing this is to reduce the ‘standard’ base width from 60mm to 45mm, to match the reduction of unit frontages by a quarter. Actually, this would suit me perfectly anyway because, Spencer Smiths being slender fellows, I already cram my chaps onto 45mm wide bases in order to achieve a proper tightly packed appearance. If your armies consist of stouter fellows, such as Foundry or Front Rank, then the problem may be somewhat trickier to tackle, and you may feel inclined to just assume your units have lost a quarter of their effectives to illness, desertion, wounds or whatever.
Or, of course, you could just not worry about any of this and simply play the game as you see fit!
As ever, click on the pictures for enlarged views. The photos are in chronological order, so start at the top left and work down.
The outcome of the game was a stand-off. The Borg had managed to achieve a bridgehead on the east bank of the river, but not exploit further or cut the road. On the other hand, the Grenouissians had been caught napping and the Borg had managed to construct a robust pontoon bridge across the river, with more and more troops pouring across. It seems to me that a mini-campaign has been born, if only to discover what happens next! That sounds like a splendid excuse for a rematch…
The Pontoon teaser remains a classic. It’s challenging for both sides, and can be given some interesting variations. The semi-random nature of the setup provides additional challenges—I was certainly in a sweat for the first half of the game as I prayed I would be able to plug the yawning gap in the centre of my line.
I was also pleased that my own Shot, Steel & Stone rules were flexible enough to accommodate some major deviations from how they were originally conceived, in terms of unit sizes, without so much as a murmur. Cutting the battery size to a single gun and crew worked fine. In hindsight, if we wanted to cut the casualties further, I could have specified the artillery as being all Medium, or a combination of Medium and Howitzers, but both Iain and I gritted our teeth (well, mostly me, to be honest!) and took the hot blasts from hell in our stride.
And most of all, it was great fun. thanks to Iain for helping to make it so, and I’m itching to take the story further!