I have been a fan of Sam Mustafa's games for over a decade.While they may not suit everyone's tastes (they should!), I happen to like the simplicity, but also way he incorporates certain mechanics in each of his games, which provides me exactly what I am looking for.
Last year, his newest take on Napoleonic rules were released, Blücher which is obviously the picture image above. I pre-ordered these rules and the card set that was released simultaneously. Now, the cards are not necessary, but they have sure proven handy as you will see below.
This is not a review of the rules, so if you're aiming to skip reading on that account, never fear, this is a report of a series of linked games I put on for my club. Yes, it is a long read, but bear with me, please.
As an aside, I played the game with several of my mates, who are also members in the club, during weeknight gaming at our local FLGS. My primary opponent, who I shall name, "Brent", (ahem...as the usual names I call him are not family friendly), played several games in a row with me, all of which I lost...badly. Wholly unrelated to his euphoria over figuratively crushing me, he stated, "Blücher does for Napoleonics what DBA did for ancients." In a way, I think he is right on target, as do several members of the club who later went out and bought their own copies of the rules (I ended up getting Brent a copy for a birthday present).
Blücher does change that way my club played Napoleonics in the past. Gone are the days of marching across the table, and taking 6 hours of real time to do it, without ever firing a shot (my FIRST game with the club, back in 1984). Instead, we can play some rather large games, to a finish, in about 4 hours, with anywhere from 6 to 10 people playing.
[note: the rules do not have a set convention for how to handle large multi-player games, there are suggestions, but I had make some additional accommodations for these big games.]
This past summer, I put on an abbreviated 1809 campaign, over 2 of our monthly meetings. The first scenario was Aspern-Essling, and the second was, of course, Wagram. Those events are summarized below.
For the first scenario, I planned on a 1 to 2 "day" battle, where if things went well enough for the defending French, they would continue the fight over a second day, to see if they could outdo the historical result. On the other hand, I made it very possible for the game to end after a single day, depending upon the success of the attacking Austrians.
Above, you see Aspern, in the foreground, and Essling is a bit further away. I got the ground scale as close as I could manage, but used a template for the actual towns. Each card, later base of miniatures, represents about a half brigade in strength. In Blücher, cards normally function at brigade strength, but I wanted each player to have more units and it fit well with the 12' long table at the ground scale I had worked out.
The cards you see are the backs of the unit cards I bought for the game. You see the French colors because those units are as yet unknown to the Austrians. This was especially important as the French were rather lacking in the way of infantry, and those units between the two towns were actually cavalry (the Austrian players thought they were infantry).
The "road" connecting the towns was an embankment, which provided a defensive bonus against fire, were the unit in contact. Once an enemy was also in contact opposite a friendly unit, neither side received the bonus.
Admittedly, this is not a great image, but as I was using a phone to take the shots, I did get some that were fuzzy.
I set up the table, complete with zones of deployment for each of the Austrian columns, and some of the attacking units were placed on the table at start. I designated each pair of turns (one Austrian, and one French) as approximately one hour of time. I then wrote entry times on the tape I used to designate the deployment zones.
Although it appears the Austrians have not moved very much, they actually crossed about 3.5 to 4 feet of table, at this point, but this is more due to their command and control issues, and player choices, than a movement limitation imposed by the rules. The Austrian commanders wanted to have all of their attacks at the same time, so it took a while to get their columns coordinated.
One of the things I really enjoy about Blücher is the fact that a player does not know how many units he will be able to move in a given turn. His opponent has a good idea, as he rolls the command dice (Motivation Dice), but the way activations work one typically ends up unable to do everything one wished.
I simulated the damaged to the bridges over the Danube by rolling 2d6 each turn, each pip equaling 1 point of damage. I rated the bridges at 30 "health" each, but they could be repaired, 1d6 (to be allocated between the bridges by the French commander...."Brent"), but if Napoleon were to remain behind at Lobau, then 2d6 of repairs would be conducted as everyone was under Nappy's eye. However, the Guard could not be released unless Napoleon's person crossed over to the battlefield. So, there were some significant decisions that had to be made during the course of the game, especially since if both bridges were to drop, then the French had to retreat and try to get back to Lobau.
The ways things turned out was, pretty much historical. The French defenders in Aspern, led by Massena, held out for quite a long time, but Massena ended up getting killed, and the Austrians were able to get into to the town and hunker down. They were unable to push through due to terrain and more French infantry just outside. Also, they had real problems with getting their troops into such a confined area.
On the right flank, the defenders of Essling held out for a relatively short time, once the attackers got stuck in. Unfortunately, it took a LONG time for the Austrians to actually attack Essling itself. This was mainly due to command and control issues, coupled with the desire to have all Austrian columns in the area to attack simultaneously.
Meanwhile, the bridges were taking a pounding. The French engineers were able to keep a handle on things, until two disastrous turns in a row, where 12 points of damage were done to each bridge (if doubles were rolled, both bridges took damage, otherwise, first one was damaged, and when it went down, the second was to take the damage), the French engineers only recovered 2 points (total!) the first time, and 4 points the second, leaving each bridge at -5 or worse....thus they fell.
Once that happened, they French were hit with a -1 to combat dice, for each unit, due to ammunition shortages (no supplies crossing), and they had to pull back. By this time, Aspern had already fallen (just!), and Essling fell the next turn.
Due to the casualties the lead Austrian units had suffered, I ruled the game at an end, a Austrian tactical victory, but no pursuit allowed. Casualties were fairly close between armies, but the Austrian units were exhausted (each unit is rated for Elan, with each hit reducing this amount. Most units started with 5 or 6 and many of the Austrian units were at 2 or 3. At 1 Elan, a unit cannot attack).
I had the French player on the right flank roll a d6 for Lannes' surviving the battle, which he did...a lucky roll. I had St. Hilaire, who also survived, promoted to Field Marshal and he would take over Massena's commander in the next battle.
InterludeWith the aftermath of the game, I was rather happy with the result. Although we did have problems in that several players had to miss the game...leaving just a few to carry on, the fact that one of the Austrian players have never even seen the rules prior, we did fight to a conclusion.
Planning for the next game, I wanted to keep the ground scale, unit scale, and time scale, the same as the first game. I also wanted to switch the experiences for the players, as each player continued with the same commands, so that the Austrians would have a similar experience as the French in the first game and vice versa.
Another 12' long table, with the terrain set up for the 2nd day of the historical battle. The image above is the initial set up, complete with on table units. The French objective was to take both Baumersdorf (in the center right) and Markgrafnusiedl (just out of frame in right foreground). The town of Wagram, itself, is just visible at top right.
I placed the French deployment zones as close as I could manage to the historical situation. They were advancing on a narrow front and in depth.
The Austrian objective was to hold both towns. However, if Markgrafnusiedl were to fall to the French, the flank would be uncovered and they would have to test to see if they would be forced to fall back to the center, they could still recover, but it would depend on the result of the test. Also, I allowed Archduke Charles (in the person of Dave B.) to decide where he wanted his main effort to be, and he could then move there, adding an additional motivation dice to that area. (Essentially, I split the table into 3 individual games, allowing each section to proceed at its own pace.....friction!).
About a half dozen turns into the game or so, and the French left is being pushed back to their initial positions, after suffering significant losses, with no real losses to the Austrians here. The French center is peeling off both cavalry and infantry to support the left, but also to protect the flank of the mass aimed at Baumersdorf.
The French right, facing Austrian left. As you can see, there are no French miniatures here. We just did not have enough figures based amongst the club members. We have plenty of figures, for all combatants, but many are still packed away in garages, storage sheds, etc., and one player, who was going to bring his troops, had a family situation crop up and was unable to make it. You can see the utility of these unit cards, in a pinch you're still covered!
The French right, about 6 turns later. Yes, there are no Austrian defenders in the town.
The French right took a long time to get itself sorted, but it quickly made up for the lost time by breaking the defending unit in a single round of close combat. It was unbelievable, but it happened in a toss of the dice for each player.
I made the Austrian wing commander roll for the crucial test....and he blew it yet again. The Austrians on the left flank had to flee towards the table edge, giving the French right an open road to the center and last objective. With the French reserve now on the table, and the French center able to hold its left flank (the actual French left was almost at the table edge), the center had the "go-ahead."
You can see there are plenty of Austrian troops, but with the left gone, and Charles' secondary objective being to keep his army intact, as much as possible, the game was called.
A major French victory, but a minor (moral) victory for the Austrians.
The casualties in this game were much less equal, primarily due to the meat-grinder that the French left fell into. The French left flank almost collapsed on its own, but St. Hilaire was able to retire most of his mangled troops (a good idea!) before they were broken. It was very close, 2 stands in fact, that had he suffered them as broken or even had he retired them, that flank would have been shattered, leaving the French to pass a crucial test to press on.
This battle could have gone either way, but I think the critical error was made by Archduke Charles when he got the bit in his teeth and focused nearly all his efforts on his right flank, which did admirably. However, this meant he had little for his left, and more vulnerable flank.
One "trick" I pulled was that Archduke John was "expected" to arrive on the table. The French players did not figure this to be a ruse until well over a dozen turns into the game. They did have to watch for this and I looked on with glee as they finally figured it out. I also made the Saxon corps a bit brittle, which forced the French to protect them from too much harm.
The game very nearly went exactly according to history, including the devastating casualties on the French left and the Austrians retreating once their left was a goner.
Overall, I am pleased with the results...