Tuesday, March 24, 2015

My First Game of Blucher: Bitter Slavic Tears

Last night I played my first game of Blucher at my friend Joe's house.  We were both intrigued by the promise of this new set of rules: corps-level commands that are fast, fun, and playable.  It was the inagural outing for my 10mm armies, French and Russians from Old Glory.  We used only a tiny fraction of Joe's table for the game. Since we are just learning the rules, we decided to forgo the Scharnhorst campaign setup, although they look like a lot of fun.

Here is the setup , using my homemade blinds  With about 26 units a side, this is about the upper limit for a standard game. As you can see, the table looks pretty crowded.  There was still room for maneuver, but once corps were committed, they were pretty much locked in. This meant keeping a reserve  under the blinds very important, as it was the only way to reinforce a sector in need of support.  Note to self: sending cavalry units forward to discover concealed enemies might be a useful tactic from preventing them from using the bounds of reserve movement early in the game.

The overhead view.

Units start to appear on the battlefield.  Even though there appears to be less terrain than we use for our tactical-level games, those woods and villages played a big role by creating choke points.

Joe rolled an 18 for my first Momentum roll. Sicne I didn't want to reveal all of my units, I didn't even come close to spending them all. Seriously, who rolls an 18 on 3d6? Where were those rolls when I was playing D&D?

Joe's units start to come out. I rolled very well to start, and those good rolls probably encouraged  my to keep up the shooting war. As I learned later, that was a bog mistake.  However, my early efforts at melee met with frustration (the infantry to the left of the village tried to assault the French infantry to his front. The combat results were a draw, which meant I had to withdraw to lick my wounds (we later corrected my retreat to two base widths which had the added benefit of blocking my artillery. Joy).

Here is where things get ugly.  In hindsight, I should have just plowed in to the line of French and taken my lumps, trusting in my reserves to finish the job. Instead, I hesitated, leaving my troops in skirmish range. Here, the French had a big advantage, and they shot me to pieces. My early luck with the dice evaporated, and a whole corps of Russians was shattered with very little to show for it. 

Joe surveys the field.  His heavy cavalry has just deployed between the two woods, forcing most of my infantry in the center to go into a "prepared" state. Joe had the artillery at hand to punish them, showing a textbook example of how to use the arms of a Napoleonic army.

I deployed my heavies to counter.  While they screened my infantry, heavy cavalry is far more effective in the attack, and since Joe had the jump on my, my dragoons and cuirassiers had a rough time. The dragoons in the foreground were even eliminated in a single turn! (BTW, that's REALLY hard to do in Blucher, unless spiteful dice gods frown on you).  Still, the melee wore down Joe's cav, and my infantry could breathe easy, for a short time...

At length, my left wing could no longer withstand the firefight I had abandoned them to.I sent in my Guard corps to finish the job. While they might, at length, have turned the tide in that sector, my decision to commit them gave Joe a free hand to deploy his own guard units where he saw fit. By now, my center was battered and beleaguered, and there was no way they could withstand fresh elite units I conceded the game at that point.

All in all, a fun game. Maneuver was a bit clumsier than we were used to, but that gives a good feel for the command level the game simulates. A commander who orders brigades and divisions forward is painting with a much broader brush than a tactical commander. Joe and I doubtless overlooked some nuances of the rules, but we worked things through easily enough and came away thinking that the rules were elegant and clear.

I learned a lot from my mistakes. Lesson one: Russians have good artillery and terrible skirmish ability. Thus, they should engage the french either at very long or very short range. Lesson two: While melee combat may not be decisive (pace, sad little dragoon unit!), it allows you to weaken an enemy position if you have the reserves to exploit it later.  When Joe made his firing line, I should have ignored one turn of close range volley fire and just plowed right in.  I would have taken my lumps, but the ability to pick targets in the assault would have greatly weakened Joe's position, and I had two fresh units with which I could have exploited the results.  Lesson three: The side that keeps units in reserve the longest has a big advantage.  Instead of holding my cossacks as second-rate battle cavalry, it is worth considering using them to race towards still-concealed units. 

Looking forward to another game, with Scharnhorst thrown in to boot!

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