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Tuesday, 21 April 2015

BBB-fest #3: Balaclava, Noisseville, and Le Cateau!

This is getting out of hand! Ten eager players signed up for last night, so we decided to run three BBB games. It's great that the gang is thriving, but the downside is that I can't really keep up with everything that goes on. I haven't had full reports from the boys yet, so I'll start with just brief comments on the two games I wasn't involved in, and then give a full account of the very tense and exciting one I played myself.


Balaclava (1854): this was a first playtest of a newly drafted scenario for this famous Crimean War action. Apparently the Light Brigade declined to charge on this occasion. Although the game ended up as a draw, the Russian players felt that they had been extremely fortunate, and that it is skewed against the Russians. I'll get more detailed comments from them to revise and improve it. (Scenario is in the files of the BBB Yahoo group if you want to see it.)

Noisseville (1870): this is a large Franco-Prussian War battle, in which Bazaine made a very tentative attempt to break out of besieged Metz. Looking at the balance of forces, it is hard to see how he could have failed, and indeed in last night's game the French managed to smash a fairly emphatic hole in the thin German cordon. Again this was a first outing for a draft scenario that may need some tweaking and recalibration, though all the players seemed to enjoy it, perhaps because both sides have to maneuver a lot so it is a very dynamic game. (3-page scenario in Flickr here, here and here.)

Le Cateau (1914): second test of this scenario and of the draft BBB rule modifications for WWI. (3-page scenario here, here and here; rule mods in the BBB Yahoo group files.) This was a truly rollicking game. The first day went reasonably historically, with my BEF Tommies frantically backpedalling and keeping the pursuing Germans at bay with the occasional rearguard skirmish until they reached the trench line of Caudry-Le Cateau.

Day two was a sort of left-right flipped version of history. In the actual battle, the Germans eventually worked around the British right flank and rolled up the line from the Le Cateau end. Our game went a little differently, because the random advance of the Germans off-table on the West edge significantly outstripped those beyond the East edge. This meant that Marwitz's cavalry and the 7. Reserve Division were able to march on and join IV.AK in enveloping my 4th Division in Caudry. Meanwhile my own cavalry were unable to assist the 4th, being anchored to my baseline to screen and prevent further Germans arriving on my left.

This meant the 4th took a pounding. I launched the neighbouring 5th and 3rd Divisions out of their own defensive positions and counterattacked westwards, to try to take some heat off the 4th. Unfortunately this just resulted in heavy British casualties, and failed to save the 4th, who were destroyed as a fighting formation on the last turn.

This gave Bruce one objective, enough to prevent a British victory. At the same time, he had hurled his reserve directly at Le Cateau, which was now held by one of Haig's divisions. They managed to defy British defensive fire and close to assault. All now came down to one last roll of the dice, with the British enjoying just a -1 advantage for their cover. The Germans bounced off; the line held; final score, a draw.

The battle was a very mobile one because of the situation, which always helps to make for an enjoyable game. It also seemed to capture the flavour of the combat: initial German advances to contact were often costly for them, but then once they had their guns set up and were able to assault with proper artillery support, the weight of fire told. So far so good, as far as the WWI mods are concerned. We'll give them another test soon with a Balkan Wars battle, Kirkkilise (1912).

My running score for the year to date:

Games played to conclusion - 16. (not counting ones I referee)
Won - 8.
Drawn - 3.
Lost - 5.