There are times when I have serious concerns about my approach to wargaming. My General de Brigade-project is a perfect case in point. I bought the ruleset some six year ago. Never read it, but decided nevertheless that it would be THE Napoleonic ruleset for me. Started painting 6mm Adler miniatures shortly after that decision and yesterday I was finally able to play my first real game.
The scenarioFor the inaugural game we used first scenario from first of scenario books for General de Brigade - Hilaire's assault on villages of Ober Laichling and Unter Laichling, which were part of the battle at Eckmuhl. In my opinion it's a perfect introductory scenario to the ruleset. It is relatively small - about ten batallions and some artillery on each side. French side enjoys better troop quality, but that is balanced by Austrian advantage in regard of artillery and the fact that they field the only cavalry unit on the battlefield.
The objective of the scenario is simple - French need to take both villages and the high ground behind them. The Austrians need to stop the French. In other words, the scenario is perfect tool for training of both the defensive and offensive tactics.
Initial deploymentsAs a French commander without a clue, I decided to keep things simple. Two brigades would concentrate on Unter Laichling, take it as quickly as possible, then press on to the hill. Austrians positioned at Ober Laichling would in the meantime be pinned down in place by my last remaining brigade and hopefully be cut off by the time I took the high ground behind them.
Part of the fun of Napoleonic games at this level (with individual battalions as maneuver elements) lies in the intricacies of initial deployment. General de Brigade offers full scope of possibilities in this area - battalions can deploy in line, columns of companies/divisions, squares and different types of open order/skirmish formations.
Selection of appropriate formation and correct orders (assault, engage, move, support, hold, retreat) is essential for success. My main assault formation was formed in following fashion: brigade in front was under engage orders, formed in single line, four battalions abreast, protected by its skirmish screen. It was supported by second brigade formed in columns by division to its rear. The idea behind that deployment was for front brigade to soften up Unter Laichling's defenders with musket fire. Once that goal had been achieved, the Austrians would get a taste of the bayonets of the rear brigade.
Ober Laichling would be engaged by two light battalions deployed in open order. The advantage of that formation is that troops deployed in this manner shoot as effectively as conventional line formation, but are themselves harder to hit due to looser ranks.
Austrians are initially deployed in rather predictable manner - one brigade each in and around the villages, the rest on the high ground. To my surprise, L. and H. choose to deploy their "village" brigades in front of build up areas, a decision which would have some consequences. Cavalry reserve is deployed behind the hill, out of the sight of French commander.
The gameEvents of the game can be described in a couple of sentences. My main assault force marched slowly but surely toward their destination and was immediately fired upon by H.'s 6-pounder battery. My skirmish screen rushed forward, got too close to Austrian main line and was promptly repulsed, suffering 25 percent casualties. This exposed my battalions in line to artillery fire, increasingly accurate as they closed the distance. My leftmost battalion was severely mauled and broke as soon as my formation came into Austrian musket range. It failed to recover (some bad dice rolling on my part resulted in its dispersion during the rally attempt). However, the remaining battalions of front brigade engaged in a firefight with Austrian infantry and duly forced one of opposing battalions to beat hasty retreat.
The rulesetSo... was my rather hasty decision to nominate General de Brigade as my Napoleonic ruleset of choice all those years ago a correct one? It's far too early to give a definitive answer to that question, but the first impression is absolutely a positive one. There is nothing revolutionary about this set of rules, in fact I would go as far as saying that it's rather conventional both in regard of game sequence and mechanics. However, it has to be said the same time that it manages to deliver that distinct Napoleonic feeling and that is the main selling point for me.
Another thing worth mentioning is that the basics rules do make perfect sense and are therefore quite easy to absorb. Command and control, movement, formation changes and firing are based on simple game mechanics, which most players should be able to memorize without difficulties after a couple of games. Charges and melees do seem a bit involved and require some fiddling with distances between units and morale checks, but I guess it's unavoidable for a ruleset at this unit level. The difficult part will be in remembering all the "chrome" rules of which there are quite a few, but since they add value to the game, then even that should be achieved with time without any problems. Overall, we all agreed that General de Brigade is a solid ruleset and we are looking forward to next French attempt to take those pesky villages of Laichling.