Wargame Thoughts and Commentary

Ramillies Reversed!

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Most of our war-games are fictitious battles with terrain and OOBs created out of whole cloth, but, as a change of pace, I thought we would try to refight an historical battle from the War of Spanish Succession; Ramillies. This battle which took place in 1706 was at a crucial moment in the long fought war. After some catastrophic losses to the Allies under Marlborough, in particular, Blenheim, the French had had a string of victories by Vendome at Cacinato, in April, followed in May by a French force under Marsin and Villars forcing Louis of Baden back across the Rhine, Louis the XIV was looking for a another victory, preferably in Flanders against Marlborough's forces, at which point Louis felt he could negotiate a favorable piece that maintain much of his holdings and secured the Spanish Throne for Philip II. The force was placed under Marshall Villeroi, and was described by Marlborough, after Ramllies, as the finest army he had yet engaged during the war.

The forces met at Ramillies in late May. The area was very marshy and wet with several shallow streams and rivers that divided the field, especial on the Allied Right and the Mehanne River on the left. The Allied left and French right was a relatively dry open expanse of ground that was perfect for cavalry, and both forces concentrated their cavalry there. the Allies had superior numbers in troops, guns, but only parity in horse.

Here is the field as laid out for the game:

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The River Mehanne with the small village of Tahiers is in the foreground. The open plain, with
both armies' concentration of horse, immediately above that. In the center of the table one can see
the Town of Ramillies, invested by the French. At the far end of the table is the broken ground, the Little Geete
stream and low river line tree breaks around Autre-Eglise. Marsh is indicated by scattered lichen pieces .


SET-UP
The Objective markers were a four and then six for recapture on Tahiers which was a class II structure. The bridge was a six. The hill beyond the bridge was a six for Allies only. All French Road exits were a 16(!) for the Allies only. The Allied Road Exits were 10 for the French only. There were three six and then eight point double objectives in Ramillies, which were all Class III structures. The Mehanne and Little Geete were both class II streams, all marshy ground was Class I movement only (no effect on fire). The river tree lines were class I, but obstructive to line of sight. At the far end of the table the small village of Autre-eglise was a class II structure with a four point objective which increased to a six upon recapture. All of these objective values were hidden from the opposing commanders if in the third of the table closest to them, and to both parties in the central third. the exception being Ramifies which was occupied by the French prior to the battle.

The troops used may all be found on the OOB in a new folder in the files section of the Yahoo! site. The commanders and their potential ratings are found on the same sheet. Two of the command figures listed there, Colonel Holcroft Blood and the Austrian Count de Mercy. were "special commanders." Blood had two command dice that he could add to any British artillery battery and to no other unit. Mercy also had two command dice that he could add to any non-British cavalry unit. These command dice were used as per the rules and replaced on the 4R card, just as other commander's dice. However, they were not rolled for any red dice on the 4R card. They did not roll for quality as their special effect was predetermined. This was an experiment that turned out well, but the Allied potential here was largely squandered as we shall see.

On the OOB's one can see that the Allied command had a much higher potential, plus the two "special" commanders. A it turned out, the rolls (using the "card" method) resulted in a typically mediocre French command quality 3s, especially on the left around Autre-Eglise with a lowly 2 die commander, but the Allied rolls were atypically low. Except for Marlborough, who is guaranteed a 5, all of the Allied command was 3s-unexpectedly low.

Troop rolls on both sides, using the period correction, resulted in a weaker overall French army with the exception of the Maison Rouge cavalry, which was excellent on the whole. You see these factors on the OOB sheets in the folder section.

In most cases, if I had the unit in my war-games army, I tried to locate it in the same general area on the battlefield, Lumley and the British cavalry on the Allied Right, the French Clare regiment in Ramillies, and the Allied cavalry, and the French cavalry including the Maison Rouge Mousquetaires and Gendarmes on the open ground to the South of Ramillies.

The armies were pre-rated and located on the tabletop, but prior to beginning each side could change the formation of any unit on the table, and, after rating, place their commanders anywhere they pleased.

THE GAME PLAY

Most of the players in this game have only a passing familiarity with the WSS as I am the "maven" on the topic, so they had no idea what the sequence of events was in the actual battle, it then became of added interest to me just how they would play the hand that Marlborough had. As it turned out, they largely mirrored the initial strategy, except on two crucial points, and, because of a series of tactical blunders, along with the skill and knowledge of the French commander/player, the results would have made the Sun King VERY happy!

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Just as in the real battle( and unprompted by me), the Allies charged up to take Tahiers, and drive the French dragoons from the village by fire and melee. The Danish GrenadierKorps performed well, supported by the Danish Prince George regiment. Somewhat delayed was the light battery which belatedly started to trundle forward. This secured the armies left flank and provided that command with some extra dice. The French suffered minor losses on the retreat.

On the Allied right the British forces began their advance toward the Little Geete, just as in the actual battle, There were obstacles, to be sure, but at Class I and II, hardly enough to stop a generally well-rated English command. They were determined to make a strong feint and draw some of the French units to that sector. This, too, was exactly historical!

Attack along the Little Geete



In the Center, The Allies began a bombardment using their Heavy artillery and the heavy howitzer, which was being assisted by the incomparable Holcroft Blood! They immediate scored hits, including a hit on a village section that, though failing to start a fire, dropped the defense value to a Class II. It did not take much imagination to see that the Allied artillery, eventually supported by their infantry could greatly threaten the French hold on the town and cause great pressure on the French red die reserve.


Ramillies Bombardment
Note the puff ball on the left village section denoting a howitzer hit!

This, too, was beginning to look exactly like the actual battle! Marlborough in the actual battle launched the flank attack to concern the French, and began preparing for the direct attack on Ramillies. He held his horse in abayence until these attacks developed, only launching it later to crush the French Right.

Not so, in this Ramillies!

I should comment that the French commander/player in this battle is, without question, the best player in our group. He has actually read and thought about the rules, and gets the interaction and interrelation of the various rules and dice combinations. It makes him deadly in game play. About the time that the center and flank were looking promising for the Allies, he made a simple , but tell-tale, move of commanders/staff. He slid his best commander, Villeroi-the army CinC- over to join De Tesse on the right flank with the French cavalry. Then both command stands were advanced a typical cavalry move in advance of this line of horse. He had prior to the game, and also on his first 4R card, shifted a number of red dice to that flank. He had set a trap, and was just waiting to spring it. His cavalry did not move. He patiently awaited the next moves.

At that moment the Allies got their second cavalry card on the turn, and decided to advance on the French cavalry! They had had an opportunity to move their command prior but had passed. They had not moved them, meaning they were moving beyond the ability of commanders to assist them. They had yet to fully secure the flank by having the Genadierkorps remove their fire marker, or even more importantly, move up the light gun to enfilade, or at the very least, support their cavalry in an attack! If the French got a cavalry move in their next two phase cards, this could be trouble. I broke my neutrality to begin to warn the Dutch/allied player, but immediately got a stern look from the French commander and fell quiet.

The Allied Charge of Death!
It is glorious, but is it war?
Note the French command out front, and Allied command nowhere in sight!
This is the full extent of their move, so the chances are high they will receive the charge,and not deliver it!


This is the EXACT situation the French Player had been waiting for! His cavalry would be charging from beyond 9" and would contact with command immediately available. He could hope for extra dice for doubles, and would get another die for his Guard status. If he won the initial melee, he would get a free move to contact the next line! The Allies on the other hand, were galloping AWAY from command-so far that their effect was nearly impossible! As luck usually follows a good commander, the next card was a French cavalry move! He rolled at least two multiples is the following charge move adding dice to both initial melees, and took full advantage of his charge bonus and extra pursuit move to move into the second line. Command contributed to every melee. We were using Australian rules where only the high die counted and only one die could be contributed at a time by a command stand, but both stands were close enough to each contribute one die to the melees!

Allied line decimated!
With the Allied line decimated, the French move up added cavalry reserves.
Note the vastly reduced numbers of Allied horse as several melees were catastrophic victories (13+).
The Allies had not had a 4R card yet on this turn and so red dice became an issue!


The Allied horse was destroyed and sent reeling by the French Mousquetaires and Gendarmes of the Maison Roi! Many Allied horse were removed to the eliminated table. The red die loss was horrific!


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The Lost Horsemen of Ramillies


This was watched from afar by the Allied command, still very far from the action!

Cowardly Command

Look at the distant command stands with many unusable command dice.
The "unloaded" GrenadierKorps that could offer no support on the flank with fire,
And the distant, and still undeployed, artillery battery at the bottom edge of the photo,
that also could offer no added support to the allied cavalry.


This was exacerbated by the absence of Marlborough from the sector where-prior to battle the Allied command had agreed would be the deciding area-as he was deployed in the center and NEVER moved. This lack of command attention would bring about the defeat. The fact that the Allies had kept all of their command dice in the command bucket, and NEVER, either before or after the game began, moved red dice to their left flank, would prove decisive!

Marlbourgh
Marlborough, with all five command dice, far, far from the cavalry action
That would decide the game!

At this point, the allied right flank Red dice bucket went empty and the wing was disorganized. The last card of the turn was not a 4R, and even a modified 4R cannot save a fallen flank. The Allies put a concede card in their deck and with a bit of luck that came too late, it was the first card drawn on the next turn. This Ramillies was a decisive victory for the French. The WSS was settled by negotiation and Louis threw a fete at Versailles!

Conclusions:

The game followed the main course of the historical action quite closely, other than the final outcome. This was a colossal failure of command! In the real battle, Marlborough made very sure that the French were well stuck in and offered a real possibility of gains on the right around Autre-Eglise; He had begun to pressure Ramillies with a full attack that drew off a lot of troops and French "Red Dice", BEFORE he began any action with the cavalry on the left. The Allied cavalry attack was unprepared and far too disorganized and early in the game.
Their cavalry could have had cover from Tahiers, if they had waited for a 4R card! The light artillery battery could have been positioned and ready to fire from just next to Tahiers with devastating effect on cavalry either in attack or defense. If they were to attack on the Left with their cavalry they simply had to wait until their Commander Overkirk, their added cavalry officer, Mercy, and, most importantly, Marlborough, were moved over to support the cavalry. Between them, even with Overkirk rolling a bad day for his dice, they would have had 3 command stands with 10 command dice to 2 command stands with a total of 6 command dice! In the actual battle of Ramillies, Marlborough was right in the thick of the action on the left, almost being captured or killed at one point!

Even more telling they did not distribute the CinCs red dice to the all important left flank, so that when did go badly they were out of dice and disorganized. The lack of a 4R at the end of this was not the reason for a loss, but simply the coup de gras. The scenario had allowed an extra roll of dice for both the commander in Chief and Sub-commanders, meaning the initial supply was larger than usual. ( I did this to compensate for the very large force and difficult ground. I also made the Objective values high especially on the French exits for the same reason).

This game was completed in just 90 minutes!!!

Things to be especially considered:

1. You must plan your actions using all aspects of the mechanics. This not a game for the "just move lead and roll dice" crowd. The various arms and command stands must work in concert, as the French did in this game. You must allocate red dice with a plan. The red dice do many things, but their allocation forces a plan and not willy-nilly changing it or going off on a whim. In effect, they enforce discipline on an army to focus and maintain a plan and not be changing "orders" at will. They do this indirectly and not some written order mechanic.

2. Mistakes are punished, and can be punished severely. If you do fail to really think your way through the battle, you will lose, and it can snowball FAST. Most rules have a variety of ways of softening the blow of bad plans and tactics. DFII does not! You will be thoroughly embarrassed if you don't think about your choices. Look across the field and think about the enemy's actions. The movement of the French Command was a strong indicator of his plan to set a trap, which the allies then just walked into! That doesn't work. There was no need for the allies to advance their cavalry when they did. In fact, it was a singularly bad time to do so.

3. Which brings up another central consideration of DFII: Timing is everything. You don't launch cavalry attacks if you only have two cards left, haven't had a 4R card in the turn, and you've already used your other cavalry move card! IT WILL NOT COME TO ANY GOOD END! Always be aware of where you are in a turn, what actions have or have not been taken by the enemy, and your forces, and what phases have already occurred. It was obvious that the French had BOTH cavalry cards still potentially in play. With two cards left the odds of one cavalry move card occurring, thereby allowing them to charge, was, at about a 75% chance-as they only needed one!

4. Command! Command! Command! Think about every command location,its value, remaining dice, and whether you need to move it where it is most needed. An army without its head will lose regardless of other strengths.

5. The brittleness of cavalry. I stress again that cavalry can be a battle winner, but it takes planning and timing as the French commander evidenced in this game. Cavalry is also a force that can lose ground and dice rapidly. They are great on the attack, but can be a source of grief on defense. Most gamers are well advised to not try to pull off a spur of the moment Beau Saber style attack in DFII, contrary to other games, this can quickly prove to be a real liability. Learn to use them in DFII, which is a different puzzle than most rules.


Other Thoughts:

1. The Australian Command dice rules were interesting, but ultimately made little difference in the outcome as the Allies couldn't use them anyway! We will continue to experiment with this idea.

2. The "special"commanders is a slick idea and adds more color to play, but, again, the advantage of an extra cavalry commander was not used by the Allies in this game. Holcroft Blood did improve the Howitzer fire, however, as the town was about to be pummeled!

3. We experimented with adjusted first round red dice rolls, and will do so some more. I'm writing up a special article on this aspect which may allow gamers to tailor red dice supply to the size of forces and the time they wish to play, or even as a handicap for inexperienced players. it will be in table form and a Beta version will be available later this week.