Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Black Powder with Russians AAR

So the fourth Great Northern War game in three weeks and our largest yet. This was at Daves in his fantastic games room and with his excellent Russian collection. Its the first time we have played a mainly Russian force so interesting to see how that goes.

We were using a number of amends but not including a lot of Steves thoughts from Thursday so it gave me an opportunity to compare how that works. We reverted to the standard orders process including blunders.

Stats were all from the Last Argument of Kings supplement

We kept fire then move and we also kept brigade morals.

We kept moving and firing at two thirds range of rules.

We introduced that Cossacks and Allied foot could only charge opposition foot if they were shaken or dis-ordered as in Thursdays game.

We also introduced that supports retreated through or routed through are dis-ordered.

We stuck with rallying casualties as per the rules for now rather than Steves method.

We used the option to retire facing the enemy at 2 inches per move. I dont like the idea of a unit retiring at full speed facing the enemy. try marching backwards in formation at the same speed you walk forwards! And of course its unlikely that units would turn their backs on the enemy at close quarters so a slow march backwards seems appropriate.

Dave also took his Que from the other guys and provided butties, drinks and biscuits, cheers Dave thumbs up from me!

This was probably our biggest game yet and I had all of my figures with the exception of two Saxon cavalry regiments on table. Dave had pretty much all of is on table and taken as a whole it really dig look fantastic and extremely impressive. The forces were as follows.
3 x Brigades of 4 Russian foot battalions
1 x Brigade of 2 Russian Grenadiers and 1 foot battalions
I x Brigade of 2 Foot Cossack Battalions
2 x Brigades of 3 Saxon foot Battalions
6 x Field Guns
2 x Siege Guns
2 x Brigades of four Cossacks regiments each
2 x Brigades of four Russian Dragoons each
1 x Brigade Polish Cavalry 2 Winged Hussars 2 light Cavalry (Winged Hussars with Lance and armour)

4x Brigades Swedish foot (2 x3 and 2 x 4 battalions)
3 x Guns
3 x Brigades of Swedish horse (2 x 3 and 1 x 4)
1 x Brigade of Polish Horse (1 Pancerni 2 x light horse)
All Swedes had ferocious charge and Foot had extra combat dice but only 2 firing dice as one third armed with pike.
The Allies had little in the way of cover so this would be more of a stand up fight. Most of the stats were straight out of last argument of Kings.

So the forces stacked up like this

Foot 14 Swedes vs 23 Allies
Guns 3 Swedes vs 8 Allies
Horse 13 Swedes vs 20 Allies
All Generals were rated 8

60 battalions or regiments all told!!!!

The Swedes had overcome these odds numerous times both historically and using other rule sets but could the Black Powder reflect that? The command ratings being even would also probably hinder the Swedes who need to get forward quickly to minimise casualties.
The Horse were all positioned to the flanks and Dave had the Saxons in reserve. I had put my Poles on the Swedish right facing a brigade of Cossacks and the Dragoons (slightly less powerful than the horse) opposite the Polish fighting for the Allies.
Move one and the Swedes had initiative. for the most part the cavalry trundled forward as did most of the foot, unfortunately my second brigade of foot and last brigade of horse refused to move and my third brigade of foot threw an immediate blunder and marched two moves off table. This was pretty much to be the story of my day.

The Russians for the most part took one move forward and the Cossack foot occupied the village near the middle of the table.
The first action came quickly with the Cossacks on the Russian left flank charging the Polish Pancerni who counter charged, The Pancerni bounced as the Cossacks had three supports and the Pancerni had none. The Pancerni retiring back to the rest of their brigade. The Cossacks took a sweeping advance move to follow up but then were bounced by the Pancerni in return, retiring back to their brigade with casualties.

On the left flank the Cavalry now closed with each other and the Swedes continued to make their best time advancing on the Allies. In response the Allies closed up the line and shifted anything that had yet to move into a single massive double line. The guns now opened up and the first Swedish casualties began to appear along with the first unit dis-ordered. The third brigade got two move back onto the table so was back at the table edge.
The second brigade of cavalry over on the left flank charged the Russians with devastating effect.  The Ferocious charge inflicting 6 casualties after saves and breaking the first regiment, their supports rolled a double one and followed them off whilst the third regiment was beaten and forced to retire dis-ordered. They did however pass their morale and remain on table.

The next brigade charged the Cossacks and in turn broke the first two regiments, their supports both retreated dis-ordered.

This was how it was supposed to go, unfortunately the allies had not read the script and it was to be the high water mark for the Swedes.

On the right the Cossacks charged again and broke the first unit of Polish light horse and forced the supports to retire, following them up with a sweeping advance these were also broken and the brigade break test led to the inevitable result of the whole brigade gone.

Unhappily this left a brigade of cossacks on the flank and rear of the Swedish Dragoon brigade.

The Polish on the Allied side now charged and were counter charged by my Dragoons, leaving just one regiment behind to protect their flank from Cossacks. The Poles were led by two units of Winged Hussars with the armour save bonus and the lance reducing morale saves of the Swedes. in both cases the Dragoons were immediately broken inflicting no casualties on the Winged Hussars following a roll of 5 sixes by Dave (I have photographic Evidence) they followed onto the Supports dis-ordered by the broken front ranks and destroyed them again for no casualties. A Brigade break test saw the last unit break leaving the right flank wide open.
As if this wasnt bad enough the first Swedish foot brigade was now hit by musketry from the Russian foot and the first unit was dis-ordered. The Russians immediately charged the unit and forced it back.

In the subsequent move the next unit along was disordered and charged and then broken.
Only now were the Swedish guns brought into action with little effect whilst the Russians had taken a steady toll of the Swedes on their way in.
Daves best throw this year I reckon!

Meanwhile on my left I had charged the remaining cossacks destroying one unit but losing one of my horse to the other. To Cossacks for goodness sake!!!!

The cossacks that had won now formed up on my flank and next go charged my slightly mauled horse, their reaction being to turn to face. The dice though at last deserted Dave for a moment and the last Cossack unit was destroyed on this flank.

Too little too late through. 2 of the 5 cavalry units remaining on this flank were shaken and I needed them on the other flank to stop my whole line being rolled up.

The Cossacks began to wrap around the rear of my right flank and the Poles were on the flank of my first infantry brigade which now lost a further battalion to musketry and Russian Gunnery. My second brigade was turned to cover my flank and my third brigade was finally marching towards the enemy. whilst my fourth was repeatedly passing through its front units disordered by the fire of three guns.

It was going from bad to worse.
I decided my only chance was to press on with the two left hand foot brigades to try keep half of Dave's army busy whilst the badly mauled first and second brigades tried to stem the advancing tide of Russians long enough for the cavalry to try and rescue them. Not much of a plan I grant you.
The lead unit of the third brigade got into short range only to be dis-ordered and charged in the same fashion as the others that had tried to close. Fortunately these turned out to be lower class militia troops and I was able to hang on. Only one unit of the fourth brigade could close and it badly mauled and forced back its opposing battalion of Russians but it was too little too late. The only attack of an infantry unit to actually close with the allies all day.

The 6 battalions of Saxons in reserve were now marching forward with the rest of the Russian Cavalry in support, not that these 9 fresh units were in anyway needed, the battle was lost and it was all about what could be pulled out of the disaster without being over run by the Russian and Polish Cavalry.
By now it was past our 4pm deadline to close the all day game. A wonderful looking game (I hope you agree) that was unfortunately immensely frustrating to play as the Swedish commander. I did still enjoy the company and banter (And biscuits)
So thoughts.

Well first of all I hate losing especially with my Swedes so I have to be careful not to allow sour grapes to influence my thinking. After all if I have lost then surely its the rules at fault, LOL!

What worked and what didnt?

Firing before moving is a must and brigade break tests instead of automatically breaking also work. I may have made the Winged Hussars too strong but will only know when we play it again and get the same result.

The Russians charging the Swedes when they are dis-ordered by close range fire seems un-historical, it meant that three out of four opportunities to close with the Swedes simply never happened, this means if we carry on this way the Swedes need parity of numbers in order to stand a fighting chance which wasnt what I was going for. However I am not sure how you stop that without taking all flexibility away from the Allies. Sigh, this in particular is a little disheartening, one step forward and two steps back. Remembering that the Allies actually have another 16 battalions and 5 regiments of horse to add to their horde should we play with all of our forces its a puzzler.

But all is not lost there  are a few things to try. An easy fix is that regardless of the proximity rule a player must declare their charge before they fire. As they cant declare a charge on a unit that is not dis-ordered or shaken this means that they cant fire see the result and only then decide to charge, the unit being charged needs to already be shaken or dis-ordered before being volleyed. I think that might work. Alternatively we allow the Swedes to counter charge, they would need to be able to do this even if dis-ordered though probably not if shaken. In this case the Allies get a bonus for charging and Swedes a minus for dis-ordered but the Swedes still have  agood chance of winning. Or we only allow units (except Swedes) to charge units that are shaken, not dis-ordered or shaken as per rules. 

I appreciate this may all seem very much like me twisting things to improve the Swedish performance however our games will almost always have Swedes attacking a defender with double their numbers. If they cant reach the Allies to fight them the games will be over before they begin.

In all this we cant lose sight of needing the Allies to be able to get a fun game as well as an historically accurate game of course. There needs to be a flavour of the fighting abilities of each force engaged rather than a 100% accurate representation.

The Polish winged hussars were virtually un-stoppable. I am less concerned about that, the Allies need something good to play with and its easy enough to stick one unit on each side. In reality there were very few Winged Hussars indeed by this stage of History, probably less than 10% of the Poles were this good rather than the half we gave them in this game, they did however tend to be on the Saxon side in the civil war that erupted through Poland. I now know just how good they can be so I will use them wisely to balance games out.

Cossacks breaking regular Swedish cavalry? Again unheard of but if its impossible there is no point in collecting and painting the Cossacks I guess and between us we have a lot of them. Perhaps simply making their command role slightly lower? All generals were 8's for this game and it is a great evener of armies. If the Cossacks and Poles are less enthusiastic making their generals less likely to roll their orders helps or just downgrade their abilities a little from those listed in last argument of kings.

We discussed a morale test for being charged once closing fire had failed to stop chargers. This would be particularly useful for poor quality troops who might be more inclined to break rather than stand and take a bayonet charge. We didn't add it at this stage, as I only charged home once all day it hardly mattered, but will need to consider it for the future. One to put on the back burner.

Dave had some fantastic dice and mine were pretty poor so I don't want to make too many decisions without further play testing. No games this week but a planned Great Northern War at Steves next week to work some of this through.

I have a lot to digest here and decide on a way forward that is balanced and playable with the players and troops we have available.

I think I might have  a week off and paint some more Irish!


  1. Fantastic AAR and wonderful looking game- absolutely inspirational! I've use Black Powder a few times but they are not my 'go to' rules for GNW- I don't get the right 'feel'. ...and yes...when the Swedes loose- it's not the troops, it's not the general- or the dice.....
    it's ALWAYS the rules

    1. Haha exactly John, you are so right, I dont understand why everyone else doesnt get it!!! Cheers.

  2. Looks great pal and a great report. Si

    1. Cheers Si, hope to catch up with you soon.

  3. Interesting thoughts Roger - and a terrific looking game. A couple of thoughts - in our rules we allow Swedes to ignore the first level of disorder (which normally prevent a unit advancing towards the enemy unless led by a General). Exactly the same rationale as you have since without such a compromise the Swedish advance stalls in the face of enemy musketry. Secondly, historically weren't Russian battalions smaller than the Swedes? Yes there were more of them but in being smaller they are more fragile individually (of course you could argue that attrition on the Swedes over the course of a campaign reduced them to a similar level so it makes little difference) - BP has units of the same size throughout with large or small battalions only counting if of a certain size.

    1. Well put Paul. The good news is that we can adjust stats as we feel is right and no need to worry that the rules say x or y. For instance there are a set of stats on a blog form a chap on the Lead Adventure forum which look really interesting. As we did he gives Swedes 2 dice in firing due to the third of troops being Pike. He then does the same for Russians even though they have far less pike, this covers the unit beign smaller, he compensites partially by allowing them to re-roll a miss. An interetsing thoughI think. It also allows us to make Saxons slightly better with three firing dice and Danish Guard better still with either a first fire dice or re-roll for the use of platoon fire. I think the tool kit is there its finding the balance when applying it.
      I agree with ignorign the dis-order stopping them chargign, though including it as a modifier in the actual combat works too.

  4. Hi Roger,
    As I envy such game! Real XVIII century. Also very bright show is a lot of troops. And defeat is an experience.
    My congratulations!

    1. Thanks Aleksey great to get them all on table.

  5. You've seen my stats and take on gnw with the pdf I uploaded on lead adventure Roger. They do balance the armies I've found.

    Also, using BP the swedes have to be elite to remove disorder, or they unrealistically bog down.

    Plus they have to have higher command, I always make their brigades nines and higher command tens.

    1. Cheers Jason, when we play next week I may use your stats although I dont have any Russians as it happens. We always give the Swedes higher commands this was a one off that we are only likely to repeat if the volume of troops is closer together. I have shared your sheets with the guys I game with for discussion and we are playing a smaller game next week some time.

  6. What a superb looking game.
    You can rightly take pride in the acclaim you're gathering in these comments.

    Regarding balancing the battles - and assuming you want fairly super Swedes against ordinary or worse allies I've a few suggestions.

    Command: Better commanders for the Swedes or bigger brigades for the allies (Bigger brigades overload the commander, reduce tactical flexibility and reflect army control problems). Tweaking command with one or both of these methods helps the Swedes maintain intiiative in battle.

    Some of Black Powder's "Special Rules" - You've used Ferocious Charge.
    Other "buffs" include Elite (Die roll to overcome disorder), First fire (1 extra die with the first volley), Steady (Pass first break test), Superbly Drilled (Free move on failed command), Tough Fighters (Re roll a combat miss).

    Suitable "nerfs" might include Poor Shooters (Must re-roll one shooting hit), Unreliable (Don't move on an equal command roll).

    You might also consider some of the special rules for generals which reflect impetuous, indecisive or timid characteristics.

    1. Thanks very much Stephen, some great ideas here, many we are already considering. Its the first game so far where we made the Swedes the same command level. It is somethign I wil only do in future when the numbers on both sides are closer. Somethign for battles in the Baltic where arguably the Swedes were not quite as good (best generals and guard troops all in Poland or Russia) but the Russians conversely had some of their better troops and generals. Steady and Elite we will probably use as suggested. tempted to give Russians only two firing dice but a re-roll of one miss as per Jasons suggestion, lets see though, most of our games so far have been Saxons and Danes, the next oen probably will be too as Dave has the Russians and he is a bit further away from the rest of us. I also like the idea of the un-controlled charge for the Swedes, so they charge the enemy even when you might not want them to. I also thought having wavering for some of the Russian troops (but certainly not all) might help.

  7. Great looking game, looks amazing.
    I'm not going to bad mouth BP, my opinions on the rules have been stated before.
    And know you have good reasons to use the rules.

    It's hard to Balance, during the GNW the polish hussars were useless, but it's boring having units that are only there to fail...

    But I agree with lowering the effect of allied musketry.
    Saxon and russian musketeers should not have very effective musketry.
    But let saxon and russian grenadiers/guards have regular effective musketry.
    This also makes these elite units more effective with out giving them various moral or mele advantages.

    1. Cheers Truls, I wasnt entiely happy with the unit stats for the game in the first place and it has given me plenty to consider for our next smaller game tomorrow.

  8. Lovely game and great Rules explorations! I think the rules work great. Some tweaks may be needed to make them "historical" but maybe now that you know some of the factors it's good to start thinking of another factor so important in the GNW (and any campaign) - time. How do the units evolve over time. The Russians at Narva were not the same animal as the ones at Poltava. Between the one and the other the Russians learned to fight battles in their style, and once you find you winning style it's hard to change it. So maybe firing and charging wasn't one of their styles, or should only be able to be done when you have a certain command level. ie at a lower command level, trying to dice for charging might when failed, incur penalties that make you not want to risk it (ie risk of charging disordered or something like this)
    the same with the Winged Hussars. That they were at one time unstoppable is quite historical, but during the GNW they were badly let and didn't have their heart in it, so they were more or less useless. (although reading the Polish version of the Battle of Klissow it says something like" Polish hussars easily smashed the Swedish cavalry. However, she failed to destroy the enemy's infantry. To achieve this, the hetman should support the attackers with the rest of the Polish banners; instead, he ordered the withdrawal of the Polish banners from the fight, which was his personal revenge against king August II."
    I guess the fun of it trying to figure how the factors can be modified during the duration of a campaign :)

    1. Good points Rittmeister and something to bear in mind that we can tweak how good troops were depending on the timeline amongst other things. The Saxons would surely have got worse over the war as they were defeated again and again and had to fill the ranks with less experienced troops, in the same way as the Russians got better the more action they saw.If the Russians at Poltava were not the same as Narva the Swedes were also not the same after a winter in Russia and poor powder for their muskets.

  9. What a game! Enjoyed those photos. Hope the Swedes fair better next time. Seems to me their problem with closing could be fixed by returning the shooting to after movement though. Looking forward to the next battle.

    1. Thanks David, our raft of amends are not a "done deal" yet but I want to play as is before we make any more changes. Latest amend has been that Russians having one fifth pike and smaller units have 2 firing dice but a re-roll on one miss, however they only get to charge a unit if it is disoredered or shaken before firing as the order sequence has declare charges before firing. That prety much fixed it.