Vimeiro Redux: Portugal, 1808
I’m thinking of bringing a Napoleonic game to my monthly Trumpeter’s game night, but before doing so I thought it would be a good idea to playtest it, first.
Experience has taught me that a successful game isn’t necessarily the one with the most ‘perfect’ set of rules (whatever that might mean). More important is to use rules that will be easily accessible to all and can be played to a conclusion in about three hours. There’s nothing worse than being forced to leave things in a state of ‘if I would have done this, you would have done that’. Besides, having time at the end to see the winners bask in their glory while the losers level recriminations at each other is half the fun!
In brief, summer of 1808 saw the French holding Lisbon with the British threatening them from north of the city. Marshal Junot's plan was to march out and attack the British in their positions on the ridges around the village of Vimeiro, driving them into the sea.
[click on images to enlarge]
Vimeiro Hill (left) and village in the foreground, the western ridge on the left in the background.
In reality, he didn't stand much of a chance. The British out-numbered the French and held strong defensive positions. In order to make this an interesting re-fight, therefore, I increased the French strength by about 50%.
Junot has nine large infantry brigades, four small cavalry brigades, and six batteries of guns, all organized into two small corps.
The British eight brigades of foot, one regiment of Light Dragoons, and three batteries were bolstered by a brigade of Portuguese foot, one of horse, and a single battery of guns.
The entire British force was unified into a single command under Sir Arthur Wellesley (he isn't Wellington, yet!). But there is a fiendish twist to the British command structure. Wellesley is the highest ranking general present at the start of the battle, but his superior, Sir Harry Burrard, is lumbering his way to the sound of the guns. If he reaches Wellesley, he takes over command (and as his command card shows, Sir Harry was as useless a bag of you-know-what as ever wore the King's coat).
I modeled this as follows: starting turn three, the British roll 3D6. If any two die roll results are the same, Sir Harry appears on the coast road and moves inland until he reaches Wellesley, at which point he takes over.
(BTW: my fellow Vancouverites will be delighted to know that Burrard Inlet was named after his cousin, also named 'Sir Harry'.)
Since this was a solo effort, I used Stuart Asquith's 'Guide to Solo Wargaming' to help set up the game. The programmed game scenarios in this book allow you to roll for deployment, orders, and reactions to general circumstances. You can do this for attacker or defender (which lets you play one side or the other) or for both. I decided to let the ‘programme’ run both the British and French.
The rules I used were ‘Age of Eagles’, which is the official Napoleonic variant for the ACW rules ‘Fire & Fury’ (which I like) but I could also have used a modified form of ‘Black Powder’. The rules use 120 yards to the inch as a ground scale. The scale of figures used is 2mm but don’t be thrown off by that, since the game plays exactly as it would with 15mm figs. Four 2cm square stands make up a brigade, so whether the stands mount four 15mm figs each (for a 16 figure brigade), or several stands of 2mm figs makes little difference.
Left to right in the background: western ridge, Vimeiro Hill and village, eastern ridge.
Same view as above, with the battle underway. French attacking from the right.
The solo-play programmed deployment rolls had the British deployed evenly across the entire tabletop, while the French were concentrated against the British centre at Vimeiro Hill, and their left on the eastern ridge.
Turn one saw Wellesley winning the initiative and moving first, desperately shifting two of his brigades from the right to his centre. A third (Anstruther's) was sent via road march to the far left.
The French responded with a full-fledged three division assault across their entire front, from Vimeiro Hill to the village of Ventosa, on their right. As the French crested the eastern ridge they were blasted with volley fire and grape, sending their whole assault reeling. The only bright spot was the protracted firefight which developed on Vimeiro Hill itself.
French columns under fire in the centre
Wellesley also moved first on turn two. Anstruther gained Ventosa village, but the brigades from the right had difficulty deploying due to the broken ground. All the while the firefight raged on Vimeiro Hill.
This counter-battery duel show the steep nature of the slopes on the western ridge.
The mill at Vimeiro, with British reinforcements moving up.
So far so good for the British, with things evolving 'in the same old style'.
But now things started to go south for Wellesley.
Junot perceived that Wellesley's line was strung out and that he couldn't protect both flanks at once. He renewed his attacks along the front, with Solignac's division flanking Anstruther on the French right and Montmorand driving Bowe's brigade from Vimeiro Hill and back though the town itself. This bottled up half the British army behind Vimeiro. With the Portugoosers sent packing on the right, Anstruther's isolated brigade was overwhelmed and routed -- Anstruther himself being captured.
The Sharpe card gives the Rifles a +1 modifier for just about everything.
His position now hopeless, Wellesley could do nothing more than ride up the eastern ridge road to see what could be salvaged... only to be confronted by one of Solignac's lead brigades.
To make matters worse, as he turned back he ran straight into Sir Harry Burrard, who was coming up to take over.
"My God, Sir! You've lost my command!" says Sir Harry.
"My God, Sir. So I have." coolly replies Our Welly, his career over before it's properly begun.
As for Junot, he lost the battle at five, and won it back again at seven.
The sun sets on the western ridge.
So, will I bring this in to a game night? Perhaps, but I might use ‘Black Powder’ rather than ‘Age of Eagles’. AoE are fun and realistic rules, but take a bit too long to play; we probably couldn’t fit in more than four or five turns. ‘Black Powder’, on the other hand, might not be to everyone’s taste, but they will provide a fun, fast-playing game that will be finished well before closing.