Bloodbath at Ligny

The Prussian I Corps destroyed units at the end of the game

I finished a complete play through of the historical battle scenario of Ligny 1815. The French won an easy victory, though I am sure this was partly because I didn’t handle the Prussians well, and partly because of some dreadful bad luck at crucial moments. More on that later.

In each game turn, after sorting out orders and determining who goes first, that side nominates a formation and tries to activate it. You need to roll the leader’s initiative factor or less on 2d6. If you fail, you can roll for another formation, which is some compensation.

At the end of each activation – even a pass – you roll for the end of turn. Each game turn has a set of two numbers. A roll greater than the first number means the turn is in danger of ending. After that, a roll greater than the second number ends the turn. So, you are not sure how long the turn will last, and need to prioritize your actions. Along with the simple orders structure – one order per formation of defend, a geographical goal, or no order – the effect is to create a true command challenge for the players. This part of the game works, in general, well.

Once you have activated a formation, you conduct fire then movement. All stacks where a unit fires suffer a loss in movement points to reflect the time involved in the fire. Units are generally made up of two steps, and have a quality factor which is often used in fire and melee combat to see whether the units stands, retreats, or routs. Movement is straightforward, with options for cavalry to counter-charge cavalry charging them.

One aspect of the game I did not like was that if a formation has a defend order, then any stack taking artillery fire in the open suffers an adverse die roll modifier. This is to represent the fact that defending infantry would have to form square (a more vulnerable, dense target) to keep themselves safe from enemy cavalry. However, there are not always cavalry about. Further, regardless if there are cavalry about, the defending player may then react by seeking to stay out of clear hexes. But Napoleonic infantry did not, in general, rush to take cover in villages, and so on. I played with the rule as printed, but next time might institute a house rule saying that the DRM does not apply if there are no enemy cavalry within a certain visible range of the defending target.

The components are gorgeous. Nice map, great counters, and decent rules. Minor issues: why not number the hex grid? And I found it difficult to differentiate between a village hex and a major building. I probably got a few cases wrong, but doubt the effect was material.

I played the first turn of the historical battle so as to make sure I was reasonably competent with the rules, then reset the game and started again.

3.00 PM

The French III Corps assault St Amand and succeed in talking one of the seven victory point (VP) hexes. The French IV Corps assault Ferme d’en Haut, but run into stiff resistance. The French Guard head towards Chateau de Ligny and the river crossing. The Prussian I Corps tries to hold in place – it is the defending force against the French III and IV Corps. The other Prussian forces reorganize their forces to form better defensive lines. Blucher does initiate one Prussian assault which, luckily for him, is a stalemate.

4.00 PM

The French III Corps continue their assault, looking to take another VP hex, but are stymied for the time being. However, the French IV Corps take their first VP hex. The Guard are still on the move. The Prussian I Corps is taking heavy losses. Blucher nearly adds to them, but again manages a local counterattack with no effect.

5.00 PM

This is where the Prussians start to unravel. First, III Corps smashes into the reformed Prussian defenses near St Amand and just about wipes them out, taking another VP hex in the process. IV Corps doesn’t manage to take another VP hex, but does pin a lot of Prussians who then see the French Guard starting to cross the river at Ligny. Bad command rolls for the Prussians see them fail to react before the end turn is triggered.

6.00 PM

Blucher is still counterattacking and inspiring the defenders west of Ferme d’en Haut, but their engagement mens the Guard can swarm across the river and tear into the back of Prussian I Corps units who were trying to get away and reform a line. Again, the Prussians fail key activation rolls, and the turn ends too early for them.

7.00 PM

A fourth VP hex is taken by the French forces who have completed their grand stroke, with the Guard helping IV Corps to do serious damage to the defending Prussian forces. The Prussian I Corps is demoralized at the end of this turn – though streams of routing units did rally – with the French forces now so far ahead in casualty VP that the Prussians are doomed to lose unless they go on the offensive.

A: von Ziethen of I Corps, just about to reach the safety of II Corps. B: A poor wee Prussian artillery unit, being all that’s left of the I Corps defensive forces there. C: Blucher and other I Corps survivors.

8.00 PM

Blucher skedaddles to join the Prussian II Corps who mount an offensive. It gets nowhere. The French await further assaults.

9.00 PM

Bit of a dead turn.  The Prussian II Corps again tries to get an offensive going, but is beaten back, albeit with no casualties. The French hold their positions.

VP Count

The Prussians had 380 VP for hexes and a measly 33 for casualties, making 413. The French amassed 360 VP for hexes and a whopping 228 for casualties, making 588. The game says you get VP for flags – a random roll for a dead unit – but I skipped that as it seemed too much work, and was unnecessary.

Notes

The French used their cavalry to screen the three attacking infantry Corps. It did seem that was the best they could do, as the Prussian defenses were too good to go up against for the remaining VP hexes. In short, they were largely out of the action.

The Prussians let I Corps hang on too long in an exposed position. However, that was heavily influenced by the random game turn end. Now, I like that feature, but it’s not for the competitive gamer who could, in some cases, see his plans wrecked by bad luck.

The Prussian III Corps did nothing other than defend its territory. No French forces troubled it. Perhaps there is merit in at least testing the French cavalry screen.

The French had a lot of reduced units, but there are no VP for reduced units, only destroyed ones. In reality, the French casualties were high – as one would expect. While it might be a pain, counting reduced units towards VP may be more fair.

Overall

This game series is fast and easy to play. It’s fun. Suffice it so say that I have all three of the series that are in print, and the latest – Quatre Bras – is on order. If you want a playable game on the battle, this is it.

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