[All words from Adam Landa.]
Adam and Steven played the first game of Adam’s home brewed rules for Indian colonial warfare. Rules that are currently unnamed, suggestions welcome!
The rules cover the rough period of 1740-1820, with this particular game being set around 1760, around the time of the Battle of Wandiwash. Think Clive, Tipu Sultan, Wellington before he was the Duke etc. They represent the bigger battles in India during this period, although these were quite small by European standards.
The battle saw a British force trying to drive off some entrenched French astride a road. A river and a jungle enclosed the battlefield. Despite being nominally ‘British’ and ‘French’, both armies were chiefly composed of native troops.
Steven commanded the British. The cream of his force were two battalions of European regulars (one of British regulars, one of East India Company troops). They were supported by four battalions of Sepoys (Indian soldiers in European service), and a small unit of native irregular horse. Adam had one unit of European regulars from the French East India Company, and four battalions of Sepoys – however, the French Sepoys were not trained to the standard of their British counterparts (nor did they have their snazzy red uniforms). He also had two big units of native irregular horse. Steven’s general was rated as ‘Gifted’ and Adam’s as ‘Ordinary’.
Adam deployed conventionally – the entrenchments were held by Sepoys, with his elite European battalion and another Sepoy battalion in reserve and irregular horse on the flanks.
Steven placed his best troops on the right, with the intention of striking Adam’s left and avoiding attacking the entrenchments head-on.
The rules allow the players to roll for pre-battle manoeuvres, with better generals receiving a bonus, allowing superior leaders to get the drop on their opponents. Steven won the roll, and took the opportunity to advance ‘in echelon’ towards Adam’s left – an effective (and historical) tactic. Frederick the Great would approve!
The rules use a DBA-like ‘Pips’ system to allocate orders to units, with a bonus for higher-quality commanders. For example, whilst on the first turn Steven rolled a 3 and Adam a 5, they were both left with 8 Pips to play with.
The turn sequence has each player move in turn, with shooting and melee then being resolved simultaneously. Steven, as the attacker, moved first, continuing his advance and ordering his British regulars to charge Adam’s native horse on the left.
In Adam’s turn, he retreated the threatened cavalry, and tried to move his reserve and some units on his right to support his threatened left. However, he had deployed his units too close together to manoeuvre easily, and his less-drilled units didn’t have the same flexibility of movement as Steven’s better-trained forces.
In the rules, units may move OR shoot, so the only units that could shoot were Adam’s entrenched Sepoys. Despite penalties for shooting to their flank, some lucky shots killed a base of Steven’s East India Company troops – first blood to the French!
Steven resumed the advance on the right. Additionally, seeing Adam’s right flank trying to redeploy, he also advanced on his left and centre (but keeping his central Sepoy battalion out of range of Adam’s entrenchments). Adam shuffled his European regulars into position on his left, and turned his horse to face the oncoming British.
Steven, not wanting a repeat of Adam’s native horse manoeuvres, spent a Pip bidding to move second this turn. This meant that, unlike turn one, Adam could not wait for Steven to declare an attack on his cavalry before fleeing – either he could stand and fight, or retreat and give Steven room to advance.
Adam chose to stand and shoot on his left, as well as turning back his troops on the right now that this flank was threatened as well. Steven opted to rely on British firepower on his right, but sent his Sepoys charging in on his left – “At them with the bayonet!”
On Steven’s right, his British regulars outgunned the native horse in the firefight, but failed to inflict casualties or impact morale. Also on the right, the rival East India Company units faced off, and the British came out on top, killing a French base and inflicting panic. In the rules, whilst bases can be killed, the real damage is done by inflicting panic and disorder on enemy units.
On Steven’s left, the defensive fire of Adam’s Sepoys was ineffective. The British Sepoys charged in, and drove back their opponents. Adam’s Sepoys were both panicked AND disordered – melee combat is very decisive in these rules, and they were lucky not to rout.
Worst still for Adam, at the end of the turn, panic spread to more of his units, although his reliable East India Company Europeans rallied. The lack of quality in the French forces was beginning to tell – despite appearing superficially similar to their British counterparts, the lack of drill among the French Sepoys would really hurt them. This is key to warfare in this period – troop quality was highly variable, and it was common for both sides to rely upon small numbers of elite troops. On Steven’s part, he chose to leave his native horse in reserve for the entire battle, trusting his disciplined Europeans and Sepoys to get the job done.
On Steven’s left, he kept up the pressure, taking advantage of the panic amongst Adam’s forces. He sent one battalion pursuing the disordered French units, and another wheeled to roll up the units defending the entrenchments. On the right, the British battalions kept blazing away, trusting in Brown Bess to get the job done.
Adam was in a desperate spot, and chose to throw his commander into the fray. This was a gamble – whilst attached commanders boost the effectiveness of units, they are forced in subsequent turns to spend 3 Pips only on the unit they are attached to, and can also be incapacitated.
The gamble paid off, as the French East India Company troops won the firefight against their counterparts, killing another stand. However, on the end of the line the British regulars finally got their act together, routing the native horse with disciplined volley fire.
On the other flank, Steven’s Sepoys were cutting through Adam’s lines, routing an entrenched Sepoy battalion. In the morale phase, two of Adam’s Sepoy battalions panicked at the sight of their fleeing friends – fear was proving as effective as muskets.
Steven sensed victory, and continued applying the pressure all across the line. On his right, he withdrew the battered remnants of his East India Company Europeans, replacing them with a reserve Sepoy battalion. He also wheeled his British regulars, preparing to hit the French East India Company Europeans in the flank next turn. Adam could only rally what units he could, and sent his general off to his right flank to try to stem the tide.
The end was near, with Steven’s forces closing in on Adam’s remaining troops from all sides. The French East India Company Europeans withdrew, at the cost of disordering themselves. The French had some success in the shooting phase, killing a stand of Sepoys on the French right, and panicking the Sepoys approaching the entrenchments – true to form, however, the panic did not spread, and the British Sepoys rallied in preparation of delivering the coup de gras next turn.
It was all over, and the players shook hands (or the 2020 equivalent…). It was a total British victory.
Conclusion and thoughts
Adam was very happy with how the rules had played, considering how early they were in development. The battle unfolded in a plausibly historical manner, and clocked in at under 2 hours – although Steven had never played before, and was not familiar with the period, he was able to ‘get’ the pattern fairly quickly, and make good decisions. There are still a lot of tweaks to be made, however.
It was clear that the scenario was not balanced – with such variation in quality between units this is a big challenge, and in setting up Adam didn’t give the defender enough forces (it’s a leap of faith for the GM to let the defenders outnumber the attackers, but under these rules it’s essential in some circumstances). Nonetheless, for the British a simple but effective plan paid off, and Steven was quick to exploit the disorder on Adam’s right as he sought to redeploy. For the French, Adam’s set up was too cramped, and he was too hasty to redeploy – for undrilled forces, it may be best not to try anything too fancy! He also was too passive with his cavalry. He was, however, very happy to finally get his toys on the table!
[Note from Steven: I’m grateful to Adam for bringing along his figures and rules. The figures were amazing. Adam has been sharing snaps of them as each unit came off the painting blocks. So it was great to get them on table. The rules might have been a bit raw but Adam is already tweaking for next time. Perhaps most of all I’m glad Adam has introduced me to another period and a new theatre – the Seven Years War in India is pretty cool.]