Chris (British) and Steven (French) fought another unnamed battle from the 3rd Carnatic War (1756-63) (Seven Years War in India). We were using Adam’s home baked rules and figures, with jungles and fortifications provided by Steven. Once again the disciplined troops – European and Sepoy – showed their dominance over the lesser trained locals. All subsequent words are Adam’s.
For the second test game of my rules (tentatively named Turbans and Tricornes, thanks Vincent!), I (Adam) umpired a game between Chris and Steven. This was fairly similar to the first test game, with the British again attacking French fieldworks. Once again a river and some jungle formed natural flanks although the table was bigger (6’x4′ not 4’x4′). Because the armies being bigger, both sides got to deploy some exotic units.
Steven would be defending as the French. On his left, he had three big blocks of native irregular cavalry. For his main battle-line, he filled the fieldworks with his French Sepoys, deployed his artillery in the centre, and placed his elite European battalions on each flank. On his right, he deployed two units of mercenary skirmishers.
Chris chose a rather unconventional approach. He chose to attack in a line focusing on the left, even though this would result in his troops marching through a jungle. His two elite European units were kept in reserve in the centre, with the right being held by his artillery and single unit of native cavalry.
Steven wasted no time in throwing forward his cavalry, which outnumbered the British cavalry three-to-one. The result went as expected, despite one French unit losing their nerve in the face of British artillery fire (‘irregular’ troops are more susceptible to the effects of artillery in these rules). The British cavalry were routed, and the French cavalry surged into the British flank.
Meanwhile, Chris was moving his line forwards, but his troops took severe movement penalties hacking through the jungle. Steven took advantage by sending forward his skirmishers. Hardened Afghan mercenaries armed with long jezails, these understated troops would wreak havoc amongst the floundering British (aided by some consistently awful rolling by Chris).
The Afghans quickly panicked some British Sepoys, which in turn panicked the British Sailors on their left (historically, both sides employed naval troops, to very mixed effect). They failed to rally, and continuing jezail fire inflicted another panic on the Sepoys, routing them.
Steven’s cavalry appeared triumphant, but really they had reached their high-water mark (and gone beyond their command range). In the face of artillery fire, Steven chose to send one particularly exposed unit off the table to raid the British baggage, rather than stay where they were to get blown away. A desperate charge into the flank of the East India Company Europeans came close to success, but the cavalry proved unable to push on through the musket and cannon fire, and soon all the French cavalry were routed.
The lesson: irregular cavalry is useful for threatening and screening flanks, but can’t stand up to modern firepower (I do have some heavier native horse that might have done better, but they’re still on the painting table…). However, Steven had succeeded in pinning down Chris’s best troops well to the rear of the real battle.
The main action
In the centre, Steven’s artillery was whittling down an unlucky Sepoy battalion. Between this and the jungle fighting on Chris’s left (where Steven’s skirmishers would eventually rout the British Sailors), when the British finally reached the French line it was in piecemeal. The first British Sepoys to reach the line were fired on from all sides, and Steven sent his French East India Company battalion to counterattack. They succeeded in driving the Sepoys off with just one base surviving, but the French battalion in turn was charged in the flank by some more Sepoys emerging from the jungle and routed. At a stroke, Steven had lost his best unit on his right flank.
With the French cavalry driven off, Chris was finally able to send forward his British battalions to charge the French line. Although Steven’s artillery knocked out Chris’s guns, the British managed to reach the French right in time to save the remaining Sepoys. In the face of fierce fire, they charged directly into the French fieldworks. They took losses, but took the position and threw the French Sepoys into disarray. It should be remembered that the French Sepoys were not as well drilled as their British counterparts, so there simply wasn’t much they could do to slow down the bayonet charge.
The battle ends
The pendulum had now swung dramatically against the French. Steven attempted to respond by wheeling his centre into battle. In the lead was Lally’s Regiment, one of the ‘Wild Geese’ units raised by Irish exiles in French service. However, they had too far to go, and were halted by some plucky Sepoys from the battalion that had been shot up by artillery. Against the odds, this tiny unit succeeded in driving the French back and ending any hope of rescuing the French right. Sure enough, Chris followed up on his successful assault and routed the reeling French Sepoys.
With that, we called it a night, and declared a narrow and pyrrhic British victory. The British had taken the field but at a tremendous cost, and the French centre remained intact and able to withdraw.
The game was a learning experience. The events were plausible, and the battle was certainly better balanced than the previous outing (achieved by letting the defenders outnumber the attackers). At one stage Chris seemed doomed, but Steven could not take advantage of how spread out the British were. However, it was certainly a ‘test game’ in the sense that it left me (Adam) with a lot of areas to improve the rules.
Keen to get some play out of his figures, I succumbed to the temptation to get ‘all the toys on the table’. The result was a battle that was a bit too big in retrospect – with a new ruleset, it would have been more sensible to play a smaller battle to give the players an easier task. With so much going on, inevitably some rules weren’t applied correctly in the rush to keep things moving.
I had hoped that proper victory conditions would not be necessary, as it would be obvious who had won. This was a mistake, as both sides had units that could remain dangerous even if all their friends were routed. Steven suggested an army breaks when its first European unit routs – they are, after all, the main stay of these armies. This rule would still have resulted in a British victory but the game would have ended when Steven’s French East India Company battalion routed. I’m more tempted by a solution with weighted points values to calculate an army reaching its ‘breaking point’ (or even a gradual degradation of command abilities). A commander might not worry about losing some allied cavalry, but would have to think carefully before throwing in his irreplaceable European battalions.
Possibly my biggest problem was balancing realism and gameplay. Despite bungling his deployment and taking severe losses as a result, Chris was able to squeeze a narrow victory simply by charging his best units forward on a narrow front, with Steven wondering what he could have done to counter this. Anticipating the British assault, he had brought in a second line of troops, but in the rules this does not provide much of an advantage. Whilst I feel that quality should beat quantity, I agreed that this was a problem – a solution going forward could be allowing unengaged units to provide effective support to their neighbours.
The rules are definitely too finicky – I identified a few rules that didn’t add much to the game, and are ripe for pruning. But the biggest complicating factor is that units consist of bases, and there was much time wasted figuring out which bases in a unit could participate in firefights and assaults. A solution to this will probably be a simplified system, such as units fighting with either all bases, all bases with a penalty, or one base (Steven’s favourite approach), rather than endless permutations.