Last weekend saw Pennine Megagames run their first game in Huddersfield and me take on the role of Napoleon himself. The game was a re- run of the 1806 Jena campaign- the French advanced into what is now Germany to knock the Prussians and their allies out of the war before the Russian could enter the war. I must confess that the Napoleonic period as a whole is a bit of a historical black hole for me which is why I volunteered to be part of the control team initially. However Rupert, the game organiser, was short of players and offered me the top job on the French team; I couldn’t resist giving my megalomania a stretch so said yes.
The games was played with a hidden map and umpire adjudicated movement, however battles were resolved face to face on hand drawn tactical maps using a combat system crafted by Rupert. Therefore while you were fighting a battle the rest of the players could still manoeuvre around. This meant that desperate holdouts could be reinforced and escapes blocked.
To quickly gen up on the subject I reached for the wargamer’s standby of the relevant Osprey campaign book and a copy of Haythornthwaite’s Napoleonic Source book that I had lurking around. The biggest difference between the two sides seemed to be that the Prussian command structure was all over the place whilst the French had a tight hierarchy extending downwards from Boney.
My reading gave me a decent idea of what I want to and needed to achieve in the game so when I arrived at the venue early on Saturday morning a look at the map and ORBAT firmed up my ideas. In my experience a simple plan that everyone understands but executed well works better than some convoluted but potential brilliant scheme. Accordingly I arranged my Corps in quite a wide spread, about a day’s march apart as we advanced to the North East from Wurzburg. Going from my left flank I had 3rd Corps hooking round to try to reach Halle, next was 6th Corps, in the centre was 2nd Corps with first Corps in reserve behind along with extra cavalry, extra artillery and Napoleon’s HQ, to their right was 4th Corps while holding the right was 5th Corps with orders to reach Leipzig. This is evidently not the historical arrangement but there was method to it. Having played a fair few of these games I have come to know the idiosyncrasies and styles of some of my fellow gamers so this allowed me to put the best person in the role I wanted. Given I couldn’t reassign players to different Corps (all the casting was done by Rupert pre game) it was the best solution. The general plan was to advance on a broad front with a large cavalry screen until contact with the enemy was made then those Corps adjacent but not engaged would try to catch a flank while the outer Corps would try to either get right behind their back or push forwards to occupy their supply points. I know that meeting on the field of battle and winning a victory there would be more honourable but I wanted to out march and out manoeuvre the Prussians. My only concern was that my plan was a bit too obvious and could be easily exploited.
That was the plan and we all known the maxim about plans… so it was on to the game. After a few tense early turns to get through some hill ground that would have meant lateral movement would have been difficult we, the French team, got into a good rhythm. Orders were issued for the day, with an opportunity to change them at midday then a night phases allowed for team time and a chat as during the day only written messages could be passed between Corps. Movement rates were dependant on your food- either supply wagons, forage or carried rations, additionally forced marches could be made with the risk of losing some of the divisions within that Corps morale.
Early contacts with the Prussians seemed to happen with all the French Corps simultaneously, I was quite pleased by this as it meant that they were quite spread out, given the strength of some of the Prussian Divisions I was concerned that they would gang up on one of my Corps and defeat it before I could bring enough reinforcements to bear. 3rd Corps powered through their opposition and blazed a trail to Halle being followed half heartedly by scattered Prussians. John pushed his Corps as fast as possible including an epic 72 hour march. Given I knew John’s style of play and that the longest route was the northern one I knew he was the right man for the job. On the right flank 5th Corps (Kieth and Ian) faced a Prussian players who fought a tough delaying action, however a splitting of the force meant that the Prussians followed the diversion not the main body so the drive to the supply point continued. In the centre things bogged down with all the Corps engaged. Jason commanding the 1st Corps got the chance he was itching for and got stuck into a tough fight on day five, so much so that I personally intervened as Napoleon with the reserve cavalry in an encounter at Kranichfeld. The side effect of this was that I got bogged down in a drawn out three day battle which was decided in the French’s favour. Whilst I was at a tactical map I completely lost touch with the strategic picture and had to rely on Robin to keep things together in the role of Berthier the Chief of Staff. To his credit he made an excellent job of it and held things together after I returned to the table and took a while to get my head back into the strategic picture. By day eight it was clear to me and Robin that the Prussians had concentrated themselves at Jena around the King whilst we had broken through their defensive line, next stop was their two supply points then after that Berlin. I decided to apply a bit of psychological pressure and sent an offer of surrender to King Friedrich Wilhelm.
This was my reply:
As I never fought a large decisive battle I took longer than my historical counterpart to reach a victory but my casualties were much less. One thing that I was lucky about was the late arrival of Simon to the Prussian team, he knows how I game pretty well so would have seen what I was doing and been able, possibly, to influence the Prussian King to counter me.
As far as megagames go this was one of my favourites, easily in my top three as a player. My team was great, a pleasure to play with, once I explained my basic plan they all got on board with it and followed it through with out me having to micromanage any of it all. Jason as 1st Corp commander and Robin as Berthier on my table were great guys. One of the advantages I find of the high level of command in megagames is that you have a more relaxed time of it rather than having to write orders each turn so we had time for a bit of a chat. After a look at the umpires map and a debrief we went to the Grove pub for some beers and a chance to swap stories with the other side.