Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Battle of Ligny. Game 1

The local big convention of 'Trumpeter Salute' gave me the opportunity to playtest the revised rules with a new group of wargamers.  With Seth unfortunately unable to make it up due to workload, I decided to do not one but two tries at the historical battle of Ligny -  the OTHER big battle of the Waterloo campaign.

 The first try was Saturday night with six players.  I did my somewhat lengthy preamble using now a point form explanation of the concept and rules.  With an hour set up and about an hour to get the players together and familiar with rules we started.  I must say with six complete rookies, we had a fair conclusion with the self imposed seven turns representing the approximately seven hour battle until darkness ended it historically. We were finished the seven turns by 11 pm so the game was 3 hours real time in length.

In terms of historic action, the game was a bit behind in the timing but I thought the Prussians could have declared a retreat a turn or two previous so it is close to the real battle perhaps.  Good to know that the rules are that close to recreate the historic action. As a note, Game 2 was similar in timing!  However the rules are still in development an not even close to be written in any coherent way. So don't ask for them!

French view of initial set up from 'west' The hand with the stick is on Ste.Armand la Haye for those with any reference map!

Showing the Prussian left flank of Thielemann's Corps. Tonginne is in the foreground, Tonginelle to the upper right and Boignrr/Balatie to the left.
The game was a great way to discover the military difficulties the commander had in this battle as it is hard to imagine the reasons for some of the events.  For example --  why was so little action between Grouchy and Thielemann in the east.  But as the photo above shows, the Prussians were there in force and well placed behind difficult terrain of small villages and marshy stream and woods.  Not very good going for Grouchy's mostly cavalry force. They could not attack without disorder and the Prussians would be silly to come out and attack the French cavalry in the open ground. THAT is why there was so little action in this area of the battlefield. I did not tell the players about the battle and the historical actions ahead of time, but they acted in kind to the historical model nonetheless.  

the salient into which Ziethen's Prussian Corps was forced to hold the many village river crossings.
The above photo shows the western part of the battlefield which held the major action. As you can see the Prussians held a wedged shaped defensive position dictated by the shape of the largely uncrossable Ligne Stream but it created a salient into which the Prussians were confined and could be shelled from several directions as the tabletop action would prove.
Pirch's corps moves forward. Napoleon was initially unaware of this corps but welcomed it to move to form the reserve in the defensive salient. More for theFrench guns to destroy!
Showing Ziethen's defense of [l-r] Armand, ste.Armand la Haye, Wagnele. Only through the villages or open stream bits were elements allowed to cross the largely unfordable Ligne Stream and so these became focal points of the fighting.  Shows off my new paper buildings!

The eastern part of the battlefield from Blucher's perspective. For those with a reference map, you are looking east-south-east, with Tongrinne to the left, Tongrinelle village the light colored house in the middle of this photo and Boignee/Balatie in the upper left.
As with the real battle, the game seemed to focus on the large village of Ligny. I used my "Hougomont" complex to represent this village which could be  defended/attacked by two elements but which could not do any 'east-west' attacks; only 'north-south'.  This made it two wide in essence and made for continued fighting as the French need to clear both sides.  In the game, as in the real battle, it went back and forth for many turns/hours.
From the French side looking north and showing Gerard's attack upon Ligny with Milhaud's cuirassiers waiting for them to clear the village.

A great view from the 'east'. Steve A's hand of "Napoleon" pointing the way of the French attack upon Ligny.

The French cuirassiers emerge from Ligny [center]

The same scene from the French side. The Prussians have formed square [black square markers on the stands] [Center left of photo].Their reserves now tied up.

The battlefield looking from the 'south east'.

Prussian Landwehr element [ Warlord plastics with Old Glory metal mounted officer ]
The battle was concluded without any Prussian retreat.  It was more the wargamer "keep playing until all dead" than a campaign affair when a player will "try to keep something to fight another day".  Thus the Prussians stuck around too long and not follow the historic actions but I could see it would work well and have rules for it . 
The new artillery rules worked (!), and after the initial trials, they went extremely smoothly and seemed to have the right lethality.
All in all, the Battle of Ligny was well reenacted. 


  1. What a great looking game, funny that it's the artillery that needs extra work on our rules and yours seems to fi nice


  2. Looks great. Very true about the terrain on the eastern side. When I played this (and it was just that side) getting the stream width right was important as the stream models we were using made it more like a major river with no hope of crossing. It is also a big area for the Prussians to keep in command.

    1. The stream was apparently of not great width but marshy and difficult to transverse with any formation. I just used lichen and told the players "unfordable" except by the villages. Makes it understandable why the Prussians fought so hard in their defense. In both games (Game 2 post upcoming) Ziethen simply used all his brigades to defend the villages thus command was not an issue. Defend until defeated and await Pirch to form the reserves. However these reserves must be placed in a cauldron of French artillery fire due to the shape of the stream and the villages along its length.
      By playing out the game one can immediately understand the conditions of the battle.

  3. As I recall your system is based on a Brigade = stand. This is very similar to Fast Play Grand Armee, something that I have been doing many games with recently.

    Great that you were able to get active players at Salute, sorry I missed it!

    1. While I now have a copy of FPGA I have not really looked into the details. But yes, mine are representing whole brigades for the most part. As a corps commander, the player has 6-13 elements to push around, plenty to give them options.

      However Napoleonic rules, in general, lack focus as they want to please the player who wants to push around skirmishers, allocate the differences in cavalry units, to re-order a battalion from column to line, YET want to command whole divisions....then complain the game is only three turns long and they moved 14 inches in three hours of play! Can't have both.

      Perhaps I am wrong but i see a bit of that in FPGA. My rules have gone through many of those type of stages but the focus of ONLY the high command and speed of play have brought them back to simplicity. But if we can get a major battle done in three hours with a conclusion very near that of history, I think it might be worth it.

  4. Very sharp looking game as always Doug. Very cool to hear that with a historical setup, you end with with relatively historical results AND some insight into the why's. Sorry I wasn't able to hang around long enough to get a session in myself.

  5. Doug really good looking set up-well done . what info might you have re; fording the stream ( at what areas on the map/what arms could ford?).Any thing at ll please as I'm going to do areas of the battle soon in 28mm using black powder & AT supplements thanks Peter

    1. Peter,
      Obviously, your "scaling" of the tabletop with the battlefield will be your major concern. It is not a matter of 500 meters (or feet, whatever) to the inch but the relative positioning of the forces so they match the map of the battlefield. I was fortunate to find maps, as I am dealing with large formations not regiments, that correspond to my basing and it was an easy match. I could have made more exacting placement as I knew for example that defending Ligny village was Henckel represented by my 19th IR and 4th Westphalian Landwehr. However to get things moving, I merely gave the players a designated area into which to deploy. Worked well.
      The terrain was another matter as the battle histories are somewhat vague, as those tend to be, on the specifics, especially for this battle as the small stream of the Ligne played a large part in the action. As I understand it, the villages played a large part as these were the only really viable points of crossing with their bridges. While very small, most of the stream was very marshy and at times deep which did not allow crossing by large formations. So I made most of it "unfordable" and uncrossable except by those spots east of Boignee and between Ste.Armand la Haye and Armand (refer to your 'guide book' for locations!) They can also be seen in the photos. These could be crossed but with disorder by infantry only. With the next try I will probably just have the whole stream uncrossable with basically the same effect.
      Hope that helps,