Friday, September 7, 2012

Date: 25 August, 1810/2012

Location: Between Almeida and the Coa River Bridge

Rules: Batailles de l'Ancien RĂ©gime {BAR} adapted to Napoleonics

Situation: An outnumbered British force at first stands to fight and then must scramble to the Coa River Bridge to escape.
There is a problem but not like you might think.

When gaming pards become highly skilled in deployment, maneuver and rules, it becomes harder to surprise each other. Unforeseen and entertaining blows become fewer and fewer because both sides have become nearly evenly matched. Parries are frequent. We know each other too well.

One more thing and this is BIG. As players we tower above the tabletop seeing everything. It therefore becomes even easier to counter enemy plans. Legerdemain almost entirely vanishes. Players on one side often huddle to change plans, move reserves or do just about anything to impossibly stop the foe in unrealistic moments.

The solution is to introduce Tactical Orders and Couriers. What does this entail?

1. Each player is given a mission such as take the hill, use refused wing tactics, swing wide right, hold the village area, etc. These are Tactical Orders. Obey them.

2. Each player is represented by a miniature officer. You as that miniature officer will honorably make decisions only about what that little fellow can actually see or be told down on the table.

3. Each player will have couriers to send orders, information, ask for help, etc. It is important couriers are well-mounted and skillful riders simulated by double or treble light cavalry open order speeds. Thus, if centrally placed commanding General Alexander perched atop a high hill can actually see a dangerous enemy move on a flank, he can write a message, fold and place it under a courier and send off the galloper to the reserve to order a static regiment to the flank to help. The officer receiving the message can react the turn after receipt.

Let's see how this was reflected in the following game.

Stand quietly boys and do your duty.
The French are coming.

Two kilometers to the left of the quiet Coa River Bridge is the Fortress of Almeida. Between the two we played a fun, stimulating and companionable 1:10 Napoleonic game in Iberia. This bridge was British extreme right flank.

Meanwhile near Almeida French line infantry and chasseurs a cheval busily approach the British extreme left flank held by riflemen.

 The same riflemen view the French advance.

Deeper inside the left flank is Der Alte's new 94th Regt.
Note distant riflemen of the previous two images.

Center: Major General Pettygree, staff,
more riflemen and the 9th Regiment.

A later view of the same rifles and the 9th Regt.

Better view of the 9th. Regt.

British Horse Artillery Battery on the unopposed right flank.
This would soon change.

The Coa River Bridge on the extreme right flank.
Captain Magoo's 5th Foot Grenadier Company
guards the bridge.

The End Of The Beginning
In the beginning French forces were not allowed to deploy opposite the British right flank. They instead deployed opposite the British left and center. Reasons were because French numbers nearly doubled those of their foe. The British did not need the French appearing everywhere! Plus, the French were not initially posted there historically. That soon changed.

As Polish Lancers shockingly arrived to disrupt a supply train heading for the bridge. The bridge is to the upper right of the image less than two feet away.

They were followed by two squadrons of French dragoons making for the bridge. You can just see a corner of the bridge in the upper right of the photo.

One squadron then turned to canter up and over the bridge. Would the other squadron follow and burst through Captain Magoo's unsupported Grenadier Company? Afterwards would the French dismount closing the British escape route?

Now Back To The Problem And Our Solution

This closer view of the 9th Foot reveals two mounted officers. The green jacket officer in charge here spotted a brigade of enemy cavalry crossing his front left to right about four feet away. He decided to send a courier shown with a message under the horse to his rear alerting....

The horse artillery battery to move forward and deploy to protect the right flank. Note the courier in the upper right of the photo. The courier delivered the information and then rode to the rear several more feet to advise Lord Paget to bring his British light cavalry forward as well.

Lord Paget obeyed. The 15th Hussars led the 16th Light Dragoons from the British Back Table to the Main Table on Turn 4.

On about Turn 5 the artillery is unlimbered and the light cavalry has arrived to act.

Here's the thing. As Bill, I knew French regiments of cavalry were heading for the British right flank on Turn 2. I could have shifted the artillery and Paget's cavalry earlier than turns 3 and 4. I did not because the officers on the table had to discern what was happening from their perspective an inch above the table, a courier needed dispatching and recipients needed time to react. Thus, real world reasonable delays were built into my response.

As a result, Captain Magoo's grenadiers were feeling very isolated and lonely. Nobody else was there to stop a French breakthrough. Had I not played the game with delays described, this moment would never have happened. Paget would have gotten here before the French dragoons cantered onto the bridge and this exciting moment would never have occurred.

Come back next time to see what happened!

Closing Remarks:

1) Some of the information for our scenario was personally provided by Charles Grant, "from his next publication, Wargaming in History - Peninsular Actions  -  which will be out well before Chritsmas." Jim and I sincerely thank him for our adaptation of his Coa Bridge scenario. We like this scenario so much we plan do it again in two months. Seven players are needed for our version.

2) See: for information about The Fortress of Ameida and its geographical and tactical importance in the region by Robert Burnham.

3) Most miniatures are Elite Miniatures: Others are from Peter Gilder's Connoisseur available from Bicorne Miniatures:

4) The bridge is from Miniature Building Authority:

5) Your remarks are very welcome at "Comments" below.


  1. Transferred from Campaigns In Germania Blog

    #1 Ulrich von Boffke
    September 6, 2012 8:12 AM

    A fascinating (and useful) post! Interesting points to consider and try out at a later date, and the account of the game -- plus the re-examination of your initial points on Tactical Orders, CO's, visibility, etc. -- was up to your usual high standards. Nicely done.

    Best Regards,

    #2 Rittmeister Krefeld
    September 6, 2012 9:43 AM

    Very interesting post!! How did you include chain of command into the rules? Was the officer in green of high enough rank to give orders to the artillery and cavalry? And did they not have any orders? Where they just hanging, waiting for the first courier to come along? Or would this request first have to go through the CinC for confirmation? What about personal relationships between various commanders. How often did a general not move due to conflicting orders or personal rivalries... A juicy subject:)

    #3 Steve Gill
    September 6, 2012 10:38 AM

    Thanks for an interesting and thought-provoking report, along with the enjoyable pictures.

    The Tactical Orders and Couriers system sounds very intuitive and 'natural'.

    Looking forward to the description of the outcome.

    #4 Michael Mathews
    September 7, 2012 2:02 PM

    Interesting game developing. Mechanics for couriers can easily get overly convoluted in my experience, so keep it simple. I fondly remember in games with Ken Bunger rolling the "Courier way-laid by courtesan" (or something like that) result. It can work well, but only with certain groups.

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  3. Very eager to watch this new blog develop. Blast! I'd hoped my own itch for Napoleonics was long past, but your new blog might just start the (cannon) ball rolling once more.

    Best Regards,


  4. Sometimes it requires the gamer to "play along with the scenario" and not make any moves that are counter to existing orders, even though he can see what is developing in front of him.

    For example, in the Coa game, I was the CinC (Pettygree) as well as the commander of troops on the left wing that was being attacked by the French. I ordered my light infantry to fire and retire while sending a courier to Pettygree (to myself) with the news of the French attack. My 94th Foot could react to what was happening locally (we used "sight" rules to see what they could see), but the 83rd Foot, in reserve behind the ridge, could not react until given an order from the CinC, much to the detriment of my forces. :) However, the end result was good for the game as the 83rd nearly got the order to retreat too late. It made for some interesting moments in the game.

    So we allowed local movement au contraire to orders if the unit could pass a "line of sight" test and react to what was happening. If it could not pass that test, it had to wait for new orders from the CinC or wait until it was fired upon. The system worked very well.

  5. Looks like an excellent game and result (french Victory) but at any rate I am quite pleased to see what appears to be an excellent new blog on Napoleonics - If you can perhaps provide your OB's (table map) and other arrangments that would be really interesting for scenarios. Looks your line of site rules and couriers are an excellent addition to your game.

  6. Looking forward to how these turn out!

    Will you be developing some French characters?

    Having just received my first box of Perry Plastic French, I feel compelled to shout "Vive l'Empereur!"

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  8. Jim and I sincerely thank you all for your remarks and interest.
    Hazards and advantages can be added for couriers. We've had them in the past and they are fun. Sometimes they are a lot of fun! Fun is very important. When I play a Tricorne game, these dynamics will be there and I will enjoy them.

    However, I'm in Mike's camp now. My reason is because a BAR game is typically 7-10 turns long. I want couriers to matter and influence games within our average time limit. They need to arrive, the message needs to be read, interpreted and an action taken. It is still posssible for our couriers to be captured given our long movement rates.

    Also just because a message arrives does not mean the recipient will comprehend the message and act properly. Fog of war still exists. That's very important.

    Meanwhile, the foe keeps moving and a reaction to same is delayed in a natural way. Reactions are no longer unrealistically instantaneous; a very good thing.

    I think back to General Lee's order at Gettysburg to attack if practicable on Day 1. There is a lot of latitude there. I don't remember if he really said it or if it was just in the movie of a decade plus ago.

    Yes certainly the recipient might have issues with the message writer and react negatively. Go for it if you wish. It's historical. It will also bog things down. Yet it could be fun in the right game system. Fun.

    French and British characters?
    Yes we will be developing them. For a taste of same you might enjoy the following:


  9. Trully lovelly, I'm trying to do the same but I'm slowlly painting the miniatures.

    Congraatulations for such a nice work