And so at last it was time for my first post-lockdown face-to-face wargame. I was lucky enough to be invited up to the leafy suburbs of Birmingham for a Napoleonic game with Paul Fox, a gamer who knows the Napoleonic period very well and who helped me with some excellent advice when Shadow of the Eagles was being developed.
Paul has a wonderful wargames room, lined with books of which at least half are on the Napoleonic period. He had set up a wargame using his 15mm figures based on the battle of Tamames, which took place on the 18th of October 1809. This was a relatively small battle featuring the French vs. the Spanish, fought out not far from Salamanca.
In the real battle, a Spanish force of 20,000 infantry, 1,400 cavalry and 30 guns stood on the defensive on high ground south of the town of Tamames, and was attacked by an over-confident French force of just 12,000 infantry, 1,200 cavalry and 14 guns. The French were roundly defeated, despite the low quality of some Spanish units. Those seeking more detail on the real battle in a wargaming context should check out:
Paul had set out a lovely terrain representing the area of the battle, and had based his re-construction on the details contained in Volume 1 of Dave Brown's excellent series of scenario books which support his General de Brigade rules:
The two photos below show the battlefield as the game gets under way, with the first turn completed. Paul commands the French and has 3 infantry brigades attacking, with modest cavalry forces on both wings. His artillery is very limited - just one battery set up to bombard Tamames itself.
My Spanish forces had the advantage in numbers with 5 infantry brigades (admittedly of very variable quality), 2 batteries of artillery but just 1 cavalry brigade, positioned on my left wing.
The Struggle on the Spanish Left
Paul attacked with 2 infantry brigades to the west of Tamames, supported by his cavalry. The infantry were repulsed at first, but rallied and came back successfully. Their cavalry had little trouble seeing off their Spanish counterparts who were inferior in quality.
The Spanish reserve infantry (see photos below) were sent to help, but made slow progress across the difficult ground of the ridge. They were finally able to set up a blocking position just in time to prevent the Spanish line being rolled up, but the entire Spanish left wing had gone.
The Spanish Right Awakens
The French were happy to hold the 2 Spanish infantry brigades (plus artillery) east of Tamames with 1 brigade of their own and a single dragoon regiment. The stalemate went on for a few turns, but then I foolishly lost patience and decided to attack with the brigade nearest the town.
Paul was cleverly threatening the other Spanish brigade on this wing with his single regiment of cavalry, just off shot to the left in the photo below. You can see 2 battalions of Spanish infantry have formed square in reaction.
The attacking Spanish brigade quickly lost its 2 leading battalions of inferior infantry, outshot by the waiting French despite Spanish artillery support - see below. The Spanish artillery were unfortunately rated inferior for firing which meant they weren't much help!
At this point it was time to check my growing collection of routed Spanish units which had been removed from the battlefield. Although the Spanish position had stabilised, I found I had lost half my army and the French had won.
French quality had told in the end. Tactically, my reserve had been slow to get into action to support my left, and Paul's 'wait and see' policy on his left wing had been more sensible than the impulsive attack against superior numbers which failed in the actual battle. The photo below shows the final positions around Tamames, where the left (and some of the centre) of the Spanish army has rotated 90° to face the French. You can also see that the remaining Spanish battalion in Tamames has 5 hits from French artillery fire and will therefore not last much longer.
Where Were the Skirmishers?
I realised as the battle progressed that neither of us were using any skirmishers. The 'problem' seemed to be that, frankly, in the heat of the game neither of us could be bothered to add the extra complication! Paul is in favour of reducing skirmishers to a 'factor' in this level of wargame, rather than representing them with actual figures. I wanted to represent skirmishers with figures in the rules as the look was important to me, and I felt the whole issue of skirmishing deserved to be highlighted and played out.
In practical terms, this game showed that perhaps Paul is right - and maybe some optional rules for doing without skirmish figures could be devised. I look forward to some feedback on this subject in the forum as more games get played.
My thanks to Paul for hosting this game, and I hope to head up to the Midlands for more games in the future!