At Any Cost: Metz 1870 After Action Report – Battle of Mars-la-Tour

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Tom Thornsen (Prussia) and Bob Demaio (French) attempt to re-enact the Battle of Mars-la-Tour with the Full Battle Scenario “A Day of Battle”.

At Any Cost: Metz 1870 is scheduled for an October 2017 release and it is presently going through the last stages of playtesting with our local group. Tom and Bob have been the workhorse testers on this design and what follows is their report on the playing of the aforementioned Full Battle scenario depicting the Battle of Mars-la-Tour. I want to thank them both for taking the time to play the game, finding and reporting on some needed errata and clarifications. The scenario opens with the Prussian 5th Cavalry Division facing down the just-awakening (and still setting the tables for breakfast) French 3rd Reserve Cavalry Division, which represents the advance guard for the entire Army of the Rhine.

In order to simulate the rather clumsy and cumbersome French command structure and their inability to grasp what was occurring to them on that August 16th morning, the French player may only place one of his Corps Activation chits into the cup each turn and the exact identity of the activated Corps has to be committed to two turns earlier! So before the game starts (8:00 am), the French player must choose which Corps he will activate in the 9:00 am turn (there is no French Activation in the 8:00 am turn). At the end of the 8:00 am turn, he must choose the Corps to activate during the 10:00 am turn and so on. This choice is kept secret from the Prussian player (by covering the selected chits with French “Control” markers). So the French player has some tough decisions to make right off the bat as to whether he wants to activate his forward, fighting units or he activates his approaching corps early so they get onto the Prussian flanks or join the main fighting line. Bob now selects the chit that will be in the cup for the first “normal” turn (9:00 am) and play of the first turn is underway.

Phase one: The morning and early afternoon march to battle. Prussian units have the gray background and the French units have the blue background.

8:00am

The Prussian 5th Cavalry Division (white band) starts the scenario with a “surprise attack” on the French 3rd Reserve Cavalry Division (blue band). One Prussian cavalry brigade launches a charge into the sleepy French cavalry and the other brigade conducts a normal assault. The French turn out not to be all that surprised and manage to retire in good order on a “D2” result (the Defender takes two “Loss Points”, which can be taken as a Retreat, Morale Hits and/or Casualty Hits, as the player chooses) and then a “D1” result on the second assault. The Prussian cavalry unit that conducted the charge becomes ‘Shaken’ after the charge is resolved (all charging cavalry automatically take a Morale Hit after resolution of the Assault Combat to simulate the chaotic state the unit would be in after such a charge). Only the Prussians are active on this first turn and thus it ends quickly after the two attacks. Bob picks his Corps activation chit for the 10:00 Game Turn.

9:00am

The French II Corps (immediately behind the French cavalry with the gray band) is quickly alerted and rushes to the assistance of the French cavalry (this is the Activation chit that Bob picked before the game started).  Before the Prussian HQ can activate the already “Shaken” cavalry brigade falls victim to a “Prussian Aggressive Tactics” French Event and rushes the French horse artillery. This chit is played by the French player, whereby he can move any Prussian infantry or cavalry unit forward to assault a French position of his choice. The chit can possibly be cancelled by the Prussian player if he plays enough chits on the Prussian Aggressiveness Track, but there was no chance at this point for Tom to do so. The Prussian brigade is routed from the field and will not be rallied to the HQ for another 4 hours. The Prussian 5th Cavalry Division HQ recalls his other two brigades and positions them to block the highway to Mars-La-Tour while also offering some protection to the horse artillery which is positioned to fire on any French unit that advances upon that same road.

10:00am

The Prussian General Staff is too crafty and Stulpnagel’s division of III Corps (yellow band) pays the price. With the drawing of the Prussian General Staff CIC chit, this division enters from the south along the roads. The CIC chit allows the player to activate any one Division (which is normally two infantry brigades and an attached group artillery batteries), whether previously activated in the turn or not, and also gives it the flexibility of either Posture (Aggressive or Defensive) and the benefit of automatically being considered to be “in command”. Only Divisional units within two hexes of each other can be selected for this special activation (but a single unit can always be chosen) so it behooves the players to keep Divisions organized and in close proximity to one another to get the maximum benefit from the CIC chit.

When the actual Prussian III Corps activation chit was then drawn, Stulpnagel’s units are now “out of command” and had to be marked with OOC chits. An OOC chit is placed on each hex of units that is deemed to be “out of command” at the start of the activation (i.e., these are units that are outside the Command Range of their HQ unit). Each OOC has one of five possible results marked on the back of the chit and these are placed face-down randomly on each OOC hex, so the players do not know what’s on the back. All “in command” units are activated first and then in a separate Out of Command Step, the “out of command” units have their OOC markers revealed and may only then activate using the restrictions governed by the back of the marker.

During the Out of Command Step, Stulpnagel’s units flipped their marker over and it was the “Advance!” marker. The artillery unit and infantry brigade that entered at hex 2529 were within four hexes of the French II Corps when the “Advance!” OOC marker was revealed. Neither unit had an LOS to the French II Corps, but skirmishers reported the presence of enemy troops over the ridge and the infantry brigade was obliged to race over the edge of the slope and assault the enemy positions! The Prussians advanced against the French defensive fire, which Disrupted the Prussians on their way in. The ensuing Assault Combat saw the Prussian brigade routed from the field.

The French II Corps then marched left to secure the town of Flavigny and dare the Prussians to send more troops down the slope. The French III Corps (red band) was put on the march this turn and started along the road toward the Prussian left flank and the town of Mars-La-Tour. The late arriving Prussian 6th Cavalry Division (blue band) moved to support the lonely artillery of Stulpnagel’s division of the Prussian III Corps.

11:00am

The French VI Corps (yellow band) swings into action, marching to come up on the right flank of II Corps and support the French cavalry holding the town of Vionville. To their right the French III Corps continues its march on the road to Mars-La-Tour.  Alas, the II Corps falls victim to a “Bazaine’s Malaise” Prussian Event chit and holds in place, General Frossard wasting a precious Game Turn hesitating. The “Bazaine’s Malaise” chit essentially cancels the activation of a French corps chosen by the Prussian player. But in the same manner as with the “Prussian Aggressiveness” chit, the French player can assign chits to the Bazaine’s Leadership Track in an effort to forestall that event.

The Prussian III Corps HQ arrives with the corps artillery and the other infantry division (Buddenbrock) and marches to the support of the Prussian 5th Cavalry Division where they are blocking the road.  The Prussian 6th Cavalry Division continues to protect Stulpnagel’s division until the III Corps HQ can get close enough to put them in command. The turn ends rather quietly, with a few effective shots by the Prussian artillery.

Noon

The French IV Corps breaks camp and starts the long march to the French right flank.  It will probably not reach the front until late, but III Corps would appreciate the help on that flank.  The “Fortunes of War” chit is drawn and this special chit forces a die roll on the Fortunes of War Table. Units can be made to waywardly move one hex (as the enemy player sees fit!) or there can be a leader casualty or the next chit drawn can be degraded (cancelled or lessened in effect) or enhanced (made even stronger). This turn the “Fortunes of War” smile upon the Prussians as the French II Corps now sees its activation “Degraded”. Alas, the French corps holds in place and has few targets to fire upon. Its units can neither move nor can the HQ conduct Rally, so this is a wasted turn for the hesitant “pantalons rouges”.

The Prussian III Corps HQ now organizes the defense on the Prussian right flank and gets all of its units into command. As a bonus it also successfully rallies the previously routed brigade of Stulpnagel’s divison.  The X Corps (green band) arrives on the scene and will march to Mars-La-Tour to contest the advance of the French III Corps.  The 5th Cavalry Division rushes to drive in the leading attached cavalry of the French III Corps and delay them as long as possible along the Fond de la Cuve ravine.

The Prussian 6th Cavalry Division moves to the right, but is poorly placed as it is within normal range of the “5-3” French infantry unit. It pays the price on the timely play of a “Beaten Zone” by Bob. This is essentially opportunity fire by the French infantry and simulates the power, range and rate-of-fire of the Chassepot rifles.

1:00pm

The French Imperial Guard (purple band) now marches to the sound of battle! The French II Corps has been hammered by Prussian artillery and this turn sees little relief as a Prussian “Command Initiative” event chit forces that HQ into “Aggressive” mode (this chit allows you to force your opponent to switch his HQ to the opposite Posture).  This will prevent it from conducting any rally actions for the turn, and with so many units Disrupted and low on ammo the corps will be ineffective. The French VI Corps finally comes up behind the cavalry at Vionville and prepares to deploy into battle formation.

The Prussian III Corps continues to have a difficult time. The last chit for the turn sees a “Wayward Prussian unit” advance Stulpnagel’s brigade against the French infantry where it is hammered first with defensive fire, then with a “Beaten Zone” French event chit along with a “Moulin a Café” chit (this chit enhances a French fire combat by having the infantry unit unload a rain of bullets on the enemy, at the risk of running low on ammo). This is a literal “wall of lead” and the Prussians rout from the field! The French are low ammo again and Stulpnagel’s artillery will stand alone for awhile.  But the other Prussian infantry division prepares some “Hasty Works” to help the defense.

The Prussian General Staff gives the X Corps a double move and they quickly come up in support of the 5th Cavalry division, which finally rallies the cavalry brigade lost at 9am.  The Prussian 6th Cavalry Division on the extreme right is now in serious trouble and will need to pull back and recover as French rifle fire tears it apart.  Some poor play on the part of the Prussian with that formation.

2:00pm

The Prussian X Corps infantry gains the high ground north of Mars-La-Tour with the artillery to cover its right flank.  The 5th Cavalry Division falls back out of rifle range, but in position to defend the X Corps right flank.  Seven Event chits were used as Command Events in an attempt to get the rest of X Corps on the board earlier, but a 50% chance, another 50% chance and then an 80% chance of success all failed, so that group will not arrive early. Like the French, the Prussians can divert Event chits to help with some more strategic situations – in this case Tom has been trying to bring up the Prussian reinforcements earlier than scheduled, but failed. A fierce battle for Mars-La-Tour has now begun as the French III Corps brings their rifles to bear.

The Prussian III Corps ‘dodges a bullet’ as a French “Prussian Aggressive Tactics” event has the brigade blocking the main road to Mars-La-Tour advance out of its Hasty Works and attack a French brigade in the woods.  Fortunately the defensive fire fails to do any damage and the resulting Assault Combat drives the French back on a “D2*” result (the added “*” to the result means that at least one of the two Loss Points must be taken as a Casualty Hit). The Prussians then get an “Auftragstactik” Event chit (which allows all Prussian infantry units in one hex to advance and assault with a bonus) and uses it to return that unit to the Hasty Works.  Meanwhile, on the far right, the 6th Cavalry Division runs and hides.

The French II Corps finally gets a break and removes some Low Ammo and Morale Hit markers and prepare to resume the offensive.  The French cavalry impedes the advance of their own VI Corps, but infantry continues to move through the woods to turn the left flank of the Prussian defense along the ridge.

To be continued…


 

 

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