Saturday, 28 December 2013

Black Powder: The Bridges over the Traisen (1812)


These days, I don't play many historical games at the Helensburgh Games Club.  However, occasionally my friend Steve and I play a game of Black Powder with our 6mm Napoleonic armies.  This is, to me, the best scale with which to depict large horse & musket battles.  I think it gives a much better impression of the huge numbers of men and horses that would have been involved (though we all know that even 6mm figures aren't going to represent a division at 1:1, let alone an entire army corps or bigger).  See what you think...

Recently, Steve sent me a whole load more Austrian infantry (see here), so I was eager to try out my reinvigorated forces.  I had my chance last weekend...


Somewhere in eastern Europe and sometime between 1809 and 1812, the Russian and Austrian empires are at war [note that this isn't totally impossible.  Although both these countries usually fought against the French, a weak and reluctant Austria did send an army corps to help Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Russia]. On this hypothetical occasion, a division from each army were racing to secure the crossings over the river Traisen, either to make it easier for following troops to cross or to allow engineers time to demolish the bridges.

This would be a simple encounter battle but with a slight twist.  Each side would approach from one side of the river; victory would be determined by counting the number of bases of troops that were on the far side when the game ended.

The river could be crossed at any one of 4 bridges by a unit that was in column of march [good luck doing that if opposed].  Also, it's possible that the Traisen could be forded.  The section of river with the island is automatically deemed to be fordable.  The status of each of the other 4 sections can only be determined when a unit reaches the river bank at that point.  A roll of 5 or 6 then indicates that the section is fordable.

A fordable river section may be crossed by any unit at half speed.  If a unit is defending a riverbank when faced by an attacker who is in the river then the defender gains bonuses equivalent to defending a building.  This makes it difficult, but not impossible, to succeed in such an assault.


Both sides had roughly comparable forces:
  • 2 brigades of infantry, each of 3 or 4 regiments of infantry and some artillery.  Many of the Austrian line infantry units were large, while one of the Russian brigades consisted of Jaegers.
  • 1 light/vanguard brigade of 2 or 3 regiments.  The Austrian vanguard had a mixture of light infantry and hussars, whilst the Russian equivalent had just cavalry.
  • 1 reserve brigade of 2 or 3 regiments of heavy cavalry plus some horse artillery.

The Game: Early Moves

In early moves, most of the Russian army advanced at a reasonable speed.  Their dragoons reached the curve of the river Traisen in the centre of the table.  A hapless subaltern was sent forward to find out if the waters could be crossed at this point; he quickly discovered that they were too deep!

The Austrian army mostly responded with apathy and only marched slowly forwards.  There were 2 exceptions to this: the vanguard blundered and went in the wrong direction, leaving it to the 2nd infantry brigade to make a forced march up to and over the nearest bridge.  The latter was a very risky move, as there were several regiments of Russian light cavalry just on the other side of the small hill.  However, these failed to spot the Austrian columns and just stood around waiting for further orders.

As the first Austrian regiments started to deploy on the far side of the river, they were joined by friendly dragoons and cuirassiers who used the second bridge.  The Russians just stood and watched, not really appreciating the significance of these movements [some useful command rolls for the Austrians and some poor ones for their enemies!]

Austrian vanguard (bottom) and 1st brigade (centre) advance - but too late!
The fighting was opened with an indecisive skirmish between opposing heavy cavalry units.  Finally, the Austrian vanguard and 1st infantry brigade advanced towards the southern bridges, only to find that the far banks of the river were already lined with Russian infantry and cannon.

Alternate view of the Austrian vanguard exchanging fire with Russians across the river
The river was completely unfordable at this point.  Under the circumstances, neither side felt like trying to force passage across any of the bridges!

Confused Fighting

In the north, one of the Russian infantry regiments charged forward without orders [i.e. a blunder was rolled!] at the Austrian unit on the hill.  Casualties were very heavy; both units remained deadlocked for some time with neither willing to give way.

Austrian and Russian dragoons knock the crap out of each other.
A savagely renewed heavy cavalry charge in the centre left both sides shattered and reeling.

...while to the south, lucky Austrian skirmishers shot to pieces an opposing Russian regiment.

Austrian infantry advanced slowly in the north, though every step was heavily contested.  In the centre, heavy cavalry commanders glared at each other through spyglasses, each side unwilling to risk another bloodbath with a fresh charge.  Further south, infantry and artillery pounded each other across the river, with both sides taking heavy casualties.


Finally, the infantry of the Austrian 2nd brigade managed to destroy the opposing Russian units in savage fighting.  This caused the enemy's closer infantry brigade to become demoralised.  Indeed, Russian General Palitsyn was nearly captured by the advancing whitecoats; he had to flee quite some way to seek safety with a friendly regiment.

The Russians weren't about to give up, though.  Light cavalry forced the tired, leading Austrian infantry to form square and their accompanying horse artillery then pounded the square with cannister until it disintegrated.

While the remaining units of the Austrian 1st brigade paused to redress their lines (and to shoot down those pesky Russian gunners), massive reinforcements were pouring across the river.  The rallied Austrian heavy cavalry formed up behind the infantry line, whilst elements of the 2nd brigade waded across the river near the island and started to skirmish with the central Russian infantry.

Alternate view of the fighting.  Observe the cavalry massing on both sides in the far distance.

It was time for the cavalry to earn their pay.  Firstly the Austrian dragoons charged at one of the Russian hussar regiments.  The heavy cavalry obliterated their lighter opponents, then retired back behind friendly infantry to lick their own wounds.

Then the Austrian cuirassiers charged at the Russian dragoons.  In a thunderous meeting, both sides were devastated - but it was the Russians who broke and fled.  This last victory was enough to break both the Russian heavy cavalry brigade and their entire army.

As the remaining Russian units withdrew in reasonably good order, they were pursued closely by a few Austrian infantry units (and the Uhlans, who had finally decided to take part in the action).  All the rest of the Austrian cavalry was exhausted and had suffered severe losses; they were in no fit state to hound the enemy.


It was always going to be a race for the bridges, since the rules would have savaged anyone who tried to march across in the face of any opposition.  As it happened, the Austrian infantry to the north had a general who was really on form in the early game; several units had crossed before the Russians could react.

The game could have turned either way at several points, I think:
  • If the southern Russians had reached the nearer bridges before enemies turned up near the other bank then they might have crossed.  This would have given both sides a conundrum: reinforce your own bridgehead or squash the enemy's one?
  • If any of the river segments (other than the central one with the island, that is) had been fordable then that would have made a much easier crossing than the bridges.
  • Finally, the initial Austrian bridgehead was very crowded and somewhat precarious for a turn or two.  If the Russians had been able to bottle up these units then they might have done crippling damage to them.  Poor command rolls cost them this opportunity.  It didn't help that one of their generals chose that moment to blunder and start micro-managing an artillery battery into the wrong position!


  1. Oh it looks so good in 6mm! I've just been painting some 10mm Napoleonics but think I will try 6mm next... maybe ancients first though too get a feel for 6mm.

    1. Thanks, Tony. 10mm look good too, you know :-) . They just take twice as much space!

  2. I can easily see the "Joy of 6" The problem would be convincing another player to go 6mm. Most club players already have 15mm armies (yes I know boring!!) I would love to though, so it might be a future project for me.

    Thanks for the AAR. I really enjoyed it.

    1. Ah, well. This is unlike the vast majority of my projects, where I have to provide both sides (and terrain) myself. At least here I can fight against someone else's army :-) .

      Though having said that, I do have some 6mm French and Bavarians of my own...

  3. Nice work! Very dramatic casualty counters! :)

    1. Thanks, Chasseur. My generic "splat" counters are more fully described here:

  4. What a great game report. I love these massed ranked unit type games.

    1. Thanks, Simon. 6mm really does give a feeling of *units* rather than just *squads*.

  5. What a great photo batrep. I enjoyed itgreatly. Thanks.

    1. Your support is much appreciated, Irqan :-) .

  6. Several comments from the defeated commander:
    First up, I'm a massive fan of 6mm, (more on that later), the mass effect is apparent form the photographs here.
    I've tried many sets of Napoleonic rules, and Black Powder are by far my favourite. They aren't perfect, but they have a subtle depth, and really get the higher formations into the battle.
    Finally - as with all games, it's the scenario that makes or breaks the game. Neither of us had used rivers before, and the Traisen caused a few problems with congestion as each fore attempted to deploy. This provided several potential hinge points in the battle. Austrian command proved superior to Russian, allowing the whitecoats to exploit their opportunities, and the Czar's lads to miss most of theirs.

    It's many miles to Moscow, and we have many reserves.

    1. Thanks, Steve. The report may have seemed a bit one-sided (after all, it was told from the victor's perspective), but I felt that the game was anything but that...

    2. To the victor the spoils - and the author credits.
      Another strength of Black Powder is the fairly relaxed nature of the rules - they're not riddled with exceptions and prohibitions.
      This allows each player to concentrate on his army (as opposed to some rules which seem to reward lining up some massive combinatorial plus-fest for the one great attack).

      It was evident during the game that neither of us was confident in our position, and neither commander's plan rolled out perfectly.
      We were constantly improvising and re-shuffling to meet the latest counter or blunder) by the enemy.

      Though Black Powder has no default national characteristics, we fielded accurate organisations for our particular armies.
      I have a feeling that - whether winner or loser - the Russians will produce Pyrrhic battles.

      I'm now painting my 3rd infantry brigade (The New Ingermanland and Alexopol regiments), and some Cossacks - Because Hussars just don't inject sufficient chaos into the command chain.

  7. A quick appraisal of 6mm and other micro scales.

    Our elements are on a 40mm frontage which accommodates: 30 infantry in 3 ranks (or 20 in two), between 12 and 8 cavalry in a single rank (Officers to the fore), or 2 cannon.
    A standard infantry battalion of 4 elements has 120 figures (Compare with ~600 actual soldiers) - so figure ratio is between 4 and 5:1

    For 10mm a similar element would accommodate 12 figures (2 ranks of 6).
    Perhaps 8 cavalry figures, or a single cannon.

    There are also 2mm and 3mm scales, my eyesight simply cannot cope with these.

    10mm figures have more details, which is something of a two-edged sword.
    The figures will look beautiful, but you'll b painting details which don't stand out among a mass effect base. Purists will also find that the extra detail limits scope for "Paint conversions" or re-badging units for a particular scenario. (Did anybody notice that the Austrain skirmish line on the round ended stand are actually British light infantry figures (Painted white of course)? - You'd struggle to pull that off in 15mm without a mass of green stuff.

    Finally, there are at least 6 manufacturers of historical 6mm figures. All have their own idea of scale, and at this size a millimetre or two makes a massive difference. The different manufacturers really don't mix well. Hugh and I have settled on Heroics and Ros. They have an extensive range and cover all the main troop types of our chosen armies. What they don't make can be converted by painting (For example painting cuirassier figures in dragoon colours).

    1. I may have unfairly dismissed the 3mm Pico scale. Here's a link to their Napoleonic offerings.

      And the Heroics and Ros catalogue (Large PDF).
      If you order - please tell Andy that Steve and Hugh referred you.

  8. A great bat-rep that does has the feel of a large army-size action (one of the main advantages of 6mm imo) and a worthy result for your new untested- Austrians !

    1. I'm certainly a believer in 6mm for large-scale battles - and the 19th century has some of the largest battles in history. At least, battles of the sort where men stood in the open in ordered formations and were visible!

      I'm sure that my Austrians will revert to their usual poor command & control soon enough :-) .

    2. Agree regarding Austrian command-control. The emperor's favourites in Vienna won't take kindly to professional Generals who can lead an army to victory.

      I expect to see Waldheim, Von Trapp and Sindelaar posted off to some Croatian backwater. Meanwhile the Archdukes will take command and revert to business as usual.