Friday, December 23, 2011

Playa Dos Zubira 1810

Last Sunday was my last figures game of the year, but we went out in style with a large five player game of Black Powder.

Neil was up for the day with his French and Jez also brought along a fair sized contingent; so many that third French commander, Laurie had only to bring himself along.  Alternatively the Anglo-Iberian forces were a man down, as Martin was called in to work, so myself and Gav took command of the British and their allies.

The scenario was a simple classic, a large division of French under the overall command of Junot was attempting to force crossing of the Zubira river, defended by a much smaller British army, formed largely of Spanish and Portuguese allies under the command of Arthur Wellesley.

The river was at a summer low, and scarcely two feet deep, but the banks were high and soft and easy to defend, plus Wellesley and his cavalry commander, Marchant, had wisely deployed troops east of the river in farmland.

From the French left, all photo's are clickable for bigger versions 

The French placed one Brigade in the woodland to their right, with a cavalry Brigade in column to their left.  Their expectation was that the cavalry would guard the infantry advance to the river on the right of the farm, but they were not aware of the lead deployments of the British.  Further to Junot's left a line Brigade led the attack with a guard brigade behind it, both in Ordre Mixte, with a grand battery formed from three formations of guns in the centre.

 At this point I have to say that the French inexplicably left three battalions, one from each brigade, in reserve. I didn't spot this at all at first, and I remain at a loss as to how they miscalculated their available force.  The only possibility is that they didn't have enough men, but I'm sure between us we did...

Nevertheless, they outnumbered Wellesley two to one.  With a small light cavalry brigade forward of the river, with two companies of Rifles, myself and my junior decided to deploy the Portuguese to the left with the Spanish to the centre and in reserve; whilst the British Guard Brigade held our right covering the ford.

We too held forces in reserve, but in our case we knew we were doing so.  Another British brigade of three battalions was advancing from the south, apparently unanticipated by the French.  They were expected to arrive in about three hours (six turns time). to the rear of the advancing French left.

Additionally each commander in chief had a special personality trait.  Wellesley had "Now's your Time!", once per game he could automatically issue a follow me order to any unit or brigade acting together on the board, without being part of it.  This we were holding back to allow our reserves to strike.

For the French, Junot was classed as Unstable, at the start of each turn he had to roll a d6:

6: Flashes of Brilliance - all commanders gained +2 command for the turn
5: Vision - The French could reroll any one failed command that turn
2-4: No effect
1: Delirium - all commanders suffer -2 command for the turn whilst Junot is distracted
And so it was that the French began their advance on the British, on their second turn Junot had a brilliant turn and his urgings made his otherwise average generals dash forward with vigour.

Though it was not without the odd communication failure, and the French Cavalry seemed reluctant to challenge the British in front of them.  Rather their infantry came forward and formed square to screen them.  For the British this seemed to play in to our hands and as far as we were concerned, making the entire French Brigade form square to respond to one unit of cavalry was a good return.

Meanwhile before the guards, long range musketry opened up, and enough disorder was done to stall the first French attempt on the ford for half an hour.  The French general of the lead brigade seemed frustrated by this and went on to throw forward a sacrificial unit rather than stand enfeebled.

The regiment advanced and struggled through the water to the steep facing bank and more withering fire.  Some three hundred Frenchmen lay dead or dying in the warm waters of the Zubiya, whilst the other half of the formation broke and ran.  In the centre the artillery pounded the Rifles, whilst French Hussars threatened to hunt them down, whilst on the French right the stand off continued.

The French resolved this by throwing forward their regiment of Cuiriassiers to counter the Light Dragoons, it was a fierce fight but the strength of the French told and the British were forced from the field.  The Spanish cavalry had retired behind their infantry long since, whilst Wellesley himself was trying to reorganise his second line.  French cavalry and infantry began to move through the farm, flushing out the Rifles to some degree.

But not entirely, and the lead Brigade Assaulting the ford were broken temporarily by savage crossfire.  By now more than two hours had passed, but the French attacks were now coming on in volume, with both fronts coming under attack.

But the close support the allied line offered allowed even Portuguese and Spanish troops to hold, allowing even the French Dragoons to come on, holding them with musket fire and a whiff of Grapeshot.

On the French left losses were more severe, and becoming critical.  Junot and Clausel implored General Foy to commit the Garde, but he was cautious, and it was another half hour of battle before the Grenadiers and Garde were thrown in.

Their late engagement finally cut through the British lines where , many hundreds of their brethren had failed.  The Grenadiers in particular smashed a British Guard battalion.  The Highlanders were finally after over an hours hard fighting reduced to retiring the field.  But the fatal blow was the charge of French Hussars across the river; rolling up a Spanish militia battalion that Wellesley was trying to rally.  Arthur was carried from the field in the ensuing rout.

And this at the very moment when the dust clouds of the British could be seen to the rear of the French, but with out Wellesley's guidance the Brigade of Beresford could not arrive in time.

Although threatened to the rear, it was clear that the valiant allied defence of the river was destroyed and so the French claimed a famous victory.

As ever a fantastic little game played out more or less in real time.  The French came on in classic fashion, clearly without any inclination that the force before them may not be all they would face.  Had Wellesley stayed on the field the last turns would have been very different.  There were remarkably no blunders all game, and few problems to resolve.  For me and Gav it was largely a game of delaying the French and snickering expectantly, until the smirk was wiped off our face at the very end; whilst for the Empire there was a clear division of command strategy, with Jez and Laurie at odds with their CinC Neil, who was being more cautious that they wanted to be.  I was with them, even as the British, for it is the French way to attack!

For an alternative account of the battle, you can see the version of Jez at his blog here.

A well balanced scenario I'd urge you to try, and all in all a nice way to wrap up the year.


  1. I believe it was Dragoons that drove off the British cavalry.

    And it was the artillery that broke the Spanish, and with them Wellesley. The Hussars were stuck in the hedgerows when Wellsley fled the battle.

    But I don't blame the British press from talking up events.

    A jolly good fight.

    Happy Christmas.

    Vive le Emperor.

  2. Excellent Black Powder Game do you perhaps have an exact OB you could post for both sides and a map of the initial deployments and terrain?

  3. Sounds like a great game, and looks fab to boot!