Sunday, 23 March 2014

Black Powder: The Russians are coming!


It's some time towards the middle or end of the Napoleonic wars.  Somewhere in central Europe, a Bavarian brigade is quartered in the sleepy town of Kufstein.  In the early morning, a frantic messenger arrives with news: an entire Russian division is approaching and will be here imminently!

General Hausmann, the Bavarian commander, quickly arrays his forces for defence and sends his own courier for help.  The nearest allied force is General Cotillard's French brigade, but can they reach the town before the Bavarians are attacked?  Even if they do arrive, the allies will still be outnumbered; can they avoid being overwhelmed by the Russian assault?

The Scenario


There is a small town (Kufstein) in the centre of the board.  The town is split into 2 districts by the road that runs through it; each district may be garrisoned by 1 unit.  All of this built-up area provides substantial defensive bonuses for any troops who are garrisoning it.

A few fields are scattered around the table.  The hedgerows which surround these provide some cover from shooting and a minor defensive bonus in melee.

There is a line of low hills to the east; these give height advantage when firing but they are too shallow to impede movement.


The 3rd and 13th Bavarian line regiments garrison the town of Kufstein, whilst a couple of companies of the 6th light infantry hide behind hedges in a nearby field.


  • 1 brigade of Bavarians (2 battalions of line infantry, 1 battery of artillery, 1 regiment of light cavalry and 1 small unit of light infantry).  These are deployed anywhere on the table before the game starts.
  • 1 reinforced brigade of French (2 battalions of line infantry, 1 battery of artillery, 1 regiment of light cavalry and 1 unit of light infantry) will arrive on the southern table edge from turn 2 onwards.  They need successful command rolls to move onto the table.


  • 2 brigades of infantry, each with 4 battalions of infantry and 1 battery of artillery.
  • 2 brigades of cavalry (1 light, one heavy), each with 2 regiments plus a battery of horse artillery. 
All of the Russians start on the northern table edge and are available from the start of the game.

So, the Russians outnumber the Bavarians by about 4:1 .  Even if/when the French arrive, the Russians will still outnumber the combined allied force by about 2:1 .


This is determined only on possession of the town by the time the game ends (because we run out of troops or exceed a given time limit.  Or because we need to stop for lunch).  If either side holds both districts of the town then they win outright.  Otherwise if each side holds 1 district then it's a draw.

Our Game

Before the start of play, we decided to roll for the command abilities of each general and brigadier.  We used the very simple method of starting with a rating of 8 (competent) and then rolling a 'fudge' dice to adjust this up, down or not at all.  The results were thus:
  • Bavarian: General Hausmann has an average rating of 8
  • French: Both the allied commander in chief (Gen. Cotillard) and his brigadier (Gen. Leboeuf) have a dashing rating of 9.
  • Russian: The Russian commander, General Raevskii, has an efficient command rating of 9.  Sadly, all of his brigadiers are plodding 7s.  Looks like Gen. Raevskii will need to do much of the work all on his own!

Early Moves

Unsurprisingly, the Russians advanced straight away.  A dense block of infantry in the centre made good progress, but the cavalry brigades on the wings were less eager and only moved slowly.

Initial contact was made between the lead Russian infantry and the Bavarian light troops.  The Russian column suffered significant losses in the attack, whilst the small unit of defenders drew back in good order to look for another hedgerow.


The French relief force came marching on at the double as soon as they were permitted.  This didn't look good for the Russians.  General Raevskii was tearing his hair out; his cavalry (which should have been ranging far ahead and interfering with the French advance) sullenly refused to move.  Even the 2 Russian infantry brigades were only just bringing troops into action - and that was only because Raevskii was issuing many of the orders personally.

A couple of Russian battalions did make it into position to attack the town, but they suffered very badly from defensive file.  The Bavarian position benefited from thick stone walls, so the Russian musketry made little impact in return.

A lone Russian battalion made its way to the eastern side of the town.  The Bavarian light horse moved forward to threaten it and force the Russians to form a square.  If that happened then the nearby Bavarian battery would have been able to pummel the infantry.  However, in a (for them) rare command mistake, the cavalry regiment didn't move far enough and left itself vulnerable to being shot.  Russian marksmanship was poor, though and the light horse escaped serious injury.

The Bavarian cavalry soon rectified their mistake, made a feigned charge and forced the Russians into a square.  Once that happened, the horsemen retired a short distance and let the cannons do their terrible work.

The Assault

The main body of Russian infantry now attacked.  One battalion charged the Bavarian light troops in the ploughed field and were savaged in doing so.  Another unit attacked the town, but their support failed to materialise.  The attackers did well to hold on briefly, under the circumstances.

In a bravura performance, the Bavarian light infantry in the field destroyed the battalion that was assaulting them across the hedge.  A further Russian unit attacked the town, but the defenders routed the original battalion and drove the newcomers back.  Indeed, the second Russian infantry were driven back to a position from which the Bavarian light infantry could now enfilade them at close range!

The End

As the French infantry started to arrive at the town, the Bavarian cannon made mincemeat of the poor Russian square (which dared not move through fear of the Bavarian cavalry).

To the west of Kufstein, the story was similar.  French infantry marched up, arrayed for battle, just as the 2 companies of Bavarian light infantry shot the enfiladed Russian battalion to pieces.  One Russian dragoon regiment finally advanced tentatively, but this was countered by a French Hussar unit and even though the 2 groups of cavalry were close enough to shout insults at each other, no contact was made.

This was too much for the Russians.  One infantry brigade broke and started to rout off the field.  General Raevskii ordered a withdrawal for his other forces.  There was little hope of taking the town with the 3 remaining battalions of the unbroken infantry brigade and the Russian cavalry probably wouldn't have achieved much even if they could be persuaded to advance.


That did not go as I had imagined it might!  Poor General Raevskii was surrounded by dullards and incompetents.  Even though his plan was quite reasonable and didn't require much finesse, his subordinates just wouldn't behave.  In fact, it looked strongly as if the Russian cavalry commanders were more concerned with their inter-service feuds than with fighting the enemy.  I wonder if Raevskii was an infantry officer before his promotion to General; perhaps the cavalry looked down upon him?

Some awards are due, I think:
  • Unit of the match: The 6th Bavarian Light infantry did fantastically well.  This was a small unit (just a couple of companies, really) that was expected to be little more than a speed bump.  Instead, they destroyed 2 Russian infantry battalions and single-handedly held up the entire Russian advance on their side of the town.
  • Most incompetent: Major-General Emannuel of the Russian hussar brigade probably wins this.  At least 1 unit of the dragoon brigade did advance a little at one point (though they retreated almost immediately when the French jeered at them), but the hussars just stood where they were for the entire game.
  • Most frustrated commander: has to be the poor Russian leader, General Raevskii.  He spent the entire game trying to marshal the 2 infantry brigades into action only to be frustrated by his subordinates.  As soon as the artillery deployed, an infantry battalion would march in front of it and block its line of fire.  Units which were sent to outflank the town would either wander in the wrong direction and obstruct other battalions or would advance too far and find themselves isolated and shot to pieces by the enemy.
  • Most bored unit: The Bavarian 13th line regiment spent the game holed up in the houses of Kufstein waiting for an assault that never came.  Even the Russian units which fired at them failed to do any damage.  At one point it looked as if these enemies had been issued sawdust instead of gunpowder: their shots literally couldn't hit the broad side of a barn, let alone the carefully-constructed Bavarian loopholes in the masonry of the buildings.


  1. A very interesting aar, I did think that the Russians, given theirinitl strength . would overwhelm the Bavarians long before the French arrived, but the inferior Russian Generals (and their dice throwing) seemedto have put paid to that idea very early on in the battle.
    I can only imagine the grimace of the Russian C-in-C compared to the Allies smiles.
    (am I right in thinking that you were indeed the Russians ?)

    1. Nope - sorry, Joe. I was playing the Allies. My friend Steve commanded the Russians and took his losses with a very good grace. Nevertheless, I do feel bad about how one-sided this battle turned out to be.

  2. Another great report, but luckily, this time it was a period I got no interest in :P.
    As Joe said, I'd expect Russians to steam through Bavarians and in worst case scenario, force French to attack a larger force.

    It seems really unfortunate that the cavalry was the one slugging behind - especially with all the kozaks tradition and what not. Then again, French have owned "the world" for a reason back then, and this game just proved it all over again :P.

    1. Built-up areas are very difficult to attack in Black Powder and I wasn't at all certain that the Russians would be able to brush the Bavarians aside. Having said that, the almost total inertia from the Russian brigadiers meant that they never even made a serious attack on the town. Never underestimate variations in command ability!

  3. It just goes to show that no scenario survives contact with the players. I do like the simplicity of black powder. And as always you battle reports are good reading.

    1. Well in this case it wasn't the player's fault at all. Steve's subordinates simply wouldn't listen to him :-) !

      One day I may run this scenario again and see if it turns out differently...

  4. Great looking game and it was a good read. Thanks for posting.

    1. Thanks, Simon. It was an unusual game, really: very few units actually engaged the enemy and when they did the damage was quite one-sided.

  5. And the massive russian attack ended as a... how to call it? there are no name for such failed attack.

    1. Well, I suppose that "a damp squib" would be the most colloquial way of describing it. Perhaps you might describe it as an anticlimax or a non-event.

  6. I recall reading of many Napoleonic battles in my youth, and finishing wondering "How did the French ever pull that off". Now I know their superior command system permitted their troops to act far more quickly than their plodding enemies.

    I also remember reading of terrible bloody battles against the Russians. The Russians typically stood on the defensive when they fought the French to a standstill.

    It's a credit to the Black powder rules that they can reflect the command indecision of so many of Napoleon's enemies.

    Meanwhile I'm back to the staff college to seek a cavalry commander who knows which end of a horse to point at the enemy. Casualties were light, so there's a chance I'll be seeing those subordinates again.

    1. It applies to all periods and scales of warfare, doesn't it? Never underestimate the effect of good (or poor) leadership and organisation!

  7. A Piography of the real General Emmanuel

    It notes his reticence to server against the Austrians.

    1. 3 years from Lieutenant to Colonel? Wow, that is fast, even in wartime!