Thursday, 1 December 2022

Quatre Bras in Albany

A few weeks ago John and Mitch called me to see whether I'd be interested/available to join them for a game down in Albany (at Mitch's place and HQ of the Serpentine Wargaming Club). The short answer was 'yes, provided that date 'worked'. On checking, it did, so I was 'in'.

After an enjoyable and uneventful 400-odd km Friday afternoon drive, I joined Mitch and John, along with Steve R and Steve W (who had travelled a similar distance from Perth). The other fellas had arrived before me, so all were discussing the coming game over a Friday arvo' bevy. I soon joined them. We decided on players for the coming contest. I would be French (naturellement) and would be 'joined' by Steve R., or more to the point, I wold join him as he would play as Ney as well. Mitch and Steve W. would take the Anglo-Allied. Steve W. had not played Napoleonics before, something that did not hamper him in the least.

After a meal at a pub in town, we returned to begin proceedings...

French ready for the off'. Anglo-Allied troops not yet visible (really?), so represented as 'blanks'.
After our first turn of advance, a few of the Dutch-Belgian defenders have become clear to us (within about 900 m at the nominal ground scale).
Our plan was simple and pretty straight forward, or so I/we thought. I would take the weaker brigades of Foy's division, along with Hubert's brigade of chasseurs à cheval, charged with performing a holding attack against the enemy around and in Gémioncourt. Meanwhile Steve with Jérôme's infantry and Wathier's lancers, the best troops in the army, would make a pivoting, right hook attack along the near-vacant north-east ridge, driving towards Quatre Bras.
I sent Jamin's brigade against the Dutch on the small ridge west of Gémioncourt. Note the Dutch square beside the farm, brought about by the charge of Hubert's 1e chasseur à cheval, who duly 'bounced', retiring back down the road.
Jérôme's infantry advanced slowly and steadily towards the Materne stream, although Wathier's lancers had 'hiccoughed' and missed a turn of movement—a 'hesitant' roll for activation. This was despite Steve having added an aide de camp to obtain a re-roll, making the quite sizeable 1 in 3 chance of a hesitant result from a single attempt a 1 in 9 one of two rolls. Each is a straight roll, no modifiers.
View west to east with French at right.

An attempt by Marbais' lead battalion to storm Gémioncourt failed, the attacking 1/92e ligne retiring through their second battalion causing them to be unformed.
Meanwhile, Jamin's 100e ligne attacked the Dutch on the small ridge...
...failing and incurring a few casualties.
To the east of Gémioncourt, Marbais' 1/93e ligne suffered at the hands of Stievenaar’s Belgian artillery, aka Steve W's dice rolling!
Back on Jérôme's (Steve's) flank, progress was slow, thanks to more rolls of less than '3' for activation.
Another overview from the west, Bossu wood in the foreground. Note the French chasseurs manoeuvring in that direction.

Another wiff from those Belgian guns sent the 1/93e packing. Now represented by the gap in the middle ground of photo)...

...and Marbais' brigade 'faltered' (I was lucky enough to convert this to a 'rally' in my next activation phase).
Over on the French right, Steve had managed to activate Baudin's infantry and Wathier's cavalry (the latter were to fail for over half of the turns of the game), but not Soye's infantry.
The delays meant that the Brunswickers and lead elements of Picton's 5th Division awaited them.
The latter linking up with Saxe-Weimar's Nassauers, who seemed to have acquired breechloading repeating rifles, such were Steve W's skills with the dice!

Back on the French left, the Dutch militia that had been forced into square in turn two, but had managed to survive the subsequent French artillery fire, now skulked behind Gémioncourt (left of photo).
Somehow I managed to miss another bit of minor glory from the 1e chasseurs whose charge
forced another of Bijlandt's militia into square (bottom right of photo)—hence my advice to note them six photos above.
Finally some coordinated activation on the right and Jérôme's infantry moved to attack. Trouble is, all that 'hesitation' meant that the flank was now well populated with allied troops.
On the French left, it was the 'turn' of Jamin's infantry to be active (while Hubert's chasseurs looked on) and they duly seized the small ridge!
Another overview photo.
Those 'breechloading-repeater-armed' Nassauers had managed to drive off Marbais' artillery battery, causing the brigade to 'falter' again. This time I did not roll so well on the faltered brigade activation table!

Having a 'hesitant' brigade  is far more serious than 'just' preventing it from moving, as Steve now found out.
Being 'hesitant' yet again, Wathier's lancers sat back and watched as the Dutch chevaulégers rode straight past them and charged their accompanying horse artillery. This was despite the fact that they had moved to the position that they now occupied in order to engage the enemy. Bizarre in the very least.
Worse was to come. The Dutch duly broke the horse battery, causing Wathier's horsemen to 'falter'.
In line with his dice rolling for the game, particularly on the Saturday, Steve rolled poorly on the faltering brigade table and 'whoosh', the lancers were gawn!

We decided on one last turn, to see whether we French could achieve some 'dernier hourras'.

With the gloves off, on the left, Steve had his best turn of the game, causing no little discomfort to Picton's Highlanders.
That was, until he rolled a double six, producing a 'destiny' roll for Soye, leading to his 'unsightly demise'.

Over on my side, Jamin's lead battalion charge that Dutch square, resulting in an indecisive mêlée, causing casualties for both sides and a 'bounce' for the French.
Still, my troops continued to hold the hill, an 'important' objective for which I was awarded the legion d'honeur and given a marshal's baton... or something like that.

Summary & Thoughts

Shared joy

What an enjoyable weekend!

The game looked marvellous, the company was excellent and beer and other beverages flowed at a steady but not crazy rate. The game was brought to a conclusion in good time (1700 on Saturday) so that we could discuss it for a while before adjourning for an excellent meal of Indian food and passively watching a mindless and silly film ('Morbius') that takes far more liberty with science and reality than we had done with history. Stil, it sucked me in, has some speccie effects and a plot that doesn't test a tired wargamer's brain much!

A giant thank you to John and Mitch for hosting the game and providing a glorioius combination of venue, terrain and figures. Special mention to John for assuming the mantle of umpire and forgoing the pleasure of pushing his own figures around the table over his excellent terrain cloths.

The rules

I have now played three games using General d'ArméeAbbach, Abensberg (north) and Quatre Bras—each of them reasonably sizeable actions (for the rules) and played to conclusion in sessions over two-days. My impressions of the rules have not really changed since I first read them; instead firming after now thrice putting them through 'contact with the enemy' (i.e. use in a game).

The core mechanics of the rules, movement, firing, charging, combat seemed pretty reasonable on reading. After three games, they have improved in my estimation to 'robust'. The same cannot be said for command and control.

When I read the rules, I struggled with Brown's aide de camp version of a 'pip' system. The line in the rules is that they 'represent command ability'. On reading, I thought, "Why have an abstract system to 'represent command' and not simply represent it directly?" After Abbach I wrote that, "There remain a few doubts in my mind regarding the ADC system,... It is possible, with more use, that this system will show itself as a mechanic that is too stylised for my liking...". I was a bit more comfortable with it after Abensberg, but this game has demonstrated to me why I 'had reservations' with an example of the worst that can occur.

So, the rules are okay from my perspective, but they are a long way from being my 'go to' set. At their core, the system works well, but the game aspects are not for me and detract from the rules as a representation of a Napoleonic battle. Clearly Brown likes this sort of stuff in his rules. I had a similar and more direct experience with General de Brigade. It was an evening game at the Napoleonic Wargaming Society. I was moving up my French force of a couple of infantry brigades and some cavalry when I rolled a 'blunder' (double one is it?). I followed this with some other pitiful roll and my cavalry about turned and began heading away from the enemy, who were a long way away and I had intervening infantry between the two. There was no cause for this in the game. It was purely some bad rolling. Such completely random aspects are not for me. If I were to have General d'Armée as my 'go to' set, I would make some fundamental changes to the system of command and control (including 'destiny'). John is considering some changes/adjustments, so I'll be interested to see how they go in the next 'contact with the enemy'*.

Historical insights

This was the fifth time (at least) that I have played a re-fight of Quatre Bras. I'd have to look back to count exactly, but there were four, or more, during the bicentennial year of the battle. I'd also have to look back in detail to check the results, but I recall that in all but one the French performed worse than Ney and his men. The exception was a game using Napoleon's Battles where they did decidedly better, but it took Ney's considerable (really, really considerable) bonus in combat under those rules to make it happen. I am left wondering if I can do as well as Ney, let alone better. That is a project for another time, but this game has brought it back to front of mind, so it may now be brought forward quite considerably!

*More to come

There are plans for another weekend in Albany in a month or few. I look forward to it immensely. The joy of shared time, plenty of banter and laughter, enjoying the love (obsession) of the hobby with a fine group of gents far outweighs any limitations to General d'Armée (or other set of rules).

Game Info.


General d'Armée


As written, the rules are for actions of division to corps size.

Minimum unit of manoeuvre is a battalion.

Ground scale approximately 1 mm representing 1.5 m (1:1500)

Figure scale can vary and was nominally ~1:25 in this game


1/72 (mixture of Airfix, Esci, Hät, Italeri, Zvezda, 3D-printed) with a couple of Minifigs & Hinchcliffe 25 mm as well


  1. James, this is a magnificent outing and an impressive display of both toys and terrain. This is the way to spend a weekend. Marshal's baton for you? Well done!

    I am with you on GdA's ADC pip system for command. I do not like it. Seems contrived and gamey to me. Oh well. I am rarely called to play those rules or its derivatives.

  2. A splendid spectacle of a game--delivers on the promise of Napoleonics. I guess it depends on the game system you're playing, but I have never found Quatre Bras to be a balanced enough situation to be a good game (allies hunkered down in terrain and getting stronger as the game progresses). However, it is clear given the number or replays that I see that it works for many others.

    As far as the GdA/B rules family, I share your critiques. I wanted to like them, and wished that they would work, but eventually they got purged among other sets during one of my clear outs. Clearly, though, there are other opinions and preferences, though.

  3. A perfect day's gaming James. A great AAR as well. The British held on well, but you achieved some objectives. Did you call it a draw?

  4. What a nice weekend. Q-B is my favorite battle to set up, I find the arrival of reinforcements and other shenanigans helpful in balancing the table efforts. The table is wonderful.

  5. This certainly had it all in terms of aesthetics, James...a wonderful looking table with great scenery and figures - an excellent advertisement for your preferred 1/72 plastic armies!
    I have not encountered these rules, although my gaming mate Nick seemed quite keen on them for a while. I do not like the sound of them, even leaving the command and control pips to one side, having elite units fail to move 50% of the time seems improbable to me.....

  6. Thank you all for your comments.
    There are some common themes, so I hope you'll not mind if I 'reply to all'?!
    The table and figures were superb, as you all said. Further thanks to John and Mitch.
    In recent years I have changed from thinking that there are too many rules for Napoleonics to considering that we are 'spoilt for choice'. While I find that many so-called new sets have an annoying 'sameness' or, worse still, rehashing and repackaging of old mechanics (without any reference to the inspiration), there are still sufficient tried and true, novel or interesting sets at scales, levels of detail and with mechanics to suit just about any taste. I have at least six serious contenders that I am prepared to re-use and/or to test for different scales or purposes. That is before I include my long-term project of going back to Kriegspiel to start from scratch. General d'Armée was a potential candidate in this list, but is no more. That said, they are John's 'go to' and I am more than happy use them in any games I am invited to. Great looking games, played in the 'right' manner with excellent company trumps any set of rules!
    Like Joe, I like Quatre Bras as a battle to re-fight (sorry Ed!). I enjoy historical battles where the odds are not so even as they provide the challenge of trying to do better. With Quatre Bras, I just wanna make as much of a 'dent' in the Anglo-allies as Ney did! :)
    Jon/Lawrence, I was very much tongue in cheek—I am sure that you are playing along with me, but just in case... We French did not achieve any objectives, save from having a lot of our troops killed! I managed to end up about where I was meant to be, but a significant counter-attack would soon have sent my part of the army packing. The only marshal's baton that I was gonna get would be rapped across my knuckles!!

    1. James, my response is that if you can be awarded a baton for holding a hill then you met that criterium. I expect a bit more panache to claim such an honor but I am part of the Old Guard.

  7. Great display James. Those Franchies at the start look tres formidables, but you were undone by some excellent shooting it seems, and a lack of courage amongst your subordinates at times.
    Ah well, can't argue with a game and beers and curry with mates. What's not to like?

    1. Too true Chris, that, and the fact that the little fellas all come to 'life' again, are what makes our version of war the only one worth doing (again and again)!

  8. Must have been a spectacular and epic battle...Splendid pictures, terrain and armies James!

  9. Hi,
    I was one of the players. It was a fun weekend. James' blog more than does it justice. Nice choice of shots & an engaging read.

    The French were cursed in that battle. I've rarely seen worse displays of D6 rolling.
    One of the French players has an aversion to games that use D6, claiming to always roll 1.
    From the QB result I think he is right :)

    The whole thing was a bit unfair on the rules, because of the prevalence of the hesitant result.
    But I would agree that a tweaking of some of the effects of hesitant, like not supporting your own ME when it is attacked would be good.

    The game was played with great sportsmanship & the inexperienced player soon grasped the rules. He was even telling me what to do by the end, after his troops had single handedly seen off half the French army!

    It's interesting to reflect, that when we decided on the teams, we joked about beginners luck. Napoleon's reported maxim, 'that he would rather have a lucky general than a good one', was mentioned.
    You cant go to far wrong if you follow the big N's advice.

    It was a great time & we hope to set up another one soon

    1. Thanks for dropping by the blog and leaving such a detailed comment, Mitch. Most importantly, thanks again to you and John for staging the game. Looking forward to the next one!