Thursday, 22 January 2015

The Smolensk War

For our second outing with the Pike and Shotte rules we moved east, for a scenario based on the Russian campaign to recover Smolensk.  We had a large Muscovite force attacked by a smaller Polish force, although the latter did have the edge in troop quality.  The rules do provide an army list for a 17th century Polish force, but do not have one for the Russians, so in true wargaming tradition, I created my own.

The two wings of the Russian force were each made up of 4 units of noble cavalry, which I rated as 'freshly raised' to reflect the variable quality of this force.  In retrospect adding 'militia' .  may have been a little too much of a handicap, especially as the flank commanders were rated average/poor.  The right flank also had a unit of Cossack skirmishers.  In reserve were the Dvor, the general's bodyguard.  The centre of the Russian position was held by the infantry and artillery,who had occupied a village and attendant enclosures as protection against the Polish cavalry.  The Soldastski regiments were a recent innovation by the Russians and so were also rated as 'freshly raised', as were a unit of urban streltsy.

The Russian centre
 The Poles were outnumbered nearly 2 to 1 in cavalry, but of course they had three units of hussars.  These famous troops enjoy three bonuses under the Pike and Shotte rules, they are elite, so test to remove disorder sooner, they are stubborn, so can re-roll one failed 'saving throw' and they get up to 3 extra dice in melee as heavy cavalry.  In addition, being lance armed, enemy saving throws are -1.  To try and reduce the 'super troops' effect I made all the hussar units 5 figures which meant that they were 'small' and consequently loss dice in melee and had their stamina reduced by one.  Supporting the hussars were three units of pancerni and one unit of Cossack skirmishers.  In the centre of the Polish position was a tabor and within it were two units of Haiduk infantry and a pike and musket unit of mercenaries.  For artillery, the Poles had one light gun.

The Polish cavalry advance
Steve rolled the dice and got the Poles; deciding that he needed to get forward as soon as possible and deny the Russians the chance to deploy there was only one order possible...Charge!  His left wing responded by their commander rolling 3 on two d6 and therefore having three actions.  A 27 inch move brought them into contact with my front unit of noble cavalry, who reacted well, rolling a 3 which meant that they acted as normal.  Unfortunately, when I rolled against their command rating to counter-charge, they failed and were therefore caught at the halt.  The ensuing melee did not go well and after suffering heavy casualties the Russians failed their break test and routed from the field.  The hussars carried out a sweeping advance and hit the second of my units.  This did not react as well as the first, probably due to seeing them flee the field and would only inflict casualties with a 6 on a d6.  Not surprisingly this melee also went the way of the Poles, but at least the battered Russian survivors managed to fall back rather than flee.  Further carnage on this flank was avoided when my Cossacks managed to evade the hussars' charge, but I had the feeling it was only a temporary stay of execution.
On the Polish right the commander did not roll quite so low, so the hussars only had two actions, preventing an immediate bloodbath.  In the centre the Polish infantry slowly began to move out of the tabor to begin its advance.

The carnage begins!
Now the Russian turn began and my first command roll, for my right wing, was a failure, so no units advanced, even the attempt to rally the battered unit of cavalry failed, so they remained shaken.  On my left I had more success, the first unit of noble cavalry charged the hussars, supported by the second unit.  My attempt to move the third and fourth units to support the flank of the first two failed, with dire consequences.  Not surprisingly the hussars counter-charged my cavalry and again won the melee.  They then went on to defeat the second unit and so by the end of my turn nearly half my cavalry was shaken or routed and the Poles were hardly scratched.
This set the precedent for subsequent rounds as Steve methodically crushed my cavalry wings, although I did have the satisfaction of destroying one unit of hussars.  An attempt to move round behind my infantry was defeated by the Dvor, but with only one unit and two flanks to watch, the writing was on the wall.

At last, some Russian success
Fortunately, it was now lunch time, so the dice were laid aside and as we ate our sandwiches we put the world to rights.  After lunch we reset the game, swopped sides and tried again.  This time we introduced a 'house rule' (no doubt the first of many), that, following melee and/or a sweeping advance to a second melee, a successful unit would become disordered.  At first it seemed as if nothing had changed as the hussars on the Polish right took on and defeated the Russian left single-handed.  Their pancerni supports resolutely refusing to move forward.  It was only the proximity of the Russian cavalry which enabled the hussars to charge under the initiative rule.  Indeed the Polish infantry advanced further than the pancerni on the Polish right.  By the end of the game they were exchanging volleys with the streltsy in the village.

On my left the hussars were initially successful, but took fairly heavy casualties, by the end of the game all the Polish cavalry were shaken and it would take at least four moves to rally them all.  Fortunately,all the remaining Russian cavalry on that wing were also shaken so hostilities died down.  In the centre the Polish infantry had plodded forward to musketry range and had engaged the streltsy and soldatski.

On reflection, the game worked reasonably well. I had thought that a 2 to 1 superiority in numbers for the Russians would provide balance, but I was proved wrong.  Perhaps rating the noble cavalry the same as pancerni would be better, or increasing the size of the noble cavalry units to give them more melee dice. Given the size of my table (6 by 4), increasing the number of cavalry figures (95 for the Russians) would reduce the opportunities for manoeuvre , which was the very nature of much of the fighting in the east.

The Polish infantry advance on the village
Our next game with these rules will need to test out the infantry battle, particularly push of pike.


  1. Spotted a couple of things.

    Why were you testing for the noble cavalry to countercharge - it's not needed, unlike Lion Rampant!.

    If you fail a command roll you can't attempt a rally as well.

    In Hail Caesar part of the same family of rules, cavalry making a sweeping charge have a 50% chance of being disordered, unlike Pike & Shotte and Black Powder

    1. Thanks again for the feedback, Will; it looks like I have been conflating rule sets again!! I am sure Steve and I will get to grips with the rules eventually. They do give a good, flowing game.