Two for Turenne with Bonaparte on the Bench

Having had a hiatus from writing, it’s time to work back from most recent to the more distant. Last Friday I caught up with Markus after my D&D session was cancelled (an event that ought to have been a surprise but alas it was not). After a brief exchange of e-mails, Markus and I decided upon Turenne: Campagne d’Alsace de 1674. A product of the French magazine Cassus Belli, it was a title that I’d not heard of. My knowledge of the period sadly lacking I nevertheless looked forward to it. I have seen the great man’s tomb in Les Invalides, an indication of the regard that his generalship was held in. He was not a young man during this campaign, being in his 74th year, and he was to die in the following year at the Battle of Salzbach.

The game has a mere three pages of rules, and the map is long and relatively  thin, featuring the Rhine valley along The Palatinate/French border. Two cities, Mulhausen and Strasbourg, and a portion of Basel are neutral independent entities. The units are generic strength point markers placed under flags to indicate armies (no leaders as such, so that the great man himself does not appear on the map). Both sides also gain a number of dummy markers (illustrated by a rather cute duck) with which the enemy may be foxed.

The game sequence is rather simple. Both sides roll a dice and add to that their current VP level, the higher result goes first. All units for one side are moved, combat is had, the other side has their turn and thus the campaign continues.

Armies have ZOCs which force opponents to cease movement, and there is no provision for overruns. The CRT is differential, with reasonable returns for the attacker at around the +6 mark. The narrow terrain allows the canny player to send out swarms of dummies that will be handily spotted but nevertheless holding up the enemy (perhaps they represent small flying detachments). Units have 8 movement points, and with a relatively extensive road network which costs 1/2 MP per hex, units zip around the map hither and yon.

There are three scenarios of varying length, from 9 game turns to 24 game turns. Victory is based on points, which are gained for eliminating enemy strength points and capturing enemy cities. Players also get points for entering neutral cities. Now this is not something that’s easy to do. The hopeful army moves adjacent, and in its next turn asks permission. In scenario 1, the hopeful army must roll a ‘1’, the size of the army being irrelevant. In scenario 2 the bigger the army the greater chance of success. Presumably the bigger army has in its train a series of trained diplomats that can haggle with the city’s parliament.

The victory points for being the first to enter these are quite large, so a lucky initial die roll may be the difference between victory and defeat, particularly as the request for entry is a single-shot attempt. Fail and the good burghers close their gates to you indefinitely. A mitigating circumstance is that the games are typically short. The first nine-turn scenario took about half an hour. The second scenario of 24 turns took about the same length of time (though we ended it on turn 14).

In all scenarios the French are outnumbered, if not initially then by the game’s end. They have to therefore zip about the map concentrating against one foe before concentrating against another. Their chief problem is that their enemies can do the same. The notes (according to Markus, whose French is light-years in advance of mine) indicate that Turenne manouvered against enemy supply trains in order to force battle. There are however no supply considerations, and armies have no real centre of gravity. One does pick up points for taking enemy cities, but this impacts on the field armies not at all. If the enemy is taking your cities, well then you can simply take his, and the merry dance can continue while we have game turns in us.

The siege rules are also interesting. One must surround the enemy with ZOCs, and once begun it will take three (I think) complete game turns for the fortress to capitulate. A nice piece of Vaubanesque exactitude, though I prefer a spot more randomness with my sieges, thank you very much. A superiority in strengh poins is necessary to maintain the siege. As far as we could tell, the besieged cannot fight the besiegers at all, so one has to be careful about when to accept siege.

With a mere 2 pages of actual rules (the charts take up the third page) a few things could have stood better explanation, but we managed to sort things out (we think). I played the French in both scenarios, and given that I lost rather handily in both it’s clear that I am no Turenne (though my hair is suitably long, I cannot imagine the Marshal in a flanellette shirt). The French need to find a force and pick on it quickly, with killing units off that cannot retreat due to being surrounded by ZOCs a premium. In time the weight of enemy reinforcements makes itself felt. I might have won the second. I could have bagged a force in Strasbourg but was tardy in setting the siege and relief armies poured over the Rhine before it fell. Oh well. It was good to have played it, but it frankly felt a little bland. With time and a few goodly tomes under one’s belt it might be worth tinkering with.

We had time for a third game and cast about for suitable candidates. One that Markus has had for a while was the Columbia edition of Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign.  It’s a typical Columbia block game, with hidden strength points, but without the HQ activations that you see in other titles. The map is a reasonably well done point-to-point rendition of the Belgian countryside.

The Avalon Hill edition I remember as being fun to play, but then I was in high school and would play anything that had a board. It was however difficult to get the historical rate of Allied concentration. Markus tells me that it ws impossible, but let’s stick with difficult. The French could move 2 stacks, the Prussian and Anglo-Dutch armies 1 each.

Columbia have added a lot of extra blocks (according to Boardgame Geek 84 blocks compared to 48), so that the units are divisions, more or less. The French can now move 3 stacks, and the respective Allied armies 2 each. The road limits are more generous, and bridges only halve movement allowances if crossing them to get into battle. There are now 4 turns per day, rather than the previous 3, so the campaign should move at a pace commensurate with the added level of granularity. The 3 army commanders also make an appearance, and offer some bonuses in force-marching and morale. he Allied ability to concentrate has been improved markedly.

Physically, the new map is no bigger than the old, so the initial French set-up leaves one with the impression that Belgium is to be invaded by several enormous ziggurats. What seemed of great moment however was simply disappointing fluff. Loking at the maps of the 2 editions I find that the area around Charleroi is unchanged, whereas I while playing truly thought that additional towns had been added to the Belgian border region. The reason that I thought this was that it seemed impossible for the French to achieve their historical concentration at Charleroi, and I remember many games of the earlier edition with the French in Charleroi by the end of turn 1.

One reason that the concentration didn’t take place in hindsight was player error. Cavalry could have been fed across the river, a battle forced and infantry fed in as reinforcements. The big problem facing the French though is that the river severely limits the ability of the French to bring troops to bear because the crossings are contested, and thus halved. True, the French can force-march troops, but this still doesn’t address the congestion issue. Essentially, the amount that can move along a major road has gone up 25% (from 8 to 10), but the number of actual units in play has almost doubled. The going for the French is simply slower.

What we found therefore was that the Allies could get into position early and the French late. The climatic Battle of Charleroi featured the combined Anglo-Prussian armies attacking Napoleon’s Grande Armee from Quatre Bras and Ligny respectively. We called the game at that point (and thankfully I was the Anglo-Prussian commander so I got to win something).

I suspect that while an approach up the centre could be better done, it’s not I think a viable strategy in this edition. True, there are other approaches one could take, so this does not necessarily detract from the game simply as a game. But if it cannot model the approaches that the historical actors took (and even if we want to discount Blucher, presumably Wellington and Bonaparte had good reasons for the approaches that they took) then it is of no interest to me, and yet again a game falls off my radar.  So disappointing, but at least I won something, and helped Markus increase the percentage of his game collection played, o generous soul that I am.

Next, we stay in similar areas geographically, but move forward 99 years.

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