Battleshed Diaries

Tuesday 19 January 2016

La Petite Guerre

The first new game played of 2016. And yet another system! 

This time it's North America during the second half of the 18th century, with the British Lt. Nathaniel Black leading his Rangers and Native Indian scouts ahead of the main British force, the New Jersey Blues, marching to capture a strategic ford. This is Muskets and Tomahawks.

A four-player game (two a side) hosted by the affable John Ewing at Falkirk & District Wargames club. All the fantastic miniatures, force rosters and scenery provided by John too. What a guy! 

I'll start with the scenario and a brief battle overview (from the British perspective, so totally biased!) and finish with a summary of the rules. I was too busy playing The British Rangers to make a detailed battle report, but hopefully it'll at least give a flavour of the skirmish!

Luckily for me the other three players were also new to Muskets and Tomahawks so I didn't feel like a spare wheel and with John's expert guidance we were soon ready to fight in the frigid winter snows of Quebec.

This a card activated system, similar to my recent experience with Dux Britanniarum in some respects, where a deck is built from a mix of the opponent's Activation cards, depending on the forces being deployed.

The deck is shuffled and the cards draw randomly to activate units depending upon their nationality and type. Once the deck is exhausted, the next turn starts.There are also Morale and scenario specific Event cards.

The scenario:

John used a slightly adapted scenario, (he added the 'Snow' complication as he wanted to try out a huge box of winter trees!), from Wargames Illustrated magazine (338, Dec 2015) called 'The Winter Ford' by William Raffle. This is set during the French and Indian Wars on the Montmorency River, Quebec on 26 July 1759. From Wargames Illustrated:
By July 1759 General Wolfe had successfully landed the British forces and encamped them surrounding the capital of New France, Quebec. However, his campaign had ground to a halt. There were different routes to approach the city to besiege it but each approach was difficult.
This scenario represents a skirmish reported by the French Officer Malartic, which took place when Wolfe's scouts probed the French defences along the Montmorency river.
The British deploy their vanguard of Rangers [that's me!] and Light Infantry in an 8"x16" box in the south-east corner of the table. They may use hidden movement tokens if desired.
The French detachment of Indians will then deploy anywhere else on the east bank of the river, but must set up at least 16" away from any British tokens and may also use hidden movement.
 For the first two turns of the game these will be the only forces on the table.
The British reinforcements [New Jersey Blues] enter the table on turn 3.
The French reinforcements arrive on turn 4.

Both Sides win VPs for wiping out opposing units, but bonus points are up for grabs for the French and Indians if there are no British troops on their side of the ford by the end of turn 6.

Similarly, they get the bonus if they have at least 15 troops over the ford and on the French side of the river. Seemed quite straight forward to me, what could go wrong!?

8 turns.

The British forces:
  • The New Jersey Blues led by Captain John Adams , aided by officer Lieutenant James Abercromby (pistol & swords), leading 3 sections of Regulars (Muskets, Light Infantry, Firing Line) 
  •  British Rangers led by Lieutenant Nathaniel Black (Pistol & Tomahawk, Sharpshooters, Scout), leading two sections of Irregulars and a section of Native Indian scouts (Muskets & Tomahawks, Native auxiliaries, Scouts)

The French forces:
  • The Canadian Militia led by Captain Jacques Cordeau leading 4 sections of Militia (Musket & Tomahawk, Scout) 
  •  The Huron Warriors led by Red Cloak (Hunting Rifle & Tomahawk, Native, Scout, Marksman, Guerrilla) leading 4 sections (Musket & Tomahawk, Native, Scouts, Savage)

Turns 1-2

British Rangers marching up the road, not bothering with all that creeping about malarkey.

Now, as John explained the movement restrictions caused by the 'snow' complication (-2" off movement, unless on the road), I started to secretly worry already. Flashbacks to numerous winter campaign games of Songs of Blades, where my dwarfs were at a serious disadvantage for, um, obvious reasons, started to surface. It almost made me suitably shudder!

As I was deploying first, with the British Rangers and Native Indian scouts, I opted to use Hidden Movement, including a Dummy Marker. This is designed to confuse the opponent - although not being familiar with dummy markers, it confused me too! I had to remember which unit was where, and more importantly, which one of the things was the 'dummy' - apart from me of course!

These markers apparently represent units with the scout trait being harder to spot and providing some degree of movement flexibility. As long as they are deployed out of enemy site or out of their spotting range. Yes, I quickly learnt that Muskets and Tomahawks has 'spotting ranges' as a key element of the game. This means that even though a unit may have line of sight to the enemy, they still might not see them due to factors such as weather, cover and obstacles.

One thing John warned us about was letting our hidden movement markers comes into line of sight and within spotting distance of the enemy, as all the creeping about in the snowbound woods could come to naught. If this happens, the leader of the hidden unit is revealed where the marker is placed, but the opponent gets to place the rest of the hidden unit within their movement rate of the leader. Which, of course, will be as suitably disadvantageous to the revealed unit as the enemy can achieve.

Suffice to say, by the second turn, with lots of suspicious falls of snow and the odd snap of undergrowth in the surrounding woods - 'There's In'juns in them there woods!' - I moved two hidden marker units up the unrestricted road, with the dummy marker taking point. The other units, advanced more slowly on the left of the road, restricted by the snows and woods.

'There's In'juns in them woods, Sir!'
Rather predictably, as they approached a bend in the road, 'them tha' In'juns' were indeed lurking in woods off to the south-west. As my dummy point marker was in line of sight and spotting range, it was revealed. Which my opponent shrugged off as being what he expected!

But with Red Coat's Huron Warriors now being rather less than stealthy in the woods, I decided to reveal the next hidden marker, on the unit's next activation, before the enemy could get the drop on them. So I had one unit of Rangers trying to look bold and formidable by marching imperiously up the road .

'Right, at em' lads! Give those natives what for!'

That's when the shooting started, followed by thick clouds of powder smoke. And reloading. I forgot about that. These boys had black powder weapons. They'd have to use an action to reload, assuming the damn activation card tuned up!

Meanwhile, the rest of my Hidden Marker units had finally arrived at positions on the edges of the wood on the left of the road, their progress hindered by the snow and terrain. Wary of allowing the enemy to force a reveal, I luckily had a run of activations from the deck which allowed me to pre-empt things, choosing to actively reveal the remainder of my units.

British Rangers deploying to cover the road from the periphery of the woods

It wasn't long before enemy Native Indians were spotted in various potions overlooking the route of the road. This is where all the players got to see the shooting phase in action. The target unit must be in Line of Sight and Spotted by the shooting unit. Units have a Line of Sight that runs 180 degrees in front of it, with penalties To Hit if it has to pivot to shoot.

Next up the range is checked, depending on the weapon being used, and then the unit rolls to hit. This is done by rolling 1D6 per shooting miniature, with various modifiers in play. If any get through - always a serious question for anyone when I'm doing the To Hit rolls - a D6 is rolled for each success and the result compared to the Lethality of the weapon. Any casualties are removed by the owning player.

These rules contain a Reaction system too, so any unit that suffers one or more casualties from shooting has to test it's nerve, which after consulting the appropriate table and applying modifiers, could see a unit Fleeing, Recoiling, just standing there nonchalantly shrugging it off, or completely routing (Run away! Run away!)
Native Huron warriors exchanging fire with British Rangers and Native Scouts

Some weapons, such as those using Black Powder, need an Action to Reload (tokens are used), which means they are way too busy ramming rods, or whatever they used to do, so they can't even pivot on the spot. No wonder the Natives used bloody tomahawks!

Lieutenant Nathaniel Black led his unit of Rangers flanked by his Native Indian scouts towards the periphery of the woods and started to exchange volleys of Musket Fire across the road to the north, towards woods reported to be 'infested with the enemy, sir!' But after initial successes with their opening volleys, the unit of Rangers who'd earlier confidently deployed at the bend of the road now found themselves taking some withering return fire themselves!

The enemy native warriors were proving to be surprisingly proficient with their Muskets. So much so that the Rangers started to take casualties, and soon afterwards they decided it was much wiser to make a hasty 'strategic withdrawal'.

So they turned about 180 degrees and promptly quick marched back down the road from the direction they'd come from. Well, that's the report the officer in charge provided. The Reaction test said the unit Fled, allegedly!

Turns 3-8

The remains of a ranger unit 'strategically withdrawing' past the marching New Jersey Blues

By now, my comrade-in-game, has finally got a chance to deploy the British regulars, the New Jersey Blues. As their column started off up the road, they were soon met by a disorganised rabble of Rangers, panting and looking rather sheepish.

The Rangers immediately started to claim they were ambushed by 'an army of natives' and they'd withdrawn in 'good order' to await reinforcements. It was clear Captain John Adams's men weren't taken in by the Ranger's account, given the amount of derisory insults aimed at them.

The remainder of the Rangers, abashed, followed-on behind the regulars as they continued their march up the road. It wasn't long before they came across the bend in the road where the Rangers had been allegedly ambushed by the native army.

One of the British native scouts appeared from a nearby woods, conveying messages from Lieutenant Nathaniel Black, who warned that his remaining Rangers and scouts were still exchanging fire with the enemy across the road and advising the regulars to instead flank left cross-country where the rangers could still cover them. The road wasn't open.

However, whether it was pure disdain for the native enemy's abilities or simply wanting to demonstrate to the shaken Ranger unit following on behind how 'proper soldiers of His Imperial Majesty do it', the Regulars continued on in formation.

Much to the dismay of Lieutenant Nathaniel Black, it wasn't long before he  - and his nearby native scout units - could hear the sounds of battle from the road. It was clear it was now the regulars turn to be hit by volleys from the woods.

The New Jersey Blues deployed in good order, firing off well-drilled volleys, whilst the enemy Huron warriors fired their muskets haphazardly from the relative cover of the woods. The Blues' obviously thought a few good, hard volleys would see the natives running and they'd be soon marching on towards the river.

But plans rarely survive first contact with the enemy and the third turn had the British regulars stalled on the open road, whilst  most of the rangers and their native scout units were either too far away, given the tough snow conditions, to provide support. Most were busy with their own running skirmishes with the enemy scouts.

The French Canadian Militia forming up on the east bank of the river
By turn four, British scouts reported the arrival of French regulars  had arrived. And the fourth player in our little Muskets and Tomahawks quartet could get his Canadian Militia led by Captain Jacques Cordeau onto the table. They deployed on the east bank of the river, just north of the Ford.
Lieutenant Nathaniel Black, unable to help the British Regulars, decided to flank east through the woods, eventually reaching the edge of the woods overlooking the river - and the deploying French forces. Hoping to at least stall the French whilst the British Blue's dealt with the bit of trouble on the road, they lined up and opened fire.

Tomahawks flying and hard close-quarter fighting as the New Jersey Blues fend off Huron warriors

Meanwhile, back on the road, the New Jersey Blues were still stalled, the fighting now getting hard. The Huron warriors, fed up with taking massed volleys and their casualties mounting, decided to prove the warriors they were and suddenly burst from from the woods and charged the British troops. Screaming and whooping, they descended quickly on the British as their officers bellowed orders to position to receive enemy.

A few paces before the Huron made contact, they hurled their Tomahawks, many embedding themselves with dull thuds into the stunned British troopers. The shaken column soon lost some of its coherence as individual groups of soldiers and howling Native Indians fought at close quarter.

British Rangers exchanging fire across the Montmorency river 
Eventually, the British column fought off the attack, but not without taking serious casualties. They had lost over half their number, with casualties from both sides littering the road and churned, blood smeared snow. A unit of British native scouts bravely headed south to harass the remaining enemy whilst the British column hastily tried to re-organise.

Remarkably, the New Jersey Blues decided (or at least, their commander did), that there was to be no retreat and continued their march on the road towards the river and ford, all the time being sporadically sniped by enemy scouts.

By the time they actually reached the ford, the New Jesrsey Blues were down to less than a handful of shaken and exhausted men. They forlornly splashed across the icy ford, muskets balls thudding into the shallows and surrounding snows.

The few men that made it across had no hope of holding the east bank, even though the Rangers had been partially successful distracting some of the French units with fierce exchanges across the river.

The French held the crossing.

  Historical aftermath (from Wargames Illustrated):
The French were able to repulse the British attack on the day and Wolfe did not attempt another attack on the Winter Ford. In reality the French bank of the river was just too steep to entertain it as a viable route towards Quebec.
His first serious attempt to cross the Montmorency came at the end of July when he attempted to land his troops by boat on the Beauport shore from the saint Lawrence river. This attack was beaten back. Little offensive action was taken in these parts during August and the British camp on the banks of the falls was abandoned in early September to consolidate the troops on the east bank of the Saint Lawrence at Point Levis.
It took until 9 September before Wolfe was finally able to land close enough to the city of Quebec and the result was the famous Battle of the Plains of Abraham, in which the mortally wounded Wolfe lived just long enough to see his victory play out which effectively decided the fate of New France.

The rules - my first impressions

Muskets and Tomahawks, designed by Alexandre Buschel and published in 2012 by Studio Tomahawk (Saga, Jugula, Crescent and the Cross), is a card driven, points based skirmish tabletop wargaming system portraying the 'small wars', Petite Guerre, of the mid 18th century. They cover the French and Indian Wars, the Indian Revolts and the American Revolution.

The rules come with the deck of cards and comprehensive army lists covering the Indian Nations, British, French, Americans, German Mercenaries and Civilians.

Seven Troop types are used: Regulars, Irregulars, Indians, Militia, Provincials, Civilians and Artillery.

Weaponry covers: Black Powder weapons (Muskets, Carbines, Rifles and even the 'Swivel Gun', a small canon), Thrown weapons, (Tomahawks, hatchets, throwing knives etc) and Pistols, Sabres, Grenades, Lances and bows. And, of course, artillery.

There are also rules covering individual Officers and their traits.

All's that is needed to play are typically a force of miniatures from as small as 20 all the way up to 100 for larger battles, a bag of D6 dice and a tape measure. The Studio Tomahawk site includes a free downloads for the Quick Reference Sheet and Markers.

I must say, this is a period of martial history that I find interesting and keen to learn more about so its great to finally get to wargame this period. Of course, you know that just means that my Lead Mountain and paint schedule will be topped up again sooner or later!

The rules are pretty straightforward, with a familiar array of unit and officer stats (Movement, Shooting, Aggressiveness, Defence, Morale) and traits. Its a points based system, with the rules providing a Scenario Generator and a Side Plot Generator.

The rulebook is a partially coloured production, with the front and back covers being in full colour with some nice, pretty miniature pictures. Inside its an quality A4, black-and-white pictures and print.

I purchased mine for £24 (including the cards), from a regular port of call, North Star Military Figures. That said, I've had to produce this post using a borrowed copy of the rules from John, as mine hadn't arrived - something I will have to take up with my local postal service.

Meeples & Miniatures pod-cast: Episode 88 - Muskets & Tomahawks, with Rich Jones & Mike Hobbs

Finally, I found an excellent 8 part 'How to play...' video on YouTube by athilith, which is very well edited and is thankfully waffle-free. I found it very useful.


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