Monday 16 December 2013

The Battle of Pas des Colines

About a week ago fellow Reject Richard contacted Ray and I about taking part in a play-by-email type wargame set in 18th Century France. We would issue orders to our troops and Richard would then play the game following our instructions until the situation had changed enough to warrant new or revised orders from the commanders. What followed was a fascinating insight into the fog of war, the difficulties of reading a tactical situation and formulating a plan that tries to anticipate the mind of the opposing general. Normally we play games where the deployment of forces is more or less set and we micro-manage the individual battalions. In this game we were issuing orders to whole Brigades and had lots of room for manoeuvre and deployment. 

Extract from Richards opening notes to us explaining the situation:

In 1755 the nobility of France have finally had enough of their depraved king and the influence that Madame de Pompadour has over him, and have revolted in order to exert their rights and save the kingdom from the ‘she-devil’. The nobles have laid siege to the royal stronghold of Verdun. However, the king has sent a force to relieve the fortress. The nobles having got wind of this have set out to stop the reinforcements at the Pas des Colines and deliver a firm message of defiance to Louis XV and his scheming mistress.

It is 10am and the king’s forces are in march column arriving from the south-west. Meanwhile, detachments from the nobles’ army have appeared to the north-east and south-east. The king’s army consists of two brigades. Each one has 4 line battalions and medium artillery, all in march column. The front (1st) brigade also has a unit of skirmishers. The general in charge is very experienced and has successfully acquitted himself in the Austrian War of Succession.

The nobles’ army has two infantry brigades each of 4 battalions, but only the 1st has medium artillery. These all start in march column. There are also two cavalry brigades, the 1st cuirassier and the 2nd being dragoons. Both brigades have already deployed into line. The general in charge is relatively inexperienced but seems to show some promise.

All the hills represent very difficult going for all except light infantry in skirmish formation. All the hills represent very difficult going for all except light infantry in skirmish formation. Entry into woods should be avoided unless skirmishers.

The following pictures/maps are the 'orders' I issued and how I read the situation as the game progressed. After the second phase I was beginning to feel that I had made a terrible error in my deployment, but having committed my forces I had to carry through and hope. 

Phase One - The picture shows the opening deployment of the game with the Kings forces marching in column towards their objective (point X at the top of the map). My plan was to divide the enemies forces by attacking from both north and south. I moved my 2nd Cavalry Brigade (Dragoons) north to ensure I had numerical superiority there while moving my 2nd Infantry Brigade to threaten the rear elements of the Kings army. However I underestimated the movement of the enemy and most of the Kings forces moved north before I could contact with them.

Phase Two - The kings forces have moved much further north than I anticipated and I am now worried that my 2nd Infantry Brigade (at the south of the picture) are going to be left behind. Meanwhile in the north it looks like the kings forces are going to try and outflank my infantry. I decide that I will close the net and bottle the enemy into the valley between the Hills A, C & D and the woods marked B. 

Phase Three - The enemy in the south have finally turned to face the threat from my 2nd Infantry Brigade. I outnumber them but they have artillery support. My Dragoons (2nd Med Cavalry) pull back and hold position to threaten any advance by the Kings men up the eastern side of the small (one tree) hill. This apparently confused Ray and he held back from breaking out of the valley while our artillery took post shots at each other. Meanwhile in the north after a failed charge on infantry squares my Heavy Cavalry reform while my 1st Infantry Brigade move forward and exchange musket fire. 

Phase Four - Ouch! My 2nd Infantry Brigade in the south has taken a pounding with two battalions fleeing the field. However they have managed to keep Ray's attention here and the rest of his 2nd Infantry Brigade do not head north. In the north my infantry have taken heavy casualties but have also weakened the enemy so I order them to pull back and allow the Heavy Cavalry to thunder into the enemy lines again. This time they fail to see the threat and do not form square. Meanwhile my Dragoons prepare to move forward again and probe the centre of the enemy. 

End Phase - My Heavy Cavalry in the north thunder into the unprepared infantry of the kings army and ride them down! Meanwhile the Dragoons have also charged into the Kings infantry in the centre, albeit at some cost to themselves. In the south however my 2nd Infantry have been repulsed and have most definitely lost the battle there. But... the Kings forces are now unable to achieve their objective and cannot hope to reinforce Verdun. The Nobles have gained themselves a bloody victory and both side withdraw from the field with honour. 

I won! I have to say though it feels very much like a pyrrhic victory, but I'm not complaining. The fog of war was very thick throughout this game and trying to second guess Rays movement was extremely difficult. Towards the end I think the Kings forces definitely had the upper hand, but I threw in my cavalry and with a large helping of luck I somehow pulled victory from the jaws of defeat. 

This was a really fun game to play and a real challenge to the old brain cells. Thanks to Richard to running the game and to Ray for giving me a good run for my money. 


  1. It is a very interesting way of playing a game. I will have a think and see if I can run something similar at my club.

  2. That is a very good idea. I have often thought of doing something similar for my solo games.
    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. Neat game. I love the presentation

  4. It was a great game, but very difficult to know what to do, the Fog of War was the winner here too. Well done Lee!

    1. Perhaps it gave a better taste of the problems for a general than many command and control rules in differing sets. Anyway, shouldn't games be challenging in order to feel a sense of commitment, engagement and fulfilment.

    2. Sorry, I was in a bit of rush when I wrote the above. I also wanted to congratulate both players for being game for it, and amazingly prompt with their orders. I should also say that when put to the test, both showed clarity in the orders. As an umpire you and Ray really made it an excellent experience.
      ps it was great to see their orders and wonder how I might have done things differently.

    3. Totally agree with you, the game was very challenging and quite gripping as well. So don't tell anyone any of the ranges, movement or firing as this will change the way we both played in the next game....yes next game???

    4. Well Mr Rousell... I've already been giving this some thought. Watch out for something early next year.

  5. Great idea and a very interesting looking game. I have some ideas for a play by blog campaign. Of course I need to get my ducks in a row first.


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