Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Battle of the Alma

The Colours Advance of the Scots Guards at the Alma by Lady Butler

Young Du Gourmand and I have been discussing using Command & Colours Napoleonics to play games set during the Crimean War for years now.  What changed last week was that I finally got off my backside and did something about it.  I put together a draft scenario for the British sector of the Battle of the Alma. Du Gourmand and I played it three times and came to that classic conclusion that crops up in most research be it under graduate or otherwise. 

"More research is needed."

I rated the British infantry as standard Napoleonic British infantry, albeit with three blocks and a three hex range because of their shiny new rifles. The reason for them being reduced to three stands is that the Russians seemed to operate in larger units, so any given acreage would contain more Russians than Britishers.  The British plus one to shooting when stationary also remained. 

The Light Division were treated as British Rifles from Command & Colours Napoleonics.  British generals and horse artillery were also treated as they were in Command & Colours Napoleonics. 

The Russian artillery, generals and cossacks were treated as written, but the Russian infantry began with five blocks and ignoring one flag.  We did not use the Mother Russia rule.  

The important thing to note here is that the British infantry have a range of three hexes and the Russian infantry have a range of two.  This results in a sort of dance where the Russians struggled to get close to the British lines without getting shot to pieces and the British shied away from the Russian juggernaut.  With only three stands, a British unit that was charged by a full strength Russian unit was in serious trouble. 

After the first playthrough, we knocked the Russian infantry back to four stands because five stands was just too powerful. We might play around with the idea of four stand British infantry and five stand Russians, but the game seemed to work with three and four. 

The Battle of the Alma by Horace Vernet 
(note the size and extent of the slope) 

Normally when designing a Command & Colours scenario, hill hexes are only used to indicate changes in elevation, but the problem with the Alma is that the Russian positions are on a slope, which calls for what is effectively a multi-level hill in Command & Colours terms.  This led to the unusual situation that the Russian player was concealing troops uphill from the British player and then counter charging his men as they took the redoubt.  The point is not that that shouldn't have happened, but that the British player should have been able to put those units under fire before hand. 

This is going to prove to be a tricky circle to square - though Du Gourmand rather rashly promised that he would write me a scenario based on the French sector if I manage to get it right.


  1. The Crimea did you say? Ah! My first military history love. It grabbed my interest back in '76 when I read a grade-school book on Florence Nightengale (sp?) as a callow nine-year-old. Were the figures used in your battle of the Crimean era? Did you snap any photos during the game?

    Best Regards,


    1. I'm afraid I didn't Stokes as we were too busy hurtling through the same scenario three times, but I will be sure to get some next time.

      The figures were a mix. It turned out I didn't have as many Russian artillery crews as I thought and I don't have any Crimean generals. The British were a mix, my Highlanders are Crimean (mainly because I just like the figures), the rifles and regular infantry were all peninsular war - but there is so little change in the uniform that it didn't look that out of place. It probably didn't hurt that I had actually mixed in some Strelets Crimeans when I was building my Peninsular army.

    2. Photos, Young Mr. Kinch! Photos!

      Best Regards,


  2. I love Lady Butler's work. What an extraordinary life she had. There was a print of "Remnants of an Army" in my last Mess and I often would look at it when I thought that I had been having a rough day. Rather put it in perspective.
    Could you do multiple slope hexes, each a higher level than the other, so that units on the slope were in LOS to lower ones unless positioned at least a hex behind the crest?

  3. It occurs to me that unless you want the slope to be steep enough to actually affect movement or to give the Russians advancing down it a LoS benefit over the British shooting up then the best way to do it is to just use regular hills as the crest and count the rest of the slope as open terrain.

  4. I've been mulling over this a bit. Good work getting this far.

    I hate to sound critical especially on such thin evidence but I'm not sure you're heading in the right direction with the infantry. There is no doubt that some British units had longer ranged, rifled weapons ( not the 4th iir) and that this was important but they also seem to have been more keen on closing with the bayonet. Also I'm not sure the Russians tried to close to a better shooting range but rather just opened fire with less effect. Might almost be better to give the Brits a bonus in effect vs in range? (I haven't played enough C&c to remember how to do that. In Battlecry I'd be tempted to say they don't hit on sabres when shooting.)

    last year I explained how Ron and I do slopes and hilltops in our Colonial Battlecry and Memoir games. If you're interested I can dig out the post.