Sunday, March 20, 2011


The rather magnificent Terence Alexander, playing Lord Uxbridge,
accompanied by the equally splendid Christopher Plummer, playing the Duke

The more astute reader will have noticed that both men are riding apple crates. It was this care and attention to the welfare of their horses (who are out of shot, putting their hooves up) that made them renowned military leaders guaranteed to give Frenchy a damn good thrashing in any weather. Curiously, Plummer - the Canadian is playing that most famous of Englishmen, who was actually Irish. Alexander who is playing Uxbridge, a cavalry officer who famously lost his leg at Waterloo, damn near lost his own leg while serving with the 27th lancers in Italy and walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

But, it is not Lord Uxbridge or Waterloo that concerns us at present - but Sahagun and plain old Henry Paget* as he was at the time. Sahagun is an interesting little action that took place during the retreat to Corunna. Sir John Moore was of the opinion that no good would be served by allowing Britain's only field army to be smashed by overwhelming numbers, but did not wish to retreat without striking some sort of a blow. With that object in mind, Paget was sent against Soult on a reconnaissance and led a cavalry brigade against the French occupied town of Sahagun. The plan was that a two pronged assault would result in the French being driven onto a blocking force. Sadly, the night march went wrong, as night marches so often do and the blocking force led by General Slade, described by Paget as "...that damned stupid fellow", was not in place in time and took no part in the action.

A brilliant charge by the 15th Hussars overthrew the French completely, taking 300 prisoners, but the lack of a blocking force prevented the whole French force being put in the bag.

The action is atmospherically described in Rumours of War, the sixth Mathew Hervey novel, byAllan Mallinson.

A picture of a possible setup (since abandoned),
taken for note taking purposes

I had been thinking about writing a Sahagun scenario for a while, mainly because I think its interesting and secondly, as I had been wondering whether C&C: Napoleonics could handle an all cavalry engagement. My first thought was for numbers, most C&C: Napoleonics scenarios involve about a dozen units a side, but I can't field that much cavalry. It would also led to a rather packed battlefield. Both sides fielded about eight hundred men, though half the British force (under that damned fool Slade) didn't make it to the field in time to help decide the matter.

I decided to field equal forces, as the French units are larger (four blocks to the British three) which would keep the disparity in numbers while ensuring the both sides had a sufficient number of manoeuvre units to keep things interesting. Also since, CCN classes dragoons as heavies the French will enjoy a superiority of weight, which translates to an additional die in melee.

I added three special rules for flavour

- firstly, the British player may negate any French played "First Strike" card by yelling "Emsdorf and Victory" before the French player rolls dice. The attack is canceled and the card replaced.

-secondly, the French player may negate a British played "Short of Supplies" card by saying "That damn fool Slade", before the British player has touched figures. The effect is canceled and the card replaced.

-thirdly, all infantry/artillery specific cards, Bombard, Fire and Hold, etc - may be played as Rally cards.

The first two rules are present because I love gimmicks, though they do reflect (in a manner of speaking) two incidents from the actual battle. The last is an attempt to model the swirling, chaotic nature of cavalry combat where momentum and address are vitally important, horsemen are scattered more easily than their infantry fellows and motivated officers can rally them to charge once again.

On the face of it, it seems pretty hopeless for the British - facing superior numbers, half of whom hit harder than they do. I may have to set up the scenario at the point of the charge to level the playing field, but I don't want to completely hamstring the French player either. There is of course, always the chance that Slade might show up - which could result in things becoming very sticky for the French.

I have tested this and various board layouts by playing around with the boxed game. This has the advantage of ensuring I don't use more pieces than the game allows, which would substantially limit outside playtesting possibilities. Thus far I haven't managed to produce anything other than a crushing victory for the French, even giving them a hand size of three compared the British five. Perhaps starting the battle from the point of the British approach might be more fruitful with the French player struggling to get his troops out of the town so as to bring his superior numbers to bear.

That said I haven't attempted a blind playtest yet - which is always the real test of a scenario. Putting two players who operate with none of the authors assumptions in front of a game is always an interesting experience. I might manage a playtest this week.

More thoughts on this when I have them dear readers.

*Nasty or impolite people might point out that he was a Lord at the time, but that unpleasant fact drives a coach and horses through my nicely composed sentence and may be ignored for the time being.


  1. Dear Joy,
    Re: Wellington being Irish- There is an aprocryphal tale of Wellington being teased about being Irish. His reply was " Just because a man was born in a stable doesn't make him a horse !" . Just a tale, what? Quite.

  2. It was actually said by Daniel O'Connell of Wellington. The two men were political opponents.

  3. I seem to recall that this was an occasion when the French (Chasseurs a cheval and some sort of foreigners was it? been years) took the charge at the halt relying on a carbine volley to ward off the Brits.

    Any cards or rules for that? Might make a difference.

  4. I was thinking about it and it seemed such an odd thing to do that I thought it might be unsporting to foist it on the French player. It looks like I may have to reconsider.

  5. Not familiar with the rules but how about forbidding the French from attacking until at least one of their units is attacked?

    There was quite a bit of Johnny Foreigner hesitation foolishness on the day as I recall