L' Armee du Nord (Clash of Arms)
Playings; 3 (20 hours), 1 French win, 2 Allied.
Nice legs shame about the boat race. 3 maps and 300 odd combat units of stunning graphics, precisely why I bought Armee du Nord. The 3 maps run from the French border to Brussels at a scale not far off Napoleon at Waterloo (built up areas are 1 or 2 hexes closer together in Armee du Nord) or Napoleon's Last Battles. With hexagons covering some 700 metres the map area becomes pretty narrow to fit in all the action. I sold off Napoleon's Last Battles about 3 years ago not having looked inside the box for at least 5 more but have the feeling that the width of Armee du Nord's play area is only a little wider than in Napoleon's last Battles.
Armee du Nord tries to simulate the strategic and tactical implications of the Waterloo campaign by using a quad-like scale and a great deal of map space to cover the necessary ground. Only a narrow strip of Belgium is covered so the greater part of the Allied and Prussian armies are not set up on the map. These units are placed on off-map tracks which lead to entry area hexes. None of the units can move until activated but when able they move 1 box towards the map each turn. They cannot go back up the tracks away from the map but some boxes are named as intersections and off-map units can swop between the same named box on different tracks if the new track will place them nearer to their destination. The Allied units will all enter on the West edge and the Prussian to the East. The co-operation of both armies is further hampered by having a turn sequence of Allied player, French , then Prussian.
Armee du Nord offers scenarios for Waterloo and Wavre together or Ligny and Quatre Bras. There is no scope to play the 4 battles as separate games. Considering the unit density, Ligny covers under 15 hexes width, there is little incentive to do so. The overall aim of play is to show the relationship between the battles occurring at the same time, the French aiming to split up the Allied and Prussian armies and defeat them in detail. Having played the campaign twice, the French sliced through the Allies handily while keeping the Prussians at bay on one occasion and ran out of troops against the combined armies on the other
In the campaign all the French units start in France, the border is guarded by weak Prussian detachments with 2 Divisions of the 1st Prussian Corps a little further back, all these units are on the Southernmost map. The majority of the Prussian 1st Corps is on the centre map together with a few Allied units in the Quatre Bras area on the same map. Other units are off-map except for some Allied units far away in Brussels on the North map. The Prussians may not move until activated. A courier leaves the 1st Prussian unit contacted by the French (on turn 2) moving at 10 plus D6 movement points. When it passes through the 1st Corps commander that Corps can move but the rest of the Prussian army is stuck off map until the courier reaches an entry area half way up the centre map and contacts Blucher. The Allies are transfixed until Blucher is activated and sends a courier to Brussels. These couriers are indestructible but move at such a speed that the French are unlikely to catch them.
With all opposing troops glued in place for the 1st turns the initial French moves are pretty standard although the big choice remains as to attacking the Prussians or Allies with the bulk of their army. Even when activated the Prussian 1st Corps is not strong enough to put up prolonged resistance. At least 1 of its outlying Divisions and some outposts are clearly deadmeat and the whole Corps will be looking a bit ropy by the time the 2nd Corps turns up, this in turn will take quite a battering before the 3rd Corps is available. The 4th Prussian Corps can take days to turn up and is not a strong as the initial 3.
The movement of French units is pure Zucker. Units are divided in to Corps with a Corps commander for each. The French also have 3 army commanders, Ney, Grouchy and Napoleon although Ney does not turn up until turn 5 and is not going to be any use until at least turn 7. Leaders have a range of 2 across country or 3 along roads. Any Corps within range of an army Leader is in command and any unit of a Corps within range of that commander may move. If a Corps is not in command then it may still move on a 3 or less for infantry or 4 or less for cavalry. Units not within the span of their commanders may move by rolling under their morale which is usually a 3. French Guard infantry units may not roll for movement but must be under their Corps leader or Napoleon's direct command. It is pretty difficult to get all the Guard infantry shifted on the same move. The rules state that out of command units move after units that are automatically in command. The neatest way to handle this is to have all in-command units move and then roll for out of command units and Corps individually then moving them if they pass. Gamey players can get around this by rolling for everyone before moving, noting who has passed and planning the moves of in-command troops to fit in with those Corps that will move later.
Roads are a big help in movement with 1/2 a point per hex, there are also the more mathematically challenging tracks with 2/3rds movement points per hex. Road and track movement is hampered by denying units that move this way or cross bridges the ability to stack. Formations spread along the roads and tracks for speed but even with the improved 3 hex command range it is not possible to get all Corps within range of army commanders when they are spread along roads. Some Corps will have to be left behind and trust to die rolls, if they fail they can then stuff up the movement of Corps even further back on the same road, moving along parallel roads suddenly becomes sensible. Cavalry Corps can stay in command by moving along the fields to the sides of roads but this will lose their considerable movement advantage. The French player will be spending his first couple of turns sorting out the army into a decent road marching order. Not all Corps can possibly be put under overall commanders and some will be dicing to march to the front. The French player can either take up the lead Corps and engage the enemy or shuttle back and forth for a gradual advance. Considering the abysmal Prussian and Allied initial deployments he is better off getting stuck in and going back for the tardy troops during the 1st night and early part of the 2nd day.
The Prussian and Allied armies have much more restrictive command systems, they still have army and Corps commanders but no initiative ratings. There are only 2 army commanders, Blucher and Wellington restricting the number of active Corps to 2 each side or 3 of the smaller Allied Corps. Units which are out of command cannot move adjacent to the French or attack and can only move towards Corps Assembly markers. These markers are placed on named built up areas and can only be moved every 4 hours. Thanks to the errata, these markers are not affected by the presence of French troops so can be put behind enemy lines as foci of advance although a commander will be needed for attacks. The Corps Assembly markers restrict Corps to an advance or retreat option for periods of 4 hours, a lot can happen in that time. Off-map troops will always head to the entry hex which is nearest to their Corps Assembly marker, they will move between off-board movement tracks at intersections as necessary to shorten the distance. It is quite possible for these markers to end up behind the French front line when the units appear on map or for the French to cordon off an entry area. The obvious solution is to arrange for all markers to be in rear areas so that new units can turn up safety, naturally this is not always going to happen, French cavalry can move pretty damn quick to exploit holes in the opposing line. The game rules are no help in what to do here. Lone units will try to trace their way to the marker (which will probably soon be moved to a more convenient site) but if out of command cannot move adjacent to the French. If a sizeable force is on its way the best ploy is to sent Wellington or Blucher to the entry point, put the troops in command and fight a way out. This will put the main battle line out of command. The rules on deaths of leaders do not appear to have been written but if we go back to the oral history of board games leaders can be deemed immune from death but cannot enter enemy hexes and are displaced 1 hex by the owning player if an enemy unit enters their hex. Apart from the difficulty in getting new units onto the board at the right time Prussian and Allied command rules limit any counter-attacks to a Corps or two at a time and only when the commanders are not busy sorting out the mess in the rear.
Corps are also important for morale, in effect Corps stick together and die together. Combat losses are in strength points which weaken units on the map but are added to the cumulative losses for each Corps. When losses reach a certain level the whole Corps is Demoralised and may only move 1 hex. Further losses can see the Corps being Shattered and removed from the map. At the beginning of each day units can try to recover casualties and if enough are recovered a Corps recovers from Demoralisation. To recover a unit must be outside of the movement capability of an enemy unit so it pays for Corps that are approaching their Demoralisation level to slink off to the rear and wait for recovery. Already Demoralised Corps can only move 1 hex so may take more than 1 day to get sufficiently far from the battle to recover. The number of casualties required for Demoralisation and Shattering depends on the initial size and fighting quality of each Corps. French cavalry Corps demoralise on a 5 and because they are often shoved ahead to exploit holes and keep the Prussian and Allies apart they are pretty brittle. There do not appear to be levels for shattering the French Cavalry Corps so they will have to be wiped out. Naturally the French Imperial Guard is huge and takes some demoralising. This makes it an excellent formation to spearhead the main French attacks. If the Imperial Guard is demoralised the French will suffer double losses in all combats but this is unlikely to deter the Corps from being used in the front line. If things get so bad that the Guard is approaching demoralisation, the whole French army is likely to be in bad shape. The Prussian Corps take a lot of punishment but arrive on the map 1 at a time so the French can concentrate on destroying these Corps individually. The constraints of command make mixing up Corps to minimise losses on a single Corps unwise. Cumulative losses for each of the 3 armies are totalled and when they reach set levels the entire army is defeated. The Allies or Prussians can fight on without their team mate but unless the French are about to collapse this is not worth the trouble,
The strategic aspects of Armee du Nord make for a pretty decent game but this game is going to take a long time to bring about results. Armee du Nord plods along the right route for the campaign but needs some sort of warp drive to sustain interest. Combat is the real cause of game down time, losses are by step reduction using loss markers. An 8 strong Prussian Division (the strongest units) will take 8 losses to eliminate from CRT that has a maximum single loss of 2. That Division is going to take 4 hours to attrit away if cut off and attacked every turn. In many cases units will be able to get out of step losses because except at medium odds where exchanges occur all results are a retreat of 1 or 2 hexes. The only way to clean up the map is to attack repeatedly at 1:1 or 1:2 which causes both sides to lose men or cut off unit's retreat paths. Cavalry units alone have ZOCs which limit retreats (it is not clear if friendly units negate these, presumably they don't), this makes the French cavalry Corps and single Allied cavalry Corps handy for going around the side and converting retreats to losses.
The aim of the retreats based CRT may be to allow the Prussians and Allies to slowly trade space for time as they go back towards Brussels. If the French get between the 2 armies this is not going to work because any retreats will take the armies further apart. Still every Corps has to keep an eye on its demoralisation level, which is not affected by retreats so both French and non-French units will spend a lot of time going backwards. Advance after combat is not automatic but depends on a unity rolling under its morale (average value, 3) so many a retreating unit can safely march back in if it is in command on its' next turn. Artillery only defends on the regular CRT but attacks with its own bombardment table prior to other combat, bombardments will either do nothing or cause a step loss with no retreat option. Artillery can bombard without being in command, the Prussians have lots of artillery and will depend on this to defeat the French.
By using their zones of control to block movement cavalry can be placed at road junctions to seriously impair an enemy's advance. In this case cavalry charges make sense to clear a road during movement and allow the following troops to march on up to the serious fighting Cavalry can either attack alongside the infantry or charge (overrun) enemy units during movement. Charging is a function of the morale difference between the cavalry and the target. If the charge fails the cavalry stops moving and will not be attacking in combat either. If the charge succeeds the target unit can either take losses or retreat, it will usually move away. The cavalry can then move on and charge other units until it runs out of movement points. High morale cavalry units, those in the French Guard, can sweep anything out of the way by moving in a 2nd unit if the 1st has the bad luck to fail its' charge. At the scale of Armee du Nord cavalry charges are more like cavalry pushing aside outposts and disrupting enemy plans than the charging of formed squares. It is tempting to emulate Ney and send up some cavalry to Quatre Bras and clear the road onto Brussels or the Prussian flank. I gave it a go with results similar to Ney.
Armee du Nord's designer must have realised he had a problem with combat because there is a basic CRT and an alternative CRT with the errata sheet which allows for counter-attacks at medium odds making combat a little more bloody. The whole set up is still very push-me-pull-you and makes quad CRTs seem bloody. The following fixes should smarten up the system and as a bonus will work on just about any Napoleonic quad.
There are now only 3 types of losses, no retreats. Losses are cumulative, 1+1 =2.
Level 1, shaken. The unit may move normally and attacks at half strength. Defends at full strength. Any units not adjacent to an enemy unit recovers from level 1 automatically at the end of al friendly turns.
Level 2, disrupted. The unit may not attack and defends at half strength. Movement is halved. After all units have recovered from level 1 (shaken), level 2 is reduced to level 1 by rolling equal to or less than the unit's morale. Only units that are not adjacent to enemy units may roll for recovery. It is not possible to go from disrupted to good order in a single game turn.
Level 3, shattered. In game terms the unit is removed but may come back in disrupted state on recovery turns (1 a day).
Artillery attacks in the combat phase separately to infantry and cavalry. Artillery has a range of 800 yards (2 hexes in Armee du Nord) but attacks at half strength at 2 hex range. Line of sight is blocked by all units and terrain excerpt rivers and streams. Each target unit can be bombarded only once in each combat phase, if there is more than 1 unit in a hex any or all may be attacked by separate bombardments (the attacker picking the target). A single artillery unit may not split its fire among more than 1 target. More than 1 artillery unit may combine fire against a single target.
Total the artillery combat points attacking the target unit;
1-2 points hit on 1.
3-6 points hit on 1, 2 or 3
7 or more points hit on 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5.
The die roll is increased by 1 if the defender is not in the clear. The die roll is decreased by 1 if the target is adjacent to enemy cavalry.
Bombardment results are always level 1 losses. A unit at level 1 loss is not affected by further artillery fire.
Cavalry charges occur during movement, a cavalry unit moves adjacent to a defending cavalry unit and declares a charge. If the defender is eliminated the cavalry must move into the vacated hex. After charging cavalry units must stop moving. Cavalry may charge other cavalry units only. Use the melee CRT. Charging cavalry units always suffer a minimum level 1 loss after charging regardless of the CRT result. They do not add that loss to any inflicted by the CRT (a loss 1 does not become a 2 to charging units but a 0 becomes a1)
Cavalry that have previously charged may melee. Infantry units may only engage in melee. Artillery bombards and is not allowed to attack in melee, artillery units defend normally. Results are attacker/defender, results apply to all units involved in the combat.
Die Odds 1:3 1:2 1:1 2:1 3:1 4:1 5:1
0 2/0 2/0 2/0 2/0 1/0 1/0 1/1
1 2/0 2/0 2/0 1/0 2/1 1/1 1/2
2 2/0 2/0 1/0 2/1 1/1 1/2 1/2
3 2/0 1/0 2/1 1/1 1/1 1/2 0/1
4 2/0 1/0 1/1 1/1 1/2 1/2 0/2
5 1/0 2/1 1/1 1/2 1/2 0/1 0/2
6 2/1 1/1 1/2 1/2 0/1 0/2 1/3
7 2/1 1/1 1/2 0/1 0/1 0/2 0/3
8 1/1 1/2 0/1 0/1 0/2 1/3 0/3
+ or - morale difference in combat. Subtract average defending morale from average attacking. Round defenders up and attackers down.
+2 Defending unit has been bombarded and is being attacked by infantry and cavalry in the same melee
-1 Defenders are not in clear terrain or all attackers are across river or stream hexsides.
-1 Defending infantry are in a Grand Farm hex (this is addition to the above).
Ellis simpson wrote;
The other game I would wish to comment on is "Armee Du Nord". I was intrigued at the system that you played 3 items and the French only won once. It may be that this was playing with your own fixes which changed thing dramatically (ZOCo, it may be that I am a pretty poor strategist) but the perceived wisdom is that, as printed, the game is a dawdle for the French. Certainly it seemed that way the 1st couple of times that I played it. I was fortunate that I received direct feedback from Ed Wimble as well as other gamers. The designer's feedback meant that I took the rather critical bashing the game got with a pinch of salt. Much of the reviewing was done on the basis that the game did not seem to reflect reality as gamers understood it. The designer was able to show that the game reflected reality as it existed and not in a game box. However that did not excuse the fact that the game has flaws and does not appear to have been fully tested.
There was a fix whereby an amended combat results table was released. However it is still a little woolly in places in dealing with things like retreats. In many games it is possible for the French to trap elements of the Prussian army and completely surround them. The game system appears to suggest that all that happens is the force bleeds to death to death 1 or 2 strength points per combat. The morale and the disintegration of the unit appears to have been ignored and I cannot believe that it is meant to have been this way. For my part I preferred a quick fix which went something as follows.
If a unit had a combat result which it wished it use up by retreating it had to roll its morale or less to do so. If it failed it had to take a step loss. However, a unit which as completely surrounded (which therefore couldn't retreat) had to automatically take a morale test. If it passed it simply took double losses. If it failed it took triple losses.
The game looks beautiful and with a much updated rule book based on more extensive playtesting than I can give it I am convinced it could be useful in many more ways than in just simple gaming. It is a perfect history lesson of the campaign in question and even if Ed Wimble's final version is flawed there is no reason why it cannot be polished off. As far as I am concerned it is indeed a diamond in the rough.
The only fairly regular boardgaming that I do is with Charles Vasey. I was around visiting on Sunday when we played a couple of turns of Armee du Nord (Clash of Arms). For what (I think) is a new game, there was very little different from the old SPI push and pull games I played 10+ years ago. we gave up after 2 or 3 turns of the Quatre Bras/Ligny scenario and went on to play Give Me Liberty (3W). The first thing that came to mind was to compare it to a recent Gettysburg game we had played (possibly the one from Across 5 Aprils) where a large battle had been simulated in a small space with innovative systems in a much shorter period of play. Admittedly the scales were slightly different and Gettysburg didn't cover the campaign area that Armee du Nord did but the scenario we played of Armee du Nord required all 3 maps even though the battlefields were on the central map. The outer 2 were just used for the approach march, which could have been done with their off-map movement system being adjusted to give entry points on the central map. Two maps were being wasted, in effect, for the sake of a couple of extra columns on the off-board display.