Three Blackguards and Lasalle Too
A Review and a Game of Sam Mustafa’s
Lasalle Second Edition Rules
By Peter Hunt
The Defenders of Quatre Bras
British Line in front, Kielmansegg’s 1st Hanoverian Brigade in
British Line in front, Kielmansegg’s 1st Hanoverian Brigade in masse behind.
“…Any hussar who does not die by thirty is a blackguard..." Sadly, Antoine-Charles-Louis, Comte de Lasalle’s famous epigram does not appear in Sam Mustafa’s new set of Napoleonic Rules, which is about the only thing that I can criticise them for, since they are very, very good. Lasalle himself had already passed his self-appointed use-by date when he fell at Wagram, but only by a mere four years and he was leading a cavalry charge at the same time, so history has looked upon him kindly as a man of his word.
On the other hand, former young hussars Jeff, Tony and Bertie have progressed well into their blackguardary, although, in their defence, I submit that cavalry charges to lead are a lot harder to come by these days. But, in compensation, they have well over a century of wargames experience between them, and they have spent a fair part of that time seeking the best Napoleonic rules to play with. So, what must these rules contain to meet our requirements?
Above all the rules must produce the look and feel of a Napoleonic battle. By this I mean that they must replicate all the things we see in our mind's eye when reading Chandler or Arnold, or that we marvelled at when we first saw Waterloo on the big screen at the age of 14. It must have long lines, menacing attack columns, cavalry charging by squadrons, squares bristling with steel, 12 pounders spewing forth death, horse artillery riding up at the gallop, smoke, confusion, and Harvey Keitel challenging you to a dual afterwards. (Add music and bad wine to taste.) This means that we are playing battalion level games. Games where the basic manoeuvre unit is the brigade, like Frank Chadwick’s “Volley and Bayonet” or Sam Mustafa’s “Blucher” might enable you to fight Borodino in an evening, but they do not cut it for me because a brigade is a brigade is a brigade and we don’t see them forming those lines, columns and squares. Skirmish games are fine, because we all like Sean Bean, but again a skirmish is a skirmish is a skirmish, and there are only the uniforms and some of the weapons that are specifically Napoleonic about them. Nice for an afternoon’s fun but not the joy I really seek.
Once you have accepted a battalion scale the rest falls into place. You need to form squares and columns so a minimum of three and preferably four bases are necessary for a battalion to take up the formation. A musket could be effective up to 100 or 150 metres which is about the same as the frontage of a battalion in line, so that sets your musket firing range: four of whatever your base widths are. Multiply that appropriately for your artillery ranges. So that has your ground scale set. Figure scale doesn’t really matter as that depends on the size of your minis, my four 15mm to a base and Tony’s eight 10mm all look fine. Perhaps one fewer for 28mm or many more for 6mm and 2mm, or just smaller bases for them. And if four bases represent a normal sized battalion then five bases can represent a big one, and three a small one.
Time scale is to your own taste, but I think that a move representing about 15 to 20 minutes is ideal, although this entails some mechanism so that troops out of combat can march a kilometre, or 30-40 base widths, in that time. Such a time scale could give you about a two-to-three-hour real time span in the 10 moves or so that you are going to get through in a normal length game. This means that you are not going to get through all of Borodino in a day but that doesn’t mean that you cannot do historical games. The size is perfect for smaller battles or a discrete part of a bigger battle: over the years we have managed things like d‘Erlon’s Attack at Waterloo, The Poles at Borodino, The Redoubts at Borodino, Aspern-Essling, Raab, Fuentes de Orono, Busaco, The Heights at Salamanca and many more at full scale, and bigger battles by scaling down divisions as brigades, and corps as divisions. In this manner we have successfully do things like Wagram and Leipzig. To this list can now be added Reille’s attack at Quatre Bras which the three blackguards played out using Lasalle 2nd Edition.
Part 2: The Rules
If you have seen any of Sam Mustafa’s rules the format of “Lasalle” will not surprise you. It does look nice, with huge print, short paragraphs, and lots of (mostly) relevant illustrations. All this comes at a price: it is not cheap at $40US, and to me it seems to be a high price to pay for a lot of white space on the page. I would prefer a smaller print size with fewer pages with a lower price, but then I know lots of folk who complain about the format of, say DBMM, who will love this style of presentation: clearly “you pays your money and takes your choice”. One thing that I do find irritating is that as well as good explanatory diagrams the text is also peppered with rather silly little pictures of things that are explained in the text. So, for example, next to the text that tells you that a general within four base-widths of the enemy is wounded if he throws a one, is a picture of a dice showing a one with the caption “General Casualty w/in 4BW.” It is almost as if the rules were written for people who can’t read. That is a minor point, and the little pictures are all repeated in the rules summaries where they make sense.
One thing that I do like is that Mr, Mustafa includes designers notes as he goes along, (written in smaller point italics which are perfectly readable, which shows that the large point print is not vital to comprehension,) so you understand what his thinking is. You do not have to agree with his thinking, but it is good to know where he is coming from. There is also a three-page FAQ, which explains more rules choices. The two-page index is good but not brilliant: for example, there is no entry for “shaken,” a key unit state, which was, predictably the only thing I needed to look up in the index during our game. There is no QRS but there is an eight-page rules summary. We printed and bound that from the PDF and it is all you need to play the game.
Where’s the Meat?
But a flash format and nice presentation do not a good rule set make - what about the content? Well, as far as I’m concerned, it is worth every cent of the 40 bucks. When the original Lasalle came out in 2009 it had a small following in the Club that soon died out. It had an interesting movement comes last system but that tended to cause as many problems as it tried to solve. Opinions ranged from “meh?” to “interesting but a bit clunky,” with interesting used in the same way as when someone gives you a new drink or item of food, and you cannot immediately decide if you love it or hate it, but you cannot really be bothered to try more and make your mind up. So, when last year I read on the Honour newsletter that the franchise was getting a re-boot, (Mr. Mustafa’s word,) I was intrigued. Rather like Star Trek, the new iteration was to keep the name, and the basic characteristics of the predecessor, but was very different.
British Infantry in Line
Their “Quick Fire” trait will mean that when firing it throws eight dice to a French line’s six. But when they melee all will be equal. The two French columns in front of them only generate 2 dice each, so should waste no time in a firefight: “En avant, mes enfants!”
The game scale of Lasalle is right in the sweet spot described above: battalion units and proportionate ground scale, (although Mr. Mustafa fudges here a bit, giving cannister the same range as musketry,) and although no time scale is given in the rules themselves a two-hour historical scenario is played over eight turns, so we get 15 minutes to a turn. Troops can be distinguished by up to ten traits which is a concept I agree with, so, for examples, the Brits do not need to have all round superior characteristics, just a “rapid fire” trait that gives the a third more firepower than a normal line, whist the French in attack column do not count charging as a complication, and so on. So far, so good, and it gets gooder. The key to Lasalle is its command and skirmishing system. Before I continue to enthuse profusely here, I give a health warning: If you like an IGOUGO system where you move everything and shoot everything whilst your opponent sits there, and then he does the same to you, then you will not like these rules. Save yourself $40 on the rules and save your time by reading this article no further, go back and continue to enjoy yourself in your own way.
Both sides start a turn with a “momentum” of a set number of orders to give, (“pips” if you like.) These are not derived from a dice throw but from your army size and organization, so, theoretically, you will always have enough pips for each of your brigades to do something. Your general can either focus himself on the “Big Picture” “Helicopter View” management philosophy in which case he will add some more pips, (that number is dice dependent,) or he can “walk the talk” and be “hands on” and deploy himself to deal with a tactical situation, called an intervention.
Next you decide on the skirmishing situation between the two sides. I’ve just read James Arnold’s “October Triumph” about Jena and Auerstädt, and I was struck by how the French completely out organized and out skirmished the Prussians, and in doing so consistently gained the initiative and impeded Prussian operations in all sorts of ways. Most rule sets, including mine, handle skirmishing as a totally tactical matter protecting one of your own units or harassing an enemy unit. This might be fun in itself, but it is a case of “bottom-up” design and often hardly worth the time and effort in working it all out. Lasalle, on the other hand, takes a much bigger view. The winner of the skirmish battle gets to win the initiative and go first, and in the basic game would get more momentum pips so his army will have an advantage that way, or in the advanced game, which we played, gets to target enemy units and impede them. This all works really well. The only beef I have is how you decide the skirmishing outcome. You throw one, two or three dice for each unit, looking for sixes. You can break down two units completely into skirmishers, in which case they get more dice and higher hit scores. In our game that meant the French were throwing 66 dice! Throwing these bucket loads in groups of 20 and 30 made what should have been an exciting exercise a bit of a nightmare, with dice all over the place, including, often, the floor. See below for possible solutions.
“Darling, it’s complicated, and it’s not you, it’s me.”
Having worked out how many pips you have and who is going first you start the turn. Orders to fire or change formation can be issued to the whole army, orders to move and rally are issued to individual brigades, or groups of units in the same brigade. Individual units can do all of these things in any sequence they like if they are so ordered, but they may only do each thing once a turn.
Orders are either simple, or complicated if they involve units charging, interpenetrating, in difficult terrain, or which are shaken, and they cost one pip more for each complication. So, an order can cost between one and five pips depending on how complicated it is. Naturally, you don’t want to blow all your pips on needlessly complicated orders so how you structure your orders, along with how you use your general to intervene and make your orders easier becomes very important. Having executed your order you can issue another one unless the enemy has grounds to “interrupt your momentum,” which he will have if you did anything in musketry range of him. This is called being “near the enemy.” Thus, you can keep your momentum going on your side whilst you are moving not close to the enemy or bombarding him. But as soon as you get near the enemy you can expect the initiative to pass frequently. So, the turn continues as both sides issue orders and the initiative passes back and forth, until eventually one, then both of you run out of pips. This is a truly engrossing system. Of course, what you don’t want to do is run out of momentum before the other chap does, which will give him the chance to do things that you cannot respond to, all the more so if he has a skirmishing advantage and is likely to move first next turn. So, you may be inclined to pass on the chance to interrupt his momentum to save your own pips, or perhaps issue simpler, less complicated orders that use less pips. It is this constant decision making that makes the game so much fun.
Movement is easy and very liberal, except when you are near the enemy when it is reduced to a snail’s pace unless you are charging. So, you really don’t want to be near the enemy unless you want to charge them or are confident in your shooting. There is no deduction for moving through bad terrain which I love: yes, it took you twice as long to move up that hill, but it took you ten minutes, not five minutes, of your 20-minute move. But it is complicated.
Shooting is based on formations generating between one and eight dice needing a base 4,5 or 6 to get a hit, and then you dice again against the target unit’s resolution (which is usually another 4,5 or 6) to convert the hit to a disruption, unconverted hits are lost. A normal unit can take 6 disruptions, (some more, some less,) before being broken, and is shaken on the last two, (some more, some less.)
I have always found saving throws to be a recipe for tedium and an indicator of bad game design when they can be simply incorporated into a more elegant system with one modifier. Often saving throws are included to give the defender something to do, but in Lasalle’s case this doesn’t apply as the it is the firer who throws to convert hits to disruptions. Lasalle has modifiers for rifles, dense targets, cover and shaken, so one more modifier for target resolution wouldn’t break the system. With all the game time that dice throwing entails, (“… what score do I need? Baby needs new Shoes! Luck be a Lady! Oh! Bounced off a six! That’s cocked! On the floor! Etc.,”) I tend to think that dice throws should be eliminated wherever they are not necessary to introduce the desired degree of randomness. I know that others enjoy throwing dice, so each to his own, but it is not where I get my excitement from. Tony says he is OK with it, but then his mobile telephone has a thing for giving him dice scores. He really needs to get out more.
Melee involves opposed dice throws added to your unit strength with a few modifiers. I like opposed dice throws, they are exciting, but the best thing about the Lasalle system is the way that the effects are resolved: depending upon the margin you will either break the opponent or there will be a minor loss and one side will “stagger” (fall back.) There is little attrition in melee, but if you stagger you are still near the enemy so another firefight or another charge could ensue. This system is clean, sensible, fast and fun. If you break an enemy you cry “huzzah!” and can move, (even charge,) again, or remove the disruption that you suffered.
Disruptions can be removed by rallying, this is easier for troops with a “resilient” trait, or when you are not near the enemy. A disruption that is not removed becomes permanent and cannot be rallied away again. This brings us on to how you record the disruption. Mr. Mustafa recommends using labels on the units, which I think are an eyesore; and is cumbersome because you can remove disruptions so you have to go back and rub out if removed or double-cross if they become permanent; and are also unnecessary because the rules are simple and there are not a lot of factors to remember. (Just as I think he writes rules for people who don’t like reading rules – which can be construed as a compliment - I sometimes think that he writes them for people who can’t count or remember factors, but I think most wargamers are a pretty numerate lot and can remember these things, without having to constantly refer to a piece of paper.) You can use the labels as a roster but that is another anathema in Hong Kong, we gave that sort of book-keeping up with WRG 7th Edition back in the Dark Ages. We used bead markers, white for disruptions and red for permanent disruptions, which were a little bit scrappy because Tony hadn’t the time to put a receiving pin on the back of the bases to keep the beads nice and tidy. Casualty markers would be the most elegant solution.
We decided to play the “Quatre Bras” scenario provided in the rules. Tony’s lovely 10mm figures are based on 30mm bases so the table was 1.08m by 0.72m. Using 15mm figures on 4cm bases it would have been 1.44m by 0.96m, still an easy size for the Club’s tables. This scenario represents Reille’s attack in the afternoon of Quatre Bras using his corps of two infantry divisions and a cavalry division. Waiting for him is Wellington with Picton’s division and Kielmansegg’s brigade from Alten’s Division. This was a try out for the rules so the terrain was a bit thrown together, but with some cropping of the pictures it photographs well enough.
In fairness to the system the size of this scenario is very crowded, and it must be pushing the limits of the game for one player a side. In the other scenarios one army is always 300 points and the other varies between 220 and 300, a total of between 520 and 600 points on the table. We had 800 points on the same sized table, made up as follows:
Allies: 263 inf, 30 cav, 30 art. Total 323 in 17 battalions, two cavalry regiments, and three batteries.
French: 360 inf, 70 cav, 50 art. Total 480 in 20 battalions, four cavalry regiments and four artillery batteries.
The scenario suggests that this 50% points advantage for the French might make it unbalanced, but I don’t think so: what is missing is a bloody great hill totally absent from the scenario map. The east-west arms of the Quatre Bras is on a ridge, it is not high but it is quite steep. I’ve been there twice and if you are standing by the stream at Gemioncourt you have to crane your neck back to see the top of the ridge. The best description of the ground is in Weller where he said that the French looking at the ground must have thought: "Merde! This is another Peninsular Battle. Wellington sitting behind a high ridge with who knows what behind it. Oh well, here we bloody go again!" (I paraphrase Weller somewhat but that's the gist.) I've always thought it would be fun to play Quatre Bras as a "hidden scenario," set in the Peninsula with the Spanish and Portuguese representing the differing standards of Brit allies.
The Historical Deployments
The game only covers the battlefield from the north-south road to the right.
So, we put the ridge notionally back in with the slope running from the stream to the east-west road with the crest on the road edge. This gave the Allies a strong position in melee when they were defending up slope and it partially neutered the artillery of both sides because the height difference deprived them out the bounce-through effect of their bombardments.
The rules only allow for one or two universal intervention types and one chosen intervention type for each general, but with historical characters I think you can describe them as they were. We made Reille a disciplinarian, which does not mean that he goes about flogging people but that he is good at traffic control sorting out the complications of interpenetration and difficult terrain. Wellington, in an outrageous fit of blatant Anglo-Saxon hero worship, was charismatic, disciplinarian, energetic and steadfast. We were not using divisional generals which was a bit of a disappointment because Foy was wounded 15 times in his career so would well deserve the “valiant” sobriquet.
Although we were not using divisional generals I required the commanders to deploy their brigades by division. I’m not sure how much they had cheated and read up on the battle before the game, but I was pleased that their deployments matched the historical ones. To me this is an indication that the game is asking the right historical questions, and, assuming that the real-life commanders were not complete dunces, both the men of 1815 and the men of 2021 came to the same answers. Jeff as Reille deployed Foy’s Division on his left and Bachelu’s Division on his right. Pire’s cavalry division was split with Wathier’s lancers in support of Foy and Hubert’s Chasseurs on Bachelu’s right flank. Tony as The Duke deployed Picton’s division to hold the ridge line, with Pack on his right and Kempt on the left and Best behind Kempt. Kielmansegg’s Hanoverians were placed in support of Pack and Merle’s Dutch-Belgian cavalry moved to Kempt’s open left flank.
The French broke down two battalions to reinforce
their skirmish line, giving them 54 skirmish dice needing 6s and 12
needing 5s and 6s. The Allies broke down the 95th
giving them 39 dice needing 6s and 6 needing 4, 5 and 6s. These numbers
would go down during the battle as units went into garrison or square,
and were destroyed.
The French broke down two battalions to reinforce their skirmish line, giving them 54 skirmish dice needing 6s and 12 needing 5s and 6s. The Allies broke down the 95th Rifles giving them 39 dice needing 6s and 6 needing 4, 5 and 6s. These numbers would go down during the battle as units went into garrison or square, and were destroyed.
The Battle Opens
Merlen’s Light Cavalry advance on Best’s left.
In the distance the smoke marks the French Horse Artillery firing.
The battle opened on the Allied left where Merlen’s light cavalry tried to cover the exposed Allied flank. But they lacked the necessary caution. After galling fire from a French horse battery they charged the guns only for the French to limber up and make good their escape. The Dutch-Belgian light horse found themselves exposed to Hubert’s better light cavalry who promptly broke both Allied regiments. To plug this gap Best had to put two of his Landwehr battalions into square, where they remained for most of the rest of the battle. Bachelu’s infantry division on the French right now moved up over the two streams in the area, a series of complicated moves that soaked up most of the French momentum which meant that three battalions of Husson’s brigade had to be left behind, (and they did no further work this day,) and on the left Foy’s division could not move.
Bachelu’s division advances across the streams
Husson’s Brigade is left behind.
When the time came for Foy to advance Reille set himself up at Gemioncourt to sort out the bad terrain and interpenetration complications necessary to get Jamin’s infantry and Walthier’s lancers left of the road and Tissot’s brigade of infantry right of the road up and at the Allies. The British responded a bit too enthusiastically to this, advancing the 44th Foot down the slope where it found itself alone facing the whole of Tissot’s brigade which had come up so quickly. After a brief firefight involving some pretty bad shooting by the Brits, and an inconclusive melee the 44th disengaged and scrambled back up the slope with the French not far behind.
The 44th Alone
The East Essex Regiment suddenly find themselves facing four, not one, French battalions, and were lucky to get out intact.
Over on the British left the French had now cleared the streams and were volleying the Allied line, looking for weaknesses to exploit and charge, whilst using their voltigeurs to cramp Allied units. This became touch and go as Campi’s brigade started to tear apart Best’s Landwehr and lap around behind the main Allied line. The attack on the line broke through in one place but was quickly repulsed by reinforcements plugging the gap. The Allied situation here was precarious, but they were holding on: the battle would be won or lost at Quatre Bras itself.
The Allied Left
Campi’s men have destroyed one of Best’s battalions and the others are in deep trouble, threatened by French infantry, cavalry, and the soon to be returning French horse artillery. They are already behind the Gordon Highlanders who have problems of their own, with Campi’s columns to their front and voltigeurs impeding their actions.
Over below the crossroads the French had shaken out Foy’s division into two brigades wide, each with two lines of attack columns. Above them Pack’s British brigade waited in line with Kielmansegg’s Hanoverians behind. The French beat the pas de charge and the British raised their muskets to the ready…
The Storm About to Break.
Tissot on the left as we look at it and Jamin on the right start climbing towards Quatre Bras. British fire is already telling on Tissot’s units. Pack’s and Kielmansegg’s brigades await them.
The battle reached its climax after 90 minutes of fighting. Tissot’s first units hit the 44th but one was broken and the other staggered. At this point the British gained the skirmishing advantage for the first time in the day due to some sterling work by the 95th. The riflemen prevented one of the French battalions from rallying below the crest, leaving it fragile and in grave danger of a counterattack. This came in the form of Kielmansegg’s fresh units advancing through the British line to attack Tissot’s battered brigade, destroying three of his four battalions. At this point Jamin’s men reached the heights to their left of the of the village, destroyed a battery but then were seen off by The Royal Scots. No Frenchmen reached the village itself. The French lancers were moving up behind Jamin but were just too far away. The attack had failed, and the French withdrew to renew the attack later that day.
Tissot’s Brigade has staggered back from the British line and now his battered battalions are being counterattacked by Kielmansegg’s Hanoverians. On the right Jamin is storming the heights, but after initial successes he will be pushed off. The End Has Come…
In game terms the French reached their “sudden death” defeat condition by losing one third of their units on turn six of an eight turn game. The Allies were only two units short of their sudden death, and Best’s Landwehr on the left flank were “hung out to dry” and would not have survived much longer. As the Duke would have said, it was a “Near Run Thing.” After set-up it took about four hours to play, which, considering it was our first rodeo, was not bad at all. Future games will be a lot quicker and a lot happens in every turn, with sides having between eight and 11 momentum pips to spend on orders of varying complexity. We did not do the skirmishing on the first turn as the French would go first and there was no way to place skirmish lines because the sides were too far apart. On the following turns the skirmishing was drawn twice, the French won it twice, and the Allies won it once.
Re-reading the rules at home later it turned out that we had only done four, relatively minor, things wrong. That is also very good for a first game. I could attribute that to more than a century of wargames experience, but I really think it is because the rules are clearly written and the systems, although in many cases unique, are well explained, easy to execute, and quick to learn. The game was completely engrossing, indeed so engrossing that several times during our game Tony was actually distracted from his mobile telephone!
I think that we have found the “Go To” set of rules for Napoleonic battles.
The Hubris of Blackguards
As the consumer of any set of wargames rules I work on the basis that the “Rules As Written” are merely the author’s opinion as to how the game is to be played. I am free to add, deduct or change anything that I like so that it better meets my understanding of the period and personal preferences. For example, I only want to recreate historical battles and have no interest in equal points match ups between historically anachronistic armies. That happens all the times in Ancient games, but that is no reason why Napoleonics should be so vulgar. Mr Mustafa on the other hand has produced a 63 page “Army Maker” booklet so you can do just that, and more power to his arm for doing it. It is probably what many wargamers and “the market” want, so good luck to them, it’s just not for me.
What follows are my suggestions for producing a more historically flavoured game. They are not criticisms of the existing systems, purely my own preferences. And if you think that it is bit presumptuous of me to suggests rules amendments on the strength of a bit of reading and one reasonably alcohol fuelled game I agree entirely with you… but what is the point in being a blackguard?
And so, some tweaks:
And Finally: “Dice to the Southwest – Thousands of ‘em!’”
Whilst I know that to some of you the prospect of throwing 105 dice to determine who has the skirmishing advantage is practically Nirvana, to me it is something out of the 5th Circle of Hell. Jeff is working on a card system that we can try, whilst Tony, as a vet with access to lots of little plastic boxes is just trying to sanitize the system so that the damn things don’t end up all over the landscape.
Here’s One Allegra Made Earlier
Ms. Mathews with the Patent Dice Wrangler
The Colours Are Your Friends
If you haver enough dice and enough boxes you can just produce one box for each side. Of course, too many dice or not a big enough box means you can end up with cocked or layered dice.
So, you may want to use generic boxes like this with groups of 10 and 5 coloured dice. For example, if you needed 35 dice you would give one shake for 20, and one shake counting only the white and black for the other 15.