The Battle of the St Église Redoubts

For this Tuesday's game I was casting around for some ideas, and as I was slotting some boxes back on the shelf, I thought I hadn't had the Great War collections out for a while, and I hit on this idea of possible linking two Neil Thomas OHW scenarios side by side, and then moving the rules onto squares. A quick check of the book found suitable scenarios (#14 "Static Defence" and #15 "Fortified Defence"), and the squaring up came quite quickly. Hence we ended up with the battle of the St Église Redoubts. Both the scenarios talk about towns, but I changed the two of them in #15 to redoubts, as it sounded more WW1-y. I made the Germans defenders, as I could then use some tanks as well. My only real discomfort was with the idea of having field artillery on the table, but in the end I went with it.

Although NT gives no figure scale, I decided an infantry unit was a battalion, so this made it an Allied Divisional attack on two German Regiments. The map is after Jon (2nd Regt) & Will (1st Regt) have conferred - as Germans - about their deployments. The red dotted line is the unit boundary line. The allies were played by Richard & Phil (who shared 1st Brigade) and Steve (2nd Brigade) and Ian (3rd Brigade).

My initial read through of the scenarios made me think this would be a tough on for the Allies on both sides of the red line.

Jon had spotted the rules mechanism that means you can't move and fire. What is important is to open fire first, with as much as you can. Hence he and Will have everything in the shop window, pretty much (Will has some scenario based deployment restrictions, which I forgot part way through). In a game like this, with players like I have, a whole load of issues with the NT simplicity would emerge during the game. Mainly, he does not define line of sight, or what can fire over what. The reason his rules are two pages and mine are a lot more is that I try and cover everything. NT probably thinks he's relying on player common sense.

For "Machine Age Warfare" all defenders in the open count as in cover, so I put out temporary trenches, but the attackers get a random number of pre-game bombardments to off set this advantage. The hamster bedding rained down, engulfing Jon's forward redoubt. Will's troops at the front of the wood were also targeted.

Under cover of the bombardment, 1st Brigade advanced onto the table, the attack on the village covered by the armour.

Steve also put armour up against the forward redoubt, and pulled up his artillery too. The problem for the Allied guns was that they had to be deployed within small arms range due to the scenario deployment rules, which was not ideal.

1st Brigade went for a pinning tactic on the trench line, whilst the armour blasted a way into the village. At point blank range, with a +2 to hits and halving damage this looked like a winning strategy (especially if the umpire remembers to add the +2 each turn. Sorry chaps).

Steve tried similar on the other flank, but all along the line Jon was able to concentrate his fire power. Will had been required to deploy two units within the blue zone on the map, meaning he had less at the front. The dice mark casualties. 15 means a unit is removed.

On Will's flank, 1st Brigade was able to concentrate fire on the unit in trenches....

....which meant that they were broken, opening up the German left flank nicely. 

The Allied left was taking a pasting. Caught in the open, under gunned against an enemy in cover they just had to slug it out. General Melchett would have been proud. Finally, the first of Steve's units broke.

On the other flank, the Allies started to exploit their breakthrough.

On the Allied left, it just went from bad to worse.

Then the tanks blew up.

Swiftly followed by the artillery. They had just cleared the redoubt, but as one of Jon's units had been destroyed, his guns in the redoubt had a clear line of sight to them, and they succumbed.

The Allied break through exploitation was in full swing, with the artillery limbered up and following through. Isn't it great to see lots of limbers being used? I know a manufacturer who doesn't bother making them as "no one every buys them". Except for people like me, sometimes. I like trucks, wagons and limbers. Can never have too much transport.

Over on the left, it was just getting worse for Steve. He was pondering the decision to withdraw, and let 3rd Brigade pick up the attack.

The artillery on the Allied right deployed and started to open up. The return fire disposed of one of the batteries, however. Up at St Église the tanks have the defenders on breaking point. 

Another round of firing and the defenders have gone. In the woods, the Germans hang on like grim death. Can they destroy the artillery before they succumb?

No, they can't.  A last round of firing fails to destroy the artillery, who break them with their next round of firing. Over at the village, with that job done, the tanks move off to cover the flank of the infantry who occupy the objective. The task would seem to be half done.

The whole table. The centre is a dead zone. In the distance, Ian has come on in force, into the face of a storm of fire from Jon's depleted defenders.

At St Église, the Allies move up troops to ensure it cannot be recaptured. In the background an Allied infantry battalion is playing dodge with the Germans, feinting towards the hill, drawing defenders away from retaking the village.

Ian has moved troops up to occupy the first redoubt, but his troops in the centre are suffering - and they only just got here!

Finally, on the other flank, the gallant boys in the Mark IVs are finally done for.

Ian's only been on the board a few turns, and already he's had a unit broken.

However, next turn he's in the redoubt, and Jon's remaining entrenched infantry are heading for the exit.

At St Église the Allied artillery knock out the German guns. This flank is secured.

Ian has taken one of the redoubts, but the other one is putting out some withering fire, now it is fully manned. He's going to find it hard to capture the last one.

This is a 15 turn scenario, and we'd played 11-12 turns in just over 2 hours. Okay, I know it's a pair of OHW scenarios, but with me doing all the movement, and everyone having to say what they wanted, that sounds about right. By now the Allied left had ground to a halt and couldn't take the second redoubt. In return, Jon couldn't retake the one he had lost. On the Allied right they'd taken a lot of damage, but given it back in equal measure. Will didn't have enough to evict a full strength battalion from the village, so we stopped it there.

According to the victory conditions in the book, it's a win to each side. The Allies on the left have to capture both redoubts to win. By extension that presumably means that if the Germans still hold one of them, they win. Personally it looks like a draw to me on this flank, so a narrow Allied win overall.

Thoughts? I think OHW would be improved by sorting out a proper set of square based rules for each period, but I don't know if I want to do that. Tactically it's not a sophisticated game - the key tactic is make sure you get to melee/fire first - but it is quick. I would add things like doubling hits or adding +2 if enfilading an enemy unit, to make outflanking worth it (having said that, I think that the way the rules are written the only way to get two units firing on one is for one from the front, and one from the flank, so perhaps that's the benefit for enfilading). For an evening's play, this worked really well. That was six players involved and, whilst the Allies had to share and share about, everyone was engaged.

And it did look like a WW1 battle, once I toned down the armour rules a bit. I halved the range and reduced them to infantry speed. I might - if I played this again - let them move and shoot and remove the +2 to firing. The other thing that made this work as a bolted together scenario is that in WW1 it is quite legitimate to insist that units do not cross their formation boundary lines, as that fits with historical practice.

Oh, and I might move at least attacking artillery off table, and possibly look at pre-game fire plans. 

And...okay, quite a few changes in mind, but the key take away is that the parallel double scenario worked, so that may well be back.

PS - My mistake guys. You can pivot at the start and the end of each turn. Sorry.


  1. Graham, that was an interesting scenario. When you said it was from OHW, I looked through the book trying to spot the scenario. No wonder I couldn't find it you combined two!

    On victory conditions, the German plan and initial deployments were based upon the published Victory Conditions of,

    "The Allies must capture either St Église or Hill 51, AND both the redoubts. The game lasts 15 turns. The Allies move first."

    The allies did not fulfill their victory conditions. Even if the ending situation looks like it yielded a marginal Allied victory, the Victory Conditions suggest otherwise.

    Notes on the Game: There were questionable tactics in play on the allied left. Both artillery and tanks were allowed to fire from the same square against the redoubt (only one unit may fire from a square) and artillery was allowed to fire THROUGH the tank occupied square into the redoubt. Without these errors, the forward redoubt would have held out a little longer. Well, that is what I think! Same infraction held on the allied right when both artillery batteries were firing from the same square.

    This was another very enjoyable game. Thank you!

    1. Glad you liked the scenario. I understand your point on the victory conditions as well, and I agree with you that both sides won on opposite flanks (what? Sherrifmuir AGAIN??). What I said was that personally it looks like a narrow Allied win. My feeling with the scenarios and the various rule sets is that it would be an absolute miracle if every scenario was balanced across every period using every combination of army fighting each other. My back of an envelope calculation says that's over 9,000 different combinations, and I reckon not all of them have been play tested, and if they have I'd put money on not all of them being tested more than once. My feeling on these is that enabling the defenders to deploy within small arms range of attacking artillery that can't fire on the first turn is absurd.

      On the "questionable tactics" I put my had up to not getting the play sheet right. The play sheet says "only the front unit in the square". It should say "only the front unit(s) in the square". Armour and artillery units were half width compared to infantry, and so could be deployed side by side, which was always my intention and I encouraged the Allies to do so. If I bother to go any further with the mods for these, I will expand the square occupancy section quite a bit.

    2. Graham, I was negligent in commending you on your Batrep. I got caught up in the rules discussion. Forgive me. Very well done and I enjoyed the narrative and photos a lot. Also, good to see you taking a swing at Mappingboard. Very easy, huh?

    3. No worries. I didn't feel a snub. I have tried mapping oars. It wasn't as quick as using the software I usually use, so I need to spend time getting used to it as it has fu cations I think will be helpful.

  2. Interesting to see these rules used with squares. I've tried OHW rules as written, but they never grabbed me, whereas his Ancients and 19th Europe do. However the scenarios in the book are the real deal and worth the price of the book alone!

    1. I agree with you. I persist with OHW for now as people whose views I respect have a lot of time for them, so I wonder if it is me, not the rules. Plus, when doing this type of remote gaming they fit the bill quite well. If you look at what I've been making my players do over the last few months they deserve an evening off every now and then from busting their brains on rules and scenarios.

      I really like AMW although my view is that it is a set of Classical rules being made to work too hard at either end. "To Ur" arise because if increasing annoyance with AMW as written (it's antecedents are obvious for all to see), and "It's Getting A Bit Chile" came from an equal level of irritation with 19th century wargaming after the first few games, which was only partly assuaged with moving the rules onto squares.

      But the scenarios are great.

  3. Despite the limitations you have listed in the rules, they seem to have given quite a realistic representation of a WWI slog fest....the game looks very like how an operation of this sort towards the end of the war would have played out...

    1. Well, sort of. There is a serious problem with the on table artillery, and I wouldn't characterise the end of the Great War as a slog fest, either.

  4. I actually rather like the Machine Age rules and we've played several games with them. I usually let the field guns fire overhead and borrow the spotting rules from the WW2 rules to avoid cherry picking silliness.

    The only real issue is that they are a bit shooty, and the long fire ranges allow for unrealistic ganging up on single units.

    Being a megalomaniac, I usually declare each unit is a brigade:)

    1. I think there's something to be done with them but the RAW have a degree of silliness if players want to exploit it. I seriously considered using the mortar spotting rules, and I was wondering about introducing some form of close assault. The cavalry rule from H&M/R&S that requires a break off if you don't wipe the enemy out is interesting, but the "only fight in your turn" rule is an issue, so I'm not sure.

      And I like the idea of brigades, too. Possibly for other scenarios.

    2. In my early hex based WW2 OHW variant I used the H&M cavalry bounce assault system, but I've reverted to the 'fight until you die' system from the Ancient set. Both have plusses and minuses. I decided early on I wanted to mimic NQM with separate firefights and assaults, which was why I made the assault all or nothing.

      I agree that the thing of only fighting in your turn is a bit wierd, and the one fundamental mechanism which is jarring. Give me DBA any day where combat involves risk for both sides.

    3. OHW is a good starting point, but I think we are agreeing that its limitations soon become clear. I find it encourages defensive play as you try to goad your opponents into stepping into firing/charge range, rather than rewarding players who take the initiative. Not sure that's a great model for the entirety of military history.


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