Battle for the bridge

A short while ago, my friend Rob R., one of the hosts of the new ‘The Brit, The Yank and The Hobby’ podcast (RSS feed), hosted a big Land of the Free AWI game at his home for five players and some 20 units per side. The scenario was based on the Battle of Brandywine (1777). It was my task to command Knyphausen’s brigades and force my way across the river by way of a single bridge. With three medium-sized British regiments, two large Hessian units, a very large Hessian grenadier unit, a tiny unit of riflemen and a small unit of artillery, that seemed quite doable. However, my table allowance was only about two feet wide and, as I said, it all had to go across a single, defended bridge.

The issue here is that, unlike rules such as Black PowderLand of the Free does not allow units to interpenetrate at will. Instead, a unit in marching column or line trying to pass through another, treats it as a linear obstacle. It has to use a single move to get up against it and another (two if the unit passing through is in column) to move across the obstacle. To top it off, and provided the passive unit is not in open order, both units take a disorder token. The latter stack and must be rallied off using a movement point each at the beginning of each activation, and disorder affects both morale and combat as well. If you know that a ‘standard’ infantry unit has three movement points per activation, you can easily see that unit interpenetration is what you might call a ‘BFD’; something you’d probably like to avoid as much as possible. Now don’t get me wrong: the fact that unit footprints matter is a good thing and something that makes LotF feel very historical to me. But when the inner Orc takes over, as it did last Saturday, and you send all your units to the bridge at once, you tend to end up with a pretty good imitation of an 18th century traffic jam, made worse by the fact that my Hessian units were extra large and extra slow with only two movements per activation each. Add-in some long distance artillery fire - adding a disorder marker here and there - and an incompetent commander - yes, me, but it’s also a quality level of the group commanders in LotF indicating how much extra they can make units do above and beyond their usual allocation of movement and combat points - and the theme of A Bridge too Far comes to mind… It didn’t end well.

A couple of days later, Rob and I decided to give that particular scenario another go. Same drill, but with a minor, but significant change: turn off the inner Orc, but otherwise the setup the same part of the battlefield and let the dice decide. I added the artillery and riflemen to the English group consisting of three medium regiments (commanded by a Highly Skilled commander). The other group consisted of the Hessian regiments, same as above, with the same Incompetent commander. The CinC was Skilled. The American groups both were made up of a mix of artillery - a gun in one and a howitzer in the other - militia and continentals with fairly average quality commanders. 

My Skilled CinC and having a scout group (Ferguson’s rifles) gave me the initiative most turns. I used my first group activation (in LotF players alternate activating a group, starting with the player who won initiative that turn) to move my English group as far forward as possible, and pushed my artillery all the way to the waterway using a Forced Order. Rob took some pot shots at them with his howitzer and riflemen, but didn’t manage to do too much damage. Next, I moved the Hessian group, but not too far! No unit spaghetti today, hopefully…

Next turn, I managed to get initiative again and forced the first two British units across the bridge. This is where the other interesting mechanic of LotF came into play: commanders can, provided you manage to roll their morale value, spend a number of points every turn ‘forcing’ a unit to perform more than its standard allocated maneuvers and combats. And the higher the quality level of the commander, the easier it is to do, and the more likely it is that you have a higher number of points to spend. Inevitably, the two units across the bridge were going to eat the American fire in Rob’s subsequent group activation, but luckily they held out. In the rest of the turn, the Hessians slowly moved towards the bridge, and Rob’s second American brigade moved out of its fort to flank the bridge crossing. 

The next turn, I believe, was the crucial one. With two units blocking eachother at the end of the bridge, and one on it in column, the British group was stuck until space could be create (because: see above!). It might actually have been the Americans who got initiative, but if they did, they did not manage to shift the English regiments. Instead, I decided to shake off the disorders on the front regiment, fired, and charged the Continentals who managed to hold the (shaken) Brits, who were now out of Combat orders. As the outcome was a draw, and both units made their morale tests, combat would continue with the next activation of either group. The second regiment was moved as close to the combat as possible, so it would give full support, and the third moved across the bridge to the right flank. That created the space for the Hessian regiments to move across. 

The next turn, the combat was won by the British regiment. And though Rob’s Americans dealt some terrific blows, breaking the English brigade in the end, they had managed to capture and hold the bridge long enough for the slow, large, but powerful Hessian regiments to get across. It took several turns more, but the immense output in dice of those regiments won the battle for me in the end. 

After the previous experience (and it seemed like some better dice, never hurts!), it was satisfying to see that with a little judgement, you can make it work. All those large regiments will go across a single bridge, you just can’t run at it like a mass of Orcs. Not in Land of the Free in any case, and expect to have a successful outcome.

Still, waaaaaaagh!

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