Strategy - Why Attack?
"The proverbial 'hail of lead' unleashed by the British staggered Maransin's troops, but the French were able to respond with a 'most overwhelming fire of artillery and small arms' of their own. This return fire felled both General Hoghton and his horse" - Guy Dempsey
Command and Colors: Napoleonics represents the latest evolution of the excellent Command and Colors system, a system that manages to supply a wealth of historical flavour and depth, despite short playing times and relatively simple rules.
Indeed, Command and Colors: Ancients is in my mind actually one of the better simulations of ancient, linear warfare out there - partly as a consequence of the source material being so scarce. Even if this was not the case, it still represents an absolutely superb game.
Games of Ancients primarily represent lines of troops, jockeying for position and attempting to keep their lines intact, before advancing within range of sword and spear, and engaging in a vast, chaotic melee.
The Napoleonic period represents different challenges, and it is these that this post is designed to address. Most crucially, the development of gunpowder weapons increases the distance of engagement significantly, and renders a head-on attack doomed to failure.
If a Napoleonic army marches directly into the guns of their waiting opponents, the defenders will easily slaughter them as they march.
With this article by Dom Rougier you will learn more about it...
There are two main reasons why, in the correct situation, attacking is an excellent idea:
You gain the initiative, and can direct the battle to suit your strengths.
You gain card advantage, and ultimately play more commands (or more useful commands) in a given section than your opponent.
The "Why?" of attack is inextricably linked to the "How?" of attack, and so I intend to provide examples of two of the most common and effective offensive actions to better illustrate the above concepts.
I find it helpful to think of the units in game in terms of separate ranges - Bayonet Range (one hex distant), Musket Range (two hexes) and Engagement Range (three hexes). Engagement Range is the range where Artillery start becoming truly effective, and it's also the home of the Rifles, who are perhaps the most powerful single unit in the game.
Engagement Range is an important concept, since outside this range you are free to manoeuvre at will, with only the occasional sniping attack from Artillery to concern you.
You should never move into Musket Range without at least two cards that will order in that section. You cannot afford to stand stationary under enemy musket fire.
Equally, if the enemy is in engagement range you must ensure that you have a card that will allow you to immediately respond to an advance.
Thus, hand management is of vital importance to a successful attack, and you should only ever attack where you are strong. Equally, this allows you to make feints, moving up troops into engagement range to threaten attacks and draw away their reserves. Infantry-on-Infantry combat is always going to be a bloody business, and will usually result in an exchange of banners, thus reserves on both sides are also extremely important.
This is where the initiative comes in. Since the defender is forced to respond to an attack, they are likely to be tied to only one or two cards plays. This means that they are not progressing with any other goals, and are playing in the section of the board where you are strongest, and have been building your hand to suit.
Assuming that you have built up a sensible hand, you need to develop the actual attack. As with Napoleonic warfare in history, the ideal is to attack the flanks, use terrain and units to aggressively block their lines of sight, and minimise the return fire.
A successful purely Infantry attack will typically result in an even exchange of banners. This means that the objective here is not necessarily to destroy the enemy, instead it is to force them out of position, and claim it for yourself. This will allow you to move up your reserves and exploit the weakness you've created.
Example one: (Infantry on Infantry)
In this situation, the French are attacking a strongly held British position, as is fairly typical in the scenarios of the basic game.
Before the attack, the French Light Infantry are moved up to engagement range, using their extra speed to outflank the British. This move would likely be part of something greater, perhaps a Recon or Recon in Force.
Now the French move into musket range. They fire on the British Line and are likely to cause at least one block of damage, and will roll a single banner in two thirds of cases.
The British counter-attack is with reduced dice, since the damaged unit has to retake his position, and the undamaged unit would have to move to get into musket range.
The fire will likely devastate one of the French units, and force them to retreat.
The French will likely end up in a situation similar to the above on their second turn. If left without reserves, the attackers will trade units with the defenders, and likely kill as many as they lose. If they have reserves available (and the attacker should always outnumber the defender, even if only locally - see Fredrick's Oblique Line, or Alexander's advance at Gaugamela) then the British are out of position, and the French can roll them up.
In an Infantry-only attack, losses will be taken. As is the case with all of the Command and Colors games, you need to manage this well - replacing spent units with fresh ones and protecting your men.
You'll notice that the attack requires three units. If I'm considering an infantry-only attack, I usually want at least two 3+ unit cards in my hand, Attacks, Assaults and various Special cards. You need the numbers here.
Example two: (Infantry and Cavalry on Infantry)
This is a far better situation for the attacker, and indeed I make as much use of my cavalry as possible each battle - they are one of the few ways that the attacker can have a tremendous advantage with equal numbers.
This is a typical situation - the Line Infantry are in engagement range, and the Light Cavalry could be anywhere where they can charge the British Line Infantry.
The French Line move into musket range, and the French Cavalry move adjacent to two enemy units. I wouldn't place the Cavalry there if there were three enemies, since the resulting musket fire would be devastating, but in a case where you can advance on an isolated group this is fine, as we'll see.
The Cavalry attack first, and charge the leftmost British Line. The British player then faces an extremely tough decision - do they form square, lose a precious command card and risk the advance of the Line, or do they remain in line and take the charge head on?
On average, and assuming that the Line never form square, French light cavalry will inflict two hits, and two thirds of the time roll a banner, which will mean that they can inflict another two hits and destroy the unit.
Clearly then, usually the infantry will form square, sooner or later. Not doing so is a huge gamble, although the payoff is potentially very good.
In this situation, the Cavalry will likely do a damage to the square, and the square might do the same in return, but it really doesn't matter - the cavalry are performing two functions:
Gaining card advantage. This is simple - the less cards they hold, the less options they have to respond. You may get lucky and take the only card which can respond, but even if you don't you are weakening the army overall.
Screening. From where the French are, the Line Infantry can fire into the square for limited damage, and then develop the attack by charging for devastating damage. The Cavalry are both blocking LOS from the other Line Infantry (even if they move - as it happens they are also out of range here), and also forcing them to attack in melee, if they attack at all.
Of course, if the cavalry are charged with bayonets, they will retire and reform for limited losses.
Due to the way squares work, if there is a cavalry unit adjacent at the start of their turn, they cannot leave square on that turn. The action is performed in the Order phase, and the Cavalry cannot be shifted until they are Battled.
I haven't mentioned Artillery in either of the two examples above. Artillery are a support unit, and act as a valuable addition to any attack, but not the focus or a requirement of the attack themselves.
Artillery can be used aggressively, and moved up to engagement range where their two-dice start having a decent effect.
They should be used to make holes and disrupt defensive formations, weaken potential defenders and possibly aid in the final charge with a combined arms attack.
I hope that the above is valuable to someone - I'm still getting to know this fantastic game, but I know that I found it extremely hard to work out how to attack effectively when I first began. Since then, I feel that my understanding has improved significantly, and if that can help anyone else, so much the better.