Wargame Thoughts and Commentary

The Battle of Denain (Advance Guard)


Advance Guard Players: French-Left-Greg Rold, John Mumby; Allied-Right Ed Meyers, Terry Shockey

This last weekend, we had the beginnings of what promises to be an interesting series of games fighting a single battle. In most war-games commented upon in the Wargame press, and, quite frankly, in all of our battles prior to this game, we divided the battle, and the players “horizontally” - Left Flank, Center, Right, with a possible fourth segment characterized as the Reserve closely behind one of the sections of the battle line. This weekend’s game changed that method for the “Battle of Denain,” and provided some real fun in the process.

It all started when I was reading the historical accounts of the Oudenarde campaign-especially the early parts with the first contacts of the two advanced guards. It was an encounter battle, much like Gettysburg, Jena-Auerstadt, and many other engagements. What it immediately brought to my mind is that the contact of the two armies was sequential, and they were divided “vertically”. First, the contact of the two opposing advanced guards, then the First Line closely followed by Second Line-and finally a small Reserve.

Now, admittedly, armies were far more rigid in this early WSS period than they became later, but it struck me that this process of meeting was a fairly common one, throughout history, and I should give it a try. I divided the armies into four parts Advanced Guard-First line-Second line- and Reserve.

Each army’s break out can be found on the Yahoo Site in the files section under “The Battle of Denain.”

Essentially, the Advanced Guards are made up of a concentration of horse and dragoons with a couple of light artillery, and infantry battalions to provide backbone. The First Line is the bulk of the army with most of the infantry, more guns, including heavy guns, and the best horse. The Second Line is smaller, mostly infantry, but only a smattering of horse and guns. The reserve is very small with a few infantry and the train.

I then set the game conditions.

The terrain favored nether side, but two class III hills in the neutral center dominated the field and were given objective markers. In fact, I gave them two objective markers, one worth 4x to the initial taker, but another worth 8X to the party that retook the hill, if possible. This guaranteed that the high ground would be a pretty good scrap. On the Eastern Flank, I placed an objective rich village, which had three Class III sections at 4X, and a crossroad at 6X. A nice haul and worth an attack-especially on a flank. It was surrounded on the South Side( Allied side) by small Class III wood. The Western Flank had extensive Class III woods that offered difficult going, but a couple of road exits on either baseline. If unopposed, a force might sweep around a flank-but quite a gamble with the obvious delay and disorder of transiting a wood. Tempting? All Road Exits were 10X with the “Y” crossroad on the Western French side a 6X. The rest of the field was open terrain.

Denain-Advance Guard

The procedure of set up was that the Allies had won the last wargame and were awarded the General’s Carriage. This allowed them force the French to deploy first or second (they naturally decided the French should deploy first); would add +1 to the first turn’s initiative roll, and could choose their first phase card in turn 2. It was deemed their commander reached the field rested and with a carriage full of maps and reports. Both Phase Decks were to be shuffled for a random draw throughout the game, except for that 2nd turn Allied exception.

Army Arrival
After the first turn the Creative Option Card was put into both decks. When drawn the army would throw 1 D6. A roll of 5 or 6 and the First line would arrive on the NEXT turn! After its arrival the second line would arrive on the NEXT turn after that, and, finally, the reserve would arrive on the NEXT turn after the second line’s arrival. If the roll was not made the Creative Option would be placed in the deck for the next shuffle and turn. However, the arrival roll would be increased by one on each turn-so, on the second turn the roll would be 4-5-6, on the third turn 3-4-5-6, and the fourth turn, 2-3-4-5-6 and automatic thereafter. Once the first line enters, the rest are automatic at 1one turn intervals.

Multi-Bucket with Reserve restrictions
The game was also a multi-bucket game so each force got 1/5 of the entire army’s die total (4 sections-plus the CIC’s reserve bucket divided into the army’s total dice) and the commander couldn’t access the reserve dice (1/5 of the total) until the reserve section had also arrived on the field and a RRR card was turned!

Each section of the army was assigned a player. So they game started with the advanced guard players as the only players active, but they received a LOT of advice from the other, not yet engaged, players. Since the allied Advanced Guard player was inexperienced, this was helpful.

Initial Deployments
The French forced to deploy first, quickly looked at the situation in front of them and devised a very simple, but direct and clear plan. They detailed off their dragoons on the left flank to take the village, and get the objective dice. Dragoons have the advantage of taking village structures, but may leave-infantry once in a village section is there for the battle. Opposite the two hills they placed their infantry force and both of their gun batteries. They wanted that ridge line! Between these two forces the placed a long line of their horse where it could protect the flank of the infantry and possible count on the support of the Dragoons. The ground in front of them was excellent for cavalry, both open and flat. Most importantly they completely deployed their force in battle order, except for their light guns, as they appreciated the clumsiness of that process once battle had begun. They gave up a little speed for surety of order.

The Allies were less decisive. They saw the French deployment and concentrated their entire force to attack the ridge line. They disregarded the value of the village. (They stated it was full of Belgians and the restaurants and bistros were not very good.) They deployed with the Dutch and Prussians on their right under an inexperienced commander, and the English contingent on their left. Their entire force was in road march order and not deployed for battle. They hoped to “Steal a March” on the French and then deploy on the hill. None of these decisions turned out well for them!

The command on either side was relatively good. The French had Villars on an average day (4 Command Dice) and the Allies had Cadogan on an average day (4 dice).

The Allies won the initiative on the first turn and moved off at a smart step-they did not deploy. The French did likewise with their dragoons making a beeline for the undefended village. Their infantry moved off toward the ridgeline while the cavalry in the open ground kept pace.

At this point it appeared that the French were going to snap up the village objectives without opposition, and their attack on the hill was well ordered-with artillery to place on the ridgeline when it was taken. Artillery on low hills is advantaged, and it would lessen any chance at Allied recapture.

French Dragoon Take VillageBouffler's Dragoons Take Village

French Dragoons take the village and invest the church grounds. The White tower is a dice tower (it really ruins the pix does it not-? I think I’ll outlaw them!)

The Allies soon realized that they needed to attack quickly as the French were very precise in their attacking formations and moving at a good rate. They also realize that not offering any resistance to the taking of the villages was a mistake. Even in column order, their first turn advance was not that much better than the deployed French. On the second turn, they selected the cavalry move card as their first card move card as their first card, and shuffled the rest.

This was the turn they knew they were in trouble. As they began to deploy the player’s had not properly arranged their troops and much confusion arose as they attempted to sort out a very clumsy deployment. Several units were barely moved as they were blocked by other regiments going through their evolutions! They then noted the fall of the village, and that the placement of the British gun was faulty in that it had no clear targets as they were masked by the ridge. Even worse, the French had actually gotten closer to the ridgeline in formed order than the Allies, delayed as they were by their jumbled deployment. There was some hope that they would be immediately reinforced by the First Line on the next turn. They needed to roll a 5 or 6. They rolled a 2!

The French in the second turn took firm possession of the village. That acquired a total of nearly two dozen dice! Morale was high! The French infantry and guns got to the base of the ridgeline in very good order, both guns were ready to ascend and take a dominant position. They, too, failed their roll for the entry of the first line.

French Attack on Ridge
Anspach riding to their doom in upper right. Note disarray in Allied deployment.

On the next turn the Allies were very worried that their initial deployment and the subsequent delays, had lost this initial engagement of the Battle of denain, almost from the start. They won the initiative. At this point desperation kicked in and the Dutch-Prussian wing launched a furious and chancy attack. The Ansbach Horse launched a charge against the French horse at a 3-1 disadvantage!

IMG_0074Nassau Tattack over Ridge
Upper: Ansbach attack Carabiniers Lower: Nassau attack over ridge (note Ansbach in background)

The Nassau horse galloped up over the ridge and launched itself at the French line-first assaulting the Artillery battery between Clare and Talard regiments. The Prussian light gun moved forward and unlimbered on the allied right flank. Supporting them, the Van Welderen Dutch and Bothmer Dragoons came forward rapidly-not bothering to deploy even at this late moment. The British, somewhat shocked at the Dutch-Prussian audacity, advanced cautiously toward the Northern part of the ridge, trying to make sure the Allied line was not too disjointed. There was great hope that the First Line might make it to the field to rescue their situation on the next turn. They needed a 4-5-6. They rolled a 3!

The French mounted up the Listerois Dragoons and sent them at full gallop down the road to secure an objective marker and deny the Allies one line of retreat, and slow any appearance by the Allied First Line along that entry point.


They closed on the hill-just as the Nassauers cleared the crest and slammed into the limbered artillery battery. The battery was hacked to pieces! First blood to the Allies! In their battle fury the Nassauers pursued on into the Clare Regiment without pause. The Clare Regiment was surprised at their appearance and audacity but, as veteran Irishmen, stood firm with a round of musketry and their battalion gun barking. They stopped the Nassauers cold! a general milling melee developed, but the Nassauers were blown and Clare was not going to run from these Dutchmen!


In the meantime, the other French gun trundled onto the ridge.


Then the most magnificent event in the history of the French cavalry began to unfold in the open ground South of the ridge. As related above, the Ansbach Horse had charged the concentration of French and Spanish Horse. At the front of the French formation were the storied Carabiniers du Roi, a proud and tough unit of cavalry. The resulting melee was quick and decisive with the Ansbach thrown back in retreat with a black die added. The carabiniers immediately pursued and crushed the Ansbachers with a catastrophic defeat-scattered individuals dashed from the field. Over 20 dice had been lost as well! BUT the carabiniers were not done! The swung out along with Conde Regiment and the Spanish Cecile-Nestien horse to envelop the Allied right. The turn ended with the French seeing if their First Line would arrive on the next turn. They rolled a 2, so the First line would not arrive the next turn for them as well.

Things were very desperate for the Allies, they needed to win the initiative on the third turn for many reasons; To realign the Prussian gun to face the oncoming Carabiniers, Conde, and Spanish horse, To deploy Van Welderen in order to secure that flank, and to move The Bothmer Dragoons onto the ridge to take out the French artillery. Lastly, the Nassauers were not going to break through and they needed to extract them from their exposed position. The British watched with concern, not clear as to whether they should support the failing allies or be ready to surrender the field. The initiative roll was made. They won! Now they just needed to get the artillery action card or either Cavalry or Infantry move, before the French cavalry could act. Their first card was Specialized action-not very useful!

The French, who had been tres heureux throughout this engagement-drew a cavalry move card. What followed was extraordinary. First the Carabinier du Roi hit the flank of the Prussian Light artillery battery and rode right over it with another catastrophic win.

IMG_0075Into Van WelderenIMG_0078
Left: Prussian gun overridden Center: Van Welderen destroyed Right: Bothmer. Too!

They then pursued into the flank of the undeployed Van Welderen regiment and took them out with another catastrophic win! They then, rallied and chose to pursue into the flank of the Bothmer Dragoons, who were also undeployed! They, too, were, destroyed. In a matter of minutes, a gun, an infantry unit and a unit of dragoons were eliminated and over 46 dice acquired! The Allied Flank was a shambles. The French had established a gun on the high ground and were ready to secure the entire ridge.

For one hesitant moment, the Allies paused as their Creative Option card allowed yet another chance for the First Line to appear-this time they needed a 3-4-5-6 and rolled a 1! The British officer in Seymour’s regiment was heard to say,” Well, at least there’s been no Englishmen lost,” as Cadogan ordered the advanced guard to retire off the battlefield and back toward the First Line. The English forces had not fired a shot in anger!!! Would this lead to bad blood with the Allies??

This was as decisive a victory as the French have had in any wargame we’ve played. It was their first victory in several battles. Spirits were high. The Carabiniers were cheered throughout the army, as were the stalwart Irish of Clare’s Regiment.


1. The Allies learned, the hard way, that deployment is clumsy enough in this period that most units should be deployed as a battle starts. Certainly artillery and horse have some added flexibility, but any unit that is not deployed , and not ready to fight on the battlefield is not to be allowed without very, very good reasons.

2. Unsupported cavalry attacks by lone units is never going to be successful in the long run. Ansbach’s Ride to Infamy started the unraveling of the Allied Right. Nassau’s attack over the ridge, had the benefit of surprise and took out a light gun battery, but was not able to break Regiment Clare, and once their bolt was shot, they were done. The fact that the French Commander, Villars, was very well positioned to throw his command weight (Yellow Dice) to Clare and initially to the Carabiniers, while the Allied Commander, Cadogan, was not a factor in many actions by the Allies, added to the debacle.

3. The clumsiness of the Allied deployment was made worse by the inexperience of the Dutch-Prussian player, which was at the root of the faulty deployment, the decision to not contest the village, the lack of considered response to the French deployment which the Allies saw before their own, and to the inadequate spacing of units that caused delay in deployment.

4. The French made few mistakes, and exploited every error by the Allies. They earned this stunning victory.

Game Mechanics

1. Everything went well, though it is only the initial part of the battle of Denain. This is our first “vertical” battle and I LIKE IT! The entire action took less than 2 hours of play time. leaving plenty of time for chat afterwards.

2. The deployment to the flank and rule of 8 makes initial deployment far more tricky than in most games. It accurately reflects the restrictions of maneuver and deployment in this period.

3. The new rules for Battalion Guns, and other changes mentioned on the notes, played very well. They added interest, but did not distort play.

4. The next game will be the confrontation of the French Advanced Guard which gained a total of nearly 80 dice, and lost only one artillery unit, against the combined numbers of the Allied First Line, and the remnants of their advanced guard. They lost an artillery battery, two cavalry units, an infantry unit, and the Nassau Cavalry will have a Black die beginning the next action. Cadogan will be minus 1 die on his command dice. No effect on following First Line’s command. The advance guard, obviously, will contribute NO dice to the Allies and only the First Line Bucket will be in play.

The French First Line will enter on the next(2nd) turn on the Creative Option Card. The Allies Second Line will enter on the next (2nd) turn on the creative option card . Both are automatic. The French Second Line will enter on the 3rd turn on the Creative option card.. Both Armies will then roll for their reserve forces and train, on the Creative Option card of the third turn. Even they arrive-Odd they do not. They will continue to roll on the Creative option card of following turns until their reserves drive.

Terrain: The terrain will mildly favor the Allies, but they will deploy first.

Initiative and Phasing for the next battle: The French may stack their entire deck on the first turn. They may select the first 2 cards of the following turn. They will get a Plus 2 on the first turn initiative roll; a Plus 1 on the second turn initiative roll. Standard phasing and deck randomness thereafter.

This was a great experiment and played to the strength of the Die Fighting rules. Vertical battles are a great way to turn a battle into a mini-campaign. It also allows the “Big” battle, but without swamping the players with units and adds tension to the entire battle narrative. How will the Allies fare once the main body is present? Will it be like Ligny or Quatre Bras before Waterloo? Or the first day at Gettysburg? In both cases the “Loser” came back to win. We will be doing more of these vertical battles in the coming year!