THE BATTLE OF BOUVINES
Flanders, July 27, 1214
France, under King Philippe II Augustus, vs the Holy Roman Empire and its Allies, under Emperor Otto IV of Brunswick
This is part 2 of the review of Worthington Games game on Medieval combat which covers the battle of Bouvines. Part 1 is an introduction to the game and a review of the first battle scenario, the battle of Legnano. That scenario was a 'set piece' battle where all the units start on the board facing each other and ready for combat. This battle is much more of a meeting engagement where the French are exiting the board to the West when the Holy Roman Empire army is detected approaching from the woods to the East.
LEGNANO <-- If you missed the discussion on early impressions and the battle of Legnano, the link to the left will take you there.
Each player has a larger deck of available cards in this scenario, 27 for the French and 28 for the Holy Roman Empire. Each turn the French player starts with a 16 card hand and the HRE player with a 15 card hand. This edge is somewhat offset by the greater number of cards with large movement points (6 or 7) in the HRE deck. This also means that the HRE will have the initiative more often than not. This can be quite critical, as it allows the HRE player to take advantage of opportunities created at the end of the previous turn, or to compel the French to take the first action of the turn.
The HRE side has more forces available, but it is very difficult to get them all into action. The French have the initial advantage in knights and light cavalry, which they can quickly form into a battle line and contest the area where the road exits the woods. The HRE knights must move to the edge of the woods and deploy, buying time of the infantry that follows to enter, move into the woods to the right and clear the road for the following formations. Each side has three 'formations' that consist of knights, light cavalry and infantry. The HRE player has a strict order that these formations must enter, so to bring on the cavalry of the following formations he must first enter the infantry of the previous formations. The French are under no such restriction and can enter all their knights and cavalry before they enter any infantry.
This is the starting situation, except that the HRE units should be facing the direction of the road (West), not South into the woods. This is official errata. The French are indeed moving off the board when the battle begins and must now turn to give battle. They can do this with alarming speed. The area where the road exists the woods is going to be a bloody battle ground and the HRE reinforcements will have to move into the woods to deploy to their right to make room for the reinforcement units. The play area expands much further to the North, but our experience so far is that the battles don't move too far from the woods. The French player is more than happy to 'pin' the HRE knights at the edge of woods and require them to use a lot more MPs to expand the front. The HRE player dare not push his cavalry forward too far, as the French enjoy a local superiority in the area and they will be defeated "in detail" if they venture too far forward. The two HRE knights and two Light Cavalry units move to the edge of the woods where the road exits, only to be met by the six French knights and three light cavalry units that the French start with on the board. Not good.
Our first significant objection to the counter mix occurs at this time. There are many events in both decks that apply only to knights and not light cavalry. The symbol on the counters for both units are identical, the only difference is the combat value (usually lower for the light cavalry) and a letter code next to the combat factor. "K" for knights, "LC" for light cavalry. It rarely becomes a problem, since the combat factor is usually a good indication of which type of unit it is, until the unit takes a step loss and flips. Both units are usually a '2' on the reduced side. I know very little about the TOE (Table of Equipment) for the different units in this era, but it would be nice to more clearly distinguish knights from light cavalry in the heat of battle.
There are several interesting new events in each players deck, but the ratio of hand size to deck size is much lower in this scenario. The HRE player only plays 15 of his 28 cards (53%) each hand, so he cannot count on any given card being available. The French players hand is a bit more predictable, playing with 16 of his 27 cards (59%), still leaving him in a situation where he cannot count on any particular event being available. Compare these numbers to the Legnano scenario where each side drew 12 of their 18 cards (67%) each turn.
A review of the two decks is in order before going to battle, as the composition of each players deck will necessarily influence their line of play. I will deal with them in the order of event importance, defined by how often we played the event on the card in our games.
Counter Attack: Each side has two of them, so expect your opponent to have at least one in his hand. These cards are ALWAYS played for their event, except for some of the early moves where troops are moving to the front and most cards are being played for MPs. As noted earlier, this single card play can often compel the attacking player to play additional cards to defend his units or take step losses. Any event or attack that compels the opponent to decide between playing cards on defense or taking step losses and retreating is what you are looking for in this game.
Knights Charge: Each side has five of these and if the conditions are right they can be powerful attack cards. Double the attack factors to '8' of most knights and any defender will have to play a card to add BPs to the defense or take a step loss and retreat. Two of the French events are 5BPs, adding 5 points to the battle on defense, and will often be held to the end of the turn where they can be used on defense as well as offense. One of the HRE cards supplies 7MPs and another supplies 6MPs, so they are often used for movement rather than the event. Still, both sides will look for opportunities to use this event.
Strategic Movement: Each side has one of these, which allow every unit they have which is more than 2 squares of the enemy to expend 3MPs each. Not only that, but this is not considered movement, but the "play of a card", so units that use this event are NOT marked as "Used" and units that are already marked as "Used" may still benefit from this event. If one side has this event in their hand and the other player does not, it allows them to "steal a march" and get additional units onto the board. If you are fortunate enough to have this card appear in your hand it will almost certainly be played as the event.
Rally: Each side has three of these and they will often be used for the event IF an eligible unit is available. Note that you may only play this event if the disordered/reduced unit is not adjacent to an enemy unit. It can be very difficult to extricate a unit from battle. Quite often the better solution is to attack any enemy unit adjacent to the stricken unit to drive it away first. The MPs and BPs on these events are very average, so the event is the preferable use for these cards.
Now to discuss the lesser event cards. These events are rarely played, as the conditions for their play will rarely occur in the game or the opportunity cost is so high that it is better used for MPs or BPs.
Crossbows: Each side has two of these events, but there are few opportunities to use them in this scenario. They cannot be used against units in the woods, which is where the HRE player spends most of the game. They are rarely going to used on defense, simply because your opponent would be silly to walk a unit in front of the crossbow unit to risk this event. Disrupted units may not attack and to rally them they must get away from the enemy. More often the crossbow unit will move up and use the card offensive to disrupt an enemy unit in a flanking position. They make a great reserve behind the front line for this purpose. These units are very fragile, having a BP value of '1' and only a single step. They won't last long on the front line, as any flank attack against them is overwhelming and they cannot respond. The event would be FAR more useful if the crossbow unit were allowed to freely change facing and fire if a unit moved adjacent to it, but that is not the case. Keep those units behind the line where they can move to disrupt any enemy unit that breaks through without risking a counter attack from some other enemy unit.
This event will be played more often by the HRE player than the French. The French crossbows don't arrive until very late, if at all. In addtion the MP and BP values of the HRE events are average, but one French event is an MP5 and the other a BP5.
Continued Attack: This is a very interesting event and there are occasions when it can be devastating. The play of this event after a successful attack where the defender retreated allows the attacker to make another attack with the unit that advanced into the space. This allows the attacker to play a card for MPs, make an attack at 2:1 odds where the defending unit must retreat, then play this event to have the attacking unit that advanced make ANOTHER attack, either against the same (hopefully reduced) unit at 2:1, then declare yet ANOTHER attack somewhere else, or even attack with the same unit. When hotly engaged with many good battles set up, this is a great event. The French have one card with only 4MP and 2BP which is best used for this event if the opportunity presents itself Both of the HRE events are MP6 cards and will usually be used for MPs in the early part of the battle, then for the event once the main action begins.
Pass Through Allowed: Each side has one of these and I believe I only saw the event used once. The time to use it is when you have a key unit, usually your '5' strength knight with the leader, in a distressed position. The play of this event allows the unit to move through one of your units to get out of harms way. The main reasons this event is rarely played is that this is the ONLY MP7 card in the French deck, so it will usually be played for the MPs. For the HRE player this is a BP5 card and will usually be played for Battle Points in a key battle.
Chivalry Charge: The French have three of these events, the HRE player only 1. If there is a situation where this event is effective, I have yet to see it. You play this event to, essentially, compel an enemy unit to make a Knights Charge. The only reason I can imagine playing this event is to compel an enemy knight to charge one of your crossbow units, the play a crossbow event to disrupt the attacking knight before he completes the charge. The opportunity cost of playing two cards to pull an enemy knight out of line and disrupt it don't seem to be very effective to me.
Attacker Restraint: The French have two, the HRE one. Most infantry have a strength of 2 and using this event reduces them to a 1 for that battle. I can't imagine infantry reducing their attack strength by 50% to make an attack, just to prevent them from advancing in a battle they are now unlikely to win. In a French deck that is short on MPs, these two event each provide 6MPs, a far more effective use of the card.
Charge Reluctance: Each side has one of these, which can cancel the x2 of a charging knight if the attack comes through the front of the defending infantry. In the normal case the knight will be attacking at a strength of 8 versus the 2 of the infantry, so this event would reduce an 8:2 to a 4:2. The mitigating factor of these event cards is that both of them are BP5 cards, and those 5BPs are MUCH more valuable than this event. Again, there may be a rare case where the play of this event puts a charging knight in a very bad position, but I have not seen it.
Infantry Mass Attack: Only the HRE has this event, and only 1 of them. The HRE force consists of three different divisions and this event allows all the infantry from any one of these divisions to use up to 3MP each as long as at least 2 of these units conduct an attack as part of this event. We jokingly referred to it as the "Infantry Mass Suicide Attack", as the infantry was usually facing enemy knights. The French infantry is very late to the battlefield and I can only see this event being played when the HRE infantry is facing French infantry.
There are five French cards with unplayable events with a total of 25MPs and 13BPs. Except for one MP6 card they are all very average. The HRE has 8 cards with unplayable events, but two of them are MP7s, one is an MP6, one is a BP4 and two more are BP5s! Without actually adding them, it appears the decks are about equal in the number of Battle points they offer, but the HRE deck clearly offers more MPs. He will need them, as he will usually have to deploy his units through the woods, which takes a lot of MPs.
We have played the scenario a few times now, with the French being victorious every time. I don't believe this is a foregone conclusion, but the HRE position is, by far, the more challenging. The French forces manuever in the open ground, while the HRE units must stumble through the woods for most of the game. The HRE player must be VERY patient and attempt to get most of his forces deployed at the edge of the woods before engaging in a general melee. The HRE player has the larger army, but the French enjoy a local superiority of both forces and position as the battle starts and King Philippe II will be able to exploit that if Emperor Otto IV is too rash in his actions.
Our last battle was probably the closest fight, and the turns are reconstructed below. With so many cards in each hand there is a lot of action each turn. I have recorded the positions at the end of each turn with a brief summary of the action that took place that turn, if I can remember it. In the discussion that follows I refer to the HRE units with the light blue band as being Flemish, even though the counters label the infantry as Burgundy. In the description of the scenario this division is described as consisting of Flemish troops so that is what I call them.
Just about every card is played for MPs, as both sides move up their knights to the front. As the HRE I wanted to try and expand the front to the North, but the French player quickly sent some knights to that area to confront my infantry. While the Emperor is spending 2MPs for each unit to move through a woods hex, King Philippe II can quickly deploy his knights and light cavalry to confront them.
The emperor would have been better off moving the Flemish infantry to the left, off of the road, and allowing Otto's knights to then move to the right to expand the front in that direction. The Flemish infantry would probably be better served by moving along the road to near the edge of the woods, then turning left and blocking that flank by staying in the woods. Note that the Flemish crossbowman is still on the road, looking for an opportunity to move up the road and set up in a protected woods hex where he can fire into an unsuspecting cavalry unit that moves in front of him. He needs to get out of the way to keep the road clear so the rest of the army can enter.
The French cavalry and knight unit on their left have already
reduced a Flemish knight and is putting pressure on the infantry. Note
the precarious position of the reduced knight on the right of the line.
The infantry blocks his retreat and a frontal attack by another French knight
would leave him without a retreat path.
The Emperor's situation does not improve. The knight that ended turn 1 reduced was saved, but one of the Light Cavalry was eliminated during the turn, so the French draw first blood. The Flemish infantry now present a solid front line, but they face 2 French knights and a light cavalry unit. The French can probably disperse this line at their leisure as they already have a pair of 4:2 attacks lined up. The King has reinforced the main French line at the edge of the woods, where two of Otto's Flemish knights are already reduced to only one of the French knights.
Otto deploys to the left, since to move to the right would put his knights in the rear of the infantry and block their retreat. In retrospect, the corrective action to this situation is to burn cards for MPs and get the knights arriving as reinforcements to pass all the way beyond the infantry line to protect the right flank. The Emperor is moving to protect a left flank that is held by a reduced knight unit and crossbowmen that ended up in a position where they cannot fire their bolts. The plan is to get the crossbowmen and the reduced knight out of there so the Black Knights of the Emperor can press the French left. Alas, note the arrival of more French knights and light cavalry moving up the road. The open terrain allows them to quickly bolster the line anywhere it may be threatened.
A view of the battle field from a higher perspective at the end of turn 3. The gameboard extends much further to the north, we just have not made the effort to expand the battle in that direction.
The Emperor has lost a Flemish Knight this turn, but has stabilized the situation on the left. The crossbowmen were saved, although they are still looking for a useful place to deploy. By pushing on the left the Emperor hopes to establish a front running from the Southwest to the Northeast which would allow the light cavalry and other reinforcements coming up the road to quickly reinforce the center of the position. It is the only real hope, since it will be very difficult to reinforce the infantry on the far right with the difficulty of moving through the woods.
The French still enjoy a slight advantage in both numbers of units at the front and overall quality of units in terms of units facing each other. With four knights and a light cavalry behind the line to bolster any defense and support any attack the Emperor should pause to bring on the remaining black infantry and the rest of his forces before pushing too hard to leave the woods.
King Philippe II and the Emperor face each other on the battle field with their elite knights around them. Things could get interesting quickly.
With their positional advantage, and all of their cavalry at or near the front, the French initiate a general battle, attacking on the left where their cavalry faces the Emperors infantry. The HRE infantry fights to remain in the field, but has to give a lot of ground and one of the infantry units is eliminated. Some Light Cavalry is sent to support the flank, but since cavalry and infantry may not combine in the same declared attack this is really an attempt to simply hold the line.
The Emperor starts to advance more light infantry up the road to join the fight in the center. This will not be easy with the line of friendly cavalry in front of them. As the HRE units attempt to advance on the left the French rush in with the knights in reserve to counter attack. At the end of the turn each player is holding one card, which usually ends with both of them passing to avoid a situation where your opponent will have the last card knowing you have none to play to add BPs to a battle.
Alas, a major blunder by the Emperor, as he decides to play his last card after the King passes to move the Light Cavalry unit (marked 'A') into position to surround and attack a French knight in 'Q6', eliminating it. Not a bad idea, except that it leaves the road into the woods undefended! The French play their last card to move the reduced knight (marked 'B') behind the knight guarding the left flank of the Emperor and also delivering a surrounded attack at 2:1 BP ratio, which eliminates it. It looks like the German infantry will be called upon to immediately come to support the Emperor.
After turning over 3 cards each for initiative determination at the start of the turn, the HRE finally gains the advantage. He goes through four cards attempting to secure an advantage in the center, but for reasons I cannot recall now he fails to eliminate any of the French cavalry. I believe there was a counter-attack played by the French and a couple of battle cards that turned the tide in some battles. The French call on their cavalry to press the Emperor's salient from both sides and the center and the HRE forces are unable to respond. The chilling fact of the matter was that the HRE hand was very weak in BPs on this turn, only one BP5 card and two BP4 cards. There was one counterattack card, but with most of the French attacks consisting of three attacking units it was of minimal use.
In the middle of the turn the French still had seven (7) cards
in their hand to five (5) for the HRE. Due to the crowding of units caused
by very poor positioning on the part of the HRE, the French were able to make
several big attacks that required the HRE to play two (2) BP2 cards to avoid
elimination. At the end of the turn the French still had three (3) cards
to none for the HRE and they were all good attacking cards. The Emperor
was surrounded and attacked at 2:1, leading to his elimination along with his
'5' knight for 9VPs. At this point the French needed to kill two more
units for the victory, which was achieved. Such is the fate of one side in
the battle when they run out of cards and their opponent still has some in their
hand. You sit there and watch as your army is routed from the field.
In spite of how badly it turned out for the HRE forces, this was their best performance of the games we played. I still believe they can win this battle, but they must be very patient and deploy their units in a good defensive position, buying the time necessary to get their units onto the board and into action. When the critical battle started the French still had a slight numerical advantage along with the open terrain behind their front line to bring up reinforcements and shift units around. Next time I believe I will send the knights to the North, through the woods, to secure that flank and have the Flemish infantry deploy on the left to the edge of the board, in the woods. That +1BP on defense could come in handy for them, essentiall boosting their combat value by 50%. The German knights would then follow the Flemish knights to extend the line to the North, while the German infantry moved up to support the Flemish infantry. In this game there is no reward in keeping the divisions together in a sort of 'combined arms' formation. Better to get the infantry together and the cavalry together since they cannot combine in a single attack.
We move on to the next battle next week. Probably Lewes, but we may yet decide to play Bannockburn