Bataille Empire is presented in the same format and by the same author as ‘Art de la Guerre’ but beyond the concept of command points for generals the rules share very little in common. It is a battalion level game with columns, lines, squares, skirmishers and interactions between all of the above. The following is based on 1 trial ‘pushabout’, a solo 200 point game, observation and rules reference for a 300 point game between 2 other players and a face to face 200 point game. The face to face game was played with the French on 3cm bases and Russians on 4cm. The 3cm unit of measurement was used and the base size differences had no effect on game play.
A Bataille game is played at 200 or 300 points. Half the book is made up of lists. The major and minor European nations are included. The Ottoman Turks are in but not the Persian nor Moghul nor new world armies such the Mexicans and USA. A full breakdown of the points system is present so these missing nations could be worked up. An average competent unit would cost about 12 points. Commanders are in a similar budget range so for 200 points one would expect an overall commander, 3 division commanders and about 12 manoevre units. At 200 points games are taking about 3 1/2 hours to reach an identifiable conclusion. This is with some rules referencing and rolling back the game when events go off piste. The2020 Roll Call event is setting 200 point game limits at 3 hours.
Table size is based around figure base width which also governs the number of ‘unit distances’ used for game measurements. With a 3cm base width a 200 point game will play on a 120 cm by 90 cm (4′ by 3′) table. Using 4cm bases a 300 point game will play on 6′ by 4′. The image below shows a 3cm based 200 point game in 15mm (the box lid marks the top playable area). The terrain was generated by the rules book. The hill should be the same width but less deep and a road that would have no impact on play has been missed off. Each player has 3 commands. The French commands at the bottom are deployed in line with each other. The British cavalry is behind their 2 infantry divisions.
The divisions are allocated order tokens which constrain what they can do. For example an attack order will force the division to try to move into close range shooting or shock combat. If that involves cavalry charging onto formed infantry squares so be it. Orders can be changed by passing a die roll, if this is failed the change will come into play on the following turn.
A turn begins by each overall commander rolling for command points. This is D6/2 rounded up. Better commanders add to the roll, worse ones subtract. The better commanders also have a wider range within which they can allocate command points. Good commanders are well worth buying but the army lists severely restrict their availability.
The divisions then activate in turn based on the division order and division commander quality. The first to activate rolls for the command points of that division. Neither player will know the rolls of the divisions that are yet to activate but the overall commander can transfer points from their own pool to the active division.
There are key distances with Bataille that effect how much can be done. Using 3cm basing; beyond 24cm of formed enemy the player has considerable flexibility. A single command point can move the whole division in a loose formation with units able to make up to 3 moves. In practice a unit in column is likely to run out of that 24cm buffer in less than 3 moves. Some orders will not allow units to approach within 12cm of formed enemy and within 12cm the non-active player has increasing reactive opportunities. At 6 cm depth units can form groups and support each other in combat. Beyond 6cm spacing it is going to be harder to shift an entire division on a single point.
It is certainly possible to get a division into combat with 1 command point if it is all lined up correctly. Things tend to break down as the game progresses. A unit that has taken losses and fled far from the combat will need 1 command point to put it back into good order. The first loss is permanent but others can be rallied at 2 command points each if the divisional commander joins that unit. The first divisional commander leader move of the division is free but it will still cost 3 points to sort out that fleeing unit. In the following turn it will cost another point to get the unit back into the action. If the division is subject to charge orders it must charge in with half its good order units if it can. So the commander will be lucky to have 3 command points and even luckier to have some to spare for rallying.
The basics of combat are simple enough but there is a degree of action and reaction to take into consideration. In any combat there is only 1 attacker and 1 defender. Other units within 6cm provide support and influence the combat.
Shooting is based on the roll of a single D6. Units must shoot if they are able. The defending unit fires back before taking into account any losses they may have suffered from that firefight. If a unit takes a loss it makes a morale test which if failed will cause the unit to retreat in disorder. If both sides take a loss in the same firefight there is a list of priorities to decide who will take the morale test.
Shock is between touching units. Both sides roll a D6 with various modifiers. It is possible for 1 side to chalk up enough modifiers to guarantee a win but the roll comparison will affect how bad the results are. With a base difference in scores from 0 to 5 with no modifiers on the D6s there is a good deal of luck in who will come out best in a combat. Unlike shooting there is some advantage in the order of shock. A combat could drive off supports which would otherwise affect the modifiers of a subsequent shock roll.
It is the interaction of supports and reactions that dictate the game flow. For example a cavalry unit charges infantry in line. The infantry have a chance to form square. If they succeed the cavalry can respond to that change of formation by halting their charge. Note that an infantry unit in line that is supported on its flanks would be better off staying in line. Also cavalry with an attack order can pull up if the infantry forms square but if their target is infantry already in square they are forced to contact and the results of the combat will not be good for the horses.
The rules include a basic scenario between evenly matched sides. This is shown below, there is a virtual road between the houses. It is not especially interesting because with everything being equal both sides bounce off each other. It is worth some study to investigate how all the bits hang together.
Markers are an issue, they can pile up. A unit that has performed certain actions will take an action marker, a puff of cotton wool is suggested. This affects their subsequent actions, for example a unit can only fire by choice once but can fire back if shot at with a penalty if it has an action marker. Action markers are removed at the end of a turn. A unit may be disordered, it is at a disadvantage in combat, does not provide support and cannot be part of a group. Jiggling the unit bases out of line can mark disordered. A unit will take losses and attrition. Any loss except the first can be removed so loss markers will remain. D4s make good loss markers as a medium size infantry unit takes 4 losses and unlike D6s, D4s are hard to accidentally roll across the table. The same marker system could be used for attrition and loss as in effect an attrition is half a loss. Casualty markers, wound dials or some sort of status sheet on the model base are possibilities. On a brighter note players will not need buckets of dice. One for the overall commander’s points, one for the current activated division commander’s points and one for the current combat will do the job.
A few points that can be missed. Attritions are not losses so attritions can never be removed by rallying. When a second attrition is suffered the morale effects of a single loss come into force. Counter charges and opportunity charges have some effects in common but the restrictions of who can counter charge and who can opportunity charge are not the same.
Some examples follow to give an idea of game play. Other factors such as quality and losses also come into the equation but to keep the examples straightforward it is assumed that these do not apply or otherwise cancel out. The lines in all cases would probably be a little further apart but have been closed up for artistic purposes.
Here 3 cavalry units from opposing forces face off. Initial instincts might be to throw 2 units of attacker’s cavalry into a single defender. You can’t do that as only a single unit from each side is allowed into combat. Moving the bottom flanking unit into the side of the top defender is not going to work. The supporting flanking defending unit will opportunity charge as the attacker begins to turn. The result is still 2 units in combat front on but some shuffling of the units involved. The 2 more likely results are of a single combat with all the supporting units moving up on both sides or 1 of the flank supporting units moving up with an opportunity charge and related counter charge for 2 combats. Combat tends to mess up cavalry so it is more likely that just 1 combat occurs with both sides having charged in and both with 2 supporting units. Even if one side were of substantially superior quality the result is anyone’s guess.
One side will lose and its unit will either flee or retreat. A flee could be further than a retreat but in this case the loser will take refuge behind its rear supporting unit. If the winner is not impetuous (like the British) it can try to hold otherwise it will take a pursuit test and probably slam into the defender’s old rear support. The winner will be disordered (a bad thing) but not until the end of this second combat. They do pick up an action marker as this is their 2nd move and the defender will probably counter charge. The attacker is on +1 (pursuit), +2 support (the supports move up with the pursuit). The new defender has +1 to +3 (charging, depending on the cavalry weight), +1 support (the disordered retreating unit does not count), +1 (the attacker’s action marker). Either or both sides will get an additional +1 if they have an attack order. Its all too close to call but the defender has a slight edge. The attacker might win again, cause the subsequent defender to retreat or flee, they cannot take refuge behind the original defender and they are well away (but can come back). A unit cannot make a 2nd pursuit and a pursuit cannot be opportunity charged so it won’t get any messier.
If the defender wins the attacker will act the same as the defender did in the original defender leaving both sides with 1 fleeing or retreating unit, 1 in good order (the flank support) and another in disorder (the winner of 1 combat). Unless 1 side has a significant advantage in quality or numbers there is a lot to be said for standing around, glaring at each at 12cm other and waiting for some other event on the battlefield to present an opportunity. If two relatively equal cavalry forces do ‘have at it’ they are likely to be both way back of their own lines engaged in rally and recovering losses.
Looking at cavalry vs infantry. Imagine a lone heavy cavalry unit in line charging the exposed end of an infantry line. The cavalry is coming in from the front, not side of the target infantry. The infantry has 2 supports, 1 to the rear and another to the side. The opposite side is ‘hanging’ without support. The cavalry have +3 (charge), the infantry +3 (1 safe flank), +2 (support). +3 vs +5 is not worth forming square unless the cavalry is of notably better quality. If the infantry were to try and form square but fail they would be on +2 (support) only and the cavalry gain an additional +2 (enemy disordered). A total of +5 (cavalry) versus +2 (infantry); still anyone’s game. If the cavalry could hit the line in flank they would be +7 (+4 for flank) and the infantry +2 while in line (the supports no longer counting). Looking at the picture and considering all that firepower these results seem reasonable.
Artillery is a major factor, thankfully somewhat restricted in the army lists. The ‘mid range’ 8 pounder has a canister range of 15cm and effective range of 24cm. There is also a long range of 60cm but at that range it is less of a threat. Infantry in line charge 15cm, in column 21cm so you might get across that beaten zone in 1 move as a column. Infantry still has a chance of being whittled down or even forced to retreat at effective range. Artillery without support is dead meat but consider an artillery with infantry to either side and how to deal with it.
First lets sidle up to close range and shoot. If the attacker is supported by units at either side and those shoot at the artillery supports then it is straight up 1 infantry against 1 gun. The gun has +3 (canister), +1 (stationary). The infantry (in line) has +2 (line), +0 or +1 or +2 (depending on the infantry’s skirmishers), -2 (target is artillery). A final score of +4 against 0 through +2 with both sides on the same firing table and 1-2 on the raw D6 a miss. The infantry can put out a skirmish screen that will reduce the artillery modifiers by -1 but the skirmishers will need a 4+ (3+ if rifle armed) to even put an attrition on the artillery. The supports will shoot at each other with similar modifiers. It would be quality, prior losses and luck that counts.
How about charging in? There needs to be a 9cm gap to charge units past other units. If the artillery is exactly in line with its supporting infantry that is not a problem. If the artillery is set back a little the centre attacker cannot charge in. As regular movement and shooting take place after the effects of charging the centre attacker would remain in place for the time being or advance in support of the charge. The artillery can offer fire support to one not both of the infantry combats. It makes sense to pick that chosen first by the attacker. Should the attacker win that their victorious infantry will pursue into the side of the artillery. The first combat would be attacker; +1 (charging in line), +1 (support of the centre unit) the defender +3 (in line against infantry), + 2 (canister support). That is not likely to go well but the artillery cannot fire support the second combat which works out at +2 (attacker) against +3.
If there is space the charges will end up like this.
There are 3 separate combats, the attacker can choose the order. One side will always be pushed away so each combat that is lost will pull a potential support away from the loser. What if the artillery fight rolls off first? The artillery is on +3 (2 safe flanks). The charging infantry +1 or +2 (line or column), +1 (if it has skirmishers). There are also factors for quality, losses and support. If an infantry match off rolls first the defender’s have +3 (in line against infantry). The attacker +1 or +2 (line or column). The better skirmisher, if any will also get +1. It is all on the odds to the defender. Some quality difference or ‘softening up’ is needed to improve the chance of success. If even 1 flanking infantry unit can be driven off the artillery will be on +1 (1 safe flank) and -1 (threatened flank). A small bonus is that while infantry will move away from a lost combat beaten artillery is destroyed.
The core lesson is that all things being equal the defender has the slight edge. The fact that the rules allow the sort of interactions shown above rather than relying on ‘gamey’ or clever plays puts this set above much of the pack. It is still too early to tell if the competition gamers will find loopholes and be able to exploit them.