Friday, 26 November 2021

Black Powder Solo

I've played Black Powder at the Gong Garage Gamers for many years, on and off (although mostly off more recently), but in those games I'd always had people who knew the game to run it, and I could just get on and play without worrying too much about the rules. So whilst I owned the rules, I hadn't read them in detail, and neither had I attempted to play them for myself.

But yesterday I felt nostalgic for a game so decided to set one up at home and see if I could puzzle the whole thing out.

I used my GNW figures, obviously, on 3" frontages, and worked out that reducing all distances to 1/3 would give me a game that was scaled right, making my 3' x 2-and-a-bit' table the equivalent of 8' x 7'. Still not Perry-sized, but adequate for my purposes. I used the basic infantry and cavalry profiles, but assumed that everything would operate either in line or march column, to keep things simple. For anyone who can't be bothered doing the arithmetic, this meant an infantry move of 4", cavalry of 6" and musketry range of 6"

I used the same forces as for my Simplicity in Practice game the other day - four foot, three horse and a gun on each side. I divided them into two brigades, one with the foot and the gun and the other with the horse. Each side had two brigadiers and a CinC. All commanders were rated at 7. I set up a simple terrain with a long ridge in the centre. This was flanked on one side by a marsh which slowed infantry and which was impassable to cavalry.

The objective was to control the hill.

Here's the Swedish foot brigade formed up.

And their horse. A wood on their right saw them forming up on the more open left. This had the marsh though, which would prevent them swinging straight up onto the hill.

The Russian horse faced them, or at least two units under their brigadier.

The Russian foot were a split up by a wood in their deployment area. On the Russian left was their third unit of horse, under the direct command of the CinC. This was to swing round rapidly and make the Swedish advance on the hill more difficult by threatening its flank.

The position after the first move. Both sides have advanced. On the left of the picture the cavalry were still eyeing each other up. They'd both tried to charge the enemy, but hadn't got the actions to make contact.

On their next turn the Swedes rolled a blunder on their first attempt to do anything. This was to send a single foot unit to screen the flank from the Russian cavalry. Instead the unit retreated behind its supports, intimidated by the fierce Russian horse, obviously.

The Russians formed up on the hill, as the Swedes failed to activate their foot again on the next turn.

However on their left the Swedes managed to charge with their cavalry. Naturally the Russians countercharged.

After a little bit of flipping through the rules I resolved the first close combat of the game! The Russians lost and retreated, the Swedes pursued with a sweeping advance and the Russians lost again and were routed.

The second cavalry action was a draw, and both units retired.

Again the Swedish infantry were content to watch the Russians consolidate their position in the hill.

The Swedish cavalry pushed forward and polished off the second Russian cavalry unit on their flank. The Russians, seeing the danger to their rear, detached an infantry unit from their line and positioned it to cover the gap between the woods and the marsh.

The Swedes finally managed to advance part of their infantry brigade. The others had been given separate orders to cover the flank and, once again, failed to comply.

Seeing an opportunity the Russian CinC ordered the cavalry that had been hovering on that flank to charge the Swedes!

The infantry was forced to retreat, and the Russians pursued. But in a staggering reversal of fortune they lost the next melee and were thrown back.

This left the Russian cavalry disordered and on front of a lot of Swedish muskets. It quickly routed. The disordered Swedish infantry was also in trouble, sat under the Russian guns, and also masking their own artillery.

On their left the Swedish horse were trying to reorganise. They'd got widely dispersed, and their commander was struggling to get them back into action. They also had worrying quantities of hits on them, and the lone Russian unit covering the gap was taking the odd pot-shot at any unit which strayed too close.

Both of the units from the cavalry attack in the centre had now routed, leaving the two lines facing each other. The Russians blazed away and the Swedes responded.

Another Swedish infantry unit routed, this time from casualties inflicted in the firefight.

On the other end of the hill a Russian unit had retreated. But the Swedish unit facing it failed to advance to occupy the position. Looking at the picture, though, they would have probably been close enough to the Russians to have done an initiative move, but I forgot.

At the top of the picture the Swedish cavalry, having got their act together, charged the Russian foot. The Russians retired into the marsh where the cavalry couldn't follow.

At the bottom of the picture a Swedish infantry unit had slid behind its artillery; the result of yet another command blunder.

Anyway, the Russians reoccupied their position on the hill.

It was getting late in the day now, both in the game and in real-time, so I was looking at wrapping things up. The Swedes tried another charge to get rid of the Russian foot covering the flank so that they could sweep into the rear of the hilltop position. They were driven off.

The artillery of both sides had battered each other and both had routed, leaving the final fight for the hill a simple infantry brawl. But it was inconclusive and, as the Swedish cavalry would have to spend time reorganising I decided to call the battle a draw. The Russians held the hill, so had an edge of sorts, but the Swedish horse still had enough fight left to cause problems if they could break through, so the Russian position wasn't overly stable.

I had to look a lot of stuff up as I played. I'd read the rules through during the day, but it's always the detail you need in the heat of battle that's hardest to find. As noted above I forgot the initiative rule a couple of times, and for the first couple of turns I forgot that units which retreat are also disordered. I needed to be more organised in removing disorders at the end of a side's turn as well. And I struggled with the movement limits for units in close proximity to the enemy. The latter I worked out again after asking questions on our club Facebook page and rereading some relevant sections of the rules.  I'll probably need to play again a few times to get the games playing smoothly before starting to introduce any special unit rules though. 

The command mechanism was the high-point of the game - being a solo venture it created all of the unpredictability I needed, and messed up the plans for both sides.


  1. Great looking game mate, but it highlights one of the main downsides to solo play - the lack of someone else saying “don’t forget to…” or “I dont think you got that bit right…” Having someone to play against who’s read the rules generally halves the head scratching bit.

    1. It's also an upside, since your opponent is always forgiving of any mistakes you *do* make :)

  2. It looked a fun game. I have only played Black Powder a couple of times and enjoyed them as a bit of light relief but not so representative of the tactics of the period
    But of course a little light relief is often all we want


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...