The key for me in enjoying solitaire gaming is narrative. Without this, the game devolves into an unappealing intellectual exercise. I decided to give C&C: Napoleonics a whirl to see how I liked it as a solitaire game. I foud the limited number of units, flavor text setting the scene, and named leaders was just wonderful for creating a compelling narrative. Here is my after-action report of the 2nd scenario in the base game written from a narrative perspective. I hope you like it.
It was a hot and sticky August morning at Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, peered through his telescope at the French position. Perched atop a set of hills facing opposite, there was nothing complicated here--infantry perched atop hills together with a battery of cannon anchoring the French right, possibly some cavalry or other reserves on the other side of the hills, though the Duke could not be sure. Complicating matters was the intervening ground, rocky and rugged but cut through by several narrow defiles. The going was not especially difficult through the defiles, but not especially safe either. Units passing through separate defiles were, essentially, cut off from one another.
Wellington sees the best opportunity as taking the French on their right flank. The terrain is somewhat more open there and offer the chance to displace the French from their commanding position. But there are difficulties here as well. Since the ground is open, the approach will be dangerous. Worse yet, only two infantry, supported by cavalry an artillery, can readily reach this position, so the attack will not be with the overwhelming force that would be most desirable. Still, it's better than a frontal assault, which seems the only other option, so this is the British plan.
Meanwhile, on the French side, General Delabord contemplates his situation. While his defensive position is strong, the retreat options are limited. Clearly, his units will need to stand their ground or, possibly, advance into the valley where opportunity presents itself. The best such opportunity seems to be the Anglo-Portuguese right, where the Portuguese troops are deployed. The light infantry unit is no match for Le Grande Armee and, by redeploying with three line infantry as well as cavalry, local numerical superiority should be possible.
Such were the plans going into battle.
The British enjoy the advantage of the first move and more command cards. The forces under General Lake proceed toward the enemy. The left LN unit seeks cover in the woods while the other unit covers its flank.
All is quiet as they slowly approach the French on the hilltops. Meanwhile, Major DuGrand, commander of artillery, prepares to use the sighting knowledge of a scouting mission conducted the previous evening. Hoping that the British forces might advance along one of the defiles, DuGrand sent a spotter to measure the results of some test shots. He carefully kept these sighting calculations in hand for today's battle. Now is the chance to use them.
The French cannon suddenly roar to life. The pre-sighting proves extremely effective as the tight line of redcoats are mown down in the barrage, losing 50% or their strength. With remarkable discipline, the line steadies, fills in the gaps, and holds its ground.
Checked in the center, Wellington returns to his original plan of turning the French right. Two line units advance while horse artillery rushes toward to catch up to their position so as to provide additional mettle (and metal) for the anticipated critical attack.
Sensing trouble, Delabord orders one unit of reserve cavalry to shift its position so as to reinforce the right. The French artillery remains active, again firing at the units in the center, but the tremendous recoil from double-shotting their weapons on the initial volley has thrown off their aim, and the fire proves ineffective.
Positioning for the assault on the French right, The British line divides so as to avail itself of cover in nearby copses of scrub pines. The trees themselves look spindly and not especially healthy--the heat wave has taken its toll--but the afford much needed cover and some shade for the redcoats. This will be the jumping off point for the assault on the right. Even so, the task is daunting. Looking out over the field ahead, Reginald FitzSimmons, a suppleton for the Royal Fusilier later wrote in his diary: "There was a lot of open ground between our piney haven and the hills occupied by the French. Dangerous ground to cross.We would have to move quickly once out in the open. Then my jaw dropped as I saw rows of cannon amidst the frogs. I knew our men would fight like lions for the position, but this looked like suicide to me."
Delabord now faced a dilemma. He held a good position, but it was the final position. There was little chance of retreating to the next line. losing the position meant losing the army and likely losing even his current slim hope of grasping the baton of a Marechal. By nature aggressive, it was an uncomfortable situation. After conferring with his aide, he settled on a compromise, at least in his own mind--hold fast on the right and center, but attack on the left. At the least, this would prevent the transfer of forces to where, he now felt sure, the main blow would come. But maybe luck would favor his boldness.
The order went out to the French left to move quickly down the hill and engage with the slowly advancing Portuguese. Never one for half-measures, Delabord committed the reserve cavalry--his last reserve--to the assault.
For the attack on the French right to succeed, Wellington knew he needed to pin down the French in the center. So he ordered his forces there to close to musket range. A fortuitous outcropping of forest provided cover for the badly cut up Irish Guards to take up a secondary position while the Dorsets took the lead position. At last, some success---despite hurriedly moving out into the open, the Dorsets' first volley still proved extremely accurate, smashing about one-fourth of the French infantry assigned to guard the guns.
On the French left, Delabord's counterattack gained momentum. The Portuguese seemed unaware, or at least supremely unconcerned, about the hell the French were about to inflict. Fixing bayonets, the French raced to come to grips with the Portuguese. Meanwhile, with sabers raised, the French cavalry charged straight into a unit of light infantry.
In a collision of man and horse, the horse has the great advantage of both mass and velocity. It also has the advantage of a well-trained trooper astride cutting a path with his saber. In an instant, the well-ordered lines of both sides devolved into a scrum of men and horses. While the Portuguese line extricated itself with some loss, but in relatively good order. The Portuguese light infantry was an entirely different matter. Faced with converging cavalry and infantry, the situation soon became desperate. Many brave individual battles were fought on the bloody field but, in the end, the weight of numbers, training, horses, and French elan, the Portuguese light infantry effectively ceased to exist.
Faced with disaster on the British right, the Duke immediately called for a counterattack. New forces were brought up to shore up the line, including light cavalry. The hurried and somewhat disorganized nature of the makeshift defense produced little effect on the French. The only significant losses occurred when the cavalry was hit while reorganizing after the charge, losing about one-third of the troopers.
Napoleon said that a great general can sense the "decisive moment," the time when a big push is all that is needed to secure victory. Delabord thought he had reached that moment. Ordering infantry up and down the line to fix bayonets, he decided that the local advantage on his left could be turned into something more. Leaving the heights in the middle of the line was a risky move--essentially taking all the gains on the left and betting everything on one big throw of the dice. But Delabord, while an excellent defensive tactician, needed the laurels of victory gained by attack to attract the Emperor's attention for Marechal.
This was the chance. The French line swung like a gate. The forces on the right, remaining on the heights were the hinge, while the gate opened ever wider culminating with a deep penetration into the Portuguese lines. Knowing that the Duke had numbers, which would eventually work against the French, it was a race to defect the Duke's forward units before the numbers swell from the reserve.
The French charge with tremendous ferocity and again the neatly formed lines disintegrate into a maelstrom of individual duels using whatever weapon is at hand, from bayonet to knives, daggers, truncheons, clubs, and even rocks. Unfortunately, for the Duke, the results of all these individual combats produce a collective effect very much like the experience of the Portuguese light infantry, only on a vastly larger and more ghastly scale. A Portuguese line unit and the light cavalry cease to exist as fighting forces on the British right. The Irish are destroyed in the middle with the Dorsets just barely hanging on.
The situation is grim for the Duke. His Portuguese partner wants to flee the field and many of the Portuguese soldiers have taken the personal initiative to do so without awaiting the formal order. The center, far from pinning the French, now threatens to collapse completely. Only the British left remains capable of offensive operations. Now it is the Duke's turn to gamble. With most of the French line surging forward, he sees a chance--a slim chance to be sure--but still a chance. If the French flank could be turned now, The British could easily cut the lines of retreat and perhaps, just perhaps, snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
So the order goes out for the left to charge. Fortunately,an acoustic trick of the intervening ridge left the commander of this force unaware of the disaster unfolding elsewhere, so morale remained high despite the difficulty of the task.
At the far left of the British line, the Royal Fusiliers ascended the hill to take on the French. They were joined by the Sherwood Foresters, who had to contend with the cannon. The plan was to make a converging attack on the French infantry at the end of the line. Despite their fatigue from the heat of the day and the tough climb up the hill, this was Britain's finest hour. The Foresters struck first, killing or panicking about half the French line, but at considerable cost to themselves. The Fusiliers then delivered the coup de grace--the French line infantry ceased to exist and the hill belonged to the Fusiliers, tired but still very much combat effective.
Delabord now suddenly awoke the potential extreme peril. But with heavy British and Portuguese losses elsewhere, reasoned that, if this attack were blunted, the day would belong to France. He scraped together what he could to oppose the Foresters, leading with a cannonade. At close range, the gunners ordered grape shot, pointed at the Foresters and blasted away. The Foresters, shaky to begin with, could not withstand this new threat and melted away.
Seeing all his efforts come to naught, Wellington withdrew and Delabord claimed the victory.
Did you apply any special rules to play solitaire or simply alternate from one side of the board to the other and pickup your alter ego's hand of cards?