Almeida, Bussaco, and Coimbra are the 30th – 32nd games in the Jours de Gloire, a successful and long-running series of Napoleonic tactical battles, each produced on the bicentennial of the original battle. The game covers some of the key events of Massena’s 1810 invasion of Portugal, in which he sought to defeat Sir Arthur Wellesley’s Anglo-Portuguese army and drive the British from the Iberian Peninsula.
I played the historical scenarios for each battle and kept notes to write session reports. Almeida is the first, and Bussaco and Coimbra will be posted shortly.
For more details on the game, please see Marco’s video!
Briefly and generally with regard to the rules: units have strength, movement, cohesion, and engagement values. The first two are obvious, the second is a measure of morale and discipline and is used for tests of whether the unit becomes disordered or breaks under fire or shock, as well as a combat modifier. Engagement is a measure of a unit’s willingness to attack without being given specific orders to do so by the commander in chief.
Each unit is part of a formation and can stack with other units in its formation. Formations are activated by drawing chits blindly from a cup, at which point their component units can then act. So you can have a few chits of one side drawn one after the other, or they can alternate, etc. There are some special chits that allow unusual actions like activating more than one formation, etc.
What a formation can do and how much they can do is controlled by whether or not they received orders from the commander in chief: he can only issue a certain number of orders per turn, within a certain radius from his position. An order given to a formation will allow that formation’s units to operate at maximum potential in terms of movement, combat, etc. Formations or units separated from their formation that are without orders can either operate automatically at reduced potential (lower movement, test engagement to attack) or roll against a value on the formation’s activation chit, which represents the subordinate commander’s initiative. If they pass, they act freely. If they fail, they don’t act at all except to try to rally.
Combat is resolved with a d10 roll, with modifiers for strength, cohesion differential, terrain, attack angle, etc. So a low-strength unit in good terrain with good cohesion can hold off attackers with high strength and lower cohesion, for example, which is realistic. Combat effects include recoiling (one-space retreat), disordering, and/or routing, and advance after combat is mandatory for the attacker, which can lead to overextension.
Almeida is the first battle in the set and presents a scenario early in Massena’s advance, in which the men of Crauford’s Light Division and Light Cavalry must withdraw before a superior French force under Marshal Ney and make their way across the Coa river. The fortified city of Almeida will provide some cover with its guns. Each side scores VPs for routing/eliminating enemy units, the British score VPs for keeping forces on the Almeida side of the river, and the French score points for getting their troops across the Coa. At the start, all British units are on the field, and all French enter via reinforcement.
Lamotte's cavalry trots onto the scene, Ney riding with them. Crauford’s Light Division backs off, towards Almeida and its guns, and the light cavalry screens their left flank.
Quite a few more French march onto the battlefield, and Ney spurs Lamotte’s men forward as Crauford pulls his line back further. Ney charges impetuously, but the British hussars and dragoons counter-charge and there is a terrible clash of sabers near the windmill! Lamotte’s cavalry initially drive back their opposite numbers, but the pursuit goes badly wrong and the French cavalry are thrown into utter disarray. The British horse takes the opportunity to re-form, while Lamotte’s men rout from the field entirely.
(The French charged successfully and this led to a pursuit, but the pursuit resulted in disorder and recoil, after which the French units failed their post-charge cohesion test and routed. During rout movement at the end of the turn, they routed off the map. Technically Ney would have gone with them, but that wouldn’t have made for an interesting fight, so I decided that he extracted himself.)
Crauford receives a rider telling him of Ney’s mishap, and he takes advantage of it, but only to order the light cavalry back towards Almeida’s guns. Meanwhile, Ney pulls himself together and orders Montbrun’s horse forward, seizing the just-vacated windmill and risking artillery fire from Almeida. Loison’s infantry also continue their march, avoiding the city. Almeida’s cannon crash, but the shots go wide of their intended marks among Montbrun’s cavalry. More French approach! Crauford knows his true mission is not to save Almeida but to hinder the French and ensure the survival of his forces, so he pulls the Light Division back further, as Almeida’s guns speak once more and this time cause panic and casualties among Montbrun’s men.
The Light Division’s steady withdrawal continues, but Ney has ordered an overall shift away from Almeida and towards an alternate path towards the bridge over the Coa River that represents the only escape route for the British. Mermet and Loison both urge their troops to march with all haste towards the bridge. Crauford gets a report of this movement and a shiver runs down his spine as he realizes his situation has suddenly become very dangerous indeed, and he orders his men to move towards the bridge, but the trail is congested with horse artillery.
(This was a serious error: I was too focused on staying near Almeida’s guns and didn’t keep Light Division troops close enough to the French to prevent them from force marching.)
Ney can smell blood, and presses his advantage, ordering Loison forward to block the British escape. With little other choice, Crauford’s men advance to contact with the French, as Mermet’s forces press on the flank and drive back some British units, though the 95th Rifles hold firm. Crauford’s cavalry attempt a counterattack but can’t manage to coordinate properly. Proving their coolness, the Rifles and Portuguese Cacadores give the 27e Ligne utter hell, shooting so many officers that the French break and run, routing through their own side. Undeterred, Montbrun’s cavalry hit the British left and Loison’s men attack. The Rifles disrupt part of this attack, but on the right the French break through and some Portuguese flee towards the bridge. Crauford’s men are now cut off from safety.
Loison reorders his line and presses the British right, but it does not go well. Likewise, the attacks of the Rifles are ineffective, and a French counter-attack with cold steel goes poorly. In reprisal, Crauford’s men viciously assault and break the 6e Ligne, which routs and panics the 82e Ligne and 10e Dragoons! Incredibly, much of the French force is now fleeing and the remainder are in very poor order. Mermet gallops around furiously, trying to pull his men together, while Marchand’s fresh troops push forward and Montbrun’s horse maneuver for some kind of advantage on the British left. Mermet’s men do find their spines, but Loison’s are thoroughly discouraged by their setbacks.
Somehow Ney keeps his cool and the initiative. He orders Marchand to secure the Coa bridge. Crauford’s men continue to counterattack, with the 52nd Foot routing another French unit. Mermet’s troops are once more repelled by the stalwart Light Division, but the routed parts of his formation pull themselves back together. Marchand’s 39e Ligne pushes across the river and breaks the Portuguese who had previously fled across it, while a bold attack by the 16th Light Dragoons sends Montbrun’s artillerymen fleeing. Unfortunately for Crauford, Loison’s guns are still very much active and their shells throw the British right into confusion.
Ney maintains focus. His men are across the Coa now, and surely victory cannot be far away. Marchand attacks to break the British right, and the 52nd Foot is destroyed in the fighting. In a follow-up attack, the Rifles also break and collapse. Crauford’s situation is now catastrophic, and he decides that the only real choice is to retreat to Almeida, so he pulls back. Mermet attacks with some of his men while the others recover, and Almeida’s artillery breaks the remains of Montbrun’s cavalry.
Crauford continues to pull the light cavalry back. Ney orders his men to re-form and re-order, but he is pleased with the situation and sees no need to take risks. Marchand consolidates his hold on the crossing, while Loison’s men are still too battered to do anything.
The victorious French reorganize, while the remains of Crauford’s forces huddle near Almeida, preparing to enter it and join the siege that is sure to come…
Final VPs: French – 28, British – 18. The error I made with Crauford was severe, and only some amazingly bad French luck prevented the situation from becoming a debacle for the British even earlier than it did.
Excellent session report, thanks for posting!