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Pub Battles: Marengo» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Playing Marengo with the New Version 2.0 Pub Battles Rules rss

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Tad Doak
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The Pub Battles Version 2.0 Rules.

The Pub Battles Version 2.0 rules are available with the Pub Battles Monmouth mini-game, and include several changes that have a major impact on Marengo game play. The principle changes address revised “road movement” rates, “fields of fire,” and “disengaging.” Version 2.0 is not a substitute for earlier series rules, but rather supplements them, primarily with the three changes identified. Particularly important are the Marengo “charge” rules and cavalry modifiers, which are not mentioned in the Version 2.0 rules, but are essential to the unique, Napoleonic combined arms features of the Marengo game.

For players of Marengo, there is one important addition to the terrain categories: marsh. Marshes are no-go terrain for artillery (other than on roads) and deduct an additional 1/3 movement. Since marshes invariably occur in conjunction with streams, the 2/3 reduction significantly slows movement.

“Road movement rates” have been reduced to twice regular movement, rather than three times. This is a generally accurate rendering for administrative road movement. Given the game scale of 1:18,000, this works out just over two miles per hour, a pretty accurate rate for foot movement in column on a road.

“Fields of fire” extend for one third of foot movement from the front of each infantry and artillery unit, and at angles of 45% to the left and right of the unit block’s front. Units cannot move into this area unless they move into actual contact. If they do not have sufficient movement to do so, they must halt beyond the enemy field of fire. Fields of fire are limited by line of sight; they do not extend through areas (woods, buildings, hills) that the unit cannot see through, and also do not extend through enemy units. As a final note, if a unit begins its turn in an enemy field of fire, it must either move into contact and attack, or withdraw out of the field of fire.

“Disengaging” addresses units that begin their move in contact with the enemy units that have advanced to attack. This rule addresses an annoying (and not very realistic) game tactic where attacked units simply reverse front, move a few millimeters, and then reverse front again to face the attacking enemy, but no longer in contact. With the new rule, units in contact must either accept combat (as the defender), or move in a way that they are no longer within the attacking unit’s field of fire. In addition, units cannot move into an enemy field of fire unless they advance to contact, initiating combat. If a unit lacks sufficient movement remaining to reach the enemy unit, it must halt its move outside the unit field of fire. Of all the updates, this is the most difficult to apply, especially where close terrain (woods and streams, for example) reduces movement by two thirds or more.

An additional feature of disengagement allows units to remain in contact and accept combat, but change their facing to do so. Tactically, this can be critically important, as flanked units can now turn to face their attacker. To effectively flank an enemy, a commander must either manipulate the turn order to move after the attacked formation, or conduct converging attacks, so that if the enemy turns to face a flanking unit, it exposes its flank to the other attacker.

Fields of fire and disengagement, especially, influence play in important ways. Commanders will need to think in depth, and echelon defenses, lest they find themselves forced to vacate key defensive positions or advance from those positions to assault an enemy. The new rules also add an important dimension to decisions altering turn order.

Playing Marengo with Version 2.0.

The addition of marsh as a separate terrain category has a significant impact on Austrian play in the early turns. The combined stream and marsh areas east of Alexandrie canalize Austrian movement into a single narrow corridor, especially for artillery. When combined with the new road movement rate (twice rather than three times normal movement), and taking consideration the prohibition of road movement through other units using the same road, Austrian deployment across the Bormida River will be slowed significantly.

The Austrian player will need to carefully plan his early moves, with an eye to the streams and marshes east of Alexandrie, and making careful use of all available roads. Careless deployment, especially in the face of an aggressive French player, may find your artillery units firing from positions behind the marsh areas. It will take you two or three full turns just to extricate the artillery, move it around or through (via roads) the marshes, and into position to engage the withdrawing French infantry. With the new obstacles to Austrian movement, it almost always makes sense to use ferries and fords north and south of Alexandrie, with Ott’s left wing advancing along the north bank of the Tanaro River, and O’Reilly’s small right wing advancing against the French left. Keep your forces together, and move one of your cavalry units north to support your left wing. You want to create opportunities for combined arms tactics, as noted below.

From the French perspective, the more difficult terrain and more restrictive road movement offer more options for early engagement with Melas (keep an eye on “road space” as the Austrians move, and make sure they reduce the movement of following units that are using the same roads). If you can slow his exit from the marsh areas, and expose his advancing units to charges by your Consular Guard and Cavalry, you can inflict some real damage to his army. The mobility limitations of the marsh/stream areas also diminish your vulnerability to his greater combat power and his more robust mix of cavalry, artillery and infantry. Be careful of being too aggressive, however. You will be able to control the order of movement – most of the time. If you are unable to do so while he is within striking distance of your front line – if you find yourself forced to move first with one of your formations, for example – you will find that combined infantry and cavalry attacks on spent French forces (as a result of Austrian artillery bombardments) can suddenly result in the loss of two or three critical units. Your margin of error is very slim.

The new disengagement and fields of fire rules will be disconcerting at first, the more so for players who have mastered the Pub Battles system without the new rules. Once you play a few iterations, the impact of the new rules will be self-evident. The French will be most affected in the early turns. French players can no longer break up Austrian assaults simply be forcing them to move first, then retreating attacked forces only a few millimeters (or moving fresh forces up to within a few millimeters to fill holes blown by Austrian artillery). Austrians will also have the ability (which can be VERY annoying to the French player) of neutralizing their “charge” advantage by the simple expedient of moving into contact with French cavalry or the Consular Guard unit.

In later turns, as the linear battlefield breaks up in response to attacks and counter attacks, forces of both sides will become intermixed. At this point, the impact of both the disengagement rule and of fields of fire can be surprising, unpredictable, and difficult to anticipate. The new rules require greater flexibility on the part of both players, along with the ability to accommodate rapid shifts of initiative. Opportunities will emerge at unexpected times and places, and the commander who recognizes and takes immediate advantage of them can turn what appears to be a sure loss into a major victory, just as Napoleon did in real life.

The Fields of Fire rules make the high ground in the center of the map even more critical to Marengo play. Reverse slope defenses (behind the crest line of the ridge) not only neutralize the Austrian artillery advantage, they obstruct Austrian (and of course, French) fields of fire. This gives critical flexibility to units on reverse slopes, allowing them to better control the timing and circumstances of their engagement with advancing enemy forces.

Bottom line, the new rules improve the flow and play of the game, once you have mastered their impact on play. I heartily recommend acquiring the Monmouth game just for the new rules, but would add that it is an interesting and fun game in its own right.

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Steve Carey
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I'm glad the road rate dropped from 3x to 2x as it felt units zipped around a bit too quickly.

Excellent post!
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David Kershaw
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Lines of Battle: Quatre Bras 1815. Brunswick hussar.
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This reminds me a bit of Bloody Big Battles! which has a similar fields of fire concept.

It is nice to see that the rules are evolving - I always viewed them as a "sandbox" anyway.

Edit - the OP should be in "variants" not "reviews"!
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Robert Fix
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Sterling Hts
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Are the v2.0 rules going to be posted online somewhere? I have Sharpsburg and would like any updated rules.
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