Sunday 26 January 2020

Not Quite the Battle of Novi, 15 August 1799

The Battle of Novi, by Alexander Kotzebue
On Saturday I hosted another large French Revolutionary Wars game, this time set in Northern Italy in 1799. It was based on the Battle of Novi, a major French defeat at the hands of the great Field Marshall Alexander Suvorov, which saw them almost expelled from Italy. The actual battle was a massive sprawling and bloody affair, so the game was heavily bath-tubbed and as a result only bore a passing resemblance to the real thing, but that doesn't bother me really for a game at home. A full account of the actual battle can be found here. It’s been ages since my 1799 Russians have been on the table so that was as good a reason as any for the game, pitching an Austrian-Russian  army under Suvorov against  French force under General Barthelemy Catherine Joubert.
Field Marshall Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov 
General Barthelemey Catherine Joubert
I also wanted to introduce a different army, the Russians, into our General d’Armee learning process. The key to success in GdA, apart from throwing the right scores on dice, is the ADC tasking phase. Understanding what can or can’t be done under each of the ‘taskings’ is critical and intuitive, and creates plenty of fascinating/annoying challenges. Anyway, on to the game.

The Battle of Novi, with the French at the bottom holding the heights and the  walled town of Novi.
John the Red and Mike were the French, while Paul, Conrad and Neil took the Coalition forces, under Paul’s command as Suvorov. I umpired (no mean feat given I’m only a step or two ahead of the others in learning the rules), so in the time honoured manner I will attempt to get the following photos to describe the course of events as the game unfolded.

Something is attracting some serious attention down the table. l to r John, Mike, Neil, Paul,  Conrad . The French had three 'Divisions' plus two cavalry brigades. The cavalry were all deployed on the left with the exception of the Polish Legion uhlans. The Polish and Ligurian Legions held the right while the other two divisions massed largely in the centre. The Russians were deployed on the right half of their baseline, the Austrians on the left and massed reserve artillery in the centre. A brigade of Austrian cavalry was on each wing.
Austrian uhlans on their left flank.
The town of Novi, garrisoned by a demi-brigade of French. Novi was a walled town.
Conrad's infantry brigade advancing on the Coalition left, preceded by a screen of Grenz skirmishers.
The Grenz can be heard shouting "sheep! sheep!" as they neared the enemy.
On the other flank the cavalry of each side was itching for a fight.
Two regiments of French chasseurs a cheval crash into Austrian hussars and cheveau-leger forcing both enemy units and their supports back in retreat.  
French horse artillery supporting the advance of Mike's heavy cavalry in the centre.

One unit of Mike's chasseurs take heavy casualties, canistered in the flank by Austrian horse artillery, but the other charged the rallying Austrian hussars (they had just passed a faltering test), forcing them to retreat off the table. The Austrian cavalry were done for on this flank, although the French were carrying a great many casualties.
Conrad played a 'forwards' order and his brigade advanced rapidly. Being Austrians they spent the next turn pulling back from their slightly exposed position.
In the centre the Austrian grenadiers had been left off the table, not by design but  by accident, but soon appeared and snaked towards Novi very slowly as the brigade kept failing activation rolls. Conrad's Austrians and the combined Polish and Ligurian Legions were locked in a fierce firefight, but the Austrians seemed content to hold their ground.
Neil ordered his six battalions of Russian line infantry to advance. They took heavy casualties from French artillery on the heights outside Novi.
Mike moved his heavy cavalry forward and the Russians formed square. Mike then ordered the brigade to charge. The first regiment drove the enemy skirmishers off then the two remaining regiments each attacked a Russian square. Predictably, especially given the poor dice throws from the French, they bounced and pulled back to safety.
Mike then ordered his battered chasseurs to charge the Austrian artillery that had been peppering them with canister. In another predicable outcome the French recoiled, by now only one hit away from dispersing! 
Austrian dragoons advanced behind their Grenz then charged the French skirmish screen, driving them off. 

Polish legion in the village.

The Russian infantry in the centred to pull back due to the French superiority in cavalry in this sector.

Conrad's Austrians advance on the French skirmish screen, forcing them back.
Paul ordered his grenadiers to charge the French line outside Novi. They took something like  eight casualties as they attempted to close and were driven back. The French were well supported so John was able to re-roll twice during the melee contact phase. Just as well as he first threw snake eyes before getting the reroll! The Austrians didn't have enough support, hadn't really prepared the way with artillery fire,  and the `French were fresh so the attack didn't work this time. A lesson learnt.
The Russian grenadiers, all four battalions, made a very late advance across the table. They would have gone through the battered and shattered French to their front like a knife through butter had they been able to close. The French were all graded as recruits, six battalions of them.

So that was it. The French had won a tactical victory but had failed in their objective of weakening the Coalition forces sufficiently to enable them to escape the noose that had been closing around them. The Coalition forces had prevented the French escape but the latter were still very much a force to contend with. I know how I would have played it, but its easy to say that in hindsight, so shall keep my own counsel.

It was a great game and everyone expressed their enjoyment, which is always good.  The rules also got largely positive feedback, which is also good as I intend to use them as my rules of choice for the FRW until/unless something better comes along. There are some things we/I still got wrong but we are on a learning curve of ill-defined and flexible curviness so onwards and upwards till the next time.

Vapnatark in York next Sunday, which is always a good show and a good day out where I will no doubt buy more stuff I didn't know I needed and talk soldiers all day. 


  1. As always a wonderful game to behold.

  2. I was relieved that the plucky horse artillery saved my cavalry commander's blushes. In retrospect he was a little too gung-ho! This was my first time playing General d'Armee "in anger" and I was quite impressed. May arrange some 15mm games at the club soon.

  3. A fabulous looking game, and an entertaining report! 👍🏻

  4. Splendid stuff Colin...
    A feast for the eyes... as always.

    All the best. Aly

  5. Fine game! Excellent AAR and photos! I hope you have recovered from the great effort involved!

    1. I was knackered until Sunday evening. Bounced back now!