"Clouds of Skirmishers"

JohnS3

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I have played the Tiller Napoleonic Campaigns and their forerunners since "forever" - going back to Talonsoft's "Battleground" series in the mid 1990's and the old granddaddy of them all Simulations Publication's "Wellington Victory" (board game) in the early 1980's.

I love these games but it has always seemed to me that their original design somehow maybe missed something and I have always wanted to ask knowledgeable players - you guys - whether it is just me and it is me who is missing something.

When you read histories of the Napoleonic Wars, you read of the French advantage that often arose because they sent out "Clouds of Skirmishers".

I have never really seen a whole lot of advantage in sending out skirmishers. They take shots at the enemy but it rarely seems to have any game-useful impact. In the histories you get the impression that skirmishers eventually tended to lower the morale of the target but, again, I have never really noticed a material impact here. They can block fire to some extent but again, in my experience no really material effect on the game.

I periodically wonder why I should bother with skirmishers. More of a pain in the neck than they are worth. I tend to send them out because I feel like I am supposed to but I can't figure out why!!!

You guys are as experienced as I am - what are your thoughts?? Am I missing something here and if so, what?
 

Sgt_Rock

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Here are some advantages of deploying skirmishers:

1. If you place them one hex in front of a unit they help reduce the casualties suffered by that unit.
2. They can help keep other units away from your formed units. The enemy has to attack them to clear them out of the way. (just dont put them in Open hexes where enemy cavalry can run them down)
3. They can help with the defense of villages or help with rear guard defense actions. I like to put out a skirmisher in a town hex and the put the formed units back one hex in Line formation. When the enemy attacks the skirmisher my unit is there to open fire on the enemy with full firepower effect (that is if the Op Fire is triggered).
4. They are handy to drop off to use as scouts.
5. Pushing them through a woods is less costly when confronted by enemy units than if you did the same with formed units.
6. They can take supply wagons, capture leaders or other useful raiding missions.
7. I put a skirmisher on a bridge hex when I know that my opponent can fire on that bridge with artillery or ships but cannot directly attack them. I do this anyway if my intention is to keep the bridge from being damaged. The Lodi bridge is a good example for this. Put a skirmisher on each bridge hex until you are ready to cross with your elite battalions.

There are other uses for them but for now that should help! :)
 

JohnS3

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Sorry for the delayed response. Thanks a lot Sgt. Rock. I was aware of #2 and viewed that as a fairly valuable attribute but you have raised a number of considerations that have never been in the forefront of my game play. I very much appreciate your detailed response.

In general though, it seems to me that the game design, going all the way back to Wellington's Victory, really does not lend itself to the use of skirmishers in the way that the historical writings suggest. In other words, it is going to be a pretty rare occasion when you want to break down an entire French Battalion into Skirmishers (defending a village being an exception), even though their "light" structure allows you to do so. In game play, there is a very small likelihood that skirmisher fire will materially reduce the morale of the formed enemy unit and thus the value of skirmishers in game terms is probably much less than the historical value through much of the Napoleonic era (Andrew Field's "Talavera" does a great job of describing his understanding of the historical role and effect of skirmishers).

Again, let me reiterate that it is a great overall game design and I have been enjoying its various iterations for, I guess, about 35 years. Nonetheless, I remember thinking back in the 80's and 90's that the problem the designers faced must have been how to create skirmishers which would have a reasonable game effect but still not essentially "take over" the game. Not an easy balance to achieve and overall the design has certainly withstood the test of time.
 

Sgt_Rock

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What sets the WV board game off from the Tiller series is that there was a unique Sequence of Play not found in any other game before that time. There was not a "Player Turn" - it was an interwoven order of play that had to do with the British defense and the French attack styles. Some folks I know took that sequence of play and applied it to miniatures but they change the order of play to where both sides do the same phases as each other .. meaning ... Side A does one thing, Side B does another, Side A does one thing then another, then Side B does something. Its about as close to simultaneous play as it gets.

In the Talonsoft Battleground series Skirmishers were hard to get rid of. Folks would form "killer stacks" and as long as there was no cavalry around the infantry battalions were at their mercy. They could surround stacks and keep them pinned.

I agree with you that when some folks use them its unhistorical. I usually use this house rule:

"Skirmishers must remain within 6 hexes of a formed unit of their brigade unless they are detached to hold a VP hex or location (chateau)."

This keeps them from wandering all over the map.

Most of us now think that the ACW series has it right. In that series the skirmishers are a presence, do not fire and cause movement to be reduced when moving through their zone of influence. It also reduces clutter on the map. Either format is viable. For me I think that the ACW format would be nice to incorporate as an option. The independent skirmisher units would remain as is but any unit that has a skirmish capability would merely use the command menu to use skirmish mode. Just like in the ACW series.

So fully agree with you ...

Empire III thru V had a Skirmish Combat routine which to this day I cant stand. Its a waste of playing time too. It makes it sound like skirmishers were a real force on the battlefield.

All the British had to do was form a few Light and Rifle battalions and the problem was over. End of that issue LOL

The famous example of skirmishers was at Jena. It was there that the French infantry held back from attacking the Prussian lines. For two hours (in the 10 min. turn format - 12 turns) the skirmishers fired away on the steady Prussian lines. While some of the Prussian units showed some decay none of them routed from it. In that sense the series works. Units will not rout from Skirmish fire in the games. The Fatigue factor is negligible too.

Most folks use them to keep other units from making contact. That works for the most part and sucks up a unit's melee ability for the turn.

I have been known to put a few skirmishers out to sucker cavalry into charging so that they end up close to my protected guns (in hexes with a square). Works too with some gamers.
 

Rhetor

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Most of us now think that the ACW series has it right. In that series the skirmishers are a presence, do not fire and cause movement to be reduced when moving through their zone of influence. It also reduces clutter on the map. Either format is viable. For me I think that the ACW format would be nice to incorporate as an option. The independent skirmisher units would remain as is but any unit that has a skirmish capability would merely use the command menu to use skirmish mode. Just like in the ACW series.
I remember suggesting this a few years back, along with "artillery gains fatigue by firing" proposal :)

Most folks use them to keep other units from making contact. That works for the most part and sucks up a unit's melee ability for the turn.
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And that's unhistorical. How on earth a skirmish chain would stop a formed column in its tracks? There should be some "pushback" - at a cost of yet another opportunity fire a column or a line should be able to push skirmishers back.
 
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