GAME ANALYSIS: GRENADIER: Tactical Warfare 1680-1850

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND




The Emperor Napoleon stared across the shallow valley of trampled-down rye grass that separated his exhausted French troops from the tattered British line that still occupied the low slope beyond the walled Belgian châteaux known locally as La Haye Sainte. Marshal Ney had finally taken the châteaux barely thirty minutes before, and now, after eight hours of fighting, the center of Wellington’s line finally lay exposed. A half hour earlier, the Emperor had refused Ney’s frantic plea to support his attack against the ragged and jumbled British, Dutch, and Belgian battalions with fresh reinforcements from the Imperial Guard; then the Anglo-Allied ranks were wavering, and the Guard might well have marched half way to Brussels without serious opposition. In the interim, Wellington had seen his danger and rushed what reinforcements he still had towards his center. And only now did Napoleon decide that his last remaining chance for victory was to send forward the best troops that he had, five battalions of the Old Guard. Blücher’s Prussians were pressing against the French right flank, but Wellington’s army seemed on the verge of breaking; one more massive French blow might yet win the victory that had eluded him all day. It was 7:30 PM on 18 June 1815, and the Emperor Napoleon had finally decided to gamble his throne and perhaps his life, on one more throw of the dice; he would order his last available reserves, the still-fresh “immortals” of the Imperial Guard to smash through Wellington’s line.
"Wellington at Waterloo" by Ernest Crofts. Directing deployment of reserves from his famous position under the tree.

GAME DESCRIPTION



GRENADIER is a tactical (company/squadron/battery) level simulation of warfare during the years when the smoothbore musket dominated the battlefield: an era that extended from the seventeenth century, through the eighteenth, and into the nineteenth century. As such, it is a wide-ranging examination of various European military engagements during the long period of transition from the first introduction of the socket bayonet, which allowed an infantryman armed with a musket to participate effectively in both fire and shock combat, to the years just before the Crimean War, and the dawn of modern industrialized warfare. GRENADIER is the second installment, historically-speaking, (although it was the first to be released in 1971) of SPI’s series of small unit (company/squadron/battery) level games dealing specifically with the development of firearms and their evolving tactical use on the battlefield. It was also the only installment in this three title series to be designed by James F. Dunnigan. Despite the game’s crude graphics, it is an interesting, and very challenging simulation that, in terms of basic game mechanics, has held up surprisingly well over the years.

Components and Game System

The accordion-fold game rules are reasonably well-organized and clearly-written, and rules corrections and errata are not extensive. Beside the Rules Booklet and Errata Sheet, the only other “player aide” included with the game is a back-printed sheet which includes a list of scenario descriptions, the Combat Results Table, and the Terrain Effects Chart. Noticeably missing from the game’s published components is a Turn Record/Reinforcement Track and a Move/Fire Phase Record Track, both of which — based on my own fairly extensive experience with the game — would be extremely useful during play.

The game design is detailed, but intuitively logical; hence, it is relatively easy to learn. The overall game platform is organized around a large collection of different scenarios, covering a variety of historical periods, combatants, and battles. Each scenario is played using game turns, and each game turn is further divided into interwoven player turns that give the game a simultaneous 'feel' without the time-consuming requirement of keeping written records. A typical GRENADIER game turn proceeds using the following sequence of player phases: First Player Offensive Fire Phase; Second Player Defensive Fire Phase; First Player Movement; First Player Shock Combat Phase; Second Player Offensive Fire Phase; First Player Defensive Fire; Second Player Move; Second Player Shock Combat Phase; end of Game Turn.


The 22” x 28” two-color GRENADIER game map is austere even by the hobby standards of 1971. There are no roads, tracks, rivers, lakes, marshes, plowed fields, or streams anywhere to be seen. Instead, the only hex types displayed on the playing surface are clear terrain, woods, slope, and village hexes. Clear hexes cost all types of units one movement point to enter; all other types cost infantry units two movement points, and cavalry-type units three movement points to enter. Artillery units must pay three movement points to enter villages, four to enter slope hexes, and woods hexes are completely prohibited. Woods hexes triple the defender against fire and shock attacks, and villages quadruple a unit’s defense strength. Each hex is 50 meters across, and each game turn represents ten minutes of real time. Because of the time scale of the game, there are no supply rules.

The Combat Results Table (CRT) is virtually “luck free” in the sense that the attacker can almost always determine the outcomes of key battles by precisely controlling the odds of those battles. Combat can occur in one of two ways: either through fire attacks, or through shock assault. Fire combats are always executed first and are resolved in the following rigid order based on type of fire: shot (artillery); canister (artillery); and musket (all others). Units of the same type firing from the SAME range at a single target may combine fire strengths; otherwise fire attacks must be resolved separately. The effectiveness of fire attacks is cleverly handled, not by adjustments in odds, but through 'range attenuation': the closer the target unit is to the attacker, the more damaging the fire attack. However, fire attacks may not be conducted against adjacent units. Shock combat — basically the cavalry charge or the bayonet assault — is the most decisive type of attack, but it is also the most dangerous for the attacker. Shock combat will typically leave both attacking and defending units disrupted and mutually pinned. If these units are attacked again — either by fire or shock — before they can be rallied, either a DD or a D Elim result will destroy them. Cavalry units, although they have the greatest movement range and best shock values on the battlefield, are always disrupted after a charge, whatever their effect on the target unit or units.

The 400 game counters, while certainly not eye-grabbing, are clearly printed and easy to read. The various Allied (British/Prussian/Spanish) units are printed black on a tan backing; French counters are light blue with black print. The counters for both armies typically represent various types of infantry companies, cavalry squadrons, artillery batteries, and leaders. Each infantry and cavalry counter will be designated as to its type, and to its Fire Attack Strength, Range, Fire Defense Strength, Shock Combat Strength, and Movement Allowance. Artillery units will show the gun type (8 pounder, 10 pounder, etc.), Fire Attack Strength-Shot, Range Allowance-Shot, Fire Attack Strength-Canister, Range Allowance-Canister, and Movement Allowance. In addition, artillery units must be “limbered” to move, and “unlimbered” to fire; to this end, each artillery unit includes, besides the gun, an artilleryman (to man the gun), and a caisson unit. All three artillery elements count as only one unit for stacking, and both sides may stack up to four units per hex. Finally, certain types of infantry units may be broken down to form “skirmisher” units which have a lower Shock Combat Strength, less Fire Attack Strength, and a shorter Range Allowance, but which defend against fire attacks with a defense strength of two. These units are primarily employed to screen a player’s main forces from enemy fire until they can advance to shock combat. One source of frustration with the game’s counter sheet, however, deserves comment. During the course of the game, units will constantly be disrupted as a result of combat. Despite this fact, there are no disruption counters included with the game to help players keep track of the exact phase in which these disruptions occur. This is not a fatal design defect, but it is, nonetheless, an aggravating and unnecessary lapse.

To determine who wins, players must refer to the specific victory requirements for each of the different scenarios. In most cases, winning the game will require one army to exit the map edge, while the opposing army attempts to check this maneuver. Happily, the clear-cut victory conditions and the limited number of game turns prescribed in each of the scenarios virtually guarantees an exciting and bloody tactical clash whichever scenario is selected for play.

SITTING DOWN TO PLAY

GRENADIER offers sixteen different scenarios or mini-games, each of which is a completely independent game. Most will require no more than two to three hours to play. Some of the scenarios cover actions that are famous, while others present engagements that are at the very least obscure, if not virtually unknown. Nonetheless, while it is understandably tempting to go straight to the later scenarios which simulate famous actions from the better known battles like Marengo, Austerlitz, and Waterloo, I strongly recommend that players begin with the earlier, less well-known scenarios: those with fewer units and no “skirmishers.” It is very important that players get a feel for the “combined arms” aspect of the GRENADIER game system, before they attempt the bigger, more complex actions. Considering everything, I am convinced that beginning with these earlier, simpler scenarios is probably the best way for players to quickly develop an understanding of the mechanics of the game system, and of the probable flow and tempo of play.

NOTES ON TACTICS

The GRENADIER game system is clean, generally logical, and comparatively easy to learn. So what follows are a few tips, based on many hours spent playing the various scenarios that make up this title, on using the nuances of this particular game system to help new players become more comfortable with a few of the tactical niceties of GRENADIER.

The Use of Terrain

Although terrain types in GRENADIER are limited and their varying effects are comparatively simple, terrain is not inconsequential when it comes to play. All units, except for skirmishers, defend in clear terrain with defensive value of 'one'. This means that the defensive multiplier effects of villages (quadrupled) and woods (tripled) are particularly important for sheltering important units — such as artillery and cavalry — from both enemy artillery fire and shock attacks. Typically, if an artillery battery (only one per hex, artillery units may not stack together) is positioned in a village, it will be stacked with an infantry unit with a strong Shock Combat Strength. This precaution will not make the artillery unit invulnerable to an enemy cavalry charge, but it will make the 'opportunity cost' in disrupted (and probably eliminated) attacking cavalry squadrons very high. On a slightly different note, to avoid having one's attacking units dangerously pinned, shock assaults against villages should only be conducted either when the village can be cleared in one attack, or alternatively, when the defending force has no reinforcements available in the immediate vicinity of the village. If neither of these conditions are present, then the attacker can quickly find himself entangled with a defensive “tar baby” in his unequal fight with the units in an enemy-occupied village. One need only think back to the day's events at Waterloo, and to the fightling at the Châteaux of La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont, to see the probable outcome of this type of situation. Woods hexes can be especially useful for staging infantry and cavalry in preparation for a final rush against an enemy position or line. And while village hexes are too valuable to waste on individual skirmisher units (which cannot stack except to reform or to rally), skirmishers will often present the leading edge of an advance through a forest because of their formidable Fire Defense Strength.

Villages, woods, and all combat units (even unmanned guns) block fire 'line of sight' for all units shooting from ground level. Units firing from slope hexes (usually artillery) DO NOT have their fire blocked by intervening combat units, but only by obstructing village and woods hexes. Interestingly, artillery units on ground level MAY NOT fire over obstructing combat units even at target units on slopes. This rule makes slope positions particularly powerful (and intimidating) sites for an army’s artillery. This rule also means that an advancing force, confronted by enemy artillery on a slope, must make skillful use of blocking terrain (occasionally villages, but usually woods hexes) to create 'curtains of maneuver' behind which the attacking forces can advance without being shot to pieces.

The Use of Artillery

If infantry is the “Queen” of battle, then artillery is the “King”. For this reason, players will probably face no more crucial set of choices before they start a match, than where they are going to position their artillery, and whether it should start the scenario limbered (ready to move) or unlimbered (ready to fire). Putting aside the weight differences between the different cannons present in the game, a player will really command only two types of artillery units: those that can limber—move—unlimber and fire in the same turn (essentially, the galloper guns); and those that cannot. The less mobile guns will usually be sited in villages or on slopes (when possible), while the more nimble artillery pieces will typically advance aggressively when attacking, often accompanied by cavalry. When these 'gallopers' are on the defensive, they will usually serve as the core of a 'ready reserve', deployed so as to be able to dash forward to meet an unexpected enemy threat.

Artillery really has only two enemies on the GRENADIER battlefield: cavalry and other artillery. The cavalry issue, in so far as it is possible, has already been addressed. Artillery counter-battery fire is another thing all together. At the beginning of a scenario, the quantities and types of artillery units possessed by an opponent may well determine how aggressive a player can afford to be with his own guns. Occupying a village hex is fine defensively, but if the enemy can draw his guns up wheel to wheel and blast the village into rubble on the first game turn, then a more circumspect deployment may be in order. And in some scenarios, there simply isn’t anywhere to position artillery where, if it can fire, it won’t be vulnerable to enemy attack. In these situations, the best that can be hoped for may well be for a player to position his less mobile cannons safely behind his own front line, particularly where he expects a major enemy assault, and then hope to greet any enemy breakthrough with a large dose of canister. The real key to success with artillery, however, is to get it into the fight, and to do so as quickly as possible. One approach that I have always found useful is to use the different types of artillery in a 'leapfrog' sequence of coordinated advances. That is: position the long range guns where they can fire on the enemy artillery but, because of range allowance differences, cannot be fired upon; then dash forward with the medium range artillery and galloper guns in an effort to swamp the enemy artillery units with shorter range fire. If the guns that are being rushed, fire, then they will probably be disrupted or eliminated by the attackers’ counter-battery fire; if they retreat, then the long range guns can relimber and prepare to advance. The idea behind this tactical approach is to risk some initial losses among the attacking guns, in order to achieve long-term artillery superiority.

Finally, an unlimbered and crewed artillery unit can fire either shot or canister. Unfortunately, players often become mesmerized by the large Canister Attack Strengths when they are compared to the smaller Shot Attack Strengths. Nonetheless, despite its lower combat power, an attack using shot may still be the better choice because the shot will attack every unit in an enemy stack, while canister only affects the topmost unit.

The Use of Cavalry

The best use of cavalry in GRENADIER is probably not to use the cavalry at all, at least not until the final few turns of a scenario. This, unfortunately, is easier said than done. The primary appeal of the cavalry lies with its movement range and its power on the attack: fresh cavalry can always charge twelve hexes across the map, and they all have powerful Shock Combat Strengths. The problem is, once they have charged they will end the Shock Combat Phase disrupted and a very inviting target for any undisrupted enemy units in the immediate vicinity. Since the local enemy forces will now have two Fire Phases and one Shock Combat Phase of their own, before the spent cavalry can withdraw, it is very unlikely that any of the charging horsemen will ever make it back to the safety of their own lines. In short, the brittleness of the cavalry arm, once committed, means that to use one's cavalry is usually to lose one's cavalry.

Sadly, what this implies for all you closet Murats out there, who are just itching for a major mounted action, is that the cavalry is usually much more useful as a "threat in being" than as an actual attacking force. The cavalry’s best use in the game, as it was historically, will typically be to cover the army’s flanks, observe and shadow enemy cavalry, and whenever possible (and tactically prudent), threaten enemy artillery units. Charges are best reserved for finishing off enemy infantry that is already disrupted and reeling from fire and shock attacks, or when the opportunity presents itself, for smashing into enemy cavalry that has strayed too far from friendly supporting units.

The Use of Infantry

Infantry, of course, is the backbone of the game’s tactical system. At close range, good quality infantry (line, improved, or grenadiers) can deliver lethal fire, and their Shock Combat Power can come close to that of cavalry on the attack and is superior on the defense. The trick, for the players in GRENADIER, is getting undisrupted infantry close enough to the enemy line to deliver either fire or shock attacks. This is the central challenge of the game system, and it is a real beauty. Of course, in those scenarios in which they are permitted, both armies can send out swarms of skirmishers to screen their respective main bodies. This is the course recommended in the game’s “Player’s Notes,” and, in the case of a frontal attack, it is undoubtedly the best option. This approach, unfortunately, is not without its flaws. The problem with skirmishers, it turns out, is that they are slow, weak in both Fire and Shock Combat, and, if that weren’t bad enough, even their fire Range Allowance is pathetically low. Certainly, skirmishers have their place in the game, but their numbers are not unlimited, and both sides inevitably give up some combat power when they convert infantry to skirmishers.

For my own part, I prefer to approach the use of infantry in GRENADIER from the “combined arms” perspective. Frontal attacks are almost always a loser in this game system. To attack successfully, infantry must be allowed to close with the enemy without sustaining unreasonable losses. Usually, this means advancing against one or the other flank, while using long-range artillery to fix the enemy's center. Skirmishers are typically deployed one to three ranks deep depending on the fire attack threat posed by the defender. Cavalry follows along behind the advancing infantry companies, ready to charge any enemy guns that are brought forward by the defender. If the attacker can move his cannons up onto slope hexes, so much the better. But it is more likely that the defender will control slope firing positions. If the defender has positioned his artillery on slope hexes, avoid them like the plague, even if this means lengthening the entire attacking force’s line of march. This type of situation will typically occur when the defender controls the ridgeline near the hamlets of Sohr and Mack; when this is the case, the attacking force can counter by using the copse of trees between Frimont and Longmont as a barrier to enemy fire while positioning a gun, with leader and infantry support, in Frimont to prevent the defending player from being too careless with his own forces.

At some point, the infantry battle is almost always going to come down to Shock Combat. When it comes to organizing my own assaults, I usually stack attacking French units (usually two line and two grenadier companies, if available) so that the first attack can achieve a 4 to 1 against the topmost unit in the enemy stack, and then a 2 to 1 against the remaining units in the defending stack, assuming that there is more than one unit remaining. If the enemy stack is too powerful (four undisrupted improved infantry companies, for example), then a second 4 to 1 is conducted, followed by a 1 to 1 against the remaining two units. These assaulting stacks will always have an infantry leader (bottom of the stack). The topmost unit in the attacking stack is typically a line or conscript infantry company and is disrupted first; the third (line infantry) and fourth (grenadier infantry) units in the stack are then disrupted to meet the requirements of the other two attacks. The second unit in the stack, a grenadier company, is left undisrupted to defend against a (hopefully) weak enemy Shock counterattack. The topmost unit will probably be dispatched by enemy fire. The key to ultimate success in these Shock Combats is the proximity of reserves. This is why it is crucial for the attacker to position his advancing artillery so that he can use both shot and canister fire to quarantine the battle area around the main infantry attack. I cannot promise that using the infantry companies to power indirect flank attacks will always work, but I can say that it will typically work a lot better than a straight-up-the-middle frontal attack.

The Use of Leaders

GRENADIER is the only one of the SPI “gunpowder” tactical series to actually continue the PRESTAGS tradition of using leader units. By the time that MUSKET & PIKE was published in 1973, leaders and command and control had all disappeared down the “playability” design hole, never to be seen again. I seem to remember that, at the time, SPI’s — or maybe it was John Michael Young’s — explanation for ditching the leader counters in the newer games was that the designer needed those counters for other game functions. This, I think, was a mistake. Leaders add some elements to this earlier title that are just not present in the later games: a realistic set of limitations on an individual unit’s initiative and combat effectiveness.

In GRENADIER, the organization of the combat forces is restricted, as it was historically, by the physical limits of individual leaders. A single commander can only shout so loud or be in one place at a time. At the tactical level of this game, players are assigning battalion, regimental, and brigade commanders to their forces so that their units can move and engage in combat. Artillery leaders command and rally artillery; cavalry leaders command and rally cavalry and horse artillery (4 pounders); infantry leaders command and rally infantry; and the GHQ leader commands and rallies everybody. If a leader is himself disrupted, then he must, in turn, be rallied by a higher ranking officer; this senior commander, however, need not be from the same combat arm. Thus, an artillery leader could rally a lower ranked infantry or cavalry officer. The use of the lower-level commanders usually becomes critical when the opposing armies engage in shock combat. Adjacent enemy units pin each other, thus a unit may not move away from an enemy unit (think weak ZOC) without becoming disrupted. Cavalry is the one exception; assuming it survives long enough and is in command, then it may withdraw from a hex adjacent to an enemy unit without suffering anything but a movement cost penalty. In any case, once shock combat begins and attackers and defenders have become and are continuing to become disrupted, neither side is going anywhere until one or the other group of adjacent units is eliminated. This means that, as noted earlier, to continue the shock assault long enough to really break an enemy line, the attacker must throw some of his leaders forward directly into the assault. A leader stacked with the assaulting force, so long as the leader is not disrupted too, may rally the infantry units stacked with it, and thus continue the mêlée until the enemy units are (hopefully) finally eliminated.

CONCLUSION


"Battle of Blenheim" painting in Hochstadt Palace depicting the victory of the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy, August 13, 1704
GRENADIER, despite its age and disappointingly bland graphics, offers an interesting, innovative, and very challenging simulation of warfare during the age of the musket and highly-mobile artillery. I have already cataloged the several frustrating problems with this game: the lack of disruption counters, and the inexplicable absence of a Turn Record or Player Phase Track1. In the end, these issues are irksome, but little more.

Needless-to-say, no game is perfect, but in so far as a tactical simulation is able to, this title helps bring to life the built-in drama of some of the historically critical turning points during this period of evolving battlefield tactics. From Marlborough at Blenheim, to Napoleon in Egypt, Italy, Moravia, Prussia, and finally face-to-face with Wellington in Belgium, this title gives players a tactical look at some of the great battles of history. Moreover, the game’s large number of scenarios means that a player can experiment for many hours with this title and never exhaust the possibilities offered by the game. And even for players that ordinarily do not play tactical-level games, GRENADIER could make them change their minds. Whatever else can be said about Dunnigan’s design, it certainly has enough competitive excitement to make it enjoyable to the tactical specialist and to the regular gamer who is just looking for a fun, exciting, and interesting challenge.
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1 My own GRENADIER Player Fire and Move Turn Phase Record Game Track is available for download here as an Adobe Acrobat .PDF document.

Related Map and Counters Blog Posts

SPI, GRENADIER (1971)
TRICKS OF THE TRADE: TURN PHASE TRACK FOR SPI'S 'GRENADIER'

8 comments:

  • My my MY! This is the best, deepest, and most well reasoned article on Grenadier I've ever read! This is a perfect addition to this game! It has been ages since I played it, but I have to pull this off the shelf and get it back on the table NOW!

    THANK YOU!!!!

  • Russ

    I agree.Grenadier never got the press like the other SPI Tac games and so little written on it except that one Moves issue. I was very happy to read this nice long review

  • What's great today is that with Cyberboard, ZunTzu, Vassal, etc., players can create specific and colorful maps of their own for the various Grenadier scenarios, as well as the turn track and player aids the original game lacked.

  • Greetings Anon:

    You are, of course, quite correct. And I persoanlly think that, given the game's numerous good features -- in my view, anyway -- a graphics "face-lift" would do wonders for the game's appeal to newer players.

    Needless-to-say, in spite of its lack mof charts and dull presentation, I still consider 'GRENADIER' to be a real "gem" of a Napoleonic-era tactical game.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Wow Joe, this is great! I somehow missed this. Looking forward to gaining a full appreciation of this game.

  • Greetings Again Lincoln:

    Thanks for the compliment.

    I think that you are in for a very enjoyable time as you work your way through the many GRENADIER scenarios. To be honest, my personal favorites were and are those concerned with the Battle of Waterloo (e.g., the "Assault of the French Imperial Guard" and the "Attack of the Union Brigade"), but I think that you'll find a number of the other scenarios interesting as well.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Question, can a unit be flanked if it is adjacent to a friendly unit?

  • Greetings "Angry and Bitter Kid":

    The short answer is that "yes" a unit could -- in a manner of speaking, at least -- be flanked even though it is adjacent to a friendly unit. Unfortunately for the attacker, since unit "facing" plays absolutely no role in the "GRENADIER" game platform, such a move -- other than to place more of the attacker's units into contact with an exposed defending unit (or stack) and thus, to increase the potential power (through sheer force of numbers) of the attacker's shock assault -- would confer no other advantage to the unts actually "flanking" the defender.

    This, I realize will seem counter-intuitive to many players; nonetheless, the absense of a "flank attack" bonus (or of infantry squares, for that matter) in this particular tactical game system is probably not as big an issue as one might think. There are several reasons, I think, for Dunnigan and company to adopt this relatively simple approach.

    First, a "flank" shock attack is a very different thing from an "infilading" fire attack. Once shields(and the "shield wall") disappeared from the battlefield, it became much easier for defending units to change their facing to meet a shock attack on one or another of the unit's flanks. Certain infantry and cavalry formations were still vulnerable, during this era, to shock assaults, particularly when such attacks came from unexpected quarters, but these types of surprises only rarely occurred on the open terrain of a set-piece battlefield.

    Infilading fire, not surprisingly, could be deadly -- just like "crossing the T" in a naval action -- but for an enemy unit to gain such an advantageous firing postion usually required the unit to approach undetected (thanks to darkness, smoke, or covering terrain) until it was within range of one or another end of the enemy's battleline.

    Best Regards, Joe

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