Operational Design in Wargaming Prelude Part II Montebello redux

Continuing with the theme from the previous article, I want to establish my overall objectives of this design series using the Montebello 1859 scenario as a prologue.  I found as I prepared for the second match, that I was thinking more about my overall approach to wargaming than normal.  Add several pertinent discussions on Meeples and Miniatures, Veteran Wargamer, and the WSS podcast, and the mental stew was ripe for such rumination.    Even Jon's rules system added the mix as I found myself thinking in terms of the scenario rather than trying to number crunch the stats for the rules.  (For me, that is the sign of a good rules set.)
The previous plan

In our second effort with Montebello (Jon's third) I decided to reevaluate the plan from the division commander's perspective.  In the previous engagement I had allowed myself to become focused on the intermediate objectives represented by the towns, rather than the overall objective represented by the Railroad bridge.  This caused me to spend my momentum against the Austrian strongpoints, and allow Hesse's brigade to disrupt and degrade my attack.  I was thinking in terms of the individual units (three steps down), rather than the parent regiments and brigades (two steps down).  In short I approached the problem from the perspective of the individual brigade commanders rather than the overall commander of the French force.  I needed a division plan.

Some background:  Jon established the victory conditions for the scenario based on a Talley each turn of which side controlled the key towns.  They were:
Three of the Objectives were in Austrian hands in the beginning
  • Calcabobbio
  • Cuscina Nuova
  • Genestrello
  • Montebello
  • The Railroad Bridge North of Casteggio
Each turn, each side would get 1 point for each objective controlled.  To achieve a minor victory I needed to outscore the Austrians by 4 points overall.  To achieve a major victory I needed to take Casteggio.  

Terrain:  The high ground to the south and the fields bordering PL Cougar will slow movement (1/2 move).  The north-south ravines along PL Husky and PL Cougar will slow infantry (-2"), but are impassible to Artillery and Cavalry.  This creates chokepoints at the towns and bridges along the route.   The rolling hills restricts long range fires (10" max)  for artillery.

From the French perspective I have several advantages over the Austrians:

French Advantages/Disadvantage

  • Superior leadership means more flexibility, I can move and respond better on the attack
  • Smaller Units allow me to mass fires on the larger Austrian Brigades
  • My forces begin massed together, I can mass them where necessary
  • Cavalry, I have more Cavalry that are equal to or superior to the Austrian Cavalry
  • Longer range/harder hitting artillery
  • Artillery limited to 10" range

Austrian Advantages/Disadvantage

  • Numerical Superiority
  • Strong force massed along Northern flank of my axis of advance (Hesse)
  • Two regiments within striking distance of an Objective (Baum)
  • Brigade strongpoints on three objectives
  • 2 powerful units holding Genetrello supported by two regiments at close range at the beginning of scenario.
  • Larger units have more resiliency, very strong in the defense
  • More artillery
  • Poor Leadership limits units on the offense
  • Only two brigades capable of acting each turn.
  • Artillery limited to 10" range
  • Larger units making it harder to mass Brigade fires.
  • Larger units are more likely to intermix/overlap and increase disorder.

I then came up with some possible courses of action by the Austrians.  Based on our last outing, I assumed Baum would fall back to the farms rather than attempt take on an entire brigade.  Urban would maintain a strongpoint in Genestrello, while moving forces up to establish a strongpoint in Montebello.  Finally, I assumed Hesse would launch an aggressive spoiling attack in order to deplete my forces and then break contact to allow Paumgarten's forces to move up earlier in the engagement.
Is it wrong that I consider this a leisure activity?
With this in mind I considered my objective:  The bridges over the Coppa River.  Taking those bridges would force the Austrians to come out to meet me or be cut off.  That would negate their defensive advantage and increase the amount of disorder/confusion I could sow in their ranks.  Their poor leadership would limit their tactical options and allow me to maintain the initiative.  It would also prevent them from massing fires against any one regiment which would reduce overall losses in the brigades.  This would allow me to maintain strength to continue the offensive.

I would have to accept risk by ceding most of the intermediate objectives  over the short term as I sought to bypass the towns and avoid contact with Hesse's force.  I could then mass fires against the Austrians coming out of the strong points and then Turn to destroy Hesse with my own reinforcements.  With luck, Hesse's brigade would be spread out by the pursuit allowing the two lead Austrian brigades to be destroyed in detail.  I would then still be in a position to deal with the inevitable Austrian counterattack.  I doubted I could take and hold Casteggio, but I could probably prevent the Austrians from retaking any objectives before nightfall.  If nothing else, I could achieve a more decisive minor victory than I had in the last outing.

A new mission statement was formed!
Forey’s Division attacks to seize OBJ Bridge along route MAIN IOT to prevent reinforcement of Urban’s division and defeat Austrian forces east of the River Coppa.  O/O Seize and hold Casteggio

 From here came the overall concept of the operation:
Sonnaz's cavalry would delay Hesse until the other four regiments could be brought up to reinforce.  The cavalry would then move East through the railroad gap to seize the railroad bridge over the Coppa supported by the Chasseurs D' Afrique.  Beuret would fix the forces in Genestrello while sending his main force across the ravine and moving rapidly towards the wheat fields staying outside of range from the units closing on Montebello.  Once through the fields he would turn south to take the Casteggio bridge and destroy the units coming out of Montebello.  Blanchard would advance along the Railroad line oriented on the RR bridge.  They would avoid contact with Hesse and relieve the Cavalry at the bridge.  Follow on forces would be tasked with taking the two towns as they entered the game.  Once relieved, the cavalry would be released to harass depleted/disordered units.

Now I have a task and purpose for each unit

This is actually fun.

How did it all work out?  Well Jon just posted the report for our first outing, so I will wait until he summarizes the second to discuss outcomes. Just remember that no matter how much planning and preparation you put into it, the other guy always gets a vote. To steal from Eisenhower:
 In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.


  1. It will be interesting to see how Montebello Mark 2 played out!

    1. It played out as a very interesting and dyanamic scenario. In Jon's overview I think he underplayed how the dice really played the extremes on us, that was not the case in round 2.

  2. Excellent analysis and planning, Jake! Very interesting to see your planning and thoughts leading up to the game. I also see an evolution in understanding of operational and tactical capabilities of the French and Austrian combatants. Has this exercise added to your appreciation and understanding of the historical battle and constraints therein? For me, it has. For me, that is the crux of wargaming; gaining an insight into historical events. I feel a Wargame Theory post of my own bubbling up.

    By the way, that Eisenhower quote is one of my favorites!

    1. Yes it has. The scenario does an excellent job of modelling the actual issue. I think Forey made the right call to consolidate his gains.

      The quote was on the first slide of a Military planning course I took years ago and has stayed with me ever since.

    2. A military planning course? I recognized the approach and language and sensed a background in operations (something from my own checkered past).

      Here's a rule of thumb that might apply to your ruminations over focus: you plan two levels down but execute one level down. So, a division staff plans the movement and placement of battalions, and calculates combat ratios at that level, but come the operation, controls brigades.

      Easier said than done on the miniatures table (and also a different frame of mind for the gamer).

    3. I am no stranger to MDMP. The difference for wargames is that limiting yourself to one level down is dull. It only gives you three game pieces to work with. I enjoyed spearhead when it came out specifically because it allowed you to abstract individual units and focus on your platoons. I need the game above I am playing the division commander but my playing pieces are actually three levels down with regiments placed between the brigade and battalion level. The goal for me then is to keep my decisions down at the brigade level and think what I want those regiments to do to support the division plan.

    4. Ah, yes, MDMP. Haven't heard that acronym for awhile. The one-level down thing is a challenge in gaming, I agree entirely. One thing I try to infuse in my tinkering with rules or scenario designs are things that prompt players to handle units cohesively as opposed to as a bunch of individual components (ie, think in terms of brigades, divisions, etc)--it's all good, at the end of the day so long as we don't forget it's supposed to be fun!


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