ESPANA 20 VOL 2 THE BATTLES OF BUSSACO & TALAVERA from Victory Point Games ...

ESPANA 20 VOL 2 ESPANA 20 VOL 2

A blog for your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

ESPANA 20 VOL 2

THE BATTLES OF BUSSACO & TALAVERA

from

Victory Point Games



"O, what a world of profit and delight.
...
Is promised to the studious artisan."



OK,  a quotation from Dr Faustus may be a bit heavy, but there sure enough is much profit and delight even from a quick read of the rules for Espana 20 Vol 2.  Though, let's be honest.  These days even a quick read has got a bit longer with these well established and highly successful set of rules and the many battles of the Napoleonic wars that they have been used to simulate.

Back in the dim and distant past, when I first came across the Napoleonic 20 series, I couldn't believe that such a small zip-lock bag would definitely hold that "world of profit and delight".  What? ... with just a fold-out set of very brief rules and the amazing claim that in the number 20 could be contained all the units to play Borodino of all battles!

It was my friend's copy and we gamed it to death - even in that beginning, we knew we were on to a winner.  But would more follow?  Without a doubt, virtually one or even two a year; Jena in the C3i Magazine [that was a profitable buy], Dresden and Austerlitz, Leipzig and Danube [which allowed you to play Wagram and Aspern-Essling] and on it went.

Along the way, the decision was taken more recently to introduce laser-cut counters and a jig-cut map board and so a whole new art form has been added to our hobby.  Not content with just clipping cardboard counters and sleeving decks of cards, we can while away the hours cleaning off the ultra-fine residue from laser-cutting with the specially provided paper cloth in each game!  and the distinct aroma of slightly charred wood adds a whole new olfactory dimension to the unboxing process.  Seriously though, these produce really substantial counters and the trend has become an established feature of VPG games.

Laser-cut counters still in their frame


A close-up of a some of the British at Bussaco


As if this were not enough, in 2012 GMT stepped in collaboratively with their strategic partnership with VPG to produce a boxed quad of battles called Fading Glory, an absolute shoe-in for my collection, taking me back to the beginning with Borodino  and then Smolensk, Salamanca and, joy of joys, Waterloo.  The whole shebang got the full treatment: mounted boards, thick glossy counters, quality cards and substantial rule and scenario booklets.

2014 saw VPG themselves produce Espana 20 : Vol 1 featuring the battles of Los Arapiles and Bailen.  My only reason for not adding that to my already overflowing games collection was that Los Arapiles is essentially the Salamanca game that I already had in Fading Glory.

So, to the very latest in the series, Espana 20 : Vol 2 and the battles of Bussaco and Talavera.  If you've already seen or bought Vol 1, you'll know that we're into the realms of VPG's larger productions with two maps, each made up of 2 panels to produce  a 17" x 22" map for each game.  These cardboard maps are superb in every way.  Terrain is crisp and clear with a predominantly brown/ochre background that appropriately evokes the dusty plains of the Iberian peninsular familiar from my reading and watching of the Sharpe series.  The unit counters are a delight in substantial quality and strong colours and sit well in the good sized hexes.


Bussaco and the ridge the Allied troops will defend. 

In addition there is a very good, full-colour double-page play aid that brings together all the necessary charts and tables.  The only drawback being that the very important Morale track, on which victory or defeat depends is also printed on this play aid.  You have the choice of peering at all the charts from some distance, so that you don't disturb each sides Morale marker or creating your own small Morale track so that you can lift the play aid up for easy visual reference.
Amazingly, at its core, it is a system that takes us back to almost the earliest mechanisms of board wargaming: an Igo-Ugo turn [i.e. one player moves and has combat with all their units and then the other player does exactly the same], two simple numbers on the unit counters [ the first being the Attack/defence strength and the second the number of movement points], rigid ZOCs [a unit must stop on entering an enemy ZOC and cannot use movement to leave it at the beginning of their player turn and mandatory Combat against all enemy units that exert  a ZOC on your units.

Even movement remains at the simplest level: a single point to enter any type of terrain; the only proviso being that some types of terrain stop any further movement, unless you are travelling along a road.  The rare modifiers cover minor rivers at +1 and +1/+2 to cross different degrees of slopes.  We really are dealing with the most basic early moves provision.  The only concept that strays from those rudiments of early design is that the game does not use the first simple ratio-based CRT [Combat Results Table] which used the ratio between Attacker and Defender's strength and the roll of a six-sided die.  Instead, the equally simple, but next to be devised CRT is the chosen one  - a differential style CRT.  Oh, and I suppose I ought to admit that using a hex grid map was at one time a revolutionary advance over the very first board wargames which used squares!

Initially, Random Events for this series took the simplest line too and were controlled by a table to roll on.  That has been replaced for some time by the current liking for Random Event cards and these are a very nice addition to the Napoleon 20 series, both in quality and the ability to introduce both generic situations applicable to most battles and very specific ones relating to these individual battles.  This will be seen to be especially important when I look later at the historical situation being enacted in these battles.


Just one of the many potential Events.


When you look at how the fold-out rule sheet has grown from its miniscule beginnings to, by comparison, a huge 28 page booklet, the question whether bigger is better does creep into my thoughts.  Yet once again the quality can't help but charm you.  Thick paper and the most generous layout imaginable are augmented by the use of colour to highlight and emphasise every step of the way.  As a result you do get a set of rules that takes you by the hand and spells out and explains everything in extreme detail, often with a point being reiterated several times. 


This repetition can almost become counter-productive and for the grognard it is perhaps an unnecessary length.  If new to playing board wargames, it will be a useful feature.  It will certainly guide you safely down every path and I hope will avert the sort of questions, sometimes familiar on Boardgamegeek, that demand to check if every "the" means the same as the last "the". 

Along the way, you'll take in very easily a surprising level of additional detail: unreliable or reluctant units, elan, Guards and their cost to enter enemy ZOCs, commitment of reserves to combat, rules for rout and hazardous retreats, rallying units at night and many more elements.  Yet all are of an ease of play that keeps these rules nearer the early NAW [Napoleon at War] rules and a long, long way from systems like La Grande Bataille or the Napoleonic Brigade series.

However, with the addition of a 24 page Scenario booklet, 10 devoted to Bussaco and 14 to Talavera I don't think this is the best starting point to encounter the series for the first time. 


Rule book, Scenario Book and just about everything else!



But, if you know the series or are well versed in playing board wargames, then the package is value for money.  This is especially so, because the Talavera battle offers two scenarios: the first being the historical set piece with both sides squarely facing each other, while the alternative begins a day earlier with the Spanish retreating and the French in pursuit.




Talavera - main scenario

"both sides squarely facing each other"



On the face of it, they should be tough challenges for the player taking the French side, as both were French defeats and involved  frontal assaults against units defending steep slopes.  The all-seeing eye in the sky of the gamer is less likely to lead to such seemingly mad decisions.


BUSSACO

Both battles have a considerable amount of chrome and though it takes far longer to read than execute these additional rules, there are a few contradictions and uncertainties.  Bussaco presents an indolent Massena dallying with his mistress in the village of Cordiera and so few of his units are likely to initially be able to engage with the Allied enemy. 


Opening position at Bussaco


For the first five turns, Wellington has his own potential limitations and at best only four units will be activated, unless French actions release him from this hesitancy.  Despite these early restrictions for both sides, I have so far found that the French's ultimate freedom to swing round the Allied left flank and cross the steep slopes virtually unopposed gives them an ability that the Allied army can do little to counter.


A closer look at the centre of Wellington's defence

[note the steep slopes and the convent of Bussaco]



Nor have I found that the necessary high die roll needed to jerk Massena into proper action is too long in coming and, though a single Event card may throw him back into lethargy, the strength of some of his units tend to outface Wellington's force come what may.


At start Massena abed in the village of Cordiera

Unfortunately, I can't see any other tactic being so likely to produce a consistent French victory.  The alternative French reinforcement entry option that is offered only seems to confirm that the drive on the Allied left flank is the best option.  Consequently replay value seems limited.



TALAVERA


In the same way, the main Talavera scenario also appears to present a similar question as to how well it will replay, but for a different reason.


Staring down the muzzle of the gun.

Both sides start, as the image above shows, almost toe-to-toe at start with virtually no opportunity for a flanking manoeuvre by the French.  The French have a powerful force which has command limitations that can be largely overcome by the careful positioning of Joseph, Napoleon's brother, the Guard unit and General Jourdan.

Against them the British troops are fairly strong too, but the Allied right flank is held by weaker Spanish troops under their leader Cuesta, who is quite likely soon to flee the field.  But they do have a very strong anchoring position on the river and the village of Talavera.

However, play has proved that, though going head to head cannot be avoided, the results can be very varied and the likelihood of a ding-dong battle swinging backwards and forwards is on the cards.
The following images are from one such encounter.  The French were successful in their initial single unit probe at night [a special scenario rule, as no combat is usually allowed at night] and a see-saw engagement followed with ultimately the French gaining the upper hand.



At that point it looked like curtains for the Allies with the centre of their line broken, three Spanish units routed [bottom left of picture] and two British units [top left] routed as well.  Several gamers I know would probably have conceded defeat at this point, but these are not games to give up on so easily. 


A closer look at the broken Allied centre,

with the French in a strong position


First of all, a crucial event [the Sudden Death card] occurred which placed the French under some potential time pressure.  Also, it looked like one last major French attack in the north on the end of the Allied left flank would probably clinch the deal.  Two disastrous die rolls later and the French were reeling in shock with a key unit virtually surrounded and exposed to a British counter-attack.  French morale plummeted to zero and it was game over and an unexpected Allied victory.

My final thoughts are first and foremost in buying Espana 20 Vol 2 you're getting an excellent set of rules of tried and trusted quality and ease of play.  Excellent production values in all the physical components.  Two interesting battles - one of which [Bussaco], I have some reservations as to replay value, the other [Talavera] is a cracker of cut and thrust action and a real bonus in having an additional scenario starting the battle a day early.  A very worthwhile addition to my collection. 










Another impressive collection from Thomas Gunn gets reviewed. It really is a great day whe...

Thomas Gunn latest releases. Thomas Gunn latest releases.

A blog for your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Another impressive collection from Thomas Gunn gets reviewed.


It really is a great day when a parcel arrives from Thomas Gunn, full of goodies to review for the blog. Every time I go to open one of those silver boxes the contents always exceed my expectations! As it's Thomas Gunn my expectations are high as well. This time was no exception.  Though the previous miniatures  I've reviewed have all been outstanding, this particular collection, from my perspective, is the stand out one so far. Some of you know I have an obsessive interest in WWI, so it will come as no real surprise why I love this set of new releases so much. I have a group of what can be WWI air crew or just soldiers relaxing in the rear areas which includes a real life footballer and another historical figure of a War artist. We also have a WW2 Royal Canadian Commando, WW2 ANZAC sentry and finally a WW2 Japanese SPG to review! All have been released this month, September '16.


The first miniature is a historical professional footballer from WW1. His name is Ben Butler and he enlisted into the Pals battalion 17th Middlesex which was also known as the first footballers'  battalion.  Prior to enlisting, he played for Reading and Queens Park Rangers. Sadly he never got to play professional football again as he was wounded by enemy shelling in 1916 around Lens and like many others in the 'Great War' died of his wounds. 

Rev. Samuel Green, a chaplain of Casualty Clearing Station No.22, recorded his impressions of the rugged centre-half: A great, big chap lies in this bed – a guard bulges up the blankets over his leg. ‘Well, Corporal, how are you now ?’ – ‘Bad. This leg is done in. No more football for me. I’m a ‘pro’ and play for…..’ I look at the papers and see his thigh is shattered – always dangerous, these wounds. However the danger is not immediate, and I shall have many more half-hours at this bedside. He fights for dear life for ten days, and then goes out. He has played the game. I doubt not that he has won. A fine fellow – may he rest in peace.’ May he rest in peace. He was wounded on 3rd May '16 and died ten days later. He was 29 and left behind Kate, his wife.


Ben sits on a crate holding his beloved football. The sculpt is a mini work of art. It really exudes character. The sculpture has to be applauded for catching so much and managing to tell a story. The pose he is in couldn't be any better. It's bordering on genius and it's easy to get into his mind, sat there on that crate. The detailing is superb and the paintwork faultless. It's not just another toy soldier I'm looking at, but a real person. This makes it even more poignant. He is most likely dreaming about his exploits on the pitch before the madness started. Also no doubt, hoping the War finishes soon, not only to get back to his Kate, but also so he can eek out a couple more years playing professionally before he retires.


At the ripe old age of 29, time isn't on his side, he thinks to himself. Well it's near the end of April and who knows the big offensive due any time soon might end the War and I'll be home in time for the start of the new season. The thought cheers him up. They go back to the front line the next day the 30th April.  "Anyone fancy a game?" he shouts as he gets up from the crate.


I love this miniature. Plus not only do we have Ben but we also have two other variants.  The first is Daniel Minogue. an Aussie Rules Footballer. Daniel was lucky and survived the War.



Next we jump forwards to WW2 and is Fritz Walter. He was drafted into a Luftwaffe unit, one designed to keep certain men out of too much danger.


Ben Butler comes in the usual Thomas Gunn silver box, and as standard for Thomas Gunn, great care has gone into padding, so the miniature doesn't get damaged in transit. Actually one of the boxes had taken an obvious knock, yet the miniature was safe and sound, surrounded with foam padding.





The next historical figure from WWI is war artist Muirhead Bone GW066A. With the first name of Muirhead it's obvious he was a Scotsman. He was commissioned an 'honorary second lieutenant' and sent to France in May'16 as the first Official British War Artist. He was sent to capture life in France with his pen and paper. Lithographs were the big thing back then and he produced two volumes and around 150 lithographs. After the War he was knighted and during WW2 did similar work. He died 21st October 1953.

 
Muirhead is in relaxed dress, even sporting what looks like a cravat tucked under his shirt, as he sketches an aeroplane. Over his shoulder is a satchel that no doubt contains the tools of his trade. The paintwork is faultless and again the sculpture has caught a very natural looking pose. Looking at his face, apart from sporting a moustache, you can also discern an intense concentration in his eyes as he takes in this new wonder of science before him, an aeroplane. He stands on a texture base which is standard for Thomas Gunn miniatures. He comes in a silver box and just like everything to do with Thomas Gunn miniatures care has gone into the foam padding to ensure he arrives at your home damage free.

There is also another war artist GW066B;  this time Australian War artist  George Lambert. He produced some excellent images of Anzac cove in Gallipoli.

 


Muirhead and George are limited to 100 each and retail at £32.



 


We move on from historical figures. Here we have The Orderly GW065A. Sitting outside (camp site or airfield) using a crate as a chair and putting his typewriter on a little campaign table, he has decided to do his typing outside today. Just finished his cup of tea, he lights up his second to last army issue cigarette. He glances over to see that war artist in deep thought looking at the Be2c that's sat outside its hanger, as one of the squadron's observers climbs out of the front seat.

This little set consists of four separate  pieces. We have the orderly seated on his crate, then we have the table, followed by the typewriter and finally his cup, so you can arrange as you see fit. I love the pose; you can tell he is enjoying that cigarette. The paint work is excellent, with great use of shading.  The table does look like it's made from wood, as the painter has done an excellent job replicating wood grain. I've just noticed on the base that they have used something to create little tufts of grass that look so realistic. It's a detail I haven't noticed until now, but it shows just how much work and thought goes into their miniatures. A sign of superb quality. Damn, I do love Thomas Gunn!

He comes in a silver box which is well padded with foam.

The Orderly also comes in a variant GW065B, a German version.


Both versions are limited to 100 and retail at £35.

 

The Tinker GW067A. This is another exciting little set that oozes atmosphere and is a diorama in its own right. The 'tinker' has grabbed the officer's wicker chair, whilst he is out on a long recon patrol.  Having put up the campaign table, he's decided to get some minor repairs done to the mess kitchen equipment, which had been damaged during the previous night as the pilots let off steam.  With a cigarette firmly gripped between his lips, he picks up his hammer and one of the pans, which needs a few dents hammered out, and goes to work. Funny, he thinks to himself, those pilots certainly got hammered last night, hehe, especially young Jones. I do hope he comes back safely today, being his batman has been very pleasant. Most likely the best officer so far. Not to say the other four had been bad in any way, just something about Jones reminds me of my son I suppose.  God rest his soul, god rest all their souls, though hopefully Cpt Waverly is a prisoner; I liked him.

 Altogether we have nine pieces. The first is the actual figure seated in a wicker chair. Then we have a campaign table, a hammer, large pot, pot lid, cup, two small pans and a large spoon. The hammer and one of the pans you slot into his hands. It really is a great set though be careful as it would be very easy to lose a cup or pan, as they are very small. This chap is busy repairing some kitchen equipment, with the obligatory cigarette in his mouth.  He is sitting outside and if you look closely you can see tufts of grass. Such amazing detail and little touches like this put a smile on my face.  Everything has been sculpted with great care even the little cups and pans. The wicker chair looks excellent. You'd think it was made from wicker, just as the campaign table looks to be made from wood. The paintwork is yet again faultless (honestly I do look for something to fault, just every little thing has been done to such a great degree I can't find anything). He comes in a silver box and great care has gone into the padding.

There is also a German variant GW067B. This time in German dress.

 The sets are limited to 100 and retail at £35.00


 


Following the 'Tinker' we have the 'Tailor' GW068A. Another impressive miniature. It's time to do some repairs to his service issue trousers. As the sun is out, he decides to get some fresh air rather than stay in the current abode, a hot, flea-ridden barn with barely enough light to find your boots in the morning, a typical enlisted man's abode whilst travelling around the French countryside. Grabbing his trusty little OXO box which contains his darning tools, he grabs a crate, finds the tear caused by barb wire whilst out in no man's land the previous night when out on patrol. He was one of the few who actually loved going out at night into no man's land, loved the adrenalin rush. In the early hours of the morning, his battalion had pulled out of the front line into the rear for a rest. Being a pre-war soldier, he had also learnt the art of smoking whilst never taking said cigarette out of his mouth until finished, keeping his hands free to do the important jobs.

This miniature is just one piece - so no need to worry about losing anything. I love the OXO box. A fantastic detail and I think you know by now Thomas Gunn is all about the detail. He is using what looks like a small set of scissors, though I could be wrong here as it may be some sort of darning tool I'm unaware of. There is a set of large scissors resting on his trousers. Like the others, the pose is very natural and realistic. The paint work is, and sorry I'm going to use that word again, faultless. Shading is excellent. The painting of the OXO box is perfect, for such a small part of the sculpt great care has gone into making sure you can read the word OXO Cubes on the box. You can see the concentration in his face as he works wonders repairing his trousers; he'll get lots more wear out of them now. He has what looks like a pencil behind one of his ears. Even the hobnails on the bottom of his boots have been sculpted. The base also has small tuffs of grass, something I love, small things please small minds - is that how it goes? He comes in the usual Thomas Gunn silver box with the miniature encased in foam padding. This is the final WWI miniature released this month and completes a great little set.

There is a German variant GW068B.


Both versions are limited to just 100 and retail at £32.





Now we move onto WW2. This time we have Royal Canadian Navy Beach Commando CAN001. These Canadians had been specially trained for the Normandy landings. Their training was extensive as they had to be prepared for pretty much every conceivable circumstance the beach landings might throw their way: from controlling traffic, to removing obstacles, even driving Sherman tanks! Though their No1 job was to control the flow of troops and supplies during the first days of the invasion. They made sure everything was flowing up to the troops on the frontline, so those at the sharp end could keep on pushing off the beachhead and on into the French countryside. Here we have him standing to attention whilst on parade, just before they all set off for D Day.

He is wearing Canadian service battledress uniform with the R.C.N Commando insignia on his left and right shoulder. His rifle is slung over his right shoulder. He has his water canteen on his right hip attached to webbing and his bayonet is on his left hip. Two ammo pouches are attached to the webbing, one on each side of his waist. He is wearing a Mk2 helmet that has a camo net and some leaves added. The painting is top quality. Another excellent miniature from Thomas Gunn. There is one tiny thing though. The first slightly negative thing I've had to say across all the reviews so far. There is a tiny and I mean tiny bit of paint chipped of on his right shoulder where the RCN Commando insignia is. I told you that I do look in great detail for something to fault and this is the first time I've had something to say, which can't be bad. You do really have to look closely to notice it. I may have done it myself whilst handling it. I can't be sure. There is no variant this time. He comes in a silver box with the usual extensive foam padding. Limited to 100 he retails at £32.










Still with WW2 the next miniature is Australian Sentry RS044. He has a black and green insignia on both shoulders and I've tried to see if this is a specific Australian regiment of a standard Australian insignia. I have seen the same for a New South Wales regiment but couldn't be sure it was from WW2. He is wearing the easily recognisable slouch hat. Standing to attention, he has his rifle over his right shoulder. His canteen is attached to his webbing and sits at his right hip, his bayonet on his left hip. Two ammo pouches hang on either side of his waist. The paint work again is excellent. His brass buttons, belt buckle cap insignia, collar insignia and the buckles on his boots have all been picked out. He sports a fine moustache. He seems all set for future deployment, most likely somewhere in the Pacific. There is no variant. He comes in a silver box and is well protected with foam padding. Limited to 100 he retails at £32.





Last to be reviewed this time is one of Thomas Gunn's bigger pieces. A WW2 Japanese SPG (camouflage) RS035A which was released this month. The SPG is the Type 1 Ho-Ni - Japan's first self propelled gun of this type employed by the Japanese during WW2. It used the Type 967 tank chassis. The turret was removed and replaced by a 75mm type 90 field gun mounted on a cut out chassis. With 10 degrees of traverse and -5 to +25 degrees of elevation plus being able to traverse 20 degrees either side, it didn't have to turn to be able to engage the enemy, unlike say Germany's Stug. It carried 54 rounds of ammunition, but a major drawback was a lack of MG for defence, so was very vulnerable to close assault by infantry.

I really can't fault the modelling. It looks fantastic. Though I'm unfamiliar with this vehicle, I have no doubt it's historically correct right down to the number of rivets showing. This is the first large Thomas Gunn piece I've been able to handle and it doesn't disappoint. It's also very reasonably priced. The SPG comes with a Japanese miniature holding a shell. He's all ready to put it into the gun's breach. The miniature is of the usual high standard. Faultless paintwork, just like the SPG. You can place him on either side of the gun but I have him on the left hand side just like in the pictures. There is a variant, RS035B, which isn't camouflaged ,but comes in dark green Japanese army paint.


It comes in  a silver box and extensive foam padding. Both versions are limited to 100 and retail at £135.

Well I've come to the end of my third Thomas Gunn review. My enthusiasm for their miniatures just keeps growing and growing. I do hope you've enjoyed reading the review and do yourself a favour, get collecting! Until the next time!