ESPANA 20 VOL 2 THE BATTLES OF BUSSACO & TALAVERA from Victory Point Games "O, what a world of profit and deli...

ESPANA 20 VOL 2 ESPANA 20 VOL 2

ESPANA 20 VOL 2

ESPANA 20 VOL 2

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. 










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