Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Siege of Zerfberg

I believe I mentioned in a recent post that Dad and I had been thinking about hauling out the fortress (last seen at Historicon 2011) and running a NQSYW siege game, and this afternoon we got our chance to do so. My brother William also came up for the game, as did Marc, one of my college cronies with some Charge! experience. As Marc had played on the attacking side in one of the Historicon games, he elected to defend the fortress this time, which was promptly dubbed 'Zerfberg' after its commander. And so, William and I set to digging our trenches...

(As far as troops go, Wachovia and Schoeffen-Buschhagen supplied the attackers, while the fortress defenders consisted of the Hesse-Hattemstadt and Schlusselbrett regiments, dubbed the "Western League." This may puzzle anyone who has looked at the NQSYW map, as neither of the latter two countries lie in a particularly westerly direction from Schoeffen-Buschhagen--the answer is that the third member of the League is the enigmatic land of Saxe-Weilenz, whose animosity towards Schoeffen-Buschhagen seems to be matched only by their reluctance to do any of their own fighting...)

The first turn or two saw a number of saps zigzag towards the fortress without meeting much by way of resistance. In fact, we ended up pushing forward too quickly, beyond the support of our main trenchline--as we found when our attempt to dig a new parallel section provoked a sortie from the defenders. I tried to respond by bringing more troops forward, but the fortress defenders had returned to their positions by the time my intended reinforcements were ready.

Wachovian troops in their initial positions.

Placement of the first saps.

We abandon the diggings and fall back.

Grendiers move forward to support, but not quickly enough.

William deals with the sortie on his end of the line.

After that debacle, we took a more cautious approach the next few turns, digging some support trenches a bit further up, while our guns engaged in some counterbattery fire. This proved more successful than usual, as we dismounted several of the defending guns with some lucky shooting, which put Marc in a bit of a tight spot, as we had the advantage in numbers to begin with.

New parallels and battery emplacements being dug.

New trenches within long musket range of the covered way.

Digging another parallel section, this time with proper support.

The defenders' position only got worse, as William managed to take out their mortar with a well-placed shot from his own. And when Marc moved his last cannon over to try to take out one of our siege guns that had moved up to within range of the walls, a concentrated barrage from my batteries destroyed that one as well. From there it was only a matter of time--the next turn, I built a breaching battery right up on the lip of the covered way, and we determined that the guns would be able to open a sufficient gap in the wall before the time limit was reached.

Breaching battery (on the left)

All in all, I thought it went pretty well--there were definitely some moments early on when I thought we were in trouble, especially when I saw three whole companies come pouring out to attack my diggers--but some lucky shooting managed to turn things around. And it was good to get the fortress on the table again, too--the siege has a different flavor to it than a regular Charge! game, so it's nice to switch things up every so often. That being said, my next goal is to get my shiny new cavalry squadron on the table--hussars aren't much use in the trenches, after all...


  1. Nice to see the fort in play again. Pity I wasn't able to join in.

    Pushing the saps too fast! Ahha an old mistake (as in been there done that!).

    Great stuff

  2. This is fascinating stuff. Where might I learn more about the rules you use to govern the construction of the trenches and emplacements? It occurs to me that this could be the basis for an interesting WWI trench-building/raiding game...

    1. The rules are drawn from Appendix 3 of "Fire & Stone: The Science of Fortress Warfare 1660-1860" by Christopher Duffy.

      I think my father was planning to put a copy of the quick reference sheet up on his blog ( which may have more details, but the gist is that there are two types of trench: parallels (which are fighting positions) and saps (which are not). Depending on how far you are from the fortress, you can dig a certain length of trench each turn; you have to commit one figure per inch to the digging, and they have to be supervised by an engineer. If the defenders can kill half the diggers or the engineer, the trench is not constructed. There aren't really any rules as to how the trenches must be placed--though the mechanics do end up encouraging the use of historical techniques.

      A WWI adaptation would be interesting, though in that case both sides would be digging, which would change the dynamics a bit I think.

    2. Thanks Norman. I'll keep an eye on Rob's blog too, and let you both know if I start playing with dual-trenching games. Could be...the local hobby shop has a bunch of HaT 1/72 WWII troops in stock...

  3. Excellent stuff! I have always thought that the aphorism - sieges don't work as war games - was dodgy. And so here it proves. Probably your time scale would be a bit different from a field action: digging saps and parallels takes time after all. But in a campaign context, I believe that that can be worked around.

    The game itself seemed to go as one would expect a siege of a smallish fortified place: a risk taken to speed up proceedings (building the second parallel beyond supports), a successful sortie delaying progress, and at last the besiegers' ordnanace beating down the defenders'.

    At that, the defenders might have reserved a few pieces to defend the breach, given a commander sufficiently determined.

    Wonderful - and the pictures do justice to the narrative and the high quality of the armies and their works and fortifications.

  4. We debated the question of the possible usefulness of defender reserves after the game. I don't think we reached a consensus, but perhaps the defenders will give it a try next time around. As for the time scale, Duffy gives it as one day per turn for the siege game. Basic Charge turns are approximately a half hour. The third day sortie only lasted for a few tactical turns (about three, as I recall), so was resolved fairly quickly in terms of referee/gamer hours.