Lessons From Marengo
What does it take to win in Pub Battles? What skills are rewarded by the system? Play testing this battle has given me keen, new insights into not only this battle but the entire Pub Battles system.
New players often fight every round possible until they either win or are destroyed. If you do this, you are leaving the game up to fate. You can mitigate much of the luck factor by exercising good discretion. Remember that additional rounds are OPTIONAL. Before you agree to fight another round you need to ask yourself some very important questions: This is especially critical for the French early on. Initially, they only have 6 blocks to stop an entire Austrian army of 18 blocks. EVERY piece is critical. What is the best you can accomplish by staying a 2nd round? You might kill an Austrian piece and delay the Austrian advance for a turn. So what? If the Austrians drop to 17 blocks against your 6, that won’t hurt them much. What happens if you lose? Now you only have 5 blocks to stop 18. That is WAY too big a risk to take. You must fall back. You don’t have to win every fight. Keep your eyes focused on winning the battle. Walk away. There will be a better time to fight.
How critical is this particular fight? How important is it to the battle? How badly will nearby units suffer if this ground is lost? What is the current force ratio? Every loss is critical. If you lose 1 more piece trying to stay in this fight, how will this impact your army as a whole? Will you still be able to face the enemy across the field effectively if you lose this piece (or pieces)? You have to carefully examine your risk/reward ratio. What do you stand to gain vs what you stand to lose?
I love the clear open terrain at Marengo. I love the huge force disparity. It really brings the fundamentals of maneuver, force and position into focus. You might be wondering how 6 blocks can fight 18. Note this picture from a historical opening:
The Austrians have just crossed the river. Yes, they have 18 blocks but most of them are bottled up behind lines in a traffic jam. How many blocks can they present to the front? Only 3. How many blocks can the French present? 3. There you go. Those 18 blocks don’t matter. They cannot be brought to bear.
Now the French must fall back at some point to prevent losses, as previously discussed. As they fall back, the Austrians can expand the front and bring more forces to bear. Fine. What can the French do then? Fall back again. Falling back prevents your flanks from being turned. It prevents the Austrians from being able to bring their power to bear. You trade ground for time. You also greatly limit the damage the Austrians can do to you. Those 18 blocks mean nothing if they can’t get a hold of you or do any damage.
Another interesting result of running, is that it virtually negates the massive Austrian artillery advantage. As you fall back, the Austrians race to keep up. The guns fall behind. They are almost always out of range to fire. If they can’t fire, they might as well not be there. Perfect.
While monitoring your force ratio with the enemy, you should also keep an eye on the number of spent units. What portion of your army is fresh vs spent? How does this compare to the enemy? Ideally, you would like to see a mostly spent enemy army vs your army that is mostly fresh. This is a position of strength and power. The French will likely find themselves on the weaker side of this curve. That’s ok. It just means that now is not the time to stand and fight. Fall back and as you do, try to get some portion of you army back on line. In the mean time, try to flip a few Austrians along the way. Remember, they can’t rally either while they are pursuing you.
Desaix’s arrival is more important that it seems. He only has 2 blocks to reinforce with. That may not seem like much but it is likely all it will take. Have you ever spotted a weightlifter? Have you seen how little force it takes to help him lift the last rep that he can’t do on his own?
By now with some luck, you have picked off a few Austrians with judicious Cavalry and Guard charges. The Austrian army is now spread out and thinned. If you listened to me and didn’t squander several blocks to stubborn, unnecessary fights, you should be getting close to parity. It may not look like it but always remember: 4 of those blocks back there are artillery. You will run those down easily once you break this line in front of you. You also don’t even need ‘parity’. Remember that you have the Consular Guard and Murat’s Cavalry. Those units are easily worth double their number of Austrians.
Marengo teaches you a keen sense of timing. There were many times with the French I wanted to strike back. I wanted to attack and halt the relentless Austrian advance. I could have but it would have cost me the battle. You have to charge when the enemy is spent.
There were several turns I wanted to charge but I didn’t get the timing sequence I needed. The Cav missed their roll then bam, the Austrians rallied. The door of opportunity shut before I could strike. That is ok. Bide your time. Have patience. Wait it out. Keep your Cavalry ready to charge. They should be fresh and positioned behind lines to strike anywhere along the enemy line. This alone should force the Austrians to slow down and advance with caution. The Austrians won’t get lucky on timing every turn. Eventually, you will get the right timing sequence. The Austrians will be repulsed and spent. Your Cavalry will get the next move. Imagine the damage your Cavalry could do with a double move turn sequence! You could shatter 3 spent Austrian infantry, THEN charge again hitting 3 artillery behind lines! That is 6 kills in 2 successive moves.
This illustrates why exactly patience will pay off. It only takes 1 or 2 breaks in timing to crush the Austrians and win the game. This won’t work if you insist on attacking when YOU want to. You must wait for the right time to arrive. I can’t find the exact quote now but I remember Napoleon describing the critical timing moment in battle when victory is achieved. He said it was like adding the last drop of water that causes the dam to overflow and break down.
“This is why it is said that victory can be seen but not made.” -Suz Tzu