Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Musings on British strategy in Quebec 1759

Five years ago I wrote some musings on British and French strategy in Quebec 1759, based on the 2001 version 1.1 edition of the rules. There's a new 2009 version that makes some changes, which I will be exploring this weekend. Here's what I said about British strategy in the older version.

Quebec 1759

Some musings on British strategy

The British have the burden of attack. With no advantage in numbers the British player must maneuver to one single known point and seize it in order to win the game and the campaign.

With 16 moves there is plenty of time to do what is necessary, although not so much time that the British can afford to waste moves.

The British force consists of five distinct groups of units, and it’s useful to consider their role when considering what strategies are possible.

The core of the British force is nine 4CV battalions of infantry. These units allow the British to mass a powerful striking force and are at the heart of any successful British strategy. When launching an amphibious assault with four units the British can start with 16 CV, which is a decisive edge against any comparably sized French force.The British also have a 3CV foot unit and a 2CV foot unit suitable for secondary tasks.

The British start with 8 decoy units. The defining trait of the block games is the fog of war provided by the blocks, although the British will have a harder time taking advantage of the fog due to their movement limitations and the homogeneous nature of their force. Still, the decoys do provide some possibility of faking the French out.

The British have two 3CV units of light troops, (Converged Light Infantry and American Rangers). While able to take their place in the line, if needed, these have also have the ability to retaliate against the French Indian unit if it raids an area the light troops occupy. As the only counter to this very useful French unit their placement should be carefully considered.

Lastly the British have four ship units. These are vital because their ferrying ability is the only way the British can get across the river from their starting position on Ile d‘Orleans. When to move them upriver is always a major decision.

There are basically two avenues of approach to Abraham. The first and most direct is to cross the Bason and land at either Montmorency, Beauport or St. Charles, defeat any defenders, consolidate and then march to Abraham, assaulting from St. Charles. While having the virtue of simplicity, this will rarely work unless the French, through misdeployment, allow the British to defeat them in detail.

Typically the French will let you come and the game comes down to a grand assault across the river at St. Charles into Abraham. This has a low probability for success, as the 47 CV of British are facing about 34-8 CV of usuable French defenders (The Indians have to be in reserve and 3-5 units of Quebec militia have deserted by then because of burnt farms in Montmorency, Beauport , St. Charles (and maybe Levis and Etchemin).

It’s a common misconception that the block games have a lot of luck because of the large number of dice rolls. Of course the opposite is true, the large number of dice rolls tend to even out. Luck is most noticeable in smaller battles. It just takes a lucky roll or two for a CV1 unit to defeat a CV2 unit. But 10CV of defenders stands almost no chance of defeating 20CV of attackers, even with the advantage of firing first.

In the case of a grand battle between most of the French and British armies the advantage lies with the French, because their entire army is expendable, whereas the British lose the campaign if reduced below 20 total CV. There almost no chance the British can eliminate all 30+ French before they lose 28 CV of their own, given the attritional nature of the combat system and the fact the French will be firing first (and at double fire the first round).

Such a direct approach also wastes the potential of wresting an advantage through maneuver.

Such a direct approach won’t take more than half the available turns to execute, although there is no advantage for the British to occupy Abraham at any point earlier than turn 16.

The second avenue of approach is across Bason to Levis, followed by consolidation and a march to Etchemin. Meanwhile the fleet moves upriver to St. Laurent. From Etchemin the British assault across St. Laurent to either Cap Rouge, Sillery or Abraham. This approach also has drawbacks. It requires a head-on amphibious assault into Levis, which is often heavily defended. And at the end the British are still left with the necessity of launching another amphibious attack into the teeth of the French, who can easily use their interior lines to redeploy from Montmorency-Beauport-St. Charles to Cap Rouge-Sillery-Abraham. This avenue also provides the French opportunities to catch the British divided. From a central position at Sillery, or Ste Foy, the entire French army could swoop down on a smaller British force at either Cap Rouge or Abraham.

On the other hand, this avenue of approach does present the opportunity to place the French defenders on the horns of a dilemma, because they have two points needing defending. If they allow the British to occupy Cap Rouge without resistance the steady erosion of the Montreal militia could result in the final grand battle at Abraham having just 20 CV of French (the six regular regiments and some militia) facing most of the British force. With an edge of 20 or so dice the British should easily rout the French before their own losses become critical.

The best chance of success comes from using both avenues of approach, flexibly. Eventually the British will probably have to move upriver via Levis unless the French mess up their deployment along the Bason. But maintaining a threat to St. Charles and burning the farms along the north bank to eliminate three Quebec militia is a key part of succeeding with the Levis approach.

With 16 turns the British have enough time to move significant forces around the limited campaign area, so long as on Turn 16 the main British force is moving into Abraham.

Typically the British player, feeling the pressure of time, will try to bull ashore with four 4CV units on the first turn somewhere along the Bason shore on the theory the French cannot be strong everywhere. If he guesses right, he strikes a weak spot held by a half dozen militia units or less and wins a stiff fight that guts the French army by eliminating a large chunk of the available force. If he guesses wrong, the British player experiences the historical result of a bloody nose and the need to try someplace else after a hasty retreat.

The British do have the time to do it right, however, using the Louisbourg Grenadiers or the 2/60th Foot for a reconnaissance. Landing a single unit forces the use of the “skirmish” rule, revealing all the defenders (no reserve) while exposing just 2Cv or 3CV to loss. A landing against the six French regulars will cost the British an average of 6Cv from the first fire, which will decimate a 16CV maximum British landing and force an immediate retreat. (Staying under such circumstances is most unwise). No matter how many French are firing and how lucky their rolls, they can’t kill any more than 2CV of Grenadiers if that is all that has landed.

One or two probes should uncover enough of the French defense to allow the 16CV brigade landing to hit someplace the French are not while not costing any more than 5CV and a couple of turns.

If the French main body is south of the river, land on the north shore against the weakest point, consolidate, defeat the militia and march on Abraham with 4-8 units.

If the French main body is on the north shore, take the Levis route, leaving one of the light units in Ile d’Orleans to scoot across Bason to torch farms once the French pull back to counter the Levis threat.

By switching between the two avenues of approach the British player aims to spread the French defenders, defeat them in detail, induce the militia to desert and set the stage for an advantageous final battle on the plains of Abraham on campaign turn 16.


  1. Glad to see you sharing your strategy thoughts before our game, Seth! No time to read it now, but I hope to go over it in some detail! ;-) -- Mark

  2. Good luck. Of course, it could be disinformation ... .

  3. So, in the new rules, with decoys being 1CV units, it seems that they can be used for recon? If so, this seems to swing things slightly in favor of the British.

  4. I'm not sure if they will make a big difference. Boths sides had 2CV units they could use for recon duty, so being able to send a 1Cv unit instead doesn't seem to be a big change.

    I suspect the change to 1Cv units instead of 0CV decoys may make little practical difference while making the rules a litle simpler because there won't need to be the special rules for decoys any more.

    Some have suggested that the extra CV will make it easier for the British to stay above 20CV. On the other hand, the French get a few extra shots as well.

    I think the two leaders may have a bigger impact on play than the change to detachments.