Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Musings on French strategy in Quebec 1759

Some while back I posted these ideas on French strategy for the game Quebec 1759, based on the version 1.1 (2001) edition of the rules. The 2009 Version 2.0 edition makes some interesting changes which I will be exploring in a game planned for this weekend, so I thought it would be instructive to review what I had said before.

Quebec 1759

Some musings on French strategy

As the defender, the French are necessarily in a reactive role. Despite this, they have the first chance to shape the course of the game with their initial setup.

The French army actually outnumbers the British, both in total numbers (20 units to 13 units) and in Combat Value (48 CV to 47 CV).

The French force comprises three distinct groups of units, and it’s useful to consider their role when considering what strategies are possible.

The core of their army are six 3CV battalions of infantry. The only force able to stand toe-to-toe with a British 4-block 16CV brigade strike force, their careful placement is vital. Filling out the French force are 13 battalions of 2CV militia. While their CV are just as deadly as the regulars, most of them are vulnerable to being removed without a fight. The six Montreal militia and one TR militia will start to desert, one per turn, if the British capture Cap Rouge, while the Quebec militia goes home as British troops occupy areas, one block per area.

The last component is a single 4CV Indian unit, which may be the single most useful. Able to scout and raid anywhere on the map, this unit will play a big role in the French success.

There are also five decoy units.

For a detailed discussion of the map look at the British strategy article. Simply said, 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. 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.There are basically two general strategies available for the French and either can work.

Although it’s anachronistic, I’ll label the two approaches the “Rommel” and the “Rundstedt,” named after the two World War II German field marshals who faced a similar strategic debate before D-Day.

In the “Rommel”: the French will make a stand at the water’s edge, trying to inflict such heavy losses on the British that they will be reduced to below 20CV and lose the campaign whether or not they make it to Abraham. This strategy is the most obvious and simplest, but is not without risk, because the French cannot be strong everywhere. A successful British landing can place the French in danger of being defeated in detail.

The “Rundstedt” attempts to use limited British naval lift capacity against them by using the French army’s interior lines to concentrate against and overwhelm isolated detachments of the British force.

Under the “Rommel” the French also have a decision to make about allocation of force to the four possible landing sites of St. Charles. Beauport, Montmorency and Levis. An obvious, but wrong, approach, is to simply divide the forces equally between the four. This abandons any chance to shape the British strategy and actually induces a British landing in the most dangerous spot, St. Charles. If every landing site is equally defended, then the British should land at the most strategic spot, St. Charles. And that landing will probably succeed, because an even distribution of the French army means that at least one column will be held by a single 2CV or 3CV unit. Seeing this, the British will use their reserve to reinforce their 4CV unit with a second 4CV unit, giving them a decisive 8CV vs. 2 or 3 and a quick rout for the French.The French will be forced to counterattack the following turn against the bulk of the British army and can expect to dash themselves to pieces in the attempt.

No, The French have to try to ambush the British with a strong enough force to have a realistic chance to repel a landing. The minimum required for this is six militia units. Pulling this off requires that the French leave at least one area undefended. This area cannot be St. Charles, and Levis is best defended as well, so the choices come down to Beauport and Montmorency. One should be defended by the six doomed Quebec militia while the other is held by dummies and one of the Montreal militia.

The Achilles heel of the “Rommel” is a prudent British player, who spends a couple of turns probing the French defense instead of trying to bull ashore right away. Once the British have discerned the shape of the French deployment they will land in a weak spot, consolidate and start maneuvering to induce desertions.

The “Rundstedt” is harder to play, but holds the potential for thwarting experienced British players by using the compartmented geography of the map against them. While using the Quebec militia (who will generally be deserting anyway) to skirmish against the initial British moves and aggressively scouting with the Indians in order to closely track British deployments, the bulk of the French army operates within the Abraham-Sillery-Ste. Foy-Cap Rouge quadrangle. This protects the two vital locations and provides a good opportunity to catch a part of the British army. Even if the British manage to get eight 4CV across in one spot this sets up a 32CV vs. 32CV slugfest that favors the French. The entire French host is expendable, while a long attritional fight is likely to leave the “victorious” British with less than 20CV on the map.

It’s possible to convert the “Rommel” into a “Rundstedt” if the French make sure to cover Levis with the Quebec militia and don’t stay too long on the north shore of the Bason once the British make their move.

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