Wednesday 18 October 2017

Tarawera Week - Day Five (the last Day)

Apparently there was a brilliant sunrise on Sunday morning, not that I saw it, but by 8:00 it was raining. However the rain did not last long by the time we had finished breakfast it had cleared (although another rain shower came through a little after 9:00). 

I ran the final game of the week and had kept it a surprise until the night before. I had long been attracted to the Perry Miniatures Retreat from Moscow range and had concieved a game based on the Pony Wars rules that came out in the 1980s.

So after I got back from last year's Tarawera event I began planning. Readers will no doubt remember the collection of the Perry range and winter buildings that I built up earlier this year. These were all bought or made for this game.

So the details of the game...



The Retreat from Moscow game is a multi-player game where players command various French units during the Retreat from Moscow in 1812.


The French units are retreating along a road that weaves its way along the length of the table, passing woods, farms and villages until it crosses a river at one end of the table. The objective of each player is to get his unit across the river without losing more than half of his strength. 


As the French units march along the road they are liable to encounter Russian troops. There are a five trigger points along the road and as they pass in line of one of these the French will draw an event card that will declare whether any Russian troops arrive on the table and then, if they do arrive, a die is rolled and the Russian unit will arrive at one of four possible arrival points. If a Russian unit cannot arrive at the designated point, because access is blocked by a French unit, it will displace 500mm towards the river.


Russian troop movements are programmed and depend on the strength and proximity of the enemy, but generally speaking units that are in good order will always try to engage the French.


The terrain is snow covered but good going for troops on the road. Off road it is difficult going for infantry and cavalry, but normal for sleds.

The Forces


In this game the forces are:


The French

  • Five units of French infantry (4 stands each
  • One unit of French cavalry (4 stands)
  • One unit of French sled mounted cavalry (4 stands)


At the beginning of the game the French are deployed on the road with the cavalry in the front, with the sleds to one side and then the infantry.


A card is presented to each player that defines their command and the object of the game.

The Russians

  • One unit of Russian dragoons (4 stands)
  • Three units of Russian Cossacks (3 stands each)
  • One unit of Militia cavalry (3 stands)
  • One unit of raw Line infantry (3 stands)
  • Two units of Jagers (3 stands each)
  • Three units of militia (3 stands each)
  • Two units of armed peasants (3 stands each)
  • One field artillery battery (2 stands)
  • One militia 3lb gun (1stand)

No Russian troops are deployed initially, but on Turn 2 the line infantry will appear on the opposite bank of the river near the bridge, and may not cross the river unless the Emperor rule is envoked (see below).


As the French troops pass a trigger point a card is drawn and the entry point decided by a matrix within the rules.


A number of blank cards are included in the deck.

The Rules

The Pony Wars rules were to complex for what I wanted so I adapted my Napoleonic rules. In this game the French troops would be the equivalent of the US Cavalry in the original set and are pretty much free to do as they like, while the Russians are programmed like the Indians in the original and harass them all the way.


A full copy of the rules is located here.

The Table

The table was set up at 4 meters long and 2 meters wide. The map, with its trigger points, is as below - T = Trigger Point, A = Russian Arrival Point.



French units that are not in rout can recover status by the following means:

  • 1 status point per turn by moving at half rate
  • 2 status points by remaining stationary for one turn
  • 3 status points by eliminating one stand

Russian units cannot recover status.

Special Rule – the Emperor


Players are told that a special cache of supplies is located somewhere on the table that can restore up to eight status points on damaged units. Once the cache is found these points can be claimed by any unit as they pass within 50mm of the cache.


But the cache is a ruse. Instead in the centre of a village is a special trigger point that represents the Emperor and an escort of Imperial Guard troops. This force will be remain hidden from view until a French unit moves within 300 mm of the marker. At that point the Emperor and his escort are placed on the table.


The appearance of the Emperor has a number of special effects:

  • The game objective changes to getting the Emperor across the river regardless of cost
  • Any units within 600mm of him at the time of his discovery that are in rout or temporarily shaken or disrupted will immediately rally.
  • All units within 600mm of him at the point of discovery will immediately recover three status points.
  • All non-routing Russian units (including the raw line infantry unit) immediately move towards the Emperor and continue to try to attack him for the rest of the game

Once a French unit moves within 100mm of the Emperor, he and his escort will set off along the road to the bridge.

How the Game Ran

The table was set up with a white cloth. The road was marked with a brown Woodlands Scenic railway ballast. The trees were ones I had made years earlier for a game based in the Battle of Pea Ridge.

I changed the map a little, removing the mill from near the bridge and moving the church nearer the river.

Above and below, The French in their starting positions. The cavalry leads the way with Marbot's sleds on the right.

The first Russians arrive - a unit of mounted militia 


On the opposite side of the table some cossacks arrive and Marbot's sleds move to intercept. 

The Emperor has been discovered and sets off down the road.

The infantry column enters the village

The Emperor is well protected

The Russians are coming in from all directions.  A unit of militia has even had the audacity to charge the Emperor's escort - and nearly beat them!

Near the church the action heated up.

A Russian battery emerged from the wood and opened fire on the Emperor's sleigh, causing some damage, before one of the infantry units drove the battery off.

The Russians are everywhere...

The fighting rages all around the Emperor

But he is well protected and makes it safely across the bridge!

And so our fantastic week of gaming was over. We packed away the table, put everything back in the garage that we had moved to make space. We packed the cars, had a light lunch, cleaned up and closed up the house. 

Just before 1:00 we hit the road and had a easy drive home...that is until we hit the motorway into Auckland that is and we crawled along taking twenty minutes to travel two kilometres until we passed a small fender bender...welcome back to Auckland. 

The planning for next year has begun.


  1. Atmospheric and wonderful pictures, so cold and so nice!

    1. Thank you Phil. It was a fun game. I have business in Toulouse in a few weeks time so I will be quite nearby to you...that is near relative to where I am now!

  2. Great game, Mark. That horde of swarming Russians must have been nightmare inducing for the Emperor!

    1. Thanks Nathan. Yes it was fun and the Emperor nearly bought it...two more hits and he would have been a gonner.

  3. What a fun way to cap off your beautiful gaming retreat! Until next year!

    1. Indeed it was Jonathan. This sort of game brings our the best of our hobby - the right amount of tension, humour and competitiveness. Plans for next year are under way.

  4. Lovely looking game and sounds like great fun!
    Best Iain

    1. It was huge fun. A two hour game that involved six players plus me as umpire and no one could lose...what could be better!

  5. What a great way to end the week. Nothing better than seeing a few sleds on the rampage and a surprise appearance by the Emperor, and an inspired idea to use Pony Express as the basis for the rules.

    1. Yes it was a quick game for the Sunday morning - all done and dusted in two hours.

      The Pony Wars concept has applications in many conflicts. We did it successfully for the NZ Wars at a number of conventions in the 80's and 90's. I think it would work well for many colonial conflicts. It is a lot of work for the game organiser initially to work out the programmed responses, but it is such fun - everyone can play and no one loses.

  6. Another great looking game...
    I love the simple bleak look of the terrain...
    My friends Bernhard and Stefan put on a retreat game at Hamburg a couple of years ago... I actually felt a bit cold playing it....

    What a great weeks gaming...
    I’m not jealous... no... not one bit.... honest... ;-)

    All the best. Aly

    1. Yes the game was huge fun. I had plans to make the terrain a little more wooded by using those cheap winter trees that can be bought from China on eBay, but with the work schedule and our holiday to Vietnam, I just ran out of time.

      I must admit that when painted these figures, which was in the middle of our summer, the sculpts captured the winter wind in their cloaks so well that I really did feel the chill!

      It was a great week's gaming, but back to reality with a thump on Monday morning.

  7. This was a great game to play in Mark - as you said, all the players on the same side fighting "the system" is a great way to end the week, and the mechanics DO work well for many periods - we used it once for French and Indian Wars, with pesky Injun popping up to ambush the British column every few steps! I hope I can match this with my contribution next year.......

    1. As we discussed, it would be great for all of those games along the Afghan frontier.