EXERT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Friday, August 22, 2014

Partway through the list.

I had time yesterday morning to think about that list and started to get some interesting ideas. Then I spent a tense 4 hours as a Roman defending a hill line against a horde of hairy Gauls,  (something for my Gathering of Hosts blog). By the time they retired discouraged, I could barely remember my thoughts of the morning!

The main thing which I have been trying to come to terms with, which is different from earlier and later wars, is the historical attempt to deal with magazine rifle and machine gun fire by attacking with infantry extended in long thin lines with wide spacing by advancing in groups alternately making  short leapfrog rushes or providing covering fire. Under heavy fire such lines could stall but with both sides taking cover, a desultory firefight could go on for hours. If a unit did manage to get close enough, a final rush could carry the position ........ or get shot to pieces.

In theory the old wrg system of rolling to hit then rolling again to convert a pin to a kill  should work but its a lot of rolling and when no one is moving the odds should be tediously low. I did consider having all units in the field of fire of an enemy to always be pinned and just roll to see if it managed to work forward and if it lost any figures but it just didn't feel right, especially with glossy toys.

Turning back to my existing mechanisms I decided to tweak something I experimented with a few weeks ago by treating a fire swept area as a sort of terrain effect. I looked at forms of reaction fire but the existing igo system with fire or move will work well enough.b

The idea is that an extended unit may only move 1/2  if it is in the line of fire and range of a deployed enemy unit.  If a unit moves and then takes hits it must roll higher than the number of hits  (+1 for elite etc) otherwise it falls back to where it was and may not try again  next turn.

Troops in column seemed to have been harder to stop but took horrendous casualties so they will suffer heavier, pissibly double casualties but do not have to test due to fire.

Stationary troops will not need to test  either. The only way to get them out will be to shoot them all or assault them. (Assuming as usual that wargame hits are not all dead and wounded.)

Hopefully a new test game will happen on Friday.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

We now return you to regular programming

I had hoped to play a test game today or at least make a decision on some things that I have been pondering but its been one of those sorts of days and tomorrow I am off to try C&C Ancients with 25mm figures.

So I'll just briefly mention a few of the uncertainties hanging over my table.

To grid or not grid. Part of me is attached to the idea of the glossies being used in a traditional ungridded environment but I'm still intrigued by the abstraction of the squares, the "game" feel and the impact that has on rules and a lingering fascination with terrain modules not indulged in since the early 80's. This is a pure matter of choice of flavour between equal but different options.

Retreats. The subject of when and why troops retreat has been of interest to me for a while (see question post and followup Post from Jan 2011). The crux for this venture is the question of when it should be the player's choice that troops retreat, when and how should the game decide it and when should it be shown by the destruction of units? I'm pretty much decided that I want the game to decide that one side has lost a close combat/melee and force a retreat and that I want units incapable of fighting to be removed rather than tracking them across the table but that leaves the question of Battlecry style retreats from flags and various versions of Giving Ground rule in Square Brigadier.

Scale and Size. One of the attractions of the grid is that I find it easier to abstract scale. My problem is that the more natural the game looks, the greater I want to make the ranges pushing artillery and reserves off table and also the larger I want the units to be. The question returns, is it better to have fewer large units or more small units and what is the optimum number.  I have been happy enough with Grant's teasers over the years to stick with 6 to 16, say a dozen on average.

Orders.  Closely allied to scale and style of game is whether all shooting should be played out or whether it should be assumed that troops with an enemy in view are firing without dramatic effect and ordered fire is somehow more significant, a concentration or increased voulume perhaps. This is tied to the delicate balance of being able to move/act with enough units without moving too many all the time, primarily from a gaming POV.  The question about why real armies don't often have everyone moving at the same time is different bought related. Bringing back the distance penalty and either group moves or dice for subordinates are both possibilities.

Originality. I really wish this was not on the table at all but when I found myself  contemplating something that looked alot like Memoir combat with DBA activation I felt somehow lazy and diminished yet an original bad idea is not superior to a good existing one and its getting dashed hard to find something that someone, somewhere hasn't already tried.

More on Thursday.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Little Cold War c 1965

Thank you to everyone who left a comment on my last post. I apologize for not responding to each as usual and as they deserve but your words and shared experiences are all appreciated.

Not a great photo of an old photo but this is what my little cold war looked like going hot in the cold concrete bunker sometimes known as The Basement somewhere in the early 1960s. An attack on a missile base iir

Found this in one of the old photo albums and couldn't resist sharing here. Ground cloth, rivers, roads, fortifications, 2 sides and a scenario. I guess that makes it 50 years of wargaming?

Normal blog entries should resume in a few days.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Of Beginnings and Endings

I have several times credited my grandfather for fostering my love of toy soldiers and history but since he died when I was quite young, much of the credit must go to his daughter, my mother. There may be a genetic element but since my brother got the musical side of him and little interest in toy soldiers there must be more. Definitely Mom went out of her way to get me the best toy soldiers she could on the clerk's salary that Dad brought home.

Some of what remains.
I still remember her dismay when she bought me my first castle st Christmas, a Marx Robin Hood play set, and discovered that the figures were unpainted and the walls were low with printed crenelations and no towers that figures could stand on. I still had fun with it and some of the figures, now painted took part in a game at Historicon a few years ago, but it was  nowhere near my brother's Crescent knights and his tall plastic castle with a drawbridge that worked (yes I still have his castle but I'm saving it for my grand nephew in hopes of diverting his attention from trucks!).

The following Christmas came the MiniMarx Knights and Vikings play set and while it was small (30mm) it was everything a boy could want, beautiful painted figures, working catapults, tall towers and years (ok decades) of fun.
An ad for the same.

And the point of all this? Well Mom was a wonderful person in many ways, fondly remembered by many for many reasons, and I am grateful for much, much, more than the books and toys and for the encouragement to do what I wanted and be what I wanted or change and adapt as I grew, decade after decade.

But this hobby has shaped my life and friendships and it stems from those early gifts of toys and children's history books and when we lay her to her final rest on Saturday, I will remember and honour and love her for that as well as the rest.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Defence of Pine Ridge: After thoughts and do over.

Yesterday I managed to play out an early 20th Century game using the proposed new rules. (You can date the game by the presence of guns with recoil mechanisms and shields crossed with the mix of drab and colourful uniforms. )  In order to field sufficient troops I had to resort to both the Atlantica and WWI collections. The mixture of Oberhilse Zouaves in red pants and Faraway Redcoats needs a bit of explaining but I'm still working on that. The Zouaves never did feel at home in the Oberhilse army,  doubtless they were raised amongst one of the ethnic minorities that have now declared independence from Oberhilse and are being supported by Faraway. Hence the war.  

Valleyfield Farm has fallen but the attack is losing steam. The Zouaves are going to need a new flag!
As all too often with my initial drafts, there were choices made that I was very unsure about. The prime debate centered on whether to follow Morchauser (and more recently Borg)  and have the figures on table represent the ability of the unit to fight thus meaning it would fight to the last since figures marked or removed as "hit" may be assumed to include dead, wounded, stragglers and all those still present but not functioning and thus able to be ignored. This was the way I had meant to go but the alternate, perhaps more common, convention that survivors should be seen to retreat from the fight and recent time spent rereading Charge! led to a moment of weakness in which I introduced a last minute 50% rule by unit as well as by "army". (Army as in one side of a wargame regardless of size.)

The basic unit of the game is a "company" of 8 infantry or 4 cavalry or 1 gun and crew, could easily be a bit bigger or smaller. Again being fresh from reviewing Charge! I began to group these into "regiments" of 3 companies although there were was such diversity that I only managed to group 3 companies on 1 side and 2 on the other (Blue Guards and Zouaves, other units being independent. The intention was to group them for order purposes only but with the last minute 50% rules, I included the regiment or independent company as the basis. At the last minute I also threw in the Giving Ground rule from  the Square Brigadier.

None of these things survived intact past turn 4. The issues were two fold. 

From a purely gaming perspective they muddied the waters, suggested several very gamey tactics and prolonged the game without adding depth or excitement, indeed they robbed some of the tension and elation since when taken together, it became extremely difficult to eliminate the last figure in a unit which was not the intent since the end of the game was determined by losing over 50% of units. 

The other thing is that some aspects tended to contradict historical evidence in ways that could only have been overcome by added complexity whose sole benefit would have been the optics of seeing the shattered remnants of units retreating. In particular, in the age of extended formations and concealment there are numerous instances of small numbers of men holding on and continuing the fight when the bulk of their unit has fallen back or been destroyed. Leaving aside questions of relative courage between the ages of man, I suspect that in the confusion of modern war with no formed ranks, flags and colourful uniforms, its hard for both sides to tell what's happening away from their immediate surroundings. The Morschauser/Borg approach seems to cover this better than methods designed for 18thC linear warfare. 

There seemed two choices: add complexity or remove the late additions. I removed them and amended the rules shortly after posting them Friday. Hopefully not many people were reading my blog late on a Friday night, I apologise to any who were.

A wider view of the game near the end. The red dots mark the advance of the Blue Guards.

The scenario was Scenario 1, Hill line Defense from Grant's Programmed Scenarios. I played the defenders (Blue in the book) using the red forces while Red (in the book) was played by Oberhilse or Blue, as a programmed opponent. (clear?) Luckily for me, my programmed enemy made some bad choices with his die rolls, leaving his left wing inactive despite several chances to change his mind as a reaction to my moves. This did make it hard to knock him below 50% so was not completely a bad idea. The attacking army had 3 cavalry, 5 infantry, 1 MG and 2 batteries. The defender had 2 cavalry, 4 infantry, 2 MGs and 1 battery. Not an overwhelming advantage for the attacker and made worse since I let the defenders dig in, partly because it was customary, partly to test the rules. I am more than a little short on mg's and to improvise a third one had to borrow the one I did up for my armoured train and stick it in the back of a motor car to form a very improvised motor MG which actually came in very handy. Not that I was intentionally stacking the odds in my favour.

The Blue Guards made a magnificent attack on the left flank. The red dots marking where they fell can be seen in the photo above. An attempt by a squadron of cavalry to over run the Motor Machine Gun didn't go well for them and that flank died down.

In the centre, the attacking artillery quickly found the range and silenced my gun. At the last minute I managed to limber up and retreat off table from where I used indirect fire. An attack by the new units in their drab uniforms took the center farm to my surprise and, aided by artillery fire, repulsed an attack by the Zouaves. It threatened to turn into a bit of a stand off with the infantry on both sides hunkered down under cover but the attacker's mission was to capture the ridge so they made one last attempt and that ended it.

The game was somewhat interrupted by various enjoyable family happenings and I did spend an inordinate amount of time sipping tea or coffee while just looking at the game, smiling and fiddling about but at the same time I kept sneaking up and rolling dice and ended each turn keen on starting the next so I am unsure  of how long it took to play in either time or turns. But it was not a long game.

One rules thing I struggled with was choice of combat resolution mechanism. I have gotten used to keeping the number of dice the same and varying the scores to hit but early tests had more anomalies than  I was comfortable with so I went for 50% reductions for cover and doubling fire against columns in the open (the Zouaves aren't likely to try that again!) but unlike Charge! I halved the dice not the results so that I would not have to fiddle with carry overs. It felt weird and I kept forgetting and occasionally caught myself halving dice as well as adjusting the to hit score. By the end of the game, I had to admit that the effect had been about what I aimed for but the more I thought about it, the more it lacked a sense of danger since no handful of 6's were going to negate an advantage. Keeping the original goal in mind, I reset and played again using the other combat system and the same battle plans.

This time I kept track of turns and time.  I also re-rolled  the attacker's reaction to me leaving a hole in my line and this time he threw in the cavalry, too late to make a difference I'm afraid but it was a nip and tuck game anyway that almost shifted to an offensive win on the last turn when a turning movement by a squadron of Uhlans came within a die roll of over running the defending HQ. The 2nd game ran for 11 turns and took roughly an hour to play. The quick version of the rules has been updated with both combat systems  and the full rules, using only the fixed number of dice, varying scores system will be ready in a week or so.

The end of the 2nd game. After holding the flank dismounted ,the DGBG mounts and rounds up  the survivors of the  maruading Uhlans who so nearly over ran the HQ before the Naval Motor Service came to the rescue.
I thought I was doing well with my last efforts but this is what I have really been looking for since I started first to buy and paint Soldierpac recasts of old 54mm Toy Soldiers as the turn of the Century approached and then to paint glossy 40mm late 19thC toy soldiers. The system is simple and robust enough to be adjusted, at very least, to suit from 1880 to 1920 but apart from my small 1914 Homage, I shall use it for fictional games with a mix of drab and colour.

The major question that remains to be answered is: "How many troops can I justify? What's the minimum for a game? What's the maximum I can make use of in a single army? And How many armies can I justify?"
Oh boy!!!!!!!  Better print some recruiting posters.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Winds of War stir a new Draft (Amended)

The ideas pot has now been seriously stirred. Over the last few days I have seriously considered a late 19th/early 20thC version of Charge! as well as a set based on Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers, Dick Larsen's rules for that inspirational 40mm Anglo-Egyptian game and of course good old MacDuff.

Apart from aiming for fast, simple and decisive, I'm hoping that the effect will be to emphasize player choices with quick success or failure and the ability to possibly recoup from failure and try again. Since my table is relatively small, I am keeping movement and ranges short so that rifle fire does not sweep the table. Long range fire is assumed to be happening without decisive effect and thus without being resolved or noted. This should allow the use of on table reserves. A side effect is that once troops enter the danger zone they will cross it rapidly meaning fire must be fairly deadly.

Following on from previous discussions morale will largely be integral. For a long time I have considered wargame casualties to represent a loss of fighting capability rather than a direct representation of killed and wounded and I am going to stick with that. For now all troops will be considered equal and I'll leave the question of how to handle inferior and superior quality units until I see how things go. Basic units are companies of 8 infantry, squadrons of 4 cavalry and batteries of 1 gun plus crew. Several of these plus an HQ can be grouped into a battalion equivalent.

Test game Oberhilse vs Faraway and Rebels circa 1905

Here is the Quick Reference version:

The Tin Brigadier
(Using combat option B)

Sequence: igougo. Roll 1d6 for orders. An order is required to move, rally, entrench or to use indirect artillery fire. HQ can store up to 6 orders. Battalion may activate on 1 order if BHQ present and all doing same thing.

Movement. Infantry: move 12" or move 1/2 and shoot/melee. +6" in column on road.
Cavalry 18"  May mount/dismount at end of turn.
Artillery 12" ending limbered. Heavy artillery 6" ending limbered.
MG 12" or shoot.
Occupy village 1/2 move.
Terrain effects by scenario for now.

Shooting. Must have LOS except indirect arty fire.
Double dice vs column in open
1/2  dice vs entrenched or in cover. Round down but minimum of 1.
Killing zone: Reroll misses vs next unit in line of fire within 6"

Rifles 12". 5,6 hits  1 die per 2 extended or entrenched infantry or dismounted cavalry.
MG 18",  4,5,6 hits  3 dice per gun

Artillery.  Arty must roll die equal to or more than range in feet to hit then roll for effect. Light gun 2 dice, -1 to acquire. Medium Gun 3 dice, Heavy gun 4 dice +1 to acquire. If target is acquired fire may be repeated without rerolling if there is LOS and target does not move more than 6". Indirect fire requires an order each turn (abstraction of need to pass fire request etc). Howitzers may fire over terrain, other guns may not shoot over terrain within 6" or at target with 6" of dead ground or over high hills.

Charges. Defender may choose to shoot and remove enemy casualties before melee or may fight in melee.

In melee 1d/2 infantry, dismounted cavalry, artillery, 1d/1 mtd cavalry on initial turn only. 4,5,6 hits.

If one side takes more than it inflicted, it immediately retreats a double move in disorder.  If tied, melee continues on next player turn  with no defensive fire. Active player may choose to retreat in good order instead of fighting.

Morale. A company forced to retreat in disorder may not advance or shoot until rallied by throwing 5,6. This requires an order. Unless specified otherwise by the scenario a side losing more than 1/2 of its companies/batteries/squadrons must concede.

Entrenching. An infantry unit not within 24" of visible enemy may entrench. This requires an order to begin. Roll 1d6 per company needing to accumulate 10 pts to entrench. Add 1 d6 if sappers are attached. Entrenchment is lost if unit moves. Units without tools may not entrench.

I'm gonna need more men!
Combat Option B

Roll 1 d/2 inf, 2 per gun 3 per MG. 6 hits fortified, 5,6 vs cover inc arty with gunshield, 4,5,6 extended in open, 3-6 column in open. Indirect fire arty must roll 1 d6 =>range in feet. Etc  
Melee 1 d/2 inf/gunner, 1d/cavalry. 4,5,6 hits.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Wisdom of the Young

That's The Brigadier Peter Young.

At the end of last week's post on early 20thC rules , I dropped in  a last minute comment about OS rules and player morale vs unit morale. It wasn't a planned comment that I had thought on, it seemed to come straight from my subconscious to the keyboard. Once aired however, it got me thinking and it got/me digging through my library. Not through history books but through wargaming books and it got me thinking again about morale but more on that in a later post.

One of the early additions to my wargaming library was the Knight's Battles for Wargamers book on Bull Run. I don't have it anymore alas, loaned to a non-wargaming friend that had expressed an interest but who I lost touch with. I do however have the Alma one and it appears that they all have the same introduction by Brigadier Young. He wrote various interesting and useful things in the introduction but there were two that are particularly relevant. One was his comment that:

"elaborate Morale rules are a waste of time. Morale is in the mind of the wargamer himself, for ultimately a war game is a duel between the two opposing generals themselves. Do not let them hide their deficiencies behind the alleged failings of their metal or plastic followers!"

The other occurred while discussing the range of battles that the series aimed to cover. He mentioned that he would like to see it expanded to cover some modern battles but that "...... it is not a bad idea when refighting these modern actions to fight them with the troops and the rules of the Napoleonic Age......." . This is indeed what Lawford & Young did in their book Charge! where the classic Battle of Sinttingbad was apparently inspired by the Battle of Sitang Bridge in Burma. I'm not going to suddenly decide to fight WW1 with my War of 1812 figures but it has given me ideas about the various late 19thC toy soldiers that I have or that I want to paint but haven't been able to figure out what to do with once painted.

Scruby infantry extended in front, Zinnbrigade Prussians painted red in march column and a Zinnbrigade mounted officer with a Scruby head. Scruby British artillery in the background. 

 As my WWI German "army" grows, I've been thinking about the opposition. For various reasons, despite the existence of a purchase option, my conclusion is that I HAVE to sculpt and cast Highlanders and British line infantry. Its now been 2 years since my last successful sculpt and mold project and even then the mold was so so. There has been some sculpting of masters, some of which I was ok with but the last mould was a complete bust. I could really use a successful mold but if so, I need to justify the cost and effort by casting more than a dozen figures. That encourages planning for a bigger game.
Scruby Jaegers/Marines from their Boxer Rebellion range painted in WWI graygreen.

I know that the sculpting and casting is going to take me more than a weekend and I can't start the war proper until the figures are cast and then painted but if I pay some heed to the Brigadier's advice and field some colourful figures, in red or blue, to brighten the table, I now have enough troops for a small test  of an alternate OSW style game which is where this started with a test game in 2011 .