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

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Same Thing but Different

There I was, looking at the table and thinking, really I ought to play another test game, and it occurred to me that there was a similar incident at the very same location some 10 or 15 years earlier so away went the fieldgray and khaki and out came the red & blue. 
The Queen's Lancers sweep across the bridge routing some Frontier Rifles but are eventually thrown back by the Blue Dragoons after a hard fight.

That was last night. By the time I started to play this morning, I had had time to think a bit about things. There is a lot to be said  for the sequence of play used but also some weaknesses such as having to have some way to mark which units aren't eligible to shoot and the inability for friendly units to "shoot in" an assault. More important than these were the engrained habits of decades which lead me to want to shoot in "my turn" and which sometimes led me to forget to shoot with the other side. It didn't help that I picked up Little Wars as a bit of bedside reading and for the umpteenth time looked at Colonel Sykes' suggestions including the one about troops being able to fire or move, something that crops up often enough in old rules including some of my own and the first Featherstone rules I used. It is undeniable that troops did combine fire and movement over a period of time but usually ineffectively unless they stop to shoot then resume movement. If a turn represents 10 or 15 minutes this could be covered, as I have sometimes done in the past, by reducing both movement and fire effect but in a game of toy soldiers it still feels like firing on the move. Having to choose to do one or the other feels more like the real thing and leads timid players to halt and blaze away. I decided to go back to the active player shooting or moving on his turn and the other side only reacting with units that are being attacked at close quarters.

As both sides rushed troops on, the aging General Scott sent all of the line infantry over the secondary bridge in assault columns. They suffered heavily but pushed forward. Rifle and MG fire swept the Voltigeurs back, the Blue artillery was nearly wiped out by counter battery fire and the game looked just about won for Faraway. '
While I was settling that out I decided to reword the firing effects and to step up the lethality. The casualties in the last game were probably more appropriate but I decided higher risks would lead to a more exciting game and a quicker conclusion for the same size of game. I wasn't altogether happy with the way the automatic pinning for all units was working so I have decided to go back to allowing elite units to choose to take full casualties instead of being pinned. I'm also going to go back to having different numbers of hits per unit. 4 for elite, 3 for regulars, 2 for poor. This will reduce the instance of 1 man units launching desperate attacks.  Having decided that the player is, to some degree, every officer not just the General, I will also reinstate the give ground rule for cavalry and artillery that allows them to retreat under fire to reduce losses. This brings the rules back in line as a version of the Square Brigadier rather than something completely different. In any event, this game lasted less than 1/2 the time of its 3 predecessors and there were no tedious turns.

 The back of a postcard summary is below.
This time, Oberhilse had brought 17 units to attack Faraway's 12. I set the army morale at 6 for both sides with Farway losing 1 as long as  Oberhilse held the small bridge and 2 while they held the large one. With the morale standing at 4 for Faraway and 1 for Oberhilse I almost called the game but knowing that the changes included some volatility I pressed on. Two turns later with the score standing at 1 to 1 a desperate charge by the lancers on a machine gun ended the game. Just not the way they intended it to! 

The Back of a Postcard version of the Square Brigadier in the Age of Rifles.
as played on Jan 26 2015.

Sequence: Roll for initiative, A moves or fire or rallies units, Resolve Close Combat. Reverse and repeat.
Detached  If  Commander not within 6 of general or unit not within 3 of a Commander roll 1d6.
4,5,6 act as player desires
2,3 units may change facing and formation and shoot but may not move
1 units retreat a full move.
+1 if Elite, -1 if Poor, +1 for Commander (optional rate commander from -1 to +2)

Stacking and formations. No more than 2 units per area at any time. Front unit shoots/fights, rear unit supports. Speed is based on formation at start of turn. Deployed is unit ready to fight not road column. Infantry is extended if there is 1 deployed unit.

Move Infantry 1 if deployed, 2 in column, Cavalry 3 mounted, Artillery 2 or 3 limbered.
x2 column on road, x 1/2 if slowed by broken terrain, infantry & pack only 1/2 speed difficult terrain

Rally. Unit needing to rally may not move except to retreat and fights with 1/2 dice. If it does not move and is not adjacent to enemy it may rally. It may shoot and rally but does so with 1/2 dice.  

Shoot. Shoot if deployed. No move and shoot but may deploy/dismount and shoot. Roll 1d/2 rifles or 1 crewman  5,6 hits +1 if superior, -1 if inferior
1/2 dice over 1/2 range
1/2 dice if needing to rally
Suffer 1/2 casualties if in hard cover
Extended infantry suffer 1/2 casualties but go to ground and must rally, Elites may choose to take the casualties instead.
Cavalry and artillery may suffer 1/2 casualties if they immediately retreat a full move needing to rally.

Rifles 4, MG 4,  Lt Gun 8, Field gun 10, Heavy 12.
Indirect arty fire. May fire at unseen enemy if howitzer or if over 1/2 range but -1 to dice.

Close Combat. 1d/figure 5,6 hits  +1 shock troops charging -1 poor troops
Count all of first unit and 1/2 of supports.
Units needing to rally roll 1/2 dice
If attacked from front attacker rolls first unless countercharging, remove hits.
All other adjacent units then roll.
A unit with its supports that takes more hits in melee that it inflicted must retreat and must rally. Attacker must occupy the position if defender retreats. Cavalry which charged and destroyed enemy or forced it to retreat may attack again once. After all combat any mounted cavalry that charged must retreat and rally.

Commander May boost unit. If shot at or in melee. Roll 1 die. 4,5,6 1 hit cancelled 1=commander killed or wounded and removed.

Morale. Hits = loss of cohesion, fear, fatigue, ammo shortages etc as well as killed, wounded and missing. For 1/2 casualties either round down for a longer game, carry remainders for a shorter game or else dice for them (4,5,6 its a hit, 1,2,3 its a miss) . Units  are shaken when they take 3 hits, 4 if elite, 2 if poor. Retreat 1 full move may not shoot or fight in melee and will surrender if attacked but may be merged with another unit of the same regiment. Transfer strength points and lose 1 of the units.

Army Morale. Unless other victory conditions, Morale = 1/3 number of units. Lose 1 for each unit or commander lost. Others by scenario. When at 0, concede game.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

No, no, yes! Found It!

Yesterday morning the weather dawned sunny and warmish but by late afternoon snow and then rain was falling and I managed to retire upstairs and start the game. Once again the game could easily have been set in France 1914 if it wasn't for the shop signs. However, we'll call it Atlantica. At the end of November, Oberhilse forces blew a bridge over a major river dividing the forces. Once they were ready to launch a counter attack, they needed a way to cross back over so they stealthily launched a column to seize an unguarded crossing. Word got out as it usually does and an allied force rushed to intercept. The battle began as opposing forces entered the table from opposite corners. The Blue (Oberhilse) army, with a very small superiority in numbers and in weight of artillery, had to capture the main bridge to win, any bridge to draw.
General Henrison was once a general in the service of Oberhilse but he was forced to retire when it was decided that he was too chunky for modern fashion. A native of Hougal, he has answered the call to come out of retirement and take command of the rebel army or the Redcaps as the papers call them. He wears his old uniform but with a shiny, new, red kepi to show his allegiance. 
 The lead troops came on  to the table as "detached" or "out of command" troops and having to roll each turn to move. The result was that Red (Hougal & Faraway) threw infantry over the main bridge backed by an MG while the new Light Horse seized the Stone House crossroads blocking the path of any Blue forces crossing the farther, minor, bridge which was passable by infantry and cavalry only. The Blue advance guard came 1/2 way on then dithered for a short while before deciding to focus on an attack on the big bridge.
A brave dash by the Hussars might have restored the already flagging fortunes of the day but the wounded horses and men mark where they were caught in a crossfire by riflemen and machine gunners.
The first clash took place on the 3rd turn as some Oberhilse Hussars charged a thin line of riflemen. That was the end of the proposed rules. I mean they worked OK and got the right result but I hated the mechanisms, just not me and not what I was aiming for. The words of Peter Young came back to mind yet again: "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!" .

That says it all really as far as the questions I was pondering last week, Fortunately I had been rereading the posts from last fall more carefully and had been able to remember where the rules had been headed and why I had decided to stop experimenting and start writing the full set, and I can now see how that effort went off the rails so quickly. Despite the grid, this isn't really a variant of the Square Brigadier.  Five minutes later I had a new draft which I'll summarize at the end of this post. The full rules will take longer but there won't be a two month's  hiatus this time (hopefully) or if there is, at least I'll have notes! 

At the height of the battle. Both sides have their full strength on board. Red's bridgehead has been wiped out but the cost to Blue was excessive. The green chits indicate each Blue hit, red chits mark Red's hits.
Like the two games in November, the game just flowed. I lost track of how many turns were played or how long it took because I was too busy playing as the turns clocked over one after the other.

The game can be followed reasonably well through the pictures. I had more but they were even blurrier than these. Apparently the tripod does help. Basically Blue decided to focus on the big bridge at the far end of the table and virtually ignore the secondary one. Red decided to hold both but to cross over the big one to give his troops space to fallback without losing the bridge to a lucky rush. There were flaws in Blue's attack but the dice were also in Red's favour at crisis points.

Blue decided to attack by the book with extended lines of riflemen to reduce casualties. It was working ok apart from the MG on his flank but with lines of extended troops, its hard for either side to gain local superiority and exercise any leverage. A slow battle of attrition results, usually to the defender's advantage. Blue did try a couple of rushes but could not roll a hit in melee regardless of odds.

At this point, the game began to drag a little with a slow fire fight unlikely to force a result any time soon. Since I had somehow changed victory conditions from an original intent for both sides to be trying to capture a bridgehead to Red only needing to hold, this meant a Red victory when time ran out or I got tired of rolling.  Rather than call the game or try to figure out how many turns I'd played and what the limit should be, I changed tactics for Blue. Bringing up what fresh and consolidated units I could muster, I started trying to rush the bridge with small assault columns. The result was predictable but not inevitable. They were forced by circumstances to go in piecemeal and were shot to pieces. Might have worked early on when they had an advantage in numbers if they had risked massing the units but it was too little, too late. At any rate, it soon ended the game!
Game's End. Blue hits its break point. 32 figures lost out of 64 while Red stands at 20 lost out of 56. I usually go by units but I hate stopping to recount losses near the end. This way, if I issue each side with markers equal to their breakpoint, when the bin is empty, the game will be over. I suppose lost unit markers ala Battlecry would do the same thing. Something to think about.
The Back of a Postcard version of the Tin Army rules (aka Tin Brigadier)

as played on Jan 24 2015.

Sequence: Roll for initiative, A moves/rallies, B fires, Melee, Reverse and repeat.
Detached: Commander not within 6 of General or Unit not within 3 of Commander
4,5,6 to move (affects all units if a commander) +1 if a commander, or independent, -1 if poor.
Move Infantry 2 or 1 and fire, Cavalry 3 mounted or 1 dismounted and fire, Artillery 2 or 3 limbered. 
x2 on road, x 1/2 if slowed by broken terrain, infantry only 1/2 speed difficult terrain
Shoot. 5,6 hits +1 if superior, -1 if inferior
1d/2 inf or 1 crew. x 1/2 if indirect arty. x 1/2 vs cover or difficult tgt
1/2 d if disordered.
Extended inf, deployed arty, cavalry are difficult target but are disordered if hit in the open.
Rifles 3, MG 4 Lt Gun 6, Field gun 8, Heavy 10. Indirect arty range x2
Melee. Defender rolls for shooting if eligible and removes hits then all others on both sides roll. Any unit in melee that takes more from shooting+melee retreats disordered.
1 d/figure 5,6 hits +1 if superior/shock -1 if inferior
1/2 dice vs obstacle, 1/2 dice if disordered
Commander with unit may try to inspire troops if shot at or in melee 5,6=cancel 1 hit, 1=killed.
(hits are morale, fatigue and cohesion as well as some casualties)
Modifiers are cumulative. (1/2 for range and 1/2 for cover = 1/4. Round up remainders of 1/2.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Straining the Bath Water

While pondering the inter-relationship of rules for sequence of play, command control and combat, and of the frequent contrast between what feels right when pushing toy soldiers around vs what is intellectually right in terms of simulation, it suddenly occurred to me that the current draft lacked some rules ideas that I thought I had adopted. Had they been carelessly  thrown out when discarding other changes?

A look back through old drafts failed to turn up any version including the remembered changes. Was I mistaken?   I started rereading past posts and found them in November, just before the flu, Christmas and an outbreak of ACW distracted me.  I also found a note saying that there would be no more mini-drafts because I was about to start on the full version (probably 7-9 pages like Hearts of Tin was in its heyday) Obviously this didn't get done. I am forced to rely on a few hints in 2 game reports and on the Greycell Archives. A surprisingly random source of bits of information, mostly of no real importance even when correct but occasionally including important bits of trivia.  All is not lost.

One of the things that I've been thinking about this week as I contemplated the more Borg like versions of Square Brigadier from 2013/14 is the way in which the cards in the Memoir/Battlecry rules limit how much shooting is resolved per turn.  This allows for the combat effects actually rolled to often be fairly decisive  in a way that would spoil the game if everyone could shoot every turn with the same chart.  So, the over all effect is fine if one  assumes the guys sitting a hex away from each other without rolling any dice are shooting away without affect. It looks and feels odd but has about the right effect. On the other hand, allowing every one to shoot whenever they have a target etc  etc  means that all that extra rolling and chart checking has to be restricted so as to come up with about the same effect.

Along the same lines, all those units that don't move in Memoir might be waiting for orders or maybe they've been pinned by the fire of that enemy unit that didn't roll any dice. Again, the result is OK but when I'm playing with toy soldiers, I like to feel like I know why they are or aren't doing something even when its really just a dieroll, a chart and my imagination. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy playing  Memoir etc (Actually played again on Wednesday and won for once, 1 out of 2 CharB's traded for 4 38t's, Yes!  )  but I don't have to explain the author's choices, just play them.  I'm also all too conscious that trying to include all the why's and wherefore's all too easily leads to a Middle School approach with pages of charts and modifiers and one hour turns with a headache by lunch.

Anyway, the point is that choices in one aspect of the rules such as command control or play sequence often restrict choices in other areas such as combat results. Its a matter of finding the right feel for the game in hand. The immediate plan is to finish clearing the debris off my table tonight and setting up a game to be played on Saturday if the rain comes early or Sunday if it doesn't. I probably won't have a proper draft done by  then but here is a quick summary based on a cross of what I remember crossed with my decision to re-introduce a form of non-player choice retreats:
Tentative summary
-Roll for initiative. A moves and rallies, B shoots, resolve melee. Repeat, reversing roles.
- Detached commanders and detached units roll: 4,5,6 move as player wishes, +1 Elite/Vet etc or a Commander -1 Poor
-Move. Inf 1 if extended, 2 in column, cavalry 3   etc
- Shooting. Units that moved or are in column may not shoot. (I'll mark this by how I arrange the figures ) 2 dice per unit +1 if adjacent  -1 if disordered 5,6 hits, 1st hit from each unit firing is ignored if in cover or if extended infantry
up to 2 units of infantry in 1 area can shoot but they are a dense target enemy dice x 2.
Melee, Units that are adjacent and did not shoot this player turn now roll 3 dice +1d if shock unit charging, -1d if disordered or flanked, road column etc.  Cover absorbs 1 hit per unit attacking. Charging unit may take ground if enemy retreats or is destroyed.
Morale Any units that take hits must check morale after all shooting and after melee. 5,6 OK, 3,4 Pinned/Silenced/Disordered, 1,2 Retreat in disorder. 0 Rout.
+1 Elite, -1 Poor.   -1 more hits taken than given in melee. Commander may join and reroll die but is lost on a 1.
Disorder lose 1 die in shooting/combat. No move except to retreat. May rally if not adjacent.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Who Ordered That?

In the classic horse & musket era, it was sufficiently rare for a unit to be forced to retreat by long range or skirmisher fire  that one can safely ignore the possibility in a simple game. The same is not true in the age of magazine rifles.  Units advancing in the open were often forced to halt and take cover while even units in cover were sometimes forced to retreat to avoid being destroyed by heavy fire. Units sometimes withdrew under light or ineffective fire but normally only if scouting or delaying and there was no benefit to be gained by staying. These are retreats under orders rather than panicked routs. The trick in wargame terms is to determine who should be deciding if a unit retreats. Should it be the player, acting as unit commander as well as "army" commander? Or, should it be the game presenting the player with a fait accompli ordered by a subordinate?

Over the last few years, various versions of the Square Brigadier have vacillated  between  using the equivalent of a "flag" result from the Battlecry series of games (fait accompli) and allowing the player to reduces losses by retreating units (player decision).  Both approaches are valid and as far as I can tell after trying both, they each have something in their favour in terms of game play. Its that dreaded thing, a matter of "paying your money and taking your choice". After a couple of months of player's choice, I am starting to lean back towards letting the dice decide, one more thing for the player to overcome, especially in a solo game.

Unfortunately the change has other ramifications for the way modifiers are handled so I'm going to have to revisit some of the old versions that worked. If they don't appeal I may look for a third solution such as a simple one of those dreaded "morale" or "reaction" tests. I'll then modify the draft to include both options and hopefully put a game on table come Friday as Red Army races Blue Army for control of a key river crossing.