EXCERPT 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, October 11, 2010

Old Dog, Mixed Tricks

I am still stalled on getting a play test in and since duty and affection combined call me away this week to visit family, next Sunday is the earliest possible date. However, there has been ample time for pondering, some time for limited partial testing on a corner of my table and there was a whole glorious day of gaming off site last week. 10 mm Pendraken figures, 1.5 games of Black Powder followed by a game of Charge!

Above is the final game about 1/2 way through.  More pictures may be seen here: http://tiny.cc/llnqe

As you may guess from the 1.5 Black Powder games, we were not entirely satisfied with how the rules were playing out for us. Possibly we didn't have enough brigades on the table (roughly 3 a side)  or maybe just a lot of off-average die rolls but frustration over the command rolls mounted as the day went on. It seems to me that the odds in very rough terms were something like 25% no move, 25% 3 moves and the rest in between or blunder but the actual result felt more like 50% no move, 30% triple move  and 20 % 1 or 2 or blunder. The highly random combat results didn't seem to make up for this and the whole thing felt fairly jerky with the player's decisions being the least important factor in how the games played out.

Can't say the same for the Charge! game however, most of the combat was roughly average even though I lost one straight up cavalry melee badly, and there was no question that command decisions were paramount in determining the end result. I was out thought and slow to react and was soundly trounced as a result. A most enjoyable game and of course I found myself wondering again why I don't just play them and the heck with writing my own.

Its tempting to say I write rules out of habit but there are some things I'd like to include that Charge! lacks such as a role for Brigadiers and I do find it lacks a bit as a solo game so there would be tinkering and one might as well steal from multiple sources as tinker with one. It did cause me to ponder again the questions of command and control and intuitiveness (Charge! feeling very natural with decisions based on what you want your troops do and an assessment of their capabilities rather than an assessment of the odds of various dice rolls.  (see previous posts under tag rules.)

Recently I had re-introduced a card deck to control sequencing  but the more I thought about what it represented and what effect it had on player's thinking, the less I liked it, so, I ripped it back out and returned to an initiative followed by igo ugo with a chance each turn of the order being reversed allowing for a double move, an idea I first encountered in Featherstone's Battles with Model Soldiers. Now for the last umpteen years I have been integrating fire and movement into 1 phase with concurrent difficulties over things such as the attcker always or never firing first etc. Earlier this year I experimented with an old fashioned, both sides move then both sides fire sequencing and to my dismay, it produced a better feel with less effort despite being traditional, predictable etc so after playing some more with multiple reaction rules etc, I have given up and gone back to the traditional way.

Command control was the other issue. I spent some time pondering the actual process of sending off orders, receiving reports etc (as well as reading the link to that Historicon panel which Tony left in a comment last week)  and comparing it to Charge, Black Powder, the Wargame and my various rules and various historical battles. I decided that I didn't mind a control check as long as units under the general's direct control obeyed orders when given. (examples of direct disobedience being too rare to include as a regular thing)  However, I was pondering again on the old idea of written orders that are followed turn by turn (See Grant's rules etc) and it seemed to me that this mirroring  of the actual process is probably still the best way. the major difficulty that it entails is trusting your opponent to make his troops follow the orders he has given them and not to cheat while still allowing some leeway for a Brigadier to react to local circumstances. Some rules, like Shako, get around this by specifying what orders can be given,what they mean and how they may be deviated from but in the end, the best solution to this issue is to play with people you trust and who have the right sort of spirit to roleplay a bit. So I have gone back to this old system.

What about "Friction" ?  I still have it in 2 main ways. I use a variable move length determined by rolling dice each turn. A low roll indicating possibly a command control issue, a minor terrain feature or any of a number of other things below the general's radar. The brigadier has a role to play by urging on units or by allowing several units to form up and move together as well as a role in combat and in morale.

The other source of friction is the dice based combat system with few modifiers which usually provides the expected result but is capable of extremes which can represent the unforeseen happening, So, if cavalry beats the odds and breaks a square, perhaps the infantry held fire too long as at Garcia Hernendez or perhaps that hasty square wasn't quite formed in time, if the artillery misses, maybe they haven't actually opened fire yet, and so on.

(Oh yes, I also spent a LOT of time over the last 2 days, going back over Von Reisswitz's Kriegsspiel, interesting that Charge! seems to reflect it well, little things like 1/2 casualties for troops in cover as well as other effects and yes its had its influence, must add him to my list of inspirations)

To bring this to an end, a new (not fully tested) version of Hearts of Tin is now ready. (OCT 17 version). I haven't switched over from google docs yet so if you can't download from the link, email me and I'll  send you a copy.


  1. Hi Ross,
    I haven't looked over your latest changes yet, but I was wondering how you planned to handle written orders during solo games?

    You know, you're making it very difficult to steal your rules when you keep changing them all the time! ;oP```


  2. Yeah, I'm thinking about burning all wargaming books and disconnecting from the web so I won't get any more ideas.

    I already make a battle plan when playing solo so no real change other than having a framework for changing it. We aren't talking turn by turn written orders here btw. Previous control checks were almost redundant with variable moves bit after 25 years I've had a hard time letting go of them.(despite finding them frustrating at times)

    For. Solo games I usually play 1 side straight up and use a combination of role playing and dived for decisions for the other side. Eg if I am unsure of the best option I might decide that there is 1/3 chance of attacking in this situation so roll 1,2 the brigade attacks, 3-6 they hold. Etc.

  3. Hi Ross,
    Can't view HofT on Google Docs, but it downloads fine.


  4. Well, my own solo game is going swimmingly. Two turns of movement for the whole vast host, and even rolling 4 for a 3d6 move has not left me as frustrated as having the whole advance guard vacate the battlefield on turn 1.

    With over 40 3-stand units on the table, maneuver at least is fast and satisfying.

  5. Oh, and those are my lads in the pictures.

  6. Hi Ross,
    I looked over latest HofT, they look pretty good. Then I re-read A Gathering of Hosts, and I was wondering... if your HofT playtests go well, will you revise AGoH along the same lines?

    Just curious.

  7. John, I'm not sure. There were major command control changes but t is close to how ancients were done when I started. I can say Rough Wooing won't be changing anytime soon.