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

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Morale Tests: Doing some Homework

It was no accident that I decided to break out the vintage Morschauser as one of the sets of rules to use for  the latest game. It was my 2003 modification of his rules called Morschauser Meets MacDuff that is the origin of the Hearts of Tin rules that are now my main stay. By 2005, I had boiled the rules down to 1 page  (largely by dropping explanations and grammar admittedly) and I have a sneaking suspicion that this was a better set from a gaming POV than the 16 page rules that  I am now using (ok so much of that is explanations but still..). This latter now including a rally test to determine if and how long defeated troops take to be ready to fight effectively again and which may be all together too generous.

So, I wanted to re-experience the original in search of clues to the Holy Grail. I was thinking mainly about rule mechanics but the thinking sessions that followed on some of the comments have taken me off on a surprise revisit to history as well as mechanisms.

Lets look briefly at the assault on the hill during the Morschauser game but lets not look so much at individual stands but look at the attack as a whole. As a refresher, once a stand moves into melee range, it must fight and either win or be destroyed. If it wins and there is another stand within range, it may choose to fight again or to wait forcing the enemy to fight in his turn. By the attacker's next turn, he will usually have some stands surviving and have holes in his line where stands have been destroyed. There may even be some stands in a position where they must resolve melee before moving. If he has a 2nd supporting line, he must decide whether or not to commit them and indeed whether or not to recall the original attackers. Now, I am assuming that lost stands are not all dead and wounded and indeed I assume that loses must to some degree, in theory,  be averaged across a number of stands, so that  the regiment that originally had a strength of 5 units now only has an effective strength of 3 regardless of who died and who ran away or is cowering in a corner.

An alternative system  might treat the regiment as a whole and mark casualties or record DP's or cohesion points etc or maybe remove stands or figures but force what remains of the unit to retreat if it got the worst of the fight. If it retreats, it may or may not be able to stop, perhaps remove some markers and become more effective than it was at the point at which  it retreated. (My early Morschauser variants allowed stands with rosters to attempt to remove hits.)

The questions that I am now pondering are:    

A) When an assault takes place and fails, how does that happen?  Who calls it off? Surely the general back at Headquarters who ordered the assault is too far away to be able to assess the attack in real time through the smoke and confusion and communications too primitive to communicate an order to fall back? Is it the local commander? is he able to perhaps order a  retreat because he feels that his units will be destroyed if he doesn't? Is it only uncommited units under his command taht he can call off and the rest are on their own? Is it only when discipline breaks and the men run away that the attack ends?

B) If and when the men run away, is it really possible to rally them and return to the fight, al lof them? or is there usually a permanent reduction in fighting power?

Obviously there is not 1 all encompassing answer that applies in all situations and the same sorts of questions apply to the defense and so forth. The implications of the answer are twofold, if the men who run away and are rallied are more or less incapable of further action, what are the plusses and minuses to removing the stands as opposed to leaving them on table and making them a liability? ( the ability to concentrate survivors is a minus since a number of unwilling to fight but still in the battle line troops take up the same space as the same number of ready to fight men) Also, should the combat resolution remove all decision power from the player once the troops are committed to the attack? What about supporting units?

Now, "conventional wargaming wisdom" (CWW for short) normally has some form of test that dictates whether a unit which has been defeated can continue the fight or nor, for example in Charge! if a unit is below 1/2 strength then it will retreat but if not it will rally for a set number of turns and be good to continue, in other cases it can be a die roll and so forth.

I figured it would be easy to come up with examples but its proving harder than I thought, partly because of the level of many battle accounts and partly because I probably wasn't asking those questions when I read them them before.

To take a well known small battle, Bunker Hill, which I have read accounts of, but not studied on a detailed unit by unit basis, the British assaulted the American defenses three times (if memory serves). The question is did the 1st assault fail because the officers lost control of the men and these panicked and ran? or did some assess that the assault could not win because the ranks were too disordered and casualties too heavy and call the men back before they broke? How many men who were in the front line of the attack participate in the 2nd or 3rd attack as opposed to men who had been supporting?

The level of the game also affects the answer. Take Ruffin's and Leval's Divisions at Talavera, each was involved in more than 1 combat even disregarding the previous evening's affair.  If the "units" are divisions, then they must be able to sustain multiple combats but be weaker, possibly by removing sub-units. If the units are battalions, should they be individually weaker or does it work as well if you just remove some so that the division is weaker by having fewer effective components as opposed to the same number of  less effective ones?

Translated into wargaming terms if I remove some stands and retreat others, is that sufficient? Do I have reasons to regroup before attacking again? Is there a reason to keep stands on and mark them in hopes of recovering some of the strength later or is regrouping stands sufficient?

So, I find myself with a homework assignment: go  dig out as many detailed accounts as I can and review various attacks looking to answer just these questions without getting sidetracked by all the other stuff.

Suggestions are welcome as to battles to check out for examples of troops participating in multiple attacks or who are driven out of a position and counter attack.



  1. Ross Mac,

    I look forward to reading your thoughts on this. My own choice is not to have morale or reaction tests ... but I am willing to be persuaded by a well presented argument.

    All the best,


  2. Don't hold your breath Bob, I don't want to prejudge the results but so far I am getting a clearer understanding of why my earlier, more deadly but morale-less, rules felt better. Would be different if doing a low level game where each turn is only a minute or 2 but even for small actions I prefer a higher level.


  3. Ross,

    My immediate reaction would be to consider lowering the morale number BEFORE any rallying and then removing losses. I would also question whether the rallied unit would make any further offensive moves.

    -- Jeff

  4. Jeff, that last bit is just what I've been looking for evidence of. Still looking!