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

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"He jumped on his horse and rode madly off in all directions"

The title quote is from Stephen Leacock, the celebrated Canadian humorist. I never met him, after all, he died before I was born, but sometimes it feels like he knew me.

After more thinking, wild and sober alike, about a gridded horse and musket game, I realized that I had missed a crucial step. I was looking at "How should it work?", without looking at the 5 W's.

Why was I working on it? A mental exercise because I was intrigued? A replacement for or new version of  Hearts of Tin? or an adjunct, a card table game for when my table isnt available?

What sort of games did I plan to use them for? Skirmishes? Small battles? Tabletop Teasers?

Who did I expect to play it? Myself? friends that I play against here? multiple players at a convention? others elsewhere?

 Where did I plan to play it?  At home on my main table? in the garden? at friend;s houses? at a convention?

All of these things affect the design of the game but I can't quite answer them yet. In the meantime, I will press ahead using instinct as a guide and doing my best to use existing troop organization and basing and avoiding special equipment beyond a gridded cloth or table.

I have, however, made some progress and done some practical tests of various ideas.

First some more thoughts around what wasn't quite right with Crysler's Farm.  Scale was one issue. The original proposed rule amendments proposed a ground scale of 150 yds per square which led to 400 pr so ken per unit and no musket volleys. When I rechecked it today, it should have been 100 yds per square which means a 2 square musket range is quite acceptable, along with 300 men per unit.

 However, when I laid out the troops, I ignored the scale and fielded 11 units and a general against 8 and a general. Instead of 10 vs 5. The extra troops possibly improved the game given 1 hit kills a unit but it changed the dynamics since the British were not nearly as stretched as they should have been while the gap in the American center was not as wide as it should have been. I don't want to get too hung up on scale but if its hard to avoid giving it some consideration when recreating an historical action and its good to have a general feel for whether units are companies, battalions or brigades!

Having a musket fire option would also have helped the feel of the game and given the British a safer option than attacking or sitting and waiting. Mind you, if I'd used the proper ratios, the British might have lost 1/4 of their army to a stray shot. This is less of an issue if playing a skirmish but it is really going to be an issue if I use these rules for battles in India.Using multiple bases as a variation of Morschauser's roster system  helps get around this but I have another idea for when not using a roster. I'll explain it later.

The "rallying one man and a dog for a last attack" syndrome is also an issue for me, especially when recreating an historical action. There were heavy casualties but most of the units involved were still functioning at some level at the end of the battle. Even considering removed units to be "ineffective" rather than destroyed, it just doesn't feel right.  Increasing the number of units partially gets around this but doesn't eliminate it. One thought I had today was to make a change to the activation dice quota by rounding down instead of up. This means that a force that loses its general will be unable to keep attacking if it drops  to 2 stands and will have trouble once it drops to 5. Not much, but its something. Victory conditions will have to do the rest. .

I briefly worried about battalion integrity for 2 unit battalions, how to represent close order formations and what the role of Brigadiers should be but in the end decided that these were not germane for a small simple game. For larger games with more than 12 units, armies can be divided into brigades or divisions with a commander and a group of units and each of these will determine their activation separately.

The rigidity of close order formations and their vulnerability to flank attacks needs to be addressed though. Keeping the movement at 1 square for infantry is a good start but the  close combat rules which can lead to units spinning about work well for the late 19th Century but feel wrong for earlier, in particular when attacked by 2 or more enemy units. This is partly optics but I think a return to Morschauser front and flank melee values may be a start.

Lastly there is the issue of grid size and rosters. Here I cause myself problems  by my choice to use large figures. If I use a 6" grid, I need a minimum playing area of 4'x4' and on my planned table will be able to fit a grid of 10x12 squares which after last weekend's games, seems ample to me. This allows me to fit terrain + troops in a square and to employ 3 bases each with 4 or 6 infantry or 2 cavalry. On the 3" grid, I can fit a grid of 20 x 24 squares on my table or somewhat over a square mile at 100 yds per grid but I will have to mark woods by felt bases and make some new houses that 1 stand can fit inside. I was in the middle of choosing a base size before starting to use the squares. If I go with the small squares and 1 stand per square then the 60mm wide bases will look best. If I go wit big squares, then 3 x 2" wide bases look best. It would be nice to have the rules work the same way for both.

Its late and I won't  get the revised rules written up today and probably not tomorrow as I am heading to Halifax for the day but to summarize my current thoughts:

1. Movement rates as per the 19thC game. Light infantry and cavalry can double move if 2 activation points are used.

2. Either use the roster system as per Morschauser (on the large squares I will  remove bases)  or keep units with 1 combat die but the effect of hits are  as follows: militia 1 hit destroys, regulars, the 2nd hit destroys, veterans/guards 3 hits destroy.  I have to say that I particularly liked the effect of rolling 3 dice for rockets and howitzers today. The fire scattered all around and on the target rather than all hitting or all missing.

3. each unit has a frontal melee value if fighting only to the front, and a flank value if the front of an enemy unit is adjacent and facing a unit's flank or rear. Moving units may change face after they move. A unit must be facing to attack or count as flanking. A unit attacked in flank does not turn before melee. If there are more than 1 attacking units only 1 unit actually attack. The owning player decides which. The defending unit fights back against the attacker even if not facing.  A slight change to the melee results, if the attacker inflicts a hit and does not receive  one then the defender must retreat if not destroyed.

4. Musket fire has a range of 2 squares and hits on a 5 or 6
  Rifled muskets have a range of 3 squares and  hit on a 5 or 6.
If the target is in cover or is light infantry or artillery then it is hit on a 6 only.

5. The close combat value of cavalry is reduced by 2 if in or attacking woods or a village.
The close combat value of line infantry is reduced by 1 if attacking woods or a village.
The close combat value of light infantry is  not reduced by terrain  (but it is 1 lower by default)

These are rough ideas only but I'm off to bed. .




  1. Ross Mac,

    Another very thought-provoking blog entry.

    I think I can understand the reasoning behind the changes you propose ... and they all make sense to me.

    As you know, I don't like the Roster System, and I also have reservations about the 'one hit kills all' nature of the rules. I have been considering using a similar concept to that used in the 'Command and Colors' rules; namely that Units lose figures/bases but not their firepower/close combat value until they are wiped out.

    I would like to hear your further thoughts ... after a good night's rest!

    All the best,


  2. Ross

    I read your proposed amendments with interest but have no comment - I look forward to seeing how this develops.

    When you start asking questions like "why?" with stuff like wargaming you're on potentially dangerous ground. For a start, I think I'd rather not spend too much time wondering why I am fascinated by toy soldiers - I might come up with a painful answer. On the specific topic of the portable wargame, I was intrigued to read that Mr Cordery was contemplating developing a giant-sized portable wargame (using a garden chessboard) for demonstration use. Now the idea of a portable wargame that you have to shift in a truck is very entertaining - we are getting into the realms of cross-country billiards and giant tiddliwinks. The game seems excellent, the large-size version is an appealing idea, but it doesn't necessarily stand up to the "Why?" test.

    I love Leacock - for some reason, the quote given brings to mind my favourite oddity in "military" writing - only humorous by accident in this case. The paperback book-of-the-film effort produced by Frederick C Smith (I think) to support Bondarchuk's "Waterloo", in a moment of high drama as Blucher is downed at Ligny, states that "suddenly a shot rang out". Good heavens - a shot? - are we to understand that the Battle of Ligny had been conducted in total silence up to that point? No - I know it's not relevant, but I was reminded of it.

    Great post, as ever


  3. Thanks Tony, very relevant, I suspect that's just the sort of writing that inspired "madly off". What's worse, I wrote just such a "suddenly a shot" lines about of one of the general's being hit in one of last week's games. Luckily I caught and removed it.

    As for why? I wasn't thinking in terms of "why bother?" but rather why? as in what is the goal? If I want a portable game then it needs to be small and can be stand alone, if I just want to move to a gridded game, then it can grow but it were best if it used existing resources rather than replacing them.

    As for the example of the giant demo, I imagine that the size would be catch the attention of people in a crowded venue as opposed to an attempt to sell people on gridded garden wargaming. But I could be wrong.

  4. Bob, that reminds me of the samples of the Battlecry with numbers of dice varying by range. I have just typed out what turned into a lengthy comment so will transfer it to a short blog.