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

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Squaring off The War of 1812 (Amended)

I am intrigued by Bob Cordery's Portable 20thC Wargame and have decided to use it as a base for a simple, gridded, War of 1812 wargame. Obviously there are some major differences between 1812 and 1912 so I am going to need to make a few changes to troop capabilities but I don't want to get too far from the original game.  Since Bob's game was inspired by  Joe Morschauser who was also the main inspiration behind what became Hearts of Tin, I have decided to keep that inspiration and go back to Morschauser where possible.

The first thing I wanted to do is see what sort of scale the grid represented. I decided to start by looking at War of 1812 battlefields. Considering the small number of troops involved, some of the battlefields need to be surprisingly large. After careful consideration, and keeping my policy of flexible scales in mind (otherwise know as fudging or cheating),  I have decided to assume that if using an 8x8 grid, then each square represents an average of 150 yds and each unit will represent around 400 to 500 infantry or 1/2 that number of cavalry or light infantry. Each gun will represent 4 to 6 guns.

This means that each square can comfortably hold a battalion. It also means that effective musket fire can only reach into the adjacent square in front of a unit. This means that line infantry will be capable of close combat only. I find the deadly close combat power of 20thC infantry a bit much for 1812 games and consulting Morschauser's Horse & Musket period, I see that he agrees and so I will drop it back to 3.
However, one feature of the war is that well trained infantry seems to have been more effective than most and some militia seems to have been been very weak. I have long liked to have 3 grades of troops and will reflect this varying quality by lowering the Close CombatPower of Militia to 2 while raising that of veteran units to 4..

Light Infantry are the next to be addressed. The difference between the capabilities of drilled close order troops and light troops operating as a swarm of individuals is an important feature of horse and musket games in North America. Lets look at how light troops were used. Primarily they seem to have operated in the many forested areas where close order formations don't function well, as well as operating as outposts either seeking out the enemy if attacking or as an early warning system if defending. Unlike contemporary European warfare, light troops don't often seem to be used to soften up the enemy before an attack although this could happen, Quebec 1759 comes to mind.

How can we reflect this role in our game? In Morschauser's rules, Light Infantry move slightly  faster but have a lower close combat power.  It is easy enough to lower their close combat power by 1 to reflect their looser formation but this makes attempting to harass the enemy a very questionable proposition. Since some lioght troops were rifle armed and most supposedly had better marksmanship than volley firing line infantry, I will allow them to fire as normal. In order to reflect the superior performance of riflemen in this task, I will allow them to hit on the standard 5 or 6 but will reduce musket fire to hitting on a 6 only.

Moving faster is more problematic. Since infantry only moves 1 square in Bob's game, I can only see 5 options:
1) there is no difference in movement
2) make light infantry double the speed of line infantry or as fast as cavalry
3) allow light infantry to move diagonally making them more flexible if not faster.
4) allow light infantry to move twice if an extra activation point is used.
5) revisit all of the movement.

Oddly, the last option seems the simplest as it allows me to easily address another facet of the difference between light and line infantry, the ability of the former to operate effectively in woods. Longer moves may also make the game more dramatic (or, possibly, make it too quick!).

The proposal then is to redefine movement as follows:
Line Infantry, Artillery  2 squares
Light Infantry 3 squares
Cavalry and horse artillery, 4 squares.

 When it comes to woods, light infantry will be unaffected, artillery will be unable to enter a woods square and all other troops will restricted to entering 1 woods square per turn.

I think the river fording penalties are a little steep but I'm going to allow them to stand as it not a question of the effect being different in this era.

What about artillery. The rules taken, I believe, from the Frontier wargame, are suggestive of artillery firing high explosive shells rather than  cannister or  shot & shell. Referring back to Morschauser's original Horse& Musket rules, I will therefore, drop the accuracy roll and simply roll for effect. At a ranges of 2 squares a 3,4,5 or 6 will hit, at a range of 3,4 or 5 a 5or 6 will hit.  These scores will be reduced by 1 for a target in cover. Morschauser is quite harsh in his assessment of the close combat value of artillery. Since a battery might well be attacked before getting a chance to shoot in game terms, I consider that its close combat value reflects point blank canister fire and treat them like a machine gun in close combat, in other words, they will have a value of 4. Best to attack artillery from a couple of directions or be willing to sacrifice a unit to silence them!

Cavalry is problematic. It was only present in small numbers and the terrain was rarely optimal for cavalry charges so it is no surprise that those that were undertaken had little effect. On the other hand, there is no real reason to suspect that they would be less effective than their counterparts in Europe given the opportunity. The simplest solution is just to lower their close combat power to 3. If someone wants to deploy heavy cavalry then these will have a close combat power of 4 but will only move 3 squares. The usual elite or militia close combat bonus will apply. I will use the standard artillery rules for rockets..
The last issue is slightly more drastic. I am not very comfortable with the all or nothing feel of combat where each hit destroys a unit but during the 20th Century where each stand might be a company, I can live with it. Since  my scale results in each unit being a battalion of some 400 men, having them destroyed by a single cannon shot will make it very difficult to get a believable result. I'm not a big fan of rosters though I do mark casualties when needed and am happy removing bases, Having decided that I needed to make my squares 4" across in order to allow 40mm troops to co-exist with even scant terrain pieces, I noticed that 2 of my 2" wide bases are easily accommodated in a square. Rather than treating each base as a unit and allowing 2 in a  square, I will instead borrow and adapt Morschauser's roster system. Each unit will have 2 bases. The unit is a unit for all purposes, it moves as one and the bases must face the same direction but when fighting, each base rolls 1 die and when it suffers a hit, 1 base is removed. This means it will take more than 1 lucky hit to destroy a unit and that a defending unit can be "softened up" by artillery or light infantry fire as opposed to only being destroyed. It also means an attack might inflict a casualty but still be repulsed rather than destroyed. Understrength units will be represented by a single base only. For artillery, I may mount the gun and 2 crew on one base and 2 more gunners as singles as a 2nd base.

I did consider such details as infantry forming square or column but in the end decided this is a unit commander issue, not one for the army commander. Units normally adopt the best formation for their situation. If they are destroyed in combat then perhaps their Colonel chose poorly?

All other rules are as for the latest version of the 20thC  rules for a chess board game. If it goes well I will investigate playing the game with more troops on a larger grid and will add rules for Irregular cavalry, elephants and the like. Yes a trip to India in the 1840's.

But first a play test of the original game.

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I should probably have put this afterthought in a separate post but for future reference wanted it grouped with the other rule changes. The command elements in the 20thC game appear to be a combination of the command capabilities of an HQ with the combat potential of its escort. In the War of 1812, it would usually represent a single general with a few aides. He might inspire  troops but on its own such a staff element has no combat ability.

The following rules will apply to my  game.

Each side has 1 General. When calculating activation dice, add 1 die if the army has a general. If he is killed or captured then his army no longer gets an extra die.

Generals do not count as a unit. They may be represented by a single officer figure, usually mounted on a horse or by such a figure plus an ensign with a flag. If a General is in a square with one of his units then he is attached otherwise he is not attached.

A General who is attached at the start of a turn may move with that unit without paying any extra activation points. A General who is not attached at the start of a turn or who wishes to leave a unit that he is attached to, must pay an activation point to move and may move 4 squares.

 If a General is attached to a unit then its close combat power is temporarily increased by one. It may never be increased to more than 5 regardless of how many modifiers it has. 

If a General is attached to a unit which is destroyed by shooting or in close combat or which is forced to retreat from close combat then the General is wounded and removed from the game,

A General who is not attached may not be shot at. If a General who is not attached to a unit moves into a square orthogonally adjacent to an enemy unit or if an enemy unit moves to a square orthogonally adjacent  to him, then the General is immediately captured and removed from the game.




  1. Ross Mac,

    A very interesting blog entry.

    I must admit, I did wonder how you were going to use my 20th century rules for a war that took place near 100 years beforehand, but now I have read what you have written, it is now very clear.

    Interestingly, some of the changes have made have brought your version of the rules much closer to my original set for the 19th century. I reduced the movement of Units because the weapons had longer ranges and I needed to fit both long-range weapons and movement into a very small area. What you have done makes perfect sense for the period you are wargaming, and has the essential ‘flavour’ that would otherwise be missing.

    The simplicity of the basic architecture of the rules and the mechanisms used means that they are adaptable without the adaptation destroying their coherence as a whole. I 100% agree with your decision to reduce the effect of Close Combat and to introduce gradations for different Unit qualities. I also like the way that you have dealt with Light Infantry. If you remember, I did look at how to differentiate between Light and Line Infantry, but decided – in the end – not to make them different because by the latter part of the 19th century, there was no real difference. This was not true in 1812, and I agree that your solution is exactly what is needed.

    The longer movement distances are interesting, and I am looking forward to seeing how well they work. Mind you, if Units can either move or fire, the battle might not be as fast as the move distances imply that it could be. The changes regarding artillery fit make a lot of sense and with in the period, but I am in no position to comment about cavalry; I have never liked ‘donkey wallopers’ (too many bad experiences with the real horses and wargames cavalry!) to comment on what you have written.

    I also do not like the ‘one hit kills all’ system that I currently use in the rules, but like you I am also not a great lover of rosters (people forget to use them far too often during wargames) and I had though of using Richard Borg’s idea of reducing the number of figures in a Unit, but keeping its combat effectiveness the same until it is totally destroyed. Your solution goes part of the way towards this, but also stays true to Joseph Morschauser original roster idea, whereby each Unit lost part of its effectiveness when it suffered casualties.

    I know that arthur1815 is also working on a Napoleonic version of the portable wargame, and between the two of you I might pressured enough by what you are doing to get some of my collection of 25/28mm-scale pre-painted Del Prado Waterloo figures out of storage. We shall see!

    All the best,


  2. Ross Mac,

    I like the change you have made regarding Command Units/Generals, and will probably copy the idea for my 19th century version of the portable wargame rules.

    An excellent idea!

    All the best,


  3. Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse both come to my mind when considering that lights/rifles/militia were used to soften up the enemy prior to the main battle lines being engaged. Granted the Patriots/Rebels did not use it to prepare the enemy prior to an attack, but rather prior to the main defense.

    Have you considered that combat to an adjacent square is effective musket range, and thus should be a lower factor, which close assault is moving into your opponent's grid? I personally don't believe in multi-turn close-range firefights OR melees, so the end result of such an assault would have to be one or the other vacating the square and retreating. Food for thought.

  4. Thanks Dale, I was thinking about an example of French Revolutionary/NAp. war tactics of a swarm of skirmishers preceding a column and hadn't even stopped to consider using the rules for AR. The examples you give are worth keeping in mind along with actions like Morgan and Freeman's Farm, and Oriskany where both sides are fighting dispersed in woods.

    I tend to think of the troops as being deployed close to the front of their square so never sharing one but I agree that prolonged close range fighting is unlikely, whether just trading volleys or including an attempt to close. Some of the fighting at Lundy's Lane might be an exception but that was taking place as, and after dark fell so is an exception anyway. Some of the close quarter volleying at Chippewa and Chrysler's Farm seems to have lasted up to around 20 minutes so I guess it also depends what a turn is. Good points.