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, April 9, 2011

The siege game, after thoughts

There are too many thoughts to squeeze into one post so I'll stick mostly to the rules for now.

Actually the term  "rules" is a bit strong for the Fire & Stone appendix, they are more like guidelines.   At first glance, the rules appear to use Charge! for the tactical rules but it didn't take long to realize that they were just a few charge-like suggestions for basic movement and casualty infliction. Fine if running a game as a sort of kriegspiel with an umpire or Game Master (GM) but if played straight up it calls for 2 amiable gamers who can talk there way to a consensus.

As it was, I changed my mind on interpretations several times during the game, something which changed the details but may not have changed the outcome. Luck certainly played a strong role in this siege as well but I think the result was still largely the result of player decisions, like planting the 2nd parallel too far from the covered way so that it was unable to support the sap heads when they got within sortie range and not taking advantage of the lack of enemy artillery to storm the ravelin.  

At first I wondered if the incompleteness was just an off the cuff summary of Charge!, not meant to be taken as complete, however, considering his comments on how wargames have to be fast paced and that most rules are too complex,  I suspect that it is more likely that he ruthlessly cut out any minor distractions like "obstructed moves", long/close range musketry, or how one decides how long a melee lasts and who won, relying on an umpire's judgement or reasoned consensus. I suppose one could ask but its really just nosy curiosity.

Some further discussion with my co-hosts is needed before Historicon but I think we are aligned with staying as close to Charge! as  possible. Here is a brief list of some of the rule issues and decisions that I made.

1. Artillery.

  • Can guns fire over trenches?  No, except mortars. The saps, parallels and batteries have to be arranged in such a fashion that the guns have a clear line of fire. (This is one of the rules I changed  partway through after doing some reading to support the decision. The No seems to make a better game as well as suiting the evidence as to common practice vs absolute possibility)
  • Can guns move and be fired in the same siege turn? Not the besieging guns which have to be dragged forward along saps or at night through the mud etc. The defenders however will be allowed to move their guns along the nice clear pathways of the fort and still fire.  
  • Does the Charge! rule of 1/2 effect for shot & shell apply (ie at ranges over 2 feet)? Yes.
  • Does a sortie cancel all other firing for the day or can guns not involved in a sortie  still fire or can they fire every tactical turn which is implied? Yes. A battery that has line of fire to a sortie or assault can fire subject to the usual rules but no battering or counter battery fire can take place during a sortie or assault. (again a mid-game change and again one which favours the defence but makes for a better game encouraging an active defence). We are considering introducing 2 grades of artillery and limiting battering walls to siege guns which will not be allowed to fire during tactical turns, not even in self defence.
  • Do the usual Charge! rules for infantry movement and deciding melees apply? Yes. I opted to consider all melees, even those against breaches or saps  to follow the special rules for fortifications rather than those for assaulting breastworks. In essence, this is single combats and no need to rally after a drawn melee. Once an assault/sortie is launched, it will continue until 1 side loses and is forced to retreat, or runs out of men!
  • How is the covered way crowned? This seems to require sapping and assaulting at the same time, otherwise the assault is left standing in the open if it wins or else the defender can just reoccupy the covered way, and that is how I played it with a sap being laid out along the crest of the covered way within 1/2" of the defenders and then an assault being ordered simultaneously.   If the defenders had won then the sap would have been destroyed as well as the attack being thrown back. It was kind of messy though. Next time I think I might play it that the attack has to go in first but that the turn is over once the melee is ended and that attacker can dig in during the next turn.
  • What about light infantry? Light infantry are very powerful in Charge! Not only can they shoot farther, but they get the same protection creeping spread out across the open as their bretheren do crowded into the trenches. Good for Sebastopol with its rifle pits, not so good for Lille. The jury is out on this for the fictional setting but I'm inclined to limit their numbers severely at the very least and the no over head firing rule would apply. 
This was an interesting and enjoyable game and I intend to do more sieges in future, in particular Fort Erie, Bhurtpore, Mooltan and Delhi come to mind. The problem is the old pendulum between elements rules and single figure rules. This has been set swinging again as I contemplate my born again small table, gaming styles and scenarios. 

By rights, given my interests and preferences, I ought to be a typical "Colonial" gamer playing small skirmishes on the outskirts of empire, whether British, Roman or Persian empire, but I keep getting stuck on planning to for bigger battles, especially historical ones, which I rarely play. It is very possible to play enjoyable skirmishes between a couple of companies of troops (or small actions to distinguish them from the 1:1 semi-role playing style of skirmish) using element based rules but the genre is the forte of figure based rules and since one doesn't need to put 500 men on the table, neither movement trays not tedium are major issues.

There is a lot to be said for each way of playing and I see no way to make a sound decision except to play a bunch of games in each style, and luckily, I am equipped for the task.

Ah well, so be it. if I must, I must. Reset the table!


  1. A fascinating series of posts - my regular opponent is working on a siege mini-game for Command & Colours. I'm interested that you have so many Indian sieges there, with your 1812 British and Indians, you could give Assaye a try.

  2. Yes, a very rewarding series of posts to read. I've no experience of tabletop sieges, but I would imagine that singly-based figures are advantageous, as they need to fit into all sorts of angles and spaces; just guessing there, however, from a position of ignorance.

  3. Very interesting game: useful notes there - Fire and Stone is a great resource isn't it.

  4. An interesting and educaional series. I've not seen Duffy's Fire and Stone, but I guess it wouldn't be so hard to imagine how the broad outlines of a siege ought to go and devise a game around it.

  5. Conrad, the Mahratta Wars are on my radar as a source of inspiration.

    Steve, yes this was one of the occasions where individual figures came to the fore. Multi-figure bases would have been more abstracté

    Donogh, It is indeed.

    Archduke. I agree, if you have an idea of what is going on, its not that hard to come up with a game, of any sort.