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

Saturday, July 23, 2011

One Willow - A Portable Civil Wargame

A hot  muggy summer Saturday and unable to stray too far, just the sort of day for some more Portable Wargame in the garden. Once more it was ACW and some unpublished  rules to try out.

Now Bob did not design the Portable Wargame as an ACW game so I occasionally find myself either shoe-horning the game to fit the rules or making adjustments to suit my own ends as well as my own tastes and prejudices. I am pleased to say that at the moment, the rules are working better and better for me. For the first game, I used the same activation and sequence rules that I used for the previous game, both based on musings by Bob. I accidentally forgot to switch the dice from 1 per 3 to 1 per 4 but I prefer having almost enough activation points each turn rather than never having enough so it worked ok for me. For the 2nd game I played it with 1 die per 4 units rounding up and it also worked just fine.

The big change was trying out additional pins causing a unit to fallback instead of being accumulated. 

Instead of an attack on entrenchments, I went for an encounter. The scenario was a variant on one which appeared in Courier a few years (decades) back. If memory serves, it was originally designed for On To Richmond. Nothing but the basic idea has survived  but I have used it several times. Essentially there is a road junction, usually a Y, with a bridge at the end of the long arm. Two opposing armies march on table along  the short arms with a mission of taking and holding the bridge. I placed a large but low hill in the middle and ruled that no troops could deploy off road until the enemy was sighted.

The "Y" turned into a crooked "T" but the over all layout can be seen here. Making PW scenery and a North American battlefield is now high on my "To Do" list.

I wanted a slightly larger game than the last one and briefly contemplated organizing the armies into 2 or 3 brigades, each with a command stand, artillery battery and 5 regiments but reason soon resurfaced. New rules are best tested in a stable environment, preferably the sort of one they were intended for. I settled on 2 armies, each of a Division Commander, 2 batteries and 10 regiments of infantry. (ie 12 units + commander), all the artillery were field artillery, all infantry were armed with Other Firearms (Rifled Muskets).    

I can't believe I didn't see the mug when I took this shot from the bridge, It didn't give up either but kept maneuvering  around the table trying to sneak into pictures. I like the rolling terrain look but it does make it tricky sometimes to figure if a hex is table level or first contour.

The Rebs won the toss and got the first move once enemy were spotted. They moved into the farm and moved up reinforcements. The Yankees also started deploying and on the next turn combat began with a Reb getting a shot at 1 Yankee and rolling the inevitable 6. My eyes rolled and I thought, here we go again. ( I wonder where the dice were made and what their real feelings are on States' Rights and other subjects?

 First blood.

As the two armies started to extend towards the bridge, the first battery deployed and opening on the farm, pinned the occupants. One turn later the Reb's deployed a battery at the cross roads and wiped out the Yankee battery with its first shot. OK I thought, maybe the artillery rule are ok. It was the last hit for either side all game despite 3 batteries still being in play.

The fighting raged as the armies tried to fight and extend at the same time. I had deployed a cornfield intending it to block line of sight but not provide cover but of course forgot and it became full cover. To make  a long story short, within 10 or so turns the Yanks had lost 6 stands to 1 Reb and I was starting to wonder about army morale in the absence of a campaign setting. Initially I was thinking that the first army to lose over 50% would retreat but units die so quickly that the game easily became too short. I decided to push on for now and in a few more turns, things had evened up with just one little snag for the Federals, The Rebs had a slight superiority and control of the bridge. They could afford to sit back lob shells at nothing and wait. The Yanks had to press the attack, walking into the enemy  fire or give up the bridge.  
Using the cornfield for cover, the Yankees pressed forward and manged a 2:1 melee with a General in support. Mutual annihilation was the result and on the next turn a Reb counter attack was more fortunate. With only a commander, a gun and 2 infantry left vs a commander, 2 guns, and 4 infantry and with the enemy in possession of the objective, I called the game.

Due to the excessive numbers of 6's rolled by the Rebs early on, I didn't get to see as many forced recoils as I expected but those I did have worked well. It didn't take long for a unit to be forced back with no where to go. My instinct was to push  back and pin the unit that was in the way but it made more sense to be consistent with the melee rules and remove a unit that is unable to retreat. The thing that tripped me up is that the only thing blocking the retreat was a lone general on a horse. Now, based on the Movement and Combat Value of command stands, they seem to have a built in cavalry bodyguard. This wasn't exactly typical of ACW Infantry Division Commanders so I hedged and hemmed and hawed and allowed the unit to retreat onto and stack with the commander. I think this will end up being one of those house rule things with an option for command only stands with little or no combat value on their own but able to stack with a unit.    
The artillery, however, just didn't feel at all like ACW artillery, it felt a bit more like 16th C artillery. With some trepidation I decided on a drastic solution. I dropped the "to hit" roll and just rolled for effect. To reduce the power a little, I added a modifier: -1 if firing over 2 hex range.

Time to play again. 

One thing not rules related that I wasn't happy with, was the look of my game. Apart form the shabby, improvised terrain in the wrong colours, the small stands of soldiers just didn't look the part, a purely subjective impression. I had only used  1/2 of the stands that I brought downstairs I had two choices, double the number of units as originally intended or use 2 stands per unit. I opted for the latter. 

  Here they come agin and thur's twice as many! 
When the first (Yankee of course) unit died, I was tempted to just take off 1 of the 2 stands but I didn't want to start experimenting so just took away the whole thing. When using 2 stands, I usually deploy them one behind the other when moving by road but 1 beside the other when deployed for fighting, just for the look of it. At one point during the 1st game, the Rebs were lined up along the road, firing their rifles then moving at road speed to the flank. That just didn't feel right and with 2 stand units, I momentarily started playing with ideas for road columns then remembered that normally units are 1 stand so thought about "If you shoot you can't use road movement". That would add the unnecessary complication of needing to remember who shot and who didn't so I settled for saying that if one of my units uses road movement, it has to end its move facing along the road and left it at that.      .   

Two of my 40mm wide bases don't quite fit on the 3" hexes but close enough and they'll work fine inside on 4" ones. 

The Federals seized the initiative early on and managed to cut the Confederates off from the bridge. They were powerfully assisted by their first artillery battery which informed of the new rules, joyously began throwing 6's on every other roll till a Reb battery blew them apart upon which all of the artillery settled down and started rolling average sorts of scores. The new rule did have a powerful and positive effect. Artillery suddenly became a dangerous and important part of the forces on table, being especially valuable for suppressing the enemy before the toss for initiative and making units vulnerable to being driven back by rifle fire before they could rally. Their vulnerability to close assault had to be kept in mind though, especially if there is cavalry about, and infantry detailed to protect them.
The Rebs push on despite heavy casualties.
A stray shell seems to have cut down a fir tree. Hex shaped tree bases are probably in order.

With heavy casualties on both sides, army morale became a question again. Just how important is this bridge and what do all those destroyed units really mean? And what time does the sun go down? The Federals held the bridge but both sides were down to 30% of their original strength. I decided that destroyed units were merely temporarily combat ineffective and played on. Both sides pounded with their artillery. The Yankees content to stand on the defensive, the Rebs easing to their left and looking for an opening. They managed to slip into a patch of woods within rifle range of the Yankee line and with 2 successive pins, pushed the Yankee infantry back from the bridge. Now the Yanks needed to counter attack. The Rebs shot them down then shot the commander. That left only 1 Federal infantry unit and a gun facing a commander, a gun and 2 infantry units. I decided the remaining Bluebellies would fallback in good order protecting the retreat of the rest of the division. .
 Soooo close, they had been sooooo close.

This had been a GOOD game and felt good for the ACW, not a detailed simulation but it still felt right. It's almost time for me to start thinking about writing up an ACW supplement. 

Its also time for me to start tracking turns more closely and thinking about scenario length and victory conditions including maximum losses.    



  1. For solo gaming you might want to try the following to determine the "acceptable casualties":

    First, if there is a strategic reason for one side or the other to accept more or less casualties, then assign a modifier to the coming dice roll. Plus 2 (will accept more) to minus 2 (will accept fewer) with zero being the default.

    Now roll 3d6 and pick the highest die. Now apply your modifier (if any). The result times ten is the maximum percentage of loss before retiring.

    Example 1: you decide that you want to limit casualties with one side, so you apply a negative one modifier; then you roll 1,4,5 with your 3d6. Normally this roll will give you 50%, but with the modifier, you will only accept 40% casualties before withdrawing.

    Example 2: it is critical to stop your opponents so you give your troops a +2 modifier and you roll 2,3,6 on your dice. With a six, you'd normally accept 60% casualties, but with the modifier, you'll keep fighting until over 80% casualties.

    While there is one chance in 216 of getting an unmodified 10%, most of the time you will be at 50-60% . . . although occasionally it will be lower.

    -- Jeff

  2. I like the idea for solo action games Jeff!

  3. Ross Mac,

    Many thanks - yet again - for play-testing ideas for the rules.

    Reading through the battle report, the change you made to the artillery rules makes sense ... and by removing the 'to hit' D6 dice roll removes one layer of complication that might not be needed. This gives me something to think about, as I had already had feedback from someone else as to whether such a roll was necessary for late 19th century battles.

    The 'look' of two bases per Unit is better than just having one, and although I am not going to change the rules, it has made me think again about how to represent Units on the tabletop.

    It sounds like you had a great time fighting this battle, and I look forward to reading further battle reports in the future.

    All the best,


  4. Fantastic !!! I love this terrain !! How he did? Where can I buy?

  5. Carlo,

    I think (but am not sure) that the terrain mat came from "Hotz Artworks" in Canada. They make a wide number of terrain mats in a variety of sizes, colors & patterns:


    There are other terrain mat makers, but I do not have websites for them -- besides, I do think Ross got his from Hotz.

    -- Jeff

  6. Jeff ! Get some sleep man!

    But good idea, I'll keep it in mind, I tend to think units removed from the table in PW as having suffered 25-50% casualties. But if I took the lowest of the 3 dice as being the minimum number of units left, that might work.

  7. Carlo, Jeff is correct. The cloth is felt with a hex pattern printed on it. The cloth which was given to me was a uniform shade of tan for the desert. I used spray paint to make it look more natural. They sell a mat with a very nice pattern of "European Fields" printed on and ship world wide so Italy should not be a problem. www.hotzmats.com/
    They ship worldwide.

    I laid the cloth over some pieces of wood and insulation to make the hills. The stream is a strip of translucent blue plastic cut from a recycling garbage bag,

  8. Bob, at the risk of sounding like a comedy routine, No, thank you! These rules are just what I have needed for those times I either can't or don't feel like staging a big game.

    I am looking forward to the next official version. I don't mind some house rules but I'd like to stay as close as possible.


  9. Great report Ross. The terrain looks good in the photos so I wouldn't worry about it. I'm in no way biased, but nice to see the Blubellies get a kicking! Does the mug feature in the official army lists? Presumably one uses a small cup with 6mm toys? And a thimble with 2mm?

  10. yes !!! www.hotzmats.com/
    Many thanks friends !!!!!!!