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

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Unto The Breach - Friday's Siege Games

The Colours of MacDuff's Fusiliers wave proudly as the grenadiers move up for an assault.

When we started out to stage a siege game, I wasn't sure it could be done as an interesting convention game, or an interesting game at all for that matter. The solo play test was enough to alleviate fears on both scores but many questions remained.

Friday Afternoon, the 1st saps are planted.

The original plan called for a 10 foot wide fortress front with 3 bastions and enough pieces were cut to allow for that but once it became apparent that the fortress was going to need over 3 feet of depth, we became uncertain that the remaining space was sufficient for the besiegers. After my play test, I was afraid that a 6 feet front would not be wide enough  for zig-zag saps and batteries but a depth of only 3 feet for the attackers would mean starting at the 2nd parallel at best, in other words skipping the beginning of the siege.  After discussing the pro's and con's we ended up agreeing to lay out a 6 foot front and start the 1st parallel 6 feet from the walls. After the play test, we moved the parallel slightly forward to put it 5 feet from the ravelin, allowing effecting fire by the besiegers from turn 1 (well, for most of the besiegers.)  One thing that became obvious during the playtest, was that the compressed front made it difficult to plant richochet batteries against any point except the ravelin but that the saps were easily enfiladed if the players weren't careful. Both items went into player briefings  and didn't seem to present any great difficulties during the games though some of the saps were less zig-zaggy than our test ones had been. (it was easier to just point them off table and sap forward in leaps and bounds, the end result and purpose was the same.)  We were also afraid that a single 3-4 hour game might not be enough so allowed for a 2nd game to follow on from where the first left off.
Friday afternoon, a second parallel has been planted and the saps continue.

As we prepared for this game, it became obvious that many things had been glossed over or assumed when the brief rules were laid out. How many troops and guns should be used? How many engineers? Could you pack several into a sap? Why are the tactical rules so close to Charge! without being precisely the same? Abridgment or amendment? Can you fight from a sap?

To avoid confusing people, we opted to follow Charge! where ever possible. This meant that guns firing from over 2 feet were inflicting 1/4 casualties rather than 1/2 but, on the other hand, it looks like we might have fielded more guns per foot than Duffy did.

Initially we planned to limit the supply of engineers so that the siege might be ended by losing them all but in the end, we treated them as a limited but inexhaustible supply. The besiegers had 3 each turn, 1 and only 1 of which could supervise a battery or sap. If a parallel were to be dug, even a partial one, each engineer could supervise 1/3rd of it. That  meant that a few lucky 6's wouldn't end the siege but the loss of an engineer meant the loss of a day's work on that section of work.  Rather than fussing about where the engineer was placed and dicing a la Charge! to see which figures were hit, we merely rolled a die with a 6 indicating that the engineer was hit. We did the same for gunnery officers.
Rob and his son, Norman who did the finishing work after Duncan's wizardry with power tools did the basic construction, watch the besiegers sap forward.  (My only input this year was in planning)

When a sortie or assault was announced, we made players declare which troops they were committing. Only committed troops could fight and only against other committed troops. Any troops committed to a tactical turn were not available when we got back to the siege turn. We did consider not carrying out a siege turn if there was a tactical but that seemed like it might encourage the besieger to launch feeble sorties every day so we laid out digging and did troop moves, then resolved tactical combat then finally did the siege bombardment. Troops who had been deployed to dig were not allowed to fire but were allowed to defend themselves in melee. (For that matter, no firing was allowed from a sap and only 1 rank of figures allowed to occupy it. Parallels included a firing step and had room for 2 ranks.) If enough survived the sortie, the sap etc was built. In practice, it was up to the supports in the parallels to drive off the sortie and as in play tests, attempts to drive forward too quickly without supports tended to be costly to the attackers. If an attack, or counter attack, went beyond the initial goals then more troops could be committed once the situation changed (for example, an escalade following a repulsed sortie)

    Friday afternoon, the 3rd parallel is placed  
Once again, Duffy made no mention of reduced moves if "obstructed" or firing but we adhered to Charge! on both accounts. In retrospect, I am interesting in trying Duffy's simplified tactical rules as written to see of it picks up the pace and captures that desperate scramble aspect that I imagine for sorties and especially for forlorn hope assaults. On the other hand, the sorties and assaults were exciting as it was so why mess with something that works?

The last game had to be called shortly after the relentless advance of the siege had led to the defenders being forced out of the covered way with insufficient reserves of men and guns to stop the attackers from planting Breaching Batteries and forcing a surrender  within a few days time. Another hour of play would have reached a more satisfying conclusion but we just didn't have it. Unfortunately, the game had progressed too far to start the 2nd game at that point. After a quick huddle, we stripped every thing back to the 2nd parallel and started the 2nd game from there. All that would be lost would be a few turns of relatively ineffectual fire and some practice at digging. (yes this means we probably could have played across a 3 bastion front, starting from the 2nd parallell, maybe next time.)

 The Grenadiers of MacDuff's Fusilers have moved forward for the Big Push. Supported by the Queen's Brigade, they wait for the word to go........

 "Over the Top" 

So far, the first game had been quite different from the play test apart from the ability of the besiegers to smother the defender's fire. We were eager to see if the next game would be different again.  Oh...yeah! Unfortunately, while I had had my cell phone in hand to take a few snaps of the 1st game, I got too wrapped up in the 3rd game and completely forgot to take pictures!  I'm trusting that Rob who had his real camera out during the weekend will be able to provide some.

Its always hard in a system like Charge! to figure out the exact impact of potentially widely varying combat results dice. In the 2nd game, a pair of veteran gamers, each claiming a reputation for "Cold Dice"  were matched up against two younger but not inexperienced gamers defending the Family Fortress.  I have to say that as far as I can tell, the attackers rolled just as many 6's as the defenders but the defenders rolled 6's while trying to claim special effects or officer casualties while the attackers seemed to like to roll them looking for say "2 or better" to hit, saving the 1's for when they wanted to destroy a gun or do some real damage with a volley of musketry.

The end result was that by the game's end, the attackers who had started with 12 guns to the defender's 9, (hmm wasn't that supposed to be 8?) were out gunned by the end.  That doesn't tell the whole story however as the attackers, despite heavy losses,    sapped forward,  planting a parallel almost crowning the covered way. The defenders launched a massive sortie but the attackers reacted with full force, rushing reinforcements up the saps and across the open ground. The ferocity of the counter attack and the doggedness of the defence of the saps, catching the fortress commanders a bit by surprise. Two thirds of the parallel was delayed by a day but the sortie took such heavy casualties that it restored the balance of power between attack and defender.

Undaunted by losses of time, men, guns and engineers, the siege continued. The parallel was finished and the saps pushed forward. As the defenders evacuated the covered way to conserve manpower, the attackers launched  a surprise escalade of the now undefended ravelin (they had expected it to be lightly held).  It was the turn of the defenders to be caught off guard and forced to choose between abandoning the redoubt and covered way thus allowing the attackers to place their breaching batteries, or counter attack with every available man. Like a ant's nest that had been stirred, men came racing to the defence of the ravelin. A confused melee took place in the gorge of the ravelin, a series of 1 to 1 combats. Its no wonder that I forgot to take pictures, amid such excitement of sorties and assaults. Perhaps if the Rosish troops hadn't been evicted from the ravelin in the end.... 
In the next post I will conclude with the 3rd siege and the Relief game.


  1. I own this Duffy and Charge (though I prefer The War Game except for the artillery templates) and always deplored that the photos are so few and in BW; I also dreamed long ago about the Siege or Dendermonde: SO... Certainly great games, and for sure glorious eye-candy: THANKS!

  2. Very impressive!

    This is the first time I have seen a siege wargame that looked like what the textbooks say one should be like.

    A magnificent effort by everyone involved!

    All the best,


  3. Ross,

    I particularly enjoyed the account on Junkyard Planet because it did a good job of showing the growing siege works.

    But (as usual) I also very much enjoy your comments on whys and wherefors and your general thinking about things.

    Thanks . . . and I agree with Bob. This game looked right (and I liked the clever way in which you allowed the works to be built . . . it looked very good. Congratulations!

    -- Jeff

  4. Ross

    Looks good, the photos came out well. I'm sorry I missed the con. I'll have to plan to come east for H-con some year.


  5. SUPERB!

    Great to see that such a siege works game can be done within an afternoon's game!


  6. Abdul: Yes, the ability to display lots of pictures is one of the advantages the net has over books...

  7. Thank you gentlemen.

    Peter, there is a vague, nearly miniscule chance that I might be going to Hot Lead in Stratford next March, that ought to be about 1/2 way between us.