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

Friday, March 29, 2013

Making my Wargame Table Bigger on the Inside


But soft! What light from yonder tunnel shines? 

These last few years seem to have been years of greater turmoil, questioning, understanding and slowly, acceptance, about my hobby than any that went before. At the heart of it are two questions; "What compromises am I prepared to make to make my wargame more enjoyable as a game?" and "How can I make a game with largish figures on a small surface feel like a bigger game yet not too crowded for maneuver?".  As long as I was fiddling with MacDuff and my 1812 organization again, I decided  to address a few ideas that cropped up this fall while thinking about and playing my card table game and Battle Cry.



Game 4 gets underway.

In no particular order:

Unit size. I'm not sure when I became bothered by small units (peleton envy?) Featherstone's 20+2 has always seemed comfortable, Lawford & Young's 60 man units always seemed extreme but the 16+3 companies seemed reasonable. My first brush with 12-14 figure units came with WRG's 1685-1845 rules in the late '70's. These were a bit of a shock, especially since they deployed 1 rank deep but the rules suited me well apart from the movement which was too slow and eventually I managed 24 battalions of 12 men each for each side of my 15mm French Revolution armies. 12 x 24 man units always seemed out of reach and 6 x 48 men unthinkable although its the same number of figures. Perhaps its that I was able to tackle so many different uniforms or that each 12 man batch could take the table when done rather than having to wait for friends?

At any event, when I left 15's behind, my units got larger which was counter productive in terms of cost and ability to maneuver on the same square footage, and the ranges got longer since the figures were taller (?), OK because the unit frontages grew actually. The games seemed to shrink correspondingly but by then in addition to glossies, I was on the net and despite resisting such things could feel the pressure to build bigger battalions. I even managed a few 32 man ones before sliding back to the 20ish ones and slowly down to 16.

Range and scale. One of the issues with unit size is that unit frontage is irretrievably linked to musket range (thank you for that Mr Grant!). I can get as gamey (sic) as I like but this issue tends to gnaw at me if I ignore it too much. So, 24 x 40mm figures on the washers I use have a frontage in battle of roughly 12" which becomes effective musket range. This was the whole drive behind the basing issues, more men per foot of table so that I could reduce the ground scale and ranges without cutting unit size.

So, after the card table and Battlecry games, I've been thinking if I were to allow myself to use 12 man battalions again, (MacDuff originally called for 12 man "companies" - Wings or Grand Divisions really) then while I won't have anything approaching respectable battalions from a spectacle point of view, everything else falls into place. That size unit will let me fill historical 1812 orders of battle and still fit the armies on my shelves and into my painting/collecting mode. More importantly, it would also allow me to cut back weapon ranges making the moves more realistic given ground and desired time scales. This will let me fit historical battles like Crysler's Farm on my table at face value while fudging the smaller actions by using more figures than needed when its "just a game".

Stop Action and Ranges. Turning a continuous interactive event like a battle into "turns" has always been a bug bear when trying to recreate the actual processes of battle. The crux of the matter is that somethings are interactive in a short space of time while others are not. This is the basis of the 2 minute move which dates back to von Reiswitz at least. The problem  is that with 2 minute turns even a small battle should  last 120 or so turns. Even if some one can figure out which of those can be run together, its likely to be a length exercise rather than a brisk game. Generally, the two solutions have been to fudge things to show the actions in compressed form and ignore the inactive parts, usually robbing movement to allow for more nuanced combat or to assume that interaction is taking place largely below the grain and that it is primarily the results that are being shown. I largely went the first route for decades until I read Joe Morschauser and started trying to figure where he was coming from.

The point of this is that long and short range has been a bug bear of mine for years now. It makes sense, we all know fire is more effective at close range but when you combine stop/go moves with fixed range bands, well, it seems to twist players' tactics in odd ways. I've tried getting simpler or more convoluted but I think Morschauser was right, shooting is shooting and melee is melee, and after all its worked in Hearts of Tin. Out of curiosity I decided to peek at von Reiswitz again and noted that he has 4 range bands. The first two equate to my short and long range and there is little difference between them. The 3rd and 4th are beyond what I bother rolling dice for and are markedly less effective.

The 4th game hangs in the balance.

So finally, to the point, as well as smaller units, MacDuff has finally succumbed to temptation and dropped range bands and shortened ranges making the ground scale something like 1"=25 yards and 1 figure = 30 men though you can still rationalize halving that. As long as I was fiddling, I scratched an irritating itch which has no logical basis. The game was always in multiples of 3" until I printed a 4" hex grid on my table and played around with that. It doesn't look likely to survive so I adjusted movement and ranges back to multiples of 3", scaling back ranges slightly while doing so in keeping with the revised ground scale.


I'm 1/2 way through a 4th play test with revised layout, rules and OB and so far its the best one yet and I'd be comfortable hauling it off to Huzzah as is, except for those trees. One month to go!

The current version of MacDuff is available at left but Blogger won't let me update the description and won't tell me why not, or click here to see and/or download it.

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