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 13, 2013

Of Battles and Skirmishes

Its a beautiful HOT summer weekend and I'm Officer of the Watch and Duty Watch rolled into one while Kathy is off to dog show. This means I can't wander far and its hard to grab more than an hour at time to myself but a lot can be done with an hour here or there. It seemed like a good time to take some troops outside but scouting around for just the right spot just reminded me that the lawn needs cutting,  the gardens need weeding, that it was hot out and that I was tired. Suddenly, a cold drink and a book in the shade seemed more inviting than preparing a battlefield, dragging troops downstairs and coming up with a scenario. I retreated upstairs, turned on another fan and looked around for something easy to set up and play.

A column of Faraway troops under attack by Brethren and their Atlantican allies c 1845.

The table was still set for Picket's Charge but lately I find that fighting battles tends to feel like work. Work to set them up, work to come up with plans, in the case of historical battles work to research them, work to fight through them. Worse than that, battles tend to have consequences.  At least in life, in campaigns and in continuing imagi-nation story lines. I started to think about Petit Guerre settings and scenarios.

I'm not sure that I've ever thought about the difference between battles and skirmishes in quite this way before. It may be due to a lack of context for so many of my games over the years or that many of the various rule sets I've played tended to produce one level of game and so there was no clear  distinction even if a given scenario was more plausible as one or the other. I have tended to think of size as the difference between a battle and a skirmish but now I am thinking it is more a matter of intent and consequence. It is not that skirmishes cannot have consequences but they are usually either cumulative such as in a prolonged guerilla campaign, or else accidental  as in the death of Lord Howe shortly before the battle at Ticonderoga.

Battles are serious affairs not usually under taken lightly or without reason. Much of the writing about generalship over the centuries is about how to conduct a campaign so that you can force a decisive battle that will destroy the enemy's capability or will to continue the fight and about how to avoid having the enemy do the same to you. Once battle is joined, the aim is usually to destroy the enemy's army not to seize some minor terrain feature except as a means to an end. A skirmish on the other hand is usually between two detachments whose loss would be regrettable rather than decisive and the goal is usually some smaller, limited but specific objective such as the destruction or protection of property or capture of a strategical terrain objective such as Ruffin's night attack before Talavera. These sorts of limited engagements are typical of Grant's Tabletop scenarios and form ideal scenarios  because the gamer is assigned troops and assigned a mission much like an intermediate general without having to concern himself as much with preliminary off table manoeuvring and the campaign situation.

Having decided to do a skirmish on the existing terrain, a variation on the ambush of a convoy seemed like an easy and always good scenario, especially for solo play with programmed ambushers randomly placed. Prince Valiant has been on my mind but I've tried to avoid doing any of those without a story line. The 16th Century was also a valid choice but I'm unsure about the rules and anyway, I didn't have a  printed copy to hand. So Atlantica beckoned.

The "plan" calls for a long period of border warfare with occasional major expeditions so no explanation is needed. Due to a combination of distractions and indecision, my Atlanticans can only muster a handful of figures in "modern" dress so their ranks were filled out with 18th Century ones and reinforced with Brethren of the Coast and rebellious settlers to make up to 36 ambushers. I still need to work out the details of the backstory but the rebel settlements were founded by European hunters and boatmen who inter married with the Atlantican tribes in the 18th Century and were later reinforced by rebels fleeing the Blue River district after the failed rebellion. The convoy consisted of a single supply wagon escorted by 6 of Larsen's Lancers and 2 companies of infantry each 12 strong.

This is the sort of game that MacDuff was written for but I had never actually played Rattle of Dice as published on the blog. The sole test game before I decided to just roll it into Hearts of Tin was using some rough notes. I decided to give it a go.

It didn't take long to realize that I had made some omissions and at least one typo as well as another mistake that probably reflected a mental blip after thinking about Charge!.  Given the low numbers of figures I was severely tempted to add a MacDuff style figure to figure melee  system, and to add the after melee  test I used when I migrated the system to HofT but I decided to just go with what I had written, the only change being the addition of a 1/2 move penalty for formation changes as proposed on War Diaries of a Little Englander.

The typo was in melee where I wrote count 1/2 of the 2nd & 3rd rank instead of 1/2 the 3rd & 4th rank. The 2nd rank was already covered by including figures in contact and those in contact with them. The quasi typo was by writing count remainders of more than 1/2 when what I usually do is count remainders of 1/2 or more. The main omissions were that the shooting dice listed were for muzzle loading rifles, breech loaders rolling 1 per 2 instead, and that I hadn't included ordinary wagons, something I needed!  Anyway I have updated the original Rattle of Dice post with the corrections in red and added an evade rule for cavalry and skirmishers which I did not use today.

Tomorrow, we'll see how it went.

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