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

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Now where was I?

My mind has been preoccupied by non wargaming matters this week but having a hobby to keep my hands busy was good at times so not a total loss.
The Faraway Ministry of Defence has analyzed the recent string of defeats and having spotted the likely reason behind the Oberhilse successes, has taken quick steps to reequip Her Majesty's soldiers. Can you guess what their conclusion was? 

I did mean to offer some comprehensive comments on last week's game but I'm afraid that time has dulled my memory of details and also altered my interpretation of events and left me less sure about what did and didn't work and why.

The scenario was simple enough I pulled a bunch of Blue army units off the shelf, avoiding any of the Mexican War and 1812 style uniforms. Then I pulled a few Red figures down and decided to let the  commander pull down more as reinforcements till I figured he had enough. Blue's mission was to capture the bridge and hold a secure line of communications.

An overview of the setup.

Blue's force comprised a General, 2 infantry regiments each consisting of a commander and 4 companies, a detachment of Guards with commander and 2 5 figure companies, 2 batteries of the latest imoroved rifled, breechloading artillery and a squadron of mounted rifles (irregular cavalry with rifles, superior fire power, inferior melee.) 

The 1st shot of the game, the FLH inflicts a Retreat (flag) on the dismounted DGBG whose Colonel unwisely risks his life to cancel it (6)  and hold the exposed position so that the cavalry troopers will be able to enter the building on their next move and attempt to hold it against 8 times their numbers backed by artillery. But then he had been led to expect speedy reinforcement.
One of the problems with dice based activation systems is that every now and then the rolls come out lopsided for several turns in a row sometimes at a critical point. That happened here, just as Red was trying to bring on reinforcements he ran into a string of 1s and 2s. By the time the order dice returned to average, the advance guard of cavalry had been shot to pieces with little damage or delay to the attackers. A charge by the 2 troops of lancers saw them throw a fistful of 2s and 3s, not even a 1 to force the enemy back. Then the last surviving lancer pulled back to a safe place for the rest of the game.

The Zouaves, 4 units (companies in this game), deployed with 2 companies forward as a firing line and 2 companies behind as supports. In the face of the threatened cavalry charge they have closed up with 2 companies per square.

When pulling troops off the shelf before deciding to play a game I had grabbed some old Crescent WW1 15lbers with Oberhilse crews (the 40mm Prussian gunners are a perfect fit, the seated gunner can actually fit on the aimer's seat) so I just included them. When the FTC horse artillery finally showed  with their smoothbore muzzle loaders they were shot to pieces in no time. Oops. Sorry guys.

The Red Force has finally brought almost as many troops onto the table as Blue but because of early losses Blue still out numbers them by 2:1 and holds the road up to the middle of town.

So, over all I was quite happy with how the game played but I had a few concerns which I didn't have time to think about right away. One was the speed with which Red units disappeared but given how badly they were mismatched and outnumbered its probably not an issue.

A more serious one which also cropped up in the acw test was that shooting was more effective than I liked. In part though that comes down to what shooting represents and what melee/assault/close combat  represents. The  theory is that with grids being somewhere around 150 yds per area, all decisive small arms fire happens in melee and shooting is basically harrassing  or skirmisher fire. However, somehow that doesn't feel right and obliterates the difference between firefights and bayonet charges.

By ignoring scale that difference could be added easily but possibly with other issues. Another option might be to add modifiers or start fiddling with a difference between adjacent and in contact, easy enough with small units on a large grid but tricky if units fill a grid area.

While I was working on my shortened, grid friendly train I realized that this meant that  I was subconsciously intending to play more skirmish like games which also raises the question of scale. If designing purely for effect scale issues may be over ruled in favour of what looks/feels right. It just requires overcoming 40 years of conditioning, something I've been struggling with for at least 15 years.

Oddly enough both of these issues, the shooting/melee issue and the using one rule set for both small battles and skirmishes cropped up with Hearts of Tin in 2009 during the Game a Week project and were successfully resolved at the time. Also oddly enough it occurred to me during the game that despite minor differences, the effect of units of individual figures on a grid was very similar to the effect of single base units without the grid such as in Morschauser or sometimes in smaller HofT games a few years ago.

All just food for thought at the moment.


  1. I always like the way your games look, and your musings on rules are interesting.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree with Fitz-Badger. A great part of the charm of your photographs of games is the 'home-made' (in the best sense of that term: think 'home made' as opposed to store-bought cake) appearance of your playing surface, terrain and scenery, so that I can imagine myself creating and enjoying a similar game, rather than feeling inadequate and depressed when I see diorama/model railway standard terrain and professionally painted troops at shows or in some magazine illustrations. They have an 'old school', Featherstonian - is there such a word? - feel that appeals to me very much.

      I, too, enjoy reading your thoughts about your rules and following how you have developed them.

    2. Thanks very much! I appreciate the feedback as well as compliments. I'll confess there was a time when I sought that magazine look, did geomorphic, contoured terrain tiles etc but once I got into toy soldiers I learned the value not only of simplicity, flexibility and storability but leaving room for the imagination of the viewer.

  2. Agree about the potential lumpiness of D6-based activation rules. On the other hand, I find such rule systems attractively simple and straightforward, and the big advantage they have over the alternatives - for me - is that I am less likely to get irritated with them and drop them or fudge them in mid-battle. I have chosen to use a D3 system (1-1-2-2-3-3 - I get them from educational suppliers) entirely because double the number of D3s gives you a smaller variance than D6s. If I recall correctly, you have (or had) a rule whereby activation points could be hoarded with an ADC to a limited extent, which must help with the lumps; I have been intending to introduce such an idea but my usual inertia, coupled with a lack of suitable ADCs, has stalled it!

    I like D3s - since they are printed with numerals instead of spots they are instantly distinguished from normal dice.

    1. For a minute there I was trying to picture a 3 sided die and thinking those d4 pyrqmids are bad enough. I actually have some d6 with numbers, I could send you some if you would like to sow confusion.

      I have gone through phases of trying to reduce the range of extremes, my eventual, disturbing, conclusion is that while I was focusing on reproducing reasonable, testable results on a consistent basis what I was actually doing was balancing excitement vs predictability. A tough balance.

  3. Do you know, the top photograph - with the train - really encapsulates all the escapist charm of the toy soldier world. Aaaaah.

    1. Thanks, a touch of whimsey? Now that you mention it, it really does represent my view of that world quite well.
      I love the lancers sitting patiently on their horses in the open cattle car.