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

Monday, March 17, 2014

Form and Function

For at least a decade I've tried to avoid tying rules to a specific organization or basing system but it sure does make it harder to write clear, short, simple, effective rules. That said, while some forms are merely easier to work with, some forms are a direct result of, or a trigger for, functional decisions. Its just better if that sort of relationship is intentional rather than accidental.

The Queen's troops have driven in the Oberhilse flank guard and have now engaged the first units of reinforcements.

On Sunday I decided that I should really spend a big chunk of my free time doing some tidying around the house. I'm not sure exactly which part of my brain equated tidying house with moving roughly 150 figures from chunky washers onto temporary cardboard bases. Never the less its done and, despite my long standing  prejudice against single rank bases, it looks like its part of the answer to some of my questions.

This format was chosen specifically to both fit in the grid and work with the current Square Brigadier rules. Once done though, all sorts of things started to pop into my head, like formations, and varying numbers of troops, things not so easily done with a 1 stand unit or even 4 individuals. A change in form triggered a review of function.
From the upper left, infantry deployed as skirmishers and supports,
line, square and column.
I already knew something was up because I was having a hard time getting an idea for a game either upstairs or down, even the old favorite teasers didn't tease. So, rather than blindly starting to play around with rules, I sat down to see what was behind the urges and blockages.

My conclusion was that the base rules were  too bland to hold my interest in a small or medium game and a big game required too much work to put together frequently and there is no guarantee that size itself would provide adequate complexity. It is possible that planned period specific rules would help but the old quip about lipstick on a pig comes to mind.

But there's more, the abstract nature of some of the mechanisms while providing reasonable results don't provide sufficient explanation of why things might have happened  which is important both for narrative and to present choices to players that more closely relate to real ones. Now, part of the solution is as much about theater as history but if it entertains me I'll take it.

After backing down from a knee jerk reaction to ditch both rules and grid, I started scribbling down refinements of various experiments from both the Square Brigadier and Hearts of Tin. It'll take a while to go from hand scribbled notes to an updated rule set,  explanations will add perhaps 25%.

Briefly, there will be a return to linking number of stands to the number of troops with morale being separate. Shooting will be confirmed as essentially skirmish and artillery fire with limited effects in the short run. Close range combat will be more deadly  with a possibility of forcing a retreat or destroying a unit very quickly.

To stop units from disintegrating too easily on a regular basis, the rally is now a sort of end of turn saving throw, still based on unit quality.
As reinforcements pour onto the table, the Royal Veterans has finally cleared the barricades from the bridge.
There will be fiddling of sequence of play to return to older systems and a change to the orders system. The only problem with the current system is that it suits some army sizes better than others. The revision was actually prompted by something  Fitz Badger, if I'm not mistaken, did as a variation on an activation system Bob Cordery was experimenting with, or something like that, crossed with something Chris Hughes did in an ACW game at Fall in 2012.

My variation is to have the army commander rolls d6 equal to the number of Brigadiers plus the number of higher Generals who can see the enemy. The army commander then assigns 1 or more dice to various brigadiers and/or detached units. The number on the dice is the number of units that can move or shoot.  A brigadier may only use his orders on his own units and then only if they are in range. A unit can only use 1 order and any excess cannot be transferred so if the die is higher than the number of units, the excess are lost.

If an army has a sound organization and is well in hand, even an average set of rolls should suffice but already during the 5 turns played the armies have gotten into trouble due to a shortage of orders in a confused situation. The game will resume tomorrow if all goes well.


  1. Ross, that is my idea of house cleaning: rebasing figures! Well done!

    As for your command mechanism, does each side place its command dice one by one in an alternating fashion or something else. If alternating, I can see going second as an advantage to counter your opponent's command die placements.

    1. This set of rules has the opposing sides taking turns, I find that easier when plsying solo. So the first player would roll his command dice and move and shoot with his units and make any attacks or charges, units being attacked could then react invkufibg defensive fire, counter charges etc then close combat is resolved and the 1st players turn is over and the second player begins.

  2. Doesn't ring any bells, but who knows - my memory is hardly photographic; in fact, it can be pretty sketchy. ha ha

    Anyway, I also like your idea of "tidying up the house". The bases you have there do seem to work well for putting together different formations (and still keep within your grid squares)

    1. It was something about rolling a handful of dice with the score indicating what kind of unit could be moved. 2 hours after I read the entry I couldn't remember whose blog it was and couldn't find it again. Odd how one idea can trigger something different.

  3. Dear Sir,
    I think the line would look more like a line if in single rank. Thus it would be twice as long and could not be mistaken for a column. I understand the space limitations.

    1. Sir??? (Looking over my shoulder)

      I completely agree, 1 rank looks better.
      I looked at spreading the line across 2 squares but that changes the ground scale, I also looked at just 6 figures but the goal is to use as many figures as possible. So, a compromise.

  4. Ross:
    A good day's cleaning - did Delta Niner agree that your time was well spent?
    I like the initiative system as you explained it. It sounds workable.
    That last photo is especially pretty.

    1. Delta Niner? (the net says some one who smokes pot, definitely would not apply to the tea-totaller I am wed to.