Hearts of Tin (HofT) rules are again available for download and comment, use etc. During the process of reviewing various choices of mechanism and testing them on the table, I was reminded that in my first take at a Morchauser inspired set back in 2003, I included a number of not very Morschauser like aspects along with some concepts drawn directly from his rules, such as the 3" melee range which separated shooting which was not necessarily decisive with melee which always ended with 1 side or both being destroyed. The current rules again show inspiration drawn from Morschauser as well as Featherstone and Lawford & Young and are probably the best illustration yet of the sort of thing comes into my mind when some one says "wargame". Not saying that I don't enjoy gridded or abstract or clever or other games or that this is better than anything else, but like Charge!, this feels natural to me.
Of course now I can think of 1/2 dozen better ideas for MacDuff but its too late the change the game before Huzzah and keeping in mind my desire to reduce the breadth of my collecting and solo playing, I am officially retiring MacDuff after Huzzah. He has had his day. HofT no longer deals with the 18thC at all and after quashing an urge to do an 18th C version I have decided to stick with 1 set of 18thC rules: Charge!. More on that and the AWI and the 1775 Quebec campaign another time.
Meanwhile, here are some of the Bugbears that I have wrestled with over and over when trying to get Hearts of Tin (and MacDuff) working the way I want.
1. Extreme Events. These are the famous, rare things, like the British Guards supposedly routing the French Guards at Fontenoy with a single volley, the breaking of squares by cavalry, the panic of the Spanish right at Talevera by mistake. Ideally such things should be Rare but Possible. In a simple game that tends to become either Common or Not Possible. I cheated a bit with this one by narrowing the scope to the period 1812 to 1865 outside Europe, the one I am most interested, which coincidentally seems to have fewer of such things (or perhaps just that I haven't come across them) so I was able to largely avoid them.
The square issue is still there but since this was a period that saw several broken squares as well as cavalry repulsed by lines, I'm comfortable that cavalry vs infantry clashes will be interesting (nail biting) for both sides rather than predictable thus making an interesting gaming situation without being outside the examples shown by history. (Readers may note that I class the Charge of the Light Brigade as a command (player) error rather than a random event.)
2. Cover and other modifiers. Saving throws, die score modifiers, number of dice modifiers, casualty modifiers, tables, I've tried them all. They all have something to recommend them and something against them. They key is to give players a reason to take steps to reduce their troop's vulnerability, (occupying cover, dispersed order etc) while still making it worth while shooting at them. The 2 main methods are essentially to reduce the odds of a hit or to reduce the effects of the hits. Ideally they all give the same result on average but in practice some can result in extremes either way while the same is unfortunately true in history making issues with the more predictable methods. The trick is to allow defensive extremes without making them too common.
Off and on over the last 20 years my favorite method has been to use 1/2 casualties with no casualties being guaranteed. My only beef has been what to do with any fractions. My solution this time has been to leave it up to players, round them up, round them down, dice for them, carry them over. Do it differently each game. Just decide at the start and apply the same rule to every one. The result is that while your fire may be completely ineffective, it will more likely slowly wear them down. Withe the best dice in the world though, the cover will always benefit the defender.
3. More is easier. The main reason that I like slightly larger units isn't the look of them (that's No 2). Its because each hit is less critical. If a unit can absorb 20 hits it doesn't matter so much if it occasionally takes more than they "should", they will survive. But more needs more table space or smaller figures or at least a smaller footprint per figure. This has been at the heart of my basing dilemma over the last 5 years. The new 2 man bases are proving them selves wonderfully on the table. They give me the flexibility to skirmish and fit around terrain or mass in close order, allow me to remove casualties from the rear rank so that units get weaker instead of smaller until they regroup, are as stable and flexible as the wide ugly washers but are as compact as the 6 man bases I tried in 2009. So I can use my 20 man units on a table that will fit in my room.
4. Morale. I hate morale tests. They are hard to resist though as automatic results such as 1/2 strength = remove from table always seem to end up leaving historical situations violated (though see #1, extreme results, would Camerone be famous if fighting to the last man was common?). Simple morale tests though have the same extreme dangers as in 2. Units that fight to the last man too often or Guards that rout off table after being hit by a stray shot. One way I have tried to work around it have included things like ways to recover hits so a fixed break point wasn't a one way, inevitable end point. Once again larger units give a designer more room to wriggle in, you are less likely to lose all of a 12 man cavalry unit to one extremely lucky blast of long range small arms fire than you are a 4 man one. But its not just when units are removed from the table, its about units becoming ineffective without leaving the table which seems to have been the most common result historically. (To be fair re the 1/2 strength rule, while many of us remove Charge! units when they drop to half, they are technically just required to retire and have their capabilities severely cut). Its also about players not getting the same result from long range pot shots over time as from a decisive attack.
My current scheme is a variation on one I have used before. There is no automatic rout, units may fight to the last because losses include stragglers and soldiers still with the ranks but no longer fighting effectively which is why I like to maintain the frontage so that if attacked by a fresh unit, the worn one will have fewer dice spread over the same frontage. To allow easy morale distinction between the slow drain of long range fire vs the destructive moral effect of close range firefights I have reintroduced the old 3" "melee" zone. After a round of melee (which is mostly close range shooting but also includes charges into contact), instead of the automatic loss, I have included, yes, a morale test with a modifier for quality and for how badly you lost. The result is that a unit, especially an elite one could lose every round and still fight to the finish as long as they don't lose any 1 round too badly. Its not likely though. It is more likely that a unit that loses a round of the decisive close combat will retreat and might rout if it loses badly or has low morale. Hopefully this variation, the best yet, will work as well as some test tuns predict.
Meanwhile the game continues! (This unusual light has appeared in the sky over the last 2 days, something called a "sun" apparently so yard work and spring cleaning has been interfering!)
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
Sunday, May 4, 2014
Bug Bears Banished
Born and raised in the suburbs of Montreal, 5 years in the Black Watch of Canada Cadets, 5 years at the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean followed by 4 in the navy. 25 years with CPC in IT simultaneous with 23 years running a boarding kennel. Inherited my love of toy soldiers from my mother's father. Married with a Whippet, 10 Italian Greyhounds, 4 cats and a bird. Prematurely retired and looking forward to leisure to game, garden and sculpt in our 150 yr old farmhouse.