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

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Success

On Tuesday I managed to play through the development/test game and Hooray!, I seem to have finally solved the rule mechanic conundrum that has been dogging me for a decade.  Its not the first time I've felt that so I'm tempering my expectations but it looks good.

I'll let the picture captions sumamrize game events and talk a bit about game mechanics and theory.

Mid Game. An initial attack on Blue's position was repulsed after heavy casualties but a follow up attack by the elite Royal Fusiliers drove Zinn's brigade off the hill. The appearance of the Blue Dragoons on the opposite flank caused an order to the DGBG and Horse Artillery to rapidly switch to the left flank.
For this game I reverted to the Pips version that I have been using for 2 years now which is also similar to the Square Brigadier version and again it worked well.

The combat  system makes two assumptions. The first is that long range fire by 19thC infantry was largely fire by skirmishers who would close to effective range but could be massed fire. Either way, such fire could cause a trickle of casualties but did not usually stop a determined attack. If neither side pressed home  a serious attack, such a firefight could go on all day. In a very slight variation of my usual rules I measured long range shooting from the main battleline and counted stands ther even if the unit had skirmishers deployed. This was partly for ease of play and partly to reflect that the fire of a small number of skirmishers at effective range was usually at least as effective as the fire of whole battalions at long range so using this mechanism provides consistancy of game mechanic while getting the same result either way. Units without a skirmish screen are however, more vulnerable to small arms. 

Close range fire on the other hand can be not only bloody but rapidly decisive. This has always been my premise behind adopting Morschauser's 3" Melee range. Not having a way to diferentiate between firefights and charges with cold steel always bothered me so I have played with many variations over the years to let me do that effectively. The  latest tweak to the morale system and a variation on an experiment 2 years ago that did away with a separate melee resolution rule seems to have finally cracked it. 

Essentially long range fire is done instead of moving but does not require an order once the unit is in place. Units get 1 die per stand. If a unit closes to within 3" both sides shoot with 2 dice per stand during each player's turn unless 1 side charges into contact. Charging units take any losses from fire then roll their dice but get 3 dice per stand. If neither side breaks a 2nd round is fought by units in contact only, this being 2 dice per side and simultaneous. If neither side is broken any unit that charged or couter charged will retreat out of contact or if desired an inch back to continue a firefight if infantry.  
Zinn's Brigade fought hard but outnumbered and outgunned it was eventually driven off the table and the Queen's Third Brigade turned its attention to the Blue guards leaving the 2nd to clean up.
The morale system is, as usual,  the Heart of the rules. Here the premise, greatly influenced by Ardant du Picq  when I was in college, is that units in battle suffer a loss of effectiveness from loss of discipline over and above any casualties suffered, not to mention fatigue and running out of ammunition. Studying various battles led me to conclude that often units that were defeated could rally and come back, but not always and in some cases units are routed or so badly shot up that they are forced to retreat off the field. The Storyteller wants to know the details but on the day the General just needs to know which units are functioning, which are not and which are in danger. 

Getting this balance right has been THE difficulty over the last 10 years. I had many solutions which looked good in theory but failed in practice. I wanted something easy to administer in a large game but robust enough for very small games. It had to handle a trickle of casualties one way and heavy losses another, not need a cheat sheet or require consulting charts or rosters. It need to allow some units sometimes to rally, but only in the right circumstances and those circumstances had to be clear to players (failed that several times by getting too fancy/fussy) and it had to ensure that most units did not become immortal (another frequent problem). It also had to reflect that good troops were able to push on through heavier fire and greater danger  than poorly disciplined ones and be more likely to rally and be capable of a credible second go but not guaranteed of it. 

The basic mechanism of combat causing hits and eventually causing stands to be removed if they weren't rallied off came early on and appears in the initial 2003 version. Fine tuning it has been torturous and was one of the major factors in trying out a single figure version of the rules.  By halfway through the game I had tried several minor tweaks and all of a sudden stumbled on an easy logical answer that appears to deliver all the things I've been trying to get it to do. Nothing here was new but the specific combination of the various possibilities was a slightly different combination. 

So, the current version goes like this, regular troops can take 3 hits per stand  (elites 4, poor 2).  When a unit accumulates that many hits 1 stand is shaken and gets no dice in combat. When all stands are shaken the unit is broken and will retreat each turn until rallied or it leaves the table. If the unit is not within 3" of the enemy (melee/close range) then it may be given a Rally order (if the general has enough orders to spare one, it can be a problem if too many break at once). When a unit rallies (which can be done anytime, not just when a unit is broken) the player rolls 1 die per hit needing 5,6 to remove the hit (+1 for elites etc). Any hits not rallied are applied to the unit again but this time any shaken stands are removed from the game. 

The result is if a unit takes very heavy fire it can collapse quickly, especially if poor. In theory it can also rally to 100% but it is unlikely and it is also possible that even the best units may not rally one hit. Fear of unlikely events was one of several persistent issues that I finally overcame by unclenching. Of such wierd chance events are good stories made.  Since a unit does not have to wait, ideally it should rally often except that it can't shoot or move and rally and orders are limited and rallying uses one. So if the defender is tickled with long range fire but not pressed so that he has to move, he can sit back and rally but a heavy bombardment followed by attacks pressed home and supported or repeated by ready reserves with the minimum respite, cracks are likely to appear. Effective defensive fire can give the attacker a tough choice, halt and try to rally or press on and risk breaking.  It also means that poor troops are best off going for a simultaneous but less effective firefight than pressing through the enemy's fire and closing with cold steel which is the job of grenadiers or heavy cavalry.  

On the left, Charge followed charge with heavy losses to both sides but eventually the Blue Dragoons broke and the remnants of the Blue army was forced to withdraw. 

The rules have been updated to what was played for the last 2/3 of the game. They can be downloaded from the link at left or here.  

Will this be the definitive version? Or will I find a new flaw? Hopefull this will be it once I add some additional troop types and make sure all the little odd things are covered like an engineer officer trying to blow in a hillfort gate, escalading, amphibious assaults and special units and unusual  tactics like mounted fire by Native Atlantican cavalry and so on. I decided to keep the rules to the War of 1812 up to the ACW but it would be easy to back date them or to expand them to at least the Franco Prussian war if not further. 

But for now its back to finishing renos and clean up of my games room and to sculpting, casting and painting 1850's figures and filling out the backstory. Bob Cordery has unwittingly cracked my North Atlantican architecture, culture and economic basis mystery but that's another post.




3 comments:

  1. Sounds good the way you describe it. I might just have to take a look at your rules.Thanks!

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  2. The new version looks very promising, glad to hear you feel you've made a leap forward.

    After a quick read-through, just wondering if sections 5 and 10a are a bit out of sync. Infantry in line movement distance? Does the movement distance for 'column' cover both 'march column' and 'mass'?



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    Replies
    1. Umh yes, when I deleted the 9" line move I seem to have taken a few extra words. Thanks!

      I'm a bit stymied as my plan to have "attack" columns wider than "march" columns foundered on 3 stand units so now they look the same. I've just changed the names to sound more familiar. The lack of an inches bonus will bother some but hopefully the ease of wheeling and going through gaps will suffice as well as the road bonus.

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