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

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Defence of Pine Ridge: After thoughts and do over.

Yesterday I managed to play out an early 20th Century game using the proposed new rules. (You can date the game by the presence of guns with recoil mechanisms and shields crossed with the mix of drab and colourful uniforms. )  In order to field sufficient troops I had to resort to both the Atlantica and WWI collections. The mixture of Oberhilse Zouaves in red pants and Faraway Redcoats needs a bit of explaining but I'm still working on that. The Zouaves never did feel at home in the Oberhilse army,  doubtless they were raised amongst one of the ethnic minorities that have now declared independence from Oberhilse and are being supported by Faraway. Hence the war.  

Valleyfield Farm has fallen but the attack is losing steam. The Zouaves are going to need a new flag!
As all too often with my initial drafts, there were choices made that I was very unsure about. The prime debate centered on whether to follow Morchauser (and more recently Borg)  and have the figures on table represent the ability of the unit to fight thus meaning it would fight to the last since figures marked or removed as "hit" may be assumed to include dead, wounded, stragglers and all those still present but not functioning and thus able to be ignored. This was the way I had meant to go but the alternate, perhaps more common, convention that survivors should be seen to retreat from the fight and recent time spent rereading Charge! led to a moment of weakness in which I introduced a last minute 50% rule by unit as well as by "army". (Army as in one side of a wargame regardless of size.)

The basic unit of the game is a "company" of 8 infantry or 4 cavalry or 1 gun and crew, could easily be a bit bigger or smaller. Again being fresh from reviewing Charge! I began to group these into "regiments" of 3 companies although there were was such diversity that I only managed to group 3 companies on 1 side and 2 on the other (Blue Guards and Zouaves, other units being independent. The intention was to group them for order purposes only but with the last minute 50% rules, I included the regiment or independent company as the basis. At the last minute I also threw in the Giving Ground rule from  the Square Brigadier.

None of these things survived intact past turn 4. The issues were two fold. 

From a purely gaming perspective they muddied the waters, suggested several very gamey tactics and prolonged the game without adding depth or excitement, indeed they robbed some of the tension and elation since when taken together, it became extremely difficult to eliminate the last figure in a unit which was not the intent since the end of the game was determined by losing over 50% of units. 

The other thing is that some aspects tended to contradict historical evidence in ways that could only have been overcome by added complexity whose sole benefit would have been the optics of seeing the shattered remnants of units retreating. In particular, in the age of extended formations and concealment there are numerous instances of small numbers of men holding on and continuing the fight when the bulk of their unit has fallen back or been destroyed. Leaving aside questions of relative courage between the ages of man, I suspect that in the confusion of modern war with no formed ranks, flags and colourful uniforms, its hard for both sides to tell what's happening away from their immediate surroundings. The Morschauser/Borg approach seems to cover this better than methods designed for 18thC linear warfare. 

There seemed two choices: add complexity or remove the late additions. I removed them and amended the rules shortly after posting them Friday. Hopefully not many people were reading my blog late on a Friday night, I apologise to any who were.

A wider view of the game near the end. The red dots mark the advance of the Blue Guards.

The scenario was Scenario 1, Hill line Defense from Grant's Programmed Scenarios. I played the defenders (Blue in the book) using the red forces while Red (in the book) was played by Oberhilse or Blue, as a programmed opponent. (clear?) Luckily for me, my programmed enemy made some bad choices with his die rolls, leaving his left wing inactive despite several chances to change his mind as a reaction to my moves. This did make it hard to knock him below 50% so was not completely a bad idea. The attacking army had 3 cavalry, 5 infantry, 1 MG and 2 batteries. The defender had 2 cavalry, 4 infantry, 2 MGs and 1 battery. Not an overwhelming advantage for the attacker and made worse since I let the defenders dig in, partly because it was customary, partly to test the rules. I am more than a little short on mg's and to improvise a third one had to borrow the one I did up for my armoured train and stick it in the back of a motor car to form a very improvised motor MG which actually came in very handy. Not that I was intentionally stacking the odds in my favour.

The Blue Guards made a magnificent attack on the left flank. The red dots marking where they fell can be seen in the photo above. An attempt by a squadron of cavalry to over run the Motor Machine Gun didn't go well for them and that flank died down.

In the centre, the attacking artillery quickly found the range and silenced my gun. At the last minute I managed to limber up and retreat off table from where I used indirect fire. An attack by the new units in their drab uniforms took the center farm to my surprise and, aided by artillery fire, repulsed an attack by the Zouaves. It threatened to turn into a bit of a stand off with the infantry on both sides hunkered down under cover but the attacker's mission was to capture the ridge so they made one last attempt and that ended it.

The game was somewhat interrupted by various enjoyable family happenings and I did spend an inordinate amount of time sipping tea or coffee while just looking at the game, smiling and fiddling about but at the same time I kept sneaking up and rolling dice and ended each turn keen on starting the next so I am unsure  of how long it took to play in either time or turns. But it was not a long game.

One rules thing I struggled with was choice of combat resolution mechanism. I have gotten used to keeping the number of dice the same and varying the scores to hit but early tests had more anomalies than  I was comfortable with so I went for 50% reductions for cover and doubling fire against columns in the open (the Zouaves aren't likely to try that again!) but unlike Charge! I halved the dice not the results so that I would not have to fiddle with carry overs. It felt weird and I kept forgetting and occasionally caught myself halving dice as well as adjusting the to hit score. By the end of the game, I had to admit that the effect had been about what I aimed for but the more I thought about it, the more it lacked a sense of danger since no handful of 6's were going to negate an advantage. Keeping the original goal in mind, I reset and played again using the other combat system and the same battle plans.

This time I kept track of turns and time.  I also re-rolled  the attacker's reaction to me leaving a hole in my line and this time he threw in the cavalry, too late to make a difference I'm afraid but it was a nip and tuck game anyway that almost shifted to an offensive win on the last turn when a turning movement by a squadron of Uhlans came within a die roll of over running the defending HQ. The 2nd game ran for 11 turns and took roughly an hour to play. The quick version of the rules has been updated with both combat systems  and the full rules, using only the fixed number of dice, varying scores system will be ready in a week or so.

The end of the 2nd game. After holding the flank dismounted ,the DGBG mounts and rounds up  the survivors of the  maruading Uhlans who so nearly over ran the HQ before the Naval Motor Service came to the rescue.
I thought I was doing well with my last efforts but this is what I have really been looking for since I started first to buy and paint Soldierpac recasts of old 54mm Toy Soldiers as the turn of the Century approached and then to paint glossy 40mm late 19thC toy soldiers. The system is simple and robust enough to be adjusted, at very least, to suit from 1880 to 1920 but apart from my small 1914 Homage, I shall use it for fictional games with a mix of drab and colour.

The major question that remains to be answered is: "How many troops can I justify? What's the minimum for a game? What's the maximum I can make use of in a single army? And How many armies can I justify?"
Oh boy!!!!!!!  Better print some recruiting posters.


12 comments:

  1. Sounds like you've come up with fun, simple, and quick rules/game.

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    1. More old school simple than clever but I think it fits the style of figure.

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  2. Ross, that sounds like you've managed to hit the nail on the head.

    No army is the worse for having zouaves in it - they are capital fellows.

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    1. They are very dashing lads but I must point out that one left the table mid game and it took me 2 days to find him amongst the boxes under the far side of the table. Claimed he was mining.

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  3. Great looking game and interesting debate.All one could ask in terms of toy soldiers and rules for a splendid game.Keep inspiring us Ross!

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  4. Seems to be a great game...with great rules!

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    1. Early days but it had me painting and modelling again.

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  5. Ross Mac,

    I look forward to seeing the latest draft of your rules as I am currently doing some re-thinking about my own late 19th/early 20th century rules. I am definitely moving along the Morschauser/Borg route, and hope to push some toy soldiers about on my tabletop later this coming week.

    All the best,

    Bob

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    1. Nothing like getting troops on the table to get the feel of a new venture, or an old venture revisited.

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  6. Ross,
    I'm also looking forward to the latest draft. Your blog and rules have inspired me to pursue a similar style of game, albeit with much smaller - 10mm - figures, as I don't have the space for a large or permanent table, alas.
    Best wishes,
    Arthur

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    1. Still needs to be written and there is some family matters to distract me but it won't be too long.

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