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

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Who Ordered That?

In the classic horse & musket era, it was sufficiently rare for a unit to be forced to retreat by long range or skirmisher fire  that one can safely ignore the possibility in a simple game. The same is not true in the age of magazine rifles.  Units advancing in the open were often forced to halt and take cover while even units in cover were sometimes forced to retreat to avoid being destroyed by heavy fire. Units sometimes withdrew under light or ineffective fire but normally only if scouting or delaying and there was no benefit to be gained by staying. These are retreats under orders rather than panicked routs. The trick in wargame terms is to determine who should be deciding if a unit retreats. Should it be the player, acting as unit commander as well as "army" commander? Or, should it be the game presenting the player with a fait accompli ordered by a subordinate?

Over the last few years, various versions of the Square Brigadier have vacillated  between  using the equivalent of a "flag" result from the Battlecry series of games (fait accompli) and allowing the player to reduces losses by retreating units (player decision).  Both approaches are valid and as far as I can tell after trying both, they each have something in their favour in terms of game play. Its that dreaded thing, a matter of "paying your money and taking your choice". After a couple of months of player's choice, I am starting to lean back towards letting the dice decide, one more thing for the player to overcome, especially in a solo game.

Unfortunately the change has other ramifications for the way modifiers are handled so I'm going to have to revisit some of the old versions that worked. If they don't appeal I may look for a third solution such as a simple one of those dreaded "morale" or "reaction" tests. I'll then modify the draft to include both options and hopefully put a game on table come Friday as Red Army races Blue Army for control of a key river crossing.  


  1. Ross,
    Personally, I've always felt that allowing the player to decide whether a unit retreats to avoid suffering casualties doesn't seem right unless he is the commander of that unit, or a general who has decided to accompany it - too 'gamey'. I suppose you could justify units that would otherwise suffer casualties falling back if the general had ordered them to demonstrate before/'amuse' the enemy without becoming closely engaged, but that would be a general policy for the formation to which the unit belonged, rather than an ad hoc decision.
    Die rolls to decide the issue could be adjusted to reflect the aggression - or otherwise! - of the unit's commander.
    Very interested to see how your rules are developing.

    1. While I was mulling over some of the examples which got me thinking, it occurred to me that they were often isolated detachments. That might give me another angle to approach this from.

  2. I also dislike "player choice" because (as you know) I prefer to keep as much "friction" or "fog of war" as possible out of the player's hands.

    Subordinate commanders may well not see the situation the same way as the general . . . but they are the commander on the spot . . . so to let the dice decide seems to me to best replicate decisions made at lower levels of command.

    -- Jeff

    1. By and large I agree Jeff, though with a preference for a bit more control to represent the discipline typically shown in disciplined, professional late 19thC armies, the trick for me is finding a quick, simple method that gives mostly believable results with only an occasional anomaly. A good challenge for my little grey cells.

    2. Interesting issue to ponder Ross.

      I guess the difficulty is how do you strike the balance between something which was generally outside the control of the general historically, with a fall-back result not being a negative thing for the general's plans. Arguably a disciplined unit would follow it's commander's orders, and that would depend largely on the orders he'd been given unless things got really serious.

      Do you have to allocate orders to units in your rules or do you move/fire/charge etc at will? If they do that might provide the balance to dice throws plus casualties.

    3. Thanks for the comment nundanket
      I was definitely thinking of situations where heavy long range fire led to a subordinate pulling back from an untenable position rather than an ordered retreat or a unit forced back by an assault. The particular context was the Boer War with armies spread thinly over miles but it did get me thinking about how many hats the player is wearing in a simple game.

      This does indeed suggest a die roll but a targeted one based on specific conditions, still pondering.

    4. Thanks for the explanation Ross.

  3. I fear this line of thought might open a can of worms. For one thing, what about troop quality? I could imagine trained regulars, say like the BEF in 1914, or certain British units in South Africa, being able to skirmish, advance by bounds, and so on, able to retreat without taking casualties but what about green troops or hastily called up reservists who might be more casualty prone than the professionals? And what about pinning fire as a half-way between light fire from which you can retire and heavy fire that causes casualties? Perhaps three results for fire:
    1) no casualties but troops fall back
    2) troops pinned, cannot advance for next turn, return fire with penalties
    3) troops take casualties
    I just realized I have some 6mm 1914 figures somewhere, so I could give your age of rifles rules a test drive if you like. That might be fun.

    1. Thanks, Mike. I had much the same thought about the worms. I'm fairly comfortable with troops advancing in the open only retiring when ordered or when the unit has reached its limits ("hits" in game terms being as much or more about morale then dead and wounded). There is the odd spectre of very green and unreliable troops panicking when first fired on but I think that will have to be a scenario special rule unless the morale test which pops in and out comes to stay.

      You are of course welcome to try any of the drafts that go up but the latest one was not completely satisfactory and a brand new one is in progress.