When I was a young lad it was simple, the side that took the most casualties lost. Whether they actually lost because they took more casualties or took more casualties because they lost was a question that only arose later when I started reading more widely but habits had already been established by then so like so many things instinct battles with intellect when I approach this matter.
|A gratuitous picture of Faraway troops in Northern Atlantica under attack by Tsankarlasse troops. (A mystery solved but not yet revealed). The game has confirmed my plan to use the same rules for my 20mm ACW and Faraway's "colonial" 1850's wars.|
In January of 2011 I was taken aback when I played a game of original Morschauser and was reminded that all melees (3" distance between units) were immediately fought until 1 side or both were destroyed. It took a while to realize that, with one stand units, if you looked at a group of stands it was possible after a series of melees that player's might find themselves wanting to pullback surviving units to regroup. So, I went looking for examples of units pulling back with or without orders and for examples of units "rallying" and launching a 2nd or 3rd attack or making another stand. It didn't long to find examples of units being ordered to retreat before they were destroyed and of troops breaking and running but even more examples where there is no explicit evidence of how and why an attack failed. Answers to the second question are harder to find. It seems like units that are ordered back are usually capable of another effort after a break though it is unlikely to suceed unless something has changed. When troops break, they can often be halted and reformed but the process seems likely to take hours at best so for most game purposes, one could consider the unit destroyed or rendered ineffective for the remainder of the day at least.
Recently I've been playing around with a medieval/fantasy game based on Morschauser's rules in which I have modified the melee rules to limit them to one round per player turn. I have declined to introduce a win/lose mechanism so essentially unless one side pulls back voluntarily on their own turn, you win or you die (eventually). I'm thinking of bringing that construct forward.
There is a closely related issue which is the effect of long range fire, especially by skirmishers and artillery but also long range volleys. There is no question that it causes casualties and can degrade units' combat ability but exactly how and to what degree is less clear. Certainly the absolute number of casualties from such fire was usually low and the instances of units being destroyed or routed by such fire are rare, usually including both a lengthy period of time and overwhelming firepower.
As Grant Senior pointed out in The Wargame one advantage of large units with 50 or so figures is that you can cater for losses as little as 2%. With a 4 man unit 25% is the minimum and it only takes 4 such "hits" to destroy a unit. One answer is a "disorder" status or similar which indicates that the unit is weakened temorarily over and above the physical casualties. Well enough. But what does it mean and should it get progressively worse? As far as I can tell, while units sometimes indulged in long range firefights its hard to be sure whether these were attacks that were halted before they began or if they should be treated as indecisive combats (ie within my 4" (150 to 200 yds) decisive combat range.
I have been experimenting for the nth time with using a disorder combat result for shooting and in melee but have been allowing the disorder to stop attacks. In melee (again this includes firefights) it would probably be fair to say that both sides should suffer from disorder almost automatically in which case it could just be built in rather than being a possible result. One alternative that I am reconsidering is to revert to something closer to the old Hearts of Tin approach with multiple stands per unit each capable of several hits with combat strength being dependent on numbers of stands rather than a Battlecry/DBA approach which I have being experimenting with where a unit's combat value remains constant until it is destroyed. There is a lot to be said for the latter from a purely gaming aspect but the other system seems to give a better "feel" even if the results mightly be broadly similar. When playing a cardtable or portable game with 1 stand units the equivalent would be relating numbers of dice to remaing figures or "hits".