EXCERPT 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

Friday, February 19, 2016

Baptism of Fire

I was half expecting the Newport Noodle to cover this little engagement but apparently no reporters were available or paying attention or there was free coffee on offer somewhere. Just as well since this'll give me time to straighten out the back story, maps, troops etc and get ready for a small but proper campaign.  

The scenario was a traditional equal forces encounter, General, 2 cavalry+brigadier, 4 infantry+brigadier, 1 gun. Both sides entered already deployed, both with orders to seize the crossroad and stonewall. I placed the infantry in the center and diced for the cavalry and guns with a 50% chance of left or right for each. All troops were average. Red is formed up on the Northern side of the table.

There was an initial rush forward all along the line apart from Blue's cavalry being sent on a wild goose chase to check out the woods by the window thanks to a chance card. Fortune played no favourites though and soon granted Blue a 1 area bonus move allowing them  to reach the wall ahead of Red. Red's subsequent assault was repulsed all along the line but Blue's flank was overlapped and a combined infantry and cavalry assault over ran Blue 1st Infantry.

On the Western flank Blue's artillery managed to drive back Red's battery and the threat of a flanking move by cavalry induced the new Brooklyn volunteers to fall back with them on the initiative of the battalion commander. For a moment I thought the axis of the battle lines would both shift 90 degrees but Blue's right looked more exposed despite the Oerberg Volunteers forming square so I diced for options and Blue's cavalry came galloping back while Red rallied his infantry and the opposing lines skirmished.  

Blue repulsed several assaults but eventually weight of numbers told and another Blue unit broke for the rear leaving a wounded Brigadier Zinn behind.  At the same time Blue's artillery ran low on ammo and moved to the rear (ie Another chance card allowed Red to retreat it.)

It looked like the game was about finished but Blue's cavalry had now come galloping up.
A brief, indecisive mounted clash and mounting casualties saw Red falling back slightly and dismounting. Blue pondered the options (ie diced for them)  and decided to follow suit. A protracted firefight resulted all along the lines which intensified as Blue's artillery and some rallied infantry moved back into line.

In the end, it became a slow grind of firefights between battered units and Red's growing numerical superiority continued to tip the balance until Blue's army morale collapsed as a 3rd and then 4th unit broke with only 1 Red unit being too badly shot up to rally.

When I once again started planning a single framework for everything from skirmishes between a few units and battles with as many troops as my table will hold, I thought I needed to go back to something that would allow me to break units up mid game but once again that caused unwelcome rule alterations that broke many of the things that were working. I pondered the question between games and realized that all I needed was a way to break down units before a game. In other words the ability to have full units and detachments so that I could have a small outpost or man an armoured car. That resolved that. 

I also  decided that I liked the system of a joint preliminary artillery and skirmisher fire phase followed by alternate player moves each with a close combat resolution such as I tried in the Dec 2014 Gettysburg games.  It needs some adjustment but I am happy with the feel of it. 

The big issue right now is getting just the right balance of combat effects and morale, temporary and permanent. Its a very delicate balance made worse by awareness of scale and detail in a set of rules that are supposed to be showing intention and outcome rather than process. 

For example, in order to fit a battalion into one area and fit the kind of battlefields that I want onto my table, I have had to adopt a ground scale of roughly 150 yds per area and around 450 men per battalion, stretching or compressing it to 200 yds for bigger battles or 100 yds for smaller ones.   Initially I once again tried detaching stands of skirmishers so fire could be seen to be relative to the positions of the skirmishers but since a skirmish line is not separate from its parent unit that gave me the added complication of units occupying 2 areas (or 3 if I pushed it to theoretical limits). Easy enough when they stand still but a real headache when they start manoeuvring, esp in a bigger battle Manageable if I relied on "feel" rather than a rule but it really detracted from the pace and feel of the game without really adding anything other than to encourage unhelpful thoughts like "this sort of detail would be easier if I were using 24 or 48 man units on an ungridded table with a ground scale closer to 1"=10 yards". 

Really though, I am striving towards an effects based game which assumes that unit commanders rather than the player-general is managing the details of unit tactics. This means some hard choices about letting go of 1:1 relationships and a lot of details.  For instance, if a unit is firing at 3 area range does that mean they are shooting at a target which is 450 yds away? This is within theoretical maximum range for aimed shots by well trained troops but beyond normal effective battle range. Or, if the units are both formed and at the back of their respective areas are they actually nearer to 600 yards apart? Or do they each have advanced skirmish screens firing at each other at 100 yards somewhere in between. We don't know and shouldn't need to either way this fire should have some effect, but not too much. Decisive results should only be affected much closer. SO, I've been tinkering with hits and morale and numbers of dice and so on, looking for an equivalent for the 1 or 2 hits on a 48 man unit when using 4 hit units. A few years ago I was playing around with a disorder result and am beginning to think that I need to revisit that keeping in the mind that I am NOT going to track more than 1 marker for status and 1 for permanent reduction of morale/casualties. 

Apart from such details, its all lights green, there will be more minor tinkering but I know what I am looking for now and the pattern of the rules is set, the organization of the armies is set and recruiting and dressing the troops in full swing. Now if I could just have a few days to devote to the hobby instead of so called 'real life'! The current goal is to have the back ground write up prepared and the first of a series of mini campaigns or at least battles ready to go by March. So....back to work!


  1. Hurrah for army red!

    Glad to hear that you've settled on something - though I think the proof of the pudding will be in how many times it makes it to the tabletop.

    1. Absolutely. At least it is already table ready for small games and has a 18 year track record. It is the attempts to move away from it that have all foundered.

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  3. Quite a few issues here. I seem to be approaching the same sort of problems, but from the opposite direction. On the matter of skirmishers, I prefer to have them physically represented, if only to find appropriate employment for my light infantry units (I'm talking Big Battles for Small Tables project here). It is tricky if the parent unit does something complicated though.

    If the parent unit is standing still, advancing, or even retiring in reasonable order, it is reasonable to suppose the skirmish screen simply maintains its forward position.
    Complications arise (a) when the parent unit closes to close combat range; and (b) it turns or wheels or something. At the moment I treat the skirmishers like a 'semi-detached uni, taking station on the flanks in close combat, or an 'outside' flank if wheeling. Once the skirmish screen has been reduced to 50% of its original numbers, they get resorbed into the parent unit which no longer has a skirmish screen capability.

    If you are using 'notional' skirmishers, you could consider a practice similar to that of 'Age of Eagles'. In this Napoleonic set, infantry brigades may or may not have a skirmish capability. The musketry range of those that do is doubled, with the effect reduced at the extended range. From the point of view of playability, there is no question that it is convenient, and I found it surprisingly easy, once I got my head around it, to rationalise AofE's game conventions into what is supposed to be happening on a Napoleonic battlefield.

    Come to think of it, that might have given me an idea about how to handle skirmishers as a physical presence...

    1. That is essentially the approach I've taken, one I originally encountered in Fire & Fury, AofE's parent b6t with a twist borrowed from Morschauser. Basically units closing within 1 area (150 yards) are treated as initiating decisive combat. All fire from beyond that is to weaken/occupy the enemy.
      Units equipped with smoothbores or not trained will be penalized.

  4. Great battle report! Thanks for sharing it Ross.
    Regarding the rules i will like to know if areas that share a corner, are adjacent?

    1. Yr welvome,

      No, only areas that share a side are adjacent..

    2. Yr welvome,

      No, only areas that share a side are adjacent..