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

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Hearts of Tin in the Valley

The first big battle of the day came when I started to lay out terrain. The scenario that I had chosen involves an attack to clear a pass. Inevitably this means a lot of hills. Since I wanted to try out the proposed new revision of Hearts of Tin which was not designed for a grid I figured that I would build the hills from boards and books and throw a cloth over it all in the Old Way. Unfortunately, it seems that I only have 2 non-gridded cloths left and neither the one with a largish river nor the one with roads criss-crossing the table in every direction except up the valley would do for this scenario. Even the variety of gridded cloths was useless due to shape, size, colour etc. I ended up building the hills out of painted boards as best I might. The result was similar enough to the map to serve although the hills were not as high as I would have liked.

Something to add to the lengthy toodoo list, make more hills, and more fences and base the bloody trees in a way that stops them from falling over when I walk past!.  The squares I just ignored.

Having taken some 50 photos using various settings and angles, I somehow seem to have erased all pictures from the first 5 turns while selecting the ones to upload. Oops. Still the troops have deployed and the attack has just begun.
Armies and Battleplans.

Having decided to defend with the Rebs and to use Grant's Programmed Instructions for both sides, I set to. The attacking Yankees went first. I selected the list with maximum artillery so as to get all six of the renovated Yankee artillery on the table. This gave me an attacking force of 4 brigades each of 3 regiments of infantry and a battery of artillery plus an independent cavalry regiment and 2 more batteries from the Corps reserve. All these troops had to march on via the road then deploy. The programmed instructions were to completely deploy and then launch strong attacks up either flank through the broken and difficult terrain while covering the centre with light troops. Since I had none of these I covered it with cavalry and artillery. The instructions further indicated that no pockets of resistance were to be bypassed. The mission was to make the valley safe for the passage of the army and transport by nightfall which I decided was my usual 15 turns. 

With that settled I proceeded to the Confederate force of  10 regiments of infantry divided into 3 Brigades, an independent cavalry regiment and 4 batteries of artillery. The orders I rolled up were to deploy in depth with 1/3 in the forward middle supported by 1/3 in the rear middle and a final 1/3 in reserve out of sight where the pass opens out. I decided to deploy 1 brigade on the hills on either side with the 3rd in reserve. I deployed cavalry and guns in the open ground and deployed the infantry in depth each with 2 regiments up front and 1 in support 1 zone back. Three guns went in the middle zone while the cavalry deployed as far down the road as allowed. The orders were to delay then fall back, pulling back any units that were threatened with being cut off. A final stand by all troops was to be made across the end of the pass. 

With Generalship settled, I paid attention to the rules and played it through to see what would happen.  
Several turns later the Blue machine is lurching forward with various minor setbacks and slowly taking ground despite mounting losses. The day is 1/2 spent though and the valley less than 1/2 cleared.
The Battle.

Card decks are fickle creatures and at first the Yankees went first every turn and received several favourable Chance Events, extra moves, recovered losses etc. Dice are also fickle and the combat rolls heavily favoured the Rebs as did the terrain.  I was beginning to wonder if it would even be close as every attack was repulsed across the table. After a brief respite and some heavy bombarding, a second push started to have an effect and the front line Reb units were either forced back by attacks or were pulled back to avoid being cut off. 

There was a brief respite while the Yankees reformed their infantry in the woods and brought up their guns which were now out of range. Across the field, the Reb reserves were put on table and moved forward. By turn 9 the final defence line was under attack. The Yankees had more troops but not a lot more and they had suffered perhaps twice the casualties that they had inflicted  despite the bombardments.    
End of the Line. Rebel counter attacks have thrown back the Federal Big Push and the light is fading.

The relentless pressure finally started to pay off though and both cards and dice evened out.  General Kinch was forced to send Reb infantry  forward in limited counter attacks to hold the final line intact. Finally on turn 11 the 3 remaining Yankee Brigades launched all out assaults across the table. Casualties were horrific and in several spots opposing units were locked in melee.  On Turn 12 the Rebs grabbed the initiative and launched desperate counter attacks which paid off. On the far or West side, the Yankees were driven back into the woods with no units being in any shape to renew the assault. On the near or East side, there still remained one slight bulge with 2 combat ready regiments and their guns dominated the center. On their half of turn 12 they would have to rally leaving them 2 turns to break the Reb army. I called the game. 

Today though, I thought better of it and since it was a test of the rules, I played out the last 2 1/2 turns. It increased the Confederate losses but neither army broke and the pass was not opened. I had been right. Too little, too late.

After thoughts.

Since this was an accelerated version of Hearts of Tin and what I consider  a medium size game, I was slightly disappointed that the game still took about 3 hours of actual playing time to finish. Three hours is a very reasonable length for a full game but barely 1/2 the total figures were deployed. (For the curious that's 34 units in all on table or roughly 500 figures inc command, disorder markers, etc.)

More importantly, despite the changes that meant that combat and losses were by unit rather than by stand, it still felt like a Hearts of Tin game, just better. I've been doing a lot of thinking over the last 2 years about uncertainty versus achieving average results. The game excitement increases with unpredictability of combat results but to my surprise, I have been finding that the over all look and results also seem to be closer to my ideal. Not sure how to explain it other than to suggest that my average expectations had been wrong and that my reduction in attention paid to "how" in favour of "what" is the right track for me.

The game also played through with many badly battered units with heavy losses, but only a handful outright destroyed although both armies were on the verge of having units break and run. This also seems right to me.

Here is a link (click) to a Google docs file which  is essentially a quick reference/back of postcard summary of the  basic ACW rules as played. This is what I will again be using for ACW and mid-19th C Atlantica games. Its going to take a while to get a full  20 odd page version of the rules including design notes and sample unit stats done up and more games will need to be played before then and in earlier periods as well.

For those wondering what this all means for my gridded games, I'm not sure yet. At the very least I'll be keeping the option for small quick gridded games but I will also be playing more games that don't use a grid.

In turn 12, General Featherstone leads his butternut Mississipi veterans forward in a fierce counter attack that would drive the Yankees back into the woods but leave his brave boys exposed to the concentrated power of 4 enemy batteries should the battle continue. An excess of zeal perhaps when delay was what was called for and a small retreat might have been wiser.


  1. As a completely unengaged spectator, the battle seems to have the right "look" to it. More cowbell though. ;-)

    Best Regards,


    1. They're in the sound track, haven't figured out how to attach that yet. (clang, clang, clang)

  2. Great to see those Airfix fellows.

  3. Great game it seems.

    About your excellent rules: what is the effect on a disordered unit if attacked? it battles back? and if so: as defender no first dice roll? and a -1 on dice?
    Clear that a disordered unit can not fire itself nor attack.

    Thanks for your clarification.



    1. Lex, thanks for your question. Disorder is really too strong a word for what I intend but I haven't found the right word yet. I had been subtracting 1 die for shooting and melee but for this game only changed it to no shooting and no effect in melee. Since it is mostly about troops in cover getting their heads down and advancing troops stopping to return fire (#@#) or maybe lay down, I'm going back to -1 die for shooting and in melee and may not move to attack.