Sunday, October 31, 2010

Home is where the Heart is

Following on the 2nd replay of the Ancient's version of Ambush, I reset the game as War of 1812 and gave the latest revision of Hearts of Tin a go for a couple of turns.
Col Ross staring up at the sky, shot from a saddle as he led the final charge.
( Oh dear, What a ramshackle lot, 1/2 through rebasing and really not looking their best)
It worked ok, more or less as intended just didn't feel like "my" rules. So I spend the rest of Saturday night putting them to rights and played through the game this morning. Ahhhhhhhhh.

I guess I'm stuck with my Morschauser inspired game, 3" melee rule and all.  I guess I shouldn't really be surprised, I've been trying to beat them into something more traditional or common for 5 years but I just like 'em as they are/were. I'm not even sure why. It may be partly because they are comfortable, it may be that I end up getting the results I want fairly easily, even if the rules do go all fuzzy and vague just when it matters!

The bottom line is I like the way the game plays and what else really matters? This fall's contemplations and experiments have confirmed the over all shape and improved some minor details. They will work as I want for my 40mm games & my 1/72nd games, time to stop fiddling with rules and get on with painting some toy soldiers and  playing some games!

Hearts of Tin may be downloaded from google docs here

Saturday, October 30, 2010


There are many untold tales from ancient times, some of which bear a remarkable resemblance to various Tabletop Teasers by CS Grant. One of them is the ambush by Medes of the Witch-Queen Demiramis on her journey to the now lost Lion Temple in the hills overlooking the Black Sea.

The sun peeps over the eastern hills as the Queen and her escort enter the final valley.

The Queen's escort was led by a troop of Thracian light cavalry riding 1/2 a move in advance of the main column. They were followed by a troop of medium cavalry and a battalion of Phrygian medium infantry. The Queen herself and the treasure cart containing her offering to the Lion God was accompanied by Crikes, the  escort commander, and 4 Lydian elite heavy cavalry. A battalion of Phyrgian heavy infantry, a company of archers and a squadron of medium cavalry followed. If the Queen and her offering could make its way safely through the valley, she was assured of favour with the  gods regardless of how many minions had to die to ensure her safety. If she was forced to retire with her offering then the day would be a write-off but she could try again while if either she or the offering made it to the temple, there was hope for divine intervention. Any other outcome would be a tragedy in the making.

Word of the expedition had come to Rosius, Commander of the Medes on the border and he had dispatched Suthrones with a battalion of Saka light infantry archers, some Armenian and Skythian skirmishers and a squadron of Hyrkanian light cavalry horse archers. Realizing that troops hiding close to the road might be spotted by the advancing Lydians, and keeping in mind that he needed to draw the Queen well into the trap and then both block her advance and cut off her retreat, Suthrones planned carefully. The Hyrkanians were hidden in a draw near the end of the valley, once the trap was sprung, they were to use their mobility to ride forward and block the pass, relying on their archery to throw the enemy into disorder. The main body of Saka with Suthrones at their head took post in a wood on the crest of the ridge, 1/2 way down the valley.

 The Scythians were also concealed on the crest of their hill in a wood near the start of the valley. They were to wait until the ambush  was sprung then harras the rear of the enemy column. Last of all, the Armenians were placed in a group of rocks near the road with orders to wait until the Queen was in sight before springing their ambush.
Armenian skirmishers lie in wait amongst the rocks.
The Thracians riding at the head of the column were aware of the dangers and keeping a close eye on the hills, spotted a flash of metal from amongst the rocks.  Sounding the alarm, they wheeled to face the hills. Behind them , there was a moment's hesitation while Crikes debated whether or not to urge the Queen to retire, then the Lydian column began to deploy, prepared to brush past these daring Medes. Unfortunately the infantry were slow to deploy (my rules use variable length moves) and a tremendous volley of javelins as the Armenians emerged from the rocks sent the Thracians fleeing.

 By the time the medium infantry had deployed ahead, they were under a hail of arrows from the Hyrkanians and Saka.  Repeated attempts were made by the medium cavalry to break through ahead but all faltered under the hail of arrows and even the Queen's personal escort came under heavy fire. The archers and Phyrgians deployed to the right and moved forward but the fire of the Skythians decimated the Lydian's archers while the Skythians and Saka nimbly fell back before the advancing spearmen. 

With the Lydian cavalry all but destroyed and the infantry withering under the Mede's arrows, the Queen's safety hung by a thread, one rush by the Hyrkanians could seal her fate but suddenly Crikes himself was struck down by an arrow and seizing the initiative (the sides dice each turn to see who moves first), Bacchus, his second in command begged the Queen to retreat while he ordered the infantry to form a  rearguard.

At bay.

 It took a moment for Suthrones to recoginze that the enemy was getting away (pretty amazing really since this was a solo game but sadly true). Belatedly, he realized his arrows were not going to be enough, he ordered the Armenians to race around the flank to block the ford and putting himself at the head of the Hyrcanians, he led them in a wild charge against the remnants of the medium infantry.

It was a close fought battle and Suthrones was pulled from his horse and sorely wounded but his loyal men pushed forward to rescue him and drove the enemy into flight. Almost surrounded by enemy archers , the Phyrgian spearmen could take no more and broke to the rear, only a handful of men retreating in order defending the standard. It was enough, scampering madly across the river (nothing like 5's and 6's on movement dice to aid a retreat) the queen and her Lions reached safety followed soon after by the lumbering gold cart. Her escort looked a little thin but given a chance to rest and regroup, they could try again tomorrow (and they did after a minor tweak to the rules and the Queen narrowly won through but that is another story).

This recreation of an otherwise unrecorded event in 7thC BCE Anatolia was played solo, about 15 turns in an hour an a half using my Gathering of Hosts Rules. (See Gathering blog) and OS wargame figures. The Queen and her attendant coming from the Garrison Sword & Sorcery range, now available again courtesy of Rob Young.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Revelation - Hey Sarge!

I was working on another regiment of Airfix ACW when I made a surprising (to me) discovery. One of the many things I like about the airfix guys is that while you can make mixed units "fighting", you get enough of certain poses to make a couple of units performing drill, at attention, marching under discipline as opposed to strolling etc.  In this case the plan was a unit all in backpacks, a 1st rank in what my contemporary British drill book calls "Low Guard" position (even if the bayonets didn't get molded on), and a 2nd rank at right shoulder shift (since the low guard position appears to be British drill not US, I figured I'd have the regiment follow British usage and have the 2nd rank stay at the slope). Lacking sufficient numbers of the latter left over, I decided to widen the selection and have mostly bayoneting guys in both ranks with a few guys with sloped muskets and someone different as a sergeant.  I decided to pick on one of the "hi Mom" guys and figured I would just fudge a sword and sash, I seemed to recall vaguely that he was of the few or the only with a bayonet.

Imagine my surprise while painting when I discovered that his "bayonet" reached to below his knee! That's no bayonet, that's a sword! The Bl**dy guy is a sergeant! All of a sudden, his waving pose makes sense! He's a sergeant doing the " C'mon men " thing.  I can't believe that I never noticed before!


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Take Two

Must learn to double check what I upload after doing it.Looks like that was an older one. Now the proper new version is uploaded...... (updated to Oct 31 version)

 Meanwhile, here are 3 books on cavalry worth having, esp if you are interested in the 19th C (though 2 of them cover earlier).

Von Warner's Remarks on Cavalry is a facsimile of a late 18thC publication. I confess, I'd just as soon that someone had re-typed it. My eyes are bad enough without trying to remember that Faxony has nothing to do with sending data electronically.

Dennison's History of Cavalry was 1st published in 1877 but was updated after the Boer &  Russo-Japanese Wars.

Cooke's Manual is a good "how to". Just as well not to get too deep into that stuff but it does show maneuverable well trained cavalry could be.

After supper, I rolled up a new US deployment and plan, reset the table and tried again. It was closer but in the end the result was the same.

It seemed like a good idea at the time

At last, I have found time for a play test of the drastic revisions to Hearts of Tin. I suppose there is comfort to be found in knowing that what I had been doing before was good and that there were solid reasons for the choices I made previously. sighhhhhhh

Briefly, the reversion to an initiative die roll rather than cards felt welcome. The method of having both sides move followed by joint shooting and melee phases worked ok for a turn or two and then some small issues start to crop up which seemed to call for more complex reaction rules. The real issue came with combat though. I like the way 1/2ing casualties works and couldn't remember exactly why I dropped it in the past. I remember now, when there are enough dice flying its ok but when you get down to 1 die or even 2 or 3 you have to choose between rounding down and having no chance or rolling up and finding no difference. With die modifiers, the result of any given roll is hit or miss but over a number of turns or a number of combats, it makes a difference. There are other ways of doing things as well as the possibility of combing methods but I want to keep things dead simple and don't want to track partial hits or make saving throws and so on.  

So by turn 3, I found the rules pretty much where they were 3 years ago, just slightly refined. I think that's about the 4th or 5th major change I've made only to have them snap back. The only really major change is that I think that I've finally succeeded in a workable but simple way to break the 3" melee resolution into separate fire fight and charge resolutions. Once again it revolves around introducing morale rules but so far it works. 
  The US forces deploy.  
The British march on.

The game itself was a simple encounter with both sides vying for control over the only crossing over the small but deep and fast running Little River. One of the nice things about setting a fictional game in the west is that there was no need to cram the board with either woods or towns. The hills were deemed to have flat tops but with steep slopes, making the slopes broken terrain, all except the hill that the US cavalry was occupying. By the time they had been maneuvering freely on it for several turns, I decided it must be open after all.  The British started closer to the ford but were hampered by terrain.

Each army had 3 brigades, a cavalry brigade of 2 x 10 regular cavalry, an infantry brigade with 2 x 20 infantry + 1 x 8 riflemen, a brigade with 2 x 24 infantry, a field gun and for the British a Horse Artillery Rocket Battery and for the Americans, a Mountain Pack Battery. My intent had been to layout all personalities (after all their Oberhilse and Faraway names were doubtless pseudonyms) and finish the background before starting a game but sometimes events over take me and the game was the thing so I have pushed ahead.

I deployed the British then diced to find the US deployment (50% chance of the cavalry being in the center or on the left since the right made no sense, equal chance for the infantry in each sector but as luck with have it, all brigades began in the center. After deploying, I decided on 3 possible plans for the Americans, an attack in depth directly against the ford with the cavalry guarding the flank, an attempt to split the British center or an attempt to out flank the British right and roll up their line and wrote orders for each: . I then wrote orders for the British (2nd Brigade to advance with all speed, seize the ford then hold it, 1st Brigade to deploy and support their flank, cavalry to guard the open flank. ) and rolled for 1st move. The US came up and so I then rolled to pick a plan (direct assault on the ford) and started to implement. Whenever I felt that there was good justification for a change in plans, I laid out either 2 or 3 options and the odds of each then diced to see which order to issue.

The first shots in the Oregon War are fired.

The game began with some incredibly accurate rocketfire, 1 rogue rocket even finding its way to the target, and the 1st Dragoons began to suffer, especially once the British foot artillery joined in. In the center, some equally unlikely cannister and skirmish fire shook the Victoria Rifles and drove them back and all but out of the game. As the American infantry pushed forward, the firefight became general with the outnumbered Yankees holding their own at first. On the hill though, the time came for the cavalry to pull back or go forward, go forward it was but a barrage of 5's and 6's drove the 1st Dragoons back and a  second volley of the same brought the 2nd Dragoons to a halt.   

Sensing an advantage, General Ross ordered his cavalry to attack. The Governor General's Bodyguard spurred forward and up the hill then came tumbling back down. 5 dice to 3 and they couldn't even manage a draw. Larsen's Lancers took up the challenge  and rode down the remnants of the 2nd Dragoons then started a sweep around the enemy flank. 

In the center, the US front line was spent but still managed to hold off a British counter-attack. Coolly, the 1st Infantry fell back making way for the 3rd infantry to storm forward in column, Brigadier Schwartz at their head. On their left the Pennsylvanians of the King of Prussia Volunteers deployed into line and opened a tremendous fire driving back the 31st Foot but the Brigadier was shot down and the 3rd infantry faltered then fell back. 

   The Thin Red line awaits

It was time for General Ross to wave his hat, sending the 49th and the 104th forward. Their crashing volleys sent the Pennsylvanians reeling as Larsen's Lancers rode over the Lancaster Battery but the Bangor Rifles held firm and repulsed their charge. Looking about, General Daniels decided to save what he could and pulling the remnants of his shattered army together, he fell back towards South Pass, leaving the Little River ford to the British, for now.  

The restored and buffed up version of Hearts of Tin as used for all but the 1st 3 turns has been loaded onto Google Docs. (updated 31st Oct)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Old Dog, Mixed Tricks

I am still stalled on getting a play test in and since duty and affection combined call me away this week to visit family, next Sunday is the earliest possible date. However, there has been ample time for pondering, some time for limited partial testing on a corner of my table and there was a whole glorious day of gaming off site last week. 10 mm Pendraken figures, 1.5 games of Black Powder followed by a game of Charge!

Above is the final game about 1/2 way through.  More pictures may be seen here:

As you may guess from the 1.5 Black Powder games, we were not entirely satisfied with how the rules were playing out for us. Possibly we didn't have enough brigades on the table (roughly 3 a side)  or maybe just a lot of off-average die rolls but frustration over the command rolls mounted as the day went on. It seems to me that the odds in very rough terms were something like 25% no move, 25% 3 moves and the rest in between or blunder but the actual result felt more like 50% no move, 30% triple move  and 20 % 1 or 2 or blunder. The highly random combat results didn't seem to make up for this and the whole thing felt fairly jerky with the player's decisions being the least important factor in how the games played out.

Can't say the same for the Charge! game however, most of the combat was roughly average even though I lost one straight up cavalry melee badly, and there was no question that command decisions were paramount in determining the end result. I was out thought and slow to react and was soundly trounced as a result. A most enjoyable game and of course I found myself wondering again why I don't just play them and the heck with writing my own.

Its tempting to say I write rules out of habit but there are some things I'd like to include that Charge! lacks such as a role for Brigadiers and I do find it lacks a bit as a solo game so there would be tinkering and one might as well steal from multiple sources as tinker with one. It did cause me to ponder again the questions of command and control and intuitiveness (Charge! feeling very natural with decisions based on what you want your troops do and an assessment of their capabilities rather than an assessment of the odds of various dice rolls.  (see previous posts under tag rules.)

Recently I had re-introduced a card deck to control sequencing  but the more I thought about what it represented and what effect it had on player's thinking, the less I liked it, so, I ripped it back out and returned to an initiative followed by igo ugo with a chance each turn of the order being reversed allowing for a double move, an idea I first encountered in Featherstone's Battles with Model Soldiers. Now for the last umpteen years I have been integrating fire and movement into 1 phase with concurrent difficulties over things such as the attcker always or never firing first etc. Earlier this year I experimented with an old fashioned, both sides move then both sides fire sequencing and to my dismay, it produced a better feel with less effort despite being traditional, predictable etc so after playing some more with multiple reaction rules etc, I have given up and gone back to the traditional way.

Command control was the other issue. I spent some time pondering the actual process of sending off orders, receiving reports etc (as well as reading the link to that Historicon panel which Tony left in a comment last week)  and comparing it to Charge, Black Powder, the Wargame and my various rules and various historical battles. I decided that I didn't mind a control check as long as units under the general's direct control obeyed orders when given. (examples of direct disobedience being too rare to include as a regular thing)  However, I was pondering again on the old idea of written orders that are followed turn by turn (See Grant's rules etc) and it seemed to me that this mirroring  of the actual process is probably still the best way. the major difficulty that it entails is trusting your opponent to make his troops follow the orders he has given them and not to cheat while still allowing some leeway for a Brigadier to react to local circumstances. Some rules, like Shako, get around this by specifying what orders can be given,what they mean and how they may be deviated from but in the end, the best solution to this issue is to play with people you trust and who have the right sort of spirit to roleplay a bit. So I have gone back to this old system.

What about "Friction" ?  I still have it in 2 main ways. I use a variable move length determined by rolling dice each turn. A low roll indicating possibly a command control issue, a minor terrain feature or any of a number of other things below the general's radar. The brigadier has a role to play by urging on units or by allowing several units to form up and move together as well as a role in combat and in morale.

The other source of friction is the dice based combat system with few modifiers which usually provides the expected result but is capable of extremes which can represent the unforeseen happening, So, if cavalry beats the odds and breaks a square, perhaps the infantry held fire too long as at Garcia Hernendez or perhaps that hasty square wasn't quite formed in time, if the artillery misses, maybe they haven't actually opened fire yet, and so on.

(Oh yes, I also spent a LOT of time over the last 2 days, going back over Von Reisswitz's Kriegsspiel, interesting that Charge! seems to reflect it well, little things like 1/2 casualties for troops in cover as well as other effects and yes its had its influence, must add him to my list of inspirations)

To bring this to an end, a new (not fully tested) version of Hearts of Tin is now ready. (OCT 17 version). I haven't switched over from google docs yet so if you can't download from the link, email me and I'll  send you a copy.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wargame as Game Pt 3 Illusion vs Abstraction

Renovations are still holding my games room (and me) hostage but last weekend, I did manage a quick game at a friend's place. A CS Grant scenario played with 15mm troops using Blitzkrieg Commander adapted for use with Hexon hexes deployed on a dining room table.  I lost, (1939 Poles not quite blowing a bridge) but it was an enjoyable couple of hours. The puzzling thing is, despite this being, on the surface "the usual", as I drove home, I realized that it had felt like a "game" as opposed to a "wargame". Why? What did that mean?

Well after much thought and various lengthy but aborted blog entries, I think I have some idea. Most historical miniature wargamers are probably familiar with the description of the hobby as a blend of gaming, modelling and history. Expanding the gaming section, I have come up with another set of overlapping  interests:

a) recreation of history (or of the chosen background if doing non-historical gaming).
b) imagination including role playing and story creation and story telling, essentially pretending that you are "there" on the table, taking part.
c) competition or playing a game according to fixed rules.

Now when I was fiddling with the following digram, I hadn't put it quite that way so the 3 sectors are labelled History, Imagination and Game.

 The Green area in the middle is my particular sweet spot,  a prefect mix of a regulated, competitive game, recreation of history and a chance to exercise my imagination as I pretend to be there amongst my toy soldiers, leading them to Victory.

The areas with no overlap are the Prime ingredients that go into the gaming aspect of wargaming. An example of the pure Imagination area would be a boy (of any age) playing with toy soldiers, no rules, no attempt to recreate history per se, just imagining himself as the hero of some adventure.  Risk might be considered an example of the Game portion, while a re-fight of an historical battle by historians as a learning exercise might be considered to fall into the recreating History portion.

The areas where 2 circles overlap are getting closer to my sweet spot. The original Little Wars would be an example of a mix of Imagination and Game with no taint of history while a role playing game using miniatures and an historical setting might be set where Imagination and History cross. After much thought, the Yellow zone is where I found myself last weekend.  The game was challenging and fun and reflected history and indeed whenever we found ourselves in an ambiguous situation, we were as likely to make a decision based on what was likely possible historically as what was legal under the rules. But, I never really imagined myself as "being there".

Why not?  I don't believe that it was any one thing, it was the convergences of several factors, some definitely personal and some perhaps more general. The personal ones included such things as being somewhat distracted by a call from home (a non-problem as it later turned out) and the fact that I was not using miniatures that I had painted (its silly but my imagination and sense of engagement increases when using my own lads)and was playing a period (Poland 1939) that I have only a superficial knowledge of. A possibly more general one is that the game was fairly abstract with a small number of small figures on a hex grid. Now, I am not a "moving diorama" guy, more of a toy soldier sort, but a single 15mm figure standing in for a squad felt like a playing piece and while the hexes were darned convenient for measuring and movement, they also detracted a little from the illusion. Its harder to imagine yourself on the radio. ordering "Red Two This is Red One move 2 hexes to your left".    On another day my imagination might have been strong enough to overcome the abstractions but at least it was a fun day as it was.

The point? Well, unfortunately, there isn't one really! Its just another view to think about.

I'll leave this with an excerpt from  HG Wells' Littlewars, just to show its not just me:

 "And suddenly your author changes. He changes into what perhaps he might have been—under different circumstances. His inky fingers become large, manly hands, his drooping scholastic back stiffens, his elbows go out, his etiolated complexion corrugates and darkens, his moustaches increase and grow and spread, and curl up horribly; a large, red scar, a sabre cut, grows lurid over one eye. He expands—all over he expands. He clears his throat startlingly, lugs at the still growing ends of his moustache, and says, with just a faint and fading doubt in his voice as to whether he can do it, "Yas, Sir!" "

Lurking in ambush,waiting anxiously for the signal to attack as the enemy marches slowly past.