Monday, January 10, 2011

Morschauser on the Mountain: At point does less become too little?

I reset the game this morning and gave a play through using the original Morschauser rules including the roster concept. John Curry has republished the original book bundled with extra material so I won't go into too much detail on the rules. Basically each stand is a Basic Unit which gets 1 die when shooting and in melee and is destroyed by 1 hit. The roster takes this a bit farther and makes each stand 5 basic units, so more dice flying but no changes. The rules are bloody in the extreme with elimination of one side being the only possible melee result.

As usual when comparing rules, I followed the same battle plans. In short, the game took about 15 minutes and 5 turns to reach the same outcome as the first game. About 1/3rd of that time was spent rolling dice to resolve melees during the penultimate turn.

The last stand of defenders is surrounded.

 The game provided a good example of how simple rules can support an interesting game where basic military principles rule. Concentration of force by means of a flank maneuver was the decisive factor with superior firepower and superior numbers of maneuver units overcoming static defenses which would otherwise have been a sufficient force multiplier to pretty much ensure victory for the defender. The use of reserves almost reversed the decision but were stretched too few by the cavalry turning movement.

It also provided a good example of how a historical minatures game can be stripped down too far to provide satisfying flavour.

Regiments and generals had no role. Stands stand and fall on their own though a player can maneuver them to gang up on an enemy, where the individual stands come from is beyond the game's concern. Likewise since each stand is a unit, there are no formations though if using a road bonus, one would be forced to form a sort of road column by default. There is also no variation of troop quality but that can easily be added and indeed there are suggestions in that direction in the book.

 Rifle fire is effective enough at long range to do the work more safely than melee and gun crews stand in deadly peril at extreme rifle range. There is no rule for cover from shooting though there is a modifier  for being uphill in melee which I extended to the breastworks. In hind sight, I could have easily modified the shooting by reducing the odds to hit by one. (For example rifles hit on either a 4 or a 6, this could have been reduced to only hitting on a 6.)

The worst part to my mind is the complete lack or morale leading to the all or nothing melee, no chance of a defender being forced back or an attack stalling or being repulsed and no chance of a retreat spreading. At a higher level than the unit though, one can see a player whose front line has been decimated, willingly pulling back stands to regroup them as a tactical decision rather than as a result of direct rule mechanics, so perhaps it is a matter of focus and how you look at it. I suspect the roster system actually plays against this and perhaps lots of stands would be better after all. The rules would certainly be fast enough to handle massive games.

Hmm, odd, I feel better about the rules now after a bit of thought than I did right after the game and I can see why my earliest adaptation worked better for me than many of the later ones. In any case I once again pleased that the focus was really on the player's battle plan and getting through to a decision and not on die rolls or minor tactics. I think perhaps that that will o'whisp that is the essence of what I am seeking from rules is becoming clearer and maybe the most important bit is actually slightly different from what I was thinking.



  1. Ross Mac,

    Some very interesting comments (especially interesting to me in view of my part in ensuring that Joseph Morschauser's rules were re-published!).

    The basic rules are bloody in the extreme, and the melee results do take a bit of getting used to ... but to a generation of wargamers brought up on DBx, the use of Units as separate entities - and their elimination by melee - does not seem to be as big a hurdle to overcome as it is for some older and more experienced wargamers.

    As will be obvious from my own blog entries and the rules I wrote for inclusion in the Morschauser book, I have not adopted the 'Roster System'. I made this choice for similar reasons to the ones you have outlined. I thought that more Units but no 'Roster System' produced a better game.

    I must admit that I do have a personal aversion to morale rules. They appear to be an artificial construct designed to force players or commanders not to allow Units to be totally wiped out. In my opinion, the only 'morale' that counts is that of the individual players or commanders. Fred Jane stated this in his Naval War Game Rules, and I personally think that he was right.

    I do think that Morschauser's rules are very 'bare', but in the book he implies that he sees them as a starting point rather than a complete or finished article. They can be used 'as is', but cry out for development ... which is what I am trying to encourage people to do.

    Again, this was a great blog entry to read, and it has given me food for thought.

    All the best,


  2. Thank you very much for a really interesting battle report - especially as I intend to get hold of the Morschauser rules in the near future. My gaming over the last year, encouraged a lot by Bob's blog, seems to have headed in this sort of direction.

    There were some interesting comments in the entry, especially about those to do with rifle fire and morale.

    Your post has made me think that most rules are actually very generous to artillery crews, whereas (you having made me think about it) effective small arms fire should probably be more damaging to units reliant on teamwork to operate their weapons effectively than an infantry unit.

    Your comments on morale rules also made me question just how many 'involuntary' actions units need to be forced by a ruleset to carry out.

    As Bob commented, much food for thought.



  3. A thought provoking post - I know the Brigadier was averse to morale rules as he maintained that men do not lose morale, generals do.

    I'm not sure I'm convinced by the argument, but my own rules of choice incorporate morale into the combat calculations in one dic throw.

  4. Interesting . . . and I don't think that these rules would appeal to me much . . . but that's perhaps because I came to gaming originally via role playing (late 70s) and the seeming abruptness of these rules seems a bit too "spare" for my taste.

    Still, I do very much enjoy reading your thoughts on various rules. Thank you, Ross.

    -- Jeff

  5. Bob, I agree, both on the soundness of the rules as a basis for personalization. (I don't agree on the "imply" part though, he is quite specific about exhorting players to adapt and enlarge the rules).

    You're right about the DBx experience, I hadn't thought of that though they do have an intermediate step.

    I also am not a fan of complex morale rules but I do like to have an intermediate step between victory and destruction, beyond the commander's control.
    Something that is easy enough to add to Morschauser but, admittedly in many cases troops who have been repulsed once may not be able to return to the attack and so might as well be removed from the table. The higher the level of the game, the more true this would be.

    I smell another blog entry on the question of morale and losses.


  6. John, there is a lot in Morschauser worth pursuing, I've been using various developments for pike & shot (rough wooing) and horse and musket as well as modern games.

    In the basic game artillery and infantry are fairly well balanced though the artillery is still safer beyond rifle range. Its a bit more problematic with the roster since the infantry became 5 units while the artillery only became 2. The consequences didn't sink in until too late!


  7. Conrad, I also prefer to include morale in the basic workings as much as possible though I do find it expedient at times to have a simple test for special cases. Afterall, the Brigadier may have been opposed to complex morale rules but he didn't ignore morale and had the understrength rule to prevent all armies from fighting to the death all the time.

    I definitely thing this is a topic that needs some discussion entries in future.

  8. Jeff, the basic principles are pretty robust and handle being made less spare but horse for course as they say.


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