Monday, February 28, 2011

Restarting the War of 1812

No, I'm not planning to invade the US in search of warmer weather!  Mind you as March approaches I'm getting a bad case of cabin fever. We didn't get a lot of snow this year but it snowed often.

February's last hurrah as March steals in on Lion's feet, the weather forecast was calling for rain.........
My interest in the War of 1812 goes back to the 60's when I read D. J. Goodspeeds "The Good Soldier: the Story of Isaac Brock" but it wasn't till I was casting about for a suitable 54mm project in 1996 that I first put it on the table. At Cold Wars 1998 I staged the battle of Chateauguay using With MacDuff to the Frontier, newly published in the Courier. In 2000, several of us from the Littlewars yahoo group staged a "bring your own" 54mm battle of Chippewa. It was during the preparations for this game, when I was obsessing about uniform details, that my good friend Charley enlightened me with his comment "a shako is a shako".  We opened the game to virtually any toy soldier with a muzzle loader and a shako or broad brimmed hat,  and had a great time.  
The Battle of Chippewa at Cold Wars 2,000.

By 2004 I was dabbling with "Morschauser Meets MacDuff" which worked well with the 54's but I had gotten into 54mm with the old metal Britain's toy soldiers in mind, not the new plastic figures and besides, my 6'x10' was longl gone.

 The last hurrah: Crysler's Farm in 54mm
 Voltigeurs, Mohawks and a B'ar in the woods
 A very young Billy Russel interviews John Chrysler.

In 2005 Sash & Saber released their 40mm British Napoleonic infantry and I turned 50 and bought the farm (ok an old farmhouse technically and not a farm). I decided to restart the project and do the War of 1812 in 40mm, starting with the initial skirmish at River Canard and going through to Cooke's Mill. I bought some S&S, got sculpting and casting and staged River Canard at Cold Wars '06.  

Then I finally found my perfect toy soldier/wargame compromise when Dick Larsen showed me his shiny Scruby 40's. As soon as Mike at Historifigs released Scruby's War of 1812 range, I ordered some and loved them but like the preceding, defunct Schleswig Holstein War, I found myself with 2 incompatible figure styles and ground to a halt. I didn't/don't want to paint more chunky, matte detailed figures, I want to paint slim glossy toy soldiers, but what to do with the existing figures? 
A burley S&S Sergeant tells a petite Scruby Canadian light infantryman, "where to go".  

In a pinch, I'll mix just about anything on the table, but I get more pleasure out of it if the figures are all of  a complementary style. Its not just height and bulk and a coat of glossy paint just doesn't turn a chunky figure with exaggerated detail into a Toy Soldier. There is a lot of synchronicity between the War of 1812 and the 1837 Rebellions, particularly if one keeps the "shako is a shako" maxim  in mind and I had planned to use my 1812 Americans and militia in my rebellion/Aroostock War games. Instead, I put the War of 1812 on the back burner and decided to shift west to Oregon in 1845 and pit glossy Mexican-American War US troops against glossy Sikh War British instead. 
Lower Canadian Sedentary Militia face 1812 American Volunteers
 or is that a group of 1837 Patriotes and some American "Hunters"? 

 Today's clever thought was to leave the chunky guys singly based for early war skirmishes while using Scruby and homemade toy soldiers for late war battles up to and including 1837 where they will overlap with the 1840's troops. This means I can paint larger armies than I can use for my fictional wars and indulge in some 1837 British in Bell Shakos while still building a matched pair of armies for re-creating actual battles from my country's history.  I  may eventually sell off the chunky regulars (should have sold the US guys before S&S released their own proper ones!), but in the meantime, they and the Indians and militia can sit on the shelf and provide a skirmish game option. 

40mm Scruby Canadian Select Embodied Militia with some homecast officers

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Something for the Awkward Squad

I didn't mean for Hearts of Tin to be so complex.

 Not that its complex as wargames go but still, there are 7 pages of definitions to get you started and 8 pages of rules for playing, rules full of exceptions and different cases. That's not likely to be a problem for even a moderately experienced gamer who wants to look them over but its not really what I had in mind going in. I had been thinking of a simple game without a lot of detail and exceptions to distract the gamer from the job at hand.

I remember a man and his son who signed up for a French & Indian War game that Rob & I staged at Cold Wars a few years back using With MacDuff to the Frontier, if anything a simpler, more intuitive game that HofT.  Not only were neither of them familiar with history beyond a bit of tv or movies and had no concept of units or formations but even rolling dice was a  new experience that had to be explained to them. They seem to have had a good time at least and signed up for a 2nd game ( maybe it wa a case of the devil they knew?).

When I look at the basic rules in Charge! and the rules in Featherstone's Battles with Model Soldiers, both look to me like something that someone could pick up pretty easily, especially if they have either some interest in history or have seen an ACW movie or Sharpe etc. The trick is probably having a simple situation and an objective which makes sense rather than just lining up and going at it.

Morchauser's original rules also look easy to pick up, possibly even easier since each "basic unit" or stand is a playing piece. (which is why the stab I took a couple of years ago at a set of intro War of 1812 rules for non-gamers were based on them).

What do these rules have in common?

1.They are clearly structured with simple choices, unlike either life or history.
2. They follow a clear turn sequence even if in some cases there are initiative rolls to see who goes first.
3. There are a minimum of crucial details. For example, there are rules for infantry, cavalry and artillery but not for a dozen varieties of each.
4, When the dice are rolled, usually for combat, the results are clear, immediate and fairly intuitive. For example in Charge!, the number rolled on the die is the number of enemy that are hit, the high roller in melee kills his opponent.

The absence of details and special cases don't necessarily make for a better re-creation of historical warfare but it does mean that you can focus on the main point, making the most of your troops capabilities to defeat your opponent by better strategy or better luck.


Relax, this is not about changing Hearts of Tin (ok not at the moment at least). Whether they make the game better or not, the added complications in HofT keep worming their way back in for a reason. Still, I've noticed that I don't often use any of the neat extras in the rules, and occasionally wonder whether rules defining formations etc are really necessary or if such things should flow naturally from the rules (as in you can't shoot through someone so putting your elements side by side makes sense. For a while I reduced melee distance to contact to make the difference between shooting and a decisive attack more clear, after all 2 of my stands in melee contact cover an area 50 to 100 yards deep from back base to back base. It made me want to reintroduce different musket ranges though so I went back to Morschauser's Melee distance. A grid would help......)

 Lately, without justification or cause that I can think of, I have been thinking about what I would do if, a non-gamer, a neighbor perhaps, came by, saw the soldiers and asked about my hobby and wanted to try a game. What could I do that would be fun and make sense? 

With a dozen choices to hand, it shouldn't be difficult and I could probably wing it but I don't think I'd want to start with a dozen pages of rules or have to try to remember which rules I'm not applying today.  Since I did do my stint as a boy scout, it seems to me that it wouldn't hurt to be prepared. It should be a simple game with an objective, it should be a situation and period that a new recruit might relate to and it should be possible to go from an introductory game to a full scale one without throwing everything away and starting over. 

Prince Valiant is one obvious starting point. Anyone who enjoyed LOTR or Arthur or The Eagle etc etc or who used to read the Prince Valiant comic strip, should be able to relate. The rules are simple and fairly intuitive and have been easily picked up on occasions by kids and relative newcomers as well as by more experienced gamers. I just need a simple, makes sense scenario in my back pocket. Perhaps the ambush of a wagon with a rescue party..

For someone who can't relate to anything older than the 20th Century, I'm at a bit of a loss. I could do a Morschauser game with 1950's Khaki vs Tan armies but theoretically I'm  using Cold War Commander for these guys and that would mean relearning as opposed to just adding rules. Perhaps I could prepare a stripped down version with 1 move per unit instead of command rolls.  A project for another day.

And, of course, horse and musket. Something set in a bit of history that they will have heard of would be good, preferably Canadian history but American will probably serve thanks to Hollywood and TV. It would be nice to say "We could play out the siege of Louisburg if you have an hour" but that's a bit much even if I could stage it so perhaps a version of Sawmill Village, little advance planning and a clear objective. Casting my eye over what is on hand, the American Revolution if I add some troops (Nova Scotia is one of the spots the Loyalist's landed), War of 1812 or the American Civil War comes to mind. My 1812 troops are on the cusp between units of single figures and elements and perhaps a skirmish using a simplified version of MacDuff might serve, its been at the back of my mind anyway. On the other hand, an intro version of HofT with each stand being a unit is attractive and perhaps even easier. The danger would be that I am getting lazy enough that I might start to prefer it as a standard game!  

Well, I have another full month of winter before the 2 feet of ice and snow outside my back door starts to melt, so lots of time to contemplate such things. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Theory vs a Practical Base

The following discussion is based around my planning of wargame armies to use Hearts of Tin with 40mm figures, primarily for battles in North America and India during the 1st half of the 19th Century.

A 40mm 1812 Ohio Regiment based according to Morschauser's suggestion for a regiment of 30mm troops:
five 40mm square bases with 4 figures on each. These have been painted to match the table.

Since I expect to play mostly CS Grant style scenarios, I studied these and then began planning standard armies based around 8 infantry units ideally with a roughly 12"  frontage, a reflection of their Grant Wargame roots. Units of around 20 men are an old standard, Morschauser recommended regiments with 5 bases each of 4 figures and Don Featherstone used 20 men plus 2 officers. Even Lawford & Young's companies, the smallest unit that could be deployed, had a strength of 19 including the drummer. I decided I wanted to honour this tradition or at least be close. This led me to adopt a regiment with 20 figures on an 8" frontage when stood shoulder to shoulder "like the good book sez".   A few quick checks seemed to confirm that this would work with a selection of small historical battles when adapted to my 6'x8' table. Now, how to base those battalions?

If the rules count noses for combat resolution,  basing is really about ease of movement and aesthetics and there is no need for both sides to be similar but if combat is by element then varying the base size affects how the game plays. This is where it begins to really matter. It is the opposing pull of figure based games and element based games that is at the heart of my basing conflict over the last 10 years. After much heart searching, I have decided that this particular collection of figures will remain dedicated to an element based set of rules which will allow me to stage multi-battalion games on a small table.

One of the problems with big figures, both the end battalions have about the right frontage when deployed in line but the single 2" base in the middle shows how much ground one of these battalions should occupy in a close column. Compare this with the columns on either side. Hmmm. Well sometimes one has to pay your money and take your choice.

I won't bother with a tedious recounting of each of the 5 systems I have experimented with over the last 3 years. Some of the base changes and the whys are documented in  past blog entries as well as in pictures both here and on my old Loch Sloy website. (Unless of course 1 or more benighted souls are silly enough to request it!)

Loose files, 4 figures on each 2" square base. What was I thinking?

The size and shape of a base and the number of figures on it and how they can be arranged all affect the look of things but with an element based game, that is not the only matter of concern. Assuming a given unit footprint, the larger the bases, the fewer can be used per unit. If the table size is reduced, the number of troops that can fit are reduced, either the units need to shrink or the number of units must be reduced. Since the number of units is dictated by the scenario or the historical battle being re-created, the unit footprint must shrink.

Elements with 4 figures on a 60mm x 50mm base confront elements with 2 figures on a 2" sq base. En masse both are ok, but if there was just a single element detachment? 

I have been working from an unproven assumption that more bases is better. More elements per game  means more dice, more predictable combat results, more hits that can be sustained per unit and thus longer games.  I'm no longer sure that these things make for a better game. With fewer elements, almost every die roll means something and changes of fortune can be sudden, heightening tension. Games will also end sooner since fewer losses can be sustained. Many games can be played in 2 to 3 hours with larger or more complex ones being feasible in 4-5 hours. The time was when I expected a good game to be an all day affair but now 3 hours  is about my ideal for an average game and also a time span I can find fairly easily, especially if a 2nd player is involved. longer games are more difficult for reasons that have nothing to do with gaming.
My original Morschuser Meets Macduff/Hearts of Tin unit configuration, 3 60mm bases with 6 figures on each. Tried out here by my newly painted Mexicans.

So what are the conclusions that I have reached?  Given my planned table size, the desirability for an element game of having infantry and cavalry elements fitting on a common element frontage, the look of  the figures on a base, especially for 1 stand detachments, and the desirability of a cross project standard for building terrain,  (my 16thC figures are based on 60mm square bases)  I have decided that I was right 4 years ago when I bought a big bag of 60mm wide bases from Litko. Luckily I didn't scrap them when I started to experiment!

On to the future, the freshly painted Bombay Sapper and Miners prepare the road to Afghanistan, Scinde, Gwalior and the Punjaub. (Sash & Saber Alamo Mexican sappers slightly converted and led by one of my own British officers. )

Monday, February 21, 2011

Re-creation, Recreation and Organizing Your Wargame Armies

No wind is a good wind if you don't know what port you want to sail to.

One of the joys and troubles with this hobby is that it has so many facets and expressions and  can be so many different things to people.  It can make it a little hard to focus and choose, especially for those of us with weak minds or wills.

I remember a e-discussion years near the end of the last century which was touched off by the inclusion of some scfi-fi and fantasy events at HMGS events which had been reserved exclusively for historical  miniatures games. One of the participants declared that as far as he was concerned, someone who played board or computer wargames which recreated battles was in the same hobby as himself but that some one who played sci-fi miniature wargames was in a completely  different hobby which only looked similar. It seemed to me that if I sat at a table with a board-gamer, we would have little if anything to talk about unless we shared an historical period in common but that I could probably find lots in common with the scifi gamer, painting techniques, scenery, and possibly rules mechanisms and even tactics (unless he only played a single system and that was one of those which generally made ordinary tactics irrelevant otherwise outflanking and supporting fire are as valid with space marines as they are with terrestial ones). The inescapable conclusion  was that it would be possible for me and this other fellow to face each other across a table, playing a miniature wargame and for us each to be indulging in separate hobbies as we did so. (Apoligies to those who have heard or read me relating this before.)

One often hears the old Simulation vs Game dichotomy thrown about during discussions of the complexity of rule mechanics and all too often being used pejoratively to denigrate  the other fellow's game. Lets talk instead about re-creating a battle as opposed to indulging in a recreational game inspired by a battle, things that can be done using the same rules. I have my prejudices, but I use both approaches. I want to look at some of the implications of the different approaches on basing and organizing a wargame army.

I'll use a simple example, a game based on the small action that is known as the Battle of Chrysler's Farm. In one version of my ideal world, I would have a simple and reliable set of rules which I am completely satisfied with, and an ample collection of suitable glossy toy soldiers, organized into standard units as Red Army and Blue Army. Before staging a battle I will re-read 2 or 3 accounts of the battle, study the orders of battles and maps as well as events and setting, then turn to my table.

If going the recreational gaming route, I see that the British have 2 regiments of infantry that seemed to have particularly capable plus a few light troops and artillery and that they are defending a defile which is about twice the width of their force. The table is quickly set up with river on one side, woods on the other plus a few gullies and ravines. After pondering that the Americans were able to fight their way through the woods, I change the solid forest into patches of woods with clear spaces in between. I then deploy 2 red regiments of elite infantry, 1 on the left, 1 on the right, put a light infantry  company in the woods, add a gun in the middle and a gun boat in the river.

Turning  to the Americans, I see that they have 8 regiments of infantry, YIKES! looking closer, I see that they were understrength and the over all numbers were only 3 times the British force and that not all should start on table. After due consideration, I deploy 5 units of Blue infantry on table supported by a squadron of cavalry and a gun which will arrive on turn 2. Another gun and a 6th regiment are scheduled to arrive later in the game. Simple and done! It just remains  for my opponent to show up.

A close examination will show that the organization of the troops is not quite right, the scale might not be accurate when we start assessing musket and artillery fire and who knows about time? But, I would predict that the resulting battle would be hard fought and exciting and would not be surprised if  the end result mirrored the real thing.

So what would be different if trying to re-create the battle? I would need to decide on an appropriate ground scale for converting the map to the table rather than eyeballing it. If I use a scale of 6" on the table equals 100 yds on the ground, the battlefield will fit nicely on a 5'x6' table. It's just a casual one-off game at home so no terrain is specially made and the result isn't perfect but things were roughly in the right places. This would be pretty irrelevant if musket and artillery ranges are off so I double check that under the rules, artillery could place themselves in the appropriate historical positions on table and hit targets that were in their historical positions and that infantry can fight from roughly historical positions. If not, there may need to be rules adjustments or the table changed. I also checked that troops could cover the ground in the number of turns that equated to the historical time taken. If all checks out, I can turn to the troops.

Taking the OB, I know how many men are in each unit but I need to check back that the units of toy soldiers take up the right amount of space if I have tinkered with ground scale while fitting the battlefield onto the table top. The historical troops would generally have deployed shoulder to shoulder in 2 ranks during the War  of 1812. That gives me either 21" or 22" per file depending on who you read but allowing for supernumeries etc 24" per file is an easy rule of thumb to work with and is close enough for the unit as a whole. Assuming 2 ranks, thats 1 foot per man. Taking the main body of the 49th Foot which fielded 304 men according to the reference in hand, it should occupy 300 feet which is 100 yards or 6" according to the scale used to lay out the terrain. Some of my 1812 units are based singly on 23mm wide washers, others are based 2 x2 on a 2" square  base. Either way that will give me 12 figures based 2 deep. I don't have the 49th dressed in greatcoats so I draw 12 red coated figures from the 41st foot and move on to the next unit, filling in whatever troops I have to make up numbers. If I were planning to refight the battle often or stage it in public, I'd want to paint up just the right units but for a casual home game, the uniform details don't matter so much.  Eventually all the units are sorted and place in the right places and I am ready to begin.

So, what's different, well the 2nd game probably took twice as long to set up and the units might look a little motley unless I did the prep work in advance and painted up the right figures but it will be a more accurate basis from which to recreate the battle as opposed to being just a game scenario. Depending  on the chosen ruleset, I may have problems if I had to play too much with the ground scale to get it to fit which would mean adjusting the rules or choosing another set. Obviously this is a small simple battle and the issues are multiplied 10 fold if seeking to refight the Alma let alone Waterloo.

Which is better? Neither in and of itself, its a hobby it depends on what you enjoy. So whats the point? Well it all has to do with the ongoing saga of how to organize and base my troops. If I could just ignore the re-create side which isn't where I get my real enjoyment, it wouldn't matter. Since I want to keep the option to do both, I've chosen a middle ground, I want to be able to fit small historical battles on my tabletop but I want to build average or standard units and adjust as necessary if trying to do a specific historical re-creation.
How to select the optimum organization and basing for my chosen scale of troops will be the subject of the next post.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Eagle of the Ninth

Vintage 40mm Elastolin figures.

I was introduced to Rosemary Sutcliffe's novel Eagle of the Ninth when I was in school and I became an instant lifelong fan of her books. Sword at Sunset might be evn closer to my heart and has certainly been a bigger wargaming influence but afte a dozen re-readings, the Eagle of the Ninth never fails to satisfy. It was therefore with both anticipation and anxiety that I  awaited the new film directed by Kevin MacDonald, after all, while novels often get turned into great movies, the resulting films often bare little resemblance to the original book, just look at Last of the Mohicans, 'nuff said.

Now its not possible to fit every scene and character from even a short novel like this into a 2 hour movie so I was expecting things to be condensed, characters dropped, an so forth, the key things for me are, did they keep the main characters and have them recognizable, and did they keep the main plot or storyline. On a less important note, I look to see if favorite scenes have been included. On the whole I think the answer is yes. Details were changed but the essence of the story remained.

Those changes that were made to get the story across quickly to those not familiar with the book were fine, I was somewhat less happy with changes that seem to have been made to express a slightly different view from the novel. The movie seems to be full heartedly behind redemption but in the book, between Guern the Hunter's decision to stay with his new family despite having risked all to help Marcus and Esca, and the burying of the Eagle, there is a sense that what men choose to do is important  but that you cannot change the past by what you do in the present and those actions are often best judged by intent and how they were carried out than by the results. Probably not popular themes for movie goers these days.

I'm not convinced that following the original plan of having Marcus disguised as a travelling Greek and thus able to talk to his erstwhile enemies in their own homes wouldn't have been better but I suspect that it would have needed an extra 1/2 hour of non-action at least and possible would have confused a great deal of people.

I have tried to evaluate how I would feel about the movie if I had never read the book, but its tricky and really needs another viewing or two. Was it  'GREAT"  movie destined to become a classic? No, probably not. Did I enjoy it? Yes, and so did my wife.

From an historical point of view, I'm not up on the latest accepted interpretations or the minutiae of Roman drill but the battle scene at the beginning looked and felt right.  I wasn't quite as happy with the  Caledones as Hurons even though its probably closer than how I might have pictured them. If they had just not shaved their heads.

I also liked the use of language, Welsh possibly for the southern Britons? Couldn't understand a word they said. But once we went north of the wall I was tickled pink to be able to pick up a good deal of what was being said. (not every word, I was never fluent and am getting rustier by the day, but enough)  OK so modern Scots gaelic probably isn't exactly accurate but it beat the pants off a made up language and was a nice touch.  

Would I recommend this movie? Absolutely!

Am I thinking about how to make chariots for my Elastolin Picts? Maybe.

Am I going to be cheesy enough to send Prince Michael north over the Wall to rescue his great great grandfather's lost eagle? Probably not, well  not exactly but... hmmmm.......

 on minute movie

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Serendipity and Collateral Damage

"I am a  leaf on the wind"

My decision to cut down my wargames table (planned but not yet executed) had nothing to do with the games that will take place on it. It was all about ease and comfort and the need to transform ny games room into a  multi-function space. None the less, the games will be affected and I was expecting this to be entirely negative thing. I was wrong.

The basic fact is, no matter how clever I get regarding scenario and terrain design, I can not fit as many 40mm troops  into 30 square feet as I was able to fit into 48 square feet. This only effects  the largest games that I might run but that's just the point. I was feeling, lets say an intellectual pressure to design my projects to fit the largest game that could be squeezed onto the existing surface. Since the amount of space available for storing figures is limited, this meant limiting the number of periods, an uneasy process which has not been going well. The smaller table means the size of largest game will shrink. Since storage space is not shrinking, the pressure to reduce periods is lessened. More than that, the revised layout may actually have more storage space for figures. It occurred to me while playing Chrysler's Farm that this means that I can switch from the so far unsuccessful paradigm of 1 large project with a few small diversions, back towards a previous model that I had been working towards of several (ok many) small projects, each with the troops and terrain needed in the way of figures and terrain to play specific scenarios.  They don't all need to be self contained, so aren't exactly "games in a box", but they trend towards that concept.  Some projects may share figures if the basing and figure style is compatible, others will be self contained. By having smaller projects and not "HAVING" to have them all compatible and related, I can dabble not only in different periods, but in different figure, basing and painting styles as well.

However, the last game also reminded me that when playing smaller games on a smaller table, the more densely figures  are based, the more  figures can be used in a game of the same size. This was heightened because it was an historical game which meant instead of standard units, I was fielded units based on the historical order of battle and  adjusted the ground and figure scale to make the game fit on the table while maximizing the number of figures. The result was a fun game that worked well but looked a little thin on the ground. If my troops had been on tighter basing, I could have fielded almost 100 more figures without changing the unit footprints. Of course do I want to paint 100 more of the same if it's not going to change the actual game? After all whether a unit is 16 men or 24, its still symbolic.  None the less, last night I wasted an hour re-evaluating my new basing standard vs an older rejected one with 6 figures on a  2" frontage. (Not to mention the 6 figures on a 60mm frontage seen up above).


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Do over

Since the table was set up, I reset and played the game again. I won't bother with a full report but it was another close and exciting game.

In the woods the Americans again took casualties but had little problem clearing away the skirmishers.

By the river, the attacking Americans paused to fire at long range to weaken the enemy before charging in and rolling some phenomenal dice, rolling up that flank and forcing the 49th to intervene to save the gun.

The American flanking force then slowly formed up under heavy artillery and skirmish fire. As the British force continued to dwindle, the cavalry came forward to try and finish them but were twice repulsed. The infantry managed a draw but the British fell back and resumed a long range fire backed by the gun boat and battery. By turn 10, 2 US brigades were shaken while the 4th Brigade was 1 company away. The British light troops were 2 hits away and the British line was 1 hit away from being shaken and were backed up against the fence line on the edge of the battlefield. The Americans won the initiative and gambled on a last charge. The British responded with a tremendous fire,fists full of 5's & 6's which broke the Americans without suffering a single hit.

A damned close affair with the extra hit per stand tipping the balance. The revised shaken rules didn't affect the outcome but felt more natural. Huzzah!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Crsyler's Farm, November 11,1813: A sample Heart's of Tin game

1:30 pm The American army appears.

On Sunday, I finally set up Crysler's Farm as a test game of Hearts of Tin. This is about the smallest size of battle that will work with the rules without a lot of fudging. I laid the battlefield out at roughly 6" to 100 yards and fielded 1 company for roughly 100 infantry, 50 light infantry or cavalry or 3 guns. I allowed 12 turns for the 3 hour battle. the table was 5 feet wide by 6 feet long. All infantry are musket armed, all artillery is smoothbore.

The order of battle for each side was (companies refers to game stands not historical companies): the numbers in brackets are estimates of the unit's strength. I reviewed a couple of accounts of the battle but relied mostly on Donald Grave's book Field of Glory since it was the most recent, the most detailed and appears to have been thoroughly researched.

Lt Col. Pearson: Army General & Brigade Commander. (note since Pearson is doubling as Army General and Brigade Commander, he is allowed to change his own orders without rolling or delay.)
49th Foot ( 304) 3 companies Veteran Line Infantry
89th Foot (240) 2 companies Veteran Line Infantry
Royal Artillery: (3 guns) 1 Elite field gun  (there were in fact 2 guns of the Royal Artillery and 1 gun of Canadian militia attached to the Advance Guard. rather than make scenario rules for the single gun, I merged them into one artillery unit. The Americans had a 2 gun detachment and a 4 gun detachment. I evened these out to 2 artillery units keeping the overall ratio of guns consistent despite the loss of detail).
All British Regular Infantry was played by the 41st Foot.

Barnes Detachment of the 89th: (144) 2 companies  Veteran Line Infantry
Advance Guard: (I treated this as a single unit under the rules)
       Flank Companies of the 49th (80) 1 company Veteran Line Infantry
       Fencibles: (108)  1 company Line Infantry played by Canadian Militia
Barnes and the Advance Guard are isolated rather than independent. They may only stand, retreat or react to an attack unless an ADC joins or the general moves close enough to order them.

Maj Heriott: Brigade Commander (posted in the woods with orders to slow and harass the enemy but to avoid destruction of his command)
Voltigeurs: (150) 3 stands  Light Infantry sharpshooters played by the Glengarries
Mohawks: (30) 1 company veteran Light Infantry .

Royal Navy: (3 gunboats) 1 gunboat with siege gun. Due to the steep river banks, all targets count as if in cover to the gunboat.


B. Gen Boyd. Army General.

1st Brigade. Col. Coles.  Ordered to support the 4th Brigade
12th Infantry (225) 2 companies line infantry
13th Infantry (225) 2 companies line infantry

3rd Brigade: BGen Covington. Ordered to wait until the British left was engaged then drive in the British right.
9th Infantry (300) 3 companies line infantry
16th Infantry (225) 2 companies line infantry
25th Infantry (372) 4 companies line infantry

4th Brigade  B. Gen Swartout: Ordered to turn the British left
11th Infantry (300) 3 companies line infantry
14th Infantry (125) 2 companies line infantry (I added the excess from the 12th & 13th
21st Infantry (425) 4 companies line infantry

The American 1st & 4th Brigades were played the 4th & 7th US, while the 3rd brigade was played by the 1st & 3rd Ohio Regiments.
2nd Dragoons (150): 3 Troops. (Played by the 2nd NY Dragoons) Independent

Reinforcments. All Independent units.
Turn 3 Artillery (2 guns) 1 field gun
Turn 6 or later (rolling 1 or less to arrive, 2 or less the next turn etc)
- Artillery (4 guns)  1 field gun.
Turn 9 or later (rolling 1 or less to arrive, 2 or less the next turn etc)
- Boat Guard (600)  6 companies of Elite Line infantry. (supposedly the "best men" in the army)

Terrain.:  The battle was fought over soggy but passable fields on a typical clearing along the banks of the St Lawrence. The field was crossed by a number of rail fences but these do not seem to have played a major role so have been left out apart from a few for colour. A series of ravines and gullies ran back from the river and these did play a role but were passable by all units including artillery so are Broken rather than Difficult.

The banks of the St Lawrence appears to have been high enough that the artillery did not have a clear line of sight but they  are reported to have fired with effect and 24pdr shot have been dug up so I decided to allow them to blind fire like howitzers, counting their target as if it was in cover. .

The woods are a problem. They are described as swampy and I have walked such woods in Quebec and it can be heavy slogging. The Americans attacked through the woods in column and apparently covered the ground almost as fast as the troops crossing the fields. I eventually decided to screen off a wide area of woods which blocks line of sight and provides cover to light infantry but which does not slow movement. Within this area I scattered tree bases (old CD's) which were classed as Difficult terrain. (Individual trees and bits of greenery are for visual effect only and may be moved out of the way) The American columns could then move around these dense thickets but would be held up if they attempted to move in line and they channeled the columns into ambush zones.  It worked well and this will probably be my usual way of dealing with forests for the War of 1812.

Some accounts indicate that the British guns were on a slight rise that allowed them to fire shrapnel over head of their own infantry. The rise is small enough that it doesn't show in pictures. I decided to ignore it as there appeared to be plenty of gaps to fire through with the same effect.
The British columns move forward to deploy.

The American attack began, as did the historical one, with an attempt to push through the woods to turn the British flank Since visibility in such terrain is 3", the same as melee range, any contact is resolved using the melee rules. The Voltigeurs and Indians picked their places and waited in ambush. Since the Voltigeurs don't seemed to have suffered heavily and inflicted noticeable but not serious casualties, I ruled that the terrain would offer them cover in melee but nit count as an obstacle. The result of the first clash was a drawn melee. Since the skirmish stands only take 2 hits, this felt a little uncomfortable for them and they bugged out on the next move. The Americans came on again, this time with Coles, rolling much better for movement than the officer he was supporting and perhaps over interpreting his orders, leading a regiment in a charge. His troops inflicted 1 hit but he was shot out of the saddle which along with 2 other hits, was enough to send his brigade tumbling back. On their turn, the Voltigeurs tumbled back through the woods, all but 1 company was reduced to a single hit and self preservation kicked in.    The 4th brigade took over the advance again with the 21st deploying in the field as on the day and advanced under skirmish fire from a company of Voltigeurs on the edge of the forest. As the US Regulars in the woods charged forward with the bayonet, the Voltiguers evaded all along the line but Major Heriot, who was a little too far forward for an unattached commander, was surprised and captured (lost the die roll). The Mohawks who stood and fought for reasons that escape me, fought manfully but casualties were heavy and they withdrew from the field. (i.e. they took a 2nd hit)  
 The American attack through the woods begins

Out in the open, the British line had advanced to escort the guns into a suitable firing position. Once the artillery opened up, it fired with alarming accuracy. Its just as well that I hadn't tagged them as Superior as planned due to their allowance of shrapnel. the naval support was completely ineffectual at first due to the halving but eventually it kicked in, especially whenever it had a chance to enfilade.  Once the first American guns arrived, they started having a similar effect on the Advance Guard but BG Covington (i.e. me) got a little impatient and ordered his men forward. The troops committed to a frontal charge across the gully suffered horribly (and rolled even worse) and were repulsed. One regiment, however, was left out of the attack and was in position to flank the British defenders.
About 3pm, The American debouch from the woods and engage the british line. The battle is running about 30 minutes this point.

As the American left reformed and started rolling anxiously for the guns who were still 45 minutes away, the right emerged from the woods and engaged the waiting redcoats. The 21st balked at the prospect of charging in headlong (me again) and they and the 49th traded fire at about 100 yards. Coles, with a bandage wrapped around his head had somehow pushed his men to the front again and disdaining to deploy led his men forward in column.    The defensive fire from the 89th was adequate, just but the enthusiastic Americans rolled up, causing alarming casualties to the small regiment and almost pushing them back. Pearce called up the 49th, and some Voltigeurs, and rode to the head of the 89th to inspire the lads. Once again Coles went down and his men, now reduced to below 50% as well as being out fought, broke and scattered back through the woods.
The remnant of the 21st who had been caught up in the melee, were forced to retreat as well. The 4th Brigade unwisely attempted to renew the attack and were in turn broken after scaring the pants off the British and the GM.

The carnage on the left flank. 

Since I was using 4 single figures per company rather than a base or a larger grouping, it looked like both sides might be finished but some reordering and a quick tally showed that the British brigade still had 8 out of 10 companies inaction, even though 2 were down to a single figure. The American 3rd Brigade had 5 out of 9 companies still in action so the battle wasn't quite over. Rather than play it safe, the American general launched one more assault on Barnes detachment and the 2 nearly annihilated each other but belatedly an ADC led the Advance moved up in support and turned the tables. At this point, although the Boat guard had forced marched onto the table  about 15 minutes earlier than its historical counter parts, the American army was essentially broken. .Out of curiosity more than anything else, I decided to push on with the final act, the British charge on the guns and the counter charge of the Dragoons. 

Drawing in the Advance Guard, the British line, 6 companies, advanced in line towards the gun. A heavy but not terribly effective fire didn't look set to hold them so the guns limbered up to head for the protection of the Boat Guard while the Dragoons duly charged to cover the movement. Defensive fire knocked down 2 and no hits were scored in return so the Dragoons tumbled backwards as the sun set on turn 12.

. The cavalry are repulsed. The issue with small non-based companies is evident, there are actually 6 companies in line from 3 units but at a glance, it looks more like 3. Having larger companies or putting them on bases to hold their frontage, or doing both, would improve the optics.

So what did I think? There were a few niggling things wrong about the latest changes that mean they had to be backed out but on the whole I was pleased with how things went.  The sequence of events and timetable didn't exactly match the original but it was close and the variations in large part that was due to combat results and on the whole the game played out in the same fashion as the battle despite some close calls. 

Casualties also worked out not too bad if you apply the 25% lost as killed, seriously wounded or missing rule of thumb from the after the battle section. (Each "company" of line infantry stood in for 100 men so essentially each hit was about 25 men, The 2 hit light infantry and cavalry each stood for 50 so the ratio holds). The British took about 28 hits, divided by 4 and multiplied by 25 represents about 175 men vs the 200 or so reported killed, wounded and stragglers. The American killed, wounded and missing are less well reported but are variously estimated at between 300 and 400. In the game    there was also a failure to hold a roll call as the retreat began but they took roughly 60 hits, again dividing by 4 and multiplying by 25 comes to  375 permanent losses. 

Timewise, it took about 2 hours to play out the 3 hour battle but then it was a very small one. 

The only "fudging" in the game, apart from the setup, troop classification etc, was to issue orders based on interpretations of the historical ones. Obviously a different battle plan might have had a different result and indeed, the dice almost changed the fortunes of the day as it was.  So I am pleased.

I'm also pleased that the decision to cut down my table and field smaller armies means I will not have to sell off the 1812 lads to make room for more 1840's ones.


HofT: More Double Jeopardy and the Morschauser's Roots Show

I set up and played Crysler's Farm today. The report is not quite done and I'm about to trundle off to bed so it'll be up tomorrow.  After the last 2 HofT games, I still had some uneasyness about the Shaken rules and winning and losing conditions from a gaming point of view. On top of that, I've been having an e-discussion about the affect on individual units when a brigade becomes shaken, different issues from mine but  grist for the thought mill.

Crsyler's Farm is a small battle, which means that not only are the numbers of dice small enough to allow for extreme dice effects but by the end of the day, the table was looking a little bare even thoguh the game wasn't over yet. The effect was heightened since I had fielded 4 single figures per line company and marked hits by removing figures. This means a single figure might be left representing his company. A base with 6 20mm figures and 3 hit markers would have looked much less forlorn.

.Last man standing?

The original Morschauser rules are very bloody. A Horse & Musket company or stand (Basic Unit) is destroyed when it takes a hit and melees are only resolved when 1 side is destroyed. Rosters allow a stand to take more hits from shooting but melee is still to the death. One of the first things I changed was to allow units to retreat from melee and to allow hits to be rallied off. I also allowed units to share hits amongst companies. This worked great and had just the sort of effect I wanted, units could fight on and take a lot of hits bit hang together until they reached the tipping point at which point they disintegrated rapidly. Commander's would try to pull badly battered units out of the line to try to rally them. There were only 2 problems,  a 5 stand unit might need as many as 12 casualty markers which was either unsightly or hard to track if trailing the unit, (when trying to use single figures it was even more confusing unless one dragged the bodies along)   and, the games dragged on forever unless there was a turn limit which always seemed to leave someone convinced that if they had had just one more turn...... .

The solution to this was in part to make it easier to remove stands but allow units to fight on. This has run afoul of the shaken rules and looks odd on the table. In short I haven't really digested what it means and what I can live with. My reaction so far has been to drastically reduce what a unit in a shaken brigade can do and find ways to remove them all together. This hasn't felt right in a couple of situations and worse doesn't seem to be solving the issue either.

There is also the double jeopardy issue again. Hits are supposed to represent a loss of morale, cohesion and effectiveness as well as physical losses and straggling, but, with shaken units, I am also heaping additional penalties. To be consistent, teh main penalty should be increased losses. The reduced combat effectiveness would be better served if I left all the stands of a unit on the table so that a collection of remnants could not be as strong as a fresh unit but then I'm back to al those markers or replacement bases..

Time to summarize the Desired State:

a) Armies should not fight to the last man
b) Armies and parts of armies have, for want of a better term, a Tipping Point. Up to that point they are willing to take losses but beyond they lose the will to fight. Its not just losses but also situation or stress induced. (This can mean panic and routs in life but as long as stands come off I don;t care what its called in game terms).
c) Shooting at shaken units should be less effective than attacking them
d) The solution should reflect the Brigadier's decisions as well as a loss of cohesion amongst the troops.
e) whatever mechanisms are used must be simple, not admin heavy, clean on the table.

Ideally the solution should also "look" right but I think I can be happy if it is consistent with the rules. There is always the option of leaving "dead" stands on the table or using place holders.

Oh, and the solution must not involve major changes as I'm generally happy with how things work.

At the moment, I'm contemplating 2 changes, one is to remove the melee target restrictions that force units to split their hits if facing multiple enemy units and instead will allow them to concentrate so that a mixed unit is not stronger than a pure one of the same size.  The second is to lift the no shooting and no attack restirctions with a "no move towards the enemy" restriction which will allow remnants to defend them selves other than in melee. the 3rd is to replace the autobreak if defeated in melee with a straggler roll. Lastly will be to replace the current bonus for attacking shaken units with double casualties for shaken units to encourage players to protect them and to reflect increased straggling.

The new army morale rule needs to be adjusted, I'm just not sure how. Counting stands not units would work best but is too much like a computer's job.

Next Post: Crsyler's Farm refought.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Other Boer War

When I was a wee lad, there was this book in the hallway bookcase. It once belonged to my grandfather.

History of The War in South Africa  by James H Birch. It was published in 1899, you know, after the war ended...(oops).  You can download it or read it on line, pictures included,  here on
Hopefully this means no one will mind me including a couple of the lithographs from my copy, just to illustrate my point.. 

It is such  shame that my grandfather died when I was so young. If his health was better, I know the day would have come when we'd have played wargames with his collection of toy soldiers. (hmm its a little uncomfortable for me to contemplate that the Boer War was closer to me when I first read this book than the 2nd World War is now, almost as uncomfortable as watching the Caine Mutiny a few days ago and realizing the ships and navy in the movie were more like my brief navy days than today's)

Anyway, the wargames came regardless and it is not surprising that my thoughts turned to the Boer War. The problem was that the more I read, the deeper the gulf became between the war as presented in those late 19th/early 20thC books and newspapers with their dramatic lithographs of "gallant charges" and more modern works or even contemporary works by serving officers.
A few gallant wounded and dead, this wasn't represented as a picnic. 

To recreate the actual war in any real sense, I was going to need a large table, small figures and the games were going to be as far from those lithographs and stirring stories as they were from reality.(Check this Boer War wargaming site out)

Nor  was it all about gallant charges, there were pictures of British prisoners, pages of photos of Canadian war dead and so forth but even the desperate last stand of the questionable Jameson Raid has that gallant last stand aura. 

 If you've read  Duffers Drift (should be available on line if you Google it), I wanted war to be more like what the young lieutenant thought it was at the start,  even after dreaming the dreams! However, to game the illusion was going against what I thought and felt wargaming was all about then and was going to require more Chutzpah than I could muster to face down any detractors. So the Boer War still waits, but periodically I haul out that old book and I think about things.

I can still be fairly thin skinned on occasion but my foray into 54mm gaming at the end of the last century (ok and a few more decades of life outside of normal )  helped developed a lot more Chutzpah. So did the whole Old School thing.  (Charge! is still a wonder to me, so simple, so elegant, so wrong on the surface and yet still producing games that ring truer in their essentials than many games that I've seen that are more "correct" and thus should in theory produce more realistic games .)   I also have a much wider view of what and why wargames are. (Looking back, for a guy who prided himself on seeing the world in shades of grey, I used to hold some pretty strong prejudices). After struggling to free myself from the shackles of "ought", I think I'm almost ready to try to develop a game aimed at reproducing that other Boer War, the one of the lithographs, reporters and old soldiers sitting by the woodstove back home.  Almost.

Anyway, what brought all this on? There was an excellent discussion about some aspects of the theory and practice of developing wargames, dealing specifically with the Boer War but applicable in general,  on :Lard Island. If you have any interest in wargame design, go read it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Too Big for Its Britches

I've started adding some illustrated examples to Hearts of Tin. Not being a graphics guru or computer whiz the results are neither professional nor handy to download. (Its up over a MB)

I have however added a pdf version with really reduced photo quality but much friendlier to download and they are clear enough to get the point across.

For the indefinite future, both formats are available, but yes this means that while I'm still  polishing, I'm starting to lock it the clunky bits and slowly getting ready to call the rules done. (I'm wondering if I would consider chisel and stone to be permanent, my experiences with rebasing would tend to indicate that nothing is really permanent.)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Play it again Tsar

This morning I intended to reset my table for the battle of Chrysler's Farm to test the rules against a small historical battle that I've done in the past with success (Including using an early version of the rules). However, it occurred to me that  although I had included a nod to later 19thC  weapons, I hadn't actually tested them in a game. Refighting the scenario  in some remote corner of the world circa 1880 suddenly seemed like a good idea.

My 1880's Egyptians and British are largely gone in both 54mm & 25mm so I cast about  for alternatives. I had been starting to think about adapting HofT to the Russian Civil War instead of backdating rules from WWII so that got me thinking 1/72nd. If I had to kluge something, it might as well involve figures on bases. There aren't enough RCW figures yet but mixed with ACW figures I could fudge something vaguely Balkan or perhaps Baltic.  I was able to scrape up 24 infantry stands per side, mostly organised into 4 stand regiments. Worked ok for the defenders in blue but not the attackers in grey & brown, I decided to go with 3 stand regiments for Grey and call them all veteran to see what difference that would make. I also upgraded the  Grey artillery to "superior" rifled artillery. I fudged enough extra Blue stands to make a small unit of sharpshooter light infantry and balanced it with a machine gun battery. I was short on commanders so each side only got 2 brigades of infantry. All infantry have breechloading rifles, all guns are rifled field artillery.
Opening moves

The game opened briskly with Grey advancing under heavy fire and the cavalry moving towards a clash in the gap. A clash which destroyed  Blue's cavalry while leaving Grey's cavalry facing a line of infantry and artillery which eventually cut it to pieces. I was a little uncomfortable about the cavalry taking the losses without retiring once they were shaken but reminded myself that the general had had a chance to withdraw  them before they were shaken but chose to sacrifice them to stall the enemy and the remnants on the table represented, not steady ranks of cavalry standing calmly  in ranks while troop after troop is shot down in sequence but rather the decreasing effectiveness of a body of cavalry milling about, some perhaps returning fire ineffectively from the saddle, others probing and threatening while more and more are shot down or slipping away.     

The advance of the infantry under fire was as bloody as might be expected. The superior artillery was frightening in its effect. Their concentrated fire of one battery wiped out one of the Blue guns in 2 turns while the defending infantry suffered heavily despite being declared to be prone and thus in cover. Since there was no advantage to being veteran in a long range fire fight, I pushed the Grey infantry in. Despite the advantage of position and the deadliness of rifles at melee range,  numbers and quality told and the right hand regiment was destroyed. On the left, Grey only manages to attack with 1 shot up regiment and was repulsed.

The attack goes in.

Grey started moving up his artillery and renewed the attack on his right, capturing the ridge. All they had to do now was repulse the inevitable Blue counter attack. Deploying one regiment on the right to fire on the far ridge and supporting the attack with artillery fire, Blue stormed up the ridge and after a fierce struggle, took it and pursued swinging right to contact Grey's left hand brigade.  The left hand regiments came forward and poured rifle fire into Grey's right hand battery, wiping out a gun and forcing Grey to retire the 2nd one or lose it.
The counter attack.

A prolonged melee between 2 opposing regiments while the rest exchanged fire. The game hung in the balance but Grey's superior artillery tipped the scale and eventually Blue's last brigade was shaken by losses and the counter attack failed.

It took about an hour to play 8 turns to a conclusion, a bloody one but a conclusion none the less. The game had a very different feel to the musket game but it worked. When regiments got shot up, stray companies occasionally got left behind, clinging to a position, unable to shoot or attack but holding the ground. A serious attack would take them out but if the enemy was also badly shot up and didn't want to risk the attack, then a stale mate with the 2 sides taking cover until either fire took out the last opposition or reserves came up to push the attack forward.

Having full brigades of Veteran infantry is definitely an advantage and armed with breechloaders, they are deadly in close combat.  Wouldn't want to be a spearman charging breechloader armed infantry defending entrenchements!

I had an initial cringe at infantry not being able to fire and move and I briefly considered going back to 1/2 move and fire 1/2 but on reflection it still seems right. It is possible to drill troops to alternately fire and advance or retreat but it was notoriously hard to get troops to advance once they start shooting. Once the men started going prone it got even harder and in any event a long range fore by advancing troops doesn't seem to have been effective so one could consider it to be happening with no effect. In any event, it forces players to make a conscious decision to either engage in a prolonged firefight or advance. That rings more true than the way gamers tend to shoot any time they can even at reduced effect, It also means that troops under fire will tend to halt and return fire rather than pushing on, without having a special rule for it.
A Russian Civil War version of HofT game is now on my list, but I'm going to need more men, a LOT more men!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Translating Teasers

By Request.

CS Grant's various scanarios and Tabletop Teasers are often set out in generic Horse & Musket terms but they generally provide a sound basis for a good game in almost any period. One just has to exercise a bit of judgement to translate for different periods, scales and rule sets. I generally use of one 3 methods to do so.

WWII is one period where I have often used his scenarios and teasers. I have done so using home made rules and 10mm troops, Rapid Fire and Storm of Steel in 54mm and Blitzkrieg Commander (BKC) in 20mm. (I have also played using both Command Decision and BKC in 12mm but I didn't set those games up.) The best approach for each varies but one or the other generally works.

1. Points: The simplest and least satisfying solution.  In the version of Sawmill Village which appeared in Scenarios for Wargames, players were instructed to pick 6 units from a  list of available troops. This implied that all were of equal value. The notes at the front gave no particular size but said that cavalry and light infantry were assumed to be about 1/2 the size of line infantry and that batteries were 2 guns. If one consults the very 1st Table Top Teaser, it is made clear that the units involved are those laid out in Charles Grant's The Wargame, and a points value is given, but for years I went under my first assumption and it has worked just fine.  

The way I work this is to take the number of units per side and multiply by a suitable constant to get the desired size of game. So for example, for the scenario just played, the defender has 2 guns, a cavalry unit and 2 infantry units in town for a total of 4 units with 7 more in town as reinforcements. The attacker has 14 units. If using BKC and multiplying the number of units by 100 we get a game where 1,400 pts attack a force of 400 pts on the hill with 700 more as reinforcements. For a larger game, simple increase the constant and multiply by 150 pts x number of units or even 200.

Simple but it does allow players to choose a completely different ratio of infantry to guns to cavalry/armour and possibly change the feel of the whole thing. . Leaving WWII I remember playing the game with Romans vs Parthians using Armati. It was hard enough for the Parthians to attack the hill, but it was even harder when we switched sides and they were tasked with defending it! If you don't have  a point system to work with this doesn't help at all.

1.5. Allocated Point This is just a variation on the point system but it gets around the issue of inappropriate forces. It can be awkward though if the point system is too far out of whack and some judgement is required. Basically its a matter of breaking the points down by troop type.

So, for the scenario just played, using BKC or similar for a small game: (warning I haven't looked up the pts for a sanity check as to what it provides)

On the hill: 100 pts of A/T guns, 200 pts of infantry (and infantry support such as MG's and mortars), 100 pts of armour
In town: 100 pts of armour, 100 pts of recce, 400 pts of infantry, 100 pts of artillery (could be off board)

Attackers: 200 pts of Heavy/Medium Armour, 100 pts of Light Armour, 100 pts of recce, 800 pts of infantry & infantry support, 200 pts of artillery inc A/T guns and off table guns etc.

Command may either be drawn from available pts or issued free based on reasonable proportions.

2. Standard Units. This only really works if everyone is on board or you are setting up the game with your troops on both sides. Since the original teasers were designed for standard units, its just a matter of adopting standard units for your period. If one side has a quality advantage this can be balanced out by larger units.
Its been a while but we used to use something like:

Infantry Unit: 3 stands of infantry + MG or Mortar
Guns: 1 antitank or offboard gun per scenario gun (2 per battery) or maybe a dive-bomber for a few turns
Light Cavalry Unit: 3 light tanks, armoured cars or 1/2 tracks
Heavy Cavalry Unit: 3 medium tanks, 2 heavy tanks or 1 really heavy tank. (Depends on the .period and army). If the medium tanks are greatly inferior add an extra.
Light Infantry. A fudge factor, might be a recce or 1 1/2 track with 1 stand of elite troops, or 2 stands of paras or similar.  

I say stands, they could be sections, platoons, or companies, depending on what rules you are using. Guns are assumed to have appropriate transport.

 Lets say we were doing mid-war Russians attacking vs Germans. Perhaps:
On the ridge:
1 HQ 2 A/T guns, 6 infantry stands, 2 MG,

In Town:
1 HQ 3 Mark IVH,
1 HQ 6 infantry, 1 MG, 1 mortar,
1 HQ 6 infantry, 1 MG, 1 mortar,
1 truck with 2 stands of Panzer Grenadiers with enhanced firepower (extra lmg),(attach as desired)
1 FAO for 2 off table 105mm  howitzers.

1 CO
1 HQ, 1 recc stand, 12 infantry, 1 mortar, 2 MG, 1 45mm ATG,
1 HQ, 1 recce stand, 12 infantry, 1 mortar, 2 MG, 1 45mm ATG,
2 76mm guns or maybe 2 SU76,
1 HQ  3 stands of SMG tank riders, 6 T34 76, 3 armoured cars or light tanks.

That it!
the same principles apply to ancients, renaisance etc.

Belmont Ridge - Postscript

The game was played primarily as a test, a test of rules, proposed table size, figure basing and organization, but it turned out to be the most enjoyable game that I've played in some time.

Rules:  Despite the unplanned stubbornness of Shaken units, I was really happy with the rules. Once again the increased, simplified movement rolled by brigade rather than by unit, really picked up the pace of the game and helped focus the player's view on his battle plan rather then the details of each unit.  This is one of the things that I really liked about Charge! and now without copying it, I have something  that achieves almost the same thing if perhaps less elegantly.

The adoption of a requirement to win melees by 2 has also continued to prove itself. Needing something more than a mildly lucky roll  makes losing feel like a defeat and removes the need for a separate morale check to determine the level of defeat. Something which speeds up the game and makes it flow easier rather than having 2 rules work against each other. The reduction in scores to hit has had the intended result of making the results less sure,  the average still happens most often but extreme results are a little more likely adding to tension and drama. It also means that forlorn hopes and desperate gambles can be taken knowing that success is unlikely but possible.

 Hopefully I haven't broken anything with mid & post game tweaks designed primarily to fix the shaken thing without adding too many convolutions but which always cause collateral changes!   Reason for another game perhaps?

Table. For this game I used some ex-shelves/prospective new hills  to wall off a 5x7 area. The 5 foot width has already established its supremecy, primarily because I can reach the middle without strain, so the question was: "is the loss of a foot of room area justified by the extension of the board from 6 ft to 5 ft". If I had played this game on a 5x6, I would have essentially had to remove the town from the table, or perhaps reduce it to a pair of houses on the edge (vs 4) or make some table edge flat/backdrop houses  and to have moved the American start line back to the edge so that most units would have marched on.   Slightly more work and less visually appealing but the game itself wouldn't have been affected. The jury is still out but 5x7 is definitely the maximum and 5x6 is still ahead by a nose as it will leave room for a comfy chair and a quiet corner for reading.

Bases & Organization. Slam dunk. I knew in 2009 that the 4 man bases were right for me. The initial impetus to change them was a desire to cram more troops on the table so I crammed 8 figures on a 60mm base vs 4 figures on a 40mm wide base. But while the 8 man stands looked OK in line, they don't make convincing march columns and accumulate a frightening number of casualty markers unless I decided to dispense with those.  Having managed to convince myself that big old Charge! style units  was what I really needed, I slid back to single bases. Very flexible but even with movement stands and magnets, I suffered lots of toppling and awkwardness, especially as my troops often find themselves fighting in rugged parts of the world.

I also realized that I didn't really want to face casting and painting a 1,000 40mm figures for one project. The push to have larger and more units wasn't really coming from inside, it was influenced by paying attention to what others were doing.   I like my 20 man units.  Five 4 man bases may seem a bit awkward for attack columns but they allow the colours to go in the middle of a line and I like the tie back to Morschauser.  The new 2" sq bases are a little bigger than the original 40mm x 40mm ones but they allow for any pose of infantry and will hold 2 cavalry on a common frontage with 4 infantry which has certain advantages for game design. In short, it works for me.

The 2 regiment brigades also worked from a gaming POV and it pays to homage to Featherstone and Grant. My regiments are a bit big for many campaigns when you look at the frontage they cover, about 750 men each so the manpower per brigade is about right. If doing an historical battle in a serious way, the current rules would work just as well with several smaller regiments.  Finally I am in a position to draw up an Order of Battle for Aroostock to Oregon as well as the associated Gwalior/Sikh Wars project.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Applications of Medieval Siege Warfare to Everyday Life

I'm not in Halifax anymore. It may be less than 100 km over the hills to Halifax but I'm at the tip of the valley and the snow which regularly bypasses Halifax, lands here. Reminds me a bit of growing up in Quebec.

So what has this to do with wargaming or siege warfare? Its all about tactics. One snow fall is simple, you just push and shovel it off the driveway by any means you like, done! Until the plow fills you in again.

So here is the first tactical problem requiring the expertise of the Chief Snow Engineer, how to approach clearing the saps or driveway so that a sudden Sally by the snow plow won't fill it back in.  Carefully analyzing the enemy tactics and noting that the plow always follows the flow of traffic, he recommends that the parapet be built to the right (unless in the UK). Since the poor sappers have trouble remembering this, especially when there is a strong wind from that side, an alternative of heaving the snow as far as possible towards the middle of the glacis is allowed. Regardless of best intentions, as the siege continues, the parapets grow, taller on the right than on the left but even the left hand side soon reaches shoulder height.

The Colonel in Chief conscripted to serve in the trenches while the Chief Engineer tends to technical matters.

Now if you have a well equipped siege train with heavy batteries of snow blowers, this isn't a major problem but when forced to work with conscripts, the snow soon catches on the parapet and falls back filling the sap.

This is where the medieval bit comes in, specially trained engineers, are required. By turning their right shoulder to the parapet, getting a solid shovelful, well packed they can turn themselves  into a Human Trebuchet,  keeping their left arm straight, suddenly jerking the shovel skyward  then stopping it just before the vertical, they can hurl their snow missile, over the rampart and into the defenseless fields beyond.

Of course the alternative is to employ conscripts to carry shovelfuls 1 at a time to a place they can reach. The Provosts need to keep a sharp eye out though, especially if the kettle whistles.

Belmont Ridge - Part 3 Crisis and Resolution


After a battle is over, it is often hard to recreate the exact sequence of event. The same is often true of wargames. In the photo above, we see the American 4th Brigade mustering for their attack on the hill, preceded by the Bangor Rifles who have just driven the last of the Canadian riflemen from the hill. These fell back through their supports and reformed on the right flank. In the background, the Bodyguard have not yet received  their new orders and are covering the deployment of the British 3rd Brigade.
 At the foot of the hill, the Ohio regiments have rallied and are preparing to climb the hill again. Behind them the reserves are advancing and are about to swing in to occupy the center of the hill. The guns,  rather belatedly, have begun to move forward with them. On the left, the US 1st brigade faced the 49th Foot supported by 2 stands of riflemen, spread thin to plug the gap while the rest of the British 2nd brigade prepared to deploy. In the rear, the British battery, driven off the hill after the 1st melee where it suffered 3 hits, has deployed at long range and prepared to fire on the hill. If the British win the next initiative, their line will be reformed and the 2nd brigade will be poised to counter attack. 

They didn't. The Americans grabbed the initiative and charged forward. The 49th were supported by a thin skirmish line of riflemen, in the melee, the 49th and the rifles, being from separate brigades check their status separately, the skirmishers got lucky and suffered no hits but the 49th was defeated and forced to retreat, a few hits from being shaken. The Americans, still engaged  by the skirmishers hanging on their flank are not free to pursue.

 On the British half of the turn, the riflemen, having covered the retreat of the line infantry and now facing overwhelming odds, pulled back while the 49th rallied along side the battery. The Americans soon  followed up but a blast of cannister swept General Zinn from his horse. The attack stalled and degenerated into a firefight leaving both brigades shaken by losses.   

Back on the Western end of the hill, both sides deployed, the Americans covered by riflemen. The 3rd Infantry, in column were locked in melee with the Fencibles and a battery of guns. The New Yorkers moved  up and opened a long range duel with the 41st Foot. The Ohio Brigade pushed forward to support the 3rd Infantry, hoping to tip the balance. Since they were joining a continuing melee, there were no defensive benefits for the Fencibles but they didn't need them, shaken by the heavy casualties, the Ohio volunteers broke and fled back down the hill. 

Here was the crucial moment. Trusting that the shaken American Dragoons and the thin line of riflemen were no threat, General Ross ordered the York Volunteers to pull out of the line and move to the center to join in an attack on the hill supported by the howitzer battery.  The cavalry had already been sent to sweep clear the right. The battalion of detachments, moving past the Fencibles, were ordered up the hill. On the left flank, the 41st Foot led by their Brigadier pressed forward to settle the matter, if the US 4th Brigade could be shaken and driven from the hill, the battle could yet be retrieved. 

On the right, the GG Bodyguard calmly passed through the 49th and threw themselves on the enemy who calmly formed square and repulsed them, (It was here on the eastern flank that the serious issue of the day that arose, not only was the shaken brigade able to react as calmly as a fresh one, but my intent that shaken brigades be more vulnerable to losses in melee - (due to straggling etc,)  as well as being less effective, had been lost in the pre game tweaks. A calm review of the odds showed that it was highly unlikely that the cavalry would ever break the square even though it was shaken. Worse, there was almost no incentive for Generals to husband their units, the shaken batteries fired effectively as fresh ones and the units were happy to stand to the last man as speed bumps even if a charge was not a good idea. Attacking them was fairly safe but not nearly as effective a tactic as intended).

In the center, the detachments climbed the ridge slowly only to have the 4th & 7th Infantry crest the ridge. An uphill charge against twice their numbers supported by artillery looked more like suicide than courage while the American commander saw no reason to trust his fate to melee dice when he had cannister to back up his musketry.   

On the right, the 41st pushed through the defensive fire but were unable to drive the New Yorkers back. As the fight continued, Brigadier Brock was shot from his horse, the 41st wavered and then fell back in confusion as the New Yorkers poured in an especially hot fire. (they rolled up, the 41st rolled down) Pressing forward in pursuit, they surprised General Ross who was watching the fight in the hill. Seizing his bridle, a rifleman led him to the rear. (a general in the path of an enemy unit dices to see if he escapes or is captured

Hurriedly, the howitzers were wheeled about  while the York Volunteers, refused their flank and tried to cover the retreat of the 41st. The Fencibles, with the enemy behind them, were forced to conform to avoid being flanked. The American General knew that now was the time,  every available man was thrown against the British flank.

For a while the fight was brisk both on and behind the hill. It couldn't last however, cannister tore apart the Battalion of Detachments from the flanks as well as ahead and on the plain, numbers told. There were still a few shaken companies clinging to the hill but the British line of communication was cut and the enemy had a fresh brigade supported by 4 guns to hold the hill while the British force was only a few hits away from being  broken, Reluctantly General Ross ordered a withdrawal while he could still cover his retreat.