Sunday, March 13, 2011

Give me Shelter. A Portable RCW Wargame.

Shot out of the saddle

This is my playtest of Bob Cordery's Portable 20thC Wargame inspired by Joe Morschauser. I expected the game to be short, so I decided to make it a double header. Since I was unsure of the relative merits of various troop types and of trenches, I decided to start with a meeting engagement between equal forces then follow it up with an attack defence game with possibly unbalanced forces. 
The Red Army
The White Army

It is March, a sudden thaw has cleared away the snow (except for the small patches around White's armoured car and machine gun), but the cold has come back freezing the ground solid and 2 small detachments are seeking the shelter of a village. Each detachment is composed of the following units:
1 Command, 1 Armoured Car, 1 field gun, 1 mortar, 2 MG, 6 infantry.  That brings the total to the allowable maximum of 12 units including 1 command.  (not coincidently it uses all of my painted infantry and at least 1 of each troop type I have) The winner  is allowed 3 entrenchments and what ever troops remain while the loser may use any remaining units but may also draw on any painted troops left in the box up to a maximum of 12. (This amounts to 2 more guns, a cavalry commander and 8 stands of cavalry.)  

Rather than construct a narrative that will last longer than the actual games, and for the benefit of those interested in how the rules worked, I am going to list which side won the initiative, how many activation points they rolled up and what the losses were and let that and a few pictures tell the story.  

There was minor glitch that arose from my multi-purpose, multi-grid cloth but it did not cause any major issues. The cloth was laid out with a grid of 8x8 6" squares subdivided into 256 3" squares by marking a cross in the center of each.  This was larger than the small table I was using so the cloth hung down all around and I planned to pick out an 8x8 grid of 3" squares as a playing surface. Well the combination of the table being even smaller than I thought and my eye being fooled by the overlying 6" grid I actually laid out the game on a 6x10 grid. I rolled a die to see how many woods squares to place on the board and placed the rest of the trees along the back of the board in the "unused" squares.

Rather than choose sides, I settled on a random deployment, interference from politicals or high command perhaps.    Starting with the armoured car and leaving the infantry until last, I rolled to see which 6" square within the deployment zone that the unit would deploy into. (It didn't click that there should have been 4 6" squares in the deployment zone!). Once the larger square was picked, I put the unit in an obviously suitable 3" square if there was one or rolled to choose if there wasn't. When I got to the last 6 infantry stands, there were only 6 squares left so I put one in each and thought "aha so that's why you can only have 12 units". (It still didn't click that with 2 rows of 8 squares in the deployment zone, 12 units shouldn't fill each one! Maybe if I had more fingers?)

 On the first turn I finally noticed that Red and White were not equidistant from the objective as was intended, so I moved White forward to their planned start line and carried on. It wasn't until I finished both games that I realized that I hadn't used the farthest 2 rows of squares. Must have been muddy in the woods! In any event, I don't think the game suffered from the narrower battlefield.

Turn 1: I=Red.  White's Artillery found a Red FT17 directly ahead  (technically a tank but since it was armed with an MG only, I treated it as an armoured car), it fired, missed and blew up an MG instead, opening the ball. Red's artillery commenced making shell holes in the steppe. Red, with a full slate of 5 activation diced managed 8 points and began forward. White rolled up 12 which was more than it could use.

White forces seize the village.

Turn 2. I=White  White's Artillery stuck on target and zeroed in this time. So much for my new FT17, hastily assembled and painted then blown up on Turn 2 of its 1st game,  Red made some more potholes. 
 White rolled 12 activations and moved an infantry company into the first house and pushed forward supports. Red rolled 7 points and found itself unable to occupy the closest house without engaging in close combat with White hunkered down in cover in their 1/2 of the village. They opened up on a White unit in the open instead.

The unfortunate FT17

Turn 3 I=White. Artillery was ineffective. White smugly rolled the activation dice expecting another 12 and got 4 instead. Most of it was spent shooting without effect. Red rolled a 5 and a Red infantry company bravely stormed the Armoured Car, most were gunned down but a wounded soldier managed to crawl up and drop a grenade through a hatch (or something like that, both units were destroyed). 

Red's first success.

Turn 4 I= Red. White's Dead-eye Dick Artillery took out a Red infantry company. Now down to 4 dice, Red rolled 5 and blazed away.  White, still with 5 dice, also rolled 5 and fired without effect.

Turn 5. I= Red Now the battle got hot, rolling another 5, Red's fire took out a White MG and Infantry stand. Were they about to even up the battle? White now down to 4 dice as well, took out 2 Red Infantry. 

Turn 6. I=Red. With 3 dice left Red rolled a grand total of 1 point. With only 2 infantry supported by a gun, a mortar, an MG and the command stand, Red decided he didn't want to face a counter attack and started to pull back. As so often, this is when the really heavy casualties began,  By the time the last unit left the board on Turn 7 only a mortar and a command stand survived. 

White digs in
Here comes the cavalry!
As White entrenched, Red selected forces for his counter attack. Actually, given his losses, there was no choice, he took all the available troops to bring him back up to 12 stands. You'll note that the defeated Red commander does not appear in the 2nd game having been replaced by the Red cavalry Commander Gudinuv. This time, instead of random deployment, I chose White's positions and then decided on an attack plan for Red which was basically to bombard the town with the mortar and 2 guns while the cavalry took out the outlying White forces then dismounted to assault the village. White's defences consisted of 2 sandbag entrenchments from my 45 year old Marx "Over the Top" set and 1 from a $ store bag of toys. The Command is located in the rear house with the mortar just beyond it, the MG in the front corner redoubt, the field gun in the open with entrenched infantry for protection, more infantry in the lead house and entrenched beyond in and a final infantry stand in reserve.

Turn1 I=White. Red's artillery began well by taking out White's sole MG. White with 8 units rolled 4 points and fired their mortar. Red rolled 8 and advanced.

Turn 2 I=White  White rolled 7 and the mortar landed a hit on a cavalry unit while infantry moved forward to occupy the front trench. Red rolled 9 and undaunted sent 2 cavalry to over run the entrenched infantry beyond the village while the mortar took out the new garrison of the front strong point.

Turn 3. I=White. White, down to 3 dice, rolled 5 and blazed away. Red's seemingly unstoppable cavalry over ran White's artillery as well as taking out White's mortar. Things looked bleak and I thought turn 4 might end it.

Turn 4. I = Red.  Red rolls 9 and attacks Red's  infantry with 2 cavalry units, and is repulsed  with losses! White rolls 3 and shoots 2 more Red cavalry. Hmm The fat lady hasn't sung yet! 

Turn 5 I=Red. Red, down to 4 dice,  rolls 6, dismounts his cavalry and moves his commander forward. Too far forward apparently as White with 2 activation pts shoots the man on the white horse.

Turn 6 I= White. Red's artillery finally hits the village with effect and takes out the infantry defenders. White with 2 points takes out a dismounted cavalry unit but with 5 points, red's dismounted cavalry take out the White commander with rifle fire. The village is now empty and the remaining White rifle company, leaderless and anticipating a barrage of artillery and mortar fire decides to slip away in the dusk. Red's cavalry decides to occupy the town  before the artillery gets all the good spots.

  White's casualties have been used to supply Red with dismounted cavalry. Something that will need to be rectified.

 Conclusions? An enjoyable evening of gaming. It took about an hour and 1/2 to set up and play the 2 games . The rules worked smoothly and nothing really odd seemed to pop up, especially when looking at the big picture. The question remains, for a larger game, would it be better to have more grid squares with 1 stand in each? or to use larger squares which fit the terrain better and have multiple stands in each square?  I need to paint up those Zvezda infantry before I tackle that.

Right, thanks to the early "Spring Ahead" change to Daylight Saving Time, and the time taken to right this up, I am behind schedule. I need to clear my usual table, saw up 1" boards for hills and sort out my antique and reproduction Britain's figures for this afternoon's game. 




  1. A game with plenty going on, which is one of the marks of a good game. Will the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force be making an appearance?

  2. Ross Mac,

    I really enjoyed reading these battle reports for several reasons.

    Firstly, they actually seem to have the ebb and flow of real skirmishes during the RCW.

    Secondly, they sound like they were fun to fight through.

    Thirdly because it sounds like the rules worked.

    Now I know that I actually put the rules together from Joseph Morschauser’s original ideas, with additions and ideas from yourself and arthur1815, but I have no illusions that it is very easy for the writers of wargames rules to make assumptions that players will understand the mechanisms they have used and the way in which they have described how things should happen. When somebody else can set up a game – or even two – and use the rules without any major misunderstandings or hiccoughs, then the rules must work reasonably well.

    Thank you for your earlier feedback and the reports of your play-test battles. I am looking forward to how well your modified version for the War of 1812 work, as some of the ideas you suggested could easily be incorporated into the next drafts of both the 19th and 20th century versions of the rules.

    All the best,


    PS. I think that the smaller grid squares work well, but I can see good reasons for using the larger ones, especially if you are going to use Units made up from several bases of figures.

  3. Conrad, I have my eye on the Hat Canadians. I suspect they'll eventually be deployed somewhere.

  4. Bob, I think this sort of skirmish fits the rules well which is food for thought on several fronts.

    When I get the chance, I want to try out the full 16 by 16 grid of 3" squares, this weekend has my head bubbling with discussion points that need practical testing. The differences pro & con between scaling up by using rosters (or base removal)or by using a larger grid and more single hit units is one. Another is about wargames and the principles of war, today's game turned on some violations of these principles. Too many rules are too onsessed about period detail to get that right.

    Writing rules that are clear and easily followed is not an easy task and my hat is off to you for doing the hard work and making such a good job of it.


  5. Inspired by this Ross. I have an inherited card table with brown baize which would be perfect for this type of gaming.

    I love the fact that it's all very 'do-able' The RCW with 3-4 boxes of plastic soldiers, an armoured car and a tank here or there. All back to the very roots of gaming and the fun that Featherstone, Grant et al espoused.


  6. Well spotted Mark, 4 boxes of troops,1 Hat WWI Heavy Weapons, 1 Strelets and 1 Orion cavalry and 1 Strelitz infantry. Expandable but doesn't need to be.

    Cheap gaming by any standards (back to my roots too)