Viewer's Choice Celebration MiniCampaign

It has now been over 20 years since I launched "With MacDuff On the Web" and nearly 10 years since I launched my 2 blogs: Gathering of Hosts and Battle game of the Month.

To celebrate the years and the friends and the million hits I've decided to run a 3 game mini-campaign in late October. By popular vot e it will be set in the mid 18th Century.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Portable Civil War with a Morschauser Chaser

After a hard week, today was a welcome game day. After a nearly 15 year hiatus, we broke out the 15mm ACW figures to give the Portable Wargame another spin.  Ron set up the Scenarios for Wargames version of Sawmill Village and we each selected 12 units plus a General.  I chose 2 cavalry, 2 artillery and 8 infantry, Ron went for 4 cavalry, 2 guns and 6 infantry. We decided to play straight up with no optional rules but did agree that the cavalry would dismount if pinned rather then charging like European cavalry. 

The gallant boys in grey advance.
To be met by the brave boys in Blue.

At 2 hexes per turn up the road, it was a long, dusty trudge up the road. The cavalry, riding ahead on both sides clashed with a loss of 1 stand a side before the troopers dismounted and started occupying houses. 
My artillery unlimbered early and assisted by my august commander, began shelling the empty street in front of a Yankee held house. Leaving the gun as the column of infantry arrived and blocked its field of fire, General Ross rode up to direct the fire of my cavalry who were ensconced in one house, exchanging fire with their counterpart across the street. It worked and the opposing dismounted cavalry were eliminated.

Then the Yankee artillery opened fire, overshooting the house slightly.

Ron needed a 1 or 2 followed by  a 6 to pull this off but there was an air of inevitability as the dice rolled across the table. 

The loss of the general's activation die made it hard to move up my reinforcements. On Turn 12, the boys from Arkansas, tired of waiting for their turn to march on, set up camp on the edge of the board. On turn 15 they lit camp fires but on turn 17, they finally got an order to move up. 

For a while, with Sheridan effectively directing the fire of his men, and being down first 1 die for the loss of my general, and then another as my casualties mounted faster than Ron's, the game looked lost. Eventually though, as I let my pinned troops lay low to focus on reinforcements, clinging to 1 corner of the town and letting my artillery carry the weight, I was able to form for an attack and inflicted enough casualties to start evening out the battle. It didn't last though, Ron's fire cut down several of my units as they formed to attack and a prolonged firefight from cover resulted. One poor cabin on the edge of town proved a death trap for Ron's troops, I think in the end 3 or maybe 4 of his units were marched into that ruin only to die.

. The Death Cabin is just to the left of my dismounted cavalry
Too little, too late. As my cavalry prepared to mount and charge Ron's guns, they were pinned and yet another infantry regiment was shot down dropping me to below 1/2 my strength so I conceded the game.

The game was enjoyable, but it felt a bit sluggish and didn't bring to mind the dashing accounts of the civil war. Between the movement rates, the activation dice, the long ranges and the 5/6 chance that a unit would be destroyed or pinned before it got close enough to attack, neither of us was able to assemble and launch a serious assault so the game was a prolonged firefight between troops in cover with the occasional 6 being what drove it forward. For the Civil War that's not all that wrong but it didn't feel right somehow that long range rifle fire was the best answer to an entrenched enemy.

After a break to pillage the Yankee food supplies, since Ron had just got a copy of John Curry and Bob Cordery's extended version of Morchauser's book  we reset the game and played it using Joe's original Musket Era rules. Because we were playing on a small table with hexes, we adjusted the movement and shooting distances by dividing by 6 and rounding down (for example infantry with a 12" move and 18" range became a 2 hex move with a 3 hex range). I didn't take pictures of the early turns because they looked identical to the first game. I didn't take pictures of the later turns because they were too fast and exciting and I forgot!  

The longer moves, the ability to move and fire and the reduction in rifle fire effect made the game much more open. The huge increase in artillery effectiveness  made this arm critical although one had to be careful about being overly aggressive with it since its melee factor was so low. It was also interesting having to worry about flanks again. Since the rules are so bloody, we decided not to call it at 1/2 casualties but played to the bitter end. This led to a battery and an infantry regiment in town facing 2 cavalry units lurking behind a hill. Their was a period of maneuver and indecision as Ron tried to figure out how to get close enough to over run my  gun without being graped. He finally figured out a plan  which involved risking a shot  from my infantry which duly missed. As I retreated my infantry, imagine our surprise when I lifted a roof and discovered that in the heat of action, 1 regiment had entered the building and been forgotten! With 3 units, I felt strong enough to try flushing him out from the hills.  As I cautiously advanced, he made one more dash but this time I didn't miss.

The game may have lacked some detail, for example no rules for cover and no role for Generals but the game was fast paced and exciting. Every move and decision had to be carefully weighed as to risk and gain and the stakes are high. The activation dice provide an interesting source of additional friction, especially in a solo game, but being totally in charge of your own fate is also interesting and blunders still happened from time to time........    One thing we did miss was the rolling for initiative with the chance of a double move.   This is something I have used on and off for years and am quite fond of the added edge of possibility and uncertainty.  Some rules for cover wouldn't go amiss and the tank like ability of artillery to move and shoot needs to be tamed, but after all these years it is still an exciting game which  rewards a table top general who can master the principles of war.

A good and enjoyable day and more food for thought. I see again a niche for Hearts of Tin and my 20mm ACW troops but it needs to be stripped down once again.



  1. Ross - enjoyable, thought-provoking post, as ever. The very last paragraph has just a whiff of an epitaph for us all.

    Perennial cycle: (1) get back to the classic games, it used to be more fun and those old guys spent a lot of time getting it right (2) a few things missing that I've grown to like - let's tweak it a bit (can't do any harm...) (3) still a few tweaks needed - let's tweak the tweaks (4) game getting unwieldy - maybe time to revisit the classic games?

    As you have discussed before (very eloquently), it is possible that going round and round this loop is one of the delights of the hobby anyway, but, for myself, I sometimes wonder if I could manage rather better to hang onto some of the recurrent lessons as they pass by. I have too many Groundhog Days - I recognise the situation, but I usually can't remember when it last happened, or what I did about it.

  2. A Merry-Go-Round, all too true.

    In my case, I think part of the problem is my desire for a 1 size fits all solution to multiple aims (game vs "simulation" etc) and multiple external environments. For example, I find the simpler, player control games make excellent opposed games but pale when played solo. It would seem a portfolio of games may be what's called for.

  3. I think Ross the point you're trying to make is that a hammer is a fine tool - despite the fact that it is not a saw.

  4. Ross Mac,

    Another interesting and thought-provoking battle report. Of particular interest is the fact that both battles were fought using rules derived from the same basic original.

    I think that the main difference is that PW was essentially designed to be fought solo or face-to-face, whereas Morchauser's original rules were designed for face-to-face battles.

    So what would happen if one removed the Activation Dice from the PW rules? Would they be similar to your version of Morchauser for hexes?

    An interesting couple of questions that I would like to have time to think about, as they have possible ramifications for any future development of PW.

    All the best,


  5. Bob, I don't believe that the Activation dice made mush difference. Looked at from an over all abstract effect, they provided some of that uncertainty as to when things happen. I think they do add to a solo game. So far the original rules have proved less than satisfying as a solo game.

    It was the increased movement and ability to move and fire in Morschauser that had the biggest affect on the pace and feel of the game. Part 2 of the post will go up today.

  6. and one needs a hammer sometimes.