Friday, September 30, 2011

Piano Drills - Scaling Up and Down

The unsuccessful attempt by the US to recapture Mackinac in1814 is typical of the sort of little clash duirn the War of 1812 which look initially like an interesting little wargame but which present certain difficulties. For those not familiar with it, the Wikipedia version is OK and comes with a nice map of the island. The Historic Park Association publication on the British Army at Mackinac contains a nicely detailed map of the battlefield itself including buildings and fence lines.

With such small forces, this is just the sort of thing With MacDuff to the Frontier was made for, a 1:10 ratio provides a nice little game. The core of the American force was a battalion composed of 5 companies of regulars from 3 different regiments, totaling somewhat under 500 men, backed up by Ohio militia, 2 guns and some US Marines. Sounds perfect, 5 x 8 man companies of Regulars, 3 of militia, a gun and crew and either ignore the unspecified number of marines, wrap them into the gun crews or eave them to guard the boats since they don't seem to have played a role in the battle. (Incidentally, the US Commander was the same officer who had defended Ft Stephenson, since he didn't fare so well, I presume he didnt have that 'special' help.)  .

The first problem comes when you lay out the battlefield. With my figures, to keep in scale, I would need to use a ground scale of around 1"=10 yds. My table then would be an open field surrounded by a fringe of trees on 3 sides with a few small buildings down at 1 end. Could be anywhere, anytime and most of the key decisions have been made.  the 2nd problem is that the companies did not act independently so really what we have is a single  40+ man unit plus a 24 man unit.

On the other hand, if I went with a ground scale of 1"=50 yards, I could squeeze almost the entire island onto my table but I would end up with a figure ratio of about 1:50 so 14 Americans attacking 3 British + 6 Indians.  Roster time for sure.

Falling back on OSW and Toy Soldier methods of creating a game inspired by the battle offers a solution at the sake of historical accuracy and what Lawford & Young called "dull consistency". The idea will be to suggest the island and give the US player a choice of landing spots and include the hill with blockhouse that over looks the fort (itself off table), but retain the roughly 1:10 man ratio of figures, now organized into standard units. This now gives me  3 x 16 man Regiments of Regulars, (17th in Black, 19th & 24 in the old blue with red facings, all in the old felt shako according to( James Kochan's Osprey on the subject), 1 1/2 16 man units of Ohio Volunteers and  a gun with 2 crew. Oddly this nicely matches what I have on hand, leaving a few Volunteers and cavalry aside. The British will have a 16 man unit of regulars, a gun with 2 crew and 4 x 8 man units of Indians, or rather 3 plus a unit of Canadian frontiersmen since I still haven't painted up the bag of Old Glory Indians I bought several years ago,.

This should provide a brief but entertaining game as the Americans try to capture the heights that dominate the fort. It should also test the low end size of game that I envisage playing with Heart's of Tin and its suitablity  for such small War of 1812 actions.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Be careful what you say

Yesterday I wrote that I was sending out the fiery cross to summon my 25mm Scots to war. I was expecting my own lads to answer the call. I wasn't expecting the call to reach across the water. Imagine my surprise when a troop of Highland Volunteers showed up at my door this morning! (25mm Minifigs not real live ones.)

On the left my 35 year old Scots, on the right, the new arrivals.

Turns out they hadn't technically come in response to my virtual Crann Tara. They arrived due to the generosity and thoughtfulness of Tim Gow of Megablitz fame and came originally from the collection of the late  John G Robertson. I didn't know John but from what I have read on Tim's blog about this veteran gamer, it is an honour to have some of his figures join with my own. The specfic figures sent are especially welcome. This year, a group of local gamers decided to play some 25mm ECW games. I had a handful of old Minifigs dating back to the mid-70's, not enough for a whole army. Money is in short supply and the old figures are as short as I am compared to the various hard plastic and metal figures being gathered, so I sculpted and cast a regiment of lowland foot and rebased and refurbished my old Minifigs to form a regiment of kilted pikes and a unit of highland archers. I was short a few figures to round out the unit of archers and unsure of how to fill the gap. Gap filled!

Even better, 2 of the archers are the older ECW range of S vintage. Lovely figures!

Oh and there were a few other items in the package....but more of that anon.

Tapadh leabh! Thank you to Tim, and to Morina, John's widow and ultimately to John. I'm sure these Hielan' lads will do John proud sometime this fall when my ECW Scots march across a table top.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Basic Training

Yes, like Lemmings or fashionistas following the latest trends, several of us hauled out 25mm (or bigger) Ancient armies and tried out Basic Impetus to see what all the buzz is about.

I liked the thought of being able to field sufficient troops in a fast game but while I had puzzled out individual rules in advance, I had a very hard time getting my head around what play might feel like and how it would all come together.

On the day we ended up with 7 gamers, 2 tables and a choice of 8 armies from 3 periods, allowing a variety of historical match ups. Carthage vs Syracuse, Medes vs Assyrians and Romans vs Spanish were the 4 games played in the end. In order to get a feel for the rules, we tried basic, set-em up games straight up using the rules for choosing Attacker/Defender and selecting terrain, something I haven't done a lot of recently. The rules handled it well though and since the army lists are well thought out, the resulting clashes felt reasonable.

GRRRRR &%*^$^%$#@%^$^%$
I just spent an hour writing up 2 battles and lost almost all of it in the blink of an eye. Apparently one's drafts don't get saved when one gets accidently logged off google without knowing it. Nor is one  warned that the thing will freeze when one clicks on insert picture when unknowingly not logged on. Sighhhh!

Anyway, there will  be more battle reports another day, hopefully reports of more such glorious victories but I don't have the oomph to rewrite these ones so I'll just summarize my thoughts on the rules.

We ended up playing 4 games, sometimes with 2 players on 1 or both sides. All the games were exciting and briskly paced. Most were also close but even the one that wasn't close in the end could have easily have swung either way. The rules were easy to pick up despite none of us ever having played them before and despite the occasionally clumsy translations. I was also pleased to find that minor variations in troop details resulted in armies having quite a different feel. These seem to be quite flexible rules that would adapt well to TT Teasers and to staging historical refights.

While I am not saying that the rules produced an accurate simulation of what it was like to command an ancient army of several thousand men, I will say that it produced a wargame that felt as historically plausible as any other set I have played, especially any of the fun sets and generalship seemed to outweigh luck and specialized rules knowledge and cheesy tricks. It was nice to feel that 35 years of playing Ancient wargames and studying history was useful despite not knowing the rules well. No names but that has not been the case with every set of rules that I have played.

In an odd way, the rules remind me of a sort of cross between WRG 3rd Edition and Armati with a few other twists thrown in.

So how does the picture at the start of the blog fit in? Well, perhaps the most telling comment on the rules is that I have sent out the fiery cross through the new shelf full of HotT armies, rallying 100 or so Scots pikemen, archers, knights and highlanders to the cause of FREEDOM!


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Boldly going

I was just checking various internet sources on Mackinac in case they had anything different ot more than what I already had (nope)  and wandered off as one does to a sire on the attack on Fort Stephenson and then another. At last I found maybe the real reason why the overwhelming British attack failed.

The garrison was small and apparently included many small detachments of volunteers who straggled in at the last minute. Most of their names were never recorded. Suspicious? There's more.

They say it was a blast of canister from Old Betsy the 6pdr, that tipped the tables but who commanded the gun in that blockhouse? Why, it is now revealed to be James Kirk!  James T Kirk no doubt.

Was it a long forgotten ancestor?   or did we miss an episode of Star Trek in which the Enterprises did another time travelling sling around the sun, leaving Kirk, searching for a lost artifact stranded in a frontier post needing to hold on until the Enterprise repeated repairs and could beam him up? Was that really a blast of canister that stunned so many British soliders in the ditch? Sounds more like a phaser blast to me........ What chance did the poor 41st Foot stand against James Kirk?


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Keeping things straight

One of the difficulties of trying to balance 2 (or 3) sets of rules ideas, is keeping the cross fertilization straight, especially when producing a final (knock knock) synthesis.

A key componant of Hearts of Tin was always the 3" melee borrowed from Morschauser. In theory this worked great, nicely breaking combat into indecisive, attritional long range fire and decisive combat whether close range volleys or bayonet/saber charges. For large battles with lots of units, I think I would keep it. In practice I tend to play a lower level than originally envisaged and the lack of distinction between walking up and trading volleys at close range, a preferred  18th/early 19thC tactic vs charging occasionally rubbed the wrong way, especially when explaining it to others.

This led to slightly increased complexity with separate rules for each within the melee mechanism and it worked great. It just looked odd and was all too easy to accidentally move into melee  without noticing for a turn and then having to adjust things one way or another. MacDuff always used traditional long range & close range fire and melees from charges only. A couple of times I started to shift that process over but other baggage always came with it and I never got the right feel.

There was  no 3" melee distance in the stripped down rules but neither was there a close range. It felt wrong for troops whose bayonets were touching to be unable to fire more effectively than those at extreme range but over all  I liked the feel and the other changes to morale, orders and no move and shoot had handled most of the difficulties so the latest draft of HofT dropped the 3" Melee again. I forgot to drop the idea of 2 types of attack though and all the factors that go with it and initially forgot to put close range factors in. This morning, I added in my usual close/long range rules so that rifles outshoot muskets between 3" and 6" which is the extreme musket range, but are less effective at 12" than they are at 6". I also fixed the melee to reflect that all charges are now bayonet charges since a close range firefight is covered by close range firing and the morale rules.

The net result should be cleaner rules that feel more natural.

The reorganization of 1812 figures is coming on a pace, (having displaced a planned solo test of Basic Impetus before Sunday's club Basic Impetus extravaganza).

My clunky 42mm  figures were all done for the 1812/1813 North Western campaigns so my plan is to leave them that one to them and all new Glossy 40mm toys will be dressed for the 1813 campaigns. For now, any big game will  need both together but small games may be able to have sytlistic integrity on 1 side at least. (and the clunkies are getting glossed varnished - Hah-HA!).

Both sides are being organized into 2 brigades each of 3 battalions of 3 companies with a Brigadier and 1 drummer. Each battalion has 1 flag. Why so few drummers? Initially I had included them in the ranks but that is just wrong, they should fall in behind the troops. So, I opted to bring units up to strength without them and used the drums sometimes as markers othertimes as window dressing. Right now their role is unclear but I foresee more coming when I run out of more urgent things, 1 per battalion would be ideal.

It is probably not an accident that the organization is very close to that of Charge! (16 all ranks vs 16 privates + officer, sergeant, drummer).  If I want to do a small skirmish and have it last more than 30 minutes, I can always choose to lower the scale to 1"=10 yards and double the ranges or use Charge! or MacDuff using each brigade as a battalion.

The Americans had all been organized as 4 x 24 man battalions so nicely split into 6 x 16 man battalions, 3 of Ohio volunteers and 3 of Regulars. No idea what I'll do with that many volunteers on top of the 16 Volunteer Riflemen but they'll soldier on for now. The new unit (2nd Ohio? Since it is formed by mixing the 1st & 3rd?) had a motley  mix of grey and brown hunting smocks. Realistic enough but keeping units sorted was in my mind and relying on painted base bottoms is my 2rd choice. So, last night I repainted them into a different shade of grey with grey trousers. Luckily they are very simple figures with little gear, and no facings.   I have 3 US regulars primed to take the places vacated by drummers and a crippled standard bearer so in a day or so both brigades will be up to strength. A 7th battalion of Scubies in 1814 uniform await.  The NY Dragoons can fill the cavalry slot as always and then I just need to paint a regular gun crew to go beside my volunteers and I'm done for now. An 8th battalion, a detachment of  Regular Riflemen and some Regular Dragoons will follow sometime down the road.

The British organization wasn't. The 41st foot was 36 strong so I now have the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 41st with a drummer left over as well as 3 figures transferred to the militia. (Luckily Gen Brock issued some surplus 41st Foot tunis to the Militia before the attack on Detroit so that fits!). There were actually 2 battalions of the 41st deployed to Canada but I don't think they ever fought shoulder to shoulder on the same field. They will now. I considered repainting facings but there are more important things, I'll mark the bases on these.

The Fencibles were intended to be 36 strong (3 x 12) but switched to 32 (4 x 8) part way through being painted. I just need to replace the drummer and they are good to go. One battalion will remain Fencibles, the other was going to become the 104th NB regiment until I double checked and it seems that they were never issued the authorized yellow facings but wore very pale buff instead. So they will become one of the Flank Battalions of Incorporated Militia. I'd like to mix up the facings on that one but since Yellow is not invalid, and the Fencibles are now all firing  and the Flank battalion all charging, I'll leave it be.
My green coated militia will stand after incorporating 4 discharged British regulars into their ranks as will my artillery. The 6th battalion is my 1837 Royal Scots which are short 4 men, 2 of who have yet to be cast. once that is looked after, I have enough Scruby Brits for at least 1 battalion of the 8th or Kings Regiment and may have enough figures for an 8th battalion (as opposed to The 8th Regiment) as well. the problem is  that last month, when informed that they weren't first on the painting list after all, they went off in a  Huff  and haven't been seen since. So perhaps I need to paint up some Provosts, then a more thorough search  of the cupboard should find them. (annoyingly, they were spotted just last week when I was looking for something else.. if I could only remember which cupboard......grr so much for organized chaos!)

Having reauthorized the 42mm figures for service again, I also have Indians and some Quebec and non-uniformed militia. That will just leave my Canadian Dragoons who need horses cast.  A previous prototype movement tray has been re-tested and approved for service. A weekend's work to saw up and assemble 16 more and paint them, ready for application of magnetic sheeting. I just may be ready to move on in January!  

Luckily I won't have to wait that long for a playtest of the revised draft of HofT. Within a week I should be ready for a play test on the lower end of things, the Battle of Mackinac. Four American battalions attack 1 British one (and a horde of Indians). In theory I should be able to set up such a small game, play to a conclusion and clean off the table again in under 2 hours, probably close to 1 if I don't dawdle. Later in the month I'll get as many troops as possible on table and see how that goes.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hearts of 1812

I have now incorporated the tested simple rules back into Hearts of Tin whence they came. Its vaguely annoying that this means that an 11 page document effectively contains 1/2 page of actual rules and 10 pages of blather, explanation, definitions and special cases.

The 1812 lads are on parade, sorting themselves out into 16 man battalions from 24, 32 or 36 man ones. I need to paint up about 8 figures and touch up about 20 to have 6 x 16 man line infantry battalions a side. I also need a few US gunners and I need to supplement the 2 Volunteer rife units with some regulars. The Brits need a unit of Canadien (Quebec) sedentary militia brought up to strength and Voltigeurs and Light Dragoons added. Then the new Scruby battalions can be added and its done. Pictures and Order of Battle sometime in the next week.

Hearts of Tin are on Google docs through the link at left for those who are interested in perusing them.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ticking Boxes

Sorry no pictures. I carried out a quick rerun of Palo Alta in 3 short sessions last night and this morning. Probably an hour in total and maybe 12 turns. Technically I could have carried on for a few more turns but the Americans gave up. I forgot about penalizing the Mexican artillery until partway through the game. Since they were rolling 6's like the caissons were stocked with them, they proved to be the battle winning weapon, sort of the reverse of history. The game was even more polyglot that usual and I didn't take any pictures. 

Over all the rules worked as expected which is good. (and yes tweaks came to mind in the midst of play but I refrained since they will need to be re-integrated into a complete package anyway, with definitions, explanations, less common troop types, special circumstance etc etc. I didn't miss the 
chance of units not moving as quickly as ordered all the time, nor some of the finer points. Actually the fire or move, defensive fire (both already in the rules) added to the simple rally rules seemed to handle all the various issues  covered by the orders test modifiers and old rally and recovery rules, but with less fuss.
Lessons re-confirmed are that single figures without trays take longer to move and doing so adds nothing to the game per se even if it is an enjoyable exercise in itself and thus possibly worth doing anyway. Using them only becomes feasible if combined with trays, not necessarily for movement during the game, but for moving to and from the shelves before and after! That's the tedious part, along with regrouping stray casualties with their proper unit. Not that I can't tell which unit the stray comes from, its just finding it that gets tricky. It felt like after a real battle, "3rd Ohio, Anyone seen the 3rd Ohio" "  2nd Dragoons Anyone know where the 2nd Dragoons are bivouacked? Obviously I need to impose order on my shelves. A tray for each brigade and all labelled and their place on the shelf labelled. A beaverish activity if I've ever seen one.

Anyway, since the little 4 man stands are just so darned convenient, I decided to give them 1 last chance. I cleared the table, adjusted the rules to say 3-5 stands per unit, 1 die per stand, 1 hit takes a stand off. Units fight to the last stand.  I then reset the table pitting my 40mm AWI vs my 1812 Americans only because these armies are both largely still based on 40-60mm 4-6 man bases. The game was over in 4 turns and about 15 minutes. 'Nuff said. 

So, since I'd like to get away from casualty caps and marker dice, either a unit must be 1 stand as per  PW2, complete with quality/effect rule so not all hits kill and fitting nicely in a grid,  or 16-24 individual toy soldiers. (unit being either a battalion or a wing, a wing being a 1/2 battalion but which would be treated as a separate unit for all purposes ). That is settled and projects will be separated into 1 or the other. But which for which?  I suspect that the game that will see the largest number of units would logically be the one for the 1 stand per per unit mode. Since my 1812 froces is already set up for 24 man up to 26 man battalions, it makes sense to pick them as the individual figure game. Since the Indian project is barely started,  they have time yet to pick a route but when I think of all those Mahratta irregulars.........

All that's left is to draw up new  orders of battle and I can get back to painting and basing. First step will be to draw an OB for the War of 1812, one which incorporates the existing chunkies. Once that is filled, I will be able to move on with a clear conscience and have a presentable game that can be put on the table on demand. I need to add about 40 Americans and 60 British/Canadian troops. About 2/3rd of which are on hand and waiting. Oh, and 16 movement trays. Home by Christmas? umh maybe, maybe not.





Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Of Butterflies, Beavers and Salmon

What does this mini-bestiary have to do with wargaming?

The Wargame Butterfly is of course well known and any lingering doubt that I belong in that classification was probably dispelled by my recent pause from work on my 25mm Persians, 20mm RCW & ACW and various 40mm 19thC collections to organize four 25mm HOTT armies.

Beavers are well known for their steady, focused work on building projects, if interrupted, they shake themselves and get back to it, not stopping till the damn and lodge are built or repaired. This is like the Wargamer who sticks to his main project and beavers away at building up the collection. Periodically I find myself thinking I ought to be more beaverish, especially when looking at the polyglot of standby figures on makeshift trial bases and scratched together scenery.

What about the Salmon? Well, on the one hand, salmon are compelled by nature to swim upstream, against the current, and many die in the process, exhausted by the effort without ever achieving their goal. On the other hand they are covered in Scales and scale is the nub of many of my issues. In order to stage even a medium sized historical battle as a wargame on a small table, one needs to either use small figures, very abstract units (eg 4 men on a base is a battalion or brigade)  or you have to fudge it and turn the game into a scenario "inspired by", compressing the terrain onto the table and scaling back the armies and using the usual rules and units while ignoring the distortion compared to the historical battle.

I found myself contemplating ultimate planned butterflying this week, a plan to convert to mini-projects, each the equivalent of a portable wargame or DBA army, a dozen or so stands of figures, custom battle mat for that game........ BUT I am Canadian and the Beaver is our national animal so I'm back on track. I also came across the simple 3/4 page set of rules Dick Larsen used at that Britain vs Egypt game.  Thinking about that, the Portable Wargame2, the original MacDuff Meets Morschauser and the latest Hearts of Tin/MacDuff I quickly put together a stripped down version of my rules, beefed the units up to 16 figures each, am ignoring the grid and am re-playing Palo Alto.


  1. Units are 16 infantry, 8 cavalry, 1 gun and 4 crew.
  2. Initiative: At the start of each turn, each side rolls 1 die. The side with the highest score chooses whether to go first or 2nd for that turn. In case of a tie repeat the previous turn’s sequence. Active player moves OR shoots with units then resolve all melees.
  3.  Movement:
Infantry: 8” line, 12” column, skirmisher, retreat.
Cavalry: 18”
Artillery: Foot 12”, Horse 18”
Difficult terrain ½ speed or impassable
x2 in column on road
Change facing/formation before moving. Move in any direction unless charging.
  1. Charges: Target must be in front of unit at start of move. If in target front at start, must charge front. Move into contact.
  2. Shooting: 1 die per 4 infantry or 1 gunner.
Muskets: 6” 5,6
Rifles: 12” 4,5,6
Artillery: 12” 3,4,5,6   36” 5,6
-1 if target has partial cover or is skirmishers, cavalry or artillery in open
-3 if target is fortified.
+1 if artillery shooting at column, square or enfilading.
  1. Melee. 1 die per 4 infantry, 2 cavalry, 1 gunner in contact with enemy to front.
    Infantry & artillery being charged from the front roll their dice first and remove casualties, all other rolls are simultaneous.
4,5,6 hits.
+1 Elite,
-1 Militia
-1 enemy defending hill, obstacle or in cover.
Any unit which suffers more hits than it inflicts will become shaken and immediately fall back 1 move except square fighting cavalry.
  1. Morale.  A unit becomes shaken if defeated in melee or if understrength and takes a hit. A unit is under strength if having lost: 50% if Regular, 75% if Elite, 25% if Militia.
    A unit which becomes shaken immediately retreats and must retreat every turn unless rallied.
  1. Rally.  Roll 4,5,6 to rally. +1 if joined by general.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Portable Alto: A Mexican-American Proto-Wargame

I'm not sure exactly what Chapparrel really looks like. I am pretty sure it doesn't look much like  $ store plastic fake ground cover plants but there is an old wargamer axiom, "Use what ya got". It is in that spirit that I decided to see what it might feel like playing out an historical Mexican American  battle using the Portable Wargame 2.

The American army deployed.

Starting small and starting at the beginning both seemed smart and both led me to Palo Alto. Luckily, I just happened to have kept some old Courier articles on the war and one was this very battle. Having previously cross checked it against a few other sources, this is not a war that I am "into" but it is "in period" and I like the US uniforms, so I have a few books and articles squirreled away and websites marked.

Apart from lacking a few gunners, I have more than enough American infantry and dragoons to do Palo Alto using 10 infantry or 4 dragoons per unit. Until I rebase though, I can't fit that many in a hex so most units are  8  while I only used 2 Dragoons per squadron to avoid embarassing the supposedly more numerous Mexican cavalry who were only able to fit 2 figures in a hex.

The Mexicans are more problematic, I don't have any 1840's Mexicans and like the earlier uniforms better anyway. My one 24 man Mexican unit broke down into 4 6 man units and 1812 American infantry wearing Blue coats and shakos filled in for the rest. The British supplied gun crews and cavalry while New York filled out the cavalry ranks.

This is what I call a Mexican Stand In.

Each unit represents somewhere around 400 infantry, 100 cavalry or 4-6 guns.  Perhaps I should have halved the number of cavalry stands but it worked well enough.

I used the modified Quality/Effect die roll that I suggested but left all other rules alone, except for details of unit capabilities. This was a war where units on opposing sides were not always equal. The Mexican troops were brave but suffered from leadership and equipment issues with obsolete weapons, poor powder and so on. After some thought I decided on the following troop capabilities:

US Infantry: Regular Infantry, Muskets, no special rules
US Dragoons: Elite Cavalry, no special rules.
US Artillery: Elite Artillery, Moves 2 hexes instead of 1, Melee value of 3/6
(a little more Grape Captain Bragg, crack troops armed with light 12 pounders and 18 pdr howitzers, horse artillery really.)

Mexican Infantry: Regular Infantry, Muskets, -1 to all shooting dice
(due to old muskets and poor powder.)

Mexican Regular Cavalry: Regular Cavalry, Melee value of 3/6 4/6
(due to performance and smaller horses)
(Note: I just realized that I inversed the irregular and regular cavalry values when I originally typed this up. The red figures are corrected)

Mexican Irregular Cavalry: Militia Cavalry, Melee value of 4/6 3/6
(these were really bandits rather than soldiers and of little use in pitched battle)

Mexican Artillery: Regular Artillery. -1 to all shooting dice. Melee value, 5/6
(armed with old ox drawn 4 pounders and poor powder)

I ruled that it cost 2 movement points to enter a hex of chapparrell. Cavalry attacking through chapparrell would have a +1 penalty to their Melee Value. (it belatedly occurred to me that -1 for fighting enemy in chapparell would be better, reducing the effect of the troops struggling through the brush rather than increasing their risk.)

Once fighting was engaged, the historical brush fire would be simulated by having a turn with no shooting or melee allowed and giving the Mexicans a free move to start their redeployment.

Not being a campaign game, I decided that the first side to lose over 1/2 if their original units would retreat. The Mexicans had 7 infantry, 3 guns and 11 cavalry and could afford to lose 10 units. The Americans had 5 infantry, 3 guns and 2 cavalry and could afford to lose 5 units. Both sides had a general for looks only.

Both armies would follow their original battle plans as far as possible given that I only had the general idea, an exchange of artillery fire, Mexicans counter-battery without effect, Americans counter infantry with effect, followed by an attack by Mexican cavalry on their left supported by guns and infantry through the brush on the left, then the fire and redeployment and an attack up the right by the irregular cavalry supported by infantry.

Casualty figures and unmanned guns mark where units were destroyed. 

The first stage went according to plan with one Mexican battalion being destroyed and another forced to recoil. The attack through the Chapparrell started off historically with heavy losses from the US infantry but 1 squadron managed to charge and take out Ringgold's elite horse artillery. ( A 6 in melee followed by a 1 for effect...Oops! dice! What can you do? ). I committed the US dragoons and then called the brush fire. 6 out of 8 Mexican squadrons had been destroyed in addition to the infantry lost to artillery fire earlier.  The Americans had lost a gun and an infantry. Honours almost even but slightly in the US favour.

There were lots of Indian soldatos in the Irregular Lancers right? Oh. Not that kind?

The flanking attack by the Irregular cavalry looked dangerous until it got close. I decided to throw in the reserve and launch a major infantry attack at the same time. Units were forced back or destroyed on both sides with the Americans losing another battery (ouch!) and a battalion. This brought them to 4 losses, 2 away from breaking. The Mexicans however, lost 1 of the Irregular cavalry and no less than 3 infantry, mostly to artillery fire.

History repeated itself and they fell back towards Resaca de la Palma.

The game took a little over an hour to set up and play but it is one of the smallest American-Mexican battles and it was a fun little game with some tense moments. At first I pondered why the Mexicans let 1/2 their army sit while one wing attacked and then did the same on the other side. PW1's activation die might have supplied a reason to emulate it if not a reason it happened but then I realized that my 50% scenario army morale provided ample reason. An unsuccessful and bloody assault on 1 wing might have upped the casualty total fast enough that the game could be lost despite a bloody but successful attack on the other wing. So the rules worked well as is. (I consider my troop capability decisions to be campaign qualifiers not rules changes)

The historical result came naturally but it was close enough that it could have been reversed, especially if played by 2 players and no constraints on tactics.  If I get a chance though, I may try it again with Morschauser Meets MacDuff, the proto-version of Hearts of Tin.

Looking back and thinking ahead

I find this sort of comparative exercise a good way to get things out of my head and on to the table but I have learned that I have to wait for the initial excitement to pass and I have to be wary of decisions made in the heat of the moment. Decisions are better made after the day after.

As well as reviewing these games, I also reviewed some of the earlier test games, esp Plattsburg and Rosa's and reviewed earlier posts on plans and thoughts.  The good news is that despite my meanderings, I am making visible progress and when I look back at the over all strategic plan posted in March, I am back on track. Sometimes I feel that it should bother me that I tend to back into these things by making a decision then doing the opposite, but I have learned to accept it.

There are a couple of key goals that I need to keep in mind:

1. I want as many as possible of my painted figures on display, and the rest need to be stored safely and be easy to access. Since I have limited space, this means limited numbers of troops.

2. In order to conserve space, time and money, I want to get multi-use out of terrain especially but also figures where possible. This is behind my push to 1 scale that has stalled out at 2 (40mm + 25mm) ( ok 4 but the handful of old style 54mms will use 40mm terrain and 1/72nd and 25mm will share).

3. I like playing TT Teaser type games as a staple but want the option to do historical games as well. The ability to play "good old" line 'em up and go at, if needed, exists without special effort.

4. I want at least 1 project with glossy, old style figures, based individually on small bases.

and now I am going to add another one:

5. If I am going to have redundant projects from the same broad tactical era and using the same style and size of figure, there should be a reason why that becomes 2 projects rather than 1. In other words, to be allowed to exist, there needs to be a good reason beyond "oooh pretty".

All of which brings me back to THE PLAN and the series of test games. I've been pretty much set on the kind of games I wanted for the Faraway project but as a throw away, in the last post suggested that I had it backwards. I was right! The 1812 and the 1840's projects need to be split but the kind of 20 man battalion, single toy soldier game I had in mind for Faraway is what i need for the 1812 project. Its what I was working towards and what has worked for years. Something where I can do fictional battles, play teasers or do historical actions at 1:10 or 1:20 or even 1:5.  But, I don't really want to be playing 5 or 6 hour games as an average, that sort if thing should be a once a year special event. When I look back at MacDuff and HofT and my trials over the summer, I had a fusion that seemed to work for me, I just haven't been able to decide which to call it. Since I have been reluctant to give up the semi-skirmish idea, as unrealistic as it was, I went with HofT for the new synthesis. That was wrong, as a single figure game it is really a development of MacDuff so that's what it will be.  The attempt to refit and resurrect the old one with tracking every unit leader and so forth, has to end.

There is a handy if non-empirical formula that I try to keep in mind:

length of game = complexity of rules x size of game x complexity of scenario. 

The test game was low complexity and used a medium number of units so if the time was longer than was optimal, then it will not be really feasible to play larger or more complex scenarios. The 2nd game hit all the sweet spots which means that the game could be bigger or smaller and the complexity of the scenario could be increased and the result would be acceptable in the right conditions. The 3rd game was on the short side as an average game for me, although there are times when an hour is perfect, but that means that the complexity of scenario and number of units could be increased substantially before it became unwieldy.

 Looking back at my plans, it can be seen that lingering on for years (and weighing down 1 whole shelf with books) are the wars in India from the Mahrattas to the Mutiny. plans to try to merge this with the low troop density, small scale North American wars have been a constant source of problems, even though such small actions did occur in India as well.

Now that I have entertained having 2 glossy 40mm toy soldier projects and want them to each offer something different. It rapidly becomes clear that this, the 1840's, India/Fictional side of things is where the possibilities of small units, large armies for "real" battles can be entertained. This is also the right place for multi-figure elements. If I am using a similar frontage and similar figure style then I can still loan figures back and forth when needed but eventually there will be no need. This will give me scope for 10 years worth of casting and painting but with basing and organization questions settled, it can proceed apace.

The Mexican-American War Americans, who have been at a loss at what to do with themselves can still pit themselves against the Indian campaign British in Faraway as they have been doing, perhaps calling battalions companies for skirmishes along the Aroostock, but they can also hope for enough Mexicans to fight their own war one day. (Maybe the NQSYW could move to a new cabinet)

Now, what will the Indian/Faraway project use for rules? HofT needs to about face and head back to its Morschauser roots and its early days when a stand was a unit. The result will be armies ready to fight using either HofT or the PW depending on mood.

To summarize:

War of 1812: Glossy 40mm figures, primarily by Scruby or homecast on individual steel 15mm wide oval bases. Opposing armies of a maximum of 8 battalions each about 24 strong but able to fight as 8 or 12 man detachments, plus militia, Indian allies for the British, a little artillery, very little cavalry, and boats. Most games will use around 1/2 the maximum figures  in total with many numerically unbalanced games. Some units in 1830's uniforms will be included. Existing clunky 1812 units will be kept until replaced after the maximums have been reached, (unless I get an offer 1st).

1840s: (India, Am-Mex, Fictional) Glossy 40mm figures primarily by Scruby or homecast, mounted 10 -12 figures per battalion on a single stand with around a 3"-ish frontage.  Substantial quantities of cavalry and artillery will be needed to support the armies but OB's have not yet been worked up. The initial goal is 1 all arms division of British and Indian troops to face a larger Native army, say 6 infantry units, 3-4 cavalry, 3 guns. The hope would be to double this.

Best get at it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

B'tallion ATTEN'shun! PORT...........WARGAMES!

The left and right wings of the 3rd Ohio stare across the plain at the distant Middleton.

The Portable Wargame is about as far away in concept from With MacDuff to the Frontier as you can get so it may seem strange to be including it in the running but test games in the past have shown its worth and I wanted to make sure I covered all bases, or at least all the ones I considered serious contenders. To avoid explaining why it was all happening yet again,I switched the game from the fictional Faraway to the War of 1812.

As can be seen from the picture again (still cell phone pictures but a bit better I hope) I moved the central ridge to the table edge where it belonged. With the shorter ranges and smaller unit frontages, I had decided I didn't need it. I would have removed it for the HofT game but since that was theoretically a follow on game in the same setting, it more or less had to stay. The existing terrain did not conform well to the hex grid so after some thought, I replaced the smaller villages with Pegasus 1/72nd log cabins, put my vaguely hex shaped hills on and replaced the woods CD's with single trees.  While I was at it, I also shortened the playing area by a foot and deployed the Americans on table.  A new setting needs new names so we have Westville by the windows, Easton by the bookcases and Middleton, in the middle at the back.

Militia cowering in.. errrrr.... I mean....bravely defending, a log cabin.

Since all units in PW are 1 stand, I used the new unit quality effect throws so that there would be some differentiation of the militia units. Since so few units of any kind survived their effect throws anyway, I'm not sure it mattered, but it might have.

One reason that I selected War of 1812 as a period, is that many of my American troops are still on 1 of various test multi-figure bases. I used 1 60mm wide or 2 x 45mm wide bases to make a unit. With the 3rd Ohio being mounted 6 to a 45mm base, this gave me a 12 man unit so if all line infantry units had been based that way, the game would have used the same number of figures as the MacDuff game, in the same number of sub-units but without a higher level organization. (and  of course, with less fuss). I wasn't sure what role the Generals should play so while I put one on the American side for show, I essentially didn't use any.

 The Americans deploy.

The first couple of turns went by quickly indeed. The Pickaway County Rifles on the right took out the  defenders of Easton with their 2nd shot. The 3rd militia unit which had been rushing to help defend the village put the brakes on and was ordered back to Middleton. Too late, the Mounted Rifles swept ahead and ran over them.  Two down. two to go.

The Thames all over again.

Across the field, the fancily dressed "militia" cavalry had surged ahead hoping to take out the American riflemen before they could shoot up the defenders of Westville. They did but they went down themselves. The defenders decided someone had best try to hold Middleton until reinforcements arrived and scooted out the back door before overwhelming numbers of American troops could arrive.
At this point Middleton itself was empty and only 1 gun and 1 militia unit in the open faced the whole American army. Moving to the front, the 2nd New York Dragoons charged forward, finally giving the Militia gun a target, 1 troop of Dragoons down. On the next turn the Dragoons charged home and I suddenly remembered that I was doing the melees backwards. Too late for the 1st two but I straightened this one out. No matter, both cavalry and dragoons were removed. The 3rd cavalry and the militia drew however. I could see no special rules for a draw so I let it stand and on their turn the militia stepped back 1 hex and fired without effect. Luckily the British regulars were now arriving. 1 unit of infantry on Turn 6, 2 infantry, a gun and a cavalry unit on turn 7 and the last cavalry on turn 8. At last the game looked somewhat balanced.

Dead and wounded horses and men and abandoned guns mark where units were destroyed.

It was a false hope for the British though. Twice US infantry hit by fire fell back but despite the stone walls, the British stood in place and died. An attempt by British dragoons to rescue the fight by flanking the enemy showed some promise but eventually numbers and odds told. A decisive win for the US.

In the end, the British lost 11 units and inflicted only 8 losses on the Americans despite the advantage of defending towns. The ability of the Americans to  surround each isolated British defensive position, hit them with concentric fire and roll an unstoppable number dice was decisive. Possibly the British should have abandoned the outposts early on and concentrated in Middleton, launching a  counter attack once reinforcements arrived and once the Americans had been worn down.  

In summary, this was a fun game that deployed sufficient figures to satisfy, presented interesting tactical questions, rewarded adherence to principles of war and took just over one hour to set up, play and take down (vs 4 for HofT including clean up and 6 for MacDuff). To get the most out of it, I should probably build some terrain to fit the grid and have units on suitable bases, even magnetic ones would do, but I'm glad that it remains an option for use with existing planned armies. In fact, with the new 15mm basing, each Hearts of Tin battalion or each MacDuff company becomes 2 PW units so the 3 can all exist side by side and use the same collection of miniatures.

Since both the PW and HofT have roots in Morshauser, it was interesting to look at some of the differences. HofT has obviously wandered much farther from the tree and looks like it has wandered even farther now that the groups of 4 that it uses for firing and melee are not fastened onto a base and used as a Basic Unit, not to mention the recent switch from a Melee Value to a common base to hit with modifiers. Interestingly, since I am using a 4" grid, the movement and ranges in HofT and PW are actually fairly close. The biggest difference is the staying power of units in HofT since they can absorb multiple hits. The other important difference now that the activation dice has been removed from PW is that units will always move when ordered. I'm not sure that is actually a problem, or that the occasional slow movement in HofT is worth the extra die rolling but for now it can stay.

So, at this point I am happy to proceed with Hearts of Tin for my Faraway campaign. I am going to have to rethink the War of 1812 though. At the moment it is slated for a fair-ish number of miniatures organized to play long, slow battles with substantial set up and take down time and effort. If I want it as a sideshow, to be trotted out as a break from campaign games or as a demonstration of an historical wargame, I may well be better off going with PW and design smallish units (perhaps glued to stands with labels or else with magnetic bases for flexibility) and battlefield mats or boards customized for specific historical battles. or perhaps I have it backwards and the 1812 should be the show piece with bigger units and the flexibility to do skirmishes and the Faraway campaign that began as a Morschauser variant with 5 Basic Units per Regiment should become a Portable game with figures mounted on unit bases with labels and stats printed right on them. Anyway, one will be HofT, the other something else. Something to think on.

Last ditch stand.

Now, getting back to PW2 itself, since this is my first test game. Over all I would say this is the best version that I have played. I seem to be getting over my aversion to the no roster idea but still have 4 concerns, things that I might consider house rules for.

1.      Shooting vs buildings and fortifications. To my mind, even with a -1, it is too easy to shoot people out of cover. Hougomont and La Haye Saint would never have proved such obstacles if the French could have surrounded them and blasted the Guards out with long range musket fire. Instead of a building being a strong point, it becomes a trap as the enemy can almost always arrange converging dice and with 3 or even 4 units firing, within a turn or two can roll a "6". The house rule I would use is that buildings and fortifications designated as "Strong" would be impervious to small arms fire. The attacker could try to shoot the defenders out with artillery looking for 6's or attack with infantry.  For that matter, I didn't see a "defending buildings" melee modifier. I used a +1 to the attacker's melee value like attacking uphill but next time I would go with a -1 to the defender making the cover a defensive advantage providing safety rather than an offensive disadvantage  providing extra risk.

2.  Unit Quality. I like the basic idea of the Quality effect rule. Hardly any of my units made a successful roll though, making it a moot point. I think increasing it by 1 would be enough so, Regulars 1,2,3 destroyed, 4,5,6 retreat 1 grid. Elites make that 1,2 and 3,4,5,6, Militia make it 1,2,3,4 and 5,6.

3.  Melee. I have problems with the melee system. Morschauser's original system is really odd, and has taken me years to get my head around but basically, if both sides roll low, its bad and both die, but if the other guy rolls high then rolling low is good and only the other guy dies. So 2 heavy cavalry units will almost always kill each other but heavy cavalry against light infantry  is likely to survive more often than not. Even though you are rolling for yourself, who you are affects how likely your opponent is to die and who your opponent is affects how likely you are to die.

The way the current PW melee seems to work, the cavalry will nearly always survive regardless of who they are fighting (etc).  I think it would be better to either go with Morschauser's system (but allowing draws) or else go back to rolling to KO the enemy.  In particular, I was a little worried by Generals being seemingly invulnerable in melee, ultimate shock troops since no score will kill them in melee.

I also think that the defensive power of artillery when attacked frontally was under rated by Morschauser and has been again. I would improve them to at least 4/6 for my games. In any case, once the principles are established, I could see having a specific unit capability chart for every period that one played. Thsi would allow for things like Cuirassiers vs light dragoons or volunteer riflemen without bayonets or discipline in melee vs veteran grenadiers.  That sort of detail is one way of bringing out the difference between various campaigns and one of the strengths of the system.

4. Generals. I'm not sure what the roll of the General should be.  In the War of 1812, they don't seem to have been much given to leading charges though on occasion they did, not by them selves or with a bodyguard though.  I think I will have to resort to a non-unit General who joins units. I don't want to go back to  activation dice or even activation rolls for all units but perhaps  an optional activation roll for units not within X hexes of the general. Something like 2+ to move if isolated. A general might also be given a  sort of rally or morale capability, giving an adjacent unit  +1 on its hit effect roll. Something else to think about.

Next though, getting set to try out Basic Impetous.

Lost in the Fog, the Battle for Centerville

The 2nd Test Battle has now been fought and a cracking game it was too, unfortunately this report begins with an apology and a fistful of excuses. The bottom line is my camera was out of batteries and I was both tired and subject to a plethora of domestic duties, not to mention a trip to town to see if I couldn't get the Graf Spree in and out of Montevideo.  Instead of waiting, I indulged myself and played a turn or two when ever I could grab a couple of minutes, early morning, lunch time, on the way to bed etc., and my recollection of the details is almost as fuzzy as the poorly lit cell phone pictures.  (Have I ever mentioned how little natural light I get in my room and how poor the artificial lighting is? Its on my list. Ain't renovating 150 yr old houses fun? esp relying largely on shoestrings for materials? Worth it though.) Anyway the many pictures vary from bad to completely un-usable  so I am just going to use enough over views to give a vague impression of how this game looked vs the MacDuff game.
Through the 1/2 light of morning, The columns of the Oberhilse Field Force approach Righton. 

Stuart Asquith's scenario called for the militia to be 2/3rd of a regular unit with a corresponding reduction in effectiveness. Since my rules penalize militia fairly heavily, I thought they may have ended up even weaker than he intended. For the 2nd game, I made 1 unit militia but at nearly full strength (16 vs 20), made another only 12 strong but made them regular and made the last group 12 strong but called them irregular.

The plan was for the rest of the units to be 20 line infantry or 12 light instead of the 12 or 8 fielded for MacDuff, and 12 cavalry instead of 6. However, my cavalry had been raised as either 9 or 10 man units, depending on whether they were formed when I was thinking of using Charge! or not, so 12 man units were out. I decided to settle on 8 man squadrons capable of acting as 4 man troops when called for. (Still haven't written that into the rules and probably won't, I might just take out the rule inhibiting it which I ignored!)  For the  infantry, I called on some 1812 units to make up numbers but decided to field the Blue Guards and Royals as 12 man Elite units rather than replacing them with 1812 fellows. The Jury is out whether 12 Elites are equal to 20 Regulars but in any case I'm intending on fielding them as 20 man units so it was a daft experiment, typical of the sort of thing I might try late at night when I should be going to bed, not setting up a game!  (If I'm going to game on into my 90's I need to get used to making concessions to decreased mental stamina!)

At last the table was set and I began to carry out the same battle plans with increased numbers of troops per unit and using the revised Hearts of Tin.

The Republican battle line forms, watched by a handful of Irregular cavalry.

The militia was evicted smartly from Lieuton with minimal losses to the two battalions of Oberhilse Volunteers but in Righton, the irregulars proved to be made of sterner stuff and repulsed several attacks. The irregulars are no better in combat but are not as fragile. These were my new unit and this time, earned honours of the day. Rallying in support of the Queen's artillery, led by the General in person and aided by a troop of the Director-General's Bodyguards, (not to mention some lucky dice both hits inflicted and hits avoided) they saved the gun several times seeing off Blue Dragoons and infantry as they were slowly forced back towards the table edge.

The bottom line though, is that again, both villages had fallen before substantial reinforcements arrived. This time, however, the  attacking force did not look vulnerable to a counter attack so apart from a rather disastrous spoiling attack by the Irregular lancers (who knew the enemy's old dice had so many 6's in them?), the Queen's troops formed a defensive line in front of Centerville and waited.
Turn 7. The view 1/2 way through the battle. The last Red infantry is just arriving.

The last 7 or 8 turns of the game (I lost track despite the Officer of the Watch on the turn record chart) saw a series of attacks and counter attacks with Red eventually being driven back into the town.  Both armies had taken heavy damage, but still had fight in them. There was no possibility of a Red counter attack and while Blue had enough strength to renew the assault on  Centerville, fighting through the streets was liable to continue until well after dark with the issue still in doubt. If it was a campaign, they would not have pressed the issue and so I called the game. This time with 2 communities in their hands, it was a Marginal Victory  (Winning Draw is Stuart's term)  for the Blue Army of the Republic of Oberhilse.

So why do I think HofT will be better for my campaign than MacDuff?  There are fewer details for each combat, things that are partly tactics and choices in MacDuff are just die rolls in HofT and so MacDuff ought to form a better narrative, but at the end of the day, there seemed to be just as many memorable moments in the Hoft game and manouvering brigades of 60 men about the table rather than companies  of 12 or even, occasionally, battalions of 36 just felt more like what I picture for a campaign. Conditioning I suppose but the decreased ranges also helped make the table feel bigger.

On top of that, not only was the game as exciting and lasted for nearly as many turns, it was played with twice the number of figures in about 1/2 the time. More figures to paint! Yes!

I'm ready now to clear the table and chomping to get going on getting units up to strength, adding some Red  cavalry and getting all the units off the washers and bases and onto their own little bases, but first, I have one more play test for the sake of thoroughness. The Portable Game II will gets its outing. I may swap the period though, just for variety sake.

Friday, September 16, 2011

At the "Heart" of the Matter

Smoke from musket and cannon fire have fogged up this cell phone snap of the Righton militia covering the retreat of the Centerville Battery earlier tonight.

Last winter, I put away Hearts of Tin after getting confused over issues  arising from the Portable Wargame, the benefits of using a grid, my confusion over basing, organization and what I was planning to use the rules for.  Turned out to be a smart decision. Those other matters needed clarification first. After several months of pondering and experimenting, there came the MacDuff to the Frontier game just reported. After a day of further ruminating on the matter, and reviewing old battle reports, comments and blog entries, suddenly, all became clear!

In no particular order.

  • PW is a good game and I will design small projects for it, probably late 19thC/early 20thC but it isn't really what I had in mind for my 40mm glossy OSW project. 
  • Grids are useful but they appear, after some poking about and trying, to be at their best when one unit fits in a grid area and when terrain can conform roughly to the grid. Using a bigger grid is an option with the 40mm figures but its not where I want to go at the moment. I think I'll save the grid for 20mm troops for now.
  • When I started on the Oberhilse and Faraway project, I had TT Teasers in mind and armies of multiple battalions of infantry, batteries of artillery and cavalry regiments. When I called the troops British and American in order to play a Featherstone scenario, it got me off track and stuck in Historical/Alt-History mode. The particular historical campaigns I hit on were not very compatible with my plans, so the plans were bent. 
  • Most War of 1812 and especially alt-history 1837 Rebellion, Aroostock or Oregon Wargames, are really best suited for a set of Semi-skirmish games or lower at least level game, like MacDuff.   The American-Mexican and Sikh Wars, for which I had painted troops for use in Faraway,  are better suited to the traditional Battalion wargame.  I had hoped to get double use from the troops and have done so, but really they deserve a different  level of organisation and rules to get the best from each.  
  • I like "element" games where each stand is a unit or entity, and I like games where units are the entities. I don't really like mixing the two quite so much, where a unit is a collection of elements.
  • 40mm Scruby & Loch Sloy figures stand quite well on 15mmx24mm oval bases on my new terrain and a 20 man battalion  only takes up 6" so that I can fit a whole TT Teaser on my 5x6 table. 
Now the sudden clarity issues:
  • if the basing and figure style is similar, I will be able to make some double use of troops even if one project has 3x12 man companies to a battalion while the other has 20 man battalions.
  • since I nudged Hearts of Tin so that it could be played with any basing, I could go farther (and have once or twice unofficially) and abolish the 4 man company as the basis of the game and just make it the battalion of 12 -24 figures, making it essentially a blend of Featherstone and Morschauser with a touch of Lawford & Young and a bit of me and who knows what else. 
Conclusions and Action Plan?

1. The War of 1812 should continue as a historical project at 1:10 with 8 or 12 man "companies" as the basic wargame formation and a ground scale of about 1"=15 yards. For now it will be a mix of styles but I hope to replace all the chunkies over the next 5 years.  I will include enough figures to do 1837 Rebellion skirmishes as well. Rules may include MacDuff, HofT and the PW (a 12 man unit on 15mm bases will fit in a 10cm hex)

2. The Oberhilse Faraway campaign will continue as an OS game with 20 man battalions at about 1:30, a ground scale of 1"=25-30 yards and using Hearts of Tin as rules. The Faraway Army will be dressed in British style hot weather uniforms suitable for India and will include sepoy battalions.  The Oberhilse army will continue to be a mix of Am-Mex War, Danish and Schlieswig-Holsteinish troops. The un-named native state over the mountains will be likely be affected by Muslim connections and have adopted turbans and the like, though this is not yet firm.

3. HofT has already had the organizational change written in as well as having been updated with the new, simplified  Ordt and simplified combat and movement that I experimented with this summer when trying again to convert MacDuff to a battalion game.

The first 9 turns of the 2nd test game have been played (and enjoyed) and a short report will appear in a few days time when I have time to finish the game. Hopefully by them I'll have found new batteries for my camera.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Raid on Centerville Pt 2 - The Red Queen Needs New Dice

Last time on BGotM, the forces of the Republic of Oberhilse had invaded the Kingdom of Faraway. Rushing to defend the border, the Queen's troops under Brigadier McDonnell have arrived at Centerville and begun deploying.

Quickly assessing the situation, McDonnell decided that the Republican forces consolidating their hold on Righton were too strong. The York Volunteers were still disputing Lieuton so a company each of the Royals and the Green Tigers  were sent hurrying up the road to reinforce them and take back the hamlet. The company of the Young Buffs were deployed along side the guns and cavalry to defend Centerville.

An order was sent out to the Centerville Battery to fall back on the main defensive line. A prompt move by the guns would see them safely behind the Buffs. Alas in all the confusion the Buffs failed to get the order to advance while the gun crew was slow to bring the gun out of action and limber it. If the enemy were to seize the intitiative, the gun was at severe risk of being ridden down.

Sure enough, the Blue Dragoons appeared through the  smoke. (Out of 18 turns, Blue won the initiative 14 times, no ties).  Over the hill, B Company of the 3rd Regiment had finally charged the Hillside House. The York Volunteers put up a fierce struggle but as the fight continued, they suddenly collapsed and as the Royals deployed, a stream of militiamen poured past them, heading home. Sending an urgent order to Colonel Larsen and his lancers to save the guns at all costs, MacDonnell raced across to rally the fleeing militiamen.

The Faraway forces in crisis.

Larsen's Lancers charged bravely and punched above their weight but the weight of the enemy cavalry proved too much and they were scattered. The guns however, were saved. As the Republican cavalry began to rally, a whiff of grape (sic) from the Queen's gunners, sent them galloping to the rear.

  MacDonnell rallying the York Volunteers

As the Redcoats pressed on past the retreating militia, MacDonnell rode amongst the militia, calling out for them to stand firm. A rump of the volunteer company fell into ranks were sent back to hold the town. For the moment the crisis was over.

 A shame faced group of Volunteers runs the gauntlet of the town's women.

Across the field, General Scott surveyed the field and wished the table was still a foot wider. He was going to having trouble getting through the defile between town and hill. Deploying his guns covered by the cavalry, he ordered The Blue Guards to march through the town, sending their attached Voltigeurs around the town to flank the enemy guns. The 1st Infantry were ordered to leave C company to hold the village while the rest of the regiment moved through the defile. As he rode forward to supervise the deployment, disaster struck. A blast of cannister tore into the 1st Infantry as he joined them, throwing Scott to the ground, covered in blood. As he was carried from the field, the Blue Guards deployed and seeing the enemy at hand, opened fire on the Buffs. It was a natural move, but one which the  veteran Colonel knew better than to make.   The plan had been to advance to fire a volley then advance to close range. With their General down and under a hail of cannister, the officers were unable to stop their men from firing and resume the advance to an effective range. (A unit which fired or fought in melee but which has a general within 12" will obey an order to advance on score of 2 or better but needs 4 or better to advance a full move. Without a general they need to score 1 higher). Before long the line started to waver then as the enemy  cavalry charged, the Guardsmen broke and ran back through the streets of town.

   The Blue Guards are driven in.
Now, thought MacDonnell, " the Royals have retaken the Hillside House, the Tigers have seen off the Light Horse and Voltigeurs and the way to the General Store is open. if I can just hold the initiative, I can wheel the Centreville battery around and see off these pesky Voltigeurs on that flank". But it was not to be. As the Peipur Tigers charged forward against the Bodyguard, the Voltigeurs, who had slowly crept closer to the flank of the Battery, suddenly charged. Quickly the gunners ran back behind the Buffs as these wheeled to face the riflemen. A brisk melee ensued before the Voltigeurs broke and ran for the woods.

As the Republican guns resumed their counter battery fire, the Peipur Tigers suddenly emerged  from the rear and with bugles blaring and charged forward. The Bodyguard wheeled and spurred to meet them. A clash of anti-titans, vying for the title of least effective cavalry unit in existence. It was a near run thing but even the fabled Tigers were unable to lose to the Bodyguards. The remnants rallied back while their opponents streamed off the table. Taking advantage of the Buffs disorder after the repulse of the Voltigeurs, the badly battered Blue Dragoons charged forward. The odds were 2:1 that they Buffs would be ridden down but calmly these tough veterans formed square and the Dragoons pulled back.

The Young Buffs earning the honours of the day.

As the sun sank in the  sky, the two armies paused. All that stood between the Republic and Centerville  was a battered company of infantry and 2 guns. The Republican army could still muster 5 battered companies of infantry and 2 guns but the infantry was still rallying behind Righton and it would be dark before they could push an assault. Even then, they were not fresh enough to be relied on to push forward and take the guns unless their own battery could win a artillery duel and that would take time as well.

In Lieuton, the battle still raged. The Royals, ensconced in the Hillside, were trading fire with the 3rd Infantry while the Green Tigers stood in reserve and watched, ignoring order after order for reasons that have yet to be given. At last, as the Royals were driven back by the volume of fire, the Tigers stormed forward, driving the remnants of the 3rd Infantry before them. Lieuton was clear of the enemy.  A costly fight for both sides but the Republican forces had no real choice but to retreat under cover of dark.  Every one is sure that they will be back, and in greater numbers.

As I said yesterday, this game has helped me remember why I used to enjoy MacDuff to the Frontier games. It also helped me accept that the attempts to change it into something else were misguided. The current version works well but since it has been done in a hurry, it has not been thoroughly checked and I ended up making up various rules and interpretations as I went, and relying on unwritten conventions and custom. This is just a matter of thorough revision now that the basics are firm again.

The replacement of a control check and variable moves by a better control/orders check including a 1/2  move delay result and fixed moves, worked really well. It gave a similar over all level of uncertainty, especially since my dice seemed to have an abnormally high number of 1's on them. (and unlike the Initiative and Melee rolls, these were not predominately a Red phenomena).  The improved shooting chart worked like a charm and the Rally rules worked like originally intended.

However, while the game was fun and exciting at times, with more tactical detail than I have been used to dealing with, the return to roots brought back the original issue. This is a medium sized scenario but it took me over 5 hours to play the allotted 20 turns, and it was only one Brigade a side. One of the issues is that it is not easy to remove units from the game entirely. Its possible, especially in melee but generally units can be driven back, rally and come back again, or at least hunker down somewhere safe, not a serious threat but not something to be ignored and forgotten.

For the wars the rules were meant to be used for, this is an entirely proper thing. In game terms, however, unless one side can follow up successes and mass decisive numbers where it counts, games tend to drag on even though each turn goes quickly. Scenarios need to have some form of establishing victory and an endgame condition other than destroying the enemy. This can include time limits, casualty limits, objectives like blowing a bridge and other more clever things.  

For the War of 1812, using a scale of about 1:15 with battalions of 3 or 4 eight man companies, I think MacDuff will still work well and I intend to finish polishing them with that in mind. A game like Chrsyler's Farm can probably be handled in a  3-4 hour game and a battle like Lundy's Lane go on well past dark until both sides are as exhausted as the historical armies were.

For my Faraway project, there is a lot of potential for this approach for a campaign. Room for personalities, names of officers if not men, detailed narratives and so on but I'm not sure this is the route I want to go. I am attracted by being able to make double use of some of the troops and I can certainly justify small War of 1812-ish games, but this may also be an opportunity for me to separate them, even if I do replace my existing shaded, chunky 1812 troops with glossy toy soldiers. A common basing system, compatible unit organization and figure style might allow some double use of some figures where needed or useful. There is something to be said for 1 of the projects being set up for fast paced games with bigger armies. (Bigger in theory as opposed to the number of figures deployed).

A Featherstone/Morschauser sort of game with 20-ish man battalions with rules that allow a game of this size to be played to a finish  in 2-3 hours may be what is needed. I'm currently reviewing Morschauser Meets MacDuff, Hearts of Tin and the in between versions of MacDuff  (eg Plattsburg and Rosie's) that I had played with looking for something that might work with individual figures for maximum compatibility. Having 1 element based campaign (Faraway) and 1 figure based one (1812) is an option but not my first choice, not now that I have finally found bases that I like and that work! (check out the pill shaped flexible steel 15mm wide bases used by the Royals in the pictures above and in the last 2 posts.)


Monday, September 12, 2011

Raid on Centerville Pt 1

The situation at the end of Turn 3. 

After some more thought,  I decided that I should try a traditional style MacDuff game after all. After a  quick fix to the rules to remove some attempts to make it something else, I set to this evening. The rules as being used have been uploaded to Google Docs, (see link on the left).

The Faraway defenders consisted of 3 x 8 man independent companies of militia, a militia gun and a troop of irregular cavalry with Colonel Jefferies acting as Brigadier. I threw 2 dice each turn for each unit of potential reinforcements with these arriving if the score was equal to or less than the turn number. General MacDonell would arrive with the first reinforcement. Drawing on the War of 1812 for inspiration, I decided that the 3 infantry companies would be detachments from 3 different battalions rather than a complete battalion. My Faraway cavalry are somewhat limited so I included 1 Troop  of the Director-General's Bodyguard and a 2nd troop of Larsen's Lancers which would combine to form  a Squadron.

Oberhilse committed General Scott and the 1st and 3rd Infantry on turn 1, a battery and the Blue Guards on turn 2 and a squadron of Dragoons, a troop of the Peipur Tigers and one of the Frontier Light Horse on Turn 3.

All units had to pass an orders test to move on table so might be delayed.

General Scott's plan was to send the 3rd Infantry supported by a troop of light horse against Lieutown with everything else going left. Colonel Jefferies plan was to deploy the gun to the south west of Centerville to support Righton with the lancers in support while the York Volunteers pushed on to Lieutown. By then hopefully the first regulars would be arriving.

The 3rd infantry, perhaps unused to working with the rifle armed Voltigeurs which had been attached, struggled to carry out its orders. The rifles sniped at the defenders from Turn 1 but by Turn 5 no assault had gone in.

On the Oberhilse left though, the 1st Infantry pushed ahead despite heavy defensive musket and artillery fire and stormed the Stone House one turn and the Blue house on the next. By Turn 6, Righton was firmly in Oberhilse hands.

Turn 4. B company of the 1st Infantry storms the Stone House.

Finally on turn 6 the Queen's cavalry and artillery began to arrive, followed shortly by the infantry. 

MacDonell and the cavalry arrives just as Jefferies is struck down by a fragment from a howitzer shell. 

Is it a case of too little too late?  As the Redcoats appeared on the edge of Centerville, the 3rd Infantry stormed the General Store. So  far losses to the Bluecoats have been minimal. Can the Queen's soldiers hold Centerville against twice their numbers? Let alone recapture the Hamlets?  

We'll find out tomorrow.  

I'll also give my thoughts on the rules, organization and feel with the Faraway campaign in mind. Suffice for now to say that I have at least remembered why I used to enjoy MacDuff games. 

On the Eve of Deduction

All quiet in  Testor Vale
After a day of dragging myself through various chores, the table is, at last, set for my series of test games. Ian's comment about separate tables had put me in mind of the Major-General's trick of using terrain to divide and expand his table. I didn't go so far as to produce a range of 2d cardboard mountains but I did introduce a wooded ridge running down the center line between the two villages. This will be deemed impassible except to troops in column following the trail through the gap at 1/2 speed. Other than that, we see the hamlet of Righton to the right, the village of Lieuten  to the left and the town of Centerville in the foreground. I love my ceramic Christmas village houses but they are dashed inconvenient being solid and most will be slowly replaced this year. In the meantime, each has a small stone wall enclosure attached and troops in these yards are considered to be defending the building.  Another reason for me to add some more home made buildings is that I have no small 1 story cottages, log cabins or small story and a half shingled farmhouses like the one I live in, or barns for that matter. I came close to using my Pegasus Russian houses since they are almost tall enough and have a good, practical footprint, just the thing for small  hamlets like we have here but they don't fit well beside the ceramic buildings and I didn't have enough to go with just them.  Making some more buildings will give me another chance to experiment with compression. When I made the stone house, I made sure it could handle the 60mm square bases  I use for Rough Wooing and originally used for Morschauser Meets MacDuff.  Since these will be in a 19thC  North American style, there will be no need to accomodate my 16th troops so I can shrink the foot print a little as well as making them shorter.

The Oberhilse Field Force arrives. The company of the 3rd Infantry, in the middle, is demonstarting the advantages of the proposed new 15mm per file frontage.

Its odd the tricks that one's mind plays. Since MacDuff to the Frontier was originally written for 25mm Colonial games, was later adapted to the French & Indian Wars, and had the "company" as the basic unit, I tend to think of it as a semi-skirmish game, like TS&TF. It never really was though.

The rules were heavily influenced by Charge! including the organization of 2-4 "companies" per regiment. In fact few of my regiments made it past 2 companies as I preferred  to paint a variety of uniforms. My 1860's 54mm British army, for example, included 3 different Highland Regiments, 1 Guards, 1 company each of Rifles, Ghurkas and Guides, a Baluch Sepoy regiment, and 1 lonely line infantry.   In an effort to honour the idea, I started shrinking my company size from the original 12 to 8 and sometimes 6. In practice, the Regiment was my basic unit with companies being detached when necessary.

Ignoring the local militia and supporting arms, this scenario calls for 9 attacking infantry units against  3 defenders. For a game using 12 man companies as the scenario unit, going back to the original 3 companies per regiment seemed like a good fit so I initially laid out the troops this way. The Oberhilse Field Force had been raised in 20 or 24 man units, so I mixed them. This gave me a Brigade of attackers consisting of 3 infantry regiments each of 3 companies, along with attached cavalry and artillery while the defender's reinforcements would consist of a single regiment of infantry plus cavalry and a gun. Sounds nice and tidy but looking at it on the table, it just didn't feel right. Since the rules are set up to encourage the use of battalions as units, I had effectively dropped down from 9 maneuver units to 3.

Despite my respect for Lawford & Young and my positive personal experience of Charge! which tells me that using 3 companies to represent 10 works  if you don't think about it, I keep thinking about it when doing my 19thC armies! (For some reason it doesn't bother me for the NQSYW.)  Four "companies" could represent grand divisions but 3 has no viable theoretical counter part, it merely works from a practical POV. Worse, I realized that while I am interested in some small historical engagements where having the company as a wargame unit would seem to make sense, in all but a few cases, the companies did not act independently as units. Dropping down to  2 "wings" of 12 men makes sense  to me especially since many of my troops are already organized into 24 man units. So, after some quick reshuffling, the Oberhilse Field Force will represent the 7 line and 2 light infantry units called for by the scenario by 9 companies (wings really) grouped into 4 regiments plus an independent rifle company or 5 maneuver units forming 2 small brigades of infantry. Throw in a brigade of cavalry and supporting artillery and we have a Division as an invading force. We're back to this being comparable in a size with at least 8 of the US invasions into Canada during the War of 1812 (albeit with more cavalry) although fielding a 24 man battalion per scenario unit would be closer still.

This basically eliminates the intended semi-skirmish game without a shot being fired. Instead, we have Featherston-ish battalions of 24 officers and men (vs 22) which can operate as 2 halves when necessary.  It would appear that this just may be my comfort zone. Hopefully  the first shots will be fired tomorrow.