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.


  1. Ross Mac,

    I read this battle report with even more interest than usual as you had used PW2. Thanks you for your comments and suggestions about the rules, and her are my replies:

    1. Shooting vs. buildings and fortifications

    At present buildings and fortifications are regarded as cover, but I think that you are right when you suggest that they should have a separate factor in the rules (which they did in PW1). They should provide more protection to defenders than they currently do, and your suggestions have been noted … and will certainly influence the text of the next draft of the PW2 rules.

    2. Unit Quality

    I think that we are both agreed on this point, and I can see the reasoning behind the change you suggest to the boundaries between ‘destroyed’ and ‘fall back’ scores.

    3. Melee

    The melee system does have its problems, and – judging by some of the comments I have had from other people who have used the rules – the version that I wrote seems to confuse some people. In my version you role to see what happens to YOUR troops, not the enemy’s; this is the area that seems to have caused most confusion.

    I agree that Artillery does not seem to do well under the existing system, and I had already slated that for change. Likewise, Commanders who stray too close to the fighting should be more vulnerable.

    By adding the Unit Quality dice throw to the melee process, it should mean that there will be ‘draws’ and ‘fall back’ results (there are none under the current system), and this is also slated for inclusion in the next draft of the rules.

    4. Generals/Commanders

    I quite agree that the role of Generals/Commanders needs to be reviewed. At present they can be used as an almost unbeatable army reserve. I do not see that as their function, and would rather that they had a moral and tactical influence rather than a combat role.

    I tried to cover this in PW1, but have not done so as yet in PW2. This is something that I want to sort out once I have the PW2 combat systems working as close to 100% perfectly as I can. The changes may not be in the next draft of the rules … but they are on the horizon!

    Thank you again for your comments and suggestions. They are always welcome, and are always very helpful.

    All the best,


  2. Ross . . . Ideally how long would you like one of your campaign games to last?

    That might guide your thinking to some extent. I know for myself that one hour would be too short for my tastes . . . but your desires might be quite different.

    -- Jeff

  3. Despite the result (boo hiss the dastardly Republicans) - it looks like you had a good game.

    Certainly some tinkering needs to occur, but I think you're onto a winner.

  4. Bob, I should probably have made clear that I understand that PW2 is under development. I am certainly looking forward to following their progress.

    I did use the quality roll in melee, its just no one ever rolled well enough to retreat rather than die!)

  5. Jeff, sometimes I want a short game, sometimes longer. Usually 2-3 hours is what I am looking for for a medium sized game. If a test game is short, this means it can handle a much larger game.

  6. Conrad, I think battles in India are back on the menu.

  7. I also read this report and your comments with interest as I have been playing around with Bob's PW rules as well. I played another game over the weekend and just have to put the report together to post. Some of the questions I encountered were the effect of being in buildings when attacked, but also can cavalry attack into buildings (or woods). When something like that came up I just made up a ruling at the time. In the past in similar cases I would either make something up or make it a yes/no option and roll for it. I had generals in my games, but just for show and never used them as combat units.
    I like the fact that I can play a game in an hour and on a small space with a small number of figures. It seems to me the games could be scaled up if desired, one possibility would be to have 2 (or more) stands represent a unit (maybe make the grid large enough to fit both stands in one grid space).
    One advantage of such simple rules is it makes it easy to experiment.