Viewer's Choice Celebration MiniCampaign

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

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

Thursday, September 8, 2011

To the Frontier, Again and Again

A company of the Royal Scots sends out skirmishers as they approach a small village.  

Ok, enough of Meese and Men for now. Back to real toy soldiers!

When last we left the 19th Century, I was still mulling over what combination of just the right basing, rules, organization, history, theater, terrain and attitude would fit together to make just the kind of games that I wanted to play with my 40mm toy soldiers on my small table.  The real problem, I think, is that I have several valid options that might each serve. That's a problem because they require drastically different approaches and to get the optimum result, I need to choose a path and stick with it, relegating the other options to other projects. If not, the seesaw and confusion will last indefinitely and project might well die of indecision while I play with Moose Troopers and the like.

I'm not sure what a sufficiency of test games will be, but my mission over the next month is to play several scenarios, several times, using different approaches. Hopefully, one will emerge a natural winner, if not I'll have to just sit down and choose one. I did plan to start with one of 2 historical 1812 scenarios but there are certain pitfalls to using strictly historical scenarios for this test. In the end, I may well have to separate 1812 from the non-historical project again despite the similarity and overlap but since I now have sufficient shelf space to carry both, I can leave that an open question.    

First up then, is one of the scenarios from Stuart Asquith's Solo Wargaming. The scene is set with 2 small border villages with a larger town nearby. Each settlement is defended by a battalion of militia with the larger town also having a gun and a squadron of volunteer cavalry. There are reinforcements ready to respond if needed, 3 battalions of regular infantry supported by a gun and some cavalry.  A foreign army  crosses the border at dawn with a mission of securing all three settlements. This consists of 7 battalions supported by light infantry, artillery and cavalry. Sounds very much like a typical Faraway-Oberhilse clash.

Actually, it also sounds very typical of the War of 1812, both the general situation and the size of the forces involved, if you reduce the amount of cavalry, add copious woods around the fringes and usually, a river down one table edge. The problem comes when you contemplate the area that needs to be represented by the table in order to have 3 villages and support 3 battalions of militia (granted, the militia battalions are supposed to be small and may be the armed might of the surrounding counties, called to arms and gathered at their assigned posts. ). I'm sure there are areas of the world where it is not uncommon to have 3 small rural communities all within a kilometer of each other, but not in any of the areas where the War of 1812 was fought. You might be able to get away with three to five kilometers between villages in a densely settled area, but, on a 5'x6' table, that gives me something around 1" = 100 yards or maybe1"= 50 yards if I squeeze things up. This gives a battalion frontage of somewhere around 2"-3".  If I was using 10mm or even 20mm troops crammed tightly, or was willing to go with 4 or 6 larger figures representing a battalion, and used a set of rules such as the Portable Wargame or one of the early versions of Hearts of Tin where each stand was a unit, this would give a reasonable game with very low troop density. The invading army, for example,  would occupy a space of about 1/3rd  of a square foot and be tasked with occupying an area of 30 square feet. A valid, challenging and interesting game but not what I originally had in mind.

If I  go the way MacDuff was originally played with 12 man "companies", even with my tighter basing,  I won't have room for even 3 "company" battalions so scenario units would have to become companies.  The villages would be within about 500 yards of each other but each would only have a garrison of 80 or so militia.  This would allow me to use 2-3 times as many 40mm troops as the 1 stand units but still not crowd the table.

Last and hopefully not least, if I stick with the 24 man battalions that most of my units are currently organized into, and use the new 15mm frontage, then each battalion will have a frontage of under 8" giving a distance between villages of around a kilometer and a garrison of around 200 militia in each location which is a little strong. However, if I put my Toy Soldier/"vasty fields of France in a  cockpit" Hat on, this should work ok, especially in Faraway, and it will allow me to pretty much fill the table with troops, possibly too much so.

So there is the first test. I will play first with 12 man companies using the latest MacDuff, then play  MacDuff  with 24 man battalions, then try Hearts of Tin with 16, 30 or 24 man battalions and lastly try  a 1 stand = a battalion game, maybe 1 each of PWII and HofT. Depending on how long each game takes, this should monopolize most of my hobby time for a week or 2. I'll then choose another scenario and hopefully drop it down to 2 contending styles/rules or at most 3.



  1. Best of luck with your experiment!

  2. Ross, if you had your choice of how many 40mm figures you would normally want on your smaller table top (and still allow for some maneuvering) . . . and this is independent of scenario . . . what would you like to see as your minimum and maximum numbers?

    Would that help somewhat in making your decision?

    -- Jeff

  3. Sounds most interesting but I'm suffering from the lack of elk here already...

  4. Ross Mac,

    I will follow your 'experiments' with interest.

    All the best,


  5. Looks very interesting. I look forward to following this as well.

  6. Hi Ross,
    could you not have each settlement on a separate table, one at a time of course, with specified "marching time" between them and from the attackers baseline to enable flanking moves? It's not the same I know and need more book-keeping but I'm sure it would work and you could stick to your current unit sizes.
    As an aside I played that scenario a few years ago on a 5'x4' table in 6mm using the Horse and Musket rules from "War Games" by DF - great fun from what I recall.

    all the best


  7. Conrad, Alan, Bob, Lee, thanks fir the interest, I will of course be posting the results as I go.

  8. Jeff, its a good question but I don't know the answer, its one of the things I'm trying to determine. Habit and Classical influences lead me to say "as many as possible" but I am also intrigued by the possibilities of more abstract games with relatively few figures. Its more about game style than numbers per se.

  9. Ian, you are right, it would work. In effect it would become almost a mini campaign and as such would probably be more realistic, reminiscent of the 1814 Niagara campaign. However, the on table bits would then be largely of the "last mile" nature with most of the maneuvering taking place off table. Its that preliminary maneuvering which is often my favorite part and I'd rather see it on table. esp since this isn't a unique scenario situation, its pretty typical and reflects the bath-tubbing magic of some of the OS masters and many Colonial gamers. Something I feel like I had a bit of and lost after doing too much thinking.

    Good idea though and one I'll tuck in my pocket.

    Hmm I should also think about 3 small tables being used simultaneously with delays for moving between them as you suggest. (or a single table sub-divided into zones with a delay for moving from zone to zone, something I tried with success once long ago).

    Thanks for suggesting that.