Thursday, January 5, 2012

Mixing and Mis-matching

An American landing parting crosses the Neverwaussie River to attack a British battery near Brown Rock Creek. Their mission is to seize the battery, destroy the bridge and hold until reinforced.

One of the first lessons of Rules Tinkering that one learns (or not) is that one has to be careful that ideas or mechanisms from different sources don't clash. When I started back to twiddle with MacDuff, I had in mind various historical situations, various past rule mechanisms that I have used and  a process used by Simon MacDowall in Comitatus. This was developed from an ancient eye witness account of a battle between Romans and Germanic tribesmen.(Ammianus possibly? I'd have to go digging to find the author and paragraph again). Essentially this has units closing, exchanging long range fire then if their morale holds and they wish it, closing and exchanging javelin fire then if their morale holds and they wish it, charging into contact. Which is the sort of Horse & Musket era behaviour I wanted to catch within a single turn rather than in multiple turns as would happen with Charge! 

My first kick at adapting the mechanism assumed that all the units on one side would move then all the units would resolve combat but units would only get to fire once so had to decide whether to shoot early with less effect or shoot later. A quick run through of an attack showed me two things. First the concept worked quite well for what I wanted, given those parameters. Secondly, it might mean moving every figure in a 32 man battalion as many as 4 times in one turn.  (Simon had been using elements, generally 1 to 4 in a unit). Work or not, that wouldn't fly, not for me at least. 

I decided to drop the range and sequence thing and  assume that units that rolled low fired at long range while those that rolled up had held fire. Having also decided to keep the traditional MacDuff thing of card activation system with combat and movement happening when units were activated not in separate phases, I now had to deal with units being involved in more than 1 combat in a turn. I also ran into extended fire combats at long ranges so, forgetting my earlier decision, added a long distance modifier and a decision mechanism to allow choice rather than chance to decide whether the attacker would fire on the move starting at long range like the French at Quebec or at close range like the British. 

This is what I dropped on the table for a small skirmish based on an action at Black Rock in November of 1812. This is about the smallest game that the rules can handle these days.  6 companies vs 7 once all reinforcements were on table. (or 9 vs 7 if the US reinforcements had opted to come. ) This size of game used to take about 3 hours with the original MacDuff which was good except that I wanted to play games 3 or 4 times this size. This game took about an hour to play through to a conclusion which is about right for its size.

The British reinforcements arrive late and both battery and bridge have been taken by the time they arrive.

Its always a bit tricky playing a game with 1/2 written rules but I managed to get a feel for some of the issues and ended up finding several situations where things were too vague and I had trouble deciding what would feel best and be consistent and several where what worked for one tactical option, didn't work right for a different one (in terms of feel not success). I liked the idea of the longer move followed by a mutual firefight and resolution and its not the first time I've tried to tackle it ( the Morschauser inspired 3" melee zone from HofT kept coming to mind). I still think it should be possible to separate  artillery, skirmish and long range musket fire that cause slow attrition on one hand, from decisive firefights and bayonet charges on the other.  In a way the rules originally did this by having the long range fire much less effective, esp if the firer moved, and allowing fire and charge tactics and by allowing units that held fire to react so the answer may well be in the existing and tried ideas rather than revolutionary ones. Just extending the movements, tweaking the reaction and formation change options and the charge sequence might be enough given the new command chart introduced last fall and the revised morale rules, both of which I like. 

I did like the way the cards worked, making it important to take time to form troops up for maximum effect.  For a while I had been playing with certain cards activating certain units but this took that aspect away plus I didn't like the reduction in player decision making that it brought. Oddly, though the system I used was basically how I had done it with the original rules, I had forgotten this aspect of them until reminded by playing Basic Impetus. (no it doesn't use cards but each group finishes its movement and combat before the next starts like original MacDuff where companies needed a Colonel to act together). For bigger battles, the initiative system will probably work better though keeping the "each unit/group does movement and combat before the next starts" concept, in other words status quo with both systems. allowed. 

One last minor thing, the round washers are so superior to the smaller bases in terms of figures not falling over, and the wider frontage which bothers me in between games was of so little note during the game that  I am tempted to tell myself to just stuff it and stay with them. (For those wondering what the issue is, it effects how many real men each toy soldier theoretically represents. Yes, this is the tortured simulationist in me struggling with the Toy Soldier Guy. In the game shown, the numbers present in the historical action suggest each of my figures represents 5 or 10 real ones but the frontage suggests 20-30).  
The remnants of the last company of Americans looks for a way to get to the boats as the British and Canadians close in from both sides.

Oh yes, I was also reminded that if I'm going to play War of 1812 games, I need to make a respectable looking foot wide table edge river terrain piece! (and more trees, LOTS more trees, BIG ones!)


  1. Lovely looking game - it all looks very dramatic!

  2. remnants of the last company of Americans...there is something
    about that line that chills me to
    the bone! LOL, all kiding aside, very
    nice game!

  3. Good to see cousin Jonathan getting a licking.

  4. Hurrah for the British-we actually won something!

  5. Nice one Ross! >>>> tortured simulationist in me struggling with the Toy Soldier Guy.

  6. Aye lad, I recall the Denim Coast in the old days, twas a wild old place.

    Tortured Simulationist versus Toy Soldier Guy - oh yes, I know about that one. I wonder if there is a parallel head-conflict with terrain as well, I think perhaps there is with me.

    Whatever, I like the look of this game, great stuff.

  7. Thanks gentlemen. Amazing what a few carefully chosen pictures and words can do to cast a light on a game. I might have mentioned that the Americans accomplished 2 out of 3 objectives and got most of their troops back home so technically it was a draw. But rounding up that "last remnant" and watching the boats row away sure felt like a victory to the redcoats on shore.


  8. Steve, You might even say that the Denim Coast was a seamy place.

    I tend to avoid making terrain but ideally I think terrain says, or should say, something about the style, object and intent of the game. But that's another post.

  9. Possible mechanism for firing during a round in which you move into contact:

    Troops fire once during a round - beginning, middle or end.
    Player writes down which and show paper simultaneously.
    If a player fires at the beginning, effect reduced but results from that point. At end, results enhanced, but may be firing fewer figures or suffering from a morale result.
    Players can only hold until the last minute if they are the ones being charged - you can fire then charge, but basically the last part of the move is the contact phase, so OK for the the defender to stand then fire, not for the attacker. If both sides attacking/moving, neither can fire in the last phase. Morale is taken after that firing phase but before actual contact - simulates a unit charging in and being stopped by a devastating volley.

    Incidentally, re morale, rather than have set times when you must make a morale test, make it optional - your opponents option. Assume a unit will obey orders - including doing thinks like an 'uncontrolled advance' type - so the game keeps going. However, your opponent can choose to make you do a morale test, obviously when he thinks it will have the most devastating effect on you. However, limit it so that a unit can only be tested once during a move.