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.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Powder Smoke Over Belmont

Newly recruited Yanks and Rebs seeing the elephant.

In May of 2010, Jerry and I played a 1/72nd AWI game, part of a long standing, occasional campaign set in Nova Scotia, but this time using Black Powder. Having enjoyed the experience, we agreed to assemble 1/72nd ACW armies to play games set in our local area with complete disregard for the politics and history, as if Nova Scotia was perhaps a peninsula in Virginia rather than Canada.  Things happen and nearly 2 years passed but on Saturday, we finally brought the idea to fruition.

In the meantime, I have played a number of Black Powder games, each less satisfying than the one before, but never for the ACW and I decided that it would be best to at least try them again for this setting.  Last year I noted that US Grant's first battle was at Belmont and since I was hosting the game here, in Belmont NS, it seemed like a good idea to base a scenario loosely on that action, but reversing sides since it was it is my Federal Army that is based at Belmont. Having looked at the rules, I decided that a scale of 1":10 yards more or less fit the musket ranges though 1:20 might fit the artillery better. Anyway, we usually measure in cm rather than inches to give ourselves more room. Taking this translation to 1cm on table being equal to 10 Yards to the map, I proceeded to lay out the table. Another friend  had presented me with a laminated, detailed, large scale map of my local area a year or so back. Its been propped up on my desk, right up until, well until not long ago. Where it is now is a question which annoyed me exceeding Friday night!

Using a slightly larger scale map crossed with memory, I laid out the appropriate section of the table using 1" boards for the contours, occasionally eked out with thin plywood or masonite since 2/3 of the table was above the 1 contour line. The whole was then covered with a cloth with water features being cut out of a translucent blue recycling bag.  Its not an exact replica and I spotted a gaff or 2 once it was complete but nothing serious and it was amusing to be able to look down on the table and be able to relate to it having walked much of the area at time or another over the last 6 years. Looking at the rules, the terrain effects didn't sit well for the ACW so we classed the woods as rough or broken (I forget the term) ground rather than woods. I classed the 3rd and 4th contours the same way since they are quite cut up with gullies and patches of woods that I hadn't represented.

From an aesthetic viewpoint, a couple of things bothered me about the result. The first is that I needed a lot more trees, bushes and fences. The second is that the cloth is khaki-ish, not bad for a late fall, early spring day but not appropriate from mid-spring to mid-fall. The evergreens were fine and I have a few leafless deciduous trees which fit the winterish look but the bulk of my deciduous trees have green foliage, sometimes scanty but in any case, only appropriate during the spring, summer, fall times where the khaki cloth is not appropriate. I either need a grass green cloth or I need to finish painting all and every bit of wood that I might use as contours, to match my table top.  
Jerry contemplates move 3.

I began the game with a 4 regiment Brigade and 2 guns entrenched on table with the guns and 1 regiment alert and manning the defences, watching for an amphibious assault. The rest of  brigade were deemed to be unready for combat and were stood facing some improvised out of period tents (note to self: add ACW tents to the list or things to make).  The rest of my force, a regiment of cavalry and 2 brigades each of 4 regiments and a gun would arrive at some point after the alarm was raised, either by boat to the area near the battery or by road from the North, marching on past my house, depending on a die roll. Not having appropriate boats, I used a scratch built under scale ironclad of miscellaneous design that I had scratch built years ago to support my old 15mm F&F ACW armies for CS Grant's Island battle.

Jerry began with his entire force within a foot of the southern table edge. A brigade with 2 regiments of cavalry and a horse battery and 3 brigades of infantry totaling 11 regiments, with 1 gun assigned to each brigade. His mission was to capture the battery. If he could hold it, he would get a Victory. If he captured the battery but then extracted his force he would get a Winning draw. He sent the cavalry down the road followed by an infantry brigade with another moving above them. The 3rd brigade was directed down through the woods west of the pond to attack the camp.

An alert sentry spotted Jerry's troops on the road on turn 1 but no one believed him and on turn 3 when his infantry stormed out of the woods, I still hadn't managed to get my troops into battle order. Luckily for me, being hit in the rear seems to be a fairly minor penalty in BP and while my unit retreated, it wasn't badly hurt. At least being within initiative distance allowed me to shake out some other units and begin firing. A further charge by the Rebs into the prepared front of my next unit resulted in the rout and destruction of said unit.
(first time seeing the elephant for all of these units) Luckily the other lads had rallied and plugged the gap backed by a battery. The battle on this front settled into a prolonged and indecisive firefight.

Behind my brigade, as the steamboats busily chugged across the river with reinforcements, Jerry's cavalry  had reached the intersection, followed the lane down towards the river, deployed and charged across the stream. Despite every advantage one could ask for, my troops were only just able to hold them at first (drawn melee) but on the next turn he had to retire, Shaken but not Broken.
The fight rages, full of sound and fury.

By then, my cavalry had appeared, (trotting past my house, wish I had more of those Wagon Train figures so i could have added them by the side of the road), deploying and careening full tilt into the flank of a Confederate regiment. These veteran troops threw them back with heavy losses with out even slowing down their march across the table. The attack worked however. The brigade that had been heading down to take over from Jerry's cavalry and overwhem the battery from the rear, turned about and climbed back up the hill, just as my 3rd brigade arrived. Another prolonged firefight broke out as we each took turns trying to coax our units to sidle into the woods to try to flank the enemy.

At last Jerry realized that time was running out as my 2nd Brigade, which had stalled midstream for several turns, finally began disembarking, driving off the few remaining troopers. He ordered a wild bayonet charge against the defenders of the battery. This time closing fire against the already battered regiments was decisive and his Brigade broke, pretty much ending the game.

It had been an enjoyable day with much catching up and an interesting game, despite the rules.

Reverse perspective: little boat in front, larger figures in the background. Those are Jerry's newly painted cavalry. To my embarrassment, I didn't get any close ups of any of his units despite their being more carefully painted than mind. (and no not because of). Actually, I got so tired of nothing changing from turn to turn that I stopped taking pictures and then forgot to shoot the end until after Jerry had removed his units.  

Despite enjoying the game, I'm afraid, we both found the rules either frustrating or annoying at times, for various reasons. For me, apart from the stop/start feel of the no move or triple move command rolls, and the short artillery ranges (48" vs 18" smoothbore musket range) which didn't feel right for ACW, the ability of the attacker to always get the first shot, etc the combat wasn't terribly satisfying as a game experience.
One doesn't want combat  to be too predictable but there seemed to be lots  of rolling often with little effect but with occasional  drastic results that don't seem related to anything but the dice, partly because of the structure of the all important morale check

I know its possible to back build a story as to what happened,  why the cavalry that hit the column in the flank were the only ones to take damage and disorder, why the infantry hit while unformed were able to retreat fighting and form up while their comrades formed and facing the attack crumbled and fled and so on but I didn't find it as satisfying as, well lets say Charge! which can also have drastic swings of fortune in shooting or melee but in more up front fashion. You don't lose the combat then win the morale throw reversing the decision. For example a unit in Charge! that takes a walloping in melee due to bad dice will be beaten. A unit that only loses by little will fall back and rally if allowed to do so in peace as opposed to BP where we had units lose badly but shake it off or lose by a hair and then evaporate. Horses for courses.

The game also dragged on a little long despite how little happened. Partially this was because we wasted a LOT of time trying to find things in the book and partly because we took so many coffee breaks but that latter bit says a lot in itself. I would now rate the rules as maybe 3 stars or maybe 2 1/2.

In any event, we backed up a few things and played out a couple of turns of Hearts of Tin to give Jerry a feel. (The last version he played was a couple of years ago). I think we'll probably give them a go next time.  All in all a fun day



  1. Looks like it was a good day's gaming.

  2. Great report Ross. Very nice photos too.

  3. As always, Ross, I very much appreciate your comments on what you like/dislike about various rule systems.

    A very nice comparison with the "Charge!" rules . . . and I think, a telling one.

    -- Jeff

  4. yes, looks like you had fun anyway, and it is good to hear some of the objections to some rulessets. Helps people decide if the rules might be for them or not.

  5. Exelent setup and very interesting post (as usually)Ross. I will thank you if you could answer me some questions about this game:
    What was the size of the tabletop and the infantry stands?
    Have you use the cm scale for this BP game?
    Suppose you play this scenario again, but using Hoft, would you play it with the inch or with the cm scale?

  6. Thanks Cesar,

    The table is 150cm x 180 cm.

    The stands are all 4 cm wide. The depth varies but mine are 3cm deep.

    We did measure in cm for BP giving a 24cm Rifle range.
    Using HofT, I measured in inches giving a 12" Rifle range.

  7. That looks a fun game Ross. Very aesthetically pleasing too. The ironclad is rather impressive!