Sunday, March 11, 2012

Huzzah! Huzzah! (Just practicing)

Despite appearances these are the NOT the armies of Faraway and Oberhilse but those of New Brunswick & Great Britain vs Maine & The United States of America. New Brunswick's York battalion supported by armed and angry lumberjacks has just pushed the opposing riflemen back from the first fence line. 

As I was clearing the table Friday night, I pondered George's offer to play-test a scenario if  I was planning one to take to a convention in the US. Now this offer, typical of him, is a bit akin to offering to storm a machine gun nest single handed and similarly should really be accepted. The big problem was that while my twisted Aroostock War wargame has been registered with Huzzah which is only about 8 weeks away, it only existed as a vague idea. The opportunity was too good to pass up though so I set to it.

The original idea was a British force moving up river and using a steam boat to bypass American defences (OK OK the very first idea was for an American invasion but it seemed downright rude to cross the border to set up a game showing my host making a non-historical invasion and getting whupped, not to mention winning...).  So we have a British force seeking to reclaim its rightful property which has been unlawfully occupied.  This leaves a lot of room so I started by considering some old favorite Grant scenarios which I haven't played   for a few years.  Immediately I came across a hitch, while I have yet to make a trip down the Aroostock (never mind visiting the Neverwaussie) other than via Google Earth,  it seems to be similar to many river valleys in Maine and New Brunswick with rugged wooded hills to either side, only more wooded at the time since timber was the trigger point. Fine, first step is to settle the Neverwaussie valley and let the farmers clears some of the trees. This still leaves a narrow congested battlefield with the British advancing ALONG the river, the way all travel and expansion was done.

So I laid out the river and thought some more. Finally I decided that there was only 1 road along the river, roads being in particularly short supply back then and in order to avoid some up river but off board terrain, it crossed the river  at this point so the British advance was going to have to come up the road over the bridge and up the road again. Aha! An objective!  The Americans would have a small force, mostly militia or volunteers guarding the bridge with US Army reinforcements on the way.  The British would have  a similar force arriving concentrated but with a pontoon bridge and a party capable of crossing the river. 

US Reinforcements arrive as does the HMS Reuse and British cavalry and artillery come into play. 

The river is a little narrow for my existing toy steam boat but in any event, I have gotten bolder and sillier as my dotage slowly approaches. Since Lawrence's response to my request that he make me an ("an" as in ONE )  observation balloon was to present me with 2 balloons and a steam powered airship (he ran across a sale on small plastic halloween pumpkins - look carefully) and since Steam Punk/VSF stuff still seems popular these days and this is a war that never happened being fought with glossy toy soldiers, I decided that I should replace the steam launch with an airborne assault. Of course the airship isn't painted yet so it was back to the hastily scratchbuilt HMS Reuse for Saturday.  It did seem only fair to give the Americans something  vaguely steam-punk-ish  as well  so decided on a steam driven battery. Its not built yet either so I used a mortar in a wagon pulled by my steam tractor. I may or may not do better on the day. Some boiler plate armour would be good at the very least. I also figured I may as well upgrade the morale on the State and Colony militia so have granted "regular" status to anyone with a uniform with  real regulars getting Elite status and any local Volunteers being boosted to Irregular Light Infantry.

Clearing the shelf, I fielded 2 New Brunswick battalions (there is a constant temptation to call them Canadian but New Brunswick was not part of Canada at the time ) and 3 British ones, all of 3 stands or 450 men due partly to congestion but also with a nod to 1812 and Mexican War field strengths. I also brought out some riflemen and irregulars but was unsure how to organize them so offered George some choices. He took the one of having each stand be a unit, so 3 of irregulars and 4 of regular riflemen. He also broke the Dragoon Guards into squadrons since there was no room to deploy the whole regiment in line anyway. I only have 2 of the KDG painted up so the 5th or Princess Charlotte's took their place. Two field guns rounded off the land forces while the HMS Reuse carried 3 stands of light infantry (the sailors are not molded yet let alone cast and painted so I used 1812 Canadian militia,sighh, I have a LOT of work to do!). 

After some bickering over precedence of State vs Federal officers, the US started off with 6 stands of local "irregulars", 1/2 with rifles on the British side, the rest and the Lafayette County Rifles (musket armed line infantry) on the American side. Off table was a regiment of Dragoons, 2 x 2 stand units of rifles and 4 battalions of infantry, all cavalry and line troosp being 3 stands strong. A light howitzer and the steam battery rounded things off. I rolled for arrival of troops but part way through decided to re-neg on the 2nd brigade of infantry.  On the day, I think I will hold them in hand as GM, only committing them if the game threatens to end early due to lack of American troops.

Somewhere around turn 7 or 8 the Observation Balloon has gone up giving the British a +1 on their initiative roll, not that they needed it. The York battalion is now assaulting a stone fence but have met with stern resistance.

One of the dangers of staging a game for 6 strangers is that it can be hard to predict how they will interpret what you tell them or how they will choose to tackle the situation. I didn't have 6 strangers but I had George  and his plan caught me off guard. Instead of putting the landing force ashore to cover the building of the pontoon bridge at the earliest opportunity, he chose to push up the river and secure that bank before launching the new bridge 1/2 way up the table and only landed the covering party at the last minute. If I had brought on all of the American reinforcements as planned, they would have had time to meet the bridging crew with overwhelming force but that's why we play test. 

From what I understood of George's plan as described to me later, he had led with the smaller brigade composed of New Brunswickers with the intent of just screening that flank while the crossing, at what appeared to be the optimum spot, was to be done by the British Regulars screened by the landing party.   
The Steam Battery arrives and gets off one shot before.....

C Squadron of the Dragoon Guards thunders over the bridge, throws back the counter charging US Dragoons and over runs the steam battery. 

The game progressed smoothly enough with the British troops pushing back the American skirmishers who rallied and massed behind a stone wall reinforced by the line battalion. At this point the lumberjacks tried to trade long range musket shots with close range American rifle shots. Since that wasn't going well, the York battalion was ordered to charge but baulked even with the brigadier trying to haul them forward by their collars.   Eventually they got the message but ran into a handful of 6's from the riflemen and were forced into a close range firefight. It took a 2rd effort to finally clear the stone wall but by then the battalion ws well below 1/2 strength and was soon destroyed as a fighting unit. The 49th Foot was brought forward to take their place. 

Closer to the river, American reinforcements had arrived and were jammed up without space to deploy. The brigade's riflemen crossed over and deployed only to be chased away by cavalry. The 1st infantry got most of the way over the bridge and then froze. Eventually the brigadier was able to beat the front companies off the bridge and into line just as the cavalry rode into them (opportunity charge). Thanks to the Brigadier they managed to repel these by the skin of their teeth. After freezing again, and then having the brigadier hit by artillery fire, they finally gave up and retired pellmell across the bridge before the next squadron of cavalry could charge them. The cavalry thundered over the bridge despite a blast of canister from the light gun, met the US Dragoons galloping forward to  meet them, brushed them aside and pursued into the steam battery. Despite appearances, this was treated as an armoured target thus they needed a 6 to get 1 hit, they did, the battery missed its shot and was over run. Oh well, no wonder these contraptions didn't catch on.  

At last, as the fighting continued on both sides of the river (irregulars vs landing party on the American  shore), the pontoon bridge was finished and the Young Buffs crossed over. Time was up however, the road wasn't clear yet and the British, having lost 13 stands& leaders were 2 away from their Army Morale break point while the US had only lost  4 stands. A clear US victory.
Light fades as the bridge comes into play. British losses have been heavy  and another brigade of US troops can be seen approaching. Its time to call it a day.

It was an enjoyable game but it also provided good feedback and food for thought. There were fewer troops than initially planned but the the table was crowded and despite the fast play rules, there were enough units to make the game last through the time limit and then some. 

The crowding and the (relatively) long delay between the British arrival and the first serious fighting was a concern given the short duration of convention games. Its good to have a bit of time to adjust to the rules but not too many, especially if it means reinforcement commanders are kept kicking their heels. I had originally planned on a 6' x 10' foot table as used at Cold Wars and such as I used to have 10 years ago. This would have allowed all of the British to start on table and for US reinforcements to arrive earlier even if players are just advancing uo the road for their first move or 2. I understand that the standard tables at Huzzah are going to be about the size of mine which is actually pretty handy for planning and big enough for this sort of game.  

The first step is going to be to turn the game sideways, the second will be to deploy the British about a foot on table, including the Pontoons and the boat if I use it (depends on what I get done). I was going to remove the Pontoon wagon forcing the British to build it near the table edge but then I remembered that it was about turn 3 before George brought it on and then he trundled forward cross country for several turns. I will run the road close to the river and this plus having the pontoons start on table should allow the British  to choose the placement and their strategy but still get the bridge built by mid game thus giving the Americans a target for a counter attack before the British can build up their forces on their bank. 

The use of single stand skirmish and cavalry units was interesting but now I am stuck between horses. I do want to go the same way on both sides and in the 1812 - 1840 period in North America squadron sized cavalry units and small skirmish units make sense but do I go with 2x2"/2 figure troop stands or a single 3"/3 figure squadron stand? In the mini campaign I used 4x2man cavalry stands as a  regiment but planned to use 3" squadron stands for this game. As George points out there was no room to deploy regiments and the same will be true of 1812 (yes I'm probably going there with HofT after all). Two stand units allows the normal rules for hist and rallying to work more seamlessly, would allow for squadron columns and give more hitting power than a wider stand. It also means 4 figures instead of 3 from a visual POV but I will have to revisit what it means for my collection going forward and look at what regiments will be. Theoretically, a 3" wide stand would be right if tight for a 150 man squadron which is strong for campaign strength but still not up to paper strength. A 2" troop stand is really a bit too large but I think I can work with it. I'll have to do some playing about.

The same is true for light infantry, I had been leaning towards 3 men on a 3" frontage but that makes them permanent skirmishers. Do I want to go there or not? I also wanted to keep my light infantry and cavalry units the same size for Grant Teaser reasons as opposed to historical ones.   In this game I had some organized as 2 stand units and some as single stand. I was forced to deploy sabots to keep the 2" wide stands spread out when skirmishing but this game me the flexibility of bringing them  into a massed formation. Was that right or wrong? Either historically or as I envisaged it? The line infantry light companies on split bases are the most effective way to switch back and forth but it can easily get confusing,they just don't look good for the irregular types and if I allow irregular light infantry to tighten up then I may need to add a negative melee modifier, the wider bases were supposed to supply the advantage to formed troops. Again more thought but I suspect my decision will mirror the cavalry one with either 1 large or 2 smaller stand units (4 stands of skirmishers just doesn't work)     

Did I mention I have a BUNCH of casting and painting to do over the next 6 weeks?


  1. A nice account . . . and interesting after action thoughts.

    Did the provisional QRS work okay?

    -- Jeff

    1. Hi Jeff, yes they worked well.Thank you. I uploaded a copy and was going to share it but need to update it again first.

  2. A good AAR of the battle and your thoughts going forward. It looks like most of your line infantry are 6 figures in two ranks on a base. Could you not use the same base frontage with half the depth for the skirmishers mounting 3 figures? If they form up then two bases will look like your line infantry. Personally I would keep the skirmishers mounted singlely.

    For cavalry keep the squadrons at two stands, otherwise how will you keep track of formations. If that means fewer squadrons on the table so be it.

    Thanks for sharing

    1. Hi Dave, splitting the stands is what I have done for regulars who can fight either way. Its the irregular types that I have been pondering. They accidently become as powerful as line infantry if they are formed base to base. A wider frontage might have solved that but I have ended up throwing in a modifier instead.

      I kind of like the single skirmishers but we had issues with the single skirmishers being unable to operate on the steep hills! They also suffer from an issue shared with the split stands: confusing gamers at conventions when they needs to determine how many dice to throw.

      I had been counting each cavalry stand as 1 squadron and operating as a regiment of 3 or 4 squadrons but after playing with the options today, I'm going just the way you suggest with 2 x 2 figure stands as a rather oversize squadron making each stand a troops That will give them more effect in combat as well as being able to change formation.

      Thanks for the comments. Good to get other views, esp when some agree!

  3. Ross,

    I don't recall if we used them when we played at my place, but I have my skirmishers on single depth 4" wide stands, which allows for them to "double up" (i.e., one behind another) to form a "single close-order" (but double wide) stand for melee. Might something like this work for you?

    -- Jeff