Monday, April 23, 2012

Trying it on (Continued)

As I surveyed the troops laid out on the table, two thoughts came to mind.  The first was that this sort of situation where one side is in position and the other is attacking was probably more common than the sort of encounter or odd situation scenario I tend to choose. The second was that without a back story, any surprises or room to maneuver, it didn't look particularly interesting as a solo venture. Not enough decision points. It didn't help that I knew that I was going to have to steal intermittent batches of playing time from household obligations.  For some reason that seemed to make it an ideal time to experiment.

One of the things I have pondered off and on for sometime is the difference in C&C in history and on the table top. One of the main issues is that one way or another, the gamer is representing multiple people. You can add charts and limits and rules as you like but this remains the case unless a large team of subordinates is employed. Getting too pedantic on the subject tends to get in the way of the game aspects, none the less,  getting too far away can lessen the enjoyment for me as well and systems that replace rational choices with random ones are neither satisfying for me nor inherently more "realistic". 

Instead of trying to incorporate mechanisms into the rules to represent all the processes by which information and orders are passed, interpreted and acted on. I simply chose to issue initial orders and tried to follow those unless a unit was under immediate threat or unless I as general had a reason to issue a new order to move units. This is in effect the Grant method but being solo, I didn't bother with writing orders or dispatching messengers. I issued mental orders and then refrained from fiddling with units the way I might in a typical "game" against an opponent.  The result was rather interesting though probably more appropriate  with games with multiple layers of command than with skirmishes. 

In short, all Oberhilse forces were placed and given orders to defend. The FTC forces were ordered to advance on the left to demonstrate against  the enemy's right and prevent them from reinforcing their other flank. The 1st brigade of the Queen's infantry was ordered to attack and take the farm and fields ahead of them. The 2nd Brigade was to support the attack and then to pass through and capture the bridge. The artillery was ordered to support the infantry attack while the cavalry was placed in reserve.
An overview from the North Bank.

On the North Bank the story is soon told. The Farway troops were ordered to demonstrate, the Oberhilse troops to defend and the result was a desultry exchange of fire with little effect. If I was roleplaying I could have made some sort of check to see if one of the opposing Brigade commanders exceeded his orders but decided that I would only do so if there was an obvious opening, an enemy unit routing perhaps. At one point, I did decide to thicken the "attacking" skirmish line by taking a unit of light infantry that was supporting the skirmish line and committing them to the skirmish fight while moving the Lancers to act as supports and bringing the Director General's Bodyguard forward to protect the rocket, dismounting them into a skirmish line to reduce the effect of long range shots from the steam battery.  It made little difference, both subordinates achieved their aims though no enemy units were shaken or destroyed. Mind you, with in excess of 30 shooting dice being rolled over the course of the game,  you'd think more than 3 6's would have been rolled!

A squadron of the DGBG deploy to protect the Rocket Battery. I rather like the look of the individual painted bases on the new cloth. (lalalalala he chants childishly while covering eyes and ears)

 The only change came near the end of the game when the Blue General seemed to wake up to the fact that he had 15 stands of mostly line troops being pinned down by 9 stands of mostly light troops and that it might be to his advantage to drive them off. The Blue Dragoons were brought forward causing the DGBG to hurridly remount but it was too late and events here were overtaken by what was happening on the far bank.


The main attack was a fairly straight forward affair, 14 attacking stands against 15 defenders with the both sides having 2 guns providing support when they could find a field of fire which was easier for the defender. The attacking line had a narrow superiority of quality with 4 elite stands and twice as many rifles.  The real difference was that the defence was supported by 4 stands of elite infantry while the attack was sustained by 8 stands of elite infantry and 4 of cavalry.

It didn't take long for the Oberhilse skirmish line to be driven off  which was no great surprise but despite several attempts by the Blue general, it proved impossible to rally them and the riflemen retreated off table. One  can't help but wonder if this might have distracted the general from the over all course of the battle.  In any event, there was nothing to stop the attacking riflemen from  working their way through the woods, around the enemy flank. In no time they silenced the pack howitzer and forced it to fall back. The Oberhilse 3rd Infantry was then forced to refuse their flank, weakening the firing line at a crucial point.

Near the river bank the attacking infantry passed through the riflemen which had been sniping ineffectively and opened fire on the defending infantry. These, supported ably by their guns, returned an astonishingly effective fire and the Red unit was routed exposing a battery of guns which was moving up to support them. Blue's artillery smashed these in a flash. (4 dice for 5/6, 4 hits with a switch of initiative in between shots to forestall any attempt to rally or retreat!)   The Red general ordered his Heavy Cavalry  to charge the Blue infantry which had not gone unscathed through all this. Calmly the battered veterans of the 2nd Infantry formed square and drove back the shaken cavalry.

In the center, the two infantry lines had been trading fire with no clear advantage to other side. With the battery destroyed and the cavalry repulsed, I was about ready to call it quits but soon rallied and remembering the advantage in quality and quantity of line infantry at the key point, I ordered the rest of the 1st brigade to press the attack. It was this point that 1 Blue regiment had just been pulled out of the line to guard the flank. Both sides were carrying casualties and even without a charge bonus, the fight was deadly. The Elite infantry and numbers clinched the deal  though. Red's line was shaken and some stands were lost but Blue's line collapsed in rout and Brigadier Zinn who had joined the fight was once again captured.  (There are those who suspect him of liking Red's rations.)

 The climax of the battle.

Rallying the Heavy Dragoons, the Red General; found time to order the Hussars to pass through and pursue the retreating remnants of Blue's line and the 2nd Brigade to pass through and press the assault. There was just time for the Blue Guards to belatedly  move up as the Blue Army Morale cracked.

So despite initial misgivings, it turned out to be an enjoyable, if occasionally alarming, solo game. In addition to getting to push my toy soldiers about and test wits against myself, it gave me a chance to give the rules another work out and triggered some thoughts for the future.

The end of the day.

In no particular order.

Dice. Hearts of Tin is one of those games where the dice can potentially skew things, something that worries me.  There were several strings of good or bad luck  for one side or the other or both at the same time and a few spectacular rolls so I went back over them and their effect. As far as I can tell, they had little or no effect on the over all game which was a relief.

The skirmisher shooting was poor  on one flank as were the rally rolls but while average shooting  and average rallying might have seen some units forced to retreat or even a stand being lost, neither would have made a significant difference as there were adequate supports to cover any gaps. Only an extraordinary string of luck combined with a decision to press the attack or an earlier decision to launch a counter attack might have made a difference.  

The destruction of the Royal Artillery was a shock. The fire was consecutive rolls, the last in one turn and the first in the other with a flip in initiative but the luck was only slightly above average and was partly unexpected because the Blue battery had been shooting so poorly! (I know this doesn't actually affect the dice in subsequent turns but....). More importantly, unlimbering a battery in close range of an enemy battery is a risky business and even with average rolls there was a good chance that the battery might have been silenced and forced out of the action for several turns with much the same affect on the game. After all the point of the maneuver by Red was to silence the Blue battery by fire so they can hardly complain because Blue did it to them!

Decisions. On the other hand, several decisions were crucial. This was made clearer since I avoided constant fiddling.

Probably the most critical decision was for Blue  to hold on to his reserves too long. The original idea was that the rifle skirmishers would pull back to protect the flank instead of routing. When that didn't work as planned, no action was taken and the 1st line was left to look after themselves. With only 1 unit in immediate  reserve, I was reluctant to commit them, and especially reluctant to move them too far from the bridge. I was moving to pull back the battered 2nd Blue infantry so that they could rally when the cavalry attack forced them into square and then pinned them in place to rally until Red's infantry could renew the assault.

The Blue Dragoons on the other bank were wasted. It looked too congested where the infantry fight was but I was reluctant to commit them to a counter attack up their bank of the river since there seemed little point in driving back a few skirmishers and much risk if it went badly. Red's cavalry found room for piecemeal squadron attacks on the other side though. Attacks which were useful as opposed to crushing. If the Dragoons had been pulled across the support the infantry, the Guard could have been deployed into the field to cover the retreat of Blue's front line or to counter attack Red's infantry when it was shaken and somewhat disordered by its attack. This might well have changed the game. On the other hand if the Dragoons had been thrown into an attack against the weaker pinning forces earlier and supported by the infantry, Red might have suffered enough damage to  shake the morale of the army..

Army Morale.  I recently reduced army morale from 1/2 to 1/3 to shorten games. I also did away with separate brigade morale. One plan for Blue might have been to attack and break if possible the pinning forces. Should that have had a major effect on the main attack? Perhaps the rule, which is only an "in the absence of other victory conditions" should be made even more flexible by saying 1/3 to 1/2 as agreed before the game unless other victory conditions are chosen?

At the moment, Blue's army has had 1 brigade effectively destroyed with 13 out of 15 stands lost. 9 of those stands were lost in 1 turn and 2 more in pursuit so a 50% brigade rule wouldn't have helped. The question is, can the rest of the army hold if the break point was 1/2 instead of 1/3rd  or if each brigade has to be broken separately?  The game is still set up and I am tempted to play on and see if either of these make a change for the good or if Blue has already slipped past the point of no return.

Table & Troop Size & Terrain. It is no accident that the battlefield resembles the sort of battlefield seen in the War of 1812 with a few small clearings scattered here and there, that's the sort of terrain that was to be found in this part of the world in the early 19thC.  I don't think its an accident that most 1812 battles weren't fought with larger armies and more cavalry even when these were available in theater if not at hand. Its just too hard to maneuver and supply troops in wooded areas with few roads and cavalry can't mass for effective charges.  However, while its interesting while exploring an historical war, its limiting in a bad way when playing generic Horse & Musket games. In particular, while I am committed to my 40mm Toys, I need some combination of less terrain and/or a bigger table. Look to see my 40mm battles moving to the more open and arid areas of Atlantica when I get back from Huzzah!  Somewhere cavalry can maneuver.

Even then, I am near the upper limits of how many 40mm units I can put on the table and still maneuver. This is on the lower end of what Hearts of Tin was supposed to handle.  The question is, is there enough meat to keep even smaller battles interesting? In theory I'm not sure there is, in practice, every time I've tried it, there has been. So this is nothing but a question and an excuse for playing more games. The obvious alternative is to haul out MacDuff and continue to fine tune it while exploring ways to make it work with multi-figure bases as well as singles but at the moment I intend to persevere with HofT for both scales & periods. The 1/72nd ACW is under no such cloud and I expect them to see considerable action as the year goes by.

Optional Rules. As a by product of the previous point, I found myself missing a few rules which I had removed because they required administrative work which I found tedious and game slowing when the number of units on table rose to 2 dozen or more. In fact some of these rules have been put in, taken out, put back in and taken out again several times. In one of those Duh! head slapping moments, I realized that this made them ideal Optional rules which can be used, some or all, or ignored by players as they wish, game by game. I'll probably use them with 40mm games and ignore them with 1/7nd ACW games.

The 3 rules are:
1) Fire and movement. A unit which fires or fights in melee will suffer a -2 to its next order check. (this means tracking  this across turns as well as tracking if a unit has fired yet this turn).

2) First fire. Troops with muskets get a one extra die per 2 stands if they have not yet fired or fought in melee during this game. (This means a separate bit of tracking. I prefer to use some form of marker that can be removed when they do fire or fight.)

3) Fresh Troops. In similar fashion, units which fight in melee get an extra die per 2 stands if they have not yet fired or fought in melee. (Same tracking as 1st fire thankfully but for more units)

These optional rules are now included in the on line copy.


  1. Excellent!

    Brigrade and Army morale can be a tricky relationship. I tend to think that Army morale is best when the number of brigades/units is low. When there a larger number of brigades/units I prefer to have brigade morale while keeping the army morale, but basing the army morale on the number of brigades broken. I suspect this is more related to counting than anything else.

  2. Yup, definitely tricky. Every approach I've tried so far has had pros and cons. There's a lot to be said for time or turn limits and scenario Victory Conditions.