Thursday, January 31, 2013

After the battle comes...


"Eh? Oh. No thank you Mr Kinch, but you two go in." 

Two Canadian militia officers on their way to the front. Both of Irish origin but born in the US and emigrated to Canada where they have just received their uniforms and commissions to go with their Sashes and Sabers

Where was I?

Ah yes, post game thoughts.

The scenario was, of course, a somewhat reduced version of Sittingbad, the sample game from the Advanced Rules in Lawford & Young's Charge!  The table was about 1/4 of the original size and the units roughly equivalent to a Charge! company or squadron so also reduced by 1/3 to 1/4, except for the artillery which I inadvertently fielded at 1:1. The rules were the latest version of With MacDuff to the Frontier using 16 figure infantry units with 8 light infantry or cavalry.  If I had played the game in 20mm using Hearts of Tin I would probably substituted a 3 regiment brigade for each unit thus bringing the game more in line with the original.

The Red Queen's forces were selected to defend and deployed on table with the mission of defending a bridgehead for 15 turns then withdrawing as many troops as possible and blowing the bridge. In theory supplies are being evacuated but since the table was crowded enough with 40mm troops, I didn't bother adding wagons to be loaded and moved but like Lawford & Young assumed that the Commissary was looking after that part. I did use my own engineering rules for the demolition and the fortification of part of the town.

The Queen's army was composed of General Turner with ADC, 3 brigades, an independent battery of foot artillery and a detachment of 8 sappers with an Engineer. Colonel Nolan led the cavalry camped in the plain in the middle of the table: the Princess Charlotte Dragoons and Larsen's Lancers. Brigadier Stonefort's Brigade was composed of the Young Buff's and 1/2 the Green Tigers, both billeted in the town along with the artillery and pioneers. Brigadier Glasse had charge of the Victoria Rifles manning the outlying village of Fulford and the Royals camped in the plain.

The Blue Republic's troops were attacking from an off table position with 1/4 of the army allowed to enter on each turn. General Scott commanded with the help of an ADC. Brigadier Kearny was first on with 2 regiments of Dragoons and the Frontier Light Horse plus a battery of Horse Artillery. Brigadier St. John followed on the right with the Volunteer Brigade comprised of the Portland Rifles (light infantry rifles) and the Layette County Rifles (musket armed regular infantry in fact) and 2 batteries of artillery. Brigadier Zinn was last on, moving up the center with the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Infantry of the Oberhilse Field Force.

This was the first MacDuff game in which I used the PIPs and the ADC rule from Square Brigadier (the Pips part obviously being umh... borrowed... from DBA). I love the way the combination works. A well organized army can generally move what needs to be moved and a careful general can store up extra Pips before launching an attack so it won't run out of steam if he gets 1 bad roll. However, once brigades get broken up needing more command points to activate units and if there is a string of bad rolls or if a General gets over ambitious, tries to do too much at once and depends on a lucky break to commit the reserve... well... good luck to him. It is quick and has elements of both chance and choice and a minimum and maximum limit to what can be done.

In the game just played, the defending side managed to horde PIPS, passing up opportunities to rally troops or to make a response when needed to make sure there would be enough orders available when it came time to blow the bridge, even if a 1 was rolled. The Attacker, not only suffered from slightly lower than average rolls, but his attacks got split up and extra PIPS were used to keep pushing forward. Rarely were any spare orders available for Rallying and there was no time to stop the attack to reorganize. On the 2nd to last turn Blue had a chance for a final, last ditch assault with a chance, not a good chance but a chance to capture the bridge before it was blown, With all Pips having been expended already, a "1" doused that last ember of hope leaving only the chance that the demolition would flop.

However, it didn't take long to see that there was a mis-match between several rules intended for card or initiative play  where there was no telling who would be moving first or going twice and an IGOUGO system where Pips determined how many units could move but where the sequence never changes. Luckily, I had been working on a reaction system last year which I had really liked but had largely dropped because it didn't work well with an unpredictable sequence. There was a short break to fix the issues and I resumed play. The result was excellent! Its up to the General to maneuver his units but once engaged by the enemy they will fight on their own though a push from above is needed to keep them attacking.

I also faced another old problem which I had been dancing around. To get the combat odds to work the way I wanted, its easiest if I throw more dice than I am happy to throw. OK for an 8 man unit to throw 4 dice but when  a 20 man unit has to roll 10, my eyes roll too. The underlying issue is that there are some rare historical events involving very very short range fire that I want to be possible but not common. It finally dawned on me that any rule that allowed for the result to happen at 80 or 100 yards was going to be wrong anyway and that really, they were best considered a melee result and I just sifted back through last years experiments for the lower numbers of dice charts that had worked best.

When I wrote the first version of MacDuff, I was thinking in terms of 25mm fictional Colonial or French & Indian War games with a company of 8-12 regular infantry as the basic unit but provision for a 2-4 company regiment ala Charge! Once I started looking at refighting historical War of 1812, Afghan/Sikh War actions etc I ran into problems. Essentially most actions were either too small or too big and anyway, the company was never really a tactical unit so shouldn't have a separate existence. In order to fit any of the engagements on my table I needed a ground scale of somewhere between 15 and 30 yards per inch which left each of my figures representing 15 to 30 men because of the amount of table they take up.  On paper a company might have 80 men but in the field somewhere between 40 and 60 was more common, in other words, 2 figures, 4 on a good day.

Now my intent had been to follow  the philosophy of Lawford and Young and not get hung up on consistency of detail but somewhere along the way I have picked up a lot of baggage! Anyhow, reading back through various battle reports and experiments over the last 3 years reinforced my gut feeling that Featherstonian units of around 16 to 24 men worked best for me for TableTop Teaser type games as long as I didn't waste time and effort worrying about the underlying theoretical scales. My first choice was 24 man infantry and 12 cavalry/light infantry as they are very flexible numbers for when I do want to sub-divide when a detachment is needed and they look substantial enough on the table. Unfortunately, when using washers, a 12 man frontage is just too wide and I run out of room to deploy the troops on my 5x6 table.   Sixteen and 8 work almost as well on paper and were OK during this and other games but they are weak, especially if a detachment is made, and they just don't look like much.

Last year I tried 20 man units. You wouldn't think a few extra figures make a difference and this is  a very inconvenient number to work with but the units fit and they do look just big enough.  Its also a nice middle ground between Featherstone's 20+2 and Charge!'s 16+3 and it matches Mosrchauser's recommended unit size.  As it happens, many if not most of my Toy Soldier units have already been painted to the 20/10 standard so, so be it! My standard units for Atlantica will be 20 infantry, 10 light infantry or cavalry or 1 gun with 4 or 6 crew. Officers etc are included in those numbers.

In case it wasn't clear, I had good fun playing this game. In fact I meant to play for an hour and then go attend to some household matters but everything faded in to the background until the bridge blew almost 3 hours later.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Oberhilse Attacks!


A fresh onslaught on Faraway has been launched by Oberhilse's Bluecoats under the command of General Scott. Ever since the rebellion in the Blue River Valley, there has been speculation that the Republic would try and profit from the disturbance and at last it has come. General Turner had just time to rush to the front by rail and then horse to take command of the Queen's forces at Standington. 

Every one expected a swift withdrawal in the face of a superior force but General Turner is not one to abandon the property of the Queen's subjects to the enemy who is well known to make no distinction between private and public goods. It was deemed  particularly important to convey the stocks of medicines and food stuffs from the Drug Store and Market in Standington and so the Queen's Redcoats found themselves roused early on the morning of the 27th past and marched out to meet the foe. 

Our correspondent on the frontier has filed this report.

Rarely have I seen such confusion. The Queens troops spilled from their billets and made their way eastward through throngs of the Queen's loyal subjects hurrying to carry their most precious belongings to safety. Carts and wagons plugged the streets and a cacophony assaulted the ears. Suddenly the booming roar of a cannon announced the arrival of the foe. This had a salutary effect on increasing the speed of departure but it was clear that it would be late in the day before the bridge was clear of civilian traffic so that the Queen's troops could pass over, destroying the bridge to deny the enemy passage. Since it was likely that a day's battle lay ahead, a few of us climbed up on the rooftops to view the coming action while we waited for the pressing crowd to thin.

Far off in the distance lay Iron Hill which was topped by blue cavalry and the battery that had caused such alarm. Between the town and the hill lay the Cavalry Brigade of Colonel Nolan, the target of the enemy's attentions. To their right front the Victoria Rifles could just be seen putting the little hamlet of Fulford into  a defensive posture with the Royal Fusiliers under Brigadier Glasse in support. As we watched, the guns of Battery B of the Royal Artillery galloped out of the town, across the plain, deployed and opened fire, driving the Blue gunners from their post. Behind them came the red coated infantry of Brigadier Stoneforte, marching apparently for Iron Wood to answer the threat to the left flank offered by Oberhilse's Frontier Light Horse. Across the street we could hear pioneers hard at work turning the Drug Store and Market into small forts.

For a while I thought perhaps that the threat had been exaggerated and this was all the excitement we were to see but then more enemy were spotted cresting the hill, first green clad riflemen then the  dark blue coats of the Lafeyette Volunteers. Soon after that we heard the sharp crack of rifles  from Fulford. While we had been distracted, the soldiers of the famous Brigadier Zinn's 1st Brigade of the Oberhilse Field Force had deployed and were marching rapidly to assault Fulford. Outnumbered 4 to 1, the Victoria's were soon bundled out of town, rallying behind their supports.

The sun was climbing high in the sky as the blue infantry reformed their lines under the cover of a heavy long range fire from their guns on Iron Hill and on the plain near Fulford. As their cavalry finally moved forward we expected a tremendous fight but General Turner is not one to throw away troops and at the last moment the red line filed to the rear under the cover of skirmishers like they were on parade. The Frontier Light Horse galloped forward, firing from the saddle and yelling like Hooligans but a short sharp charge by Larsen's Lancers scattered them to the wind and the retirement continued unhindered.

Looking behind, we could see the traffic thinning and the sight of pioneers laying charges led a few of our company of onlookers to excuse themselves and head west to attend to their affairs.

From the woods, down off the hill and through Fulford, a tide of Blue surged forward and suddenly, the plain which had been so full of red a short while ago , was a sea of blue. Soon volleys of musketry rippled up and down as the infantry engaged but the guns of B Battery swept away all who stood before them. 

Suddenly, over top the constant rattle of musketry we heard an urgent bugle call,  repeated, again and again. From behind us came an answering call and looking down we could see the magnificent Lancers sweeping forward again, deploying by troops as they exited the streets and disappearing into the smoke. Moments later a handful of riders and somewhat more empty horses swept back down through the  street. To our horror, they were followed  by a horde of blue clad Dragoons! Charging out of the smoke they were in amongst the gunners of B Battery before another shot could be fired.  What chance did they have? Those gunners who survived ran for cover leaving their guns in the enemy's hands. The Royals, their flank now exposed, had no choice but to also fall back into the protection of the houses behind them.

As the enemy cavalry pulled back, we faced a fresh horror. Suddenly shot and shell from the enemy batteries, unchallenged since B battery's demise, rained down on the town. Below us, we could see the enemy's First Infantry with their famous red raincoats rolled over their shoulder as these veterans faultlessly performed the complexities of a passage of lines under fire and prepared to assault the town.

The sun was now low in the sky and it was time for us to go so we wished the Victoria's well as they took up defensive positions and we made our way through the streets dodging stray balls, dust and debris. Behind us we could hear the roar of musketry as the assault went in and soon a Blue enemy flag could be seen on a roof top and small groups of wounded and of haggard red and green coated infantry were falling back through town.

Ahead of us, the horses of the Princess Charlotte Dragoons filled the bridge and suddenly we could hear firing ahead of us from along the river bank! The enemy infantry that we had seen emerging from the woods must be assaulting the bridgehead! Casting our eyes warily about us we pressed down the street, through a company of the Royals deployed at the very foot of the bridge and all but scrambled across the bridge as the engineers were preparing to fire the fuses. We, with the Royals on our heels, had barely cleared the way when there was a tremendous roar and the sky was full of smoke and debris.

When our ears cleared a little, we could hear the subdued rattle of musketry still. It appeared that the stores had been evacuated and the bridge successfully blown but 2 companies had had to left to hold the bridgehead. Casualties had been heavy on the troops engaged, including 2 Brigadiers, with only the Dragoons escaping unscathed, and two guns had been lost but the mission had been achieved and the enemy had suffered even heavier losses in men if not material.

As usual, once the heat of battle had cooled, our enemy was gracious and allowed us to evacuate our wounded and the remaining companies. A truce was patched up leaving Standington in enemy hands for now but I do not expect it to last.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Early Edition

Sally offers General Turner refreshment during a lull in the action.

Word has it that the next issue of The Newport Noodle  will contain an account of the stirring  action at Standington on the Oberhilse Frontier which took place today. .

Friday, January 25, 2013

Standington Bridge - Teaser

In the distance, the first Republican scouts top the crest of Iron Hill.

Apart from wanting to get back to Atlantica for the MacDuff game, I was stuck for what do for a scenario so I started to lay out some random terrain. OK so some of you are thinking, "Random?  That looks familiar....". 

Well, it started out random-ish, just looking for something other than a pitched battle. I started thinking "attack on a shore battery", but I've done that a couple of times over the last year and  still haven't made a "proper" lake/ocean shore. Somehow  the thoughts "delaying action" and "bridge demolition"   popped into my head and collided. Step by step, that led me here.  

Confusion reigns in Standington as the long roll rouses the Queen's troops.

Hopefully I'll get to play tomorrow.

Diamonds and Rust (updated)

Its amazing how much time can be sunk in trying to reorganize a crowded room. Its like one of those Chinese puzzles where every piece has to be moved any time you want to move anything. After a full week with 6-8 hours a day (and that's more full than many of my "work" days, lazy slob that I am) the job isn't really finished, it has just reached a plateau but it is usable which it hasn't been since the week of troubles that started this year.

A gratuitous shot of some 42mm Drabant 17thC Poles that I bought 5 years ago because I am a big fan of With Fire & Sword and painted in November. Since there is no way I am starting armies of 42mm  Winged Hussars and Cossack, the original but vain hope was that I could fit these lovely guys into a future 16th C Turkish army as some sort of Slavic ally/subjects. Off to ebay I think before they can do any harm. 

The difference probably wouldn't even be noticeable to a casual  observer but the shelves have been re-arranged to make it easier to see the troops and to get them on and off the shelf when needed. This has been accomplished largely by swapping out the brackets and doubling the shelves thus doubling the depth but also doubling the space between them. Since there was an odd number of shelves and extra shelves, left over from my previous 2 room set up, I was able to increase the total square footage as well.

While I was doing this I moved my painting desk again since the "new" location just wasn't working for me. My painting time seems to have shrunk drastically after I plopped the desk right in front of the door last year. I also squeezed in an area to store some non-wargaming tools - not yet totally organized, and I reamed out one the big hidden cupboard under the eaves.

In some ways it was a sobering if not depressing experience as I came across the trail of broken and abandoned projects left by my jumps from 15mm to 54mm and back down to 40mm, by the departure of friends  which left orphan projects behind with the thought that "one day" I would finish both sides, and of impulsive indulgences in Nostalgia, particular various old toys. There was also the shameful evidence of too many moves to inadequate spaces without proper storage over 40 years and of widely traveled armies full of multi-part figures and delicate conversions. None of this was new of course but it was intensive since I spent a whole week at it. Most of the evidence has been re-buried more neatly but not all of it and my determination to look ahead not back has been reinforced. More winnowing and tough  decisions lie ahead I'm afraid as I combine that determination  to finally start doing many of the new things I have put off with a renewed determination to live within my space, energy and time as well as my means which entails being able to display and play with what I have without the weight of hidden hordes and of constantly improvising too many things at once.

I have sampled widely for 40 years and have spent the last 3 years in particular stress testing  choices and narrowing requirements while wallowing in nostalgia. Its time to move forward into calmer waters.
More than that, I finally succeeded in cleared the table this morning and can now move freely, all the way around it without dodging things. Time for that delayed game of MacDuff.


ps The title comes from a line in a Joan Baez song, "We all know what memories can bring, they bring diamonds and rust". Also covered by Judas Priest apparently, who knew? Anyway for those not familiar:

Friday, January 18, 2013

Second Trial

Last night I made time to play another test of the Square Brigadier. Ancients this time, fictional bordering on fantasy but ancients none the less. The narrative Battle Report is on my Gathering of Hosts Blog but I'm going to keep the rules stuff here. The game was sufficient fun to play that I am going to keep the 3" wide units even in the big table, fielding more units rather than larger ones if I want to see more troops on the table. That means that the Gathering of Hosts rules might just be the grid-less variant of these of even just the ancients version of SB with the names changed and non-relevant bits removed. Another grid-less game is required before I decide but I'm almost ready to start twisting Ron's arm to try them on his Hexon terrain.  

I found one goof in the first play test of SB and found another, cavalry related, in this 2nd play test game. The cavalry charge bonus was supposed to be +1 die per unit not +1 per die. I also noted that disordered units (broken by any other name)  were not mentioned under the army morale rule so added that in. If too many troops are allowed to run for safety there should be a risk of it catching on. I also added back in the description of what constitutes front as mentioned last time.

There were a few special rules that seemed to be cropping up in every period chart so I added Light Infantry back as a unit type and transferred their movement bonuses and the evade rule from the unit charts to the rules. Apart from that I felt the need to expand on and fiddle with a few of the period unit characteristics. For example, the pike phalanx was a little too flexible for comfort.

It would be soooo easy to add more and more particulars to ancients units since they cover such a  wide variety of equipment and tactics but I'm pretty sure I can live within the parameters that I have set and that they cover the really essential bits from a macro or effect level.

I think I have a solution for rearranging my games room without taking the table and rebuilding it, at least temporarily, so that will be my goal for the weekend.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Convergence: Testing the Square ACW Brigadier

Gratuitous cell snapshot of the action mid-game.

By the time I actually got to setting up a game last night I was pretty tired so, instead of a carefully designed scenario, I took an idea from an old vaguely remembered OTR (On To Richmond) scenario published in The Courier decades ago, grabbed what I could find in the way of troops and scenery without digging too far, headed downstairs, let the dogs out and started putting stuff on the board. My intent was to field a division of 12 - 15 units on each side but there weren't enough troops in the box I had grabbed unless I went with 1 stand units which just looked too thin on the ground. The Yankees ended up with 6 regiments, a battery and a General, the Rebs found 5 regiments, 2 batteries and a General.  Each side entered from opposing corners  heading for a road junction leading over a critical bridge that their force had been sent to secure.

By Turn 5 the battle lines are forming, in the morning twilight apparently..

 The armies had obviously been forced marching and both Generals were too tired to come up with a cunning plan so each side rushed down the road as far as was safe then started deploying lead elements and opening fire while units from the rear constantly extended the line towards the objective.

A Federal attempt to flank the Rebel line has been repulsed.

The Yankees were taking a bit of a pounding on their right but on their left, by the objective, they managed to push into a gap between the Reb line and the river and  launched one of the few charges of the game. The Reb infantry calmly refused their flank and rolled two sixes and a five sending the Flanking Blue-bellies reeling. The second Yankee regiment obviously dismayed whiffed their roll. As the Rebs pushed forward to exploit their success, they took heavy losses in turn while the Yanks clung stubbornly to their positions. On both sides losses mounted and the Generals were forced to constantly risk the bullets to hold their men in the line. The loss of the Federal battery to counter battery fire sealed  the matter and the battered blue division pulled back.

   The end of the day.

So, what did I think?

I was pretty tired going in and with a simple scenario and small forces, didn't expect much and didn't take notes and almost didn't take pictures except that once it got going I perked up and began to be interested in the game. So that's a plus.

Because there were few units and the game bogged down into a long range firefight, the turns flew by. I didn't keep any track but just estimating distances traveled and allowing for remembered events, it was somewhere close to 20 turns in about an hour and 1/2. The extended firefight is not untypical for the ACW so I have no issues with that.

The difference between the rifled and smooth bore artillery may have been a little overstated but the rules weren't meant to be a detailed recreation of ordinance capabilities  but rather to exagerate and highlight tactical differences and from that POV it worked. The rifles were best employed as long range   weapons while the smooth bores excelled at the close range fight but both gave good service in both roles. Due to the unplanned encounter both sides actually found their rifles deployed under infantry fire while the Reb Napoleon was initially providing long range support. Eventually this was all sorted and the extra firepower from the cannister along the fence  helped turn the tide.

About 1/2 way through the game I did encounter one issue. Rather than working with the draft of the Square Brigadier, I started with HofT and just changed what was necessary. In the process of adding the Give Ground rule, I inverted it from the way I had been playing it before Christmas. It was supposed to (and now does) read that units can cancel 1 hit by retreating. I had written instead that a unit can cancel all except 1 hit. oops! That took the rule from meaning that low intensity combat was more likely to drive the enemy back rather than destroying him to the exact opposite.  Anyway, its been fixed.  

Having looked again recently at Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame, I was a bit more ruthless than usual in stripping out unnecessary fussiness. In a fit of madness though I deleted the paragraph defining the arc of fire to the front.   Having units just turn to face worked ok and if I hadn't removed the requirement for units in brigade formations to be aligned as well as adjacent, it would have had the right effect. The temptation to put the fussy bits about formation back in is strong but the desire for clean and simple is stronger so I'll put the arc of fire back in so units don't  have to fiddle about.

Lastly, with small forces I didn't use any ADC's which somewhat reduced player choices but there were only 1 or 2 occasions where players had to miss opportunities due to scattered formations and a lack of orders. That's about right to my mind, especially since both sides rolled above average on numbers of orders. More important was the reappearance of the move or fire rule which made it easy for an attack to stall and turn into a prolonged and indecisive firefight. A frequent enough problem in history. The Yanks did try one assault which got slammed by the dice but if the dice had been reversed it might have been decisive.

The terrain board worked ok but there are still some areas where the grid gets lost when terrain or troops start covering it, especially in dim light. Nothing I wasn't able to handle but it needs work and more hills and roads.

On the whole I still like the feel of these rules. Now I want to try a bigger ACW game,  and an ancients and an RCW version of the Square Brigadier. I also want to play HofT and see how 3 element units feel vs the unit is a unit. In other words is there anything to be gained compared with just losing the grid and playing on the bigger table? Then there is that terrain issue and a frame for the board. Oh and I want to get back to naming ACW units and generals and marking them as well as rebasing and refurnishing the new recruits.and there is a queue on the painting desk.......

Hopefully next week will be quiet!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Back in Hot Water

Quite literally. After more than a week  of heating water for washing on the stove I have finished installing a new hot water heater to replace a broken one and installed it in a better location. Yeah Sharkbite! (My new favorite plumbing accessory, beats the hell out of using a torch in cramped quarters, thank you Australia.) We now have heat and hot and cold running water again. All the modern conveniences!

Anyhow, I was hoping to get my table cleared of debris and a game of MacDuff laid out but I was beat by the time I finished and it didn't happen. I don't think  it will happen until I take the table down, install a tool/workshop area at the back of my wargames room, rearrange bookshelves and stuff and maybe figures and put the table back up. 4th effort in this house to claim a space to organize tools and do small things. There are days when I look at the snow out my window and think of Ney relentlessly fighting a  rearguard action day after day during a long retreat.  

So, I broke out the Square Brigadier, harmonized it and posted it. Essentially HofT for all ages but on a grid with 1 stand units.   I haven't done any sample early 20thC Unit Characteristic charts and special rules yet as they will be extensive needing AFV's, MG's, indirect artillery, air support, telephones and so on but from (very) generic ancients up to basic ACW there are sample period charts and rules for the 3 periods I intend to use plus the 18thC.  The full HofT and the Gathering of Hosts will use the same mechanics minus the grid but with 3-5 stand units and a place for Brigadiers in HofT since it is intended for larger games.

With a bit of luck I'll get a trial game of SB in before bed.

The rules can be found at left or here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sometimes a wheel is a wheel and a wall is a wall.

I knew from past experience that it was probably a doomed effort but sometimes its worth trying to push the rock up the hill again anyway. You might learn something when it comes rolling back down and I think I have. The process of trying to cover not only multiple periods but multiple game styles has helped to bring differences into relief beyond the obvious visible ones. There's been little time and less energy around here for hobby stuff over the last week but these things tend to continue to process in background mode and any time there are idle brain cycles, they tend to pop back to mind. (Probably helps explains why I live in a crooked house.)

I still don't want to rewrite 4 different rule sets front to back every time I get a new idea that seems to have wider application and I still want to have as many shared mechanisms as possible so that I can leap from 1 game to another and still remember how to play with minimal use of reference sheets which I misplace constantly during games. The new proposal, if I can work it, is to have a balance between shared and specific concepts and language. Where possible common rules, such as command control, will be written in as distinct paragraphs using shared terms so that can cut and paste whole paragraphs if there is a major change. Game specific paragraphs will contain as few as possible direct repetition of or reference to common rules so that one change will not require a cascade of changes.  I prefer having everything cross referenced and in specific language but it has been a pain whenever I have made changes and inevitably references get missed. Maybe, when the rules have each gone 5 years with no change, I'll come back and make them more user friendly.

So, that will leave me where I started with 4 separate rule sets that share some common methodology but each with distinct elements.:

Gathering of Hosts for fairly generic Ancient/Medieval//Fantasy games using indivisible units.

With MacDuff to the Frontier for single figure Horse & Musket/Rifle games, primarily for Table Top Teaser type games with forces normally  ranging from all arms detachments of roughly brigade size  up to division size. .

Hearts of Tin  (HofT) for slightly bigger battles using battalions with 3-5 elements as the normal unit and armies of Division to Corps size.

The Square Brigadier. My version of a small gridded game inspired by Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame but with mechanisms based on HofT.

If all goes well this afternoon, I intend to take a few hours of hobby time tonight and tomorrow  so perhaps a small game and some typing time.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Friction in Life and on the Table

My planned Winter Campaign Season still seems  to be more like the Winter Construction Season but not only is there progress on the domestic front but I slipped away for a game on Friday. 

Somewhere, in a land long ago and far away, the British are trying to blow a bridge before an advancing force of hostile natives can seize it. 

Yes, it was another Colonial Battlecry Grant Teaser and another fun afternoon full of dice, decisions and desperate moments. Ron is still on a Sudan kick to the point where he caught himself pricing another table full of desert terrain.   I'm quite happy to consider it just another Colonial campaign somewhere.

Our rule variant seems set with our native firearm skirmishers having a factor of 2-2-2-2 while the spearmen are 4--- (Brits are 4-3-2-1 for comparison with that being the number of dice rolled at 1,2,3 and 4 hexes). The natives are allowed to retreat a full move on a flag while British regulars may ignore 1. A random process ended with me being the native and attacker coming in from off table while Ron's troops were asleep in camp apart from some Engineers busy planting charges. There not being any rules for demolition, we allowed an Engineer officer (treated as a General) to plant 1 die each time the unit he was with was ordered and did not move or shoot. The dice could be rolled if ordered to battle with crossed sabers being a hit on the bridge. 3 hits being needed to destroy a section.
The Infamous Camel General has 2 more units shot out from underneath him.

I elected to come on in two columns, cavalry supported by riflemen and shock troops on the right, riflemen, a cannon and spearmen up the center. There were 2 probable options for me,  push troops forward and make a concentrated attack or send troops forward as quickly as possible, hoping to forestall the engineers. Given my lack of firepower, a mad dash seemed the best route and my cavalry almost wiped out the engineering party, thanks in part to a random reinforcement of Fuzzies. For back up though, instead of  more spearmen to keep up the pressure, I had snipers and a very slow artillery piece blocking the road. Oops.

Work resumes while some lancers guard the approach.

It took a while but eventually the sniping did some good and more spearmen were finally in place as the sun went down. They managed to capture the center of the bridge but the far end was blown in their face. The bridge wasn't totally destroyed but it was not completely intact either and in any case, despite  having 9 units of spearmen in reserve, I hadn't  captured it. (Once again we played all the way through the deck with that being a day if neither side breaks).

There were times last week when we had one problem after another, chimney fire, pump problems then a hot water tank leak, and it felt like a bad hand of cards or a series of bad activation rolls. Looking more calmly though each of the problems we had was the outcome of a known issue which we had not dealt with fully yet and were just hoping could be put off a while longer. They weren't really random at all. Many military blunders or misfortunes are similarly related to a failure of commanders to be sufficiently proactive. During the game there were several times when I either didn't have the cards I wanted or couldn't make good use of some really good cards that I had. It might have felt a bit like bad luck but if I had thought more about the capabilities of my troops and what the mission and situation was that I was sending them into then a battle plan which drew on my strengths, not on my weaknesses would have allowed me full use of those same cards and might well have changed the fortunes of the day.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Yes it is.

The question was "Is it worth maintaining 2 sets of rules if many or most of the rules are the same?".

I haven't had much time for wargame stuff over the last few days due to some domestic issues taking priority. (Both heating and running water appear to be thought  important by some members of the household) However, despite the expense, effort and emotional stress, I have taken a bit of time here and there to continue rebasing my 1812 Americans from too small flex steel bottoms to washers for greater stability and to match the British and I've had time to consider the question.

In short the flip side of the question is "What is gained and lost by trying to write one set of rules to handle two different styles of game?" Without going into details both sides lost something while gaining mere convenience. In particular what would normally be MacDuff games lost much of their OSW and toy soldier appeal while being too small to make good Hoft games while the HofT games lost some of their simplicity and smooth operation without gaining flavour. In particular the simple difference in troop quality was lost.

In order to reduce my own confusion I am going to share as many aspects of the rules as possible. For example the Order system is easy, effective and will work just as well with both systems so it will be shared. Likewise while 1 rule set will have one die for so many figures and the other will have so many dice per stand, the scores to hit and modifiers can be the same. Morale and the effect of hits on the other hand will have to be slightly different to get the appropriate feel, It will take a while to harmonize the fiddly bits and charts in HofT to match MacDuff but MacDuff is ready for a spin and feeling better than ever.

One of the bugbears that has been haunting me for the last 5 years is the question of matching historical War of 1812 to game units and maintaining scale without degrading the game as a game. I'm happy to announce that I've given up and admitted failure. The rules will allow you to try since what constitutes a unit is not fixed  but I am falling back on my original OSW inspiration  and will focus on about playing games and letting the armies build their own history. I've also decide to stop considering selling my original chunky units and redoing them just as the armies are coming together. Maybe I can build the missing Dragoons for both sides instead. .

Monday, January 7, 2013

Fort Improvise - Planning Game 2

The game in the last post was an enjoyable way to spend and hour or two, better than another game of solitaire on the computer but as Bluebear Jeff pointed out in a comment, I had not described it as "fun". Now "fun" is a nebulous and personal thing but since "having fun" is one of the main reasons I play with toy soldiers, it bears thinking about none the less.

Since this was a previously untested scenario, using a set of rules I don't usually use for this period, with a slightly different organization than I normally use with these figures and played solo with a plan of following the historical precedent as closely as possible without fudging, the questions arose of what impact each of these four aspects had on the degree of fun experienced and what steps, if any, could be taken to make the game more fun?

A good starting point would be a review of the sorts of things that tend to contribute to a game being fun for me. (click here for a related post on rules qualities from 2010). To overly summarize, I like there to be challenge and drama.

Challenge preferably comes at least in part from an opponent but also from the situation and, for me, implies that I will be able to make decisions that affect the outcome, not just once but at frequent points through the game.

Drama comes not only from tension surrounding moments of decision but from being being able to build a story which, for me, includes knowing who the actors are, having them have a history and being able to recognize them on a table. This is one of the advantages to fictional armies where one can build such a history without bending a real one by doing things like using the 41st Foot at Crysler's Farm or calling them the 49th Foot.  Tension can come from trying to out maneuver an opponent but usually comes from  die rolls or other forms of chance when there is a lot riding on that particular roll. Again, too many meaningless rolls can drain the excitement while having a few die rolls be critical can make the whole game feel a bit like a crap shoot. Having too many small units tends towards them becoming faceless hordes, having too few   tends towards either a lack of depth in a game if one or 2 turns is enough to decide it, or towards a dull and tedious game if turn after turn goes by with nothing much happening as slow attrition takes its toll.

So how did the game stack up for each of these?

Well, when it came to challenge it was near to non-existent since I wasn't really playing either side in this test, other than to make minor decisions. The closest was choosing whether to send the reserve over the bridge or to throw them against the militia first. The battle plans for both sides were set. Having an opponent might have helped as would having picked one side and programmed the other but when looking at set up and victory conditions, there really weren't a lot of  choice available to either player. The only way to change that would be to allow the players more room to make their own plans and that is what I normally try to do with scenarios once I'm satisfied that the historical action is a plausible result. There are a couple of options here, one is to jigger the forces, or the set up or the terrain.

The first thing is that the Americans (and often the British) tended to find the Indians very unpredictable. To simulate this while adding uncertainty and player choices I will change the Indian deployment. Instead of starting some units in the woods and the rest in camp I will start them all off board and allow the Indian player to deploy units through out the game in any patch of woods. This will give the Indian player the challenge of choosing when and where to commit his units and should make the American player nervous about his flanks. It will also make it easier to achieve the historical result of surrounding a large portion of the American militia.

The second is to change the layout to make the action more central and let the British reinforcements move up off table. I was a little curious about the bridge in the map I was using since it is not mentioned other than on that one map. I dug out my copy of Antal's Wampum Denied and no bridge appears there but there are rapids south of the British batteries forcing the Americans to cross the river off table to the south while the British have to cross the river off table to the North. Other than the Indians, all troops will have to be committed before the game begins making an interesting choice and making the mobile Indians even more valuable.

If the game is then played without being constricted to historical choices either as a multi-player (ie 2 or more) or solo vs a programmed enemy the game should become more engaging.

Drama and story telling was slightly diminished because I had not really established who was who in terms of units and officers. Was the 3rd Ohio  itself for today or was it standing for some Kentucky militia and which officer is this again?   That's easily fixed once the game is treated as a generic scenario. Less easily fixed is where drama meets tension. Instead of the plot building to a big climax it felt like there were some almost too quick outcomes interspersed with stretches where nothing much was happening.

On paper, there were several incidents that sound like they SHOULD have been notable  but they didn't really feel like it. The rout of the Grenadiers is an example, logically the clash between 2 companies each of 4 figures was no different than a clash between two Charge! companies of 19 figures would have been. In both cases there would be 4 dice of fire and it would take an above average roll to rout the opponent but somehow this didn't feel as drastic as such a result in Charge! would have been, possible because there were fewer "bodies". The fact that it didn't really affect the over all outcome of the counter attack may be significant and possibly if the British and Americans had each been treated as a single unit instead of a group of small ones, the result might have felt more dramatic. Of course since I've had very similar instances in 2 player Battlecry games feel dramatic it may simply reflect a lack of over all engagement due to the other factors.

There were also some rules issues though. Hearts of Tin was originally written for larger armies of "stands" or "elements".  Taking those rules and using single stands as units on a grid didn't change the feel but I have been uneasy with trying to get the right feel with a free choice of single figures or elements. I did experiment with a Black Powder-ish  approach where a unit is a unit regardless of figures or elements but while I don't have an objection to the concept I don't find it as satisfying as either the figure or element approach. I went back to the element approach with single figures being just so many Strength points gathered into imaginary elements and it does work. For some reason though, if the figures aren't stuck on bases, the element part doesn't seem to take, and its not just me, I've noticed the same effect with other people when I've run games with a mix of based and non-based "elements". It can be taught but it doesn't come naturally and I like things that come naturally. There is an obvious solution of course. This is the main reason why MacDuff is still on the books and it may be that this is one puzzle that isn't worth solving although it also leaves me still dubious that editing 2 sets of rules that end up being 90% the same is worth the work.  I'll leave that as an open question while I reset the table, reorganize the units into their normal War of 1812 16/8 man format, make the various scenario changes and play again.

I did make some mistakes in applying the rules though and that is usually a sign that there is a design issue. In past games there seemed to be too many Brigadiers with too much power so I took away most of their power except that I forgot that when playing. Since neither the American nor the British General appears on table in this scenario, the Brigadiers, who were actually lower level officers who played a significant command role in the real action, would have been at a bit of a loss other than to co-ordinate their few units. As it was they carried on in the old style and it felt right. I also wasn't happy with the way the Distant Orders rule worked. The need is for it to be harder for Generals to control units that are far away but it didn't quite work. Revisiting the whole command system and cross referencing with MacDuff reminded me of a (hopefully) better way and I restored the Brigadier's to their usual leadership roles but took away their easy replacement again and changed the Distant or Out of Command rules to what has been working for MacDuff. A small change but I'm down to the small ones.



Saturday, January 5, 2013

Fort Improvise - First run

One of the reasons  I tend to stick to familiar Grant scenarios when testing rules is to reduce the number of variables. However, I felt like a change and figured the period at least was familiar enough to allow me to distinguish between scenario design and rule issues. If I had been a hare smarter (sic), I'd have stuck to existing OB's when switching rules.  As it was, the game worked and gave an historical result but lacked a little in the solo gaming department especially and I think there are issues about the interplay of OB, scenario design and rules that I need to resolve before trying it again later this week.

A regiment of Pennsylvania Militia bursts out of the woods catching the North Battery by surprise, sort of. The fort has been re-arranged to better represent the foot print of the original, though still smaller and to make room for the South battery.

For those of you who haven't memorized all the engagements of the War of 1812 or whose 3d goggles didn't work to transform this minimalist representation into a recognizable parody, the Wiki article of the Siege of Fort Meigs, and the action sometimes known as Dudley's Massacre, can be found here.

 A constant problem with adapting historical actions from the War of 1812 onto a small table is that there tends to be few troops and lots of ground. If using 20mm troops on a 6x10 table, you can usually manage a 1:5 or 1:10 ratio and fit most of the key events, sometimes without excessive fudging of space   and it all comes together nicely. If you want to use something approaching a constant figures scale so that you can see the difference between a skirmish and the largest battles of the war, this can be problematic when you hit some of the bigger actions and suddenly need to represent several thousand  men unless of course you like to collect the miniatures for their own sake and don't mind having several hundred figures that only get used once every 5 - 10 years.

In my case, a ground scale of 1"=25 yards lets me squish the essential parts of most actions onto my table top with a bit, OK, a lot of fudging. Unfortunately it also leaves me with a figure scale of around 1:30 for my 40's on washers. Using my original MacDuff 1812 organization of 8 man "units" regardless  of scale, there were about 2,000 men per side or 6-7 x 8 man units which seemed fair enough and might work for a small generic game though not for a convention game. As a test to compare against history though, only about 1,200-1,500 men were engaged in the battle being represented and 4 or 5  8 man "units" just didn't sound like much of a game nor did it match the historical troop mix and deployment. Ten 4 man units might have worked and if placed on a grid might have been just the thing but I was trying to see if Hearts of Tin could replace MacDuff for the War of 1812 so I wouldn't have to maintain both (not saying I won't regardless).

The obvious solution as usual was to ignore figure scales or bend them to 1:20. All "companies" were composed of 4 infantry or militia or 2 Indian skirmishers. The British General only orders British and Canadian units, the Indian General only orders Indian units. This gave me the following OB's:

British: (Objective: Just another day in the batteries)
North Battery: A 9 pounder and crew in a siege battery and not capable of being turned, and a detachment of 2 companies of Canadian Infantry.

South Battery: An 18 pounder and crew in a siege battery and not capable of being turned, and a detachment of 2 companies of British Infantry.

In Camp. A General whi does not leave, a Brigadier, a company of Grenadiers and a company of Light Infantry, a detachment of 2 companies of Canadian Infantry.

Indians: (Objective: Kill the Long Knives)
In the woods: 2 units each of 2 "companies" of Indian skirmishers.
In the Camp: 1 General, 4 units each of 2 "companies" of Indian skirmishers.

Americans: (Objective: Take the siege batteries and relieve the fort.)

In the fort. General, Brigadier and 2 units of regulars each of 2 companies and 1 of militia of 2 companies able to sortie plus 1 field gun and 2 more units of infantry that cannot leave.

Arriving at the table edge near the north battery: Brigadier and 3 units of militia each of 3 companies. The Militia have definite anti-Indian feelings and must pursue whenever they have the chance.

The initial American Militia go in.

As I laid out the American militia on the edge of the table, it suddenly occurred to me that given ranges and movement, they weren't quite close enough to achieve surprise. I didn't feel like adjusting the table again so just let it go. The British rolled enough orders to start forming up in camp and to form up the Canadians while the Indians crept up to the edge of the woods. Despite the time lag between appearing and attack, when the Americans rolled into the battery at 3:1 odds, they also rolled up and wiped out the Canadian escort and all but 1 gunner who didn't rally until he was safely back in camp. So far so good. 

As the detachment that had peeled off to face the Indians closed in, the Indians forgot that their scenario role was to draw the Militia into the woods and away from their supports. Instead they stood and fought and came within a hair of being broken. On the next turn they fell back but not being a break or an evade, there was no pursuit. The two units stood and burned powder at each other for the rest of the game.
Across the river the sortie is also successful.

Thanks to being behind cover, rather than outflanked, the 41st Foot did somewhat better but still chose to fall back and rally while waiting for reinforcements rather  than risk being broken by trying to continue to defend  against the odds. The game was still going to plan without any fudging other than set up and objectives.

Now there was a bit of a pause as the Americans with 1 General had trouble co-ordinating their forces, the loss of a Brigadier not being a big help. The Indians and British on the other hand were deploying smartly. Soon there was a line of Indians on the edge of the woods shooting down the American Militia who were huddled in the open and a column of Redcoats braving a desultory fire from the fort to cross the bridge.

Wait a minute! What happened to the Grenadiers? and to the Brigadiers?

Things were seeming a little too predictable for a good game but I sent the attack in. Some of the American units looked a bit shaky since they had failed miserably to rally despite try after try. Once again I had been agonizing over there not being any morale tests but pressed on. The detachment in the center unleashed their 4 dice of defensive fire against the Grenadiers, 4,5,6 to hit. The Grenadiers had already lost a figure to artillery fire from the fort, but could take 3 more without blinking. The American regulars rolled 4 hits on 4 dice and the remaining Grenadiers broke to the rear. WHAT! No way, there must be a problem with the rules! Except that I had wanted there to be a chance of such things, French Guards at Fontenoy and so on, just not to my shiny new 89th Foot!. The Brigadier had been with them so did he escape? Nope, captured like several other 1812 officers. OK then. On the flanks, the 41st foot and the 17th faced off and were drawn although the American Brigadier was wounded in the fray but the Canadian detachment tore into the American Militia and sent them scampering for the fort.  Across the river, one militia unit after another hit its break point and headed for home.

Now if, as US General, I could just pull back the regulars from the melee and rally while rallying a few of the militia units, there was still  time to reverse the historical result. Roll for orders: "1". One? What the heck can I do with 1 order in a mess like this?

 OK, a little bit of excitement but both batteries are back in British hands and no reinforcements  got through, just another day in the trenches.

Next post, a closer look at what worked and what didn't from both a rules and a game POV and a look at how the game might be tweaked to make a better "game", slightly longer with more  suspense and decisions to be made.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Fort Improvise: The Campaign of 2013 Begins

The small US garrison remains defiant under the British bombardment.

There always seems to be some sort of special significance to the last game of the old year and the first game of the new year but given that just now I couldn't remember what the first game of 2012 was and mistook the last game of 2010 for the last one of 2011, I guess there isn't.

Since I spared every one from from a full review of 2012 and plan for 2011, I'll just mention that my vague resolve is to blog less (260 posts in 2012) , play fewer games ( 82 played last year, all but 4 or 5 mentioned on the blog, 48 of them solo, 6 of them via Skype) and in particular, fewer Grant scenarios. Given plans to reintroduce fantasy and concentrate more on my fictional lands this year, I figured I would start with a pseudo-historical game from one of my remaining historical periods: The War of 1812.

There are a number of reasons for backing off a little from the Grant scenarios and maybe I'll talk about it later but for the War of 1812 in particular, lets just say that some of them adapt better than others and if you play too many games, there starts to be a lack of freshness. Casting about for something different and War of 1812-ish, it was hard to avoid the thoughts "ambush/surprise" and "fort". These are two prominent themes and part of the reason that there were so few pitched battles. Its hard to think about North American wars without thinking "fort" anyway, and especially "stockade" from the old Last of the Mohicans TV show to Fort Apache it would be like thinking "medieval" without "castle".

Now one of my purchases during my 54mm plastic phase was the Barzso Davy Crocket Playset. The figures were painted and used, except for Davy himself, wrestling a B'ar, but the stokade has only rarely been out. I have a picture somewhere of a 54mm 1812 Wagon train game played when Rob Dean & family came to visit in 1999.  The fort itself is actually not badly scaled for the larger 40mm figures and might be appropriate for a large skirmish game. 

Trident 40mm AWI figures sortie out.
The foot print, however,  is hopelessly large for the games I play. Firing across the compound would be long range for a 6 pounder, it just won't do and it doesn't have a military layout or a blockhouse.  For some years I have  tinkered with the idea of taking a knife to it but given that it is an OOP limited edition piece, it might be kinder to sell it off to someone who actually wants it for itself. Its not a pristine, complete play set so not much use to a real collector and I don't expect to recoup the original purchase but a few bucks in the coffer would be better than time spent  trying to reconfigure it rather than making a new one from scratch.  So if any reader wants to make me a  offer to save me the hassle of ebay, please drop me an email at . 
The Barzso Davy Crocket Wilderness Stockade, 54mm plastic playset, or what's left of it.
Hopefully it can find a good home.

Building myself a stockade is high on the list of things to accomplish this year but in the meantime, I  broke out my old stand by, the Marx jungle stockade, minus its gate which went with the city defences of Haddington a few years back. There seem to be two main patterns of stockade fort in use during the War of 1812. The Americans seem to have normally placed 2 or more blockhouses at  the corners to act as flanking bastions as well as barracks and storerooms while the British seem to have gone for a palisade, either star shaped or rectangular with bastion corners, with a blockhouse inside, rather like a keep. I have no blockhouses but tried perching some Pegasus Russian log cabins on the corners to get a feel for how such a structure might work. I'll probably remove them before I start playing.

Any resemblance of the game to be fought sometime in the next few days to historical events, however  fleeting and unexpected, will be due once again to an historical action providing inspiration for a generic  game. (and no I'm not telling.) It should be a MacDuff game but HofT will get first crack.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Figures Light, Figures Bright

First figures done on a 2013 night.

 A new light company is born.

Yes, sad but true, the dogs went to bed at 11,  my wife was sitting up with her mother and facebook and I wandered off to my games room. There on the desk was a batch of 5 Chasseurs des Bois that just needed belts and buckles and a few touch ups. The radio started counting down as the last botton went on so technically they were painted in 2012 but varnished and flocked in 2013 so last or first, take your pick.

The unit had its origin at Historicon when I was offered a group of glossy figures. I was tired and helping GM a siege and I'm embarrassed to admit that I can't remember now who handed them to me but if I got the story right, they came from the collection of the late, wargaming great, Wally Simon  (see ) or perhaps that's wishful thinking and they were actually from the flea market called Wally's Basement in his honour. In any event, I accepted and they have stared reproachfully at me from the shelf ever since . They were obviously .early 18thC French  Dragoons in shiny red enamel coats with bright green facings but I wasn't sure of what age or make or how I was going to fit 8 of them in to my Charge! armies.

I eventually decided to prime them,  should really have stripped them first but the figures seemed thin and fragile with heavy detail so I figured the extra paint wouldn't hurt. Once they were primed, something about the figures started to look a bit familiar and it didn't take long to find them in the 42 mm  Toy Style Marlburian range in the Irregular range. By then though, I had already converted  a Prince August casting to fit in and was busy planning a light infantry company. My first thought was to ditch the light green facings but keep the red coat. Since I only have 1 red coated infantry regiment, they would become the light company but the uniform style was so at variance with the rest of my Irish that it just didn't feel right. Instead my mind drifted to the Queen's Brown coated militia.

Suddenly I remembered my first Charge! armies, 30mm figures made in Spain for the Plains of Abraham museum at Quebec. After painting various French infantry companies in historic uniforms I diverged into Imagi-nation territory making a squadron of Cuirrassiers out of officers, a battery of Saxon-ish gunners and a light infantry company inspired by a late 17thC Swedish unit in Kannik's Military Uniforms. Brown Coats, light green facings, stocking cap. Done!  My old unit had a bit of lace so the new ones do as well.  There are 6 fresh castings on hand to finish off these volunteers for the Dowager Queen, just need a little putty and some paint.

I don't have a shot of my old Canadiens painted as fictional light infantry but here's the Black Watch and British infantry that opposed them. Painted c 1973.