EXCERPT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

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.


  1. Looks good Ross. I think you captured things quit well and nobody minds if you tweak rules. I do it all the time to suit my needs and solo scenario's. Also regarding the comment on troop strength on the table that's why I chose to start making a bunch of universal block armies to represent mass troops. I fight the larger strategic parts on maps with counters, then blocks on a drop sheet, then wedge down to skirmishes on my table with figures, and "it's even smaller than yours." Your scenario is perfect in my judgement! Well done and look I forward to more ,,, Jeff

    1. Thanks Chasseur, I have no objection to the idea of blocks but playing with toy soldiers is my motivation. The game was ok but far from perfect. The other Jeff picked up on one missing element.

  2. It is good for me to see your old terrain cloth in action again, it is my favorite! Thank you very much for this so inspiring post.

    1. Cesar, it has been cold here and snowing and I wanted a table that did not look like spring!

  3. Ross, I noticed something of vital importance in your report . . . something missing.

    Towards the end of last year your game reports constantly mentioned the "fun" you were having . . . and that did NOT occur in this report.

    What do you want, Ross, . . . a fun game or something more conservative? Examine your priorities, sir.

    -- Jeff

    1. Good catch Jeff but that's part of the next post.

  4. Excellent! Looks like a great battle and fun.


  5. Interesting report. Pictures look good.

    (is it just me or is that fort shaped suspiciously like a coffin?) :P

  6. Eh? Oh. Hmm.

    Probably best if we don't tell the garrison.

    1. Well Sir - the dying is having a poor effect on the men's morale.

      Really? Better order an issue of rum and another round of floggings/