Saturday, June 29, 2013

Finding your ground

Its actually a coincidence that the 150th anniversary of the battle I'm not fighting is coming up on Wednesday. The reasons I am laying this particular battle out are that the terrain and situation/mission are simple, it could be made to fit on my table with out going to the cm scale, I had enough troops even if they are still a bit motley,  and especially that someone else had already done the hard work of maps, OB and victory conditions and all I had to do was translate from original F&F to Hearts of Tin.

As the Confederate artillery falls silent, their infantry emerges from the trees and forms for the assault.

But why do an historically inspired game at all? Basically, I find no better way of getting a feel for a period or of testing a set of rules than to base a game on a real battle, preferably more than one battle done more than once.

It helps that in this case I've walked the real battle field so when I look at the simplified, artificial  terrain, stepped hills and all, I can picture what the real thing looks like and my mind can see some of the unspoken generalizations, compromises and assumptions that are behind the model battlefield, the rules and how troops are manoeuvred.   Last year I did a table top based on the area around my house and that also helped in the same way. This in turn helps me interpret a generic scenario layout and adjust to suit scale and place assuming I have a feel for both.

The real point being that this is my issue with my 40mm mid 19thC games, I don't have a feel for the ground yet or the compromises made because of the heightened conflict between figure size and ground scale and because the periods being considered include one (post ACW)  that I haven't delved into very deeply beyond colonial type skirmish and another Crimean/Mutiny/ACW that I have read about but not translated onto the table beyond the ACW and I havn't pinned down the fictional background properly yet. Interestingly I laid out a 40mm unit behind one of the 1/72nd ones. If I used 20mm troops in 2 ranks I could squeeze twice as many men into the same space but since most of my own 20's are based in a ragged 1 deep line, the units have the same frontage with the same number of figures and thanks to the base depth on my 1/72nd stands, almost the same depth. in other words, a very similar unit foot print. The small guys just look less crowded and the hills, trees and houses take up less room.

Today I am using a compressed scale so that 16 figures/4 stands are a small brigade but normally I use 12-16 figures as a small regiment. The difference is purely theoretical since the rules are not being modified to suit, the scale difference is being ignored. It does however my view of how the battle unfolds and what I should be able to do with them or how I should use them, only because of my mind set.

The decision as to what the same size units represents for the 40's is then largely a matter of what I am trying to represent and that, unfortunately, can only be a choice made by myself. So once the Reb's make their big charge across the valley and get cleared away, I'll need to break out some 40's regardless of uniforms and see how they feel. Maybe I'll even run the same scenario. Then I'll need to do some small battles and skirmishes at the other end, based on some real ones and see how they feel. Then'll I'll need to go away and think.

Lukcily while I'm thinking there is lots to do. I just got a used Schildkrot/Zinnbrigade mold of uhlans in plumed lancer cap as well as the parade dress marching Prussian that I have earmarked for the Oberhilse Council Guard. I also found this horse with its head down amongst the Merten figures, if I take one of those British Dragoon officers turn in the saddle and a lancer head and do a bit of work.....
Left Rear a classic Britain's standard size Lancer officer, front a Zinnbrigade Dragoon officer on Merten ACW horse, Right Rear, a previous conversion inspired by the same original. Rear A Zinnbrigade mold in full Uhlan rig.

But first I have a battle to fight.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Waiting for the enemy

Federal Troops take up positions on Boot Hill, ready to resist a Rebel attack.

15 infantry units (4 stands each), 6 skirmish units (2 stands each), 10 batteries organized into 6 Divisions (aka Brigades).

Each stand represents an average of 200 men, each gun represents 8. An inch on the table is around 40 yards. This is around the top end size of battle that HofT is intended to handle. My usual scale is 1"=25 yards and 120 men per stand.

Any resemblance to a real battle, living or dead is purely delusional.

Look! An elephant! (with ps)

There were tense moments today as my new Zouaves had their baptism of fire.  

The Zouaves, seeing the elephant in ACW speak. They were pushed back but not routed in their first contact then held on until rescued by the Bangor Rifles, led by the Zouave Bugler.

The occasion was a visit by Lentulus, the rules were Hearts of Tin using ACW factors and the game River Crossing from CS Grant's Scenarios for Wargames (The Green Book), the game illustrated on the cover actually. This is a scenario that I have not played in a long time. After sorting terrain and troop issues I turned my attention to what was required for the attacker to cross the river in boats. I immediately hit two snags, both minor yet important. The first is that while my river is too wide from a table space POV, its still too narrow for a believable boatload of 40mm troops to cross without grounding. The second is that the scenario provides no hints that I could see as to how long the operation should last. The defender's reinforcements  are supposed to arrive 1/4 and 1/2 of the way through the game. 

After a period of internal debate I decided to allow 1 unit per turn to cross over the bridge which has been patched up by engineers. For the defender, I had him roll 2 dice for each of the two reinforcing columns to see on which turn they arrived. With hindsight I think the attacker was able to reinforce his bridgehead a little too easily compared to the defender's build up. Forcing the attacker to seize the road exits or speeding up the defenders troops would have helped balance the scenario or even allowing the defender more infantry and less cavalry. 

Of course more balanced die rolling would have helped things as well, I dodged more than one bullet by dint of good dice throws by my troops or handfuls of 1's from the other side. 

The game on around turn 7. Red's second column is about to deploy. 

The first few turns were spent with Red deploying and rushing forward while Blue rushed infantry over the bridge to hold the town and spread light infantry out to cover the operation assisted by artillery fire from across the river. The first tense moment came as the Dover Fusiliers, deployed as skirmishers, charged the detachment of Zouaves which had just moved into a wood on the left of Blue's line. The fire from the Zouaves failed to halt the charge but their morale held and they merely fell back through the wood until their backs were to the river. The redcoats followed up and a tense second round was fought on the next turn. There was no where to retreat to and a loss would mean destruction. Luckily a tie meant that they could hang on  and winning the initiative despite Red's +1 for the balloon meant that the Bangor Rifles could intervene. It was still close and the redcoats merely fell back but the Zouaves were saved and fought on bravely all game, repulsing attack after attack.

In the center, the Blue Guard crossed over and took up a position just as Red's first reinforcements arrived. Taking advantage of another initiative flip, the Blue Guard advanced and then poured devastating rifle fire into a squadron of the DGBG. Red's skirmishers and artillery were taking a toll of my infantry but the line was in no danger while my artillery and infantry had been doing a remarkable job of whittling down the enemy's cavalry. Things were looking secure until Red's cavalry charged, backed by some infantry. Cavalry charges on infantry are tricky things, in the age of rifles but cavalry is what the scenario gives Red. If the infantry are steady they will shoot down the cavalry but if they fluff and the cavalry hit home, there is no escaping them. No doubt about the steadiness of the Blue Guard and Red's cavalry was mowed down by rifle fire (the +1 for elite was critical) while the 7th Infantry in their 2nd engagement easily held off their attackers. 

My mission was only to establish a bridgehead so I resisted the urge to attack apart from moving up skirmishers to counter Red's other 1/2 battery which had just deployed and was shooting up my line. 

At this  point, Red's 3rd column arrived but a quick survey of the field showed that Red might be able to hold the hill line but there was no longer any real hope of wiping out the bridgehead. The initial numbers including off table troops was 16 Blue vs 14 Red. At this point each side had 10 units on the side of the river where the fighting was but no Blue units were below 1/2 strength although several were close to it. Red on the other hand had 5 units reduced to 1 or 2 figures and heavy losses in 2 other units. Red had 2 more cavalry units to bring on but 4 Blue squadrons were just crossing the river. It was enough.

The end of the day.

Over all I enjoyed the game but my feelings are a bit mixed. I enjoyed Lentullus' company, there were some moments of tension and excitement and winning can be nice but I couldn't help but feel that the scenario offered few choices, especially for the period and that it might not have been the best choice for a once or twice a year encounter. There were a few points where I started worrying that I had taken too many fussy bits out of the rules but I held firm and played them as written and in each case, once I'd unclenched a little, it turned out OK. Then there were the dice. One uses dice to introduce unpredictability but when one side seems to get all the breaks it does make you wonder regardless of which side you are on. Interesting to speculate what might have happened if the Zouaves had broken, the Red cavalry had not been shot up by artillery and long range rifle fire or the 2rd column had arrived earlier.

Then there is the question of how the 40's fit on the table, terrain as well as troops. 
I have no issues with lower level, semi-skirmish games but the slightly higher level which I want to do, in Big Wars/Little Wars style, well they're getting closer but still don't feel quite right. The smaller units help and removing 1/2 the scenery helped but I think I need to work on more abstract terrain with a smaller footprint. In any event, the figures are what I want to paint and I'm satisfied with the rules, nice and simple, so the rest is just fiddling with scenarios and terrain to get just the right feel.

In the mean time I plan to get the 1/72nd ACW out on Saturday for a solo game.

Post script. Having thought on this, it's the victory conditions that are the problem with this scenario. This is not the only scenario in this book that allow a larger force to win by merely holding its ground. The next time I play it, I will require Blue to capture 2 road exits in order to claim victory. A contained bridgehead will be merely a draw.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

If you can't be Right, be Bright.

A test layout for a game.  Its a bit too cluttered for a battle, looks a bit more skirmish game like, and the desired number of 16 figure battalions will not fit on table so it was sent back to the drawing board.  The number of buildings and fences has been reduced and the units reduced to 12 figures and the game is now waiting for Lentulus to take command tomorrow. 

I've temporarily renounced my efforts to make my table look like grassy fields. I just don't have a good enough eye for colour and can't seem to find the right sort of green. (The colour in the picture is not accurate btw.) 

Now it doesn't help that when I drive down the road looking at fields, none of them are a single colour, they are usually a dozen shades of green mixed with as many shades of brown, tan and yellow. If you stand back far enough, it looks like one colour but I can't get it. 

It also doesn't   help that no two fields are the same colour, it depends on things like what kind of plants are growing, are they close cropped by sheep or grazed by cattle, are they new hay, old hay or new mown hay  and where is the sun and shadows? I had planned to use this to make a grid on my table that looks like a pattern of fields but it take long to figure out that I don't have the vision for that either. Perhaps if I were to model a particular set of fields in a particular scale but as soon as I changed the scale or setting that would throw it out again. I'll save that for some future product and any future grid will be of the Promethian barely visible sort.

Anyway, I figured, if its not going to be "the right" shade it could at least be bright and cheery and so I mixed various tempura and latex paints to get an acceptable bright toy table top green and then mottled it with a light green. That'll do me for the foreseeable future.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

Hearts of Alloy

The first 1/2 battalion of Zouaves, ready for the field. I rather like the oval bases, and the effect of the simple glossy painting on the active poses. They are like a cross of the classic British metals, the active flare of German toy soldiers and something of the feel of the Crescent, Lone Star, Marx and Herald plastic figures of my childhood. The quintessential toy soldier. I am now officially a fan of Merten. 

We declared a household holiday today, a break from the bustle of the last 3 weeks. I spent part of it finishing off the first group of Zouaves and editing the reversions of Hearts of Tin and trying to ensure the smooth integration of the new morale rule.  I'm still proof reading and pondering the need to go back and put proper tables in vs just doing a proper quick reference sheet. I also need to make a closer proof reading of the sample troop charts as well as adding some more. Luckily tomorrow is also mostly a day off and I expect to have a game on the table later this week.

The most notable change to Hearts of Tins is just a matter of language. Three years ago I rewrote them in a way that discouraged the use of single figures. I can't remember clearly why that was. Possibly to make the rules seem more like an integrated system than a jumble of rules and to help differentiate it from MacDuff which was not multi-figure stand friendly, maybe to encourage myself to make up my mind on elements vs figures as a basis for rules  but mostly I think to facilitate having Elite troops less susceptible  to losses from shooting since these are suppose to represent a reduction in cohesion rather than just a loss of men.  The language originally spoke of dice per Strength Points which became figures and then dice per "company". Putting it back to 1 per 4 figures instead of 1 per company looks different but works the same for average troops and makes it easy to go with either bases or figures or a mix of either. For small figures I'll go back to counting each base as a standard number of figures.

Apart from flexibility, the other main driver of change was the realization that the new morale test again made unit organization subject to cheesy tactics. The way the morale rule was phrased, a unit could not have a morale effect on a larger unit which was not an intended effect. I hit the same issue  with MacDuff and sort of got around it by using the 2 hits on a 6 rule. Still not satisfactory but it did alleviate the problem. I contemplated going the same route with Hearts of Tin but the dynamics are different and the effect of the extra hits can make fire way too powerful.

I made two drastic decisions that alleviate this problem in a different way and oddly enough these are both a reversion to the original version 10 years back. The first is to not sweat the details as long as the OVERALL outcome is what I want, the second is to go back to not removing units until all of the figures have been "hit" since theoretically, the last man fighting is still surrounded by the most of the unit who have ceased to fight effectively but are still physically present, apart from a percentage, say 15-25% of figures who have been "hit" who are actually killed or wounded or have wandered off. In theory this means "hit" figures and bases should be left on table but I like the emotional impact of knocking them down or taking them off and I'll continue to do so. Its a compromise I can live with.

Not all units will fight to the end in all situations though. It has always been my goal with my rules to differentiate between the less decisive long range fight and the decisive close range fight. In HofT this means that "shooting" is a matter of attrition only while "melee" which includes very close range firefights has the possibility of being "defeated". The morale check after some playing about is then used not to determine failure, that is determined by the combat, but to measure the degree of failure. This can be anything from a short setback to an eventual rout off the table. Oddly enough this is pretty much how the original rules worked until I started to try and make them better and more "detailed and realistic". (Yeah I know, now). The new version which presented itself when I was making up Rattle of Dice on the fly is I think better but it took a lot of dead alleys and long detours to get back so close. Its actually got one slight improvement over rattle of Dice in that a defeated unit has a chance to rally immediately and just fall back 4" in good order but that's minor.

I also dropped the roll to limit the number of orders from basic to optional rule. It can add an interesting element but only with optimal organizations, not necessarily the historically accurate ones. Rather than try to tweak it, I've just made it an option that can be used or not.

While I was laptop-less I belated noticed that the mobile version of the blog makes it difficult or impossible to see the side bar and the same is probably true of blog readers. I'm still thinking about this but if you can't download from the side bar, here is a link to the Hearts of Tin rules, the date will always indicate when it was last edited.

Lastly, just to show we're not just about the soldiers, the spring flowers have largely faded and yesterday's rain beat up the poor poppies but today two of our rose bushes have started to bloom and the rest are no far behind. Must be summer.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pour encourager les autres.

Apparently gloss varnish and a spot light really don't make low light cell phone photography better, but we knew that.

I'm distracted by household duties this weekend, a small celebration for my live-in mother-in-law's 90th birthday  looms, so I pushed ahead and finished one zouave to see if they would look ok when done. I decided to simplify (cheat/wimp out) on the lace on the jacket  but he still looks good to me. Better in person than the fuzzy/glare-y picture where I can't tell black belt from blue jacket. Oh well. Trust me.

And a hint of just how messy and ill organized my desk is and a glimpse of some of what's up next.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ah There You Are

Merten 4cm Zouaves straight from the mail.

It is with a mixture of excitement and nervousness that I cut the traces to MS after 30 years and give Google's web based Chromebook a try, (hardware by Acer in my case).  Amazing how much extra time I had during a week with no laptop!

Anyway, above we see the first recruits for the new Zouave Regiment undergoing training. Since I am contemplating Grey volunteer uniforms for Oberhilse I was tempted to copy the uniforms of the Montreal battalion of Papal Zouaves but apart from said Zouaves seemingly having adopted the kepi, I decided Oberhilse could use a little more colour and who better to provide it than volunteer Zouaves?

I was also tempted to give them to Faraway and copy the inverted Zouave uniforms of the West Indian Regiment. But they just looked like ACW Zouaves  and so be it. The faces and detail urged me to do an older, more careful, shaded painting style but glossy toy it is, perhaps a slight Elastolin-ish burnt sienna wash on the flesh.

Saturday, June 15, 2013


Its disturbing sometimes, just how much I rely on my laptop and on the net. Not as disturbing as having it die though!  Arggh!

Luckily the essential bits are tucked where I can access even from a smart phone like I'm using for this post. The rest is probably better off being let go, not all clutter is physical and of course I have everything its just how compatible will old devices and methods be with what the new device will be? And how adventuresome will I be to try different ways of doing things?  Of course, having finally fixed the touch pad on my laptop and decided it would last another year,  I just spent the last of my hobby money on 4 lots of Merten figures including Zouaves, landsknecht drummers and centaurs amongst other things. So funds will be an issue as well as interconnectivity.
Maybe I'll make one more effort to revive my laptop........

Meanwhile my new green paint doesn't look quite the green I expected, nor did it cover the hexes, merely muted them. It'll have to do for now though. 5' x 6'8" and high enough that an open sweater or plaid shirt won't sweep figures on to the floor anymore when I reach for the middle. Plus there is a ledge underneath all around just big enough for spare dice and markers or a unit or two of off table or hidden troops.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Rattle of Dice (Updated)

I have decided to go for a single version of Hearts of Tin with period supplements and the reduced ranges/movement of the current version, a choice of Orders or Control chart and the simpler figure friendly combat & morale version worked on yesterday. In the meantime, for those who were interested, here is the 2 page version of Rattle of Dice that I played with this week.

**12 July 2013 Having played a game as published here, I realized that there are 2 mistakes and a few omissions.   All changes are in red. Thanks to Alfront for the formation change.
***29 Apr 2014 added superior firepower modifier  for when 1 side is better armed and Shaken rule added. Melee numbers modified.

The Rattle of Dice
 A Game for Toy Soldiers
11 Jun 2013 Amended 29 April 2014


Generals (Army or Brigade Commanders). One General is the Army Commander. The rest are Brigade Generals who only affect the units assigned to their command.Units are normally assigned to Brigade Generals otherwise they are only commanded by the General. Units may be classed as Elite, Regular, Irregular or Militia.

Units normally must stay together but figures may be detached to occupy a terrain feature or to perform a special task such as scouting terrain or to act as a skirmish screen. Infantry may deploy as skirmishers in a single rank with a space between figures or in a column 2 or 3 wide and 3 or 4 deep, or deployed 2 deep representing either a dispersed firing line with supports or a unit massed behind cover. (Note: These rules are intended for the 2nd half of the 19th Century but may easily be adapted for slightly earlier or later periods.)


Roll for initiative each turn, high score chooses to go first or second. Ties repeat last turn’s sequence. +1 if there is an observer in a balloon or other observation point with a signals team by the general
v      The 1st player units move including charges OR shoot OR rally. Charge targets may counter charge if mounted cavalry.
v      Resolve melee between units in contact.
v      The 2nd player units move including charges OR shoot OR rally. Charge targets may counter charge if mounted cavalry.
v      Resolve melee between units in contact.


Detached units.
If not within 12” and sight of General at the start of a turn, must roll 3+ to move, Elite +1, Militia/Irregular -1

v      Infantry/Foot Artillery maximum 12”
v      Cavalry/Horse Artillery maximum 18”
v      General 24”
v      Wagons 6”
v      Boats move 18” plus or minus 3” for the current or tide. It takes a 1/2 move to embark or disembark from a boat or train and form up
v      Steam Engines move 18” by rail or 6” cross country if built for it. If moving cross country roll as if detached. If moving by rail the train may only accelerate or decelerate by 9” in a turn. If it hits an obstacle without being able to stop, it will crash roll for 1 die for each 4 figures with a score of 5,6 indicating one casualty.

v      Road Bonus x2 if in column facing direction of movement.
v      Move half speed if moving backwards or sideways while facing the enemy.
v      Move half speed over obstacles and terrain features that are passable except for skirmishers and Irregulars who pay no penalty. 
v      It takes 1/2 turn to change formation including a change of direction.
Cavalry and artillery may not enter woods or into a town.
v      Artillery must be limbered to move and deployed to shoot. It may limber then move or may move then deploy. It may not do both in one turn. Machine guns may move 6” without limbering.
v      Urging On.  A General may move up to 12” to join a unit and add 1d6 inches to its move but he must stay with them until the next move phase.

A unit that charges must be facing the target. Cavalry may counter charge up to 1/2 way.

There must be a clear line of sight to the target which must be within a 90 degree arc centered directly ahead to where the target is at the time of firing. Artillery must be deployed.
v      Shooting and Melee. Units in contact can not shoot or be shot at except as laid out under Defensive Fire in melee.
v      Range: Muskets 6", Rifles 12”, MG 24”, Artillery 36”, spears are treated as melee weapons.
v      Dice: Roll 1 die per 4 infantry/dismounted cavalry or 2 gunners. Count remainders of 1/2 or more.
v      Effect: Each 5,6 is 1 hit.
v      Difficult targets: -1 vs cover, skirmishers, cavalry or artillery
v      Vulnerable targets: +1 vs column or if enfilading
v      Superior Firepower: +1 (sharpshooters, Cannister (12") or superior weapons)
v      Overhead Fire. Artillery on a hill, and rockets any where, may fire over troops on the flat if there is a gap of 6” in front of the gun and in front of the target.

Melee is resolved between units in contact. It represents very close range fire as well as attempts to close with cold steel.

v      Who: Count all of figures in contact or touching a figure in contact plus 1/2 of the 3rd & 4th rank of infantry behind a figure in contact.
v      Dice: Infantry, dismounted cavalry and artillery 1 die per 4 figures, except that artillery using defensive fire rolls 1 die per 2 crew. Cavalry 1 die per 2 figures. Count remainders of 1/2 or more. Except for defensive fire, all melee dice are rolled and take effect simultaneously.
v      Defensive Fire. Infantry or artillery that have been charged from the front may roll their melee dice first and remove hits from the enemy. Units within 6” of the charging unit may shoot out of turn at the charging unit if they have a line of fire.
v      Evade. Cavalry and light infantry skirmishers that have been charged from the front may turn and retreat a full move instead of fighting in melee but must rally as if they had been defeated.
v      Effect: Each 5,6 is a hit.
v      Difficult target: -1 if fighting an enemy in cover, or if charging over an obstacle or if using defensive fire vs cavalry
v      Charge Bonus +1 if charging this turn 
, Defensive Fire Bonus +1 if Superior firepower using defensive fire.
v      Troop Quality: +1 if Elite, -1 if Militia or Irregular
v      Result: If a side takes more hits from reaction fire and melee than it inflicted then it is defeated. A defeated unit that was in melee contact must immediately turn and retreat a full move, passing through any friends unless stopped by a blocked defile but stopping at the board edge. It must try to rally on its next move. If neither side retreats the melee will continue next turn with neither side counting as charging unless one side retreats during movement.

v            Rally. A unit which was defeated in melee must attempt to rally on its next move. During the movement phase roll 1 die. On a score of 4, 5 or 6 it rallies, may face the enemy and may act normally next turn. On a score of 1,2 or 3 it retreats a full move and must rally again next turn. If it reaches the board edge it will leave and may not return. +1 Elite, -1 Militia. +1 joined by general or a band.
v      Steady Men! A general may join a unit which took hits from shooting or melee and try to cancel one hit by rolling 1 die. A score of 4,5,6 cancels 1 hit, 2,3 has no effect, 1 indicates the general has been hit and is removed from the game.
v      Rally Round The Flag. An infantry unit that contains a colour bearer can try and steady the men in the same way. When a unit takes one or more hits from shooting or melee the player may roll 1 die. If the result is 4,5 or 6  1 hit is cancelled, 2,3 has no effect, on a 1 the standard bearer is hit and some one else has to grab the flag (take 1 figure off). If the unit is defeated in melee the unit must try to rally around the flag if it has one but if a 1 is rolled the enemy captures the flag. Cavalry and light infantry may not use this rule.

SAPPERS. A party of 4 pioneers may do 1d6 amount of work each turn if not in melee. The amount of work for special tasks can be set by the GM otherwise 6 pts are required to fortify their front, lay a demolition charge or build 1 section of pontoon bridge. When a demolition charge is blown roll 1 d6 per charge. 6 pts will breach a village, 18 pts will blow a bridge.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

We have met the rules and they are......


The Director General's Body Guard finally gets another chance to dismount.

sighhh, yes indeed, a startling lack of imagination I'm afraid, or perhaps an unconscious message. I started well. I dug out Richard's one page rules (more like 3/4 than 1/2 but there's big print and lots of space). A lot of it was familiar, a die per 4 figures needing 5,6 to hit, and so on. So it wasn't what was there, its what was missing;.minimal movement restrictions, minimal morale, no command rules, no sequence of play, hmm. Anyway, I decided to do my own version. A few happy hours later I had a set that felt quite right,. I set to playing  and fine tuning and eventually realized that I had essentially recreated the original Morschauser Meets MacDuff from 10 years ago, before it became Hearts of Tin, just without bases though bases can still be used. Oh! That wasn't what I set out to do.

Oh well. That was the rule set that got me all fired up and was responsible for quite a few memorable games. That was of course before I decided to add more detail and historical flavour and try to test more historical incidents to see if the results were right for the right reasons, and to try to add a bit more predictability. Of course, one of the things I used to like was that you just couldn't count on things going as planned.This game felt like the days when I used HofT in preference to all other rules even for some fairly low level skirmishes with a handful of stands per side which it wasn't designed to handle, but did.

The basic combat procedures and movement haven't changed much from the recent HofT, there are just a few less restrictions and potentially drastic results are back as are persistent units. They are once again written for individual figures rather than elements or stands, like the original was written for "Strength Points"  which just happened to coincide with the number of figures. The biggest change from the current version is that I have again dropped the arbitrary Shaken/Disordered thing and that I dropped the Orders rule again and have gone back to the old rolling for initiative with a control test for units beyond command "radius".  I like the potential for the Orders PIPS but I've had trouble with implementing it. I think to get it to work, I would have to remove the brigadiers and get more rigid on units forming proper battle lines. As it is I almost never run short on orders which makes it a fairly pointless exercise. The initiative system has never failed to keep a game interesting.

So my quandary now is whether or not the existing HofT is worth keeping as a separate rule set or whether the differences are too small and the Rattle of the Dice  version so much better as to eclipse it. At the very least that calls for a 1/72nd playtest and then some period unit stats and special rule sheets for the ACW and 18thC. .

Duncan Adams playing in an early Morschauser Meets MacDuff 54mm 1812 game
  down at Lancaster some 9 years ago. Hmm some of the terrain looks a little familiar.

Tomorrow or Thursday I will post a battle report and then its on to getting busy. The table is only temporary right now, some boards laid on bookcases so I need a frame and I need to paint it and start making my OSW hills. I also need to finish painting the room and trim and getting settled into the new configuration. I also need to cast and paint a bunch of figures!

I'll post the new version as a variant for now in case any one wants a look.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Recce at Newboyne

An illustration from a 1960's book on wargaming? or perhaps just a computer fiddled shot of my table. Odd how the river disappears. Green, Blue, who cares? Makes you wonder what you might have missed on old TV shows or pictures in magazines and books.

After the successful ACW game I decided to push on with the later 19thC Atlantican exploration. Clearing the table and resetting the scene was easy but then I was stuck. Still, one has to start somewhere and since I had been saying "Toy Soldier" and the figures were individually based, I broke out Big Wars by Stuart Asquith and Jack Alexander and laid out the table.

Some aspects looked right as I reread the rules which I had only played once about 15 years ago. Other aspects just didn't seem to fit the nebulous "something" that I had in mind, A 20" wide skirmish line of riflemen? No Brigadiers, no command mechanism, and artillery that looks nearly harmless?

The next obvious candidate was to break out MacDuff which was originally written for just this era although for British vs natives rather than well armed & disciplined foes. This is the game seen above with units of 12 infantry  or 6 skirmishers or cavalry. Rather alarmingly, the game began with the Queen's artillery landing a salvo on to the newly painted 6th Infantry causing 3 hits! YIKES! Enough to cause them to halt shaken. However the also newly painted Colonel Kelinck galloped over and steadied the troops allowing them to march on.

  Artist's impression of the 6th Infantry marching stolidly forward under fire. The incident actually occurred more than a foot to the rear.

So far so good, it was plain that this would work. Of course it was also clear that despite the increased firepower of the infantry, it was going to feel a lot like the 1840's games, enough  so as to make me wonder "why bother?".  There is a limit to how often I can replay a given scenario in a short time frame so I stopped right there to consider things.

Having just enjoyed the HofT ACW game, my mind went back to the dozen or so enjoyable 40mm HofT games from when I played through the Red Book, a game a week, (such as Scenario 5 Urban Area, Scenario 8 Vital Bridge , Scenario 15 Forlorn Hope and so on. After a few minutes spent quelling the urge to pop the washers off and restore the old 4 figure company bases which, after all, are still in the drawer and would reduce the unit foot print by more than 25%, I turned my attention back to the over all goals and attempted to identify the real issues.

The first goal, which is becoming more clear, is to give each period/scale/collection (I don't like the term "project" as it implies a finite goal vs an open process, amongst other things.) its own unique feel beyond the figures themselves.  For example, my 1/72 ACW are on 40mm wide bases with 3 or 4 being a regiment, the same as my Atlantican armies were originally except they were 40 or 50mm deep rather than 30mm. If I had stuck with that scheme when I realized that the planned armies wouldn't fit on the smaller table I was going to have to use and revised the armies instead, I might be doing ACW HofT with 40mm Scruby figures now but I like having at least one set of armies that does not dwarf the scenery or over crowd the table so the 1/72nd will stay for the foreseeable future.

MacDuff was written for large skirmishes and very small battles and regardless of how many figures are used, thats what the games feel like. Swapping muskets for rifles won't make the games feel different enough to make me want to build all new armies. I could just add some later uniforms but the smaller MacDuff games actually tend to be more fun than the large ones, especially if playing solo. (It might be a units per player thing.) I think I'm looking for something that doesn't feel like a large skirmish though, hence the temptation to go Hearts of Tin.

My card table game downstairs is also pending. I'm just not sure what I want to use it for. I am fairly certain now that I don't want it to be just a small version of an upstairs game using the same armies. So its back to some sort of distinctly grid-like game with its own unique terrain. I'm just not sure what.It might actually be best if I reduce the squares to 2" to give more options. In any event while I had considered the later 19thC toys for a gridded game, I don't see that happening in 40mm as I want room for a touch of VSF and its too hard squeezing big vehicles on a small grid.

So what was I picturing really? Eventually I thought again about that 2006 Morschauser/Shambattle game where I really fell in love with the glossy old toy style 40's and simple games.

Richard Larsen's game at Enfilade 2006. 

The rules were all of 1/2 a page but of course if there had been any explanation of anything at all they would have been at least a full page if not two.  The real point though wasn't the rules per se, it was that the focus of the game seemed to be lifted by the lack of detail and fussiness and the game felt like a much bigger battle than it was and over all battle plans trumped the doings of individual units. Despite the absence of "trays" for the 4 man "Basic Units" the influence of Morschauser shone through just as it does in Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame.  Maybe I'll dig Dick's 1/2 page rules out or, if not, at least see just how far down I can strip things down and still have fun.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Battle of Newboyne (HofT Test)


Phew!  I didn't manage 2 games today but I did manage an average sort of Hearts of Tin (well, plastic really) game and its back to its old recognizable self. Not much different from the version before I started fiddling a week or 2 ago but I did manage to fine tune and tidy a bit while rescuing. Alas my camera still has not been seen since I put it aside when packing for Huzzah. Worse, my wife was off giving a seminar and had her camera with her leaving me with the really crappy one on my cellphone. Like they say, it doesn't matter how many pixels you have if you can't focus. Oh wait, that might have been me they were talking about. 

Brigadier Featherstone takes a bullet while trying to avert a crisis late in the game.

The game was Scenario 2 (Threat to the Flank) from Asquith & Grant's Scenarios for All Ages (The Red Book)  Briefly this scenario poses a river line defence where the enemy has sent a force up (or down) river to cross over a bridge and turn the position. I decided not to use any cavalry so substituted  more infantry and, since my Reb's are organized in 4 stand regiments while the Yanks are in 3 stand ones, I just multiplied the number of units by 4 then divided by the appropriate number  to get the number of units on each side and organized them into standard brigades. As luck would have it that worked out evenly and was enough for a healthy Division a side. I couldn't match the deployment ratios precisely without breaking brigade integrity but these sorts of things are only guidelines.

I deployed the Rebs with 1 brigade of 12 stands (3 x 4)  plus a 2 gun battery defending the town and ford and another 12 stand brigade in reserve. There was also a 12 stand brigade and battery marching to stop the flank attack along with a stray sharpshooter. The Yanks had 2 brigades (4x3) marching down a road to the bridge with a battery in company  and a similar force deployed ready to attack the ford once the flank attack had an effect.

It was tempting  to break the Union force into two small divisions but there just weren't enough regiments and brigades to justify  the extra orders dice and as it was, 1 die per side was ample to keep things rolling . I don't think there was a single turn when I didn't have enough order pips  but there were a few turns where I had to dig into the reserve being held by the ADC and eventually both sides exhausted this pool which they had built up early on. 

The start of Turn 3, just before things heat up.
An attempt by the Rebs to crush the Yankees before they could cross over and deploy went somewhat astray when one unit wandered too close to the Yankee battery across the river. The Yankee artillery were the stars of the day, silencing the battery near town on one side and cutting up  two reb regiments on the other flank. The fight by the bridge  bogged down into a firefight which lasted all game before the Reb's broke leaving their opponents too badly shot up and exhausted to move. From the Yankee perspective this was fine as it left them with 3 brigades vs 2. 

Once the flank attack started to develop the Yankee Divison Commander sent skirmishers forward then followed up by 3 waves of infantry while the flanking force attacked at the same time. The flanking force was met head on by Kinch's Brigade and that fight went on till the end.To every one's surprise Reb skirmishers attempted to hold the river bank but they were just too thinly posted. The entrenched infantry on the hill did better but after a prolonged fight they were destroyed just before the Yankee morale broke. The Yankee commander then pulled back the first line and sent in the next two to clear out the buildings. Losses were heavy all around but in a battle of attrition with even losses, the smaller side was bound to lose. Featherstone's Brigade by the bridge and Sumbody's brigade in town went shaken on the same turn with the late Featherstone's men retreating off table leaving the road open. 
Moments later, shortly before my battery died.

So that was the test game. A division a side, 9 brigades or 25 regiments (84 stands) + 8 guns in total and somewhere between 2 and 3 hours to reach a  conclusion. (there were a lot of   interruptions). I can't help but feel that a dedicated Confederate general might have put up a more imaginative defense but on the other hand Featherstone's Brigade almost won their fight early on which would have allowed them to intervene while Sumbody's Brigade almost repulsed the first Yankee Brigade to cross. 

A close and enjoyable game and one which felt like a typical HofT game, and reminiscent of the early Morschauser Meets MacDuff games that got me hooked on this sort of fast playing game focussing  on battle plans and generic tactics instead of detail. I won't say it captured the feel of regimental tactics  but for me it felt enough like the way some battles read in ACW Division level memoirs to make me happy.

Next up the newly completed Oberhilse will take the field in a very similar situation. I just have to make a final decision on a look/feel for the later Atlantican campaigns so that I can settle on rules feel.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Fiddler's Lament

Well, I wrote a nice short, simple set of toy soldier rules. Then I tweaked it and tweaked it until I had a nice convoluted set. So I ripped it apart, started again and basically re-invented Hearts of Tin with single figures. Poor Hearts of Tin!  That led me to reopen that and just incorporate a few things, then I noticed that some parts were incompatible or contradictory so I patched, and then patched the patches.

There's only one thing to do when I get in this mode. I went up and painted 4 more Zinnbrigade figures. When they were done I hauled out some ACW troops and confirmed that HofT was a mess again. I've just spent a few minutes rolling back some of the new and improved ideas of this last 2 weeks and then most of those of last year. All the convoluted series of  multiple phases is gone and the game is back to move or shoot or charge and all combat is resolved as each "order" is carried out, a system that has served well over the years. Good thing the basic mechanisms appear to be robust.

If all goes as planned I'll have a small test game on Sunday as well as a test of the Toy Soldier game which is less like a toy soldier game and more like a simple OSW game crossed with HofT. In other words in my comfort zone.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Tramp tramp the boys are marching

The first detachment of the newly formed Oberhilse 6th Infantry marches into camp.

Progress is being made, and on several fronts!  

You would think that since this is my imaginary army, I could dress it any way I chose, but no, after 5 years, it has its own character. The nice uniform with light blue facings, Austrian knots and white pant strips just looked too Faraway-ish, not Oberhilsian at all. At look at ACW uniforms suggested either light blue cuffs or light blue piping, either of which would also fit the Blue's army plain approach to uniforms but shouldn't I try to talk them into something showier?  I decided to consult one of the most authoritarian books on the subject that I have, Andrew Rose's Illustrated guide to Toy Soldiers. A careful perusal made it clear that it was extremely rare for toy soldiers to have both facings and piping on their cuff and collar. A bit of experimentation confirmed that I prefer the piping to solid, unpiped cuffs so piping it was, but white for better contrast. The result can be seen above and to my mind it looks quite Oberhilsian, simple, practical, economical to produce and serviceable in the field. Just the sort of thing the Elder Council would approve. I also happen to like it so all's well.

Since I was unsure on rules and organization I did 8 figures out of the 10 I cast up. The decision is now made, after much thought,  to do a special set of rules for this project with no consideration given to their use for anything else. Having thought more on the question of command, illusion, flavour and game feel and since there is no longer a question of compatibility with the War of 1812 or any real history for that matter, I've decided to go with the 20 man units that I tried out for the Battle of Plattsburg and have been hovering around ever since. Hopefully I'll have time to cast up 12 more figures  on the weekend, then I can paint up the fife and drum band that's been waiting.

A shot of the Plattsburg battle from 2011.

Rules wise, I was tempted to use either MacDuff or Hearts of Tin but found myself thinking about tinkering and finding a bit of tension between the 40mm Atlantican Wars and the contemporary 1/72nd ACW on one hand and the War of 1812 on the other. Doing a separate purpose built set using existing mechanisms put together for this sole purpose and this organization etc  just seems to make sense now. Briefly it will see a PIP system for command but normally only 1 General per side. Brigadiers will have the sole purpose of allowing 2 units to move on 1 order. The question of fiddling will be answered partly by the Pips and partly by an extended ZOC (by any other name). Once within 12" of the enemy, actions will be limited meaning so troops will easily be committed and getting them out will be harder than committing fresh, unengaged troops from reserve.

For those unfamiliar with the reference in the title, I was not able to find a copy of the Oberhilsian version of this famous American Civil War song but here is one adapted for Canadians marching to repulse the Fenians.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Illusions of Grandeur

It was a penguin  really that got me thinking about questions of illusion again. 

This isn't a penguin obviously, it's a Classic Comic and one of my all time favorite publications as well as one of the most highly  influential ones when I was young. Picture from 

A Penguin Classics paperback translation of Caesar is what got me thinking.  I was leafing through Civil War and reading his account of issuing orders to his army at Pharsalus and impressing on his reserve that they were not to attack until the red flag was shown and then through The Conquest of Gaul, in particular his account of the battle of the Sambre in which he writes about rushing about the field, rallying troops, ordering subordinates to move their Legion to join the next one and form a giant square and so on.   

All in all it sounded so much like a WRG 3rd edition Ancients battle from the '70's (no accident I'm sure) that my thoughts turned first to Command & Control in wargames and then to a vague idea about  the "feel" of a wargame, the impression and experience that it gives a player rather than how it simulates the battle itself.
I think the first post in which I started to explore this was Oh for a Muse of Fire in July 2010 while I was convalescing. I didn't deal with command control mechanisms then but I see now that it is part of it. 

This comic is the main reason that only Elastolin and Marx Romans look like the real thing to me, and why their Vikings are the only "real" Gallic and Germanic "Barbarians" !

The old WRG orders may not have been an accurate recreation of how an ancient army was commanded but it was an interesting and enjoyable if occasionally problematic (if abused) game mechanic and more importantly, it tricked you into feeling like you were commanding an army. For that matter, despite the 1"=10 paces and 1 figure = 20 men scales and armies of maybe 200 figures or 4,000 men, you did feel like it was an army. The same is true of Charge! games where there are only half a dozen regiments on the table. Its an illusion, a clever and effective one. A sleight of mind if you will. I wish I had a clear view of a formula to be applied when designing rules so as to get that effect, alas I only get fleeting glimpses and then my mind clouds over.

Looking at just the command control aspects, I found myself pondering again on just how things happened.  Obviously it varies with the time, resources and custom and on the size of the armies. Controlling a multi-corps army in the 1860's is a very different proposition from controlling a Brigade or even a Division. I was fascinated and briefly inspired by reading Grant and especially Sherman's memoirs but it didn't take long to realize that I had no real ambition to try to recreate the experience (and would probably suck at it).   Most of their jobs was an exercise in politics and bureaucracy or corporate management. They created the plan and gave direction to senior officers and then sat back trying to figure out what was happening and knowing that much of the battle would be so far away that they wouldn't hear until that night. Not the sort of hands on toy soldier game I'm looking for. 

The role of a Brigade or Division commander  in a big battle is quite different but not really any better. Generally they have been told what, where, when and often how to do it and their job is to execute. The edge to edge wall of toy soldiers isn't so far out for a slice of a big battle where there are other active commands on either side of the player. I have experienced just such a situation a couple of times in big multi-player games on long tables with large forces. It can be fun but its more about being a competent   tactician than a brilliant general.

All of which explains why I favour small campaigns such as the War of 1812,  or Napier's Conquest of the Scinde. Wolfe at Quebec only had 3 brigades but the fate of a continent was in his hands (OK that's hype, they could have come back the next year) . The decisions were his and the results immediate, just like on a typical wargames table.  However,  the real general still wasn't handling the individual companies and battalions and things didn't happen instantly and couldn't be undone or changed instantly.  

I have tried to acknowledge and reflect this at various times in the past, for example with written game orders , but never successfully.  Instead I usually focussed too much on how the orders get carried out, the battalion drill and so on.  I did get around to looking at it in June of 2011 (see Time & Space) but the effects were short lived. The trick is to remove  the temptation to fiddle and micro-manage while acknowledging the important role of competent subordinates but also keeping  the player engaged, unless of course its a skirmish and command is being exercised by yelling. 

One of my issues with many command and control systems is that they are too hit and miss and exaggerate the odds of outright disobedience and incompetence by at least 10 fold if not 100 fold BUT, they also tend to make it too easy to change your mind. For example, if a group of unit's gets a no move result, instead of heading off late next turn if not stopped, the player is free to give them a completely different order on the next turn. The triple move in Black Powder is a step in the right direction here.

Why not just go back to written orders? Well, basically because 1/2 the fun is trying to mislead and outwit your opponent and its too hard to do when you are he. I think I was headed in the right direction 2 years ago but it needs some more thought in light of current gaming plans and some other aspects of that illusion I seek. 

A gratuitous shot from the Rosie's Cantina game in June of 2011 which tested some  thoughts on the command and control effects of long moves.