Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cry Battle and Let Loose The Dice of War.

It was just the sort of evening when a card table game was what I needed. My disorganized mass of 20mm ACW troops have been on my mind so it seemed like a good time to try something. All my card table stuff had been packed away with the arrival of the latest litter of Iggies last June but Kathy had taken Vinnie,  the last of them, off  to a dog show along with the puppy pen that has been set up where my table goes so I set up the card table and grabbed the copy of Battlecry that Ron had given me. I substituted existing painted figures and supplemented the wood hexes with a few trees and bushes to make it easier to see them in the dim-ish light. Since I could only fit 1 of my standard bases per hex I needed some sort of casualty markers. Rather than muck about trying to come up with removable command figures or an adequate supply of actual casualty figures, I just used marker dice.

This was the first time I played Battlecry straight out of the box (more or less) and on the actual board and while I knew it was  smaller than the hexgrid we play on I was surprised at just how small the board was. Since I live in a Belmont, I started with the Belmont scenario and was surprised to find troops deployed 2 hexes away from each other. The effect of a surprise attack I suppose but still!  It helped make the short movement allowance make sense but not the generous ranges.

To get around the knowing what the other guy has in his hand, I drew full hands each time. It  lost some of that sense of being able to build a hand but since there were enough cards each time it didn't really stop making and carrying out an attack plan. The battle back card was problematic so I ruled that if your drew one and had a unit that had just been attacked and was still adjacent   then it could be played when drawn before choosing a card for the turn. I found that I didn't enjoy the game as much as I have enjoyed the Colonial adaptations of it that we have played on the bigger table even making allowances for it being solo. The slow movement and long ranges meant that firepower overwhelmed movement and any advance was a creeping forward hoping to drive off or destroy the enemy before you got close. Only the fact that only units that were ordered can fire moderated the casualty rate but it feels wierd to have 2 units staring at each other over  fence with no firing going on. In theory I suppose they are blasting away without effect but it feels odd. I also felt the random nature of the activation more keenly.

It took under an hour to play the game so I reset, put away the cards and tried using activation dice 1 per side with 1 PIP allowing 1 unit or a group of units adjacent to a commander to move. I also reduced the infantry firepower by 1  but let all units in range fire (except artillery that moved). This produced a slightly more enjoyable, more "normal" game but I started thinking about limbering/unlimbering guns, faster moves if not firing.....but luckily it was bed time by then.

An experimental Square Brigadier game last year with 2 x 40mm stand regiments on a 3" square grid. 2x30mm stands fit better and 12 figure regiments look better than 8. 4 hits per stand is too many though.

The game was definitely enjoyable enough to be repeated in some form again, probably using an improved Square Brigadier. 3" squares or hexes should give me just enough room for some scenery and adequate maneuver room as long as I keep ranges and movement low and I should be able to adapt all of the Battlecry scenarios as a change from generic teasers.

I have been pondering a different level of game to differentiate my 20mm ACW  from the 1860's 40mm toy soldiers that will inevitably include some very ACW looking fellows but I think I will stick with regiments as units, just give them a smaller frontage and minimize casualty tracking. The new recruits received last year came with a lot of 30mm bases and 2 of these fit quite comfortably into a 3" grid and will hold 5-6 figures each depending on poses. Two bases are enough to show a unit as either in march column or deployed in battle line and by keeping the units at 12 figures I can maintain my current organization but with 1/2 the frontage per unit allowing me to field twice as many units in the same space and dropping the ground scale to 1"=50 yds instead of 1"=25.

An al fresco Portable ACW game from 2 years ago, experimenting with 2x40mm stand regiments on a 3" hex grid.

This means small divisional sized scenarios as an evening game on the card table or some fairly large all day corps or multi-corps battles on the larger table. I just need the rules to be simple and quick enough to handle 30 or 40 regiments a side in the big  battles.

July's Bath tub version of Pickett's charge using about 2/3 of existing forces organized in adhoc 4 stand Brigade units. Picture this with twice the figures on the same frontage with 2 stand regiments as units. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Dispatches from the Field (1)

Life is interfering with hobby time and focus again but I can't afford to waste some rare days of fall sunshine. What time I have had, has been frittered away pondering what direction to take with my 20mm ACW but more on that later.

In the meantime, here are some photos's of 2 small HofT games, based on the classic Featherstome introductory game from BWMS, submitted at my request by long time blog leader and one time PBEM Oberhilise commander, Cesar Paz.

The first is using his original homecast 40mm ACW which I love. These are semi-flat with classic toy soldier styling. More can be seen here:

 the 2nd with classic Spencer Smith 30mm figures.

Cesar reported: "It would be a pleasure for me to be guest of my favourite blog. But I am not sure I can put up something that deserves that honour: my armies and scenery are very incomplete. I have played two ACW HofT games in August: 

The first I played with my 40mm semisolids and did not work: as the figures are mounted in stands in groups of seven I had to used a roster system to record casualties, and this keep my eyes out of the table for too much time. 

 In the second game I employed my small collection of Spencer Smith 30 mm and things went better: as they are single figures I was able to keep my eyes at the game and enjoy it! But unfortunately this armies are very small for the moment: a General,  2 infantry regiments and 1 gun with crew per side. 

I plan to press some horsemen and even some indians and frontiersmen into action for next games, but they are unpainted, so they will not look good. I will take the photos and prepare the report of my next game and send it to you. If you like it O.K. if not, well I will understand. 

Here are some photos of the two games I played: Regards, Cesar. 

Thank you Cesar. To me the simple scenery matches both the style of the figures and also Don's original game in BWMS.

If any one else wishes to submit appropriate pictures and/or brief battle reports to be included as a guest or "Dispatches from the Field" post, I hereby invite you to do so. 

Meanwhile if you wish to see more of Cesar's figures in various scales you are invited to check out his on line albums:

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Getting Mold-y

I meant to take a picture of this recruiting party before he went into the Plasticine but then I did not originally intend to bury him at all. My plan was to order some of the new silicone putty that lets you make a two part mold in two hours instead of two days. Unfortunately the item is back ordered so I decided to use the end of the liquid rtv that was starting to cure without permission last winter. Having a keen, but misguided, sense of the best use of my time, I prepared the figure in the Plasticine and then checked on the tin of solid rubber. Steadfastly refusing to curse and rant over several months worth of spoiled hobby money, I am putting the figure aside till putty appears  from one source or another.

In the meantime this master (1857-1868 British/Faraway/Canadian light order: tunic, pillbox/porkpie, no pack ) which was modified from my 40mm 1847 US figures, is all I've done this week. I had set out to do the full dress, Ft Henry guard style version but luckily I recognized after making a nice shako and then squishing it, that it would be easier to start with the light order version, cast it, and then add pack and shako and recast than to do it the other way, carving off the extra metal. A guards version will also follow asap, esp if the test bearskin cap works first time, which I doubt.

Its only been 15 years since I started doing this army from 54mm recasts, I'll get there.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hanging Out in the 16thC

Its been a while since the last remote game. There is no Skype version for my Chromebook so Rob and I connected using the Google Hang Out video chat for a game of Rough Wooing, 16thC French vs Imperials.  
Somewhere in Italy c 1545, French and Imperial columns converge on a crucial pass through the hills. That's Rob at the far end of the table.

The scenario was a variation on an old one from the Courier  crossed with one from Stuart Asquith's Solo Wargaming. The opposing armies are approaching on converging roads with the goal of seizing a pass through the hills. In addition to a General, each side was allowed to pick 15 units from the following list which in turn was based on what was on my shelf:
9 pike, 6 shot, 1 swordsman, 2 gendarmes, 2 hc, 2 lc lancers, 2 mtd arquebusier, 1 lt gun. 2 units could be elevated to Captain allowing 3 Battles per side. (As it turns out I over estimated the number of  arquebusiers and had to borrow some Scots).

First fire, my nimble arquebusiers out march Rob's light cavalry and ambush them at the junction.  

Rob's Imperial force fielded a Van of 2 light lancers and 2 mounted arquebusiers, followed by his Main Battle with the General, 2 heavy lancers, 2 shot and 2 pike. The Rear was composed of 2 pike, 2 shot and 1 swordsman. 

My French had an Advance of 3 arquebusiers, 4 pike, and 1 light gun, a Main Battle of the General and 2 HC and a Rear of 2 light cavalry lancers and 3 arquebusiers.

Mid game. My troops closest to the camera. 

Rob's light cavalry rode ahead and seized the objective while his infantry slowly marched on and formed up. I had led with my infantry with the intention of seizing  the junction and using my artillery and arquebusiers to whittle away Rob's force until they were ripe to be counter attacked. Worked like a charm thanks to lucky shooting dice on my end and some slow movement dice on Rob's end. 

The view from the other side. My chromebook  doesn't have quite as good a camera as my old laptop so the picture was a bit fuzzier.

Our light lancers clashed with losses on both sides which left the situation unchanged apart from Rob's cavalry being out of command and unwilling to advance close enough to return fire against my arquebusier. It took a good long while but eventually I whittled them down so that they broke and my Rear, now leading, was able to advance and occupy the pass in turn.

The end of the day, 

In the center, Rob's Main Battle repulsed an attack by my more numerous pikemen while his Rear drove my arquebusiers out of the park behind the stonehouse then advanced on my unsupported gun. Luckily for me, the constant trickle of artillery and arquebus fire wore his troops down and finally broke both battles  leaving the French in command of the field.

Rob handled the Activation Deck from his end, flashing the cards for me to see.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Supplies for Fort Belmont

A couple of wagons, a road through the woods, what could go wrong?
Oh! That!

The third game to test out the latest revisions was to be ambush, not a handful of warriors against a family of pioneers but an engagement closer to Brownstown or Beaver Dams  with a few hundred warriors and soldiers on each side. Some fudging of figure to ground scale is pretty much unavoidable when fighting these small actions in MacDuff with 40mm figures. I decided to just live with it and rationalized that with ammo tight, ranges would be short, say 1"=15 yds instead of 1"=25 yds which should have given me around 1 figure=15 men, but I treated 8 man groups as "companies" or about 1/2 that, and then just played as written. Although I have left the card sequencing as an option I went with the initiative roll.

The terrain was essentially what was on the table for the last game with the addition of several small farms and a growth of forest over every thing else. (note to self, find the rest of the trees and make some more) I wanted to keep the game small, partly as a test and party as being in keeping with the situation. For the ambush party, I took 2 black face cards each representing a band of 8 Abenaki or Miqma warriors, 1 red face card for Hessian Jaegers and 3 other cards as blank. I also put 1 card for a company of Royal Highland Emigrants and a blank card as the reserve in the clearing at the end of the table. I then took a card for a unit of Loyalists and a blank and shuffled these 2. One was assigned to the reserve deck which was dealt face down in the farm fields at the NE corner. The other was shuffled in with the Indians and Jaegers and deployed in the woods along the road. When the enemy approached within 3" or a unit tried to fire or move or tried to not spring an ambush, I flipped the card to see what it was.

Some one is waiting.....

The Rebel column was led by 2 companies of the Belmont Blue's, Continentals. They were followed by 2 companies of militia, and 2 more trailed at the end. Each of the flag stands was treated as a Commander for its battalion. Around the wagons was a company of armed wagoneers and 4 riflemen.

The Rebels moved first and tripped the first hidden marker, a band of Indians lurking in the woods. They failed an orders test to stay hidden and fired point blank at the Blues, hitting nothing despite the enfilade bonus (trade muskets!)  I made the Blues take a rally test for being surprised anyway but they passed with flying colours. On turn 2 the Loyalists moved first. If the Indians stood there, the Rebels would turn and fire back. They could call it a failed ambush and fallback in good Indian fashion or they could charge into the flank Hollywood style hoping the Blues would fail the orders check to turn and face them, or they could fail their own orders check. They didn't so I charged them in. The Blues made their roll, turned, and unleashed a point blank volley as the warparty broke cover. With 2 figures down they took a rally test and faded back into the woods, waaaaaaay back. After a pause for the Blues to reorder themselves and let the smoke clear, the march continued on turn 4. 
The redoubtable Blues press forward.

As the Blues marched up the road, card after card turned out to be blank but eventually the Jaegers appeared. Unfortunately for the Jaegers, the Blues were hot today and the first volley tearing into the woods almost wrecked them. It took a turn or two to get the Jaegers to fall back but eventually they managed to back off to use their rifles from beyond point blank musket range. The Blues kept coming but their losses were mounting rapidly.

Overview of the field.

While the column pushed forward, the riflemen and some of the militia went chasing the retreating Indians leading to a firefight around John Simple's farm on top of the hill. I suspect the riflemen had broached a keg of rum in one of the wagons though since they seemed unable to hit the wide side of the cabin let alone an Indian. Their dull green smocks apparently made good targets though and one after another they were shot down until the last one fled. By the time the militia floundered through the woods into the open field, the Indians were gone again and the chase went on.

Back at the road the second band of Indians finally emerged and making lots of noise threatened the 2nd battalion of militia as it passed the convoy and deployed. Behind them the Highland Emigrants and the Loyalists were revealed manning the fence line. The Blue's, tired of being shot up, lowered bayonets and charged. The Jaegers decided they had a good chance to stop them. Bad decision but the  remnants rallied behind the Loyalists. The Blues, hot in pursuit, crashed into the Loyalists before they could fire. A prolonged melee ensued with Colonel Ross having to throw himself into the fray to keep the Blues at it. 

On the far side of the road, the veteran Avalon militia cooling deployed and unleashed a devastating volley into the woods sending the Indians flying off table. Marching forward they finally reached the Highlanders who were patiently waiting  for them to come into close range. Again the militia fired first and again they rolled a fistful of 6's. The remaining Highlanders steadily returned fire but things looked hopeless.  Any minute now the whole Loyalist force would give way.

Suddenly, Col. Ross went down and, reduced below 1/2 strength, the Blues broke to the rear. Crossing the road and putting himself at the head of the company of Loyalists,  Col. Hector Macfarlane led them over the fence with bayonets fixed, sweeping all before them and capturing the wagons in the fierce pursuit.  

It all worked fine to my great relief. The only real difference from May's 1812 games at Huzzah is that there seemed to be fewer odd things where I needed to fudge things and no situations where opposing groups in the woods could not hurt each other apart from melee. 

Now, back to painting figures!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Return To Simple's Pass

Reinforcements arrive as Red counter attacks. 

The 2nd test game was fought in about a dozen different sessions over 2 busy days and already the details are fading and I'm tired so I'm just going to summarize. 

The situation was a counter attack by Red who had been driven out of the pass. Units that had lost heavily or routed were fielded at 3/4 strength, those that had suffered less were brought up to full strength. The captured gun, alas, was scratched from the planned OB. I allowed Blue to receive 2 squadrons, 1 of dragoons, 1 of mounted rifles and a battery in advance. The steam battery and General Zinn's brigade of 3 battalions arrived on turn 1. Red, whose army is way behind on mobilizing added a 1/2 unit of rifles, an over size elite infantry unit, 2 infantry units, a horse artillery rocket battery, 2 field guns, a squadron of Heavy Cavalry and a squadron of cavalry. The two under-strength infantry units from the first fight were initially kept off table as a reserve. 

Red's subtle initial plan was to send infantry around the wood on Blue's left, send his cavalry forward to probe the enemy cavalry and assault the wall with elite infantry supported by artillery and the reserve infantry. In effect it swiftly became an attack across the whole front. Hmmm. Good thing Hector was elsewhere!  

Lord Snooty is almost swept away by the pursuing Dragoon Guards but his batman stepped up smartly and halted the Red Cavalry to explain that His Lordship was a  Gentleman from a foreign country here as an Observer and by all rules of war, not a combatant. 

The initial charge by the Director General's Bodyguard was a minor disaster with the DGBG being almost destroyed. A counter attack by the Princess Dragoon Guards, however, swept the Blue Dragoons away in turn, almost snatching General Scott  and the visiting foreign Anglian observer, Lord Marmaduke (aka Lord Snooty). Scott's intervention held the Dragoons in place but it was a scramble to reform a line. Luckily Brigadier Zinn was up to the task even in Scott's temporary absence.

A new line forms as the Royal Fusiliers charge the wall.

At the far end of the table the Zouaves put up a tremendous fight supported by the steam battery and after a game long struggle, eventually repulsed the 2 units that had gone that way despite heavy losses. The struggle over the wall also raged for an extended period.
The seesaw cavalry battle continues but with fewer troopers each time. Behind them Red has finally carried the wall.

The arrival of Blue's reinforcements just as the flank and center caved allowed a new line and a counter attack. It didn't quite come to a bayonet charge but Red had trouble bringing his artillery forward and the combination of Blue's artillery support, a fresh brigade of infantry and some good dice soon had the battle looking very undecided again. Eventually Red's artillery came up and despite the Frontier Light Horse managing to repulse a charge of Lancers  with shooting, the Red cavalry was steadily working around the flank, drawing off Blue's infantry from the main fight. At this point I decided that if it was a campaign and I was Blue, I would probably  withdraw while I could. It wasn't though and on a closer look, Red had taken heavy losses, so I did my best to hang on and fight for a draw.  The Princess Dragoon Guards in their third charge of the day put an end to that hope capturing a gun and  overrunning General Scott and a battalion of infantry during the pursuit (not to mention almost nabbing Lord Snooty again!).

A  dramatic finish!

I had spent considerable time writing up my rough notes before the game and had caught myself starting to fuss and complicate  so I was a little worried that I might have blown things. Luckily it seems that I had caught myself in time and the game felt much like the first one. There was one old issue that bubbled to the fore. I like the 1/2 casualty rule because it means cover, for example, is always safer than being in the open because the maximum number of possible hits is reduced whereas when using a die modifier the odds of a hit are lower but the maximum  stays the same so a lucky roll ignores it, unless there are enough modifiers to make it impossible to hit!  The problem comes when you don't have enough dice to inflict 2 hits or 4 if, say, firing at artillery at long range. It also seems to be too steep a penalty for a minor melee advantage like a stone wall. One of the things I had caught myself tinkering with and stopped was a revival of the double hit on a 6 which causes some other issues and also makes the game less simple and straight forward. Halfway through the game I reverted from the 1/2 to the -1 for cover etc. as used in HofT and Rattle. It may occasionally lead to heavier than expected casualties but at least when a small group of Rangers bumps into a band of Indians in the woods, it will be possible for each to inflict a hit on the other.

The first game I played had 4 units per side and went well. The largest Atlantican armies I am planning will have about 20 units. This game saw 12 units against 11 in a straight forward fight. I have no doubt that as large a game as I can fit on my table would go smoothly and not take an excessive amount of time though probably 4 or 5 hours rather than 3. I was suddenly unsure though about how one of my typical petit geurre scenarios that MacDuff was supposedly written for would go. Trying a typical AWI/1812 ambush of a wagon train suddenly seemed like a good idea.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Counter Attack !

The charge of the Royal Fusiliers.

I have now updated the main copy of the rules, made them available again and played a larger test game. More on the game tomorrow. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Hector Meets Featherstone at Simple's Pass

Near the end of the day, Hector watches intently as his forlorn hope charge by the Oberhilse 5th Infantry goes in against Faraway's 'A' Battery. Victory lies in the balance.

But, lets go back to the beginning.

Aficionados of Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers will probably recognize this scenario despite my addition of a few contours. This isn't the first time I have tackled this scenario on this blog but so far I would rate it as the most enjoyable rendition yet.   

The map and orders from Don Featherstone's Battle With Model Soldiers.

Red or Faraway took the Confederate role this time fielding 2 old battalions of Fusiliers, a squadron of Lancers and a foot artillery battery. Blue or Oberhilse fielded the new 5th Infantry and the even newer Hougal Zouave Volunteers, a squadron of Dragoons and a pack battery which would normally be light artillery but which was upgraded to field status for the day. All infantry units were 16 strong, cavalry 8 strong and batteries composed of a gun with 4 crew. All infantry had rifled muskets and were able to detach up to 1/2 their figures as skirmishers. I had spent a considerable amount of time last week proving to myself that it was not necessary to actually show the skirmishers on table but luckily I remembered that doing so violated my Intuitive test.  

Each side had 1 Commander acting as General. The extra crowd of officers on the Oberhilse side of the field was a party escorting their visitor Lord Marmaduke aka Lord Snooty. They were not, however, permitted to play an active role in the game. I commanded the Red army unfettered. Hector commanded the Blue side but of course made me move the troops as usual. 

In order to explain why the two parties were fighting over this stray bit of stone wall, I decided the wall marked the crest of a pass with a mountain on one side and a river on the other. Any attack on this front required the attacker to control the pass. I set out a contour to mark the crest but while it blocked line of sight it was too gentle to delay movement or confer a benefit in combat.

The situation at the end of turn 2.
Whoever wins the initiative will seize the wall on the next turn. 

The game began both sides rushing forward to the wall. All units were under command on the Red side with their cavalry being pulled back into a reserve position while Blue's cavalry, which was on a sweeping outflanking move, passed their first two Orders tests.  Once again, being a solo game, I forced the high roller to go first rather than choosing like I would if playing another human. Blue had won the first two rolls but Red won the third and reached the wall first. Blue reacted by shifting to his right and swinging around the flank, the intended wide sweep by the cavalry being somewhat tightened.  Both sides opened fire inflicting frightening casualties and causing a wave of panic (for me not the soldiers on the field but it was just a couple of good rolls and things evened out as the game continued. Phew!)

Turn 3 and the battlefield erupts in smoke and fire.

A few more turns of shooting like that would have wrecked Blue. An initial attempt to get the 5th Infantry to cease fire and pullback failed but eventually their officers got them under control and deploying a skirmish line, pulled the remnant back. Unfortunately this put them in the arc of fire of Red's artillery and with numbers hovering at the 50% mark they were soon pulled back even farther. 

The Zouaves backed by the Mountain battery were having the best of a firefight with Red's infantry but time was against them. Throwing in the cavalry was a risky move for Bue, if they won,  Red's position would be well and truly flanked and the game was in the balance but if they were repulsed the flank of the Zouaves would be wide open while they would still be engaged frontally. It would be pretty much game over.  Given that things looked so bleak if Blue's cavalry were to lose, it seemed to make sense to go all or nothing. The Dragoons were beyond command range and the Zouaves were involved in a firefight. In each case a roll of 3 or better was required to go but if either failed, it was no worse than not ordering them.
Time to do or die. Hector ordered the Zouaves and the Dragoons to charge.

Turn 5: The Charge of the Blue Dragoons and the Zouaves. To the dismay of his escorts, Lord Snooty has insisted on pushing forward for a better view of the action. 

The main body of the Zouaves bounded forward through their skirmish line. A ragged volley brought one down but they shrugged it off scattering the red infantry with the ferocity of their charge. To their right, there was a tremendous clash as the two cavalry units came together. For a minute it seemed that neither would prevail but Brevet Brigadier Kelinck galloped forward and inspiring the Dragoons, drove the Lancers off. Reds flank was wide open!  One more push and they would be over run and driven off.

Surrounded on three sides, Red hastily reforms.

Once again the game hung in the balance. If Blue could pursue speedily, they could stop Red from reforming. Taken in flank by Zouaves while engaged in a firefight the Brooklyn Fusiliers along the wall might not have time to reform while the Dragoons could over run the defeated Dover Fusiliers and hopefully over run the gun before Red's Lancers could reform, if indeed they rallied at all. 

Its almost never that easy. Red won the initiative and then passed all orders and rally tests with flying colours. Deploying a company of skirmishers to hold the wall and support the battery against the remnants  of the 5th Infantry, the rest of the Brooklyn's wheeled back to face the Zouaves while the  Dover's reformed in line with them. Brigadier Spye galloped back and by force of personality, held the Lancers on table. A line was formed, a shaky line but a line none the less.

The inexperienced Zouaves, disordered after the melee, stalled as they reformed around the colours but the veteran Dragoons didn't break stride, they galloped forward crashing into the Lancers while they were still rallying and unable to respond. The Lancers scattered and Brigadier Spye barely escaped capture himself.  Red was badly battered but still held the objective.

The Blue Dragoons are repulsed by fire.

At this point in the game, most units were either engaged in combat or beyond command radius and most turns there were failed order rolls, sometimes with dire results.  Several units were flirting with being below 1/2 strength, it couldn't go on much longer. 

The Blue Dragoons paused to reform (failed test) allowing the Dover's to form square and the battery to turn and face them. A charge into the mouth of the gun through flanking fire resulted  in a casualty and failed charge home test. The dragoons retired under a heavy fire from the artillery. Finally they shifted to the right, beyond the battery's arc of fire and there they sat.

On the other flank, however, the Brookyn's were now under a heavy fire from Zouave skirmishers and the mountain battery again. On the same turn the Dragoons were repulsed, they suffered 5 hits from 5 dice! General Spye rode over to steady them but was shot down himself. It was a fatal move. Left without orders, turn after turn the Battery commander was unable to decide whether to shift his guns to the left to shoot at the cavalry again, or return his guns to their original position and drive off the remnants of the 5th Infantry who had crept up behind the battery. This is the moment in the picture up top when Hector decided that personal leadership was called for. He sent the 5th Infantry forward just as the battery finally redeployed. 

A blast of canister tore through the 5th but they were more afraid of Hector than of artillery dice and passing the charge home test the colour bearer staggered forward into contact. He didn't get a die in melee but the gunners whiffed on their's making it a tied melee. The 5th was below strength though and so yet another morale test was taken and passed. The Brooklyn's were also below strength but also held. It couldn't last.  

Unable to pass up the opportunity, the Dragoons charged forward into the rear of the guns while the last few Brooklyns took to their heels. The Dover's, still in square, attempted to cover the retreat but were shattered by artillery fire and then cut down by Dragoons as they fled. 

Turn ??
A sad ending  for the Soldiers of the Queen on a day that started so well. 

So there we are, a delightful solo game, one of the best in ages. Work is well in hand to complete translating the quick rules notes into English. The last minute decision to try again with an orders test for units who fired or fought in melee instead of a ban on moving and firing finally worked just the way I had envisaged it when I tried it with Hearts of Tin two years ago. The different order system then in use didn't work with the idea but this did! I'm expecting the final edition to settle out at about 5 pages with about 12 rules and be ready by Monday.

The Queen's generals can obviously not leave the pass in Oberhilse hands so work is already at hand putting together a counter attack force but General Scott  has also ordered up reinforcements and General Turner had not anticipated the possibility of such a complete defeat.  In both armies the work of rallying broken units and recovering wounded men and stragglers is in hand.

Expectation is that the armies will clash again on Sunday.

Lord Snooty, pursued by his escort, rides over to examine the captured gun and congratulate his hosts while Private Wayne talks to the Ensign of the 5th to get the technical details.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

MacDuff Stripped to the Buff and Ready to Rumble!

Advance guards of the Red Queen's and Blue Republic's forces clash at the top of Simple's Pass. The crest of the pass is marked by an old stone wall between two groves of trees.  Travellers often remark that the Pass looks familiar yet somehow different.

I have finished a first rough draft of the latest version of MacDuff. Some elements of the original rules have survived in simplified form as has the over all intent of the rules and vision of the sort of game it will produce. There are also very heavy echoes of Rattle of Dice.

It was my intention to post the rules before playing but given the sticky nature of some of the first drafts of various rules (as in drawing internet traffic years after posting and after the rules have been scrapped by me),  I have decided to wait until I have played a game or two played and finished proof reading and adding odd bits like the chance cards. So far they have been reduced from 11 pages to 3, largely by removing explanations, definitions and special cases. Some of these things may be needed but anything I can live without is being thrown out in favout of letting people make up their own minds about how to organize their troops and which modifiers to apply and when. Here is the first draft of the intro:

"Introduction. This is a simple set of miniature wargame rules designed primarily for fighting small battles and skirmishes on the fringes Europe and America from around French and Indian War to around the first Boer War. It is aimed primarily at experienced wargamers, like myself, who want a simple set of rules. You may organize your armies as you see fit and decide for yourself and decide which units may use which modifiers. There are as few restrictions as possible on tactics or who can try what. It is up to you to study what was done historically and maybe try it on the tabletop and see if it works (in theory you should get the right result most of the time though the process might be fuzzy) or to develop your own organization and tactics. The rules have come along way from the way they were when originally published in the Courier #73 in 1997 but I have kept the name because I use them for exactly the same sort of games."

The major changes in actual play are in play sequence, morale and melee. In the end  I chose to keep the card draw sequencing as an option and that meant either a shared, simultaneous shooting phase or a second round of card draws for shooting. The extra work didn't seem worth the latter. I was going to keep the figure vs figure melee but I really prefer dicing for hits and have been tempted to change it for years. This seemed like the time. For morale, I borrowed and modified an idea from Featherstone for particular tests. I did some of these for Rattle and have copied them pretty much verbatim while adding two: a repulsed by fire test slightly different from the current MacDuff one and an under strength test.

Right! There should be just time to play a turn or two.

Lord Snooty rides ahead of his escort in his eagerness to experience battle in Atlantica.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Rattling MacDuff's Cage or Boiled Figgy MacDuff

Lord Snooty watching the Hougal Zoauves exercising now that they have finally been recruited up to full field strength. His horse, Jerome, has been the talk of the town since he arrived. At 18 hands, he is the tallest horse ever seen in Atlantica (evidence of some Shire blood perhaps?). With the Lord himself standing 6'4" in his stockings, they make an impressive sight together. Off to the side, Private Wayne is sampling the wares of a passing sutler before buying refreshments for Lord Snooty.

MacDuff is at heart a simple set of rules but it looks so much more complex than Rattle of Dice that I decided to count the number of rules in each of MacDuff and Rattle as a starting point for analysis. Depending on how you define "a rule" (eg does each sub paragraph count as a rule? What about each modifier?) MacDuff has 16 named rules vs 9 (disguised as 8) in Rattle.  If you expand to include sub rules it goes up to between 50 and 70+ rules vs around 20 for Rattle.

Huh! How about that?

In part this is because MacDuff  attempts to be more prescriptive or at least more definitive, listing, for example, 17 troop types versus none. (Rattle presumes that some one who doesn't know what "infantry" or "cavalry" are, will google the terms and make their own mind up.)  Since I don't believe that a set of rules is a good way to teach history to a player, do not believe a player can be forced to play a game as intended if it differs from what he wants to do,  don't intend MacDuff to ever be published again and since anyone downloading them is free to email me, I think I will strip out most of the explanations and the various special rules for oddities. As I have time and interest I will add some appendices with the optional extras and oddities perhaps some design notes to guide players.

At the same time, I have been waffling for ages over die modifiers for things like cover and range which reduce the probability of a hit but do not affect the minimum and maximum hits that can be inflicted versus a Charge! or Kriegspiel like halving of effect which absolutely reduces the number of hits. I like the latter better and this is how MacDuff started but the former is slightly simpler, especially when more than one reduction applies and is the current system.  I'm going to go back to halving.

While I'm at it, I'm going to experiment with an older fashioned play sequence. I've been using a combined movement and shooting phase since the mid-1980's but  after re-reading an old Featherstone book this week, I've been reminded that the initiative roll that I borrowed from him originally had a sequence of Side A moves, Side B moves, Side B shoots, Side A shoots, then all resolve melees. This puts an interesting  extra twist on the decision to go first or second and eliminates the chances of one side firing twice without the other side having a chance to reply when having troops NOT return fire was the historical problem, without putting in reaction fire or more complicated rules.

I think I'll try all 3 ideas on for size later this week. After all both the Zoauves and the Queen's Lancers are now up to strength and Lord Snooty has been promised a battle.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Ah we theah yet?

Lord Marmaduke, of Bunkerton,  travelling abroad and recently landed in Atlantica, has his man examine a sign post to ensure they are on the right road.

Officially Lord Marmaduke is tourist, travelling abroad while on leave, but rumour has it that he is actually an emissary from the Grand Duchess Gloriana of East Anglia to the Council of Oberhilse. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Hold at all costs

Today I made it back to Ron's for another game of Memoir 44. I don't recall the last time I actually won one, but they've all been fun and close games so it doesn't really matter. Today the Canadians came out at last! The bulk of these are Valiant figures that I painted for him a few years ago. I think their last game may have been with BKC.
The Canadians are holding a bridgehead over an un-named river somewhere in Italy, with palm trees (well they were new and fit nicely on the hexes). A handful of reinforcements are near but the Germans are already on hand. Victory was based on who held the bridges at the end of the day.

One of the things we have been playing with is some simple way to differentiate between different tanks. We ended up by classifying tanks by weight and by gun as heavy, medium or light. Heavy tanks move 2 and take 4 hits, mediums 3 & 3, lights move 4 but only take 2 hits. Heavy guns get 4 dice out to 4 hexes, mediums 3 at 3 and lights 2 at 2. (So for example a standard Sherman is a medium tank with a medium gun but a Firefly would be a medium tank with a heavy gun and a Churchill would be a heavy tank with a medium gun. ) We also decided to allow the Canadian 6pdr to use the heavy antitank gun rule but with a reduced range of 3.

The Canadians were concealed and could not be fired on unless the firing unit was adjacent or if the Canadians revealed their positions by firing or moving.

I braced myself to be overwhelmed by a pincer attack before my reinforcements arrived but the cards were kind and the first of the small handful of reinforcements showed up before the first shot was fired. At last the first assault came in and my lead units were destroyed or driven back but not without giving as good as they got. As the fighting raged on my left, I kept a wary eye on a group of  German Tigers and mobile artillery apparently being held in reserve behind a tangled vineyard in the center.  As the German infantry on my left was slowly shot to pieces without taking any more ground, the Tigers finally rolled forward, around my right and into town.  I opened up with everything I had and soon there was a burning Churchill but two burning Tigers as well. One last push by the German infantry just increased the death toll. Final tally Germans 7/14 units lost (2 Tigers, 1 Stug, 1 mobile artillery and 3 infantry with several others carrying several hits.), Canadians  3 units lost, 1 Churchill, 1 M10 TD, 1 sp 105mm with 2 damaged infantry units.) (As an aside the artillery losses on both sides were due to an exchange of Barrages by off table heavy artillery.)


When I quizzed Ron about his tactics, it seems he ran out of useful cards at several points, especially for his armour, not surprising really considering how many good cards I had in my hand all day!  I felt a little bad because his combat dice were pretty cold as well, while mine were average verging on hot. Still, I've been on the other end of that in several games and there were some pretty tight moments for me during the game. The armoured assault by the Tigers being particularly dangerous.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Don Featherstone: A Muse of Fire!

By now surely most of the wargaming world has heard the sad news of the passing of Don Featherstone, one of the greatest modern pioneers and proponents of the hobby.

I still remember the thrill when I found his book, Battles For Model Soldiers, in W H Smith's on St Catherine's St. in Montreal on my way home from cadets during the winter of 1970/71. Already I had an interest in military history, knew that somewhere grown men were playing wargames with soldiers and spent my time converting  toy soldiers into detailed models and painting Airfix figures and wondering just how one went fighting battles in adult fashion. Here was my salvation!

(from Battles With Model Soldiers by Don Featherstone)

When I look inside the cover of that book more than 40 years later, the figure 7.25 has been penciled in, doubtless the price. It seems awfully cheap now but was certainly more money than I usually carried in my pocket at 15, more than my month's allowance anyway. I'm not sure how I survived the agonizing fear that someone else would find the book and buy it but when I finally got back to Montreal the next Saturday, there it was, and here it is beside me now.

(from Battles With Model Soldiers by Don Featherstone)
There is little doubt that I would have found my way into the hobby with in a year or two anyway but Don's spirit, enthusiasm,attitude and advice has had a lasting effect. I think this short quote from that book sums up probably his greatest influence on me, and not just as far as my hobby goes:

"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. " Don Featherstone 1918-2013

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Things Rattling Around in my brain.

Just an idle post to show the sorts of things that clutter my brain and confuse my thinking from time to time.

When I played the supposedly 1860 something Hook's Farm game last week I was slightly bothered by a feeling that despite the longer rifle ranges, the game didn't feel very different from an 1840's game. Two sorts of questions sprang to mind: " Why not and what could be done to fix it  without complicating things?" and "Why does it matter?".

Part of the first answer is that despite the improvements in firearms, tactics hadn't yet changed drastically so battles were not yet quite so different. Another part is that I am not showing very low level tactics and perhaps not done as good a job as possible at portraying skirmishers and the low effective battle range of muskets.
The problem with skirmishers is that unlike earlier periods, these were often integral parts of the line units but operating several hundred yards in advance and slowly turning from a security screen at the start of the century to often being the main firing line by the 1860's.  

A comparison of manual to table top tactics.

On the left we see a British battalion deployed using the 1862 drill manual at a ground scale of 3"=100 yards which is roughly the scale of Rattle of Dice. Roughly 1/4 of the companies are deployed as skirmishers, acting in pairs at 5 yards between each pair or such distance as will allow them to cover the front and flanks of the main unit. At a distance of around 200 yards behind them, less if there is dead ground, are the supports for the skirmish line formed in line or company columns according to terrain. These allow the skirmishing companies to be relieved if the men are tired or run low on ammo or can be used to extend the skirmish line, cover its retreat or possibly thicken it if hard pressed.  About 300- 500 yards behind the reserve is the rest of the battalion in line or column, and thats leaving out an optional but recommended additional reserve in between  the supports and the main body.  That's right the battalion of 600 men in "line" should have a width of about 6" and a depth of 15" to 20".  Doesn't leave a lot of room on a 5ft deep table, in fact one could get away in most cases with leaving the main unit off table.

On the right we see  a typical wargame representation of a battalion in line with skirmishers deployed. Still 4 skirmishers and the same width but only taking up maybe 6" or less in depth.  Not quite right but practical.

Passing on to effectiveness, there are several sources that claim that the aimed fire of a handful of trained skirmishers  is much more effective than the massed fire of several times their numbers of massed rifle fire despite the theoretical possibility of the latter being aimed. Its more about psychology than physics. There is a lot to be said for systems which do not degrade a unit's firepower with casualties but toy soldiers being what they are I like the effect on players that it has. The trick is making small arms fire effective without  it being quickly decisive at anything beyond the sorts of ranges that constitute a charge. 

Two alternate methods of showing a mid-late 19thC firing line with supports.
After giving up on trying to make skirmish fire more effective than volleys without being able to shred attacking troops even before the advent of the Chassepot,    and being tired of trying to coral and control the tabletop skirmish/firing lines of untrained players (not to mention my own) I opted to deploy infantry in a 2 deep line and assume that both sides were using similar tactics and would thus cancel each other out and the presence of skirmish lines and supports need not be shown explicitly. This does somewhat reduce the flavour of the period but does increase the resemblance of the tabletop to contemporary Lithographs. The provision for skirmish lines does still exist in Rattle if players wish to portray them but they are treated as separate units and its up to the player to remember that they are linked and should be used to cover their own units unless originally detached to go off and do something special. It would be particularly useful if deploying an army that used them against an untrained army that didn't but perhaps then the  skirmishers would need some sort of fire bonus. 

The 2nd question has a superficial answer and a real one. On the surface it matters because it affects how well we are recreating the period but given the simple toy soldier nature of the rules its hard to give this too much weight as long as the overall relative effects are right. The real issue is that if the two periods feel too similar, there's no real reason to clutter the shelf with two sets of musket era armies plus a pair of rifled musket armies and a set of breech-loading rifle armies. 

As we get into the re-creating issue,  I've realized that I could really use a pin rule to reflect the paralyzing effect of rapid rifle fire, as well one for as the increased use of extemporized cover by prone troops. I just haven't quite figured how to get it just right and simple, something like pinned by X amount of hits with pinned troops counting as in cover and with a morale roll to try to go forward again but reaction fire would help and that's another can of worms to be wary of. Hopefully the sheer volume of fire of breech-loaders will lead people to attack with skirmish lines which should have about the right effect. 

With regards to my own armies and limited shelf space, it reinforces the need to act on a tentative decision taken more than a year ago to merge the 1812 and 1837 armies into one set and settle the rest on the 3rd quarter of the 19thC with an eye more towards Lithographs than gritty reality. Might not hurt to increase the lethality of rifle fire a little bit vs muskets and add in some rules for improved shrapnel should I push the envelope towards 1870.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Swords Behind the Scenes

 Where to begin? Lets start with the changes to Stout Hearts. The first 12 Prince Michael games were all played using Medieval Mayhem by Rob Dean with input from yours truly, (See Battlegames Issue 6). This set featured variable length moves, shooting during enemy movement, opposed die roll combat with armour saves, and a bunch of morale tests.  

I was a proponent of variable length moves from the early 80's until recently but have now gone off them. I'll still use them, I'm just not a big fan anymore but that's another post someday. I like the missile fire and the melee is ok but occasionally tedious as each pair of figures fights in serial fashion with 2 rolls each time. The morale tests are what I never really cared for never the less the rule work well enough that I was planning to continue using them. 

That changed with Rattle of Dice which I enjoyed enough that I did up an ancient/medieval/fantasy version with 1 die per 4 figures whether shooting or meleeing with armour being a modifier and heroes getting extra dice. It appeared to work just fine in early tests until it came to duels between heroes. While not inevitable the mechanism tended to leave one hero dead and the other badly wounded.  Rather than having a separate mechanism for duels, I switched to opposed die rolls for melee while leaving everything else the same. This was an inconsistency which is often a problem and sure enough, during the first game, I kept accidentally reverting to dicing for each shooter instead of firing by group. I needed to either revert to group melee or switch shooting over. Since I had decided that the games were about as big as I wanted to get, going with single figure combat made sense but to prevent missile fire from being too deadly, I needed to do a better job of capturing the effect of armour. Rather than being clever, I fell back on armour saves which I associate with Don Featherstone but which many will associate with the much later Warhammer. As it turns out the saves made melee better as well but the advantages over using Mayhem with magic and heroic add-ons have become trivial. None the less the rules work the way I want and the work is done.

The Saxon raiders advancing quickly in loose order before stopping to form shieldwall for the final approach.

Something else I wasn't happy with was the shield wall rule which had been in and then out, finally becoming a modifier which basically assumed all "heavy" infantry would be in shieldwall.  That wasn't really what I wanted and anyway during the first game I kept forgetting that rule too!  So I reinstated a shield wall rule for heavy infantry in base to base contact.

As usual, once I started tinkering I adjusted various details and modified the one morale test merely to be consistent with Rattle so as to ease brain strain when I switch back and forth.

So much for rules.  The post containing the rules has been updated. When I'm sure they are stable I'll put them into dcument form for download.

Last game I made the 4 fur kilt, bare chest Saxons elite giving them a plus in combat and morale but I found myself calling them berserkers as I was deploying them and then wanted to show the resilience to wounds which that state seemed to confer. Hero status seemed to be just the thing and its lucky I did. The 2 slingers at the wall got off 2 shots at medium range and 2 more while being charged needing 5 or 6 to hit. They hit all 4 times! Then they proceeded to win several melees against the berserkers despite being classed as non-fighters! 

It was definitely  a game for non-average die rolls  but luckily spread evenly between the 2 sides. For example one of the Saxon archers, the one that can be seen in some photos sneaking into the back of the farm, also never missed  a shot, killing 2 farmhands and 2 soldiers. The 3rd soldier caught the arrow on his shield then whacked the archer over the head. His helmet saved him and he nimbly skipped back to safety. I may have to name and promote him for the next game. Prince Michael and his knights were the opposite, their dice were loaded with 1's and 2's. Only their heavy armour kept them alive long enough to eventually do some damage.

Look out Princess! If the initative switches the big bad Saxon will close the extra inch and catch you!

Now the Snow White thing, that wasn't actually planned. Since I was re-using the Hook's Farm terrain I was going to leave the church in place but discovered that the only 40mm priests I have are armed with muskets. Converting and painting one has now been added to my todo list, I suppose I'll need a celtic tonsure. A cottage or village with peasants seemed a fair substitute but while I have a number of fine ladies, I have a distinct lack of medieval peasants painted up and those were already taken by the villa. More for the todo list!  The next best thing was  a witch or similar. I ended up making a small deck of cards with the Queen of Spades indicating an evil witch with a grudge against the centurion and/or Michael, the Queen of Hearts would be a good witch opposed to the Saxons while the Queen of diamonds would indicate a lady worth ransom money if captured. Two jokers were included to allow for loss of time while the Saxons tried to figure out who the character was.  When I went to take one of my newly painted ladies/witches my eye fell on the Snow White figure with her little bluebird, I looked at the cottage and the woods, and, well, I was sunk. I would have swapped her out if revealed to be an evil witch but dice and cards can't be trusted and the story developed as told.


A quick look ahead at Prince Michael.  I have a few more figures to convert/paint for the current setting but I am nearly done. I do need to add more civilians, especially peasant types for which I intend to supplement the remaining Elastolin kits with 40mm Prince August women and peasants. There are also a handful of fantasy figures. My new target date for the enchanted forest game will be New Year's or thereabouts. 

I've never been happy about using Huns in Britain, even when trying to call them Sarmatians or Picts and they will now be dismissed and allowed to return home. My initial thought was to raise a Hun army to allow Michael to slip over the channel and emulate Val's exploits against the Huns but there is something else that has been haunting my dreams like a white elephant.

Oh, wait, it IS a white elephant. Prince Valiant took various trips to the Med (not to mention North America where he met some Prince August Skraelings), so I see no reason why Prince Michael can't journey to the Black Sea and encounter Persians. I just need a Persian hero General with a small body guard of Knights (clibinari), some infantry, some Hun mercenaries, and, of course, an elephant!