Thursday, October 31, 2013

A not so hasty defence

Monday's game was Hasty Blocking Position from CS Grant's Programmed Wargame Scenarios. The Newport Noodle is months over due and this would have been an ideal candidate but I find I need to write such reports when the game is fresh and my energy high and its even better when I am playing one side. My energy levels have rather low this week and I was testing not only rules but evaluating the over all gaming experience and since I almost never use the programmed instructions, I decided to use them for both sides and act as impartial observer. This did give me a bit of a problem late in the game when I couldn't quite decide who the good guys were or who I wanted to win and if I should "try just a little harder".  I suspect some romantic (aka bleeding heart) journalists will be writing occasional accounts from the other side of the paper this year as the heroic "let us live life in our own way" people of the plains meet the regimented, imperialist, invaders.

A repeat photo but, with the very welcome and recently rare autumn sun streaming in low from the south-west, I had even more trouble than usual getting use-able shots of the opening game. The viewpoint is roughly from the entry point for the Brethren around turn 3.

Translating the army lists was a bit of a problem. I was a bit concerned at equating a unit of 6 Irregular skirmishers with a unit of 12 regulars, especially on an open plain with adequate regular cavalry. To even things up a bit, I made the terrain a little bit more obstructed than the original map suggested and classed all the skirmishers on both sides as sharpshooters with a +1 to their shooting dice. It seems to have worked reasonably but then the attack plan rolled up was probably the best the defender might have hoped for in the situation.

A gratuitous shot of the 4 new cavalry figures.  I still miss my camera.

The Brethren, marching on table at the northern "road" (aka wagon trail) during turn 1, was tasked with holding the pass through the hills to the west. The plan rolled up was to deploy light troops to hold any bits of terrain as an advanced screen while the main body marched directly to take up their positions. 

The Faraway force also arrived on turn 1 at the Northern of the two Eastern roads. A die roll determined that the advanced guard of light cavalry was only 1 move ahead of the main body and a further roll determined that the plan was to throw a screen across the hill line and march around behind it to attack the pass from the South West. Larsen's Lancers were deployed across the road under the fire of enemy sharpshooters in the wood. The  DG's Bodyguard rode up onto the hill, dismounted and returned fire supported by the Horse Artillery rocket battery. The infantry marched on, Victoria Rifles and Naval Brigade rockets at the head. 

An overview of the battle around turn 5.

With neither side meeting the criteria to roll up a reaction to the enemy, the battle proceeded according to the initial plans. The fire from the wood was annoying and by the time the way was clear for the Lancers to pull back they had been nearly destroyed as a fighting unit. With infantry engaged to the fore, both rocket batteries turned on the wood and began rolling 5's and 6's like they were on sale. Eventually the skirmishers were too few to do any good and faded quietly out the back. 

Across the table, by the farm, the Irregulars held their own against the Victoria rifles until numbers told. As they fell back, reinforcements came forward to stabilize the situation. Casualties mounted on both sides causing the Brigadier to join 'A' Coy of the Rifles, only to be shot from his horse, the 1st of 3 Brigadiers to go down.

After lengthy preliminaries, the battle rages as the redcoats deploy and storm the batteries on the heights above the pass. Did I mention I miss my camera?

At length all was set, with rockets streaming overhead (still loaded with 5's and 6's and only the occasional rogue to cause a bit of concern) the first 2 companies of redcoats deployed into line and advanced into a hail of grape and canister backed by sharpshooter fire.  It was a little rough at first but as they lowered their bayonets and charged, a hail of 5's and 6's blew them back off the hill and the Brigadier with them. The Black Fox had joined the fray on the hill but was unscathed. On the right, the Queen's Lancers who had formed the rearguard came forward and charged the Atlantican cavalry. These held for a moment and then scattered to the wind, leaving the Faraway cavalry to send their wounded Brigadier to the rear and ponder the heavy guns being spiked around to bear on them......
The attack on the battery is repulsed and retires in confusion upon its supports.

With so many of the Red Queen's units effectively put out of action, it almost looked like the Fox's men might hold the pass despite the nearly 2:1 odds. A closer look though showed that they had also suffered heavy losses and that the two flanks were wide open. The last 3 Red coated infantry companies  deployed and opened fire with their Enfield rifles, the foot battery also came forward, deployed and  opened fire. Slowly the defending options were fading, a forlorn charge by pikemen was repulsed and the heavy batteries finally silenced. There was no choice left for the Fox but to withdraw his men. But was the Queen's Army in any shape to push through and carry out their mission? Not really. Given time to regroup, tend to the wounded, rally stragglers and rest they could carry on in a day or so, but not today. Reading, and re-reading the victory conditions it looked like a draw, after nearly 5 hours of fighting (real time including disruptions, coffee breaks etc, about 12-ish turns? (lost count) or 3 hours theoretical game time which was probably about the amount of actual gaming). 

The last picture, the game went on for 3, maybe 4, more turns of attrition.

It was an enjoyable game which had me playing "just 1 more turn" when there were other things I was supposed to be doing but still it was one of  those games which would have been more fun with an opponent or at least as player vs programmed enemy. Against a similar enemy, the long approach march and deliberate assault might have been sound but against an army of skirmishers and non-mobile artillery, a quick push straight up the road by cavalry followed by bayonets might well have scattered the opposition before heavy losses were incurred. As it was, the result felt very reasonable for this sort of asymmetric situation. In a long range firefight, the "natives" were able to hold their own and inflict losses and even to throwback a rash bayonet assault up a steep hill, but they couldn't hold any position in the open or resist for long once it came to concentrated close range fighting. If the situations had been reversed, I doubt the "natives" would have had much hope of forcing the pass by nightfall unless they could outwit and out maneuver the enemy or maybe had a large force of shock troops (which they don't, not yet anyway). A reminder that some care needs to be taken in adapting scenarios for "colonial" games.

One thing that I did notice was that this definitely felt more like a "war-game" than a "game". There was a time when "games" did not really interest me, if anything there have been times in my life when I probably "looked down" on such things but increasingly over the last few years, I've been enjoying the game side more and more, especially short, sharp decisive games.  That's neither bad nor good in and of itself but it is something to think about as winter approaches, as is the state of my hobby room but more on these things in a day or so.

Orders of Battle

Brethren of the Coast.
General, 1 x 6 Irregular cavalry with rifles, 1 x 12 Irregular infantry with melee weapons, 5 x 6 Irregular infantry sharp shooters with rifle, 1 heavy battery, 1 ox drawn foot battery.

General. 3 x Brigadiers, 3x6 Regular Cavalry (1 with rifled carbines), 2 x 6 Regular light infantry sharpshooters, 5 x 12 Regular Infantry, 1 Light Rocket Battery, 1 Horse Artillery Rocket Battery, 1 Foot Battery.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

We interrupt your scheduled battle report for this flash report

Its been one of those weeks, haven't had time/energy to do a battle report although I did offload the pictures from my cell camera today. HOWEVER, I got TWO, not one, but TWO packages in the mail today.

Yup, all the way from England, a Jacklex 4.7" naval gun, apparently captured by Boers.... Its a tab smaller than my old Britain's gun but more accurate and just right for the 3" grid. ohboyohboyohboy.....

Cavalry L to R Jacklex Boer, RAFM NWMP
Infantry L to R Jacklex Boer, Partha British, Jacklex US 1917, Esci British, Jacklex British, Esci British, Partha British, Jacklex Boer.

I was a little concerned that these figures might be a tad small to fight Ron's Partha's and they are pushing my boundaries though they should normally be far enough away from the British to make the difference ignore-able.  The horse are small even if they are Veldt ponies, so I may remount them on some spare horses.

In any event I don't expect a lot of Boer War games at Ron's place and they are, as anticipated, a perfect match  for the old Esci British and thus other plastic Colonials which offers some nice options for mix and match (and wagons!) for home use. Hopefully the Historifig Scrubies will be here by Christmas and I can plan an expansion for next year.

Meantime there are a dozen painted plastic Brits in the cupboard and a few more in a state of nature. (Bought those in my trailor trash days in the mid-80's along with the Airfix ACW and a few Zulus. Hmmmm seems to me I gave a way a few sprues of Esci Zulu's a few years ago, oh well don't really want to do Zulus again anyway, they'll probably show up in a HOTT army on some junkyard planet some day.)

Since it was my wife who actually cleared the mailbox today, it was almost inevitable that this ebay find would arrive on the same day. I've had my eye out for an Elastolin  4cm Landsknecht range gun for a while but they tend to rise too close to $100 for me indulge a whim. Couldn't believe it when I saw this one for $10 with no bids and 2 hours to go.It has some minor damage, a missing bracket in front and the trigger doesn't work so you have to pull back on a piece of nylon line to cock the spring. It'll still send a matchstick across my table though! Not that I'm going to fire matchsticks at my Elastolin's, especially since they are glued to 60mm masonite bases!.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Pffft! HA! Get Up! Crack!

Took me all day to get here but at last the table is set and the first few turns played.

Word has reached the Black Fox that the Red Queen's troops are on the move again and that this time, they are leaving the coast with plans to pass through the hills to the interior to build a series of posts to control trade and  establish territorial claims.  Gathering up the Brethren, the Fox leads a force to block the passes to give his allies time to gather. Lacking mobile artillery, they load a ships cannon into an old wagon, hitch oxen to an old field gun, and set out for the hills.

The game was set up with 6 figure units in anticipation of an old fashioned MacDuff style game but it didn't take long for the question to be answered, "which rules are these?". Thinking of all the things that made MacDuff what it was, the card sequencing, the control chart, the variable length moves, the figure to figure combat, the rallying of hits, the automatic removal of 1/2 strength units, none of these are here. On the other hand, many aspects of the original Morschauser Meets MacDuff rules are here. Despite the setting, the single figures and the small units, this is a Hearts of Tin game. 

So be it. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Drums, drums in the hills.

A bit of a disappointing weekend hobbywise, too many domestic obligations after all, but I have made a good start on  a small band of native Atlantican and mixed blood cavalry. Should have them finished and on the table tomorrow.

Friday, October 25, 2013

One Rule to Ring Them All

Well maybe not all, maybe not even most but well, anyway, I hit the wall on the rebasing. 18 Federal Regiments have been sorted, tweaked and rebased and about 6 more are waiting but I need to start stealing bases from dismounted cavalry and in order to make coherent units, I'll have to do touch ups on a few. Since and average game will see 8-12 regiments a side. I think its time I work on cavalry and artillery before I tackle the rest of the infantry. But first a game!  of something, something not ACW, not till the guns and cavalry are done!

However, once I laid out the Reb army in its new configuration of 19 regiments, each of 3 stands of 6 +2 markers on a slightly less than 4" frontage,  I realized that I  had again side stepped the old question. How do I make this collection provide something different?

Various possibilities have occurred to me over the last few years but the main three were:

a) Since the figures are smaller, I can play fit more on the table and can thus either play bigger battles using the same or different rules or use bigger units make the figures fit better into the terrain.

b) Use them for a different style of rule or game whether a high level game such as Volley & Bayonet allowing me to play entire army level actions on the table or just a different style from my 40mm games, an element or unit based game vs a figure based game.

c) Use them for purely historical scenarios as opposed to generic or fictional ones.

Well C was a non-starter and after some thought about the types of scenarios and some experimentation, I decided I had no real hankering to play solo games with a handful of 50-60 man units, nor did I wish to act as army commander worrying about politics and logistics and manouvering corps and divisions while some form of AI resolved  combat, at least not on a regular basis. I can always re-purpose troops when I get the urge to play something at that level. It seems I am quite comfortable at the traditional, intermediate level I am at. So that left me with a comparable size of unit but more of them to play either historical or generic scenarios and the last sticking point of whether or not to use different rules to manage the game.

The obvious choice for the  1/72nd ACW was Hearts of Tin  which was conceived of for just such a game with 20-30 regiments  a side. My hope was to push the 40's back down into company sized units as originally envisaged for MacDuff but that hasn't happened.  If the games were going to be at the same level, I figured that at least the rules approach could be different. One element based or since that wasn't different enough, unit based with the other drawing on  Featherstone/Charge! traditions of counting figures.

I have no theoretical difficulty with the unit based approach, in fact it is probably a more correct interpretation historically, I do use it in other periods  and I see it as the best way to approach gridded games with a small unit footprint. Call it conditioning, but with a table full of figures,I just enjoy the traditional figure approach and find it more intuitive. Added to this is my usual desire to use the best and to try out the latest ideas and its no real surprise that HofT and MacDuff kept converging despite effort to make them different for the sake of being different.

A complete waste of time so I've given up and spent valuable time reworking rules when I could have been sorting and gluing and painting. Now I again have one set of Horse & Musket rules to do every thing I need them to do for both 1/72nd and 40mm figures for skirmishes and small battles (Division equivalent up to small cops sized) . It is as close to the simplicity and intuitiveness of Rattle of Dice as I could manage and should be able to handle games ranging from short games with less than 100 figures up to 1,000 figure games lasting all day. It will mean using some form of markers when not using single figures but I've gotten used to that now.

In theory a 1/2 scale game could be played on the card table and of course I can always just grab a few stands or figures but I have enough small projects that I do not intend to ever let grow big enough to need the full table and I think there will be enough of those designed for the grid to keep it booked rather than playing the same games upstairs and down.

I'm not sure if the rules should be called a new edition of Hearts of Tin or of With MacDuff to the Frontier since there are elements of both but for now they are listed under MacDuff.  My goal now is to clear the table and play at least 1 upstairs and 1 downstairs game this weekend and to paint some figures!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Progress Report

Its Fall and its sunny so I've been distracted by getting house and garden ready for winter but I've made some progress.

19 Reb regiments, 20 figs each in 5 brigades + 5 Generals and 2 guns rebased and ready, almost. There's a couple of flags to add and Brigade colour stripes and regimental numbers to add to the rear of the bases. There's also 1/2 of the 20th regiment to be painted, not to mention the 6th Brigade, the cavalry and the rest of the artillery.

But the Yankees across the table! Looks like Shiloh all over again.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Reducing Chaos to Order

I've taken a day off and would like to be painting something new, or maybe playing or at least planning a game.  Buuuuuuut its been a year now since 4 boxes of pre-painted recruits marched into camp and while some have seen action, they have yet to re-organized and incorporated into a unified whole. That work started this week and I've decided to push on and get it done while waiting for my mold putty.

I had originally planned 6 figure 40mm wide bases but wimped out and went for 4 or 3 figures each to avoid having to paint a few hundred extra figures. The new guys were mostly on 4 figure bases of 3 different sizes of bases, none the same as my own. I would have just left them anyway but the glue was old and dry and the bases have been shedding figures every time I picked them up. I hadn't originally planned on 30mm bases but the newcomers brought enough for everyone (or close to it anyway, we'll see soon) and I can fit 2 of these per square on the small downstairs table  so 30mm it is.

There are enough figures now for me to do in excess of 30 regiments a side using my old 12 man org but I didn't feel like running that big a game on a regular basis and still have some more figures to paint, so 20 x 20 man units with 3x6 man bases and 2 markers each it is.

The remaining new-to-me figures were easily plucked off their bases but my own need soaking for safe removal (old plastic ankles can be brittle). Once reorganized, the figures are being glued down. Once dry, the bases are being coated in glue and dipped into sand. This helps hold the figures in place and softens the outline of the bases just enough that it doesn't bother me. I no longer have the patience to bury them carefully in filler and only notice the difference now if I pick a base up and examine it closely. Once the sand and glue is dry they get a base coat of green and when that is dry, a drybrush of light green. The result seems to blend well enough with the table to not be jarring or too unnatural looking.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dispatches from the Field (2)

As promised, here is a full battle report from Cesar. This is actually been queued up for about 2 weeks.

Report from Cesar Paz
I decided to test the current version of McDuff playing de simple scenario of BWMS. The battle was played using Sencer Smith 30 mm ACW figures over an 4´x 6´ tabletop and lasted 8 turns.

Deployment was as in the book and armies were as follow:
1st. Infantry Rgt. (marching-kepi) 2 officers and 20 soldiers
2nd. Infantry Rgt. (running-kepi) 2 officers and 20 soldiers
Cavalry Rgt. 8 troopers.(clad in some strange uniforms)
Gun w/1 officer and 3 gunners.

1st. Infantry Rgt. (marching-kepi) 2 officers and 20 soldiers
2nd. Infantry Rgt. (marching-slouch hat) 2 officers and 20 soldiers
Cavalry Rgt. 8 troopers
Gun w/ 1 officer and 3 gunners.

In the 1st.Turn both armies advance in all the line sending their Cavalry to threat their respective lefts flanks. Conferate infantry and gun slightly turning to meet the flank menace. (picture 007)
In 2nd.Turn Confederate General win the initiative, and sensing an opportunity, joined his Cavalry and with a Follow Me! Order charged the 1st.Federal Inf. in the flank. The Infantry pass their Order Check and turned to meet the attack, and the Federal General joined his Cavalry and moved round his rear towards (and nearly reaching) the critical point. (picture 014)

Confederate Cavalry was defeated loosing three troopers and retreat, to be charged in the rear on next turn by Federal Cavalry. Unable to turn, it was destroyed with their General, on 4rd.Turn.
Meanwhile in the centre, the absence of his General and bad luck, freezed the 2nd.Confederate in the exposed and inconvenient position they have reached at 2ndTurn. From therein on, they fail all their Order Checks (5), leaving the 1st.Confederate and gun to fight an unequal battle.
On 3rd Turn 1st.Confederate manage to reach the cover of the stone wall, but a combined front and flank charge of both Federal infantry Rgts. forced them to retreat towards their base line, where after failing a pair of Rally tests, the Federal General and Cavalry destroyed them (another irresistible rear charge). (pictures 023, 028, 029 y 034)

On 6th Turn the Confederate gun manage to repulse a charge of a depleted 2nd. Federal Infantry shattering and destroying them despite the efforts of the Federal General (the +1 save them once of destruction) but was in time destroyed by the combined fire of 1st.Federal Infantry and gun. (pictures 036, 037)
After destroying the 1st.Confederate Infantry, Federal Cavalry charge the rear (again) of the static 2nd.Confederate, who of course, fail to turn and were defeated, pursued and finally destroyed at the end of 8th.Turn.(pictures 041, 042 y 048)
A total victory for the Federals.

I have enjoyed the game a lot. I really liked this set of rules, found it especially suitable for solo-playing and hope to play again with them. Thanks Ross!

Some doubts that aroused during the game:
On 5th turn 2nd Federal infantry charged the rear of 1st.Confederate infantry. Unable to turn, the Confederate could not fire at them. But the Federals have crossed the front of Confederate gun who fired at them. They fail the consequent test, so retired one inch and return fire. In this situation: the Federals should have fired at the infantry they have infront or turn and shoot at the gun?
(In the game, I have let them shoot at the infantry) (picture 031)

(Ross answer: The rules are a little vague on this but I would have done the same.)

On turn 6th the same 2nd.Federal infantry was shattered, reduced to less than half strengh and compeled to retire by the confederate gun. Next turn their General joined them and save them from destruction, but they have to retire again. On turn 7th they fail the Rally test and became routed. Should I have also removed the attached General? (In the game I haven´t remove him because I considered he has not when they where shooted)

(Ross answer: Strictly speaking  if he is attached when they rout he will be swept away or perhaps be hit by a "stray" bullet but with only 1 general, surely a generous opponent would offer to let him stay.)


Gracias Cesar!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Battle of Belmont, The Final Solution.

I spent a fair amount of time this past week pouring over card table/gridded game related rule, battle report and post-battle-comment blog posts from the last 3 years. It turned out to be time well spent. I was starting to sniff around ideas already tried and rejected as well as edging towards playing my usual game on an ungridded table using 1/2 scale or cm scale. A valid idea but not  one that needs me to write a different set of rules. Instead I resurrected a few ideas that I had abandoned since last year, possibly because they worked?

Well, maybe not but I've forgotten why I dropped them and some of the games which I had actually forgotten sounded like I had enjoyed them. There were some false starts Saturday night and 3 half-played games as I kept tweaking and in the end I found myself with something very close to what I was using with 4 figure 40mm units last spring just before I put the board away. The biggest difference is just that I have dropped the Pips again and tightened the whole thing.  By this morning I was ready to try the rules out properly. The result? Well, I present you with the battle of Belmont, the final take.

I began by going back to the map and orders of battle from Battles & Leaders.  Please imagine the Mississippi running along the table edge behind the Confederate camp on the left above and down the side of the table closest to camera, in other words, when trying to connect the map to the tabletop, pretend you are on a boat in the Mississippi when looking at the map.  Since the battlefield was largely wooded I decided to mark the clear squares and declare everything else as wooded and scatter trees and bushes about to be moved as convenient during the game.  I was briefly stumped by my lack of little 3" field squares to plop down but the Battlecry box was nearby so I grabbed field and fence hexes to drop down on clear fields and folded up some tents for the Confederate camp.  There were some apparently ineffective fieldworks so I dropped some markers down rather than going back upstairs. Part way through the game I belatedly remembered  that it was an abatis not breastworks but I don't think it made much difference and anyway it was too late to worry about it.  
(Once again the map used in B&L is copied from Wiki)

The original battle was fought in 2 halves, the Federals attacked and captured the camp  then got out of hand looting the camp. Rather than counter attack, the Rebs rallied their troops, brought up reinforcements from across the river and moved around to get between the Yankees and their steamboat transports upon which the Yankees reformed and fought their way through.

After contemplating various scenario rules for forced looting and rallying I decided just to rule that any Reb unit giving ground during the initial engagement would flee the table. Once all Reb units were destroyed or retreated off table, the Union regiments would reform but 3 new Rebel regiments, along with any infantry units  that had retreated off table, would arrive on the long table edge.  Victory points would be awarded for enemy units destroyed + 1 for the camp.

I initially deployed the Federal forces on their base line but realized that since the Rebs were alerted and in position and since I had removed the skirmisher markers, nothing would happen till the Yankees reached the edge of the woods so I jumped them forward.  The Rebs fought hard and inflicted heavy casualties, throwing back the Federal center twice. Eventually though the Yankees turned the flanks and Reb units began breaking back. One unit held on too long and was surrounded and forced to surrender.

 I allowed each Federal unit a rally roll of 4,5 or 6 to recover 1 hit and then redeployed both armies for the Yankee's race for the steamboats. Initially things went well enough for the Union.  A tough fight developed along the bank of the Mississippi but while the Rebs were slowly worn down and driven back, they just wouldn't rout and wouldn't let the Yankees through.
As the Federal left tried to work around the enemy, a gap started to develop and Grant had to choose whether to try to force his way through the Rebs or to split his force and try to find away around each flank. (Probably a bad choice in retrospect.) The battery and one regiment and Brigadier were left to work along the river bank. The gun provided valuable support but had limited affect due to the woods and its inability to close assault. (In woods, guns are better on the defense.) I've rarely seen worse shooting than those Yankees had but the Brigadier was brilliant. Eventually though, the Brigadier was shot off his horse and the remnants of the regiment broke just when it was almost clear to make a break for the boats. That left the battery isolated and it was quickly snapped up.
 At the far side of the board, the Yanks had been making good progress at securing a corridor to the board edge. The large field came in handy for some quick moves but the Rebs were coming straight across, the shortest route and they were usually going first when they needed to head the Yanks off and moving second when they had them cornered and needed to shoot first, and when they shot, they shot straight!

It didn't help that once the Rebs were in contact, the rules against moving from adjacent area to adjacent area meant the Yanks had to go back before they could go sideways. The only ways to do that were to move second one turn and first the next or to give ground in combat and then go first. Once or twice they managed it but not often enough.  Slowly they were pushed back and back. The cavalry and one regiment got away but on the last turn Grant was shot while trying to rally his men and the remnants were cut off and mopped up.

Of the five Union infantry regiments, cavalry squadron, artillery battery and 3 generals, only 1 regiment and the cavalry escaped. The Rebs lost heavily in men but only 1 regiment was destroyed and the camp burned. A clear Confederate victory and a finish to General US Grant's career if it hits the papers!

So much for the broad "what".  The game lasted well over an hour through a total of close to 30 turns although it is about the smallest size game envisaged (7 units vs 6 growing to 7). There are some teasers that size but most have at least 12 units a side and some as high as 16 units a side. 

How did it feel? Game-wise, this time around, there was tension building as the game went on with crucial rolls made or missed. No one roll was game deciding but several moved one side or the other closer to or farther from winning and several times choices between player options were agonizing. The end was close to a rout but only a few turns earlier I thought the game was going the other way. 

From an historical point of view, the amount of detail is low and some mechanisms are abstract  but this time Brigades stuck together so that units could support each other and so that regiments could be controlled. Brigadiers were key for that control and for their ability to steady and inspire regiments and hold them in the line. The degree of movement forward and back and the prolonged nature of the fighting with occasional collapses felt right as well. 

Over all I would rate both aspects as 4 out of 5 this time (as a game it would have been better with a congenial opponent and, perhaps, a customized version of my chance card deck). I haven't down the full downloadable version yet but the updated blogpost edition is the version used in the game and can be found here.

I am now ready to work on getting the troops organized, named and based to fight on the 3" grid. Infantry units will be 2 stands of 6 figures plus 2 extra command figures giving me 4 strength points to remove. Elite units will have extra command figures, green units fewer. Gun crews will be separate and cavalry will be as well. 

I'm not quite sure what to do about ACW on the big table. Currently my units are 3 or 4 stands of 3-4 figures or regiments on 12 to 16 strong. If I stick to 3 bases I could have 20 man units counting supernumeries and could then just leave a base out when playing on the small table or I could leave them at 12+2 and just field more units.

The board needs work. With so many bushes and trees and such poor lighting, it became nearly impossible to see the grid and I had to estimate based on the occasional visible grid area. This was made worse because the Rebs were still on their old 4 cm bases so didn't quite fit inside a square and by the time you stretched down a 4 or 5 unit line you were out almost a whole square. I'll probably just pen in the corners but might try painting on stronger highlights and shadows. Actually it is tempting to do a painted hex board so that I can finish my bases the same way for both boards. 

Anyway, time for some painting, and for an ancients game.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Getting to be a bit of a Boer


Well, I've taken the plunge. Last week Ron broke out the Colonials for a nail biter of a Colonial game with "my" Brits just hanging on to a ridge for a narrow win. With a  decision still pending on the best way to scratch my long deferred  Boer  War itch, I took the plunge when I got home and ordered some Scruby Boers from Historifigs and then a handful more of Jacklex figures from Spencer-Smith (gotta  have a classic 4.7" somewhere in my collection) to get me started.

Reinforcements on table from a week ago with Brits holding the hill. Ron Porter's figure and table.

Not saying I will never do it in 40mm toy style but these classic ranges have the right sort of OS look, are cheap enough for even my budget and, based on pictures and remarks on the Plastic Pelisse  and John's Lead Garden and my own experience with Scruby 25mm Mamlukes, are close enough to the Ral Partha's that  I'll be happy fielding them on the same table. 

For now it will be a small force for Battlecry games to be followed by British, and then I suppose by Zulus/Matabele/Basuto. Whether or not it ever expands and blossoms into something else or reaches as far as Tel el Kebir is another question for another day.

This week, long time friend Simon MacDowall (red 'jumper') crossed over the pond. Its been  a decade or two since we have been able to squeeze a game  in but Ron graciously hosted us for a 3 player Battle Cry game, a long way from Simon's usual fare but just right for a quick break from the pub. This time it was the Afghans defending the ridge and Simon and I ended up on the same side, the first time in 40 years as far as we could recall. Innuendos that it was no accident that Simon's Afghan force (see for more pictures)  was driven off the ridge and wiped out before reinforcements arrived, must surely be dismissed in face of the great personal risk run by my General and his escort who defeated Ron's right wing, capturing its general and preventing the capture of the only flag we held at the end. Luckily enough of my men were left at the end to be able to garrison his tribal areas as well as my own once we let the British buy peace.

As an aside, probably the last time that all 3 of us were in the same place at the same time would have been at a meeting of the Montreal Wargamers at the old fort on Ile St Helene in 1976/77. 

OK back to designing my card table game and experiments with going small but grid-less or not and with abandoning casualties or not.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Square Hearts? (A new rules draft) (Oct 13 re-revision)

Square Hearts ( or The Square Brigadier v4.2 )  14 Oct 2013

*** Please Note that this is only a partial draft with new ideas for play testing***

This is a draft set of simple gridded wargame rules for the 1850's and 60's written for play on a grid of hexes or squares but easily adapted to a non-gridded surface by adopting a standard unit of measure, say 3" as an area.

Game Units:    A unit is whatever fits into a hex and normally represents between 300 and 600 men or 3-6 guns. All units may face an angle or a side but may only move or shoot through a side. The arc to their front, 90 degrees wide for squares or no grid, 120 degrees for hexes is their frontal arc for combat. An area is adjacent if it shares a side.

Sequence of play. At the start of each turn opposing commanders roll and compare dice. The commander rolling highest has the Initiative and chooses whether to move first or second.
First player moves units
Second player moves units
Second player rolls combat dice. First player gives ground
First player rolls combat dice. Second player gives ground.

Orders. A unit within 3 areas and in line of sight to a general may be ordered to move. Units that do not have line of sight to a general within 3 areas must roll a die. 1 = no move, may shoot or rally.

Movement. Units may move less than their maximum.
Infantry moves 2
Native Irregulars move 2
Artillery moves 2 and ends limbered or moves 1 and ends deployed ready to fire Horse Artillery moves 3 and ends limbered or moves 2 and ends ready to fire.
Cavalry moves 3 and ends mounted or moves 2 and dismounts.
Generals move 3 but may move up to 2 during the combat phase to join a unit.
+1 area if in column on road but may not move adjacent to the enemy or shoot.

Individual units may move in any direction and may turn when moving or rallying. Artillery and cavalry may not enter dense woods or towns except on road.

Units must stop when moving into an area adjacent to enemy or when entering an area of difficult terrain. If a unit which begins adjacent to an enemy moves, it may not enter any area  adjacent to an enemy on that turn.

Sharpshooters. Sharpshooters are specialist units of skirmishers. They get one die in combat if adjacent or within 3 areas with a clear line of fire but can only take 1 hit.

Combat: The target must be in front and there must be a clear line of sight one area wide between the firing unit and the target.

Infantry: Roll 2 dice during combat for each infantry unit adjacent to an enemy unit to its front. Roll 1 die for an infantry unit with a target within 2 areas but not adjacent. (This may be long range fire but would usually represent skirmishers firing)

Irregular Infantry: Roll 2 dice if adjacent to the enemy.

Artillery: Roll 2 dice during combat for each artillery unit firing at a unit within 3 areas. Roll 1 die for each artillery unit firing at an enemy unit which is  4 or 5 areas away.

Cavalry: Roll 3 dice for each cavalry unit adjacent to an enemy unit if mounted and both units are in open ground or if dismounted with breechloaders. Roll 2 dice for other cavalry adjacent to an enemy. Roll 1 die for a dismounted cavalry unit within 2 areas but not adjacent.

Combat Effects: A score of 4,5 or 6 inflicts 1 hit on infantry.  A score of 5
or 6 inflicts 1 hit on cavalry or artillery.

Difficult Targets.
A unit behind cover (fieldwork, stone wall) may cancel 1 hit per turn unless it was caused by sharpshooters.
Vulnerable Targets. Add 1 die if firing at an enemy flank or a march column.
Superior Firepower/Shock. Add 1 die if rated superior firepower whether due to equipment or training (breechloaders etc) or if rated as Shock troops and adjacent to the enemy.

Giving Ground. A unit may cancel 1 hit per turn by retiring 1 area. A unit may not fallback into an area adjacent to an enemy or an area occupied by a friend.
Support. A unit may pass 1 hit per turn to an adjacent friend.
Generals. A general may try to steady a unit which has taken hits. Roll 1 die on a 4,5,6 1 hit is cancelled. On a 1 the general is wounded and removed.

Morale.  An average unit has 4 strength points if infantry, 3 points if cavalry or artillery. This may be increased by 1 or 2 for above average units or reduced by 1 or 2 for units that lack training or are demoralized or otherwise unsteady or are small detachments.  When a unit has taken that many hits it is removed.

Entrenching. A unit which is in woods, a fenced field or a rocky hill and not adjacent to the enemy  may build improvised fieldworks instead of moving.  An improvised fieldwork counts as cover against non-adjacent shooting only but is lost if the unit moves. A unit in fieldworks must always pass an orders check to move.

Using Battlecry Dice. Battlecry dice may be used for combat and morale. Treat sabers as a 6. Count a flag as 1.  A score of 5,6 = sabers and either artillery or cavalry symbol, a score of 4,5,6 = infantry and crossed sabers.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Breaking Down Belmont (Pt 1)

I'm too far out of my comfort/experience zone to tackle this project from a Game First POV so I've decided to start at the other end, get a feel for the specific history as a starting point for tweaking the rules and then look at a wider application.

The Battle of Belmont still seems like a good starting point so I've rechecked some sources on the battle and looked again at recreating the battle. Apart from Battles and Leaders and the Wiki article, the official reports are a good start: .

The 30 second version is that the Union landed, marched forward about a mile, formed a Divisonal battle line, then advanced and attacked the Confederate lines around their camp. After several hours the Rebel line broke and the Federals  captured the camp then lost all discipline. By the time the officers got the men back together, the Rebs had reformed and having been joined by reinforcements, moved around to get between the Federal troops and their steamboat transports. A second Union attack broke through and they sailed away with both sides claiming victory for different reasons.

This map of the battlefield can be found on Wiki at

The distance from the Union landing spot to the Rebel camp at Belmont was roughly 3 miles. The initial Union force was 5 regiments of Infantry, a battery of artillery and 2 companies of cavalry totaling  a little over 3,000 men. Translating this to my gaming board makes each grid equal to about 400-500 yards meaning all combat is between adjacent units apart from massed bombardments and each stand equal to a regiment of around 5-600 men.  At this scale you could squeeze most of each day at Gettysburg onto the small table or the whole thing on my larger but still smallish table upstairs.

Its probably not necessary to go that far though, if the scale is reduced to 150-200 yards per square/hex then 2 stands equal a regiment as in the last game and the area from the Union deployment to the camp can be shown which will cover the main areas of fighting and appears to be roughly what was used for the Battlecry version. Serious fighting will still be between adjacent units but if units are separated by one square then it may be assumed that their skirmishers are engaged.

The battlefield appears to have been largely wooded, represented in the Battlecry scenario by patches of woods interspersed with open areas. I might try a more even, open woods approach apart from the marked fields.

One thing of note is that while both sides suffered losses of around 500 men killed, wounded or missing/prisoners during several hours of fighting, and several regiments were temporarily broken, no units were destroyed.  With a one or two stand unit, either you use some form of roster or else put up with no permanent effect interspersed with periodic big losses as in DBA. The latter is probably better in game terms as it is easier, especially in a big game, but there is still something to be said for some form of attrition as long as there are combat outcomes other than destruction.

The role of generals  at this level of battle was, generally (sic) speaking, to control the troops under their command and to try and inspire the men when needed.  The rules for the latter, worked ok but I like the HofT/Macduff system better.  The ability to store order points, which was supposed to encourage planning and making choices, actually just robbed some of the suspense and uncertainty, especially since the ratio of Brigadiers to regiments was so high in this battle.  Removing the saved orders and reintroducing a points cost for detached units and for rallying disordered troops should all help.

Still some puttering before its ready for another go.

A Tale of Two Stools

"It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair"

Having dug out and patched up last year's subtly squared card table gaming board, I found time Friday night to try out the proposed new version of Square Brigadier. My first instinct was to pick an old chestnut of a scenario but decided to replay the Belmont scenario from Battlecry so that I could compare the 2 games. 
Some of the new volunteers glued back on their balsa bases but with 6 figures each instead of only 4. 
There are various ways to judge an historical wargame. The two main ones in this case were: was it a reasonably accurate simulation either from a high level of how the battle went, or at a low level of how units acted, or preferably, both, and was if it a good game, fun, exciting, challenging with a good pace and so on.

 An overview of the game set up. The table has 12x10 squares versus 13x9 hexes so was a similar size but different shape to the Battlecry board. Some minor interpretation of terrain and troop placement was required when laying out the scenario.

It was a little hard to judge how well it worked as a simulation of the battle since the scenario is such an abstract representation to start with but the feel was so-so at best. It didn't feel much like a General planning a battle and issuing orders to control his forces in a battle. The Brigades didn't function as brigades and the combat was too dice dependent and choppy, sometimes it worked, sometimes the results seemed unlikely with only the dice knowing why this unit evaporated while that one seemed invulnerable.  About 3 stars out of 5.

From a game POV, there were too many command points available too often to provide any tension and most turns consisted of a lot of standing, shooting which was not unrealistic but not exciting either. The combat was unpredictable turn by turn but since it was usually hard or impossible to destroy a unit in one turn it wasn't really exciting either. Again about 3 stars out of 5.

On about the 4th turn I decided the Federals, out numbered 2:1 in infantry and on the attack, couldn't win but by about 10 turns later they had won a decisive victory.

In short, it was trying to much to be a game to be satisfying as an historical event and trying to hard to be historical to make a fun game. In trying too hard to be both, it was satisfying as neither and "fell between two stools" as the expression goes. Probably one of the reasons I'm not a well known game designer :).

I think it would have worked better on both counts if the game had at least double if not treble or quadruple the number of units on a larger table. Since the goal is to play some games downstairs on the small table, its back to the drawing board to design a game purely for the small board for forces of this size. In the mean time I may try another straight up Battle Cry game.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Circle Game

I had a few minutes of doubt about revisiting the question of grids in general and hexes in particular, mostly because I felt a sudden urge again to make special hex terrain modules and cover my main table in 3" hexes so I could play big hexed games as well as small ones. Then there was the desire to harmonize the card table and main table rules apart from the question of tracking hits but I finally decided to go ahead and write up a back of a post card version of a hexed card table game keeping it as different as possible to avoid confusion. It is easily adapted to squares and for now, if I decide to go for a full hex table, I'll buy a set of Hotz mats and lay them over hills to avoid disrupting MacDuff and the 40's and to avoid making hex shaped hills.  I'm not ruling out  using the Battlecry cards instead of the order dice and will keep an eye on Ron's experiments in that line to get around the left, center, right which often does not apply to Tabletop teasers.

The Hexed Brigadier (or Sq Brigadier v4.)
1 Oct 2013 (clarifications in brown 2 oct) (change to flag result Oct 4)
Simple gridded wargame rules for the 1850's and 60's. Written for hexes but easily adapted to squares using orthogonal movement& measurement or to a non-gridded surface by adopting a standard unit of measure, say 3" instead of hexes.

*** Please Note that this is only a partial draft with new ideas
for play testing**

Game Units: A unit is what fits in a hex or is agreed upon. Units may be General, Infantry, Spearmen, Militia, Arty, Cavalry, Light Cavalry, Skirmishers. All units face an angle. The 2 hexes in front define the frontal arc. (45 either side of ahead if not using hexes) Infantry take 4 hits, Militia, Arty, Cavalry take 3. Lt Cav, Skirmishers take 2. Elite units take 1 extra. Only 1 unit may be in a hex at the end of movement except a General may stack with any other unit.

Sequence IGOUGO fixed for the game.
Toss 1 die for orders. Each pip allows 1 unit to move or charge. No order is required to shoot. A formed Brigade may be moved on 1 order but must charge as individual units. A formed Brigade consists of a General and any unit adjacent to him or in the hex with him.

Movement. Units may move less than the maximum.
Infantry move 2 or shoot or move 1 and charge an adjacent enemy.
Artillery move 2 or shoot.
Horse Artillery moves 3 or shoots.
Cavalry move 3 and charge an adjacent enemy or dismount and shoot.
+1 hex in column on road but may not charge or shoot in column.

Artillery may not enter woods or town except on road. Cavalry, Light Cavalry, Infantry and Militia may only move 1 hex into or out of woods. Lose 1 hex to cross stream.

Turns and formation changes, mounting etc are free when moving.

Must stop when moving into a hex adjacent to enemy. 

Combat: Target must be in front and there must be a clear LOS. A die result of the right type causes a hit.  (Oops I just noticed that I accidentally deleted the bit on dice. If you don't have Battlecry dice, used 6 sided die as follows: 6 = flag = disorder, cavalry and artillery are hit on 5 , infantry are hit on 4 or 5, 1 = crossed sabers and cause a hit on any unit if charging  and cause leader check.)

Each flag causes the target to be disordered. A disordered unit fights with 1 less die than usual and may not charge. The disorder marker is removed at the end of the player's own turn. If a disordered unit receives another disorder, whether from the same or a subsequent attack, it will retreat one hex for each additional disorder received. eg if a unit suffers 2 flag results it will become disordered and retreat 1 hex. 

If charging then sabers also cause a hit on any target.

If a saber is rolled against a unit which has a general attached roll again and another saber indicates that the leader is a casualty.

Number of dice rolled: (not reduced until unit removed)
Rifled Muskets: 3/2/1
Skirmisher: 2/2/2
Smoothbore light or horse artillery:  3/3/2/2/1/1
Smoothbore foot artillery: 4/4/3/3/2/2/1/1
Cavalry, Spearmen: 3

Troops in cover or uphill may cancel 1 hit or 1 flag from each attack. Fortified troops may ignore 2 hits  or flags from each attack.
Skirmishers and light cavalry may choose to cancel 1 hit from each attack by retreating 1 hex. Skirmishers and light cavalry may retreat 1 or 2 hexes for each additional disorder. 
Militia retreat 2 hexes per additional disorder.
Elite may cancel 1 flag per attack.
Units with a General may ignore 1 flag per attack.

Cavalry and spearmen that charge and destroy enemy or force them to retreat may occupy the hex and may charge an adjacent enemy. Only 1 pursuit per turn.
(exeunt humming "and the painted ponies go up and down")