Sunday, October 6, 2013

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.


  1. Ross Mac,

    Although you might have scored this battle 6/10, I liked the look of the whole thing and think that the card table concept is a great one. I suspect that you have almost cracked this ... and that you will have done so in the very near future.

    All the best,


  2. Dear Ross,

    The appearance of the table top was quite nice and efectively lifted the visuals a number of notches above a typical small table game. Generally when I've played something similar it has been a small naval action like that of the Rio Plata or a squad level action be it F&IW or WWII. This pushes that level and argues that a brigade level game could be played on a smaller surface. Well done.

    Your post raised a question though. You have stated "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." While chance dice can be very widespread in their effect dependent simply upon luck, it is also true that real units could be very quirky in how they react in combat situations. If the issue is that the dice seem to be giving you very wide results, you could simply re-write the effects table.

    The second part of the quote - actually the first part - deals with your disatisfaction over the way your brigades acted. On the level you were playing (Was each base representative of a regiment?) the brigade would move, charge, retreat, fire, suffer casualties and face tests to its morale. You are not going to get things like the formation of skirmish lines, formation changes, firing and loading and fixing bayonets unless you actually build that in to the game. You could use markers to indicate whether your unit is in march column or line formation. The same thing is true for establishing a skirmish line. Of course, you would have to figure out how the skirmish line functioned within the parameters of your game.

    It would seem to me that if you kept the rules mega simple, then you would kose some of the "feel" of how a real ACW brigade would have functioned. Please keep posting this type of entry - you offer really superior metacognitive insight into how games are developed and played. Your self-reviews remind me of those of the late Wally Simon who said that with any rules set, you should push your analysis until the game system starts to break.

    Well done!

    Jerry Lannigan
    A/K/A The Celtic Curmudgeon

    1. Jerry your last comment has me all but blushing!

      For the rest, re the Brigade feel, what I meant was that I had hoped that the rules would give a feel of the Brigade as an entity under the control of its commander but instead felt like a series of units who just happened to be next to each other.

      re the combat, If there had been more units, the combat results might have evened out more but I think the real issue might have actually been too high a potential effect at long range and too little effect for the new in between, "disorder" effect.

  3. I read "at least double if not treble or quadruple the number of units on a larger table" and chuckled - the motto of every wargamer!

    1. Well that is true, I was actually thinking purely in terms of the last game I played with 70 stands vs the 10 used here since with more stands, what happens to 1 seems less important but yes more is better is a common instinct among wargamers and I am not immune.

  4. I really like the look of your small table set up. A very interesting concept. Well done!

  5. Nice battle report. I always enjoy reading your analysis and critiques, Ross.