Friday, March 21, 2014

Treacle Creek Aftermath

  1. We are not always aware of just how much subconscious baggage we carry with us, even when it comes to a hobby. When I was preparing for this playtest, I was thinking about purely practical matters, how to squeeze the most 40 mm figures into each unit so that I could use existing armies on the grid with the rule being tested. 

It came as a surprise, a pleasant one once I got over the shock, when I had a nostalgic, emotional response to the look and feel of the game as well as a sudden rush of ideas and urges to do things like fight some historical battles.
An artist's inaccurate portrayal of the initial clash. The Volunteer Rifles were soon driven back by the Victoria Rifles and Royals.
 The immediate effect of that was a couple of turns of impromptu rule experimentation, changes to orders, moving the rally roll, trying offensive and defensive shooting during each player turn, etc but the end result was very much a feeling of 'coming home' satisfaction mixed with excitement about campaigns and figures to come this spring and summer. I spent the next day fixing up the rules and then realized that I hadn't ended up anywhere near where I was aiming but had resolved one of my primary outstanding issues. What I had was no longer a simple, 1 hour boardgame useful to kill time or introduce a new person to wargaming. Instead, I had a revised Hearts of Tin. That called for some pondering but eventually I decided, so be it.

Oddly enough The Square Brigadier originally started out, not as my equivalent to Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame  but merely as a pen name for a rough draft of a grid friendly version of HofT. This leaves me once again without  a small introductory or casual game, so that will something to fix down the road but the question is resolved, it will be a sort of self contained  'game in a box'.

With Blue's flank guard driven in, and their bridge guard being attacked from 2 directions and about to be driven back in turn,  the battlelines begin to form across the center of the table.
So what does the revised Hearts  of Tin look like and why is it one vs the other? While it is still a simple game that glosses over low level tactics, it is once again trying to work something along the lines of how things work without the gamy (sic) bits. So, no shuffling dice, no card decks to manage, no random retreats. The goal is to primarily pretend to be a General issuing missions to subordinates and watching to see how they do and whether to reinforce success or intervene to stave off defeat. Obviously if playing solo there is a little bit of also being the subordinates doing what they can to accomplish their missions. 

Written game orders would be nice but I know I won't bother when playing solo so I didn't bother pretending. Everything has been considered in that light, what will I be happy dealing with day in, day out.

I couldn't figure out what the handing out of dice by the general actually represented so I went back to the simplest form of orders dice, rolling for each commander leaving each to do his best to carry out his mission with the General prodding him a bit where needed by lending extra orders, best done if close at hand. This made it easy to bring back +1/-1 modifiers for  commanders judged better or worse than average.

Low order dice and a confused situation  lead to a lull as both sides reform their lines and bring up cavalry and artillery while trading skirmish  and artillery fire .
Combat is still inspired by Morchauser's division into either 3 inch "melee" or longer "shooting". I see "shooting" as representing long range and skirmish fire which will only cause at best a slow trickle of casualties with a minimum of disruption while "combat" includes close range firefights as well as charges with cold steel and which will often be quickly resolved and can destroy units and take ground.

Stands of troops (or groups of single figures) are once again reflective of numbers, about 150 infantry on average  though this can be adjusted up and down and the ground scale with it but I have overcome prejudice and not worried too much about the size and shape of bases, treating a formation of deployed infantry the same whether it is 2 bases wide and 2 deep, with  a single line of figures on each base,  or 4 bases side by side with figures based 2 deep. I didn't waste pixels trying to lay it all out, as long as everyone agrees, a deployed unit is a deployed unit.

The San Carlos grenadiers resist stoutly as Red's attack stalls. A prolonged firefight ensues.
One of my key goals over the last decade is to have a set of rules that allows me to fight small historical battles in real time. That means two separate things. The game should last roughly the same amount of time as the original battle and troops should be able to cover the ground they did historically while resolving clashes with historically plausible results in roughly the right amount of time. It is this focus on time that  drives my elimination of as much complication and process as possible. I was pleased to note that this battle which was of roughly similar size numbers wise  to some 1812 battles took place on a similarly sized battle field and appeared to be happening in about the right amount of time though the latter was only an impression since I didn't track the time, played in several sessions over several days and spent time thinking about mechanics as well as playing.

The game also fit perfectly into my miniature painting/collecting plans. At the scale envisaged with figures representing somewhere between 20 and 40 men, 1812 battles will fit on the table and I enough figures to fill the OB though not all of the right units in a style I like to allow the larger battles to be fought without borrowing. This means I get to paint a hundred or so miniatures plus guns, boats, limbers etc and a few more Commanders but don't need much more and that I am well placed for fictional Atlantica games.The Sash & Saber 1812 figures can now be sold anytime and the AWI figures as soon as the game at Huzzah is played.

Having backed off from tying the game to a grid I'll have to decide if I want to persevere with gridded terrain upstairs or to do some red/white measuring sticks  and leave the grid for the game in a box. I'll also need to decide whether or not to indulge in a separate set of 1860's 40mm toy soldiers just for the pleasure of painting them or if I should limit those to colonial skirmish games.

At any rate, the rules, while still missing some of the less common elements like the handful of VSF elements etc which need to be imported from the old  HofT and needing 7 or 8 more proof readings,  are ready for public perusal again. The result can be found at right or by following this link: Hearts of Tin Rules. 
Heavy casualties, including a wounded Brigadier Zinn, weaken Blue's line but Red is also taking heavy casualties, preventing a decisive win. The odds shift inexorably in Red's favour though and General Scott is forced to order a retreat while he still has an army. At last! A Red victory. On to Oberhilse! 
Next game either a test refight of Crysler's Farm  or a 1/72nd ACW battle. or maybe another Gathering Of Hosts game in between.


  1. Dear Ross,
    Once again your metacognitive reporting really makes this blog entry. The pictures support the text and it looks like your game went smoothly with only a few wrinkles. It is not surprising that many new elements were a bit of a throwback to HoT given the amount of time you invested in the developemnt of that rules set. The comments on fire being divided by range into a short range fire at up to 3" and longer ranged skiirmish fire works, too as does variable scale depending upon what level of action you want to represent.
    Interestingly, you emply as a basic concept the fact that you are a higher level officer from whom orders descend to lower levels to be executed. Otto Schmidt does something very much like this in his game, OGABAS. Should a general worry whether his men throw out skirmishers as an example? The answer is a resounding "NO" for that is something that the lower level officers are trained to know how to do.
    Nicwe job. As you said "On to Oberhilse!"

    1. Thanks Jerry. Interesting that you should pick skirmishers as an example. I was going to leave out integral skirmish screens till I started trying to figure out the best way to differentiate between units who had no skirmish capability, average ones and ones with a thick screen. I'm sure a properly worded die modifier was all I needed but......

  2. It's obvious from your post that you're pretty enthusiastic about how your rules are turning out. That's really what it's all about, isn't it? Finding your way to playing the kinds of games you enjoy playing.

  3. I haven't had a chance to read the revised HofT yet, hope to do so over the weekend, sounds interesting.

    The game looks good IMHO and I particularly like the effect of the three-figure single-rank bases, they seem to give a convincing evocation of close order.

    1. I especially like the look once you get 3 units in line, with a mounted officer....I'm starting to think about 1 colour party per brigade....

  4. Ross Mac,

    Sorry for the somewhat tardy comment, but I have a feeling from what you have written that you are almost on the point of getting your rules exactly as you want them. Good luck.

    All the best,


  5. No need, I've been watching your conservatory renovations but haven't been able to think of any comment beyond 'oh my'.

    More than a set of rules settled, but that's another post.