EXCERPT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"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. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Bug Bears Banished

Turn 2. The Queen's troops begin to deploy.
While the original units for this project were done using the 20/10 plan, many of the later were ones were done at 16/8  and will need upgrading. Luckily I have the figures I need to bring them all up to scratch.
Having decided not to start again from scratch I have now gone through, got things updated with serious changes but without totally upsetting the original apple cart and the Hearts of Tin (HofT)  rules are again available for download and comment, use etc. During the process of reviewing various choices of mechanism and testing them on the table, I was reminded that in my first take at a Morchauser inspired set back in 2003, I included a number of  not very Morschauser like aspects along with some concepts drawn directly from his rules, such as the 3" melee range which separated shooting which was not necessarily decisive with melee which always ended with 1 side or both being destroyed. The current rules again show inspiration drawn from Morschauser as well as Featherstone and Lawford & Young and are probably the best illustration yet of the sort of thing comes into my mind when some one says "wargame".  Not saying that I don't enjoy gridded or abstract or clever or other games or that this is better than anything else, but like Charge!, this feels natural to me.

Of course now I can think of 1/2 dozen better ideas for MacDuff but its too late the change the game before Huzzah and keeping in mind my desire to reduce the breadth of my collecting and solo playing, I am officially retiring MacDuff after Huzzah. He has had his day. HofT no longer deals with the 18thC at all and after quashing an urge to do an 18th C version I have decided to stick with 1 set of 18thC rules: Charge!. More on that and the AWI and the 1775 Quebec campaign another time.

Meanwhile, here are some of the Bugbears that I have wrestled with over and over when trying to get Hearts of Tin (and MacDuff) working the way I want.

1. Extreme Events. These are the famous, rare things, like the British Guards supposedly routing the French Guards at Fontenoy with a single volley, the breaking of squares by cavalry, the panic of the Spanish right at Talevera by mistake. Ideally such things should be Rare but Possible. In a simple game that tends to become either Common or Not Possible. I cheated a bit with this one by narrowing the scope to the  period 1812 to 1865 outside Europe, the  one I am most interested, which coincidentally seems to have fewer of such things (or perhaps just that I haven't come across them)  so I was able to largely  avoid them.

The square issue is still there but since this was a period that saw several broken squares as well as cavalry repulsed by lines, I'm comfortable that cavalry vs infantry clashes will be interesting (nail biting) for both sides rather than predictable thus making an interesting gaming situation without being outside the examples shown by history. (Readers may note that I class the Charge of the Light Brigade as a command (player) error rather than a random event.)

2. Cover and other modifiers. Saving throws, die score  modifiers, number of dice modifiers, casualty modifiers, tables, I've tried them all. They all have something to recommend them and something against them. They key is to give players a reason to take steps to reduce their troop's vulnerability, (occupying cover, dispersed order etc) while still making it worth while shooting at them. The 2 main methods are essentially to reduce the odds of a hit or to reduce the effects of the hits. Ideally they all give the same result on average but in practice some can result in extremes either way while the same is unfortunately true in history making issues with the more predictable methods. The trick is to allow defensive extremes without making them too common.

Off and on over the last 20 years my favorite method has been to use 1/2 casualties with no casualties being guaranteed. My only beef has been what to do with any fractions. My solution this time has been to leave it up to players, round them  up, round them down, dice for them, carry them over. Do it differently each game. Just decide at the start and apply the same rule to every one. The result is that while your fire may be completely ineffective, it will more likely slowly wear them down. Withe the best dice in the world though, the cover will always benefit the defender.

3. More is easier. The main reason that I like slightly larger units isn't the look of them (that's No 2). Its because each hit is less critical. If a unit can absorb 20 hits it doesn't matter so much if it occasionally takes more than they "should", they will survive.  But more needs more table space or smaller figures or at least a smaller footprint per figure. This has been at the heart of my basing dilemma over the last 5 years. The new 2 man bases are proving them selves wonderfully on the table. They give me the flexibility to skirmish and fit around terrain or mass in close order, allow me to remove casualties from the  rear rank so that units get weaker instead of smaller until they regroup, are as stable and flexible as the wide ugly washers but are as compact as the 6 man bases I tried in 2009. So I can use my 20 man units on a table that will fit in my room.

4. Morale. I hate morale tests. They are hard to resist though as automatic results such as 1/2 strength = remove from table always seem to end up leaving historical situations violated (though see #1, extreme results, would Camerone be famous if fighting to the last man was common?). Simple morale tests though have the same extreme  dangers as in 2. Units that fight to the last man too often or  Guards that rout off table after being hit by a stray shot. One way I have tried to work around it have included things like ways to recover hits so a fixed break point wasn't a one way, inevitable end point. Once again larger units give a designer more room to wriggle in, you are less likely to lose all of a 12 man cavalry unit to one extremely lucky blast of long range small arms fire than you are a 4 man one. But its not just when units are removed from the table, its about units becoming ineffective without leaving the table which seems to have been the most common result historically. (To be fair re the 1/2 strength rule, while many of us remove Charge! units when they drop to half, they are technically just required to retire and have their capabilities severely cut). Its also about players not getting the same result from long range pot shots over time as from a decisive attack.

My current scheme is a variation on one I have used before. There is no automatic rout, units may fight to the last because losses include stragglers and  soldiers still with the ranks but no longer fighting effectively which is why I like to maintain the frontage so that if attacked by a fresh unit, the worn one will have fewer dice spread over the same frontage. To allow easy morale distinction between the slow drain of long range fire vs the destructive moral effect of close range firefights I have reintroduced the old 3" "melee" zone. After a round of melee (which is mostly close range shooting but also includes charges into contact), instead of the automatic loss, I have included, yes, a morale test with a modifier for quality and for how badly you lost. The result is that a unit, especially an elite one could lose every round and still fight to the finish as long as they don't lose any 1 round too badly. Its not likely though. It is more likely that a unit that loses a round of the decisive close combat will retreat and might rout if it loses badly or has low morale. Hopefully this variation, the best yet, will work as well as some test tuns predict.

Meanwhile the game continues! (This unusual light has appeared in the sky over the last 2 days, something called a "sun" apparently so yard work and spring cleaning has been interfering!)


  1. The Queen's Horse look particularly dashing (as they should!)

    1. And they do dash! The Dragoon Guards have been known to dash over enemy batteries and through their squadrons and squares while the Lancers have repeatedly dashed for the mess hall when things get sticky.

  2. I am enjoying these discourses into rules design and philosophy, Ross! You have raised many points that have exercised me over the years.

    Long ago I adopted the 2-figure base as a compromise between single basing, wanting to move figures quickly, and figure stability. But I didn't want a wider system (though my ACW use 3-figure stands) on account of my wish to include road march and defile storming capability in my games. I've toyed with a 2x2 arrangement for 4-figure stands, but I'm not sure they're worth the trouble.

    On the matter of cover and other modifiers, I used to calculate these by a process I call 'approximate arithmetic' (a branch in my view that should be taught in schools). I don't use it now, but as I am leaning more and more into solo play, I think I'll revive it. It goes like this:

    Suppose the 1st Ewige-Blumenkraft Infantry has been reduced by action from 24 to 19 figures. Suppose my volley groups are 8 figures. So we roll for 1st E.B. two dice plus 'three/eighths' of a third die.

    We roll 5, 3 on the unmodified dice, and roll another 3 on the modified die. 3/8 of 3 is 9/8 = 1 and-a-little-bit. Call it 1+k, where k = a little bit.
    Adding them up comes to 9+k, which, with no further modification, rounds to 9.

    But we are firing at long range, so we halve the effect. 9+k halves to 4 + 1/2 + k. That last little bit tells us to round to 5.

    But again we discover that as the target is dispersed (skirmishers, say), we have again to halve the raw score (9 + k) twice. We can halve the 'long range score (4 + 1/2 + k)/2 = 2 + 1/4 + k, which we already know is < 2 1/2, so it rounds to 2.

    Or simply divide (9+k)/4 which, as it will come to less than 2 1/2 will round to 2.

    The way I've described it sounds awfully complicated, I know, but I wanted at the same time to show that the method is arithmetically sound. In the heat of battle it is still possible to perform these kinds of calculations rapidly in one's head, simply because all you have to do with fractions is to remember that they are less than half, or not less than half (if exact halves are rounded up). More than that you don't need to know.

    Suppose instead of '3' the modified die had come up '5'. The we go: 5+3 is 8. 3/8 of 5 is 15/8 which is a bit less than 2. So our total is a bit less than 10. Halving, it becomes a bit less than 5 (so we round to 5 is there's no further modification). Halving again is a bit less than 2 1/2 so once again we round to 2. Simple.

    I've occasionally thought of the 'Cameroun' effect myself, but I feel there we are really looking at a lower level of game, not the 'army' level we really want. But even though I use a 50% rule, the affected units remain on-table (if they can) and may still be rallied and even be called upon to fight (bearing in mind the constraints placed upon it). However, I have on one occasion (just the one!) seen one of my 27-man ACW regiments altogether annihilated on the table top. True, it happened over time, but it took just one turn (and a heck of a lot of incoming, it has to be said) to reduce the unit from something over 14 figures to zero. This was using my own system of modifying hits, too (similar to Charles Grant 'The War Game', but with differences).


    1. Ahh, the one bit of Charge I really dislike, trying to figure out whether or not 1/4 of 5/8 is big enough to carry over without actually doing the arithmetic. Numbers and I do not speak any common languages fluently. Its always a labour without love for us to communicate with each other.

      I agree about Cameraun not being a large battle but there are a handful of other examples from battles that could be called up but they are still rare. What has taxed me more was trying to find examples of steady troops that routed off the field from a cannonade or skirmish or long range fire. Still looking.

    2. Argh that example should have been 1/4 of 3/8 of a die roll.

  3. Roos, when you say "...I am officially retiring MacDuff after Huzzah..."
    You mean that you will not play it anymore?

    1. Cesar, "never say never" but since I am not completely happy with them and I have no plans for games or a collection of figures at the level it was meant for with individual companies in petit geurre encounters, once the convention game is done I plan to remove the link from the blog until I have an urge to use them at which point I will review them. For the last 10 years I have tended to use the rules for larger actions with battalions as units but that was not what it was written for and is what Hearts of Tin was written for.

  4. I'll certainly keep a copy of MacDuff out of nostalgic affection but I understand the reasoning and look forward to having a good look at the new Hearts of Tin over the next few days.

    1. I think this is the 3rd time I have put him away for good :)

  5. Dear Ross,

    An excellent set of things to consider, once again.
    A. The occasion of extreme events in battles can occur in the rules system I play for my 7YW battles, OGABAS by Otto Schmidt. We use a set of cards which are pulled at the beginning of every turn with results that can be as diverse as "It starts to rain. Effective fire is reduced by half." to things as devastating as "A rumor of approaching enemy forces in the rear areas causes an army wide morale check." These things did happen. I am currently reading "A Mad Catastrophe" by Jeffrey Wawro and the number of genuinely extreme events that happened to the forces of Austria-Hungary were unusually large. Many of these were self inflicted, certainly, but this an instance of that old hack (slightly modified) "When bad things happen to semi-good people." But things like this do happen - the key is finding out a way to work them into our gaming rules without them driving the game completely.
    2. Cover. The set of rules we use for the period 1860-1900 basically reduces casualties by one factor if behind light cover like a split rail fence and another if in heavy cover. Range also affects the casualty count dramatically where the ability to hit something can be effected by distance as well as the level of drill practiced by the firing soldiers.
    3. More is easier. Totally agree.
    4. Morale. My recent read of the Wawro book indicates how important it is to consider the morale levels of the fighting troops. This occurs before even a shot is fired and moves through the experience of battle. The poor Austro-Hungarians had to climb over huge obstacles even as they approached the battlefield and as they faced enemies (All of them!) who were more numerous, possessed better battlefield drill, and were technologically superior. Working out how to do this, is the real key isn't it?

    All the best,
    A/K/A The Celtic Curmudgeon
    "Grumpy is good."

    1. Jerry, some good points. I forgot to mention Chance cards, I started using them again 2 years ago but they are currently keyed to the MacDuff rules but I will translate them. They include such things as unexpected loss of General, reinforcements, combat bonuses, being able to issue an order to an enemy unit, etc.

      I've ended up with 3 "morale" grades (essentially average, better and worse) important for close combat and morale and 3 equivalent ones for shooting. That gets pretty vague but it seems to make a difference.