Viewer's Choice Celebration MiniCampaign

It has now been over 20 years since I launched "With MacDuff On the Web" and nearly 10 years since I launched my 2 blogs: Gathering of Hosts and Battle game of the Month.

To celebrate the years and the friends and the million hits I've decided to run a 3 game mini-campaign in late October and I'm asking YOU to help choose the period. It has to be something from my current list but please comment on any post from Sep 12 till Oct 1 or email me : . and to let me know your preference and any suggestions on the mini campaign.

The polls are now open!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Executive DecisionTime

Well, I've reviewed pretty much every option I've  ever tried and several that I haven't. Eventually comes a time to either choose a direction and go forward or give up and go home. Since I'm already home there is really no where to go but ahead.

Last winter, after much testing and experimenting,  I decided that I did not want to limit myself to gridded games despite the many things in their favour. In an effort to keep some of those things I decided to retain as many mechanisms as possible. This now appears to be misguided as it seems to retain many of the artificaial restraints of the grid without the benefits associated with a tradional ungridded approach.The result was looking more and more like various more recent commercial system that I have tried  and not liked enough to adopt. The alternative now beckons of making the games very different so as to have all the more reason to play both the Square Brigadier and Hearts of Tin.

After having wasted countless enjoyable hours poking at my tablet and arguing with auto correct functions (now shut off once again) I have decided that I'm wasting my time trying to produce a complete and consistent draft until the basic structure and mechanisms are set and properly tested (vs 2 units facing off in a corner).

Ready to go.

Here are some of the issues and the approach I have decided to test in a full if small game.

Command Control. Here is an issue that I thought was set until I looked at the scope of types of game that I might want to play. The Pip system that I have been using works well in the Square Brigadier world but when a game might range from  a handful of units in a 40mm Atlantica skirmish with rebels  to a corps sized 1/72nd ACW action, getting the proportion of Pips dice to commanders and to units is tricky and starts to feel very gamy if not tedious.  Despite the difficulties, this will be my fallback position if this experiment doesn't satisfy.

However, I also don't want to  go back to an activation mechanism, especially not one which only applies when a unit is beyond command radius since experience has shown that they are too easily forgotten since there is no player benefit, only a penalty, and they are not habitual.  Neither do I want my old style where a unit might never get to move all game. If I ever go back to an activation roll it will be closer to the one in Fire & Fury where a fresh unit in good order and the attention of higher commanders can be guaranteed at least a 1/2 move.

The alternative I am going to try is to return to the mechanism that I used for years with older versions of these rules, variable length moves with generals having a limited ability to add dice to units. Without an activation roll there is no chance of no move but really a move of 2" is close enough to 0. The new wrinkle will be to insist in Black Powder fashion that the player announce what he is ordering the unit to do before he rolls. Failure to do so will allow the opponent to decide whether he must  reroll the dice or  not.

Play Sequence.   The play sequence in SB is one that I like and works well in that context but has "feel" issues with a bigger, more traditional or OS look. I also miss the old inititative roll but Pips and initiative don't fit well for me since winning the initiative then rolling 1 PIP seems like a gotcha or double jeopardy sort of negation. It also causes difficulties for non simultaneous combat. Being able to bring it back is one plus for going back to variable moves but the feel and rules complications of multiple unanswered shots just gets worse as the game grows. Looking back to just before I switched my focus to gridded games, I was very pleased with a test game using  a mechanism closer to Featherstone whose Battle with Model Soldiers is where I got the initiative idea from. So the game ahead is going to have an old fashioned sequence of initiative roll, A moves, B moves, both shoot, both melee. Trading volleys just feels right as does just shooting once a turn rather than both sides shooting in both halves of the turn.

Morale and Rallying. Still a bit of a bugbear here. I want better troops to be more resilient but I don't want units that never die, and I'm not keen on rosters and markers or morale tests. When I thought briefly that I could swing 6 stand units it was not an issue as each stand loss was not critical but I already know that some units will be 1 or 2 stands, especially in small games. So markers it is, just not sure yet how many. I'm leaning towards going back to tying the number of hits  per stand to the morale grade but may instead just go with a rally roll after a melee defeat to encourage players to close and chase the enemy off. Quality based saving throws is another option that I have not ruled out.

So, hopefully, I will get the table set up tonight and start playing an hour or so a day (avoiding the hottest parts of the day).


  1. Dear Ross,
    once again a tour de force of metacognitive thinking!
    I know that it complicates matters but I would like you to think about why real men give up the ghost and retreat from conflict in what gamers call a failed morale test. You mention that you would not have a morale test for fire but it strikes me that one of the failures of nerve that occurs in battle is the unwillingness to be destroyed by the enemy's fire. Units under artillery fire for the first time often suffer from this. And then we have the circumstance of the man who looks to his left an right and sees that his comrades no longer exist. In this mid-nineteenth century period, circa the ACW, did not units melt away when asked to stand and receive fire alone? I realize that a charge would certainly "clear the buggers out" but there were also cases when fire itself proved to be decisive. When I think about Pickett's Charge, it seems that many men simply lay down in the sunken pike and refused to advance no matter how inspiring were the words of their officers.
    Charges also would work wonders as well. During the AWI did not poorly trained and equipped American militia often flee when they simply saw the Redcoats advance? In fact, knowing this, Morgan at Cowpens did not ask the impossible of their nerve and asked that they fire only twice - and then they could run like hell. The after hand to hand battle piece I totally agree with since no defender, savaged by the losses of hand to hand combat would last for long.
    I wish you well and hope that you have many happy hours resolving this rules question.
    A/K/A The Cletic Curmudgeon
    "Grumpy is good."

    1. Thanks Jerry, I agree on all points so let me expand on the basic premise which is the essence behind the various versions since 2003. This is that a slow trickle of casualties does not have the same moral effect as sudden heavy losses, that well disciplined troops will normally hold up better than poor troops, and that in a game where units consist of a small number of stands without a roster of actual numbers, one can only track the current combat ability of a unit, not the status of individuals.

      The attempts to meet this have been variations on the assumption that hits indicate a degradation of ability over and above physical casualties, thus dead, wound, runaways, those who are shocked or afraid and not functioning, fatigue, low ammo, a degradation of control and cohesion as officers and ncos are hit and so on. Furthermore, I assume that given time and space units can recover a degree of combat readiness if given the time and space to do so but since some of the losses are physical and because increased exposure is not without a lasting effect over the few hours a battle might last, not all hits should be recovered and less well disciplined troops should suffer more from the effects and be harder to rally.

      Some of the attempts have been more successful than others. The best so far varies the numbers of hits a stand can take based on morale grade. Stands are removed when the total is taken and cannot be rallied but partial hits can. So a unit that takes 1 hit suffers no permenant loss and may be able to recover. A unit that takes say 5 hits in 1 turn might lose 2 stands if militia and be 1 hit away from removed from the board costing a victory point, while a regular unit would lose a stand and have excess hits which can be rallied
      The devil is in the details of how many hits, how many combat dice per stand, score to hit etc.

      Another tricky question revolves around trying to figure out when a unit is ordered to retreat because the officers recognize it is near its limit vs when the bonds of discipline are slipped and the men just run. In the cases where the unit rallies, it can be hard from reading even 1st hand narratives to find that line. But it doesn't seem to often come from long range fire..

  2. Bluebear Jeff has left a new comment on your post "Executive DecisionTime":

    As someone who is currently re-writing my own "Tricorne Wars" rules, you certainly have my sympathy, Ross.

    I know more-or-less what I want . . . but how to get it without screwing up a different part of the rules isn't always easy. One thing that did occur to me was your comment on the failure-to-state situation. Have that player re-roll and then let the opponent choose which of the two rolls he wants the player to use . . . that should quickly solve the problem, eh?


  3. Bluebear Jeff has left a new comment on your post "Executive DecisionTime":

    As someone who is currently re-writing my own "Tricorne Wars" rules, you certainly have my sympathy, Ross.

    I know more-or-less what I want . . . but how to get it without screwing up a different part of the rules isn't always easy. One thing that did occur to me was your comment on the failure-to-state situation. Have that player re-roll and then let the opponent choose which of the two rolls he wants the player to use . . . that should quickly solve the problem, eh?