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. By popular vot e it will be set in the mid 18th Century.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

What is your favorite colour?

I've now reached the really hard bit, making a decision on how to approach the rules for this game. What sort of game do I want to play? Am I comfortable with my answer? Why? Why not?

There is no right answer to these questions anymore than there is a right answer to the favorite colour question other than it being an honest answer. Luckily there is no suspension bridge involved in this quest.
The Jaeger officer now has something approximating very roughly to a matching hat so that priming may begin. This picture nearly resulted in my tablet being smashed into little frustrated bits when it refused to acknowledge the presence of the picture file for editing or posting although it would show under Bluetooth in the file app. GRRRRR. I finally posted it from my smartphone without cropping but with firceful application of the Blue Air app.

The initial steps were easy enough, I wanted a simple, fast playing game of toy soldiers which would call to mind warfare of the early 20th Century without getting bogged down in detail. I did not want a game  that attempted to replicate the experience of captains and privates, showed the details of their tactics or attempted to to inflict on a player a sense of the alternating terror and boredom of being pinned down under fire for hours on a hot summer day. I wanted the player to take the role of a Brigadier, or possibly a division commander, trying to achieve a mission with the resources at his disposal while pitting wits against his game opponent.

It didn't take long to hit two snags: lack of information and a conflict with past gaming experience and expectations.

Memoirs and histories giving the  Brigade commander's view aren't common but for the Horse and Musket period they aren't that rare. Memoirs at this level often have a poitical purpose but are still useful if taken with salt. The American Civil war is particularly rich with them. The smaller wars of the period also provide many important battles at this low level which have had books devoted to them, battles that would be dismissed with a sentence if they were part of a larger campaign. I am sure some memoirs at this level must exist for the Boer War and Great War but I have yet to lay hands on them as opposed to the view point of privates and junior officers. I have tracked down  a few sketchy histories of smaller battles which were part of a larger one but not any in great depth as yet. There is good coverage of the larger battles from which subportions can be extracted but there the choices available to a Brigadier are too limited to be the basis of the sort of game I want so as so often I will focus on the sideshows and special cases and enjoy the hunt for information at a leisurely pace. Having decided that I have enough of a picture to proceed  I have run smack dab into a wall of prior expectations about how modern games should be handled on the table top.

One of the first things that one learns about modern war is that troops under fire are often pinned down. There seem to be 2 main methods of portraying this in a wargame, having it as a combat result or as the result of a failed morale test after suffering casualties. The trick with the latter method is it while troops were sometimes caught and suffered heavy casualties before being pinned, it seems very common that troops that came under fire took cover before heavy casualties were suffered but were pinned by the fear of what would happen if they left their cover.  The method of having some form of Pin or Suppression as a combat result works well enough except that it often mirrors life too well with players rolling turn after turn to rally only to be pinned again as soon as they do. At Magerfontein some British troops were pinned down for hours, not taking heavy casualties (until they retreated) but unable to advance. That's not a game that I am eager to play.

It occurred to me belatedly that this emphasis on showing the pins is as a result of a focus on small units and individuals. In the days before widespread wireless comms, the Brigadier  would be unlikely to know the status of individual companies. He would be lucky to know if the objective had been taken yet or if he needed to commit reserves.  Oddly enough some early war games by veterans seem to have relied largely on the morale or wisdom of a player afraid to push his figures into certain death to dimulate this.

When I first played Memoir and Battlecry it bugged me that units could be forced to retreat without casualties (ie morale failure in old terms on the surface) but there was no pin effect. Putting my less literal hat on and looking at the high level effect of this game mechanic I can see that the effect is actually reasonable.  A unit under fire may be unable to advance on the target or hold an objective even if it doesn't take heavy casualties or it may take casualties or both, or if might push on and take the objective. We see game mechanics and the result, not really the details of what really happened or how it happened and thats without looking at the effect and fuzzy meaning of the cards. That Borg fellow is pretty smart when you come right down to it.

There are other issues but this is long enough and the point is that after serious consideration,  fiddling and experimenting with various old school and middle school methods, I'm going to stick with an updated version of the Square brigadier after all.


  1. You could introduce that fear into the players. Just make shooting at a moving target much more effective. But stationary targets should also take some casualties when fired upon. Enough, so that it is clear, "Stay here and be bled dry, attack and it will be worse, but it's your only chance."

    I know it's US military doctrine to attack into an ambush, you usually take fewer casualties than taking cover and waiting for support to come. Likewise, the USSR (and apparently Patton) felt you would take fewer casualties by advancing through a minefield than by trying to clear it under fire.

  2. Ross, what is the source of your marching soldier? I rather like the look of him!

    1. He is a Scruby 40mm. Not yet rereleased by Historifig. Maybe 1 day.

  3. For my two cents, I'd simply use the rules laid out by H. G. Wells in Little Wars. Ideal for 1914.

    Best Regards,


    1. I did briefly think about approaching my wife about knocking down some walls and turning the bedroom into a cork floor Little Wars gaming room.

    2. ps but I would go with Capt Sachs version.

  4. Dear Ross,

    While your observations are generally correct, the Austrian troops at the beginning of the Austro-Prussian War were led forward into waves of fire and were slaughtered. I believe the same was true in the Frontier Battles opening WWI by the French. Not every soldier was trained to drop down, hug the earth and hope for survival although they instinctively did that.

    When we play WWII Easy Eight Battleground WWII rules, one result is to be pinned which means something quite specific. A pinned figure must drop to the ground behind cover and stay there until they recover morale and can move. The second thing we do is to bring fire upon figures that are retreating either voluntarily or because of a morale failure. Yes, we do allow them to be shot running away because if you do not they can come back and shoot you!
    Your efforts to "get it right" are very commendable - keep us informed.

  5. You are right Jerry, but as far as I know these, like some of the German attacks at Mons and Ypres were carried out in close order, usually in column as opposed to troops extended and using fire and movement tactics with sections covering each other during short rushes.

    It seems like the formed troops usually either took heavy casualties but managed to overwhelm the defence or else they were destroyed as a fighting force, at least for the day.

    It is the extended troops who were trained to take cover that sometimes judged the enemy fire to be too dangerous to advance into again until someone else suppressed it. So not a morale failure so much as an accurate tactical assessment?