Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Wisdom of the Young

That's The Brigadier Peter Young.

At the end of last week's post on early 20thC rules , I dropped in  a last minute comment about OS rules and player morale vs unit morale. It wasn't a planned comment that I had thought on, it seemed to come straight from my subconscious to the keyboard. Once aired however, it got me thinking and it got/me digging through my library. Not through history books but through wargaming books and it got me thinking again about morale but more on that in a later post.

One of the early additions to my wargaming library was the Knight's Battles for Wargamers book on Bull Run. I don't have it anymore alas, loaned to a non-wargaming friend that had expressed an interest but who I lost touch with. I do however have the Alma one and it appears that they all have the same introduction by Brigadier Young. He wrote various interesting and useful things in the introduction but there were two that are particularly relevant. One was his comment that:

"elaborate Morale rules are a waste of time. Morale is in the mind of the wargamer himself, for ultimately a war game is a duel between the two opposing generals themselves. Do not let them hide their deficiencies behind the alleged failings of their metal or plastic followers!"

The other occurred while discussing the range of battles that the series aimed to cover. He mentioned that he would like to see it expanded to cover some modern battles but that "...... it is not a bad idea when refighting these modern actions to fight them with the troops and the rules of the Napoleonic Age......." . This is indeed what Lawford & Young did in their book Charge! where the classic Battle of Sinttingbad was apparently inspired by the Battle of Sitang Bridge in Burma. I'm not going to suddenly decide to fight WW1 with my War of 1812 figures but it has given me ideas about the various late 19thC toy soldiers that I have or that I want to paint but haven't been able to figure out what to do with once painted.

Scruby infantry extended in front, Zinnbrigade Prussians painted red in march column and a Zinnbrigade mounted officer with a Scruby head. Scruby British artillery in the background. 

 As my WWI German "army" grows, I've been thinking about the opposition. For various reasons, despite the existence of a purchase option, my conclusion is that I HAVE to sculpt and cast Highlanders and British line infantry. Its now been 2 years since my last successful sculpt and mold project and even then the mold was so so. There has been some sculpting of masters, some of which I was ok with but the last mould was a complete bust. I could really use a successful mold but if so, I need to justify the cost and effort by casting more than a dozen figures. That encourages planning for a bigger game.
Scruby Jaegers/Marines from their Boxer Rebellion range painted in WWI graygreen.

I know that the sculpting and casting is going to take me more than a weekend and I can't start the war proper until the figures are cast and then painted but if I pay some heed to the Brigadier's advice and field some colourful figures, in red or blue, to brighten the table, I now have enough troops for a small test  of an alternate OSW style game which is where this started with a test game in 2011 .


  1. YES!! Brig Young's ideas on morale rules I have shared as long as I have been a war gamer. At that they have been confirmed from observation. It is surprising how many war gamers will give up a fight long before there is any real call to do so. I've even seen the battlefield quit - this in a campaign game - when the army under command was getting the better of it. On occasions when I have been feeling a bit below par, my own stoicism in the face of losses has failed to stand the test.

    Associated with this is my adherence to figure removal by way of casualties. Many players are probably unaware of the difference that apparently primitive and unsophisticated game mechanic can make. I know one gamer - beautiful painter of troops - who quite openly admitted to me that he couldn't stand seeing his troops physically whittled away once they got into a fight. This was on the occasion of a refight of the Redinha rearguard action (1811), in which I handled the French. He was making heavy weather of it, despite his skilled handling of the British attackers, bemoaning losses I would have considered fairly trivial - and he was giving as good as he was taking into the bargain. He won the game (well, it was really that kind of scenario: although driven from the field, I was happy to have inflicted as much loss to the British as I took myself, and got my people off in good order), but I formed the impression he found it a harrowing experience.

    You know, I think I might elaborate on this in my next blog posting (or maybe next but one).

    1. Yes player morale can often be key. I like to have morale built into combat effects as opposed to being a discrete entity.

    2. It seems to me that figure removal is part of that. It's not so much what has been taken away as what is left that one has to be concerned about. Those no longer with the colours need not be physical casualties at all.

    3. I completely agree. I don't think marking rosters or even putting markers on multifigur stands has the same effect on most players has removing figures and stands.

  2. There are a number of things-in-particular which have bothered me about wargaming over the years - things which have served to depress me by making the games less enjoyable than they were supposed to be. Some of these were one-off irritants, though they were still added to my personal list of stuff to watch out for - a fellow whose enthusiasm for my newly emerging ACW games turned out to be a desire to turn the battlefields into a model railway, because he liked model railways, was one; another visitor who had a habit of absent-mindedly breaking off bayonets while he decided what to do next was another….

    Some of the heartache, though, has been systematic stuff. The dreadful tendency of games to last forever, or simply to fizzle out in a state of paralysis, entirely because both generals felt obliged to move every unit on the table every turn, simply because the rules would let them and it felt like a proactive thing to do - that was one - and it took many years before i would entertain the idea of activation rules to prevent it. Slow learner. The other biggie has always been morale tests - zillions of them - which gave a huge overhead of dice rolls which yielded either tedium (no result) or annoyance (loss of control - wreckage of plans etc).

    Morale is the worse of the two. I have many memories of someone shaking a die at 2am, trying vaguely to remember why he was doing it this time, and wondering whether the dentist could be worse than this. There is a need to include something in the game which takes the absolute control of the situation out of the general's hands - I think that is a necessary characteristic of these games - there lies the generalship challenge, and it is, after all, traditional. But it shouldn't be too much of a chore, and it shouldn't produce too many annoying outcomes (well, maybe). Intuitively, I like the idea that army morale should be up to the player - if he has destroyed his opponent and now wishes to retreat, that's his choice; if he wishes to fight on past the last bus home simply because he is enjoying the process of being slaughtered, that's his choice too. These make more sense for a solo game, but this is a viable approach.

    On the other hand, it is very useful to have some impartial device which decides when the battle is over, and when the analysis debate may start. I have become a big fan of C&C - it is not everything in wargaming which I wish to do, and it has a few abstractions which are not to everyone's taste, but the Victory Banners and the Retreat flags are wonderfully useful - the idea that a unit can recoil and then just forget it and carry on (unless they are eliminated) is crude but - by George - it works. I think the actual mechanism or rule set used is less important than the existence of such a mechanism, which helps rather than hinders the game. Traditional, roll-and-roll-again morale rules are a heavy overhead - you may enjoy this game if you will, but you will jolly well carry out all these morale tests - you may go for a picnic in the forest if you like, but you have to carry this sack of potatoes...

    1. Absolutely. Absolute control and perfect discipline is chess but a need to have an explicit explanation for everything is a tedium that takes the tabletop gamer away from his purpose for being there. The whole Battlecry family is almost as brilliant as Charge!

    2. As a long time chess player, I'm here to tell you that you don't get absolute control and perfect discipline on the chessboard neither! But even Brig Young had to place some kind on limitation on the stoicism of his units. A unit that had more than half it original strength remaining was OK, otherwise, it was un-OK. The morale of the whole army was the same. As his rule set was pretty fast moving (or so I found it) you didn't get too much bogged down in tedium.

      I recall a 'potted' ACW campaign, played with heavily modified Charge rules that was played out in a single day and evening. The first action, 168 figures a side, ended with a victory to the South at Pink Tavern. Joined by the second half of the army, 336 Confederates (less casualties taken at Pink Tavern) inflicted a heavy defeat upon their outnumbered foes.

      By this time, the main body of the Union army (280 figures) had marched clear of the bad weather that had held them up, and cut the CSA LOC at Whisky Station, and dug in ready for the CSA assault. Which was duly mounted against the southern end of the Union line, burst over the earthworks and rolled them up from south to north.

      Man, those were the days! Well, I was the Southern C-in-C on that occasion: Genl Robt E. Windward.

    3. Some of my most memorable games and some of the games with the clearest connection between generalship and game result were played with Charge!

      Oddly some others were played with Wrg 3rd ed Ancients but then despite the tedious morale charts they were actually fairly simple and stayed close to their sources

  3. I must admit that I felt that the Brigs contention that troops don't lose morale generals do - probably only makes sense if one is commanding a brigade of commandos. Mere mortals might be different.

    1. Ah but he doesn't say that troops never run away, only that elaborate rules that pretend to mimic the wide range of human emotions obscure the real issues. So if you look at his rules morale plays a role but it is organic. When troops clash one side can lose and be forced back (ie fail morale) and there is a limit to how much a unit can take before it is done for the day. But it is built in to the mechanics rather than being separate and sometimes contradictory. The unpredictability and effect are there but the distraction and tedium are not.

  4. Ross Mac,

    I have really enjoyed reading these comments. There is so much that has been written with which I agree. I have always found unit morale rules a pain, but it is only relatively recently that I have dispensed with them ... and my enjoyment of wargaming has improved no end as a result.

    All the best,


  5. I've always been a firm fan of figure removal as the decreasing size of unit has a material impact on the ground it can cover, gaps in the battle line etc. and so, to me, are an essential part of the opportunities and problems presented to the players. As for Morale, over the years I've whittled down the additions and subtractions to a few you can generally remember easily and so it's not tedious but I find the chance element of decisive morale results is what decides the game and makes the whole thing worthwhile. If I had to rely on the willingness of most of my opponents to "give up" we would never finish!

    1. One definitely needs some way to end battles other than last man standing. that I have tried

      Of course in some of the wars I have been most interested in reproducing on the tabletop (such as 1812) happen to be some of those where out and out routs were rare meaning even leaving aside theoretical issues, traditional systems don't work well even as a way to end a game!

    2. An awful lot of this - almost all of it, maybe - is what you like, how you like your games to be. I prefer markers rather than figure removal simply because many of my figures are so hard to replace (not to mention fragile) that I have a house rule of "pick em up by the bases", and also because tidying up after a game and re-sorting the units is the most tiresome and accident-prone chore of all. That's just how I like it. I agree that you need some feature of the rules which makes things happen beyond the control of the player(s), and give some clue to how the overall day is going - morale has to come in (even if by implication), and kill tallies can help, but it has to be made as simple and as effortless as possible.

      I have taught myself to sound a gentle klaxon if at any point I find that, when revising or reviewing my rules, I just skip over the things which are always there because they always have been. Morale rules are such. We over-use terms like Old School - I, in particular, sound off about this without knowing what I'm talking about. Featherstone and Charles Grant made a big industry out of morale testing, as did all the many club sets and clones of Tunbridge Wells etc I have used in the 1970s - the litany of pluses and minuses became part of what you were supposed to do. The very oldest games - and I regard Charge! and Little Wars as part of that - made little (or no) explicit treatment of the matter. It's taken me a lifetime of "knowing better" to come back to a simple view: if a unit is three-quarters missing, that in itself includes a measure of how committed they are. It is maybe not strictly necessary to carry out a further, additional level of testing for single incidents in the day - or, if it is, something simple to the point of crudity is often enough.

      On consideration, I guess that the size of the game - for a skirmish-level action you have the time, and maybe the need, to be fussier about incidents, individuals.

      It's just down to what you like, but I know that hanging on to certain chapels of received wisdom on morale took a lot of fun out of my games over the years! Cheers - Tony

    3. Agreed on all points. A couple of times recently I have gone to write Old School and stopped to wonder, Which Old School?

      I have recently figured out the core issue of my base/no base debate. I hate shuffling large numbers of close order single figures around. Too much time spent being the drill sergeant aligning the ranks. It was with trepidation that I left my new late 19th/early 20th century figures unbased but have discovered I can easily shove around as many as I can fit on the table since they are nit in neatly aligned formations. Still leaves the sorting out issues and of course there are not nearly as many figures as in a Napoleonic battle game. However even with my based units I still like to remove figures so like multi base units. But for me its a 'feel' issue.

  6. On Morale- of the Games Rules experienced it has generally been the case that the Unit hasn't the numbers left in order to achieve an advance to the objective - or Unit numbers are depleated to the point where the Unit is obliged to withdraw from the action/ melee....recently I read an account from the Rhodesian Bush Wars (1960s) and it would seem that the Native Enemy in a very well prepared Trench System Complex - ran away on hearing the loud noise of the approaching Rhodesians in their 8 Helicopters..just ran away from a perfectly prepared and defendable position.....Morale? An endless topic for discussion. Regards. KEV.

  7. What's the expression, hard cases make bad law? But yes endless discussion.