Wednesday, August 20, 2014

We now return you to regular programming

I had hoped to play a test game today or at least make a decision on some things that I have been pondering but its been one of those sorts of days and tomorrow I am off to try C&C Ancients with 25mm figures.

So I'll just briefly mention a few of the uncertainties hanging over my table.

To grid or not grid. Part of me is attached to the idea of the glossies being used in a traditional ungridded environment but I'm still intrigued by the abstraction of the squares, the "game" feel and the impact that has on rules and a lingering fascination with terrain modules not indulged in since the early 80's. This is a pure matter of choice of flavour between equal but different options.

Retreats. The subject of when and why troops retreat has been of interest to me for a while (see question post and followup Post from Jan 2011). The crux for this venture is the question of when it should be the player's choice that troops retreat, when and how should the game decide it and when should it be shown by the destruction of units? I'm pretty much decided that I want the game to decide that one side has lost a close combat/melee and force a retreat and that I want units incapable of fighting to be removed rather than tracking them across the table but that leaves the question of Battlecry style retreats from flags and various versions of Giving Ground rule in Square Brigadier.

Scale and Size. One of the attractions of the grid is that I find it easier to abstract scale. My problem is that the more natural the game looks, the greater I want to make the ranges pushing artillery and reserves off table and also the larger I want the units to be. The question returns, is it better to have fewer large units or more small units and what is the optimum number.  I have been happy enough with Grant's teasers over the years to stick with 6 to 16, say a dozen on average.

Orders.  Closely allied to scale and style of game is whether all shooting should be played out or whether it should be assumed that troops with an enemy in view are firing without dramatic effect and ordered fire is somehow more significant, a concentration or increased voulume perhaps. This is tied to the delicate balance of being able to move/act with enough units without moving too many all the time, primarily from a gaming POV.  The question about why real armies don't often have everyone moving at the same time is different but related. Bringing back the distance penalty and either group moves or dice for subordinates are both possibilities.

Originality. I really wish this was not on the table at all but when I found myself  contemplating something that looked a lot like Memoir combat with DBA activation I felt somehow lazy and diminished yet an original bad idea is not superior to a good existing one and its getting dashed hard to find something that someone, somewhere hasn't already tried.

More on Thursday.


  1. Two thoughts-

    More than twenty years ago I played a game called "Coupsticks" I believe, American Indian Wars. The rules were from WI or MW and called for a gridded playing surface. Which we didn't have at the game shop. So the gentleman running the game imposed a virtual, movable grid. Movement was sort of random, but expressed in terms of a grid move e.g. straight two squares, diagonal one square, knight's move, etc. Each unit had a tile the size of the grid, plus an extra one per player. The individual figs were on their tile and the extra was used to measure out the grid move and then the figures moved onto the new tile, the old tile was then used to measure the next move. [Actually, in the second game we just sort of faked it until we got closer to the enemy.]

    I don't know if that is at all helpful, but maybe it will inspire something.

    Your mention of assumed general fire reminds me of Featherstone's later rules where such fire was assumed and the whole issue was whether it was affecting a unit or not. Several years ago the guy who ran the coupsticks game and I worked out some rules based on Stephen Simpson's SYW rules (WI #75 IIRC), based on Featherstone's morale game. Basically, anytime a unit was ordered to do anything (activated?) it had to pass a morale check based on the number of threats it was dealing with. So two opposing units could stand there shooting at each other all day and never take a morale check until one of them tried to do something or was charged by another unit.

    Again, food for thought.

    Take care. Have fun with the C&C game.

    1. Thanks Stu. Always good and never a surprise to see signs of Featherstone when exploring a new path.

  2. Ross re originality,as they say there is nothing new under the sun...
    All our gaming is a mix of old and new ideas ,we choose that which fits our vision best and I feel there is nothing wrong with that.

    1. Absolutely, its just that if I'm going to put my name on it I want there to be something different about it even if most of the bits come from elsewhere.

  3. Grids - the later the period, the more I'm attracted to grids; not quite sure why that is.

    Retreats - I've been pondering how infrequently one finds oneself replacing weakened but still functioning wargames units in the front line - in effect an orderly and voluntary retreat; generally units only retreat involuntarily as a consequence of taking too many hits or failing a morale test. Seems to be missing something that did happen in real life battles.

    Originality - pragmatically one can see writing rules is an editorial process, selecting a particular combination of known mechanisms, but yes it is hard to give up the quest for the grail :-)

    1. There is something awkward about linear warfare on a grid is there not?

      A use for, let alone a need for, reserves in most war game rules is something that has bothered me for years.

  4. I like your thoughts on retreat, I've been thinking about Command and Control in general. This is a question I've looked in my my games: What is the span of control for a command element? At what distances can skirmishers, piquets, or vedettes operate without command/coordination from a higher headquarters/commander? How do we determine if troops respond to orders (roll for competency: Green, Militia, Veteran) calculating fog of war (i.e. conflicting signals, from drum or horn?) I am torn between the realistic frustration of control and keeping the pace of the game fun and playable. Looking forward to your Thursday Post!

    1. Ok this is my 3rd attempt to reply. Basically you describe just the sort of issue. Changing the level of the game changes the details but not the issue.

  5. Ross Mac,

    You know that I am firmly in the gridded tabletop camp, but I can understand why you are thinking about using your new shiny toy soldiers on an ungridded battlefield. That said, the original POLEMOS rules were designed to be used with traditional shiny toy soldiers and a gridded playing surface.

    My recent battles have been fought using a version of MEMOIR '44, and I see the 'Flag' results as being those times when units fall back to regroup and reorganise before returning to the fray.

    As to originality ... well the more I investigate the 'archaeology' of wargame design (i.e. Trying to find out as much as I can about pre-Wellsian wargame rules) the more I realise how often wargame designers re-invent the wheel. I see nothing wrong with using other people's ideas and mechanisms, just as long as proper credit is given. I acknowledge the debt I owe to Richard Borg, Ian Drury, Richard Brooks, Joseph Morschauser, Donald Featherstone, Phil Barker, Paddy Griffith, Arthur Harman, and many, many more ... including yourself.

    I look forward to reading about your eventual solution to these interesting design conundrums.

    All the best,


    1. Thanks Bob, I wholly agree about sharing and blending ideas. However if I end up using what is essentially a variant of a commercial product I want to be clear about it. (And of course, its fun to look for new ideas and new combinations.

  6. To grid or not grid. Having played RPG games using grids and many ancients, horse & musket and modern era games on tabletop without grids - I am firmly in the no-grid camp. Having said that, it is possible to have grid reference points on your tabletop WITHOUT actually putting on the grid cleanly. My advice then is to make the grid subtle and therefore you can use it if need arises.

    Retreats. I went into your backgrounder: {answers in brackets}
    A) When an assault takes place and fails, how does that happen?
    {many factors if the men are all shot dead that is easy - it is when the fighting power is 'reduced' that these issues come up - for Ancients (the muscle only periods) the assault could go on for hours or end in minutes, much will depend on the rest and 'elan' of the assaulting unit) for early gunpowder the 'elan' again has more impact, while once into the mechanized or industrial era (post WWII) technology starts to have a larger impact and assaults that are obviously not getting anywhere will come to a screeching halt very much outside of the commander's wishes.}

    Who calls it off?
    {here much depends on scale, for in a 20-man ancients skirmish assault it is obviously the local leader, while in a WWII Division scale assault, a brigadier (one of three say) could call off the efforts, separate from the Division commander. So much could be said for Command and Control functions of the 'higher level' formations above the company or battalion}

    Surely the general back at Headquarters who ordered the assault is too far away to be able to assess the attack in real time through the smoke and confusion and communications too primitive to communicate an order to fall back?
    {certainly for the ancients, yet Hastings gives the example of the 'feint' attack when the cavalry was rushed up to the shield wall and intentionally pulled back in an 'apparent' rout - just the thing to get the shield wall to break and follow them into a death trap = so such things are possible, yet could not be commonplace}

    ... to be continued

    1. Its going to be tricky answering on my mini tablet but here we go. Re grid it is also possible to simulate a grid by using fixed increments but the temptation here is for the esthetic of a grid with its effect on mind set and expectation.

      Not sure if you read my associated answer post. The question arose from a test game if Morschausers rules and was aimed at horse and musket but the points remain. Not sure I agree that the ancient and modern are so different. Many a wild charge broke on disciplined ranks while today elite troops are still better at pressing an attack.

      As for temporary breaks in ancient wars, less common perhaps for phalanx armies but descriptions of roman vs macedonian bsttles mention the battle lines breaking off and renewing the fight as many as 7 times. And if course we can only speculate on exactly how the Roman line relief worked in practice.

  7. Is it the local commander?
    {this is where he minutia or detail in your rules must be determined. Where does the 'unit' end? What is the scale of the smallest operational unit? That will determine who gets to call off the assault of at least that unit.}

    is he able to perhaps order a retreat because he feels that his units will be destroyed if he doesn't?
    {totally possible, in Market Garden - Arnhem; the Montgomery commander would be committed to going that 'one more mile' to take Arnhem bridge, yet it was the decision of brigadier Urquhart and Colonel Vandeleur that ultimately stopped the advance of the columns and agreed to the withdrawal from the north bank of the Rhine. Once again it is the smallest unit - for your game - commander that gets to decide *for that unit* what is going to happen, then the others may have to follow on that unit decision - again within the operational plans and communications ability}

    Is it only uncommited units under his command taht he can call off and the rest are on their own?
    {again, hate to go into this - yet the scale and communications matters here. Example for a 100 c.e. Roman Army, if the cavalry is not getting the effect desired then the commander may be able to stop a planned infantry attack or adjust to wait for the response from the Germanic tribes. That local cavalry commander may have to see that the infantry is not coming to then make is own decision (it may be too late by then) For a Napoleonic era battle the army commander has ordered the artillery barrage and a corps moves off to do their assault, at the 1/2 way mark while the foot is marching the commander learns that a large cavalry force with many horse batteries is going to appear on the flank of the corps, possibly enough to kill the assault. There is not much the army commander could do, short of sending out another corps or any reserve cavalry he may have. It will be the corps commander that will have to deal with the flank attack as it happens. Likewise in that flank attack if the cavalry commander looses control over one of his brigades and it goes deep into the infantry corps, with the aim of forcing squares & maybe breaking a few lines of battalia. There would be little the cavalry commander could do about such a brigade other then join it with what else he has or support with artillery fire if able. Then that cavalry brigadier may find that his assault gets stalled with a tough square, and find that the is surrounded by squares that are supported by artillery fire that has cut his lead squadrons to bits. All will depend on what your game scale is. If you have the squadrons and battalion as the lowest scale, then the cavalry brigadier may be able to pull out his survivors, if the smallest unit is brigade, then the Cavalry division commander may have to just stand by while the one brigade is cut to pieces. Then looking at a post WWII action, the Army commander may see that the lead companies in an attack are simply being overwhelmed by superior enemy firepower, and further units sent in will only suffer a similar fate - like airborne troops going after tanks w/o air support or AT weapons. Such an army commander has the communications ability to call off the attack and cut the losses}

    Is it only when discipline breaks and the men run away that the attack ends?
    {clearly not, however at a 1:1 scale of skirmish battle that would likely be the only way such an attack would 'end'. While at a larger scale of operations, with rules that allow for attrition, then whole divisions could be wiped out before the attack could be called off, such as the horse and musket era}

    ... to be continued

  8. B) If and when the men run away, is it really possible to rally them and return to the fight, al lof them?
    {totally possible to rally more than 2/3 of original numbers, and in the early gunpowder era that may be the 20% of the men that did the real fighting anyway (using the 80-20 rule)}

    or is there usually a permanent reduction in fighting power?
    {again scale is a factor, in 1:1 then definitely firepower is reduced, while at company or higher formations there may be only a negligible effect}

    Scale and Size. One of the attractions of the grid is that I find it easier to abstract scale.
    {I understand you want square grid, have you considered hexes? A hexagon is more of a neutral distance measure ... just thinking out loud}

    My problem is that the more natural the game looks, the greater I want to make the ranges pushing artillery and reserves off table and also the larger I want the units to be.
    {decisions decisions = this is one you must establish. Scale matters as it helps to make the other decisions, if your operational unit is a company that sets up ground scale and time possibilities. It also establishes the attrition values and what any morale losses might look like}

    The question returns, is it better to have fewer large units or more small units and what is the optimum number. I have been happy enough with Grant's teasers over the years to stick with 6 to 16, say a dozen on average.
    {what you have to choose is do you want a chess or checkers feel to your game? with fewer powerful units, where each one is a division, then the game comes out more like checkers; with more and different variety of units with different moves and counter-moves you tend to get more a of a chess-like feel}

    {doctrines of the armies in question matter here also. A medieval top-down rigid force may not permit much flexibility, while an army known for effective promotion from within the ranks and accepting of officers initiative might create a more chaotic feel, yet have the potential for recovery of poor position or command order errors of high level command}

    {stop panicking here - these are all ideas and quite often it is the combination of what may seem not-connectable ideas suddenly giving the flash of insight for something truly new and original. Keep tossing the ideas out and mashing them together!}

    1. Again the original post was in a specific context of a series of posts following an acw game with regiments as units. As the answer post (link above) indicates a quick check of a random selection of battles provided some answers mostly of the sometimes kind but specific examples of defeated troops returning to the attack were hard to find.

      Not sure about the chess chequers analogy. If I shrink an early 20thc game (the matter in hand this month) down to tactical level I end up with 2 possibly 3 troop types and no room to maneuver which sounds more chequers like.

      Thanks for all the comments, good for the little grey cells.

  9. Not to grid!
    Wargaming is not Chess!
    Yes to the grid, if used to plan and execute artillery fires from the twentieth century
    Yes to give orders. Yes to be obstructed the transmission of orders due to the distance and random factors
    I found it very interesting reflection, I apologize for review so sharply, is that I am an old man who hates the current trend of neglecting the historical modeling and put the spotlight on playfulness.
    Sorry for my terrible English and best regards from the far south,

    1. Gracias Carlos. You have no need to apologize. Your English is very clear and your opinion is welcome. It is good to hear another voice from the other half of the Americas. I must muster the courage to leave a longer comment on your excellent blog!

      I do like to pay attention to the history and that was the main thing when I was 20 or 30 or 40 years younger but to play games with toy soldiers is even older. Even before HG Wells and Little Wars so it also is tradition. Therefore now I have begun to do both.

    2. Obviously the way you look this hobby is wiser than mine. Regards, Carlos

    3. Carlos stick around and you will find that wise is not a word used to describe me!

  10. Ross, a Hearts of Tin Question - How would you approach horse archers - lets say for a not-Russians vs not-Tartars 18th century scenario?

    1. Oh, good question. Not a subject I've looked at. In 1812 the French were dismissive of Bashkirs and their bows which wouldn't penetrate greatcoats. The Austrians in the 18thC seem to have found the mobility of the Turkish LC a problem but I've never seen any reference to their bows. Possibly the advent of infantry muskets, carbines and faster heavy cavalry took away some of the relative effectiveness of their forebearers.

      So possibly much like Cossacks, irregular LC with inferior firepower. (Btw when checking HofT I noticed that the LC move was missing, now fixed.

  11. Ross

    A few thought on what makes a me, as a wargamer, retreat with troops rather than let them fight to the death.


    Look at two examples of 'modern' rules we use for our SYW battles, both of which use identical unit sizes etc...

    Maurice - In these the army starts the game with a number of 'Army Morale Points', and a number of these are lost each time a unit is destroyed (but no gradual loss for units being damaged), once all the points have gone it's game over, so there is a great incentive to prevent the final loss of the units, often pulling them out of the combat when they are badly damaged. This system encourages players to preserve their units, and there is no need for morale/retreat/rout mechanisms in the rules.

    Field of Battle (Piquet) - Again the game starts with a number of morale points, but in this case these are gradually lost as units degrade, so once a unit is badly damaged it does not have a significant impact if it is finished off. In this case there is no a great pressure on the player to rescue them. There are no unit morale rules, but units do retreat and rout as a result of shooting and melee.

    So in these two sets the 'all or nothing loss' of army integrity in Maurice has a much greater incentive to pull low strength units units back than does the gradual loss system in FOB.


    Obviously in a campaign situation if there are major penalties on having units 'destroyed', then there is a player incentive to not loose them.

    I'm sure you have been over all this many times!


    1. Good points Steve. I normally use 1/2 units lost as a victory condition, probably a subconscious hangover from Charge! though it doesn't appear there in that form.
      I wasn't looking at in the way you describe it though so something to file away.