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

Monday, November 3, 2014

They Shall Not Pass

To my great surprise I managed to play the planned game on Sunday. To my even greater surprise, at the last minute I impetuously scrapped most of the carefully thought out "improvements" of the last 10 days, and thank goodness I did.

My ongoing, background, mental processing had finally recognized that how I determine that a game is over doesn't seem to matter when I'm looking forward to playing the next turn and only became an issue with the last game when I reverted to the Square Brigadier as a base.  One of the innovations (so to speak) of the Tin Army version was that I had scrapped the "active side moves and fires"  of the Square Brigadier for the much older "A moves B fires, B moves, A fires".  Its a little trickier when explaining and gives player's some awkward choices to make but it has a better feel of action/reaction. That change, the restoration of the customary movement rules and the increase in lethality of range 2 infantry fire put the zip back in the rules without being too jerky and made it easier to knock units out which in turn meant that I could drop the new proposed morale states. The result was a game that clicked along to a distinct conclusion with 16 turns taking me about 90 minutes.

So, on to the game.

You never quite know what is on the other side of a hill until you get there!
The scene was France, early October  1914. (Or maybe it was 1903 in Atlantica? Its so hard to tell sometimes.) A scratch Brigade of allied troops is resting behind the battle lines, awaiting orders to move forward. Unbeknownst to them, the Germans have broken through and are rushing forward to outflank the main line. A German column has entered the table, pushing forward in haste and disorder. They have orders to pass  through the Bois Auboutdutable before night and have been told there is no enemy left on this side. In order to press an effective attack tomorrow they must have at least 8 combat ready units beyond the woods by dawn.
(Scenario 22 Making the Best of a Bad Job from Scenarios for All Ages by Asquith & Grant aka the Red Book) 
The Allied force (8 units) is composed of:

Brigadier D. Britts.
1e Zouaves (1 cie)
Brooklyn Fusiliers ( 2 co) + Colonel
Ross's Rifles (3 co + Colonel)
1 MG battery (disguised as an antique mitrailleuse)
Koolahat Mountain Battery

The units are bivouacked haphazardly over a wide area with no sentries out. The units are treated as pinned until ordered.

The German force (12 units) is composed of
General S Schultz  (rushing ahead of his staff who are organizing the later advance of the rest of the brigade).
(I apologize to all German readers for never having mastered German ranks ),
2 squadrons of cavalry
8 companies of infantry (1st & 2nd battalions of the 999th Regiment)
an MG company
and a field battery.

The column has been force marching and not only have gaps appeared between companies making it difficult for battalion commanders to excercise command, there has also been a little bit of straggling, (1d6 per infantry company with 5 or 6 indicating a figure lost).  The victory condition is to get 8 companies to exit the table, by road, through the woods.   The Germans  have first move.

The dice, being the sensitive creatures that they are,  sensed the situation and the early command rolls were all in the 1 to 3 range making it hard to get the lads out of bed and into the firing line on one hand and hard to move up the column on the other. Once the game got going they became their usual random selves. As a side note, in an attempt to track the number of turns I hauled out 10 little green dice for making the command or orders rolls and used 1 per turn, dropping it in a discard tray at the end of the turn and grabbing a fresh one. Somehow that seemed easier than remembering to make a tick on a slip of paper or moving a marker. Using a deck of cards would have a similar effect with the added bonus of ensuring an even distribution of numbers over all.

Somewhere around turn 5, the allies are all awake and moving up. 
  When the sight of German cavalry rounding the hill startled the camp, the first reaction was for the Zoauves to form a firing line back by a machine gun. After a few seconds of hesitation, the German cavalry dismounted and did the same. In retrospect, a headlong charge might have been better. Odds are it would have been bloodily repulsed but if it had worked, which was possible, it would have secured the road and forced the allies into counter attacks against German infantry backed by an MG. As it was, the British formed a firing line along the hill and then back to the French MG. The Germans dithered. They tried to sidle troops trhough the wood but did not make it a priority quickly enough. They were smart enough to not storm the crest but indulged in a prolonged firefight which wore both sides down equally with the difference being that the Germans could not afford the losses if they were to exit with a strong enough force.

Once the German artillery came up and deployed, it quickly drove the allies behind the crest but that reduced the gun to less effective indirect fire while making it nearly suicidal for the infantry to cross over without more artillery support. At last the effort to go through the woods was made the main push causing the Allies to counterattack in order to stop them. The German infantry was already too badly shot up though and they were driven out of the woods at the point of their enemies' bayonets.

As the final German offensive begins to have effect, they reach their limits and are called back. The allies were not in much better shape, a few hits away from being broken, but it was enough, they held the ground and blocked the enemy's advance.
I really did mean to take pictures throughout the game despite the extremely difficult lighting situation on a dark, dismal, stormy November day but when I looked through the memory card, apparently I only stopped twice early on and then at the end. Oh well, the price of having too much fun!

To touch back on victory conditions, I am satisfied that what I've been using for the last few years works on a practical level. My figure removal theoretically reflects a drop in unit effectiveness including but not limited to missing, killed and wounded, and since such details would not be known to the General or other units, the key is that a unit is still fighting or it there is a big hole in the line and a mob heading to the rear. Since the units are so small  this often results in the odd spectacle of a single toy soldier bravely facing down the enemy when   the reality might be that a 200 man company had lost 20 or 30 dead or severely wounded, a number of others light wounded and a whole bunch cowering in a hole, maybe taking an occasional unaimed pot shot and a small core still fighting. If I wanted to, I could get around this by adding more figures and removing the unit when reduced to 2 or by using markers or a roster. The odd thing though, is it that things happened so quickly and it was so hard to tell what was happening even a 50 yards away, that a number of such last stands by small groups are on record for the Great War but even it they weren't, the One or the Brave Tin Soldier is a cultural icon so I'm going to let it slide. In any event it becomes a very vulnerable unit and if not withdrawn and replaced by reserves will soon become a lost unit on the victory point list. Artillery stonks and charges are especially deadly to single figure remnants. I do allow players to amalgamate 2 remnants into a single viable unit but at the cost of removing one as lost.

As usual the online working draft has been updated. I am now officially done with the draft and will start working on the full rule set which will take a while and probably be about 5 or 6 pages with only few paragraphs of additional rules, the rest being largely explanation, examples and better formatting.      


  1. Sounds like the rules are working out well. I like small units and removal of casualties, representing different kinds of "loss" as you describe. I don't mind the "last stands" - for me, it provides a more cinematic feel, that I like. But it even seems historically correct given my limited knowledge of the period. I also like your idea of being able to amalgamate those depleted units, at the cost of counting a loss of a unit.

    1. Its taken me 4 years to get to this point (since my 1st gridded RCW rules) but I'm pretty satisfied with how they play now.

  2. Most interesting. Your post action discussion reminds me of a point that is sometimes made but to which I take issue. That is the extent to which the GoC is likely to know the state of the forces under his command. I'm inclined to the view that he will probably know more than we are apt to think - not so much from direct observation, but from incoming reports, requests for support and screams for help. Possibly the difference between ;'reality' and the table is that the info is related instantly on the latter (for a given value of 'instantly', given our time scales).

    But at the same time as you are commanding the army (armies) you are watching a story unfold, and the type of story is 'eye-of-God' and a global perspective more than a personal limited one. The more limited perspectives and points of view are more suited I think to computer games or maybe table games at the more 'skirmish' level.

    Speaking, meanwhile, of the Red Book - it is ages since I looked at my copy. I also have C.S. Grant's Green and Black Books. I have shamefully underused these resources...

    1. Ion based partly on reading memoirs, a bit less so on reading detailed history and a little bit of personal experience on a MUCH much smaller scale, I think you over estimate the amount of info available. Even at the Battalion level it was often several hours after the battle ended that they knew how many men had been lost.

      In the black powder age the battles were more constrained area wise but also often clouded in smoke. Formed units replaced casualties from rear ranks so frontages tended to thin rather than shrink until units took excessive casualties and keep in mind that 10% to a unit was very high.

      In the era this game was set in with troops in drab and using smokeless powder taking cover and spread out often several km away from the Brigadier and not equipped with wireless, it was very hard to tell what was going on.

      I think we agree that too much emphasis on single POV does not enhance a tabletop wargame though possibly some might enjoy it as a some sort of hands off role play thing.

      I feel lazy sometimes for not designing more scenarios myself but the scenario books are an easy way to get a dependably balanced and usually challenging game on the table quickly and sometimes, easy and dependable is good!.

    2. It is possible we are looking at different eras too. I admit to thinking more in terms of Napoleonic or even American Civil Wars. I have read as how the volume of incoming fire would reducing the firing line to a cloud of skirmishers; but also how a brigade's regiments would indeed shrink towards the centre, leaving quite pronounced gaps between units. These sources have also been from memoirs or retrospective articles by participants (I'm thinking ACW, here).

      Given that in later wars men were (presumably) trained in more dispersed modes of fighting, one imagines there was a lesser tendency to bunch up as a response to losses - the reverse if anything.

      Possibly the reason for my neglect of the Asquith and grant scenario books is that I often design scenarios from actual battles. But there is good stuff in these, and their adaptability to different periods can lead to heavily disguised scenarios. Looking at that 'Best of a bad job' scenario led me to thinking it might be quite a good one for my Army Men project. A company of Kiivar infantry - 3 rifle platoons (each including an anti-tank rifle detachment), a MMG, a couple of mortars, and a couple of anti-tank guns in camp. Do we hear a kind of metallic rumbling from the east, getting louder? A break-through column of Raesharn armoured infantry: 4 rifle platoons, a MMG, 2 armoured cars (light cavalry unit), 2 medium tanks (heavy cavalry unit), a couple of light field guns or mortars. Fast moving, but strung out along the road, the lead units are becoming uneasily aware they are nearing some thickish country... Erm..., we haven't seen any enemy for a while...

  3. Hi Ross,
    All this discussion once again reminds me that all of this is but a game, one meant to be played fairly with similar if not identical rules for both sides. It is played - and I wish to emphasize the word "play"- by humans who see all the things that are in play and manipulate them most of the time using some technique to randomize events somewhat.
    When you discuss the conditions at which point a game ends, there are lots of situations which might demand that a game end. What I read that you did was that you determined in a very rational way that the events as they unfolded meant that further tabletop bloodletting was pointless. The General sent out a message and told the lads to disengage. On the other hand you could have kept close watch on things like units - or figures - lost and when that number hit a certain point declare the game to be over. In fifty years of gaming I've encountered both methods. I personally lean on the side of rational decision making which you also obviously embrace.
    The game looked wonderful and I sincerely hpe that you had a terrific time playing it out.

    1. Thanks Jerry. YesI agree wih your comment on what is going on.

      As it happens both rules were in play this time, one for the scenario (the number of units needed for the next attack) and the other built into the rules (the old 50% effective units) . If the Allies had a few very shaky units, if would only have taken a few more losses to bundle them off the table but the scenario was clear, there is no draw. If the Allies were sent packing and the Germans advanced, but without enough forces to achieve the actual mission, they still still lose. No one really wanted this patch of ground! So yes, I could have played on to see which side broke but it would not have changed the result. Good though to have that decided before rather than making something up 3/4 of the way through a game!