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.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tasting Figgy MacDuff Pudding

If the proof of a pudding is in the eating then the proof of a game is in the playing.
Faraway troops escorting a convoy through territory claimed by both Her Majesty and the Republic of Oerberg.

Last week's game was enjoyable and woke old memories. As I continued to fiddle with the rules and thinking about old fashioned MacDuff figure to figure melees, I found myself thinking about Colonial wargaming and small scenarios. I had things to do today, but nothing urgent, and I had a few hours to myself. The table was still mostly set so I just jiggered it a bit and improvised a varient on an ambush of a convoy.
The playing cards mark possible ambushers. 1/2 of them are dummies. Since the game was solo I placed them blind and discovered what a card was when it was spotted or if I  wanted to move or shoot with it or if it was in a position to shoot and failed a control check to stay hidden.
Faraway (Red) fielded a detached commander with 6 cavalry garrisoning an isolated farmhouse belonging to an old Oerburgher. A convoy on its way to resupply a key frontier  outpost entered on the main road on the farthest side. The convoy consisted of 2 trucks and 2 ox carts guarded by  General and a subordinate commander with 16 infantry, an mg, and 6 cavalry. All troops were regulars and classed as shock troops in melee.

Oerberg had a general, a subordinate commander, an mg, 15 mounted rifles and 12 infantry.  The rifles and infantry were all classed as Irregular sharpshooters (superior firepower) non melee troops.
A group of Oerberg riflemen hiding in a copse on the riverbank  got excited and opened fire on the 1st turn. They were eventually driven off by the bayonet but not before causing significant losses and distracting a significant proportion of the enemy. 
The game was enjoyable and engaging with several turns of fortune and nothing in the rules jarred though I kept spotting little details I could add. However, this little skirmish, barely bigger than the train ambush last fall, took over 3 hours to resolve!

I've been spending some time postgame pondering why it took so long and examing how I felt about how it played, how it compared to other options tried since August and what it is I am really looking for out of a game now. 
The Oerberg pompom was well placed to make the approaches to the bridge a killing zone, especially with sharpshooters holding the wooded bank beside the bridge. A desperate charge by the DG Bodyguards cleared the woods and the trucks rolled forward.  An even more desperate mounted charge by Oerburgers almost took a truck but the whole situation changed as the last 18 mounted rifles emerged from cover. With heavy casualties threatening a rout, the order to retreat was given. The shattered  remnants of the Queen's infantry backed by their MG was able to hold back pursuit over the bridge and the convoy managed to limp back to safety. A drawn game.

So why was the game so long when the rules were all so simple and the forces so small? In part it had to do with the mental work of tracking who was who and how the morale of the various commands stood and keeping clear who could shoot and how many dice they got this turn and what formation they were in and other such details, and partly that things were new and sometimes needed contemplation. Its worth noting though that my old MacDuff rules, which this version has been slowly beginning to resemble more and more despite the grid,  had the same issue.  The rules were simple and seemed fast but even small games needed several hours to play. 

I was excited to get the game on the table and really happy with the feel for the first hour, as I was with the previous game but, by near the end, I was still enjoying it but also starting to long for the quicker, easier, if less story rich, mechanisms of the Square Brigadier with its fixed units,  fixed combat values and quicker resolution (or unit destruction...) The ability of infantry units to stay around is actually fairly in keeping with history. It was not uncommon for units to survive long periods under fire, even when pinned down and unable to move. A slow trickle of casualties did not often have a cumulative equal to the shock of very heavy casualties in a short time or of a charge gone home.   It doesn't make for a quick or always exciting game  though when you go through the process turn after turn with only incremental results until things eventually, hours later, reach a climax. Its ok if that's what you are seeking, and at times its what I think I want but sometimes, quick and exciting is good. I keep thinking about past Square Brigadier and Hearts of Tin games and a comment Lentulus made last week about exploring mechanisms for whole-stand removal for games with his 10mm 18thC troops.   

I also honed my thinking on organizations as I played and how I portray dismounted cavalry, esp for mounted rifle units. Eventually I may duplicate all mounted figuress but I think a mounted marker for dismounted mounted riflemen and dismounted marker for cavalry units is the way forward for now. I have a lot of casting, converting, and painting to do!

A few things to think about anyway. There may well be a rematch on the weekend with some very different rules in a sort of showdown. 


  1. Interesting post. It is hard to get a balance between detail & depth against playability/fun. I often don't have the chance to leave games up or time/energy to play so I tend these days to simpler rule ideas. After all we all want different things at different times in our games and i guess having different rules/variants to suit our moods is a good thing. Solo gaming can be tiring in the sense of doing all oneself- including setting up and tidying away not to mention the game itself.

    1. Alan, to be honest, its taken decades to get here but am finally finding that habing too many choices is a hindrance.

      I feel the same as you about simple and so kept these simple but still the design appears to be simple without being fast which was another criteria. They are being withdrawn.

  2. Nice article, Ross. I do have a question: how did you keep track of unit morale? Was it a function of casualties? Can a rout be triggered by a high loss in one turn or is it cumulative? Presence of enemies on the flank or rear? Is morale checked when you charge or receive a charge?
    Back in the day Wally Simon would use a roster sheet for such things but more recently the need for ease has the group I play with use a casualty counter to mark a unit needing a morale check. Failing to bring the casualty markers, we use various colors of good old casualty caps to indicate whether a unit has suffered a permanent morale loss or whether a unit simply needs to check the next time its turn comes around.
    Great work, again.

  3. Jerry, morale was tracked on 3 levels, army, brigade, and group. It was marked by figure removal but in theory figure removal is not just casualties. A rout of a group could be triggered by high losses but the overall effect is cumulative.

    I've done the long list of factor thing in the past and not found it worth the effort eso since for every thing you decide to put in there is something else that isn't. For charges the morale is included so if one side charges, inflicts heavy loses and takes no losses well obviously the other side cut and ran.

  4. I like your use of cards for blinds, and revealing their identity somewhat randomly. I do the same thing myself when playing solo, though I think I will steal the idea of a fire discipline rule for less well trained troops, which could give the game away. One of the few things my dad ever said about the NW Europe campaign was that the German fire discipline was generally excellent, and you could get right on top of them before they'd open up. That wouldn't be so true of irregulars in colonial games.
    I do like the mix of troops types on your table.