Monday, June 29, 2015

Tin Army tested by fire

Its odd how some things just "feel" right. In the case of a set of wargame rules, an emotional response to the product of intellect and logic (however flawed). The oddness no doubt  merely reflects an inadequate awareness and analysis of said emotions even when they are acknowledged and considered during design.

For example, I have no idea why I find the "one base is a unit" thing so satisfying. I can conjure a dozen logical arguments for or against it but only guess at the real reasons why that attraction exists. One argument for them is that one can make interesting dioramas on each base. One can, and in the past I have done so, my 15mm Indians never really left the woods since every base had at least a bush or rock and fallen log if it didn't have a small tree to hide behind, but even with these plain, temporary bases the satisfaction persists. It might be thought to be ease of moving them about but really one 3 stand unit is no harder to move than three 1 stand units. Reason is denied or rather hidden, I'm sure it exists.

But on with the game.

An overview of the table as Red marches on. All hills are gentle. The rifle pits are deemed hidden until within rifle range. Units in woods etc are hidden until adjacent. Normally I would use some sort of blinds but I was under the weather and thus tired and just pretended I didn't know where they were and scouted all possible hiding places. Ostensibly Red does not know that the enemy is about to be heavily reinforced. To maintain some level of genuine surprise I rolled each turn for the arrival of reinforcements and didn't choose an arrival point until they did arrive. 
Having the mere idea of a punitive expedition as a start I made the scenario up as I laid out the terrain and sorted through what figures I had able to be used and pondered the back story which has changed  a bit from what I was expecting last fall. At that time I was contemplating a sort of Not Quite the Boer War  crossed with a bit of WWI in Africa or European intervention. However, having thrown some red coats into the first scenario to make up numbers made me think earlier and I was later reminded about the whole Not Quite the NorthWest Rebellion thing that also tempts me. I decided that I did not want to do both, certainly not at the same time nor did I want to make either campaign wait any longer. As an historical and military event the Boer War interests me but from a wargaming point of view its not recreating the history that is what engages me it is the switch from crowded battlefields fought over by similar armies to one of open veldt (or prairie) with periodic towns, rivers, etc, and the idea of a mobile, largely non-professional, army with modern weapons taking on a professional one successfully.  I consulted the geography and existing history of my imaginary land and came up with a modified back story and plan.

The Kapelle District is right next to Oerberg on the map, Kapelle is already listed as being the area where the remnants of the Brethern of the Coast retreated to after their defeat and where they mingled with the native tribes. It is also on record that the Faraway Trading  Company (FTC) backed by the Queen's troops followed and attempted to enforce her rule. Since their neighbour has already had a brush with Faraway, it seemed obvious to ally the two and so we find Oerberg sending an unofficial party of "volunteers" across the border. Allowing the President to lead the expedition in person was probably a mistake politically but I think he has achieved his goal of war. One change I envisage now is to increase the level of development of Oerberg including a slightly larger standing army, or at least some urban militia regiments and a slight move away from the very Boer-like look to.... well you'll see eventually.    Lets say a sort of Riel Rebellion meets the Boer War and Pancho Villa and more.  (I want to use those trucks and cars!)

The Rebels sprang an ambush with infantry and cavalry swarming the squadron of Larsen's Lancers which were scouting ahead. By dint of prodigious die rolling vs handfuls of 1s and 2s Larsen's survived. As they pulled back the MG opened up catching a group of spearmen in the open and decimating them with a roll of three 5's and 6's. Useful things machine guns!
The Faraway force consisted of a single Brigade consisting of a Commander, 4 cavalry, 6 infantry, a mountain gun, an MG and 2 supply wagons. The wagons have no combat ability but count as units for army morale giving Faraway 14 units or being able to suffer 5 losses. Since there is only one brigade the army will be defeated once it is exhausted. Their enemy was divided into 2 brigades. The tribesmen (name needed) under Blue Jacket had 1 cavalry, 2 mounted rifles, 3 rifles and 2 spearmen for a total of 8 units, exhaust point of 3.  Old Cords led 4 units of Oerberg Mounted Rifles and a light gun. or 5 units, exhaust point of 2.  

Faraway entered along the road making full infantry road speed while the cavalry scouted for ambushes. They triggered one but managed to do more harm than they took and the rebels were some what taken aback at the firepower of the machine gun. Their mounted troops spent most of the rest of the game trying to get at the wagons as the best way to cause the enemy to retreat. This had the side effect of drawing off 1/2 the Faraway troops to protect the wagons.

The attack on the town looked promising at first. Against my better judgement I let a squadron of lancers charge the rifle pits while waiting for the infantry and gun to come up. To my surprise they managed to drive the enemy out and lived to tell the tale and with the Dragoons coming up the scenario looked like it might have an early end. Then the Oerbergers showed up and a few turns later the town was cleared the Dragoons had lost a squadron and all of the Faraway cavalry was damaged. I pulled the cavalry back to rally and decided to try to wear the enemy down with long range fire. That wasn't going so well until Old Cords got cocky and sent one of his troops charging into the machine gun, forgetting that they were mounted rifles not cavalry and that the enemy was an mg until I rolled the dice. I offered to let him take the suicidal move back but he was too honest to accept and just pulled his unit off. That was when I decided I should count the troops and establish break points. Oerberg has lost 1 stand in the fight with the cavalry and this ill fated charge finished them off. 

It took a few more turns of manoeuvring and  praying for initiative and some close calls which almost tipped the scales but at the end of the day firepower won out and Bluejacket's braves were forced to retreat. Faraway lost 2 cavalry and 1 infantry unit but won the day.    

What? The end? Sorry. The turns flew by so fast and I was so wrapped in the game that I forgot to stop for pictures. Incidentally, Although only the 6" squares are marked I was counting in 3" squares, or quadrants if you will.
So, the rules? Well the fact that I was too wrapped in the game to take pictures probably sums it up well. There is nothing that I felt I would have to change but there were some last minute changes to the rules to simplify things that I think I will reverse not because they break the game but to improve the feel.

The first is that originally a unit that gave ground was supposed to have to spent its next turn halted. That would have meant a marker, a different marker from the "I've suffered a loss" marker. Since a unit loses a die if it moved there is a penalty for retaking the ground but there is no penalty for cavalry falling back and immediately charging again and nothing to stop a unit of riflemen from being driven out of cover only to reoccupy it before the enemy could advance. Time and time again. I'll restore the pin marker and penalty but make the retreat part optional for troops in cover to save wear and tear on my fingers and to avoid having to explain why they would run away rather than hide.

The second is that I abandoned my usual defensive fire rule for melee. The defender rolls first rule does the same thing for infantry and artillery but doesn't feel right for cavalry that is counter-charging. I'll just do the words once I figure out how to handle the give ground issue for simultaneous combat, maybe disallowing it for cavalry vs cavalry melees or making the defender choose first to reflect the advantage for cavalry of being the attacker in contemporary kriegspiel rules.

One other thing I'm contemplating, not because it doesn't work but just to be tidy is to change the cover penalty from a score to hit to a die reduction. It makes a difference but I haven't decided yet if the difference is good, bad or neutral. Being consistent  would be good though and easier to remember in the heat of battle as long as it doesn't harm the effect. Cumulative penalties for different things which might turn things from difficult to impossible is the real danger hence my occasional hedging of  a "but never less than 1" sort of rule.


  1. Ross Mac,

    Reading your recent blog entries is really making me want to get some figures onto my tabletop and fight a battle ... but until I finish my Waterloo project I have resist that temptation. (A lot of the Napoleonic cavalry figures looks as though they could be used almost right up until 1914 ... although the rivet counters would object if I did!)

    All the best,


    1. It's s good urge Bob.

      I don't think many rivet counters read my blog so I've stopped worrying about it. Be a shame not to use the figures repeatedly after all that work.

  2. Bob - I feel the same way!
    Ross Mac - I do so enjoy your blog postings, and regret I have missed a few lately. I'll be forced to go back through your archives.

    A thing on hidden elements. I tend to prefer things to be laid out on the board - they 'eye of God' thing I guess. So I've had to come up with - [a] how to 'ignore' what you know is there, and [b] how to find a use for reconnaissance units.

    My solution to [a] was ... don't! Play the game in full knowledge of the hidden elements. The boys on the table don't know they are there. They have to get really close to discover the ambushes, unless the occupiers themselves give them away by fire. I have used this system with 'Panzer Marsch' rules. You often find that troops or guns in ambush will shoot at a distance rather greater than they could be spotted from otherwise, on the grounds that if the enemy does get close enough to see you, then you will have a problem of survival.

    True, it gives the position away, but the defenders are then engaging an enemy at a distance that gives them a chance to survive the incoming.

    I recall the horrible fate of a German 8.8cm FlaK that waited too long in ambush. When it did fire, not only did it fail to do more than minor damage to the target (that was bad luck), but was at once obliterated by the incoming before it could get a second shot away. Had the thing fired at a greater distance off (reserve fire) it would [a] have got a second shot in despite giving away its position and [b] stood a better chance of surviving the return fire from the longer range.

    Here's where recon units come in. They can be used to discover enemy in ambush or (possibly more likely) to trigger a premature response. Recon units will take high losses (as you'd expect), but I think one needs to build into the rule set their capability of bugging out quick time if they do survive triggering a response.

    The net effects of these ideas are these. The hidden elements still have to be 'discovered'. One might try and get around them, but that would have a channelling effect that the defender might not after all consider so undesirable. Recon units have a function. Finally, the game speeds up, both in laying out, and in the play.

    A second thing: the name of your tribesmen. Now, I have mentioned before my use of colours, expanding on the traditional RED and BLUE. Hence my 19th century armies of Ruberia and Azuria. When I began this project I had in mind something of a cross between Joe Morshauser's Hausserian campaign, the Zulu wars and French colonisation of Northwest Africa. The local tribesmen were to be BLACK, and I was going to use the Swahili adjective 'Mweusi' for these guys (and ESCI Zulus). I was also thinking of adding an Arabic seaport, with its own small army WHITE (Abyadh). This was, of course, long before the whole project took an entirely different course...

    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      What a well-argued and rational explanation as to why it is not necessary to 'hid' units on the tabletop.

      I also like the way you came up with relevant names for your imagi-nations.

      All the best,


    2. Thanks Ion. The only time I bother with hidden units is for ambushes of a convoy or similar where the player has a choice of routes and there is room for uncommitted, unseen reserves.

  3. I can hear the Schneider semi-flats rattling around their box in anticipation of a game come the holidays on Friday...

  4. Dear Ross,
    What a nice post! This really explained what you were endeavoring to do with your game. Two almost totally unrelated things. First, you mentioned the fact that you could use a name for the native people under Blue jacket. Why not the Moosepatucks honoring that massive mammal who populates so much of the northern reaches of our shared continent?
    Second, it is interesting that you dealt with a ules set needing to "feel" right. Part of this I believe is the product of what we have inculcated from reading so many books and articles and seeing so many movies from all over. The other piece is our own personal inclination as to how we go about translating that on the table top. Do we like big games or small games? Do we enjoy detailed skirmishing or more generalized, big picture games? Is the element of command important? Or does morale and training play an even more important part of the equation? Gamers are quite an individual lot and these tastes will dictate variations in the way we play, the way we paint and build landscapes and terrain, and what and how we collect.
    And have I thanked you for postingthese blogs? every time I read them I feel that I am being treated to quite an excellent experience.

  5. and thank you for comments Jerry.

    Moosepatucks, hmm, there is a similar tribe in the records south of the mountains, where the winds and currents bring up cold air from Antarctica. But good suggestion.

  6. In my case, the one base per unit thing allows me to deploy toys that I have in small quantities. Given the fragmwents of old fantasy I have, and the difficulty in doing some of the Renaissance casting and conversions, that's a significant point in its favor.