Wednesday, May 18, 2016

More thoughts on C&C

Whatever happened during last Saturday's game has now been pretty much over-written in my memory. Even Sunday's replay using The Square Brigadier is slowly fading after some busy days of house and garden work and a wide ranging chat on other wargaming topics when a friend dropped by (watch for a Crimean era 3d printer steam traction engine to appear once assembled in a few months time).

However the games did give rise to enough thoughts and issues to wrap a post around.
The 2nd game early on.

The 1st or Saturday game was played using the Tin Army with 16 infantry companies supported by 2 cavalry squadrons and 2 batteries against 14 infantry companies, 3 squadrons and 2 batteries. Each side had a General and 3 subordinate commanders, all artillery was treated equal for the day and all infantry had breechloaders. Each unit could take 2 hits and could shoot or move. Infantry and artillery were allowed to pass 1/2 of their hits each turn to a supporting adjacent infantry unit. Artillery and cavalry could instead cancel 1/2 their hits by retreating a full move and neither moving nor shooting next turn.  Infantry deployed with a single company in a square was considered to be in skirmish order and was treated as in cover.

Initially I was  very pleased with the results of the game. The infantry mostly advanced as skirmishers to reduce casualties. As soon as they came within range they tended to stop and shoot. Attempts to charge across open ground in a dense formation ended in slaughter, especially against troops in fire. It became clear that victory would be hard to achieve unless one side could advance under cover until close enough to make a rush on a weakened enemy and/or could establish artillery superiority to weaken the enemy infantry. It all sounded about right for the 1880's.

A repeat photo showing the start of the 1st game.

My second thought was that the game, though quick with some tense moments watching the dice fall,   wasn't all that interesting as a player. There was too much administrative management of hits and close supports and the position of commanders with too few generalship decisions about manoeuvre and committing the nearly non existent reserves. Units were also so vulnerable as to make me reluctant to expose them. Not unrealistic but not as much fun in game terms as I had hoped. That's when I decided to go back and try the Square Brigadier. As incredible as it seems, I don't seem to have a good copy of the real Square Brigadier, just various dead variants, so, I winged it.

I pushed the stands back into the 2 stand/6 figure companies that I had been planning to use and fiddled a bit to get 8 infantry, 2 cavalry and 2 guns vs 7 infantry, 3 cavalry and 2 guns.  The infantry could take 4 hits and the cavalry and guns 3. All infantry units were assumed to be deployed as skirmishers and supports when in 1 rank of figures so the increased hit capacity gave the same result without any fuss and bother. Then I turned my attention to the subordinate commanders or sacred cows. A commander for every 4 infantry or 2-3 cavalry units seemed a bit much but there was no logical way to reduce the number of commanders. I decided to postpone the debate until after the game, skip the command radius rule and drop all subordinate commanders.

The result was a much better game which felt shorter than the first game but actually lasted longer despite having fewer troops. Attacking across open ground remained deadly and firefights between lines of infantry were still prolonged but there were constant decisions to be made by the player and the ability to actually change plans and commit off table reserves. Units were also more capable of surviving if caught out though occasionally a fistful of 5's and 6's showed that no one in the open was guaranteed another turn. In short it was more engaging as a game.

Now I've been a fan of showing the work of subordinate commanders since at least the early 80's and despite periodic retreats from what I now see as an excessive amount of friction and subordinate incompetence I was uncomfortable without some sort of mechanism. The implicit vs explicit skirmisher and support issue was still on my brain though as was the thought that some very worthy and knowledgeable rules authors have minimized the explicit role of subordinate commanders in their games. Frank Chadwick has written some very interesting thoughts on some aspects of command rules but it was  Lawford and Young in particular that keep coming to my mind. Is it possible that officers who held senior positions during combat in WWII and taught at Sandhurst really felt that intermediate officers  had no role or effect on the battlefield? It seems more likely that they felt that in a fast paced game players would tend to make their own mistakes and that a system where combat results could stray far off the norm meant that sudden failures or unexpected successes might be seen as reflecting the competence of the little tin Colonels and Brigadiers as well as the quality of the soldiers. If I need something more, chance cards can provide that extra little bit of uncertainty without wasting a lot of time and effort every turn to show an extra level of detail.

Not having a game role for subordinate commanders, like not showing that infantry are using supports to bolster the firing line, doesn't mean that commanders and troops aren't doing their job, merely that these things are going on without the General having to take time to do his subordinates' jobs for them. The dice and chance cards will reflect whether or not they are doing a good job.

From the first game, the final defeat of an assault by Blue's 7th Infantry on the Victoria Rifles

OK time to do a new clean copy of The Square Brigadier and archive it,  and time to think about what to play on the weekend.


  1. Inspiring tabletop photos as always, Ross Mac, especially the last one, which made me chuckle while illustrating the neglected power of musicians in tabletop gaming - the Blue unit never had a chance against the mighty horn blast of the Victoria Rifles!

  2. I have a copy of Square Brigadier--would you like a copy?


    1. No but thank you Chris. I have about a dozen drafts of various varisnts snd options that I have experimented with and any of them are fine as base for the latest version.