Monday, August 22, 2016

Storming the Stony Heights

It had been a long hot march. Scouts reported no sign of the Americans so General Douglas ordered Colonel Marten to occupy Stony Heights with a picquet of three companies, one each from the Rifles, Grenadiers and Highlanders then gave the rest of the Column permission to camp by the river and make supper. Six companies of infantry, two troops of cavalry and a 9 pounder gun, as fine a force as a man could want.

A short time later a bugle sounded from the ridge. By the time a galloper arrived with news that the Yanks were at hand, shots were already ringing out from the hill.

There is the enemy!
South of the hill, General Byrd surveyed his new command with satisfaction. On his left was a battalion of regulars, 3 companies strong under Colonel Strombecker, In the centre 3 companies of tough Volunteers, on the right was Colonel Lannigan with a gun and a troop of cavalry to secure the flank. It appeared the enemy had been taken by surprise, all the better. He gave the order for an advance all along the line.

As the enemy opened a hesitant fire the artillery galloped forward, unlimbered and poured fire upon the hill. The Canadians had good cover amongst the rocks on the steep crest but his men would winkle them out.  Forward went the Blue line, pausing briefly to pour in fire while B and C companies manoeuvred around the flank. The whole then cheered and charged up the hill. To the surprise of all, they were met by a deadly close range fire and tumbled back down the hill, carrying Colonel Strombecker with them.  Poor Strombecker, finally back in uniform after being sidelined for many years and there he was, a ball in his shoulder before the battle was fairly under way.

Two repulses and the Canadian main force approaching, this day was not going according to Byrd's plan.
Fortunately for the Canadians it seems that most men had not even unbuckled their equipment yet and in no time at all half the companies had formed up, deployed and were advancing on the hill. The remainder were not far behind. As they hurried across the plan they could see the white helmet of Colonel Marten silhouetted against the sky as he rode back and forth, steadying the men.  The firing rose to a crescendo followed by a round of cheers from the hill top and then by another crash of fire. Now a trickle of wounded men could be seen making their way back down the hill. The Highlanders picked up the pace and raced for the hill as the firing intensified for the third time. Suddenly Colonel Marten could be seen rising in his saddle and then sliding to the ground.

One last desperate push and the Americans had the hill but could they keep it?
General Byrd looked around, this was not going according to plan. The enemy's cavalry had appeared and stalled the whole damn right flank before being driven back at the cost of Colonel Lannigan who had led the cavalry charge that saw them off. Most of the bloody volunteers were hovering at the foot of the hill refusing to reform and move forward. Thank god for the regulars. At the third try they had captured the western peak, capturing the remains of the garrison who had refused to run. Now to regroup and hold till nightfall. He spurred over to harangue the volunteers.
Three times the Canadians stormed up the hill and three times they were held and thrown back down.  Would one last push do it?
As the sun set General Douglas stared at the bloody hill side through the powder smoke. The heaps of dead and wounded were thick enough to impede the charges of those few still obeying their officers' orders to advance. Too many lay crouched in the long grass, occasionally loosing a shot or two before slipping back down the slope. The nco's and officers were busy gathering up the stragglers but two of his Colonels were down and who knows how many hours it would take to get the men back into any kind of fighting shape. He ordered the buglar to sound the recall and sent a runner to recall Colonel MacDuff who was still pressing the enemy on the western peak. Let the Americans have the damned hill for now.

ps for those worried about the amount of tin spilt, the rules assume roughly 10% of "hits"  to be killed, wounded or missing, the rest are just those not functioning well or short term stragglers who will be ready to fight again in a few hours. 
So, that was the Battle of Stony Heights, an improvised solo scenario. The goal for the smaller (8 units vs 12 units) American goal was to seize and hold at least two of the three hill top areas. The Canadian goal was to hold on to all 3 hilltops. Something in the middle would have been a draw. That was assuming that neither army broke, something that wasn't that far off at several points. One quarter of the Canadian force began in position on the hilltops while the rest were gathered in the back corner near a grove on the river bank and needing to roll 4,5 or 6 to form up. When six units formed up on turn one and the rest on turn two I was afraid that was too lenient but it was a long way to go and they barely made it in time.

The game lasted all of 15 possible turns and nearly 2 hours. It came close to being over earlier at least three times but the dice, as usual, were fickle, favouring first one side then the other as if they were determined to prevent an early win by either side. The Americans regulars in particular had phenomenal rally rolls whenever they had a chance (rallying allowing them to recover some stragglers etc.). This meant that although suffering heavy losses in taking the hill, they were able to use several brief respites to rebuild their staying power before the next wave of attacks. Oddly enough, since there were no modifiers used, the Volunteers and Canadian militia had a very hard time rallying!

This is the level of game that I was originally picturing for this campaign with the option for smaller 1 hour skirmishes and at some point a full afternoon's battle with 15 or 16 units per side. I'll need another pair of Britain's field guns for that and I'd just as soon not mix in plastic ACW ones to make up numbers. Time will tell.

As far as the rules go, I realized before the game that I had concerns with some of my rules choices.

The first was command control and sequence of play. Part of me likes the DBA PIPS idea and part of me hates it and finds it tedious or has trouble fine tuning it to work with large and small "armies", especially including the group move where a Colonel is controlling several companies. For the last two games I went back to the older system of initiative and chance cards. For small games it sometimes seems too easy but for this size and up there are enough other rules interfering that I constantly have trouble getting the troops to do just what I want once battle has been joined. This game has convinced me that this is the route I should stay on.

However, I still wanted a "command & control" function for Colonels. In the past I have tried rolling for "out of command" units who were too far from their commander but in a fast paced game I always keep forgetting to check. One option is to have a pre-turn "mark out of command units" phase but a rule I can't remember mid-game is a bad rule in my books and to be honest, I don't miss it. Instead, I decided to try resolving melee immediately so that there could never be two units ganging up on one unless a Colonel was leading a group. This was even worse. I am so used to melee being at the end that I kept screwing it up plus it ended in units sometimes having to fight off multiple waves of attackers in one turn or being able to support in one fight then fight in another and so on. To lessen the confusion I also had to outlaw tied melees. It was exciting sometimes to have a bloody 4  or 5 turn melee but in the long term it made the game over all less exciting as there was too much die rolling and not enough sound tactical thinking and I missed the narrative of prolonged close fighting. In the end I decided to go back to "Old School" with no role for subordinate commanders beyond rallying troops and boosting their performance in close combat. The rest is "factored in".

I also noticed that there were several small, unwritten, rules in force and some other minor things which I tended to differently that what was written so editing of the rules has resumed. My goal is to work backwards and actually describe what I do and cast in it print rather than inventing new ways of doing things to be different or to respond to a whim.

Lastly, most of August has been focused on this 54mm revival and I think its time for a short break. If all goes well I expect to have time for a full game next weekend. I'd like to do a big Elastolin Medieval/Renaissance game but they need too much work.

Now..should it be 20mm ACW or 40mm Atlantica?


  1. Something you might try for 'Command and Control' are simple order chits applicable to the lowest level of command - which looked like companies from the above account. I suggest a very limited range - arrows for movement, and these might be route march, full advance (no shooting), half advance (allows shooting), Charge, rally, disengage/fall back (good order), dig in. I don't approve of orders for shooting: troops should do that automatically at the player's discretion.

    This is a Command Decision idea, which I have tried out for Napoleonics with moderate success. The arrows for movement indicates direction of movement and direction of facing at the end of the move. This would suggest that any fancy manoeuvring will have to be kept at a respectful distance from the enemy...

    I don't know whether this will work, and it does have an aesthetic downside, but it might be worth a look.

    1. I have used the chits and they work ok with an opponent but solo, I know what's going down on both sides so it seems a bit pointless.

      At this level of game most of the decisions would be local and quick. What would work best would be the old system of issuing game length orders/objectives to units or say the Battalion Commander with messengers to carry changes of orders and reports but again since there are no secret orders I don't bother, instead I just form a plan in my head rather than writing it down.

      No, what I was looking for wasn't actually a better command control system, it was just a game purpose to put command figures on the table once they were painted.

  2. Ross Mac,

    A splendid little action, and I am sure that it was as thrilling to fight as it was to read.

    All the best,


    1. Thanks Bob, I suspect it was actually more thrilling to play.

  3. Nice! Thanks for the write up. I'm also currently working and tweaking rules for my 42mm men. It's nice to see someone doing it up in style and in a thoughtful manner.

  4. Looks like a bloody little action. Too bad my namesake was on the losing end of it.
    Cheers, Peter

  5. Thrilling little game and good to see the Thin Red Line holding on despite the odds. Next game? 20mm ACW of course!