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.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Coming Home

I didn't exactly expect my revived Toy Soldier enthusiasm to lead me here but its a happy place.

Today I gave Scenario 12, "Unfortunate Oversight", from Thomas' One Hour Wargames, its third outing in a week. The first game was last Saturday's  non-gridded British vs US game using variable moves and counting noses. The second was an on-grid US vs Indians game using an experimental set of rules which gave an OKish but not very exciting game. Today's game was a return to the Square Brigadier (Tin Army) with some tweaks to the rules and unit sizes.

The scenario is an attack by one force on an equal sized force of defenders. The trick is that the objective is a hill in the middle of the board but the armies are separated by an unfordable river and the defender thinks that the only crossing is a bridge by a town so he must deploy all units within a foot (3 squares here) of the town. The attacker, however, knows of a secret ford off to the flank.
The setup. The Americans have 3 infantry, 1 militia. 1 gun, 1 cavalry. The Indians have 6 Indian units.

Amongst all the various small issues there have been two main ones.

1. Command Control. I want a role a C&C role for commanders, one that adds some friction but which is neither too random nor too onerous/distracting or artificial in terms of mechanisms. There are lots of approaches which work well but one of the simplest and most adaptable is to mix chance cards with a die roll for detached/isolated units  to provide for the oddities, delayed orders, court martial-August I started experimenting with an initial "command control" phase in which I seek out and mark isolated or detached units which need to test before acting. The markers make it harder to forget and just move the units without rolling. Today I realized that I could actually combine these units with those recovering from adverse combat results and by giving a range of results on 1 die roll could make everything work smoother. With the units being slightly larger this allowed the one common roll to effectively replace the Rally and Command rules by a combined one while giving players less choice on how their units act under fire, thus increasing the benefit of reserves and supports.

The defender reacts and occupys the hill. I'm not sure why the American allowed himself to devote so many assets to the small decoy force across the river. 
It came close to costing him the battle.

2. Firefights. A common theme in 19th Century battles is that long and medium range firefights between opposing skirmishers or lines of prone infantrymen tended to be long and indecisive. For the men on the line a slow trickle of casualties was disconcerting but ammunition shortages and exhaustion were usually a bigger threat. One could just assume its happening  but especially in smaller actions like the battles in the Riel Rebellion, and the Boer War they were important to the men there and often did eventually influence the final result. For the last two years I've been trying different approaches from a simple fire or move to various "pinned" results or options, reaction tests and so on. The result was generally either a boring game or units that died too quickly or never at all. I am now using units that are slightly stronger without an increase in firepower and an involuntary pinned/go to ground result using the same marker as put on isolated ones and triggering the same test. There is also a a chance of actual casualties and a chance to be forced back by the fire of several units.  Several units were weakened and forced back by overwhelming fire and some heavily damaged units struggled to rally but the only units destroyed outright were destroyed in close combat.

Together it all felt just right during the game.
As the turn deck sank slowly in the west, a prolonged firefight had worn down several US units and a rush led by Chief Yellow Feather drove the Americans off the crest of the hill despite the intervention of Colonel Lannigan. By a typical fluke of the dice both leaders were wounded in the fierce fighting. Alas for the Indians I forgot that a replacement should have been able to take over after a short while. Leaderless, both sides rather ground to a halt. The Indians had been doing much more damage than they were taking and a few more hits might have broken the American force but for the last 3  or 4 turns even the broad side of the barn was safe  and the game ended in a draw with the hill still in dispute. 
One small game is not much to go on but after five...six? (I should look that up) years it feels like what I was aiming for all along and not quite reaching.

More testing is of course needed. A test of the battalion rules though may have to wait for another two dozen Bluecoats and Zouaves to be painted up. For those wanting to look at a copy of the revised rules, well, its just a few scratches on a slip of paper right now backed up by habit but I'm working on an updated edition on the rules and they will be available here as soon as they are done.


  1. Morning Ross,

    Another interesting game it looks and sounds like. I too have been bitten (at last) by the rules tinkering bug and will shortly have a small solo game here to playtest some I've not so much written myself as combined from a number of different "classic" authors. I you could offer one piece of advice about rules writing to a novice like me, what might it be?

    Best Regards,


  2. Tough question Stokes. Here's a couple:
    1. Don't start with rule mechanisms, basing or unit structure. Start by thinking about what you want the rules to delive and then write down what you do want the rules to deliver and anything you want tyem to not deliver. One usually has a vague idea but once you try to spell it out on paper the ideas sometimes conflict or you find well into the process that your chosen mechanisms were designed to deliver something different. Check back periodically.

    2. If (like pretty much every rules writer I've met) you are drawing inspiration, (if not down right cribbing from) previous rules, DON'T look at individual rules in isolation. Quite often the interaction between different rules sections is crucial to the unstated full effect.

    3.Playtest. Doesn't have to be a big game or even a complete game but once real dice are rolling its amazing how often the unexpected and unintended can pop up or just that some things sound good in theory but feel very different in practice.

    Probably not terribly useful advice but never mind. Push on and enjoy!
    Feel free to pass anything on for comment.

  3. Sounds promising!

    And your advice about writing rules sounds good. It does seem like the place to start is what you want the rules to achieve, like you describe. It is easy to get enamored of rules mechanisms, I find.

  4. The scenario seems to be a fine companion to the 'Battle of the Boyne' Scenario in the Grant and Asquith 'Red Book' (Scenarios for all Ages), 'Holding Action 2 in C.S.Grant's 'Green Book', and anything on the lines of the Battle of Chancellorsville.

    From the 19th Century warfare point of view, part of the problem might well have to do with the nature of the battlefields from, say, 1863 through to 1914. With lots of ironmongery flying around survival whilst on the move was problematic at best.

    That went for retrograde movement as well as forwards or to a flank. So, if an attack fails, and reserves aren't to hand, the lads are pretty much stuck on top of Spion Kop or in the middle of a ploughed field on Seminary Ridge waiting for night or rescue.

    My own ACW rule set used to include a 'pin' result due to failure of morale. The effect was to leave the unit in place under fire until it rallied. However, even in the open, the unit counted as 'in cover' (hugging the ground, obtaining whatever protection there might be in casual undulations on even quite flat ground). The effect was that the unit under fire continued to suffer, even if less drastically, and could not be moved voluntarily.

    Frankly, that sort of thing is hard for a war gamer to bear - even me. So I enacted a not-very-realistic rule like a 'voluntary rout' ('Save your skins, boys!'). The playing commanding the stricken unit could INSTEAD OF TAKING A MORALE ROLL, state that the unit was beating a hasty retreat out of trouble, and played it as though the unit had routed. All the consequences of a rout still applied: full move away from the source of the trouble, and having to rally subsequently and reform which required a 'pass' on a die roll, and time. Note that a PINNED unit - it's state determined by a die roll - would still have to await the next bound and then choose to bug out, or take the chances of a die roll to rally.

    My ACW units being fairly volatile (I used the 'Terrible Swift Sword' morale system with some modifications) you really did need numbers - and plenty of reserves - to be confident of forcing a protected position.

    1. Yes re the scenario but on a much smaller level, a skirmish not a battle.

      As far as I can tell, that really deadly zone was at fairlt close range. Long range fire could go on for hours. In the ACW units were normally waiting for orders at that range and attacks rarely stalled till closer, say 100 yards or less. In breechloader days that pinning zone could extend farther but still without being too deadly in terms of dead and wounded. At longer ranges retreats could usually be carried out under orders if the troops weren't left too long but neither successful advances or involuntary retreats weren't likely (for example at the Modder where the withdrawal was ordered but once begun the exhausted units broke suffering their heaviest losses then . At closer ranges if panic didn't set in immediately then a long hunkering was likely as in Marye's Heights. Not an exciting game,

  5. Like most rule writers, I like plenty of action in my games. And I am forced to admit, I prefer them err on the side of blood letting than otherwise. It is drama that I want from the games: a story. I used to pack a lot into my rule sets too, but these days I am not so sure that yields good returns.

    I am definitely Old School in my tastes. But the Old School rule sets (Grant; Young and Lawford) don't quite 'fit' my armies. So I adapt. I'll pinch a good idea from anywhere. I've occasionally come up with a few of my own. My ACW, Napoleonic and 18th Century rule sets owe a great deal to Y$L, Charles Grant (I thought I had invented my musketry system, but discovered that it was very similar to his. Having read his system several times before, something must have stuck, even though I had no particular memory of it!). I also swiped my 'Die range' idea from the 'Wizard's Quest' board game. This determined which die scores counted in different combat situations, rather than subtracting penalties from the raw roll.

    I wanted no paper work, the soldiers and their units to carry the information, and to avoid having to play the table game with my nose in a rule book. Minimum of plussing and minusing to determine morale or combat results; minimum of arithmetic (I'm as good a mental arithmetician as just about anyone I've met, and I try to avoid it! Why? Try doing mental arithmetic when your battle line is crumbling, and you are trying to plug the holes with scanty reserves!).

    1. I agree with a lot of that. The only solution I have found to visible effects in combat without a lot of record keeping is to assume that 75% of 'hits' are non-physical, basically all the things that lower a unit's combat effectiveness. A combination of fear, fatigue, ammo shortages, leader hits, stragglers etc as well as killed or wounded. Some but not all of that should be able to be repaired if pulled into reserve but I'm beginning to think that tge game is better if it recovery happens post game.

  6. For another interesting take on the "what do I want from my rules" question, check this out:
    It has gotten me thinking.

    1. Yeah I actually started thinking about this 6 years ago. It does help to figure out what you want before starting but ut is oh so easy to forget.