Friday, December 2, 2016


Last week was another hectic 'winter is coming ' sort of week leaving little time and energy for hobbies so any comments or conclusions may be even less cohesive than usual.

Mercenary pikemen in French pay clash with old fashioned English bills and bows c1548.
If I remember correctly my aim had been to play a wargame that felt a bit more like a traditional wargame while also turning my mind to the thorny issue of the relationship between historical command and control and game mechanisms. Rather than spend a lot of effort on scenario design or pick one of my usual teasers, I just threw the painted cloth (game mat I suppose in modern parlance) on the table and let it suggest something. That something ended up with one force trying to deny passage along a road through a gap between woods and some broken high ground. When I turned to pick armies my eye fell on my 16thC Anglo-Scottish wars figures and the game was soon good to go.

Battle rages across the board. 
Among the C&C mechanisms that I considered were written game orders as in WRG 3rd edition Ancients, fixed, predefined orders as used in various rules, a variation on DBA's PIPs, diced activation, variable length moves with in command bonus, card draw activation by subordinate command, a couple of others and various combinations. I changed the system mid game and even mid turn and restarted the game twice before essentially giving up and thus finding the best feel yet.

The answer of course, which I should have known by now, was to stop trying to mimic historical processes in favour of getting appropriate results and to stop worrying about inventing "game like" mechanisms for their own sake unless I wanted to make that my focus, which I don't.

A last desperate charge by English heavy cavalry is repulsed and the Earl of Belmont is wounded. The English yield the field but it was nip and tuck.
I went back today and reread some of my own thoughts on control vs fiction from an August 2010 post  (Control vs Friction) and that post still holds true. However that in turn reminded me of Frank Chadwick's design notes from Volley and Bayonet (linked page removed) which resonate with me even more now than they did then.

Anyway, what I ended up doing was going back to my now usual card draw for initiative each turn including chance cards in the deck. This was combined with fixed moves which are long enough to let troops get into trouble easily, a zone of control to complicate maneuver once engaged, fewer bigger units or rather groups of stands under a commander (brigades if you will), a rule for detached subunits and combat rules which tend towards the middle but with the possiblity of extreme results. (Thank you to Lawford & Young for that!)

Now to apply this sort of thinking to the mid-ninteenth century. BTW, next time I think that I should ponder about making a wargame more "game like" I must remind myself that Chess is also a game.


  1. I read the Frank Chadwick design notes, and agree - or have a lot of sympathy with - a good deal of what he says. I have to say, I don't like V&B - but not because I think it is a bad set of rules. Far from it. Its very popularity argues a good deal in its favour.

    They simply don't 'suit' me. For some reason I just can't get my head around the game mechanics, and the whole V&B game table has an alien 'feel'. I've played a number of games with it with a uniform lack of success or enjoyment. I believe we all have an affinity or aversion to certain 'styles' of rules, which has nothing to do with the merits or demerits of the rule sets, but something about the game they produce. I am - or used to be - a reasonably strong chess player, but I'm complete crap at 'Go'. They are both board games. The odd thing is, I really like Command Decision for WW2.

    But there is one particular area where F. Chadwick and I depart: I want to see 'formations' in my games. Yes, I agree fully that in playing the game, one takes the role of commander of the forces in the field (on the table). But for mine, there is more to it than that. There is more than one story involved, one about the army as a whole, but others about the constituent parts of the army. So you want to see the French right flank struggling to hold Tellnitz against the might of almost the whole of the Allied Army, and Napoleon's majestic sweep into the flank of this attack. But I want also to see something of the 4th Ligne being ridden over by the Chevalier Garde.

    I don't include formal units below division or Brigade levels in my similarly scaled rule set (1:3600 ground scale; 1:60 time scale), but I do include skirmish screens, Division columns or lines, ordre mixte and squares. Yes, it requires doing more stuff on the table, more decision making at more than just one or two levels below the overall command level of the game.

    Why? It seems to me that V&B could equally well be played with counters or blocks. That is to ignore the aesthetics, of course. In this town there are V&B players who paint magnificent armies and build wargames architecture at a level of skill and artistry that leaves me gobsmacked with admiration. No error. And yet a small part of me feels 'what a waste, sticking them on a permanent stand with eleven, or seventeen or twenty-three other figures'.

    The effect I find 'distancing'. I even have that uneasy sense with a rule set like 'Age of eagles', and that is a set I do like, on the whole. I like to get 'down and dirty' in my battles. I like to see a fight, and a hard fight. Simple, yes; easy, no.

    Ross, one of the attractions of your games, which keeps drawing me to your blog, is that they look to me just like the games I like to play and the battles I like to fight.

    1. Of course even the lowest tactical level can be played with blocks or counters...

      I confess that my initial reaction to V&B was similar but since we were mostly playing 7YW games having just line or march column was fine.

      For later periods, it took a fair amount of research and plotting things out before reluctantly agreeing that the footprint of a Brigade did not significantly change whether deployed in a line of columns or a column of lines or a line with a second line or line of battalion columns or in squares. Initially I played with the idea of placing loose stands on the brigade stand so that one could show this but really I wasn't interested in the command issues of the really big battles so instead tried out the proposed lower level rules using ACW 54s for smaller, corps sized battles and they worked well as long as I had an opponent. Haven't played since the turn of the century though, not sure what happened to my copy.

      No wonder there are so many rulesets.

  2. Good to see you at the table sir.