Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Tin Army Steps Back and DIgs In.

This all started with that recent fit of nostalgia for an OSW game with long lines of formed battalions of toy soldiers. Twenty 54 mm soldiers deployed 2 deep won't fit in a 6" grid but a 12 figure one will. One such battalion actually looks pretty stubby but 5 or 6 of them start to look ok.

Of course to make a decent game of that sort I need to have at least 6 battalions though more wold be better, plus cavalry, artillery etc and.....why was I doing this again? It was starting to sound like a 54mm Alt-history version of my 20mm ACW games with Divisional sized battles and nothing like the small, quick, 4 figure Square Brigadier games I have been enjoying off and on.

Having revived some thoughts from 2 years ago, yet another test game begins.

I decided  that I was getting off track because I was getting confused about what I wanted to do. Painting up an extra hundred or so 54's to do the same thing with bigger figures wasn't it but neither was another quick card table game.

My mind went back a couple of years to the appearance of The Tin Army as an alternative for my WW1 and Colonial games on the middle sized table. Something with more of a traditional miniature wargame flavour. Since I had just regridded my once again medium size table with squares big enough to hold 2 x 60mm bases and rebased most of the table ready 54's that way, I decided to persevere with the forces in hand.

This means that the "armies" will represent smallish real life forces, just right for the campaigns being considered. To avoid confusing myself the units will be referred to as  "companies" though "wings" might be more accurate.  If placed 2 stands wide they represent "deployed" troops ready for a firefight with a firing line and supports. If 2 stands deep they are in column for road travel or massed assaults. The table will easily hold 12 to 18  such units for each side, ample for a two hour game and suitable for the usual Grant teasers or games based on several appropriate small historical battles. More than that, despite the grid, the game will feel  more like a traditional miniatures game than the Square Brigadier does.

This is what's in my head. Its 1885 but the deployment matches the 1862 manual and is not so far off several eye witness accounts from the Mutiny.
Battle of Batoche by Sergeant Grundy
- and Library and Archives Canada (ICON control number: ICON168173; MIKAN number: 2999644), Public Domain, Link

With all this in mind I broke into the rules and broke out my 1862 training manual to once again revisit recommended distances and proportions between the skirmish line, supports and main body as well as the notes about adapting to the ground and situation.

It seemed to me that two lines of deployed units in combination with my existing "rear support" rule,  which allows a unit to pass 1 hit per turn to a similar unit adjacent to its rear, will provide a reasonable fudge  of both the look and effect of this typical deployment as used at Ridegway.  The following game confirmed this. Players deployed "by the book" will find that their infantry has good staying power while an over extended player will soon find himself with holes in his line.

Having repulsed the original British attack the Americans have counter attacked.
The next questions revolved around play sequence and the rules for shooting and moving and the split between low intensity long range fire and intense close range fire. Superficially it seems obvious that a man doing both won't move as quickly or deliver fire as effectively as one doing just the one thing but then we get tangled in the whole quagmire of what a turn represents, and we run up against far too many instances where the moving party delivered more effective fire. There are several lengthy but inconclusive blog entries that could be written on that one topic so lets just say that there are 3 main approaches: fire OR move, fire and move with no penalty, and fire and move but with a penalty to one or both.

I have used all these approaches at one time or another but recently I have been favouring allowing units to do one or the other for long range shooting but to allow units to do both without penalty and by both sides for shooting at decisive ranges (ie Combat or Melee). Back when a unit filled a grid so that units were nearly touching if adjacent it was easy to distinguish units that had to follow the combat resolution rules rather than the skirmish fire rules. Recently though, I have found that the 6" grid squares often leave a big enough gap between opposing units, especially if the terrain was interfering with where stands were placed, that I found myself  making mistakes over who was adjacent and could not shoot/be shot at in the move/shoot phase but who had to resolve combat and those who were just 1 grid farther away. Given that the visuals often looked off as well, for example a "melee" between two units 8" apart with an unfordable stream between them, who were really just trading fire, I decided to revisit the whole subject.

I really don't want to track anything more and nothing in my reading of accounts of battles and skirmishes indicates that it was a major issue in the 1860's so I decided to ignore the whole fire and move question for deployed units. Having decided to replace the melee rule I've been using for over a decade now I decided to go back to other OS roots and  have movement, fire and  charge resolution phases which was how the original Tin Army worked and what primarily  differentiated it from The Square Brigadier.

I was tempted to go back to the play sequence from the game in Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers which gave me my initiative idea but it had one issue for me. Units of the player going second always fired first even if attacking. I ended up taking inspiration from Fire & Fury which has defensive then offensive fire after each player's movement phase.

An overview of the whole table. Eventually a renewed assault up the center by the British pushed the Americans back and finally broke their army morale at the very last possible moment.

The result was a delightfully absorbing 19thC game and I am looking forward to more and larger ones. At the moment though the rules are back to scribbled notes and the armies still ragged and only half organized. It'll take some time to type it up in something like English and there are half painted figures on my desk.

Somehow I suspect that the next game might just be a playtest of the printed version of The Portable Wargame. Assuming it makes it safely across the Atlantic that is.


  1. Good luck with firming up your rules and writing them up. The table set up looks great without being over crowded.

  2. Visually the game looks great to me.I am pleased that you had a "delightfully absorbing game" what more could any of us want?I look forward to reading more.

  3. Your blog suggests you are in a similar place to mine when it comes to revisiting and refurbishing rule sets. I have found that with my Stonewall Campaign that, as I am using a table smaller than my 'Bluebellies and Greybacks' rule set was designed for as far as biggish battles were concerned, some serious ... erm ... tinkering was being called for. As I am playing these solo, some ad hoc (or otherwise informal) activation/programming had to be built into the games. At some point I'll have to formalise it all, if only to confirm to myself - or at least can persuade myself - I know what I'm doing.

    Still, the Battle of Passage creek, being written up now, had, counting generals, very nearly 700 figures on my 6ft x 4ft table. That the action, as a game, went quite well was gratifying. I hope to have at least part of the action published on my blogspot in a day or two.

    1. In this case it was a nascent design that is nearing the point where experiment ends.

      I've been following the Valley Campaign with interest but have had little to say.

  4. Interesting read Ross, I am in a similar situation at the moment trying to find a set of rules for my French Indian War figures and seriously considering trying a square grid. I might just write a blog post outlining my thoughts and ideas. I prefer the more 'traditional' rules that were fairly simple, fast to play but still gave a great fun game . Anyway thanks for the thought provoking post as ever.

  5. Nice looking game Ross. Good to see the 'one true scale' in action.