Sunday, July 23, 2017

19thC Command Module for Hearts of Tin

Under the premise "Strike while the iron is hot" I passed some time today sitting under a patio umbrella on a hot summer's afternoon, contemplating command rules for my ACW games.

Kinch's Charge sets out 4 years ago.

I've tried  various familiar techniques such as activation rolls or charts, card draws, command  point rolls, command radius, written orders, mapped movement and more and they all had something to contribute but yet didn't quite do it. They reduced player control but usually felt "game-y"  and often did a poor job of both modelling how things were done and reproducing typical historical battlefield behaviour. Even worse they often absorbed so much time and mental energy that the focus shifted from the battle to the game mechanics.

Colonel Lawford and Brigadier Young, who both had considerable experience of command in battle with all that entails, relied on a combination of simultaneous written orders and highly variable combat results to represent the uncertainty of battle. I'm not sure that either my reading or my life experience gives me a solid basis for saying they were wrong, especially at the battle rather than skirmish level. Certainly the Charge! games I have played in or run have seen some of the most unexpected command failures, errors and omissions as well as some notable moments of recognizing and seizing sudden opportunities that I have seen (not to mention misleading the enemy). Unfortunately the system does not lend itself well to solo games with 40 units on the table.

The impromptu ACW game that I played in May relied on variable length moves at Brigade level with provision for Division Commanders to try to push people a little. Overall I liked the effect but I want to go back to regiments as units and basically adapt my old Hearts of Tin rules.

Gratuitous copy of a picture from last summer's ACW game.

Before going On Grid I used to use variable length moves and I am going to go back there as well as using a turn initiative card deck with chance cards. Each regiment or formed brigade will roll its movement dice and complete its move before the next one rolls.

Here are a couple of the command ideas that I am contemplating.

a) Brigade move. Two or more regiments formed into a Brigade line or column with Brigadier attached will roll once for movement of the whole line which must then move together.

b) Generals have a short range at which they can boost the movement of one, two or three individual regiments by adding a die depending on their ability. These dice may alternately be used to boost morale or combat performance if not used to boost movement. Choices!

c) Getting a brigade formed up requires the guide regiment to stand still.

d) Once  a brigade is engaged (however that is defined, 3" for close combat but perhaps rifle range for command control purposes)  it should be difficult to coordinate a voluntary disengagement or a pursuit. If engaged at the start of a turn any retirement moves must be one regiment at a time and the unit must move the full amount rolled but may roll just 1 die if desired. If pursuing each regiment rolls and moves one at a time and must move the full amount as above unless storming a fortified position.

e) Generals who get involved in any way inside the engagement zone must be at risk somehow and there should be a delay before a replacement takes over.

Cobb's Farm from 2012. A game where the old C&C rules played their part. 

That's as far as I've gotten. The next step is to dig out an old version, check them over, adjust and try it all out.


  1. Agree very much that generals should be at risk. A command structure in general is designed in a way that there is always someone to take over, but the effect of loss both actual and mental and the delay in 'recovering' command has always in my view been an important aspect of representing key levels of command.

    1. Agreed. The trick is being neither too intrusive and time consuming (been there) nor too bloody nor too ineffective to matter.

  2. I understand that your desire is for some 'fog of war' to arrive for the solo player and using card driven mechanics can achieve part of this; though I argue that the card driven systems that end turns early are best left in either the game category or for simulating 'amateur' armies such as at the birth of gunpowder use or the early Feudal period when commanders did not have any concept of how to best employ their forces and both sides were really experimenting. Once you get into a more professional army then the card mechanic makes things more 'game like'.

    Have you considered 'generals personality' systems? Then with a simple die roll with modifications for the 'personality' you could have a more robust simulation -and- the fog of war that comes from the clash of plans with enemy action.

    Risk of command loss is definitely a good thing to include whenever any unit comes into action. Less risk at long range (until snipers become more common) then increasing in risk to the close combat stage of hand-to-hand action. Likewise the ability of the commander to 'adjust' the whole of a command in action is reduced by that commanders proximity to close combat. Only once the radio or telegraph becomes standard would the ability to command be unaffected; case in point the non-functioning of radios for 1st Airborne at Arnhem suddenly threw a crack or elite formation with good experienced commanders into confusion while they re-organized to the reality of no radio communications.

    Given that your Hearts of Tin is set-up for battles at the edge of telegraphy, an army command may have access to reserves that only telegraphy could call on, or other such more strategic considerations, given that the telegraph was so new.

    Command and signals is always a tricky item to simulate on the tabletop, doubly tricky for solo play.

    1. I'm not looking for fog of war, for solo play I'd rather build that into the scenario. Instead I'm just looking to maintain a degree of uncertainty. How long will it take for the troops to reach their objective, will this attack succeed. Simple stuff.

      I have been using a mix of personalities and command/reaction charts since the 80's but over the last few years have come to recognize that they needed to be much more sophisticated and less random to be realistic but we're already too intrusive and time wasting for a smooth game. Nowadays about the only time I use them is to help guide a decision tree when a detached NOV has to make an important decision between at least 2 reasonable options.

      Playing on 1/2 my former table top with 40s rather than 15s has also led to a drop in size of action for most of my games.

  3. For 19th century games the variable move is quite a nice way of representing a delayed order. For example on a D6 roll of 1 or 2 a unit only moves half their normal distance. If close to or insight of a commander you are allowed to re-roll as the commander see the delays and sends a messenger to hurry up the unit.

    1. Exactly, or perhaps they hit an unseen minor obstacle etc etc. If using a grid I'd probably go with a 1/2 but freeform I'll give them the full range.

  4. Piquet uses a cards and impetus system. Complete commands / brigades move on the appropriate card for just a point of impetus but once individual units do their own thing or get involved in close combat they start costing a point for just their actions. This soon gets expensive in impetus terms and quite nicely represents the increasing decline in overall control as the battle progresses.