Sunday, August 27, 2017

Still Struggling to Sort the Civil War.

I may be impulsive but at least I've become tenacious as a bit of balance. Ever since my American Civil War armies were unexpectedly doubled by a gift five years ago I've struggled to figure out what "my ACW" is or 'should be'. I've tried various approaches and enjoyed them all but I'm not quite "there" yet.

Three original criteria are clear in my mind and still stand:
a) I want this to "feel" different from all of my other games, even those set in the same time period.
b) I want to be able to use all of the painted figures in the largest games and preferably have room for a few more of the unpainted ones.
c) I want the option to do both historical and  non-historical scenarios.

My new stonewall, and some older friends.

An unofficial criteria that I was willing to consider dropping was that I wanted to have "regiments" if possible, even if just for narrative effect. Now, Civil War  "battles" (as opposed to skirmishes, say, more than a Brigade a side.) ranged from at least a brigade up to several corps per side. The only sorts of wargame that can handle all of that within one system tend to either require more time, space, figures and energy than I have for medium let alone large battles or else focus on high level issues and abstract the interesting bits (for me). Still, I did at least, experiment with something nearer the original Fire & Fury with some success and did also, briefly, contemplate going back to Volley & Bayonet or something like it but neither were what I really wanted and don't really cater to smallish actions anyway.

In the end it now seems inevitable that I would again go back and draw inspiration from Featherstone and from Grant and go for wargame armies that evoke their historical prototypes without slavishly following them.

The Setup.
Scenario 16 Reinforcements (2) Off the Table
 from CS Grant's Scenarios for Wargames.

Charles Grant fielded Divisions with two Brigades each composed of just two regiments of twenty five figures each. The catch of course is that the regiments occupy too much space so the compromise gives the Division about the right frontage but the number of subdivisions do not match the historical one. This sort of standardization does simplify game design and play but doesn't seem to significantly distort the over all effect.

My own armies have been organized into regiments of 3 stands with an average of 3 regiments per brigade for some years now and I find that I am now loathe to change that. It also just so happens that these regiments will (just) fit in a 4" square or hex should I go there.    

Having decided to terminate attempts to interest myself in a Brigade as Unit design, I decided to set up a CS Grant scenario at a scale of 2 of my regiments per scenario infantry unit but 4 per brigade.  I started out with an old version of Hearts of Tin with a new Command & control tweak.

The leading Federal Brigade was pretty badly shot up but the Confederates have still been forced to fall back from the wall atop the victory hill.

The Command rule is nothing fancy but it does want I wanted at last. Each Brigade may have 1 order: Attack, Move, Hold. A die roll is made to implement the order with distance from the General being a negative modifier as is the lack of a Brigadier. Commander quality will be an optional modifier. The order will last until it is accomplished at which time it automatically reverts to Hold or until a new order is received. The system would work best if I actually wrote down orders and in a non-solo game, orders could be kept secret.

A Brigade hold order allows individual units to change formation etc, shoot, and adjust their position within the brigade but not to move away or attack. A move order means move the Brigade including any appropriate formation changes to the indicated position. Once there, or if threatened by enemy it reverts to Hold. An attack order means immediately move all units directly towards the target and attack. In other words, don't issue it till the Brigade is formed and ready.    A Brigade or Regiment with no order or an invalid one assumes Hold.

By turn two I had again ditched the variable length moves, not because they don't work but because they slowed the game more than they added to it. By turn five I realized that the combat system bogs down a bit with dim eyes, bad lighting and units all in the same poses and uniform. There were too many dice to roll and hits to divide and track so they could be compared. At the very least I need to modify the close combats to be one unit vs one unit even if dice are traded off to neighbouring units. This is something that was MUCH easier on a grid.

The alternative was a different combat system, so since I had one ready I tried that. Fewer dice, fewer hits to track and no defined winner/loser situation beyond unit morale; faster, easier and apparently, less fun.

Reinforcements FINALLY arrive. I haven't played this scenario as often as my favourites but perhaps a dozen times in various peiods under various rules. Theoretically the reinforcements have a 2/3rds chance of showing up though it they might be late but experience suggests the defender is beating the odds if even 1/3rd show up before the game is over. Since technically the attacker, with nearly 3:1 odds initially falling to 2:1, wins if he is even contesting the hill, the scenario is nearly unwinnable unless you flip the victory conditions to say that the Defender wins if he is still contesting the hill. 

I've decided to reset into my standard brigades, revisit the old combat system which is the heart of a game really and always worked with smaller games, and start over. It might have to wait till next week though since to do a proper game with some 36 units on the table, I will need more than an hour to myself.

Or I could just try a few turns....


  1. The photos of the game look great! An interesting rule challenge you have there to play a large game to a conclusion within a reasonable timeframe.

    1. It appears so. I haven't set a firm goal on time but 3-4 hours would be good for a typical game which I would hope to play 1-3 times a year.

  2. Always happy to complicate your life old son.

    1. Well, you did your bit but that first reinforcement actually came in very handy, and gave me distinctive units to boot.

  3. Hello Ross! The pictures were, as always, fantastic, and really captured the developing action. Thanks for including them. The Airfix figures have really stood the test of time, but my eyes aren't what they used to be. What other manufacturer's miniatures have you included in your ACW armies?

  4. Thanks Martin,
    The chaps along the Stone wall in the first photo are Italeri.
    There are a few Imex mixed in to a few of the units as are a couple of OS, OOP, Vintage metal figures that came with one of the gifts. I'd have to dig back through old comments to confirm their manufacturer.
    The red legged Zouaves were a gift from Caesar, homecast from his own conversion.

    The other 90% are Airfix.