Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Battle for Light Rock Valley

Where to start? This game could have made a great Newport Noodle article or  made for a good long blow by blow post describing how the rules worked turn by turn and what affect they had on each player decision but that might have been as tedious to read as to write. So I'll quickly summarize the game in the picture captions while writing the post about the rules and how they worked in the game.

The scenario, which I picked as a nod to the origin of the turn sequence which came from one of the sample games in Don Featherstone's Battles with Model Soldiers, was, as identified by Cesar Paz in a comment, "Action in the Plattville Valley" from Don Featherstone's Wargames.

The Dominion (Red) Advance Guard under Brigadier Ross pushed quickly over the bridge while the main forces arrived at the end of  turn 3 (after a joker froze the 2 advance guards for turn 3). Alas for the young volunteers in the Dominion advance guard they were facing the crack shots and stubborn veterans of the oldest brigade in the Rebel (or Origawn Freestate) army. 
Both armies have been tasked with taking control of the valley. I decided this meant either controlling the bridge and the town and hills or more likely, breaking the enemy's morale and forcing him to retreat. 
Each side has 3 infantry Brigades, a cavalry brigade and 2 guns. (I also threw in a field hospital on each side though these weren't really ready to be seen in public at the moment, being in the process of being renovated.)  One infantry brigade on each side moves down the road on turn One. These troops can do what the player wants for turns Two and Three and at the end of turn Three all the remaining forces arrive anywhere on the baseline. The objective is to "control' the valley by the end of the gaming day without being more specific. I've gotten into the habit of playing 15 turns (thank you Mr Thomas) but with my usual initiative/chance card deck meaning that could be shortened by 1 turn for each joker which shows up, which one did today.

My brigades were each made up of 4 units plus a Brigadier, giving a total of 18 units per side with an army break point of 9 units lost. Once again it was just right. I got interrupted twice but the game took somewhere between 1.5 about 2 hours to play.
The firefight across the river raged for several turns but with Ross's Brigade down to half strength he felt compelled to order the remnants of his brigade to retreat  behind the cover of the ridge.
Two of the main ideas behind the rules were that they should focus on the General's decisions and the role of Brigade commanders, not the minutiae of battalion tactics and be grid friendly rather than grid dependent. The last part was easy since a few years ago I had made measuring sticks with 3" bands painted on for use with a set of rules calling for measurement in "lengths" so all measurements were made as multiples of "3" and thus 'one unit' of measurement can be 3", 3 cm., 1 grid area of any size and shape, or 1 "band" on one of my sticks.

The near abandonment of almost all unit tactical detail was harder, I don't think I'd have gotten there without having played Volley & Bayonet in the late '90's  followed not long after by Morschauser and then by all sorts of new designs especially the various gridded games from Bob Cordery's The Portable Wargame to Battlecry and its descendants and having recognized the possibility of including some simple rules to allow the effect or feel of such tactics without showing them or taking up too much time and attention away from the army commander.

The orders, of course, are essentially a variation of the original DBA command system which I plucked out of a pre-publication article in Slingshot in the early '80's and have used on and off since!

Basically I'm not sure there are any original ideas in here but it feels like a different blend to me and more important, so far, it seems to be providing the kind of game I've been looking for for most of the last two decades although my Morschauser Meets MacDuff/ later renamed Hearts of Tin set of rules was close, at least until I started upping the detail!   
"There's something wrong with our bloody troops today". All along the line the Rebel guns and infantry were dishing out more than they were taking. With heavy casualties, the Dominion infantry pulled back into dead ground while MacDuff's Highlanders were ordered forward to storm the town, held largely by dismounted cavalry , while the cavalry were ordered forward to threaten the enemy's guns. It must have been the powder smoke (or possibly a low Blue command roll followed by a flip in the initiative sequence)  but the Red cavalry manged to catch the enemy artillery in flank, rode over the first gun and into then into the second catching General Lannigan and his staff before they even knew they were in danger. (The Lifeguards dice were HOT! and I honestly did not see the danger coming at the start of the previous turn or I would have shifted him then, just in case! ) To make matter worse Reds's artillery and the Greandiers hit Grey's Brigade hard before the Grenadiers retired. In a flash the situation was changed. Blue's morale was now lower than Red's and they were going to have trouble with command. 
Its pretty unusual for me to make it through a play test without wanting to make changes but, perhaps because none of the  individual rules were completely new,   this time there was nothing I felt an itch to improve except that I realized I hadn't really specified what a unit or Brigadier without orders could do. For units its essentially that they can mount/dismount etc and change facing but I also had intended to allow them to retreat without orders from enemy within 3". For Brigadiers, I had intended that they could rearrange their brigades without orders, bring forward reserves, retire units near the break point, refuse a flank etc.. They will also have the right to withdraw if closely engaged as above, subject to possible courtmartial if things go badly of course. But I won't allow any heroic unordered attacks except perhaps as a Chance cards event. It was tempting to bring back a control test for out of command commanders but it had to be EITHER the single command roll OR a series of individual rolls. Past experience has shown that using both in the same game provides too much overhead and the control check tends to override the orders dice making it superfluous and that all the individual command rolls slow the game too much compared to the single one and require additional rules to encourage players to maintain multi-unit formations . 

Never say die! As next senior officer, General Byrd took command, pulled back his battered cavalry to hold the center and be prepared to cover a retreat (ie don't get shot up worse and break army morale). This left the Highlanders in possession of half the village but they'd lost heavily while doing so and were in no shape to finish the job. Both armies were on the edge of breaking but Byrd wasn't one to settle for a draw if victory was even a remote possibility. He led his brigade forward to finish their attack. 

For the rest, I really enjoyed how the game played. It was best to think at least 2 turns ahead, be prepared to use high command rolls but to not count on getting them, nor to count on combat dice.  I was a little concerned early on that Blue would break Red's army by the 1/2 way mark given their hot shooting and Red's sudden inability to hit a barn door. However, with my Red hat on and a coffee break, I forced myself to give up a very promising, if rash and accidentally poorly supported attack,  and pull back while I desperately tried to stay alive and think of a new one.  Just at the danger point, Blue's dice failed him. All of a sudden he had trouble getting his brigades moving and while the firefight continued the losses soon started to even out. Still, Red was in a pickle, twice the number of units lost in the firefight and his artillery losing the duel, Blue's left was in cover and his right was already, if belatedly, moving forward to finish off the two already shot up brigades.

 Suddenly I noticed that Red's cavalry was within 2 moves of the flank of Blue's artillery and Blue's supports had moved away, some to pursue Red's retreating left, some to help defend the town. Blue could probably get some supports back or withdraw his guns but at least it would ease the pressure. Blue went first and a rolled a 1 for command! ARGHH. None of his infantry was able to come up and enemy way their fire helped by the artillery had almost silenced Red's batteries. Most of the cavalry was too far away to mount up and get back but he had one mounted unit in reserve. He ordered it to move to support the guns and turned one gun towards the open flank. Red moved his cavalry forward. Next turn, Red got first go. What!? Yup, ample orders, it was a long shot for the cavalry to wipe out the fresh batteries but better than nothing.

The trumpets sounded and the Gentlemen Pensioners in their cuirasses and plumed helmets trotted forward. The gun decided to hold fire while the other gun finished silencing one enemy gun. The cavalry picked up speed and the cannon fired........getting 1 hit on 4 dice.....the cavalry rolled, 4 hits! The gun was over run and the cavalry pursued into the flank of the second gun and over rode it as well. Then I noticed that Red's cavalry had had to ride over Blue's general during the pursuit. My rule there is that both sides' dice off and the commander escapes if he rolls a tie or higher. He rolled 1, they rolled 6! The "old fellers"  were having a good day!

Oh dear. Who said you can't surprise yourself? I didn't think the charge would work that well but if I had noticed the General there on the previous turn when I was trying to prepare for the charge, I would have moved him anyway, just to be safe!  So suddenly Blue was down 3 army morale points and had a -1 to his orders dice for the rest of the game. That was to became a problem for him. 

Red's field hospital had been working hard though and Ross's battered units and the Grenadiers were sufficiently  recovered to make it an even fight. Twice Byrd had to ride amongst his men and rally them to hold together as he reluctantly led them back, fighting every step of the way but at last it was managed as the sun set. A truce was arranged for the collection of the wounded while the two armies camped on their respective sides of the valley and contemplated their next move.  (In game terms, by turn 14/15, both armies were 1 unit loss away from breaking with several units only 1 hit from being broken. On each of those two last turns Red inflicted a hit on a Blue unit which  would have broken the unit and the army but each time Byrd rallied it: (5,6=cancel hit, 1=commander shot). Red was also down to being able to lose 2 units, lost one on turn 14 but none of turn 15 despite having several under fire and only 1 hit away from breaking. Any victory for either side would have been Pyrrhic at best. 

Well, balance in all things. Red's less than all out attack on the town led to near equal losses and ended with both sides hiding in 1/2 the town, sniping at the other side. The focus switched back where Blue's best chance was to pursue and break Red's worn brigades. Unfortunately for Blue, low command rolls with  a minus 1 on top and the need to manage the fight in the village meant that the pursuit was slow, the more so since the Blue units were battered so took advantage of a slightly more circuitous route to avoid artillery fire on their approach.  In the meantime Red's hospital finally started getting some of the early casualties back into the fight and by the time the firefight resumed, the sides were equal.  Red's men were firing more steadily now though and had artillery support. Eventually Blue's units started nearing their break point and he pulled back, going for the draw. Red pursued at first but didn't dare risk a charge with his battered units. He kept getting hits but was taking them too. Soon both armies were down to 1 hit and 2 hits respectively from their Army Morale point. There was momentary jubilation in Red's ranks when they got that last hit but the brigadier rode in and risked a rally roll: 5,6 = cancel 1 hit, 1=Commander dies. Hit saved, next turn Blue took another hit and again rallied it while Red lost a unit (Apparently Brigadier Ross is less charismtic!). That was it! A Bloody draw.

So, work has begun on the four or five page version of the rules, adding explanations as well as more unit types, irregulars, boats, trains, engineers, etc etc. All the usual. It will need more testing as well but so far I'm pretty happy with how closely they resemble in play the vision that has been trying to get out of my brain for years. Time and playing will tell.  

10 comments:

  1. Well, as you mentioned, it "looked" right, which for me is an absolute must-have regardless of specific era or rules.

    Best Regards,

    Stokes

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    1. Yes, me too but of course that varies with period, style etc so I'm happy when it comes together and looks like the picture in my head.

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  2. Interesting rules and good looking game.

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  3. Great game , do like the 54mm figures in action .

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    1. I do have a 'thing' for them, part nostalgia, part a style thing. The 40's are more convenient though.

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  4. A splendid looking and sounding game Ross...
    Action in the Plattville is a great little scenario... It’s about time I play it again .

    All the best. Aly

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    1. Thanks Aly. I was surprised to realize that this might only be the 2nd time I've played it!

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  5. A fine looking game Ross that sounds like a lot of fun and a good run through the rules (as they stand at present). I am all for tweaking rules too.
    All published sets have been inspired by previous publications, it's just that most of them are not honest enough to list the sources of the inspiration/specific rules as you are. Such plagiarism by commercial rule writers is a huge pet hate of mine, but I won't get myself started...!! :)

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  6. Thanks James. Its interesting to trace some common elements that pop up. I've seen some that really were 2 people coming up with almost identical solutions or approaches without ever hearing of the other but it is rare. Other times the inspiration comes 3rd or 4th hand. AH well, its what works if you're not in business.

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