Friday, August 14, 2020

The Reasons Why

This post is as at least partly for my own benefit, as a reminder of where I was when the time comes for me to get back to the 54's. Hopefully, the thoughts behind the rules may be of interest to some and, of course, there are pictures of toy soldiers!     

Turn 3: Red began with 4 companies of infantry (=2 scenario units) randomly arriving in the best spot. They have just followed up with a gun and a troop of cavalry arriving on the main road. Blue has the initial 2 companies now backed by a field gun with 2 companies of Zouaves just arriving. 

I want a Toy Soldier-ish wargame, not an accurate historical recreation of real battles, but I want them to invoke the feel of small historical actions from the 1870's and 80's  such as Ridgeway during the Fenian Raids or Laing's Nek in the First Boer War not bigger affairs like Tel El Kebir or the battles for the Shipka Pass.  

I also want to use a small table but have at least a little room and some reason to manoeuvre. This means that each unit needs to be small as well as the armies being small and ranges need to be curtailed. My first adult battles with 54's were played  with a set of Colonial Rules written for OS25mm figures but the figures didn't take up much more room (25mm washers vs pennies) and my table was 6'x10' so there was plenty of room for 8 man companies grouped into 3 company battalions, themselves grouped into brigades for the bigger games. However, I have come to like games played with 4 man companies on a smaller table so there are no regrets and an appreciation of the ease of set up, solo play and take down with my current set up.

Turn 6: Both armies are all on board.
There are still a few issues that I am struggling with because what feels like a good "game" mechanism, often appears to be "wrong" from a historical perspective. There are always such conflicts when designing a simple, fun game and it comes down to which compromises give the best over all feel (for me, since I'm not going to be selling the rules). 

The two main issues are Command Control and how to show the effects of combat. 

Whenever I find myself getting bogged down in C&C issues again, I remind myself of Lawford & Young's comments on the subject, reread the old Kriegspiel rules designed to train officers but where they were free to make their own bad decisions, or just read some memoirs. Most wargamers can quote an example of a subordinate not carrying out an order according to the defeated general who is explaining why he lost but few reflect that these known failures are each balanced by thousands of orders which were carried out, or at least attempted.  Then I remind myself to go with Lawford & Young and let player's make their own mistakes rather then hiding behind a die roll. (Mind you I keep some uncertainty by rolling dice for distance as I did back in my MacDuff days in the 90's.)

Later: The battlelines trade fire.

Casualties are a harder thing. Charles Grant was right here, its much easier to show a trickle of casualties on large units. Given that the historical actions that have inspired me for this game had very low numbers of killed and wounded (ie 5% or less in some cases), I have had to forgo removing every hit. Having multi-figure bases at least helps reduce the urge to tip the little guys over. 

Then the bayonet sweeps the field!
(Rolling up 2 guns was probably better than 2 cavalry for Blue but more infantry might have helped!)

I do need to reflect the tendency of units to be pinned by heavy fire as well as a tendency to become brittle and to suddenly break when something changes, like being charged or surprised, having friends run or being ordered to retreat. 

The jury is still out on this topic but at the moment units may fire OR move so the player needs to forgo a chance to shoot if he wants to get close.  They may neither advance nor shoot once  when they have taken their maximum hits and may run if they lose a charge combat, but they might succeed in rallying once they are in a  safe spot. Just removing them and having them automatically rally on the shelf overnight would be easier though, and maybe more toy soldierish.


  1. I am trying to move away from the terminology of casualties, preferring ‘hits’ instead, as this allows the hits to represent both casualties and the breaking down of the unit’s cohesion and lowering of morale through the friction of action. I quite like the structure of Fire OR Move, but it can make a unit in a defensive posture too powerful as it spends more time firing and then you start to need attacker ratios of 2:1 or 3:1 to cope with that .... though perhaps that is realistic.

    1. Yes, the only time I think of casualties is in low level skirmishes which I rarely play.

      As for needing greater numbers to attack, the alternative is to outwit and out manouvre your opponent, not an easy matter, doubly so when playing solo!

  2. W.r.t. removing casualties: my thinking and current practice is now such that I don;t remove individual figures. I keep track of a unit status (out of ammo, disorganized, ...) by coloured wooden markers from an old Nain Jaune game. Especially for small units (my 42mm armies are 8 infantry or 4 cavalry to a unit), I think the visuals of having full units is much more important than keeping track of unit status through figure removal. Moreover, I want the toys *on* the table, not on a side-table (which requires more "unused" real estate in the wargaming room).

    1. I have been leaning that way as well. I also decided to retreat from 1 base units so I can show formations again.

  3. The game looks very nice! I think if 'Red' gets troops on at point A by the wood early on, things can get difficult for 'Blue'. I have been using one stand per Strength Point with the Portable Wargame and removing them as SPs are lost, rather like Command and Colours. Which is nice and simple, but a unit down to one SP can look a bit silly! I am wondering about using discreet 'hit markers' instead, an idea borrowed from MS Foy.

    1. It was a bit sticky until Blue artillery unlimbered outside rifle range and started shelling the wood!

      When I am using my 1 big stand units I use tiny green dice to record hits.