EXERT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

And we're back

Here we are back in 1890somethingish ready to open up with the 4.7" on a slightly different enemy..

Felt too crappy again today to do anything physical but I did review the successful  July 1812 mini-game, reread my spring thoughts on game design and think back on  the August 54mm games and reread my current rules intro about many things assumed to be controlled by subordinates and thus not presented for the player to make decisions on.  Then I sat down and worked on consistent Square Brigadier variants for the 2 periods: an early, close order, musket period game and a later breechloader/magazine rifle, open order variant.

Here are links to the refurbished rules.

The Defended Border (aka The Square Brigadier in the War of 1812.) This will be quite a small collection designed as a portable game suitable to be hauled out to the yard to play on the picnic table or as fodder for a One Hour Wargame. To that end each side will have a choice of a maximum of 12 units. For now I will leave a few of the British 1837 figures but the goal is to replace them with proper 1812 ones.

The Tin Army in the Great Little War. (aka The Square Brigadier in the Age of Rifles).  I will use these for the Atlantican Little Wars Red vs Blue games, the Oerberg Colonial games, the early Great War and the 54mm Northwest games. I will rely on different force and weapons composition and different terrain and scenarios  to give each of the sub collections a reason to exist since they already do. ( The real reason just being that I wanted to paint them at the time) Not all the needed unit and weapon types are dealt with yet.

The 1860's in 40mm have been cancelled once again and existing units for the period brought forward to the 1890's or pushed back to the 1830's/40's.. I'm somewhat annoyed that, from my habit of studying the Fenian Raids, I did my new Canadian figures in Fenian Raid style forage caps instead of Riel Rebellion Glengarries or Boer War slouch hats as originally envisaged but they'll wear almost anything in Atlantica in the 1890's   and who knows, I might do a mini Fenian Raid game-in-a-box yet.

The game reset with 4 figure companies of infantry in open order. 3 to 4  companies + a Commander to a Battalion.

The biggest change is that I am going to give up my combined initiative/chance/turn counter card deck and go back to rolling for orders.  It does seem to make for a more engaging, challenging "game" and gives at least as "realistic" game without the need to fall back on chance cards and artificial mechanisms to freeze some units.

I have also decided to ditch the various rules for reducing or recovering hits for an increased capacity for taking them. This is partly because they don't often have the sort of tactical effect I was hoping for, partly because I'm less sure what I was trying for is as right as I thought and partly because they would have been one of those subordinates' concerns anyway.

Game report to follow once the game has been played.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Sorting a Century and other housekeeping.

Ever since my spontaneous excursion into the Great War in 2014, a diversion from Plan made worse by my renewed determination to keep my 54's alive and active, I've been in a muddle  over what to do about the excessive number of collections covering the century from 1814 to 1914. We aren't talking about large numbers of figures but it was a final straw effect. Too many figures for my shelves and cupboards, too much for my head, too many choices to allow me to get into a proper mini-campaign or to finish anything. All of this made worse since there was considerable overlap.

I've done much thinking and some test games over the last year, including yesterday's game.  I've  re-purposed some troops, and I've re-homed two collections of 40mm troops and enough 54mm Arabs to disperse any thoughts of going back there. At last, I now have a new plan.
Hunh? What happened to the 4.7"? Well I decided to try an  impromptu 1860's version of the 1812 version of the Square Brigadier with 12 man battalions and so reset the table accordingly. 
Here's how my extended 19thC looks now.  

1. The War of 1812 in shiny 40mm. This is aimed squarely at small, one hour-ish Square Brigadier games with small battalions or detachments as units.  The goal is to be able to fight the main battles in Upper and Lower Canada.

2. Atlantica in Shiny 40mm. This will eventually be the long delayed mid 19thC Colonial campaign  against the northern native Atlantican state and its army. This will have "company" sized units which by themselves represent a detachment or skirmishers but up to four of which may be combined into a close order battalion. I've tried to avoid this as it is Gridded anathema but  I can't find  an acceptable way around the need for this sort of flexibility for this sort of campaign.

3. The American Civil War in 1/72nd. This is a battle game. At the moment units are 3 stand regiments but I might consider going to 5 stand brigades as units,  maybe, probably not though.

4. The Northwest Incident in shiny 54mm. This is aimed at small fictional  battles with company sized units in the age of breech loading rifles using a variant of the Square Brigadier aka the Tin Army.

5. The Great Atlantican War in shiny 40mm khaki. This is the sideshow which keeps threatening to become my main thing every time I touch it. It is set in the early years of the 20th Century and includes both conventional warfare between the Great(ish) Powers and Colonial games. It will use the same rules as the earlier Atlantica and the 54mm game with company sized units but with magazine rifles and machine guns.

Here's the game about 1/3 of the way through. It worked and kept me entertained and thinking for about 1.5 hours but... something was missing. It was interesting but not exciting, too incremental, reactive and artificial perhaps.  I'm not sure, might have just been me. 

Command control and detail again. For some time now I have been flip flopping between two mechanisms to make it harder for players to always have every unit moving as and when desired. Both work, both have downsides. This game was played using the "dice for unit's outside command radius" method. It works OK when I remember to apply it. At the moment it doesn't really emphasize the importance of maintaining multi unit formations though. I had hoped that the combat rules would be sufficient to encourage that and they mostly do, but not as well as the Order PIP system does. In some recent games I started each turn with a "place out of command chits" phase and that have helped me remember the rule at least. A smaller command radius for subordinate commanders might encourage tighter brigade formations.

I'm also still trying to put my finger on an illusive "something" with these Division sized battles. The command rules feel a bit too immediate, like an active brigadier controlling his direct reports rather than a Division Commander controlling his Brigades.  Short of written game orders or a team of players, I always find this hard to do simply, especially when playing solo. A Brigade posture rule perhaps with a delay in implementation of new orders? or maybe a change to command radius to only allow a Brigadier to control a group of contiguous units. No serious thought on this yet, just an observation.

I don't have a similar issue with the 'company as unit' games since the over all commander can be very hands on in life in such situations. Maybe its just that I'm tired of only having one hour type games but can't seem to get any game to last much longer on the small table top?

(ps, apparently I should have reread this post from May:
more-thoughts-on-command control )
Turn 15. Victory is decided by control of the pass. Red had been on the verge of taking one side of it before Blue's last line threw Red back. They've rallied but there was no time for another attack. There was just time for a last salvo by the heavy naval gun into the teetering Blue Guard. They broke. Blue had to rally either the Blue Guard or the Dragoons who had broken on their last turn in an ill advised attempt to over run the gun frontally. Neither rallied and the Blue General, now below 50% units still on table,  was forced to concede and retire from the field.

Markers. I used the little green dice to track hits again during this game and again they worked ok apart from their annoying habit of wandering away from their units or falling over to a wrong number. Some good quality tacky stuff could fix this except where there is no room on the bases. I was sorting out my various dice and marker containers today to take advantage of some improvements to my games room layout and had one of those "duhhh" moments. I like the psychological effect of the casualty caps but would prefer some less conspicuous rings. I'm also short on them when it comes to bigger battles. I have black ones that are just toooo HUGE to use except in emergency and I decided to shorten them to the same size as the red and white ones. I snipped a little ring off the end to shorten it and then noticed that that ring was just right. Fifteen minutes later I had no red or white casualty caps left but instead have three times as many small rings that are not nearly as overwhelming and stay put better. Only took me a couple of years.......

Sunday, September 18, 2016

How many Red Coats does it take to.....

One of the things that has been nattering at me over the last week or so is the question of "How many units?" and its supplementary questions "In that case what's the minimum table size and number of squares?"  and "In that case what do the units represent and is the wargame a battle or a skirmish?".

The Naval gunners train the 4.7" while waiting for the Armies to decided how much infantry they need.
The answer was easy in the days when I used twenty four man units on a plain 6'x8' table but along came Bob Cordery and Richard Borg and recently  my table has often been covered by four man units on a grid and sometimes I just lose my bearings.

The scenario laid out at 1 Square Brigadier unit per scenario unit. 
So I chose the scenario suggested by the Grand Duke of Stollen and started by laying out the troops unit for unit.  That looked kinda sparse so I upped the infantry by 50%, that was better but 1.5 is an awkward force multiplier if you can't represent a half unit so I doubled it. Now we were talking, the table started to look a bit crowded with fourteen Oberhilse infantry units. Fourteen? Fourteen what? Companies? Battalions? Half-Battalions?

It was not only crowded though, in places the troops were spilling over their specified deployment areas. I could fix that though by extending the table by a foot. .....Right. Did I really want to do that though?

Then I thought about last Wednesday's game at Ron's.
Airfix Battles, 1/72nd WWII Canadians vs Germans at a Sicilian Crossroad. One unit per scenario unit plus overall points balanced in proportion to make very different opposing forces.
When Ron suggested one unit per scenario unit I was dubious but he was right. It was a tense game of the satisfying type which played through a series of shifts of advantage  to a draw after two full rotations of the deck and over three hours of immersed playing.

I reset the table to one unit per unit as shown above. My 1900 and 1914 armies may be staying separate after all and both may be closer to finished as separate armies than I thought.
"Right, you guys have your orders, get on with it!"
Game to be played Monday or Tuesday if all goes well.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Too little, too late

That is to say I have a bunch of thoughts lurking in my brain but haven't had the time and energy to hunt them all down and explore them and I'm way too tired for a long post tonight anyway.

However, I did manage to throw out another OHW scenario yesterday and played it out today in a couple of 10 minute sessions in between various duties.  This was the Lobositz inspired scenario played out on the 5" grid thrown over the hills. I added a few more minor terrain features to suit myself and doubled the number of units as usual for me. This led to 2 companies of Baluchs holding the Lobosch feature while 3 companies of British and Indian infantry held the town supported by a battery, a squadron of lancers and an armoured car disguised as a light tank. The Germans attacked with 8 companies of infantry, 2 guns and 2 squadrons of cavalry. The game ran for 12 out of 15 turns using an early 20thC variant of the Square Brigadier.
Atlantica during the Great War. Thank Gawd for the guns!
The main point of the game, apart from hopefully distracting me from things when I had time for a break and enough energy to play, was to try out the Square Brigadier on a smaller number of larger squares. The main advantage of the larger squares is that terrain and models fit better and I quite liked them last year when I experimented. Somehow the wider, more linear frontage helps clarify the movement and combat rules on an instinctive visual rather than an intellectual basis. The drawback as I found out then was that I obviously have fewer squares on table and thus less room to manoeuvre and less space for troops. To be more precise the cloth is 9x12 5" squares vs 12x15 4" squares painted on the table or the 10x12 3" squares of my portable board.  

An overview mid game. An initial attack on the hill in the far right corner has been repulsed.
It seems to work OK with the One Hour Wargames but while they can be an enjoyable diversion when time and energy  are short, they don't fully satisfy me, there just isn't enough to them. An appetizer rather than a main course. I'm not sure when I will have time but I need to try a full length Grant Scenario with as many units as I can jam into this grid. If that works then I can leave off attempting a better planned set of hills with square corners  and sized to one grid and just use the cloth over top with a non-gridded cloth for other games. If it doesn't well, I'll have more thinking to do.

Turn 12. The Germans have been repulsed again from the hill and  have resorted to a bombardment while in the town each side holds 1/2. Both "armies" were 1 unit away from morale failure and the dismounted Uhlans battling Baluchs in the streets  broke first initiating an order to break off the attack. If it had been a fight to the last man I doubt that 3 turns would have been enough for the artillery to finish clearing the hill or the battered German units to take the other half of the town but it was at least conceivable given lots of luck.

In the meantime, I'm off to Halifax in the morning for more  Airfix Battles on hexes, Scenario 2 from Scenarios for Wargames.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Inching Along

There are times when I suspect my subconscious of only wanting to play with half ready armies. So when I found myself thinking it was time I played something that had something to do with my Gathering of Hosts blog, I also found myself looking at cobbling together a Turanian force from vague ideas and promising recruits. I put my metaphorical foot down and decided to test the game with my 16thC Anglo Scots armies. They actually belong to this blog, not that one, but the rules bits about reverting to rolling dice to determine how many inches a unit can move can go there.

O Flower of Scotland!
The scenario was Thomas's 30 minute Salamanca. I think it might have been better with different armies  and different rules and hope to prove that tomorrow. Basically the English have to get half their units off the far edge of the board by road. Why by road? I dunno but since I had spare acreage outside the playing zone, I added an impassible river off table with a bridge where the road crosses, so that's why.

With my 4x4 board, 3 of my stands equate to one of his 6" units and since it just happens to be how they're organized, I went with that.  This gave me the following:

Scots: 6 stands of pike with General blocking the road. 6 stands of Highlanders, 3 of skirmishers and 3 of border horse making a flank attack.
English: Left, 4 Bills, 2 Bows, Center: 4 Bills, 2 Bows, Cavalry: 3 demilances including General, Rearguard: 3 Border horse.

There wasn't much room for manoeuvre so there was a bit of shooting then a big brawl with the Demilances coming in on the flank and the Border Horse making a show of fighting each other until on turn 5 of 15 the Scots morale broke. The English had 1 stand over 1/2 left so were able to saunter off the table in the following 10 turns. Quick and bloody.
The English arrive.
Now, the real point of all this is that after a lengthy trial, I'm having second thoughts about using a grid for so many of my games. There are some minor quibbles about the interface of front and flank along the diagonal with squares, especially when long range weapons come in, but the real problem is the amount of custom terrain that still needs to be made and that having backslid to using 3 sizes of figures and various scales of game, I could really use a variety of grid sizes and thus terrain in different grid sizes.

It is possible to just make what fits in a grid area a "unit" and keep using the same grid size and mostly shared terrain for all games is starting to make different periods and campaigns feel too similar despite small rules changes. In addition, the return of 54's is stressing my ability to share terrain and fit it to the grid.

At the very least I need more custom terrain possibly including some multi-grid area terrain pieces and rules for the same. At the moment I have the grid painted on and sometimes throw an old battered cloth over it for non-gridded games.
The Scots depart. The way ahead is open for the Earl's remaining forces, just enough of them.
No decision yet. At the very least I need a new cloth, but I'm contemplating over-painting the grid and using a choice of gridded game-mats thrown over top when I want the grid instead.