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

Friday, December 2, 2016


Last week was another hectic 'winter is coming ' sort of week leaving little time and energy for hobbies so any comments or conclusions may be even less cohesive than usual.

Mercenary pikemen in French pay clash with old fashioned English bills and bows c1548.
If I remember correctly my aim had been to play a wargame that felt a bit more like a traditional wargame while also turning my mind to the thorny issue of the relationship between historical command and control and game mechanisms. Rather than spend a lot of effort on scenario design or pick one of my usual teasers, I just threw the painted cloth (game mat I suppose in modern parlance) on the table and let it suggest something. That something ended up with one force trying to deny passage along a road through a gap between woods and some broken high ground. When I turned to pick armies my eye fell on my 16thC Anglo-Scottish wars figures and the game was soon good to go.

Battle rages across the board. 
Among the C&C mechanisms that I considered were written game orders as in WRG 3rd edition Ancients, fixed, predefined orders as used in various rules, a variation on DBA's PIPs, diced activation, variable length moves with in command bonus, card draw activation by subordinate command, a couple of others and various combinations. I changed the system mid game and even mid turn and restarted the game twice before essentially giving up and thus finding the best feel yet.

The answer of course, which I should have known by now, was to stop trying to mimic historical processes in favour of getting appropriate results and to stop worrying about inventing "game like" mechanisms for their own sake unless I wanted to make that my focus, which I don't.

A last desperate charge by English heavy cavalry is repulsed and the Earl of Belmont is wounded. The English yield the field but it was nip and tuck.
I went back today and reread some of my own thoughts on control vs fiction from an August 2010 post  and that post still holds true. However that in turn reminded me of Frank Chadwick's design notes from Volley and Bayonet which resonate with me even more now than they did then. I highly recommend clicking on the link above and reading them.

Anyway, what I ended up doing was going back to my now usual card draw for initiative each turn including chance cards in the deck. This was combined with fixed moves which are long enough to let troops get into trouble easily, a zone of control to complicate maneuver once engaged, fewer bigger units or rather groups of stands under a commander (brigades if you will), a rule for detached subunits and combat rules which tend towards the middle but with the possiblity of extreme results. (Thank you to Lawford & Young for that!)

Now to apply this sort of thinking to the mid-ninteenth century. BTW, next time I think that I should ponder about making a wargame more "game like" I must remind myself that Chess is also a game.

Monday, November 28, 2016

That Reminds Me

One of the things that I like about blogging is the feedback and ideas I get back through comments. At the very least they often get me thinking and sometimes rethinking. Whether that extra thinking confirms or changes my mind, or just awakens a dormant thought or intent, I'm better off for it.

I did some ciphering and imagining yesterday about the footprint of various sizes of 54mm units, about scenarios and force make up, about existing figures and possible future units and about force and command structures in various mid-ninteenth century historical engagements of a comparable size to various scenarios that I might play .  I didn't come to any conclusions other than that I need to cast and paint at least three dozen figures before any of it is relevent.

However, just thinking about rules for command reminded me of a thought/feeling that I had at Fall In which was that while I enjoy the sort of short quick "game" Wargames that I have mostly been playing recently, I miss my old style of longer, still simple but slightly more complex and less "gamey", wargames. The resolution I took then was to make an effort to keep doing both when I got home.

So, while my 54mm armies are being rebuilt, I have a generic 16th Century English army  vs an Auld Alliance Franco-Scots army Gathering of Hosts game set up on the table while I tinker with version 8 of the rules which will hearken back to Rough Wooing.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

What to do with unemployed Colonels?

If I was less fond of my mounted toy soldier officers, toy soldier game design would be much easier and I could just go with one General per side for these small games.

For some time now I have been quite aware that too many commanders spoil the wargame command broth either by making it too easy to get everyone going or by adding too much overhead in the way of either artificial rules to hinder them from doing their job or excessive details and processes. If the player is the General then someone else (ie the game mechanics) should be doing those lower level jobs, and doing them competently most of the time, unless they are part of an army which is both untrained and inexperienced.

But if I only need one General, maybe with some aides for the look of things, what do I do with all these other mounted officers?

Recently my mind has started going back to all those magazine pictures of Peter Gilder inspired battalions with a mounted officer in the middle. Hard to do with four man units, hence my prolonged efforts to include rules for Colonels and Brigadiers. Even my proposed twelve figure units don't have room for a mounted officer but it occured to me yesterday that for the 1860's Anglo-American border war, a three stand 54mm battalion could accomodate a mounted officer, flag, musician, foot officer and sergeant along with twelve other ranks and look acceptable.

Mock up of two of the new battalions.

Unless I expand my table significantly the maximum number of figures per game has to stay roughly the same. This brings me back to needing a set of rules designed for a small number of long lasting units, in other words, the sort of games suggested by  One Hour Wargames, just not those rules since they are not to my taste.  This means fewer regimental uniforms will be represented but at least my Colonels will have a home that doesn't adversely affect the game.

Right now there are two approaches that seem attractive. One is to ditch the grid and look at various past versions of Hearts of Tin with three stand battalions.  The other is to drop down to a 3" grid with each stand being a unit and allow a Colonel to control 2 adjacent units then proceed with a version of the Square Brigadier. Both sets would probably go back to rolling an "Orders" die each turn, a system that has worked well in the past with a small number of units.

Since the basing and organization will be the same either way, I will proceed to paint and base figures and delay a decision on rules until I have enough battalions painted and based. The NorthWest campaign against the Indians and metis will continue to use one rank half- stands since all units are skirmishers. Initially some existing units will see double duty but, since the numbers are so low, I hope to eventually have all the Canadians wearing more appropriate uniforms.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Meet Me At The Oasis

During the final decade of the 20th Century a couple of us got into 54mm WWII. We started with Rapid Fire! then experimented a bit but drifted off to other things early this century.

After our last game of Airfix Battles, Ron decided that it wasn't quite what he was looking for so he picked up Bolt Action and yesterday we gave them a whirl. I'm not sure why I was expecting him to stay with his 20mm figures.

Once again 1/32 Airfix Ghurkas and Afrika Korps clash! Somewhere in that oasis is a vital well.

As usual, we like to do things our way and adapt rules to our purposes rather than mindlessly obeying so I shouldn't have been surprised when Ron hauled out the 54's  and we started discussing adapting BA to the hex grid.

For the curious, a basic squad of 5x54's will fit nicely in a 10cm Hexon hex so we just declared each grid equal to 3" for ranges and moving etc, rounded odd numbers when they appeared and declared that the 1" rule applied to adjacent hexes. Seemed to work well.

The highpoint of the battle. Several of Ron's units are pinned in the open and the infantry I had rushed into the oasis have located and seized the well.
The basic rules were pretty straight forward and made sense. There were some odd omissions and odd inclusions on the quick reference sheets which resulted in a lot of time spent checking and rechecking for basics like morale check details but by the time a couple of turns had been played it was flowing well.
As darkness fell (ie I realized that I was already an hour late) Ron offered me a draw since I still held the well, (technically). Since I only had 1 lone infantry squad left, my heavy weapons, which were all pinned down, were covering the approaches that his three remaing units of superior infantry no longer needed to use, and he had an infantry unit adjacent to and arguably contesting for control of the objective, I declined the generous offer and ceded the game.
One game is almost never enough to judge a set of rules by but we had fun and overall they seemed to work without too many oddities. Basic fire and move tactics, fire zones etc seemed to work and so on.

There were a few Warhammerish oddities such as the deadly Ninja-like rules for the Ghurkas which we only discovered when Ron charged one of my units to see what would happen and we cracked the close asssault rules. Things like that can be dealt with easily enough by house rules though.

There will be more games.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Coming Home

I didn't exactly expect my revived Toy Soldier enthusiasm to lead me here but its a happy place.

Today I gave Scenario 12, "Unfortunate Oversight", from Thomas' One Hour Wargames, its third outing in a week. The first game was last Saturday's  non-gridded British vs US game using variable moves and counting noses. The second was an on-grid US vs Indians game using an experimental set of rules which gave an OKish but not very exciting game. Today's game was a return to the Square Brigadier (Tin Army) with some tweaks to the rules and unit sizes.

The scenario is an attack by one force on an equal sized force of defenders. The trick is that the objective is a hill in the middle of the board but the armies are separated by an unfordable river and the defender thinks that the only crossing is a bridge by a town so he must deploy all units within a foot (3 squares here) of the town. The attacker, however, knows of a secret ford off to the flank.
The setup. The Americans have 3 infantry, 1 militia. 1 gun, 1 cavalry. The Indians have 6 Indian units.

Amongst all the various small issues there have been two main ones.

1. Command Control. I want a role a C&C role for commanders, one that adds some friction but which is neither too random nor too onerous/distracting or artificial in terms of mechanisms. There are lots of approaches which work well but one of the simplest and most adaptable is to mix chance cards with a die roll for detached/isolated units  to provide for the oddities, delayed orders, court martial-August I started experimenting with an initial "command control" phase in which I seek out and mark isolated or detached units which need to test before acting. The markers make it harder to forget and just move the units without rolling. Today I realized that I could actually combine these units with those recovering from adverse combat results and by giving a range of results on 1 die roll could make everything work smoother. With the units being slightly larger this allowed the one common roll to effectively replace the Rally and Command rules by a combined one while giving players less choice on how their units act under fire, thus increasing the benefit of reserves and supports.

The defender reacts and occupys the hill. I'm not sure why the American allowed himself to devote so many assets to the small decoy force across the river. 
It came close to costing him the battle.

2. Firefights. A common theme in 19th Century battles is that long and medium range firefights between opposing skirmishers or lines of prone infantrymen tended to be long and indecisive. For the men on the line a slow trickle of casualties was disconcerting but ammunition shortages and exhaustion were usually a bigger threat. One could just assume its happening  but especially in smaller actions like the battles in the Riel Rebellion, and the Boer War they were important to the men there and often did eventually influence the final result. For the last two years I've been trying different approaches from a simple fire or move to various "pinned" results or options, reaction tests and so on. The result was generally either a boring game or units that died too quickly or never at all. I am now using units that are slightly stronger without an increase in firepower and an involuntary pinned/go to ground result using the same marker as put on isolated ones and triggering the same test. There is also a a chance of actual casualties and a chance to be forced back by the fire of several units.  Several units were weakened and forced back by overwhelming fire and some heavily damaged units struggled to rally but the only units destroyed outright were destroyed in close combat.

Together it all felt just right during the game.
As the turn deck sank slowly in the west, a prolonged firefight had worn down several US units and a rush led by Chief Yellow Feather drove the Americans off the crest of the hill despite the intervention of Colonel Lannigan. By a typical fluke of the dice both leaders were wounded in the fierce fighting. Alas for the Indians I forgot that a replacement should have been able to take over after a short while. Leaderless, both sides rather ground to a halt. The Indians had been doing much more damage than they were taking and a few more hits might have broken the American force but for the last 3  or 4 turns even the broad side of the barn was safe  and the game ended in a draw with the hill still in dispute. 
One small game is not much to go on but after five...six? (I should look that up) years it feels like what I was aiming for all along and not quite reaching.

More testing is of course needed. A test of the battalion rules though may have to wait for another two dozen Bluecoats and Zouaves to be painted up. For those wanting to look at a copy of the revised rules, well, its just a few scratches on a slip of paper right now backed up by habit but I'm working on an updated edition on the rules and they will be available here as soon as they are done.