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

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Reinforcements Ride In

I didn't manage a game this weekend but I did make time to cast 3 heads and convert 3 more Britain's Light Dragoons into US cavalry.

E Troop charges across the plains.

Good thing they aren't the next Troop.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Unfinished Business

After another entertaining game at Ron's yesterday (WWII Grant scenario using Airfix Battles), I came home and started to clear my table. I thought that might make it easier to work on the ACW scenario I have started to plan, a sort of "inspired by historical events" thing rather than a refight.

By the time I got the figures and trees put away, I was getting twitchy. Wouldn't it make sense to test the cancelled OHW scenario before clearing the hill? Wouldn't really take long to put figures and a few decorative bits of scenery back on would it? My Indians haven't been out since the first skirmish, I could put the Yanks on the hill attacked by a small but mobile force of Indians............

The set up.
The OHW scenarios call for units to be between 4" and 6" wide on a 3 ft x 3 ft table. Normally I double the number of units so that my forces occupy the same footprint on my table as 6" wide units on his but since I didn't have enough refurbished Indians I went with one and a half times the number of units equating to the footprint of 4" wide units. This gave me 6 units of Indians attacking what was meant to be 6 American units on the hill with 3 in reserve but I just realized that I had only placed 3 infantry, 1 gun and 1 cavalry on the hill or in other words, all of the painted American forces but short one unit. Oh well, it happens.

In my rules the Cree, Blackfoot and Assiniboine move quickly, mounting or dismounting as required without the horses being shown or running on foot when required but have reduced firepower to reflect their lack of ammunition and modern firearms at this point. They also have a lower melee value and unit strength to reflect their preference for skirmishing tactics on foot and their inability to afford heavy casualties. In game terms this forces them to make the most of their manoeuvrability to surround vulnerable enemies with concentrated mid range fire and the use the Give Ground rule to minimize losses. It worked like a charm.  

The Indians quickly flank the hill but lack the assault capability to carry it in a rush instead  converging fire to drive back the Volunteer units one after another.
It took a while to adapt to the 'only two units may move or fight'  rule for the Americans (2x1.5=3 units here) but I did let units defend themselves in melee and once I got a feel for things it worked without feeling silly. After some hemming and hawing I decided that rallying counted as moving or fighting. At first I worried about trying to rally units on the hill who had been shot up or forced back but eventually I just left them as speed bumps and moved at least one reinforcement each turn. This resulted in the Indians taking almost all of the second contour but since the contours kept blocking their line of sight when the Americans gave ground and they had taken losses and couldn't really afford to assault except as a last resort, it took time to follow up between shots given the Yanks a breathing space.

I only succeeded in bringing up two of the reinforcing units but they were decisive in counter attacking the hill. It did not help that with Strombecker at their head, they were rolling buckets full of 5's and 6's.  On turn 15  an unsupported charge by B Company retook the last peak and a desperate last ditch assault by the remaining battered Indian units was swept away by defensive fire breaking their army morale to achieve a decisive victory for the boys in blue.  

General Byrd went down while rallying a volunteer unit but Colonel Strombecker came up with the reserves and retook the hill in a series of assaults. 

I was pretty sure that the scenario would work well with my rules once I swapped forces to protect the ego of my red coated defenders who were already on a losing streak and I was right. It was a close 40 minute game  made more so by the difference in troop types and thus a difference in tactical options.  There were a number of points where the unpredictability of combat threatened to topple one side or the other but it always balanced out leaving the player choices King in the end. Once again trusting to luck proved to be a poor plan. That said, a regular attacker might have had an easier time.  (hmm maybe I should test that....)

Now, back to trying to write the rules to accurately reflect the way I actually play the game.

Oh and there's that 1/72nd ACW thing..........might take me to the Labour Day weekend to get that on the table.  

Monday, August 22, 2016

Storming the Stony Heights

It had been a long hot march. Scouts reported no sign of the Americans so General Douglas ordered Colonel Marten to occupy Stony Heights with a picquet of three companies, one each from the Rifles, Grenadiers and Highlanders then gave the rest of the Column permission to camp by the river and make supper. Six companies of infantry, two troops of cavalry and a 9 pounder gun, as fine a force as a man could want.

A short time later a bugle sounded from the ridge. By the time a galloper arrived with news that the Yanks were at hand, shots were already ringing out from the hill.

There is the enemy!
South of the hill, General Byrd surveyed his new command with satisfaction. On his left was a battalion of regulars, 3 companies strong under Colonel Strombecker, In the centre 3 companies of tough Volunteers, on the right was Colonel Lannigan with a gun and a troop of cavalry to secure the flank. It appeared the enemy had been taken by surprise, all the better. He gave the order for an advance all along the line.

As the enemy opened a hesitant fire the artillery galloped forward, unlimbered and poured fire upon the hill. The Canadians had good cover amongst the rocks on the steep crest but his men would winkle them out.  Forward went the Blue line, pausing briefly to pour in fire while B and C companies manoeuvred around the flank. The whole then cheered and charged up the hill. To the surprise of all, they were met by a deadly close range fire and tumbled back down the hill, carrying Colonel Strombecker with them.  Poor Strombecker, finally back in uniform after being sidelined for many years and there he was, a ball in his shoulder before the battle was fairly under way.

Two repulses and the Canadian main force approaching, this day was not going according to Byrd's plan.
Fortunately for the Canadians it seems that most men had not even unbuckled their equipment yet and in no time at all half the companies had formed up, deployed and were advancing on the hill. The remainder were not far behind. As they hurried across the plan they could see the white helmet of Colonel Marten silhouetted against the sky as he rode back and forth, steadying the men.  The firing rose to a crescendo followed by a round of cheers from the hill top and then by another crash of fire. Now a trickle of wounded men could be seen making their way back down the hill. The Highlanders picked up the pace and raced for the hill as the firing intensified for the third time. Suddenly Colonel Marten could be seen rising in his saddle and then sliding to the ground.

One last desperate push and the Americans had the hill but could they keep it?
General Byrd looked around, this was not going according to plan. The enemy's cavalry had appeared and stalled the whole damn right flank before being driven back at the cost of Colonel Lannigan who had led the cavalry charge that saw them off. Most of the bloody volunteers were hovering at the foot of the hill refusing to reform and move forward. Thank god for the regulars. At the third try they had captured the western peak, capturing the remains of the garrison who had refused to run. Now to regroup and hold till nightfall. He spurred over to harangue the volunteers.
Three times the Canadians stormed up the hill and three times they were held and thrown back down.  Would one last push do it?
As the sun set General Douglas stared at the bloody hill side through the powder smoke. The heaps of dead and wounded were thick enough to impede the charges of those few still obeying their officers' orders to advance. Too many lay crouched in the long grass, occasionally loosing a shot or two before slipping back down the slope. The nco's and officers were busy gathering up the stragglers but two of his Colonels were down and who knows how many hours it would take to get the men back into any kind of fighting shape. He ordered the buglar to sound the recall and sent a runner to recall Colonel MacDuff who was still pressing the enemy on the western peak. Let the Americans have the damned hill for now.

ps for those worried about the amount of tin spilt, the rules assume roughly 10% of "hits"  to be killed, wounded or missing, the rest are just those not functioning well or short term stragglers who will be ready to fight again in a few hours. 
So, that was the Battle of Stony Heights, an improvised solo scenario. The goal for the smaller (8 units vs 12 units) American goal was to seize and hold at least two of the three hill top areas. The Canadian goal was to hold on to all 3 hilltops. Something in the middle would have been a draw. That was assuming that neither army broke, something that wasn't that far off at several points. One quarter of the Canadian force began in position on the hilltops while the rest were gathered in the back corner near a grove on the river bank and needing to roll 4,5 or 6 to form up. When six units formed up on turn one and the rest on turn two I was afraid that was too lenient but it was a long way to go and they barely made it in time.

The game lasted all of 15 possible turns and nearly 2 hours. It came close to being over earlier at least three times but the dice, as usual, were fickle, favouring first one side then the other as if they were determined to prevent an early win by either side. The Americans regulars in particular had phenomenal rally rolls whenever they had a chance (rallying allowing them to recover some stragglers etc.). This meant that although suffering heavy losses in taking the hill, they were able to use several brief respites to rebuild their staying power before the next wave of attacks. Oddly enough, since there were no modifiers used, the Volunteers and Canadian militia had a very hard time rallying!

This is the level of game that I was originally picturing for this campaign with the option for smaller 1 hour skirmishes and at some point a full afternoon's battle with 15 or 16 units per side. I'll need another pair of Britain's field guns for that and I'd just as soon not mix in plastic ACW ones to make up numbers. Time will tell.

As far as the rules go, I realized before the game that I had concerns with some of my rules choices.

The first was command control and sequence of play. Part of me likes the DBA PIPS idea and part of me hates it and finds it tedious or has trouble fine tuning it to work with large and small "armies", especially including the group move where a Colonel is controlling several companies. For the last two games I went back to the older system of initiative and chance cards. For small games it sometimes seems too easy but for this size and up there are enough other rules interfering that I constantly have trouble getting the troops to do just what I want once battle has been joined. This game has convinced me that this is the route I should stay on.

However, I still wanted a "command & control" function for Colonels. In the past I have tried rolling for "out of command" units who were too far from their commander but in a fast paced game I always keep forgetting to check. One option is to have a pre-turn "mark out of command units" phase but a rule I can't remember mid-game is a bad rule in my books and to be honest, I don't miss it. Instead, I decided to try resolving melee immediately so that there could never be two units ganging up on one unless a Colonel was leading a group. This was even worse. I am so used to melee being at the end that I kept screwing it up plus it ended in units sometimes having to fight off multiple waves of attackers in one turn or being able to support in one fight then fight in another and so on. To lessen the confusion I also had to outlaw tied melees. It was exciting sometimes to have a bloody 4  or 5 turn melee but in the long term it made the game over all less exciting as there was too much die rolling and not enough sound tactical thinking and I missed the narrative of prolonged close fighting. In the end I decided to go back to "Old School" with no role for subordinate commanders beyond rallying troops and boosting their performance in close combat. The rest is "factored in".

I also noticed that there were several small, unwritten, rules in force and some other minor things which I tended to differently that what was written so editing of the rules has resumed. My goal is to work backwards and actually describe what I do and cast in it print rather than inventing new ways of doing things to be different or to respond to a whim.

Lastly, most of August has been focused on this 54mm revival and I think its time for a short break. If all goes well I expect to have time for a full game next weekend. I'd like to do a big Elastolin Medieval/Renaissance game but they need too much work.

Now..should it be 20mm ACW or 40mm Atlantica?