My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Monday, December 26, 2011

AWI using Black Powder

My 200th post (on this particular blog)! Not bad, even if I did get a slow start, almost five years ago. I hope you have enjoyed it, and will continue to do so.

I purchased the rules  Black Powder some time again, mostly because of all of the buzz when it first came out. As I am not  a fan of the Warmaster-style command and control system, and I like my rules "tournament tight", I did not think I would like these. So, why am I playing a test game and doing a battle report and review? Shawn, at our club, purchased the ancients equivalent to these rules Hail Caesar, and he wants to try them once he gets enough figures painted. He is also curious about the horse and musket period, so one way to scratch both itches is for me to pull out my AWI and give Black Powder a go. As I really don't like playing a big game when I am 'iffy' on the rules, I decided to set up a table at home and give it a go.

The Scenario

The scenario is a fictional one; something I can learn with and use some of the terrain I have been collecting and working on. I definitely wanted to use all of the hedges I have purchased (actually, bocage for 15mm Flames of War, so it is probably a bit too high for the size of hedge I want to represent in this scenario). Also, a road would look nice (even if they do have tank tread marks in them because they are also for Flames of War). So I decide to make this an attack on a plantation.


The British and Loyalists will be attacking from the South (bottom of the picture), while the Patriots will be defending the plantation.

The battle plan was relatively simple. The British would enter the board in three separate columns: left, center, and right. The left column, composed of Loyalists Provincials, would lead by marching down the road. Unbeknownst to them, the Patriots were aware of this approach and had hidden some militia and cavalry of their own in and behind the woods. Their job would be to flank the left column's attack.


The right column, composed of a converged Light Infantry battalion, a small Light Dragoon contingent, and a British Foot battalion, would approach through the woods (barely seen in the picture above) and the crops, then spring their attack as a spoiler to any attacks on the British center.

The center column, composed of British Line troops and a few small Loyalist militia units, was off of the board and unable to enter on turn one. The Commander-in-Chief figure (out of the picture) would mark where the column's center would enter, but the General would not actually be present until turn two.


Click on any pictures to enlarge.


Order of Battle

The British have three British Foot battalions, one British Light Infantry battalion, one British Light Dragoon regiment, four Loyalist Provincial battalions, and two Loyalist militia commands.

The Patriots have three militia commands, three militia rifle skirmish groups, one State rifle battalion, two Continental battalions, Hall's Delaware Blues (Continental battalion), and the Philadelphia Light Horse.

British Turn 1 - I decide to order the first Loyalist unit in the road column to advance (I indicated a spot on the table that was one move away), and change into line facing the corner of the hedges. So, with a Staff rating of '8', +2 for being in March Column on the Road, I need a '10' or less to succeed.


Great way to start and a perfect reminder about why I do not like Warmaster-style command and control systems. That, and I should not use "pink bubblegum" colored dice.

So, because the unit is in march column, it must make one move (as a free move) as that is compatible with the orders I had issued. Also, that Brigadier is now finished giving orders for the turn. Hmmm, someone must have interpreted the orders as having the first unit scout ahead!

On the opposite flank the Light Infantry are ordered forward through the woods and into the crop field in front of it. The unit is not to expose itself on the forward side of the field, but to remain hidden. I roll a '10', again barely failing. It moves forward one move and that Brigadier is finished with orders too.

As the General's figure is only on the board as a marker where the center brigade will appear, and not really on the board (he enters next turn with the last brigade), the turn is over.

Patriot Turn 1 - I just looked at the ranges again. Wow! 18" for muskets. I should probably be cutting everything down here, inches to centimeters or something, but I will go with this for the whole game. I hate changing rules before I really see their effects. As it stands, however, my unit frontages are about 2/3rds of what they suggest in the book.

I decide that I want to move my rifle unit in my right brigade out of cover into a position where it can shoot at the Loyalist militia on the road. The unit is in skirmish order, so it is really a single move to get some of the figures in a new skirmish line, and two moves to get them all sorted out (I have to move through the woods). Staff of '8' and I roll a '2'; three moves.

The militia rifles on my right (of the right brigade) also moves out, but only gets one move. I decide not to move any more of the brigade, nor any of the other brigades. Here is the situation on the Patriot right, at the end of movement.


Fire from my two units was pretty devastating. I scored four hits, none of which were saved (hard given they were caught in march column) and I rolled a '6' on hits, meaning the unit is also disordered (which is not a surprise).

Given that I inflicted exactly four hits, and no excess (this unit is a large unit), there was no Break test. Still, they are in a pretty bad way. Maybe I should have moved the Philadelphia Light Horse into position to charge after all.

A this point the Man Cave is getting too cold and it is obvious to me that I need to read the rules a little more, as I am flipping around too much looking for the answers to what I feel are basic questions. But at least I have a better idea what to look for and expect.

British Turn 2 - The first problem is the Loyalist infantry stuck on the road. As they are disordered, there is nothing I can really do (they cannot move). They will remove the disorder marker at the end of the British turn. The second Loyalist unit decides to march over the hedges and flank the right of the skirmish line. They get three orders and ... well this is why you need to measure out your moves before hand. Because I stated a long order, and got three orders, the ended up in a vulnerable position where they were still in march column, but did not have another order to change formation. This is going to hurt... The third unit in the brigade failed the roll, so that is all of the Loyalist column's movement.


The Light column started by having the Light Infantry form a line, then wheel forward to the hedge and deliver a volley into the militia. Meanwhile, the Foot Regiment continued to march in column to get around the flank. The cavalry was able to get past the hedges and execute a left face, ready to ride down the militia behind the first set of hedges. (However, they now notice the second line of militia in addition to the third line, composed of Continentals. Maybe better to wait...)


The Center column got an astounding three orders for the entire brigade, allowing them to march on all the way to the hedge line and form line of battle. The British are here!


Now it was time to fire. The British, from behind the hedges, fire at the Patriot skirmishers hiding behind their hedges. The British Foot on the left scores only one hit, but it is not saved. On the right, the British Foot and the Light Battalion fire on a single Patriot unit and score five hits, but they score an amazing four saves!

At this point it might be helpful to those that have never played Black Powder to understand how ranged combat works. Each unit has a number of dice for shooting, generally three, and to hit a 4+ is needed. There are some modifiers, both to the number of dice for firing, plus the number needed to hit. For example, the British have the First Fire ability, which grants them +1 to hit the first time the unit fires. A target in cover, or skirmishing, reduces the chance to be hit by -1. If a natural '6' is rolled, the target is disordered by the fire, even if no hits are inflicted (see morale saves below).

The target gets to attempt a save for each hit received based on the morale of the target unit. Generally the chance to save is 4+, but formation and cover can modify the chance. Being in March Column means your chance to save is worse (increasing the save number by 2 to a 6+), while being in cover decreases the save number by 1.

Once a unit equals its Stamina (generally a 3) in hits, it becomes Shaken. Once it has exceeded that value in hits it starts taking Break Tests.

Disorder is removed at the end of your player turn. Its primary penalty is that you cannot be given orders or act on initiative; you are frozen. Shaken units are penalized a die in shooting and in hand-to-hand combat.

So, with the British center engaged, we now start to see some real action.

Patriot Turn 2 - The first order on the Patriot right has got to be an attempt by the Philadelphia Light Horse to charge the Loyalists that attempted a flanking march and got stuck in March Column. I roll a '4' and ... three orders, allowing them to change formation and charge two moves! Just what I needed (two orders would have fallen short, so I was gambling)!


The skirmishing riflemen the cavalry charged through must have been surprised, as they failed their chance to receive orders.

In the left-center, the militia eye the British cavalry on the flank. They are ordered to wheel left and man the hedges to the left, giving them fire, but they think that is a damn fool idea. (They did not pass their order check)

The Continentals, meanwhile, stand pat.

As the Loyalists are in March Column, they get no Closing Fire on the charging cavalry. Meanwhile the rifle and musket fire on the right tear into the Loyalist column on the road, inflicting seven hits, of which three save. Fortunately for the Loyalists, none of the fire disordered them. Nonetheless, this causes four excess hits to be counted against their Break Test.
The chance to hit with the riflemen is a 3+, as they have +1 for being in skirmish order. Further, the rifle units are Sharpshooters so they can re-roll one miss each. With the Loyalists in March Column, they only receive a save on a '6', so they are in a bad way...
In the center, the riflemen behind the hedges open fire. The unit to the right inflicts one hit, which is not saved. The unit on the left inflicts two hits, both of which are saved. This is going to be a long firefight.
The basic odds here are that the riflemen score hits on a 3+, but can re-roll one miss each. The British, as long as they are behind the hedges, save on a 3+. If they are Crack, like the Light Battalion, they further get to re-roll failed morale saves from shooting.
With no real effect (no '6' rolled for causing Disorder), there will be no Break Tests in the center.


So now, to make the Break Test for the Loyalist unit in the center. They roll a '9', subtract -4 for the excess casualties for a total of 5. (If they had been disordered this turn they would have had an additional -1.) As they got a better than average roll, the unit was not automatically destroyed (had they rolled an '8' however...). The unit retires one move to their rear and is disordered. As they are in March Column, they automatically form into Line.


Finally, time to learn about hand-to-hand combat!
Hand-to-hand combat is much like shooting. Each unit gets a number of dice to roll, looking for a 4+ to hit. Both the number of dice and the die roll can be modified. Once the number of hits are established, morale saves are taken, except that the benefits of cover can be nullified.

In this battle the cavalry gets four dice in combat (it is a small unit), but gets +1 for charging. The infantry get six dice, but because they were caught in March Column, they only get to roll one!
The cavalry inflict three hits of which one is saved. The infantry do not inflict any hits. As the result is two hits to zero, the infantry is defeated. This forces a Break Test on the infantry, who rolls a '3' and is destroyed!
At this point the winning unit can do nothing, change formation, fall back, or make a sweeping advance, as all enemy have retired or been broken. Cavalry making a sweeping advance can charge another unit within one move (18") if they are within their front arc (45).
Unfortunately, the Loyalists that just retired in disorder is not within the front arc of the cavalry, otherwise I would push it. Also, given the Proximity of Enemy rule, any move has to be directly towards or directly away from them, which is outside of my arc. Thus, I decide to change formation to single line while also (barely) putting them in my front arc.


The turn comes to a close, but unfortunately, so does the game, as I have to pick up all the terrain and figures for my game tomorrow. This was a test of the rules and the scenario, plus getting me familiar enough to teach everyone else.

Summary

One thing I learned is that I cannot use the measurements out of the book. My units are 2/3rds the frontage of the 28mm Black Powder units, so 12" needs to be cut down to 8". This will make a 6' by 4' board feel like 9' by 6', which is a good thing.

Getting caught in March Column is deadly, which is as it should be. (I usually try out a March Column move close to the front line to test out just how bad it can be, ever since a fateful game of Napoleon's Battles.) Although the units were apart while in March Column, it is not indicative of the rules of a whole. In fact, turns seem to go in slower motion than I expected, given quick, decisive movement and long firing ranges. Unless I am doing something wrong, the basic formula is that a unit rolls three dice, needing a 4+ to inflict a hit. The enemy unit rolls to save against those hits by rolling a 4+. Three dice * 50% hit * 50% save equals about 0.75 hits a turn. With a stamina of 3, it will take about four turns of firing to match the stamina and five turns to exceed it, forcing the first break test. If the unit is Steady, it is even worse. If the unit is Crack, it is far worse. Rolling a '6' and inflicting disorder on your opponent suddenly becomes the critical tie-breaker.

Given that hand-to-hand combat has you throwing more dice, and the side that wins forces a break test regardless of how many hits have been inflicted, clearly hand-to-hand combat is the game winner. I strongly suspect that cavalry charging straight into a line is going to find the closing fire unpleasant.

I'll be honest, I was not expecting much from the rules. I figured that it would be Warmaster lightly warmed over, with a dash of Horse and Musket flavor. I think the larger distances and ranges, additional actions, and less fiddly movement rules were all refinements that appear subtle, but actually have a greater effect than you imagine when you simply read the rules. I still think their might be a problem in multi-player games, given that a bad roll early into the command phase stops you dead, so a player, regardless of the number of units he has, might be stuck doing nothing is his luck runs bad. (Again, I hearken back to a past game of Fast Play Grande Armee where I was stuck doing nothing for almost two hours. But hey, I met Justo at that game, so it was not all bad.)

I am definitely looking forward to replaying this scenario – with some appropriate changes – tomorrow.

More 6mm Napoleonics

I finished some more 6mm Napoleonics, in between playing a test game of DBA 3.0, stickering my new copy of Command and Colors: Ancients Expansion Pack #6: The Spartans, leafing through my new copy of Command and Colors: Napoleonics Expansion #1: The Spanish Army, and Memoir '44's Campaign Book, Volume 2. Yeah, Santa was good to me this year, but it got Mrs. Claus muttering about "spending too much on toys".

The first two items are some that I painted, unlike most of my 6mm. On the left is the Russian Pavlov Grenadiers and the right some Russian Grenadiers. The Pavlov figures, of course, are the new sculpts and these Russian Grenadiers are the old sculpts in the shako.


The Pavlov figures are very paintable. Sometimes, however, I wish Baccus would go the old Scruby miniature route and not try and cast on the detail. For example, the bands on the back of the mitre are visible on the casting and they actually interfere with painting them freehand with a 20/0 liner brush. Minor complaint, I know, as the figure is just fantastically easy to paint.

Its brother on the right, however ... These are old sculpts, and I am seriously thinking of selling all of the unpainted ones. First, the legs tend to be malformed with random bits of metal sticking here and there. The shako plumes, which is really the key characteristic that defines these figures as being grenadiers, is weedy and weak. The bayonets were where the vent holes were apparently, so they are weak and ill-formed. They definitely have to be clipped in order to give them any shape.


All that said, I think they both turned out rather well. The Pavlov Grenadiers definitely look the part of Ms(E)!

Next are some Prussian Landwehr light cavalry, painted by DJD Miniatures Painting Service. The eight figure units are definitely growing on me, plus I now have one figure, painted correctly to match the unit, as a marker.


The DJD brush work is simply top-notch. The shako cords, cross belt, and straps on the bed roll are crisp and pop right off of the figure. Unfortunately, DJD has taken to basing the figures on the Polemos system, so I cannot buy them on eBay anymore when they pop up.

I am starting to look at the 6mm Napoleonics on Reinforcements by Post. Apparently they paint some stock but don't immediately base, so they may be able to send me some unbased. If I get them, I will definitely post the results here, in case anyone else is interested in them.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

6mm Napoleonics

Well, I threatened to start re-basing my 6mm Napoleonics and that is what I have been doing in my spare time. I decided that I wanted them to be on 40mm wide hexes, as I would be able to use them for games that use 40mm frontage for 15mm figures; I would just be using more figures. Also, 40mm bases fit comfortably in a Heroscape hex, and I want to get back to grid-based wargaming. (Bending over the table and measuring is affecting my back! )

I will start with a single base equals a "unit" (whatever that might be, depending upon the rules). There are some new hex-based Napoleonics rules I want to try and a base is a battalion. For De Bellis Napoleonicis a single base is a brigade. Either way, 40mm by 20mm works for infantry, 40mm by 30mm works for cavalry, and 40mm square works for artillery.

First up are some Russian Cossacks. I've used nine figures on a 40mm by 30mm Litko 3mm thick, wooden base. I placed them about randomly so I could tell that they are rated as Irregular Cavalry in DBN.


The fact that I did not paint black dots for the eyes is starkly apparent in this magnified photograph, but it is not when you look at them at half arm's length.

Next are Russian Dragoons on the left and Prussian Dragoons on the right. Same size base. The Russians have nine figures and you can see that leaves you with uneven ranks. Why nine? Well, Baccus cavalry is sold with nine cavalry being the standard unit size. With the Prussians I decided to try eight figures and I can say I like the effect just as well. As all of my cavalry is painted in sets of nine, I thought about using the extra figure as a marker for that particular unit. I could put it on a 1/2" square base, for example. Some rules that might indicate disorder, or blown horses after a charge, could use this unit-specific marker for that purpose.


So, I've resolved that I will now base my units in groups of eights. Rather than re-basing the three Russian stands I just based, I will probably use delicate surgery and extract one figure, then use some clump foliage to fide the "hole" – or maybe even paint it as a hole in the ground!

Next up is the Russian infantry (musketeers). They are on 40mm by 20mm bases, 16 figures to the base. Baccus sells them as units of 24, so at some point I will have extra units without flags, which is fine.


Although I only have four bases showing, I have based up eight so far.

By the way, all of the 6mm miniatures shown have been painted by DJD Miniature Painting Service. I have bought French, Austrian, Russian, and Prussian 6mm Napoleonic armies from DJD, along with quite a few 15mm AWI units, and even a few 15mm Napoleonic units (for skirmish gaming). I have been tempted to buy more painted 6mm troops from them, but they are now selling them pre-based to the Polemos basing system (60mm by 30mm), which I do not use.

My plan is to start with a single base as a unit, then work up to two bases per unit so I can show formations, then four bases per unit so I can use them for Lasalle and Neil Thomas' Napoleonic Wargaming, both of which use four bases per unit. I will probably not go to six bases per unit, except for the Austrian large units. This means that the units will be on the small side for Black Powder, but for now I am limiting those rules to the AWI and FPW (the latter in 6mm also).

Right now I have enough musketeer units based up for a basic 12 AP Russian list. All I need are a couple of Elite Musket units (Grenadiers or Guards), Light Infantry units (Jagers), and artillery. I have the artillery already painted, and heavy cavalry (cuirassiers) if I need them, but have to paint the Grenadiers and Jagers. I recently ordered more Baccus Russians from Scale Creep Miniatures, but this time I got the new Russian sculpts. As I had just finished painting some Russian Grenadiers that were the old sculpts, I can honestly say that the difference is tremendous, especially in the area of paintability. I am strongly tempted to sell my unpainted Russians that are the old sculpts! I will probably never get to them anyway, as I am now painting the new sculpts first.

As an aside, I also painted some Baccus 6mm Bavarian infantry from the Franco-Prussian War line, and those are some of the best Baccus sculpts I have seen. So easy to paint. For the FPW I am basing one strip (four figures) onto a 1" by 1/2" base, six formed bases to a unit, plus three skirmisher bases (two figures on a 1/2" square base) added. That makes each unit 36 figures – 24 formed and 12 skirmisher – and a 6" frontage. Much more spaced out than the Napoleonics, but still has mass. I will be using these with Black Powder. If those rules don't work out then I may blow the dust off of my copies of 1870, They Died for Glory, and Chassepot and Needlegun and finally give them a try. Although, it might be cool to convert Square Bashing to the FPW.

Once the basic Russian DBN list is done I will switch to the French so I can get down to playing some games!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Review of Axis and Allies Naval Miniatures: War at Sea

I have a friend from work visiting and he is a real WW I and WW II naval buff, but he has not really been able to find rules that suit him. We went down to a local hobby shop (Orbital Games, if you must know) to show some support and run through a game or three of the test version of De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA) 3.0 and maybe a game of Command and Colors: Napoleonics when lo and behold, there was a copy of Axis and Allies Naval Miniatures: War at Sea on the shelf for Chris to buy.

I was vague acquainted with the game, but not the rules, as I had seen the game on other hobby shops' shelves for some time now. I first began to wonder about the game itself, however, when I saw it being played at the MAG-Con II convention in Houston, TX. I was rather surprised to see it being played, and by so many people (about six, if I recall). I asked one of the convention organizers about the game and he indicated that yes, it was popular, as far a 'light' wargames go. This had me mildly intrigued, as I always like light wargames for certain moods, but I have never been a big naval fan, and less so for post-'Age of Sail', so I never picked it up when I saw it.

Chris cracked open the starter box, which contains two double-sided maps, two 'big boys' (heavy cruisers, battleships, I don't remember), two smaller (light cruisers, I believe), aircraft, submarines, counters, four dice, and stat cards for everything. Note that the starter box does not contain random miniatures, like the booster boxes do.

We played the starter scenario, which does not include movement, and basically just fired at each other, turn after turn, until someone sank. (What do you expect for a starter, learning scenario?) Shooting is fairly simple: your ships are rated for the number of dice to throw at a given range (play in on an offset square grid), with gunnery scoring 1 hit for each '4' or '5' thrown and 2 hits for each '6'. Compare the number of hits to the target's armor to see if you score one damage to the hull. If you score hits equal to the target's vital armor, the ship is destroyed. Once a ship is lowered to one remaining hull it is crippled; once it drops to zero it is destroyed and sunk.

There are additional types of weapons, torpedoes, bombs, ASW, anti-air, and so on, and each of these have their own mechanisms but fall along the same lines as gunnery. Torpedoes, for example, only hit on a '6', but score two hull hits automatically. There are also a number of special rules that modify the basic mechanics, such as torpedo defense, which lowers the hull hit to one, or long-lance torpedoes, which increases the hull hits to three, slow movement, troop carrying, escort fighters and so one.

The game includes a point system, which is also used for determining victory, and a basic game is 100 points of ships per side and 150 victory points to win (you can score victory points by being the first to take objectives on the board). Using the point system you can buy a fleet and try out different combinations. On our third game Chris used a battleship and an aircraft carrier with fighter bombers and torpedo bombers. My task force was a battleship, two cruisers, a landing craft, a submarine, and land-based bombers. It was an interesting mix and it really showed us a lot of the game mechanics in action.

When I first read the rules I thought that the game would simply be a die-rolling contest. In a one ship-on-one ship game, it obviously is. But when you start to get to two ships per side, unless both ships have equal characteristics (which is boring) you do start to get some tactical play. You tend to play more defensively when you've lost the initiative and spring your ambushes when you have won it.

What makes this game good, mechanically, is that it is not your traditional IGO-UGO sequence, which leads to "Gotcha'" gaming (games where you can move and attack before the defender has a chance to react, leading to situations of gotcha'!). Players roll for initiative each turn, with the highest roller going second. Each phase is then conducted with the initiative loser going first and the initiative winner going second. The key, however, is that no effect occur until the end of the phase, so if the first player sinks a ship in the Surface Action phase, the second player still attacks at the full capability it had at the start of the phase.

Being a collectible miniatures game, and one that comes out with successive editions, however, leads me to believe that it will turn out like all before it, eventually degenerating into certain killer units that are always purchased and that beat all comers a greater percentage of the time, thereby rendering the purchase of the non-super units a waste of time and money. Word on the forums is that the Axis units don't have as good a selection of super units as the Allies do, so the Axis will probably lose the majority of the time given their lack of access.

The problem might lie with the inability of the medium-sized units to take down the big boys at all. After all, that is a classic match-up – quantity versus quality – so if the rules favor quality over quantity (or vice versa) the strategy of unit selection is probably already decided. Maybe I am being too pessimistic.

All of that said, generally it is great fun finding out the best strategy and units until you do find that breaking point, and the rules do seem to recognize common design problems and overcome them. I can see myself playing this a fair bit, but not in investing in it. As it stands, there is a Vassal module for the game, so the purchase of the miniatures is not strictly necessary. That is probably how I will play it in the future, especially as Chris lives in Ohio and only visits about once every two or three months.

So, final assessment is that it is a fun game, but probably one of those that you don't want to play all of that often so you don't hit upon the super strategy too soon.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Started the Solo Battles Blog

In an attempt to focus this blog more - I like using it for rules reviews, rules discussions, battle reports, and general gaming discussions - I have decide to move all of my solo gaming efforts to my new blog Solo Battles. This blog will be dedicated to my solo gaming efforts - save for the specific effort of solo gaming development for DBA - whether it be battle reports or the development of solo gaming mechanism. It is my intent to discuss solo gaming mechanisms - applied to commercial or freely available rule sets, both miniatures and board games - then show them in practice in later battle reports. So expect battle reports there to be more 'mechanical' in description, than entertaining (although I will still try to make them an interesting read).

For the most part that means no real change to the content here. I have posted several battle reports here played solo, but I have not really stressed the solo aspect of the games at all. So, if you think you might be interested in reading about solo gaming mechanisms, head on over to my new blog. I've already gotten started by looking at gaming solo with the Command and Colors family of board games (Battle Card Driven and Hand Management systems).

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Time to Re-Base the 6mm Napoleonics

Time to re-base my 6mm Napoleonics, because in their current configuration:
  1. They do not get used enough.
    1. Too many different basing schemes I started, but did not finish.
    2. Many schemes are not compatible with enough rules I am interested in trying.
  2. Those rules that the basing schemes are compatible with – rules that allow "any" basing scheme – play better if the "recommended" scheme is used.
  3. Of the three schemes currently in use: one uses bases too small for what I want; one uses bases too large for what I want; and one looks too thin and scraggly for 6mm.
So, it is time to re-base (or sell them, which I cannot bear the thought of doing). I am looking about about 1,200 infantry, 400 cavalry, and maybe 20 artillery (no limbers). Who knows how many Commanders.

I have decided to use 40mm wide by 20mm deep bases for infantry, 40mm square for artillery, and possibly 40mm wide by 30mm deep for cavalry (still thinking on that last one). A 40mm stand allows me to have eight files wide and two ranks deep (16 figures) for the infantry. Three ranks deep would look strange because the ratio of unit frontage to depth would be way off for most rules. This allows a Baccus "unit" to be stretched to 1 1/2 bases with the new scheme. It also allows me to use 40mm or 2" hexes (the former is the size of Heroscape hexes) and the units will fit inside nicely.

The rules I am looking to use are:
  • De Bellis Napoleonicus (DBN) - 1 base per element/unit
  • Lasalle - 4 bases per battalion (six for Austrian "big" battalions)
  • Black Powder - probably four bases per battalion also (three for small and six for large)
  • A Borg-inspired design of my own
  • Possibly even Napoleon at War - I have purchased, but not received these yet. Heard good things about them, however.
I'll post pictures as I get some bases done. As it is 6mm, and the bases are so small, you cannot really get very "dioramic" with them, as I did in the past.
If I like Black Powder I may do the same thing with my 6mm collection of American Civil War, which has never seen a game. Still looking for a set of rules for the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Wasn't keen on 1870 or They Died for Glory. Still looking.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Fine Art of Writing Battle Reports

Disclaimer: all of the following is, of course, simply my opinion of magazines and journals and their content, and the entertainment or practical value of that content. You may not agree, and if so, sound off. That said, I also realize that my own battle reports do not always meet up the the ideals I list below.
The subject of writing battle reports (or after action reports - AARs) was raised a few months back on the Old School Wargaming forum on Yahoo and I did an entry in response, and I recently ranted a little more about it on the Solo Wargame forum, with regards to battle reports in magazines, so I thought I would elaborate a little more here.

The subject came up due to a open forum question about whether I was a subscriber to Lone Warrior magazine and if not, why not. I had subscribed to that journal (I hesitate to call it a magazine, and it is more substantial than a newsletter) for several years, but after awhile I found myself disappointed after I read each new issue. There was usually at least one interesting item, but it often seemed that there was rarely anything usable. Having read a number of back issues from MAGWEB (when it had been up and running), it seemed like the content of the journal had drifted over time.

I know this is starting to sound like a knock, but it is not intended to be. Lone Warrior actually did pretty good for basically being written by a small core of the subscribers in what is a very niche part of the wargaming hobby, which many might consider itself niche. Where this is all leading is that Lone Warrior (LW), like another wargaming journal I tried out, Classic Wargamer's Journal (CWJ) both were comprised largely of one type of article: battle (or campaign) reports. And that is where this entry's subject comes in.

First off, one wonders whether battle reports should even be fodder for a wargaming magazine or a journal. Generally, one's games are pretty personal and the ability of the author to convey the sense of "being there" is usually pretty limited. That is why, for me, a battle report that is simply a narrative has little value.

So, what constitutes a good battle report - one that would get me to read it? Consider the following elements:
  • Narrative
  • Maps
  • Scenario
  • Pictures
  • Game Mechanics
  • Analysis
Narrative

A good narrative (story) makes for interesting reading. But, unless you are looking for a little historical fiction at whatever level the author is writing at, a good story is just not enough. As I am a competitive sort I am always looking at the decisions gamers make at critical points in a game. Why did you advance into range there? What were you thinking the result would be before the move? Was your thinking correct? What should you have done or considered first? As I am also an inquisitive sort that looks at battle reports using rules I don't know, narratives typically tell me nothing about the rules themselves because a narrative itself should probably be "rules agnostic".

So, does a narrative have a place in battle reports? Yes. From the reader's perspective anything that helps you "get into the game" is positive. That said a narrative does not need to be a fictional account of the characters on the table top, it can be of the players itself. I have seen more swings in a battle from the player's morale being broken than from a mass rout by the figures on the table. Sometimes recording that actually helps the reader understand just why it all fell apart. Of course, if your opponent's read your blog, you might not want to say "It was at this point my opponent burst into tears like a little girl."

Maps

Maps are incredibly important for helping the reader understand the action, especially in a very fluid game where it is hard to keep track of who is where. For example, in Flames of War a doubling Fast or Light tank could move 32", which is pretty darn far on a standard 6' by 4' table. So a reference like "the Stuarts on the left flank doubled" on one turn might be "the Stuarts attacked on the right" the next turn after having moved 32" + 16" in the course of the two turns.

So, maps help the reader understand the lay of the land, what might be challenging in a scenario, where action occurs from turn-to-turn, and act as an aid in re-creating the action for themselves.

Scenario

To me, including the necessary information for the reader to recreate the action for themselves - publishing the necessary scenario information - is what sets Battlegames and Wargames Illustrated apart from the other magazines and journals. In Battlegames you have Charles Grant's Tabletop Teasers and in Wargames Illustrated you usually have a historical scenario for Flames of War.

Sometimes just describing the scenario, if it is a standard mission, is helpful for those reading the report but who do not play the rules you used, as they can get a better sense as to why the players might have made specific decisions during game play.

Pictures

Pictures have always been an interesting topic for me, as I am never sure exactly what I should be taking a picture of. I used to take pictures of just the whole board, so the reader can get an idea of the entire battle. But then I got suggestions to add "action" pictures that focused in on a specific part of the battle, so the figures could be seen better. I admit that with some of my earlier battle reports, you couldn't really tell what happened from turn-to-turn unless you were flipping back and forth between the pictures. (That lead me to once try a stop-motion picture sequence to show off a battle.)

One thing I do not like is using stock photographs of battles, but not of the one you are describing.  Either show an overview of the battle or show a specific combat up close. Beyond that, I am not really sure what works.

Game Mechanic

A friend of mine used to say about the rules Column, Line, and Square, "Don't look at the mechanics of the rules, look at the end results." I like it when a battle report points out how the effects of a game mechanic elegantly reflects (our perception of) how it is "really supposed to be". Also, a discussion of tweaking the mechanics is always thought-provoking and interesting, even if I don't agree with the change. For those that don't know the rules and are curious about how the play, mechanics discussions usually help. That said, referring to the mechanics over and over in battle report after battle report can get tedious, for both the reader and the author. Maybe it is best to write a one-time review of the rules you use and provide a link in your battle reports. Food for thought...

Analysis

Being an analytical sort of guy it naturally comes out in my writing. I also like it in the battle reports that I read. A lot of it is "what if?" but the main thing is that it leads to discussion. One of my most popular battle reports (by page view count and comment count) was K√∂nigstiger versus Strelkovy. This generated a lot of comment on this blog and on the forums where I posted the link. A lot of it centered around the flaws in my analysis  but it was still good discussion!

Summary

So, there you have it. My favorite elements to a good battle report. You can be the judge on my ability to meet that bar. I know that I often do not include all of these elements, which makes me question why bother doing it if I am not going to do it right.

While writing this blog entry I decided to look back and see how some of my battle reports did, in terms of page views and comments. Here is a list, as of 20 November, 2011.

Battle ReportCommentsViews
DBAWI Game2112
DBAWI Game #214
Two More DBAWI Games048
DBA Game: Early Libyans versus Early Bedouins058
Another DB-AWI Game014
First HOTR Game04
DB-AWI Version 2 - Battle Report079
DBA Solo Hoplite Campaign - Game 10219
DBA Solo Hoplite Campaign - Game 2047
DBA Hoplite Campaign - Spring 479 B.C. - Spartan Move0186
Stop-Motion DBA Battle142
DBA Hoplite Campaign - Spring 479 B.C. - Thessalian Move140
American War of Independence Wargaming0243
DBA Solo Game - Baltic Greeks vs. Skythians4674
Solo Memoir '44 Game - Pacific Theater #49 - Wake Island0273
Oinking Good Fun025
DBA Battle Report using Battle Chronicler0102
NUTS! Battle Report0758
Flying Lead Game at MAG-Con II2436
Mixing Flying Lead and NUTS!079
Flying Lead - Western Union047
Command and Colors: Napoleonics - Vimiero5192
Playtest - Easting the White Dog144
Playtest - New AWI Rules2183
AWI Playtest using Ganesha Games' Sixty-One Sixty-Five (Part 1)0351
AWI Playtest using "Sixty-One Sixty-Five" (Part 2)0107
TWTUD Playtest038
TWTUD Playtest Part 2233
TWTUD Playtest Part 3035
The Battle of Trautenau11123
Task Force A List in Flames of War0112
Interesting FOW Game (1)033
Interesting FOW Game (2)019
Interesting FOW Game (3)029
Interesting FOW Game (Summary)030
Battle of Burtki (Korsun Pocket Campaign)230
German Maneuvers: A Blue-on-Blue Game of FOW066
Königstiger versus Strelkovy6537
Infantry Aces Cassino Game 01274
Infantry Aces Cassino Game 02047
Infantry Aces Cassino Game 03049
BattleLore on the Tabletop (Part 1)6222
BattleLore on the Tabletop (Part 2)092
Here Comes the Red Dragon061
Here Comes the Red Dragon (Part 2)242
Skirmish in the Spanish Countryside0312
1 This was a guest blogger report and not one done by me.

As I review the list above, something becomes quite obvious: pageview count is directly related not to the quality of the battle report, but to how widely you publicize the battle report in other forums.

Well, now you have the list. You can judge for yourself how many times I myself didn't meet my own exacting standards!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Skirmish in the Spanish Countryside

Today is not only Veteran's Day in the United States of America, but it is Solo Gaming Appreciation Day (11/11/11 - all ones, get it?), so I have decided to celebrate both, and give me a little inspiration to get back to building more wooden soldiers by playing a game of Napoleonics using the rules Song of Drums and Shakos by Ganesha Games.

Changes to the Rules

This game I will experiment with the activation and turn-over rule changes I previously discussed. In a nutshell those changes are that two or three failures does not turn-over, but rather forfeits the next turn fort the figure (or group!) that failed.

The Scenario

My scenario is a simple one: A British party is moving supplies to local Spaniards in order to encourage them to actively attack the French in the area. They are to leave extra ammunition at a local's house when they come out of a gully and blunder into the French, who have arrived at the house ahead of the British and are searching for contraband. The scene starts with two sentries on a hill, guarding against suspected Spanish guerrillas while the remainder of the French ransack the house. The regimental vivandiere has come out provide the sentries refreshments (that she conveniently found in the house) when the British stumble out of the gully.


The two sides.


Although this shows British Light Dragoons, they never made it into the game.


The left picture is the view from the French side; the center from the British side. On the right it shows the French sentries and the vivandiere serving them.

The Game

The British truly do stumble out of the brush, as they are essentially divided into three clusters: those that moved two moves (five men), those that moved one move (four men and the Sergeant), and those that moved none.


For simplicity I allowed those British that failed twice to simply not move this turn, but still allow them another chance next turn. In exchange for that, no British figure could roll three dice for activation on the first turn. After the first turn, however, the rule changes would be in effect...
The French sentry easily spotted the British thrashing around noisily in the tall grass, called out the alarm, and fired off a shot (missing however). The second sentry, quickly handing the vivandiere back the cup of Spanish wine, raced up the slope to see what was happening.


The British Sergeant, calling orders from the rear while yelling at the stragglers behind, order the forward group to form line and volley fire upon the sentry. With a roar from five muskets, the French sentry goes down, instantly killed. The remaining British troops quicken their pace, knowing that this is no longer going to be a simple task of handing out information and trying to impress the local senoritas...


The surviving sentry quickly fires his musket at the British line, luckily winging one private (who is knocked down), before retiring behind the safety of the hill.

With the alarm raised the French officer inside the house calls to the drummer to beat out Assembly. The French private quickly stream out the door and form line ... right in front of the British who have just finished firing their volley and are quickly attempting to reload.


Continuing to shout orders, the British Sergeant tells the second group to swing to the left and give the French a volley, which they do. One more French private goes down (although he is only out of action.) Apparently the right group was waiting for orders as, other the the private knocked down and who got up, all failed to reload their muskets!


The French officer runs out of the house screaming "Pour l'Empereur, de charge!" (forgive my Google French), and away charges four of his privates, heading straight for the British line.

This turn saw the French desperately gamble and roll three dice for practically every figure and group. Three figures, including the French sergeant, turned over, however, indicating they will lose their next turn completely.
The Sergeant screams "Fire at will!" and promptly steps into a hole, distracting him.
I rolled three dice for every British private, but only rolled two for the Sergeant and yet he still turned over!
All along the line the British reload and fire. One of the French privates goes down and two flinch, but still they come on. Notably, however, the French group is now broken (figures no longer touching), so they cannot receive a group order.


The French charge the end of the line, but the distance is too much of a strain; the British are able to stave off the French bayonets, even looking grim for the French next turn.


The British counter-attack was weak on the flank, but in the center the privates advanced forward, bayoneting the downed French private and even taking a pot shot at the French officer, knocking him to the ground with the blast of the powder charge.


The French officer is merely fazed, however, as he leaps to his feet and (foolishly) charges into combat - and promptly knocked down again. (This is a much deadlier situation, however. I can see now that the Officer should probably be Combat of 3 if I am going to throw him into hand-to-hand combat.)


The British mercilessly bayonet the downed French officer (it took two to get him), forcing a morale check. The drummer boy, who was defending the officer when he was killed, failed morale completely and ran from the combat. Four men (and one woman) retreated in all, but the French Sergeant was steadfast. (No really, he has the skill Steadfast!)


With the French having five out of 12 men dead, it looks like it is time to beat a hasty retreat. Amazingly, the one private in hand-to-hand combat makes his roll for two actions and survives the free hack. The French Sergeant heroically charges the end of the line and takes a powerful swing with his deadly halberd - and barely survives being knocked down despite being +3 to the dice and his opponent only being +1!


Summary

It has been awhile since I have played any skirmish games, especially Song of Drums and Shakos, so I forgot some of the "do's and don'ts". For example, don't put your leader out there in danger. In fact, don't commit him to combat at all. He is there just to give group orders and add 1 to the Quality checks of everyone else within a Long.

Even a combat "monster" like the French Sergeant can't go into hand-to-hand combat unsupported. Even having a halberd, a Combat of 3, and Strong (+1 to Combat in hand-to-hand) can't overcome two or three average soldiers (Combat of 2) in hand-to-hand.

Where the French attack broke apart was basically from the start. The French were piecemeal and the British were concentrated. Rather than moving so far forward with the French group it should have assembled farther back and awaited the Officer and Sergeant to bring up the rear before attacking. I just felt like "quick, charge before they reload". Problem was, they had those little pointy things at the end of their unloaded muskets, and in the final analysis, the French were no better in hand-to-hand than were the British. Ah well, that is what you get for rushing (in more ways than one). I still enjoyed it and I got to pull off my Solo Gaming Appreciation Day game.

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").