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.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

AWI Playtest using Ganesha Games' "Sixty-One Sixty-Five" (Part 1)

Still hankering for some AWI action I decided to playtest another set of rules. In a recent email I discussed how some rules seem straight forward and you can almost predict how they will play ... until you actually do play them when you realize there are some subtleties there that you did not recognize. That is one of the reasons I have started pulling out old rules, especially the free ones available online, giving them another read, and then giving them a try.

Today's playtest is using Ganesha Games' Sixty-One Sixty-Five rules for the ACW, which are billed as:
Company-level American Civil War game based on the popular Song of Blades mechanics. Playable with 40-100 miniatures per side in less than two hours, ‘61-‘65 puts you in command of a Union or Confederate Company...
My variant, which I dubbed Seventy-Five Eighty-Three, uses the same rules with only minor variations, which are as follows:
  • Each Squad does not provide Skirmishers. A unit, if capable, may operate as Skirmishers. A Skirmisher unit does not require Command and Control elements (Sergeant, Leader, etc.).
  • Units in melee with bayonets fighting against units without bayonets (riflemen and some militia) are advantaged (+1 to the die roll).
That was it. As I was using neither artillery nor cavalry, I did not need to modify any of the rules there, but I can see modifying the cavalry charge rules a bit.

Basically the idea is take a number of 4-8 figure Squads, group them in twos and add a Sergeant to make a Section, group those in twos and add a Lieutenant to make a platoon, and group those in twos and add a Captain, Drummer, and Standard Bearer to make a Company.

Setup

This game used the same board and figures as the last game, maybe fewer, but not by much, so it was as follows:
  • Patriots
    • 8 Skirmisher pairs (on 2-man bases) with rifles and no bayonets, Q3, C2, Resolve
    • 4 Miltia Squads of 6 (on 3-man bases) with muskets and no bayonets, Q5, C2
    • 4 Continental Squads of 6 (on 3-man bases) with muskets and bayonets, Q4, C2
    • 4 Sergeants
    • 2 Lieutenants
    • 1 Captain, Standard Bearer, and Drummer
  • British and Loyalists
    • 2 Provincial Loyalist Squads of 6 (on 3-man bases) with muskets and bayonets, Q4, C2
    • 4 British Foot Squads of 6 (on 3-man bases) with muskets and bayonets, Q4, C2
    • 2 British Grenadier Squads of 6 (on 3-man bases) with muskets and bayonets, Q3, C2
    • 4 Sergeants
    • 2 Lieutenants
    • 1 Captain, Standard Bearer, and Drummer
In hindsight it probably would have been good to give the British some Skirmishers too. I was thinking that 1/2 the Patriot force should be able to produce Skirmishers, while maybe 1/4 to 1/3 of a British force should be able to do the same.

The figure on the right (click to see an larger version) shows the setup. As this board does not have enough depth for the range of muskets, the British pretty much snuck up somehow, so I decided to give the Patriots the first turn, reflecting their chance to fire now that the British have moved up into 'Whites of the Eyes' territory.

Note that the Continentals (Regulars) guard the flanks should the British attempt to sweep around, but if the center is penetrated too badly, they can wheel in to attempt to stem the advance while the riflemen (Skirmishers) move to the flanks.

There is just not enough depth to this board to do the three lines of defense in depth, as with Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse. Such is life; this is a playtest, not a scenario that I will repeat with other gamers.

Just an editorial note: when "speaking" as the Crown's side, I will refer to the other side as "Rebels", while using the term "Patriots" when speaking as the side against the Crown. I generally use "Loyalists" to represent those North Americans that fought on the side of the Crown, but occasionally call them "Provincials" when speaking as the British. Note that Loyalist Provincials and Loyalist Militia are two different things, the former being generally well regarded, and the latter not.

Patriot Turn 1

The first Patriot turn started out quite slow as I forgot the magical powers of the Skirmishers, that being a Quality of 3 and the Resolve attribute. I was activating on a 5+ instead of the 2+ indicated in the rules. Thus, only two of the four Skirmishers on the left flank activated, as I was unwilling to roll too many dice and turn over quickly.

You can see the results in the figure below. The right-most British Squad had two Shaken soldiers (represented by the number of pips on the black die; a red die will represent the number of figures eliminated). Note that, with an initial Squad size of 6, this unit is already down to the minimum size squad (4). The Corporals better start getting to work!


British Turn 1

A general advance across the front ensues with the left half of each section mysteriously advancing faster their their counterparts in the right half, in all four sections!

In all cases, the British withheld their fire, preferring to keep moving as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the Corporal on the one Squad gets rallies no soldiers and simply shoves them back into line as they attempt to head to the rear and 'retrieve more ammunition'.
Shaken soldiers still count as a part of the Squad for morale purposes, but do not for fighting purposes. So a Squad with 6 soldiers, but 2 being Shaken, count as a Small Squad. The size of the Squad is important because a Small Squad is -1 in firing or melee, while a Large Squad is +1.


At one point I had a Squad of 4 with 2 Shaken soldiers fired upon. The question is: what happens? When a Squad is reduced to 3 figures or less, it automatically Routs. However, this Squad only counted as 2 figures for combat, not morale, but the combat modifiers for a Small Squad are for 4-5 figures. Would a Squad of 1-3 figures be -2? Would it Rout if shot at? Writing a message on the Song of Blades Yahoo Forum, an answer came forth quickly: a Small Squad is 5 or less.
Patriot Turn 2

The Patriots continued to wait for the British to advance into range. More of the rifles engaged the British advancing up the hill (I had found the rule about their correct chances for activation) and started blazing at the forward unit.

When a unit fires, the enemy (target) unit can decided whether or not to return fire if it has a loaded weapon. In this case Skirmishers with rifles were firing upon a British Squad with loaded muskets, so the latter had the opportunity to return fire. Given that the tactic I wanted to use was that as documented in the book With Zeal and with Bayonets Only, I decided that as the British were in easy charge range (one move action), they would fire and charge. So, it seemed reasonable that this return fire represents the British volley just before going in with the bayonet. Besides, by returning fire, you get to add the modifier for the weapon to your die roll (+2 for a musket at short range), which makes it harder for the enemy to beat your roll. I envisioned this increase chance of survival as the British shouting Huzzah! after their volley and before charging.

As you can see in the figure below, however, it did not work so well. The British unit also acquired two Shaken soldiers.


British Turn 2

The British are again able to surge forward, the right halves of the sections now mysteriously able to move twice while the left halves only move once! How is that for "average results"?

This was when I found out a neat little rule in '61-'65 that convinced me that these rules would work out well for me: when formed troops (Squads) move into contact with Skirmishers, there is no melee; the Squads simply keep moving, sweeping the Skirmishers aside. The Skirmishers retreat back without being forced to take a morale check, neatly allowing them to retire without fear, yet not creating an unrealistic situation where the Squad must melee the Skirmishers with a high chance of success. To me, this is a preferable result to, say, having Skirmishers take casualties or formed troops be forced to stop moving and melee. The rules will have to change a bit for cavalry charging skirmishers, but that will come later.

So the British on the right flank sweep most of the riflemen from the hill, opening the way to attack through the woods. Meanwhile, the Loyalists break out of the woods, advance up the slope, and open fire on a Skirmisher. Here is where I wanted to test formed unit firing on Skirmishers. Essentially, skirmisher fire should be harassing fire. In these rules it is, as one soldier becomes Shaken if the Squad is beaten, two become Shaken if the Squad is doubled, and only if the Squad is tripled does a soldier get eliminated. On the flip side, the Skirmishers tend to be forced to retreat if beaten or doubled, and lose a figure (and must retreat) if tripled. So, formed fire is not wholly effective against Skirmishers either. This is how I think it should be. Good job Sergio. (And good job Willy [the Editor] for ensuring that the rules were written clearly and concisely. Sixty-One Sixty-Five are some of the tightest rules Ganesha Games has produced to date.)

With Corporals continuing to fail to rally the troops, you can see the results below: three British units with Shaken soldiers. The attack on the right is quickly bogging down.


Patriot Turn 3

The Patriot riflemen quickly recover their composure and start forming on the flank, ready to pour some more fire into the British that stick their noses over the ridge.

The riflemen on the right flank start to engage the Loyalists on the opposing ridge while one engages the British Grenadiers. Everywhere the rifles dominate, out-rolling the British in every single instance. Part of that is the odds. When you return fire - because the action is 'free' - it is made at -1 to the combat roll. On the other hand, the Patriots are either +0 or +1 to the roll, depending upon whether they have spent one or two actions on firing. Given that they activate on a 2+, many of these are aimed shots, so it is no wonder that that the Patriots tend to win these firefights (being +1 versus the British -1). Of course, if the enemy cannot return fire it gets even worse for them.
I like that the riflemen have a better chance for aiming, but I feel like they activate a little too frequently. Something to ponder as another difference between '61-'65 and '75-'83.
Meanwhile, in the center, with the British now in range the Militia start to engage. Unlike the riflemen, these boys are Q5, C2, muskets and no bayonets. getting an aimed shot off is not easy. Only one Squad gets to activate and fire, with the British obliging and returning fire.

You can see the damage from all this firing below. The Loyalists now have 4 Shaken soldiers! They are a Small Squad now, so they are really on the losing side of this firefight. The other Loyalist platoon is going to have to do something quick before this Squad routs! In the center the militia gave better than it got, inflicting a single loss on the British. However, they eye the British warily, who seem to be cheering as their officers exhort them with "Give these Rebel dogs some steel, boys!". On the left the sole riflemen still on the ridge have managed to inflict a loss on the British (they tripled their combat roll!), resulting in half of them being dead or shaken.


British Turn 3

Again, this turn reflects why I like the feel of these rules so much. The British Grenadiers are ordered up the ridge and they move down the rifle line, sweeping them away, like flies off of the wounded Loyalists. This one move sends three Skirmisher stands running to the rear.

Unfortunately, that is about all the British accomplish as they have a disastrous turn-over with the second, which the re-roll from the Drummer cannot even prevent.

The figure below shows a close-up of the Grenadiers' charge. Glorious, is it not?


Patriot Turn 4

Of course, even better than the Grenadiers easily swatting away skirmishers as if they were flies, are those same skirmishers buzzing off somewhere else, as their morale is neither broken, nor their numbers reduced. In this case the rifles head off to the right flank so they can swing onto the flank of the Loyalists, which are looking pretty grim right now.

Meanwhile in the center, the right-hand militia reloads while the left-hand militia unloads into the British line, which returns fire.

Finally, two Continental units move forward, the one on the right to threaten the Grenadiers, which took a volley from the other Maryland Continental unit, and the North Carolina Continentals on the left moving forward into the woods, to stop the British advance now that the rifles have left a gap in the line.

In the figures below you can see the Grenadiers took a hit from the North Carolina Continentals fire. The Loyalists now have 5 out of 6 soldiers Shaken. The Corporal is falling down on the job and this is looking serious! The British Foot in the center shows that the British are on the losing end of the firefight. The unit on the left has lost one man while the unit on the right has lost two. Finally the British on the far right are looking particularly bad with two men lost and two Shaken. Their fire is completely ineffective if they do not rally the Shaken soldiers.

I am beginning to get several impressions from this playtest that will help me tweak the rules so they fit the period (or at least my impression of it) a bit better.

  1. The Skirmisher units are just too flexible with a 2+ activation. Better that they be 3+. This introduces more risk to the player and will reduce the likelihood that the player will roll 3 dice to activate.
  2. Rifles may need to modified for this period. I understand the rationale for Skirmishers only requiring one action to reload (the second action is while their team mate is firing), but it still seems too powerful at the moment. Again, more playtesting, especially as the change above might be enough.
  3. Should there be rating differences between Skirmishers? For example, should thee Hessian Jagers be rated differently than British Light Infantry or Patriot Rifles? Obviously, those that had rifles should be given those weapons instead of muskets
  4. Militia may need to be Q5 and C1 to reduce their firepower. This will probably need more playtesting on a larger board.
  5. Units of 6 are just too brittle; one hit or Shaken result and they are Small. There is really no reason you cannot dictate that the squad size is larger, say 12 for average, 6 for the low end of small, and 18 for high end of large, and just adjust the combat table for how many figures constitute getting which size modifier. This might lead to a need for determining how multi-unit combats are handled, but I think that will come up in the current rules anyway.
British Turn 4

Finally, we get to the action I have been waiting for: the British charge the militia!

Both Foot units in the center are able to get two actions, allowing them to move in contact and to melee. As the Patriot unit on the right has loaded muskets it gets to fire as the British charge in, but it is to no avail. Rattled by the glint of the bayonets they fail to make an impression.

The first melee is a near run thing, as the British barely beat the Patriots. This is when I learn that the pluses and minuses for melee are different than for shooting. In shooting, if you have 7-8 figures you combat at +1, while you combat at -1 if you are at 5 figures or less. In melee the smaller unit combats at -1 for every figure in difference between the two units! Thus the first combat has the British at -2, offset slightly by the -1 for the Patriot militia not having bayonets. To ensure the second melee went well, I moved the Section's Sergeant up and attached it to the left squad prior to making the charge. This produced better results allowing the British to double the militia, eliminating 2 figures and forcing a morale check (which the Patriots made, of course!). The funny part was that the retreating militia left their Sergeant out in the middle screaming for them all to stand firm! (See figure below.)

The only other event was the advancing of the right Loyalist unit. While trying to rally the left Loyalist unit a turn-over occurred (with no soldiers rallied, to boot).


Patriot Turn 5

One of the militia units reloads while the Sergeant retreats back and attaches to it. Meanwhile the rifles on the right flank advance to the hill and start peppering the Loyalists. The Loyalists on the left are in a bad way and break morale, retreating into the woods, leaving their Sergeant exposed to fire next turn.

The damage is pretty bad overall. The Loyalist have two dead and the remainder shaken. No additional casualties in the center, so the two units have a total of 3 casualties per side. On the British right the units are mostly shaken, but the right-most unit has lost 2 men.

Although Skirmisher mostly only does morale damage to their targets, if enough of that damage is done, the bodies start piling up. So far this is not quite working out as I envisioned, but I realize that part of that is due to not having and adequately sized board, and not having any cavalry to stop the skirmishers from freely lapping around the flanks. These two factors are throwing off the game, so I'll have to be patient and reserve final judgment.


British Turn 5

An exciting turn. In the center the unit on the right decided it was unwise to launch an assault on the militia standing before it. They had reloaded last turn so they were standing there at Present Arms, waiting for the British charge. Further, they were at a disadvantage to the Rebels in two regards: they had fewer figures, and the Rebel Sergeant had reinforced the unit. Choosing discretion over valor, the British calmly reloaded and gave fire (yes, they scored three actions!), scoring a hit on the Rebels.

To the left of them, however, the British had the upper hand, having bayonets, more men, and an enemy that was furiously trying to reload. They lowered their bayonets and charged! The Rebels were thrown into great confusion by this fierce attack and broke and ran. (They took two casualties, and failed their morale check. As they were now under 4 men, they routed to the rear, hopefully to be rallied and merged with another unit later.)

Seeing the gap appear between the two Grenadier units, the right-most unit decided to march to the left to rejoin them. They rolled an astounding four actions (rolled three dice and got three successes, with two 6's, to get an additional action), which was really more than they could use. They changed formation and marched to the flank. (Note that because I am not using singly based figures so formation changes do not look as they should.)

On the right flank, one of the units decided to test the enemy in the woods. Rolling and also getting a whopping four actions, they rallied their troops, took aim, and fired ... and promptly retreated over the hill after losing two more men and failing their morale. These enemy were not militia, but Continentals (in woods, no less).

The other units used all available actions to rally troops, along with employing every Corporal to remove the remainder. Every Shaken marker was removed from every unit through an extraordinary string of die rolls for the British. It looks like the British might be back in business.

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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").