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.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Our AWI Black Powder Game

Blog entry number 201, the first of 2012, and I want to welcome new readers Lee Hadley and Itinerant! I hope you enjoy the blog.

As I previously threatened, our club was going to play a fictional American War of Independence (AWI) battle using the rules Black Powder. I had playtested the scenario and come up with a few adjustments. That said, I was a bit shocked when I got to Orbital Games and found out my terrain did not fit. The boards were 8' by 4', but apparently my board at home is not 6' by 4', but 6' by 5'! So I had to do some quick adjustments, but in the end I do not think it really mattered.

The Scenario

This is a fictional battle taking place in 1781 in South Carolina, probably while Cornwallis is racing Greene to the Dan River and definitely before Guilford Courthouse. The Patriots (Rebels, if you prefer) have made a stand at a plantation (given the animosity, probably a Loyalist plantation that they have sacked) and the Crown forces are closing in. The left side of the picture is where the Patriots will deploy; they right where the Crown forces will deploy.

The road (with ahistorical tank treads) runs between the two forces. A few crop fields and a small woods are on the side of the road where the Crown forces will enter. On the opposite side is a plantation surrounded by hedges. Inside are two orchards, a few crop fields, and two freshly plowed fields. Also on the opposite side of the road, and to the right of the plantation, are several small woods and more hedges and crop fields.



The Crown is attacking in three "columns". On the left (at the bottom right of the screen), a column of Loyalist Provincials (four battalions) are marching up the road. They are to attack the left side of the plantation defenses. The suspect Rebel forces in the woods, but are unsure how many their are. One unit starts on-board in March Column on the road while the remainder start off-board and can start marching on turn one.

On the right flank an Elite column – consisting of a British Grenadier battalion, a British Light Infantry battalion, and a small detachment of British Light Dragoons – is to attack from that direction. These troops start off-board but can march on turn one.

In the center are four British Foot battalions off-board led by the Commander-in-Chief. They can start marching on turn two.

The Patriot forces have three commands. On their right, facing the Loyalist column, is one militia rifleman unit, one militia line unit, one South Carolina Rifle battalion, and a small detachment of the Philadelphia Light Horse. (Okay, so the Philadelphia Light Horse did not serve in South Carolina. They should have been Continental Light Dragoons, but that unit is not based and this unit is painted as the PLH! So I can be ahistorical on which unit it is or on its uniform.) Their orders are to stop the Loyalist attack, cutting them off from the British.

Inside the plantation in the front hedge section are two small militia rifle detachments and two militia line regiments. Their orders are to wear down the British and fall back before they are overcome by British cold steel.

The third command, under the commander-in-chief, consists of three Continental battalions: the North Carolina Continentals, the Massachusetts Continentals, and Hall's Delaware Blues. They are the reserve of the Patriot command and are to advance to slug it out toe-to-toe with the British that make it through the militia, and give them some cold steel if necessary!

Terrain Definitions

Crop Fields: No effect on movement and does not block line of sight. However, if a Crop Field is between the firer and its target, or either is in it, the shot is not clear.

Plowed Fields: As Rough Ground in the book.

Woods: As per the book. Unit must be in Skirmish formation to move through, and then it does so at 1/2 movement rate.

Orchards: As Rough Ground in the book for movement. Does not block line of sight, but if an Orchard is between the firer and its target, or either is in it, the shot is not clear.

Hedges: As a Linear Obstacle per the book.

Road: As per the book.

Plantation: As a Building per the book. The Crown forces are attempting to drive the Patriot forces from controlling the Plantation.


Other Rule Changes
As we are using 15mm figures with four 40mm wide stands for a normal-sized unit, all measurements are scaled to 2/3rds those listed in the book (e.g. 8" move instead of 12", 4" Close range instead of 6", etc.).

For units marching on the board, if two or more units march on in the same space, the first unit loses no actions, the second unit loses one action, the third units two actions, etc. Put another way, the units coming on are in successive lines (or columns) and they are zero, one, or two moves back from that point. This stops an unrealistic event where four units come on at the exact same point and all move full moves as if they were all stacked on top of one another.

All units are considered capable of using Skirmish formation in order to move through terrain requiring it (Woods, in this scenario). However, unless the unit has the Skirmish special ability listed, they cannot fire while in skirmish formation and must reform into a legal formation as soon as they leave the terrain requiring they be in skirmish formation.

I added a new special ability called Always Skirmish, which requires a unit with this to always be in skirmish formation; it can assume no other formation. I use this largely to represent troops that are based on skirmisher bases for other game systems!

Crown Order of Battle

Unit (Number)TypeArmsHTHShMoraleStSpecial Rules
British Grenadiers (1)InfantryMusket734+3First Fire, Crack, Steady
British Lights (1)InfantryMusket634+3First Fire, Crack, Steady, Skirmish
British Foot (4)InfantryMusket634+3First Fire, Steady
Provincial Foot (3)InfantryMusket634+3First Fire
Large Provincial Foot (1)InfantryMusket844+4First Fire, Large
British Light Dragoons (1)CavalryCarbine, Sabres414+2Marauders, Skirmish, Small

Patriot Order of Battle

Unit (Number)TypeArmsHTHShMoraleStSpecial Rules
Continentals (2)InfantryMusket634+3First Fire, Steady
Delawares (1)InfantryMusket734+3First Fire, Steady, Crack
Small Militia Rifles (2)InfantryRifle325+2Unreliable, Sharpshooter, Skirmish, Always Skirmish, Small
Militia Rifles (1)InfantryRifle535+3Unreliable, Sharpshooter, Skirmish, Always Skirmish
SC Rifles (1)InfantryRifle534+3Steady, Sharpshooter, Skirmish, Always Skirmish, Marauders
Militia Line (3)InfantryMusket535+3Unreliable
Phil. Lt. Horse (1)CavalrySabres4-4+3Marauders, Skirmish, Small

Early Game

The early game saw the British march the Light Infantry on their right flank and get into a position to fire down the militia rifle line.
In hindsight, this was probably not possible to make this flanking move due to the Proximity of the Enemy rule. We pretty much caught all those situations later, however.
On the left flank the Provincials got their first battalion (the large unit) into the pass into line, and reinforced it with a second line. A third battalion then positioned itself to refuse the left flank of the advance, expecting a possible attack from the Patriots.


The center brigade marches onto the baseline.

Up until this point the Patriot response has been rather tepid; only the small militia rifle unit on the left has engaged any British. However, with the Provincials now bunched up in the "pass" the militia units spring out of their hiding in the woods and lay fire into the lead Provincial battalion. Under the concentrated fire from three units, it cannot stand the pressure and casualties quickly mount. It fails its first and only break test and routs off of the table.

Meanwhile the British advance forward in splendid lines and the entire Patriot line erupts in fire, causing very little damage. With the Light Battalion flanking the position, however, the Massachusetts Continentals advance to fire on the flanking Lights. Casualties start to mount.


With the loss of the first Loyalist Provincial battalion, the remaining two (the last has still not entered the board) attempt to form a line, but continue to fail in the confusion. The longer range of the rifles starts to tell as the Patriots start working on the second Loyalist battalion.


On the British left flank the Lights start moving over the hedges. The Patriot militia rifles decide that they have fired enough rounds for the day and retire from the field. The Massachusetts Continentals advance to plug the gap by charging the Lights while the British Grenadiers attempt to sweep further around the flank. This forces the Patriot commander-in-chief to commit the Delaware Continentals to face off against the British Grenadiers. The best of the Continentals against the best of the British Army!


Back on the right flank the militia is fully engaging, giving the Loyalist Provincials a target. The final Loyalist battalion in the brigade comes on and immediately refuses the left flank, again guarding against a Patriot flank attack.


In the smoke and noise of the center, the British commander-in-chief calls for the British line to advance to the hedges, give fire to the damned Rebels, and give them the cold steel already. Only one unit complies. Firing continues unabated all along the line, the Patriots firing from behind every bush and hedge.


While the Delaware Continentals continue to exchange vollies with the British Grenadiers, the Massachusetts Continentals win their desperate struggle with the British Lights, who rout off of the table.
I believe this is where I made the first mistake with the Steady special ability. I am unsure if I had taken a break test with the British Lights up to this point; if they had then they would have automatically passed it rather than having to roll, but it would have "burned" that one-use ability. However, if the British Lights had not taken a break test up to that point, they would not have had to take the break test from the defeat in hand-to-hand combat, and would have still been in the game. Unless they had taken two break tests (one for defeat and one for casualties)... Basically, I forgot about the Steady special ability for all units in this entire battle. Even worse, I confused it with the Crack special ability for the British Foot regiments. Ah well! I am still learning; next game.

Slowly the Light Dragoons march up the British right flank, attempting to sweep around the Rebel line. An advance by the British 24th Foot (okay, so the 24th did not serve in SC, as it was in prison camps after it surrendered at Saratoga...) up to the hedge line, and subsequent volley into the already-shaken Massachusetts Continentals sent them retiring. This gave the commander-in-chief the chance to start rallying the boys.

The other British regiment at the hedge, however, attempted a bayonet charge over the top against the Rebels hiding behind but the fire coming in was tremendous (they were disordered on closing fire time and again). Meanwhile the Patriot Brigadier desperately tries to rally the right militia regiment, but each volley from the British simply disorders them again, while more run to the rear.


Back on the right flank, the militia rifles continue to pour fire into the end Loyalist battalion, but it shrugs off the fire with ease. The last battalion in the column sweeps left around the militia line and starts to pour fire into it. It now looks like fire is being concentrated on the forward Patriot line. With it wavering (Shaken status), the Loyalists prepare to charge...


The Patriot Brigadier, desperate to extract the militia line from its precarious position, orders a retreat. In the smoke and confusion, however, the unit moves out in the wrong direction and as they exit the smoke they find themselves closer to the Loyalist line! (They rolled a Blunder for their orders.) They quickly volley for all they are worth and shatter the Loyalist battalion, who routs from the field! (Damn, what luck both sides had – Patriot good and Loyalist bad!) The Loyalists flanking the position and charge in, but in all the smoke, confusion, and cheering Patriot militia, their attack is ineffective (the hand-to-hand combat is a draw).

Unfortunately, I was so busy on the opposite flank that I missed the next picture in the sequence, so I made one up from the other photos.
The Philadelphia Light Horse charge onto the flank of the engaged Loyalists – who are still entangled with the militia line that miraculously survived last turn – and cut through the Loyalists. They cannot handle the pressure any more and they rout. The Loyalists have now had three battalions rout on break tests, so Shawn has now secured the spot for Worst Luck in the Game.


At this point we quietly draw a curtain on the Colonial right/Crown left flank. Don continues to hammer away at the remaining Loyalist battalion and never succeeds in denting it.

Meanwhile, back in the center, the British finally advance with the remaining Foot battalions, hammering the militia on the right and forcing the rout of the small rifle detachment at the end of the line. With the right militia line constantly being disordered by fire, the Patriot Brigadier cannot rally the troops. It is only a matter of time... Time to start pulling back.


But it is too late. The militia line pull back from the hedges, but a charge from British eventually pushes the militia over the brink and they rout, carrying the Brigadier with them, but not before one of the British units is shot down by the SC Rifles!


As we draw a curtain to a close on the center, one British Foot regiment remains standing.
Here is where I made the worst error, which was confusing the special ability Steady with Crack. I gave all of the British infantry Steady, but I thought that was the ability to have a morale save re-roll, when it is actually that they automatically pass their first break test. In the future I will either give late war British the Crack special ability, or change the Steady special ability to apply only to the first break test caused by shooting.

Also, I played
Crack wrong, as it only applies if the unit has no casualties, whereas I gave them the save throughout the battle. This lessens the ability significantly and makes early rally actions more important.
Finally, on the Colonial right/Crown left flank the commander-in-chief rallied the Massachusetts Continentals while the Delaware Continentals hammered away at the British Grenadiers. Slowly the British Light Dragoons worked its way around the left flank of the Delaware troops.


The British Light Dragoons charge the end of the Delaware Continentals – I have to read the section on charges again, as I think I got this wrong – and drew the combat. The Massachusetts Continentals then charge into the Light Dragoons and drive them off at the point of a bayonet.


At this point the curtain draws a close on the battle. The British players declare that the Patriots have bloodied the British sufficiently and driven them off.

Although there were very few losses on the Patriot right flank, the center had completely collapsed. On the Crown side the Loyalists were badly beaten and the British center did not fare much better.

All in all, however, everyone enjoyed the game, the scenario, and the rules. Even the two WW II fanatics in the group, who play a lot of Flames of War, said they would play this again. So from the club perspective, it was a great success.

Analysis


What did I get wrong with the rules? Let me count the ways:

  1. The commander-in-chief does not command units, so I was down one Brigadier for each side.
  2. The commander-in-chief, if giving orders, does not have to be the last commander to do so. (However, if he blunders, no other generals can give orders. So in effect he should go last, but it is not a rule that he must.)
  3. The Crack special ability only lasts while the unit has no casualties. That lessens it effect considerably.
  4. The Steady special ability was not used at all, so I have to remember when it triggers. In a way it is sort of a bookkeeping issue too, as you have to remember which unit has used this one-use ability and which has not. Same as with First Fire. Maybe a token that goes with each unit, or a card in the commander's hand, and when it used, the token or card is discarded.
  5. I probably got the charge with the British Light Dragoons into the Delaware Continentals wrong, allowing a corner-to-corner contact. I think no contact should have been allowed as the charge was not coming from the flank, and therefore side contact would not have been allowed. Front contact would not have been allowed either, as the British Grenadiers were too close to allow the Light Dragoons to fit. I will have to ask on the forum.
  6. I will also have to check what happens when both sides are touching the hedge. I suspect that it should not be allowed, unless the attacker has declared a charge. This would get rid of the issue of whether one or both sides get the cover benefit.
What should I have changed with the scenario?

  1. There was too much firepower on the Patriot right flank. There was no easy way for the Loyalists to break through and even attempt an attack on the flank. I thought that having a Large unit in the lead would have allowed it to absorb the firepower, but I was wrong. Combined with the Patriots using rifles with two of their three infantry units and there was little way for the Loyalists to penetrate that wall of fire.
  2. Each side needs an additional Brigadier General – to command the Continental reserve, for the Patriots, and to command the center, for the British.
  3. The woods separating the Loyalist and British center commands should be removed. This caused a bottle-neck which did not allow the Loyalists to bring more units to bear on the Patriot rifles.
  4. I had an 8' wide board available, but only used 6' of it; I should have used all 8'. This would have allowed the British Light Dragoons to sweep around the flank and not get 'pinned' by the Enemy in Close Proximity rule. On the opposite flank, it might have encouraged the Loyalists to sweep left and flank the Patriot position, reducing their firepower dominance.
Some of the mistakes in game play that I noted:

  1. The Loyalists should have swept left much earlier than they did in order to put the militia off balance and to gain the hedges as cover for their own troops. (Sounds cowardly, I know.)
  2. The British center was not aggressive enough and held back in a long-range firefight, without clear shots, against a target in cover. Because they stopped to fire, units were disordered turn after turn and it was hard to get the advance going again. That last part felt very 'realistic', I might add.
  3. The North Carolina Continentals did absolutely nothing all game, constantly failing to get anywhere. They should have started towards the left flank much earlier than they tried to.
All in all the rules exceeded my expectations. The refinements to the basic Warmaster rules have made the game better. The one area where I am not sure I think the effect is right is with Disorder. As it stands now, a unit is disordered by fire, but there is no way to exploit that. it seems like it would be the moment to execute a charge, but the enemy gets to remove disorder before you have a chance to charge, due to the turn sequence. Perhaps I am reading something in the rules wrong, so it definitely needs more exploring. Try as I might, I really don't want to alter the core mechanics of the rules.

In conclusion ... Black Powder will definitely be on the play list in the future. I have my 15mm AWI that are based sufficiently for this system (and the always favorite Sixty-One Sixty-Five) and I am working on some 6mm Franco-Prussian War troops that will be based for this and To The Last Gaiter Button (which I am looking forward to trying out and reviewing).

1 comment:

  1. Shawn (who played the Loyalist Brigadier in this battle report) tried to leave the following comment:

    For some reason I always have problems responding on your blog.

    "I probably got the charge with the British Light Dragoons into the Delaware Continentals wrong, allowing a corner-to-corner contact."

    I remember seeing this, but couldn't understand why the contact looked the way it did. Would the proximity (can't remember what it's called in BP, but the rule where you have to deal with the threat to the front/front quarter within x amount of inches...). If there wasn't a proximity issue, would the cavalry have not been able to move on the flank, given a high enough command role? That's what occurred on your right flank with Don's cavalry.

    Do "supports" apply in BP? In HC, you can have units to the immediate rear, left and right provide supports in the form of extra attack dice.

    "I will also have to check what happens when both sides are touching the hedge. I suspect that it should not be allowed, unless the attacker has declared a charge. This would get rid of the issue of whether one or both sides get the cover benefit."

    This looked a little odd to me as well, but I don't see any reason why the units couldn't do so. You could stay an inch apart on an open field and blast away at each other, correct?

    Scenario

    "There was too much firepower on the Patriot right flank. There was no easy way for the Loyalists to break through and even attempt an attack on the flank. I thought that having a Large unit in the lead would have allowed it to absorb the firepower, but I was wrong. Combined with the Patriots using rifles with two of their three infantry units and there was little way for the Loyalists to penetrate that wall of fire."

    The rifle vs musket issue was a difficult problem for me. I kept getting disordered from his massed fire which pinned the large unit in place, and after the second turn I didn't make too many command roles (in other words, the provincials didn't want to advance after they say the big battalion conducting their "tactical retreat"). I wasn't expecting Don to come out of cover, so I figured I'd have time to maneuver into the field and form the brigade....eh, nope!

    "The woods separating the Loyalist and British center commands should be removed. This caused a bottle-neck which did not allow the Loyalists to bring more units to bear on the Patriot rifles."

    I thought this made for an interesting set up, didn't see a huge issue with it upsetting any balance. maybe spread it out a bit as you stated.

    "On the opposite flank, it might have encouraged the Loyalists to sweep left and flank the Patriot position, reducing their firepower dominance."

    I never considered it because I 1) believed moving a line unit through that terrain would have been a huge problem and 2) didn't want to get caught in column.

    Game Play

    "The Loyalists should have swept left much earlier than they did in order to put the militia off balance and to gain the hedges as cover for their own troops. (Sounds cowardly, I know.)"

    Yep, the hedges and the benefits of "not clear shot" might have allowed me to survive. However, the damn traitors could have stayed in the woods, or went to the hedge protecting the plantation. I don't think this side of the battle had much of an impact on the overall battle until Don moved units to that hedge and fired into the Brits going over the hedge.

    "The British center was not aggressive enough and held back in a long-range firefight, without clear shots, against a target in cover. Because they stopped to fire, units were disordered turn after turn and it was hard to get the advance going again. That last part felt very 'realistic', I might add."

    Agreed, strong push in center would have created problems all along the traitors line.

    ReplyDelete

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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").