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, November 29, 2016

Conclusion to Tin Soldiers in Action

I could not leave the game hanging, but I thought that the last article was getting a little long, so I stopped it where it was. In this article I finish my test game, go over what I got right and wrong, address some comments from Facebook, The Miniatures Pagethe last blog article and ... the authors!

Turn 4 (Continued)

When we last left off, the British had just shattered two units of French line infantry, but at the cost of the Commander in Chief. I had a sense that this was going to finish the Allied side, but I had to play it to a conclusion.
The French artillery, sensing that a retreat by the French may be forthcoming, canisters the poor Landwehr in the woods, scoring 1 hit. As that leaves only one figure standing, it routs and the unit dissolves.


With their second action, they limber and move to their left, beside the reserve.

The Jagers, seeing the French lights poised to charge again, switch to the right side of the woods and let loose with their rifles, but scored no hits.

The decimated French line shakes off their disorder and adjust their formation. All volley and skirmisher fire, however, is ineffective.


The remaining Prussian Landwehr unit, despite giving two good volleys to the French line on their left, has no effect. Things are looking grim for them because the French artillery is within canister range and they are likely to tear holes through their ranks just as easily as they did with their sister unit in the woods.

The French lights, seeing the collapse of two French line units decides that they need to return to the battle line and ensure the command does not collapse.


The Allies are down to four units and holding the interior line against three French infantry units and an artillery section. Further, they have a French cavalry unit at their back. To complicate matters further, they are now all out of command as they have lost their beloved General (even if he did dress like a Cossack).

Turn 5

Again the French Carabiniers act first. Although the Allied left flank is weakened, there is just too much supporting and defensive firepower out there as no one is disordered. They pass. They really needed to go after the French line inflicts damage and disorders the British. They just have not been very lucky in this regard.

The French lights continue to skirmish with the British line, this time scoring a hit and (surprisingly) disordering the unit. (Of course it had to happen after the cavalry passed!)

The Jagers get two actions as they are not out of command (being in open formation), but as they are amateurs, it must be two of the same actions. They fire at the center French line. As they are firing rifles they have a range of 2 squares and thus get to fire at full dice. They score a hit, but have no chance to disorder the unit as the CiC is attached to the unit. (The CiC also passed his Professional Risk Test.)

The French artillery unlimbers and fires canister into the center British line. Amazingly the British weather the storm of canister and lose one wooden soldier. (That was 18 dice thrown!) Further, they pass their Tenacity Test and are not disordered.


The French line continue to pour volley and skirmisher fire into the Allied line. The left unit hits one Landwehr, but they are so elated at not being canistered by the artillery that they pass their Tenacity Test. The center's skirmishers cause a hit on the center British unit, finally disordering it.


The Landwehr volley against the French, but scores no hits.

As the CiC is dead, all the British line can do is recover from their disorder.

It is pretty clear now that the Allies are doomed. I wanted to play it out to confirm my suspicions, but once the British were down to one action for each unit (except the Jagers) I began to see the implications. You get one-half of the moves, one-half of the firepower, the inability to recover from disorder and do something else, etc. You can no longer act decisively, you can only react. Perhaps if they had won the card draw, but again every French unit ended up acting before all of the Allies, save the Jagers.

So What Went Wrong?

Nothing. This game played out very well, with results that I thought "felt right". Other than the errors I made with my tweaks regarding Tenacity, which I noted in the first part, the only other error was one I could not rectify: not enough Commanders, especially on the Allied side. Perhaps I should also say that I probably only should have used two gunners and possibly even one for the artillery because it felt very powerful, especially as the Allies did not have any. That said, if I had included Allied artillery (which I am working on!), I think that the artillery would have dominated the game even more.

Are these rules going to be played again? Absolutely. Probably not going to tweak anything save the Tenacity calculation (a divisor of 3), the Tenacity Test (use D3 instead of D6), and the Desertion roll all because I am using very small unit sizes. (Trust me, I want to get to the day that I can fill the table with units of 12+ wooden soldiers each.) I will probably experiment with using a D3 for Desertion, rather than simply removing one tin soldier, but I may settle on a D2.

Comments

The previous post drew a lot of comments, largely because I posted it to a number of wargaming groups on Facebook and because I used my wooden Napoleonic soldiers. I want to address the game-related comments.

From Archduke Piccolo: Tenacity test. Since you have halved the number of figures per unit, when taking a tenacity test, the 2D6 score should be not greater than DOUBLE the number of figures remaining with the unit in order to preserve cohesion or order. A French unit reduced to 5 figures must score equal to or less than 10 (2x5) on 2D6 to be OK. I reckon that will fix your problem. It seems to me that the British are treated too kindly though, even with the parent rule set (if I understand them correctly). A 6-figure British unit would have to be reduced to 2 (TWO) figures only to run any danger of disorder (2x2=4), and even then is 2-to-1 (67%) favorite to remain OK. A French unit so reduced would have barely a 17% chance of preserving order (having to roll 2,3, or 4 on 2D6). A British unit reduced to 3 stands automatically retains its order; a French unit reduced to 3 just over a 58% chance of doing so. I guess one might expect a certain extra 'stickability' (from the Latin, 'stickabilius') to attach to the Brits, but that much?
Actually, I rated the British superior not because I believe in Anglo Superiority, but because of the disparity in the numbers of troops I own for the French versus for the Allies. I knew I could not get away with the Prussians being rated highly – they were Landwehr after all – so I decided this would be an "elite" British regiment and rated them Superior without fully understanding the implications of this.

Regarding the Tenacity calculation, I agree with your basic math. By rolling 2D6 against a unit half the size and with the same Tenacity score (because I halved the divisor), I was throwing the math off. A 12 tin soldier unit losing 16% (two tin soldiers) would need a 10 or less on 2D6 to pass. But with my changes it was rolling a 5 or less on 2D6 after losing one tin soldier in a unit of six. One possible was to rectify that is as you said: count each tin soldier as two, thus losing one figure results in 5 * 2 = 10 to roll on the Tenacity Test. As you can read above, I was also considering rolling D3 instead of D6.
All that said, the author RĂ¼diger Hofrichter, who contacted me in Facebook, offered the following suggestion:
The divisor of 6 is no accident. If you change it, it collapses also the probability matrix hidden in the rules, which is based on the kill ratio calculated by Scharnhorst. You also have seen that by reducing your scale you get poorer results. My advice after reading your report would be the following: don't change the rules but rather count every wooden soldiers as two tin soldiers! Treat every wooden soldier as if it has two hit points and mark every uneven hit on a unit which a chip. You will see that you get better results. Play the British with 6 wooden soldiers (as if they were 12 tin soldiers) and the French with 6 or with 12. Your cavalry will be 2 wooden soldiers (as 4 tin soldiers). Your strong artillery could be 3 wooden soldiers (as 6 tin soldiers) or a weaker 2 wooden soldiers. Try this and you will have better results. More dice to roll and more fun.
Although I am not keen on the hit markers, I will indeed try this next time. What I tried did not work; I admit that. (But it was still fun!)

Before I played this test game, but after I had purchased the rules, I found a thread on The Miniatures Page that talked about the rules. The comments were split between positive and negative, with the negative complaints dealing with the issue of translation from German to English. Given that this was published by Partizan Press and I recently had a taste with another set of translated rules by them, I could understand the potential for concern. But I have to admit, I did not find it an issue. Everything was pretty clear to me.

That does not mean that I got everything correct – if your read the first part then you know that clearly I did not – nor that I was not confused at times. But the confusion did not come from a poor translation or a phrase turned oddly, it came from my own expectations. What I mean by that is at some point, after reading, playing, and reviewing a lot of rules, I have come to create a mental checklist in my mind where I start looking for certain rules and when I don't immediately find them the reaction is confusion. Surely I missed the rule! It must be in there somewhere!

As I have noted previously – especially when writing about Neil Thomas rules – cutting out those rules sometimes leads to something better. I think the first time I really became aware of it was when reading Sergio Laliscia's Drums and Shakos: Large Battles where he used the concept of a reaction move. This cut out all kinds of special exceptions, like forming a hasty square, cavalry counter-charges, and opportunity fire. Because he provided a general mechanism for the player to react and do something when it was the opponent's turn, he did not need all of these special case rules. (Mind you, it did not stop me from asking Sergio where the "hasty square" rule was though.)

This is the sort of sublime simplicity that I see with Tin Soldiers in Action. My confusion arose because I did not see a slew of "exceptions" in the rules. It is only when you play it that it comes out. This is largely why I don't review a game anymore until I try a test game or three. There are so many things that you miss when all you do is simply read the rules. It is these exceptions of game play, and figuring out how the rules handle that, which cements in our mind whether the rules are worth a second shot or not. So, I am not discounting others opinions on how well the rules were translated, but I did not find the rules hard to understand. Maybe Neil Thomas had prepared me for something new and different.

I would like to share a couple of other comments from the author:
Regarding flanking: the French cavalry move to the Allied rear was only possible because the enemy cavalry was already gone. The Allied line was still intact and could have formed square. But the cavalry is now out of command as it is not in open order. So yes, it is possible to move far behind enemy lines. But can the move really be exploited?
The answer is: no. Although you may think that I was not aggressive enough in the game by not charging with the French cavalry, I could quickly see what would happen. Remember, the basic rule is that ranged combat hits on a '6' and close combat on a '5' or '6'. (I was obviously speaking to my blog readers there and not the author!) When you contact a unit every enemy unit adjacent to you (the attacker) can fire upon you and they hit as in close combat, not ranged. As my dad used to say: "You have got to be tough if you are going to be dumb!" With those odds, that is going to hurt.

Think of it like the aerial scene from Waterloo where the French cuirassiers are attacking the British squares. (Here is a Youtube link to remind you. Advance to about the 3:00 minute mark.)



You as the Commander-in-Chief do not have to worry about details like whether the unit formed square; it did. The cavalry flows by and all around you the mutually supporting squares are blasting the cavalry. The only difference is that you don't have to physically change the units to reflect the squares (but you can).

I could not exploit the move because I never got the French Cavalry card drawn after the British Line was disordered and before they could recover from it. If I had, that would have been a case where the cavalry charges from the smoke and hits the enemy before they can effectively form square.

By the same token, at the end the British could not afford to stay disordered and carry on with reduced firepower. If they had not, the French cavalry would have seen their opportunity and charged. The threat was enough to force the British to give up their sole action to removing the disorder, which in turn was enough to convince me that the Allies had no hope of winning at the point.
Try to play with one victory square and a clear mission how to win. This will focus the figures on a purpose and around the victory squares.
Understood. The honest truth is, I had not read the rest of the book when I started the game. I don't usually worry about victory conditions as test games are for trying crazy things and seeing how the rules handle it, and getting a feel for the rules.

As it turns out, there is a scenario, Hook's Farm, on the TSIA page on Boardgamegeek. This is something I need to try, if only because it promises to have a solo engine.

Finally, Jonathon Freitag, whose blog Palouse Wargaming Journal I have followed for quite some time, asks: Do you recommend "Tin Soldiers in Action" as a worthwhile addition to my already large stack of rulebooks?

Well, here is my official review.

Game Ratings

Using the review system from before, here are the game ratings for Tin Soldiers in Action (TSIA).

Drama – do the rules create tension during play?

Yes, largely through the card-based activation mechanism for units. You do not know what order your units will be allowed to act. This creates both a number "missed opportunities" (where your troops have already acted before an enemy unit becomes vulnerable) and rare exploits (such as when you move last in one turn and first in the next, effectively getting a "double move" against the enemy). Also, Commanders play more of a role in these rules than in others, so the loss of a Commander hurts your command and control compared to those rules which have an "automatically replaced commander" rule.

I have yet to play the hidden deployment and scouting rules, so that may add an additional element.

These rules rate 4 out of 5 in Drama.

Uncertainty – are there enough elements that introduce uncertainty into the game?

All combat uses chance elements (dice) to add uncertainty. For the Horse and Musket period, you will typically be throwing one die per two figures firing, looking for 6's, and one die per figure in close combat, looking for 5's and 6's. You will not necessarily score hits every turn, especially when using lower figure counts like I was. The Tenacity Test, which is the morale check taken after receiving casualties from firing, further adds to the uncertainty of combat. Being disordered halves your effective combat power and makes you very vulnerable to subsequent morale checks. Further, recovering from disorder limits your response on your following turn.

Command and control is uncertain in terms of when you activate compared to other friendly and enemy units (as indicated above). You will only rarely get perfectly ordered unit activations

These rules rate 4 out of 5 in Uncertainty.

Engaging – do the rules allow the player to make meaningful decisions that lead to consequences?

Given that some of the elements of command and control are taken out of the player's hands – which units act in which order, for example – it is definitely less engaging than rules in which the player has God-like control. Also, given that the consequences of some conditions, like disorder, have such a large impact in the game that it is almost automatic that you have to address those conditions first. Finally, although there are still strong chance elements in play, the odds of attacks are pretty easy to calculate once you get a hang of the rules, so you often find yourself discarding options because the risk is too high or reacting because the threat is too high. Some people may define these qualities as highly positive and thus rate this differently.

These rules rate 3 out of 5 in Engaging.

Unobtrusiveness – do the rules get in the way?

No. Obtrusive have lots of exceptions for special cases. These rules have few such special cases to worry about.

These rules rate 5 out of 5 in Unobtrusiveness.

Heads Up – are the rules playable without frequent reference to a quick reference sheet?

There may be a quick reference sheet in there somewhere. Given that this is a rather thick book that does not have a lay-flat binding and that you don't want to ruin its spine, the authors should probably create a quick reference sheet and post it to Boardgame Geek, where they have their scenario posted.

That said there were only three places I referred to in the rules – the allowable actions, the firing table, and the close combat sequence – and after about turn 2 only one place (the close combat sequence). The basic mechanic of the game – modify the number of dice rolled not the die roll – makes it very easy to remember how to play the game.

These rules rate 5 out of 5 in Heads Up.

Appropriately Flavored – do the rules 'feel' like they represent the period or genre being played?

As I stated in the first part, TSIA shares a trait with rules like Black Powder: they are a toolbox and it is intended that you do a little bit of research and work out amongst your fellow gamers how best to represent the units, armies, nationalities, and period. Do not get me wrong, they provide plenty of material to help you do that; you will not have to make up rules to fill in the gaps. But if you are looking for hard and fast army lists for the period these rules span (1680–1914), you will not find that here. Again, depending upon your preferences, this may not be bad thing.

One point I do want to make is that I thought the transition from period to period – late pike and shot, horse and musket, rifle and sabre, and the start of the machine age – was well thought out in the combat rules, making these rules usable through such a rapidly changing 250 years of military history. In this regard, I think the authors did as nice a job as you see with Neil Thomas' One Hour Wargaming. (Some people may not see that as a compliment, but it is.)

These rules rate 4 out of 5 in Appropriately Flavored.

Scalable – can the rules be scaled up or down – in terms of figures or number of units played – from a 'normal' game?

This is certainly something that I tested, at least in the downward direction! There are a few basic numbers and ratios to watch out for, such as square capacity, the number of figures that can shoot or close assault, and the physical size of the square itself that will limit just how much you can scale up or down. But "out of the box" there are two scales to the game to start with, plus there is the variation in unit size. So these rules, without any modification at all, handles large variances in the number of figures that will be in play.

As for units, there is not really a lot of unit "maintenance" that the player is concerned with, so I can see there being a pretty good variance in how many units can be handled by a single player. Largely the built-in command range and the number of commanders the player has access to will be the limiting factor on the number of units in play.

Given that the activation mechanism is card-based, I can see that you will have to think how to handle player downtime when your opponent is taking their actions. This can also be an issue with multiple players per side. As the card represents a single command, belonging to a single player, everyone else will be waiting for that one player to finish. But a lot of rules have to deal with this issue, even ones that don't use card activation. There are plenty of suggestions on how to engage multiple people at one time when using these sort of "one person at a time" activation methods.

These rules rate 4 out of 5 in Scalable.

Lacks Fiddly Geometry – do the rules require fiddly measurements or angles?

Let's see, all measurements are regulated by a grid, so there are no fiddly measurements. There was only one rule that actually addressed facing (the Axis of Attack) and it was dead simple with clear diagrams, so there were no angles to deal with. Need I say more?

These rules rate 5 out of 5 in Fiddly Geometry.

Tournament Tight™ Rules – are the rules clear and comprehensive, or do the players need to 'fill in the blanks'?

Let me start by saying that my preference is towards tighter rules, where everything is spelled out clearly by the author, not looser rules where the author leaves certain mechanics up to the individual players, gentlemen's agreements, and a roll of the die where agreements cannot be found. So a high value means 'tight' and a low value means 'loose'. If you like looser rules, subtract my rating from '6' and that would probably be your rating!

The only reason these rules do not rate a '5' is because of the toolbox approach to defining units, armies, and periods. Otherwise they would have the highest rating. Although I got some rules wrong, I could see that it was my own misreading of the rule (or more likely, my bias on what I expected the rule to say). I find the rules very clear and unambiguous. Using simple, clear mechanics with very few "exception rules" really helps in this regard.

I don't think you could run a tournament with these rules unless the unit selections, army lists, and period flavor were defined for the players. Letting everyone do what they want and relying on points to balance it out does not work. (I am sure that I am going to be told that Europeans do, indeed, use these rules for tournaments!)

These rules rate 4 out of 5 in Tournament Tight™ Rules.

Solo Suitability – do the rules have elements conducive to solo play?

There are no hidden elements to the game so that alone usually grants the rules high solitaire suitability. Having a mechanism to randomize which units act next is usually an element that solo gamers inject into other rules, sometimes with disastrous results. So having that mechanism built in and accounted for is just icing on the cake.

These rules rate 5 out of 5 in Solo Suitability.

Component Quality – are the components provided made with quality?

This is a new rating, meant primarily for board games, which addresses the quality of the physical components.

These rules only come printed. This is a hardback book with textbook quality binding. Given the thickness of the book I am not sure it is capable of having a lay-flat binding. The quality of the paper and the legibility of the type screams quality. Maybe over time I will notice something that changes my mind, but my previous purchase of a Partizan Press book does not even come close to the quality of this book. For that reason alone – well, okay, and the fact that I like the rules – the higher purchase price is justified.

These rules rate 5 out of 5 in Component Quality.

Summary

There is so much of this book that I did not cover, but for the most part I review rules, not books. These rules are very accessible, in my opinion clear and understandable (moreso when you break out the figures and try them), will lead to near zero disputes, and can provide a decisive game in a reasonable amount of time.

Will everyone like these rules? No! Every rules author must decide where to add detail and where to abstract them away and players will not always agree on where that line should be drawn. If you think that there is "no way" you could play a set of rules that don't have you changing from line to column to square, you probably won't like TSIA. If you think there is "no way" you could play a set of rules that don't care about facing, then you probably hate board games and probably won't like TSIA also.

If you like Neil Thomas and wish he had put his game on a grid, you will like these rules.

Highly Recommended.

1 comment:

  1. Dale, such a fantastic read and visual treat using your wonderful wooden toy soldiers! I really appreciate your in depth review of TSiA. Looks like a rule set of interest to me. NT on Grid, I like that!

    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").