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, November 28, 2016

Test Battle for Tin Soldiers in Action

I saw an ad for Cigar Box mats on The Miniatures Page about a month ago and it was advertising a cross-promotion. Cigar Box had a new mat with a 6" subdued, square grid. (It actually looks a bit brighter and less brown than this. It is just my camera.)

The cross-promotion was a new book entitled Tin Soldiers in Action, Fair and Square Rules, From 1680 Until About 1914 (TSIA). (Long title, I know!) I purchased them from the only place I could find selling them, Caliver Books. Why did I buy them? They use a grid, they claim to be fast, easy, and decisive (as in delivering a definitive result) and that the rules were not vague or ambiguous. They mentioned that they used all kinds of basing and that they could be gamed solo. Finally, they cover a lot of the periods that I like to play and have armies for.

So, why are they "fair and square" rules? Well, to start, you play them on a 6" square grid mat (should be no surprise there). As to the "fair" part, well they are like Black Powder rules in that they are a "toolbox" and you use the rules in the book in various combinations to produce the results that fit the period, nationalities, and battle you are fighting. They also have several methods for determining how to setup a fair battle, including having a points system.

I was playing another test game of Neil Thomas' Second World War Wargaming with a gaming buddy and he saw my wooden 42mm Napoleonics soldiers (like the one below, shown with a 28mm WW II soldier, a 15mm British Grenadier, and a battalion of 6mm French line infantry [in white uniform]) and he said "we have got to get these on the table".

Well, if you had read my rule read-through of About Bonaparte, that was exactly what I was trying to do. I just could not find the right rules yet. (I haven't given up on About Bonaparte, by the way, it just needs some work.)

The Book

First off, understand that this is not just a set of rules. Like Neil Thomas, the Hofrichters have produced a book that covers a number of aspects about wargaming, one of which is rules to use. So if you read that the book contains 268 pages, do not panic. They are not all rules. In fact, most of the pages are not rules.

It is actually hard to get a page count on the rules because the book is profusely illustrated throughout and contains sidebars, examples, and tables. In addition, it is not small type, which I am grateful for. The core of the rules start on page 59 and end on page 90. There are rules before and after that, but as I said, this is a toolbox, so the vast majority of the rules you will not use in most games.

The Basics

Each unit operates from one square. Each square can only contain one unit, and optionally, a Commander. Each unit belongs to a command, which may consist of more than one unit. Each command is assigned to a card from a deck of playing cards. All of the cards from both sides are placed into a game deck. The order that cards are drawn determines the order that units act within a turn. That one paragraph should tell you quite a lot about the rules.

The first problem I encountered was with the unit sizes. There are two game scales: Large Scale Standard (for "European Style Warfare") and Small Scale Standard (for "Colonial Style Battles"). Large scale had one tin soldier 1 equal 150 men while small scale had it equal 50 men. So a 12 tin soldier unit equalled a Brigade or a Battalion, depending upon the scale you were using.

That did not sound too bad except that I did not have that many figures. In this sense About Bonaparte was superior in that infantry units were eight figures on four bases and cavalry units were four figures on four bases. I really did not want to start tweaking the rules off of the bat, but if you don't have enough figures – sorry, tin soldiers – you don't have enough. So, I decide to halve the unit sizes. This required modifying the numbers in some other rules, like:
  • Minimum size unit went from two tin soldiers to one,
  • Capacity of the square would halve,
  • Tenacity calculation would have to change,
  • Number of tin soldiers that can fight out of the square would halve,
  • etc.
So my six man units are now equivalent to units of 12 tin soldiers, which fit nicely into the small scale format, especially as my units represented individual battalions.

The biggest change was halving the number of figures that can fight out of a square. The new values would be:
  • Infantry (closed) 6 shooting and 9 in close combat
  • Infantry (open) 3 shooting and 3 in close combat
  • Cavalry (closed) 6 in close combat
  • Cavalry (open) 3 shooting and 3 in close combat

The Scenario

Given the wooden soldiers that I had available, the French would be attacking a combined British and Prussian force. I decided to allow the Allies to anchor their flanks on some forests, while the French have a hill from which their artillery can fire.

View from the Allied side
View from the French side

The Forces

(Card designation in parenthesis.)

The Allies

British Commander in Chief (CiC): (King of Hearts) Note that he looks strangely like a Russian Guard Cossack. But Picton was dressed in an old coat and a top hat, so maybe it isn't so strange after all.

British Line x 2 units: 6 wooden soldiers, superior professionals, infantry with muskets, skirmishers (King of Hearts)

British Light Dragoons: 2 wooden soldiers, superior professionals, light cavalry with carbines, skirmishers (Jack of Hearts)

Prussian Landwehr x 2: 6 wooden soldiers, average amateurs, infantry with muskets (King of Diamonds)

Prussian Volunteer Jagers: 2 wooden soldiers, average amateurs, light infantry with rifles, sharpshooter, skirmishers (2 of Diamonds)

The French

French CiC: (King of Clubs) Note that I have a gaggle of figures representing the French CiC. There is the Officer in bicorne on foot, the porte fanion, the drummer, and the vivandiere, all to represent the CiC. What can I say? The French!

French Line x 4: 6 wooden soldiers, average professionals, infantry with muskets, skirmishers (King of Clubs)

French Lights Commander: (2 of Spades)

French Lights: 3 wooden soldiers, average professionals, light infantry with muskets, skirmishers (2 of Spades)

French Foot Artillery: 3 wooden soldiers, superior professionals, foot artillery with medium muzzle-loader guns (Queen of Spades)

French Carabiniers: 4 wooden soldiers, superior professionals, cavalry with close combat weapon (Jack of Spades)
Note that the British and the French have their CiC on the same card as their line infantry. This means when the line's card is drawn, the CiC will also act. Units without their own Commanders (British Light Dragoons, Prussian Landwehr, Prussian Jagers, French Foot Artillery and French Carabiniers) must stay within two squares of the CiC in order to take two actions per activation. If they are outside of that range, and not in open formation, they may only take one action per activation.
It seems that, at this scale, I should have a Commander for each Brigade (two to four units) with the additional assets attached to the Division Commander, who is the Commander in Chief. In this instance, the French have an additional Commander, largely because I have one painted up. Time to start painting mounted Commanders!

Turn 1

The French Line and their CiC act first. They take move twice forward for their two actions.

The Prussian Landwehr get to act next. Although they are in command, they are amateurs so they can only take two actions if the two are the same type, i.e. move twice, fire twice, etc. As the French are still out of range, this means they cannot fire. If they move, they will be unable to fire. They decide to pass.

The British Light Dragoons can move through the Landwehr – as they can move two squares for each action – so they would clear their square.

Troops can interpenetrate if they clear the occupied square
But that would put them in range of the muskets of the French line infantry.
The single Voltigeur in the square is just a marker to indicate that skirmishers are out. There are no actual French troops in that square.
Given that they are fresh, with no casualties or disorder, the Light Dragoons would likely lose that close combat. They instead choose to move around the left flank. As long as they stay in open formation they will be in command. This also allows them to threaten the French artillery.

The British Line have two actions and can either fire twice with skirmishers (which is a pitiful one die for each fire action) or move forward one square into musket range and fire once. They decide to do the latter as the French Line have already gone for the turn.

Ranged combat is pretty simple. Muskets fire into the adjacent square (including diagonally) and they get one die per two wooden soldiers, so they get three dice. All modifiers in TSIA are to the number of dice rolled, not to the rolls, so all you do is count the how many 6s you rolled. Unfortunately for the British, they score no hits.

The French artillery finally gets to fire. They don't like the looks of the British Light Dragoons coming for them so they decide to let loose with canister, which goes out two squares. Just like with musket fire, artillery fire gets a set number of dice per wooden soldier in the unit. In the case of canister fire it is three dice per wooden soldier, for nine dice. Note that there is a modifier that applies: the dice are halved if firing at light cavalry.
Somehow I thought that there was an addition modifier that doubled the dice, canceling out the halving indicated above. Rather than rolling 4 1/2 dice (5), I rolled 9 dice. I am sure that this mistake had an impact on the game. But actually I am relieved that it was a mistake as I was feeling that the canister was too powerful.
Three hits are scored and the British Light Dragoons are destroyed. (I need to paint more of them so they will last a little longer!)

The Charge of Light Brigade ends quickly
As there is no separate commander for the French Carabiniers, and they cannot move in open formation, they must either stay within command range of the CiC (two squares) or operate with only one action per turn. They decide to stay in reserve for now.

The Jagers move into the woods and fire at the French Line on the right flank. Even though they have only two wooden soldiers, they get two dice for firing. Their Sharpshooter doubles their dice, which is normally one die per three figures when firing a rifle. They score no hits, however.

Last are the French Lights. They advance into the woods opposite the Jagers. As it takes two actions to reach there, they cannot fire this turn.

End of Turn 1

Turn 2

The French Line again acts first. There are four units in the command, and each has to complete their actions prior to moving on to the next unit. The first unit to fire is the one facing directly in front of the British that advanced, but they score no hits despite shooting twice. The second unit fires twice on the same British unit, scoring 1 hit! I ponder whether I should charge with the third Line unit, as the British will have to check morale – called a Tenacity Test – before close combat is resolved. I decide to fire and inflict more hits if possible, increasing the chance it will be disordered. Unfortunately no more hits are scored.

The British unit taking casualties now makes a Tenacity Test. It started with six figures, so has a Tenacity of 2 (original unit size divided by three). It has to roll two dice (its Tenacity value) and score under or equal to the number of soldiers remaining in the unit. However, as this unit is Superior, it rolls one less die. So anything other than a '6' and it passes. It succeeds. If it had failed it would have been disordered.

The British Line gets to act next. The British CiC moves forward to the line getting hit, attaching himself to it. The reserve line unit advances to the right flank in order to fire. Unfortunately, none of the British fire scores hits.

The French artillery is now blocked. Although it is on a higher elevation, it still cannot shoot over troops unless firing at another unit on a higher elevation. It decides to limber and move 1 square (a single action).

The Jagers shoot twice at the line in the open, ignoring the Lights in the woods to their flank. They score one hit. The French unit taking the casualty must take a Tenacity Test, needing 5 or less on 2D6. It fails, therefore it becomes disordered.

The French Lights decide that they want to charge the Jagers and clear out the woods. So it declares it intends to charge, moves once and then charges as its second action. It moves out of the woods so that it is not adjacent to the British unit, so that the British will not get to provide supporting fire (see Step 2 below).

Step 1: perform the Close Combat Test, which is done by each unit in the close combat (attacker and defender). Roll 1D6 requiring a 3+ on the die or the unit suffers disorder. Both units pass.

Step 2: perform Supporting Fire. Supporting Fire allows enemy units that are adjacent to the attacking unit to fire in support of the defending unit. This fire can occur regardless of whether that unit has already fired this turn or not. The major difference between Supporting Fire and normal ranged combat is that Supporting hits on a '5' or '6', rather than just a '6'. As the French Lights decided to attack from the 'flank' (really, there is no flank, it is just a position not adjacent to any enemy units not being charged), there is no Supporting Fire. Had the Lights charged straight in the British Line unit would have been adjacent and thus been eligible to provide Supporting Fire.

Step 3: perform defensive fire. When the defending unit has a ranged weapon it gets Defensive Fire, which allows it to strike first. The Jagers get one die per wooden soldier with a rifle and no other modifiers. However, they score no hits.

Step 4: roll for the attackers and for defenders without ranged weapons. These attacks are simultaneous. The French have three wooden soldiers who get one die each. They miss too!
I messed up this too. As you can see in the picture above I have four wooden soldiers (and one Commander) rather than three. It did not matter. I could never hit with them.
Step 5: test for Professional Risk to Commanders. If a Commander is attached to a unit that takes casualties, there is a chance that the Commander is also lost. However, as no casualties were inflicted on the French there was no risk.

Step 6: determine the winner of the close combat. As neither side inflicted losses, it is a draw and it requires that both sides roll-off, with the Jagers getting +1 for defending the woods and the French getting +1 for having an attached Commander. (This is one instance in which die roll modifiers are used, rather than modifying the number of dice rolled.) The Jagers win! The French are forced to retreat two squares and are disordered.

The French Carabiniers move to their right flank, poised for a charge!

The Prussian Landwehr can no longer afford to stay unengaged. The left unit moves into the woods, becoming disordered in the process. The right unit shifts left and fills the hole in the line.

Turn 3

For the units that have disorder (the round yellow markers), it takes an action to rally and remove it. However, units in disordering terrain, such as the Landwehr in the woods, cannot rally.
The French line continue to maintain initiative. The disordered unit recovers and then fires into the British line that just advanced upon it and score a hit. This so disconcert the British that they are in turn disordered by the fire. All other fire by the French line is ineffective.

The French Carabiniers continue around the left flank, moving four squares around the woods and into the British rear!

The French Artillery unlimbers and fires canister v c at the Landwehr in the woods. It again score a brutal three hits with canister. The Landwehr fail their Tenacity Test and one wooden soldier deserts, leaving two wooden soldiers remaining in the unit.
Note that woods do not provide cover for infantry in close formation, unlike many other rules. This time I got the canister results right, with it rolling nine dice against the infantry.

Wow! The entire French force moved before the Allies were allowed to even move one unit.

The French Lights remove their disorder and advance around the flank of the woods to take another go at the annoying Jagers in the woods.

The British line removes their disorder where necessary and fires into the French line. The unit on the right scores a hit and disorders their enemy. The unit on the left score two hits on its counterpart, also disordering it.

The left Landwehr unit, despite being down to two wooden soldiers and disordered, actually scores a hit on the line. It does not succeed in disordering it, however. Nor does the other Landwehr unit. Finally, the Jagers score no hits.

Turn 4

The French Carabiniers turn up first, but they pass. There is still way too much potential support fire against them if they charge in.
This is the one aspect that may bother many players: there is no facing and there are no flanks or rear. Looking at the picture above depicting the end of the turn, if the French Carabiniers attack any one of the infantry units in the open, the two adjacent infantry units can provide supporting fire. Being in the rear presents no advantage, save that there is no friendly infantry blocking access to any particular Allied unit.
The British line finally get to act before the French line.
Note that this creates a "double move" effect where one side can go last in the previous turn and move first on the following turn. Using this to your advantage when it randomly occurs can make a difference in the battle. In this case, the French have not been able to recover from their disorder.
Both British line units declare their intent to fire one volley and charge their disordered foe. The unit on the left scores a hit and a French wooden soldier deserts.

The unit on the right goes first with their close combat. Both sides pass their Close Combat Test. There is no supporting fire for the French. (The rules do not allow units being charged to provide supporting fire to another close combat.) French defensive fire from the charged unit takes out one wooden soldier. The British inflict one in return. It is a draw, but the British win the roll-off, so they are the victors. The French lose one more wooden soldier as a deserter and retreat two squares. The British do not advance.

Moving to the second close combat, after both sides passed their Close Combat Test, the British unit with the CiC takes one hit from supporting fire (from the French line unit to their left), but no hits from defensive fire. It inflicts one hit on the French in return. Calamity strikes when the British troops look back and see that the General has fallen! Furious, the British rout the remaining wooden soldiers of the French line. (Drawn close combat and the British win the roll-off. The last defeated French wooden soldier deserts as a result of the lost combat.)

With the British CiC gone, all of the Allied troops are out of command, save the Jagers. With dwindling troops and French cavalry to their rear, will the British be able to punch through?

To be continued...

Battle Notes

I can see that one thing I may have calculated wrong when changing the game scale is the morale check mechanism (Tenacity Tests). The rules state that you calculate the Tenacity of each unit at the start of the game. Your Tenacity is [number of tin soldiers originally in unit] / 6. So a unit of 12 tin soldiers would have a Tenacity of '2'. In order to pass a Tenacity Test, you roll 1D6 for each point of Tenacity and must score equal to or less than the number of figures remaining in your unit.

So, if the unit of 12 above loses two tin soldiers it needs to roll a 10 or less on 2D6. That is about a 92% chance of success. Once you start getting below half the unit size, you start to have an issue with passing the test.

But I halved the unit size to six tin soldiers and halved the divisor for Tenacity to '3'. Thus if my unit of six tin soldiers loses one figure I have to roll a '5' or less on 2D6, which is about a 28% chance of success. This is why the French are always disordered, and the British rarely so. (The British only roll 1D6 as superior troops effectively have a Tenacity 1 lowered than calculated at the start.)

What I should have done is kept the divisor at '6' or used D3 instead of D6 for the Tenacity Test. If I had kept the divisor at '6' the French would have had a Tenacity of '1', resulting in needing to roll a '5' or less on 1D6. The British, meanwhile, would have been rolling 0D6, so effectively would have been immune to being disordered by fire. I am not sure I like that.

If I switch to D3, keeping the divisor of '3', the French would need to roll '5' or less on 2D3 – about a 90% chance – while the British are initially immune and don't start checking until down to two tin soldiers (whereas in the original system they check when they are at five tin soldiers out of 12, so about the same). Using D3's produces the better result.

Another change that I knowingly made was that Desertion – the result of being disordered a second time – caused the loss of 1D6 tin soldiers. I decided not losing half, or 1D3, but to alway take a loss of one tin soldier. I knew this would slow down the game, but felt that given the small unit sizes it was more reasonable. Now that I look at the odds on Tenacity Tests for average versus superior units, using only one desertion versus 1D3 deserters lessens the distinction between the two. Actually, I think that is good, but I wanted to point it out.

Halving the number of tin soldiers in a unit definitely has some impacts on the math, but given the scale of the figures I really cannot physically fit the number of wooden soldiers they expect into a 6" square, especially the artillery. No way do I want to double the square size, so halving the unit size makes sense.

So far I am enjoying the simplicity of the rules. Basically shooting you roll a number of dice looking for a '6'. For close combat it is looking for a '5' or '6'. The number of modifiers is not very great, and most deal with very heavy cover. So it flows pretty well. The largest complication is the close combat process, but I figure that it will flow easier once you play it more.

The one area that I can see it bothering most people – although it does not bother me (yet) – is the concept that there is no facing, and therefore no flanks or rear. It seems to me that there needs to be a form of engagement to pin a unit and other units coming in from another direction get a flanking bonus (double the dice). Battlelore: Battles of Westeros has some good ideas on that and it has the same issue, which is dealing with unit facing within a grid.


1 Throughout the book the term "figure" is never used, but rather "tin soldier". For part of this article I will honor that tradition, as best as I can (it is a hard habit to break). At least until I start referring to my wooden soldiers, that is!


  1. Love your wooden toy soldiers! Definitely seems to lean towards OS. Do you recommend "Tin Soldiers in Action" as a worthwhile addition to my already large stack of rulebooks?

    1. I really like the rules. I am using them to meet a specific problem set – large figures with small unit sizes – and so far these have been a winner in that regard. The rules have a lot of extra rules for special situations (naval landing, aerial reconnaissance, inspiring commanders, etc.) so that you really don't need to define rules for yourself. They seem pretty complete. That said, unless you like square grids and simple rules ("simple", as in not complicated in terms of game mechanics, like chess is simple; not simple as in few choices, as in tic tac toe). As I like grids and simple, they will be played more than once by me.

  2. Glad to see these fellows on the table again! Very impressive work, they are the nicest looking,large scale wooden figures I have seen, including the commercially available ones.

  3. 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?

  4. I do like your wooden soldiers!

  5. Dale: Great write up, and as others have said, big fan of your woodens! Wonder how these rules would work with my imaginations troops? (Marlborough/WSS period).

    1. Yes, they are very much work for imagination troops. From what I understand from the author, that is also somewhat popular in Europe.

      Basically all that is required is to develop the army lists and unit ratings. He already has lists for WSS period, so you could pick and choose which to model after. The author has both a "modular" system (a module being a good of units selected to make up an army) and a detailed points system for creating armies.


Blog Archive

Blog and Forum Pages

Popular Posts


About Me

My photo
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").