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, December 13, 2016

Discussing Tin Soldiers in Action with the Author

Let me start with a disclaimer. This post is meant as constructive, even if it sounds critical, to the rules authors and potential rules authors out there. When Phil Barker was developing version 3 of DBA via a public forum, he always complained bitterly how Americans were all rules lawyers. I know that the term 'rules lawyer' is usually meant derogatorily, but I feel like there are two versions. The first is the negative one, the person who attempts to twist the meaning of rules due to unfortunate wording in order to gain competitive advantage. We all don't like them. The second is the person who believes that there is no way to determine an author's intent other than by reading the rules as written precisely. I admit it. I am one of them. That is why I have a Tournament Tight™ rating for rules.

I am in no way trying to denigrate the Tin Soldiers in Action rules. I like them, a lot. In fact, I think I like them better now. All that said, here we go...

Mistakes Were Made!

One of the good things about global communication today is that doing things like having a conversation with the author of a set of rules you just purchased is possible, despite the fact that he is in Brussels and I am sitting out in the middle of nowhere in Arizona on the Mexican border. Unfortunately, like most guys I knew growing up, none of us learned more than a semester of any foreign language. (And we only learned that much because we thought it would be an easy credit!) So understanding may not always occur despite the fact that words are quickly and easily appearing on your screen.

Tin Soldiers in Action (TSIA) got a rap in the first review I ever read of the rules as "being hard to understand" and "poorly translated". (My own review brought out some of the same remarks.) I remember thinking: "What are they talking about? The rules seem pretty clear to me." I honestly did not get it.

Okay, there were some phrases I would have said differently. In some ways I find some explanations verbose, especially the ones that I feel 'go without saying'. But, I did not really complain about it. But as many of you who have read this blog for awhile my style of writing is that I spew a stream of consciousness (or at least I think so); I say out loud my thought process. Some people appreciate that and others ... well I don't know about the others. I don't think they comment.

For rules authors that read my posts I think it helps them get into the head of at least one of the people reading their writing, which in turn they can use as an example of when they are being unclear. (Of course it is also a signal as to how dense some of their players can be too!) A good example of this is my babbling on about TSIA and whether to classify American Revolutionary War (ARW) infantry as "light infantry with no skirmishers" or "infantry with can operate in open formation". I then picked through the rules citing references to "light infantry" and "open formation" trying to figure out which option would modify the rules the least. In that analysis I came to one big conclusion: there was a significant difference in the light infantry designation as some rules applied to light infantry in open formation while others applied only to light infantry. I was actually proud of my deep analysis of the rules.

Too bad I was wrong.

According to the author, I had been reading the rules wrong. The references in modifiers to combat it often states "(light) infantry". I thought this was an odd way to indicate light infantry, which is a unit type, but I did not think much more of it other than "I wish he had not phrased it that way."

Here is the issue, and I have seen it in several rules. TSIA creates categories of figures called "branches" (as in "branches of service") and they are: infantry, cavalry, and artillery. They then categorize figures by unit type. The unit types for the infantry branch are: infantry and light infantry. Start to see the issue? Now, whenever the rules refer to "infantry", do they mean the infantry branch, which includes all infantry unit types, or do they mean the infantry unit type, which excludes light infantry?

It turns out that the author intended the designation "(light) infantry" to mean both the unit types infantry and light infantry! Hint to future authors out there:
  1. Don't use the same term twice, giving them two different definitions.
  2. Don't use new terms without defining them first.
  3. When using groups of values explicitly list out all values unless you have defined terms for groupings.
For example, if you are going to define the category of branches, I can see why you don't want to name them "foot", "mounted" and "equipment". So "infantry", "cavalry" and "artillery" makes sense. But that means that the unit types cannot be duplicated. It should have been "heavy infantry" or "line infantry" instead of "infantry" and "heavy cavalry" or "line cavalry" or "battle cavalry" instead of "cavalry".

After this revelation I started reviewing what else was wrong with the way I was playing because I misread the author's intention. As I indicated above, not only was "infantry" duplicated, so was "cavalry". There is one key modifier that said "(light) cavalry" and I had assumed that it applied to light cavalry only. No, it applies to both unit types in the cavalry branch (cavalry and light cavalry). That means that all cavalry gets a multiplier of 0.5 when being shot at. (Note modifier does not apply in close combat.)

I asked the author to query some of his European players (there are two large groups out there, in Brussels and Hessen, I believe) and see if anyone had misinterpreted the rules as I had. (I suspect not because the two authors live in Brussels and Hessen.)

No offense meant to the author, but I do not see this as a translation error, but as lack of clarity in writing. I say this not to be cruel, but to help any other would-be authors out there on how easy it is for others to misinterpret something that is so clear and simple in your mind. Having played numerous games with rules authors in which I never read their rules and had a jolly old time, I can understand how easy it is for authors to get a false sense that their intent is perfectly clear in their writing because everyone in their test group plays exactly as they play. It takes something like this – someone completely outside of your influence who has to read your rules from start to finish in order to be able to attempt a game – in order to truly get a sense of how understandable your writing is.

It also takes a babbling data geek like me, who likes to run off at the mouth – well fingers in this case – and says every last little tidbit in his head to be able to get a crack at where your readers might go astray.

I knew I was performing a public service! đŸ˜€

So, what are the ramifications for TSIA? None really. These "changes" actually makes the game cleaner in that it feels like there are less exceptions to worry about.
  • (Line) infantry can only be in closed formation.
  • Light infantry can be in either closed formation or open formation, unless affected by the special rule always in open formation.
  • (Line) cavalry can only be in closed formation.
  • Light cavalry can be in either closed formation or open formation, unless affected by the special rule always in open formation
  • Structures benefit all infantry.
  • All cavalry takes less casualties from ranged combat.
Let's talk about that last bit.

Cavalry versus Ranged Combat

When I first read the modifier to ranged combat that said that targets that are "(light) cavalry in closed or open formation" took less casualties I first took it to be light cavalry only. (See lengthy explanation above.) Eventually I noticed the "in closed or open formation" part and thought: "Wait, what?" I understood the open formation part. They were skirmishing, riding around, harder targets to hit, etc. But what was the justification for closed formation? When I realized tonight that this applied to all cavalry, I was even more confused.

The author actually addresses it briefly at the end of the book in the Designs and Explanations section. The intent is that the cavalry will not be significantly reduced until they enter close combat. (My words, not directly his.)

Take a unit of 12 infantry with muskets firing at the enemy. Normally they receive one die per two figures, so that would be six dice. Against cavalry that is only three dice, assuming no other factors come into play. This sounds like it will be twice as hard to shoot cavalry down, right? How are we going to stop the charge?

Ranged combat really does mean "ranged" and definitely does not include close range firefights or standing and firing at an incoming charge. These are all covered in close combat, not ranged combat. For those that did not read my first post about TSIA range combat hits on a '6'. In the Horse and Musket period you basically get one die per two figures so you should average about one hit every 12 figures. In close combat, however, you get one die per one figure during the Horse and Musket period and you hit on a '5' or '6'. So you will average about one hit every three figures. That is a huge difference.

With the modifier that halves firepower against cavalry that means that it takes 24 figures on average for each hit, so the difference is even greater. Close combat is eight times deadlier than ranged combat. This is why cavalry cannot blindly charge into a solid line of infantry. It will be torn to pieces by the supporting and defensive fire.

So, cavalry is not all powerful in TSIA. It is not immune to ranged combat, but the intent is that you should not be able to decimate it at long range. You decimate it by presenting a solid wall of firepower. If you cannot do that, you are very likely to fall victim to it. I think that is the way it should be.

ARW Ratings

So, how does that affect my ARW ratings that was the whole point of discussion last post? RĂ¼diger Hofrichter said it best: "The difference between light infantry and [line] infantry is that the former can adopt open formation. No more and no less." Given that new understanding, that light infantry has no additional ability other than they can adopt either open or close formation, the choice is simple.
  • Patriot militia companies, like the NC militia that stood in the first line at Guilford Courthouse, I would rate as line infantry, inferior amateur, musket, no bayonets.
  • Patriot militia rifle companies, like the VA rifles that were on the flanks and behind the first line at Guilford Courthouse, I would rate as light infantry, average amateur, rifle, no skirmishers, no bayonets.
  • Patriot militia companies that were stiffened and led by former Continental soldiers and officers, and better equipped like the VA militia in the second line at Guilford Courthouse,  I would rate as line infantry, average amateur, musket.
  • State line regiments, which often had former Continental soldiers and officers, I would rate as line infantry, average professional, musket.
  • State light infantry or rifle regiments I would rate as light infantry, average professional, rifle, no skirmishers, no bayonets. (Early war rifle regiments I would probably rate as light infantry, superior amateur, rifle, no skirmishers, no bayonets.)
  • Continental regiments for this period would be line infantry, average professional, musket. But there were some exceptional regiments in the Southern Campaign, like the Delaware and Maryland regiments, which I would rate as light infantry, superior professional, musket, no skirmishers.
  • Despite it sounding so strange, I would rate both British Grenadier and Light companies and converged battalions as light infantry, superior professionals, musket, assault troops, no skirmishers. To differentiate the two I might grant the Light companies ferocious also.
  • Most British Line regiments would be rated light infantry, average professionals, musket, no skirmishers. Exceptional British Line regiments would be rated as superior.
  • Some Highland regiments would be rated as ferocious if warranted in the battle played. In pickup games it would probably be best to give them ferocious for flavor. I would be reluctant to give them assault troops in general, however. The 71st Highlanders at Cowpens, for example, should be given neither ferocious nor assault troops given their degraded state due from force marching and not having breakfast.
  • Loyalist units ran the gamut like Patriot units. Local militia is inferior amateur, but would not likely suffer from no bayonets. Most Loyalist units would be line infantry and average professional but certainly those units that fought in many campaigns would be rated light infantry.
  • Hessian units in the Southern Campaign (late in the war) were not the best quality. As I am using a fusilier unit and a grenadier unit they are rated line infantry, average professional, musket. Not because I think poorly of them, but because I did not want to overload the British side with professional units.

What About No Bayonets?

Between the comments on the blog, from the author and those on the TMP thread, it seemed pretty clear that a 0.5 multiplier for close combat was deemed too harsh. Let's take a look at the math I was seeing in the game.

A unit of 12 inferior amateur line infantry with muskets fires 12 figures in ranged combat. That is six dice base, but their opponents will likely be in open formation, so dice are halved. Further, the militia are defending woods, which disorders them, further halving their dice. So all told they are throwing two dice (1.5 rounded up). When it comes to close combat they are rolling 12 dice base, halved for disorder, resulting in six dice. Adding no bayonets as a close combat modifier drops them to three dice. Given that ranged combat hits on a '6' and close combat on a '5' or '6' that means their ranged combat has a 2/6th chance to produce a hit and their close combat 6/6th chance to produce a hit, or three times more likely. If you read the math above you see that close combat generally is four times as deadly as ranged combat, so the no bayonets rule has an effect, but not as bad as some might make out.

That said, given the mechanics of close combat in TSIA it does make more sense that having no bayonets increases the chance of the ranks being disordered, or that deserters will start to leave disordered ranks, a modifier of -1 on the Close Combat Test makes more sense. That way there is only one modifier (penalty) in close combat, disorder, and not two.

I also put forward the idea that if the unit had no bayonets that a failed Close Combat Test would result in the unit retreating and being disordered instead of the close combat taking place. (This was instead of a -1 modifier to that test.) The author was very opposed to this idea.
The rule that they run away anyway is "no fun" if you play these troops in a game against another player. I would refuse to play troops who run away by default.
My suggestion is not that they run automatically (if that was what was meant by "default"), but that it only occur if they fail their Close Combat Test. As for it being "no fun", the British expressed that same sentiment, about how hard is way to come to grips with the enemy.

Their automatic retreat – loss of the close combat really – is not a "get out of jail free" card. First off, the unit is disordered and that makes the unit weak in dishing out punishment and forces a pause as the unit has to spend a turn rallying (if able). The retreat is likely to break up the defensive line, making it possible if not probable that if it were charged by cavalry there would be little or no supporting fire. It is very vulnerable. Each time it is forced to retreat it loses one die of figures to desertions. Granted, the charging unit may well be able to inflict more casualties if it could get 'stuck in', but it did so with some peril to itself. This presents no peril to the attacker and causes the militia to disintegrate. This sounds exactly like what I read in complaints by the British in how they would have to 'chase the rebels for miles' as they would scatter like leaves before the winds.

I am more inclined, given that I am experimenting, to try the latter rule. But I am waiting for a counter by the author before I make my final decision. (As it stands now my game in progress is already wrecked given today's revelations. I have also been re-thinking some ratings from the ones I used last Saturday. So I will be starting over next weekend.)

Well, I hope you found this discussion useful, or at least mildly interesting if you have no interest in the TSIA rules.


  1. Very enjoyable read, Dale! You are making it very difficult to resist purchasing TSiA just to see what you are talking about.

    1. Hmmm. What part is hard to decipher? I am trying to lay down enough background information to try and make the information useful for people that don't possess the rules. It sounds like I have failed. Of course it is a balancing act because I also try not to give away authors' algorithms so that people don't feel it necessary to purchase their rules.

    2. Dale, as some say, "it's not you, it's me!" Your interesting discussion is making me want to read this in its original form. Your analysis is so good that it prompts a search for the source.

  2. Very concise Dale. By the way, you have a type o, "ARW vs. AWR,"in that section of your post.
    I hope to get into this game by mid Feb or Mar. I've got a playtest commitment and two sets of rules that I'm drafting. I'm also getting way too many opportunities to play some kick ass games.

    1. Thanks Justo! Updated.

      I am going to try a game of TSIA with the author (in Brussels) using Skype over the Christmas holiday. It should be an eye-opening experience, if only because I have never Skype-gamed. I need to see how to boost my wifi signal in my man-cave.


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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").