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.

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.

Footnotes

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!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Rules Read-Through: About Bonaparte

If you have perused my Wooden Warriors blog then you know that I have been working on 42mm Napoleonic wooden soldiers for some time now. (There are a lot of other projects there too. I get distracted all of the time.)


What I have not really found, however, is a set of Napoleonic rules that work well with figures of this size. (Given the girth of the figures, they are closer to 54mm in feel.) I can only do so many Napoleonic skirmish games before I end up recycling the scenarios. My plan was to use The Sword and the Flame for them, but with 24 figures for each French ligne infantry unit, that is going to take time.

So when I saw a battle report of a group in the Netherlands using 54mm Napoleonics figures I perked up. Especially when I started counting figures in the pictures and it looked  like they were using infantry units of eight figures and cavalry units of four figures. The report said they were using the rules About Bonaparte by Partizan Press and so I set about finding the rules. It turns out that I could only find them available for sale at Caliver Books in the UK (On Military Matters in the US did not have them), so I put them on my wish list and waited until I found a more compelling reason to make a larger purchase before getting them.
I have had a few frustrating bouts with the UK postal system, so I am always hesitant from ordering anything there. Now that Baccus 6mm miniatures are no longer sold in the US (Scale Creep Miniatures is no longer carrying them), if I need to expand any 6mm armies or fill out a unit, I will probably have to bite the bullet and deal with it again.
As it turned out, Cigar Box Battle Store came out with a new mat using a 6" square grid and they promoted it at the same time as promoting a new book called Tin Soldiers in Action (which I will review in a future article) by Partizan Press. This too was only sold at Caliver Books, so I decided to finally place my order and get the two rule books.

About Bonaparte

So here I am, reading the rules, and thinking "why do these rules feel familiar?" About Bonaparte (AB) uses some special dice and I looked at that again. Two faces have an 'I' for infantry, one face has a 'C' for cavalry, one face has an 'A' for artillery, one face has a Flag ... wait a minute! These are Command & Colors: Napoleonics (CCN) dice! The only difference is that the last face on the AB die is blank whereas on the CCN die it is Sabers. Let's see: infantry fire one die for each stand and it has four stands. Sounds like CCN. In fact, as I read through the rules I see Richard Borg's thumbprint all over. Combat is very much like CCN except that it is a bit more complex and has to deal with the vagaries of free movement rather than the regulated movement imposed by a hex grid.

Now AB did not include a set of Command Cards, so it can't all be the same, right? Looking through the rules I see that you collect a certain number of dice for each General, Aide de Camp, and Officer figure you have and then roll them. For each 'I' you roll you can order an infantry unit, for each 'C' you can order a cavalry unit ... wait a minute! This is how Fantasy Flight Games took Richard Borg's Battlelore rules that they bought the rights to and converted them to a cardless command and control system for their rules Battlelore: Battles of Westeros! In those rules you roll the battle dice and it comes up red, blue, green, etc. and this indicates how many red, blue, and green units (the "color" of the original Command & Colors system) are ordered! Okay, so now I am sitting there giggling because this is what I have been trying to do with WW II and Space Fantasy in the past and here they basically converted and merged two sets of rules I already have and made them into a new Napoleonics variant.

Production Quality of the Book

I have a few other Partizan Press books – Tin Soldiers in Action, the one I just bought, being a prime example – and they are all good quality in terms of printing and binding, and seem to be well edited. Not so with AB. As soon as I opened my copy of AB I could see the binding coming apart at the bottom of the book. I already have pages falling out after one reading because the glue in the binding is so cheap. No, this was not printed in China like the Battlefront Flames of War books (Hell's Highway for example) that instantly fell apart; it was printed in Malta by a small printing company.

Editing has also suffered, as you can tell that English is not the first language of the author and the editors did not always catch his grammatical or spelling errors. Nothing too serious, but once or twice I wondered what exactly he meant. That could just as easily be the English tradition of being loose with their rules, but given that the author was pretty detailed in other areas, I don't think it was that.

There are a few layout issues, where section headers start on the bottom of one page and the body is on the next. It looks and feels like the whole book was laid out in Microsoft Word. Organization of the rules is sometimes strange too as the rules of combat are split into two sections, with a section on preparing for a game stuck in the middle.

The graphics are simplistic and often comical looking. When one unit fires at another, it almost looks as if the muskets are flamethrowers in the diagrams. Worse still, many graphics use thin red text in a small font size over a green background. It is often illegible without a magnifying glass or strong lighting.

Okay, that is the "bad" and the "ugly" part out of the way. Let's get to the "good".

Basing and Unit Sizes

Most of the measurements in the rules give both centimeters and inches as options, but in basing it is in millimeters only. There are basing standards for 54mm, 40mm, 25–30mm, and 15–20mm. For 54mm troops infantry is based two figures on a 55mm square stand, cavalry a single figure on a 55mm by 110mm stand, and artillery on a 110mm square stand. Infantry can also be based singly (called half-stands) to represent skirmishers and to remove single figure losses. There is no specification for basing Generals, Officers, and Aides.

There is a provision for using figures already based using another scheme, but it basically says you need to work out how it impacts the rules. Losses are taken to figures, but when two infantry or one cavalry figures are lost, a stand is expected to be removed. Combat in the game is by stand, not by figure, except for artillery.

There is some flexibility in unit sizes in that if you need to represent especially large or small units, they can be anywhere from 2 to 5 stands in size. (Hungarian infantry during the Napoleonic period is specified as having 5 stands, for example.) Artillery always consists of a single stand, but varies the number of figures based on the weight of the artillery.

Troop Types

As indicated above, artillery is classified by weight , having light, medium, and heavy designations. Light artillery can either be foot or horse, while all other weights are foot.

Infantry is has line (standard), skirmish, and irregular troop types.

Cavalry has heavy, medium, light, lancer, and irregular troop types. Heavy cavalry can be further designated as being Armored or not.

For each of those troop types you can further classify them by morale: green or untrained, trained, veteran, and elite or guard.

Commanders are rating only by type and not by morale. They are the CIC, Generals (commanders of corps, wings, or divisions), Officers (commanders of brigades or regiments), and Staff Officers (aides and staff of CICs and Generals).

The rules recommend that you label only the central stand of a unit (which contains the standard bearer) denoting it troop type, morale, initial unit size, and where it fits in the hierarchical structure (i.e. who commands it).

Formations, Groups, and Movement

Unlike CCN, AB uses formations for the units. Infantry can form line, march column, attack column, skirmish order (may be some or all of the unit), and square. Cavalry can form line, march column, and supported line. Artillery is either limbered or deployed.In addition, there are other period-specific and nation-specific formations defined in the rules too.

Groups are essentially a means of controlling your troops better so that fewer commands are required to maneuver. The basics of command and control are that you get one or two dice for each commander in which to give orders each turn. You roll these dice to determine which unit type – infantry, artillery, or cavalry – can be ordered. It takes one order of the appropriate unit type to move each unit or group, so you can see why forming a group is important. You will have very few orders available to you each turn and you still have to roll the appropriate unit type, so you want to reduce your command down to as few groups as possible.
This reminds me of both DBA and Dux Bellorum. In DBA if you break up your formations you will quickly become "PIP starved" and you roll low and cannot move all of your units. In Dux Bellorum groups can only be formed of like types (shieldwall infantry with shieldwall infantry, warriors with warriors, etc.), limiting the number of units that can maneuver together.
Groups in AB have to be of the same unit type (i.e. infantry, cavalry or artillery), within the same command, under the direct command of an Officer, deployed in the same formation, have the same facing, and be within a certain distance of each other. As you can see, once such a group hits combat, it is likely to quickly to quickly lose its group status. But that is okay because there are actions that units can take that don't require orders. Unlike CCN, for example, units do not require orders to fire.

Note that there is a Command Radius for commanders, so units far from their commanders require additional orders to compensate for the extra distance.

All of the traditional rules for movement – formation and facing changes, unit interpenetration, wheeling, oblique, about face, withdrawing, sidestepping, deploying skirmishers, joining groups – are all in there. Be aware that formation changes take a full turn unless Veteran or Guard.

As you might expect from a set of rules designed for 54mm figures, the table sizes are probably expected to be a little deeper than normal. Deployment zones are 16" in from the baselines, infantry in line formation moves 8" per turn, and   musket range is 16". So if you are using a 6' by 4' board, troops on the deployment lines will be in musket range from the beginning and cavalry will be in charge range on Turn 1. No, no 6' x 4' tables for you with these rules!
By my rule of thumb, a "typical" Napoleonic battalion should have a shooting range of approximately the same distance as the frontage of that unit. Given that the units are roughly 8" in frontage, the ranges seem a bit long. It also does not, in my opinion, have the proper ratio of volleys until contact, or two volleys by a unit in line standing and firing at a column charging in. There is no defensive fire available against a charge coming in, same as with CCN. I guess I am too influenced by my days playing Column, Line, and Square.

Support, Firing and Melee

Another Command & Colors concept is that units not in combat can provide support to friendly units that are in combat. Support in AB provides two basic benefits: it increases the number of Flags you can ignore when fired upon, and it increases the number of dice you throw in melee. The downside of support is that if the supported unit still ends up retreating, the support can often go with it.

There are a slew of rules that help you define whether a unit is supported or not, but there is one complexity to all of this: each unit can provide support to only one unit, for one die roll each turn. I am not sure I like this as it does not provide for the strength of mutually supporting units (as was common to use in Battlelore) and makes for a bit of a guessing game ("will I use my support for the fire coming from the line unit or from the guard unit") that seems to add little value for the complexity it adds.

Firing is basically 1 die per stand, but long range fire and moving can both halve the number of dice rolled. There are also modifiers for shooting into the target's flank or rear, their formation, and the terrain they are in, and modifiers for the shooter's morale.

Melee is also basically 1 die per stand with a number of modifiers for the attacker and defender. Unlike firing, both sides roll dice in a melee. One interesting note: the defender has to conform in a melee where the attacker made contact on a corner. I can see this as a way of throwing units out of a group by changing their alignment, even if only by a few degrees (fiddly geometry).

Even if units do not run into impassable terrain, enemy units, or off of the board when retreating from rolling Flags; three flags unignored will destroy a unit and four flags will destroy your supports as well. There are a number of rules in there that double flags so we are not necessarily talking about four dice rolling flags. A cavalry unit attacking an enemy unit in the flank or rear, for example, inflicts four flags per Flag die rolled!

Regarding skirmishers: they are overpowered, no doubt about it. They are +1 die when shooting and -2 dice when being shot at. Are you kidding me?

Army Lists and Periods

AB gives you rules for all of the major powers, including the Ottomans. Each nationality has special rules, including formations that their infantry can use. Russian line fires with one less dice, British with one more, but only at point-blank range; that sort of thing. There is a point system to cost out the troops in all of their variations. There appears to be no army lists, per se, and you are expected to research out who had what troop types and so on.

AB covers more than just the Napoleonics period. There are period rules for the Age of Marlborough, the Seven Years War, the French and Indian War, the American War of Independence, the American Civil War, and the colonial wars. Given that the last encompasses breechloading rifles and gatling guns, I am surprised that they did not include the Franco-Prussian War too, as that is still a very colorful period.

Conclusion

Do I like the idea behind these rules? Of course! I love Richard Borg rules, as anyone reading this blog for a while would know. I think the only Richard Borg design I don't have is Samurai Battles (and that includes owning Abaddon). I think including a variation of the command and control mechanism from Battlelore: Battle of Westeros was also clever, and a great way of getting rid of the card mechanism. After all, I did that back in 2011, so it is natural I would like it.

All that said, I think the rules are a bit over complicated. The reason for that is simple. The author added in the following elements, any of which are sure to drive up complexity compared to CCN:
  • Tracking formation by unit,
  • Free-form movement rather than controlled by a grid,
  • Gave Commanders a meaningful purpose in the command & control mechanic,
  • Expanded the number of modifiers to firing and melee,
  • Rather than increasing the distance retreated by a thrown Flag it created a whole new system for ignoring, adding and doubling flags, and then creating new combat results based on how many flags remain,
  • Expanded the system of providing support, but turned it from a rule to a resource.
The list goes on. These rules could use a little Neil Thomas-style simplification.

As a set of rules, I think they are interesting. But to me, they are a start of where I think they need to be. First would be to cut down the rules and possibly move it back to a grid. Also, Partizan Press needs to take a hard look at their printer and their editor, because they failed them.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Suprise! Testing Hail of Fire, Part Three

Why is There a Part Three?

When I ended Part Two the Germans had declared victory after wiping out one of the American tank platoons, but after discussing with the author how I totally blew the anti-tank fire and how to determine when the game ends, I decided to continue the game. Note that the point one Sherman had a hit and now that has been resolved, resulting in a suppression.

Sherman is suppressed
There has also been discussion by the author about modifying the RFC table – specifically the odds that a team in hard cover will shrug off the hit – but as changes have not been published and I am in the middle of a game I am not changing the numbers.

Turn 7

The Americans draw two more chits for a whopping 5, bringing the total to 18. (The new Break Point for both armies is 30, so the game is not over and the Germans have not won.)

I finally rolled a turn in which the initiative rolls were the same, so that causes a reset of the Hero dice. The Germans get a '6' and the Americans get a '4'.

There is still a glitch in the rules that says if you tie in orders the high roller goes first. There is no "high roller" on a tie and the result would be 0 orders for both. This seems like an artifact from a different version of the rule, but I rule that the process is to re-roll Hero die, reset 'count up' die, and neither side allowed to issue orders unless they use Hero points (neither side does). This is bad as the Americans keep drawing chits while the objectives are lost.

Turn 8

With two objectives in the hands of the Germans, the Americans again have to pull two chits (0 and 1), raising their total to 19.

The Germans get two orders and the Americans one.

The Germans still have a suppressed grenadier platoon leader, one undeployed on-board unit and company commander, and two infantry platoons off-board. The Germans use two orders (using Hero points) to get one of the two off-board platoons available for coming on Turn 9 as reinforcements.

Another German platoon is ready to march on using the east road
Next, the grenadier platoon gets a fire order, allowing them to attempt to rally the platoon leader. Fortunately they succeed. However, I just noticed that platoon leaders do not have the ability to fire, so it will not really alter my firepower. So with five stands I get 13 dice @ 5+ firing at the armored infantry. I score five hits. Ouch! I put as many hits on the bazooka teams that I can, but one had to go on one of the LMG stands (the main target).

Americans hit hard by the grenadiers
The Americans decide to react with the armored infantry, so first they resolve the hits. I got some amazingly weird results: two shrugged it off (including the LMG), two died (a rifle team and a bazooka team), and only one team was suppressed. The returns fire consists of two bazooka teams (2 dice @ 6), two LMG teams (6 dice @ 5+), one rifle team (2 dice @ 5+), one light mortar team (1 die @ 4+) and five half-track MGs (10 dice @ 5+) for a total of six hits in return! The entire grenadier platoon has taken a hit each!

Germans will likely have the entire platoon suppressed by that fire
The Americans use a single Hero point to bring on the artillery forward observer with the company commander. The FO moves on the board 8" and the CC 6" by the farmhouse north of the central road.

Moving so fast the photographer had a hard time taking the shot
As the FO moved earlier in the turn, it cannot call in a barrage this turn. However, the company command Shermans can fire at the StuGs at long range, if they choose (the StuG was 31 1/2" away!), but they would have to use another Hero point. I would have 4 dice @ 6, which is not very good odds, but I decide to go for it anyway. All misses.

Turn 9

With two objectives in the hands of the Germans, the Americans again have to pull two chits 3 and 0), raising their total to 22.

The Americans and Germans each get one order, with the Americans having initiative (they rolled higher).

The armored infantry continue to pour on the fire into the grenadier platoon. Three of the American rifle teams rally first. Repeating the same fire as last time, they score five hits, putting a second hit on each team save the platoon leader.

The Germans are getting crushed under the weight of fire
The Germans order the grenadiers to "Go To Ground", which allows them to resolve hits and "ignore all killed results". Now it does not say "convert to Suppressed" but "ignore", so I am counting it as no result. (In this case it actually mattered, as I had one team roll a '6' and a '1'!) All teams are suppressed save one heroic team that shrugged it all off.

All but one team suppressed

Turn 10

With two objectives in the hands of the Germans, the Americans again have to pull two chits (2 and 2), raising their total to 26.

The Americans get four orders and the Germans one. This is just what the Americans need if they want to stay in the game.

The FO is issued an order to Observe. (I am not sure if that is really a Fire order or this is just another order type that needs to be listed in the Orders section of the rules.) If the FO does not move or fire for the remainder of the turn, next turn it can call down the barrage. (I need to try that in this game, if only for testing purposes.)

The armored infantry are ordered to advance in preparation for assaulting the grenadiers. The last of the teams shrug off their suppression. They roll 4" for their move.

The American assault begins!
The Germans finally deploy their last on-board unit, the HMG platoon. (Did you remember that there was still one more?) They fire a whopping 8 dice at the armored infantry in the open, killing the mortar team and suppressing a rifle team.

Ambush by the HMG nests
The armored infantry pushes on, hoping to get into assault.
Now here is an interesting situation. As the Americans have a new order, they can rally if they have no hits. Because you resolve hits immediately when caught in the open, essentially you can immediately attempt to rally.
The rifle does not rally. The armored infantry rolls 3" for their move and the half-tracks 8".
The author indicated that you can opportunity fire not just to units moving into view, but to all units moving in view.
The Germans spend a Hero point to again fire the HMGs. Three hits with one bazooka team being killed and one bazooka team and one rifle team being suppressed. Unfortunately, at the end of the turn the armored infantry are going to have to check morale, as they have now lost their fourth team.

The Americans desperately try to get out of the Kill Zone
The armored infantry use the last American order to attempt an assault on the grenadiers. Both rifle teams shrug off suppression while the bazooka team does not. The infantry roll 4" for the move (6" for the half-tracks).

  1. The Americans pass their quality check, so they head into assault.
  2. All that can make contact do so.
  3. No assault units fire.
  4. Defensive fire from HMGs and single rifle team in grenadier platoon results in three hits. That suppresses three rifle teams, one of which was in contact.
  5. The Americans have six unsuppressed teams for close combat, the Germans one. The Americans scot four hits, the German one.
  6. Casualties are removed.
  7. The Americans have five unsuppressed teams remaining, the Germans one. The Americans win the assault.
  8. The Germans retreat to the house across the street and to safety. 

The Americans win the assault, but at what cost?
The Americans end their turn and the Germans decide not to use a Hero point to bring on their reinforcing platoon.

Because each side has to take a platoon morale check, each has to pull a chit. The Americans pull 2 raising their total to 28, while the Germans pull a 0 chit. The Americans roll morale and ... fail! So do the Germans! The Americans again draw a chit (for failing the morale check), drawing a 2, finally meeting their Break Point of 30. (To rub it in the Germans pulled another 0.)
Interesting question: given that failing a morale check results in the unit being destroyed, does the side draw another two chits? I think not, as I believe that situation is for a unit that is wiped out by means other than morale. It should probably say that though.

Conclusion

Honestly, my conclusion does not change from Part Two. I like these rules; they were definitely worth the $5 I spent on them. I will use them again, especially with opponents that want to try the hidden deployment aspect. (Be prepared for that Marv!)

One final note: I very often push the bounds of what might be considered 'bad tactics' when playing test games. I do that intentionally. If I want to see how the assault rules work I don't wait for four games until the conditions are right and then finally try it; I push to do it in the first game, if at all possible, even if it does not look like the 'right' move. Same with infantry assaulting armor and calling in artillery. (Unfortunately, I lost track of that last one and never got to test it.)

I think these rules produce reasonable results, both with anti-personnel fire and anti-tank fire (now that I understand how it works). The low-level morale – suppression and rallying – works well although I still believe it is too easy to suppress entrenched gun teams. With no result in between 'shrug it off' and 'suppressed so you cannot move or fire', I would either create a new result in between or alter the odds so that 'shrug it off' occurs more than it does currently. Again, I am specifically referring to gun teams with gun shields.

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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").