My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Using Tin Soldiers in Action for the American Revolution

I wanted to have another go at the rules Tin Soldiers in Action to see:
  • How it would play unmodified (i.e. correctly played),
  • Whether the "feel" of the rules change by period, and
  • How much of an issue it would be to use bases with multiple figures on each.
I don't really anticipate any issues, but I always like to check my assumptions. Of course, in order to do that you have to have a sufficient collection of figures in one period where you have both sides! For me that is really only 6mm Napoleonics and 15mm American Revolution. (I have a sizeable 15mm Ancients collection, but given that they are De Bellis Antiquitatus armies, they are scattered across three thousand years of history in packets of 12 stands each.) Given that I am currently rebasing my 6mm Napoleonics, that left my trusty American Revolutionary War (ARW) troops. Time to blow off the dust!

After I pull them out of the cupboards I see the issue: I never finished that basing project from the last time I pulled them out. They are based properly (for what I was going for), I just did not finish dressing the bases. So they don't show very well in pictures. Nonetheless, they are certainly functional for gaming.

Tin Soldiers in Action, American-Style

So the first thing I need to do is organize my figures into units, commands, and armies. Most of my units are four bases each of three figures, so 12 figures per unit. Given the small size of ARW units, that seems fine. Some of my units are a little larger (18 figures), some a little smaller (8 figures for cavalry), and one a huge militia unit (27 figures), so I thought this would be a good test to see how well each unit size worked.

It seems like a unit size of 12 is pretty significant in that it will have a Tenacity of '2' and can likely sustain 3-5 casualties before you start worrying about whether you will pass your Tenacity Test. It is also significant in that a square can only have a maximum of 12 infantry figures firing out of a square.

It also looks like a unit size of 18 is significant in that it aligns with the maximum number of infantry in a square that can fight in close combat.

One of the reasons why I do not play a lot of ARW is because I have never found a satisfactory set of rules that felt right to me. Most rules are obscene in that they rate all British as vastly superior and all Patriot militia as trash troops. The facts are that, like the Napoleonic Wars and the American Civil War – every war that has lasted over the course of several years – you cannot paint the troops of the early period with the same brush as troops of the later period (no matter which war you are referring to). There were British units that were green and performed poorly and there were Patriot units that performed superbly.

Infantry Rating

Personally, I tend to play the Southern Campaign ("where the war was won", as we Southern boys like to say), only with Northern Campaign unit sizes and uniforms ('Yankee Doodle' units). By 1781–82 I think things started becoming very much like described in the Rebellion supplement to Black Powder:
When infantry met infantry on the battlefields of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Europe the dominant tactic was for opposing battalions to form lines facing each other and fire their muskets at close range until one side could take no more and ran away or surrendered. Bayonet charges and hand-to-hand combat were considered rare.

At the outset of the rebellion, the British battalions in America retained the close order line as the preferred battlefield formation. ... Within the British drill manual there were three further arrangements. "Order" placed the files 18 inches apart, "open order" increased separation to 36 inches and "extended order" to as much as ten feet between men in the same rank. Each of these also progressively increase the gap between ranks and collectively they are sometimes referred to as "loose order". There was not specific skirmish formation, but in battle the command "to tree" would direct the men to disperse in woodland to take advantage of cover. The latter instruction could be given to any infantry and was most definitely not reserved only for designated "light infantry" or "skirmishers", although some units were naturally better suited, equipped and trained for this kind of bush fighting.

Upon assuming command of the army, General Howe re-trained his battalions to adopt "order" in two ranks as their default battlefield formation and with some exceptions this remained the case for British and Loyalist infantry for the majority of the conflict. This change in preferred formation reflects a number of the reasons why the rebellion is unique amongst Eighteenth Century wars. Firstly, the lack of effective cavalry meant the infantry were seldom compelled to adopt dense formations to repel charging horsemen. Secondly the terrain of North America made maneuver in close order a slow and cumbersome process; by adopting a looser formation the British were able to move faster than rebel battalions, who lacked the proficiency to do this, allowing them to gain the tactical initiative. Thirdly the two sides were fairly closely matched when it came to exchanging small arms fire, but the rebels would seldom stand to face a charge, prompting the British to adopt shock tactics which required the ability to maneuver at speed, only closing files at the point of contact. It is important to remember that the tactical flexibility of being able to open and close files rapidly as the situation demanded, required infantry who were drilled to a high standard and sufficiently battle-hardened to not panic when changing formation in the face of the enemy.
For this reason, I decided to try something I had never done with other rules: classify a large number of troops as light infantry. In terms of Tin Soldiers in Action (TSIA), this meant giving a lot of troops the light infantry designation rather than infantry. This creates a bit of issue in that:
Light infantry encompasses all types of jaeger, rifles, fusiliers, tirailleurs which are trained as skirmishers, in ranger combat, or in reconnaissance. Light infantry fights in skirmish line, marches in open formation, utilizes cover and operates independently.
This actually goes a little too far. What we want in infantry that can use open formation and get the benefits of cover, but does not operate independently. So the question becomes: do we change infantry by allowing it to use a new special ability (+) to operate in open formation or do we add a new special ability (-) of not independent to light infantry?  First, I wanted to look at TSIA and its references to infantry versus light infantry and open formation versus close formation to see what made more sense.

Under Unit Size (page 52) it refers to "Infantry, closed formation" and "Infantry, open formation" with no reference to light infantry so we can see here that it is referring to "infantry" as a branch and not as a unit type. Under Action Phase (page 63) it breaks it down as "Infantry in Closed Formation" and "Infantry in Open Formation". The only references to light infantry are to the action "adopting open formation" being limited to light infantry. It is when we get to the Multipliers For Ranged Combat that we start to get to decisions that have to be made.

The multiplier "ranged combat against light infantry in open formation" (emphasis as indicated in rules) implies it is the open formation that is granting the benefit, rather than being light infantry. That said, there are three modifiers that discuss getting cover in structures and they are worded as "ranged combat against (light) infantry in [structure] (except by heavy artillery or siege artillery)", which implies – correctly or not – that it is the aspect of light infantry that grants the benefit and not being in open formation (which is not a requirement of the modifier). There are the same sort of modifiers for "(light) infantry" defending structures getting a benefit in close combat, regardless of formation.

So, there is a difference between classifying these special troops as infantry that can adopt open formation or light infantry that is not independent. Initially, I decided to choose the latter, but as I write this I have decided to change to the former. The light infantry designation implies a much greater ability to defend structures that merely operating in open formation would bestow. So, there will be a new Special Ability (+) added to the list:

Can Operate in Open Formation: allows the unit to adopt open formation. Wherever a rule states "light infantry in open formation", treat it as applicable to this unit. Thus the unit is granted the benefits of rallying in terrain, cover, etc. as if light infantry in open formation. Note that this does not grant the unit a designation of light infantry.


The next issue to resolve is that skirmishers in TSIA are representative of 19th Century warfare and are not the same as skirmishers in ARW. Entire units skirmished, rather than a component of the unit skirmishing ahead of the rest of the unit. This concept of one die worth of troops being one square forward of the main body doesn't really work. As light infantry is automatically granted skirmishers and infantry can be granted that special ability, we need to add a new Special Ability (-):

No Skirmishers - Light infantry does not get the benefit of the skirmisher special ability. (Further, infantry may also not be granted the skirmisher special ability.)

Units Without Bayonets

Much ado is always made of Patriot units without bayonets despite everyone saying that men crossing bayonets in the open field is an extreme rarity. My main line of logic works like this:
  • A unit not equipped with bayonets tends to be inferior in quality.
  • An inferior quality unit tends to be poorly equipped.
  • A unit inferior in quality tends not to ever get into close combat, whether they possess bayonets or not.
  • Thus, applying a penalty for both inferior quality and possessing no bayonets is "double jeopardy" 1.
That said, it does not account for the case or Morgan's Rifles not being equipped with bayonets and the argument that they needed Dearborn's Light Infantry attached to protect them from British charges. So I am going to test a new Special Ability (-):

No Bayonets - all Close Combat results are multiplied by 0.5. Note that there is no effect on the Close Combat Test 2.

Dump and Run

During this period artillery trains were not militarized so artillery tended to be unlimbered rather quickly on the battlefield and the civilian teamsters retreating out of harm's way. TSIA alludes to artillery without limbers, but it implies that all artillery without draught animals and limbers were immobile. It does not account for pulling the artillery with prolongs (drag ropes). Although "grasshopper cannons" are normally accounted for a battalion guns in TSIA, that concept was out of use in the ARW. Grasshopper cannons were used by the Royal Artillery at both Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse as field artillery. There needs to be a means of moving artillery other than by limbering. And thus we have a new Special Ability (-) and a new Action

No Limbers - Artillery that cannot limber and unlimber. It may only move using a prolong action. Regardless of the professionalism of the gunners, the training of the unit must be rated as amateur.

Prolong - Light and medium artillery can move one square at the cost of one action, for a maximum of one square per turn. Terrain restrictions apply.


Well, that looks like I have enough to get started. I wanted to minimize the number of core rules that I changed. Considering that it was only one (that infantry can use open formation if granted such by special ability) I think I did pretty good! Well, maybe two (prolong move for artillery) ... maybe three ... aw hell, I did it again, didn't I!?!

The British Line regiments and Converged Grenadier battalions will be infantry with can operate in open formation. The British Converged Light battalions will be light infantry with no skirmishers. The Royal Artillery will have No Limbers on the battlefield and if light or medium muzzle-loaders, can Prolong. The quality and training will tend towards average professional unless a designated unit (42nd and 71st Highlanders, 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers, converged Grenadiers and Lights, Guards, etc.) where they would be superior professional.

Many rules treat Loyalist units as lower morale British troops – sort of like the Egyptians in The Sword and the Flame – but their training and quality varied widely. Although they had a better training regimen than the Patriots, depending upon when they were thrown into the fight their rating might be as bad as Patriot militia for Loyalist militia, to average amateur (equipped, but not fully trained by British), to average professional (national Loyalist units) to superior professional if you are feeling generous. Off hand I cannot think of any that would rate that last designation, however.

The Delaware Continental unit I will be using are superior professional light infantry with no skirmishers. Other Continental Line could range from average professional infantry to superior professional infantry with can operate in open formation. State Line regiments would tend towards average professional infantry with some being average professional light infantry with no skirmishers. Patriot militia could run from inferior amateur infantry to average amateur infantry with rifle units being average amateur light infantry with no skirmishers to superior amateur light infantry with no skirmishers. Patriot artillery would generally be average amateur but you might designate Knox's and Lamb's artillery as superior if you are feeling generous.

Obviously I am not an Anglophile like I feel most authors of the American Revolutionary War rules are. But I am open to discussion. I feel like the above is appropriate if you are playing a pickup game. If you are playing a scenario I think your ratings for units should reflect your research.

Next up: the game!


1 "Double jeopardy" in rules is a concept introduced to me by Neil Thomas in his book Wargaming Nineteenth Century Europe 1815–1878, which he describes as "accounting twice for a contingency that should only be considered once." The idea of accounting for not having bayonets and inferior quality troops separately feels like double jeopardy to me. I would like to know what you think.

2 The reason for this is because the Close Combat Test is TSIA does not determine whether a unit stands or runs from a charge – there is no such test – but rather whether a unit will be "discomfited" by the charge, i.e. disordered or cause desertions. If the rules supported the concept of retreating in the face of a charge, I would consider applying a negative modifier there.


  1. Hi,
    I really liked your write-up. I agree with your evaluation of many (if not most) histories of the AWI vis-a-vis the super-dooper-superiority granted all British units all the time. My rejoinder to that is what happened at Guilford Courthouse: The Maryland-Delaware Continentals (or what was left of them) fought the British Guards hand-to-hand, and were beating them, until Cornwallis fired canister into the melee. Besides refuting the usual rule that a player is not allowed to fire into a melee, it raises the issue of just how superior British troops were. In general, of course they enjoyed a higher level of training, equipment, and discipline, but the fact remains their best troops were beaten in a stand-up fight. I am waiting for a set of rules that allows this as at least a possibility.

    I've been looking for an affordable copy of TSIA--the book is well-produced, but $40 is a bit beyond my budget right now. I'm sure I'll find a used copy sooner or later, though.

    Best wishes,

    Chris Johnson

    1. You might ping Arthur1815 on TMP and see if he wants to give up his copy.

    2. The report of Cornwallis ordering canister to be fired into the melee is highly unlikely to be true. It comes from Harry Lee's anecdotes and he was actually nowhere near that part of the battlefield. No other contemporary present at the battle makes mention of it. The guards had already been in action before meeting Greene's line of continentals, however I don't debate that these were perfectly capable troops.

  2. Some interesting and subtle points there. I have always felt that the fixing of bayonets was as much about mentally preparing your troops with a mindset that their task on that occasion is to get into close contact and 'sweep them away' - and there-by discouraging any natural inclination to stop in front of the enemy and get drawn into a fire-fight against possibly prepared positions, since it was the clear determination to carry an assault directly into an enemy was often enough to make that enemy break and run.

  3. Since accounts of actually crossing bayonets in close combat are rare, I suggest dispensing with the bayonet/no bayonet conundrum for the actual close combat resolution. With your proposed "No Bayonet" multiplier, are you not reintroducing the double jeopardy that you sought to eliminate? The power of the bayonet/no bayonet argument, to me, is in the psychological and not physical. I lean towards a modifier for the Close Combat Test. Those without bayonets might, indeed, be "discomfitted" when faced with the prospects of a charge by bayonet wielding opponents. I would think twice about standing and receiving!

    Interesting topic and discussion.

    1. The net effect of your suggestion would be that rather than automatically applying a multiplier of 0.5 (No Bayonets), there is only a chance of it occurring (failed Close Combat Test). At first blush the result on close combat would be the same – No Bayonets produces a 0.5 multiplier and disorder produces a 0.5 multiplier – but No Bayonets stacks with Disorder, so taking the penalty on the CCT definitely has a lower effect.

      But this is why I experiment and test. I think I just have to embrace the TSIA way, which is that the unit does not retreat before combat, but after. I think that is a holdover from my playing other rules. The sequence is typically: test attacker to determine if they close or not; test defender if they stand or not; and finally execute close combat results. In TSIA there is no "if" about whether the close combat will occur or not. It does. The question is whether you will become disordered in the process, have deserters reduce your numbers, and reduce your ability to strike back.

      Another possibility would be to simply change another core rule and state that units with No Bayonets who fail their CCT simply retreat as if the close combat has been lost. That might produce the result desired. Thoughts?

    2. Dale, since my only familiarity with TSiA is through your blog postings, I clearly do not play with a full deck on the intricacies and interactions of the game mechanisms. Given that I only get a glimpse of the big picture, your last suggestion makes sense to me. Failing a CCT when armed with no bayonets when charged by enemy with bayonet, the prudent action is to retire. That would be a simple rule and add no measurable complexity.

  4. Thanks for the heads-up on Arthur1815, Dale.

    As for the canister-into-the-melee question, I'm aware of the very well-put arguments on both sides; I myself believe it happened, given the bitterness felt by (the Guards' Commander (O'Hara) as a result. As is so often the case, the specifics are cloudy and may never be conclusively settled to everyone's satisfaction.


    1. I too can understand why there might be a lot of doubt today. If it did happen Cornwallis definitely would have wanted to stifle any investigation, if events these days are any indicator.

      I certainly don't know one way or another and have heard arguments for both sides, like you.


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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 58 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ working for a software company for the last three years. 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").