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.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

One More Square and the Impact on Engagement

Last post I described a battle using the Tin Soldiers in Action (TSIA) rules with a scenario from One-Hour Wargames (OHW). I posted notices in various places and it has led to some good discussion – primarily with the author of TSIA – about scenario design.

In my last game I was trying to be true to TSIA while also being true to the intent of the scenario in OHW. The issue for me was that OHW's scenarios have a few assumptions built into them, mainly that you are using the rules published in OHW. So when deciding to use the scenario with another ruleset, the first thing I had to consider was how they differed, to see if the scenario needed to be adjusted. As I outlined in the previous post, the time scales of a "turn" are significantly different between the two rules, requiring an adjustment in the scenario length for example. What else might need to be adjusted.

The author of TSIA recommended some changes, one of which was to adjust the board to 8 by 8 squares. One of the tenets of OHW is to provide "practical tabletop battles for those with limited time and space". Although I was certainly not space limited when playing that scenario (I played it on a 3' by 3' section of a 6' by 4' table), I often do play on a smaller table and so I was trying to keep to the spirit of OHW. Nonetheless, it got me to thinking. What would have been the impact of adding one additional square (6") to each edge of the board?

Adding a Square to the West Side

The focus of the scenario is on the two hill squares. Control of these squares trumps all else in the scenario.

Given that this was a horse-and-musket game, these were the key squares to attacking and retaining control of the hill. Because of musket range, only the squares marked in red could attack the hill.

Adding a column of squares to the west side of the board would have done little in altering the dynamics of the scenario, in my opinion. I understand the desire to avoid the "wall-to-wall" troop effect and by having six units and a board six squares wide, you would think that adding squares to the flanks would alleviate that. It would not. The "wall-to-wall" effect was a function of the scenario design calling for the entry of six units onto the board on turn 1.

Had there been an additional square to the west I probably would have shifted the light infantry from a position on the east, approaching the woods, to the new square created on the west flank. This would still have resulted in wall-o-wall troops, just shifted left one square.

I do not mean say that the addition of the square would not have had an effect; it just was not going to have an effect on trying to get the troops to space out. As long as the focus was on specific squares, troops would naturally cluster around those points. Adding a square to the west would have allowed more firepower to bear on the western flank's key control squares, potentially dislodging a unit and allowing an attack on the hill.

Adding a Square to the East Side

Given the range of the musket (one square for full fire, two squares with skirmishers) the east side was largely out of play. Throwing a woods on that flank ensured that side was going to swing around onto the east side quickly and easily in order to attack their opponents in the rear.

If the east flank had been extended a square, presumably there would have been woods in the same positions in the new column. If there had not been, you would have essentially been negating the presence of the woods in the first place, which would have been a violation of the spirit of the scenario.
Note: because square grid movement in TSIA counts the diagonal the same distance as the horizontal and vertical, moving around obstacles is very easy in TSIA. So positioning a woods on the flank would have presented no obstacle to movement, and thus to time, unless the woods were also present in the new column of squares.
I see no value in adding a square to the east, as it leave more of an area out of play. This is a function of the scenario having the terrain objectives offset from the center.

Adding a Square to the South Side

Adding a square to the south, where the French attack from, modifies the dynamics of the scenario quite a bit, and this was my main objection to changing the board size. Let's start by looking at the decisions the French Commander has.
Note: when I rate rules I have a category called Engaging that represents "do the rules allow the player to make meaningful decisions that lead to consequences?"
The key determinant on the French Commander's decisions is whether the enemy units on the hill have already activated this turn or not. You can actually break down the French Commander's thought process using a truth table.

Allies Move First (Turn 1)French Move First (Turn 1)
Bet Allies Will Move First (Turn 2)
Bet French Will Move First (Turn 2)

A. In this situation the Allies will not get to fire on the first turn as the French are off the board, but because they act first on the second turn they will be able to take two Fire actions before the French can act.

B. In this situation the French are forced onto the board where they can be fired upon, and then have to withstand an additional two Fire actions in the second turn before they can act. This is the worst situation for the French Commander.

C. If the Allies move first there is no firing, as the French are off of the board. If the French then move first after coming on the board they can act without any fire from the Allies first. This is the ideal situation for the French Commander.

D. This situation is only better for the French as they would get two volleys into the Allies on the second turn, but that is after they had received two from the Allies on the first turn.

So the French Commander's decisions are strongly influenced by the firing potential of the Allies before he can act with full firepower with his own units. Let's look at this in detail.

When the French turn to act occurs, they have two actions available to each unit. Each action can be either Move or Fire. (There are more actions, but these are the two we will only concern ourselves with at the moment.) The Move action will allow the unit to move one square in any direction, as long as the square is unoccupied. The Fire action will allow the unit to fire at full potential into any adjacent square, or to fire weakly at any square up to two squares away (given some limitations on line of sight, which we will ignore for now).
To understand the firepower potential, each Allied unit will get to throw 6 dice for each Fire action if at a unit one square away, and 1 die for each Fire action if at a unit two squares away. Each French units firepower potential is 3 dice and 1 die, respectively. The differential in dice is not due to unit quality, but due to possession of the hill.
For the first action, the French have no real choice; they must take a Move action to move onto the board. For the second action the French can either take an additional Move to get adjacent to the enemy on the hill or they can take a Fire action and fire weakly at the enemy (about 1/3rd of the firepower of a full volley). Which should combination of actions should they take?

Going back to the truth table, this is what the firepower potential of the Allies looks like if the French take two Move actions on the first turn. (French firepower potential is in ( ). As it will be at one square the second French turn would consist of two Fire actions.)

Allies Move First (Turn 1)French Move First (Turn 1)
Allies Move First (Turn 2)
12 (6)
24 (4)
French Move First (Turn 2)
11 (6)
11 (6)

Now let's compare that to the truth table if the French take one Move action, followed by a Fire action on both turns 1 and 2. Again, this is the firepower potential of the Allies. (French firepower potential is in ( ).)

Allies Move First (Turn 1)French Move First (Turn 1)
Allies Move First (Turn 2)
2 (4)
4 (4)
French Move First (Turn 2)
12 (4)
14 (4)

Just looking at the change in the tables shows you that the decision the French Commander makes has a tremendous impact on the game and its pace. (It also shows you how much of a gambler I was.) This example also shows why I rated TSIA a 5 out of 5 in Engaging. Such as simple decision – do I Move/Move then Fire/Fire or do I Move/Fire then Move/Fire – can result in drastically different odds and outcomes.

Now, let's add a square to the French baseline. When the French unit acts its first action will be Move, just as it was previously. It must enter the board. The second action, however, cannot logically be Fire as nothing is within range. If the French Commander decides he does not wish to move into range of the Allied units, then he would Pass for the second action. But why would he do that? The firepower would only yield 1 die per Fire action. Hardly enough to be concerned about. So on turn one, rather than having a decision on whether the second action should be Move or Fire, leading to radically different potentials for turn two, you have no real decision. Further, on turn two the French Commander's decision is also pretty much set. Being one square away, the choice is to Move then Fire.

So, what does that extra square gain you, the players? It actually leads to fewer real choices. It may be more realistic, in that the outcome of who moves first on the first turn results in less drama, but it is interesting that the simple addition of a square essentially delays the action, thus delaying the opportunity for the player to make real, meaningful choices.

Are your scenarios engaging? Have you made decisions about timing, terrain placement, and force disposition that leads to more or less engagement by the players? Is adding that extra square (or subtracting it) really as simple as just giving all your troops a little more elbow room?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

TSIA and One-Hour Wargames

If you don't play games with your miniatures often you are less likely to want to paint more of them, reducing that lead, plastic – and in my case, wood – pile. I needed to get back in the saddle and game, having spent too much time recently gaming on the computer and watching old television shows on Amazon Prime.

I wanted to introduce a couple of gamers in the area to Tin Soldiers in Action (TSIA), but I needed a scenario. As I have a limited number of units per side (I was going to use my wooden Napoleonic miniatures for the game) I needed a scenario with a limited unit count. I knew that Neal Thomas' various rules tend toward that idea, so I started looking around in his books for ideas. I cracked open One-Hour Wargames: Practical Tabletop Battles for Those With Limited Time and Space (OHW), looked through the scenarios, and settled on Scenario 4: Take the High Ground.

Take the high ground is a simple scenario. Side A starts with two units on the board, on a hill, closer to Side B's baseline. Side A's remaining four units start off-board. Side B's six units also starts off-board. Side B moves first, with all six units coming on the board on turn 1. Only the on-board units of Side A can move on turn 1, with the off-board units coming on the board on turn 2.

The objective is to hold the hill at the end of the game, after 15 turns. Whoever holds the hill wins.

Translating the board to TSIA is easy as OHW draws their maps on a three square by three square grid, each square representing a 12" square area. As TSIA uses 6" squares, each OHW square thus contains four TSIA squares. Here is the table for the scenario.

The Allies (British and Spanish) are Side A and the two on-board units are British Line Infantry, on the hill. This view is from the South (French / Side B) side.

I decided that I wanted to try and have the units in the scenario match more of what the units were painted as. As it stands, it is a bit of a stretch as I was using Prussian Landwehr as Spanish Militia units. (Actually they look passable ... except for the long coats, caps, and the yellow cross on those caps.) So, against all sound judgment, I decided to try the following order of battle.

  • Allies
    • British Infantry (Ace of Hearts)
      • Commander in Chief
      • Two British Line Infantry units (Infantry, Average, Professional, 12 figures, muskets, attached skirmishers)
    • British Cavalry (Two of Hearts)
      • British Light Dragoons unit (Light Cavalry, Superior, Professional, 6 figures, carbines, sabers)
    • Spanish (Ace of Diamonds)
      • Spanish Line Infantry unit (Infantry, Average, Professional, 12 figures, muskets)
    • Spanish Militia (Two of Diamonds)
      • Spanish Militia Line unit (Infantry, Inferior, Amateur, 16 figures, muskets)
      • Spanish Militia Light unit (Light Infantry, Inferior, Amateur, 12 figures, muskets, skirmishers)
  • French
    • French Infantry (Ace of Clubs)
      • Commander in Chief
      • Four French Line Infantry units (Infantry, Average, Professional, 12 figures, muskets, attached skirmishers)
    • French Lights
      • French Light Infantry unit (Light Infantry, Average, Professional, 12 figures, muskets, skirmishers)
    • French Cavalry
      • French Gendarmes unit (Heavy Cavalry, Average, Professional, 6 figures, sabers)
So, the French had a quality advantage, but the British had a (slight) numerical advantage (although they were equal in unit count) and an advantage in command count (giving them more cards and thus a greater chance to move something first).

I also needed to change the scenario somewhat as TSIA and OHW are on two different time scales. In OHW an infantry unit move 6" per turn (one TSIA square) and can either move or fire. In TSIA an infantry unit gets two actions per turn and can either move one square or fire in each of those actions. Effectively, two OHW turns is equivalent to one TSIA turn. So I halved the scenario length of 15 turns to 8 turns.

The next issue was the turn sequence. OHW is a traditional IGO-UGO and TSIA uses card (random) activation. The scenario called for Side B (in this case, the French) to move first, allowing only the on-board units of Side A to move on turn 1. At first I decided to partially honor that sequence:

  • Turn 1
    • Activate all French units
    • Activate all on-board Allied units
  • Turn 2 through 8
    • Use cards to determine activation order of all units on both sides
The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that TSIA's card activation also represents more than just who acts first. It also injects a fog of war that can result in units not acting in a timely manner. Consider the opening situation.

Infantry units with muskets have a one square range. If the unit has attached skirmishers then the unit can fire one additional square, but only with a single die. So the French unit has a choice:

  • March on one square and fire with one die, or
  • March on two squares
Note that this choice leads to how well the British can retaliate. If the French move one square and fire with one die, the British only get to retaliate with a single die for each Fire action. (They cannot risk advancing off of the hill as the French units would simply swing around the flanks and capture the hill.) However, if the French move two squares, the British retaliate with two full volleys.

Looking at it with random activation, if the British activate first, they will get no fire (as the enemy units are off of the table). If they activate after the French do, they essentially get the same choices as they would with IGO-UGO. So, using random activation allows you to simulate whether the attack is being launched with surprise or not. (If the British activate first, it is a surprise French attack; if the French activate first, it is not.)

For this game I decided to go with the TSIA activation method rather than a modified activation method. You will see the impact of that decision later.

As only one Allied command can act on turn one, the chance of some surprise was high, as they only had one command card while the attacker had three. But the reality is closer to the odds being 50-50 as it really only mattered whether the French Infantry command moved before or after the British Infantry command.

Game Preparation

To prepare for the game I laid out the command cards (four for the Allies and three for the French), created a cheat sheet to remind me which card belonged to which command, then wrote out two casualty rosters, one for each side, so I could mark off hits and keep track of stats. That would minimize markers on the field (in theory), as I have to use several hits per figure. (I am using six figure units, counting for 12 soldiers.)

I did not have one commander figure per command, only one Commander in Chief for each side, so I decided to use just one Commander. (I need to make more proper Commanders and Generals.) I was okay with that as both the commands and the board are small. It meant I had to keep everyone except open formation units within 2 squares of the commander. Not very hard on a board six squares by six squares when your command radius is five squares by 5 squares!

I also decided not to re-read the rules before playing. I did that intentionally because I wanted to see just how much of the rules I have retained from the last time, how many of the details of the rules were memorable, and where the rough spots were. A ruleset is more likely to be played after a break if its rules are memorable.

Turn 1

The British Line drew the first command card, so they had to move first, indicating that the defender was surprised. As there was nothing for the units to do, they passed.

The French Lights moved onto the board in open order, heading towards the woods. The French Cavalry moved cautiously onto the board, covering the left flank of the light infantry. They could have moved four squares, but they only moved two. The French Line moved straight onto the board two squares, heading for an assault on the hill.

No strange moves, although I did consider what I could do with the road movement for the unit on the road. I had to look up the road movement rule, as I had never really used it in any previous game. Basically each move action allows you to move up to three squares with infantry, but you end the action disordered. It did not really seem worth taking the disorder so soon, just to get off one volley.

Turn 2

The Spanish Militia Lights moved in open order two squares straight ahead towards the woods. (I remembered that Amateurs get two actions only if performing the same action, otherwise they get only one action.) The Spanish Militia Line was on the road and could move quite some distance, but I again decided to move conservatively as I did not want to end the movement with Disorder, and I could not Move once and Rally with the second action as the unit is Amateur.

The French Line got the jump on the British, further showing the surprise that the French had! I start with firing on the left at the units on the hill. I remembered the basic formula was 0.5 dice per figure with muskets. I believed the hill halved the firepower, but I had to look it up to be sure. (I was right.) So each unit gets three dice, needing a '6' to score a hit.

The first French unit scores two hits when I remembered that I didn't really remember the rules on how units gets disordered (other than by moving through terrain in close formation and by using road movement). I remembered that there is a Tenacity check, and it occurs after firing and before close combat, so I decided to check there. Yep, units suffering casualties from firing check tenacity. If they fail that check they become disordered and if already disordered, suffer from desertions. Simple.

The second volley from the first unit only produced a single hit, resulting in three hits on the British unit in the left square of the hill.

Moving next to the unit on the road, it fired at the right British unit on the hill in order to soften it up. It's two volleys produced two hits.

Now I remembered that attacking in close combat against intact units that are not isolated is a rather painful proposition, as adjacent enemy units can support the defender. So unless I wanted to attack both British units on turn 2, I needed to continue to wear them down and potentially deliver the killing blow with my French Cavalry. So I continued with the fire, but get no more hits on the British Line on the right square of the hill. It had a total of two hits.

So, time for Tenacity tests. I remembered them, but decided to double-check everything just to be sure. The only thing I really forgot was whether the target number was to roll equal or lower or roll lower than the number of figures in the unit. (It is equal or lower.) Both British units passed.

The French Cavalry was next to move, so I decided to immediately launch a charge on the east end of the hill, hitting the British Line.
Note: it may sound a little crazy that I launched a charge so soon. It was. I initially had rolled too many dice for the French fire. I calculated three dice per volley and two volleys, so six dice. I then rolled six dice twice for each unit, stupidly not realizing I had already accounted for the two Fire actions! By the time I had made the French Cavalry move, I realized my error, re-rolled the original casualties and moved on. Of course, I did not re-examine my decision of charging with the cavalry until I started calculating the odds...
I had to look up the Close Combat Test. Basically roll 1 die for each unit and on a 1-2 the French Cavalry is disordered and on a 1 the British Line is disordered (it had a tactical advantage, and thus a lower chance of failing the test). The French Cavalry gets disordered!

The British Line gets first strike (defensive fire), getting 10 dice, hitting on a '5' or '6'. The British completely whiff! Not a single hit! The French Cavalry get 6 dice, scoring a single hit. The cavalry wins, driving the first British unit off of the hill.

This is a big decision for the cavalry though, as now it can take the position. Note that it cannot take a breakthrough against the second British unit as it did not inflict more hits than the enemy unit had remaining. (I did have to look that up.) Taking the position leaves it in a vulnerable position, but denies the enemy from simply marching right back onto the square.

Disorder has the effect of requiring one action to remove it, but if you don't, you can still move and fight. The problem comes that your combat dice are halved, and failed tenacity or close combat tests will result in desertion.

I decided to have the cavalry take the position.

The French continue their momentum with The French Lights moving next. They decided to push through the woods, denying them to the Spanish Militia Lights.

The British Light Cavalry take a conservative move and station themselves by the Commander and the shaken British Line. Finally, the British Line get to activate. The retreated line swung to the west side of the hill after rallying off the disorder. The Line on the hill had a choice: throw two dice for each volley at the cavalry or five dice for each volley at the infantry at the base of the hill. I decided to hammer the French Line on the west end, hoping to create a weakness in the line. The British scored two hits. (The French passed their Tenacity check.)

Note that three cotton balls represents a units getting off two volleys, two cotton balls represents one volley, and one cotton ball represents firing skirmishers.

Turn 3

The one thing about random activation that some people like (and others hate) is when a unit gets the last move on one turn and the first move on the next. It essentially looks like a "double move" and it can be a powerful game changer.

The British Line, after activating after the French Line in the previous turn, activated first in this turn, granting the British four actions before the French got to act. The unit on the hill again attempted to pound the French at the end of the line, hoping to create a hole, but failed to score any hits after two more volleys. The second Line unit scored one hit with its one volley. The French handily pass their Tenacity check. A great opportunity lost!

The French Line immediately retaliated. The unit on the road moved further down, skirmishing with the Spanish Militia on the road, to no effect. The two French units on the left at the base of the hill fire two volleys each at the British on the hill, while the third fired one, then charge, led by the Commander. Amazingly, the British failed their Tenacity check, causing them disorder. Both the French and the British passed their Close Combat checks, however.

The British, despite being down 25% in manpower and disordered, inflicted as many casualties as the French inflicted in return (both scoring two hits). Although it is a draw, the French had their Commander attached, so they win. The British retreat, losing five (!) to desertion, leaving them with a single figure, so the unit disintegrated. The French take the hill.

The Spanish Militia continued to push down the road, with the Militia Lights covering their flank. Unfortunately, because the troops are amateur, they can only perform one type of action, and in this case it is Move, so they cannot Fire at the French on the road or in the woods.

Unfortunately for the Allies, the French Cavalry activated next, so they Rally. I consider charging with them, but even inferior amateur troops are not that bad in close combat, especially if they are not disordered. First, they would have to pass a Close Combat test. Granted, the militia fail on a '1' through '3', but the Cavalry fails on a '1' or '2', so the Cavalry has a substantial chance of failure too. After that the Militia roll 16 dice (or 8, if they had been disordered), needing a '5' or '6' to hit, so they would inflict about five casualties on the six figure cavalry unit. No thanks. The Cavalry stay put.

I had really wanted the British Cavalry to go before the French Cavalry, as I would have charged the latter while they were disordered. But now that they aren't, I would have to wait for another opportunity later in the game.

All of the remaining units fire to no effect, leaving this the positions on the board at the end of the turn. Things look bad for the Allies as they are down one of their best units and the French are in full possession of the hill.

Turn 4

The British Line again gets first activation and fire up the hill to try and dislodge the French Line unit there, inflicting a hit, but with the Commander not a casualty the unit does not need to check tenacity.

I swear I shuffled despite the order of the first two activations being the same! The French Line at the base of the hill started pounding the British Line, scoring four hits before one of the French units declares a charge. Meanwhile the French on the hill fired down on the Spanish and pound them with four hits also. Finally, the French on the road pound the militia for two hits.

The British check tenacity, failed, and were disordered. The Spanish passed, as did the militia.

Both the British and charging French passed their close combat tests. The British whiff their defensive fire (they are really terrible in close combat!) and the French completely wiped out the British with six hits.

At this point I bring the scenario to a close. There is no way that the single Spanish unit is going to hold off three French units, much less retake the hill. On the East flank two French average, professional units face two inferior, amateur Spanish units. The Allies have lost.

I need to rethink this scenario, especially the quality differentials. Maybe I should use the points system...


The first issue was wanting to match the units' paint jobs to historical performance despite the scenario not calling for any quality differentials. That is why I should always listen to that little voice that says "play it straight until you understand the dynamics, then you can start changing it".

The scenario practically assumes that you will lose the two units on the hill, or barely hold on, so the units coming on-board as reinforcements have to be equal to the task or re-taking the hill.

Secondly, if you are going to use different quality troops, using the ones that cannot fire and maneuver as your reinforcements and the ones that can fire and maneuver as your static defensive troops is a pretty stupid move. Had the militia been on the hill they would have been able to fire twice despite being amateurs. Had the British marched on, they would have been able to march forward and fire a volley on turn three.

Finally, not using the French then Allied activation sequence on turn one ensured that there was not a fair chance for the Allies. If the British activated first, they lost two Fire actions and ensured that the French would be right on them starting on turn 2. If the French activated first they had the choice of moving slowly and skirmishing, not being in a prime position on turn 2, or marching aggressively on turn 1 and gambling that they would activate first on turn 2. By leaving it to chance there was a 50% chance for a tough decision for the French versus 50% chance of a no-brainer, can't lose decision; by forcing the French to activate first there was a 100% chance of a tough decision for the French.

Clearly I need to replay the scenario with the quality of both sides being equal (as their are no real quantitative differences), even if not all units are of the same quality. Paint jobs be damned!

Another consideration is to have one single command per side as these armies really are pretty small. That would not only make the game feel more IGO-UGO, as was designed for the scenario, but you could still use the random activation to see which side activated first. So you get a little of TSIA and OHW's turn sequence.

Do the ratings I gave TSIA still hold, especially in the Unobtrusiveness (5 out of 5) and Heads Up (5 out of 5) categories? Yes.

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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").