My drive was along Interstate-10 to just outside Las Cruces, NM, where I switched to US Highway 70, which is a highway I have not been on for any serious distance. It is a great drive because it takes you past White Sands Missile Range, White Sands National Park (with its white sand dunes), into the Sierra Blanca Mountains.
By the way, this is in the heart of the Mescalero (Apache) Indian Reservation. Before you get to this scenic viewpoint, however, you go through the town of Mescalero and as the road bends and goes over a rise, you see this amazing church, St. Joseph Apache Mission.
Unfortunately construction was going on and the exit was closed. There was some detour to get there, but I was not feeling adventurous – being a man on a mission – and kept going. But I did read up about it later that night. stjosephapachemission.org
I stopped after 10 hours of driving and stayed for the night outside Amarillo, TX. This is another area I had never been through. It is actually amazing as – although it is “West Texas” – it is the green part. Being flat, you can see for miles, all of the wind turbines and massive grain silos and elevators. (The buildings are so massive and tall you think it is a skyscraper in the distance.)
My first game (and only game scheduled on Friday as I anticipated that I would arrive by 6 PM, not noon) was 15mm Napoleonics (using home brew rules) entitled “Prelude to the Battle of Jakobovo (1812)”, where the Russians are attacking a French covering force, guarding the French line of communication and supply. On the Russian right flank is a four-section town, with one section containing a castle, which the Russians are to take. Each town section is worth 1 VP, with the castle section being worth 2 VP (so the entire town is worth 5 VP). The Russians also get 1 VP is the take a road exit on the French baseline. (As there is no turn limit, just a time limit, it is possible to take it, but highly unlikely. So the Russians have two missions: take the town; and keep the rest of the French forces from reinforcing or retaking the town.
Unfortunately I did not take any pictures of the game, but the image above shows the flow of the battle. I (as the Russians) focused three divisions on the town, surrounding it on three sides, taking all sections, including the castle. Meanwhile, the remaining Russian forces made spoiling attacks to keep the French pinned in place, retreating when things got too hot.
After it was all over, with the Russians winning 8 VP to 2 VP (you also get VP for breaking enemy brigades) – a major victory – I was told that after about a dozen times playing this scenario, no one had ever taken the castle. In fact, no one had ever taken more than two town sections. I was rated as one of their most aggressive Russian players. Ironically, I tend to play ‘recklessly’ whenever I try rules for the first time because I want to push the system and see how it reacts. So I was charging into the town without any significant bombardment, or firing muskets for several turns. Just fix bayonets and ‘Ura’!
My second event was Saturday morning and was a game of good, old Songs of Drums and Shakos with the Ottoman Turks facing off against French dismounted dromedary troops. French quality versus Turkish quantity. It was also a game of skirmishers versus formed troops because I (as the Turks) decided to keep our mob formed as mush as possible, to offset the bad odds of using low quality troops.
We started with a very nice board with various light cover scattered about. The two walls are high enough that you cannot fire over them unless on the very ends where it is sloped down. The French (top) have much more cover (the smaller rocks are decoration that have no effect on play). Ironically, no one ever entered the building to fire from the windows, where they would have had hard cover.
The game started off with the French skirmishing onto the board. The Turks, meanwhile, formed up off-board, but could not coax anyone to enter the board until the fourth turn. The French were razzing the Turkish troops for their lack of elan.
Finally the Turks come on and they show them the power of volley fire. Before the French can stop laughing, their two forward scouts lie wounded on the ground.
The Turks continue to pick off the French with volleys. (Even though they are behind cover the math of volley fire almost ensures one wounded Frenchman for every volley.)
After more volleys the Turkish squad out in the open decides to shift right and get out of the crossfire. The Turks have dropped five Frenchmen while only losing one.
The French then sneak a single trooper around the corner of the building and shoot the Turkish leader, forcing the Turks into a morale check, which four fail!
The French player accomplished this by making sure that only the leader was visible to the trooper as figures are forced to always fire at closest target. This was how he was able to target the leader in the rear. It was a helluva’ shot!
With their leader lost, the NCO takes over. He quickly reforms all of his troops (save one flank guard) and has them reload.
Marching the Turks smartly around the corner of the house they loose a volley and wounding the trooper guarding the French officer. While the officer shoots his pistol at the Turkish NCO and misses, the troops calmly reload.
The soldier guarding the flank (played by my team mate) gets a bit ambitious and tries to shoot the two Frenchmen hiding in cover, They draw their swords after he misses…
The French NCO and a trooper spring from the rocks and quickly puts the flanker down. However, the French officer calmly looks at the reloaded Turkish line, doffs his hat in salute, and goes down to the blistering fire of the Turks. French morale breaks and the skirmish is over. They have lost nine wounded to the Turks three wounded and four who shamefully fled.
Song of Drums and Shakos is an amazingly simple yet fun set of skirmish rules. The core mechanic centers around activation of figures and gambling, rolling 1, 2, or 3 dice to determine the number of actions you receive. However, if you have two or more failures, you end your turn, regardless of the number of figures that have not gone yet. This trade off between trying to accomplish as much as possible with each figure versus beating the odds against two failures is the primary tension that the rules provide.
The last game was the Battle of Utitsa, where the Russians are defending against the Duchy of Warsaw (Polish) army is attacking. Because I was the attacker last time, and it looked like the only people signed up were the same ones for the first event, I decided to stay as the Russians and defend. I was commanding the Corps on the left.
Basically the Russian left is defending a hill line with all Grenadier battalions. Our only objective is to keep the Poles off of the hill.
Strangely, to the extreme left flank there was a Cossack division. I was told that they were not on the battlefield and I did not know when they would be made available, if ever. (My opponent opposing me on this flank was told the same.) Apparently in previous games the Polish cavalry would sweep around this flank and simply run down the Russian line. The idea was that if the Poles made for the empty hill to my left, it would trigger these Cossacks as reinforcements. Again, neither my opponent nor I knew this. I was begging for them every turn and the Polish commander was getting uneasy about when they would come on. He took the bait, nonetheless, and triggered the Cossacks entering the fray.
Although the quality of the Poles was equal to French Line, they were not equal to Russian Grenadiers. These rules have an initiative system that forces players to make their moves when the initiative number they rolled is called. So attacking is very much influenced by timing, as in do you get to move first or second. (All combat is simultaneous, however.)
Initially the hosts had told me that I would be the Russian CinC, but it was obvious that my team mate had very specific ideas about what to do. (He was apparently the scenario designer, so he knew much of what reinforcements there were and where they would come on.) I had no problem listening to his recommendations, but they weren't … recommendations. They sounded more like orders. He would tell me what to do with each unit and I would smile, chuckle, and nod agreeably. Of course, I threw much of his orders out. I could hear him several times muttering to the hosts that I was "an insubordinate player" and "much too aggressive". He was sure that I was going to get too far away from the hill and lose it.
The image above shows you how the initiative can play out. Firing range is 8" and infantry in line move 8" (12" in column). The Poles moved up into very close range, but did not contact. Russian Grenadiers were at an advantage if they charged (rather than stand to receive a charge), so I charged! (The Russian CinC, of course, was telling me what a blunder of a move it was.)
This image shows the result: the Pavlov Grenadiers utterly wiped out the first Polish brigade to come into contact with the Russian defensive line. I continued to parry and thrust like this over the next few turns while simultaneously shifting my troops to the left (onto the next hill) to counter the flanking threat.
The Poles never broke through the Russian line. The CinC admitted that my aggression kept the Poles off-balance, especially when I took the Cossacks and – against the advice of the Russian CinC, the game host, and the rules author – ran them into the Polish rear, creating havoc and breaking the forward momentum of the attackers. I even had one Cossack brigade capture a Polish Division commander, inflicting a morale effect on each brigade in his division, before it overran two batteries of Polish artillery from the rear.
I was shocked that they were shocked at the results. They kept telling me "but you will only get one die of attack" and "you aren't going to win any combats unless you mass all of them together" (I was running each brigade independently, deeply separated from the others). It was like they had never seen anyone play Cossacks before!
I had held the hill (it did not give us any VP, just deny the Poles the VPs), but I had also inflicted two of the three Divisional morale failures on the Poles (which was worth 1 VP each), so the Russians won, 3 to 1. The Russian CinC did congratulate me on my game, saying that he had never played with someone who was so aggressive, yet did not simply throw his troops away. [shrug]
Overall I definitely had a good time. I really only played three four-hour games, which you might think is not much given that I drove 1800+ miles for a total of 28 hours. Honestly, I think I only could have gotten one more game in (which was originally scheduled, but cancelled at the start of the convention). I spent the time during that slot playing a board game I had and writing up event 1 and 2 for this blog, so it was not a waste.
One of the things I am tending towards at the moment is to use conventions to play mass battles, like in events 1 and 3, and mostly do skirmish and board gaming when I am home. I will probably change my mind again, but my thinking is that I don't have to collect mass troops and worry about basing, nor terrain for that scale of battle, and simply focus on the smaller stuff.
Like I say, I will probably change my mind again.