How Men of Quality Resolve Differences

How Men of Quality Resolve Differences
Poodle attacks - an ugly but inevitable part of any 17th C. British Civil War, "Oh! The Shame of it All!"

Saturday, January 21, 2017

"Wargaming: An Introduction" - ACW rules playtest

Got together with veteran gamer - and Army veteran - to push around some of his 15mm lead and see what he thought about the rules. It's always good to get a fresh view on game rules when you've been at them for a while. Here, I sent them on ahead, and John diligently read them, putting him in a very small minority of gamers!

We used Scenario #11, "Surprise Attack" from "One-Hour Wargames", a classic that I've played many times and which has some clear-cut decisions to be made with which I'm familiar. This means that mere poor decisions or unfamiliarity will have less of a impact on what is really a test of the rules rather than the scenario or even victory. previous visitors will recall that I used it several times to playtest my "minimal changes" set of the OHW rules for Horse and Musket, HERE. 

John provided a full force in the W:AI rules, so the Union had 8 infantry, 3 guns and 2 cavalry, while the Confederacy had 6 infantry, 2 gun and 2 cavalry. We used the modified charts I had, and also rolled for leaders, as I stole the General rules from the Napoleonic rules in W:AI also. I of course rolled the usual weirdness, and ended up with 3 Elite and 3 Militia infantry, but got 2 elite cavalry. Union had a more representative spread of Average and Militia, but I think there was one Elite infantry. Guns were 2 Napoleons and a Rifle for Union, 1 6lb and 1 Napoleon for the Rebs.

I chose to take this force on the defensive, or the Red team. John had extra punch and I figured that meant the offensive. The Defender in Scenario #11 starts with only 1/3 of his force at start, with 1/3 entering turn 3 and the last 1/3 entering turn 9 - and it's a LONG wait for the last 1/3 on turn 9! I know this from experience...Scenario map and such below:


And John's lovely board, below - seen from the Reb viewpoint. The yellow lines are of course the road, the fenced farm to right center is the impassible bog, the left fenced farm is a wood [I didn't want to change the table and it all worked]. 

I set up the Rebs between the two terrain features per the rules. John put his guns in the center with a brigade of foot on either side. He started with Cavalry on the wings, then crossed the right cavalry over to join the left one. His guns are firing through the center gap. I'm sidling over to the 'woods' where I plan to contest his advance and also hide from his dramatic superiority in guns. My 6lb has so little impact that I decide to hide it behind the woods instead! This was mainly due to bad dice rolling. His left cavalry are obviously heading around my right flank. 

My main error was to forget that we're supposed to be on a 3' board, but with all the distractions of running the rules, I didn't realize for a few turns that John was actually 5' away from me! I gave him a 6" free move to get closer on turn 3 or so.

A few turns later, we were fighting right in the woods, below. The mass at the top of the woods is three Union regiments in double lines, faced by one Elite Reb. Behind is the preceding Elite Reb, that had been holding the edge but lost a stand and bolted. The Yanks were right behind, so I couldn't rally them and had to move back again, while I re-positioned my support unit. To the right is another Reb facing 3 close Yanks, one incoming Yank behind which are the guns. I did make one Yank scamper in the fight at the top edge of the woods, but I doubt the ability of the one infantry to hold off all those Yanks.


Still, they are buying some time, and my three Militia infantry are forming up at the objective, the crossroads behind them.


Here we get into the nitty-gritty of rules testing, below. John fully expected to be able to "mass" his infantry, 3-1, against mine in the woods, charging the whole bunch at me. However, the rules might not allow this. If you use the 19th C. rule set interpretation, then it's one charging Unit per side [front, rear, both flanks]. If you second-guess the language of W:AI, it may only be one charging Unit per Unit, not even one per side! I chose to go with the 19th C. rules for now. This and the order of phases makes it difficult for units to pour in support fire since the charging friend would block their fire as charges / moves precede fire. I have to say I really don't care for Move-Fire-Melee, but Brits seem to love it!

Still, John has his Yanks all on the Front side. That means that he can roll to charge each one, until one passes, and then put that one in Contact. The others will not be able to fire or charge. Or he can instead fire all three units, pretty likely causing a morale check. If nothing else, in a turn or two he'll win the battle of attrition, most likely.

NT clearly leans into the - very historical, granted - concept that regiments would choose to fire until the enemy appeared to waver, then would go in with cold steel. My experience is that gamers like to charge way too quickly, using math to bully their way forwards. However, even if one successfully passes the morale check to charge, the defender gets to fire, and then there's morale if a stand is lost, and nothing better than an even melee if they don't lose a stand and don't have to check. So a 50-50 to win the melee. 

Some well-read gamers would say that even a 50-50 going in without weakening the defender with fire is too generous. I agree with that historical assumption. Interestingly, in game mechanics, the combination of all units being the same size, and all firing and meleeing the same [3+ per attacking stand to get a hit, a defending stand is lost at 4 hits] results in a net 50-50 chance, if you go in Fresh, and if you pass your original morale roll to charge at all. 

Contrast this with Simplicity in Practice, which has no morale roll to charge, but gives a solid advantage to the defender if the attacker doesn't have an edge in Disorder Points. The bottom line is that NT is trying to force gamers to either weaken the enemy with firepower and then charge, or take a chance at going in at odds of 50-50 at best, perhaps worse depending on supporting fire. Overall I'm fine with the concept, just wondering if the execution in game mechanics can be more nuanced without a lot of complexity.

Meanwhile, to my right [below] the Union cavalry are contesting my arriving reinforcements, two Elite cavalry and a Napoleon, with their two regiments of grocery store clerks [average cavalry]. Some humor was made at their expense expressing a confidence I did not have - with my back to the board edge, I was looking at losing any Unit that was forced to retreat - so "fake it 'til you make it" for the Rebs! 

Fortunately, the bottom Yank cavalry doesn't make its charge roll. Unfortunately, Rush's Lancers do, and we're now in melee. Fortunately, the Rebs win the melee by one Hit, despite rolling badly - the Yanks rolled worse! They retreat a move, I move after them to get away from the board edge. Below, on my turn I charged the other Yank cavalry. I - believe - I managed to fight my way from the board edge there, also. In any event, the Rebel reinforcements get on and stay on the board by the skin of their teeth.


The Yanks close in on the woods below. While definitely attriting the defense, they are not getting closer to taking the crossroads and victory. The Reb in the back with a 3-1 formation rallied back its stand, so we're doing OK holding on in the woods. The choice to attack heavily there struck me as a bit too close to the Chew House decision in the Battle of Germantown, but on the other hand John's successfully pinned my Elite infantry in the woods. Only problem is he can't force a quick decision there.









Did discover a small rules glitch here - to avoid people easily picking on flanks covered by friendly infantry, I phrased the Line of Sight rules to make it difficult to get a shot as I measure LoS from an attacker's front center to the center of any side [front, rear, either flank side] that is in LoS. But the short range of these rules and the shortened LoS in the woods meant that I have to allow the distance to be drawn to the closest side, even if it is a flank protected by a friendly Unit. Or, I can scrap the Protected Flank rule for fire but not charges, or scrap it completely. This doesn't matter much since there is no Enfilade bonus in these rules. Decisions, decisions...
















A bit to the right, the Yanks spread out against my Militia - just as well, since they only pass a morale roll on a '6'! I manage to shoot off a stand, but my right flank needs the VMI cadets to get there fast!

Below, the concentrated fire in the woods drives back one Yank unit, easing the pressure a bit. Still, there's 4-3 odds there. The main problem as I see it is that altho I've three units, there's only a frontage of 8 stands as I'm getting pressed in - if the Yanks spread out a bit, they'd get about 12-8 on my two front Units in stands.

Below the woods, my VMI have moved up, while my left Militia was able to charge into a gap made by a retreating Yank! This is very good, since they're holding the crossroads and, well, they're not very good troops!

At this point, we had to call it. the game took a bit of time since we had some great conversations, and some of them were even about the game! My host is an interesting dude, I can tell you that for certain.
  This was an excellent playtest b/c it brought up several rules issues. The major one is the classic "concentration of force". NT has some mechanics that make it quite difficult to do so by several units on a unit or two that are either part of a continuous line or have secure flanks. It should be noted that both the Napoleonic and ACW W:AI rule sets allow  three Units to charge an isolated Unit with open flanks [one each on the Front and both Flanks], which should easily and quickly drive off the defender, unless the attacker has just awful HtH rolls.

I checked the Napoleonic rules, and those also do not say how many Units are allowed to charge a defending Unit. However, both the Ancients and the Pike and Shot rules specifically say "the two antagonists will fight in the hand to hand phase " and "a unit may turn to face an attacker on its flank as long as it is not in melee towards its front". 

So is seems I'm likely wrong about using the 19th C. rules mechanic which limits charges to one per side, four total, with the Napoleonic and ACW rules. Overall, I'm leaning towards allowing more than one Unit to charge a single side in both these sets of rules. The ACW rules already have the morale check, which will limit the ability of attacking units to gang up in melee. The Napoleonic rules do not have a morale check, and I'm wondering how the famous British line are supposed to hold off 2-3 charging French in column, but I'll have to ask Steve at "Sound Officer's Call" about that.

EDIT: SOC Steve sent me a pic of NT's Napoleonic Wargaming book, and it is also one Unit per face of the charge. This leaves me at:
* Wargaming: An Introduction [2005] - Ancient / Pike and Shot mention two Units, with the possibility of one on the front and another on the flank / rear side.
* Ancient & Medieval Wargaming [2008] - says the same as above.
* Napoleonic Wargaming [2009] - specifically says up to one Unit per defender's side.
* Wargaming 19th C. Europe [2012] - also specifically says one attacking unit per side of defending Unit.
All the above use the same 4-base Unit and sequential casualty mechanic, so I consider them to all inform each other.
**One-Hour Wargames [2014] of those rule sets of the nine that allow melee contact  they all specify one unit per side, OR only one unit [cavaly] charging one target per turn.
At this point, I am now flipping back from my above comment, and running with Dale's opinion I saw on my pal's post that "NT assumes one unit per side, whether he says it or not."  That is probably because units are identical in size in his rules if they can charge - only artillery are narrower, so that makes me think that he assumes that Units pretty much take up each other's frontage on the charge, and perhaps we should move them into full edge to edge contact, as well.

Overall, I'm realizing that one little tinkering - allowing Units to deploy in two ranks - can have plenty of unforeseen consequences. Here, it allows people to concentrate multiple Units within the same frontage as a unit in line, apparently not NT's intent. As ACW commanders didn't usually deploy in that formation for fighting, I may have brought this upon myself as NT says that all the Units are to be four bases fighting in a 1-base deep line. However, it won't solve the problem for Napoleonics as they are definitely allowed to fight in a column!

Wish NT answered emails!

Overall, the questions I came up with are:

  1. Ditch Protected Flank?
  2. Enfilade for Guns?
  3. Allow multiple charges?
  4. Mounted cavalry should easily charge mounted cavalry...and skirmishers, I think.
  5. longer retreat movements? or at least from Melee?
  6. Spreading fire over a continuous line.

I'm leaning towards Yes, Yes but only at a steep angle, Yes, Yes, Yes, and Yes. All quite small changes, except for #3. They do add to the complexity a bit, but not much. For newbies, I think the One-Hour Wargames rules are the way to go, at this point, anyway.

So much thanks to John, who was both a gracious host and had some real insight into both history and game mechanics.  Just goes to show that for every draft, you need several playtests, and a couple with sympathetic gaming veterans!








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