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!"

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

"Wargaming: An Introduction" detailed tactical and mechanic analysis for ACW rules

We can take'em Boys!  And some day Osprey will make a book about us titled "Meade's Marauders" or "Gibbons Grenadiers" or "Stonewall's Stompers" or...something.
How NOT to attack in a wargame - or reality!

"Wargaming: An Introduction" detailed tactical and mechanic analysis

Game Mechanics & Tactical Analysis: The mechanics of these rules are pretty simple - the impact on game tactics and how the Union and Confederate sides fight is not immediately obvious, however, just like with many other rules. They directly affect what tactics generally work best for both sides. IF one uses the entire set of rules, as recommended [Mr. T’s “quite English” style never insists on anything!] then there’s definitely a totality that creates an overall differentiation between the Union and the Confederacy.
Is it a sweeping generalization? Of course! There’s really no problem with that since ALL social science and war studies today are based upon just that, sweeping generalizations.  Yes, there’ll be about 500 exceptions that people can pick out of history.  But we’re talking more to the 5,000 occurrences that make the rule.

BLUF: Shooting is the main tactic, and favors a standing defender. Units either shoot or move. A round of Infantry Fire results in Morale checks at the second Fire, on average; chance to pass is 33% on average with a failure being a full move to the rear. Assuming a failure, the opposition may then advance, gaining ground if needed.

Attackers can benefit from preparatory cannon fire; inflicting even just 1-2 Hits removes the “one more shooting round advantage” a standing defender has over the attacker. Obviously, a second supporting attacking unit can do the same.

Charges are best executed into the flanks of units exposed by the retreat of their friends from enemy shooting; an advance can get the right angle in one turn. Charges on the front of a Target Unit require the attacker to pass a morale check [again, average of 33% pass rate] but there’s no morale check required to charge a flank. Also, an advantage in bases is needed as there’s no dice bonus in Hand-to-hand for attacking the flank or rear, so you need 3-4 bases to the defender’s 2-3 bases at least, or an additional charging Unit.

Summary: Good tactics with this game involve an attacker using artillery support to weaken a defending unit - or two - with 2-4 hits each. A point of attack should be made against a defending Unit where even just one additional attacking infantry Unit can fire at it. This should result in the defender retreating a full move, exposing the flanks of its neighbors in the battle line, who may then be charged on their flank [or retreat, losing two rounds of shooting or so], and if they’ve even one less base the attacker should win.

Infantry Shooting and Morale Mechanics. 
Some math and other calculations this summary is based upon.
  1. Shooting range is 16cm and Movement is 8cm for Infantry, so an Infantry move is 1/2 of shooting range. 
  2. Units may only move OR shoot in their turn, not both. 
  3. Retreat from a morale failure caused by stand loss is a full move, 8cm. 
  4. Rallying back a stand is only possible if one cannot be shot at by Infantry [or dismtd cavalry]. 
  5. Morale check due to stand loss is one worse than to rally back a stand on a D6 [most rules have it the other way around, I think]: Elite are a 4+/3+, Average are 5+/4+, and Militia are 6+/5+, so a Unit is 16.7% more likely to “rally a stand loss” than “hold under effective fire that resulted in a stand loss”.
So an Attacker using a shooting strategy v. a Defender prepared and facing it goes like this:
  1. Attacker moves within 16cm of the Defender, between >8-16cm.
  2. Defender fires at advancing Attacker, and will always get in the first shot if standing.
  3. Defender fires - rolling 4 dice for a 3+ gives about 2.5 hits a turn. With Average dice, the Defender will inflict 2-3 Hits, not enough to cause a morale check.
  4. Attacker will now fire in his next turn, also inflicting 2-3 hits, not enough for a morale check [but it should be noted that it is possible for either to inflict 4 hits and a stand loss and morale check on the other in every exchange of fire between full-strength Units, so Artillery knocking off just one stand in preparation for an attack can make a big difference!]. So with Average dice...
  5. The Defender will fire again and cause 2-3 hits and a stand loss. An Attacker with average morale needs a 5+ or 33% to pass the effective fire of the Defender at the end of the Defender's turn during the Morale Phase. On average, the Attacker will fail and retreat 8cm back out of the Defender's shooting range.
  6. On the Attacker's turn, the first Phase is Rallying, which requires that no Defending Infantry or Dsmtd Cavalry can shoot at this Attacker [not that they do] and that this Attacker not move during his turn. So the Attacker has a choice - to advance back into the Defender's fire with three stands [75% as effective as the Defender] or attempt to rally and stay in place for the turn. If the latter, the Attacker needs a 4+ to rally back the stand loss [a 50% chance].
Given the above, the ideal situation for the Attacker is to engage the Defender with even just one extra unit that is ready to move up, with all four stands, and engage the Defending Unit that has taken 2-3 Hits in the preceding exchange of fire from which the Attacking Unit retreated.  Alternative [or perhaps best together] is to use Artillery fire to knock off a few extra hits, resulting in Hit parity between the attacker and defending Unit.

This back and forth of retreats under fire and rallying back, and deciding when to return to the fray, is of course provided a lot of friction through morale. Any Unit taking fire from 2-3 enemy Units may easily take 5-10 Hits resulting in the loss of a stand or two. If the Unit passes the morale checks taken at the end of the enemy turn, he is almost in more trouble than if he failed them! It is harder to voluntarily retreat from the enemy than to be forced, as one only has a 4cm move if one turns around.

This means that if you want to Engage the enemy in a firepower contest, you almost certainly need an extra unit or two and some artillery support, even just 1 gun makes a difference, two a BIG difference. You then advance to about 14cm and open fire, this gives you the option to voluntarily retreat 4cm if needed as well as be forced back 8cm. In both retreat options, you next turn starts with you making rally attempts which you should definitely do! As you regain lost stands, you also have to keep the enemy more than 16cm away, out of possible shooting range, OR screen your rallying unit[s] with a fresh spare regiment.

Charging and the Morale Mechanics. 

Given the 2-1 ratio of Firing Range to Movement, plus the free shot the defender gets when charged FRONTALLY, it is impossible to enter HtH without being shot at thrice for foot [and twice for mounted]. The likely result for Infantry is 1-2 morale checks for 1-2 stands lost, plus a third check to Charge home. The math works out something like this:
Passing Roll     1 Check       2 Checks          3 Checks
6+ [Militia]            1/6                  1/36                  1/216         [Hail Mary…]
5+ [Average]         1/3                  1/9                    1/27          [good improvement, bad plan]
4+ [Elite]               1/2                  1/4                    1/8           [hopeful, but not likely]
3+ [Elite +Gen]  2/3-66%        4/9-44%           8/27-30%      [doesn’t get better, unfortunately]
So without amazing extremes of Lottery Winning Luck, we’re looking at a defender rolling low on their shots and only causing one check for stand loss followed by a second check to charge home, or a 44% chance, not even 50-50. That’s charging with an Elite Unit lead by a charismatic general. Clearly, if we are going to attack through charging, we’re going to have to improve our odds.

One way is to punish defending Units through superior firepower. This might be accomplished through concentrated artillery or just one extra unit overlapping. A defending unit that has managed to pass its morale and stick around will be firing with 3 or 2 dice depending.  Just what are the Artillery shooting odds?
Unit Size          4 stands           3 stands           2 stands           1 stand
Infantry, 3+ to Hit                     2.67 Hits           2 Hits                1.33 Hits           0.67 Hits
Napoleons, 4+ to Hit                
Long Range, 1 Dice                  2 Hits                1.5 Hits             1.0 Hit               0.5 Hit
Short Range, 2 Dice                 4 Hits                3 Hits                2 Hits                1 Hit
Clearly, if we can advance against a Defending unit with 3 - or even better 2 - stands, our chances of closing in for a charge drastically rise since it takes 4 Hits to remove a base and cause a Morale Check. With just one stand missing, a defender drops from 8 Hits and two bases shot off to 6 Hits and one base shot off. With two stands left, it has a 50% chance of failing to cause a check at all. So it’s clear that a successful charge relies on attacking defenders who’ve lost a base or two.

Additionally, if a defending line of Units has a Unit retreat, the resulting gap may allow a flank attack at one of the remaining defenders. This should significantly increase the chance of success as it avoids defensive fire [being out of their fire arc] and does not require a Morale Check of the Charging Unit. It is also advantageous to advance against units that retreat anyway, since they cannot rally with an enemy infantry [or dismounted cavalry] in firing range.

Thus the key to charges in this game is to initiate an attack with firepower, then take advantage of retreating defenders to exploit gaps in the line while denying them chances to rally.  A Mounted cavalry Unit would seem to be ideal, but how often does that happen!? Between Artillery and long shooting ranges, it’s nearly impossible to deliver Cavalry into a charge successfully in most ACW games.

All of which clearly illustrates how a few simple mechanics can result in pushing – without forcing – the player to use what the designer believes to be historically accurate methods to play, fight and win, without miring them in piles of charts and tables and forcing them to do lots of math [which is still useful to figure one’s chances of success, however!]. I hope this shows how simple but not simplistic rules, and good design, promotes both history and mental acuity, and NT’s ACW offering seems to have both – Happy Gaming!


  1. Another great post! I like the analytical treatment youve given the NT ACW rules. They certainly are a clever and simple set of rules that i cannot wait to play. Ive pkayed many games of the napoleonic rules but never the acw ones. Cant wait!

  2. thanks! Once in a while, I get this urge to really figure out what the chances are - in this case, they are much worse than I thought, and I won't be charging anyone without lots of preperatory fire which is classic American method, anyway.