How Men of Quality Resolve Differences

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

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

OHW Scenario #8: Melee - Playesting AWI Rules, p.1

Well, it's been a month since I posted, but a lot of gaming has been going on as I obsessively playtest my American Revolution rules. As I spent a lot of time closely reading Spring's "With Zeal and With Bayonets Only" and trying to incorporate the issues he raises for an AmRev commander, I'm tentatively calling them "Zeal and Bayonets".

My goal with the rules is to return to a pretty granular set that allows the player to make lots of the same decisions as the Battalion Commander.  At its heart, this is a BN game, altho most players will handle a small BDE or so. I like to think of it as a return to manual transmission after years of automatic - if you want to be in control of the decisions, this is the set of rules for you. If you want all lower level decisions abstracted so you can be the Brigadier - look elsewhere!  Perhaps "One-Hour Wargames"??  

The drive train is largely inspired by Scott Holder's "Patriots & Loyalists", an AmRev game that I played upon its release and that still inspires me in several ways. Altho a few of the mechanics are way overengineered [like a whole page on supporting a melee] there's a lot of other things that are very evocative of the period. My favorite is Leader Risk. Basically, Holder uses a d100 system, and every time you are fired upon you have to check morale - and the BN leadership can help with 1-20%. However, the % help they give is also the % risk to themselves. You roll again after morale and if you used the Leader for 20% assistance bonus, you have a 20% chance of the Leader getting whacked and the Unit taking a Permanent Marker - once PM's = Stands the Unit is destroyed!  And Units are usually 5 stands at a 1/20 ratio.  I like this mechanic of gambling with the lives of leaders.

I also like the rolling for Actions. Holder has you roll by BDE on a d10 and you've a 40% chance at 3 Actions for every Unit, and a 30% chance for both 2 and 4 Actions. If you roll down to 2 Actions, your opponent gets a chance to act one Unit for every one of your Units. So an interactive IGO-UGO.

Of course, I didn't leave much as-is in the end, and stole some other fun ideas from elsewhere. Steve Jones' "Bloodybacks" inspired me to return to actual figure kills along with "Loose Files and American Scramble" [from which he probably got the idea]. But I like the mechanic whereby Disorder comes and goes, and can be fixed, while actual casualties are Permanent.

Anyway, those are a few thoughts for those who are interested in rules design. Ultimately my goal is to put on the table some of the friction and granularity that makes the AmRev the AmRev and the challenges its leader's faced the challenges the player faces.  I had one cold playtest with a local gamer who's great at getting into the nitty gritty and offering critique. I made several changes from his comments and my thoughts including another partial playtest solo. 

Let's see how this car runs!

Game Setup. The Rebels have two units on the hill at game start - to left is a rifle BN in Extended Order [skirmishing, basically] and to the right behind the trees is a line unit of Marylanders - so almost as good as British line [they just aren't quite as good with l'arme blanche]. These two Units have the first turn. Entering Turn 3 are two 2nd Rate Line BNs at top right, and Turn 6 another Continental Line with a 6-lb gun at top left. His Majesty's Royal Butt-kickers will enter with 3 Units on the road Turn 1, followed by 3 more Turn 4. The Victory is in being in exclusive possession of the hill by Turn 15.
Turn 1. Rebels roll high and get full 3 Actions each, so easily advance into the woods and off the hill. The goal is to fight forward enough that the hill is safe, and use the woods to advantage. Brits enter on the road, with Light Infantry at the front screening columns of Grenadiers and Highlanders. The Scots rolled up for 3 Actions so marched on for 2 then faced left into a line. The Grenadiers barely got on the table with 1 Action [this is probably a good time to Grenadiers are probably the worst performers in all my games, statistically speaking].
American Turn 2, the Rifles advance and give the Light Bobs a "volley by wings". In Z&B, you can divide up your firing sequence by Divisions [1 Base] or combine them into Wings [2 Bases]. Depending on the bonuses and how you estimate your fortune with the dice, there are advantages to dividing up your fire or combining it. Range and firing angle play a roll also. The Lights take a Disorder Marker [DM] from the long range fire.
British Turn 2, the Lights move up rapidly to give the Grenadiers and Scots some space. They needn't have bothered, as both roll only 1 Action and they lag far behind. Battlefield coordination was a constant challenge for all combatants in wild North American terrain. The Actions mechanic presents this nicely, altho the Americans aren't in a position to take advantage of it - where's a Heavy Dragoon squadron when you need it??
Turn 3, the rifles put another DM on the Lights. In return, the Lights hammer the Rifles by moving in closer and unleashing their Initial Volley. The Rifles take two Markers and a casualty, and in the process of using some Leadership take a third DM with a low Leader Risk roll - the yellow die. The green dice are the morale check.
Turn 3 ends with the Patriot reinforcements on the table, the North Carolinians in white headed to the hill while the Pennsylvanians headed straight at the Scots at high speed! Low Actions dice result in both the Scots and Grenadiers making slow, leisurely progress forward. Both are not quite in position.
Turn 4 the Brigadier dashes over to help, and the Rifles roll well for Actions. They then rally off their 3 DMs with some effort, and use their third Action to give the Lights an ineffective volley.
Turn 4 continues, with the British slowly advancing, and their reinforcements entering. To bottom is the 105 Foot, the Irish Volunteers. Above them is the 40th Foot, and a 6-lb gun. With the Lobsterbacks in their faces, the Pennsylvanians get a case of the slows and are barely able to maneuver. Fortunately for them, the British are in no position to exploit this problem.
Turn 5, all continue to deploy with the British faring a bit better. The Pennsylvanians have been beset with poor leadership and have only barely managed to get into some sort of fighting formation. Some disappointing Action Dice for both sides happened but where and when is impacting the battle plans of both sides. The British have been slowed while the American left is in a bit of a muddle.
Closeup: "Come and get some of this!" 
Scots in a bit of disorder but inflicting more on the Marylanders lurking in the woods.
Closeup Left: Light Bobs are screening His Majesty's Bearskin Wearing Butt-Kickers. Both need to oblique left to push toward the hill and the weak rifle unit.
Closeup Right: The 40th give lead generously to the Pennsylvanians, who fail at reciprocation - clearly a case of bad manners among the grimy farmers making up the Rebel effort!
Turn 6. The Pennsylvanians roll poorly for Actions, then blow their morale roll. They manage not to get a leader whacked, however [yellow die].
Turn 6 end. Pennsylvanians get out of the way with undue haste, and having lost a base as well. The pressure on the center and left builds slowly but surely. The British gun needs to get into action, but must've found a rut or two in the weeds as their Action rolls have been poor. American reinforcements enter - the German Continentals at top, and the light gun just upon the hill, still limbered.
Closeup from the bleachers on the right: Carolinians securing the left flank of the Marylanders who hold the key to the entire position - the woods at the base of the hill. Nice view down the British line.
Turn 7. Heavy Action in the Center. Highlanders fire wildly, and the officers lose control as the ill-disciplined bekilted Argylls succumb to the temptation to "Running Fire", where the men just start shooting as fast as they can. Altho the fire was largely ineffective, the Marylanders roll low on morale as well as taking a Leader hit, and a number of them slink off to check the parking meter. In game terms, the Marylanders failed morale but instead of running the BN stood its ground and took additional casualties. Sometimes heroism is good, and sometimes heroism is bad.  Here, the longer they hold the woods the better, so we'll call them heroes... Unfortunately, the General is knocked off his horse by a stray musket ball and has to get the wound dressed for a couple of turns!
Turn 7 on the left. The Grenadiers finally make themselves useful by providing some fire support for the Lights who tighten up from Extended Order to Loose Order and charge the hated Rifles. Close Combat is resolved in a separate sequence after all Fire, Move and Rally Actions. In the Close Combat Phase, to show the complexity and multiple possibilities of an infantry v. infantry charge, Z&B uses a card deck. Each card has a possible action or event, e.g. Defender Fires, Attacker Checks Morale, or Resolve a Melee. This is from Patriots & Loyalists, but the card mechanism is much older, going back to the Grant, Young and Featherstone era.  

[EDIT] The Lights draw a "Defender Checks Morale" card, and the Rifles need an '8' but roll a '4'. In Z&B my attempt at handling the unpredictability of morale is if you fail on an odd number you run away [a variable distance] and on an even number you stand but take figure kills of the difference [additional Soldiers slinking off, wounded or otherwise out of the fight]. The Rifles failed by '4', lose 4 figs [an entire base] but stand their ground.
[EDIT - note the second base with a splat marker] The next card is a Melee card, and the various factors are added up with the Lights getting to 16 and 3 Kills, while the Rifles only get to 5 and 1 Kill [they are halved for "No Bayonets"]. They lose...
...and execute a hasty retreat. Not only are the Rifles badly chewed up, but the hill is wide open! With the Unit at 50% effectives, I would usually remove it...
Turn 7 end. With the Marylanders making a stand in the woods supported by the North Carolinians, reinforcements arrive and prepare to hold the hill. The Rifles and the Pennsylvanians are in poor shape. Perhaps I was a bit TOO forward with the American defense? Some dice rolls have hurt them, also.
Turn 8. The Marylanders rally themselves a bit, while the Scots throw some weak, ill-disciplined volleys at them while the officers fail to restore order. They only need a 5+ to pass a Quality check and resume firing discipline, but they rolled a '3' on 2d6!  They still got a Hit, anyway.
This is followed by a second Running Fire that is ineffective, but the officers regain control with a '7' on the Quality roll. Some precious time was lost with ineffective volleys!
Turn 8 end. The Scots are a bit stalled in center, while the 40th and the gun beat up the Carolinians and the Pennsylvanians try to get themselves back in the action, but roll poorly for their rallying.

Turn 8 on the left. The Lights and Grenadiers sort themselves out to continue the push, backed up by the 105th Irish. Unfortunately, the Continental German unit moved quickly and is now in position, supported by the light gun. The Rifles are pretty much spent, and will have to find a safe place from which to peck away at officer's or something.
Well, the action has been pretty intense. At the halfway mark of the 15 Turn game, the British have torn up two Infantry battalions and damaged a third that is holding the critical ground of the woods. They certainly have the potential to push through the woods with the largely undamaged Argyll Scots. The Light and Grenadier Units are both a bit small to assault a fresh unit on a hill with artillery support, but perhaps the Irish will be of use?  

We'll see what tomorrow brings.

I hope the playtest is giving you a taste of some of the things that give the right "feel" for the period for me, as well as some rule sets that have mechanics I like enough to tweak and work with until I get the right blend. I think rules writing is mostly like cooking - you can check out a lot of recipes and taste a lot of food, but in the end you have to find the right recipe for you and those whom you will host!