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!"

Sunday, November 14, 2021

EC-BC Playtest Series 4: revisiting the revisions, Part 3

Welcome back to the continuing saga of "Eagles Cheaper than Brain Cells", a grand tactical set of rules that are something of a spin-off on One-Hour Wargames Horse and Musket rules and Volley and Bayonet.
Some key changes from last time
  1. Artillery a bit less effective due to shorter range and lower Hit number. This puts it more in line with the original Hit ratio from OHW. Altho it has amazing range in all One-Hour Wargame rules [it is always longer than the board itself!] it varies in effectiveness from low to medium to high ability to inflict Hits, resulting in an average of 10, 5, and 3 turns to destroy a unit. It should be noted that both game length and board size in OHW scenarios are directly related to the RAW OHW rules, so this needs to be taken into consideration when using the scenarios with modified rules.
  2. Cavalry should have more options after a charge, especially to continue a successful charge. However, it should usually be more prudent to rally back! I am looking to achieve this by a combination of simple options [a breakthrough charge, similar to Volley and Bayonet] and the lower strength of the cavalry units than Infantry Brigades.
So this time we have One-Hour Wargames Scenario 21: Twin Objectives, an interesting scenario based upon Lobositz. I've always found this very difficult to win for the defense as they are outnumbered 6-4 and any reasonably competent attack should - at the worst - grind the defense down.  The OHW rules are all attritional, so even one unit difference can be significant with a "last man standing" mechanic.

Also, the objectives are the town at the North end, and the hill at the South end, so the two are not mutually supporting. Only cavalry and artillery have a reasonable chance of supporting the hill objective at all. Knowing this, I accept that the main fight is over at the town and don't try to relieve the hill which is usually doomed to fall with its one Unit, while the "main battle line" by the town has the other three.

Interesting question - does the attacker wait and overwhelm the hill defenders, then move on the town?  Or attack both simultaneously? Best to try a quick run-through and test the theory!

Below, I have a 12-8 game set up ["Eagles Cheaper than Brain Cells" has Units that are a bit small for a OHW table so I double the number of units]. The defending Austrians have four Infantry and two Cavalry on the right, with one Infantry and a Light battalion on the wooded hill.

Facing the hill are two Russian Infantry brigades and a Light battalion, while 5 Infantry, three Cavalry regiments and a battery face the North objective. The thought is that the Russians attacking the hill will reinforce the North attack after wiping out the hill. The hill offers cover against shooting and an advantage to defenders being charged ["Assaulted" in EC-BC].

Below, alternate defense with the cavalry ready to contest the open space between the objectives. As attacker sets up second, they can counter with their own cavalry or mass any artillery they get to shoot the cavalry.
I decided to try this out and ended up with an infantry fight at the town and a cavalry melee in the center, which is the opposite of the traditional battle with infantry in the center and cavalry on the wings. Made for a pretty fluid and wild battle!
In the end, the Austrian Infantry was overwhelmed at the town, while the cavalry was unable to effectively contest the open space being outnumbered 3-2.

Having had an interesting playtest of one defense, I still laid out and visualized a couple of other possibilities [post on visualizing a wargames plan HERE]. Below, I was wondering if with a slightly larger game I could fight for both objectives and threaten the Russian right flank if they attacked straight against the line:

This seemed possible, and I'd never successfully done so before so I laid it out and gave it a go. Below, a 15-11 unit fight, I felt the Austrians needed a bit more help at the hill, so gave them two Light battalions. Uncertain if they'll carry the day...

The Russians are still doing the obvious, and throwing an infantry division at it supported by guns - the "lightly wooded" hill scenario rules implies to me that there isn't a line of sight obstruction provided by the hill. The defenders do get a cover bonus within the hill template, and the Artillery has been toned down a bit, so only inflicted one Hit on the Lights. I'm fine with that...
The Infantry brigades pushed right up close and the center got bashed as the Austrian grenzers inflicted max Hits, which also resulted in a Casualty Hit [permanent damage to the brigade]. The other Russian got a hit and rolled low on ammo. Fortunately, this attack is pretty well supported!

Elsewhere on the battlefield, the Russians rolled well and advanced aggressively. The Austrians did the usual Austrian thing - historically speaking - and responded sluggishly so the Russians have once again driven a wedge between the two objectives. Their two cavalry are also supported by a third cavalry and a horse battery, but uncertain it will be enough to clear that flank!

Turn 2, the Russians kept Initiative, and devoted Orders to the cavalry attack. The horse battery managed a hit, but the cuirassiers bounced back on a 2-2 Hit tie. I debated using the hussars against the Uhlans [my favorite Austrian Unit!] but I need not have worried...the Hussars rolled crushingly well and sent the Uhlans routing to the edge of the board...which destroyed them! [my fault for not advancing farther from the board edge...] The Russians only took one Hit back! 
Discretion should be the better part of valor, but I have trouble resisting cavalry charges, so...
...the Russky Hussars continued their charge into the flank of the Austrian Hussars! The Russians only inflicted one Hit, but the Austrians inflicted none, so they also fled to the board edge and were destroyed.  
Wow!  So partially my fault for being near the board edge, but the Russian Hussars are definitely the star Unit today, clearing out the right board edge and eliminating the flank threat.
The Hussars finish by facing the town, preventing the Infantry from maneuvering out of it to re-organize their defense.

Greatly encouraged by the cheering on the right flank, the Russian left presses onwards, and is promptly punched in the kisser again. Between the Infantry and the Lights, the center Russian Unit is wiped out [barely]. Fortunately, they prepared in depth for just this situation and the second line is ready to move up.

End of Turn 2, the Austrians hold both objectives but the plan to defend them on a united front is pretty much shot.  I should've put the Austrian cavalry in the center like last time...maneuvering with plodding Austrian infantry is never wise!

Turn 3, the Russkies clear the two flanking Light units with a brigade assault on the left and the guns on the right, forcing the grenzers to retreat and re-orient their Front. This objective is almost clear - the Austrian defenders need some help!

The fight for the town is going better. The Austrians manage to make a shorter but stronger battleline with plenty of Artillery. The Russians overstretched themselves a bit, but they still have a strong mobile force of cavalry trotting around which actually makes the wide spacing possibly helpful - interesting...
Four Russian brigades are lined up, but there are gaps in the line and their batteries are still on the move. Overall, a poor job by the Russians, especially since their left battery is being threatened by an Austrian infantry brigade! Still, the cavalry are coming to the rescue to prevent the Austrians from carrying off the guns.  
Hmm, that sounds familiar somehow...

Turn 4, the Austrians seize the Initiative!

First order of business - run over the Russian battery holding the left flank of their battle line. The battery defends itself by inflicting max damage and not running low on ammo. Never let it be said the Russkies can't handle their guns!
The Austrians follow up by rolling poorly and having to retreat. Violating that rule of tabletop war "when in doubt, roll well" is always a poor choice!

Turn 4 sees a strong Austrian firepower destroy half the Russian battle line. They managed to position themselves well in response to the Russian advance, and ended up with local advantages in a couple of critical locations. The Russian attack is too piecemeal, due to the commander's distractions and some poor command rolls, lowering the orders available at a critical moment and resulting in a traffic jam in the Russian rear area.

Turn 5 sees a resurgent Austrian force begin by attacking with their Grenadier brigade, hitting the flank of a Russian brigade and wiping it out!

Despite a conservative repositioning after their Assault, the Russians are able to counter-attack the fatigued Grenadiers with the cuirassiers...
...wipe them out and continue into the guns! These valiantly defend themselves to the last bucket and swabbing brush. The Cuirassiers attempt a final rally, but fail. The Austrian guns are taken and spiked, but the cuirassiers are done for the day...
...and they are removed.  The Austrian defense is looking a bit sparse now.
With some more cavalry handy, and considering the successful cuirassier attack, a composite cavalry brigade attacks the weakened infantry in the Austrian center and manage to destroy them, albeit at the loss of a couple more Hits.
They also continue into the nearby guns, and their fortunate ends with destruction just like with the cuirassiers. This time, they do not destroy the guns, however.
Still, the Austrian line is shattered, and the Russians have reserves on hand.
Turn 5 ends with a somewhat scattered Austrian defense holding onto both objectives, but with few strong units left to hold out. Most importantly, the Russians have five healthy Infantry Brigades on the field, while the Austrians have only a couple and they are widely separated.

And on Turn 6...the Russians seize back the Initiative! This will allow them to keep the Austrians from reorganizing an effective battle line before they can push into their battle space.

The Russians Assault and destroy the last defender on the hill. They position an infantry brigade and the horse battery against the town with its isolated defending Austrian infantry brigade. They also put their heroic Hussar regiment in the flank area of the battery as reinforcements move up against the town.  

Turn 7 starts with a divided Austrian army that has the majority of its remaining units no where near the town objective - clearly bad generalship!

Retaining Initiative, the Russian hussars charge the battery and wipe it out, but take some serious Hits along the way - fortunate they they were still a fresh unit.
Continuing on with their breakthrough charge, the hussars defeat the Infantry brigade, but take just enough hits that they have to Rally back a Hit to stay on the board - but if they do, they can eventually regain much of their strength after resting and rallying...
...unfortunately, a '1' will not do it... they disappear leaving a damaged Infantry brigade just hanging on. 
The Russians would like this unit to disappear, so get one hit with their guns, they Assault with their fresh Infantry Brigade! The Austrians take three Hits from the Assault, which means a second Casualty Hit, but just enough to destroy them anyway.  Note that at top right, the Austrian infantry in the town are in trouble.

Yeah, I'm really thinking that 1.5:1 odds is tough on the defense here. Perhaps 6-5 in the original OHW, and 15-12 for EC-BC will play better.  Also, I should try not to lose Austrian units and get ambitious with relieving the hill objective.  For starters!

I think the rules played just fine. The cavalry was impactful but ended up "destroyed" [really, horses blown and too tired to fight any longer], which turned out to not be a problem as the poor positioning of the Russian infantry ended up making it easier for them to maneuver in from the reserve and counter-attack the successful Austrian attack that heavily damaged their battle line.

The weaker artillery was still useful for a Hit here and there, and when charged often rolled well and defended itself - note that one cannot always rely on rolling well, and it is smarter and safer to keep your Artillery far enough away that it contributes to the battle but is not over run!

Generally speaking, I think that this phase of playtesting has been very successful - I streamlined a few rules and cut down on needless differentiation and that also allowed me to get rid of a few exceptions to rules. Yet, the game play felt quite historical, with each of the three key units making their contribution when well handled, but Infantry still being the Queen of the Battlefield.

The next question is should Artillery and Light Infantry battalions be weak enough that they are half as effective as Infantry Brigades? This would mean that when one rolled them using the OHW force composition charts on p.64, you'd get two small Light battalions or two small artillery batteries instead of one that is almost as strong as an Infantry Brigade [but not quite as strong].  That will be something to work on next go around.

Another issue is that altho I like the simple "DBA-esque" system of Orders, I feel that some units showed enough initiative historically that they shouldn't need an order all the time, like Lights and Cavalry. I'm thinking that maybe a different order system should be used, one that is a bit more complicated but that will feel realistic.  Will make for a nice Advanced Rule in EC-BC.

So it has been a great series of playtests, and I'm very pleased with the old-school 9mm Scruby figs, so there is some work to be done on this project in the future.

Monday, November 8, 2021

EC-BC Playtest Series 4: revisiting the revisions, Part 2

Game 2 of One-Hour Wargames Scenario #19: Blow from the Rear.

This time I used the same forces and aside from trying a couple of little changes, the same rules. But I did want to try different tactics and see what the outcome would be - this is one of the great things about the fast-play ethos, you can quickly try again instead of waiting a month for the 6-hour time block needed to play again!

Ergo, the Russians entered between the two crossings and set up their batteries. The two Russian infantry brigades began to cross. The Austrians are far enough away that the Russian guns are at long range [over 12"] and Infantry losses have been about half what a close defense of the crossings resulted in before. Granted, the Russkies are coming over, but with less close support, they may not survive long outnumbered 2-1. I did make a mistake with the Austrian battery, which ended up being destroyed by some great Russian rolls in one turn - the empty space in the center of the Austrian line was their position...

By Turn 8, things were looking better for the Austrians than in the previous game.  The Russians were threatening the second crossing but unable to cross - the Austrians were ready to contest  it and as their infantry was not softened up, the Russians had wisely withdrawn their lone infantry brigade so that it wouldn't mask their artillery fire. 

Instead, the Russians began to threaten their flank, one Russian battery was crossing and one Infantry already had. This put the Russian attackers at at 7 to 8 defenders, but two are contesting the crossing so it's more like 7 to 6. Skillful attacks have resulted in the destruction of one Austrian Infantry and their Artillery, but the Grenadiers on the road are going to plug the hole to left of the road [I hope!].

The critical point - the hinge of the Austrian line is being bombarded by two batteries and threatened by a strong infantry brigade - desperate efforts to rally the grenzers by their general have failed, and they are two Hits away from destruction. An armchair general would ask "how did the Austrians end up with a hinge in their line anyway??" and... well, some error with the withdrawal happened, apparently.
At the South end, the Austrian hussars threaten to flank the line, but are successfully dissuaded by the uhlans - what will happen here may affect Austrian efforts to retire upon and contest the second crossing.

After orders were diced and assigned, the Austrians showed some mettle and stole the Initiative from the Russkies! They took the opportunity to consolidate their position at the hinge - flatten it a bit - and charge the Hussars with the uhlans in the south.

The uhlans tie on Hits, thus have to fall back.
The hussars have repulsed the uhlans - barely - but both units are blown. 
With discretion being the better part of valor, the Austrians consolidate their position to preserve their strength and stay ready to contest the one crossing. Their only bunch of heroes is the light battalion which departs the woods to harass the cuirassiers. They probably should have headed against the Russian infantry instead. The Russians slowly move up and continue to arrange fire support against the second crossing while one Infantry brigade prepares to cross.
Note the Russian hussars advanced to hold the uhlans in place while their infantry close in for a firepower advantage...but s-l-o-w-l-y thanks to bad dice!

Turn 8 ends with Austrian infantry in position to hold the line, and a gravely weakened Russian infantry in their center thanks to great Austrian shooting. That being said, the grenzers are one Hit away from destruction and it will be the grenadiers that hold that portion of the line.

Turn 9 [forgot to change the dice marking the turn...*sigh* it all the time!].
Russians [Red dice] seize back the Initiative which could be critical for them!
They Assault and destroy the grenzers easily, but took a Hit along the way.
They then rolled a great rally for their infantry in the center and aligned their Infantry at the South end of their battle line. The Austrian position is fragile...

Turn 10 [not 9] the Austrian seize the Initiative back again!
However, they were unable to rally and sustain themselves, and Russian Fire and Assaults crushed them - suddenly, it was all over.

This is one of those fights that I'm always thinking that "if I just play the Austrians right, they oughta win" but I'm not getting that result.  Hard to figure out if it is a constant issue with them not withdrawing fast enough, or the Russian superiority in Artillery [which was diced for using the variable force composition from the One-Hour Wargames book].

I just HAD to try it again!

For Game 3, I switched to 4x2" sabots, which felt right even though I realize that a brigade probably forms up with its reserves far enough back that it ultimately is more like a square than a rectangle.  However, the 3" bases looked too cramped for the 10mm figs and I wanted to see if the 4" wide front made for a better base - more space, easier safer handling for the figs, better diorama potential.  That will be for another post!

I kept the rules the same, except I streamlined unit's turning - this was playtested in earlier games on and off, and it _really_ made it easier!  Also, I feel that brigade level units are more flexible, being composed of several sub units that all can  maneuver separately, which is how they train. So while a brigade Unit is more cumbersome due to inertia, it is more maneuverable and less vulnerable at its flanks and rear than a single battalion, which is the right feel for grand tactical games.

I kept the forces the same. I did feel it was a bit unrealistic that ALL the corps artillery would be in one spot - the flanking force brought theirs with them this time, so one battery on the flanking operation and two at the river.  I was also  determined to win for the Austrians, who had had a heckuva time thus far, usually losing around Turn 10.  The question for playtesting purposes is why?  
- Have I not been playing them well? 
- Or is the force too unbalanced in favor of the Russians? 
- Or are artillery too powerful in the EC-BC rules?  
Let's try once more to see!

Austrians anchor their right against the river and only even attempt to contest one bridge, right from the outset.  Let the Russians is a 1:1 fight and as long as no errors are made the advantage should be with the Austrians as long as they can keep their surviving forces against the crossing!

With few targets in effective range, by Turn 7 the Russian river force still managed to destroy a couple of Austrian Infantry brigades, giving the Russians a 5-4 advantage in the most important unit type - infantry. The Austrians had managed to keep their artillery battery alive, and even damaged one Russian battery, but not enough to degrade its performance before they had to pull back. So, while there is less "hinge" in the Austrian line, which is flatter, they still took losses.
Turn 7 in the South had aggressive Russian cavalry being held off by equally aggressive Austrian cavalry. As the Austrians are on the defensive, there's really no obligation for them to even attempt a charge - the South end of the line just needs to delay the Russians, anyway.

Turn 8 saw the Austrians seize Initiative, and I was expecting to charge or maneuver first with the Russian hussars, so... they're now in trouble!
A quick measure shows that it is a flank charge by the uhlans [did I mention they're my favorite unit??], so they get a bit of a bonus.
Both units roll poorly, but the uhlans manage to double the dice of the hussars!
The hussars rout through an infantry brigade, causing a Hit! The uhlans can't resist the sweet smell of success [uh-oh]; they follow up and Assault the infantry. Unfortunately, the infantry were well prepared for a problem to arise, and also rolled excellently, winning a fierce Assault 5-4 [and they win ties anyway as defender].
Taking 5 hits more then eliminates the weary uhlans - glorious, but vainglorious!?
They would have been slammed by the supporting Artillery, also.  Ok, I admit it, this was a bad decision; the uhlans should have shown the discipline to rally back into their lines and supported the infantry like they should have.

Next unit South, the Austrian hussars also could not resist a chance at slowing up the traffic jam of infantry brigades being screened by their cuirassiers. At least this served a definite tactical purpose!  They charge at a slight disadvantage and roll a tie in Hits, resulting in them having to fall back.

Turn!  What a whirlwind of activity, it definitely shows the action potential of cavalry, but also that it is both risky and fragile to use. However, the intact Austrian hussar regiment is single-handedly delaying most of the advancing Russians.
This leaves the Russians with two options - a risky charge against the hussars with a small advantage, or pully back the cuirassiers and push the infantry forward to gain much-needed ground, this being the halfway point of the game.

After orders are rolled for and assigned, the sides tie and a Respite occurs - units may rally for free and the turn ends. The Russians have lost another precious turn!

With the clock ticking, the Russians move aggressively, pushing everyone and everything forward, in part thanks to great command rolls. The flanking force's artillery manages to get flank shots on the North-facing Austrians, rolls well, and soon the combination of guns and bayonets shatters the hinge of the Austrian line!
With plentiful forces at the river crossings, and the Austrians positioned a bit too far South and pinned down, unable to shift North to contest the crossing, they are again forced to concede.

Well, that was just plain shocking!  While I was aware that the Austrian line was getting bent, I would have straightened it out to prevent the flanking fire by Russian guns, if I wasn't so distracted by cavalry excitement. Obviously, the uhlans should have rallied back, then they would have been in a position to counter the infantry assaults at the hinge of the line.

While I think it is possible for the defense to win this scenario, I must confess that it is harder than I thought, and I have trouble resisting the urge to play the defense aggressively against the flanking force, which let's remember, they outnumber.

In terms of the EC-BC rules
- I'm thinking is that Artillery may be a bit - just a bit - too powerful. It may need its range shortened or its Hit number reduced by one, just to shave off about 15% of its effectiveness. At 30 minutes a turn, it should have a nuisance but not decisive effect, and I felt that it was a bit too long-ranged for this scenario.  Granted, in OHW Rules As Written Artillery has better range than in EC-BC, but it only hits as well as skirmishers, a d6-2, averaging 1.5 Hits a turn [so ten turns to destroy a unit]. So noted for next time!
- also, options for cavalry after an Assault ends need to be streamlined and IMHO reward an Assaulter with more options, but enable a stout defender to have potential as well. Cavalry charges can be quick, and if successful full of danger, but hard to succeed in without careful preparation against a solid foe.

Scenario #19: A Blow from the Rear is a great One-Hour Wargames scenario. It has a lot more going on than you think at first, with the river barrier lulling one into some complacency on the defense.  However, it is still ultimately a flanking scenario more akin to scenarios #6 and #7, which are AKA "Flank Attack 1 & 2". 

It would be interesting to play all three of these scenarios with that in mind and do a compare / contrast!