Friday, September 26, 2014

Big Battles for Small Tables: Battle casualties and morale.

Really by way of prettying up this posting: an attacking French Army Corps
(Ist) at double (half?) the scale proposed for BB4ST: 48-figure divisions;
ground scale 1:1800; 1 turn represents 40-45 minutes.

This posting has been sitting in the draft for so long it has probably gone cold. It was inspired by another bloggers' ('Ross Mac's') observations of what Brigadier Peter Young - co-author of the classic Charge! - or How to Play War Games - had to say about the application of morale in war games. Check it out.

The Brigadier's view was that as much as possible, the moral effect of close action, the need to take quick decisions and the pressure of losses, should be held in the mind of the player.  In my experience, players do respond very differently to the pressures of war games battle.  Not only do you get the stoic, the mercurial, the rash, the deliberate, the cautious, the active... you get differences in sensitivity to battle losses, to unexpected events, and to surprise.

In reply to Ross's posting I said: YES!! Brig Young's ideas on morale rules I have shared as long as I have been a war gamer.  At that they have been confirmed from observation.  It is surprising how many war gamers will give up a fight long before there is any real call to do so.  I've even seen the battlefield quit - this in a campaign game - when the army under command was getting the better of it.  On occasions when I have been feeling a bit below par, my own stoicism in the face of losses has failed to stand the test.

Associated with this is my adherence to figure removal by way of casualties.  Many players are probably unaware of the difference that apparently primitive and unsophisticated game mechanic can make.  I know one gamer - beautiful painter of troops - who quite openly admitted to me that he couldn't stand seeing his troops physically whittled away once they got into a fight.  This was on the occasion of a refight of the Redinha rearguard action (1811), in which I handled the French.  He was making heavy weather of it, despite his skilled handling of the British attackers, bemoaning losses I would have considered fairly trivial - and he was giving as good as he was taking into the bargain. He won the game (well, it was really that kind of scenario: although driven from the field, I was happy to have inflicted as much loss to the British as I took myself, and got my people off in good order), but I formed the impression he found it a harrowing experience.
A Division in square, forming two Brigade squares.  The enemy
Attack is expected from the right of the picture...

Then I foreshadowed elaborating this in a future posting (this one).  That was seven or eight weeks ago - not a good look.  I hope what I have to say here will have been worth the wait...

In my proposed Big Battles for Small Tables rule set, I believe that something as simple as the Young and Lawford game mechanic is called for, given the organisational building block is the 24-figure Infantry Division, and 12-figure Cavalry Brigade.  This went simply: a unit that retains more than 50% of the strength with which it began the battle, may behave normally.  This system will apply to my 'unit-formations' - Divisions and Brigades. There will be other occasions in which unit-formations will slip from a commander's control.  These will be occasioned by events, and the effects of those will be temporary.  Once a unit-formation has reached 50% losses, it suffers for the remainder of the battle from loss of morale - that is to say: its effects are permanent.
A single Divisional square under heavy attack from
Austrian cavalry: dragoons and cuirassiers.

Having lost morale, such a unit:
1.  It said to have 'broken' and, to use Young and Lawford's terminology: is also 'understrength';
2.  Must retreat for at least one full move, or into cover outside musketry range of the enemy;
3.  Must then spend at least one move, stationary and disordered, rallying;
4.  Henceforth are permanently disadvantaged in all fire and close combat (The notions of 'advantage' and 'disadvantage' in combat will be elaborated upon in a future posting on combat mechanics for BB4ST);
5. May be converged with other understrength unit-formations (of the same type, of course; horse with horse, foot with foot), but the moral effects still remain with the converged unit-formation.

This loss of morale is permanent for the duration of the action for understrength units, converged or otherwise.  But there will be occasions in which loss of morale will occur to unit-formations not yet understrength, and in consequence will be temporary.  This really is more by way of an uncontrolled reaction to adverse events.  The sole 'adverse event' that will cause this in war games terms will be this: defeat in close combat.

V Army Corps: 17th Division deployed in successive lines,
skirmishers out.  How will morale and reaction apply to
The Division deployed in this way?  See next time.

Close combat in game terms will occur when the skirmishing screens have been driven in, and the unit-formations' main bodies have pressed closer than outer musketry range (tentatively 3" or 7.5cm) into close musketry range (1" - 2.5cm - or less).  I say 'less than 1 inch' as players might elect to depict the close combat by bringing the opposing forces into contact.  I'm inclined to go with Paddy Griffith on this (Napoleonic Wargames for Fun), and maintain a small gap, depicting not so much a crossing of bayonets as a frantic fire-fight at very close range, or maybe simply the action of both forces, the one by edging closer, the other by standing its ground, in attempting to intimidate the enemy.

Having been defeated, a unit 'breaks' and retires at least one full move rearward, where it must spend a whole further move rallying (I have yet to decide whether this takes place in the same or the following turn.  I'm leaning towards the latter at present).  The victorious unit-formation may then occupy the ground won, possibly even exploit onto targets further on, or even rally back.  Until it has spent a move stationary, that unit remains disordered.  Disorder places a unit at a disadvantage in combat until the unit-formation has been rallied....
IV Army Corps: 11th Division.  The pictures in this article foreshadow
 the topic of the next in this series: Division deployments and
how morale and reaction effects will apply to them.

May I extend my welcome to Follower #110: Vasiliy Levashov.  Thanks for joining.


  1. 1:1800 Ground scale - isn't that the same as CD?

    1. I do believe that is correct. However, my Napoleonic games in that scale will have to wait: Big Battles for medium-sized tables. My 'standard' 1:3000 (or 1:3600 as it might well become) is similar to the Age of Eagles (Napoleonic Fire and Fury) ground scale.

  2. Archduke Piccolo,

    I have been following the development of these rules with interest, especially as I have acquired quite a few Del Prado painted 25/28mm-scale figures for the Battle of Waterloo, and have been thinking about the rules I will use. Yours seem to be pitched at the sort of command and combat levels I am looking at, and 24-figure infantry units/12-figure cavalry units are very attractive.

    All the best,


    1. Hi Bob -

      After many years I eventually settled on that scheme, and pretty much developed a game - pretty old school - in which a 24-figure infantry unit represented a battalion, which in effect was representative of a regiment of two or more battalions. My 23 French battalion/regiments represented, then, one or two army corps, or maybe 4 or 5 Divisions. I find the 24-figure infantry unit a happy medium between the small type of battalion, and the larger 'grand manner' kind. At this level I would probably have preferred 16-figure cavalry units, but with one Austrian exception, the history of my armies led towards the smaller, 12-figure kind. Even then my British heavies are 8 figures only, in deference to their small numbers and establishments in the Peninsular War. Of course, I need rule sets flexible enough to cope with such variations, and often commercial sets aren't so accommodating (A of E is, by the way, which is a point in its favour).

      This was fine for certain types of game, and my armies can still be used for these.

      But I'm wanting something more grandiose. I might have gone the Age of Eagles route (but not Volley and Bayonet, for mine: I never could get my head around its idiosyncrasies), but that would require too radical a change in the way my armies are set up.

      So, without having to make any change at all with my armies, battalions become Divisions and cavalry regiments brigades in my BB4ST scheme. Artillery represents a whole park (A and E requires a whole flock of cannon, you would not believe), but I'm thinking of allowing and optional flexibility there. All this will be visited eventually.

      I have a feeling that the final product might end up with a basic game set, with optional extras for a more sophisticated/complex sort of game. It's still early days. Meanwhile these postings are by way of clarifying my thinking, putting my ideas 'out there,' soliciting feedback, and keeping up my spirits.


  3. That all sounds good and very reasonable to me which is not a surprise.

    Close combat results have been on my mind recently. I've only played 1 game of AofE and that was 1 of around 8 players with stacks of 15mm troops on a 6 by 12 or maybe 20 ft table and my recollections are vague but I used to play alot of F&F. I admire the way they got multiple levels of result out of a close combat with a simple resolution. I would like to have perhaps 3 levels of result, a draw where the fight continues unless 1 side pulls back, a defeat where the loser retreats and is vulnerable until he has had time to reorganize, which should be long enough that there is danger of being caught our and total defeat where the loser is out of the battle. Oddly enough now I think about it, these are actually the effect you get with Charge! although its not explicitly put that way.

    1. In my view 'Charge!' got a lot of mileage out of simple and straightforward game mechanics. But F+F/AoE combat mechanics aren't especially complex neither (they just take a bit of getting the head around). I have heard before of game mechanics that determined the result of a combat first, and from that result you got the losses and reactions for both sides.

      Just stated in this way sounds counter-intuitive, but one doesn't actually notice it during a game (I've now play 2 1/2 AoE games and 1/2 a F+F).

      If Charge! incorporated solely the 50% rule for morale, AoE's rules for morale seem to me the type that other rule sets would call 'reaction' to adverse events and outcomes. A 10-stand Brigade could be reduced to 2 stands and still be in the fight, though the 'spent' status reduces its capabilities as well as the loss of 8 stands.

      I'll be looking further into 'reaction' later on.


  4. Interesting post as always. I can't really understand why figure removal has become unfashionable, particularly when it often results in a plethora of untidy "markers".

    I have been pondering the "Rally" (after 50% losses) with my Charge inspired rule set and have been wondering whether this should include the ability to rally back figures into the unit. Probably with some counter that a fail would mean the unit routs.

    Have you considered bringing figures back on table during the rally?

    1. That has not been something that has often crossed my mind, but it does make a lot of sense, especially in wars like the Revolutionary/Napoleonic and the American Civil War, notorious for straggling. However, I am disinclined to do this on the battlefield, but rather post-battle in a campaign context. I may have to discuss this in a future posting.

      Like you I don't much like markers or counters or bead racks.
      I've seen them done in an attractive manner, but I have an aversion to buying and storing extra figures or bits of models to signify ammo shortages, disorder, silenced batteries, and what have you. You need a lot of each such marker.

      Much less do I like bookkeeping, a real chore, and one that is apt to slip the mind in the heat of action. Isn't it strange that what happens at, say, battalion level is considered beneath the notice of the commander of army or army corps, yet he may still be expected to note down the minutiae of losses - in some rule sets, down to the individual soldier.

      The solution that first occurred to our war gaming forefathers is in my view the most sensible: figure removal.

      Just by the way, I don't like to force routing units to disappear off-table if there is a reasonable alternative to keep them on. One of the purposes of the logistics element with each corps will be to provide a rallying point for broken or understrength units. I used to use the Army Commander himself for this...

      I'll also be bring up Army and Formation morale in a future posting as being relevant to these discussions.

    2. Very interesting series of posts Archduke. I like your reasoning for developing your rules your way, but I see things differently on the use of markers. I followed the Polemos Napoleonics recommendation of using casualty figures to indicate degradation of a unit. Not only is it a quick and easy prompt to tell you what's going on but it actually improves the look of the game to have what, as kids, we used to call "deaders" strewn around the table.

    3. Good marker sets, if you have the patience and wherewithal to make and use them, I agree can be attractive visual aids. 'Fire and Fury' does that sort of thing. Me. If I'm going to spend time and money on those things, would rather it were spent on another fighting unit.

      I have fought actions in which 'casualties' were not so much removed as left where they'fell'. It made for a very messy battlefield, but quite an evocative one. At the end, you could just about trace the battle's progress, and see where the heaviest fighting took place.

  5. Interesting stuff as always Ion. You seem to have come at the 'effectiveness' concept found in many (most?) 'modern' rules sets by another route; i.e. once a predetermined level of 'loss' is reached the unit is deemed to have lost combat effectiveness for the remainder of the game and is 'broken', removed from play or whatever. In your case however, the broken unit is not gone for good. Is that a fair summation, or have I missed something?!
    For what it is worth, my preferred method of casualty removal is to replace a full stand with a stand 'sans' some figures, then markers, then single figure removal. I'm mainly against the latter as I hate fiddling around with moving individual figures, ha ha!:)

    1. Your 'effectiveness' is a pretty good summation of what I'm aiming for.

      On the matter of figure removal, I accept it has its downsides, as does my habit of individual basing. Actually, I do base some of my Napoleonics in pairs for handiness and stability, with some individuals as 'change.' I found, though, that one can move units around in reasonably quick time even when based as mine are. I have considered movement trays, but never really cottoned to them much neither.

      My next posting may turn out to be fairly controversial - or with luck provoke a lively debate. It reconsiders, perhaps even challenges, some of the compromises taken by many modern rule sets.

    2. I should add that I am the only one of our trio who has a 'problem' with loose figures.
      I'll await your next post with keen expectation...