Monday, December 22, 2014

Big Battles for Small Tables - A failed playtest?

A French Corps of two infantry Divisions, one light cavalry
Brigade and supporting artillery (4 batteries) approach a pass
 that British troops intend to contest.

It has been a long time coming, but it has taken a long time to organise a combat system in my mind for my BB4ST game system.  Before going on, I do confess that with a lot of commercial sets (Paddy Griffith, Snappy Nappy, Age of Eagles, and the systems Tim Gow, Bob Cordery and Ross Mac come up with) designed for the same purpose, I am probably reinventing the wheel, and the axle too.

The British comprise an infantry Division with Rifles attached
a weak Dragoon Brigade, and 3 horse batteries (1 gun with
3 crew figures).  The tape indicates the maximum range of the
 light cannon: 1200 yards, or 1 foot on the table.

But what I have in mind is a 'fistful of dice' system, rather than a tabular.  To be honest I have never cottoned to tabular combat systems - tend to be too 'hit or miss' for mine.  One can't go past them for convenience, of course, which has been the motivation for their creation.  But I am old fashioned enough still to prefer the Charge! methods, and accept what I consider to be a minor inconvenience.

French (or maybe they are Polish)  light horse lancers.
Bought second hand, their provenance is unknown to me.
I replaced the lances with wire and added paper pennons.
Though not apparent here, it is quite a spectacular unit
on the table top. 
Combat is divided into three: artillery, musketry and close combat.  Not that these divisions imply huge differences.
Closing to within the British gun range, the First Division
forms an assault column, whilst throwing out its
skirmish line.

The following table is the default for light, or horse, artillery; most Corps artillery parks, and Army reserve artillery which is more likely to have a high proportion of 12pr field guns.

Canister: 3-6 to hit
3D6 per 2 crew figure
Effective: 5-6 to hit
1D6 per crew figure
Maximum: 6 to hit.
1d6 per crew figure
Light: 3-4pr, 'Lt' 6pr
0+” -CAN =4 “ [10cm]
4+” EFF =8” [20cm]
8+” MAX  =12” [30cm]
Medium: Most army Corps' parks
0+” CAN =5 “ [12.5cm]
5+” EFF =10” [25cm]
10+” MAX =16” [40cm]
Heavy: Army reserve or Guard artillery esp 12pr
0+” CAN =6 “ [15cm]
6+” EFF  =12” [30cm]
12+” MAX  =20” [50cm]

For difficult targets, such as skirmishers, counter-battery, and well protected targets, the 'first hit' per park firing is dropped.  If the protection is very strong - well-constructed fortifications, say, or stout masonry buildings, the first two hits may be dropped.

For vulnerable targets, modify the dice allocation and/or 'to hit' dice as follows:
Canister: 2 D6 per crew figure, 3-6 to hit;
Effective: 1 D6 per figure, 4-6 to hit;
Maximum: 1 D6 per figure, 5-6 to hit
Such targets are columns, enfiladed targets, limbered artillery.
Though columns and limbered artillery are more
vulnerable to artillery fire, at maximum range, the
risks aren't too great...
Elite gunners' (e.g. guards) dice allocation is increased to 2 dice for 1 figure at canister range, and 3 for 2 figures at effective and maximum ranges.  The 3 for 2 allocation is rounded, a 'remainder' crew figure getting 2 dice.
... and in fact the gun fire is altogether ineffective.

A device to determine who is in firing range.  Attackers close to
the 'dotted line' distance, then determine who is in range.
This play test decided me to abandon this device.
Musketry range is 3" or 75mm.  As this represents about 300 yards, this is a trifle generous, but there are two reasons for adopting this figure.  The first is historical, and seems to have derived from the Prussian practice under King Frederick the Great towards the end of the Seven Years' War.  At any rate most  Continental armies seem to have been inclined to open musketry fire at quite longish ranges, presumably in order to intimidate the enemy before they got close, or else to keep up their own morale.  In contrast, the British fire discipline was such as to reserve fire to much closer ranges, where they would be the more effective.  At least, so I (have been led to) understand.

The other reason is simply aesthetic; having enough space between the lines to suggest a fire fight at range, rather than getting up close and personal - close combat, a.k.a. melee.
This orientation makes it clearer that the left-most voltigeur
figure is out of musketry range.

Once the range has closed to 1 inch (100 yards) the combat is regarded as a 'close combat' and is resolved in a somewhat different manner.

Musketry is carried out by one rank only, the standard rate being 1 D6 per figure, requiring a 6 to hit. Supporting ranks may, of course, replace losses (which means you simply take losses of the rear ranks).  Yes, this really is fistsful of dice country.

This rate is modified as follows: 
1.  Elite or crack troops get 3 dice for 2 figures (rounded). 

I am inclined to allow this for all but the greenest British and King's German Legion infantry (skirmishers and when deployed in a single line) on account of their superior fire discipline, but also for their habitual 2-rank linear formations.  It is true that the French tended to fire in two ranks only from their 3-rank lines, but as the third rank could easily replace losses, they could maintain their overall fire-power better than the British, without such a reserve, could be expected to do - at least for a while.  So I am disinclined to adopt the Age of Eagles convention of placing British infantry on wider stands for the same number of figures (which does mean that the fire-power per unit frontage under A of E is the same, but recall my comment about replacing losses).
An ineffective skirmisher exchange.  The 'crack' rifles get an
extra D6, so the 4 British figures get 5 dice altogether.
The French skirmish line overlaps the British by
enough to exclude the extreme left flank.  So the French
get only 7 dice for 8 figures.   
2.  Inferior or poorly trained troops (Spanish until properly trained; landwehr, most Neapolitans, most freikorps, irregulars) get 2 dice for 3 figures (rounded: remainder figures get 1 die only whether there are two or just the one).
3.  When firing at poor targets, the first 'hit' from all infantry fires, and the first hit from all artillery fires at the same target in the same bound are ignored, and in some circumstances, a second as well.

Poor targets are skirmishers, deployed artillery, and troops in light defensive cover.  Heavy defensive cover such as solid masonry buildings, revetted earthworks and similar formal fortifications may require the first two hits to be dropped, again taking the total infantry fires and total artillery fires separately.

4.  Poorish targets that are also in cover modify the dice rolls as follows, in addition to dropping the first 'hit' scored:
Elite or crack troops: 1 die per figure;
Standard; 2 dice per 3 figures;
Poorly trained: 1 dice per two.
In all cases, 'remainder' figures get one die. 

There is one consideration I am ...erm ...considering, and that is to ignore the 'to hit' and dice allocation modifiers when firers and targets - especially when engaging each other - are of the same type, namely
- Skirmishers vs Skirmishers
- Counter-battery
- Both sides are poorly trained/inexperienced/irregular
- Both sides are 'crack' or elite. Exceptions here might be that certain troops retain their dice allocation modifier always, e.g. French Old Guard, British Guards Brigade, Russian Imperial Guard.

The abandoned musketry and close combat range devices.  One
of those ideas that seem 'idea-ish' until properly put
to the test.
The diagram immediately above is an experiment that I have decided to abandon as an unnecessary complication of limited practicality.  Instead, it is simpler to enact that once within musketry range, troops on a wider frontage can count up to two overlapping figures on each overlapping flank; at close combat range (1 inch), just the one figure.  Much, much simpler.

Coming under gunfire, the British Dragoons charge the advancing
 lancers, but lose a quarter of the strength to canister fire
 on the way in.
Close Combat, a large topic on its own, will have to await a future posting, so: to be continued.

Thanks to Tim D, member #115.  He describes himself as having in recent years rediscovered war gaming after an hiatus of 20 years.  On revient toujours...
Close combat.  A question remains as to the role, if any, of the
skirmishers, especially on the attacking side.  My inclination
 is to include them in the overall numbers as 'supporting troops'
in the same manner as rear ranks.  

Finally, the pictures in this posting show a simple play test scenario whose 'first pass' was not an unqualified success, though the closing action was exciting enough.  The musketry wasn't very effective on either side, though 1st (French) Division was taking losses from flanking gunfire.  The initial close combat clash had 1st Division scoring 3 hits to 1 received (the Brit line evenly allocating fires to respective enemy Divisions); whilst 2nd Division scored 1 hit for 3 received.

Close of  action.  Second division has been repulsed, and
though 1st Division gave better than it got in the initial clash
its situation isn't looking so good.
Second Division clearly lost its fight, and fell back, but although 1st Division 'won' its battle, the British Division, with an overall 4-4 result certainly had not lost.  Unfortunately, it was getting rather late in the evening, and in the above diagram I seem to have forgotten to remove casualties.  At any rate, with an over all 5-2 score in the subsequent combat, the British infantry held its line having lost 6 figures against more than double that number  (9 from 1st Division).  Meanwhile, the British Dragoons had been reduced to a fleeing rump of 3 figures (600 troopers out of 1600), the lancers having to deplore the loss of just one figure.  

Overall strength and losses:
French: 64 figures (12,800) lost 14 (2800)
British: 33 figures (6,600) lost 9 (1800).

The French having received a check, the British abandoned the pass under cover of darkness, and resumed their retreat.


  1. Yet another reminder... of how much I LOVE NAPOLEONICS! Thanks for a good blog entry,

    1. Thanks for your patience, Grenzer - I do regret the slow pace of these postings. I feel that I am getting there, though. The next posting is also Napoleonics, but a revisit of 'Age of Eagles' - First Polotsk.

  2. I think you are doing something rather different than the other rules you mention (mind you while I've heard of Snappy Nappy I'm not familiar with it). That said, pretty well every idea has been tried in sone fashion, by someone, somewhere, usually before tweaking it.......

    1. Oh, yes: I make no bones about stealing good ideas from other rule sets. But this really is reverting to the Old School - you might call it Methuselah's Military Academy for War Gamers. It's partly a nostalgia with the kind of rule set we used when I first began war gaming, but attempting to make them a little more ... erm ... verisimilar.

  3. The French General figure looks familiar.

    I didn't take up the option to base British infantry on wider bases. At this scale I don't think it is necessary.

    Buckets of dice vs tabular. What I like is the competitive rolls where both sides roll a die or dice to determine the outcomes. More relevant in close combat, but can also work with long range combat. You then get the joy/despair of seeing your high roll matched by your opponent or equally your low roll matched by your opponent, Just adds a bit of tension. Also reflecting quality in being able to reroll dice is fun. (FOG Ancients is a good example of that approach).

    Looking forward to close combat.

    1. The French general figure is I think Marshal Bessieres. I have an earlier generation Bessieres whose pose is the same, and whom I probably will repaint as the great man himself...

      If there is a choice in the matter, I don't think I would use the wider bases either, even though it gives the British 50% greater firepower per unit frontage over 'impulse' French. Musketry under A 0f E rules is pretty ineffectual anyway. It's the look of the thing - something I find a bit of a downside with A of E: what it looks like is very often not what it is supposed to be. Once I got my head around that, though, I find it a very playable set of rules indeed.

      I tend to share with you the sense of excitement with the 'competitive' dice rolls. Age of Eagles uses such a system, and there were momwents in last weekend's game (see my next posting) in which the tension got very high. The downside is all the plussing and minusing that goes with it - in the heat of battle it is too easy to overlook a vital plus or minus.