Thursday, February 27, 2014

Musketry Mechanics

Before I begin the substance of this posting (which has been lying in draft for well over three weeks now), I need to make good on my acknowledging the 101st and 102nd followers of this blog.  I feel that I owe them at least to check out what they are doing with their blogs (if they have one) and provide back links where appropriate.
#101:  The Lord of Excess.  D&D and Fantasy Role Playing Games.  Check it out.
#102: Corporal Trim. Castles of Tin.  Collecting wargames figures - flats and rounds.
                                  Wars of Louis XIV.  1648-1715.
Attack on a strongpoint: initial set up.  Figures are Airfix,
the earthwork fashioned from polystyrene packing. 

Attack upon a strong point.
In parallel, as it were, with a simple play test of Pike & Shotte several weeks ago, I conducted a small play test of my own, much more old schoolish, American Civil War rule set.  The set-up is exactly similar:  A Brigade of two Federal infantry regiments, each of 27 figures, has been ordered to seize, take or carry a Confederate earthwork, as pictured.  The garrison comprises a single regiment, by an amazing coincidence, also of 27 figures.
Before continuing, I should perhaps explain why a rule set that I began developing some 30 years ago, and which has received few modifications since, should be the subject of what is really an elementary play test. Near on four years ago I posted a 're-fight' of the Don Featherstone ACW classic 'Action in the Plattville Valley'.  That particular action did not redound to the credit of the Confederate Army, simply because in the early stages I gave the Confederates 4 volley groups per unit instead of 6.  When I did remember, the point at which the Confederates were well positioned to give more than they received had passed.  The  fairly heavy defeat was not the fault of the rule set as such but my imperfect memory of them.  At any rate, the rule set has seen a fair bit of use, though not so much in recent years.
So to the cameo action.  It was pointed out to me, when I discussed this with a friend, that to carry a position like this, three to one odds was considered by military writers to be essential for success.  Already one sees how established wisdom or knowledge can be subject to interpretation.  Does the 3-to-1 mean the minimum to guarantee success? Or is it just the 50-50 point - that is to say, the physical ratio to ensure an even chance of carrying the position?  
Bear in mind, this was to involve  no sophisticated procedures by which the position might be rendered untenable by the garrison - no outflanking manoeuvres, no artillery preparation, no call upon the garrison to 'shift from the shoulders of the Union commander the responsibility for further effusion of blood.'  
I take the view that the three-to-one ratio is regarded as the minimum by which one can be reasonably confident of success - which by no means implies certainty.  So why have the Union been provided here with just the two regiments?  There may indeed be any number of reasons.  At any rate, with these odds, I reckoned the Union had perhaps a 50-50 chance of taking out the position (this being only moderately strong - the works could have represented a very strong position indeed, in which case a third attacking unit might very well have been required).  It is my view that a commander would be inclined to accept even odds only if he were in a hurry (there could be any number of reasons for that), or otherwise felt that what might be gained from success outweighed the costs of failure (and there are all sorts of situations one can imagine could lead to a decision on those grounds).   You can see from this kind of thing what a moral responsibility rests (or ought to rest) upon a military commander (or anyone in a position of authority, whence comes to that).
My rather old-fashioned system of ranged combat uses the Die Range idea pioneered (I think) in the Wizard's Quest board game.  It is simply the system used by Charles Grant and Don Featherstone of subtracting from the raw dice scores depending upon range, cover and other factors, but without the subtraction.  Instead of subtracting from the scores, you subtract (as it were) from the Die Range.   This has certain advantages.  In a given firefight it involves reduction of one figure instead of from all the dice.  It also means that high dice rolls aren't always the 'good' rolls.  
As the Die Range is modified by range and cover, at the outset of the action, the Union regiments came in for some damage long before they were in any position to inflict hurt upon the defenders.  But at such extreme ranges, the attackers didn't receive much damage neither.  However, this was progressively to increase as the range closed, and as the earthwork represented a moderately strong place, the Federals would have to shorten the range to give the defenders anything to think about.  For the purposes of this test, I also ignored morale other than the good old 50% rule (which didn't come into effect anyway).  I just wanted to monitor the outcomes based upon the shooting and (if it came to that) close combat mechanisms alone.
As the range closed to medium distance, the Union were in a position to give back a little of the hurt they were taking.  The Die Range system has effects rather different from progressive halving for range, cover, etc.  Even within ranges in which the attackers could fire with effect, the rate at which they can do so, as a ratio the the defenders' effect is quite low, though it increases as the range shortens.  Furthermore, combat is adjudicated by target, so that the effectiveness of the attackers' fire is combined before adjudication (converting 'hits' to casualties), rather than each adjudicated separately.  With my rule set, this would make a difference.
In the above picture, the difference in fire effectiveness afforded by cover is readily apparent.  Here, the Confederates shoot very well - somewhat more hits being achieved than expectation (the odd coloured die represents a reduced volley group).  The Union might well have been disappointed with their shooting - 1 hit fewer than they might have hoped for.  But here's a thing.  Fewer hits in my system means that a higher proportion of them will result in casualties.  Here, the CSA's 8 hits lead to 5 Union soldiers lost; the USA's 3 hits yield... 3 casualties for the CSA!   I call these 'casualties' though it really means that their are three fewer figures remaining with the colors, what ever their actual fate.
At last the attackers swarm over the earthwork in wild thrust of bayonet and swing of butt.  The defenders get a slight edge on account of the obstacle to the attackers.  

Both sides fought hard and well in the melee across the works, The CSA scored a very good 7 hits (E=5) and the USA even better with 10 (E=6) (the E values would have been the statistically average result).  The curious outcome, however, was that the CSA 7 hits yielded a loss to the USA of just 3 figures.  The yield for the USA was not much better.  Ten hits, divided into 8 plus 2, gave just 3 plus 1 = 4 figures lost to the CSA. This was not enough to win the win the melee - a 50% margin being the least required.  However, the number of sixes rolled for the CSA casualties would have obliterated pretty much the regimental HQ. 
At this point I ended the playtest, the Union having just barely - and perhaps rather unluckily - failed to carry the position, with losses of 14 figures from the 54 sent into the action.  It's grim defence cost the Confederates 7 figures,  two of which were from their three HQ figures.  A morale check at this point would have been interesting - the Union probably falling back in good order from the position (having failed to carry it, but probably prepared to give it another try), and the Confederates a chance of abandoning the position they successfully defended.  The latter's losses and attrition of officers represented possibly enough of a shock to their collective morale to lead to some sort of retrograde move.

It was interesting to contrast this experience with the 30YW Pike and Shotte play test of a few weeks ago. This one went with a swing, but I am very much accustomed to my own play system.  Morale checks taken throughout would have added extra time to this one, but the odds were slightly in favour of both Union regiments would have pushing the attack home.  The actual result would have meant that more than likely the advent of a third, fresh unit would have been in a position to seize a work defended, or even abandoned,  by the undefeated but weakened defenders.


The other day, 'Uncle Brian' was in the throes of a major reorganisation of his inventory and storage systems. I was invited along, ostensibly to help, but probably more just to provide company whilst he carried out an otherwise lonely task (I've done the same myself).  Man, he has a lot of stuff! But the upshot was some equipments Brian decided were surplus to requirements came my way.

But what to offer in return?  I tend to find uses for just about everything (eventually) and have occasionally rather regretted in the past parting with surpluses.  Cash type money - what value to place on these items?   Before I could suggest something,...
... Brian came up with the answer: a couple of smallish tasks.  The first involved a pair of half made craft that Brian had been given by his friend, Frank.  Apparently, Frank intended these to be mediaeval cogs, but they seemed to Brian and me that they could be well adapted as stylised 18th Century Merchant vessels.  They could have been rigged with 1, 2 or 3 masts, and I opted for 3.

The bowsprit is not how I would probably have fashioned it, but as it is solid, it ill behoves to change it.  This vessel has had the accompanying grating and wheel housing glued in.  Possibly it would have wiser to have painted or inked black the deck under the grating before gluing it on.  But I really needed it in place to help with locating the main mast. 

The second vessel with masts stepped and yards crossed.  These skewers and dowels don't seem to take PVA glue all that well, so I'll probably strengthen the whole arrangements with cotton.
 In these pictures, the foremast looks to be raked forward - an altogether desirable arrangement I think, given that the main mast has been stepped somewhat abaft midships and not very far forward of the mizen. The latter has been placed immediately forward of the helm.  The mizen is to be lateen rigged, which seems more in keeping with an 18th century vessel than a spanker would be.
A close up of the extemporised wheel, made of toothpick end and dowel.  The next one I make will be of a similar design, though with changes to add to its robustness.  The hull has been pierced beneath the poop deck on both sides, but whether for guns or casement windows was not clear.  I'll make up casements for these.  
 Finally, a rear view of the second vessel.  I would have liked to mark on the deck planking, but would have done that before adding the rails and things.  I'll probably paint the deck a light buff or grey colour and leave it at that.  Also, as Brian wanted the masts to be removable, rigging will not be added.  I'm now debating whether to make paper sails, or use some fabric or other, stiffened perhaps with diluted PVA.
These ships I reckon will look fine with a crew of 15mm or 20mm figures.

What I got in return was: a Leopard I tank to add to the Tchagai MBT squadron, ...

 ...a Saladin Armoured Recon vehicle...

. a Jagdpanzer IV.  I'm very tempted to use the colour scheme as the basis for the camo on one of my assault gun companies (talking Command Decision, here)...

... A rather broken down Jagdtiger.  A hunt for running gear yielded most of what would be required...

 ... and a rather orphaned Centurion Tank which will be the basis for a 2nd Armoured Squadron in the service of Tchagai (Brian's Harad project).

Oh, yes: what was the second small task Brian commissioned me to perform?  Here it is...
...two Buffalo landing vehicles.  And I get to keep the jeeps!  I think Brian has been very generous...

Post Scriptum:
Since posting this, I have bethought myself of changing the rigging for the second vessel into that of a poleacre.  Something like this picture:  What do you reckon?  The hull piercings in the model might well be used for guns after all.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Play Test

Here are some pictures of my attempted play test of some basic mechanics of the Pike and Shotte rule set.
The set up is that an Imperialist battalia is guarding a river crossing, setting themselves up in a partially walled field flanking the road leading to the only local crossing, the bridge.
King Gustaf Adolf of Sweden has ordered General Beornsson to take his brigade of two Battalia, the Yellow and the Black Regiments, to take, seize or carry the river crossing.
The following pictures give a bit of an idea how the attack went.
I won't attempt to explain the dice rolling except to say that the game mechanics strike me as extraordinarily complicated, and I'm not sure I go a bundle on the damage auditing, neither.

The Black Regiment outstripped their tardy fellows in the Yellow, reaching the wall first.  At this point, Swedish losses somewhat exceeded those of the Imperialists, but not enough to hold them back.

All unaided the Black regiment struggles up the hill and tries to force the position.
The Yellow Regiment (having halted for two whole moves!) at last makes a move to help their embattled comrades.
Meanwhile, the unengaged Swedish left flank swings round to engage the flank of the Imperialist line.  Owing to the proximity of the Yellow regiment, the Imperialist are reluctant to reciprocate with their unengaged flank.
So far the fight has only marginally favoured the Imperialists, but heavy losses in successive turns on their right flank renders the position untenable.  The Imperialists abandon the walled position and retire - in some disorder - across the bridge.
I can't say this play test was an unqualified success - there is quite a bit more to the game mechanics than meets the eye.  But it was a start...

My thanks to four recent new followers:
99: Mauther (papermau)
100: Bacon fat (baconfat.log)
101: Lord of Excess
102: Corporal Trim
If the latter two will bear with me, I'll create links in my next posting.
One hundred followers: quite a milestone!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cardboard Guns...

... Well - cardboard, paper, wood and plastic tubing!  Here is a battery of Kiivar Field Artillery under construction.  Plastic felt pen (exhausted) for the gun barrels, cardboard shield and other bits, half a spring-loaded wooden clothes peg for the trail.  The axle is a short length of balsa.  I would have preferred the guns to have been half a centimetre broader overall, but the length of axle was all I had.

 The wheels are downloaded images of wagon wheels glued onto carton cardboard (the type in which the corrugations are sandwiched between two flat bits). A row of four image squares were glued in a whole rectangular strip upon carton cardboard, separated into individual squares, then cut into circles. The reverse then had further image squares glued on, these being in turn cut out into the circular shape according..
The inner carton board not presenting a good look, cardboard tyres were added.  These were cut from the cardboard inner of a dunny roll.  Somewhat serendipitously, the circumference was so close to that of the wheels (this was just luck, really) that almost no trimming was required, nor (except once) was a gap left to fill.  Even that was hardly worth troubling with.
 The limbers were simple box shapes made from cardboard, clued onto a carton cardboard base. The beauty of this material was that I could thrust a toothpick axle through one of the corrugation gaps without having to fiddle around gluing it to anything. The front and rear offered convenient gaps to fit foot boards(?) and tow 'bar'.
 I found it best to pierce the wheel - at least the inner side - to accept the toothpick axle.  My first effort omitted that and simply glued the axle (PVA) to the centre of the wheel.  The resulting wobbliness can not be corrected.
The finished artillery battery complete with limbers and draught teams.  The horses - horrible figures these - came from a bunch of cowboy and indian figures.  Had the horses been capable of standing alone (leaving aside carrying a rider) they might well have been kept to their original purpose.  Lacking that stability they are become paired draught teams for artillery and carts or wagons.

 The method of draughting the horses was to thrust through the holes meant for the riders a piece of plastic rod or tube (toothpick would have been as good), except that in between the horses is placed a small piece of carton cardboard with the connecting rod run through it.  This has two functions.  It keeps the horses apart (slightly less than a centimetre) but also gives you a reasonably sized surface to which you can glue the 'tongue' of the limber.
The result looks very successful.  I've added a few more pics of this artillery, mainly because I am quite pleased with them..  The last of these shows my artillery grid, my own invention.

 Below is a pic of my artillery grid, drawn on a piece of clear plastic (the type used for overhead projector transparencies).  Its function is to determine the fall of shot relative to the point of aim, but also serves to define the beaten zone of an artillery stonk.  Gunfire is by battery, which may vary in size from 1 gun to 3 (maximum)  for my Army Men rule set.  This particular grid is for direct fire, in which the fall of shot can be observed from the gun line.  The grid is laid over the point of aim (POA), with the arrow along the line of fire. 
Two dice (Red/Blue, say) are thrown to determine deviation.  The POA is moved according to the result indicated (e.g. a roll of Red 6/Blue 2 would result in an 'Over' 5 cm, and 'Left' 10cm.
The  Artillery grid 6x6 25mm squares.  Place the centre point over the Point Of Aim (POA).
Roll a red and a blue die, read the score on the grid and move the centre point (labelled POA) according.
Every figure vehicle or piece of equipment even partially under the grid has to be diced for.
A gun firing high explosive (HE) at 'anti-tank' range will be a bit more accurate than at longer ranges. Therefore the fall of shot is determined by rolling 'Average Dice' (D5s) which effectively eliminates deviations outside the dotted orange perimeter.  This 'short range' effect is is available only to guns and gun/howitzers. It is not available to mortars, and the Jury is still out on whether it will be allowed to howitzers.  Grenades? I consider grenades as close assault weapons and their effect is to be subsumed within close assault mechanics.
Kiivar Artillery battery compared with the (Raesharn) field piece (25pr)
that came with recently bought Army Men types.  The latter
is quite a nice piece, except that you have to turn the gun
the right way up, and trim some off the front part of the trail
to get the shield to fit properly.
Having determined the fall of shot, everything under the plastic grid - the beaten zone - is at hazard. The effect depends on type of target, and how well protected it is.  If the target is entrenched, it will obtain protection from entrenchments unless an 'On Target' result - i.e. a direct hit - was obtained in the 'fall of shot' roll.  A target in a bunker with overhead protection loses some, but not all, such protection in the event of a direct hit.  I am aware that this makes such protections somewhat less effective than in 'real life', but it is worth mentioning that relative to the figure scale, the 'beaten zone' is quite small - just 6 inches square.  Infantry in the open won't be happy to come under artillery fire, but with reasonable dispersion may find only two or three figures at hazard.  Mind you, multiple guns make survival much more problematic.