Monday, November 24, 2014

Big Battles for Small Tables: a Debate...

Nostalgia: an early play test of my rule set The Corsican Ogre.
James Davies had the French and Paul 'Jacko' Jackson the Austrians.
From memory, the French columns managed to clear the ridge,
but it was a very near thing.
Since my last posting I have had something of a discussion with Ross Mac in the Comments Section of my previous posting, concerning the movement rates proposed for my BB4ST rule set.  So interesting was it that I seriously considered copying it verbatim, or possibly with some minor editing, into a new posting - this posting.
Nostalgia: The Battle of Grosshuntersdorf - a disguised
scenario based on a 7YW battle; Grossjagersdorf.
I've changed my mind about that.  But if you are interested, here's the link:

I did check a couple of other rule sets I knew to find how they effected the compromise between time and movement.  The easiest available was a friend's copy of Age of Eagles, which uses a ground scale of 1 inch to 120 yards (1:4320), and a time scale of 1 turn to 30 minutes.  Now, there is no formal relationship between this 30 minutes and any other (real) time.  Are the actual movement rates based on one minute's real action?  Two? Thirty seconds?
Austrians guarding a river crossing - #10 'Breakout' from
C.S. Grant's Scenarios for Wargames, a.k.a. the Green Book.
Austrian figures are Warrior and I think Hinton Hunt.
After a bit of calculation, and assuming a very nippy 'standard'  movement rate of 120 yards per minute (over 5 miles per hour, but its just to make my sums easier), we arrive at these results.

If the time scale were 1:60, the 'standard' move rate would be 4 inch (rounded);
If the time scale were 1:30, the 'standard' move would be 5.5 inch (rounded);
If the time scale were 1:15, the 'standard' move rate would be 8 inch (rounded).

Overall picture of the 'Breakout' action.  This was played between
myself as the Austrians, and Paul 'Jacko' Jackson about 7 years ago.
'French' figures are either Front Rank or Old Glory. The table
is 6ft by 4ft.
As it turns out, the standard foot move for columnar and 'impulse' foot is 9 inch, and road march is 12.  This seems to indicate a time scale of approximately 1:5 - very approximately, given my initial assumption.  A rule set described by Son of York seems to come down to something similar.

'Breakout', from behind the French allies (Westphalians)
attempting to force the crossing.  The Austrian commander
in the distance is looking a bit concerned...
In The War Game, Charles Grant (Ch III) discusses movement rates and comes to a marching speed of 60 yards per minute (ypm, or about 2mph), and applies this to infantry in line.  He added a further 25% to the move for a column (2.5 mph), and charging foot thundered across the table at 90 yards the minute (3 mph).  Grant's ground scale was 1:360 (1 inch to 10 yard), which would suggest a time scale of 1:19 - call it 1:20, as near as dammit.  I can't find how many game turns represented a 'day' in the Grant game, but 36 would seem a pretty reasonable number!
This one is from C.S. Grant's Programmed Wargames Scenarios
(the Black Book): #7 'Two Sides of a River',
 also from 6 or 7 years back.
Now, I have no criticism to make of any of these rule sets.  I've tried Age of Eagles, and barring some aesthetic points - really a matter of personal taste - quite like them.  I just won't be lashing out of 15mmm Napoleonic armies any time soon, and my available space won't permit large scale actions using my 25mm armies.
#7: 'Two Sides of a River'  The French have massed on the north
bank, and are about the strike with their whole weight upon
the Austrian line.
Where to go from here, then?  There was a range of options:
1.  Alter the time scale to about 1:75.  The thing with the time scale is that no one, so far as I know, has seriously looked into this aspect of scaling for table top games, though Charles Grant comes close.  In my view it has its points, the main one being to subsume the extended 'hurry-up-and-wait' downtime and 'friction' during a battle.  At any rate, this would bring my 4mph sprint down to a more sedate 3.2mph.  Everything else would remain as is, just the pace represented would be a little slower (25% slower).

2.  Alter the ground scale to 1:3000 (which was my original idea, until the arithmetical convenience of the 1:3600 impressed itself upon me).  The effect of this would bring the brisk 4mph stride down to 3.33mph, etc.  Again, everything else would remain as is.

3.  Keep the ground and time scales, and alter the moves to 'fit.'  I admit to being very reluctant to do this.  But then I recalled myself to the purpose of this whole exercise, as expressed in the title of this series of postings.  So that is the solution I shall adopt.  What follows supersedes the earlier lists.
Looking north long the Austrian line.  The entire 'French' force
(actually, mostly allies), just entering the picture, have massed
 beyond the distant river. Minifigs Austrians.

Infantry in march column: 20cm (8 inch) + 5cm (2 inch) on a roadway.  The assumption here is that nearing the battlefield, the troops are probably moving 'at the double'.  All other movement is geared around this benchmark.
Infantry in skirmish order: 20cm (8 inch)
Infantry in battlefield (or assault) column: 15cm (6 inch).
Infantry in line: 10cm (4 inch).
Infantry in square: 2.5cm (1 inch).
Light Cavalry in march column: 40cm (16 inch) + 5cm (2 inch) on a roadway.
Light Cavalry in battlefield column: 30cm (12 inch).
Light Cavalry in line: 20cm (8 inch)
Heavy Cavalry (includes 'heavy' Dragoons) in March Column: 30cm (12 inch)
Heavy Cavalry in battlefield column: 25cm (10 inch)"
Heavy Cavalry in line: 20cm (8 inch)
Horse Artillery (3-4pr, 'light' 6pr) limbered: 20cm (8 inch)
Horse Artillery manhandled: 5cm (2 inch)
Foot Artillery ('heavy' 6pr, 8-9 pr, 5.5"-7" howitzers) limbered: 15cm (6 inch)
Foot Artillery manhandled: 5cm (2 inch)
Heavy Foot Artillery (12pr; 8" howitzer): 15cm (6 inch).
Heavy Foot Artillery may not be manhandled except to change front.
At the scale we are looking at, this might well be too much detail.  In that case, the default rules for all artillery will be those for the 'Foot Artillery'. 
Foot Routing: 25cm (10 inch) These guys aren't hanging around!
Light Horse Routing: 40cm (24 inch)
Heavy Horse Routing: 30cm (20 inch)

#7: 'Both Sides of a River' general action, seen
from the south bank of the river.
The infantry in a route column, on a roadway will still be travelling at 4 mph, too fast, very likely, but it seems to me that (a) the loss of order is probably less to be apprehended in this formation - less need to halt to dress lines, for example; and (b) can stand for some sort of fast paced move, possibly at a jog or run, to get somewhere in a hurry.  It will be used rarely in any event, and even then, not for long.

The infantry in a route column now travels at 3.3 mph (~90 ypm) ; in 'assault column' at 2.5 mph (about 75 ypm) and in line at 1.6 mph (about 45 ypm).  I feel that not only these rates the more realistic given my chosen ground and time scales, but will 'fit' better my limited playing space.

#7: 'Both Sides of a River', the view looking towards
 the southwest.  Austrian reinforcements are
hurrying across the bridge to the aid of their
comrades embattled on the northern bank.
Before I go, note the dichotomy here.  The added speeds I have added to the movement rates are nominal.  For instance, suppose our route column was marching along a straight road the 4 mile (6ft) length of my table.  It travels at 4mph. according to my conclusions from earlier calculations, and so should traverse the entire distance in 1 hour.  One hour represent one turn as proposed.  But in fact it will take 7 turns, and a bit more besides, for the column to reach that distance. Well over half a day! It works out that the column's (average) speed will actually be just 5/8 of one mile per hour.  In this way the accidents of stoppages, delays, rest periods and the general friction of battle is subsumed into the rule set.


  1. The solution of idle time being subsumed is a time honoured tradition and very practical. I first encountered in in WRG3rd Ancients in the mid-70's. It certainly beats the 19thC Kreigspiel approach which was rigid 2 minute movement rates with umpires deciding when 10 or 20 of those could be lumped together along with assessments of time spent making decisions, waiting for couriers etc as well as sometimes having different parts of the field at different time progressions. A Nightmare to manage!

    However it has one downfall which most of us are willing to over look. With only a minute or 2 of movement per turn, troops are forced to move every turn or be left out all together. I rather like Lawford & Young's approach which is top down for effect with moves long enough that you can have troops sit (if you have the patience) and still be able to intervene at the opportune time and place.

    One could get the same effect perhaps with the 1 minute distance and 1/2 hour turns (ie a longer game). IIr Grant expected a game to last around 20 turns but I'd have to dig for it.

    It would still be an interesting exercise to sit down with a history of a battle or 2 and see what time an attack was launched and how low it took to make contact and be resolved and compare that to the game. Might well be close.

    1. Your comment in your final paragraph has been exercising my mind off and on lately. I thought Pickett's Charge (Gettysburg) might have been a handy guide. My most accessible sources seem to indicate that the charge was carried out over about 3/4 of a mile (something over a kilometer), which took about 20 minutes to traverse (and this, famously, included a halt to dress the lines). That indicates a speed of 2.25mph taken overall.

      Three-quarters of a mile in my proposed scale is 13.5". As emended, it would take 2 turns and a bit besides to traverse that distance in column (I gather the CSA attacked in successive lines, but as ACW infantry was light and flexible, we might allow them a bit extra speed). Actually, two turns would be sufficient to bring the attackers into musketry range, but a further move would be required to bring then into close combat.

      Before we rush off and change anything in the light of this (doubling the move rates, say), I think we have to bear in mind the several hours spent preparing the attack, not to mention the two-hour preliminary bombardment. On the war games table it would probably take a move or two to mass the forces required, at that. It is also worth remembering the 4-hour hiatus between the action around Culp's Hill (between 5 and 11a.m.) and the opening of Pickett's Charge (3p.m.) Even then there was nothing happening for much of the Confederate line for much of the day.

      I recall one of my very first war game battles (ACW), in which I prepared and carried out a very heavy infantry attack along (broadly speaking) similar lines, though much smaller in scale. This took some time to prepare, the target being an infantry line two moves distant that had one flank resting on a stream. At that, I sent, I think, two cavalry regiments against the 'outside' (right-hand) half of the enemy line, which gave me about 2 to 1 odds at the point at which I was aiming to break through (the left-hand end).

      I think I must have had 112 figures - 8 regiments - in that attack, on a 12" front. It won the battle. The cavalry did well, but were still checked, with loss, but not enough to rout them. The main attack simply smashed through the enemy line, and rolled it over. Isolated and outnumbered, the Union right, still with my cavalry not far off, now had nearly double their numbers to deal with. Battle won.

      What still impresses upon my memory of that attack, though, was the time (fortunately uninterrupted by the enemy) it took to prepare, and this with very generous movement rates.

  2. The rule set I was quoting from is Napoleon's Battles. I'm not familiar with Age of Eagles although I do know Fire and Fury well and I believe AoE is an application of that system. In which case it is similar in scale with Napoleon's Battles. The issue then becomes not how far a man can move but how far a brigade sized formation can move.

    Another thing that slows movement down is choke points, be they natural like stream crossings or ravines, or caused by the passage of other troops (integral artillery and other wheeled transport for example).

    Then it comes down to base size so that the unit occupies an amount of table space that is appropriate. I've had that problem with Leipzig scenarios when you have troops marching about on the battlefield using the road network.

    Fascinating stuff and a key factor in scenario design which is something I try and focus on.

    PS It is Sun of York as in glorious Sun of York, but as I was born in Yorkshire Son of York works as well. To complete the trifecta I also game with some people near a town called York here in Western Australia.

    1. Sorry - Mind you, 'Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this Son of York,' also works. Mr Shakespeare's pun was, of course, intentional. May I take that as my excuse?

  3. i admire clever people like you and Ross who can strip wargames rules down to this level of technicality. My attitude as a war gamer is rather like my attitude as a motorist: I want to take things for a ride, trusting that clever people have designed well and put the nuts and bolts together properly. I can explain how a morale modifier system works, but ask me what the ground scale is and I'll just give you a blank stare.
    Very interesting all the same.

    1. Personally, I'd prefer to do the same! The problem is, I don't much like the commercial sets. Thrirty years ago variety was not easy to obtain, so I began writing my own ACW set, very Old School, but with certain ideas of my own - or, more accurately my own modifications of ideas I stole from elsewhere (originality is not my long suit, but running with and extending the ideas of others, is, and I find it a useful talent to have!).

      Having once written my own rules, and lacking the discretionary spondulix to spend on pricey commercial sets (I prefer to buy figures or terrain), I guess I caught the bug. Fortunately, I find the probability mathematics of the humble D6 die sufficiently interesting in itself.

  4. I am a horse for courses, scale of approximation kinda modeller, be that in a professional context or wargaming. Meaning? I prefer a simplified approach over attempts to 'simulate' reality. The latter seems to come unstuck more readily either due to the numerous factors that are not modelled accurately stuffing up those that are, or, more frequently, since the added complexity does not improve the model's results.

    We adjust time and ground scale crudely and with gay abandon by doubling the former and leaving the latter intact and it still 'works'—at our scale of approximation where a 'unit' is a battalion or regiment and we are viewing the results at a more grand-tactical scale. It also 'works' in that the game remains an enjoyable pass-time (with the benefit of informing and increasing one's appreciation and understanding of history) without challenging players mental arithmetic in the process.

    Of course, if we cared too much how an individual 'unit' performed in detail, then we'd likely need to be more attentive to affects of scale.

    All that waffle aside, I find this discussion engaging and will be following it with great interest!

    1. p.s. Those rates seem about "right" to me for turn of 20-30 minute's duration—or scaled up to an hour for a larger ground scale!! :)

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Thanks, James. I rather hoped I would get a readership for this, as it happened to be one of those things that just happened to cross my mind when considering just what to do with my (ever-growing) Napoleonic collection.

      By the way, I'm not actually a biologist in any form - I have to be honest here - being more in the way of a mathematician/arithmetician, and even then I've forgotten a great deal. I just happened recently to run across Kleiber's Law, which very much grabbed my attention.

      On the matter of Ground/movement/time scales, having changed my mind once already, I think I pretty much have to stay with it until a couple of good play tests, one of which may be something like Waterloo.

      One of my motivations, by the way, is a kind of 'one-brain-cell' set one can play quickly...

  5. Reposting to correct typos.

    Not so sure I agree with you. I was looking at doing a test bit of terrain in half size. I thought I could get away with just halving the unit, but actually found I needed to quarter it. That got me thinking - it hurt my brain too much at the time, but I will have to give it some more thought. I think the problem is that most rules have a reasonably realistic frontage for a unit, but not depth. I recall Julian had based up a few figures to demonstrate this. You end up with units looking like match sticks.

    1. Depth is often a problem in any rule set, and that can cut two ways. In my 'normal' Napoleonic set, foot units form in 2 ranks, which gives a 24-figure unit a frontage of 18cm. If I call it a French unit in line of three ranks (excluding the command figures forming a fourth), the a 600-man unit (1:25 figure scale) it ought to have a frontage of roughly 120 yards - 108 meters, say. That's a ground scale of 1:600.

      The depth of this unit in line, at 4cm, represents 24 meters (~27 yards), which seems very excessive. Marcognet's Division at Waterloo comprised a column of 7 battalions in line, with, including 4 paces' (3 yards') interval between battalions a total depth of 52 yards. We can approximate a battalion's depth (in line) as 5 yards (15 feet), which equates to 0.3" or about 7.6mm on the table. if I were to form up 7 battalions in 2-rank lines, with no interval between battalions, the column would be 28cm deep, i.e. 168 scale meters.

      I guess it's one of those fudges we have to live with. In my BB4ST set, my single rank lines might be accused of being 72 meters deep! On the other hand,how does a Division in road column stack up? Assuming a Division of 6000, column of 6 abreast, 2 yards per rank (Too generous? Too tight?), that's a 2000 yard column. Using my BB4ST scales, a 6000man Division would be represented by a 30-figure unit, 2 abreast, 15 figures deep (30cm). That represents some 1080 meters (1200 yards), rather less than the 2000 yard column of the real thing (unless the 6ft interval is too generous).

      These little details I'm inclined to ignore, at least for the time being, but I guess they are worth thinking about, and knowing what it is we are fudging.