EXERT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Hard Choices

Its been another long stretch of deja vue in Atlantica as I tried to hone in and confirm the ground rules as it were for the coming winter.  Quite apart from the rather important matter of trying to settle on a final version of the Square Brigadier after 5 years of exploration, and deciding on which period to focus on,  there was the nagging but key question: "What's better,  more units per game or bigger units?".  This may seem like a simple matter but coming from a '70's POV, I am still adjusting emotionally to appearing to prefer a short game with a handful of small units to a long game on a large table full of miniatures. The middle ground is often the worst but the possibility needed conscious testing as did the selection of period. Four games and three versions of the rules were needed to reach some conclusions that can stand questioning.

Third attempt: 1880's, 8 figure infantry units, one per scenario unit.  This one isn't "it" either.
The first go was for the 1850's, 12 figure battalions in closed ranks with muzzle loading firearms. This was the game featured 3 posts ago. That game was OK but not more. It certainly wasn't inspirational instead it felt a bit 'been there done that' and offered little or nothing over a War of 1812 game.  

I sat down wrote a new version of the rules, advanced the game to the 1870's using 8 figure battalions deployed as skirmishers and supports or lines or columns depending on how the figures were arranged.  It was such a slog that I almost gave up on so afterwards I went back to re-re-read my May post on Command Control   and realized that after reading it last week, I had gone ahead and managed to almost exactly replicate everything that the post indicated was wrong in May. (shakes head in bewilderment).

I reset again going back to one of the oldest forms of the Square Brigadier: no command control just the initiative, chance cards and dice to bugger player's up, well plus their own choices. This time I used double the number of infantry units to reflect Grant's intro to Scenarios for Wargames in which he notes that infantry units should be twice the size of others so 4 "companies" grouped into battalions.   It was better, but the table was too small for the number of units and was a packed traffic jam with reserves queuing up for their chance to fight and all sense of battalion integrity was lost as was the sense of skirmishers with supports.  My reversion to an old option to move and shoot with penalties along with the well established but newer rear support meant that players didn't need to make many tough decisions.

I reset again with the right number of units but with 4 man units, there were just too many figures left on the shelf. Well, my WW1 armies had recently been reorganized from 4 man companies to 6 man companies so I swapped out the armies again. There weren't enough in khaki so I subbed in some in Red and called it 1904 in Atlantica. The armies looked so small that I briefly thought about upping the hits per unit to prolong the game but stopped myself.  Once again the small simple version without the various explicit support and pinning rules with fewer units on table was the winner.  The game required my attention and constant, often tough, decisions all the way through, some gambles paid off, others didn't  and the advantage swayed back and forth with Red coming soooooo close to winning, right up until Blue rallied 3 broken companies and then, thanks to a timely initiative flip, poured in such a hot rifle, mg and artillery fire that 3 Red companies broke and didn't rally, breaking Red's army morale somewhere around turn 13 of 15. Despite the small number of troops and simple situation, the game lasted nearly 2 hours and I didn't even notice.

Damn! Got wrapped up in the game and forgot to take pictures till nearly at the end.
The Oberhilse were "this" close to breaking but they rallied like fiends and hung on despite losing one side of the crucial pass. Faraway's troops on the other hand seemed impossible to rally. One theory is that the red coats made those units easy marks and they more of their hits were actual dead and wounded. Its just a theory though, could have been the dice.  

So much for rules. I need to bring the musket era rules back in to line but that decision is made so, same rules format and same small armies maxing out at about a reinforced Brigade. The periods were also clear.

I still want a simple, historical, card table miniatures game that I could pull out as an introduction for an interested non-wargamer. The War of 1812 remains my choice for this so this fall/winter I will put the work in to use the existing figures to make the required number of units, paint up the handful of still missing Dragoons, artillerymen etc, flock the bases and generally polish it up as the long intended "game in a box".  Since they are sufficiently close to ready and very compatible period-wise I will include a force of Brethren of the Coast privateers as allies (think Jean Lafitte) or as a force on their own.

It is also clear to me that I still only have the resources (mental, physical etc) for one main 40mm collection if I am to run a campaign and I still have the yen, re-awoken in 2014, to do an early 20th Century Colonial campaign with railways and mounted rifles. Since my old Britain's are once again my Poster Boys for the "Little Wars look", the way is clear to proceed in shiny but drab 40mm. Since there are still some 40mm troops in early 20th Century red and blue uniforms, I will set the theoretical date early enough to allow the possibility of a few troops in home service dress.

The sad but, for me, necessary part is that I am going to clear the shelves of all the fragments that don't fit with either of these options. This is partly to make room to properly display and easily access the armies that I will be using but also just to reduce temptation and distraction.  I don't intend to melt down or sell any of them yet (though I might if asked) , just put them out of sight until the Great Little War is built and fought out or until it goes on long enough to extinguish the desire to revisit old, abandoned business.

However, before all, October is "MacDuff Prepares for Fall In" month!  When I am as ready as possible for the Quebec 1759 and Detroit scenarios that Rob and I will be running,  I can play whatever I want again.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Just been one of those weeks. I did make it in to Halifax for a game with 4 longtime friends.

Lentelus' 10mm WWII Russian Front.
 The scenario was CS Grant's Bridgehead breakout. The game itself was a good example of one way BKC can go off the rails.

I was the Russian Armoured commander. On turn 1&2 I watched 1/2 my tanks get shot apart by a pair of Stugs. Then Rob's naval FOO rolled low and brought in 3 'batteries' of heavy naval artillery from an offshore Soviet Battleship. The Germans had a heavy concentration of tanks, infantry and HQ off to the side of and behind the Stugs. The first barrage wandered just enough to take most of it in and shook things up a little but it didn't stop there. Rob's FOO rolled even lower and then topped it off with snake eyes after that. By the time 4  barrages had finished wandering back and forth with 12 dice per barrage per target, there was almost nothing left and the game was over.

Luckily it was still a great afternoon and evening with friends.

Hopefully tomorrow I will wrap up September's Atlantica and the Square Brigadier struggle and resolution.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

And we're back

Here we are back in 1890somethingish ready to open up with the 4.7" on a slightly different enemy..

Felt too crappy again today to do anything physical but I did review the successful  July 1812 mini-game, reread my spring thoughts on game design and think back on  the August 54mm games and reread my current rules intro about many things assumed to be controlled by subordinates and thus not presented for the player to make decisions on.  Then I sat down and worked on consistent Square Brigadier variants for the 2 periods: an early, close order, musket period game and a later breechloader/magazine rifle, open order variant.

Here are links to the refurbished rules.

The Defended Border (aka The Square Brigadier in the War of 1812.) This will be quite a small collection designed as a portable game suitable to be hauled out to the yard to play on the picnic table or as fodder for a One Hour Wargame. To that end each side will have a choice of a maximum of 12 units. For now I will leave a few of the British 1837 figures but the goal is to replace them with proper 1812 ones.

The Tin Army in the Great Little War. (aka The Square Brigadier in the Age of Rifles).  I will use these for the Atlantican Little Wars Red vs Blue games, the Oerberg Colonial games, the early Great War and the 54mm Northwest games. I will rely on different force and weapons composition and different terrain and scenarios  to give each of the sub collections a reason to exist since they already do. ( The real reason just being that I wanted to paint them at the time) Not all the needed unit and weapon types are dealt with yet.

The 1860's in 40mm have been cancelled once again and existing units for the period brought forward to the 1890's or pushed back to the 1830's/40's.. I'm somewhat annoyed that, from my habit of studying the Fenian Raids, I did my new Canadian figures in Fenian Raid style forage caps instead of Riel Rebellion Glengarries or Boer War slouch hats as originally envisaged but they'll wear almost anything in Atlantica in the 1890's   and who knows, I might do a mini Fenian Raid game-in-a-box yet.

The game reset with 4 figure companies of infantry in open order. 3 to 4  companies + a Commander to a Battalion.

The biggest change is that I am going to give up my combined initiative/chance/turn counter card deck and go back to rolling for orders.  It does seem to make for a more engaging, challenging "game" and gives at least as "realistic" game without the need to fall back on chance cards and artificial mechanisms to freeze some units.

I have also decided to ditch the various rules for reducing or recovering hits for an increased capacity for taking them. This is partly because they don't often have the sort of tactical effect I was hoping for, partly because I'm less sure what I was trying for is as right as I thought and partly because they would have been one of those subordinates' concerns anyway.

Game report to follow once the game has been played.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Sorting a Century and other housekeeping.

Ever since my spontaneous excursion into the Great War in 2014, a diversion from Plan made worse by my renewed determination to keep my 54's alive and active, I've been in a muddle  over what to do about the excessive number of collections covering the century from 1814 to 1914. We aren't talking about large numbers of figures but it was a final straw effect. Too many figures for my shelves and cupboards, too much for my head, too many choices to allow me to get into a proper mini-campaign or to finish anything. All of this made worse since there was considerable overlap.

I've done much thinking and some test games over the last year, including yesterday's game.  I've  re-purposed some troops, and I've re-homed two collections of 40mm troops and enough 54mm Arabs to disperse any thoughts of going back there. At last, I now have a new plan.
Hunh? What happened to the 4.7"? Well I decided to try an  impromptu 1860's version of the 1812 version of the Square Brigadier with 12 man battalions and so reset the table accordingly. 
Here's how my extended 19thC looks now.  

1. The War of 1812 in shiny 40mm. This is aimed squarely at small, one hour-ish Square Brigadier games with small battalions or detachments as units.  The goal is to be able to fight the main battles in Upper and Lower Canada.

2. Atlantica in Shiny 40mm. This will eventually be the long delayed mid 19thC Colonial campaign  against the northern native Atlantican state and its army. This will have "company" sized units which by themselves represent a detachment or skirmishers but up to four of which may be combined into a close order battalion. I've tried to avoid this as it is Gridded anathema but  I can't find  an acceptable way around the need for this sort of flexibility for this sort of campaign.

3. The American Civil War in 1/72nd. This is a battle game. At the moment units are 3 stand regiments but I might consider going to 5 stand brigades as units,  maybe, probably not though.

4. The Northwest Incident in shiny 54mm. This is aimed at small fictional  battles with company sized units in the age of breech loading rifles using a variant of the Square Brigadier aka the Tin Army.

5. The Great Atlantican War in shiny 40mm khaki. This is the sideshow which keeps threatening to become my main thing every time I touch it. It is set in the early years of the 20th Century and includes both conventional warfare between the Great(ish) Powers and Colonial games. It will use the same rules as the earlier Atlantica and the 54mm game with company sized units but with magazine rifles and machine guns.

Here's the game about 1/3 of the way through. It worked and kept me entertained and thinking for about 1.5 hours but... something was missing. It was interesting but not exciting, too incremental, reactive and artificial perhaps.  I'm not sure, might have just been me. 

Command control and detail again. For some time now I have been flip flopping between two mechanisms to make it harder for players to always have every unit moving as and when desired. Both work, both have downsides. This game was played using the "dice for unit's outside command radius" method. It works OK when I remember to apply it. At the moment it doesn't really emphasize the importance of maintaining multi unit formations though. I had hoped that the combat rules would be sufficient to encourage that and they mostly do, but not as well as the Order PIP system does. In some recent games I started each turn with a "place out of command chits" phase and that have helped me remember the rule at least. A smaller command radius for subordinate commanders might encourage tighter brigade formations.

I'm also still trying to put my finger on an illusive "something" with these Division sized battles. The command rules feel a bit too immediate, like an active brigadier controlling his direct reports rather than a Division Commander controlling his Brigades.  Short of written game orders or a team of players, I always find this hard to do simply, especially when playing solo. A Brigade posture rule perhaps with a delay in implementation of new orders? or maybe a change to command radius to only allow a Brigadier to control a group of contiguous units. No serious thought on this yet, just an observation.

I don't have a similar issue with the 'company as unit' games since the over all commander can be very hands on in life in such situations. Maybe its just that I'm tired of only having one hour type games but can't seem to get any game to last much longer on the small table top?

(ps, apparently I should have reread this post from May:
more-thoughts-on-command control )
Turn 15. Victory is decided by control of the pass. Red had been on the verge of taking one side of it before Blue's last line threw Red back. They've rallied but there was no time for another attack. There was just time for a last salvo by the heavy naval gun into the teetering Blue Guard. They broke. Blue had to rally either the Blue Guard or the Dragoons who had broken on their last turn in an ill advised attempt to over run the gun frontally. Neither rallied and the Blue General, now below 50% units still on table,  was forced to concede and retire from the field.

Markers. I used the little green dice to track hits again during this game and again they worked ok apart from their annoying habit of wandering away from their units or falling over to a wrong number. Some good quality tacky stuff could fix this except where there is no room on the bases. I was sorting out my various dice and marker containers today to take advantage of some improvements to my games room layout and had one of those "duhhh" moments. I like the psychological effect of the casualty caps but would prefer some less conspicuous rings. I'm also short on them when it comes to bigger battles. I have black ones that are just toooo HUGE to use except in emergency and I decided to shorten them to the same size as the red and white ones. I snipped a little ring off the end to shorten it and then noticed that that ring was just right. Fifteen minutes later I had no red or white casualty caps left but instead have three times as many small rings that are not nearly as overwhelming and stay put better. Only took me a couple of years.......

Sunday, September 18, 2016

How many Red Coats does it take to.....

One of the things that has been nattering at me over the last week or so is the question of "How many units?" and its supplementary questions "In that case what's the minimum table size and number of squares?"  and "In that case what do the units represent and is the wargame a battle or a skirmish?".

The Naval gunners train the 4.7" while waiting for the Armies to decided how much infantry they need.
The answer was easy in the days when I used twenty four man units on a plain 6'x8' table but along came Bob Cordery and Richard Borg and recently  my table has often been covered by four man units on a grid and sometimes I just lose my bearings.

The scenario laid out at 1 Square Brigadier unit per scenario unit. 
So I chose the scenario suggested by the Grand Duke of Stollen and started by laying out the troops unit for unit.  That looked kinda sparse so I upped the infantry by 50%, that was better but 1.5 is an awkward force multiplier if you can't represent a half unit so I doubled it. Now we were talking, the table started to look a bit crowded with fourteen Oberhilse infantry units. Fourteen? Fourteen what? Companies? Battalions? Half-Battalions?

It was not only crowded though, in places the troops were spilling over their specified deployment areas. I could fix that though by extending the table by a foot. .....Right. Did I really want to do that though?

Then I thought about last Wednesday's game at Ron's.
Airfix Battles, 1/72nd WWII Canadians vs Germans at a Sicilian Crossroad. One unit per scenario unit plus overall points balanced in proportion to make very different opposing forces.
When Ron suggested one unit per scenario unit I was dubious but he was right. It was a tense game of the satisfying type which played through a series of shifts of advantage  to a draw after two full rotations of the deck and over three hours of immersed playing.

I reset the table to one unit per unit as shown above. My 1900 and 1914 armies may be staying separate after all and both may be closer to finished as separate armies than I thought.
"Right, you guys have your orders, get on with it!"
Game to be played Monday or Tuesday if all goes well.